Getting better, faster. The Purposeful Practice Series part 2

You may have heard of “Deliberate Practice”. It is the gold standard method for developing expertise.

Anders Ericsson is the guy who coined the term and did all the research into expertise that has since been popularised in books like Outliers and Talent is Overrated. Unfortunately, for us, it requires a field that is already well established, where optimal training practices are known.

The Suzuki Method for learning the violin is one such form of deliberate practice. Follow the steps, do the work, under the watchful eye of a skilled instructor and after a prolonged period you will be an expert.

People have been playing violins for centuries and have had the time necessary to develop optimal practice, culminating in programs like the Suzuki method. Jiu Jitsu is a sport in its infancy (particularly no gi jiu jitsu) with a huge range of training methodologies. Some are excellent and some are not so much.

Although many coaches and teams are pioneering a more thorough systems based methodology and regularly producing world champions. We have a long way to go before we reach the deliberate practice level in the sport of jiu jitsu.

That being said the way in which you train or practice anything can be improved even without the established deliberate practice structure provided you follow the principles of purposeful practice.

Purposeful practice (deliberate practices unruly little brother) is defined by 4 principles that will enable you to consistently improve in any discipline over time. There will be a degree of trial and error involved as optimal training methods are developed but with time creativity and commitment to the four principles outlined below you never have to stop getting better.

4 Principles of Purposeful Practice

Always have an aim for the practice

The first step in improving in any field is often to identify the aim of the practice. If you are drilling in your own time you should make the effort to actually decide what it is you want to improve. If you are in a class structure your coach may state the aim and if not hopefully its self evident. Maybe you will be working on finishing the bow and arrow choke from the back or resetting your guard from the headquarters position.

Having an identified aim for the practice allows you to determine whether or not you have used your time well. If your aim is to improve your ability to recover half guard from side control and you were able to do so more effectively after the session you have evidence that you have improved.

Whatever the aim is there will be smaller components that comprise the overall goal. In our half guard recovery example one such component, which is vitally important, could be getting inside the cross face. Establishing set aims makes the game smaller allowing for more detailed understanding of positions and techniques. This is more effective than going through the motions and hoping to get better by accident.

 

Focus

This is pretty obvious, but unless you are giving what you are doing your full attention you are probably limiting your ability to improve. This is particularly common in group classes where the material may not be to your liking and you are with all your friends. There is a social aspect to jiu jitsu and its important but if your training partner wants to tell you all about some gym gossip while you are trying to figure out a crab ride sequence, they are inhibiting your ability to improve. Try to keep talk focussed on the task at hand.

Since having kids I have come to value my training time much more due to its scarcity. I can no longer spend all day in the gym training and farting around in equal measure. I come in with an aim for the practice and focus on achieving the steps that will allow me to complete the task… usually.

 

Feedback

All this planning and focus is not going to help if you are doing movements incorrectly. This is why it helps to get feedback. You can get feedback from your coach, your training partners and yourself. When you are comfortable with a technique you have mental representation of how it should look and more importantly what it should feel like. What separates expert performers from the rest of us is often the quality of these mental representations.

If your mental representation for what you are working on is refined enough you will feel when you’ve done a bum rep and can alter accordingly. Feedback from training partners and coaches is also invaluable, some of the best guys I have trained with are constantly asking training partners how a movement felt, where was the pressure and how they could improve.

Gettting outside comfort zones

Living in the land of good enough is positively delightful, you don’t have to think that hard and you get to play your best stuff. The jiu jitsu hierarchy, and the social status engendered by that, makes tapping out to lower belts unpleasant for many people in gyms where that culture exists. This promotes the automated “A game” approach that preserves egos but kills improvement.

To improve your overall game, finding weakness and working on them is imperative. This will often mean letting people onto your back to work defence there or getting your guard passed while playing a new type of position.

It is important that you don’t get too far out of your comfort zone. If your training partner is a 100kg black belt and you are a 65kg white belt looking to develop side control escapes, this might not be the right plan unless you have spoken about your aims before hand.

Putting it all together

In our bow and arrow example we have established an aim. After rolling, a few of your training partners have noticed getting to the back might not be the problem but staying there and winning the hand fight is where you are coming up short.

With this feedback you have identified the main ways you lose the back and what is preventing you from completing the choke. You do some research and talk to your coach and figure out a couple of back retentions and hand fighting drills that may help. You drill these techniques until they become smooth, then work on several drills to improve retention and hand fighting.

