I’m going to make a bold assumption: You want to get better at BJJ. (I must be a mind reader.) Open mat can be a secret weapon in your training if you use it right. These tips will help make sure you do.
Go in with a purpose
What makes open mat good is also what makes it bad: you can do whatever you want. Without someone running class, it’s all too easy to waste time, goof off, or simply not know what to do. Go in prepared giving yourself a goal.
– Improve move X.
– Improve my escapes.
– Improve my conditioning.
– Try out this new guard.
– Review my basics.
Try picking a topic—a certain position, submission, guard or even concept—and set your mind on exploring and learning it in depth. It’s easier to stay focused when you know what you’re focusing on.
It’s time to experiment
Now is your chance to put that encyclopedic knowledge of every BJJ instructional to use. Is there a move that’s been making waves in competition that you want to learn? You could bring a laptop or iPhone to watch instructionals then drill them.
Forget this piece of advice if it doesn’t line up with your goals. Sometimes drilling those same basics you’ve known forever is the right thing to do (at least it’s never wrong.)
Don’t get technique overload
Just because you’re free to do whatever you want doesn’t mean you should pull out every technique you’ve ever Youtubed. Get two experienced guys on the mat and it can quickly turn into technique show and tell (“Hey, check this out!” “That reminds me of this…” “You gotta see how I do it…”) Keep your goals in mind and don’t get too far off track (unless it’s really something worth checking out.)
Put in the reps
Once you’ve figured out what you want to work on, start drilling. Then keep drilling. Discipline yourself to put in a healthy number of repetitions. No skimping on your reps because you don’t have an instructor keeping his hawk eyes on you. I’m sorry if this is boring but it’s good for you.
Find the right training partner
Who you train with can make or break an open mat. If they aren’t as motivated as you, it’s a pain to force them to drill when all they want to do is talk and spar a bit. You’re better off with a white belt that has a good worth ethic and is eager to learn than a lazy purple belt that doesn’t really feel like breaking a sweat. Finding the right person to team up with can give you a serious boost and make grappling R&D really fun and rewarding.
Do live drills
Take whatever you working on and make up live drills AKA isolation sparring for it. This is an fantastic training method that a lot of people overlook. Your drills can be as simple as starting from a specific position over and over again to running a series of situational exercises that increase in complexity as they go.
Take sparring seriously
Nothing bugs me more than two guys rolling for 1 minute before someone taps then spending 2 minutes talking about it. Save the discussion for later. Quick bits of advice or showing someone how to stop a move they’ve got caught in a couple times is OK. But you’re there to spar. Now is a good chance to push your endurance and forget time limits and go until you are absolutely dead.
Film your sparring
If you’ve got a camera and a tripod (or a willing third person), try getting your sparring sessions on video and watching them afterward. You’ll often be surprised by the things you do (and don’t do) that you never realized.
The simplest advice I can give to sum up my attitude towards everything said above, just give your priorities some thought, come up with a simple plan or goal, and go to open mat with an attitude of making sure you improve something in particular. You will still have fun and have plenty of time to roll or chill and hang out with buddies after you make your specific gains.