The Four Stages for Learning Jiu-jitsu

There is a model for learning any skill that we can apply to learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  This model allows us to step back and see the larger picture of our progress in learning the art.

It may be an oversimplification for many students’ journeys, but it is useful nonetheless to see the progressive stages in a student’s ascent to black belt.

These are the four stages of consciousness.

Unconscious incompetence

Students do not understand or know how to do something and do not necessarily recognize the deficit.

They may deny the usefulness of the skill. They must recognize their own incompetence and the value of the new skill before moving on to the next stage.

The length of time they spend in this stage depends on their eagerness to learn.

When you are starting out in BJJ, each class brings a new position or move that you have never heard of! You begin by learning and identifying the different positions. For example, you learn the difference between the mount, half guard, and full guard.

But you don’t know that you don’t know the technique.

Conscious incompetence

Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit or the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit.

Making mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.

Now that you are aware of the different positions, you recognize that you don’t know how to pass the guard or lack a technique to escape from side control. You know that you don’t know something!

Conscious competence

The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

You know the technique, but it is not yet trained into your “muscle memory” and can not be used in full power rolling automatically.

You may see the opportunity, but you must pause and actively search your brain on how to move your hips and where to get the best grip. You will likely miss the correct timing for the execution.

Your brain holds the technique, but your body doesn’t react automatically yet.

Unconscious competence

The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become “second nature” and can be performed easily.

As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

The Japanese called this “mushin” (no mind). It is where conscious thought is set aside and the body reacts instinctively.

I have “taught myself” moves as a brown belt where I was escaping rear mount in a transition. I was instinctively doing something each time my opponent tried to sink a hook in, and I had to stop training and ask myself “What am I doing to escape each time?” Thus, I was able to “teach myself” – and later others – how to perform that movement consciously.

I was finally starting to “get” jiu-jitsu on a subconscious level.

Source: Wikipedia

“The Spider-Ninja” on Experimentation and Innovation in your Jiu-Jitsu


  1. 1. You don’t know what you doing know.
    2. You know what you don’t know
    3. You know what you know
    4. You don’t know what you know.

    The four stages of learning.


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