Utility of Self-Directed Learning, Studying Tape and Optimising Lesson Structure With Lachlan Giles

I interview Lachlan Giles. We discuss how his persistence over years of competition culminated in things coming together for him on the day to take out Bronze in the ADCC 2019 Absolute division. We also examine how he optimally narrowed his focus and training for that specific competition, the importance of self-directed learning and the value obtained from breaking down competition footage. Also, how some scientific principles might apply to Jiu-Jitsu teaching methodology and lesson structure with details of one attempted study he undertook. Finally, he considers a possible direction of where he sees the no-gi grappling game evolving.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 022

Sonny Brown: Lachlan, thanks so much for being here today mate, how are you?

Lachlan Giles: Good. How are you? Thanks for having me on.

Sonny: My pleasure, mate. The honor is all mine, trust me. Obviously, everyone I think would be familiar with your recent success, bronze medal ADCC, going from strength to strength, really putting Australia on the map in terms of grappling. Obviously, we’ve had standouts before but it seems like a more cohesive unit coming out from Melbourne down there. My first question would be is, coming up in Australia around your time, the idea of getting to those levels that ADCC and competing on such international stage, would have seemed out of reach or at least, I would have thought that would have been the common perception that you got to go to Brazil or you got to go to America and that’s where you’re going to get your training. It couldn’t be done by local guys in Australia. When did you feel that it might actually be possible or that you could overcome that or was that the perception that you had at one point?

Lachlan: Yes, certainly. You have that dream of getting on the podium at a world level but to be honest, I didn’t– if you had ever asked me at any point, I probably would have said it’s probably unlikely. I’m doing my best to improve but the chance of that happening is pretty slim. I had been on overseas training trips before and I’d seen the level. As always, in some ways, it could be a positive experience but also a negative. Sometimes you’d roll with one of the best guys in the world, you could roll with a world champion when you go on one of those trips. Sometimes, you’d be like, I could get a little bit of my game going for a moment, it was never pretty. I’m trying to think on my head. I don’t think there was ever a time I rolled with a current top world champion and walked away like, “Yes, I beat them.” I’ve never walked away with that feeling but you might. You get to your position you’ve been working and maybe off-balance them or something, you could come away with some little glimpses that part of what you’re doing is heading in the right direction, but at the same time, usually, it’s quite disheartening because at those training camps as well, everyone takes it very seriously. They’ll be people, you could be a black belt. I’ve had times where I’m a black belt, I’m trying to prepare to compete at a world’s, which is in two weeks time and I’ll roll with a brown belt. I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know if I would win in that match.” We’d have a roll and I come away for that kind of “Jeez, that was really tough.” In some ways, it’s quite disheartening to just see the amount of people with the same goal as you who are putting in, what I’d say is a similar amount of effort. When you think of it like that, it is actually quite difficult. I feel like I’m part of it. I’d say actually, a good part of my success in ADCC was just on the day, I had my day and that’s what everyone hopes that– You want to be the best in the division where even on your worst day, you still win, but failing that, then you just want to have your day. [laughs] If you’re not at that level, then you want to just have your day. I think at ADCC, I definitely, probably exceeded even my dreams of how well I could perform in a particular tournament. Yes, it’s a mix. I do think along the way seeing people do well internationally, I think Keith was probably the first. I was a brown belt, he was a purple belt and he won the world purple belt. I was like, “Jeez, that’s–” Because I would train with Keith. I just started training with him around that time and I was like, “Jeez, that’s a pretty–” I knew he was tough from the training with him and I was brown and he was purple and he was beating me, but I felt like I was nipping at his heels a little bit, but he would stay. But I was like, Okay he’s doing well and that’s not too big of an ask for me to do well at the brown belt level and then that, obviously, his success continued. Anyway, we had other people like my wife, Liv, she won blue belt worlds so that gave me, “Okay, it’s doable if we stick to the right strategy.” Then, obviously, Craig in 2017, having his result. I think though I wasn’t always looking at world championship level competition. At first, it was like, “Can I do well in Australia?” Or even can I do well in a smaller– the Victorian championships or something? Once you achieve your goal, you tend to look a bit further, [laughs] you set some new goal– you realign the goalposts and try to make a new goal. I never really with confidence said like, “Yes, I’m now at a level where I’m going to be a world champion”, which I’ve seen all but yes.

Sonny: You say, you had a good day at ADCC, obviously, that’s correct, it would have been a good day. You have had a few good days in recent memory as well, that’s probably not the only one. You’ve had a couple of good days, right?

Lachlan: Over the last five years, I’d had some wins over some people who had done– My first probably big win was against, I bet, Rani Yahya. No, I’m sure it was Edwin Najmi, Edwin Najmi was probably my first big win. That was in Australia, at BOA Super-8. Then that same year, he came second at worlds, that next worlds,that came around, I was like “Okay.” That’s the thing, it can be a one-off thing compared to a– to win the worlds, you got to be consistently winning those matches, which I felt like I fumbled my way through that match and it just got through. There’s a few of them along the way. Then in 2019, I felt like I had a very, very– in the lead up to ADCC, I think I hadn’t lost yet that year. I hadn’t been competing every weekend or anything, I’d pick and choose my tournament that I was going in but I was feeling very confident in my style and what I wanted to do. There’s definitely been a momentum and I was probably the most confident I’d felt about a tournament at an international stage before.

Sonny: Yes, that’s a good one to be feeling confident about. That’s for sure.

Lachlan: Yes, I certainly. As I said, confident but not to a silly degree. I think I tried to be realistic. I didn’t think, yes, I’m going to win ADCC, but I thought I had a chance, give everything– [crosstalk]

Sonny: Best effort.

Lachlan: Yes.

Sonny: That makes sense. As you’re building on those victories as you said, from Victorian, just growing and growing setting the incremental goals, what did you think was the change that you needed to make or that you did make that enabled you to go to those next levels that other people weren’t at that stage, really, really seeing through with that much consistency?

Lachlan: You mean for 2019 compared to before that or–

Sonny: Yes.

Lachlan: Probably my biggest strength is my consistency. I’ve been training for 17 years now, maybe even longer. I probably don’t care that correctly. In the last 10 years, you could probably count on your hand the amount of times I’ve had more than a week off. It’s usually like every day of the week, showing up training. I probably don’t train more than a lot of the top athletes you hear of training like four or five hours a day. I definitely don’t even do half of that usually but I am there every day and I’m thinking and trying to work through that. I think that was a big thing. At some point, I made the decision to focus on ADCC, that was probably even before the 2017 ADCC. I said, this is what I want to try to do well at, it’s pretty hard to try to go well at ADCC and IBJJF No-Gi. They’re almost separate the way you got to train for them and the skill sets you got to develop, I said, I’m going to focus on the ADCC thing. I put all my effort into that. Then there was probably two years of continual growth and that 2019 was probably where it really started to show. I’ve narrowed my focus. I think narrowing my focus helped a lot.

Sonny: I like the sound of that, especially I remember you saying for your ADCC prep, you really just focused on leg locks and wrestling and I made sure to send that quote to all the guys I coach wrestling to be like, see guys. Take downs matter.

Lachlan: To be honest, I do love training for ADCC because you have to be good everywhere. I do feel like in my division and IBJJF, you can almost forget about the stand-up thing. Like you can just pull guard and you just imagine that wrestling doesn’t exist. Whereas in ADCC you can’t ignore it. You have to develop that skill-set. Because if it goes to overtime, you don’t know what you’re going to lose. It forces you to do that and I enjoy the training. You feel like you’re a bit more of a complete athlete, you have to know how to pass, how to play guard, how to wrestle, you have to know leg locks, back takes, finishes, you include everything. That’s one of the reasons I like it.

Sonny: That’s nice, beautiful. Nothing wrong with being a complete- have a complete game in jiu-jitsu. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you’re building up and focusing, you’re narrowing your focus from there. I think before you mentioned that you saw the value in type study and that doing type analysis was a key moment for you when you started to do that. I’m a big fan of that myself obviously. Just wanted to get inside your thought process of what role that played and how you went about it.

