This article was written by 3rd-Degree Roger Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Nicolas Gregoriades.
To maximize your potential as a jiu-jitsoka, it's not enough to just head to class every day and go through the motions. You need to approach your training from several angles.
One of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tips that have worked for my students and is a system which I call the 'A.C.T. Model'. This stands for Attribute Maximization, Conceptual Understanding, Technical Knowledge. This article will provide a general overview of this model.
Attributes include strength, power, flexibility, pressure sensitivity, balance, coordination and endurance.
Jiu-jitsu is a highly athletic endeavour. It is one of the most physical of all martial arts and sports and demands a lot from those who practice it. You need to maximize your attributes if you want to maximize your jiu-jitsu.
After Royce Gracie’s early wins in the UFC over much bigger and stronger opponents, there began a popular misconception in the grappling arts that size and strength were not important, and that technique was all that mattered.
A lot of jiu-jitsu guys make statements like "strength is not important, all you need is technique." This is simply not true. Stronger, fitter individuals have a huge advantage over others. This is why the 250 lbs, rugby-playing white belt is usually much harder to spar with than the 140 lbs, super-skilled purple belt. This is also why the absolute division at the world champs is never won by lightweights.
It is true that the leverage afforded by grappling techniques often allows those with lesser attributes to defeat larger, stronger opponents. However, there is no denying that being more powerful, faster or fitter than someone gives you an advantage over him, regardless of his level of technique. It is when you combine great attributes with technical and conceptual knowledge you have the makings of an exceptional grappler.
The good news is that most attributes can be improved through intelligent, specific training. This will be the topic of future posts.
Conceptual Understanding refers to the awareness of the principles and theories that form the foundation of the art. These include things like leverage, biomechanics and breath control.
There are an infinite number of technical situations in jiu-jitsu, and new ones are being developed all the time. You will never be able to learn every single attack, defence, counter and combination. There will always be holes in your game. Conceptual understanding fills in the gaps in your technical knowledge. It allows you to create your own movements and adapt quickly when you do not have a technical response to a particular circumstance.
For example, let's say during a sparring session that your opponent has a great guard and you feel him set up a sweep which you are not familiar with. Although you might not know the ideal technical defence to his attack, if your understanding of the concept of "base" is good it will still be difficult for him to complete his move.
Technical Knowledge is a framework of response patterns to specific situations, usually following the simple formula of If 'x', then 'y'. An example, "If I am in guard and my opponent puts his hand on my chest, then I trap his arm, step on his hip..." etc.
Most BJJ academies focus heavily on this aspect of training. The beauty of a technique is that it usually represents the most efficient way of accomplishing an objective. I say usually because even great techniques are often replaced by more effective variations.
Long-time black belt and instructor Roy Harris speaks of "Technique Collectors". This is the guy who watches every single YouTube video of the most advanced, inverted x-guard sweeps and owns every single jiu-jitsu instructional DVD on the planet but ask him to mount and choke anyone in sparring and he's completely lost.
Technical knowledge can be broadly categorized into depth and breadth. Technique collectors usually have a great breadth of knowledge, or the 'know a little about a lot'. Good fighters usually have a great depth of knowledge, i.e. they specialize in only a few positions or techniques, but they know these really well. The great jiu-jitsu practitioners have both breadth and depth of technical knowledge.
The best ways I have found to improve technique are physical repetition and visualization.
To become a complete jiu-jitsoka you need to be strong, have a familiarity of the concepts underpinning the art, and also have great technique. Try to identify any aspects where you are deficient, focus on improving them, and ultimately make them your strengths.