How Do I Get Better at BJJ

Table of Contents

BJJ skills do not develop in one day and it can take some time to get proficient in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. As time goes by, every Jiujiteiro often asks themselves “How do I get better at BJJ” as naturally some of their peers and training partners will develop more quickly than others and it is always noticeable as naturally people compare themselves to one another.

There are many ways to get better at BJJ and we need to first identify one major point before getting into how to increase your bjj skills. Let’s split all bjj activities into 2 sections – Main focus and Supplemental focus.

Main focus bjj activities are ones that are absolutely needed, they are the ones that give you the best reward for effort put in.

Supplemental focus bjj activities are activities that do help but are not effective without doing the Main activities, they are supplemental in nature and should be treated as such.

Main Activities to Get Better at BJJ

Train BJJ to Get Good at BJJ

This may seem obvious but there are many BJJ practitioners that train less in the soft art and focus more on easier activities and “bjj hacks” that keep them away from the mats.

BJJ in Action
Romulo Barral Going for a Choke

We are being constantly bombarded with advertisements for bjj supplements, videos, courses and products that eventually we start believing that they are the real secret to getting good at BJJ, when in essence they are good supplements to those who actually practice BJJ several times a week.

In order to really feel progress in BJJ, you should train 2 – 4 times a week minimum as this will help you both physically learn BJJ skills and emotionally adapt to the pressure of harder rolling sessions.

The good news is within training sessions, there are multiple opportunities to break each training session into mini-sessions where you can incrementally improve, this could be in the warm up, the drilling portion, the technique training and the rolling itself.

The real reason you need to practice BJJ in order to get better at BJJ is simple, it is the only way you can kinesthetically learn the art, this means you actually learn by doing it and not by seeing it or hearing about it – also known as visual and auditory learning. No other method can have you learn by doing and in a physical manner, although there are methods that come close, it is only by practicing BJJ itself that you truly can become proficient at it.

Take BJJ Private Lessons

Although this may not be for everybody as it generally costs quite a bit of money this is a great way to boost your bjj skills as private lessons give you the 1 on 1 attention needed to fix mistakes in your technique and game. Make sure that you take private lessons from a good instructor, one that can specifically attend to the issue you are facing when trying to get better.

Generally you should take private BJJ lessons from an instructor in your academy as they will already know where you need help and thus can give you the best bang for your buck when trying to learn and improve your technique.

A great thing about private lessons is the fact that generally they are 100% drill and technique orientated, so you are not rolling as much and if you do roll, it will be in a controlled atmosphere where a good BJJ instructor can place you in specific positions for you to understand how to apply the techniques learned under pressure.

Roll With Higher Belts and Get Smashed

This definitely has a lot of people’s heart rate increasing but if you look at it properly you will understand that this is a great way to increase your BJJ skills, especially defensively.

Renzo Gracie said that BJJ is a game of the hammer and the nail, everyone starts as the nail that is getting hammered each round but then after a while they wake up and no longer are the nail, but the hammer. 

BJJ Hard Mount
BJJ Hard Mount

The best way to roll with higher belts is to have small attainable goals and build incrementally each roll. A goal could be as small as surviving 15 seconds, or getting a certain lapel grip from the guard but once you have the goal, you simply build on it. It can be from surviving 15 seconds to surviving 30 seconds and eventually by going with this training methodology you will find yourself rolling full rounds.

The key is to make your defeats into small victories, ones that you learn and grow from. Remember, all the world champions and black belts you see were once the jiujiteiro that was getting smashed while rolling as well.

The best part and hardest part is the emotional training, the feeling of being dominated that you will learn to not fear and thus become stronger emotionally and not just physically.

Focus on Mastering Techniques and Not Collecting Techniques

We have all seen the technique collector, the person who knows all the techniques, watches all the YouTube videos and posts 35 technique videos a day on their Facebook page while they still suck at BJJ. Yes they know a lot of techniques but they can’t pull off any.

BJJ has grown into being a worldwide martial art, with millions of practitioners it also has become a huge business too. There are tons of marketing campaigns that are focused on creating new techniques to sell new videos and products.  These techniques are generally only pulled off at major IBJJF tournaments by the best in the world who already have mastered the basics of BJJ and need an edge for certain competitions in order to surprise other competitors with unknown techniques that have not yet developed counter techniques and strategies.

