Insight and Understanding

To have insight in jiu-jitsu is to have adaptable knowledge of details. To understand jiu-jitsu is to have adaptable and comprehensive application of insight.


What does it take to have insight in jiu-jitsu? Simply put, it is the ability to have and recall details of techniques as needed for sparring or instruction and apply those details in a flexible way. When practicing jiu-jitsu, insight allows us to see a problem and accurately solve the problem. Usually we are working within the context of a familiar situation, and our knowledge of the correct thing to do allows us to apply a known technique and compensate for small variations via insight into how the minor variations of the problem will present themselves.

For example, if you are performing an armbar from mount, insight into the armbar from mount makes it so that if your opponent does unexpected things to try to free their elbow, you can compensate on the fly based on your knowledge of the fundamentals of the technique. After the fundamental details, insight is derived from the repeated experience of analyzing variations of the same situation. Without insight, there can be no adaptation to variation. It would be like a mechanic who could only work on one model of a vehicle.

When we are helping less experienced people, we apply our experience and insight to answer specific questions about technique. A competent blue belt can recognize what an inexperienced white belt is doing wrong with the armbar from mount and explain how to perform the technique better. The blue belt should also be able to recognize how to deal with breaks in the known patterns. Sometimes the insight is that the situation is too far gone to salvage.

In all of this, insight applies specific knowledge to solve variations of problems. It is similar to stage three in the stages of competence, “conscious competence”. There are only so many ways we can move our bodies given a particular configuration, and through insight we can figure out what we should be doing for a particular situation.

So as our opponent sets up defensive blocks to prevent our armbar from mount, we know that we must retain control of the elbow and prevent getting stacked. This insight allows us to diagnose somewhat on the fly what is going right and wrong with our technique.

Insight can even be as plain as helping your drilling partner refine their technique. Perhaps you picked up the new move a little faster than your partner and you can provide feedback based on your newfound knowledge of the details of the technique.


Once we have insight, then we can start to build understanding. It is one thing to apply an armbar from mount competently and to deal with natural variations in reactions. It is quite another to take the armbar from mount and apply those lessons to belly down armbars, armbars from the back, armbars from the guard, or even variations of armbars like reverse or side control armbars.

Understanding of a submission instead of insight into technique allows us to build a model of an armbar that is abstracted away from any one specific technique from a specific position. Understanding also allows us to build sophisticated systems around that understanding, such as systems for leglocks, wristlocks, kimuras and so on.

“Advanced” guards are little more than having a specific guard configuration and having a complete series of insights that turn into an understanding of all the nuances of base, weight distribution, reactions, and counters that are possible once that advanced guard possible to get to and then established.

There are often false summits as we are building understanding into technique. New insights force us to re-evaluate our understanding and potentially expand it. The proof of our understanding is when we can take new information and test it against our own understanding. Either we incorporate these new insights into our model of jiu-jitsu, or we use our understanding to set aside the insights as not relevant for our jiu-jitsu. Both avenues are beneficial for us.

Build enough insight into a specific area of jiu-jitsu, and you’ll certainly build understanding in that area. Cover enough areas of jiu-jitsu in both theory and practice, and you’ll certainly be a black belt.

Stages of Jiu-Jitsu

I remember well when I was in the lower ranks and I thought I could get to black belt faster if I just started thinking and acting like a black belt. This is absurd. We must build through a progression of knowledge and implementation that has no real shortcuts – only optimizations of the process. In the context of insight and understanding, the belt levels of jiu-jitsu can be broken down like this:

  • At white belt, we must learn the fundamentals and raw details. Insight is limited.
  • At blue belt, we must apply fundamentals and start to build combinations and systems of moves. Insight and ah-ha moments start to fill in gaps.
  • At purple belt, we are beginner experts and understanding of jiu-jitsu starts to blossom.
  • At brown belt, we are refining our understanding of our own game and polishing our ability to adapt that understanding to novel situations. Intuition and reflex go hand-in-hand.
  • At black belt, we have proven our understanding of jiu-jitsu, but we are continuing to expand the number of areas that we can apply that level of understanding.

