Breaking Down (In a Good Way) - Process vs goal-oriented training

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photo Credit: Mike Kalika

Years ago I read in some fitness magazine that Kelly Slater (often cited as the best surfer out there) thinks of every wave as a series of individual flat planes. This idea stuck with me for whatever reason. A big wave isn’t so big if it’s just one little piece after another to deal with. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture can often be very helpful for perspective, but this article is focused on the importance of the little picture.

Application in BJJ:

Example: Bull passing the guard

(The very first tweet I ever wrote was, “Just get around the legs”. I don’t even know if that account is still active). Guard passing is so amazingly hard considering “all you’re doing” is getting around another person’s legs. If I stare at my yogi/6’1”/7 years younger than I am/trains more than I do teammate Cameron’s guard and try to think, “just pass”, I will probably just sit down and cry instead because it’s a much easier thing to do. However, if I think of “get a grip on his shin”, I might dry my eyes for long enough to pursue that goal. Then, “keep my elbows in”, “step to the side”, and “straighten my arms away” are only a short distance between me and that elusive space between his elbows and knees. Maintaining it might be another story, but we’re moving in pieces on purpose here!

What it does:

Makes the goals less overwhelming, and more of a game.

Allows you to get a positive mental response from small victories. Ever make a list just so you could cross off each thing on it? Make list. We are easy to entertain in productive ways if we give ourselves the chance. Those positive chemical responses in our brains will keep us going. Motivation is a fickle mistress and anything you can do to keep her on your side is a good thing. You will always do things you’re happy to do more than things you know you should but don’t enjoy. Being able to have real tactile or visual rewards is all the more helpful. Basketball success is easy to gauge because you get to see the ball go through the hoop. Jiu-Jitsu needs a little more tweaking to goal-set in small effective increments.

This can also work in more abstract senses that trust the body to make decisions you haven’t been “trained” in. I’m using a lot of quotation marks in this article. Don’t “shoot” me.

Example: Takedown defense

This is kind of how I start kids that have no experience. Instead of asking them to keep their hips away, hands up, stance ready, and sixteen other perfectly valid but potentially overwhelming cues to think about at once, I might instead choose to instruct, “don’t fall down.” That command alone wraps up an unfathomable amount of potential movements and corrections. Then I can add one bit of encouraging advice at a time and let each one improve the overall performance, making it more likely that the kid will remember it. “Now try it with your hands up.” “Now try while you’re squatting lower.” Allowing more freedom of movement initially will make the motions more natural and creative.

I’ve always liked breaking down moves into their components ever since I watched Andre “Urso” Maracaba do it for class some years ago in Philadelphia. It’s similar to teaching someone how to squat without weight before loading them up with complications like another person being involved. One thing at a time, one goal at a time, in increments that are wholly achievable will soon result in a bigger picture being painted well.


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