Drilling with progressively resisting opponents bridges the gap between compliant technique practice and live rolling. After a few weeks of focused practice you have greatly improved your ability to finish with the bow and arrow choke. So much so that your training partners are bailing to mount rather than have you any where near their back. Maybe its time to start working on your ability to hold mount and finish from there?

Taking your training seriously and following the principles of purposeful practice will take your ability to murder hug folk to a new level.

 

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from a newbies perspective part 1 (2014 edition)

This was one of the more popular article series I wrote for the old maccavelli blog. As its now 4 years old I decided to update it and let it see the light of day here on the Griphouse’s blog. Hopefully a whole new bunch of athletes can benefit from the ideas shared below.

Those who coach or are otherwise totally immersed in it often fail to see just how complicated Jiu Jitsu is to learn. If you look at jiu jitsu comps today versus those from a few years ago they look like completely different activities. As a fairly new and innovative sport Jiu Jitsu is constantly developing with strategies and techniques changing from year to year.

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That being said we can break all these variations into 6 basic starting positions. From this point there is an endless list of techniques and strategies that can be utilised. With so many options no wonder the athlete can sometimes feel lost and overwhelmed by it all.

The chess comparison is thrown about a lot, but I would argue that Jiu jitsu can be even more confusing, as physical attributes are involved, blurring the effectiveness of any “correct response” to a situation. On top of that no one is trying to throttle you with your own clothing in chess.

I wake up everyday thankful that the UFC became popular and I no longer have this conversation every few months:

Me: So this is Guard what I want you to do is wrap your legs round this guys hips and…..

Newbie: Hold on a minute, why the hell would I want to do that.

Me: Well if you don’t, he can get past your legs and hips and beat the crap out of you and lets not forgot all those points you will be giving up. Plus from here you can actually win the fight from your back.

Newbie: this all sounds turbo gay. How would I win a fight off my back?

Me: well what I want you to do is wrap your legs round this guys head and ……

*Newbie leaves*

The rise of mma has improved peoples awareness of jiu jitsu but it is still a vast and confusing sport. What I encourage new guys to do is to break there learning up into stages.

Stage 1- Identify the 6 major positions and their postures

Well it’s actually 12 positions as we must address each with postures for the top and the bottom athlete.

The six major positions, Top and bottom are:

Guard

Side Control

Mount

Back Mount

Turtle

Half guard

From the perspective of the top guy and the guy on the bottom we need to know what these positions are for. What is our aim in these positions and  what is the posture I want to adopt when I find myself there?

Posture is a big deal and cannot be overestimated. You cannot even begin to do anything effectively if your posture is wrong. Without correct posture everything you do will require a lot more effort and will ultimately not work against experienced players.

Again this is a broad simplification. There are many different variations of side control top posture and this corresponds to a different postural response from the bottom man. But as with all complex topics simplification is the first stage of learning.

Example

Side Control Bottom:

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My goal from here is to re-guard, turtle up or turn away in an effort to improve my position

Posture- On my side as much as possible, near arm blocking the cross face, far arm on opponents neck, body crunched up small, feet planted and prepared to shrimp.

Once you have identified these 6 positions and determined the basic postures they require, write them down on something.

When training keep thinking:

Being mounted = this posture

Guard top = this posture

Half guard bottom = this posture

“Identify the position” is a great mantra to have on repeat while rolling. As a coach it’s a much easier cue to use than “no put your hand there and your hips here and do …..”.

With experience you can start free styling it a bit, but our initial aim when starting out is to limit the individuals options. When you are mounted for the first time, you have millions of options you could:

  • Bench press the guy
  • Rollover and give your back
  • throw your legs up in the air
  • push his hips
  • underhook a leg
  • bridge like a mentalist in no particular direction
  • Cry

Once you have identified the correct posture to adopt the game becomes infinitely simpler. You only have one option, the right one.

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How you think is affecting how good you can be.

A change in perception.

The primal nature of combat sports has a tendency to bring out our competitiveness. Forget about football, if you really want someone to bring serious effort and intensity to the table punch them in the head or try to bend their arm the way it doesn’t go.

It’s important to understand where that competitiveness is aimed. For the vast majority it’s aimed at the external; we are comparing ourselves to our team mates and opponents. In the gym this tends to create an environment where we have a food chain. There are guys who you can handle and other guys who can ruin you with ease.

