How to Self-Diagnose Jiu-Jitsu Problems
Early in my jiu-jitsu career, when YouTube was not a thing and the highest-ranking jiu-jitsu instructor within 50 miles of my Pittsburgh home was a brown belt, many aspiring jiu-jiteiros were so frustrated by the lack of jiu-jitsu in the world that they would try to teach themselves. Using magazines and DVDs, people would get together, drill, and attempt something that could be loosely described as rolling.
In those days, we often wrote about how important it was to have an actual instructor. We knew even then that teaching yourself was not a viable way to actually improve, and that argument had to be repeated again and again as YouTube rose in popularity and online instructional sites hit the scene.
At one point, a friend of mine who ran a Marcelo Garcia affiliate had the strange issue of students opting to not take his class and to instead only drill MGInAction.com material from a laptop in the corner.
For all of that chest-thumping about the importance of an instructor, myself and the other jiu-jitsu writers around the world may have drowned out an important point that I would like to make now: Playing a part in your own instruction is incredibly important, and too few students do it.
Here’s what you, as a student, need to be doing for yourself:
- Identifying your strengths
- Identifying your weaknesses
- Recognizing habit changes in yourself
- Looking for potential building points in your game
Notice that none of these points are “teach yourself technique.” At this stage, you can certainly find new techniques to supplement your training, but the bigger focus should not be adding as many techniques as you can but rather learning to see the opportunities for improvement in your own game.
To start this process, you need to reflect on your training on a regular basis, thinking back over your rolls and your drills to assess what choices you’re making on the mat. Here are some questions I often ask myself during these think-sessions:
- What techniques am I consistently looking for in each position, and why?
- What techniques are consistently working?
- What techniques are consistently failing? What is happening in the roll when those techniques fail? What choices lead up to that failure moment?
- Where do particular training partners give me the most challenge? Which parts of their individual games work best against mine?
- Is a technique that used to work well for me starting to fail? Am I picking up bad habits or are my training partners getting better at defending? If the latter, what are they doing differently?
- Are there positions where I feel like I don’t have options or I am not sure what to do next?
- Are there positions where I consistently struggle to defend or don’t fully understand what my opponent is doing to succeed?
When you answer these questions for yourself, you will get a better picture of where you are and where you might look to improve. If, for example, you find that your butterfly guard is not consistently giving you sweeps anymore, you can dive more deeply into why that is. You might discover that your setups are getting a bit lazy and that your best training partners are getting better with their base, which gives you two things to work on.
From there, you can go online for potential answers, and if your instructor is friendly, you can take your questions directly to him or her. If you lather, rinse, repeat this process throughout your career, you will always have something to work on, which means you will always have structure in your training to augment what your instructor covers in classes.
If you don’t do this for yourself, you might wait months for your exact need to pop up in the class material. This approach gets you to what you need much more quickly and more consistently.