BJJ: 12 Ways To Improve & Progress Faster

How to improve and progress in BJJ

Ever wondered how you can improve your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to progress faster?

In general, to improve your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and progress faster, you need to continually assess your skills, improve your weaknesses, master the fundamentals, and monitor your progress. And on average, it takes a consistent training schedule of 2-3 days per week to improve your BJJ skills.

To answer this question fully, I did some research and put together the top 12 ways to propel your Jiu-Jitsu game forward.

1. Master The Fundamentals

Most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools follow a structured training program which starts with first learning the fundamentals before progressing onto the more advanced class.

Once a new student can show they’ve learnt the basics, they’re allowed to progress on to learning harder techniques and participating in live rolling.

However, if you truly want to improve your BJJ – don’t neglect the fundamentals.

Have you ever noticed the purple belt that only ever shows up to the advanced class and skips the fundamentals class? Its common – but doesn’t mean you need to do the same.

Of course, as you progress its important (and fun) to learn the impressive submissions and sweeps to be both able to use them and defend against them.

But the fundamentals of BJJ are what’s most important because they form the core from which everything else is built on.

Mastering the fundamentals means:

  • You have a solid understanding of Jiu-Jitsu’s different positions
  • You know what all of your options are from each position
  • You know what your opponent is looking for in each position – meaning you’re able to anticipate, and counter their next move

2. Build A Solid Defense

In order to submit your opponent in BJJ, you must attack with submissions. But first, you need to be able to survive the roll long enough to set submissions up. Meaning you need to build a solid defense.

Knowing the best submissions is useless if you get tapped as soon as you roll. Each time you get tapped you’re on the back foot, you’re resetting your position and you’re at the mercy of your training partner.

By building a solid defense first, you survive the roll longer, meaning you give yourself time to set up your attacks – and begin to move your Jiu-Jitsu game forward.

 So, in order to improve your BJJ and progress faster:

  • Learn to defend submissions and passes from every position
  • Know at least one escape for each submission
  • Master how to bridge and roll out from under the mount
  • Learn to regain your guard from any position

“Invincibility lies in defense; the possibility of victory in the attack”

Sun Tzu – The Art of War

3. Find A Training Partner Outside of Class

You can get really good at Jiu-Jitsu by just training in the time that you spend going to class. However, if you can find someone to train with outside of class times – then together both you and your training partner will progress at a much faster rate.

I noticed this happen with one of the guys at my BJJ school who had improved massively over just a few months – I then later found out that his brother also does Jiu-Jitsu, and they train together at home – rolling and drilling their techniques.

4. Video Record Yourself

Pull out your phone and ask a friend or instructor to record you while you train – or if you’re training outside of class with a training partner – set up a tripod with your phone on it.

Be sure to get footage of both when you’re drilling techniques and when you’re rolling. And the more angles you can get – the better.

After recording yourself in training you’ll be able to:

  • See if you’re drilling the techniques correctly
  • See what mistakes you’re making when you roll
  • Analyse where your strengths and weaknesses are
  • Make a plan of what you need to do to improve

By having this video footage of yourself training you’ll be able to make an honest and accurate assessment of where you’re at with your BJJ skill.

5. Start From Your Weakest Positions

Once you’ve identified your weakest positions from your video footage (see number 4 above) – you’re now able to make a plan as to how you can improve those positions and what transitions and techniques you need to learn for each.

One of the best ways to start strengthening your weakest positions is to start from those positions when you roll.

For example, let’s say you always get stuck in bottom mount position. Next time you roll, ask your training partner if you can start from the bottom mount position and start working your way out from there. Then, when you change partners – start from there again and keep doing the same until you get comfortable at escaping that position.

6. Monitor Your Progress

It’s been said that as humans, we are psychologically more likely to stick with harder tasks for longer – if we can clearly see the progress we are making along the way.

To put this theory to test, the American Psychological Association conducted an experiment in which they analysed over 19,000 people who were working towards achieving a personal goal.

The test was to study whether the participants could improve their results by continually monitoring their progress along the way – as a form of motivation.

At the end of the study, the American Psychological Association found that monitoring your step-by-step progress while working towards a goal does help motivate you and therefore increases your chances of success.

“When you’re trying to achieve a goal, the more you monitor your progress, the greater likelihood that you will succeed”

The American Psychological Association

Here’s a few tips for ways you can start monitoring your progress:

  • Make a tracking sheet
  • Train for reps – and track how many you’ve done
  • Train for hours – and track how many you’ve completed
  • Mark your progress – with ticks or a green highlighter

Tracking sheet A tracking sheet is perfect for being able to quickly see each day how you’re progressing – and for motivating you to do more.

A tracking sheet can be used for improving anything you want – I personally also made a tracking sheet when I wanted to improve my bodyweight strength with squats, push-ups and pull-ups.

But here’s how it can help your Jiu-Jitsu too.

Training for reps Training for reps means repeatedly training a certain technique again and again until you’ve mastered it and can instinctually preform it in live training.

Let’s say for example, you drill a technique for 20 reps – then switch and your training partner drills 20 – and so on until you’ve both completed 100 reps each.

  • The details of each technique are what matter here
  • Take the time to do each rep with perfect form
  • Breakdown each step of the move

Then it’s up to you – you get to pick the number of reps you’re aiming for – and go after it. Imagine how good your Armbar or Triangle would be if you’ve drilled them 1,000+ times.

By training and drilling for reps, you will start to master the techniques you drill the most – and start to improve much faster.

