GB Mental Game: The Power of Focus

If you have struggled with trying to remember the multitude of techniques that you’ve seen in class at Gracie Barra, you will readily admit that training Jiu-Jitsu is not all physical. There are a number of mental aspects to being a student of Jiu-Jitsu – self confidence, humility, positive thinking, resilience, flexibility in thinking, just to name a few.
Today on Gracie Barra blog, let’s discuss one of the most important mental aspects of learning Jiu-Jitsu – especially for students in the first few years of training.
Focus. The ability to apply one's attention to a specific area of your learning to maximize one's retention of the information and, as importantly, actually be able to use it in live rolling.
The problem for many of us is of course the tremendous volume of information that we are exposed to not only in the regular classes at our Gracie Barra school, but in countless YouTube videos, seminars on GB Online, positions that your training partners share with you and all the cool stuff that you’ve seen in action in a competition. You watch one of these techniques and say out loud “Yep! I need to add that to my game!”
As great as your enthusiasm may be for a new position, the reality is that we are only capable of synthesizing so much material at any one time. While it may be very entertaining to see a lot of new techniques, you probably can only remember a fraction of what you saw. As one new Jiu-Jitsu student humorously put it “It’s like trying to drink from a fire hose!”
Once, a blue belt student was looking to supplement his Jiu-Jitsu through taking 2 private lessons each week. This student was seeing many new techniques and especially new details on techniques that they already knew every session. There was only a limited amount of time to drill each technique before moving onto the next variation in the hour long session.
At the end of the session, the Professor asked: “So what did we cover today?”
The blue belt would wrinkle his brow trying to recall what he had done in the last hour and was so overwhelmed, he experienced great difficulty in recalling exactly what he had just done. Before the following session the Professor asked again what he remembered from the previous class and it was revealed that in actuality, only maybe 33% was remembered at all!
And yet, the blue belt was asking to see techniques from a completely different position in the new private.
We see that there is a significant difference between SEEING a bunch of moves and LEARNING a smaller set of moves that we keep and can use. If you can’t remember the move, much less use it in rolling, did you really learn the move at all?
This blue belt was high in enthusiasm but needed work on the focus.
The truth is that in order to really add these valuable moves to his game, the student was going to have to review and repeat the moves over several sessions. Not merely try a few repetitions of a technique, grab a drink of water and say “Ok, what’s the next move?”
As students of Jiu-Jitsu we must recognize that it takes time and repetition to add any position to our game. We need to focus on a specific set of valuable moves and train them into muscle memory until they become part of our Jiu-Jitsu.
Focus on a single position (ex. half guard bottom) for several weeks. Resist the urge to jump all over the place and try cool moves that you just saw on YouTube. Repeat that half guard sweep over several sessions until you can perform it against some resistance.
The same focus is important when we are preparing for a tournament; when we are looking to reduce our body weight to make a certain weight class; when we are looking to improve our standup takedowns. It won’t happen in a week. In order to get that next LASTING improvement, it is going to take focus on the priority and let aside the other stuff that can come later.
Another important way the student of Jiu-Jitsu must apply focus is in their physical activities in addition to Jiu-Jitsu. Many Jiu-Jitsu students enjoy several different physical activities: rock climbing, striking training, swimming, weight training etc. But if your major goal is to get better at Jiu-Jitsu, then the best way to accomplish that specific outcome is to focus on Jiu-Jitsu and cut back on the extra activity for a set amount of time. Good things don’t come easy and to climb higher necessitates us to focus on what is most important for our current goals.