In the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the debate about technique versus concepts, drilling versus rolling has raised its head again. Champions like André Galvão advocate drilling for expert BJJ performance while others, such as Kit Dale, argue that it isn’t necessary, favoring rolling instead. So who is right?
As is often the case, both approaches may be useful. Between my job as university education adviser and my sport psychology training, I’m really interested in how people learn. And my passion for BJJ means I’m always thinking about how it works in jiu jitsu too. Understanding learning theory and sport psychology can help us to make good, informed choices when it comes to improving BJJ. Here comes the science…
Drill until it’s automatic
The idea of drilling a technique over and over is that you learn it so well that you don’t even have to consciously think about it. This is supported by Fitts and Posners’ three stages of motor learning: Cognitive, Associative and Autonomous.
Cognitive stage: When we first start to learn a physical skill like BJJ, all of our attention is given over to simply executing the movement.
Associative stage: After a while, we begin to transfer what to do into how to do it. Our movements are still under conscious control. We still have to think about the technique but start making adjustments and stringing parts together into larger chunks.
Autonomous stage: Finally after many hours of practice, the skills are refined and seemingly automatic. As we transition through the stages, our technique becomes more efficient and we expend less physical and mental energy to achieve the same results.
Take the triangle, for example. In the cognitive stage, we would normally start with a few crude movements and try to replicate what we’ve seen and heard from other people. In the associative stage, we might pay more attention to details like the angle of our leg across our opponent’s shoulders or how we break their posture. In the autonomous stage, we don’t have to consciously concentrate on each aspect of the triangle to successfully pull off the submission.
Reaching the autonomous stage can be beneficial because it reduces cognitive demands and lets you focus on other aspects of performance (e.g., what your opponent is doing, your game plan). When high-level athletes encourage drilling, it’s because it can help you reach this autonomous stage of skill acquisition.
Explicit versus Implicit Learning
In his article ‘Why Concepts Are Better Than Techniques in BJJ’, Kit Dale argues that the traditional approach to teaching jiu jitsu is outdated. I’m not so sure about that. Instruction can help to give some direction about what you should be doing. It would be hard for a beginner to execute a triangle without ever having seen it before. And valuable feedback from an instructor can help to focus your effort and accelerate your learning.
Traditional martial arts teaching (i.e., a physical demonstration accompanied by verbal explanation) involves an explicit approach to learning. It gives students specific information about how to perform a skill. It can be very helpful, especially for a beginner, to consciously take on board important elements.
But this type of instruction can also be problematic. In a classic piece of research with golfers, Professor Richard Masters found that novice players who learned a golf putt through typical instruction were more susceptible to choking under pressure. In contrast, players who learned the golf putt implicitly (i.e., without formal instruction) did not suffer the same performance decrements.
When we learn skills explicitly, by having particular aspects pointed out to us, we tend to fall back on these specific rules when stressed. We try to consciously control movements which would normally be automatic. In short, we experience ‘paralysis by analysis’. On the other hand, when we learn skills implicitly via subconscious processes, we don’t have any specific instructions to rely on. We are less likely to consciously control a skill because we are not fully aware of how we do it in the first place.
It seems that the Australian black belt does have a point. By encouraging rolling over drilling, Kit Dale is effectively supporting an implicit learning process which reduces the likelihood of crumbling in stressful situations.
Designing an implicit learning environment is a tricky business, however. Rather than coaching their students to replicate precise techniques, great BJJ teachers scaffold environments to guide their students. It’s not about leaving students to their own devices, but about nudging them in the right direction and encouraging them to take ownership of their own learning.
So what’s the ‘take home’ message? If you’ve read this far, you’ll realise that learning is a complex business, especially in an art as multifaceted as BJJ. Drilling has its uses, so does rolling. No single approach is perfect. Use them as you see fit.
About Dr. Rebecca Hill:
Dr Rebecca Hill is a Sport and Exercise Psychologist chartered by the British Psychological Society. She is passionate about helping martial artists and combat athletes reach their performance potential through mental skills development.
She is also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt competitor under world champion Victor Estima, and current European Champion.
World champion Caio Terra rose through the ranks of jiu-jitsu at an incredible rate, achieving his black belt in just over three years.
The outspoken rooster-weight champion is known for his incredible technical knowledge and proficiency.
