Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Wednesdays with Coach Tim: Major Life Lessons From Puppies

One of the big things promoted by the Gracie gyms and making a big impact on the BJJ community lately is the concept of "keeping it playful."  For the uninitiated, the Gracie's emphasize taking the aggression and need to "win" out of the roll and start "playing" again -- keep it going to keep it going.  A recent study of puppies found that male puppies naturally "keep it playful" with female puppies; male puppies tend to soften their play style with female puppies as opposed to male puppies, and encourage the female puppy to continue playing by allowing the female puppy to win.

Because my brain can make almost anything BJJ related, I thought about the puppies behavior in relation to "keeping it playful."  As an upper belt and more experienced practitioner, I see it as my job to keep the roll going for lower belts, not tap them within 5 seconds.  I don't make it easy, but I try to have some idea of what their skill level is and get them to positions where they can use what they learned.  Additionally, I don't really want the roll to end after 5 seconds -- I want to keep playing and trying new stuff!

I've also noticed that as an upper belt, suddenly the same guys who were intent on tapping me when we were white belts are now in it more for the fun of the game than the tap since we got promoted to blue.  Rather than exert 110% strength and effort and trying to smash the living daylights out of each other, we tend to roll for longer periods of time without a submission and get into more interesting and challenging positions.  And it makes us all better for it.

Coach Tim:  Do you agree that the puppy post applies to BJJ?  In how men and women interact, or how players interact, or otherwise?  What can we learn from the puppies?


First, ALL of the major lessons in life can be learned by watching puppies.  Namely that cuteness is the #1 priority for all things, all the time, always and forever.

"Keeping it playful" is a great motto when used at the right time.  I wouldn't restrict the notion of being playful to instances where males are sparring females, or upper belts with lower belts, etc. Instead, I want to examine how being playful in practice can be useful and how it can be detrimental.

On the plus side, being playful is very useful anytime you try a new movement. If you allow yourself to bend, roll, fold up, etc when you first attempt a new movement, you will quickly understand what you are supposed to be doing even if you can't quite do it yet.

 "Keeping it playful" also helps ensure that we don't create unnecessary tension in our body, which often can hinder movements we want to make -- when you are "keeping it playful" you are relaxed.  This is true even when a drilling/sparring partner is not involved.  For example, when attempting to learn the granby roll/side roll, students will sometimes create tension in their body as they push off into the roll.  This tension often results in the student posting their elbow on the mat or contracting their core muscles early - both of which stop their momentum in its tracks instead of allowing the momentum to carry them through the entire roll. In this sense, "keeping it playful" allows us to override our (often incorrect) default movement pattern because it forces us to relax and be less tense.

On the opposing side of "keeping it playful" is the very real reminder that we are practicing fighting. Yes, grappling is fun and, yes, you should have as much fun as you can (especially because this will keep you training and on a long enough timeline, sticking to your training is the only way to get better). The danger is that if you are always "keeping it playful" then you are training yourself to adopt that mindset.  Just like physical movements, mental patterns can be trained as well.

The danger in training your mind to "keeping it playful" is that if you run into trouble / have to struggle in sparring, the "keeping it playful" mentality may hinder your ability to get out of a tough position because, hey, struggling isn't playful! It's important to train yourself to not allow the dialogue in your head to stop your body from reacting appropriately to the situation. Whether you are training or competing, often there are moments where a small voice in your head says "Hey... I'm kinda tired, let's just let them pass then we'll escape later" or "Wow, this person is really good, it's going to be hard to beat them." These thought patterns are absolutely fatal - you cannot ever beat someone that you cannot imagine beating. For example, blue belts will often excuse themselves if a purple belt beats them because they are under the impression that purple belts should beat them.  However, if a blue belt consistently adopts this pattern of thinking, they will never critically analyze why that purple belt was able to pass their guard or sweep them because it will be easily dismissed as what "should" have happened.  If you expect yourself to beat everyone you ever spar with, you will more readily adopt changes to your technique that can make this expectation come to fruition.  Of course, a blue belt should start by trying to raise their expectations to beat the purple belts before moving on to brown and black belts, but the point stands.  In fact, the biggest barrier to a blue belt beating a black belt is that the barrier in their own mind that they cannot beat black belts! If we never wore belts, students would just focus on how individuals move differently instead of how one person is "better" than another - and they would see that the gap between how they currently move and how a highly-skilled individual moves is not that big a of discrepancy. However, we cannot close that gap if we constantly have a dialogue with ourselves about the existence of this gap!


