The struggle is real: Overcoming plateaus in Jiu jitsu

Published on by Ayanthi Gunawardana

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu

In jiu jitsu, while not everyone competes, there is an opportunity for those of all ages to compete at the local, national, and international level. Despite one’s goals in jiu jitsu, the desire to compete brings a new focus to one’s training. Many people choose to focus on a gameplan, and work on their strongest moves or “A Game” and some alternatives if their opponent counters their “A Game”. While there is little doubt that a solid gameplan is a good tool for success in competition, it should not be the focus for long-term improvement.

Jiu jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint. There is an enormous variety of techniques and positions. If you focus on your “A Game” too much, you risk being a one-dimensional jiu-jitsuka. While you may have initial success at the lower levels, you will face the challenge of more seasoned opponents who may have the answer to your “A Game”. Even though we see most top black belts using their “A Game” in competition, it is their understanding of the entire realm of jiu jitsu techniques that makes their “A Game” that much more effective. I will explain this below.

When I was competing most frequently at blue belt, I experienced a big plateau. I consistently lost matches on points/advantages, and sometimes by submission. Despite training several hours per week and working out when not training jiu jitsu, I could never seem to do well in competition. I had a few “go to” moves that I always used in competition. I picked a favorite guard pass, and I felt that simply drilling the same pass over and over would ensure success in competition. When my guard pass was thwarted in competition, I thought that I needed to keep drilling it enough times until my opponents would concede. The fact was, however, that there were small details that I needed to fix, and simply drilling the same guard pass over and over only reinforced existing errors. For many months, I kept reinforcing the same errors, and became increasingly frustrated with my results in competition. I did not open my game up during class to other techniques because I was so busy focusing on winning with what I thought was my “A Game”.

"Stubbornness is your worst enemy!!"

There were a few things that helped me overcome my plateau. The first thing I did was to start asking my instructors a lot of questions. I recreated scenarios of my failed passing attempts, and was able to get detailed instruction on how I could fix these issues. I also began to experiment with other techniques much more in class; this led me to understand the importance of transitions and how chaining techniques together can help round out your jiu jitsu game. Stubbornness is your worst enemy!!

I also realized the importance of working on my guard game in improving my passing game, and vice versa. Playing guard and consequently having others try and pass my guard meant that I had to work on my guard retention and submission skills. As I continued working on guard retention and attacks, I understood the goals and movements in each guard, which gave me better insight as to how to counter these guards when on top. The understanding of angles, hip movement, and other details from the bottom makes it that easier when you are on top and trying to pass. This relates back to the point I made about top black belts who we see primarily use their “A Game” in competition; it is their understanding of the intricate details of all the guards and passing games in jiu jitsu that makes their “A Game” so complete.

Hopefully these tips will help you overcome your plateaus in jiu jitsu and make sure the art remains as fun as it is challenging!