Monday, March 4, 2013

Self Evaluation and Brainstorming

The good thing about Jason Scully's academy is that we have a decent amount of open mat sessions. A lot of them are impromptu, and if someone with a key is available, I can get a couple hours of drilling or rolling in the middle of the day on my days off work.

Evaluating yourself and figuring out what to work on in jiu jitsu (or in life, for that matter), can be difficult. The sport is so multifaceted that the number of guards, positions, concepts, and techniques can become overwhelming. I find that it takes at least a few months before you find out what kind of game or style you prefer and what you're good and bad at.

As you progress, you start to think about jiu  jitsu a little bit differently. As you learn what the different kinds of guards were and many basic concepts, you slowly start to develop a style, and eventually a game plan if you compete. You probably know a little bit about everything, but haven't identified my own strengths and weaknesses.

For me, this mindset and ideology manifested itself after my first tournament as a blue belt. After I received my blue belt in May 2011, I competed in June 2011 in the blue belt division at a local Grappler's Quest. I figured it couldn't hurt to jump in and compete, right? I ended up winning one match and losing my next two. While I was definitely disgruntled at losing, as most people are, it became apparent to me that I had some glaring weaknesses in my game that were being exploited by more experienced blue belts. This experience has given me a lot more focus in jiu jitsu and has made me more methodical.

It was after this tournament that I made it a point to attend an open mat session as soon as I completed a tournament; wherever I've trained, there is always an open mat on Sundays. I used to avoid open mats because I felt like I wouldn't learn without formal instruction. However, I've realized that open mat is an awesome time for brainstorming. I feel like I have been so scatterbrained in the past regarding what to work on, but having that unstructured space allows you to work on your own gameplan without having to drill what your instructor wants to work on. I think this is especially critical as you move up the ranks and are developing your strengths and gameplan for competitions. Even if you don't compete, I think it's important to see what your strengths and weaknesses. Those are often revealed during rolling in class, but you don't always get the chance to work on those details during class.

So what makes a good brainstorming session? This is only what I've come up with, but it has been working well for me.

I don't think it's productive to focus on just passing or just guard work. I think passing gives you a greater understanding of the guard, and vice versa. I keep a notebook in my backpack. I write down a couple of details from the technique portion of class and then pick one or two weaknesses from my top and bottom game that I noticed during rolling.

This is where it can diverge. Sometimes those weaknesses are more conceptual, like what to do when in bottom half- where to position yourself, where you should get grips, etc. Sometimes the weakness can be very specific, like a certain sweep or pass that just isn't working the way you'd like it to. You can ask your partner if they notice anything you're doing wrong. After rolling with the same set of people so many times, you and your teammates will begin to notice the type of game you play, your strengths, your weaknesses, and consequently, the mistakes you make when rolling because it's during rolling that they capitalize on those mistakes. It's much better to see those mistakes during class or open mat than to figure them out at a tournament!

Another important thing is that if you're in class and the techniques your instructor is teaching you that day aren't sticking with you, don't sweat it. Sometimes you aren't ready to learn a certain guard or set of techniques. For example, some find the inverted guard game very tricky to learn. Getting used to being in that position, transitioning to that position, and figuring out the attacks and defenses can be tough for less flexible or limber people. Each component of the jiu-jitsu game requires a certain kind of movement, and getting used to moving your body that way can be difficult for some. If you don't get it, you can "shelve it for later". This means that instead of harping on what you completely don't understand, you should focus on something that isn't necessarily intrinsic to you, but something that you need to work on that's a little more feasible. As you progress in your jiu-jitsu career, you'll eventually become familiar with all types of games and styles; there is no pressure to learn a certain guard or style your instructor is teaching that day or week. If you approach jiu jitsu the right way, you'll a jack of all trades and master of some. You'll have your stronger and weaker points, but the different between your strong and weak points will decrease over time.

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