Make This Your Best Year Ever!

In the immortal words of Bruce Buffer, “IT’S TIME!” Or at least it’s that time of the year when the majority of individuals have come up with resolutions for the next 12 months in order to improve their personal lives in some aspect. With that in mind, here’s our list of tips for each month to make your year great!


Make The Commitment…
…by signing up for a jiu-jitsu tournament or a few tournaments. Whether you’ve been lacking motivation, or you feel that your current physical conditioning is poor, you’ll be forcing yourself to commit to a goal, get serious about your training and get your butt in shape. You’ve now spent your hard earned money on something where the real investment is in yourself. Who wants to just give $60 to $130 away? No one! Also, entering a tournament, especially one with competitors from other countries coming to the States, is serious business. While you’re complaining about the $5 parking, don’t forget that they didn’t travel all this way and pay thousands of dollars for a t-shirt. I recommend signing up at least 8 or 9 weeks beforehand if possible. That way you’ll give yourself close to 2 months to safely shed those pounds for the best weight class for your body and be fit as a fiddle.


Get In Shape
Regardless of talent level and existing skill set, everyone can control his or her conditioning. I heard this from Bas Rutten, as he was referring to MMA fighters who may have been more technically sound, but would lose fights solely based on their lack of conditioning. Getting and staying in shape is actually easier than most of us make it out to be. I’m not referring to the actual physical work-load, but to the concepts. Objectively, we know that our bodies need exercise, and that we should consume healthy foods. We also know that doing both of these things are to our benefit. There are many productive strength and conditioning programs, exercise equipment and healthy eating programs readily available. Worst case scenario, you can follow a calisthenics program that will yield tremendous results. Bas also said that there’s no excuse to be out of shape, so get to it!


Try No-Gi
If you look at the number of entrants in gi events compared to no-gi events, in either the NABJJF or IBJJF, it’s easy to see that the gi brings in many more competitors. Sadly, no-gi is almost treated like the black sheep of the family, as it’s barely acknowledged as an accomplishment if an American, such as Jeff Glover, JT Torres, or Keenan Cornelius, for example, wins the event at the black belt level. However, you should do no-gi because it’s faster, so you’ll get in shape quicker, it will help improve your reflexes and teach you to process your thoughts better. What is especially ignored with no-gi is that it actually teaches you to be tighter with your movements and positions, as well as improve grips. When we’re forced to adapt, we actually do pretty well doing so and no-gi allows for the creation of other grips (because you have to find them) that you may have not realized were there, while wearing the gi. Need more proof? Look at Marcelo Garcia. In a conversation between Rickson Gracie, Eddie Bravo and Joe Rogan (, 1:45:07 mark), Eddie speaks about how Marcelo treats the gi game the same as he treats his no-gi game. I’m not suggesting give up the gi, but put it down every once and while.


Change Your Vantage Point
Instead of being the student, try being the teacher for a change. However, if you’re not allowed to teach an actual class, you can provide guidance to those who have less experience than you. Looking at technique from the outside looking in, rather than the other way around, will get you back to some basic concepts that you may have been ignoring for a while. From a different perspective, you will not only be passing on, but relearning the same valuable lessons your instructor taught you.

photo by: Bob Barton


Think Outside The Box…
…and train at another gym for a day. What you’ll get out of the experience is the opportunity to learn from someone other than your instructor. Sure, you may have seen a butterfly sweep before, but chances are that it will shed new light on it and you will either feel or see something you haven’t before. I’ve witnessed the same technique performed by numerous, amazing instructors/athletes, but each has their own subtle differences that changes the feel of it. Is one better than the other? Not necessarily; it’s whatever works for you that’s best. Another incentive is being able to roll with people outside of your teammates. By constantly sparring with the same people you can gauge their styles and tendencies, but throw yourself into an unknown environment and suddenly things get very interesting. This will keep you on your toes and you can all learn from each other.

