Saturday, March 29, 2008

A-game Camping vs. making a decision to improve.

Recently, I have wondered a bit about, what I could say was the most important thing for me in the process of improving my skills in BJJ, MMA etc. I feel that my game is constantly improving. I can feel a difference in my skills on the mat from one month to the next and I can see that I catch more new submissions, escape more cleverly, analyze the opponent better, see more openings etc. etc. But what is it, that makes me always improve, when I see other guys have the exact same game year after year, never implementing anything new, never improving or exploring what they already know?


I don't think it is a question of talent. I myself have never been very gifted athletically, I have just worked hard to get where I am. After a lot of thinking and trying to analyze how the other guys in the gym train, think and "work" in the game of Jiu Jitsu, I have come to a conclusion. There is one single factor, that is common for the group of guys I see constantly improving their game the same way as I do, compared to those whose improvements can stall for years:

They all make a concise decision to improve their game.

Those who never stop improving, are the ones that are always "working on something" when they are training. I do this ALL the time and it suddenly makes sense that this is the most important factor in getting better at Jiu Jitsu for me and almost everyone else I have come across.


Beginners are always improving and eager to learn. I have yet to come across a beginner, that was not interested in learning something new and experimenting with it. But when you get to a certain level, where you have a good understandment of the basics and found a few moves that are your favorites, it is not directly necessary for you to improve, in order to survive a class and a sparring session with your team mates. You can hold yourself against most sparring partners, just with the basics and the few moves that works for you.

This is the critical time for you to make a concise decision to improve. It is SO easy to just lean back and play safe with the skills you feel comfortable with, instead of running the risk of trying something new and failing. I have named this phenomenon "A-Game Camping", because I see these guys just camp out in their A-game without making a decision to improve it.


I've set up a few rough identification points and observations I have made for the two groups:

A-game Campers:
- Learns new move in class - goes straight back to A-game in sparring.
- Have a low "technical level" vs. "sparring hours" ratio.
- Have a handful of solid moves.
- Can have the same game for years.
- Not taking many chances in sparring.
- Rarely exposing holes in own game on purpose.

"Constant improvers":
- Learns new move in class - tries it out again and again in sparring.
- Always "working on something" during sparring.
- Can name X number of moves after sparring that he was experimenting with.
- Always thinking of moves to try out when back on the mat.
- Fails and taps many times in sparring, but becomes very skilled in the long run.
- Often exposing holes in own game on purpose.
- Outperforms A-game Campers in a relatively short time.

Of course, this is a very rough way to put things, but the point is, that if you want to improve your game, you MUST make a concise decision to do so. Decide with yourself what you need to improve on and make the decision to do it in every opportunity you get. It can be a specific technique, a position, a transition or maybe a mental aspect.


I have been doing this for a long time, but I think the moment it really took off as a very efficient training tool for me, was when I started to write down a list of what I was currently working on. When I write it down, it is as if I am making a promise to myself, that I will do it and run the risks. That I won't just fall back to my safe A-game that doesn't hurt, doesn't fail and doesn't require a lot of stamina, will and determination in sparring. The list is constantly changing. Some things, I work on only for a few weeks, some things have been on the list for half or whole years. The important thing is, that as soon as the list is written down, I know exactly what I need to try out next time on the mat, and it is obvious to me, that I am really improving in these areas. I know this because I strike out things on the list now and then :)

I like to keep my list simple with as few things to work on as possible. Funny thing is, if I have a period when I don't write down my current "projects" and I then decide to do it, I realize that the list i huuuge and I really need to cut it down and focus on less areas. So writing it down also keeps my focus on the most important areas of potential improvement.


If you look back in my blog, you can find lists like this here and there. My current list of what I am working on looks like this:

- Being more aware of footlocks both offensively and defensively
- Toehold from Omo Plata
- Ryan Hall's 50/50 heelhook
- Short armdrags in guard
- Marceloplata mountattack position
- X-guard as guard defense to sweep or set up footlocks
- Triangle as a way of control from sidecontrol bottom and top
- Inside trip from double overhooks, collargrips and beltcontrol
- Committing to takedown attempts even though I know they might fail
- Marcelo-style armdrag scramble (on the list since January 2007! :))


Obviously, this would be a good time to ask yourself: Are you an A-game Camper? :)

EDIT: I wrote this when I was a little tired and might not have got the definitions out exactly as I meant them. By A-game camping, I don't mean only working on your A-game, which ofcourse there is always a time and place for, and which is very important. I am talking about only surviving sparring by holding on to what you know and not working on improving it. The point is to make a decision to improve, no matter what area the improvement is on. It can be anything from improving your timing in your A-game, escaping mount more often, working on your "poker-face" or learn a fancy new spinning heelhook. Don't be fooled by MY list, that often has fancy techniques on it. I am fully aware that most people will never do those techniques that I am working on, and that is perfectly fine as it should be. The "B-game Explorers" was maybe the wrong term, since I by "B-game" only meant areas in your game that can improve, and that is - as we all know - everything. So I can see where confusion on that term can arise.

30 comments:

Elyse said...

Hi Christian,
Awesome blog entry. I just started reading last week. You inspired me to make my own list of things to work on. Writing it down instead of keeping it in my head has helped alot, even just in the last day :D.
Here's a link to my blog entry that refers to yours!
http://www.gringabjj.com/2008/03/one-more-study-break.html

Keep up the awesome writing :)

Elyse

Tony said...

Great stuff as always

Montes said...

great blog entry, Christian. makes a lot of sense. ironically enough, Ryan Hall (& Danny Suarez) mentioned the same thing to me once, and they have a habit of never finish a conversation with me w/o asking, "so ... what are you working on right now?"

Jeff Rockwell said...

Great post, so true!

Lucard said...

Thanx man, this made me think...

Ricky Gamboa said...

Great post! I actually created an entry inspire by this.
http://groundboxer.blogspot.com/2008/06/my-checklist.html

Ricky Gamboa said...

Great post! I actually created an entry inspired by this.
http://groundboxer.blogspot.com/2008/06/my-checklist.html

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