At the end of 2011, I made a new years resolution to train as much as I could to get my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu by the end of 2012. This would have meant I would have been training for 1.5 years. I’m not the kind of person to train just so I can receive a shiny new belt and brag about it (Look at me! I have a shiny blue belt!!!). I aimed towards getting a blue belt as it shows that my skill level has increased.
A lot of guys that train are fortunate to have plenty of free time in the day and the evenings to train every night. Well, I’m not one of those guys! I have a stressful job, married, 30 and have a child on the way… all down hill from here I know! If you’re like me and want to achieve the same BJJ goals carry on reading the points below as they worked for me. I received my blue belt in just under a years hard training from following these points:
1. Just Roll - I remember asking our coach one time “how do I get better?”, to which he responded “Just Roll”. This is the main part of improving your BJJ skills or anything you want to do. You cannot learn BJJ from just watching videos or reading books. I would love to find some magic book or some YouTube video that tells me all the secrets and the “Key” to learning BJJ or “Unlocking the secrets” of BJJ. This would save me a lot of time and money. The fact is, there is no magic recipe to improve your skills. If you want to achieve your goals you must roll! Forget about doing the fundamentals class only and disappearing home and not rolling. You must roll and learn to train against a resisting opponent.
2. Relax - For about the first 6 months all I heard from everyone was relax, relax, relax, relax. I thought I was going crazy as everyone just kept saying relax, this drove me crazy as I just did not know what they were talking about. Something inside my head seemed to switch when I watched one of the highly ranked fighters compete in a BJJ tournament. Here he was, in the final, cool as a cucumber and won the Gold by a collar choke. He was not breathing heavy or going crazy doing a million moves or using all of his anger, he was cool, calm and composed. Forget about trying to kill your opponent or rip his head off, focus on your jiu jitsu. When you are training you’re not fighting for your life, you’re not being attacked in the street. So just chill out and focus on carrying out the jiu jitsu moves your coach has taught you and have fun!
3. Forget about your strength, it’s not called the gentle art for nothing - As I have done weight training for a while I had an advantage over some people using my strength. Yes, this is great, you might be able to tap a few people out and think you’re the big man. However this strength is extremely limited, try using your strength against a higher ranked opponent and see how far you get. You will quickly find out that your strength is severely limited against someone who has any amount of skill. Remember, Brazilian Jiu jitsu was made famous in the UFC by a slim, weak Royce Gracie against monsters such as Ken Shamrock and Kimo Leopoldo. Watch those two fights and analyze how a man who is significantly smaller can beat up a guy who has superior strength and size. You can see examples of this in any BJJ club, look out for the small guy who has a brown belt beat up the bigger, stronger guys.
4. Drill - Since purchasing Andre Galvao’s book, Drill to win I have noticed an increase in my BJJ skill set. I can’t say that I am submitting everyone and pulling off the latest submissions from the UFC. However I can say that I have learnt to move my body in certain ways that help my game when rolling. Simple moves such as bridging and shrimping are simple drills that form the fundamentals of BJJ. Other drills for using the Swiss Ball can also do great things for your balance and core muscles.
5. Have fun – As most of us are not full time athletes, work full time and have other commitments you do not need to worry about your performance on the mat. Any other stress in your life is not a good thing. Just put your gi on and have fun. Enjoy learning, drilling and rolling. The more fun you have the better! Forget about submitting everyone and don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get a technique first time. Could Jimi Hendrix play the guitar the first time he picked it up? NO! Forget about that arse hole at the office pissing you off and just have fun on that mat.
6. Forget about tapping people out – We all love to watch the UFC and the latest submission of the night, when you start training in BJJ forget about those super cool submissions. Although submissions looks super cool, it is only the final part in the puzzle, if you rewind and watch how the submission was pulled off you will see a range of basic fundamentals that make up his game. To get past white belt you do not need to learn a million submissions, you need to learn to defend yourself and learn what not to do.
7. Listen to your coach - When your coach is telling you something, listen to him. He is more experienced than you and has coached people at all levels. If he is telling you something you are doing wrong, stop and think about what he has told you then do it over and over. If you can’t listen to someone who is higher ranked than you then there is no point in training. We are all on the mat to learn and improve. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re getting a telling off, remember he wants to see you improve too.
8. Fundamentals, keep it simple – This is a massive focus for any SBG gym around the world. Forget about learning the most fancy super techniques and focus on the fundamentals. If your gym is showing you how to do triangles, kimoras and omoplatas before teaching you to basic positions such as side control, mount and half guard you should leave and find a better gym. Every art consists of fundamentals, not just BJJ.