Lachlan: It’s been huge. I think I made a few posts on Instagram or Facebook recently about things that have influenced my development along the time. I remember seeing Dan Lucot posted, he had this Roger Gracie breakdown that he had online on YouTube, where he talked through the techniques and then he’d show a clip of Roger using it, it showed that he got the inspiration for teaching that technique by watching Roger and breaking down what he was doing. He went through most of the Roger’s game plan. He called himself Trump Dan, Dan Lucot. Actually another guy I was working with at the time of training with Dan Shaw, he was someone who was watching international competition. At the time I was just maybe watch the occasional MMA fight, but most of my jiu-jitsu, it was just based off whatever I’d see in the gym or what I’d seen on UFC or something. I’d try to just do that move. I think I spent a long time after watching Kazushi Sakuraba giving my back to try to get more people because it was my favorite MMA fighter. Once I caught onto the fact that you could watch international tape and see all these moves that I wasn’t being exposed to at all at home, that was huge for me because then I was like, I could go look at what they’re doing and then I’d try it in the gym and obviously first you suck at it, but also when you suck at it, but no one knows what you were even doing, then it can still work and that can build confidence really well. I was finding a lot of things that wouldn’t take much practice before I could start hitting it a lot and against my training partners. Then you’re kind of ahead of– there’s an arms race where they start trying to develop counters, but you’re ahead of the arms race because you were watching the tape and seeing how the top guys are countering it. I followed that a lot and that’s when I started playing, what I’d say is a more international style, like the Marcella Garcia style and the Mendez brothers and countless other influences depending what technique I was working. That was a huge factor in my development. Even now, I’m trying to work my wrestling. I’m studying a lot of tape of elite wrestling at the moment in my free time

Sonny: Plenty of free time at the moment. I’m a big fan of breakdowns, obviously myself and for me, it was like all the other sports like NFL, you know that they go through tape after a game, just break it down, basketball, soccer, they all do it, but I have had some people suggest to me that jiu-jitsu, you got to feel it. You can’t see what they’re doing. You have to actually learn from, go to someone and feel what they’re doing and that’s the only way to actually learn a type value, studying types of limited use. What would you say to something like that?

Lachlan: It’s funny because if you look at any of those sports, soccer, football, rugby, all that, I feel like the technical portion is far less relevant than it is in as– I feel like athleticism is a much bigger factor in those sports than it is in jiu-jitsu or in grappling. You’re actually going to get more out of type analysis in a grappling sense than you would in a- like I can’t even pick– I used to play Australian rules football and I’m trying to picture how someone showing me a video of watching Australian rules football would really help me that much, that you can get an idea of like, Oh, they turn left or right but it’s like, they shrug a tackle like this, but compared to the technical nuance you can pick up from studying a Jujitsu type, it’s just like nothing. If they’re finding it’s working, if they’re finding it valuable enough for those sports then surely it should be valuable for jiu-jitsu. I agree that sometimes you don’t need to feel it, but sometimes you won’t see what’s going– you won’t be able to visualize or get a true sense of what that move feels like unless you have that person do it to you but that’s not to say you can’t. Sometimes if you’ve got a very keen eye for detail, you can still pick up those things. Maybe you won’t maybe you get the general idea of the movement and then that helps you pick up when you- let’s say I’m studying Leandra Lo and I’m trying to copy every move he does. I just like, I can’t get his- I can’t do his kneecap and then you get a chance to roll with him and he does it to you and you’re like, Oh. You go like, “I could really feel this.” You try to do the things that people did to you when you tried his game, you try to do them on him just to frustrate him and you’re like, “It didn’t work.” Because you can actually have enough of a reference point to make the adaptation to learn his game better. Whereas if you never played his game and then he did it, you’d just be like, “He just beat me. I don’t know why.” I think it’s really important in grappling, to really pay attention to why things are or are not working. What’s the key detail that you are missing or that happens so that you go for your sweep and it doesn’t work, what grip are they doing that annoys you that no one else is doing that when you do sweep them. Because once you recognize that, you can start to strategize around it.

Sonny: That makes sense. It’s like, obviously it would be better if you could feel the moves that all the top guys are doing and that you want to study, but realistically, you’re going to be able to get value from that type study no matter what, right?

Lachlan: Yes. For sure. I think it’s not just- when we say types there, you’re not just watching people roll and trying to see who wins. It’s not an entertainment thing. You’re trying to put yourself in their shoes and go, what would I do here. If I was in that position, how would I be reacting? Why are they taking that grip because I would do something different then you can start? Once you realize what’s different to what you would normally do, that’s something you can then start trying to implement.

Sonny: You mentioned then that the important of troubleshooting, and I would imagine that when you’re coaching and trying to put that mindset onto the people you’re coaching, the importance of being able to individually troubleshoot whatever they’re having problems with. Is that something that you think you can teach people to be able to do?

Lachlan: I’m trying– to be honest, I’m trying to get better at making people self-directed learners which is not an easy– teaching people how to learn as opposed to teaching them the moves is something I’ve more recently started trying to put a bit more focus on. I think you can do that. It’s always hard with class times, but I have occasionally not recently because of corona, but pre corona, we’d sometimes finish a round or specific training round and then we’ll be, “Okay, now you explain to your partner something they were doing that was frustrating to you and then they do the same for you.” Just to get them to have a little discussion about what was frustrating and potentially how they could solve that problem as well. Which I think that’s a contrived way to get people to do it but I think some people naturally do it and they’re usually the ones that improve pretty quick. You see people, they go to open mat and they roll and then you see them sitting there workshopping things and they’re usually the people that you know are going to improve quite fast.

Sonny: That makes sense, people taking on their own responsibility for their learning, being able to self direct it. I think I’ve heard you mention that you’ll even have classes where people will just be given the freedom to work on whatever it is they want to work on. Not so much in an open mat fashion but you’ll help them out just whatever they want to work on. Is that correct?

Lachlan: Yes, that’s true. Self-directed learning is something that’s come up in the research on how fast people learn quite a bit. If you let people self direct it, they’re going to pick up things quicker as long as they’re following the right path, I guess. With our prior sessions and with our advanced sessions. Our prior sessions are all, you work on whatever you want. I barely give any set thing like, okay, we’re working from a double leg or single leg or whatever or from knee through pass. I’d almost always be– whatever you want to start from, it’s your five minutes, you go from there, that’s what you’re working on and then your partner gets five minutes starting from their position. That does force people to go home and come into the class with a plan or at least if they want to get more out of the class, they’re going to come in like, okay, I’m working on this, this and this. They get a lot of reps in on that area. That’s one thing we do. In our advanced classes, I will teach a technique in the advanced class but when it’s time to drill, if you’ve got something that you want to work on, then feel free to do that. I don’t really make them do the technique that I’m teaching.

Sonny: Okay, that’s interesting. You show a technique if people maybe want inspiration or an idea but if they want to do their own drilling, they’re free– you’re not going to over there and whack them over the head with a kendo stick and tell them to get back on track. [chuckles] With your drilling, is there anything that you do different or that makes what you’re doing unique? Obviously your friend Kit Dale was probably at least vocally saying that he wasn’t drilling or something along those lines but what is it that you can do to improve on people’s drilling that you think?

