Get better at BJJ by studying videos of yourself

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video must be worth a million. An easy (and cost-effective!) way to get priceless feedback on your BJJ performance is to simply record yourself during training.

I’ve done this regularly and when most folks ask, they often express hesitation in filming their own self because they feel like there would be no point in studying themselves. In their mind, they already know so little, so how could they help themselves?

This is understandable since for many people, “learning” is an act that requires a teacher. But really, there are two ways to learn:

  1. Learning through understanding mistakes or through the giving of advice
  2. Learning through observation of patterns and intention gaps

The first method is what people traditionally think about for “learning” – it’s how our education system is set up, etc.  Learning is done via an instructor who imparts their knowledge to you, be it piecemeal advice or a structured curriculum.

The second method, however, is what is typically chalked up to “experience.”  Over time, you’ll learn – often the hard way – the proper grips for a toreando pass, or the proper escape from mount, for example. However, studying video footage of yourself allows you to shortcut this process.

One of the biggest values of studying footage of your own self is being able to uncover the intention gap.  Only you know what was going on in your head during the roll, which allows you the opportunity to analyze the thought process that led you to making those decisions.

In other words, if you were to give video footage of yourself to your instructor, they would definitely be able to give you valuable feedback and advice – what you should have done in this situation, what other options were possible, etc.  However, only you would be able to suss out what were the intentions or assumptions you had at the time that led you into those situations in the first place.

For folks both starting out or more advanced, being able to pinpoint what patterns are leading to your most common mistakes and also how to capitalize on your successes is crucial in naturally developing a game/style that’s unique to you.

Here are some recommendations on how to get started.

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Pandemic perspectives

Every one of us has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially with regards to training BJJ. Curious as to how others were dealing, I reached out to several women in the BJJ community to find out how they’ve been facing this unprecedented time. The short answer: Head on. The long answer: It’s complicated, it varies, and it’s likely to change.  

An accompaniment to the article Lessons in Lockdown for Girls in Gis, the below is a Covid-19 style asynchronous, social-distanced round-table crafted from the reflections of three women navigating this uncertain moment in our world.  

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Fear of forgetting (When we return to BJJ)

‘Will I remember,’ I wondered in the middle of a butterfly sweep, legs lifting an invisible partner, ‘Will I remember what to do when we’re all back on the mat?’

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2020 was supposed to be a big year. I had gotten promoted near the end of 2019 and the tug of competition had grown more insistent at the turn of the decade.

Injury kept me from the first competition of 2020. Part of me regrets not participating in spite of it.

Who knows when the next one will be now.

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Training without a gym: Introduction and contents

As I write this, Covid-19 has brought the world to all but a standstill. For those in the BJJ community, it has brought fear and frustration as gyms have closed and training as we used to know it has ceased for what will be an uncertain amount of time.

What can you do if you can’t train? If you can’t go to the gym, or if you don’t have a partner? This series of posts proposes some alternatives and supplements to popular advice circulating on the internet.

While this series has stemmed from the current situation, there will be more added with the intent that all of these posts may be found useful whenever you find yourself unable to go the gym to train.

Training without a gym contents:

    • Feynman technique for BJJ – An overview of how to adapt a learning technique developed by Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman to deepen your BJJ understanding and focus your study
    • 6 degrees – An application of the six degrees of separation idea to BJJ
    • How to study BJJ videos – An in-depth article that provides a framework for deliberate study of BJJ video resources
    • Pre-mortem – An application of the risk management strategy to BJJ; explores a light version (ex. reviewing just-learned technique) and in-depth version (ex. competition preparation)

 

The best part of your gym (The Importance of You, Again)

“We want this place to be the best part of your day.” It was the smile on my professor’s face that made me believe he was speaking from his heart.

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Last week, the world lost one of my coworkers: a hard-working, pup-loving young man whose life had been cut short just when we started to know the best of him.

It was one of the hardest days I’ve ever had at my job.

We were allowed to leave early and I eventually did late in the afternoon, bright-eyed and dazed. At home, the only thing I could do was sit on the couch and stare at the wall.

A notification on my phone broke through the darkness. It was my reminder for BJJ class.

My body moved on autopilot. Somehow, I had made it to the gym. But it wasn’t until I was walking back home that I realized I’d been able to do normal things for a while – and not think about his passing.

I remember pausing in the middle of the sidewalk, overwhelmed with gratitude.

‘How lucky am I,’ I had thought to myself while staring up at the moon with watery eyes, ‘To have a place to go to in a time like this.’

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Google image search, "BJJ Gi"

The Best Starter BJJ Gi

Buying Your First BJJ Gi

So you want to start BJJ.  Or maybe you’ve already been training no-gi grappling and you want to start practicing in the gi.

You do a simple Google search and suddenly realize, holy crap, there are a ton of gis to choose from.  Single weave, pearl weave, honey-comb — Are we buying bedsheets? Cereal?!  — not to mention the prices.

With some gis clocking it at an insane $500, all sorts of doubts start to crop up.  “Is it really worth it to buy a gi? What if I decide I only want to practice gi once a week?  What if I decide BJJ isn’t for me altogether?”  After all, you don’t want to invest a couple hundred bucks on a pile of useless fabric.