9. Forget about YouTube – I recently heard Matt Thornton (President of SBGi) say at a seminar “Forget about YouTube, it is the killer of blue belts”. I have also heard other coaches advising against viewing YouTube videos on BJJ. As I mentioned, listen to your coaches, they know best! The videos on YouTube do not mention fundamentals, all they show are super techniques and amazing submissions. This is entertaining but not good for people looking to learn the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
10. Learn what not to do – A huge part of BJJ is learning not to do stupid things as they can get you into trouble. For example. the first thing I learnt not to do was to try and push someone off when getting mounted as this is just giving an arm bar away. If you learn what not to do that’s a whole load of submissions you’ve cancelled out. It is amazing how many stupid things you will do when you get on the mat.
11. Focus on defence - Rome wasn’t built in a day and you’re not going to be tapping the brown or purple belts any time soon. So forget about trying to choke them out and focus on protecting yourself, staying safe and using the basic fundamentals to prevent any submissions or positions. Instead of being stupid and trying to pull off a kimura whilst in a bad posture on a brown belt focus on your position and posture.
12. Be Patient – BJJ is a very complex art, you will not pick up all the moves in a week, month, year or even a decade. So just be patient and forget about trying to cross off all the techniques in a certain time period and have fun.
13. Flow Roll – Flow rolling is great as you’re doing move for move without resistance or power. Think of it as a game of chess, you do your move he does his move. Focus on constant movement and not using strength, speed or power.
Good news everyone!
On the 13th of June 2012 I received my Blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Karl Tanswell at SBG Mainline Manchester in just under 12 months worth of training. I have been training constantly every week, if I missed a session I would make up for it the following week. See my post on the steps I took to get my blue belt.
I’ve been studying martial arts for a few years now, around 4 years. I originally started out with something called “Chinese Kickboxing” then moved into Thai Boxing then Mixed Martial Arts and now only do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Once I got into MMA I was hooked, I trained MMA for just over a year then as of June 2011 made the decision to focus on only Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Since I started doing MMA then moving into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I have been training every single week for about 2 years. If I miss a session off I will make up for it by training an extra session. If I’m not on the mat I’m usually thinking about being on the mat rolling!
For the first two years it was on and off with different clubs, then I got into the UFC and started training 4 sessions a week minimum until present. During this time I have trained at a range of clubs, good and bad and have learnt many lessons in finding a good club and an instructor.
From my experiences I hope this may help someone looking to start training in any martial art or validate the state of their current gym. If your gym does not meet these requirements then you should start looking for another gym that teaches to a higher standard.
I would like to point out that I am by no means a martial arts expert, I am still a beginner and have a lot to learn. One of the most difficult things for any person wanting to learn a new skill is to find a good teacher. Now I have found a good club with good teachers who implement best practices I hope someone can benefit from my experiences.
It has taken a long time to find a great gym that teaches to a high standard with high standard coaches. My MMA gym is sbgmainline in Manchester where the head coach is Karl Tanswell. If you are looking for a gym that coaches to a high standard and in friendly way I thoroughly recommend it.
1. Fundamentals teaching (lack of)
This is in my opinion is the most important part of any martial arts teaching. Whether your training in boxing, brazilian jiu jitsu or any martial art there should always be a focus on fundamentals. My definition of fundamentals teaching in martial arts is an instructor teaching the core techniques every week. For example in boxing this would include the jab, the hook etc. In brazilian jiu jitsu this would include combat base, shrimping, bridging, side control etc. It is no use for an instructor to teach students a 100 techniques all in one session when they don’t even know basic fundamentals of the martial art. It is also no use teaching students the fanciest, craziest, amazing, super flashy moves from the UFC when the students can’t even do the basic fundamentals.
I have trained at gyms where your taught these “crazy” moves that boosts your ego because your doing something you’ve seen on the latest UFC event. This is all well and good but it is no use knowing these fancy techniques when you don’t know the basic fundamentals. This does not only apply to martial arts, it applies to everything. If your learning the guitar, you shouldn’t be learning Jimi Hendrix solos before learning how to strum basic rhythm chords.
If you look at any professional martial artist who has the most flair and the most fancy techniques you will see a large number of fundamentals that make his game so great. Fundamentals should be taught weekly in every martial arts gym. If you are not taught fundamentals you may have all the fancy tricks but you won’t be able to even do the basics. When you start sparring with other guys who have been taught fundamentals you will notice how bad your skills are. If you look at any sport or art fundamentals make up 99% of the skills.
2. Error spotting
If your instructor is a good one he should be spotting mistakes you make and pointing them out to you. If he isn’t then you should find another instructor. I trained at a gym for about a year, then moved to another gym where the new instructor just kept on pointing mistakes out I was making. It was at this stage I realised my previous instructor didn’t give a damn about the mistakes I was making. All he cared about was making his cash. The amount of times I made these mistakes right in front of him and he just stood there were endless. Your instructor is there to teach you and keep you on the right track, if he is not doing this he is not doing his job.
