How much time do you spend on the mat a week?
How many of these minutes were focused, deliberate minutes of training? No, really. If you take a 60-minute class, how much time do you spend in the bathroom? How much time do you spend talking instead of drilling? How much time do you spend catching your breath instead of moving? Are you even on time for class in the first place?
Jiu-jitsu should be fun. You should enjoy your time on the mat and experience the sport in your own way. If you allow your true training time to leak away—drop by drop, minute by minute—you can still find enjoyment on the mat, but you should not be surprised if your progress suffers. For me, the community and camaraderie of the sport is a big part of what draws me to training, but what captivates me is learning. I am addicted to understanding and improving technique.
Your jiu-jitsu grows the most when you focus, when you are attentive and committed to what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Focus is about more than paying attention, though that’s part of it. Focus is a process where you are actively engaged with the content or activity. When you are focused on learning, you don’t just memorize what a teacher says. You ask yourself questions about the what, the why, and the how. You try to find connections between this new knowledge and your existing knowledge. You challenge it. You explore it.
This sort of focus builds mental habits that will serve you in both training and in competition.
Phase One: Every Minute Matters
The first way to improve focus is to eliminate waste. If you come to class for 60 minutes, you should get 60 minutes of training in. That might not sound very profound, but procrastination and succumbing to simple distractions can slowly steal away valuable training time. After 8 years in the sport, here are the most common leaks in training minutes that I see:
• Show up on time. And on time means with enough time for you to change, stretch, and tape up whatever injuries you are nursing so that you can start class with everyone else.
• Empty your bladder. You’re an adult. You can go 60 minutes without using the restroom if you take a few minutes before class to do your thing.
• Hydrate during the day. Taking a water break during class isn’t bad if you can do it without losing drilling or rolling time, but you are better off hydrating throughout the day instead.
• Talk and drill, or just drill. Laughing with your training partners is part of the jiu-jitsu experience, but your banter should not slow or interrupt your drills. If it does, spend less time talking and more time drilling.
The time you save by eliminating these unproductive moments will add up quickly. After a month, it could equate to gaining an extra training session, assuming you were letting even 5 minutes of a training session slip through your fingers each class.
Phase Two: Head on Straight
Once you’ve made certain that you are physically present on the mat, the next step is to make yourself mentally present. With the right perspective on your training, you can wring every drop of potential out of your mat time, which means that you will roll better and perform at a higher level as a result. Adopting a focused training mindset will take practice, but you are likely to see the return on your efforts in a relatively short period of time.
Conquer Phase Two with these steps:
• Expand your gas tank. Exhaustion poisons your ability to think, forcing you to spend more time worrying about how terrible your body feels and less time on learning and improving. If you get tired during rolls, force yourself to roll longer and more often to build up your endurance.
• Be a scientist. As you learn a new move, ask yourself why it works and be critical of your movements. Make an effort to improve the crispness and efficiency of each repetition.
• Get more repetitions. With your improved endurance and focus on efficiency, you can rack up more repetitions in class. Increase the intensity and work harder even if your training partners are not.
• Come to class with a goal. Your goal is to get better, yes, but your goal should be more specific when it comes time to roll. Are you working on armbars? Escapes? Decoding a particularly puzzling training partner? Step in the door with an agenda to give your training more purpose.
• Form a partnership. Don’t train alone! Connect with other students at your gym with similar aspirations and keep each other accountable. Share match footage. Talk about training. Train hard.
By the end of phase two, you will have more training time and get more out of it as well. Training with this sort of focus helps you to develop momentum. You will find yourself improving more rapidly as the flywheel of your progress spins faster and faster.