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Why You Suck At Learning, And How You Can Fix That

January 04, 2013 at 9:07 PM

You just learned a new technique in class (or, better yet, a new principle, because those are way more useful), and later on when you're rolling you have a perfect opportunity to try it out, but you blank and instead do the same thing you always do.. how many times has this happened to you? More importantly, how can you keep it from happening again? The answer lies in 'encoding specificity', also known as 'state dependent learning', which is a phenomenon related to memory and how best to access it. Put simply, it is far easier to access new information when the circumstances in which the information was acquired are closely replicated. Ok, put even more simply, the reason you generally forget a new technique/principle when you're rolling, even if it's just minutes later, is because when you learned it, your mind was focused on learning, but as soon as you started rolling, your mind became focused on winning (or on avoiding losing). That change in mindset alters brain chemistry and narrows the amount of neural pathways available, isolating only the ones coated in copious amounts of myelin (we promise that's the last word in this post you'll have to google). The solution, and the pathway to vastly increasing your ability to adopt what you're learning (provided you're being taught properly, which is a whole other issue!), is to attempt to replicate the relaxed, focused, open state of mind you employ while learning and drilling, and use it while rolling. This means you should roll to explore the positions and transitions, experience as much movement as possible and attempt to apply what you have recently learned. If you're latching onto someone to keep them from moving, you're doing it wrong. If you're powering a submission or an escape against a weaker training partner, you're doing it wrong. If you're focusing on anything other than finding the correct answer from a biomechanical efficiency perspective, then you're stifling your own development. This is the most difficult adjustment for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners who migrate to Island Top Team from other clubs, but it's one with incredible rewards. The students here who have embraced our training methodology and endeavored to conquer the desire to win in training have seen tremendous gains in their grappling abilities, and even those who have struggled with the challenge have had notable breakthroughs, which is a testament to their dedication, as well as being an important proof of concept. 

There is a time for hard, ultra-competitive sparring, but it's not often, and it's definitely not how you get better at Jiu-Jitsu. Competitiveness is an important attribute, it drives us to improve, but applied incorrectly, it can be one the greatest barriers to realizing that improvement, which is why it needs to be reigned in. Over-competitiveness is not the only unbridled stallion in this stable of self-sabotage however, insecurity, fear of failure, and plain old douchiness can all contribute to the sort of behavior that limits one's development (both as a grappler and as a human being). A good instructor can make you aware of this, but the rest is up to you, and since this is an aspect of your training that you have perhaps the greatest amount of control over, if you fail to realize your potential, affixing your gaze onto a reflective glass surface will reveal the culprit.



Tags: martial arts nanaimo Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu myelin encoding specificity the science of learning training advice