What to Do When Your Progress Stalls Out
As you advance in your study of jiu-jitsu, you can expect to hit a slump in those middle belts. Life as a white belt is tough in many ways, since you’re on the receiving end of so many beatings, but the path forward is also clearly laid out: just keep coming to class, pay attention to your instructor’s teachings, and keep learning and trying to apply the techniques.
Often, around the end of blue belt, and more so in purple and even brown belt, it is common to feel like the old routine is not working like it used to, that you are not getting as much out of class as you used to, and you are left feeling directionless and unsure how to make steady progress.
In today’s post, we are going to talk about how to overcome this slump by shifting into a mindset that will propel you through these awkward stages into the advanced levels of jiu-jitsu.
Take on a self-motivated mindset.
As a more advanced student, you may start to feel like your instructor is giving you less direction, leaving you feeling adrift. This can be frustrating, since you have been dependent on them for so long as your source of techniques and advice. Whether this it is right or wrong is another debate, but it is common for instructors to shift their focus to newer students and leave the higher belts to figure out more on their own. You can save yourself some trouble by accepting this and adopting the mindset that you will need to plan out your own training more and find ways to self-motivate to give yourself direction. This attitude will be needed to make the most of the recommendations below.
Work on your attributes like timing, awareness, sensitivity, prediction, etc.
Certain traits are hard to teach because they can be tricky to put into words, and instead need to be gained through experience as an innate skill or talent. It’s not that we cannot try to describe them--in fact, I highly recommended you talk with other higher ranked students about what these abilities mean to them and how they went about developing them. But in the end, it is very different to “know” something by talking about it and “know” it through personal experience. The normal trial-and-error of sparring is how most of us develop these attributes, but we can fall into an “auto pilot” mode where we are not putting as much of ourselves into the learning process as we could.
Develop your combinations.
The ability to use combinations of techniques and attacks is where your attributes and technical knowledge meet. Practicing combinations is something you can do in the old fashioned way: simply pick a sequence of 2-3 or more moves and drill them. Better yet, get a trusty training partner and set yourself up to do positional games/drills where you can get in a lot of “reps against resistance.”
As a beginner, the solution to most problems was to learn a new technique. At the intermediate to advanced levels, you should have enough techniques to deal with all the common situations/positions, and many of the uncommon ones, you can find yourself in while grappling with another human being. The focus shifts away from technique collecting to technique refinement and attribute development.
Find your specialties as you refine your gameplan.
By now, you have learned enough techniques and copied from other people’s games enough to have a sense of what you like and what you don’t like. Now is the time to take that to the next level and fully flesh out your gameplan. Your gameplan will evolve over time, and it still needs to leave room for improvisation, but having one will help direct your focus in training.
Continue to expand and round out your game, but cut the fat.
This advice may seem to contradict what I just said about finding your specialty and not collecting too many techniques, but even as you “sharpen your sword” by becoming a master of certain techniques, you need to keep an open mind so you can stay open to the possibilities of new techniques (or techniques you overlooked in the past) becoming valuable to you.
This process of expanding and contracting your game is just the natural ebb and flow of jiu-jitsu, and for many of us (like me), part of what makes it so fun. You can always learn more, whether that’s going deeper into one aspect, or going broader by learning something entirely new, or by finding the new connections between old techniques and new techniques.
Be in it for the long haul.
When you know nothing and you learn one thing, that is a huge improvement. When you know one thing and you learn a second thing, you just doubled your knowledge. But when you have been doing this for years, learning one more new thing just adds it to the pile of things you already know, most of which you probably don’t even use. That thrill of gaining a new insight or solving a big problem gets harder and harder to come by. This may not sound romantic, but sometimes you just have to take the workaday attitude and keep putting in the hours on the mat.
I hope these tips are helpful to you as you navigate your way through those middle years of jiu-jitsu. Let me know if you have any tips of your own to add by leaving a comment. And, of course, feel free to ask any questions if you have a specific issue you want help getting over.