Jiu jitsu is as much a mental exercise as it is a physical one.  It is critical that students train their mind to believe success is not only possible, but probable, even while they learn to relax and "keep it playful."

Also, puppies are adorable.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How to Set Goals for 2014 in BJJ

I am not a big fan of New Years' resolutions.  For a long time, my resolutions were always "lose X pounds," which started to feel superficial and unattainable and boring.  Last year was the first year in my adult life I decided to not put "lose weight" on the resolution list.  Instead, I resolved to run a 5k and get my blue belt.  That's it.  Two goals.

I ran my very first 5k in February and got my blue belt in June.  Maybe I should have had a third goal?

This year I am not making resolutions.  I wasn't really looking forward to the resolution-making process this year, anyway.  Then, on New Year's Day, my Facebook feed was filled with New Year's resolutions that depressed the hell out of me.  Reading them, it seemed like no one liked themselves -- at all.  Sure, we all have things we want to work on, things we'd like to improve or do differently, but what about just being happy where you are?  This year, I'm going to be happy where I am and who I am right now.  If changes need to be made, I'll make them.  But I'm not going to try to be anything other than me.

BJJ, like life, is a place that will always have room for improvement no matter how content I am.  However, in BJJ, especially since I got slapped with my blue belt, I find it extremely difficult to set reasonable goals.

When I first started training, the goal was to not die.  Then, the goal was to spar every round.  But even then, the word "goal" is not the right word, because these "goals" were all subconscious intentions I realized after the fact.

Once I got comfortable being uncomfortable, I felt my way forward; coming to class regularly, drilling well, taking notes, and trying to execute techniques in sparring.  Every now and then I set a goal regarding the ability to pull off a certain technique in sparring, but that's as far as I have gotten in terms of setting progressive benchmarks for myself.

Where is this babbling going?

My blue belt terrifies the ever loving shit out of me.  All of a sudden I am having a crisis of confidence and it is like being a white belt over again.  This time around, since I am conscious of my incompetence, it seems a lot more scary.  I think it is a perfect time to use my fear and uncertainty and consciousness about my incompetence to put together a set of tangible, objective goals for myself going forward.

Coach Tim's Advice

January is the time for resolutions and February is hopefully the time for follow-through.  Coach Tim prefers to place the most emphasis on setting goals regarding process and logistics rather than simply results and goal posts.

Everyone knows about goal setting with regards to our result - use a specific, measurable metric that is both time-constrained as well as reasonable possible given your starting point.  That's all great information on how to set a goal, but if the goal is to get across the ocean this week and spend some time in Africa - it is pretty important for to figure out if you are taking a boat or a plane to get there!

With that in mind - what are some effective processes we can incorporate into our training? 

For most of us, the first process-related goal is our training breakdown - How often should I train? How hard should each training session be? How much time should be spent drilling and how much spent sparring? These are all important questions and obviously each answer is tailored to each student but since there are only so many hours in a day, simply increasing frequency (going from 3 days / week, to 4 days a week to 5 days / week to 2x a day) is a progression that will quickly reach an upper-limit.  Instead, set a goal to tweak and refine your training schedule and goals on a weekly or monthly basis.

