The Only Way To Get Over A Jiu-Jitsu Plateau Is To Keep Coming Back

Flickr/Creative Common: Michael Malherbe

I don’t think there’s anyone in jiu-jitsu who’s experienced a smooth, straight incline of improvement from their first class to their most recent roll. For most of us (dare I say all of us), jiu-jitsu is an uncomfortable, but vaguely familiar off-road experience filled with hills and valleys, twists and turns. After a while, we expect that we will feel invincible some days and pathetic on other days. It becomes easier to keep our chin up after a “bad” jiu-jitsu day when we know that in a few days, we could easily have a very “good” jiu-jitsu day.

These hills and valleys are manageable. The plateaus are much harder.

Plateaus in jiu-jitsu feel strange because they don’t happen overnight. They may start out as a few “bad” days on the mats, or they may not even feel like bad BJJ days at all. They don’t feel like the moment you realize you made a wrong turn — they feel like the moment you realize you thought you were going the right way until you realize you have no idea where you are.

What’s frustrating about jiu-jitsu plateaus is that we often don’t know how to move past them. When we can pinpoint a problem (“I keep getting caught in triangle chokes.”), we can work directly on a solution (“I need to stop pulling one of my arms out while I’m trapped in closed guard.”). Plateaus are tricky, however, because we feel like our best simply isn’t good enough. We’re doing everything “right,” but we’re just not getting better. Our teammates who were once easy rolls are now submitting us, and our brains feel like they’ve reached their maximum technique capacity. What can we do when we feel like we’re already doing everything we can?

Sometimes, breaking out of a plateau simply requires a change of scenery. It may not be that we’ve plateaued at all, but simply that we’re so used to training with the same people over and over again that they’ve gotten wise to our tricks. Doing some cross-training can inspire you to be more creative and try different techniques while testing your go-to moves on people who aren’t so familiar with them.

A plateau can also be a comfort zone in disguise. As we develop our own style in jiu-jitsu, we may begin to rely on certain techniques or positions because they work for us. This can lead to holes in our game if we avoid working on movements that are more challenging for us, especially if we brush them off as techniques that will “never work for us.” Yes, certain techniques may need to be modified for your body type or style, but spending more time on them (even knowing that you will fail over and over again) can help you break out of your BJJ rut. Even if you think flower sweeps will never be your go-to technique, working on them can help you see improvement in one area of your game and show you that you can still learn on the mats.

If you feel burnt out, take a couple days (or even a whole week) off training to give your body and mind a rest. You may find that a small break could help you “reset” and open your mind to new strategies. Set a specific day to come back so you don’t get complacent relaxing at home, and see if you feel different upon your return.

While a short break may help, remember that above all, the only way you’re going to get better at jiu-jitsu is if you keep showing up. Yes, it may be frustrating to try to improve over and over again without seeing results, but the tiny increments of skill you pick up during each class add up over time. It may take some time for you to realize that you’re improving, but you owe it to yourself to give yourself the time on the mats that will provide you with the chance to get better. Jiu-jitsu is a journey, not a destination, and we’ll never get to see all the cool stuff along the way if we give up when we get stuck in the mud.


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