Lachlan: Yes. It depends on the level the person has. It’s very dependent on how confident you are and the technique you’re doing. If it’s a new movement– if you don’t feel confident with your movement, then I think you just want to get some reps in the movement. I think, at a certain point, the timing and the context for when to use the move become more of a factor and your success than the actual ability to execute the move when you need to more than the actual technical steps. That’s where I feel like it has to shift from drills to specific training. Let’s say you want to drill finishing your arm bar like , okay, you got a static opponent and you’re just extending their arm 50 times. At a certain point, okay, you know how to extend their arm and finish an arm but that’s going to have diminishing returns quite quickly but then having someone trying to fight out of the armbar at various stages will give you a much better feel for the context of as to when you should push the arm which way and so on. I feel like there’s some in-between level of that, which is, I like the way wrestlers drill and I found I can do it well in wrestling but I can’t do it well in jiu-jitsu. I don’t know why. I just haven’t found a way to be able to do this. You need a good drilling partner, I think, but in wrestling, you shoot and they’ll defend and you transition and you keep– your opponent will make you go through three or four transitions. They’re going to let you take them down. They’re not trying to completely stop you but they’ll stop some of your attacks so that you have to work the timing and the context of when you would change between your moves and I found that really useful for wrestling. I find people are less good on the ground at giving correct feedback for that but I think you could do the same thing.

Sonny: Yes, definitely. That was actually something I was talking to Brian Ebersole about. He was saying he would do for his, his making sure that defending a drill is making sure that it’s five, six different ways to defend and then the person’s gets all those different looks. I think that’s definitely a big portion.

Lachlan: I think an issue on the ground might be that there’s a lot of static positions which you don’t really have in wrestling or at least not as much. In wrestling, it’s usually all dynamic. You come in and you try to finish. There’s very little pause in between whereas if you were to say like, “I’m going to drill like that, you’re on top and I’m on bottom and I’m going to try and sweep you.” If you block one sweep, my answer might be to come back to a static position and just settle back to a position that I can just hold for a bit and reset my attacks but that doesn’t make for very good flow drill. You’ve blocked my attack and I come back whereas, in wrestling, it would be like, you just keep driving until eventually you find something. I’m still playing around with ways to use that best in grappling jiu-jitsu format.

Sonny: Yes. I understand. I know you are aware of Preet Mickelson and his work. I actually checked him out on some recommendation, I think [crosstalk] . The conversation I had with him was a lot about switching how we try and present in jiu-jitsuto a sport rather than an art as how it’s been taught previously and that wrestling has had that benefit of just being around for a lot longer. I wonder if that’s the thing that you’re discussing now about just trying to figure out the way to make that transition and what are some of those things then from sports science that you are looking to bring in?

Lachlan: Yes. That’s a good question. [laughs] I think a lot of it has to do with taking a step back and defining your goals and what you’re wanting to achieve. That’s what I did with ADCC. I felt that made a huge difference. Just stepping back and going like, what do I want to do? I want to win ADCC. What does it take? What does someone who wins ADCC do? What’s their skill set? Work on that. Okay, like wrestling, leg locks. At least for me. You can make it very specific to yourself. For me, what would it take to take the 2017 Lachlan Giles and then get into 2019 and try to win ADCC? What changes are required? Let’s just put all our effort on that. Don’t waste your time doing other things. That’s how I approached it and that made a big difference. I think there’s that. I think from my own training, I feel like I apply a lot of things pretty well. What I find is hard as a coach to teach to a group a sport that is often best practice on an individual level. As in I feel self-directed learning and what techniques you should be working on and whether you need to be doing more rolling or drilling and so on is very dependent on the person and then everyone comes together in one class. How do you make each individual person get the most out of the class when they’re all requiring different things at that time? That’s actually probably my biggest question at the moment, is how to maximize the use of class time for students. I think it’s easier that one of the best things you could do is divide it by experience because then that takes care of the how much time should you spend drilling, specific training enrollment because I think that the more experience you get, the more time doing those less things and the earlier on the more time spent drilling. It’s easier for the early on, you can do a fundamentals class and teach the foundation or positions. Everyone’s going to get something out of that by going to these classes. Whereas, for the advanced people, they need probably their specific game. Separating classes based on experience is, I think, is a big thing. I’m trying to implement some of the learning principles like space repetition. I wrote out a syllabus and whatever we cover, we’ll teach it and teach it in detail and then we just refresh it again just for a week. We might spend a week on it and then we’ll do a revision week eight weeks later which covers everything we did in the last eight weeks just in one week just to bring that back in the brain. It’s things like that I’m trying to implement. I wouldn’t say I got it perfect yet but it’s something I’m working on. I don’t know what else to do.

Sonny: That’s all right. Yes, space repetition, that was a big thing in sports. It’s good that you’re trying to implement that into jiu-jitsu. I like the way you’ve just said then of condensing the eight weeks and put it down into the week as a refresher. That’s a good, rough way for people to go in. As for what else you can do, I remember you doing a Brazilian Jujitsu learning study in your own gym based on, I think, it was rites of completion or successful trials of techniques. Are you able to talk about that? How that went?

Lachlan: Yes, I’ll get into that. I didn’t get enough useful data out of that. I think I’ve got a better way to measure it now which I’ll try to look at next time. I wanted to make a study to see whether working one thing, focusing on one topic for a few lessons in a row and then changing to another topic for a few lessons in a row and then changing to another topic, whether that would be a better way to learn than a more random– I do one one day, another one the next day. Within the session. Within the one session, you’re working the three different techniques and all positions. We took data at the start. The group was in the middle and you line up. Whoever you go against, you either win or you lose. You start from your position and you win or you lose. Then you’d come back and you’d write that on a spreadsheet, win or loss.

Sonny: Or learn.

Lachlan: Or learn, yes. We got that data from the start, from the first week to the last week of it. Did people learn better from working everything at once or blocked? It’s somewhat of a blocked versus random training study to a certain degree but we didn’t get enough. One thing I found was tough was with a structure like that, with the random training was you might have three positions you’re working but maybe even in a 15-minute period, you might only get six gos overall. You’re only getting two attempts at the thing that you do. I feel like something full learning is you want to understand what is going wrong and give yourself a chance to try to correct it. I don’t know if this is being shown in sports but I feel like that’s a process you want to go through. If you shoot a basketball, you want to know that it did or didn’t go in the hoop then you make your adjustment based on that and shoot it again. Okay, that was better so now you get some reinforcement for that behavior. Maybe you don’t have to do that a hundred times but you at least want to be able to do that, I think. Getting just two attempts at your technique you’re trying in the whole session of each one might not be enough to actually– At least it’s a strong improvement. I think the research would support a random style of training like mixing things up but I think sometimes when it’s so complex and you’re getting so few things, I just don’t know how well that applies to jiu-jitsu. If you can get someone to shoot a basketball 50 times in a row then mixing it up and making them have to focus on different aspects of it, it probably helps more. I don’t know in jiu-jitsu. That’s what I wanted to find out. One of the issues was the era in the measurements from who you are rolling with had too big of a factor on the outcome. If you come out from the front of the line and then you got a black belt, you could have improved massively at your technique but you’re going to lose. It ends with being a lot of variability and you’d need huge amount of data. I had to meet 50 people that did study but we would have needed, I think, 300, we would have needed to actually get to look for some sort of effect that I was after. What I was thinking instead was to take a more specific thing and such as guard retention or something and measure the time– if you get people to write down the time that they were playing guard or how many times they got– You did a 10-minute period, you have 10 minutes, you’re on your back. If you get passed then it doesn’t matter if the person goes to the end of the line but measure the amount of times you got passed in a 10-minute period or something. That might be a little bit better but I’ll look into that again further. I want to get into some more research side of things but, obviously, after ADCC, I’ve been travelling and doing a lot of seminars and so on.

Sonny: Living the life.

Lachlan: Yes. Not anymore.

Sonny: Yes, no one is but it’s been good. I think there are all those, I guess, unique challenges in Brazilian jiu-jitsuof grappling that and maybe those other sports don’t have. Spaced repetition, we talked about. Any other elements that you’ve heard about that you might want to look into or give some pointers to people to maybe start their own research on?

