What everyone in Jiu Jitsu is missing…
Ok the title was dramatic.. I agree. But we all hit plateaus in Jiu Jitsu, especially in the beginning stages. It’s common to feel like you aren’t making the progress you should. There will even be times where you feel like you’re getting worse. Encouragement from your coaches or other students can go a long way during this time and prevent you from quitting right before you get over the hump. That’s why it’s so important to choose a good school that is making sure you take the right steps towards improving your Jiu Jitsu, anyone can beat you up but few can actually make you better. And you are there to get better at defending yourself.
Many students really have no idea what it takes to improve and oftentimes neither does the instructor. Sure they may have achieved a high level but they don’t always know how and more importantly how to get YOU there. Jiu Jitsu is an investment and how quickly you improve is up to you, not your instructor. You can learn to survive against most people in three years or a year… Or six months. And what you may not know is it will take more than just showing up to classes, your instructor should at least know that. A lot of research and resources have been invested into how top athletes perform and achieve success so let’s use some of the information to understand the physical component (psychological will have to be another post) of skill development. Below I’ve listed some groundbreaking authors who have shed some light on the subject, I’ll try my best not to bore you.
Malcom Gladwell (Outliers) – In his now world faomous chapter that you’ve likely heard before, “The 10,000 hour rule”, he references a study done by psychologist Anders Ericsson (author of Peak) on the violinists at Berlin’s elite Academy of Music. The violinists were divided into 3 groups: In the first group were the stars with the potential to become world class soloists. In the second were those judged to be merely “good”. The third group were those unlikely to ever play professionally. All the violinists were then asked the same question: over the course of your entire career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practiced? Everyone from all three groups started playing roughly the same age, around five years old. In the first few years everyone practiced roughly the same amount, but at the age of eight the differences showed. The students who would go on to be the best in their class began to practice more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight hours by age twelve, sixteen hours by age fourteen until by age twenty they were practicing well over thirty hours a week. By age twenty they had also accumulated 10,000 hours of time spent with the sole intent of getting better whereas the two other groups had accumulated 8,000 and 4,000 hours. What you should take from this is not only how many hours the world class students put in but also how they progressed to it, starting roughly at the same level as everyone else. That may be the most key part of it, how they incrementally asked more and more of themselves to hone their skill.
Daniel Coyle (Talent Code) – In the start of his book which dives into why and how world class performers do what they do, he starts with a girl, Clarissa, who accelerated her learning speed by ten times in six minutes in a study conducted by Australian psychologists Gary McPherson and James Renwick. What’s more is she didn’t even notice, her reason for practicing is “because she’s supposed to”. Clarissa is learning a song she’s never played before and what the she demonstrates is no ordinary practice but a highly targeted, error focused practice where in the same lesson she goes from sounding like she’s never touched a clarinet to a musical genius. The best part is she doesn’t know she’s doing it, she’s just trying to get rid of the errors in her solo. We often hear that “the only thing stopping us is ourselves” and such is the case. You’ll see this time and time again with students who go into practice and fail to use the time to improve their weak areas. Clarissa show us when you are devoted to improvement you don’t care how you look or sound, she has a singular focus on what she’s doing wrong and how to fix it. It’s a hard pill for your ego to swallow if you are there to look good but once you do your Jiu Jitsu will begin to take amazing leaps.
Josh Waitzkin (Art of Learning) – Josh is a world champion chess player (the movie The Search for Bobby Fischer is about him) who won a National championship in Martial Arts in China and received a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu from Marcelo Garcia. He credits his successes to his ability to learn over any physical or psychological skill. In Chapter 3, Josh talks about two types of learning where he references groundbreaking Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck’s work leading to the discovery of two types of learning. They categorize the two types of learners as “entity theorists” and “incremental theorists”. The former being kids who have been influenced by their parents and teachers to think “I am smart or I am dumb” and attribute their success or failures to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. Whereas incremental theorists are more prone to describe their successes and failures with “I should have worked harder or I studied very hard for that test”. One of the learners thinks they are a fixed entity and things just are the way they are while the other sees everything as something where the novice can become the master through their persistent effort. This may be the single most important idea for a new student to understand that will ultimately determine whether or not they reach a black belt level. If you view yourself as “just not good at it” versus “not having put enough time into it” the results could not be more different.
If you know someone who is struggling to improve in any area, these three ideas will likely apply to their situation. Skill is skill and we all possess an ability to improve every single day. If we can apply these ideas consistently in any area over a period of time success is not only inevitable but potentially at a level you didn’t think possible.