A high quality instructor should tell you every time you make a bad mistake and help you put it right. This will ensure your skills improve quickly. It is no use for you to know a 100 wrong techniques that make you a bad martial artist.
3. The belt system
The belt system is incorporated in many great martial arts such as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Judo, Karate and many more. The belt system is great for rewarding the students work, skills and categorises the students abilities. However the belt system is used by many clubs and martial arts to scam students to make the club a large amount of cash. I have experienced this first when I started martial arts in Manchester. Not knowing anything about any martial art I attended this club with my friend, we were having fun learning the techniques and participating in the class. We payed our regular fee for each session then suddenly the instructor started pushing everyone to buy the Gi which cost £30 then pay for a grading, which cost another £30. At this point my friend and I realised that this club was just out to make money. It didn’t matter if you had the skills, you just needed the cash and you would get your belt. After careful consideration and looking at the highly ranked students (black belts) I noticed how bad their abilities were. They looked unfit and to be honest their abilities seemed rubbish considering how highly ranked they were. It was at this point my friend and I left this club as we were not interested in just earning belts from paying hard cash every couple of months.
It is a great shame that many martial arts gyms take advantage of people using the belt system. For example, I know a black belt in Karate who told me “we never do live sparring”. Ok, so you have a black belt in a martial art but have never done live sparring? This is completely ridiculous.
Since I have started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu I have noticed that if someone has a belt, they have earned it. It is not possible to just get a black belt from paying for a grading. If someone has a black belt in BJJ, they have gone through hell to get it! This is how the belt system should work, each belt should be earned.
4. Pointless techniques
If your studying a martial art lets face it, you’re most likely doing it to learn to defend yourself. If this is not the case, then skip this section.
Everyone loves (including myself) Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and Jackie Chan films demonstrating wild martial arts techniques with legs flying in someones face, back flips, wild throws, wild combinations and so on. These look amazing in the movies but aren’t the most effective in a real world situation. Imagine someone is about to attack you on the street, are you going to try some wild crazy flying spinning kick to try and knock the guy out just like you’ve seen in the movies? I very much doubt it. I know for a fact I can’t even kick above my waist wearing jeans. When I started training in martial arts both my friend and I joined a club that included a host of these techniques which looked cool but wouldn’t be very effective in a real world situation. Since we were looking to learn to defend ourselves we left the club.
5. Training against air
Lets face it, you’re never going to get mugged or attacked by air, it sounds stupid but hear me out. A lot of clubs train by practicing moves without any pads. So for example, instead of doing some boxing combinations against someone with pads you’d be doing them just punching the air. This is fine for shadow boxing but as a constant it is ridiculous. The club I first trained at barely incorporated the use of pads of sparring with partners. About 95% of the time students were practicing punches and kicks against air. As mentioned this is fine for shadow boxing or warming up but as a constant it is pointless. Students need to practice using pads or a sparring partner.
6. Thrown in the deep end against professionals
A club I once trained at had a lot of professional fighters. I asked the instructor is its ok for me t go to the sparring session as I had never sparred in boxing or any martial art.. He said yeah don’t worry about it, we’ll pair you up with someone with your ability and take it easy. I went along and thought ok, I’ve never sparred and I’m pretty new but the instructor said we’ll take it easy. Ok, first guy I got paired with was an established champion fighter he was very considerate and it just took it easy, he could see I was new. Second guy was an upcoming fighter, I thought this is going well, this guy will follow the other guys lead. This was not the case, this guy knew I was knew, the instructor was stood right next to us as the sparring partner proceeded with a number of solid hooks to my head. I didn’t get knocked out but it was not pleasant. The guy clearly wanted to rip my head off. He showed no consideration for my skill level and was just looking to beat the sh*t out of me. What is worse is that the head coach at the gym was stood right next to us, he never said a word. Some of you may argue that this method is best for learning how to defend yourself and learn quickly, I disagree. At my current gym I know for a fact if any of this happened there would be serious trouble. If someone has never sparred before they should be eased into it.
7. The super warm up that leaves people dead for the rest of the lesson
I’m a big fan of cardio and weight training, it is a constant in my life and training. However there is no point in going to a class that has a 20 minute “warm up” where you completely gas out losing all your energy and struggle for the rest of the lesson to learn the moves. Cardio should be kept separate to the lesson especially if the class includes working against a resisting opponent. It is paramount for the class to include light warm up drills and stretches to get the body warmed up but there is no use in doing a large amount of exercise losing most of your energy at the start of the class.
