How to Use BJJ Instructionals


The jiu-jitsu world is rich with instructionals, and in the early years, swapping bootleg VHS tapes and tattered magazine techniques—many of which were in Japanese or Portuguese—was the only way schools in remote locations could get new techniques. In those years, remote meant any non-major city that doesn’t have a beach.

Today, instructionals are readily available—books, DVDs, magazines, YouTube, webinars, and subscription sites. At the same time, instruction in schools has vastly improved. Seminars are far more accessible. Most schools are run by black belts. Finding an instructor with a large breadth of knowledge isn’t as hard as it used to be, but the instructional industry is still booming. The formats might be different, but we are still seeing high-level grapplers produce and sell instructionals.

Are they still relevant? Are they still helpful? How should you use an instructional?

White belts ask me these sorts of questions, and here’s the high points of how instructionals fit into a modern jiu-jitsu training routine:

  • First-off, nothing is more valuable than in-person instruction from a qualified instructor. This will always be the best way to learn jiu-jitsu, and you shouldn’t do the weird thing of ignoring great learning opportunities down the street to instead try to learn from a DVD. You’ll have a bad time.
  • Instructionals are great for troubleshooting and problem-solving. If you are struggling with a specific position, instructionals can give you ideas for what you could try now instead of hoping for the next class to teach exactly what you need. Once you’ve tried solving the problem yourself—a valuable learning opportunity in its own right—you will actually get more out of asking an upper belt or taking a private lesson because you have some context.
  • Gyms often develop overall styles based around how an instructor teaches. This isn’t bad; it’s just difficult for a smaller gym especially to expose students to the wide range of jiu-jitsu techniques available. Grabbing a move from an instructional can help to inject some variety into a gym, which ends up being good for everyone.
  • Jiu-jitsu is evolving quickly, and instructionals can help you stay on the cutting edge. With digital formats, you can now see a competitor’s latest innovation almost instantly, whether through competition footage or through their own content releases. There’s no way for even the best instructors to stay on top of everything, so instructionals can help on this front as well.

So instructionals are helpful provided that you are still training with legitimate instructors with equally legitimate training partners. That should be extremely clear.

Instructionals can be a powerful tool for your training, but they can also turn into something of a black hole if you don’t approach them correctly. You have probably seen someone fall into this trap, probably a white belt. He has a new favorite move every week, can’t stop talking about the latest thing he saw on YouTube, and seems to improve at a far slower pace than his peers. This is what happens when you dive too deep too quickly.

Here’s the better way to do it:

  1. Understand the difference between mental awareness and skill acquisition. If you watch an entire DVD from beginning to end, you likely won’t be able to execute much of what you saw, but your general awareness for what techniques exist increases, which is actually helpful from a big picture point of view. To actually apply what you watched, you need to dedicate serious time to practice and drilling.
  2. Drilling techniques is essential. Follow the same path that you follow in normal classes, ramping up from drilling against a non-resisting partner to experimenting with the technique in live training. The key here is to only drill one or two techniques from your instructional of choice. Expect to do that for at least a month for the techniques to really sink in.
  3. Notes and reviews are helpful. As you watch an instructional, take notes on what you need to remember so you have a reference point when you are in the gym. Once you drill the technique a bit, re-watch the instructional to make sure you are doing it correctly. You are likely to pick up on an additional nuance once you’ve tried the move a few times.
  4. Working with a buddy is more effective. If you have a training partner watching the same material to drill with, you will have better open mat experiences and are more likely to uncover insights into the technique (two heads are better than one). If you go solo, you can still get the job done, but it takes more work and probably won’t be as much fun.
  5. You don’t need to master an entire instructional for it to be valuable. If you walk away from a book or DVD with even just one new tip that you can actually apply, it’s worth it. As you progress on your journey, these insights will be harder to come by, so get used to working hard to find them.

Instructionals are a great supplement to your training, but please please please don’t forget that your instructors and training partners are there to help you too. If you make the most out of your gym time and your off time, you will see significant improvements in your game.