For example, one week, focus on playing guard - sweeping and submitting as much as possible, practicing guard retention and movements on your "bad" side.  When you are successful from your guard, slyly allow your training partner some room, making them work a bit to escape and recover so that they continue to fight back very hard.  When you are unsuccessful, make notes about the 1 or 2 top issues that arose during this exercise, and ask for a solution, and drill the solution in your off time.  The goal in this period is to resist the temptation to smash your opponent after getting the sweep and/or mount, or to refrain from resorting to take downs because of a trouble spot with guard.  The ability to resist what comes easiest is the test of whether or not the goal has been reached.

Take this example and zoom in or out; zoom in and the focus is on specific guards, guard retention movements, specific sweeps/submissions, or, as Coach Tim is working on, spending more time playing guard on his "bad" side.  Zoom out and the focus is on broader concepts and perspectives, such as:  "No matter who I'm sparring, I'm going to fight to prevent my guard from being passed with every bit of technique and physicality that I can. No one passes my guard for free!"  Having a specific goal with different gradations within that goal allows you to customize the goal for varying skill levels among your training partners. 

Go train! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesdays with Coach Tim: Side Control and Mount

We've had the same group of women training at Robot for about 6-8 months now, and they are really progressing -- even though several of them only train on Saturdays. Coach Tim is teaching them really high level positions (bullfighter to x pass to the back/side control) that have really started clicking in the last month or two.

Most of the FemmeBots have been training long enough that they are now able to get to side control and mount, but they are facing a very common problem: What do you DO from side control or mount? Submission? Advance to another position?

When I first started training, I hardly ever got side control, let alone mount. Once I started progressing (actually, once some newer white belts started training who knew less than I did), I would get to side control or mount, and instantly get dumped back to the bottom. When I say instantly, I mean within one or two seconds. I don't think I held mount for longer than 3 seconds until I'd been training almost two years. In my newbie brain, it was because I didn't know any submissions from mount or side control.

Nope. I got dumped off of mount and swept while trying to hold side control because I did not know enough about the basic principles of mount and side control in order to secure it and hold it properly.

Coach Tim and I came up with 5 pointers for side control and mount:  

(1) More Cross-Face: Always more cross-face. There is no such thing as too much cross-face. Your cross-face should be so solid that your opponent is seriously considering tapping from the pressure and can think of nothing other than getting that pressure to stop.  As a person with small arms and larger opponents to deal with, I learned that securing my cross-face with the gable grip under the shoulder improves the chances that I can hold it. Once I have the cross-face secured with the assistance of the gable-grip, I can hold it there with one arm and use the other to attack.

From a mechanical standpoint, Coach Tim says to remember that the power of the cross-face comes from creating a spinal fault - that is, twisting the cervical spine (upper spine) against the direction your opponent is trying to move.  With that in mind, it should become clear that moving your WHOLE body over your opponent to cross-face them is a common mistake and often results in what is discussed below in No. 4 (don't sweep yourself).  Instead, pull your opponent as close to you as you can AND THEN cross-face them.  It will only take a slight rotation from your shoulder to apply pressure and by keeping the rest of your weight back you will prevent yourself from getting rolled over by your opponent.

(2) Toes on the Mat: No matter where you are on the mat, your toes should be on the ground, flexed, and helping you drive in or push or make some sort of movement more solid or powerful. In side control, no matter what position your legs are in (both knees to the armpit or one knee in the hip and the other sprawled out), your toes should be on the mat driving you into your opponent.  In mount, unless you are grape-vining your opponent's legs, your toes should be on the mat, flexed, and pushing you up toward your opponent. In the last few months, Coach Tim and I have worked on adding this detail to my game, and everything has changed for the better.

If you are a student at Robot, you are in luck -- Coach Tim will always point out when it is beneficial to keep your feet flattened on the mat.  Coach Tim recommends a mental check that your toes are on the mat when you are on top.  Mechanically, keeping your toes on the mat allows your to have be simultaneously mobile and heavy, mobile because you can pivot and change direction as the situation dictates and heavy, because the driving force from your legs transfers into your upper body and then to your fixed point (for example, your shoulder is your fixed point when creating a cross-face) and delivering pressure where you want it to go.