It is hopeless to think you can know all of jiu-jitsu, but that means there is always something to explore and to incorporate into your understanding. Even as a black belt, there are things that I approach as if I am a white belt, because in those scenarios I truly have only a baseline of insight to apply. Entire systems are built around highly specific guard or control configurations, so while my understanding can assist me in gaining insight and eventually true understanding of something new, I still have to work through the stages to get to the point where I truly understand what I am working on and can apply that understanding in sparring and teaching. I am certainly a black belt at what I do in jiu-jitsu, but I would like to be at least a blue belt level at everything else in jiu-jitsu, even if I would rarely, if ever, use everything. That is a big task, but also a worthy if not necessarily achievable goal.


Learn technique and practice it regularly to build insight and look for any source you can to help you gain insight. Seek instructors, seminars, DVDs, books, internet, anything that can help you learn more about what you are targeting. Especially use your professors and upper belts to piggyback on their insight and hard work.

To build understanding, learn (in class) or figure out (with research) how to connect insights together. Once you have a series of insights about a particular style of sweep, you can build understanding of how to apply that sweep from novel setups as well as building systems around that sweep that map out specific reactions and responses to those reactions.

Just as there is a progression in jiu-jitsu to become a black belt, that same progression can be used to learn any particular subdomain of jiu-jitsu. This means that no matter what your goal is, from learning a specific area of jiu-jitsu to advancing through the ranks, building insight and understanding is the process to follow. Any process can be optimized, and it’s up to you and your coach to individualize that optimization.

Insight will keep you one step ahead of your opponents, and understanding will give you that spooky black belt E.S.P.

Perfecting Jiu-Jitsu in the Academy

As we train, we are perfecting both our jiu-jitsu as well as our partners jiu-jitsu. Regardless of your motivations, selfish or altruistic, the fastest path to perfecting your jiu-jitsu is to elevate everyone around you.

There are two phases of maximized training: Drilling and sparring. There are short term goals, like avoiding being a jerk and bad training partner, as well as long term goals, like building patterns of behavior that will build each individual’s jiu-jitsu. First, let’s talk about being a drilling partner who isn’t a jerk.


Provide Feedback.

“That felt [tight/loose/effective/sketchy].” If something doesn’t feel right, let your partner know as early as possible. Don’t overdo it and cross the line into criticizing everything they do, but you should be helping them correct one perceived flaw at a time. If some element is particularly effective, make sure your partner knows that is a strong point for them so they can focus on making other areas just as strong.

Feedback can be both positive and negative. Both are valuable, but how you present it can make a big difference in how the receiver feels about their progress. With regular drilling partners, playful negative feedback such as “That sucked” is OK if they understand it’s playful, but if you are dealing with a new student or someone who is clearly having a lot of difficulty, then concentrate on positive feedback while negative feedback should be softened with recognizing what went right as well as what went wrong. “That sweep definitely got the job done, but I didn’t feel like my weight was transferring like when the purple belts do it to me. Try this and it might be easier. . .”

Ask for Feedback

When you are the one getting reps in, ask for feedback from your partner. Your drilling partner can provide very effective feedback no matter what their skill level is. When I go to seminars and classes at other schools, I often pair with white belts. It works fine and I learn the moves nearly as well as when I work with brown or black belts. Both of us win when that happens.

Very skilled partners are great, but not necessary. The instructor will provide the input needed to compensate for any flaws you or your partner may have in drilling. Sometimes I’ll ask the instructor to perform the move on my partner so they know how it is supposed to feel, then they can provide me with better feedback. If you or your partner are having trouble, always ask the coach for input. I have never met an instructor that did not want to provide feedback to students executing the requested technique. Take advantage of their desire to see you succeed.

As Perfect As Possible

Don’t drill beyond your capability to do it as perfectly as possible. Don’t go faster, stronger, heavier, or looser than what will accurately reproduce the move you are working on. If you mess up early in the technique, stop and restart. If you build up speed or aggressiveness and your technique gets worse, take it down a notch.

This can be difficult because we often don’t realize we are doing a technique incorrectly. Be mindful of the initial instruction, and don’t improvise if you don’t know exactly what to do. Ask your partner first, then observe adjacent partners and/or call your instructor over to provide further instruction.

Behavior pattern

All of this can be summed up as: Make yourself and your partner as perfect as possible.