8. Pointless super combinations
One place I trained at for quite sometime with my friend included a large amount of combinations. We both found that we weren’t learning much due to these crazy combinations. For example, my friend would hold the pads and the instructor would show us all the combinations we would need to carry out. Now unless you were some kind of genius with a massive memory nobody could remember all these combinations. They would include around 15 moves such as jab, round house, knee, knee, elbow, elbow, spinning back fist, push kick, hook, hook, elbow, head kick. This combination of moves is completely useless, not only could nobody remember them but when would you ever have an opponent that would just stand there and let you carry out a 15 move combination?
9. A teacher that doesn’t help you when asking questions
All teachers should be there to help students when they ask questions or don’t understand something. If your teacher does not help you when you have a question then he is not doing his job correctly. There will be countless times when you will not understand a technique that requires some extra explanation.
10. Highly ranked members that don’t seem to be highly ranked when training against them
We’ve all seen the highly ranked members at gyms and thought wow these guys are cool and aspire to be like them. These highly ranked members should be highly ranked for their technique and skill levels. When you train with them you should be able to notice how they are more advanced than you. A club I trained at a long time ago incorporated the belt system, I remember walking into the building seeing this black belt and thought wow this guy must be good. To my shock and disappointment he was rubbish, he didn’t seem advanced at all. In fact there were some techniques I could do better than him and I was the new guy. This refers to the point I made about the belt system where a student is highly ranked not based on his skills but how he has paid to have his grading. What is the use in a student being highly ranked if their skills are not to a high standard?
12. The clique
This is one of the most annoying parts about any gym. I have personally been subjected to this. I once trained at a club where unless you were in the clique you were an outsider. I trained hard and regularly for a year at this place but was still an outsider. What use is this to the student or the club? Surely if you have a club everyone should be equal and not ranked. This was one of the reasons I left a particular club. If you’re not in the clique you won’t be taught properly and you won’t feel part of the club. Having a clique is childish and pathetic.
13. Lack of safety concern
Since training at SBG Manchester I have really noticed the coaches concern for the students welfare. I have never experienced this at any other club I have trained at. If someone is new, you should be considerate. There have been some occasions where I have had a good telling off for using techniques that could hurt someone. As I was used to these techniques I kept using them until I got told off that is! Of course, it is never my intention to hurt any body but due to my previous club who did not adopt good safety measures I had a range of bad habits. If your instructor is a good one he should be making sure that students practice their art in a safe manner.
Today is a good day! I received two stripes on my Brazilian jiu jitsu white belt from Karl Tanswell at SBG Mainline MMA in Manchester after 7 months training. Karl is an excellent teacher who I’d recommend to anyone starting out in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or looking to build on current knowledge.
One of the main problems I faced starting BJJ was not relaxing and using my strength as I have done weight training for years which gave me a bit of an advantage strength wise over other training partners. As I had this advantage I would rely on it every time I trained. This resulted in me not using correct technique such as bridging or shrimping, which are basic fundamentals of BJJ. Sometimes my strength would work on other partners but most times it would work against me.
I also previously trained at another club (which I will not mention) that put emphasis on using all your strength and going crazy trying to rip someones head off as opposed to using correct technique that doesn’t require you using all your strength and anger. This club also threw me straight in the deep end with guys who have been training for years that just want to snap your arm off. This resulted in my game being very defensive where I would use all my strength to grab hold of something to stay away from a submissions. This is great and all but it was poor technique.
Since training at SBG with Karl Tanswell my main focus has been to relax as opposed to using all my strength to pull a move off. For example Shrimping or Bridging instead of pushing or pulling using all the muscles in my body. When rolling with training partners just go slowly instead of jumping onto your poor training partner trying to kill him or rip one of his limbs off.
I would be amazed (and still amazed every week) at how the smaller guys who were clearly smaller, lighter and weaker than me would be pulling all kinds of submissions on me. At first I would use all my strength to try and attack these guys with little or usually no success.
After carefully analyzing Karl and other highly ranked grapplers at SBG roll I noticed they didn’t rely on strength at all. They also didn’t go rushing in for the kill on their opponent. They moved slowly but with great precision as opposed to my rushing in trying to rip my opponents head off with all my strength. I also watched video footage of one of the brown belts competed and noticed how relaxed he was even when putting on the submission.
So, for all you new guys starting out in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu going into a club looking to use all your strength and trying to pull off the latest submission you’ve seen on the UFC, STOP! Take a deep breath and relax! Don’t worry about getting tapped out (you’re not less of a man), don’t worry about pulling off the magic submission off. Just focus on basic fundamentals such as shrimping and bridging and instead of moving at a 100% miles an hour go slowly.