I remember when I first started training seriously and I realized how far behind the curve I was. I didn’t know just how much I didn’t know, and I didn’t know what I needed to do.
The answer, of course, was literally right under my feet: put time in on the mat.
Even the most phenomenal natural athletes who get their black belts quicker than everyone else have to put time in on the mat. Granted that length of time is generally shorter and its effect is generally far greater, but still, there is no magic in this game.
As you put more time in on the mat, you will find yourself naturally doing things that you didn’t know you were capable of doing.
For example the other day I was rolling with someone and I put him in an arm bar. He turned to get out of the arm bar so I transitioned to the omoplata. He turned his back to relieve the pressure from the omoplata and I closed up the triangle and rolled back to my back. The only conscious transition in this fray was the arm bar to omoplata combo. Everything else was hardwired movement. I never thought my body would naturally do these things.
I see lots of people try to learn tricks; they try to find shortcuts around mat time. They figure that if they know a move or a specific set of moves, they will be able to counteract the long term benefits that mat time has on their opponents and training partners. One or two days a week may be enough for YOU, but it is not enough to elevate your game.
The more time you put in on the mat, the more comfortable you will be there. It’s a difficult process because you need to force yourself to do some things that you don’t necessarily want to do.
Apart from my professor, the best grappler at our gym is a Luta Livre black belt and MMA fighter. He is kind enough to drill with me often, and every time, he does the same set of 3-4 moves over and over again. He is a phenomenal grappler, and the way he got there was through drilling simple moves over and over again, day in and day out. No secrets, no magic bullets or beans; just constant drilling.
Drilling is, of course, not enough. You’ve got to experience “the grind.” You need to roll with training partners of all skill levels, below, equal, and above yours. Every moment you spend training adds to your technical proficiency. The more time you put in, the faster and more effectively you will improve.