It is better to master a few techniques and do them perfectly under situations where you have pressure than to know 1000 BJJ techniques and not be able to do one.

Do NOT become a BJJ technique collector, it can only lead you to failure.

Build a BJJ Game Plan That is Strong in BJJ Basics

If you watch most IBBJF tournaments you will notice that most matches are won by the basics and more “Old School BJJ” techniques. All competitors have an extremely strong foundation and even the New School BJJ competitors can pull off their new school techniques because they have a strong old school foundation and already know how to mitigate other old school techniques and game plans.

All major BJJ schools and affiliates preach having strong basics and the reason is simple, it is because the basics work, they are high percentage and you can always rely on them. They may not look fancy and they may not make for the best Instagram posts but they will get your hand raised.

Once you get a good foundation, you should focus on building a game plan, perhaps you like closed guard and sweeps or perhaps you love a big takedown to tope game and pass to mount, whatever it is, build a game plan that fits your BJJ style and body type as if you do, you will find much more success in BJJ as the years go by. 

If you analyze all BJJ competitors at a high level you will notice they all have game plans and ones that have contingencies to deal with any and all competitor’s game plans they compete against – you should do the same as well.

Compete in BJJ Tournaments to Get Better at BJJ

BJJ Win Tournament
BJJ Win Tournament

There is no doubt that preparing and competing in BJJ tournaments is an excellent way to get better at BJJ. Everyone should compete at least once in order to feel what it is like to both enter a BJJ competition and go through the training camp for competition. 

The pressure of competing can be very difficult for many and can truly break the strongest of a person but you need to remember that everyone feels the same as you do and that going through a competition will give you an opportunity to understand the holes in your game so that you can work on fixing them.

BJJ training camps for competition are great opportunities to increase your BJJ skills as they are intense, the coaches will be more focused to fix any issues with your techniques and can give you much more attention than in a regular class. This is excellent as even if you lose in competition, you will win in terms of improving your overall BJJ technical ability.

Drillers Make Killers

A great way to get better at BJJ is to drill. This does not mean that you only do drills instead of rolling but to add drills in a strategic way to your BJJ sessions. The best way to drill (especially for BJJ beginners) is to work on specific positions where there is a certain goal attached to the drill. An example of this can be someone trying to escape the guard while the other person needs to break posture.

Drills can be optimized to help anyone form white belts to world champion blackbelts. Every drill should always have a goal and it is best to practice drills that are associated with the techniques that you are focused on for the practice as this will better help with overall learning and understanding of the technique you are learning in that particular class.

There are 2 types of drills, partner drills and solo drills. Partner drills should have 2 willing partners and a type of cause and effect that needs to be aimed for from both participants.

Solo drill generally are more movement based and are excellent for both understanding movement in positions and increasing the overall conditioning that the movement requires, a great example would be the simple shrimping drill, where you practice the technical movement of shrimping while increasing the overall conditioning of the muscles involved in your shrimping movement.

Flow Rolling for Better BJJ Movement

BJJ Beginners often roll like their life is depending on it, holding onto a position without moving as they are afraid to lose a good position and get stuck in an inferior BJJ position. Although Grapplezilla advocates harder rolling sessions, there is a huge benefit to rolling with more flow and less pressure. The biggest benefit is that it opens up the mind to understand that through movement and body positioning that the practitioner opens up a ton of new opportunities whereas through a static and hard roll this generally cannot be done as the mind is more focused on survival.

Flow rolling also improves conditioning, specific muscle groups and increases muscle memory, it helps students understand to seize positional and submission opportunities without worrying about suffering the consequences, it helps develop submission chains and it is excellent at developing “feel” towards certain positions that would not be experienced during normal sparring sessions.

This does not mean to only practice flow rolling, as flow rolling cannot get a practitioner used to real resistance, pressure and emotional vigors that a true BJJ match can bring but to use flow rolling as a tool to better your total BJJ abilities.

Less is More, Slow is Fast and Fast is Slow

BJJ is an extremely deep martial art with much to learn but the core of the system generally revolves around certain techniques and principles of BJJ that if mastered, enable an individual to easily adapt to new techniques and strategies as their base is solid.

