What can I do to get better?
This question is surprisingly common, but general questions tend to get general answers. More mat time, investing in seminars, and keeping a journal are all good answers. But, what about getting specific things to help? Progress in Bjj is about awareness and understanding. The ability to gather and process knowledge is crucial.
Operate in patterns.
Know what you do. I often hear beginners say they’re trying to confuse their opponent. However, they end up confusing themselves. Try the same thing on lots of opponents, and note what happens. Lots of things can happen, but try to focus on one thing at a time. When you meet a point of failure, test it again. Once you have identified a clear roadblock, we’re ready for step two.
Ask as many people as possible.
People like knowing things, especially when it makes them look good. Right after a roll is a good time to ask. How did you stop that? What were you going for when I tried this? Or the classic, “What was that?” A post-roll question usually brings a brief, useful answer. Another obvious person to ask is your instructor. But try a few things first to develop a specific question. Also, ask upper belts. Rather than seeing everyone as knowing or not knowing, ask how they respond. Each level has something to offer. White belts who don’t know much provide a unique window into our untrained instincts. A veteran competitor can tell a story about how they developed an opinion. We don’t have to do what everyone suggests, but all responses bring value.
Share knowledge freely, but don’t be a know it all.
When we’re generous with our knowledge, others are more likely to share. But if we teach without being asked, it may not be well received. Even as a black belt, I’ve met white belts who would rather figure things out on their own. Luckily, these same guys are willing to answer my questions. There is always an opportunity to benefit yourself. When someone does ask, I feel it’s important to reflect on why I know the answer. Have I done this myself, and to what degree? Is this something I’ve contended with, or watched someone else do? Sometimes, it’s best to divert the question to a blue or purple belt who is beginning to specialize.
Have a couple of questions you like to ask.
A good question can get an enthusiastic response from several people. What have you been working on lately? How do you approach passing the guard? What did you learn from your last competition? I ask lots of people these questions, and enjoy hearing their responses. We’re not just pumping people for information, we are engaging in conversations. This is an extension of operating in patterns. Asking the same questions gives us insight about how various people see the game.
Remember, we cannot know everything.
There will always be new puzzles and more to learn. Mastering the skill of questioning gives us the tools to be comfortable with this reality.