Always Be A White Belt
This doesn’t mean that you should never be promoted or that you should ask your professor to hold you back so you can be a sandbagger at local tournaments. While white belts probably get the least amount of respect, there are some aspects of being one that are of great value. For instance, most are extremely ambitious to learn. This yearning for knowledge can waver at times as you go up in rank and you may just want to get to sparring because you are familiar with the techniques that are being presented in class. If you “think” you know it all, then you’re done as far as jiu-jitsu goes and there will always be someone to humbly remind you that you don’t, whether you’re sparring with them, competing against them, or being taught a technique. Rickson Gracie, Joe Moreira, Grandmaster Francisco Mansor, and others have made me feel like a white belt who’s just gotten on the mats for the first time. Another great thing about white belts is that they aren’t afraid to get after it in sparring. Sure, they go aggro and have a lot less technique, but as your technique grows you may find yourself being more and more complacent during your sparring. I’m not suggesting you go smash your partner, but roll more competitively; after all, we aren’t going to class to play Tiddly Winks.

photo by: Mary McDaniel


Strengthen Your Strengths
While you should always work on improving your weaknesses, there’s good reason to work on improving your strengths. As humans, we’re creatures of habit and when encountered with adversity, we immediately fall back into the mode of doing what we do best. You may know a variety of moves, but when you enter a tournament, chances are you’ll only use certain techniques and play to your strengths. Everyone knows Rafa Mendes wants to take the back, including his opponent, but does that stop him from getting it? Nope, because he’s practiced it over and over and…Bruce Lee once said, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” Something to think about.

Reveal Your Playbook
I realize this comes off totally contradictory to the last point, but this is great advice I heard from BJ Penn. Unlike what you’ve probably heard from others, BJ suggests teaching everyone, everything you know. I’m sure this advice raises the eyebrows of some coaches, but it’s all about elevating one’s game. Showing your teammates your best go-to moves will obviously make your rolls much harder for you, but it also forces you to update your game, use new or different techniques and to get creative. Consequently, when you start doing things out of your norm, your comfort zones are expanded through that discomfort. Going against the grain of things having to be a specific way (certain grips, your foot here or there, etc.) allows you to shape your own unique style. Look at the styles of Gary Tonon and Keenan Cornelius, for example. In essence, the art will always keep evolving by doing so.


Be A Dummy
Not saying you are one, but volunteer for the position. As the one who allows the instructor to perform techniques on you, you’ll gain the best understanding of what goes where and how it’s supposed to feel. Of course, you can still learn the move and you should still want to see it performed on someone else to get a visual perspective, but it’s still very different. My partner may initially not perform the technique properly, but with my coach it’s a totally different matter. Feeling proper weight distribution, pressure, leverage, etc. can assist you in knowing how you should apply the move on your partner, as well as making a suggestion to your partner if he or she is not doing it correctly.


Build A Library
Your coach can’t always be by your side, but you still have the opportunity to get answers to your questions. Knowledge is power and by having Jiu-Jitsu Magazine and other jiu- jitsu books readily available to you, you will enhance your thought process, learn new skills and be able to relax in the evening just before bedtime. So, as an added benefit, you’ll get plenty of zzzz’s and wake up enthusiastic and refreshed for tomorrow’s training.


Call Yourself Out
Tell everyone who supports you about your goals and do it as soon as they pop in your head. Tell people in person, call them, text them, put it up on social media, etc. When they’re out there for everyone to see and acknowledge, you’ll be forced to take accountability for them. Honestly, who wants to lose respect; especially from those closest to them? Your family and friends can be great resources for support, but don’t stop there. Your coach(es) and teammates are a must (including any trainers or nutritionists if you have them), as these are the people who will push you when you need them for training. You may be the person stepping onto the mat to compete, but no one ever learned or got better at jiu-jitsu by training in a corner by themselves; even more reason to let them know your goals.

Sharing Is Caring
It’s a proven fact that helping others enhances both parties’ lives. It makes us feel better and we live happier lives. An easy way to do this is to get our family and friends outside of our jiu-jitsu circle inside of it. The benefits are endless as you can see in every issue of our “Success” column. Whether it’s gaining confidence, losing weight, getting into shape, being able to defend yourself, obtaining a therapeutic release from stressors, learning how to persevere through tough times, or any other positive aspect you may experience, the jiu-jitsu lifestyle can change everyone’s lives for the better. Regardless of your current circumstances, or how old someone is, it’s never too late to start. So each month, try to get at least one person you know to try a class. You may start them on a path that literally changes their lives for the better.



Travis began his love for grappling and fitness more than ten years ago here in Southern California and has turned that passion into a career helping Mike steward this fine publication. He has been training jiu-jitsu since 2009 under John Munoz at C-quence JJ/MMA in Norco, CA.

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