About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
When we start training Brazilian jiu jitsu, we are often surprised to find how much we love spending time on the mat. We try to squeeze in extra training sessions into our busy schedules, we look for places to train when on vacation and we even train with minor injuries that should be rested. These actions come from the facts that we are having fun, we feel a true sense of community in BJJ and – in most cases – we develop a desire to advance our personal BJJ games.
As a school owner/instructor, I love the fact that I get to train daily but, as one of my students pointed out to me recently, I am part of the vast minority. Most do not get to be on the BJJ mat as much as they desire, so it begs the question, “What can we do to improve our BJJ when we are off the mat”?
Stay hydrated and eat well
This might sound like “common sense”, but it is a tip that many people overlook. BJJ training takes a toll on our bodies and we need to make sure that our water intake and diet support our activity. Many people have simply accepted dehydration symptoms like dizziness, sluggishness and cramping as normal results of the day when they are often symptoms of a lack of water. I tell my students to measure their water (as most people drink a lot less water than we think) and to drink 10-15 servings of water a day (8 ounce servings). Waiting until we are thirty to drink water is a poor strategy, as thirst indicates we are already dehydrated.
Planning to drink a set number of servings puts us in a great position to stay “in the green” when it comes to drinking water.
Dieting is a word that scares many of us. We picture food that tastes like sand and extremely small portions. I simply counsel my students to make small changes that can be maintained and that support training goals. Little changes, especially when aided by a doctor, can yield huge dividends. Two years ago, my doctors at Optimum Health and Rehab were treating my injured back and asked me if my diet was supporting my BJJ goals. I gave the answer that I get from most of my students, “I believe that I eat well”. They recommended and administered a food sensitivity test that revealed I was eating foods I was allergic to. After the test, I was able to make minor changes to my diet that had immediate results in how I felt and my ability to maintain a set weight, which helped me better prepare for competitions. Minor dietary changes to my diet were all I needed to have a goal-supporting food plan. Taking a step back and considering our diet and how they support our activity can have real impact on our overall well-being.
Do other forms of conditioning and/or body movement drills
Some of us cannot get to the BJJ academy as often as we want because of work or family commitments. While it may not be possible for us to get on the mat, often we can still do some kind of conditioning at home – some activity is better than no activity. As a blue belt, I started doing body movement drills that mimicked BJJ positions. I did these at home and found that they were not only a decent supplementary workout but also practicing them made me better in the positions when I was able to train. I have seen other teammates and friends in the same situation supplement their training with weight lifting, running and other conditioning activities and reap similar results. Looking at our schedule limitations as an opportunity and taking advantage of it to the best of our ability will help us enjoy the time we CAN be on the mat and will make a big difference in our BJJ progression.
Watch BJJ matches and instructional videos
One of my favourite tips when it comes to getting better off the mat is to watch as much good BJJ as possible. Watching high-level matches and fundamentally sound instructional videos can be an awesome supplement to regular training. I am a big believer in “visual-learning” or at least having significant visual support in the learning process and competitions and instructional videos provide this support. In today’s BJJ world, there are a number of excellent online resources that are available to us. World champions like Marcelo Garcia, Braulio Estima and Andre Galvao, to name a few, have well-reviewed online learning tools and many academies have some sort of YouTube channel or series of videos for students. If over-whelmed or confused as to what to watch, our home instructor can be asked for guidance in this area.
Remember, these videos should be used to help reinforce the hands-on instruction best provided in a qualified BJJ academy as opposed to being the primary source of instruction. Used correctly, they will prove to be a great help to our progression when we cannot make it to BJJ class.
Keep a BJJ Journal
There are countless journaling options available with different options: flow-charts, online options, BJJ specific, even video recording certain techniques (with your instructor’s permission), etc. In my opinion, the most important part of journaling is simply doing it in a way that works for the individual. I have kept a journal from blue to black belt and it has helped me retain techniques, chain them together into effective combinations and translate concepts to the mat. My journal is a low-tech notebook and it works for me. Each of us has our own learning styles and preferences so when discussing journals I advise students to look around, experiment and pick a format that allows for easy and consistent use.
Regardless of what format we choose, the main factors in its effectiveness will be its ease of use, accessibility and our commitment to continuing the process. If these factors are met, journaling can be a powerful ally as we look to maintain our learning momentum.
The demands and responsibilities of real-life often limit our time to do the things we love. When the object of our affection is something like BJJ – which rewards mat-time and hard work above all else – that puts us in a tough spot. Fortunately, these tips allow us to make and support progress even when we cannot create additional mat-time. Applying these tips in our lives away from the academy will give us the chance to “put in some work” when we cannot be training and will help to satisfy our desire for steady improvement in the sport we love.
See you on the mat!