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3 Best Youtube Channels for Small BJJ Practitioners

There are a ton of instructional videos you can find online, but I wanted to share the 3 channels that I regularly turn to when I have a problem. As a small BJJ player, there are some things that simply don’t work when you’re up against a larger opponent. So here are 3 channels that can help you change that:

How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent

Stephen Kesting at Grapplearts has an amazing amount of videos that are not only amusing (Zombies + BJJ?!) but also extremely informative (what-aplata?). But it was his series with Emily Kwok, “How to Defeat the Bigger, Stronger Opponent,” that really started to change how I approached BJJ.  They also offer free excerpts from the DVD series on Youtube such as the one below.

ConnectionRio

I have to admit, at first I thought ConnectionRio was gonna be full of promo vids for training in Brazil, but after I started looking through their instructional videos, I started watching those promo vids too. What I really like about their instructionals is that they’re short and to the point, and repeat the technique many times at the beginning from several different angles, which is perfect for when you’ve already watched the video and just want to refresh your memory. The triangle tweak below is one of my favorites:

BJJ Scout

So technically neither BJJ Scout nor ConnectionRio above are centered around small BJJ practitioners, but you simply cannot ignore BJJ Scout’s breakdowns — even Sara McMann acknowledged BJJ Scout’s analyses (part 1, part 2) prior to her fight with Ronda Rousey in this article. Watching BJJ Scout’s videos has been a complete game changer for me.  I challenge you to watch their videos and not learn something new.  Their latest video on “funk rolling” below.

Runner’s up

BJJ Hacks produces beautiful videos that go into the minds of some of the most renowned BJJ practitioners — BJJ videos made by BJJ lovers, for BJJ lovers.

Jiu Jitsu Priest houses a ton of videos from competitions around the world, focusing mostly on Japan and Asia. There are also highlights videos that provide commentary on some of the best fights from that particular competition cycle though you have to know Japanese to fully appreciate them.

Post your favorite channels/videos in the comments!

 

The best escapes in BJJ

Yin-yang
Photo Credit: Free Grunge Textures – www.freestock.ca via Compfight cc

Aggression and BJJ

Been a bit busy lately as I’m currently in between competitions and been thinking about what direction I’d like to take this blog. As I’ve spoken with more people about BJJ, I’ve noticed that those most dedicated to learning BJJ, not simply for winning competitions or promoting, talk less about particular techniques and more about the inner workings of BJJ. These people also tend to have the chillest personalities, a stark contrast to how aggressive BJJ seems to be, especially noticeable in newcomers and white belts.

In general, aggression is taken as an inseparable part of BJJ. I think part of what causes this aggression is how we’re taught BJJ. We learn the positions – mount, guard, side control, etc. – and the escapes and attacks from those positions. We drill each technique with a partner then learn how to bait and fine tune our timing during sparring sessions. The thing is, we roll how we drill. So if we drill just the positions, we roll focus only on the positions.

The key, however, is not just to master the positions, but to master the transitions as well…

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BJJ-J: Learning Japanese Through BJJ — 胸を借りる

柔術

Learning Japanese Through BJJ

胸を借りる

While preparing for a competition, one of my coworkers said the above phrase to me in Japanese (むねをかりる, mune o kariru).  The literal translation is “to borrow one’s chest” – which had me confused to say the least.

The phrase apparently originates from sumo and is said to a superior for having “the honor of training with them.” Further research revealed that it’s only said by a person of lower ranking to one of higher ranking, (後輩) kouhai to (先輩) sempai, and never the other way around.  It’s also used in baseball (野球, yakyuu) and other sports.

To me, I think this phrase is quite appropriate in BJJ.  After all, every BJJ practitioner knows that you can’t learn BJJ by yourself.  We must always “borrow someone’s chest” in order to train.

Let’s look closer at the words in this phrase.  Usually  (むね, mune) is translated as “chest,” a physical source of power and pressure. But 胸 can also refer to one’s “heart” and “feelings.”

In this way, 胸 refers to both the physical and spiritual aspects of a person — those things that makes a person a person and not some piece of driftwood or any old inflatable training dummy.  Your partner, whether they be kouhai or sempai, are physical beings and emotional beings, capable of great strength but also with the capability of becoming injured; full of passion and feelings just like you.

The most important part of this phrase, however, is the verb 借りる. It is usually translated as “to borrow,” which is a very different way of looking at sparring.

Despite what we may say to others, there’s always a part of us that is comparing ourselves to our partners. Often times, we fall into the trap of using our partners for our own ends, as goal posts for our own journey.

This phrase suggests a drastic alternative from this way of thinking. Instead of trying to pit your will, or your “chest” against your partner, this phrase instead recommends borrowing – using that other person’s “chest” with the intention of returning it.

Think of your gym as a library and each person you roll with a book in that library.  In a good library, books are taken care of when they are checked out for a roll and rotate around to as many people as possible.

Because what’s unique about this BJJ library is that each book changes every time they are checked out and read, or rolled with. Ever reread a favorite book from childhood and discovered even more things to love about it since growing up?  That’s the same thing that happens with each book, each person, as they learn more about BJJ.

This brings us back to how you learn BJJ.  We’re on the mats to beat our chests to try and scare off our partners, nor are we trying to beat and crush our partners’ chests as we train. We are borrowing from each other, learning from each other, expanding the library that is BJJ.