(3) Base Out: When in mount, base is everything. The moment you get to mount, your knees should be working toward your opponent's armpits, your arms should be wide and flat, and your chest should be pushing their face to the side. My FemmeBots lovingly call my based out hold in mount the "boob-face" because of the position. But it works! I stopped getting reversed from mount when I was able to hold that base, and let go of whatever submission I was trying (usually an armbar) and go back to the base.

Coach Tim says that a common pitfall for a beginner is falling when they didn't have to.  As simple as it sounds, when you are on top, one of your #1 priorities is to not fall over!  If you feel yourself falling, try to use your arm/leg/head to catch yourself.  The first few times, your opponent will probably still escape from your position because often the way we have to base invariably gives our opponent other chances to escape/get ahead.  However, you will learn to prevent these follow-ups and also learn whether or not to base with your arm/leg/head depending on the circumstances.  On top of all of this, keeping yourself from falling will allow you to stay further ahead when your opponent is moving correctly.

For example, when you have the mount, your opponent will be using a combination of a bridge escape and a hip-escape (also called the elbow-knee escape).  If your opponent successfully bridges you over, you are on the bottom and have to work quite hard to get back on top.  However, if your opponent bridges, you base on your hand, and your opponent recovers guard with the hip-escape, then you are much closer to achieving the mount again than in our first scenario.  Although yes, your opponent did recover guard, they are now in the same predicament you would have been in, had they successfully bridged you over!

(4) Don't Sweep Yourself:  Learning how to use your weight and pressure effectively is one of the most difficult things to learn, and one of the most important. When holding side control, if your weight is too far across your opponent's center line (their sternum), they can easily lock around your chest, bridge, and sweep you. From mount, if your weight is too high (hips up in the air) and you are not sufficiently based out, a simple bridge by your opponent will turn mount into closed guard. Keep your hips down, toes on the mat, and secure the cross-face to reduce the likelihood that your weight can be used against you by your opponent.

When students are rolled over from the mount / side control position, often times it is because they are trying to hold their opponent in place. While it is definitely possible to hold someone and immobilize them, keep in mind that your opponent can feel which direction your weight is going and will often try and move all of your weight in that current direction.  For example, from side control, refrain from placing your weight towards the FAR side of your opponent's spine.  Treat their spine as a line that divides their body into two halves - you are on one half and you don't want to put your weight too far towards the other half or you risk being rolled right over.

The Take Away:  

5) Position before submission - We hear this often enough and it is a useful saying for a number of reasons. One of the important take-aways from "position before submission" is to remember that if you can maintain side control/mount/back control indefinitely, then you will ALWAYS get a submission. On a long enough timeline, your opponent will either expose themselves to a submission or submit from exhaustion. NEVER rush to get a submission (until you have the skill to know when this is appropriate), instead, spend your time adjusting your current position and making it as uncomfortable as possible. The resulting pressure you create is what will force your opponent to react in a sub-optimal way, opening the door for the inevitable submission.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Do's and Don'ts

One of my first posts this year was about the etiquette of BJJ.  That post focused primarily on how to be a good training partner, though it did have tips on hygiene and attitude.  This post, however, is focused solely on things each student should be mindful of while training, unrelated to technique.

(1) Do not be the smelly kid.

Wash your gi after every class.  No exceptions.  If you wore it and stepped one foot on the mat, do not ever come back to the academy with that gi on unless it has been washed in hot water, with soap, and fully dried.

No, hanging it up to dry in the sun after class is not the same thing.  Once you start to sweat on that thing again, all the stank from the prior training session will come pouring out.

Yes, I can tell.  You smell.  Everyone else can smell you.

Most importantly, you are unnecessarily putting your health and the health of your training partners at risk of contracting staph, ringworm, and other communicable diseases due to the petri dish you've decided to wear on the mat because (1) you didn't have time to wash it or (2) you don't have more than one gi.

