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Studying Jiu Jitsu

One question that I get asked about a lot. Usually by blue belts. Is how much do I study Jiu Jitsu outside of the mats.

I’ve had different stances on this topic over the years and really my views have evolved as my level and knowledge of Jiu Jitsu has grown.

There are different ways of studying Jiu Jitsu. Way too many to categorize and to write about. But there are two major concepts that can help make your study easier and more efficient.

Studying Outwardly

They say that mimicry is the sincerest form of flattery.

Starting out, this will be the fastest and easiest way of implementing any new techniques.

When an instructor shows a technique to a beginner. The beginning student isn’t thinking about how the technique will fit into their game or how it’s interconnected with other moves.

All of their focus is on performing every step of the technique exactly like their instructor demonstrated.

This also occurs when beginning students (and lower belts) start searching Jiu Jitsu techniques online. Be it an instructional video, a clip on YouTube, or a random move on Facebook or Instagram.

They will often see the move. Think it’s cool. And then try to perform the move in training.

I actually spend a lot of time reviewing the techniques that my students see online. We have a lot of dedicated drilling time in our academy. So, we encourage all of the students to study outside of the mat instruction. Be it through positional sparring or online resources.

While I have explained to my students that it’s great to study techniques online. Just be sure to run the moves that you see online by your instructor so that they can verify if the move is worth spending time on developing.


Instructionals were more popular a decade (plus) ago but there is still a market for them through many sites like digitsu, and as a digital product.

I used to watch many instructionals pre YouTube era but they would always make me sleepy.

There are a lot of great ones out there, but one thing that I’ve found is that often many instructors/competitors are unable to analyze exactly what techniques they use and how they’re able to use them.

A lot of times, they can perform the techniques on the highest level of competition or in training. But they cannot replicate the moves for me or you to understand. I see this all the time and even experienced this in person training with many world class competitors.

If you go the instructional route be sure to only watch from reputable instructors with a well known competition record and the ability to break down all the details. Instructors like Ryan Hall and my friend Jon Thomas come to mind.

They can break down the techniques in a logical and easy to understand way so that you never feel lost during a technique.

Subscription Sites

Subscription sites are a great resource for all levels.

What could beat having your favorite competitor break down their best moves for you?

This is definitely a good go to just for having access to one particular athletes approach to Jiu Jitsu. Their thoughts on techniques and positions. It’s essentially a private lesson.

I used to have a Marcelo Garcia online account (MGA). That provided me with a lot of inspiration on how to approach different situations that I would get stuck in. Very much like how some math books will have the answers in the back or even just worked out sample problems for you to reference.

This is probably the easiest way to soak up new information. Unlike an instructional product, where you kind of have to go through the entire thing to find what’s useful to you. With a subscription website you can zoom right into the good parts because everything is probably already organized for search-ability.

Competition Footage

The most effective studying tool.

Competition footage is my go to when I want to really understand a technique and its inner workings.

It takes a little work to go searching through matches but it is the truest test of the effectiveness of a technique. I mentioned above how many world class athletes are unable to teach their moves. That’s because they probably haven’t spent time studying their own games and what makes it work. But when they compete, you can see their techniques come to life.

Get ready to pause and rewind a lot as you break down the technique.

Studying is half the battle, you will still have to positional spar to figure out any details. Check out my post on positional sparring if you have any questions.

Studying Inwardly

After a certain point in your journey. You will have to invest time in developing your own game. Of course, you will always continue studying from outside sources and improving your Jiu Jitsu that way.

But the cool thing about Jiu Jitsu is that it is your unique expression. Once you have good fundamentals much like an artist mastering the basics before creating their own style of art. You can begin creating your own style of Jiu Jitsu.

You see this at the highest levels in our art. The best guys aren’t following others. They are setting the trends. Constantly evolving and pushing the sport.

The Mendes brothers and the berimbolo.

Marcelo Garcia and the x-guard.

Keenan and the worm guard.

Leandro’s knee cut.

Are all examples of this.

My Approach

I spend a large part of my training trying to solve different positions. Especially, the ones that I will come across in tournaments. This involves studying a lot of competition videos.

When I’m doing this I’m looking for a few key details including:

  1. What are the attacks

  2. How are they setting up the position

  3. How are they transitioning out of this position

  4. Was someone able to beat the position or give them a hard time

Most times I will do this after trying out the position and seeing what I come up with naturally.

Here the feedback from my training partners is paramount. I will have them put me in different situations. Trying to adjust the position for the reactions and movements that my opponents will make.

If I get stuck, I will often reference competition videos for help.

But the bulk of my study occurs during positional sparring and working with my training partners. If I feel like a technique is working I try it out on different training partners without letting them know what I’m working on in order to see if its valid.  

If it doesn’t work, I go back to the drawing board and try to improve it.

One thing that has helped take my game to the next level is involving my training partners in my examination of a position.

Maybe one week the entire academy will work a single position with everyone giving their input and trying to come up with solutions.

This makes it easier to make strides in breaking down a position and increases the efficiency of your study of jiu jitsu. 

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