Why Writing is the Key to Returning from a Layoff

Around 2010 or so, the training fad of the day was “mind maps,” which were essentially decision trees for jiu-jitsu positions in part popularized by the flowchart in Eddie Bravo’s Mastering the Rubber Guard and championed by a few dozen BJJ bloggers.

The instructional value of seeing a gameplan mapped out with “if this then that” logic was clear. It makes the progression of positions and counters easier to follow by condensing dozens of techniques and tactical decisions into a singular diagram. The mind map champions took this idea and applied it to their own games. By creating a flowchart of your preferred options—what you do when someone postures with grip A versus grip B and on and on—you give yourself a big picture view of your game that you might be missing.

By zooming out and creating this map, you can identify holes in your game. With the map in front of you, you can see that you have six solutions for one problem but only one solution for another (or perhaps no solutions at all), so the mind map becomes a tool for self-diagnosis and self-directing your training.

Photo Credit: Mastering the Rubber Guard by Eddie Bravo

Mind mapping isn’t talked about as much these days—it went the way of the balance ball drills and Ginastica Natural—but there is still value to the process. For me, the biggest value of mapping out your game is simply to have a record of what you like to do and why, which is a powerful asset to have when you’re coming back from a long layoff induced by an injury.

Let me give you an example.

I’m pretty much perpetually on crutches, so I’ll save the sob story, but when I’m not on crutches I write books and shoot a lot of videos. There was even a time where I was filming every one of my no-gi classes and uploading them to YouTube for my students to reference later. In essence, I have a back catalogue of informal mind maps to reference as I start the long process of de-rusting my techniques. What was once second nature can now take a bit of thinking to pull out of the depths of my memory.

Instead of sitting and thinking on it until it comes back to me, I can look back over my notes and my videos and learn my material again from myself.

That might sound strange, but there are many occasions where you are the best jiu-jitsu teacher for yourself, and this is one of them. Having a record of your game, even if it’s not completely comprehensive and not as detailed as an instructional video can save you a lot of time when you’re coming back from an injury. If you’ve never done any sort of jiu-jitsu journaling or mind mapping before, here’s an easy way to get started:

  1. Make a list of the major positions you find yourself in (your favorite guard variations, half guard bottom, half guard top, etc etc).
  2. List your top 3 or 4 techniques for each of those positions and the “trigger” or opportunity you look for as the prompt to use that technique.
  3. Don’t worry about being incredibly detailed for your first pass. As long as you write enough to remember what you mean 6 months from now, you’ll be in good shape.
  4. For bonus points, film a few of your rolls or make a list of YouTube URLs that teach some of the more complicated techniques in your list.

See? That’s pretty simple stuff. You don’t need to map everything to help your recovery process. More is better, of course, but the best solution is one that you will actually follow through with, so small is fine. If you can, come back to the document every few months to update it, and try to put it in a place where you won’t lose it. For me, cloud documents are ideal, but for you it might be a journal on your book shelf.

If you are in the unfortunate position of coming back from an injury, dust off your list of techniques and use it as your drilling guide. As you go through your favorite options, the details will come back to you more readily because you aren’t starting from zero, which will make your ramp-up back to 100% capacity more efficient and less frustrating.

But here’s hoping you don’t get injured in the first place.