One of the more common challenges faced by Jiu-Jitsu students is the dreaded training plateau. Although we would like to think of our progress as a steady, uninterrupted upward progression, real life seldom works that way. There are periods where we seem to have stalled in our improvement.
In many cases, it can merely be your own internal perception that you aren't performing at your best. "It feels like everyone else is improving but me!" you might feel at times. The truth is you are getting better, but the rate of progress is so slow as to be almost imperceptible. Couple that with the fact that everyone else is in the class is also improving and you get the misguided idea that you aren't improving.
Then there are those periods...where your progress truly has flat lined. You may be having fun training in class, but your game has not made any significant progress. You may be in the athlete's dreaded comfort zone. You seem to be doing the same things that you have always done and rolling the same way with the same training partners week in and week out. But this has led to a type of stagnation.
It is going to take venturing out of your comfort zone to get your Jiu-Jitsu up to the next level.
How can we escape our Jiu-Jitsu comfort zone?
Here are a few suggestions to help you get out of that comfort zone and "level up" your game.
Set a goal to enter a tournament. There are few things that will light a fire under you like the knowledge that you will be testing your skills under the bright lights of the competition stage! You will increase your physical conditioning and ramp up the intensity of your rounds. You may have to tighten your diet and cut a few kilos to make a certain weight division. You will examine your game with a critical eye and look to sharpen strengths and patch weaknesses. You won't be skipping training sessions. You will seek out rolls with the other competitors on your team in order to sharpen each other. The impetus of competition will take you out of a comfort zone for sure.
Not everyone has a goal to compete in a tournament and there are other ways that you can create conditions to get out of your comfort zone. One of the best ways is to set a period of time to focus on a position that you are not that good at. For example, you have a pretty good guard and have been content for a long time to pull guard or start from bottom position in rolling. Takedowns? Well...maybe you will get to that later. Now is the time to devote a focused period of study to learning new entries and finishes for your single leg, drilling the technique every class with your favorite training partners, and resolving to start every roll from standing position and refusing to simply do the familiar and pulling guard. Those first several times if fighting for grips in a foreign position you will definitely feel some discomfort! But therein lies how you will jump to a higher level.
Train your weak side. This might be considered a more advanced area to focus your training. When we are at lower belts, we are often trying to experiment with new positions and acquiring proficiency with those positions. However, once you are confident in those positions and are able to use them in live rolling, it is time to look at another aspect of the position: are you a left side specialist? That is to say - are ALL of your guard passes ONLY to your left hand side? Do you ONLY use Lasso Guard with your left hook? If you are like the majority of Jiu-Jitsu students, I'll bet the answer is yes! I challenge you to take your knowledge of that strong position and train it on your weak side. It will feel awkward for sure! You will feel like a white belt at first. But that lasts only a short time until you develop the muscle memory to execute the position on your unused side. The good news is that you will quickly get over that initial difficulty and find the former weak side is now every bit as good as your strong side. The secret is that your opponents are awkward at DEFENDING on that weak side so your technique is even more difficult to defend.
All of these suggestions involve moving beyond our normal routines, what we are already comfortable doing.
We are at our best when we are challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zones and sharpen our Jiu-Jitsu.