The Best Way to Learn from Instructionals

The world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructionals is bigger and better than ever, but with so many DVDs, books, apps, and subscription sites to choose from, where do you begin? This is a wonderful problem to have, but a problem nonetheless. Consider this quote:

“What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.” – Herbert Simon, Recipient of Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics

As a self-professed instructional junkie, here are my tips for making the best use of all the content available to you:

Don’t overload your brain. As a white belt, I would spend hours watching every encyclopedic “BJJ from A-Z” DVD set I could find. How much of this did I end up using? Maybe 0.1%. Save the time and brain cells by limiting yourself. Pick a specific instructor, technique, position or submission. Get that instructional and resist the urge to binge watch it. Work your way through it in digestible chunks. It’s OK to stop watching for the day if you see something you really want to practice and your mental capacity is already close to full.

Focus in. Within your chosen instructional, select 2-3 techniques to work on at a time. Maybe these are the first techniques shown on the DVD, or a certain sequence that caught your eye. Study these, watching or reading them a few times. Try taking notes like you’re in a traditional lecture. Later in the day, before you go to practice, try to visualize the moves: How did the instructor explain it? What were the steps, and how did that look? Can you remember this clearly?

Partner up. Learning new material by yourself can be tough. Finding a regular training partner who shares your interests and who is willing to put in the work can be invaluable. You will benefit from a second pair of eyes and someone else’s brain sharing their interpretation of the techniques you studied. They might spot something you missed in the instructional, or have a useful insight into a move that’s giving you trouble. Plus you need the warm body to practice on.

Drill it and do it. When you go to open mats (ideally with your designated study buddy), don’t just mindlessly roll a few rounds and go home. Warm up by drilling the techniques you want to focus on. Set a timer to do rounds of positional sparring and isolate the situation where your techniques apply. Take turns both doing and receiving the moves. Start at a lower resistance level and work your way up. See if you can recruit other training partners to join in so you can practice against different body types. Then when it comes time to roll, try to put yourself into the positions to try your techniques.

Now find a second opinion. Once you have put in the work and had success with your chosen techniques, check out how other experts teach it. No two people are built exactly the same, and even if they were, their experiences and preferences will lead to the development of unique styles. You may be surprised to find different black belts all teaching the “same” fundamental move in different ways. Sometimes, they will contradict each other, with one saying they only do it one way, while another says to never do it that way. Who is right and who is wrong? Probably nobody, but you have to dig deeper into what they are doing to see why they prefer their way. Is it a matter of body type (big or small, tall or short), speed (fast or slow), style (crushing, dynamic, sneaky, etc.)? Answering these questions for yourself will give you great insight and help you adapt the technique for your game.

Those are my tips for maximizing what you get out of instructionals. Let me know if you have any more you’d like to add!

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