Train to Retain
Play the Long Game
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.
You Must Review
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.