Have you ever been in class and asked your professor what the best defense for a submission is or how to get out of a precarious position, only to have them say something along the lines of “ just don’t get there”?
It’s frustrating in the moment, and it may sound like they’re being snarky, but it’s actually real advice! Whether you’re practicing your ground work or stand up game, there comes a point where you have to jump in feet first and learn how to think fast and come up with your own combinations.
There are no set paths in a jiu jitsu match that say you have to do a certain submission off of a specific escape, or you must throw the same 4 punch combo after your opponent throws a jab. While this can be very overwhelming at first, it also gives such a huge range of opportunities to develop individual preferences.
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So how can we narrow it down and make a training plan for ourselves without a set curriculum to follow? Here’s the gist: if you’re a lower belt (white or blue) then focus on learning and mastering the fundamental techniques. Become more familiar with the sport and develop the minute muscle memory of the tried and true moves. These are the ones that can be applied in every situation, not the fancy flying armbars that come up once in a blue moon.
Drill your heart out! Make good habits second nature so your defense game will eventually allow you to last long enough against an opponent that you can start to work on your offense. Work on frames, posture, staying calm and learning how to flow different positions together. This can be achieved by dedicating most of your time to drilling and not getting swept up into the flashy rolls. Don’t get me wrong, rolling is important for progress, but spend a good amount of time positional sparring as well so you can learn and be comfortable with getting out of different spots.
The other aspect to consider when training is how to mentally get better at jiu jitsu, which is often much harder than getting physically better at jiu jitsu! During positional sparring or rolling we are often put out of our comfort zone and submitted multiple times, even though if we abandoned that technique we could submit our opponents with something we’ve already mastered. Learning to step back and allow ourselves to grow is so hard, but so worth it!
Okay, so what about if you’re an upper belt (purple and up)? Don’t give up those basics! Keep refining your skills and determine where your weaknesses are. Maybe you’re great at guard sweeps, but uncomfortable with takedowns.
The execution is then very similar to improving as a lower belt, drill the moves you want to practice. As you progress this will involve more complicated techniques, but the basis is the same. The mental aspect is almost even more important as you move up in rank, and ego can be the biggest obstacle on the mat.
All in all, remember that jiu jitsu is an infinite possibility sport and you have your entire life to get better at it!
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