5 Ways to Take Ownership of Your Progress Today

When you first start BJJ, most of your progress comes from simply showing up to class and doing what you’re told to do. While you never get away from that basic formula, as you rise up that ranks, it is common to feel like you’re not making as much progress by just showing up. Purple belts in particular can feel like they are just going through the motions, but not really being driven in any particular direction any more. If you feel this way, then these 5 tips are for you.

1. Don’t waste time while you wait for class to start

What do you do while waiting for class to start? Is it awkwardly standing around and pretending to stretch like I often see? Most people don’t want to stand out and look like weirdos. That’s understandable. Maybe you’re shy, or maybe you’re just tired after getting off work, and you just want to do your class and call it a night. But you can use that time to grab a partner and say “Hey, let me drill this move real quick” or try out a new mobility drill. Seeing students who do this makes me very happy because it shows they are so eager to improve that they can’t even wait for class to start.

2. Stay focused on your drilling and sparring

When it’s your time to drill, you drill. When you spar, you spar. Don’t stop to chat. Don’t ask a bunch of questions of your partner. Ask your coach for help if you need it during drilling. Save your questions for after sparring. And definitely don’t be that condescending guy who “coaches” lower belts into finishing submissions. No one likes that guy.

3. Ask your better partners for a quick tip after sparring

While drilling is for drilling and sparring is for sparring, I highly encourage communicating with your training partners in the time between rounds. After rolling with someone at or above your level, ask for a quick tip. Not everyone will have one, and no one is obligated to spend the next 10 minutes giving you a mini private lesson, but even a one sentence tip from a higher belt can make a big differences.

4. Actually ask a question when the coach says “Any questions?”

As an instructor, I have lost track of how many times I’ve ended a class with “Any questions?” and got silence and blank faces in reply, only for a student to grab me 10 seconds later in the changing room with a “Well, actually, I was wondering…” I get that sometimes it takes a minute for the mental machinery to output that thought, so I can forgive it, but try to have something ready for these requests for questions. Every good coach I know is happy to answer these questions. You will get your question answered, and if you ask in front of the group, everyone else has a chance to learn from it too.

5. Come to open mat with a definite goal

If you just show up to open mat to mindlessly roll a few rounds then go home, you are not using that time to its maximum potential. Before you go to open mat (maybe the night before or during the drive to the gym) think of at least one specific skill or technique you want to work on. Grab a partner and drill that move as a warm up. It doesn’t need to take more than a few minutes. You can still go ahead and roll mindlessly too, but you will have least got in a few more reps of skills training, which is important in a sport that takes so much practice of so many techniques. Every little chance adds up in the long run.

The longer you do BJJ, the more you realize there are real no shortcuts or cheat codes. You are building a mountain one grain of sand at a time. The closest you can come to “cheating” is to find ways to motivate yourself to stay as engaged and focused in your 10,000th training session as you were in your first. Everyday, make a conscious choice to make yourself better than you were yesterday.