My goal when I’m working with a white belt is to make them the best drilling white belt on the mat. They are a direct reflection on how much effort I’m putting into the drilling partnership. It doesn’t matter what the skill level of your partner is. You should be helping them towards perfecting their jiu-jitsu. If they look bad when performing the drill, it’s just as much your fault as it is theirs. Take responsibility for both you and your partner. If both partners adopt this attitude, there are twice as many people looking out for each person than if each person is concerned with their own practice.

Accept feedback in the spirit of improvement. Even if your partner is being a jerk about it, that doesn’t mean it has to drag down your training. The best response is to give your partner nothing to complain about. Constantly improve with every repetition. Accept that jiu-jitsu is a long term project, and even if you aren’t able to execute what you want now, someday you’ll be able to do it. Nobody can take that away from you unless you let them.

In the unlikely event you are dealing with a partner who is just a bad training partner (no feedback, rough execution, doesn’t care about perfecting their jiu-jitsu), deal with it for that class, inform the instructor, and avoid partnering with the person for a while if possible. If it can’t be avoided, then do your best to be a good training partner and set a good example. Be explicit with your expectations and tell them what you need them to do for you to have effective repetitions. Even if they are a black belt, they have no right to obstruct your progress. Take charge of your training, and get help from your instructor as needed.


How to be a good sparring partner

Yes, we are trying to win. Playing a game against someone who doesn’t want to win makes the game meaningless, therefore both sparring partners should be trying to win. However, winning doesn’t mean getting the submission. It means achieving your objectives. If we are training to improve, rather than training to prove (TM Kroyler Gracie), then we can adjust our goals on the fly and still achieve what we want.

For example, if I am rolling with another black belt and I’m constantly achieving my objectives and they aren’t, then I’m going to back off my effort so that I can learn more from them and they can get more out of training with me. When my sparring partner achieves at least some of their goals, I’m going to learn areas of jiu-jitsu that I may not be an expert in. I’ll learn where I can draw the line on resistance for specific scenarios. The same thing is going to happen with sparring with white belts. I’m going to do things that I would never do in a competition setting because I want to make myself better in situations that I should not be getting into in the first place.

The most pointless roll is the forced one sided roll. Invariably, I learn the least about jiu-jitsu when I am just crushing my opponent. When I am dealing with a vastly better sparring partner, I can learn about defense while I’m being crushed, but I learn more when they open up and take risks that they wouldn’t do against a higher quality opponent.

All this points to an interesting facet of jiu-jitsu. Your opponent’s belt or skill level doesn’t matter. As long as you aren’t injuring them, then you should take every opportunity you are given. Maybe they would normally destroy you but they want to have more effective training. Maybe they are working on defense against triangles today. They need you to treat them like they are an inexperienced practitioner and triangle them when the situation calls for it. Even if they are baiting you, spring the trap to learn the trap. If they are doing something they should not be doing, take advantage of it. If the roll becomes one sided in your favor, then you still need to adjust your aggression no matter what your partners skill level is. Maybe they are recovering from an injury. Maybe it’s an off day. Maybe they are specifically trying to help you train. All that matters is that you respond to their actions in a reasonably symmetric way. Strive to achieve your goals, but not in a way that makes it one sided.

Your failures are not a reflection of your worth.

If you like to learn from mistakes, jiu-jitsu is the sport for you. Failure is a constant companion. I do not like failure, and I’d prefer to learn from other peoples mistakes, but I still make plenty of mistakes every time I’m on the mats.

The critical realization is that failure is an opportunity for you to overcome that failure. It doesn’t matter if you are a white belt or black belt. Failure is nothing more than a data point for an element you want to remove from your jiu-jitsu. Your jiu-jitsu is a statue you are carving over time. Somewhere inside that block of marble is a perfect figure representing your jiu-jitsu. Your job is to remove all the chunks that don’t belong and to polish your jiu-jitsu to something that is aesthetically pleasing and as perfect as possible.

It is your jiu-jitsu, not someone else’s. Build something that you can enjoy for the rest of your life. If you hit a brick wall on a particular aspect of jiu-jitsu, congratulations, you are just like everyone else who has their own set of brick walls. Even if I could never get another submission in jiu-jitsu, I could still find things to enjoy and challenges to overcome as I make my jiu-jitsu as perfect as possible. Failures are only negative if you don’t learn from them. Chase perfection for yourself, no matter how unattainable it is. Help your team chase perfection, even if you aren’t anywhere close to perfect.