In this interview from BJJ Hacks, Caio gives some invaluable advice on how to become successful in Jiu Jitsu and life.
Caio Terra: The Keys to Success in Jiu-Jitsu
Check out this awesome highlight for Bruno Malfacine training at Alliance, Orlando.
Robson Moura – JiuJitsu Hs No End
In this documentary by Stuart Cooper, Robson Moura talks about his approach to BJJ and what he’s learned through his Jiu Jitsu career.
He also shows us a few techniques that will help improve your Jiu Jitsu and it features footage from his ADCC 2011 Bouts with Jeff Glover and Ryan Hall.
The Benefits of JiuJitsu is a short documentary by film maker Stuart Cooper. This film focuses the benefits you can gain from training BJJ and features Joe Rogan, Rickson Gracie, Dean Lister, Andre Galvao, and many more Jiujitsu athletes.
The Spirit Of Jiu Jitsu is a short documentary by Stuart Cooper.
The film focuses on Nic Gregoriades (a BJJ Black Belt under Roger Gracie) and his philosophies about Jiu Jitsu about how Yoga helped has benefitted his life.
Ever feel old to roll with those young guns in training?
Get some inspiration from this video of 50 year old, 6th degree Jiu Jitsu Black Belt Julio Cesar training with his 20 year old purple belt world champion student.
Check out this inspirational speech from Chris Haueter at the BJJ Globetrotters USA Camp.
Chris received his black belt from Rigan Machado in 1996 and is one of the BJJ Dirty Dozen (first 12 Non-Brazilian recipients of the BJJ black belt).
Chris is best known for his innovative teaching style and conceptual coaching ability and for naming of new positions as the art developed in the mid 90’s. For example he coined the term ‘Combat Base’ as it related to shooting platform.
He is the first American black belt to compete in the Mundials De Jiu-Jitsu in Brazil, and the first American black belt to win a black belt match.
Over the years Chris has won multiple Pan American, and superfight victories. He is also a highly respected JKD practitioner directly trained under Dan Inosanto.
Circuit training is a great way for BJJ athletes to improve their conditioning. But what exercises do you use? How long should your rounds be?
Here is a good example of Jiu Jitsu specific circuits from Chad Wesley Smith of Juggernaut Training Systems.
Smith has helped Jiu Jitsu athletes such as Romulo Barral, Philipe De La Monica, Kayron Gracie and Fabiana Borges get in peak physical condition for competition.
Jiu Jitsu Conditioning Circuit Structure
Rounds 1 to 3: 10 minute round and each exercise is performed for 15 – 30 seconds
1. Band Resisted Sprints
2. Band Resisted Shuffle
3. Clap Push Ups
4. Dumbbell Rows
5. Back Peddles
7. Kettlebell Swings
8. Dumbell Snatch
Round 4: 10 minute round and each exercise is performed set number of reps with sprints or animal movements in between.
1. Med Ball slams
2. Clap Push Ups
3. Russian Twists
5. Toe Touches
With all things are equal, strength and conditioning can be the deciding factor between victory and defeat. And in many cases strength and size can even overcome a superior skill level.
Do you want to rely on strength and size? Of course not. You want your technique to be perfect and you never have to rely on strength or size.
Having said that, strength makes you more efficient it, it makes you less susceptible to injury, makes your joints more resilient, and it can even improve your cardio.
Your goal should be to be as strong as possible, but use as little strength as possible when training.
So how do you improve you strength and conditioning for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?
Thankfully it’s not that complicated and you can start making improvements today.
To get you started here is an interview with BJJ Black Belt and Strength and Condition expert, Steve Maxwell.
This interview, Steve discusses all things related to Strength and Conditioning, how to you should train for Jiu Jitsu and combat sports, and contains a lot of actionable information in it.
Interview with Jiu Jitsu Strength & Conditioning Coach – Steve Maxwell Pt 1
Interview with Jiu Jitsu Strength & Conditioning Coach – Steve Maxwell Pt 2
Steve Maxwell has been training for over 50 years. He started BJJ in 1989 and is the first American-born Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under Relson Gracie.
He is known as one of the pioneers of Jiu Jitsu in the East Coast of the United States and is considered one of the best strength & conditioning coaches for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
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