by Chris Gregurich
Michigan State Director
Enjoy the Training
This is a hobby and/or pastime for most of us. You are learning to defend yourself, but you should also be having fun. It will be hard at times, and you may question if it's worth it, but you should enjoying it deep down. If you don't, then find something else. Life is to short.
Every newcomer to martial arts is told to "relax" about a hundred times. It will take time to realize, but is important for productive training.
What they roughly mean is:
a) Pace yourself. Don't try to go all out for 30 seconds, and then be unable to carry on rolling without passing out or throwing up. Learn that a purple complexion suits nobody.
b) Don't be so tense. It will slow you down and make you tire quicker. Not every muscle in your body has to be working at full contraction the whole time!
c) Don't freak out in bad positions or when you're caught in a sub. It's just training. By staying calm and reacting instead of panicking, you'll learn more.
d) Expend your energy as efficiently as possible.
e) Don't try to do moves a hundred times faster than needed (or that your skill level allows). Mechanics and leverage are important, too.
f) Don't try to bully moves. Use what is there, not just what you want. Also, learning when to let go of a move is as important as when to go for one.
g) Head squeezers are not welcome. You're there to learn; not to try and headlock someone to death.
When new students tense, they tend to hold their breath as well. Try to keep a regular breathing pattern. This sounds simple, but you'd be surprised how hard it can be when under pressure. You will gas, anyway, but breathe and you'll last a lot longer.
If you want to learn anything and get good it takes time. You aren't going to be tapping everyone out after a week’s training. Have patience and put in the work, and it'll come.
If you want to make progress, consistent training is the key. A session here and there is not good. Make the effort to attend regular classes. Consistency in attitude is also important.
Simply turning up is not enough. No one else can make you good, and a coach can only guide you. It's down to you. Pay attention and try to get as much out of the class as possible. You should take something from every drill and roll.
If you don't understand something, ask. You are there to learn. Ask more experienced students you train with as well as the coach. If someone keeps catching you with something during training, ask what you are doing wrong. Correcting it will make you both better. As the saying goes "The only stupid question is the one not asked".
Note: Ask relevant questions, don't be the one who asks "Would Bruce Lee beat Rickson Gracie?" when a drill is being explained.
Don't get hurt. If you are caught, tap.
You're supposed to get tapped, and it's part of the game. If you can escape, go for it, but if you're going to get hurt, tap. You don't actually have to be in pain with gritted teeth to tap, since sometimes that is too late!
We all end up learning this the hard way. Anyone with some mat time under his belt can probably think of times he wishes he hadn't been so stubborn and had tapped earlier. Tapping and carrying on with the class is much better than missing sessions while an injury heals.
Don't Be A Jerk With Submissions
Apply the final portion of submissions with slow and even pressure. Do not jerk them on without control. By all means enter quickly into the technique, but when it comes to finishing, you must control the limb and apply pressure slowly.
Be Aware Of The Tap
When you have a submission applied, it is your partner’s job to tap, but it's yours to notice the tap. Don't just wildly apply the submission without being aware of your opponent. He may not be able to use his hands on you, and could signal vocally by tapping the mat or by stamping his feet.
Take injuries seriously.
Another biggie we all learn the hard way, and some of us never get into our thick heads.
If you pick up an injury, stop and get it treated before you go back on the mat. Missing the end of a session to ice an injury and skipping the rest of the week is better than creating a problem which will blight your training for months or even years. Seriously, if you need to take time off, do it.
Going down to watch the classes during your break is encouraged, but only if you can resist going on. If it's too much temptation, find something else to do.
Learn to treat your injuries. R.I.C.E. will be your best friend.
Don't Beat Yourself Up
You WILL get your butt kicked. At the start, you will get tapped frequently. Remember that everyone went through the same thing. Even the best. Even with some experience, you'll always get caught and have days when you get schooled by people you normally beat. Bad sessions are part of training. Don't get discouraged. Have patience, keep training, and try to enjoy the workout.
You can learn a lot from watching others. Being able to see and understand what others are doing will increase your understanding. You may be able to pick up a technique, detail or movement that will help your game. Everyone has their own way of grappling. Differing styles can teach you different things.
Also, studying someone better than you and modeling how they roll can be a good way to make progress.
Shouldn't really need to include this but you never know.
Wash your kit every session. Wash yourself every session. Keep nails trimmed.
Show respect to the people you train with.
On the mat, keep your partners safety in mind, and don't go bullying less experienced players.
Off the mat, taking trash is part of being a team, but bad blood and gossip can kill a group.
"Leave Your Ego At The Door"
This is a motto at many clubs. Training can be competitive, but you are there to learn, not fight. Training and drilling are about improving performance, and not "winning." Don't bring your insecurities to the mat.
Position, Position, Position
Good position skills are what make a good grappler.
Pin escapes and guard passing are the two most important aspects of your skill set. They are what you are going to need when rolling with better opponents. Add to that your pinning game and sweeps. This should be your focus, not only when you start training, but always.
Submissions are great fun but good position skills are where it's at. They are what get you to the sub and keep you out of bad positions. Not much point learning a submission combo from the mount if you can't get there or hold the position.
The Fundamentals Are Your Friends
Spending the time on the fundamentals is the way to become proficient at grappling.
The "basics" may seem a boring after a few months, but in time you will see the depth of understanding there is to gain in their application. Little nuances will become apparent, and you will have the foundation to take your game to the next level.
Learn To Do The Things You Hate To Do
We all have areas we need to train but try to put off. It may be your side control escapes, your penetration step, or your leg kick. You need to learn to enjoy this training. It is focusing on these areas that improve your game. Not relying on your strong moves. Train for the things you dislike in the knowledge you're making progress and putting in that extra bit of effort others at your club might not apply.
Finding a good drilling partner is great for making progress. Someone that understands how you train, and will challenge you.
However, training with just one or two people can put you in a rut. Make sure you roll or spar with as wide a cross section of the club as possible.
"Set daily, weekly, monthly and yearly goals. Write them down and share them with someone close to you." - Randy Couture
You must constantly set realistic and relevant goals, have a plan to achieve them, and stick to it. Goals keep you motivated and give you a map for improvement.
Performance Is Your Guide
When evaluating your physical skills in fighting/martial arts the only thing that matters is performance. Performance is measured by success against a resisting opponent (i.e. sparring and live drilling).
Get plenty of sleep and rest. Your body needs time for recuperation, repair and growth. Over-training, tiredness and stress will all hamper performance.
Your nutrition is you fuel. You must find a good balance in your food, drink and supplements to support your training.
The Big Picture
Remember that fighting ability doesn't mean much in the big picture. If it brings enjoyment to your life, that's brilliant. But at your funeral, do you want the mourners missing you and grieving over the loss or saying "Well, he had a really tight side control?" Be nice and let your family and friends know how much you love them.