Black Belt Advice: What You Should Be Working On Once You’ve Got The Basics

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I teach some seminars in a city that doesn’t have regular black belt instruction, so the students are super eager to get feedback on their training. I like to observe them training together with their regular coach to see the strengths and weaknesses of the various students. The majority of students had more than 1 year of steady BJJ classes and demonstrated a wide variety of techniques competently.

Following the training, several students approached me separately and asked the same question “What should I be working on?”

This is a different type of question than the technique based questions “What do I do in this position?” that many 1st year students ask. They need a specific move for a common ground situation and help with the correct mechanics.

That changes after a BJJ student has a few years of experience. The more experienced student has seen and knows a good number of techniques. They have some idea of their game and what they do well.

It is little surprise that the advice I had for each student was different. Most of the students have knowledge of the same set of techniques, but the real art of jiu-jitsu is how we combine them and express them in our own way.

A coach is more valuable when they can help the fighter or student see less obvious things from an outside and experienced perspective.

Here is some of the advice that I gave to different students after watching them roll with different partners.

1) Make your grips count! One of the more experienced students had nice movement, was able to transition quickly and smoothly between positions as the roll unfolded.
However, they changed the positions too quickly. Rapidly abandoning a pass or attack and changing to another. I suggested that they were releasing the technique too soon because they were not REALLY using those grips or hooks to make their opponents feel uncomfortable or control them. I suggested the student study how the individual components of a move make the techniques they already know more effective. You don’t need to keep switching attacks hoping your opponent doesn’t know how to deal with your next move.

2) Applying principles to HOW the move is applied. In the early period of many blue belt’s training, they are amassing and applying a wide variety of different techniques. The challenge is to learn the right move for a given situation. “The right tool for the right job” black belt Shawn Williams is fond of saying. After a basic level if competence is acquired in those individual moves, and the ability to recognize the appropriate technique for a specific situation, we look beyond the mere technique. HOW are we applying that same move with a greater degree of timing, sensitivity and precision?

Perhaps the best example is to ask “Are you applying your move directly in a straight ahead fashion? Or are you making use of the principle of action/reaction to set your opponent up and use their force and momentum against them?”

Watch professional boxers, and it is all about the combinations to create openings against skilled opponents with solid defense. They employ counter strategies to capitalize on the openings their opponents expose.

Ask yourself how you can feint your opponent to conceal your real intention and catch them by surprise with the very same techniques that are your favorites.

Do you ask your instructor for advice on what you need to work on after they watch you roll? What was their answer?

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