Gauging Your Own Improvement

From time to time we, the writers of Jiu Jitsu Times get questions that we feel are worthy of addressing in articles.  Today I was asked a question that I thought was truly fascinating:

“I don’t feel like I’m getting better at BJJ. Is this normal?”

I will try to answer this to the best of my ability.

As we train from day to day, we very rarely experience quantum leaps in our growth.  It can happen, but is not the norm.  There’s a reason that the journey from white to black takes on average about 10 years, and that reason is that our growth is almost always very slow.

Over the course of my 16 years training off and on, I very rarely experienced breakthroughs, and, for the most part, any time off, especially extended periods, set me back to square one (hence why I am still just a blue belt.)  If you train on a regular basis and you train smart with people who are better than you, you will experience exponential growth.  It’s about time put in and the quality of that time.

I started training seriously in 2011, in the gi with the intention of competing and succeeding in competition.  When I started training any skills I may have picked up in prior training were long gone.  For the first year and a half of training I only was on the mat 3-4 days a week.  My growth was very slow, if I was growing at all.  I kept getting caught in the same stuff on a daily basis.

Then I had a minor breakthrough and discovered a couple of moves that came naturally to me.  That experience encouraged me and I started training more and more frequently.  Now I train 5-6 days a week.  That in and of itself has made me much better.  There are days I suck, everyone from white to black belt is able to make me miserable on those days, and then there are days that I experience success against higher belts, and am able to dictate the way rolls go.  It’s a rollercoaster ride.

You probably won’t sense your own growth until you start training regularly (if you ever do,) you’ll always be improving but it’ll be too slow for you really notice.  One day you’ll find yourself tapping someone out who you’ve never tapped out before.  The next you may find that that same person is back to being able to beat up on you.  Because we are growing with our classmates/teammates, very often as we take steps forward they take steps back, and then forward again.

If you genuinely fear that you aren’t improving your jiu jitsu, you should ask your coach.  Be careful as this question can sound like you are searching for recognition.  When I am uncertain I like to ask for critique on my game, I like to ask for specific things I can do to improve.  Rather than gauge improvement from day to day, gauge it from month to month, or gauge it semiannually.

Time put in will yield results.  If you after reading this you genuinely feel you are not improving, try putting one more session a week on the mat.  If that doesn’t work try 2 more.  There will come a point at which your growth will be noticeable even to you.

For others out there who have had moments of doubt, what was your indication that you were improving?


  1. To help guage your improvement dont compare yourself to training partners. As mentioned above, compare your performance to yourself, over the ling term. Every once in a while you will have a technique “click” but most growth is incremental. I never see myself taking leaps day to day, but 5 years ago before instarted training i was overweight, smoked, in bad shape, and depressed. If you asked me what a kimura was my answer would have been “japanese food?” Fast forward to now, im in prety good shape, much happier, healthier, better disciplined, and have my purple belt. I cant think back to a single time that i have said to myself “i am much better than i was yesterday” yet when i started training i thought a shrimp was a type of sea creature and the expresstion “lets roll” meant “lets drive away in our car”. Compared to that im infinitely better at jiujitsu and as a person from the training i have done.

    And regarding training frequency, i started off training almost every day and earned my blue belt in about a year. Then due to work i had to chance my schedule and was lucky to train 2 times a week. Now im back to 2-4 times a week. Its definitely hard to feel like you are improving when you train infrequently. But it really helps if you can put in consistant effort. If you put in a lazy day of training once a week and dont train with a consistent level of agression and consistent technique it makes it even harder to see growth. If you can only train a few times a week it helps to be well rested, awake, properly hydrated and in decent shape so all your attention can be focused on technique and not conditioning, cramps,etc.


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