Positionals with Purpose

Positionals with Purpose

One major reason I am drawn to BJJ over a multitude of other martial arts is realism. I
am able to train on a regular basis with just about 100% intensity. I get real responses and real
feedback to my inputs. It teaches us what works, what needs refinement, and what is downright
not worth doing. Training live is a big piece of what makes BJJ the powerhouse that it is. I have
seen techniques from other styles that you just can’t train with, because they would cause too
much damage applied full force. If I can’t train the technique fully and with realistic resistance, I
can’t count on it for a real situation. Rolling is crucial to developing your game. I think many tend
to lose focus in their rolls and miss out on some of the technical development they could be
gaining. Even worse, many let positional sparring lose focus and become just a roll that starts
from a certain position.

An idea popularized by Malcolm Gladwell is that 10,000 hours of practice are required
for mastery. It’s often missed that the rule is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. It’s not just
enough to be there, doing a task, you need to be there, doing a task in a way that is structured
and focused on improvement. That’s the beauty of positionals, more parameters make for a
more focused approach. Rolling and positionals should be done in a manner that raises
questions and seeks answers. “Why did I get swept from half? How do I avoid this armlock? Oh!
If I grip lower on the pants he can’t lift his leg so well.” Granted, some questions and answers
we won’t completely build out verbally. We will simply ask and answer through grooving patterns
and responses subconsciously. Both the conscious and subconscious formation of problems
and solutions are what push our game forward. Letting our positionals be a battle and letting
what happens happen ignores all the conscious learning we could be doing. We lose at least
half of the progress we could be making. Next time you train positionals think about what exactly
you are doing, try to create more structure.

Slow your positionals down, and lighten up. Chances are your partner is going to meet
you where you’re at intensity wise. This means strength and speed might become more heavily
emphasized. It’s easy to fall into this habit. Try instead to focus on technique, fluidity and timing.
If a technique falls short due to less muscle being applied, it probably isn’t the best technique for
that particular situation. Your partner’s positions and actions are the locks and your techniques
are the keys. A technique may fit in a few situations, but we should not try to force it in any
situation. It just won’t work. When it fails, we don’t push harder, we need to move on to trying
the next technique before our partner presents a new situation. Cycle through your
encyclopedia of techniques until you hit the one that fits, build that association between the
situation presented and your answer to it. If you’re developing those cause and effect
relationships, you’re doing positionals right.

You might get a lot out of positionals, even without winning. Don’t make winning a huge
priority. I’m guessing you’ve heard that line before. Learning that something is a mistake is still
learning. Pay attention to your mistakes, so that you don’t have to repeat them. Not to mention
we are in a room full of teammates. They need to learn just as much as you do. It’s a give and
take. We need to feel successes and failures. Discussing the outcomes of a round of
positionals, what went well, what didn’t, and why can help us to a higher level of understanding
the position.

Article written by Gray Hendershot


Techniques, Improvement, Jiu Jitsu

Train to retain!


Even by the time you’re a blue belt in BJJ, you’ve likely trained for 1-2 years, and you’ve likely attend a couple hundred classes. So, do you remember all the techniques you’ve been shown? Do you remember half of them? In my first several years of training, I’d have to answer both questions with a big fat NO. Fact of the matter is you are going to be shown a massive volume of different techniques, and the techniques can be very specific and very situational. Let’s learn them, and let’s learn them for good. Our short term memories are unfortunately not the best record keepers. I don’t want to spend all this time on the mats or spend $100 and a Saturday on a seminar, only to lose a large percentage of the techniques I’ve been shown, so let’s explore a few strategies we can use on and off the mats to hugely improve the retention of the techniques shown in class. If we work with the same technique consistently enough for a little while, we can tuck it away in within our very stable long-term memory.  Know that every individual has different blends of different learning styles and what works for one person, may not work for the next.



Don’t expect to see a technique demonstrated three times, practice five reps and walk away with the technique thoroughly internalized and ready to use. You will need to spend time and energy on the movements and concepts to gain mastery over them. Some coaches will build review into their lesson plan over the span of a few classes, and some will not. We can’t count on others to orchestrate the review. It is critical to take accountability of our own learning in BJJ.

Review can be done in a few ways. Repetition on the mat is of course going to be the strongest means to the mastery of a technique, and it is absolutely essential to do with those moves from last week that are teetering on the edge of getting flushed out with the short-term memory and immortalized in long-term retention. Take 10 minutes before or after class and get some additional reps with a partner. During open mat or rolling time, take the time to review a technique and give it a shot at becoming one of your go-to moves.


I already forgot!


If you’re anything like me, you may find that even 24 hours after being shown a new technique it is already fading fast. I’ve got a lot going on between work, school, family and training, and relying on my short term memory is just not going to work. So I write anything and everything down that I hope to remember for more than 15 minutes. Appointments, groceries, tasks at work, and everything in between. Writing is critical to my very survival on this planet. I have dedicated notebooks for just about every aspect of my life, and BJJ is no exception. You won’t typically see me writing notes matside, but the first thing I do after class is type up an outline of the day’s class. I work from general to specific and spend about 10-15 minutes summarizing the class and its components, assuming that it was new material and not something I’ve written extensively on before. I have a word document on my computer for my daily training log and it makes a massive impact on my training. So my secret is not giving myself an excuse to forget techniques. The combination of seeing the move, hearing an explanation and then going over it in my head in as much detail as possible is a huge help in retention for me, not to mention, it leaves me with directions for how to go back and review the technique.

Many practitioners prefer to film the instruction on their phone right then and there. This is of course a great method (with the instructor’s permission), but skips some of the mental reps you could get in writing your own summary. Videos give you the technique right from the horse’s mouth and give you the least chance of missing details or steps, but videos are not going to do you any good if you never watch them again. Make sure to spend some time watching the tapes! Even if you pull up the footage right there on the mats when you’re ready to drill, you’re reaping the benefits of having a little foresight during class.

However you choose to do it, have some record of the techniques you see. If you want to retain these techniques you need to drill them into your long-term memory. Reps on the mat are the most critical piece, and these reps likely will need to be performed over the course of several days or even weeks. We can continue to refine techniques once we’ve committed them to memory, but we can be certain that won’t happen when the technique slips our mind before our next chance to train. Record keeping in written, typed, or video form is the key to bridging that gap. Looking over you notes, outlines and videos for even just a couple minutes daily will help keep the concepts fresh in your head.



Written by: Gray Hendershot, Jiu Jitsu Brown Belt, Biology student and all around bad-a**