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Getting good at Brazilian jiu jitsu. How long does it take?

It’s a well publicized fact that Brazilian jiu jitsu takes a long time to get to your black belt. The average time it takes to achieve this is usually around 10 years. There are some individuals like BJ Penn and Kit Dale, who have amazing rapid rises up the ranks to very high levels. But they are the exceptions to the rule. Most of us mere mortals need many mat hours for us to be come proficient at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

There are several schools of thought on getting good at BJJ. Let’s break them up into 3 distinct learning styles:

  1. The drillers: This group spends their time trying to perfect the movements of each technique. Like the way a golfer or tennis player would practice their shot making. Using varying intensity and resistance, the practitioner increases their ability over time. The downside? You need to repeat the process for every technique you wish to Master. This becomes very time consuming.
  2. The rollers: This group prefers to spend their Mat time doing actual rounds. The theory being that this is simulating real tournaments or self defence situations. In this way the practitioners movements and timing will be precise. As this is to performed against a real resisting opponent.
  3. The conceptuals: This group prefer to look at movements or objectives from a conceptual point of view. Australia’s Kit Dale is probably the best known advocate for conceptual BJJ. Kit states that it was the sole reason for his meteoric rise through the Brazilian jiu jitsu ranks. Once you understand concepts then this idea applies in many situations. Hence, the need to commit large amounts of time to drilling is reduced.

The rise of the conceptually driven athletes has been nothing short of extraordinary. Over my years of doing Gracie Jiu Jitsu, I’ve found that sometimes my understanding of some concepts “clicked”. As a result my abilities seemed to magnify almost overnight.

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Drilling vs Rolling Vs Concepts BJJ!

I believe that all of these methods are essential for overall healthy game development. Here’s why. The concept of passing trapping someone’s leg then stepping over might be easy to understand. But drilling of long step and windscreen wipers will make your weight placement better. This decreases your chances of getting reversed. If you only drill, and do limited rolling. Your timing and precision against a fully resisting opponent might be off. And still you could miss the pass.

What I found

I’ve never been someone who is gifted at Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. In fact, it was its difficulty that attracted me in the first place. I was good (ok) at most sports. But Brazilian Jiu Jitsu did not come easily to me. The one thing I did have going for me was that I loved it and have a strong work ethic. What I found worked was a combination of all of those methods. When I was learning a new movement drilling was very important. To make the movements of my body more precise. Once I could make these movements, then I started adding resistance. Until I could complete the moves or sequences against resisting opponents. By understanding the conditions which these systems work. I created conceptual frameworks in my mind. This made any “move” more ad hoc. As long as certain criteria were established.

Conceptual BJJ

As for conceptual BJJ as your primary training tool, for some it works great. For me I did have times when I understood a concept and it had a large impact on my game. But sometimes I was taught concepts. Whilst my brain understood the information. Practical application was something that couldn’t occur. It wasn’t till later on, that same idea finally made sense. I finally achieved that deeper understanding which allowed me to apply it to resisting opponents. Sometimes as a student, you aren’t ready for certain information as I wasn’t.

The Short cut!

Everyone nowadays is looking for the shortcut to get good at Jiu Jitsu. Well if you are a mere mortal like me the answer is simple… Train… A lot! You might be one of those freakishly talented individuals and can do it in only a few years. Even then, you will need to commit yourself to the mats. But if you are anything like me it’s all about consistency over years and years. Personally that’s been my key to fast improvement.