Lachlan: In my opinion, one of the biggest things in grappling is that you need to identify what the problem is. I’m going to use a basketball analogy again but this is how I see it. Imagine you shoot a basketball. Maybe you’re blindfolded or you can see the ring, you shoot but then as you shoot, they cover your eyes and you don’t even know– Someone might tell you, they say it missed. That you missed the basketball shot but they don’t tell you whether it was too shallow, too deep, too much to the left or to the right. It would be so hard to improve your basketball shot without knowing what you needed. Essentially, knowing what you need to do to get better. Like, I need to shoot it with a bit more force or less force or a little to the left, to the right. Once you know that, you can be more accurate with your shots but I think in something as complex as grappling, most of the time, you go for a move, it doesn’t work and you don’t know what you could have done to actually fix it. I think that’s an essential part of grappling that is different to a lot of the sports that get researched. In just where in the other sport I can think of, it would be pretty easy to tell them in a case of an error, what they needed to do to fix it. In jiu-jitsu, it’s actually really difficult.

Sonny: Right. I hear you. Just being able to increase that level of feedbacking between rolling partners. Let’s say, if someone tells you it was a crank not a choke, then stop them and find out why. Is that about right?

Lachlan: It’s may be not based on sports science but it’s just my feelings towards what I think is a huge factor in improving.

Sonny: That makes sense. I think a lot of the stuff that we’ve talked about, maybe it’s geared towards maximizing the time spent training for a competition and effectiveness. How do you then balance that out for just the hobbyist people coming into your gym, keeping it fun. Would they have been keen to fill out surveys on how their success rates and whatnot? How do you work that divide between the competition team and just your people wanting to get fit and have a bit of fun?

Lachlan: That’s a tough one. People were quite interested in the study so they actually– A good amount of people joined up for that study. I heard that something else which failed was, I tried to get everyone to fill out a spreadsheet just with their goals and like, okay what are you aiming for? This was actually for our pro team. but like, what are your goals and what do you need to improve to get there? That wasn’t followed and people tended to be less active in that which is fine. Some people are doing that themselves at least in their own head but a lot of people aren’t and just going through the process is a very beneficial thing to do. Even just to write it down and go, okay, this is where I want to go, this is what I got to do. That means that on your day when you come into the gym tired, you’ve committed to working on the skill set you need because for example, wrestling’s the perfect example for this because we’ve got so many people that say they want to do ADCC and then they come in and they’re tired and sore. What’s the one thing they won’t work? Wrestling because it’s hard. I’ll be the same unless I– When I’ve got ADCC coming up, I can be like, okay, it’s coming up, I need to do this. I’ll force myself to do it but I definitely rather just pull guard and do the more lazy approach, but that’s not what you need. That’s not what I need to achieve my goal. Having it written down and going, okay, well, today, I’m doing my single-leg take-down defense, then that’s what I’m going to do. It makes a big difference.

Sonny: That’s just definitely the power of writing down your goals for sure. I wonder did you write down your ADCC goal? Was that written down in a notebook somewhere that you’d go back and look at?

Lachlan: I probably wouldn’t have a physical– It was– Yes. [crosstalk] Did I write– Maybe. I’m trying to think. It would have been– We were writing down a weekly plan and trying to focus that. It can be hard to say, for the next eight weeks, I’m going to work this position or whatever or next four weeks because sometimes you feel like you didn’t get enough of it. Like you need to do more of it by the end of that time or you might feel like after two weeks of doing it, that you’re actually feeling quite comfortable and there’s something else that’s got more importance, but at least– It’s better to write it down and then change it if need be, than not do anything at all.

Sonny: Then for your competition side, you had that consistency and that ability to stay in that competitive space for a long time until you got success. What would your advice be for the novice who just wants to just pick up a sport and stay in the sport for a long time? Let’s say they get their blue belt and maybe they’re thinking about, “I’ve done enough,” for some reason, and they don’t want to come back. What would your advice be to someone like that to help keep them actually in the sport?

Lachlan: They have to work out what they’re doing it for. If their goal was to get a blue belt and quit, then I don’t know if there’s anything I could say that would change that.

Sonny: Goal achieved. Done.

Lachlan: Yes. If your goal is to have something to keep you fit and keep your mind engaged and something you– The main thing should be you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, if you’re going there, you don’t enjoy it, but you want to get your blue belt then don’t even bother getting your– I suppose it’s probably still good. It’s still probably good to get your– If you don’t enjoy it, I still think it’s a useful thing to practice for the self-defense point of view, I suppose for a certain point in time maybe to a blue belt then quit but if you enjoy– Find a way to enjoy it, find good training partners that you enjoy rolling with or maybe who make you think and do that. Roll at a pace where you’re not going to get injured.

Sonny: In terms of different training partners who will make you think and probably change your game, going back to the competition when you’re competing in Open Weight and you’re going against all these different competitive styles, especially from people in your own weight division to the giants in Open Weight, how are your setups changing and your attacks changing? Did you just have the same game or did you say, okay, once I get past x kilograms, then I’m switching things up.

Lachlan: Yes, I had two main areas I was trying to set my leg-locks up from and one was that De La Riva and K-Guard and the other was from reverse De La Riva, which has a bit of a closer range. In my weight division, for whatever reason, just stylistically I thought it would be better against my opponent, which was Lucas Lepri. I thought, the reverse De La Riva thing might catch him off guard. I just had a different entry that I thought he might not have seen, but that was my undoing. But in the Open Weight, I feel I want to keep a bit more distance so De la Riva– Something that just keeps both feet in front of my opponent and most of the time is what I wanted to work with. Just a slight more distance-based guard and that seemed to work well. I was already practicing that style the whole training camp, anyway. I wasn’t particularly trying to get ready for big people. That just happened, but it was probably good that my style was strongly influenced by the Miyao brothers who were quite small. I figured whatever they’re doing probably works. Most of the people they roll are probably bigger than them. Whatever they’re doing works, scales up.

Sonny: That’s fair enough. You want to get that skill set that will go across weights. With the big guys, probably the biggest in one way or another would be Gordon Ryan. What’s happening with him at the moment? At the moment, obviously, nothing but there was that talk of the match and he was putting that stuff out there. What’s happening with that? Do you think that’ll ever come to fruition?

Lachlan: I don’t think he ever really wanted to do that match. At least not for that price. He put an offer of 500,000 dollars on a legal battle compared to my 5,000 which of course I was happy to do, but then I said yes and then he started putting all these stipulations in about I have to fight x and y with three other people within a year or something which wouldn’t have happened with corona probably anyway so there you go. I wouldn’t have got my 500,000. You know Gordon, he’ll say anything.

Sonny: Just a bitter blaster.

Lachlan: Since everyone’s been locked inside, he certainly unleashed– He’s furious [crosstalk]

Sonny: A bit of cabin fever fear.

Lachlan: Yes.

Sonny: When things finally, we get back out on the mats, we get going what do you think will be the next evolution in No-Gi grappling that people should be maybe looking forward to and thinking ahead? Where do you think the game is going to go?

Lachlan: I think that very much depends on the rule set. In ADCC, the wrestling is going to be a huge determining factor in a lot of matches. If you’re preparing for ADCC and you’re not wrestling then I don’t know what you’re doing. That’s going to be a huge factor. Everything else will be there. The sport’s evolving, so we’ll get sharper with our leg-locks, sharper with our passing guard, front headlock. It’s hard to say what– If I knew where the evolution was going to occur, what’s a new tactic or something, then I would be doing that already. I see some patterns. I see certain people favoring some positions now. We’re talking about Gordon. I know Gordon’s playing a very seated guard, almost trying to wrestle up from a seated guard, which works for him. I can see that being valuable. That used to be more my style. I used to play a lot more forward pressure. It’s a much more risky style. Your chance of being front headlocked Kamurad or under-hooked, it’s higher risk, higher reward. I personally see what the Miayos are doing and the K-Guard has been the other reaction which is to play more off your back and try to get into leg entanglements. That’s the avenue that my direction is going and I see more and more of that in No-Gi because it’s hard to play standard De La Riva and those Gi-based guards but the K-guard still lets you work in on those positions. That’s my guard evolution, is working to there for passing, I don’t know, body lock, but that’s not exactly new. Body lock is certainly common No-Gi. Everyone’s is getting better at back takes, I think they’re realizing that to score points if you’ve got wrestling, you also need to be able to take the back because your opponent’s probably going to turtle and try to escape. You talked to Preet, I do think a better defensive back game will surface to a degree. It’s a hard one for me because I have success but sometimes you go against someone like a Craig or something and I really don’t feel like turning my back at all is a good idea. Some of those people who are very good at taking the back, I just feel like turning your back and trying to fight off the back can be a landmine.