Like the famous saying goes:

“I don’t fear the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks – but I fear the man who has practised one kick 10,000 times”

Bruce Lee

Train for hours Training for hours is the same principle as training for reps – and if you don’t have a training partner to train for reps with – training for hours is your best option.

Choose your goal, then work out how many hours of training you can do each week – and get after it.

Mark your progress The most important thing while tracking your progress is to clearly mark it off on your tracking sheet.

By marking your progress, it gives you instant visual feedback with just a quick look at your tracking sheet. The best way I found is by using a green highlighter.

Here’s how your tracking sheet could look:

Example of BJJ tracking sheet for tracking progress

Remember, once you’ve completed a number of reps, mark them off with your highlighter.

Discover when BJJ will start to click and get easier in our other article here

7. Take Notes – Make A Training Manual

  • Take a note book and pen with you to class then – during the instructor’s demonstration – write down all the important key points
  • If you don’t want to do it during class, then take 10-15 minutes after class when you get home to think back and remember what was covered in class – and write it down in your note book
  • Or if you’ve video recorded yourself – watch it back and make notes of what you did well and where you want to improve

Write down everything you learnt including:

  • The technique setup (step-by-step)
  • How to counter the technique
  • The answers to any of the questions you asked
  • Any advice your training partner gave you

If you structure your notes by separating them out and labelling each section by different positions and techniques – you’ll soon have a very detailed step-by-step training manual that you can refer back to at any time.

8. Flow Roll & Hard Roll

If you always roll hard in Jiu-Jitsu at 100% – then you may be missing out on an opportunity to improve faster.

Hard rolling is important. However, flow rolling opens the door up for other opportunities.

When flow rolling – you and your training partner are not going 100% – but are letting each other flow between setups, passes and transitions – with only 50-60% resistance. It’s a lighter – less competitive way of rolling.

For example, you’re flow rolling and your opponent begins to step over into the mount – instead of working to block and resist it – you let them secure mount position – and then you work to escape from there. Likewise, your opponent holds back on their level of resistance while you work to escape – and the roll continues.

By allowing the roll to continue on and flow – continually working from new positions – you spend more time transitioning and setting up new passes – which helps you build your experience for each of them.

When rolling hard at 100% however – both you and your training partner are working at max effort to resist each other’s attacks and transitions.

If you’re not very experienced with certain techniques, then you’re less likely to land them in a roll. Plus. If your training partner is more experienced than you – you’ll likely spend more time getting smashed and tapping from their submissions than learning and improving.

Both are important – too much of one and not the other, can slow your progress – but a good mix of the two together, can offer faster improvement.

What are the pros & cons of rolling hard, and when should you do it? Check out our other article: BJJ: How Hard to Roll (Pros, Cons & 3 Other Methods)

9. Visualize Each Technique Step-by-Step

Although visualization is no substitute for replacing real-life training – it can still help to ingrain each technique in your mind.

When you’re lying in bed, sitting on the train or bus, or in a boring lecture – put yourself back on the mat in your mind and imagine yourself setting up a technique – step-by-step, focusing on all the details and with perfect form.

Then when you’re back in training, and find yourself setting up a technique on your opponent, you’ll be able to remember each step that is required because you’ve memorized them and visualized them a hundred times before – meaning you’re able to reduce the time it takes you to act.

10. Ask Questions – People Will Be Happy To Help

During the instructor’s demonstrations is the perfect time to ask questions about what’s been taught because this is when they’ll break the technique right the way down and explain every little detail. If you’re not sure about something in the technique – ask.

But I personally find the best time to ask questions is while drilling with my training partner because they’ll give you feedback that is specific to what you’re doing; both good and bad.

For example, if I’m setting up a technique, or working for a submission or a sweep, I’ll ask my training partner:

  • Is that locked in tight?
  • Do you feel off balanced?
  • How could I improve this?

Another great time to ask a question is after a roll. If someone does something to you – like a sweep or submission for example – then ask them how they did it or how you can counter and resist it.

11. Roll With Higher Belts

It’s easy to fall into a false sense of how good we really are and how much progress we’re making – if we always train with the same people – especially if they’re the same belt as us and of a similar skill and experience.

When we only train with the same few people (of the same experience) – the issue becomes that we start to learn their habits – what they’re good at, and what they’re going to try and set up – and then we learn to avoid and counter them.

But when we train with someone of a higher belt rank – we soon get a good understanding of where we need to work to improve.

Joe Rogan talks about training with higher belts in BJJ on his podcast and describes how it opens your eyes to a new level of efficiency and what’s possible – and for us to aspire to achieve ourselves.

12. Watch Competitions & Instructional Tutorials

With all the access to the internet we now have, it’s never been easier to learn online. Of course, watching online videos of Jiu-Jitsu is no substitute for real world training – but it can help.

Joe Rogan told a story on his podcast, of a guy who was attacked in the subway and was able to take the attacker down and use an arm lock to hold him down until the police came. When asked about it, the guy said he just did what he saw in the UFC – with no previous training.

This is a rare occasion – but how can video tutorials and competitions help you improve your BJJ faster?

Choose a technique For example, let’s say you want to improve your armbar, jump on YouTube and watch as many videos that you can find from different instructors and see how they each breakdown the technique. Take notes, visualise the steps and practise them next time you’re on the mats.

Gracie Breakdowns Anytime there’s a viral grappling video, you can be sure to find the Gracie brothers breaking down what happened and how it works. These breakdowns are great for getting in-depth expert insight into the complexities of grappling – and can help you implement what you learn from them into your training too. 

“Jiu-Jitsu is real – and anything that is real, takes time”

Read our other article: 5 Best Martial Arts for Self-Defense & Why

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