Team traits

We have covered how individuals as partners should optimize their training, but there’s also a team aspect of training. On your team your goal should be to raise the average level of the room as much as possible. That starts with making sure you have a good population of people training. If you lose people because they do not feel welcome, you are depriving yourselves of valuable training partners. Make people feel welcome and valued by helping them develop their jiu-jitsu, not by proving how much better you are than they are. If you wreck people and injure them, you are losing someone for a period of time and delaying their progress in jiu-jitsu. If we truly believe in the ability of jiu-jitsu to help us have better balanced lives, then depriving someone else of that desired benefit in unconscionable. 

Jiu-jitsu is not an isolated solo activity. If you average 100 people training who are only out for themselves, then the result will be a cut-throat survival of the fittest environment where only the naturally talented or very hardest workers do well. Most of the rest will be a churn of people who start, try, and quit. If you average 100 people who are trying to elevate the jiu-jitsu of everyone around them, you’ll have an environment where the average skill set is higher because of retention and individual progression, and the best people will excel even more because of the better quality average skill set around them. It is a healthier ecosystem that has a strong average.

In a cut-throat environment, the dynamics of the training can be radically altered by the removal of one star. In a healthy environment with a better average, any one missing training individual won’t dramatically alter the ability of the group to advance if they are not present.

The quality of your team will have a direct impact on your training. That also means that the quality of your training will have a direct impact on your team. Take this seriously.

Selfish or Altruistic?

It doesn’t matter in a healthy jiu-jitsu ecosystem. If you are selfish and care mostly about your jiu-jitsu, then the best way to push yourself is to have high quality training partners. If you are altruistic and want to help other people become better at jiu-jistu, then the best way to push them is to help create high quality training partners around them, including yourself.

If our goal is to perfect our jiu-jitsu, then the optimal path is the same regardless of how altruistic you are. It is possible to have high level jiu-jitsu and be a jerk, but by elevating everyone around us, we are helping others as well as ourselves.

Look at it another way. If you go into every training session with the intent to crush all who come before you, you are depriving yourself of exploring areas of jiu-jitsu you are not good at. You play your A-game and the recipients can be ignored other than as grappling dummies. On the other hand, if you go into training to improve yourself and everyone around you, your A-game will be more dynamic and varied as you work with differing styles and explore other peoples game as you explore your own.

Chasing Perfection

Perfection is impossible. We can approach it but never achieve it. If we take our training seriously, with an aim towards perfection, we absolutely can attain a state of being as perfect as possible. It is still an enormous amount of time and effort, just like carving a statue from a block of marble is an enormous amount of work and application of skill. It is a choice we make, and perfect jiu-jitsu is an incredibly satisfying target despite our routine inability to achieve that perfection. We can ease that route by applying what I describe in this article.

Halfway There

Yes, getting my BJJ black belt is really “halfway there”. Four years ago, I wrote that as a purple belt I was halfway to halfway there. Purple marked the midpoint of getting to the coveted black belt. On an intellectual level, I was correct, but it was not a great leap of logic to listen to what black belts told me about their experience.

Now, looking back on the path to here, the years of effort are somehow compressed, as if it weren’t all that much effort to get here. In reality, it was a lot of work, various mild hardships, and eight years of constantly looking for what’s next. Every obstacle was overcome, every responsibility was fulfilled to the best of my ability, and every opportunity to learn what I wanted was explored.

The single biggest factor in getting a black belt is dedication. Without dedication there can be no accumulation of knowledge, and without an accumulation of knowledge there can be no real world performance. Dedication must be applied to all aspects of jiu-jitsu, from showing up to learning to implementation. As Chris Haueter says, “It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left.” I personally had to have seen hundreds of people start and quit jiu-jitsu. Many were more physically gifted than me or picked up techniques faster. Whatever advantages they had in jiu-jitsu were erased when they quit. It’s important to know that it’s not just about keeping a goal of the black belt and showing up when others don’t. It’s also about looking at training as something you will do for the rest of your life.

