Following a BJJ class where we were learning the triangle choke, one first-year student was visibly frustrated: “I find it really hard to learn the moves. I saw this move before, but I just can’t seem to get it right. I must be a slow learner?”
In fact, the student was not a slow learner at all. After “I can’t seem to remember all of the techniques,” this is one of the most common BJJ student laments. The curious thing is that everyone thinks that they are alone in their struggles. But you are not alone in this.
I explained that Brazilian jiu-jitsu is one of, if not the most complex of the martial arts, not only in terms of the sheer number of moves that one needs to master, but the subtle details involved in each individual technique.
Another consideration is that many physical skills require thousands of repetitions before they are part of muscle memory. Only then will the practitioner be of sufficient competence to perform them consistently well. Anyone who has ever tried to drive a golf ball at a driving range can tell you it is going to take some serious repetition to get a handle on that one skill. How many balls has Tiger Woods hit in his practice?
I offered my own experience in learning a new move. I maintain that it takes me a minimum of four training sessions to get any sort of progress with a move.
The student expressed surprise: “You are a black belt. Can’t you just pick it up right away?”
I say it takes me four separate steps in four classes (at the minimum!) to get a move to a basic level of competence.
I first see the move and understand the mechanics of the move: the details of where to grip or place your weight. Then there’s usually enough time to drill the move 10 to 20 repetitions before the class moves on to another technique. This move shows promise, and I try it next chance I get in live rolling.
I try the technique in live rolling on a fully resisting opponent. And the technique fails. Sometimes horribly! I get some immediate feedback from attempting it in rolling. I don’t feel bad about it. Hey, I just learned it. You can’t get it perfectly your first time.
I go to my instructor and say, “I tried that move that you showed a few days ago. This is what I did, but my opponent did this and stopped me. What did I do wrong?” Nearly every time, the instructor will identify a critical detail that I had neglected and explain how to do it the next time I attempt it.
Now I feel like I have a little experience from my earlier efforts, which provided feedback and additional information from the instructor. If the jiu-jitsu gods are smiling that day, the technique actually works in live rolling. Remember, I said four sessions is the minimum. Often times it takes a lot more training before that move is solidly in my game.
To avoid discouragement in your learning, it’s important to have a more realistic expectation of the amount of time and effort required to learn a move in jiu-jitsu.