Over the years of training Jiu-jitsu, I’ve always tried to figure out ways to optimize my training sessions and make every hour of mat time count more than my peers. For a lot of people, practicing jiu-jitsu is recreational. I am not most practitioners and because of a monumental chip on my shoulder, I always want to excel at every skill that I enjoy. I enjoy jiu-jitsu. Practicing jiu-jitsu and developing new skill sets that put me above the rest of my training partners is important to me. I do not enjoy mediocrity.
I have always wondered if everyone’s training hours are made equally? Assuming equal abilities, do two people continue to grow similarly if they put in the same amount of hours? Or does one person excel faster than another because of how she practices? The truth is, not all practice is made equal and simply going through the motions and showing up to class is not enough to make the improvements you seek to make.
Practicing Jiu-jitsu: Understanding the Learning Curve
Jiu-jitsu, like any other skill, follows a basic learning curve. First, you’ll start slowly as you develop a new vocabulary and begin to understand new concepts and ideas. For the vast majority of people entering a jiu-jitsu school for the first time, everything is brand new. Jiu-jitsu is a world you will likely be oblivious to and the further you go, the further you are hurled into the abyss. This is great if you’re someone like me, ecstatic about learning something entirely new and amazingly effective.
After learning all of the basic words, concepts, positions and ideas, you’ll typically start to see much rapid improvement. Now it’s a matter of putting these concepts and positions to use. Sparring and training are fairly easy for some time before you realize that although you know much more than you did before, you actually don’t know anything. You will start feeling like you are making zero progress and you might even feel like you’ve taken a few steps backward. The reality is, progress is always going forward despite how slowly you are going. This incredibly slow forward progress is called the plateau.
Why Practicing Jiu-jitsu Deliberately Matters
I just finished reading Angela Duckworth’s best-selling book Grit (really good read, check it out here). The book itself is about developing “grit” which is essentially a character trait that successful people tend to have more than others. The idea is that by pushing through obstacles and by remaining passionate about your endeavor, you will cultivate Grit. Grit, the combination of passion and persistence, allows you to accomplish your goals. Talent, in other words, is not enough to get you there.
In the book, the notion that there is a difference in how you practice is explored. Not all practice is made equal. Not everyone’s 10,000 hours is the same. Deliberate practice matters, especially in something like jiu-jitsu. How you practice is much more important than how often you practice. Deliberate practice is more effortful and often times less enjoyable than recreational practice. For this reason, it’s much easier to just go through the motions, and not think any more of your efforts once classes are over.
The Four Tenets of Deliberate Practice
- Define your goal clearly
- Put forth full concentration
- Receive immediate and informative feedback
- Practice with much reflection and refine your practice continually
Applying the Principles of Deliberate Practice
In my jiu-jitsu practice, I am applying some of these principles with the goal of breaking through some problem areas. My goal at this moment is to win a world championship, which at the time of writing this is nearly 5 weeks away. I have a plan to get there which includes training hard, eating well, sleeping better and working on a few areas of opportunity.
Of course, it isn’t enough to simply create a goal. Each day in practice, I am concentrating on being extremely present and paying special attention to various feedback I am receiving in training. Note that I am the head instructor of a school so my feedback comes in the form of trial and error. Is something working? Is it not? Why didn’t it work and what can I do to problem solve the situation? This of course requires concentration and presence in your training and leads into the next component, which is practicing with reflection and continual refinement.
Deliberate Practice is Effortful: Do the Work
Sounds like a lot of work, right? It is. Deliberate practice isn’t as enjoyable as coming to class, getting a good sweat in and leaving without a second thought. It isn’t as enjoyable as forgetting about jiu-jitsu right when I walk out the door. My life is jiu-jitsu and the majority of my headspace is taken up by jiu-jitsu. How I am performing, what I need to work on and how I will achieve what I set out to achieve all matter to me.
After 7 years of practicing jiu-jitsu, I may not be the best or where I need to be. I do know that deliberate practice sets my hours apart from the majority. I will continue to do the work necessary to set myself even further apart. Day by day, inch by inch, one training session at a time.