I’m a firm believer that BJJ students should take an active role in their learning once they have a few basics under their belts.
Of course, when you are just starting out, it is all new and you are at the stage of competence called “unconscious incompetence”. It sounds really bad, but it just means that when you first begin any complicated endeavor, you don’t know what you don’t know. Every BJJ class will provide a new technique that is the answer to one of your problems.
After sweating through many kimonos on the mats, you progress to a higher stage called “conscious incompetence,” which might be translated as “your guard sucks and you know that your guard sucks!”
There is a great question to ask at this stage of your learning: “What aspect of my jiu-jitsu, if focused upon for the next 30 days, would make the biggest difference in my jiu-jitsu?”
“Everything!” you might be tempted to answer, but it is more helpful to narrow your focus to a key area of your game.
I’ll share a few examples from when I was a brown belt. I would answer that question and then focus my drilling and positional sparring on that area for one month or more. Depending on your experience level and personal game, you will likely have different answers.
1) Guard Retention
Watching competition matches of top guys, I saw that they possessed incredible guard retention and recovery if their guard was in danger of being passed. One moment it appeared they were about to surrender side control, but in a split second, they would Granby roll, invert, or find a place for a hook and be back safe in their guard.
Everyone focuses on triangles and sweeps from their guards, but I would argue that guard retention and recovery are more commonly used skills.
I studied how black belts were doing it and drilled my Granby rolls and looked to employ it in live rolling.
2) Back Control
Everyone knows that getting the back should be a “kill position,” but my own back mount was not exactly striking fear in the hearts of my rolling partners. When I would catch an opponent’s back, I would hope that I could hurriedly snatch a submission before they wriggled their way out.
I saw that if I could improve my back control and finishing, there would be far fewer scrambles for position in those opportunities when I had taken the back. I focused on control using the seat belt and details for getting the rear naked choke, and my back mount game leapt to the next level.
3) Breaking Grips
I was getting repeatedly terrorized in my instructor’s guard by his superior grip fighting. As soon as I would attempt to pass, he would get his grips and make life hell!
I had resolved to improve my own grip fighting game and had a simple mantra: “Break grips!” When you watch two top BJJ competitors in a guard pass/defend battle, a huge part of the fight is who gets the grips they want. My month of increased attention to breaking grips helped me avoid getting swept as often.
So I turn the question back to you: what aspect of your jiu-jitsu, if focused upon for the next 30 days, would make the biggest difference in you jiu-jitsu?