Sonny: You’re giving them what they want.

Lachlan: Exactly.

Sonny: They want you to stay pinned.

Lachlan: At the moment, my thoughts are only when it’s a choice between me losing points and turning my back and risking, I’ll turn my back but otherwise, I’m not going to try to fight a defensive back battle proactively. In terms of what the next evolution is wrestling and–

Sonny: Wrestling?

Lachlan: Yes, potentially some better ways of setting up submissions from standing. That’s not something I’m particularly looking into, but that could be someone who’s–

Sonny: Just chaining that wrestling into submissions?

Lachlan: Yes. I think now that you’ve a rule set like ADCC where people are going to be willing to engage the stand-up battle, you then might see some opportunities to set up submissions from the standing position, which you wouldn’t have seen in IBJJF because people just pull guard so now there’s more opportunity for something like that.

Sonny: I like it. That’s going to give me something to go think about and work on more standing submissions. That’s going to be a good little way to end that, I think, just a little of advice for people to go off and research themselves. I really appreciate the time you’ve given me today.

Lachlan: No, I think you had some really good questions.

Sonny: Oh, thanks. I appreciate that feedback. We’re talking about important feedback.

Lachlan: Yes, that’s right.

Sonny: [chuckles] Thank you very much. Of course, you also did mention that the body lock could be a big thing and you’ve got the body lock instruction if you want to get it.

Lachlan: Just a [crosstalk]

Sonny: That’s it. What are the other ones that people can get and how should they get in contact with you if they want to?

Lachlan: Through BJJ Fanatics, I have instructionals on half guard, front headlock series, about one and a half guard passing. I’ve got the body lock pass and I’ve got the leg lock anthology as well. There’s those five and then on grapplers guide, I’ve got something on butterfly guard and on the equivalent to guard retention but on top, which is sweetp prevention. When you get stuck in all different types of guards, how do you actually maintain your base and get back to neutral position without getting swept or submitted. It’s a topic I thought hadn’t really been covered. If you go on the BJJ Fanatics, you could use my code, lachlan10 that says 10% and if you go to grapplers guide that’s got a whole bunch of, not just me, there’s a whole bunch of other experts that have on different topics and I want you to use a Lachlan, that say a 30%.

Sonny: Nice, beautiful. I’ll put that in the links and show notes and people can follow through there and I think that’ll be offered. For now, you’ve got to go to class. You got a zoom class so–

Lachlan: Yes, a zoom class coming up.

Sonny: I’ll let you go get prepped up and everything for that. Thanks so much for the time again, and have a great evening.

Lachlan: You too, cheers.

Sonny: Thanks, Lachlan.

What Does “Leave Your Ego at the Door” Mean?

“Leave your ego at the door” is a common phrase you will see written on the walls of martial arts gyms everywhere. But it has always amused me because it would be almost impossible to do unless everyone had an existential crisis as they walked through the door. But more than merely being helpful, considerate and courteous to people, I think it might be useful to interpret it as not being fearful of receiving feedback or experiencing failure in the learning process.

To simplify the process, we can experience failure and either laugh or cry about it. You probably have to do both at some points, and only ever having one reaction would possibly lead to negative consequences. Maybe accepting it as just the way things are and an unremarkable, expected, and natural part of the process seems to be the healthiest attitude. You might feel awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassed, but no need to make it worse by thinking that those feelings would be rare.

Leave Your Ego At The Door

Of course, you will find these new movements and skills difficult at first. Unless you started training as a child, we all come to martial arts at a stage of life when we are probably skilled in different areas, at the very least whatever you do for a profession would give you skills in one area that most people in the same room do not possess. Everyone would likely struggle if they stepped into your day to day activities and had to learn on the job. It’s the expected outcome, predictable and we shouldn’t let it surprise us, throw us off or discourage us from persisting.

Understanding that process could then lead to the more common interpretation of the saying of basically not being arrogant or a jerk. Then maybe becoming less arrogant and more understanding of other peoples struggles and your own could then, in turn, make you a more peaceful person?

Using Martial Arts To Leave Your Ego At The Door?

If you want to try that out, then martial arts might be an excellent vehicle to do so. Possibly because on some level, fighting or physical struggle has a deeper meaning with a long history in humans nature than other modern skills you could learn. Im not doubting that you could get the same lessons through other professions, but martial arts does seem to have some exceptional qualities to it if that might be what you are looking to achieve in regards to loss of ego.

Or maybe im overthinking it (more than likely) and simply put, just don’t be a goose and injure anyone in the mat by going too hard.

Peace, Love & Raging Waters,
Sonny Brown

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster!

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster!

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Why the change?

If you are looking to improve, you need to become a self-reliant learner.

Typically we only spend a few hours each week in class, and this is simply not enough to progress in the sport! You need to spend time outside of class learning!

Prepare your mind to learn

  • Try to be in a happy, accepting state.
  • Try to not be negative about what has been going on in your day
  • If you need sleep and can afford to get more rest, SLEEP! If you have bad breath and that bothers you, BRUSH! If you have little pet peeves, which are bothering you, FIX THEM. The more that you have to keep your brain from wandering to the better!!!)
  • You must do something calming yet slightly active for exactly 10 minutes before class. If you do warm ups, then this is a good start but consider walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes and listening to music before you start your training. Stretching and listening to music is also good.


Establish an emotional connection

Why do we want to do better?

  • Competition
  • Exercise
  • Weight Loss
  • Self defense
  • Social Interaction
  • Learn a new skill

Establishing an emotional connection makes you learn faster. Think of all the subjects in high school that you didn’t want to learn. They were the most difficult ones for you while others that you enjoyed seems to be easy.

What style do I learn best?

  • Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
  • Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
  • Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
  • Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
  • Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
  • Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
  • Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.


Visual (Spatial)

  • If you are a visual learner, use images, pictures, and other visual media to help you learn. Incorporate as much imagery into your visualizations as possible.
  • Use mind maps. Use color and pictures in place of text, wherever possible. If you don’t use the computer, make sure you have at least four different color pens.
  • Diagrams can help you visualize the links between parts of a system, for example, major engine parts or the principle of sailing in equilibrium. Replace words with pictures, and use color to highlight significant and minor links.
  • Use BJJ books and try to recall the step by step images in the book


Aural (Auditory-Musical-Rhythmic)

  • Use sound recordings to provide a background and help you get into visualizations. For example, use a recording of you or the instructor talking through the techniques step by step. If you don’t have these recordings, consider creating them while training or writing them down and recording them after class.
  • Use mnemonics and acrostics, make the most of rhythm and rhyme, or set techniques to a jingle or part of a song.


Verbal (Linguistic)

  • If you are a verbal learner, try the techniques that involve speaking and writing. Find ways to incorporate more speaking and writing in techniques. For example, talk yourself through techniques or use recordings of your techniques or combos for repetition.
  • When you read content aloud, make it dramatic and varied. Instead of using a monotone voice to go over a procedure, turn it into a lively and energetic speech worthy of the theater. Not only does this help your recall, you get to practice your dramatic presence!


Physical (Bodily-Kinesthetic)

  • If you use action, movement and hands-on work in your learning activities. Having someone do the technique to you first is going to be your best option. Also drilling the move and going through details.
  • For visualization, focus on the sensations you would expect in each scenario. For example, if you are visualizing the feel of the gi collar or sleeve. Where your weight needs to be. Often you will feel yourself have to move around while visualizing.
  • Keep in mind as well that writing and drawing diagrams are physical activities, so don’t neglect these techniques. Perhaps use big sheets of paper and large color markers for your diagrams. You then get more action from the drawing.