With a long term perspective, things like colored belts and stripes lose their impact. It’s harsh and discouraging, but reality is that the black belt is the only belt that matters in the jiu-jitsu world. All the other belts are useful only to you. The black belt is a marker with various meanings, but above all it means that you are a true student of the art, ready to explore and contribute in a skilled manner. Everything up to that is just practice. It’s not so dissimilar to education towards a profession. The awards, the diplomas, everything that is meaningful to you is nothing more than a series of steps towards actualizing your education in a given profession. Lawyers must pass their bar examination. Nurses their NCLEX. Others just need to be hired to start to do what they were trained to do. That is when the true practical experience and growth in the profession starts.

Everybody will have a different path to the black belt, and they will also have different goals after they get their black belt. There isn’t a single path we all must take. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is too unconstrained and too vast to make any presumptions about how an individual will grow once they have their black belt. There’s nothing at all wrong with aiming to just have fun after the black belt.

What is most interesting to me in my personal jiu-jitsu journey is that getting the black belt gave me a renewed sense of purpose, despite no defined next step to take. “Next level” is a poorly defined concept, but a very real aspect of what it is to become better as a black belt. I can see multiple levels of practitioner ahead of me, some on the performance side, some on the teaching side. I honestly have no idea what level I can get to, especially considering I started jiu-jitsu late at 37. For now, I’ll do the same thing that I tell my students to do. Obtain progress through knowledge, dedication, and performance. Have a clear path towards a goal, no matter what it is, then execute a plan.

The black belt is nothing more than my new starting point. I’ve already started building the foundation for getting to a level above just being a black belt. Ambitious goals are being set, resources are getting lined up, and I am mentally prepared to aggressively pursue some goals I may never achieve. Chasing after perfection, no matter how impossible it is to grasp, creates some of the most amazing things humans can achieve either alone or together. Even if I am not able to be amazing with my jiu-jitsu, at least aiming for the top will help ensure that I am at least a positive influence on those around me and maybe they will be amazing. Chasing impossible perfection though intermediate steps worked for getting to black belt, and I know it will work for the remaining half of my jiu-jitsu.

Progress in Jiu-Jitsu

Elements of Progress

Good progress in jiu-jitsu is obtained by a combination working on your knowledge, dedication, and performance. When I am evaluating the progress of my students (as well as my own progress), these three metrics are what I use to determine how much progress is being made.

Mastery is defined by details and experience.

Advancement is achieved by consistent training and study.

Knowledge is proven by testing and application.


Invariably, you must accumulate knowledge to be proficient at jiu-jitsu. Knowing the right technique to use at the right time is critical for success, and a solid base of fundamental knowledge is mandatory. Each level of jiu-jitsu requires a different kind of knowledge, from defense, to escapes, to control, to submissions. As you accumulate details of each of these areas, you’ll also build experience that tells you when to apply those details. As you gain experience, look for smaller and smaller details; they are there if you examine your jiu-jitsu closely. Even as an instructor, I still enjoy going to fundamentals classes so I can look for the tiny details.


Steady work towards your goals is the only way to advance towards them. I always recommend making a specific commitment for your weekly training. In a perfect world we could all train 2x a day, 6 days a week. We don’t have to be that aggressive, and most of us would have trouble convincing our bodies to keep up that kind of pace. Do at least what’s comfortable, and add a session. If you can do three sessions a week comfortably, try four. If it causes you any problems for work or family, drop it back. The important thing is to stay consistent and go train your target number of days per week, even on days you don’t feel like it. Jiu-jitsu must become a habit for you to get the most out a given level of dedication.


Jiu-jitsu at its core is about real life performance against a fully resisting opponent. You must take every opportunity to do live sparring, either positional sparring or free rolling. You must test yourself in a variety of circumstances to truly prove your jiu-jitsu skill. Against lesser skilled people, you should be able to control, attack, and finish. Against higher level people, you must be able to defend yourself and be a hard target. Against equally skilled people, you should have lively exchanges of give and take, exploring both your own and your partners jiu-jitsu.


When all three of these elements are consciously worked on, progress is the result. You will build your jiu-jitsu game and endlessly find ways to improve your game and keep jiu-jitsu interesting. No matter what your goal is, either short term or long term, efficient progress must balance these elements.

Uneven Progress

When one of these areas is lacking in your training, you create an imbalance that has predictable results.

