Practice is the usual advice for improvement at anything, but in a discipline like BJJ, repetition will do more harm than good if it’s executed poorly. As you train, ask for feedback from instructors or more experienced practitioners.
The best means for improving at BJJ is to set modest goals that lead you closer to larger objectives. Before you even approach the mat, have a clear objective on what you want to achieve that day. If you practice with partners, discuss your current training goals – offense, defense, conditioning – with them.
Some mastery of rolling is important. It’s a great way to warm up, break falls, or to escape or surprise an opponent. Including rolls as part of practice requires a partner who is not there to “win”, but to train. BJJ rolling should be natural and fluid, not stressful and tiring.
Place your right foot forward, place your right hand inside your foot, tuck your chin, and roll forward along you right arm and shoulder with enough momentum to come up on your feet. From here a simple twist counter-clockwise to face the opponent should put you back in a stance position.
Become comfortable with using rolls to recover from a throw. Practice technique by varying the direction (left or right), starting position, and duration of rolls. You should be capable of both a series of rolls over several minutes and abrupt, fast rolls.
One of the principals of jiu jitsu is taking a larger opponent to the ground where physical advantages are countered by good grappling. Throws or pulling guard are used for taking an opponent to the ground, and followed immediately with a dominant top, side, or back mount position to best leverage jiu jitsu submissions.
Ground fighting techniques are used to develop a submission tactic such as a joint lock or choke hold that ends the contest quickly.
The classic side control position requires passing the left arm under the opponent’s head and placing the right arm over his chest to grasp your left hand in a cable grip under his left shoulder. The left knee should be near the opponent’s ear, and the right knee pressing into his thigh. Practice submissions by shifting quickly into arm bars, triangles, etc. – but without giving up control for even a second.
Martial arts students should stretch as part of the warmup routine to minimize the chance of injuries such as pulled hamstrings, as well as increase overall flexibility. But it’s important that it be done correctly to avoid painful ligament tears before practice even starts.
You generally see two types of jiu jitsu stretches:
- Ballistic, which involves bouncing the torso during extension so that the end point is not held, usually for isolating one muscle group.
- Dynamic stretching, which uses momentum to move through the full range of motion, and also works as a full-body warm up.
Simple stretches like the seated forward bend or bow stretch are forms of ballistic stretching and can be used to work problem areas such as the hamstrings and lowerback, or prepare for more vigorous stretching.
Dynamic stretching is more effective before BJJ practice, but is also more likely to result in injury if done carelessly.
Muscle mass may not be essential to progress in the martial arts, and is even discouraged by some. But particularly in ground techniques, when two equally skilled opponents compete the stronger generally wins. Weight lifting is a quick and simple way to develop strength. Bear in mind that heavier weights build muscle faster.
Anderson Silva, who started learning jiu jitsu as a boy, still has the record for the longest reign of any UFC champ. Silva uses lighter weights at high reps to condition his upperbody, and heavier lower-body weight training 3 days per week to add power to his legs.
Be sure not to over-train, as torn or even very sore muscles can take time to heal and limit your BJJ practice. Big muscles don’t necessarily mean being “muscle bound”, or restricted in movement. Weight lifting for BJJ along with stretching can both be fundamental parts of your training.
Strength and Conditioning
Power in BJJ or any activity can come from more than weight training. Jiu jitsu strength training should involve different forms of muscle development that work “reflex” and other muscle tissues more completely. Very often in BJJ you’ll use ALL your muscles in the same concentrated effort.
Exercises that affect wider muscle groups include kettlebell training, pull-ups, push-ups, jumping, short sprints, or barbell-weighted torso twists and bends. Consider variations like push-ups with the feet elevated, jumping while holding weights, or practicing movements with ankle/wrist weights.
Former UFC ladies champion Ronda Rousey doesn’t train with weights at all, but concentrates on other strength and endurance exercises, such as swimming and running on sand dunes. Her regular routine also includes one of the best full-body exercises there is grappling. Nothing will develop your strength, endurance, and skills like taking part in some friendly (but serious) grappling whenever the opportunity presents itself.
BJJ brings rewards beyond learning self-defense and getting exercise. Like most martial arts, it can be a life-changing discipline that provides a number of mental and physical advantages.
Benefits of BJJ Include:
- Strong Work Ethic
- Better Fitness
- Better Coordination and Balance
- Better Overall Health
- Optimistic Outlook
It could be the feeling of self-improvement, heightened skills, or some magic chemistry involved with disciplined training, but serious BJJ practitioners tend to develop a more mature, balanced mind-body connection that serves them in all walks of life. Trained martial artists become more peaceful, not more violent.
Even fitness buffs who spend hours at the gym are back to their old selves, with all the anxieties and quirks, the minute they leave. But accomplished martial artists carry with them a sense of self-worth, awareness, and calm that sets them apart.