Logical (Mathematical)

  • If you are a logical learner, aim to understand the reasons behind your techniques. Knowing more detail behind your techniques helps you memorize and learn the material that you need to know. Explore the links between various methods, and note them down.
  • Think of concepts
  • Also, remember that association often works well when it is illogical and irrational. It doesn’t matter how logical two items are together. You have a better chance of recalling them later if you have made the association illogical. Your brain may protest at first! So think about giving concepts or techniques funny names.
  • You may sometimes over analyze certain parts of your learning or training. Over analyzing can lead to analysis paralysis. You may be busy, but not moving towards your goal. If you find, you are over analyzing stop! Take what you have and start doing. Often people try to take in a whole system of techniques and its tough to digest.


Social (Interpersonal)

  • If you are a social learner, aim to work with others as much as possible. Try to hit as many classes as possible. If this is not available, then consider forming your group with others at a similar level. They don’t have to be from the same school or class.
  • Role-playing or slow rolling is a technique that works well with others, whether its one on one or with a group of people. Drilling with training partners in a slower scripted grappling session works great!
  • Mind maps and systems diagrams are great to work on outside of class. You can even use sites like Mind Mup to create them and share with your friends. Allowing them to add info or make changes.


Solitary (Intrapersonal)

  • Use books, DVDs, blogs and other media to learn as much as possible then ask questions of your instructors to help clarify gaps in your learning.
  • Align your goals and objectives with personal beliefs and values. If there is misalignment, you may run into issues with motivation or confidence.
  • Keep a journal of techniques, thoughts and feelings about the classes you attend.
  • When you associate and visualize, highlight what you would be thinking and feeling at the time you made the journal entries. You may want to do most of your visualization and association in private.


Phases of learning process

  • LEARNING PHASE: This is the initial phase. Generally this is when an instructor is showing you a technique for the first time and you are just beginning to start to learn it. Try to watch the instructor carefully and break the move into 4-5 small chunks. Write them down if you want.
  • RE-ITERATION PHASE: Begin to drill the techniques. Try to replay the steps in your head. Saying them under your breath if you want to.
  • REPEAT: Repeat the above steps for all the techniques
  • DO: Try to put yourself in the situations you learned that class
  • RETAINMENT PHASE: At the end of rolling try to recall each step of each technique you learned in class. Then later that night when you are going to bed do a mental check to see if you can remember the techniques you learned.
  • RE-DO PHASE: The next day in the morning commit a few minutes to trying to remember the techniques you learned. Using as many senses as possible to recall them. Saying them out loud or writing them down will help too. The last part is to work them into the next grappling session you have along with the new techniques you learned that day.

Block Vs Random Training

Block Training

Blocked Practice is what you see in gyms across America. These are all of the ‘traditional’ practice techniques that we thought were best. Block is when you work on one particular skill or technique at a time – think drilling 100 arm bars at a time

Random Training

Random Practice is a motor learning technique that creates a random and highly variable environment for development. Rather than focusing on just one skill or technique at a time. This will combine a number of techniques and skills in a random fashion


Block Vs Random in BJJ

We already do this!

The great part is most gyms already are setup this way. You first learn via block than random. However you as a person need to make changes to make sure you are getting the most benefit from it!

Block Training

  • Technique Learning
  • Situational Drilling with no variables

This is still necessary in my opinion. You need to learn the skill in an organized fashion first. Concentrate on learning the technique and establish links to previous techniques or ideas.

Random Training

  • Live Grappling
  • Slow Rolling
  • Situational Drills with changing variables

When rolling try to put yourself into positions that you are still learning or have just learned to refine the new technique. Don’t always rely on tried and true techniques. Allow yourself to fail.

So what are you saying?

During the ‘extra’ batting practice sessions:

  • Each player in the Block Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a block pattern (15 curveballs, 15 fast-balls, 15 change-ups)
  • Each player in the Random Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a random pattern (curve, fast-ball, fast-ball, change-up, curve, etc…)
  • Two acquisition tests were performed to measure progress during the six week experiment. At the end of the acquisition phase a random transfer test was performed where all the players received 45 pitches and the number of ‘quality hits’ were measured.


I don’t believe you! Show me stats!

A study was done looking into the effects of Block vs Random Practice on shooting a basketball. Students were divided up into two groups. One was trained in a block fashion (shooting the same shot repeatedly) and the other in a random fashion (shooting a variety of different shots). During the transfer test the experimenters measured the students’ success on their first shot attempt (a very game-like measurement because in a game you only get one chance to shoot a given shot). The results were again consistent with other experiments and field tests looking into the effects of Block vs Random Practice.



I need more!

During the ‘extra’ batting practice sessions:

  • Each player in the Block Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a block pattern (15 curveballs, 15 fast-balls, 15 change-ups)
  • Each player in the Random Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a random pattern (curve, fast-ball, fast-ball, change-up, curve, etc…)
  • Two acquisition tests were performed to measure progress during the six week experiment. At the end of the acquisition phase a random transfer test was performed where all the players received 45 pitches and the number of ‘quality hits’ were measured.




Lizard Brain – Amygdala

“The lizard brain is hungry, scared, angry, and horny.    ― Seth Godin, Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?

The lizard brain only wants to eat and be safe.

The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.

The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.

A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.

The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.

The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.

The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”

So how does this affect my learning in BJJ?

  • This is the part of the brain that tells you that you shouldn’t do this technique because you will look dumb in front of the group if you fail.
  • This is also the part of the brain that tells you that you shouldn’t grapple with the people that are better than you because you are afraid you will lose.
  • This is also why many people choose not to compete even if it would help their learning process.

Show me a video!

Watch all of this guys stuff! They are really good!! Watch Trevor Ragan

How do I fix it?

  • Don’t try to fight it. You will lose. Acknowledge it and decide to do the opposite of what it says.
  • The lizard brain hates change. So make things random. Are you normally a guard player, try to get on top and be a top player for a bit. If you are a top player be on your back.
  • Treat your sense of fear and anxiety as a benchmark for things that you need to work on and get excited about making improvements there.
  • Everything is pretty scary at first. Driving a car, riding a bike and the first time you grappled, but once your lizard brain got over the fear it became old hat and now you barely think about it.

Learned Helplessness

Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.

While the concept is strongly tied to animal psychology and behavior, it can also apply to many situations involving human beings. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change.


Learned Helplessness in BJJ

A great example of this is how they train elephants. When they are young they tie an elephant to a tree. The elephant tries to break free but is too small to break the tree. After days it gives up. Then when the elephant is bigger and could actually break the tree it doesn’t believe it can so it doesn’t even try.

How does this translate to learning in BJJ? Well when you first start you are often tapped out several times. This establishes a helplessness mindset. The great thing is that being aware of this helps you stay out of this trap. Everyone is human! Once you acquire enough skill you will be able to beat that person. The higher skilled practitioners are not unbeatable. He or she might just be right now with your current skill set but tomorrow is a different story.

Three stages of learning

  • Cognitive Stage- During this initial stage of motor learning, the goal is to develop an overall understanding of the skill. The learner must determine what the objective of the skill is and begin to process environmental factors that will affect their ability to produce the skill. The teacher must do their best to provide an optimal environment for learning, which may mean removing large distractors.  During this stage, the learner mostly relies on visual input and trial and error to guide learning.
  • Associative Stage – During this stage, the learner begins to demonstrate a more refined movement through practice. Now that the learner has had some practice and has identified various stimuli that may occur, they can focus on “how to do” moving on from the “what to do” in the first stage. Here, visual cues become less important and proprioceptive cues become very important. Proprioceptive cues refer to the learner focusing more on how their body is moving in space and what input is being felt from their joints and muscles. The more practice, the more proprioceptive input the learner receives to aide learning.  Therefore, the more practice the better!
  • Autonomous Stage – During this final stage of learning, the motor skill becomes mostly automatic. Progression to this level of learning allows the learner to perform the skill in any environment with very little cognitive involvement compared to the first stage.


