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I’m a brown belt in BJJ, but i am by no means a phenom, a good athlete or a fast learner. I started this journey back in 2002, so it’s been over 10 years, and i’m not a black belt yet, in fact i’m not even that great of a brown belt. Until about a 6 months ago, my first 18 months at a brown belt, i roughly had a combined brown belt record of 2-9, not exactly stellar. Then again, I’ve always been a casual practitioner, albeit a steady going one. Aside from short sprints at the start of my training (live-in program at Chris Brennans old Lake Forest gym), i’ve trained maybe 3 times per week on average, and never any extra sessions, just show up to class and do what i’m told, never taking time off (except for injury).
So i think we’ve established that i’m not a fast learner, or a natural talent/athlete, that’s why i’m pretty excited about trying out a new way of learning BJJ for the next year, to see how it goes. You see, i hate drilling, and i hate doing techniques. 90% of techniques shown in classes and seminars are from a very specific position, which is most likely not related at all to the current problems i’m having in my own BJJ game. When all my BJJ thoughts revolve around making my leg-weave passing work, spending 40 minutes drilling mount escapes is just a chore, something to get out of the way so that i can get to the fun part (sparring, where i can try out my leg-weave passes). There’s not many things in BJJ that i find to be genuinely boring or unenjoyable, but working on a technique you know you’re not going to be using, and will be out of your mind by the end of the day, is one thing i definately find falls into that category, which brings me to this “new” style of learning.
I’ve always had to self learn most everything, since 90% of my BJJ career, i haven’t had a black belt to ask question, but i’d never done it in a structured way. I was first exposed to a structured self learning process by Martin Aedma, who was teaching classes at CSA for a couple of weeks. Every Friday class, he would not teach anything, he’d simply make us pair up, and go for 7 minutes each. First 7 minutes my partner decided what to do, it could be anything from zero resistance technique, to 100% sparring. Now me, being the partner, had to do whatever he said. After 7 minutes we switched, and it was my turn to do whatever i wanted. This format allowed me to take positions i was having trouble with, nerd out the technique a bit, start off with maybe just drilling some zero resistance movements, then gradually work up some resistance, and eventually just sparring. This is to this date, my favorite training sessions ever, it’s kind of like an openmat, but with more structure. Openmats tend to devolve into 100% sparring quickly, but this way you get to work with specific techniques, that fit into your game and your current problems, and find solutions to them. You can usually notice the effect immediately, and the techniques you do here, are retained much better than a normal technique session in my opinion.
So this is what i intend to do for the next year. I still have a full time job and a business on the side, so i will only be able to train the same amount of time per week, but I’ve made a deal with my coach, that i can skip the technique portion of class for now, and do technique nerding/rolling with a friend on a sidemat, and then show up for the sparring portion. I’ve been doing this for 2 months now and i already feel like I’ve been able to address some weaknesses and improve my game (in fact, I won the European Open in NoGi last weekend, i’ll make a seperat blog post about that). I think this makes for an interesting experiment, as it’s been clearly established that I’m no phenom, so any acceleration in my learning curve would be directly related to this new training method. I’m excited to see what it leads to, and refining the way i spend those 45 minutes; I’ve already been in contact with reknowned drill-hater Kit Dale, who was happy to dole out a detailed reply with some great suggestions on how to structure my training, which I have already started incorporating. I will be keeping you updated on this blog on how things go and how this works out for me, my goal for now is to win gold at the European gi championships next January, where i’ve been handily beaten the past two years, lets see how that goes.
P.S. I should say, that I do drilling as well, but I do it with techniques i feel are relevant to me. I’m working a lot on my leg weave and knee slide passes now, and some of the drills that the Mendes brothers do are great here. I think the key point for me, is not to do drills on positions that are not relevant for me (or rather, that my mind is not ready to take in), i think with so limited time per week for me to train, that if i can take that 45 minute technique part of class, and custom make that to fit my own needs, I’m making my training time much more efficient.