Due to the fact that BJJ is a martial art with so many techniques, practitioners sometimes focus on learning them all with a “more is better” philosophy. This generally results in the practitioner not being able to properly execute any of the moves they have collected.

A much better way to learn BJJ is to focus on a smaller amount of techniques but practice and learn them perfectly, thus building a solid foundation. As years pass you will notice that you will have a large library of techniques but ones that you can pull off and understand any variation to the technique presented.

Another common mistake is that practitioners are so focused on gaining their black belt as fast as possible that they overtrain, practicing many more times a week than their body and schedule allow for. This often leads to burnout and as a result many people leave BJJ.

It is much better to start learning BJJ with a  2-4 day a week training schedule and once you get a proper rhythm where you can fit BJJ in your lifestyle, you can increase to meet your needs while meeting a good balance between BJJ and your everyday life. The goal here is to avoid burnout early and to find a healthy and perfect ratio for BJJ practices a week.

In the end, there are no shortcuts and by taking this approach you are better set for practicing BJJ long term. Everyone has their own pace, some are faster than others and some are slower but the main thing is to find your pace and when you do, you will only get better for a longer period of time.

Work on Your Flexibility for BJJ

Being more flexible will allow you to get into and out of many positions, it will help you avoid injuries and it will help you with recovery from hard BJJ rolls. There is no better attribute to have than flexibility when it comes to grappling arts, it is pivotal to work on being more flexible. The best way to understand the importance of flexibility for BJJ is to roll with someone who is much less flexible than you, you will quickly notice that the opponent’s BJJ game is extremely limited as their body simply cannot do what they want it to.

The best way to get flexible is by stretching after your workouts, start with simple stretches and increase the position and time of each stretch until you get to your goal. It may take time but it is well worth it, both for BJJ and your overall health.

Get a Good BJJ Training Partner 

BJJ Armbar Training Partner
BJJ Armbar in Training

Having a good training partner is worth its weight in gold. If you can train with a training partner both in class and outside class then it is even better. A good training partner is one that understands your needs, that wants both of you to increase your BJJ skills, is available for you as well as has the same goals as you do. 

Remember that it goes both ways and you will also need to be a good training partner as well, so throw your ego out of the door in order to take the best benefits of having a training partner.

Lose Weight to Get Better at BJJ

BJJ is a very intensive sport with extreme pressure placed on the cardiovascular system. Being overweight is not going to help you when it comes to rolling and losing that weight is going to make you be able to move easier, have a ton more energy and recover much easier from hard training sessions.

Practicing BJJ itself is going to burn a lot of calories and if combined with healthy eating, it will eventually get you to your proper weight for body type ratio and instead of fighting yourself to move your heavy body, you can use all that effort to fight the opponent.

Auxiliary Activities to Get Better at BJJ

You are probably wondering why the following BJJ supplemental activities are classified as an auxiliary activity and not as a primary activity for getting better at BJJ and there is a good reason why.

One of the most common reasons people stagnate technically in BJJ is around the blue belt level they try to solve the issue of getting better at bjj quicker by trying to get in better physical shape than their opponents, or by shoving as much information in their brains as they can while not really holding onto any of the info they consumed. This just will not get you as good as simply practicing the art on the mats.

Now there is a huge need for all the activities written below in BJJ, in fact Grapplezilla heavily believes in the subjects but when trying to specifically get better at BJJ, you need to focus on learning the art of BJJ as best as you can and this means spending any time you have on the mats and not on the following.

Should you get technically proficient or have developed a game plan that you can then focus on the following aspects of BJJ and you will truly find they will benefit you in your goal of becoming the best jiujiteiro you can be.

Strength and Conditioning to Get Better at BJJ

There is no doubt that being stronger, faster and better conditioned will help you dominate on the mats if you have a great understanding of BJJ technique and tactics.

Strength and conditioning are going to help your body to perform better, go at a higher pace, tire out the opponent, overwhelm the opponent and recover much better from grueling BJJ training sessions.

It is very important to make sure you have a strength and conditioning program made for BJJ as it needs to be task specific in order for you to reap the best rewards for the effort you put into your BJ strength and conditioning program.

