Getting better at BJJ (intermediate)

There’s a simple formula for a beginner to get better at jiu-jitsu. Show up, train, roll and get enough sleep. A beginner needs general physical conditioning, knowledge and experience applying that knowledge on the mat. The beginning formula gives them this.

Sooner or later their improvement slows down. Why? What causes this slowdown?

Beginning training is focused on techniques. More techniques means more success on the mat. Eventually the beginner becomes saturated with techniques. More techniques no longer mean more success. Additionally, the beginner is becoming predictable when rolling. The other athletes have figured out their game and are able to stop their techniques early.

The beginner is now at an intermediate stage of progression and needs to train differently to continue improving at a steady pace.

Intermediate training is different

There are always more techniques to learn, but your emphasis should be on improving the techniques that you are having success with.

To apply your technique, you must overcome your opponent’s defences. The two ways of doing this are to

  • improve your technique so it can overwhelm your opponent’s defence
  • apply the technique before your opponent can defend

You should work on both of these areas together.

Improving technique

  • What is the key point that you have to do for the technique to work?
  • What is the next key point?
  • Is your structural alignment (posture) better than your opponent’s?
  • Are you successfully restricting your opponent’s movement? (connection)

If you’re not certain, ask someone with more experienced with the technique.

Applying technique

If you’re underneath, don’t fight for the underhook. Bump your opponent sideways and force them to post their arm. They’ve now given you the underhook.

This is the idea of the set-up. You set up your desired move with an initial move that you expect your opponent to counter. This initial move is planned so that the counter to this move makes it harder to defend the technique that you really wanted all along.

Setups aren’t developed while rolling. They’re germinated in the shower, while you’re walking to work or in bed at night before falling asleep. Once you’ve got an idea, you develop it with a training partner after class or at an open mat. When you’re happy with it, you try it while rolling with a beginner.

Now analyze. Is the setup working or does it need refining? Continue the cycle of practice with a training partner—try it in a roll until you’re reliably applying the setup while rolling.

Change your thinking

The progression from beginner to intermediate involves a change in the way you think about training. You’re no longer accumulating techniques, you’re revisiting and getting better at the techniques you are already doing.

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