Jiu-Jitsu Letter

Looking Foolish

You have to be willing to look foolish if you want to get better. That goes for just about everything, but in jiu-jitsu, looking foolish can feel worse. I wonder if it’s because in early days, losing a fight meant death. And so today, we try hard to avoid it, even when we know it’s just jiu-jitsu and just a game.

Two important ways to improve your jiu-jitsu are experimenting, and trying new techniques before becoming adept at them.

When you experiment playfully, you aren’t as rigid, and you start to figure things out “by accident.” The downside is, when you experiment during sparring, you also risk giving up position or even a submission. And if someone’s watching, you may feel foolish.

When you try new techniques before mastering them, you get out of your comfort zone. Your learning rate is slower when you’re in your comfort zone. You need to make your brain work. I think about a friend who would attempt arm locks continously from every position and fail over and over. But with each try, whether consciously or unconsciously, he learned every point of failure on those attempts and now his arm locks are near impossible to defend against.

Live sparring is best for learning timing and intensity, but it’s not as effective for learning new techniques or concepts. The reason is if you use live sparring to experiment or try new things, when you fail, you may not get another chance to try again.1

Positional sparring is the best way to become more technical. With positional sparring, you combine repetitive drilling with active, progressive resistance. You’ll exit your comfort zone and improve faster.

  1. You could just give away a tap and start over, but I’ve rarely met a student willing to do that. ↩︎

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