If you lack dedication, you will routinely deal with belt rust, where you have to shake off the rust to get back to where you were before. I’ve talked to many black belts that say that if they miss a few weeks of training, like for injuries, the first thing they notice is a lack of timing. If you go longer, you start to lose a sense of what to do at the right time, even if you used to be able to hit a particular move instantly in the right circumstances. Go even longer, and you start to forget details of techniques. Jiu-jitsu is a perishable skill, and the longer you allow rust to accumulate, the harder the road back to your previous skill level.

If you get to a given level of progress, and stop trying to accumulate more knowledge and details, then your jiu-jitsu game will be stagnant. You may perform well in sparring, and you’ll maintain your level with dedication, but your progress will be slow if you aren’t trying to build your knowledge. Jiu-jitsu can still be fun, but it will be a very long road to get to the black belt level. You also run the risk of getting bored with jiu-jitsu.

Without performance in live sparring, you have what amounts to book knowledge of jiu-jitsu. It doesn’t matter how many techniques you can demonstrate if you can’t perform any of them in sparring. If you have any ambition to compete, then performance is critical.

It’s certainly not impossible to progress in jiu-jitsu if you are lacking in one of the primary areas of knowledge, dedication, and performance, but there will be a time penalty. Plus, as we get older (or more injured), our performance metric changes. Nobody expects a seventy year old black belt to perform the same as they did when they were twenty. They can still build their knowledge and maintain their dedication, but the performance metric may end up being that of their students as a proxy for their own. If they have other seventy year olds of a similar level to spar with, then their personal performance can be judged fairly.


If you work on all three of these elements in a balanced fashion, you’ll achieve progress significantly faster than if you focus on just one or two areas. In fact, this formulation of progress applies well to just about anything in your life, from your profession to hobbies. If you don’t lose sight of what it takes to make progress in your chosen endeavor, then progress is inevitable. If you are having trouble with your jiu-jitsu, figure out which of these elements are not where they should be.

The Role of Discomfort

Discomfort, both giving and receiving, is a fundamental characteristic of jiu-jitsu. It is part of what builds mental and physical toughness for both sport and self-defense applications. When you are receiving discomfort, it means some aspect of your defense failed and you have to deal with discomfort while rebuilding your defense and escape options. When you are making someone uncomfortable, you have typically obtained a position of control and it is easier for you to accomplish your goals. Applied responsibly, discomfort helps get us out of our comfort zone and forces us to refine our technique.

Discomfort -> Misery -> Pain -> Injury

Keep in mind that discomfort is not pain, and it certainly isn’t injury. It is also a mental state. Mental discomfort that arises from physical discomfort clouds your judgement. As you learn how to cope with physical discomfort, it just becomes another input to the equation you are trying to solve. There is a reason that higher level practitioners often have an unreadable expression on their face even when they are in bad positions. They have dealt with discomfort for so long that it barely registers, whereas newer students may tap to something that is merely uncomfortable but has no chance of injury or even temporary harm.

Pain is where discomfort crosses the line between a manageable sensation and something that you may continue to feel a little even after the pressure has stopped. It is stretching or grinding abuse of the body that threatens injury. Repeated pain to a joint is likely to cause low grade stress injuries which can temporarily force you out of training to give the joint a rest.

Injury is when a single instance of stress actually breaks something. In jiu-jitsu, much of what we do is capable of breaking bones, tearing ligaments, dislocating joints, or damaging cartilage and muscles. If a submission is applied so quickly that there isn’t time to respond the discomfort or pain, injury is likely. Your goal should always be to avoid giving or receiving injury, even if it is an accident. Experience helps with this, so you should take a skill level appropriate approach to discomfort, pain, and injury.

The line between comfort and discomfort is appropriate territory for lower belts and recreational jiu-jitsu players to explore, while the line between discomfort and pain should be reserved for higher level students (purple/brown or higher). Exploring the line between pain and injury has no place in regular training and should be avoided by everyone. Proper jiu-jitsu can train to cause serious injury without exploring that line. However, there are times where the desired goals require giving or receiving a serious injury. For example, in self-defense you may have to cause serious injury in order to protect yourself or your family. In the very highest levels of competition, there are many well known instances of an athlete accepting serious harm to their body in order to win. See the videos for Roger Gracie vs Jacare Souza (Jacare’s arm is broken, wins on points) or Nicolini vs Musumeci (Musumeci is injured while ahead on points, but eventually loses) for examples.

