When I have private lessons with my students I always tell them before the first lesson to think over their training and figure out what they want to do. When it is a white belt I ask them the same thing. If they have a hard time figuring something out I will help them. Why I ask this is to help them form a plan-something we can work on, and a goal with the their training.
The Importance of Goals
I used to have the mentality to go to the classes, train what my coach tells me, spar a little, and then go home. But I seldom thought about what I wanted for myself and my own goals. When I talk about goals I do not mean the big goals to win Worlds or claim that championship belt in UFC. What I mean are the small goals which will be the stones to build towards the bigger goals. I also firmly believe you need a plan with your training and to stick to that if you want to get somewhere.
Sparring and Drilling
I often hear that sparring is the place you really learn, while I think that is true to some extent, I think you need to think bigger than that. For example, I don’t believe beginners get very much out of sparring. While they will get a good workout, they do not have the tools to make it a good training session to progress in their jiu-jitsu. It’s like telling a carpenter to build a house but only giving him nails and no hammer. Sure, he can probably with some creativity put a few planks together, but it won’t be pretty or a very good house in the end.
Sparring is for pressure-testing when you know the fundamentals of the techniques. Therefor, I always tell my students to drill, drill, and drill some more. Let’s compare Jiu-Jitsu to soccer. Do you go to every practice and do training matches? The answer is no. At most, you have a training match on Friday and on every other day you will drill specific stuff. On Monday you practice shots on a goal. Tuesday will be dribbling practice, and on Wednesday, you work on tactics, and so on. Is it fun? Not always, but this is the way you need to approach your training in Jiu-Jitsu. Figure out a theme and work on that for a few weeks and then move on to next theme.
But What About Sparring?
I see sparring as a way to test the skills in the heat. This can be done two ways, either you do specific sparring drills with different levels of resistance, or just free-sparring. While free-sparring is fun, I have a way to tweak it toward my own progress but still keeping the core of free-sparring, just more focused. My way is to go into my sparring rounds with a goal in my head. Lets say I have been drilling the hip bump sweep, then I have a goal to hip bump sweep each partner I spar with at least ONE time each round. Even if I only get that sweep one time and get submitted 46 times, my way of doing it will be a successful round in my book. The goals are also in my head and not something I tell my sparring partners about to prevent them from adapting the first thing they do, even if they most often figure things out after a round or two.
Focus on Yourself
It is so easy to compare yourself to others in martial arts, but my advice is never compare yourself to the person next to you. Instead, ask yourself if you are a better version of yourself since last time you were on the mat. If the answer is “yes”, then you are on the right path. The goals in sparring also prevent you from falling into the trap of comparing yourself to everyone else. It is so easy to get beat down by how many times you get submitted, but remember, there’s no winning or losing in sparring, only learning. Embrace that!
With all this said, of course I free-spar during open mats. I mean, I think sparring is fun as everyone else, but I wanted to talk about how I connect the dots with each session and how important a plan is for your way of learning.