Vegetables. Eat them.
Do you remember when you were a kid and you wanted dessert, or more helpings of your favorite food at dinner, but mom would say: “eat your vegetables first”? I dealt with that 6 out of 7 nights of the week. I didn’t want to eat my vegetables. I wanted chicken nuggets, yo. They were so, so good, and vegetables suck right? You can imagine my frustration as a child…
Little did I know, those chicken nuggets, made with mechanically separated chicken goo, were eating away at my body from inside out, and the vegetables mom insisted on me eating were actually developing my body and mind, helping me grow. I’m 32 years old now, so…duh…vegetables make sense to eat. I’m no dummy today, but 7 year old Scott didn’t want to hear it!
Vegetables are good for you. They pack a powerful punch of micronutrients, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, all of which help with post workout recovery, clear thinking, weight loss, and prevents chronic diseases like cancer… I mean, you all understand vegetables are good for you, right?
My post isn’t about vegetables, believe it or not (seriously, you should eat vegetables though).
I’ve been training martial arts for almost 15 years. I earned my black belt in 2017, but I’ve been teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) since 2008. Although, I became a “Professor” in 2017 I have taught and observed students for over 10 years now. Moreover, while I have spent a significant amount of time preparing myself for high-level competition, I have also been transfering my knowledge to my younger, up-and-coming competitive students. Finally (this is the last statement establishing my credibility on this topic), I have significant travel experience (in the US and abroad) for training.
The point I’m trying to make with my tenure flex above is that I’ve seen what works, what kinda works, what works really well, and what doesn’t work at—all from a training perspective. My opinion has changed over time regarding training and I am certain it will change again with time, but what I can confidently tell you is, like most other challenging character building processes, getting better at Jiu-jitsu isn’t sexy or flashy. It is repetitive hard work. It’s eating your vegetables.
Allow me to be specific. What I see from many BJJ practitioners (primarily the “adolescents” aka the blue to brown belts, but sometimes with black belts too!!) is the urge to spar, and only spar, which comes at the expense of repping techniques or drilling. I get it, sparring is fun. Believe me, I love randori and I’m never going to stop doing it.
This post is NOT about leaving sparring out of your training, BUT, if you take your training seriously, and want to actually be good, or, God forbid, aspire to be truly great, you need to drill and you need to rep technique. And, most likely, you need more drilling than hard sparring. There I said it.
Sparring is amazing. Honestly, it’s the drug all practitioners get addicted to and what leads you to “falling in love with BJJ”. Using “drug” may be a bit hyperbolic, but you all know how fun and tempting it is during training to skip skill development to just go fight each other…lol I do it to this day sometimes! But, I make sure I am making time to drill, especially before I compete.
But, to be honest, most of us need more technical work. If you’re a casual student, or even a moderately “serious” student (I’d say people who attend 1-4 classes a week are considered casual and those who train more than 5 and train outside of class are more “serious”) you, more than likely, aren’t getting enough reps of the techniques you either learned in class that month, think you already know, or think you’re pretty good at. You need to develop and/or hone these skills further. It takes years, truly, years to develop competency at BJJ. Individual moves you think you know require more work and maintenance.
It really doesn’t matter what your belt color is, even though I see this mostly between blue-purple belts, because you probably aren’t as good at the techniques in your repertoire as you think you are. Do your homework. Eat your vegetables. You need reps. You need drills. Because, unless you can pass everyone’s guard on earth, or if you can confidently say you can submit every black belt on earth today, you’re not done developing. You’re not good enough. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, rather, it’s a statement of purpose. You need to humble yourself, do the work that may not be considered “fun” but will advance your skills. I do it. I don’t always like it as much as sparring, but I do it a ton. It has helped me, and made me much more effective in sparring and in my competitions.
If you want to be mediocre or complacent in your training, just keep sparring. Go home early. Skip the extra work. I’ll never hassle you for it, but don’t be surprised when others pass you by or you don’t find yourself progressing to the next level. I can tell you this: submitting a black belt is hard, and submitting a world class black belts is harder. You aren’t going to acquire the skill or the competency to do it without the appropriate training inputs. Sparring non-stop will just reproduce the same techniques you already know. Spar less, drill more, win more.
What you will see is—through sparring less frequently—when you do spar you are able to execute moves more efficiently against better opponents. You’ll also have a better understanding of how jiu-jitsu works which means you can help others learn too.
Consider this carefully. If you need help drilling, aren’t sure which drills (there are many, for sure), or don’t know who you should drill with, come speak to me or one of the other coaches. We love this stuff and can point you in the right direction.
Eat your vegetables.