Although discomfort is typically given from a dominant position, it is possible to make someone uncomfortable from an inferior position. Fighting for position for an escape, building frames, and redirecting force are all ways you can make the dominant player uncomfortable. The dominant player can use weight, leverage, and positioning to make the opponent uncomfortable. At the very least, you always want to make your opponent mentally uncomfortable, constantly guessing and responding to your actions instead of trying to implement their own plans.

Once you become adept at causing discomfort without pain or injury, you have crossed the threshold of being able to cause misery. Misery in jiu-jitsu is how I describe a constant state of discomfort that never seems to go away. A good example of this is if you are rolling with someone who is much more experienced, you are almost always mentally uncomfortable as well as physically uncomfortable any time they make virtually any kind of contact with you. The more misery you can cause, the more you are in control of the situation and can implement our chosen techniques. In competition, causing misery induces our opponent to grow increasingly desperate and more liable to make a mistake. The clock is always your enemy when you are in misery.

What about pain? It’s still a step beyond misery. It has a role in jiu-jitsu, but it must be disciplined to avoid injury. For example, a crossface can be uncomfortable, but a neck crank can be quite painful and is a short step away from injury. Knee on belly as a position can be painful, but it can cross the line to injury if it is applied to the ribs in a focused way. Pain is also used as a part of some techniques to force movement, although it is vastly more common to use leverage to force movement.

Daily training

So how do you practice all these forms of discomfort during regular training? Certainly when visiting another academy or working with strangers in your own academy, it’s best to be polite and avoid any form of pain, no matter what your experience level is. Among regular training partners, causing discomfort should be a normal goal unless it is accompanied by malice (e.g. revenge for a previous submission) or is wildly unfair (e.g. large weight, size, strength, or skill differences). Discomfort builds up our jiu-jitsu as a means of feedback on our technique. Causing pain is best left to more experienced practitioners because they are more familiar with the sensitivity that is required to avoid injury. An example of causing pain is framing an arm or placing a fist against the airway in order to induce a response. In these types of cases, the goal is not to cause injury, but to expose a weakness of defense and progressively apply pain in a controlled fashion.

So for regular training and some competition, The experience levels can be roughly arrayed into the spectrum of discomfort->misery->pain->injury:

Experience Give Receive
White Discomfort Discomfort
Blue Discomfort Misery
Purple Misery Pain
Brown Pain Pain
Black belt Pain Pain (common), Injury (very rare)

The pattern here is as you gain awareness of your own body, you are increasingly responsible for drawing your own personal line for what you can accept. Accepting injury is a possible rational decision, but for the vast majority of scenarios it is not an appropriate decision to contemplate. Of course part of your goal is to avoid even discomfort, but that is not always possible, so the levels above are what you should be prepared to deal with if necessary. On the giving end, the maximum level in this table is reserved for fair competition among peers. In an uneven situation, like purple belt vs white belt, the purple should self limit to causing discomfort while intelligently managing any potential pain received.

When in doubt, default to mere discomfort for giving and receiving. It may be because of managing an existing injury, visiting another school, or even a simple case of not having enough gas in the tank to go very hard.

Of course in self-defense, injury is almost necessarily always on the table. There are also times when an instructor needs to give unpleasant pain even to a white belt in order to illustrate a serious flaw in defense or thought process, but never to the extent that an instant release of pressure doesn’t immediately relieve all pain.

What are we accomplishing?

It may seem a bit extreme to contemplate pain and injury in a recreational activity, but at root, jiu-jitsu is a combative sport, martial art, and self-defense system. Without the potential extremes, you are merely exercising. If all you want is exercise, you can indefinitely restrict both the give and receive options to nothing more than discomfort. If you want to build your jiu-jitsu to its fullest extent, you are going to have to learn how to cause misery, pain, and rare injury.

