Your Jiu-Jitsu Report Card

When you’re a kid, it doesn’t take much to determine your favorite time of year. For me, it was December. And since I’m still just a big kid, it still is. There’s Christmas, of course, but there’s also my birthday. It was also the end of the Chilean school year.

The only downside: report cards.

I dreaded it. I wasn’t a bad student, but when your sister gets straight A’s, it’s hard not to look bad. Even though I haven’t been in any kind of school for a few years, I still can’t help but feel like December is report card time. I look back on the year and think about what I accomplished. If I didn’t meet a goal—and this is perhaps most important to me—I try to figure out why.

My life goals have changed quite a bit since I was young. I’m not trying out for sports teams or hiding not-that-bad-really-mom-give-me-a-break grades from my parents these days. I’m trying to build a business to support my family. I’m trying to be a good husband and a good son. And I’m training my ass off whenever I can.

I’ve talked about jiu-jitsu goals before (you can catch up here if you missed it). Report card time has helped me to keep my training on track. From the day I started, winning a Grappler’s Quest was a big goal. Soon those goals became more training-specific and also started to include how I could help my own students achieve their goals. That’s not to say I’ve gotten straight A’s on my jiu-jitsu report card. I’ve come up short a few times. Based on my experience and the experiences of the people I train with, I’ve found that a failed goal stems from one of five culprits.

1. Did you train enough?

This is a big one, and while it may be obvious to some, you will be surprised at how many times people fail to realize how sporadic they can become in their training. Consistency is key. I’ve seen the pattern many times: a student gets on a great run of regular training only to get derailed and disappear for weeks at a time, making the bare minimum of appearances at the dojo. Jiu-jitsu is a long-term game, and missed training sessions can add up in a big way.

2. Were you doing what you were supposed to be doing during training?

Many times I see people that may go to practice, but they are really not there to push themselves. They might skip warm-ups. They might slack during drills. And they might avoid challenging rolls. Drifting into these behaviors is not unusual, but we have to occasionally check-in with ourselves to get back on track and to avoid having these missteps become habits.

3. Were you specific enough when you set your goal?

If your goal is not specific, you can’t track it. Saying that your goal is to “get better at jiu-jitsu” or “improve my armbars” are far too vague for you to measure it in any meaningful way. Your goal needs to be tied to a specific outcome, and you need a plan for getting there and evaluating your progress. “Improve armbars” might be better stated as “complete 50 reps of armbar drills every class" or "go for an armbar every roll.” This helps you move forward and keeps you on task.

4. Was your goal high enough?

Michelangelo once said, “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.” Aim high. It’s not bad that you didn’t achieve a certain goal this year. The more important part is that you tried and that you keep trying. For me personally, I set goals for years before I achieve them. And after years of trying they were much sweeter to make a reality.

5. Did you follow through?

How many times have you set a goal in January and never looked at it again? Write them down, put them somewhere you can see them, tell people about them, talk to your friends about their goals, and hold each other accountable. Remember that report cards come out more than once a year, so remind yourself frequently what you are trying to accomplish and review the plan you’ve made to get there. This will give you a much better chance to achieve your goals.

I hope that helps you achieve your jiu-jitsu goals in 2016. What are your goals? How will you achieve them? I’d love to hear what you’re working on.