This can be disheartening in the beginning as you will inevitably struggle with those who have more experience than you. A more useful mindset is to focus internally and concentrate on winning the small battles that occur in training everyday. Escaping that big blue belt’s side control or checking all leg kicks for example. When you focus on your own development training is more enjoyable and productive.

If you concern yourself too much with the “result” in sparring you may find that you are distancing yourself from the guys who cause you problems to preserve your ego. To the detriment of your own development.

You will only ever really be as good as your training partners. Top class coaching aside, an abundance of technically excellent training partners is perhaps the Griphouse’s biggest resource. If you are not taking advantage of this you might not be as great as you could be.

I’ve seen the destructiveness of this mindset many times. A guy who has the food chain in his head takes some time off and the order has shifted. Guys whom he could dominate now start tapping him or using his head like a speed ball. These guys will sometimes quit as the effect on their self esteem is too great.

The guys who are focused on self improvement and posses a solid work ethic always outshine those who are trying to protect their position in the gym environment. The tough guys make you tough, iron sharpens iron. If you want to get better, grab your most feared sparring partners and work to get to their level.

Lets face it wanting to be better than others is a fundamentally bankrupt concept. There will always be someone better than you. If you derive your sense of purpose and happiness from being better than others then how can you possibly be truly content.

So what’s the alternative? It’s pretty simple, compare yourself to yourself. If you can consistently kick the arse of yourself from 3 months ago you are on the right track. Competition is great, but the best indicator of success is how much you have improved.

If you understand that your goals should not be dependent on how you compare to others, then you will find them much easier to achieve.

At the Griphouse this is a culture we encourage and it’s probably one of the reason we have the country’s top athletes in a whole host of combat sports.

Paulus Maximus

JT Torres De La X Guard

When it comes to watching Jiu Jitsu matches I always tend to pick a specific athlete and watch a crap tonne of their matches as opposed to simply watching  full events. When focusing on a certain athlete you start seeing the type of positions they favor and the go to techniques that they prefer.

I watched an interview with JT Torres a few weeks ago and he had a great attitude to competition and training. That is what encouraged me to have a look at some of his matches in depth. . Initially I was looking at doing a breakdown with his awesome leg drag passing, but then I noticed the De La X Guard appearing time and time again, seriously like every match and with a freaky high sweeping percentage as well.

The frequency with which JT goes for this position and the success he has with it says a great deal about its effectivness, and when guys like Michael Langhi are getting nailed with it you have to respect it.

At the lower levels of Jiu Jitsu mastery we have a tendency to abandon positions when we come across obstacles. At the higher levels the athletes know the positions they are great at and consistently find a way to get to those spots. From these strong positions they are ready to implement their attacks based on how the opponent responds. As with everything in jiu jitsu you earn what you have got. JT has certainly but the time in with his De La X Guard and has a tonne of faith in this position.

The De La X Guard

The deep DLR hook on the hip and the lower leg hook effectively ruins your opponents ability to  move laterally. Using upper body grips and the powerful leg pressure of this position the bottom guy can effectively tilt their opponent to either side depending on their objectives.

If the top man drives forward or is pulled forward in this position he can expect to be on the bad end of the dump sweep shown in the first section of the video. If the top man keeps his weight back he is susceptible to single leg attacks.

One of JTs most common ways to get onto the single leg occurs when his opponent hides the far arm. This effectively prevents the dump sweep as the top man has a hand to post with. By switching to a collar grip and attempting the dump sweep JT can collect the posting arm and complete the initial sweep or use the momentary lack of forward pressure to come up onto the single leg take down.

Finally if the top man avoids the dump sweep and drives back into the single leg JT will sit back into the single leg X, very much like Torquinho would, but instead of heel hooking somebody’s leg to pieces he quickly changes to the full x guard and completes the sweep from there.

All in all there are not a great deal of fun options for the top guy when the De La X Guard is latched on and its a great way to deal with the combat base position.

The Lapel grip.

JT will change the nature of his grips depending on what he is trying to do. He is always going after the far arm to complete the dump sweep. But if thats not available he may go to the collar to help load his opponent onto the hips as mentioned above or grip on the lead leg to secure it.

One of the really cool grips he utilises really well is a variation on the lapel wedgy grip. I am sure there is a better way to describe this but my inner child have prevailed, he passes the far lapel to his outside hand behind his opponents knee. This kills the top mans posture and forces him to the inside and towards the dump sweep which is the first link in a chain of great positions JT uses really effectively.

Let me know what you think of this breakdown and if you would like some more,

Thanks

Paulus Maximus