I find that I overtrain and think I need to be at class every day to make more progress, but in truth, I get the most out of training when I miss more class! Something about the break let’s all the information gel in my brain, and I often do really awesome, interesting things after a couple days off. Where do you get the meat of your training? And how do you prioritize quality over quantity?
Let’s agree first and foremost that overtraining and realizing you need to cut back is probably a better problem to have than under training and realizing you ought to train more.
I recall as a white belt watching a video where Ryron Gracie mentions that as a teenager he was told three words from his grandfather that took him from brown to black belt in a short amount of time. Unfortunately, he did not mention what those three words were in the video, so I eventually made the trek to his academy ask him to share what he was told. Over five years later, this quote still predominates as the preeminent jiu-jitsu quote that I live by on a day-to-day basis.
“Observe; don’t attack.”
The power of observation is the most powerful force that will help you grow as a jiu-jitsu artist.
Recently, I have been making it a point to consciously attempt to listen to people in everyday conversation with the intent to understand rather than the intent to respond. A terrible habit of mine is speaking without fully listening others, throwing out my pre-formed opinion, not pausing to see how the words or the body language of the other person change the dynamic of the conversation subsequently challenging the appropriateness of my pre-formed opinion. This is a habit which I notice throws a wrench in even the most lively of conversations as a result of my random non-sequitur. Introspection is never easy, it is a higher skill in humans that separates us from lesser life forms.
Applying this idea to jiu-jitsu, a common error I notice amongst students in jiu-jitsu class is they listen to the instructor with the intention to replicate the technique rather than listening with the intention to understand its mechanics. Understanding the technique allows us universal application from a variety of angles. Replicating a technique means doing it on one side, in one situation, under one set of circumstances. During drilling, I often have training partners insist on practicing a move on both sides, whereas I hold steadfast that it is better to be world class on one side than decent at both. If you are able to understand what makes the technique work at it’s deepest level, ambidextrous application shouldn’t be a problem. Too often we become obsessed about over replicating the microscopic details of our instructors movements, then along comes someone like 4-year white-to-black belt Kit Dale who releases an entire DVD program completely disregarding technical drilling and attributing simple observation followed by sparring as his key to success.
If observation is indeed the crux that will piece together a fruitful journey, it would suggest that putting yourself through the physical grind of everyday training may not serve you as much as taking a day or two to watch your training partners drill and roll. I will often take a roll off if my body suggests I should, coupled with watching a higher level roll nearby in an effort to extract one tangible component of their game that I can walk away with. After a two month layoff following back surgery, I came back as sharp as ever in my knowledge and did not feel like I missed a beat in my progress as I had been attending and observing class during my rehabilitation. Do not confuse taking days off from training as taking days off from jiu-jitsu. There are constantly classes going on to observe, streaming jiu-jitsu content to be viewed, and DVD’s by virtually all of the biggest names. Adding to your bank of knowledge serves as a reference and a platform for future learning. By taking a little time off every now and again, your body will feel refreshed and your mind crisp.
People often talk about hitting a ‘wall’ around blue belt. In such an instance, I would designate taking a day to observe technique and rolling, let yourself heal, study the higher belts, and come back reinvigorated. I have fallen into the trap of thinking that pushing myself to do more under significant fatigue is the only way of getting better, a habit which has put me at injury risk as well as acted as a nagging distraction while my intention is to focus on my improvement. As long as you dedicate regular time to jiu-jitsu, whether it be by training on the mats or observing, you will reap the benefits.
Stay consistent above all else.