Smaller Circles

Smaller Circles

When my mom tells me the story of my time in kindergarten, first there’s the mandatory prelude of the battle to get me into the building. As soon as we parked, I would turn into a spider monkey and get a hold of anything that would keep me in the vehicle. I was not big fan of the whole schooling thing it turns out.

Another story she loves to tell is how I would get an classroom activity to draw as many circles as I could on a sheet a paper. My first attempt was to draw one giant circle the size of the sheet of paper and turn it in. When I was told I needed to try again and draw smaller circles, I found a coin and traced it over and over again, turning in a page full of suspiciously uniform perfect circles.

Fast forward about 20 years. I read the “The Art Of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin, the chess prodigy turned Marcelo Garcia black belt. In one chapter, he talks about refining technique using the analogy of drawing smaller circles as we refine and improve our abilities and rid ourselves of unnecessary motion. This concept has stuck with me. This concept is easily apparent when you watch a BJJ class. The black belt instructor shows a technique, and the class tries to replicate it. If you look around the room you see the lower belts being awkward and choppy, taking extra steps, putting their arms in the wrong spot, and struggling their way through it. As they get more reps in, after seeing the technique again and getting some guidance, they do something close to the technique, but still not there. It will take years of practice to internalize the technique and to be able to pull it off on a competent opponent.

Every time I pick up a new technique or drill a new transition, I ask myself where can I make the circle smaller: What part of it can be refined? Are my grips optimal for what I am trying to attempt? Are my feet in the right position? How long do I need to hold on before transitioning to my next grip? Are my hips in the correct angle? As I practice and start to hit the move on live opponents, some of this changes come natural, while some I need to spend time drilling in order to internalize. No matter what the change is, it will take time and repetitions.

Now that I am older, I realize that it is a long way from that big awkward circle to the those precious small ones. I also realize there is no shortcut to get there. The only way you will make those circles smaller and smoother is to put the reps in. Whenever lower belts asked me how I got so good at “X part of my game”, my answer is that I’ve been working on it for almost 12 years. Enjoy the journey, and realize whatever part of your game you want to improve, you need to put time in, both drilling and sparring. Your takedowns will not get better by sitting guard every time, and your guard passing will never improve if you sit back for footlock every time. Make those circles smaller.