3 Tips to Sharpen Your Skills

Posted by

Practice Makes Habits

Rolling is one of the most exciting forms learning in the academy. It accelerates your ability to learn.  How? All of the stimulus involved with the dynamics of JiuJitsu come to bear whether you train for Self-Defense, or for Sport.

One of the many vast benefits of JiuJitsu is the ability to develop problem-solving skills. You deal with very real problems (e.g., someone is trying to strangle you, submit you, or put you in a bad spot you need to defend). If you survive and even turn the tables, you will have exercised the willpower, patience, and determination to withstand or even turn the tables into your favor.

Those are tools for the real world that are pretty powerful. Sharpened and effective tools only get developed with practice so that the habits can be developed.

My instructor, Mike Moses of Evolve Academy, has trained martial arts for most of his life. (Note: He has an awesome story you can listen to here).

One of his former training instructors and mentors is Greg Nelson.  Greg Nelson is one of the most highly regarded coaches and trainers in MMA and JiuJitsu having trained former UFC Lightweight champion Sean Sherk as well as former UFC Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar.

From my first class to now, the phrase “Practice Makes Habits” is used to describe the mindset needed to develop accurate and habitual traits on the mat.  Practice does NOT make perfect if you do not practice with accuracy and meaning. For example, if you practice shadow boxing with a loose punching style and little intent, you will be developing habits that may not be best suited for actual combat. Grapplers, when you drill your shrimping and bridging by yourself or when you coast through warm-ups, are you doing it half-assed, or with purpose? If you don’t drill with purpose, you’re losing out on hours of valuable and accurate skill development.

I highly recommend reading Greg Nelson’s post about the topic of Practice Making Habits. It puts this entire concept into focus, which is the foundation for this article.

 3 Ways to Develop Better Habits

There are hundreds of techniques in JiuJitsu.  Too many to develop complete mastery over, but we will always try to strive for more. It’s human nature.

It can be overwhelming to even know where to start when you are on the mat. I’ve covered 7 Highly Effective Habits for NEWB’s to review, but they span across all levels of practitioner. Sharpening a few, simple things first will give you a way to target each training session with short-term, and long-term goals.  Let’s get into it.

1.Develop Strategies & Systems.

The “strategy”, in the case of grappling competitions (also depending on the rules of such tournaments), is to take the match where you are most comfortable and have “game”.

Live grappling and training scenarios are your opportunity to test your strategy and push the activity into your “system”.

“Systems” refer to the position(s) with which you can execute your game plan over your opponent the best. Why? Because you have explored and refined the movements, movement responses, baits, feints, and techniques into a cohesive unit that moves your chances for victory closer to reality; in other words, from check to checkmate.

It can also be a Self-Defense scenario. Everything starts on the feet. If you want to get your opponent into your “System” and comfort zone in order to work your highest percentage techniques, how do you plan to do that? Here are some ideas.

 What are a few of the more well known systems?  Perhaps the Rubber Guard and the Danaher Death Squad Leg Lock System.  They don’t need to be as elaborate, but you get the idea. Chain your techniques into a system to move towards end-game.

  • Footwork – you need to be comfortable with any activity on the feet, but if you can get your footwork down to minimize your mistakes or maximize your opponents mistakes, you can steer the activity to your strongest footwork and gripping combination, do it.  With Self-Defense, having an aggressor close the distance to where you can manage the gap with activity to close and clinch is vital.
  • Grips – We hear the term a lot when we start. We think it means just grabbing and holding onto our opponent.  There is so much strategy in gripping worth its own article or video series.  Spend time watching high level judo players like Travis Stevens and Jimmy Pedro. This is a great video that explains beginning your strategy with your grips.  I highly recommend any video by these two gentlemen as they have refined the art of the takedown.

  • Body positioning and angles – Similar to footwork, you can often get your opponent to react to what you give them.  Like bait, if you position yourself to take away options for your opponent, they will typically go in the direction you want them to go (i.e., take the bait).  Once they bite, you pull them into your first system.
  • Give them nothing – Close your Gi. Tight. And get your sleeves under control.  If you don’t give anything to grab, or make them reach for it, you get first stab at initiating the action which gets into the next tip. The picture below shows it all.  By the time you reach for that collar or sleeve, you will likely be bundled up and getting submitted.travis_stevens_20120608043351_640_480

2. Don’t Hesitate.

One of the things that plagues the blue belt and sometimes the purple belts I train with, is that they hesitate when they have a favorable position. Here’s an example. A trainee obtains “chinstrap control” (which can lead to Guillotine choke attempts, passing the guard if stuck in butterfly or half guard, or taking the back), but they back off the position or even let go.

Often though, if the technique does not lead to anything. The reason it doesn’t lead to the next move is because the trainee has not developed the weapon to a degree of confidence with which to act upon and take advantage towards advancing the hold to a favorable, dominant position or a submission attempt. This is where we need to spend time developing “chains” of movements to form a “do-loop” that runs until we get the engagement into our “system”. Once we are in the system, “turn it on” until we get to game over.

So don’t be afraid to take chances and work towards refining your entry point moves to improve your chances. Worse case? You end up in a disadvantaged position and need to survive, defend, or escape.  Take your medicine, you’ll be glad you did. But you’ll also think twice about hesitating next time

3. Test Your Limits

If we practice with purpose to develop better training habits, we will perform better when it counts.  Sometimes,  that means taking your training to an uncomfortable level.  Uncomfortable is a relative term, as what is hard for some trainees may be a warm-up for others.  Watch this video from Marcelo Garcia as he demonstrates this concept very well.

There you have it. Three simple adjustments you can make to your training to get more out of it. When you train with purpose and focus, you will improve your Grappling Return On Investment (ROI).


  1. I appreciate the tips on sharpening you jiu jitsu skills. I agree that a great benefit of jiu jitsu is that you gain a better problem solving ability, you have to learn quickly and be able to think quickly as well. My brother has been looking into jiu jitsu, I will be sure to share these tips with him.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Training Intensity

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s