Generally there are 3 types of strength and conditioning, a program for Power, a program for Strength and a program for Conditioning, all of which are different and all of which are needed if you truly want to get into proper BJJ shape.

We highly recommend you start your strength and training program with a certified professional strength and conditioning trainer who understands the needs of a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu athlete and thus identify your specific needs, it will get you fast tracked to shape and without worry of injury.

Cross Train Wrestling, Judo and Sambo 

Cross training other grappling arts is a great way to get better at BJJ as they can address some areas where BJJ does not place too much attention on, they can give a different set of athletic attributes that can cross over into BJJ and they can also give different solutions to challenges you may face in BJJ.

Greco Roman Wrestling Throw
Greco Roman Wrestling Throw

There are certain grappling arts that have a natural fit with BJJ such as Wrestling, Judo and Sambo. Wrestling being better fit for Nogi BJJ (although Wrestling will benefit the gi as well) and Sambo and Judo being better fit for BJJ with the Gi (although they too can benefit Nogi).

The first aspect that all these arts can help with is the ability to be better at the takedown and the ability to follow the opponent to a superior position after a takedown was performed. 

The second aspect is the ability to scramble for dominant position (in the case of Wrestling and Sambo) and the ability to hold dominant positions for a pin which can be used for tournament scenarios where you want to hold for points until the timer runs out.

The third aspect is the element of surprise, meaning that your opponent will not be used to certain techniques and even attack rhythms of other grappling arts and will not know how to counterattack the technique.

The fourth aspect is you will be ready for anyone opponent that also cross trains and will understand how to counter attack them and deal with any of their attacks and tactics. 

The last aspect is the conditioning of Wrestling, Sambo and Judo will only benefit you as a jiujiteiro as they are more explosive in nature and require a different type of conditioning that can be beneficial to BJJ, especially in the first minutes of a match.

Many top BJJ competitors cross train and have reaped the benefits, athletes such as Buchecha, Barral, Leo Leite, Galvao and many more. If added onto a strong BJJ foundation, cross training in other arts can only benefit you as a BJJ practitioner.

BJJ Seminars for New BJJ Skills

BJJ Seminar
BJJ Seminar

BJJ seminars are excellent to introduce practitioners to new viewpoints, techniques as well as serve as a great source for motivation. Going to learn for a few hours from a top BJJ competitor or former BJJ legend is an excellent way to break out of ruts and get a fresh breath of air that can help break certain challenges you may have when trying to improve your BJJ skills.

Although they can be a bit pricey, seminars are a buffet of knowledge all served by a top qualified BJJ professional so if you can afford to attend seminars, we highly recommend you do so as it is always eye opening and there is always something to learn from a BJJ seminar.

BJJ Books are a Great Aid for BJJ

BJJ books are excellent as they are full of information, they can be read anywhere and they are great to slow things down when learning BJJ techniques. There are some amazing BJJ books in the market written by world class instructors.

Generally try to keep to BJJ books written by top known instructors and take your time to read through them, there is a lot of knowledge to absorb when reading and if done correctly, you will only benefit from reading about BJJ.

BJJ Videos to Help Improve BJJ Knowledge

There are so many BJJ videos on the market, with a multitude of subjects and techniques to learn about. The great thing about videos is that you can learn from your favorite BJJ instructor as well truly find specialized content on positions you want to learn about.

When watching BJJ videos you should try to focus on one series at a time instead of jumping from video series to video series and thus not really understanding the entire series content as generally good BJJ video series have a logical flow of techniques that need to be learned in sequence to truly understand the subject of the series.

If you are lucky enough to have a training partner that will watch the series and learn with you, you can truly benefit from watching BJJ videos although we do recommend your primary source of learning BJJ is at the academy you belong to as BJJ videos cannot identify the problems in your specific technique which may lead to bad BJJ habits that your opponent can take advantage of when rolling.

In Conclusion

Every BJJ practitioner has had a period where they feel in a rut, they feel like they simply are not progressing but the main thing to understand is that everyone goes through this and the way to get over this feeling is simply by continuing practicing BJJ and implementing some of the tips in this article. BJJ is a long journey and if you enjoy it step by step you will soon enough find yourself at the mountain top, so stay positive, determined and keep on practicing.


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