As you learn the dynamics of the discomfort to injury spectrum, you build your mental resilience and your capability to confront any situation you encounter. This goes well beyond jiu-jitsu scenarios and improves all areas of your life. There’s a level of perspective you gain by having someone trying to choke you unconscious while you calmly disassemble their attack and go on your own offensive. It makes mere verbal confrontations much less stressful, even disregarding the fact that an escalation to violence is much less of a threat.

Intelligent and fairly applied discomfort and misery can help you accelerate both your offense and defense, and they should be common elements of your training.

The Gift Of Jiu-Jitsu

If you love jiu-jitsu, the greatest gift you can give someone else is encouragement that leads them to the same kind of dedication to jiu-jitsu. You don’t have to be an instructor or academy owner; you just need to be passionate about jiu-jitsu and be good at what a new student needs from you.

Think back to your first day on the mats. No matter what your martial arts background, or how athletic you felt, you were likely a bit overwhelmed. Now think about your first time sparring with a blue belt or higher. No matter how strong, fast, or explosive you were, you were routinely tapped out. The higher level students or instructors seemed to have ESP about your every move.

If you want to have jiu-jitsu be a valued gift for someone, you need to make sure that a new student realizes it’s a gift. It’s not just up to the instructors or the office staff. New students will be spending most of their time with other students, so it’s everyone’s responsibility to help encourage them to learn jiu-jitsu and see it as a gift in their life.

Working With The New Student

If you are a higher level student, make sure you look for the new students when they step on the mat. A little extra attention from someone who knows what they are doing shows that everybody is valued on the mats. Of course it’s common for people to try jiu-jitsu and quit within days or months, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored until they’ve proven themselves. How can we expect them to stay if they are treated as if it’s inevitable they are going to quit? Give them the benefit of the doubt.

No matter what your level in jiu-jitsu is, act as if their decision to join the academy is based solely on your actions during their first days on the mats. How would you want to be treated? Jiu-jitsu has inherently demoralizing elements and it constantly confronts you with your own failures. New students need encouragement, not relegation to a new guys corner.

Make sure they know that jiu-jitsu is for everyone, and they can do it if they really want to, no matter how they feel at first. When drilling technique with new students, look for ways to compliment the things they do right, and only correct one small thing at a time if they do things wrong. Be sensitive to personal space. We are used to close contact, but this can take some getting used to, especially for people who are interested in jiu-jitsu for self-defense to avoid being bullied or attacked.

After class, talk with the new students and find out why they wanted to try jiu-jitsu. Find common ground and relate them to your own experiences. Shared experiences and shared history are a part of the social aspect of jiu-jitsu, as well as any other group activity. The sooner you can establish these ties with new students, the more likely they are to want to stay and learn jiu-jitsu for themselves.

Being An Ambassador

Remember, treat every interaction you have with a new jiu-jitsu student as if you are a jiu-jitsu ambassador – because you are. Make them feel welcome and valued because every single person that steps on the mats adds true value to the academy. Show them that jiu-jitsu is a gift that you want to share with them. Jiu-jitsu is a gift that keeps on giving, but only if they take it to begin with. Convince them by your actions to take the gift.

Jitsallica – Frayed Ends Of My Last Gi

Jitsallica – Frayed Ends Of My Last Gi
from: And Armbars For All. . .

Never dryers, always hangers
It has fallen prey to failure
Struggle at seams, twisting again
Now the seam will rip at both ends

Twisting under the net mob sale
Falling deep into credit hell

Old rips I can’t repair, fighting the layers of tears
Growing conspiracy, everyone’s failing gi
Frayed ends of my last gi, hear them taunting
Hear them taunting me

Birth of shreding, death of much more
I’m the slave of gis, I need more
Never warning, spreading stitches
As I look for torn team patches

Loss of money, question, wonder
Waves of gis they pull me under

Old rips I can’t repair, fighting the layers of tears
Growing conspiracy, everyone’s failing gi
Frayed ends of my last gi, hear them taunting
Hear them taunting me

Into ruin I am sinking
Hostage of brand name gi pricing
Money’s set free, flooded I’ll be
Feel the cards increased credit fee

Mats, hell, burn, waste, gripping, tension
Need, choke, want, spend, more collection

Old rips I can’t repair, fighting the layers of tears
Growing conspiracy, I rip my failing gi
Frayed ends of my last gi, hear them taunting
Frayed ends of my last gi, hear them taunting
Hear them taunting me