If you have been training more than 6 months, you should have a gi for each day of the week you train.  Do some internet research and find a cheap gi.  Ask higher belts in your gym where they get their gis (they may even be willing to sell you a used gi on the cheap).  Hell, my academy is selling used gis for as low as $20 right now.  Gis are part of the cost of training.  Deal with it.

Finally, brush your teeth and put on some pit stick before you train.  Your training partners will love you forever.

(2) Trim your nails.  

Again, coming to class with untrimmed nails is an unnecessary risk to you and your training partners.  I've seen cheeks sliced open, nails ripped off, and chunks taken out of ankles, toes, and wrists because of untrimmed nails.  Some gyms are so serious about it they do a nail check at the beginning of class, and ask you to leave the mat and trim them before returning if they are too long.

If there is any nail above the nail bed, you and your training partner are at risk of injury.  Ladies, if you cannot live without gel tips, get off the mat.  Guys, your toenails are nails.  Trim them.  No one wants to get cut by your Howard Hughes-esque talons.  Carry clippers in your gear bag and check your nails before each class.

(3) No bare feet off the mat and no shoes on the mat.  

This is my personal and ultimate pet peeve, because it is just unsanitary, rude, and thoughtless.  In BJJ, my face is likely about to be smashed into the mat.  MY FACE.  The last thing I want is for someone who's been walking around the gym without shoes on, on the same surface that people walk around with shoes from the outdoors (that have stepped in who knows what), to put those feet on the mat that my face is about to get smashed into.  Would you rub the bottom of your shoe on your face?  No?  Then do not ever put your bare feet off the mat.  Ever.  Not even right off the edge of the mat.  No.  Stop it.  STAPH IT. In a perfect world, you'd sit down on the edge of the mat and clean your feet with wet wipes before walking around on it, but nothing is perfect.

(4)  No make up on the mat.  

I'll admit to being in a hurry and forgetting this one, but ladies, take a moment to use a make-up removing towelette before you get on the mat to avoid staining your training partner's brand new white gi with your makeup.

(5)  Train with everyone.  

No one can learn BJJ alone.  It requires training partners of all different levels and sizes to truly learn the art.  It frustrates me when I see white belts refusing to roll with other newer white belts because the newer student is "too green" or "too spazzy" or doesn't know the drills and positions properly.  That attitude is upsetting, because the older student has gotten to where they are in their training because other students rolled with them despite their inexperience.

The only times you should ever turn down a roll are (1) when you know from experience the training partner asking goes too hard/puts you at risk or (2) you are injured (to clarify, an ouchie or boo-boo does not count as an injury).  If you think your training partner is going too hard, you must advocate for yourself and ask them to slow the pace and the pressure down.  If there is a training partner you know goes for a submission too quickly and risks injury, tell them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Getting Tough

In materials science and metallurgy, toughness is the ability of a material to absorb energy and plastically deform without fracturing.  One definition of material toughness is the amount of energy per volume that a material can absorb before rupturing. It is also defined as the resistance to fracture of a material when stressed.  

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is hard.  It requires both mental and physical toughness of the sort most people in Western society have never had to deal with.  It requires the student to absorb the physical energy of his or her training partner and understand how much energy he or she can absorb before tapping out.  Knowing and learning your limits is a critical component of BJJ.  However, unlike techniques we learn on the mat, mental and physical toughness is something each student must learn for himself or herself -- it cannot be taught.  Your instructors can give you the tools to understand a technique and when it is dangerous, and they can encourage you to continue to train and grow, but the student is ultimately in charge of his or her level of toughness. 

For most beginners, the most important part of toughness is simply believing you are tough.  Coming on to the mat and believing that you can handle the physical pressure and mental pressure of being put in an uncomfortable position or submission.  However, some beginners can go too far in their belief about their toughness and end up injured.  Their ego, pride, and inexperience get in the way and they refuse to tap despite their body and mind telling them their ability to absorb energy without fracturing has been met.  