Learn more about the stages

Over Researching

Don’t get in this habit! This happens when you first start and you want to know everything about everything! Your brain can’t process all that data at one time. You have to cut it up into bite sized chunks. No more than 30-40 minutes learning. As far as a technique number no more than 4-5. Then get into the art of doing! Once you feel you have really learned those skills, do the next 4-5. Allow your brain to digest the information that you have just fed it.

Also get specific! Don’t say I want to learn more from guard. Say you want to learn 4 sweeps from full guard. This will narrow down your dataset and help you master certain positions.

Research – Do – Analyze your mistakes – Research – Do – Reanalyze

Failing to get better – Do’s

Failures, screw-ups, and unknowns help you build resilience and character, give you insights about your work, yourself, and others, enrich your experiences, test your emotional intelligence, and add to your knowledge and skills. To gain the most from them, you could practice the following dos and don’ts on how to respond:

  • Feel and Reflect: Fully experience the emotions that come with failure before you jump to the next thing. You owe it to yourself to process the feelings (e.g. sadness, fear or anger) without getting overly attached to them. Speeding up and keeping yourself busy can cause you to miss out on vital lessons. To reap the nuggets, reflect and take a close look at what went awry. Did the mistake arise from a well-intentioned error of judgment or just plain carelessness? Reflecting on what didn’t work helps you learn from your mistakes and get on the right path.
  • Claim Appropriate Responsibility: Blaming yourself for events that are outside your control or constantly rescuing others signals that you’re taking on too much responsibility. But step up to the plate when your involvement truly matters. Think about your role in the situation and decide what you can do differently and better, going forward. Acknowledge your limits. Do you need more training? Is your workload too much for you to cover?
  • Admit and Reframe : When you acknowledge your misstep, you free up your energy to refocus on next steps. Get real about what constitutes success–dedicated work and true grit, coupled with mistakes and uncertainty.
  • Take Effective Action :Forget the word “try.” Set out specific action steps that you must take. If you fail to complete them, regroup and reset. Although trying is better than not trying at all, it gives you wiggle room to avoid committed action. When you focus on doing, you drop the drama associated with trying.

Failures, Screw-ups, and Unknowns | Dyan Williams

Failing to get better – Don’ts

  • Blow Off Failure and Move On Too Quickly: Failure can trigger painful emotions. It can derail you, raise your self-doubt, and heighten your anxiety. It often brings unnecessary stigma and shame. To take the edge off, you might dismiss your failures as trivial or reinterpret them as successes. But adopting an unrealistic, Pollyanna attitude has serious drawbacks.
  • Blame and Make Excuses: When you don’t take ownership of your actions and choices, you miss out on the chance to correct course. Blaming others or external events can give you a sense of control, but makes it harder for you to effect change. While clueless colleagues or a poor economy might be contributing factors, dwelling on them doesn’t change much. Chastising yourself also adds barriers to bouncing back.
  • Deny and Cover Up: Ignoring and hiding your mistakes cause you to miss out on the valuable lessons they provide. You are bound to repeat them if you don’t shed light on them. Denying your role in the failure or that a failure occurred thwarts improvement. Find a supportive group or create a learning organization where goof-ups are openly discussed.
  • Give Up Easily :Stretching and growing involves facing uncertainty and having setbacks. If you are not willing to move beyond your comfort zone, you might feel safe, but surely limit your opportunities. While quitting is not in itself a bad choice, you want to make sure you’re not simply succumbing to fear of failure. This kind of relinquishment leads to regret.

Embracing failures doesn’t mean deliberately seeking it or creating a lax work environment. It’s not a call for reckless conduct and disregard of standards. Fear of failure can be healthy when it protects you and doesn’t paralyze you. Failure and mistakes have real consequences. Do what you must to avoid or minimize them.

Failures, Screw-ups, and Unknowns | Dyan Williams

Mistakes are feedback

To make mistakes proper feedback you need to categorize the mistake into one of three categories.

  • Fluke – Try not to lump everything into this category, but sometimes they happen. You get flying triangled in 10 seconds. That kind of stuff…. things you know how to defend but it just happened. Don’t worry about these. Keep positive, laugh it off and move on.
  • Error in the Process – Your technique was off. You left your arm out of position and you got armbarred. Ask your training partner what you could have done better then try to fix it. Use it as a tool for further learning.
  • Having no information – You are a new white belt and you got swept from De La Riva…. You have no idea what de la riva is… How can you be mad at making a mistake you have no knowledge about. Your mind has built up no memories of this position so it will fail. When these start to come up. Learn about that position. Ryan Hall is a great example of this. No one was doing 50/50 guard and he tore through people that had no clue about this position. So don’t blame yourself, learn about the position and combat it next time. Also don’t get mad at the position or the person doing it to you. Its a learning tool…they are preparing you for when it might happen in competition

Ask Why.. then why, how & what.

Ask yourself why you are doing a technique this way. Why are you are putting your hand on the collar? Why should my weight be here instead of there?

Understanding why will help you better understand every technique. Then you can start to form concepts and generalities that you can use to simplify your game.

If you want to go even further ask yourself Why, How and What. If you don’t know why you do something.. have you really learned it? This concept comes from Simon Sinek.

Don’t know why? Ask the instructor… They don’t know? Research it online

More videos!!

Becoming a self reliant learner

Use additional resources like:

  • Youtube
  • Books
  • DVDs
  • Magazines
  • Seminars
  • Podcasts

Much of these tips will overlap but with a few small differences


What you will find is everyone has generally the same idea on techniques for some of the smaller details will change. This is normal and most of the time both people can be right they are just doing the technique slightly different.


  • Question your source! Only get videos from people you have found to be good teachers. I will include a list of my subscriptions at the end.
  • Watch one technique or an idea then search for that same technique to get a different perspective. Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time.
  • Online watch a few videos and only watch something that you can conceptualize. Basically if you are new hold off on Berimbolo. Not to say that you can’t watch it, but it should merely be as fun activity rather than trying to actively learn
  • Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. I use my phone to take notes so I can access them easily. Evernote is a great app for this.
  • Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the video in your head and follow along.
  • Watch the videos again and see if you missed any piece of info. Yes it will take longer but I would rather have you learn a few techniques well, over learning a bunch poorly.
  • Then before class watch the videos one more time. Then try it in rolling. Lastly compare what happened to the video a last time. Often videos include small changes to make for defenses.


I actually prefer books over videos, but I think that is due to my learning style. The nice thing is that you can bring books with you.


  • Again question your source! Only get books from people you have found to be good teachers. I will include a list of my authors at the end.
  • Read one technique or idea. Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time. Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. Even though the technique is already written down, you should explain it in your own words.
  • Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the pictures in the book in your head and follow along.
  • Read the technique again and see if you missed any piece of info.
  • Only read and remark on about 4 techniques. Anymore than this and your mind starts to wander. Your brain will also reject it because it seems like a lot of work. To do all this for multiple techniques.


Ah DVDs I have hundreds of them!!! This is not the way to go. It lowers my bank account and I haven’t even cracked open half of them. So please take it from me. Buy one set. Go through it systematically then sell it online and buy another set. For this its a combo of Youtube and book theory.

  • Usually DVDs come in sets of 3, 4 or 5. Find the one with the most relevance to you! For example if you suck at half guard maybe pop in that DVD in even if its really the 3rd DVD. Unless it is teaching a system over the course of those DVDs.
  • Watch one technique Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time.
  • Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. I use my phone to take notes so I can access them easily.
  • Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the video in your head and follow along.
  • Watch the videos again and see if you missed any piece of info. Yes it will take longer but I would rather have you learn a few techniques well, over learning a bunch poorly.
  • Then before class watch the videos one more time. Then try it in rolling. Lastly compare what happened to the video a last time. Often videos include small changes to make for defenses.

