Training to Improve

The Cambridge Dictionary defines Training as : the process of learning the skills you need to do a particular job or activity

So the question I would ask is does what you see at open mat, what you do in your “training” time meet that definition? If the job or activity you are training for is competition then are you counting points, are you working specific strategies for specific rule sets? Are you working on scenarios common to the event? If your training for self defense are you working out of bad positions? Do you focus on making getting to your feet a priority? Does your guard passing leave your head down in a place where can be kicked in the face? Do you prioritize hand control? And if your training like most people with a generalized idea of improvement, trying to better learn the art, working to better your technique have you thought long and hard about what those specific areas that need improvement are? And if so, and I hope so, how do you access those areas?

I would contend that having the majority of your training in the loose chaos of what most open mats look like is not the most efficient path to improvement. Random training leads to random results. You may get better, but what you may find is you get better slower than a focused approach and most improvement will be not based our your priority or your style but in responding to what other people are working on.

Ever learn a cool move from say bottom half that you want to work on, hit open mat, and your opponent pulls guard? Or you learn a great passing sequence that would work great for your game but get paired up with the D1 wrestler who refuses to play bottom? Ever spend the whole round trying just to get to the position you want to work on? I really wanted to do arm bars today but this dude wants to attack my legs!

I wish to be clear. I hold no contempt for going to have fun, for wanting to hang out with friends, for wanting to get a workout in or just showing up during times when the big thing you need to work on is attendance. There is nothing wrong with just enjoying jiu jitsu. In fact I would say if you don’t enjoy it then you likely wont ever do it long enough to even worry about skill development. But when you desire to improve there are methods for doing so that are more effective than showing up with no plan and hoping.

The big tool here I will recommend is positional or situational sparring. So much of my personal time is spent training in this manner that it often surprises me when people are not familiar with the concept.

I will define Positional Sparring as starting within a specific position, often with specific end states. For example lets say I am working on closed guard. I ask my partner to start in my closed guard and we set the parameters at reset when there is a sweep, a submission, or a pass. Now I may want to further focus and say if my partner stands and opens my guard that’s a loss for me and we reset.

I will define Situational Sparring as starts within a specific scenario. To use closed guard as an example to show how this can modify the type of positional work I just explained lets say I start in closed guard and we put 1 minute on the clock and I am down by 2 points in a IBJJF rule set. So we are setting a common competition scenario where perhaps we where tied and my opponent scored a takedown which landed him in my guard. Sometimes the situation is more about how you entered and starting from a non static position.

The way I most often like to manage this is to set 3 minute rounds and the same person works from the same plan for the full 3 minutes. You may do longer or less depending on the intensity or attention span but for most items this works well for me. Its long enough to get hard intense pushes in without being so long that I deteriorate dramatically. 3 min of mount escapes is much more manageable than 10 minutes unless we are specifically trying to target certain circumstances.

I will give some examples of how we use these tools. This is not meant to be all inclusive but just to give some ideas.

T Kimura : Positional – start in T position with defined end states of Submission / Back Take / get to top pin / uke escapes kimura . Situational – from half guard top player traps arm in kimura and rolls over the far shoulder. Go live from the roll.

Standing : Positional – rounds to first points. Situational – one player pulls guard immediately live from guard pull until points.

Half Guard : Positional – top player starts with top side underhook go until swwep / pass/ submit. Situational: Top player is up on points and drops back for a leg attack.

Escapes: Do them! All of them! Often me and my main training partner Gregg will do a full session of escapes. 3 Min rounds. Same person on bottom until they get out to at least a guard (escaping mount by giving up your back would not be advised) . Each round a different position. Mount, side control, north south, back control, repeat for 1-2 hours.

Back: This is a great example of how you can use sub positions. Starts from regular back, starts with one arm across the neck, starts from body triangle. You can do EBI rules for escape or set other parameters.

Another way to use these tools is through what I would call a progressive session. For example maybe you want to work on you back finishes. Start first round on the back with favorable set up. If successful take a step back. Perhaps give the defending player a good defensive grip. If successful step back again. Maybe now defensive player gets the grip and gets to start on the side of their choice or having just hipped over one hook. I like to push these to a place where things start to be more 50/50 in results with my goal being to improve in the positions leading up to the finish so that once I get to a spot in live training I have developed confidence in my ability to drive to the desired results.

Don’t forget to play games! Great way to warm up may be if working closed guard to start from closed guard and one player tries to stand while bottom player tries to touch their hands to the mat. Once you begin to look deeply at the skills you want to develop you can easily identify what the sub skills are and how to expose yourself to them in volume.

Be creative, be engaged, pay attention, come with a plan and maybe sometimes “training” can actually be Training.

Part 2, The Positional Sparring Prescription is here


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