Mental and physical toughness go hand in hand.  As the beginner becomes an intermediate student, she learns that mental toughness is being able to handle defeat and tap early, and often, to ensure she can continue to train without injury.  She learns that physical toughness means accepting an offer to roll from a higher bent even when she is exhausted, because she knows her technique will be tested and pushed and she is in no physical danger.     

If a student does not learn mental toughness (by overcoming ego and anxiety) she will never learn true physical toughness (pushing herself to exceed the limits of what has been done before).  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Wednesdays with Coach Tim: Cross Training

Last week, Coach Tim and I talked about how to train off the mat in non-physical ways.  It was a pretty timely topic for me; as soon as we posted it, my work/life balance was nearly impossible to maintain and I missed class for 10 days.  Fortunately, even though I wasn't able to make class, I was able to set aside time to go through my training journals, my favorite BJJ blogs, and talk BJJ shop with my training partner for life (my husband).  I consciously set aside time each day to think about my game, visualize the issues I'd been having, and how to address them.

When I was finally able to make it to the gym on Saturday morning, I had the best class that I have had in a long time.  I'm not gauging "best" by submissions, passes, or sweeps that I got (though there were more of those than usual).  I'm gauging it by how I moved, how I felt my mind and body connecting, and how many times I had to check myself during a position and correct posture/form/technique.  All week long, I had reminded myself to keep my toes on the mat and move slow and smooth instead of quick and dirty, and when it came time to roll, it was a lot easier to remember those things.

If you don't think you have time to focus on your mental game, Coach Tim and I challenge you to use the time it takes to get to the academy and return home to visualize.  Use the time in the car headed to the academy to think about the things from the last class you need to remember, and the drive home to process the class you just had.  Coach Tim believes that the longer we can extend the tail ends of our training, the less "down time" we actually have between training sessions, and the more productive our overall training will be.

This week, I asked Coach Tim to talk about what sort of exercises I can do off the mat to improve my strength and technique on the mat.  In particular, I'm becoming a little obsessed with identifying the main movements in BJJ and how to work those muscles outside the gym and get stronger.

Coach Tim's Advice: 

There are seven major movement patterns that humans utilize: Squat, Lunge, Push, Pull, Bend (Hinge at the hip as you would during a deadlift), Twist, and Gait (walking pattern).  It is useful to break down the movements in your sport into the movement patterns being utilized; for example, throwing a baseball would be a lunge, followed by a twist, finalized with a push.

Improving movement patterns and techniques in BJJ requires making sure you know how to properly execute these seven movement patterns in a strength & conditioning environment.  Then we start to break down our BJJ movements into these movement patterns and start tightening up the mechanics of each pattern and smoothing out the transitions between each pattern.

One of the interesting parts of BJJ is that it relies on many permutations of these combined movement patterns - the tricky part is you often execute these movements with your back braced against the floor (instead of your feet braced against the floor) or you are pushing/pulling/etc. from angles that are foreign to us.

To examine this principal, we'll look at playing guard.  The most important movement pattern for playing guard is the leg press (squat) and being able to re-align your hip so that you can press your opponent with one or both legs at any time (this is the mechanism at play whenever someone talks about being able to "control the distance" from the guard). The main way we do this in BJJ is with the hip-escape: your opponent was in front of you and you could leg press them at will (control the distance and keep your guard safe), as they approach a 90-degree angle to your current position (wherein their spine would be perpendicular to yours), your ability to leg press is diminished. The closer your opponent is to you, the harder it is to simply turn along the floor and get that leg press back in front of you, so we use the hip escape to press against the floor, scoot the pelvis back and then use this newly-found space between you and your opponent to bring at least your heel in between you and the fixed-point your partner is trying to place on you, and voila! You just performed a leg-press that allowed you to prevent the guard pass.

