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That move AGAIN?

Today in my BJJ class we did the same drill for 45 minutes. Literally. And by literally I do not mean what teenagers say when they really mean "a lot", as in my feet are literally killing me. (Um no, unless your toes are currently pointing a gun at you, they are not.) I mean that our teacher showed us the move (which we have been working on all month) and then told us to partner up and go. Forty five minutes later, class ended.

I can say, with absolute certainty, that I am now fairly good at the Toreando guard pass.

One of the things I like about this drills class is that we work on the same few moves for an entire month. This is good for my jiu-jitsu self esteem, which is like a small child and needs constant coddling. By mid month I can perform the drill without any help and by the end of the month I am almost competent. Sometimes I even manage to do the moves we learn in drills while rolling at full speed. Hurrah! But the class was never quite like this.

Repetition is obviously a necessary part of martial arts training. You work the same punches and kicks over and over, making them a little stronger, a bit more efficient each time.(I have been doing stomach punch for 22 years!) And repetition can be comforting, especially as the things you are learning get harder. (Damn you brown belt kata! Well at least I have a good front kick. Let me go back to working that for awhile) But it also can be as dull as watching paint dry.

As a teacher, I always try the find the right balance between routine and creativity. Especially with children, who can happily recite the mantra practice makes perfect, yet do not have any idea how much practice we are talking about. Repetition is boring. Really, really, boring. Especially for kids.

Wait not all kids. Three and four year olds love repetition. (How many times have you read Goodnight Moon? And is she sick of it yet?)  But they don't have patience. Last month we took Maya skiing for the first time. (To a magical place in the Poconos where they make their own snow and it looks like winter actually happened. That is not a complaint, I LOVE this fake winter we are having.) She was very excited to try it. After we got her boots and her skis and her helmet and our boots and our skis and our poles and got them all on (this took over an hour) she was ready to "go skiing". The problem was, you can't just "go skiing". You have to learn a whole bunch of things first, how to stand up, how to slow down, how to STOP. Matthew and I tried, but for two professional teachers we did a piss poor job of teaching Maya how to do that pizza thing with her feet. And every five minutes it was "OK mommy, can we just go ski now?" Eventually we relented and told her that if she needed to stop she should just sit down on her butt. (We make money teaching others. We are geniuses.)

Come to think of it, Jiu-Jitsu is a lot like skiing. You can't just "do" it. There are skills to learn first. And if you start to go too fast you can just sit down on your butt.

It didn't occur to me until later that this was Maya's first real experience with something that takes time to master. (Well except for walking, talking and learning to pee in the potty, none of which she remembers learning) Maya usually attacks new things with a bullheaded stubbornness, struggling through it until she gets it, only asking for help if she is desperate. This is how she learned how to ice skate, how to do a cartwheel, how to read small books and how to zip her own coat. I am sure it is how she will learn to ride a bike, and to swim by herself, and someday it is how she will make millions running her own giant corporation.

If you are not a toddler, you usually need a bit of variety in your training routine. But you need the right balance. Too much new and exciting stuff, nothing sticks and you become confused and frustrated. Too much of the same thing and you lose interest.


Honestly, when you are bored is when you really start to get it. Today's drills class was not a thrilling roller coaster ride of fancy chokes and sweeps. It was work. The work that is necessary to really get good at something.

In his book "Outliers", Malcolm Gladwell states that 10,000 hours is the minimum amount of time it takes for someone to really master a skill.  Imagine if we spent that much time and effort on everything we did?

At the very least we should approach our martial arts training like this. Keep drilling. Practice (a whole lot of it) makes perfect. Repetition, no matter how tedious, is what will put you on top. So while I am doing my 200th Toreando pass I can feel like I am on my way to mastery. Or at the very least, I am on the right path.


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