Monday, July 26, 2010

Learn New Stuff vs. Refine Old Stuff

We all want to get better. People even develop and market ways to improve your BJJ quicker. Is there one absolute way? Today I was positive there is no one way. Maybe you can narrow down the best ways into 2 different pathways. Both are good at different times and for different reasons. The goal remains the same. Get better.

I wanted to train in this structured way with some of my training partners. We all have the same goal. We want to get better, we want to be more technical. We all realize that athleticism and strength is not the answer. But that still leaves a lot of theories to getting better. I wanted to train light with one person coaching and pointing out flaws and inefficiencies, one person being coached and using his "A" game. The other person attacking. And then you rotate and do this for as long as you can, but because of the slower pace you need to conserve energy and to go slow enough to be coached and play your game, I thought we could go for an hour and use every second of mat time. They, though instead wanted to use this time to drill a few moves and get as many reps in as they could and discuss it along the way. And maybe afterward get a roll in or two.

This lead to an impasse. They didn't like my idea. I didn't like theirs. One person told me something that got this whole ball rolling in my head. He told me, "Listen, we want to get better. The way to get better is to learn new moves." DING DING DING!

It all made sense now why we were on different pages. I thought for sure my idea was obviously good and would make us better quicker. But they didn't see it. That was why. They didn't think this would get them better. For them, getting better was LEARNING NEW MOVES.

For me I didn't have any interest in learning any more new things. At lease not for a while. I wanted to REFINE OLD THINGS. I wanted to refine my game. Later when I was confident in my "A" game, I would then move on to learn and add new things for my "B" game. Actually add just a few things at this point, and still more refinement. At this point if I added new moves or new guards or new things, I would first have to add it and it would come in as a low percentage move. As are all moves you newly add. From there I could then try to make it better and increase it's percentage. But at the same time I am taking time away from moves I have that are already good, that I could just refine to a point of a really high percentage instead. This all won't make sense until I show some numbers.

I could add let's say 3 new moves. Now each one I repped it a lot to learn it. They are all about 20% success ratio. But it's 3 of them. Now lets say instead there are moves I already know that I am already good at. I could then just increase my success ratio on those existing moves from lets say 75% to 85%. To me that's more valuable. Refining my game, not still tinkering and building moves to hopefully one day make a game. I've seen lesser guys beat better, more skilled, more experienced guys because the experienced guy just tries to play and see what happens. The lesser skilled guy just does what he knows and executes his game plan. Ryan Hall when he was beating all those black belts, I do not believe he was better than all of them. But I do think he had a much more polished game plan than they did. I could learn a few new wrist locks, or I can refine my triangle until it's bullet proof. But refining doesn't mean drilling. To me it means getting the feel of it, the set ups, seeing how it plays out, what bad habits you have with it live. And being single minded and playing that one game. Sit to guard, get your grips, push the bicep, triangle. Or whatever your game happens to be. Drilling helps you learn a moves. Slow situational and focused training refines it.

When it is good to learn new things is when you are starting out or you have moves and a style where everything is just super low percentage. Maybe you just liked all the fancy moves and got away from the basics. Then it would be time to learn the basics and rep it out. I've seen guys from Europe who knew a handful of moves, and from early on they weren't about learning new moves as they were about perfecting those moves. And I saw them come in at purple and slaughter everyone at the Worlds.

Is it about reps or is it about hours? I don't know. It's both in your jiu jitsu career. I can never get enough reps of hip escapes. In the end I want to be that basic guy who knows a handful of moves and beat guys who have been training longer than me. But then some people like to know encyclopedia of moves and be a BJJ wizard on the mat. That's not me. I want to learn Helio's game at 30 and perfect it. Not try to learn it when I'm 60 because I can no longer do all the "cool" stuff.


  1. Man, I needed that! As a brand new and 44 year old blue belt, I need to train smart if I am going to get good/excellent at BJJ and... get to do it for 30-40 more years.

    I dont want to learn every guard etc. I want to learn a JJ that is street smart and that plays to my strengths and weaknesses.

    I know that my questions will be answered over time - I have a great teacher. But I know that I have to help form the approach that I take to developing the game that fits me.

    If you had to (or wanted to) how would you describe Helio's game?
    Would you be willing to do a post on it?
    Please? :-)
    Feel free to use as much detail as you like.

    Also... great job in switching to blogspot. Much more user friendly for us.

    Great job and much thanks!!

  2. Thanks Lily. I may make a Helio's game post next.

  3. Just thought I'd read it again.
    I agree with you. Drilling is for learning the basic movements of a technique. However, if you want to develop timing/sensitivity, slow situational rolling is key. I must be able to "feel" when it is time to apply a certain technique or I am just wrestling and not doing bjj.

    Additionally, I am between 30 and 60 and have only been at BJJ for two years. So I am even more driven to learn Helio's game, to master survival, escapes and excellent control from the top and some high percentage finishes.

    Again, thanks for sharing your passion and knowledge!

    (Lily is my daughter :-)

  4. Spot on. As a 40 yr-old new blue myself, you offer some good points to consider. All you need to do is look at the success of Roger Gracie and how he is able to dominate with the most basic BJJ moves.

    I had the chance to ask Marcio Feitosa about drilling vs. situational sparring (he calls it specific training). His answer boiled down to: given a fixed number of hours to train, specific training should always have priority over drilling. Unlike other martial arts, BJJ allows us to train safely with a resisting opponent and at varying levels of resistance. The resisting opponent gives us a better sense of the move, trains our bodies, and offers immediate feedback. Why would we resort to the equivalent of katas and punching the air when we don't have to?

  5. I agree with you BJJ 4 Life. And Will sorry for the mistake.



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