How your brain learns Jiu-Jitsu

.The idea of progress and development is central to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. One of the biggest reasons people quit Jiu-Jitsu is that they do not feel like they are progressing. Students are often desperate to progress and spend lots of time looking up videos and trying techniques without ever truly looking into what might be the best way to actually learn something.

Perfecting a technique often takes years. Marcelo Garcia says it took him 5 years to perfect his North South choke and he is still trying to improve it. Learning is often slow but taking the time to understand concepts and focus your learning can produce massive rewards.

Typical class

In a typical Jiu-Jitsu class, a teacher might demonstrate 3-5 different techniques. Each technique will be drilled a number of times before the class is wrapped up with a sparring session. Often the techniques shown will not feature in the next class that the students attend and within a week or two, they will have forgotten most of the details of each technique.

I am not saying that this way of teaching is wrong. However, it is not the best way to learn based on what we know about cognitive development.

Short terms vs Long term Memory

Human memory can be divided into Sensory, Short term and long term memory. Short-term memory is used when we look up a number in the phone book and remember it only long enough to make the call. Long-term memory is the memory needed for things like exams and mastering Jiu-Jitsu techniques.

Important information is gradually transferred from short-term memory into long-term memory. The more the information is repeated or used, the more likely it is to eventually end up in long-term memory, or to be “retained.” Unlike sensory and short-term memory, which are limited and decay rapidly, long-term memory can store unlimited amounts of information indefinitely. It is here in the long term memory that we want our Jiu-Jitsu technique to be stored.

Taking notes is often referred to as recoding. This is the process of rearranging, rephrasing, changing or grouping material so that it becomes more meaningful and easier to recall. Taking notes for Jiu-Jitsu is a great way of committing techniques and concepts into your long term memory.

Jiu-Jitsu memory

Maybe you are trying to improve your single leg x sweep. Perhaps you know the main points of the technique but often struggle to put it together and cannot implement against resisting opponents.

If you keep a journal, try noting down details on each step of the sweep and keep a record of how you get on when trying the sweep on real opponents. By reviewing the steps of the sweep and comparing it you your previous week’s notes, it will become obvious where you need to focus your attention.

As time passes you will find yourself automatically going through the steps of the sweep without consciously thinking about every movement. You can then link the sweeps to other attacks in the same way that you have linked the steps of the sweep.

The sweep will become intuitive and you will have a holistic understanding of the positions that tie in with the sweep.

Top tips

Here are a few tips to ensure the best use of your time when trying to learn new techniques.

  • Focus on one or two techniques. You may already have a technique that you like that you want to improve. Although it is tempting to spend your time searching for new moves, why not take the time to focus on one or two techniques.
  • Practice them over and over in a live setting. Try them out with training partners and try to use in a live sparring setting. Practicing against a resisting opponent is a great way to learn.
  • Make notes on your progress and shortcomings. Detail your successes and ways that you can improve on a weekly basis.