Your Personal Character Sheet
When you think of individual techniques as having their own ranks, you can begin to see the landscape of your jiu-jitsu, which allows you to structure your training and to put individual training sessions into perspective.
For example, at the academy where I train, we recently spent a great deal of time working on spider guard in our advanced classes. Academically, I understand how spider guard works and what some of the options are from the position, but I never use spider guard in my own game. I was in for a rough night when it came time to isolate spider guard during our guard passing drills. One blue belt in particular who is young and athletic, absolutely destroyed my spider guard. Over and over again he broke my grips and shucked or smashed my legs to get to side control. I may have outranked him overall and may have had six or seven more years of experience, but he was a blue belt in guard passing, and I was a piddly white belt in spider guard.
The result: I didn’t feel bad about losing. I understood where I invested my time and training in terms of my own character sheet, and I could admit that his passing bested my spider guard without feeling bad about it. Because I rank my own techniques, I knew going into the class that it was going to be challenging for me. I knew that I was going to lose, and I knew that I was going to be better for it.
Thinking like a gamer helps me see where my strengths and weaknesses are. If I am ever unsure of what to work on, I sort through my low-ranked techniques and look to improve on those. I should note that I don’t blindly pick something I am bad at, but rather I try to work on a technique or transition that might benefit the whole of my game. If we return to our spider guard example, I have to admit that I will toy with the position from time to time so that I am able to teach it to new students. I doubt it will ever be a part of my core game because, as of now, my entire guard is built around getting my back off of the mat so I can return to a seated guard or stand up.
Rolling a New Character
For some time, mind maps were all the rage. People would spend hours plotting out the connections of every technique in their arsenal. That process can be useful, but for many people it takes far too much time to be practical. Try this exercise instead.
1. Rank your general ability in the following positions:
2. Note some detail about your strongest positions, thinking in specifics about what you prefer to use in those positions that makes them powerful for you.
3. Take your weakest positions and look for ways to connect them to the movements that are strong for you.
Example One: If you have a purple belt takedown game and a white belt half guard, perhaps you should invest time in learning how to get to your knees from half guard instead of working on recovering guard. With this approach, you can improve on a weakness while maximizing a strength at the same time.
Example Two: If you have a purple belt guard passing game but a blue belt side control, you might be missing opportunities to establish more dominant control positions as you complete your pass. You are passing, sure, but confidence in your strength could mask the source of the challenge you face in correcting your weakness.
4. Come back to your character sheet every few months and update the rank of your positions. You might not be advancing to a new belt in the formal sense, but this process can help you to identify more learning opportunities and give you a more meaningful gauge of your progress over time.