The Take Away:

When you find yourself struggling with a technique, break it down into the movement patterns necessary for the technique, and train exercises off the mat that emphasize those movements.  Leg presses, deadlifts, and core work are critical movements for BJJ -- and a healthy body!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Wednesdays with Coach Tim: Training Outside Class

Time on the mat sparring and drilling is important, but it isn't the only way to train.  Often times life throws me injuries, illnesses, crazy work schedules, or family emergencies that keep me from being able to get to class on time consistently.  I've asked Coach Tim for suggestions on what I can do to train off the mat.  

Coach Tim's Advice:  

On a practical note, it is easiest for me as an instructor to assist students with developing outside of class study and/or drilling routines.  Since I can answer e-mails, recommend videos, etc. when I'm not trying to be 100% focused on a class full of students, those few students who do e-mail me often get an answer more extensive than I think they anticipated.  (You should see what Veronica edits out of these posts!)  On top of that, any student that actively takes their learning into their own hands will always receive more attention from me because these students tend to share information with others very well - this is a way of creating "nodes" in the class room that students can look to for advice if I happen to be working a with a group when a question arises.

Take Notes on Techniques Taught in Class:

Taking notes is a great practice.   Simply writing things will help improve retention and recall.  For those that do take notes, often the struggle is that these notes are rarely reviewed.

If you do not currently take notes, you must make note-taking a habit and regular part of your training.  Start slowly; don't try and write every step to a technique, instead just try and write down all the techniques and movements you practiced that day.  Write down one thing that worked well for you and one thing that did not work well.  Slowly add in details to these overall ideas, then start adding the individual steps that apply to the individual techniques. Soon enough, you will have your own way of taking notes specifically for grappling.

If you currently take notes, but find that you rarely review them, my advice is to work on reviewing these notes and incorporating the movements you have logged into your game.  Here is what I do: anytime there is a particular technique or detail I want to incorporate, I write it down on a small post-it note (to limit how much I can ramble) and then stick that note to the edge of my computer screen. By spending a few minutes a day unintentionally looking at this post-it note, I slowly start to remember the movement during drilling and sparring.  Once the movement is an inseparable part of my game, I will take the post-it note down and replace it with another; the first note gets copied into my notebook, which serves as an archive.

This is what all those notes end up looking like:

Websites / Books / Etc:

There are a number of useful books and websites committed to deciphering Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Saulo Ribeiro's Jiu Jitsu University is a great book for all levels, although Saulo's emphasis on defense might not appeal to more impatient students. I always advise learning to attack first, then defend, since learning to defend already places you at a disadvantage (something beginners have an ample supply of) and knowing what dangers you face is a great primer for thwarting them.

In recent years, the number of useful Jiu Jitsu websites / YouTube channels available has exploded.  Marcelo Garcia in Action ( and the Mendes Brothers Online Training ( are the two websites I have found most useful.  BJJ Scout, Bishop BJJ, BJJ Hacks, and our very own Robot BJJ are some of the more useful YouTube channels out there.

Whatever combination of books and websites you choose to utilize for off-the-mat study, keep this in mind: It is important to do what high-level competitors do, not do what high-level competitors SAY

Even the best practitioners in the world (at any sport) will, at times, unintentionally teach their techniques differently than the way they actually perform them when it's show time. A classic example from outside BJJ: Tennis instructors have often taught to "turn the hand over" as they make contact with the ball, in an attempt to give a favorable spin to the tennis ball.  However, through the use of high-speed cameras it has been shown that these same players actually turn their hand over much later than was thought, usually after they hit the ball!

Veronica's Side Note:  I like to watch high level BJJ competitions and tutorials with the sound off-- at least until I have an understanding of what I am looking at.  If I'm not listening to a commentator or instructor, I have no choice but to pay close visual attention and play the technique over and over again.  I listen with the sound at least once at the end, just in case there is a discussion of pressure or leverage that I may not be able to fully grasp with just visuals.    

The Take Away:  

Even if you can't make it to the academy for class, you can brush up on technique by reading, watching videos, and going over your notes from class.  It is the very rare student of any discipline who needs no outside study to improve.  BJJ is no exception.