Goal oriented training
Have a specific technique or area of focus for each rolling session. For example, I will come into training thinking “Today I am going to work on passing the butterfly guard”. You may even want to let your training partners know this and start in those positions.
Make BJJ a priority in your life, training 3-5 times a week EVERY week. It’s no coincidence that the best guys in class also have the best attendance.
Set a schedule for yourself and don’t let anything that isn’t really major interrupt it. Some guys get good really quick, but the best guys have all put in countless hours to get there. You will never see your game improve as fast as it should if you are missing classes or weeks of training.
Take advantage of your training partners
Make a mental note of who has the best guard, takedowns, passing, pins, or escapes. Then work with them, allowing them to use their strengths. This will highlight your mistakes and help you monitor your progress. Once you can consistently overcome their strong points then you know you are seriously improving. I never pull guard against someone if I know they have a slick bottom game, I want to be on top.
Study everyone else’s game – When you aren’t sparring study your teammate’s games and try to pick up their effective moves. Go over it in your head as they spar. Think about when you would be able to use that move, or how you would counter it. Ask them what little adjustments they make so that the technique works better.
Ask your instructor questions
All too often I see brown and black belts teach class and ask, “Any questions or things you guys want to work on?” and everyone is SILENT. Always have a question in mind, unless you are an absolute phenom there will always be a position where you don’t feel 100% confident.
Try new things
I always use white belts for this. I will take a move or setup that I haven’t tried yet and try to pull it off on the beginners. This works well because if you are still unsure about parts of it, you most likely will not be able to pull it off at all on the more advanced guys. For example, I’m trying to learn the twister right now, so whenever I roll with white belts or new blues that is what I go for. It also helps because it makes rolling with those much less skilled than yourself challenging.
Work on a new area until you feel it is one of your strengths, then move on to another. Work on keeping your guard, for example, until it is almost impossible for any others close to your level to pass, and really difficult for someone advanced to get by. Then add your sweeps. Once you are sweeping blues easily and higher belts on occasion, move to subs from the guard, etc…
Privates with your instructor work wonders. Roll with them or have them watch you roll with someone who usually get the better of you, then have them point out areas you need to improve upon or blatant mistakes you are making.
Train at different gyms
I realized that having new perspectives helped me greatly. Also, the experience of rolling with guys you don’t know anything about will make your moves much sharper. This is especially true if you are the most technical one in your academy, don’t fall into the “big fish in a small pond syndrome”.
Compete as often as possible
Under the stress of competition the true nature of your skills come out. Also it helps to let you know where you stand in the larger scheme of things by giving you a realistic look at where you stand against other guys with the same belt level.
Teach new guys
If you can get a pure beginner to do a move 100% accurately then you know that you have it down. It is good practice to make sure you are aware of each little detail that makes a technique work.
Roll until you are exhausted at every training session
I see many guys pack their bags and go home when they have barely worked up a sweat. I always try to train until my instructors tell me they have to lock up and go home. Even if I’m so tired that I’m getting my ass kicked by someone of lower rank, the experience of training when you have no strength left will vastly improve your game both mentally and physically.
Your cardio is a technique. You may know a lot, but you won’t be able to express it well if you are worried that you are going to run out of air. You can really open up your game and keep pressure on your opponent if your lungs can handle the constant movement and explosiveness.
Train in inferior positions
Allow your training partners to get your back, pass your guard, or mount you. Don’t let them know that you are allowing them to have the position (I say this because if they think they got it legitimately they tend to get excited and really work for the finish, which is good for you). Stay in the inferior position and work on simply avoiding the submissions, then work your escapes. This will help you feel comfortable in even the worst situations, which in my opinion is a major difference between an inexperienced grappler and a experienced one.
