What Is The Best Way To Master BJJ?

How often have you heard the expression “Brazilian jiu-jitsu is human chess”? The analogy is appropriate. BJJ is widely considered to be the most complex of the martial arts, and chess is considered to be a game of deep strategy and innumerable patterns.

Can BJJ players learn anything from chess masters with thick glasses and wool sweaters?

Yes, according to the author of “So Good They Can’t Ignore You.” The author, Cal Newport, wrote about researchers who studied what separated expert chess players and intermediate players who had accrued a similar amount of time playing chess. Why were some players who had the mythic “10,000 hours” elite while others remained at an intermediate level?

According to Newport:

There was debate in the chess world at the time surrounding the best strategies for improving. One camp thought tournament play was crucial, as it provides practice with tight time limits and working through distractions. The other camp, however, emphasized serious study—pouring over books and using teachers to help identify and then eliminate weaknesses. When surveyed, the participants in Charness’s study thought tournament play was probably the right answer.

The participants, as it turns out, were wrong. Hours spent in serious study of the game was not just the most important factor in predicting chess skill, it dominated the other factors.

The researchers discovered that the players who became grand masters spent five times more hours dedicated toserious study than those who plateaued at an intermediate level. The grand masters, on average, dedicated around 5,000 hours out of their 10,000 to serious study. The intermediate players, by contrast, dedicated only around 1,000 to this activity.

The interesting conclusion of the study was that study was more important to one’s ultimate level of skill than actually playing.

Spend your training time mostly rolling or devote a significant time to dissecting and analyzing techniques in jiu-jitsu?

It appears that theoretically, a BJJ student would develop the highest level of skill in study, not in rolling.

Agree or disagree?


  1. I agree with the above article, however it should be noted that “study” in chess includes a lot more than reading chess books, studying theory, and working with a chess coach. Studying also includes reviewing games played (practice and tournament) with higher level players to identify holes (rolling with upper betls), reviewing master games (watching upper belts roll or complete) tactics training (drilling), and, for the new generation of chess players, some sort of physical conditioning to help with the mental toughness of high competition tournament play.

  2. Disagree. Chess and BJJ are not the same. BJJ is a physical activity which requires developed muscle-memory & reflexes (which can only be obtained through repetition) in addition to strategy, whereas Chess is solely strategy.


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