Learn BJJ More Effectively With Great Training Partners
One of the most important factors in learning BJJ is the quality of your training partners. Me and people like me who want to learn bjj attend class every single day, lift weights, do extra cardiovascular work, have the best stretching program, and even try have an immaculate diet. But if you are not working your skills with and against quality teammates you are quite frankly missing out on what could be tons of improvement in your game.
There are many factors that can lead you to being surrounded by high level practitioners, partners who are just as hungry as you are, and people who are dedicated to getting better. Some of these factors you can control like seeking out the highest quality gym in your area for example. There are training facilities closer to where I currently live than Stout Training Pittsburgh, however I choose to make the drive each and every day because I believe our team is simply the best in the area and that this will lead me to becoming the best martial artist I can be. I control this factor of my game’s improvement. However, there are obviously things that are outside of your control in surrounding yourself with the absolute best training partners you can…the most obvious being that perhaps you are in an area that has virtually zero quality training partners or even schools to learn at. In this situation, is it hopeless for one to improve their jiujitsu to their highest potential? The simple is answer is of course not.
In my opinion, the most efficient way to gain better and better training partners is to actually create them. “Iron sharpens Iron” is a familiar maxim touted among the combat sports crowd and with good reason. The best practitioners usually train with other elite practitioners—they make each other better through continuous competition with one another. While elevating your teammate’s game through hard training over time is a way to eventually progress your own game, this process is exponentially faster if you yourself are improving as a training partner as well.
Numerous characteristics go into being “good” at jiujitsu. Whether it be strength, endurance, flexibility or other physical attributes, without question improving your physicality will yield positive results in your jiujitsu…however, this process of physical improvement takes long periods of time and commitment. There are ways outside of increasing the aforementioned physical characteristics or abilities that will lead you to becoming a better training partner for your teammates. In turn, going by the “iron sharpens iron” mentality, while you are improving yourself this will improve your partners and they will then continue to elevate you—this is a never-ending cycle of improvement. Here are 5 methods you can use apply to your jiujitsu to become a better training partner.
1. Stop trying to win every roll
It never fails. Every gym has one or even a handful of guys that have been training a long time that do not understand the concept of not going one hundred percent during a roll. Whether it be ego or actual lack of understanding of how to properly train, these guys and girls never want to tap out or even look like they are “losing”. They implement the same exact techniques in every round, they spaz out of bad positions over using proper technique, and they generally never relax while they are training. While I am all for hard training, it must be at appropriate times. Perhaps the world’s greatest grappler Marcelo Garcia constantly speaks of “opening your game” during rolling in the gym. Marcelo believes that if you are never attempting new things in the gym, then during the times that you need to rely on what you do best (like a fight, competition, or self-defense situation) what happens when that tactic doesn’t work? What will your go-to be?
Further, working at or near one hundred percent effort during training always comes with risk. One cannot hope to train as hard as they physically can every single session and not expect to deal with both acute and chronic injuries because of it. Over time you will end up spending more and more time out of the gym regrouping from injuries then had you simply managed your energy, left your ego at the door, and started trying to learn rather then win during your training.
“Stop trying to win and try to learn. Because when you try to learn you always win. Then you will eventually start to just win.”
–Josh Barnett, BJJ Black Belt, former UFC Heavyweight champion
2. Learn to drill properly and drill more often
Drilling is something that many students find “boring”, yet it is something that will improve your jiujitsu game immensely. Because of its slow-paced nature, I see many people simply going through the motions during drill time. They will talk about anything and everything, generally move at a lackluster pace, or even simply drill the technique wrongly and not give it a second thought—they are not present during this learning period and their mind is somewhere else…they are anticipating live training. This is something that can be corrected by simply seeing the value in drilling. Unfortunately, seeing the fruits of the labor that is drilling takes time and patience but You can shorten this time by drilling more efficiently.
Communicate with your training partner about what you are trying to accomplish and instruct them as to which the reaction you are trying to anticipate. Let them know when they need to get heavier or where they should be posting a hand or even the speed of their movement. Don’t be shy with your partner as this is a time where good communication can mean all the difference between a quality practice session or one that is wasted.
Understanding that repetition is the mother of learning is the first step in becoming a better driller. The more you appreciate the fact that it takes hundreds if not thousands of repetitions to engrain a new technique into your subconscious the quicker you will find yourself becoming a more efficient driller. Put your nose down and drill no matter that monotony as it pays off in the long run.
3.Improve your physical condition
This one falls under ways to actually improve your own jiujitsu but it goes further than that. A common thing in drilling technique is when one partner gets tired while the other partner still has plenty of gas in the tank. This mismatch of endurance can lead to both partners not getting as much out of the practice as they could have and thus both people’s skill progression can stagnate. This is especially true if you always are drilling with the same partners during class which happens often. By simply improving your own physical condition, you are not only making yourself a better grappler but you are making your partner better as well.
4. Learn to give feedback to your partner
Feedback about what is working and what is not is a crucial piece of information that can only be relayed to a jiujitsu practitioner by their training partner or opponent. It’s one thing to observe from and outsider’s point of view and identify things people are doing wrong in their game—it’s entirely different to spar someone and then tell them what things you were having trouble dealing with and what they could have done better. By learning to tell your partner’s things like “That choke wasn’t in, but if you had just adjusted your angle this way, then I think I would have had to tap” you will make your partner adjust their technique and by doing so they will improve said technique. This is not to say that every person on the mat should instruct or teach–Teaching technique should be left to the instructors but honest feedback about what your partner is doing right and wrong—or what you THINK they are doing right or wrong—is an invaluable piece of training information.
5.Keep yourself healthy
Your personal health and hygiene, though sometimes an afterthought when it comes to training, should be something everyone thinks about before every training session. Whether as obvious as showering immediately after training to help stop skin conditions or something less obvious like being sure your fingernails are trimmed low, everyone can help out everyone else in a jiujitsu gym through simple practices of good training-hygiene. Brushing your teeth or chewing gum to prevent bad breath sounds silly but many people do not think about it…having a training partner with funky breath sucks! Making sure you have more than one gi to cycle through if you train more than a couple times a week is a huge help in making your training session as pleasant as possible for your partner—jiujitsu can be hard enough without the added fight of smelling body odor! Further, injury status is something that can be considered a part of your health in terms of your training. Training injured, though seemingly “gritty”, can not only lead to your further injuring yourself it can be a huge detriment to your training partner. If one partner has an injury that is limiting their capacity to train hard, their partner will have to train at that level of intensity as well as to not exacerbate the problem—it’s never fun having to train “light” when you really don’t want to. If you are injured, stay off the mats and heal up.
Skill progression in the art of Brazilian JiuJitsu is never a straight line; everyone experiences peaks, valleys, plateaus and everything in between. By trying to become a better training partner to those around you will increase their own proficiency over time. In helping those around you get better, you yourself will end up reaping the benefits of having a strong team.
by Marc Sestok
Amateur MMA fighter, grappling competitor, Personal Trainer, and Jiu jitsu blue belt under Stout Training Pittsburgh – Team Renzo Gracie