Have a good balance between top and bottom
If I tap someone from my guard, then I will make it my goal to pass and tap them from side control during the next roll. If I tap someone from the top, I will pull guard the next time. When I was a new blue belt I had a decent guard and I would tend to neglect my top game while rolling because I could tap most people from the bottom, it was an ego thing I had to get over and it held me back some. Now when I roll I always alternate between top and bottom, not allowing myself to neglect either area.
Find someone who can manhandle you
Never back down from sparring the toughest guys in class. Each sparring session, put your ego aside and roll with the best guy you can find, also spar with heavy guys, quick guys, and guys with unlimited endurance. As a beginner or intermediate grappler, you are under no pressure to be brilliant, so use that time to open up your game and test the positions you know against guy who know what they are doing.
Drill things to death
Take about ten minutes before or after you roll to just work on the techniques you’ve been shown over the past few days of class. Also try to take one day a week and make it your drilling day. That day spend at least a half hour – 45 minutes just repeating techniques and sequences over, and over and over. It’s boring and I hate doing it, but it helps a great deal.
Although it is boring, many of the best guys I know devote a portion of every training session to drilling a basic movement with a partner.
Find positions that fit your game and work them in sparring until you can rely on them against just about anyone. For example, there was a time when my all-around game was weak, but I knew that I had one sweep from my half-guard that I could catch just about anyone with. Didn’t matter what level they were, I knew I would sweep them if I got the underhook in the half-guard. You need a technique like that from every position to go to against tougher guys. You’ll start to learn set-up for those specialized techniques and areas and then it will keep branching off from there which will then lead to you developing a game/style for yourself.
Share your tricks
Share your tricks with anyone who asks. As they get better, they will be more competition for you. When you have tough competition, you will inevitably get tougher to beat yourself.
Use training sessions as a time to learn not win
Think of a move you want to pull off and the situation that would require it. When training, the sparring sessions should be more about pulling off that move/moves than winning the match. To me, it’s more important if you pull off a move you’ve been wanting to implement in your game then tapping your teammate in class. It’s a great feeling finally getting a move you’ve been wanting for a long time, even if the end result is you getting tapped. Tourneys are about playing your best game and playing to win; class is all about experimenting.
Training isn’t just on the mat. It is also in the mind. When you learn a technique that you feel works for your game or you’ve been having trouble pulling off a certain move. Think about how you can make your technique better and practice in your head. Visualize your movements and try to feel and react in your mind what it is you can and will do to beat your opponent. I also recommend a book called “The Mind Gym” to aid in your mental training.
Just like stated before practice isn’t the time to go full force and try to maul your partners. It is a time to learn and improve. True there are times in class where you do want to play to win. I would say maybe 1 out of every 5 classes, but for the most part you want to improve and become as technical as possible. It is important to focus on good technique first and then add your attributes. It will make things much easier in the long run. If you feel your self muscling out of position or using your speed instead take a moment to stop and thing what the proper technique it is you can use to accomplish your goal. If your not sure you can always “ASK QUESTIONS”. Remember this the more technique you use the less energy you waste.
Don’t Ever Forget The Basics
A lot of people get wrapped up in the newest techniques that are coming out. While some are very good and some are not. It is also extremely important that you don’t forget about the basics. If you watch any major tournament you will see that most matches are won by using mostly the basics. If you are not proficient at the basics you will never be able to properly expand upon your skills and add any new techniques and make them work easily for you.
I know BJJ is a ground fighting art but too many schools neglect the importance of the stand-up game. Most altercations start from the feet and ALL tournaments start on the feet. Especially when you start to move up the ranks and as time goes on you will see that more and more people are getting comfortable with there takedown abilities.
When you are the one that dictates where the fight is going to be and when and how it will go to the ground that is a big confidence booster. If you are the one to take your opponent down chances are you not only physically gave yourself an advantage but you did mentally to, because you felt confident on your feet and you startled your opponent because you just dictated the fight from the beginning. It is always nice to be able to stand in front of your opponent and not be afraid of getting taken down and resorting to pulling guard.
Thanks for reading!