About the author: Sam Joseph is a 3rd degree black belt, head instructor and owner of Buckhead Jiu Jitsu in Atlanta.
As a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu coach, most of the questions I get asked by students have to do with reaching goals. Whether short or long term goals, they have in common that they are in the future and they are impacted by what is done in the present. While there are unique goals that might be reached by navigating different circumstances, I have found a few pieces of advice that are universally helpful. They allow us to invest in our BJJ journeys today in ways that support positive future outcomes.
COMMIT TO REGULAR TRAINING
It may sound clichéd but committing to train regularly is the number one investment we can make in our BJJ. The key here is in how we define “regularly”. Some of us have the freedom and desire to train five plus times a week, while others have demands on our schedules that make us lucky to get in once a week – or simply do not want to train “full-time”. Accepting the fact that the more we get on the mat, the more quickly we will progress, “regularly” in this context simply means that we train when we can.
One of my favourite “instructor axioms” is “Don’t worry about what you can’t do…focus on what you can control and it will be enough”. When we focus on the fact that we are training as much as our schedule permits, it allows training to stay a positive and fun experience. The same training will not be as productive if we approach it with the negative mindset that we should be training more. Making the choice to commit to regular training, while defining it with the correct perspective in relation to our goals/priorities/availability, sets us up for long-term success in BJJ.
The next step is to maximize the time we can spend on the mat and “taking notes” is a great way to help accomplish that. Coming through the ranks (and relocating for work a few times), I was blessed to spend significant amounts of time with great instructors like Jacare, the Yamasaki brothers, Franciso Neto, Pablo Popovitch and Shawn Williams. They were all excellent and offered unique insights and perspectives that still inform my BJJ views on and off the mat. One of the things I am very grateful for is that I started taking notes early on in my BJJ journey. I did not do anything special; I simply got a notebook and began jotting down positional details and concepts after classes. To this day, I still look back to these notes for reminders and ideas.
After every class I teach, I encourage my students to “take notes”. Today’s students have many options, including simple notebook journaling as I did, organised BJJ journals, online BJJ resources, videoing techniques with commentary, etc…. whatever works best for us in terms of retention and organisation. When we are consistent with our “note-taking”, we are making regular deposits in the savings accounts that represent our BJJ futures.
GET A MENTOR/BE A MENTOR
I remember hearing how Gordon Ryan often travelled with his instructor, Garry Tonon, as he was coming up the ranks. Whether Tonon was going to training, a seminar or a competition, it was likely that you would find Ryan with him, interacting and learning. Today, Ryan is one of the most exciting prospects in BJJ. Already an EBI champion with legendary matches against Keenan Cornelius and Felipe Pena, it is obvious that Ryan benefited from being mentored by Polaris, Metamoris and EBI champion, Garry Tonon. At the very least, Tonon’s investment and example helped guide him through his stages of development at a faster rate.
I see situations like this regularly in the academy. A white or blue belt connects with a senior student due to similar body-type, style, goals and/or personality and they spend time together drilling and training. This often leads to noticeable improvement in the lower belt in a relatively short period of time. While this can happen organically, I tell my students actively to seek these types of relationships as the benefits are too great to ignore.
The best thing about mentor/mentee relationships is that the mentor also wins. Staying with the Tonon/Ryan example, Garry Tonon is still an active competitor and has a stated goal of being ADCC open-weight champion. Do you think it helps Tonon that his primary training partner is a world-class grappler in his own right? Beyond the friendship, the technical improvements gained from teaching a talented pupil and the satisfaction of promoting such a talent through the ranks; in Ryan, Tonon has a teammate who can help propel him towards future achievements.
Again, I see this reflected on the academy mat. The senior student grows as he/she invests in his/her protégé. This supports their own forward momentum towards their goals and contributes to their BJJ future.
I am a firm believer that competition will significantly enhance the BJJ experience. The keys for me are: 1. Realistically approaching competition in a way that fits our lives and training schedules and 2. Processing the results in positive ways. When we view competition in the proper perspective, meaning that it is a part of the overall BJJ journey and not simply about results, it becomes a vehicle leading us to broadening our horizons in the sport, technical improvement and fun.
Coming up through the ranks at the Yamasaki Academy with David Jacobs, I got to see this first-hand. Jacobs trained regularly but it was the consistent competition schedule he kept that had huge impacts on his BJJ game and philosophies. When we went to tournaments, his experience went beyond his matches and what they exposed in terms of where he needed improvement. Jacobs took the time to get to know other competitors and instructors and made contacts who would become friends. These friendships have allowed him to travel the world for seminars, academy visits and more competitions. Jacobs has often expressed to me that these interactions have been highlights in his BJJ journey.
Often, we focus on winning and losing when it comes to competing. Competition can be more than that…it can be a tool by which we greatly invest in our BJJ lives in a variety of ways.
DIET AND PROACTIVE MAINTENANCE
In 2012, I suffered a back injury doing an arm-drag. The pain was debilitating and, for the first time in my life, I sought out chiropractic care at Optimum Health Rehab & Wellness. My back problem ended up being a blessing in disguise. The regular adjustments helped me recover and then get stronger, while they also changed my diet using data from food sensitivity testing. Five years later, and older, I feel healthier and have more energy for life…and BJJ. That experience has taught me to enthusiastically recommend chiropractic care and dietary consulting to all my students looking to train long-term. It has also opened my mind to things like cryotherapy, acupuncture, yoga and different ways to approach diet. The point is, that taking a proactive approach to maintaining our bodies via treatment and diet, paves the way towards longevity in BJJ.
Some of these suggestions may seem like “common sense” but there is power in their simplicity and how they provide building blocks for our BJJ futures. When we are consistent in doing these things, we put these blocks together and provide solid foundations for success and bright futures in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
See you on the mat!