Magazines and Podcasts

I love listening to podcasts and reading BJJ magazines, but this is not where I choose to learn technique. With these take a lighter approach to the learning process on these. Listen to podcasts and read magazines for more of the lifestyle of BJJ instead of techniques. It also helps you learn who some of the better instructors are and the big names in the sport. Many of the magazines have technique sections, but often they are very complex speciality moves to look cool in the magazine. If you are a high rank person give them a shot! If you are a low rank person read them over and try to get the concept of the technique. This will help you later when you start getting into more complex techniques.


Man! I have a love, hate relationship with seminars. They can be great and they can be terrible. I have probably attended 40+ seminars in my day. Most are 3 hours. Don’t expect to remember everything! If you can take notes… do it.. If they will let you video tape for sure do it… but often people won’t let you.


  • Take notes
  • Realize that you wont remember it all
  • Do the move the way the instructor asks…(Often you will encounter instructors that do things differently. For instance on armbars some people will say to always grab with your elbows and some will say to always grab with your hands. Do it their way while you are at their seminar.
  • Try your best to lock in the moves you like
  • Again if you can video tape it. If they won’t let you … ask if you can videotape yourself doing the move on your phone. Dont disturb the seminar by talking through the video. Just rep the move


There are a few things thats can help you learn just by changing your mindest.

  • Have positive expectations about class and about learning- If you come in with a great attitude you are more open to learning.
  • Anticipate the next move – When your coach is teaching, listen but also try to anticipate the next portion of the technique. This will get you in an inquisitive mindset. If you are right great! If you aren’t it’s much more likely to stick because it disrupted your current thought pattern
  • Accept feedback – If someone tells you that you are doing something wrong try to listen to them. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong but give what they are saying a chance. Again if you go in with a negative mindset you will never believe what they are telling you.
  • Focus on the positives – maybe you didn’t get the entire technique right or maybe you couldn’t pull it off live. I am willing to bet that you got certain aspects of the technique right. You just need to go back research more, then test more.

Carol Dweck – A Study on Praise and Mindsets

Ashley Merryman: Top Dog – The Science of Winning and Losing



Don’t let randomness change your attitude. Say you hit a particular move 50% of the time. One day you are doing the move live and you fail 5 times in a row. Often this will send someone into a negative attitude. Then your average will actually get a lot worse. Chances are over time you will hit the move 50% of the time but don’t allow random spots of failure change your mindset. Chances are you will get it the next 5 times.

That being said, you should go back and see if any other variables were at play. Was the person better defensively, was your timing off, did you forget a step. Take it as a learning tool and not something you failed at.

Boost your learning outside of BJJ

  • Do mental puzzles – This is a fun one to do with BJJ too. Try to figure out as many different way you can get to a certain technique or combo. Try to figure out if you can do moves from other positions. Also take stock of all the techniques you know from a certain position. If you can only think of a few, you probably just found your new early for learning.
  • Visualize and Walking Meditation – Pretty much every day I walk the dog and listen to music. This allows my brain better time to process. Often you will feel like you were on a 5 minute walk and it will be 40 minutes.
  • Eat right – Not only is it good for your body and learning in BJJ but its good for the mind.
  • Get some sunshine – Your brain needs vitamin D and melatonin
  • Get rest – Many researchers believe that rest is the most important part to learning. It is what locks it into your long term memory.

Become a teacher

When you are a white belt I don’t suggest this, but it your are a Blue or higher this is a great way to learn. It really makes you figure out techniques. The why that I was talking about earlier! Once you have the why, it makes the doing part a lot easier. Teaching also helps build up your confidence. The more confident you are the less likely you are to feel ashamed if you make a mistake in front of the group.

Don’t recreate the wheel

One of the best ways to get better is to research a person rather than a particular  position or technique.

Try to find someone roughly your same size. Read up about their training and their style. Try to copy it at first then make it your own. Copy someone that is already in  the spot you want to be in. They have created a training plan already you just have to follow it.

20 hours not 10,000

Most people have heard the idea that you have to do something  for 10,000 hours to master something.  This seems pretty daunting but it has been shown that you can become fairly proficient at something after just 20 hours.  Especially if it is very specific.

Essentially about 20 minutes twice a day or one 40 minute session for a month.

So do you want to get better at submissions from butterfly guard? Spend two 20 minute sessions per day learning about submissions from butterfly. After a month you should be really good at submissions from butterfly. You have to be specific though and you can’t double up on skills and expect great results.


Mind maps

Use them!

Have two mind maps

1) Techniques that you know

2) Grappling system complete with all the defenses you have been presented with. So say one of your submissions from guard is armbar. Standard armbar. Then on your mind map some of the children of that armbar on your mindmap should be all the defenses you have seen so far and the counter to those defenses. This map will be massive but will also help your coach come tournament time. It will lay out all that you plan to do and your reactions to thier counters. Try to also do it in a way where a counter can lead back to another point much like a flow chart.

Rolling is great for testing these. If a new defense comes up. Get excited. It’s another to add to your mind map and you get to research how to combat that one!

Types of sparring partners

In live rolls you will mean 5 types of people. Here is how you should handle each one!

People way worse than you – Work your new and unrefined techniques when going with these partners. Allow yourself to try new things and don’t use your “A” game

People slightly worse than you – Try to work on more of your refined techniques mixed in with a few new tricks. Use some of your A game

Your equals – Use your main go to techniques and log the mistakes you found

People slightly better than you – Work on some of your defenses and try to impose your “A” game on them. Allow yourself to fail in new positions

People way better than you – Work on your defenses. Still try to out technique your opponent but realize the real learning is coming in your defenses.

Flow rolling with a purpose

In my eyes there are two types of flow rolling.

Flow rolling

1) Both people grappling with little to no resistance. Both are trying out new moves, having fun and just seeing where the roll takes them. This turns into an almost active meditation state and is great for having fun and learning new areas of the gym.

Flow rolling with a purpose

2)  in the second situation one person goes in with the idea of drilling a specific set of techniques. Their partner helps them to get in these situations and allows them to do the move that they wish to do. Then they begin to add small amounts of resistance at those particular moves and presented different defenses to those particular moves. So you will continue to grapple just like your flow drilling but actively trying to put the main trading partner into those positions they want to learn.

Final thoughts

  • Be specific in what you want to learn – example I want to learn 3 sweeps from deep half guard
  • Be random in the way that you learn the techniques. Learning one technique then learning all the defenses and variations of that technique so nothing surprises you.
  • Use more senses – Hear, Watch, Write it out, say it out loud, recreate it on video
  • Get much needed rest
  • Ask why – if you know the why you are much more likely to understand how
  • Bring a positive attitude everytime to class and your learning
  • Don’t allow yourself to slip into learned helplessness
  • Become a self reliant learner
  • Take failures as learning tools
  • Have fun

Resources on Youtube

Books to read

The X-Guard: Gi & No Gi Jiu-Jitsu
by Marcelo Garcia

The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Globetrotter
by Christian Graugart

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Theory and Technique
by Renzo Gracie

The Complete Guide to Gracie Jiu-Jitsu
by Rodrigo Gracie

Encyclopedia of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: Volume 1
by Rigan Machado

Drill To Win: 12 Months to Better Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
by Andre Galvao  .

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: The Path to the Black Belt
by Rodrigo Gracie

Jiu-Jitsu University
by Saulo Ribeiro

Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu: Revolutionizing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
by Dave Camarillo

A Roadmap for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
by Stephan Kesting

Passing the Guard (Vol 1): Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Details and Techniques
by Ed Beneville

The Grappler’s Handbook Vol.1: Gi and No-Gi Techniques: Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Submission Fighting
by Jean Jacques Machado

Strategic Guard: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – Details and Techniques
by Joe Moreira

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: The Closed Guard
by B.J. Penn

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Submission Grappling Techniques
by Royler Gracie

Roll On ! – Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster!

Learning In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu – How to get better faster! – For Source Click Here


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