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Why Don’t Some People Improve at BJJ and Our Top 10 Tips to Get Better

We’ve all seen it some people just show up to bjj and blast through everyone, even much higher belts, and we’ve also seen fellow teamates seeminly stuck at blue belt forever.

Why don’t some people improve at bjj? Is there something they are not doing or are there ways to improve even when you feel like your stagnating?

People who dont improve at bjj don’t work on their weaknesses, tend to avoid tougher rounds, and don’t structure their own learning.

It’s very common that I see people who have been training for years stick to their one or two techniques they learned years ago, go to the gym, beat the same people, get that hit of dopamine, and then go home.

Its these same people that I see never ranking up to the next belt, never competing, and always rolling with lower belts.

The truth is if you want to improve at bjj at a certain point you have to take an honest look at your game and become your own coach.

Since I wasn’t one of those people who just showed up and beat everyone, I made a plan to address my weaknesses and train with intention to make my game better and more well-rounded. As a purple belt who lacked wrestling skills, I made it point to make it to wrestling class every week and start every round standing.

Why Some People Don’t Improve at BJJ? – Key Takeaways

  • they learn as if they are still a beginner and try to learn one random technique in each class without building off of other techniques or positions
  • they don’t structure their own learning
  • they focus on their favorite submissions or positions and never try anything new
  • they go to the gym and beat the same people with these same attacks
  • they don’t acknowledge and make a plan to improve on their weaknesses (I know for me it was wrestling…)
  • they are afraid or don’t roll with higher belts as often as they should
  • finally, they don’t compete

How to Improve at BJJ – Key Takeaways

  • Become your own coach through self-assessment, goal setting, and seeking feedback. (film your rolls if possible)
  • Emphasize positional sparring or specific classes (like wrestling class) to improve on weak areas
  • Compete to test your skills and gain valuable experience
  • Train with higher-ranked practitioners to found out what really works or doesn’t
  • Incorporate weight training to enhance your BJJ performance
  • Maintain consistency in your training schedule
  • Supplement in-person training with at-home learning
  • Learn to chain attacks and transitions by building upon a certain position at a time
Table of Contents

    Common Reasons People Struggle to Improve in BJJ

    There are several reasons why someone’s progress may stagnate in BJJ….

    1. First, Lack of Proper *Self* Coaching

    once you understand and learn the basics of bjj above you should tailor your own training

    At a certain point you have to become your own coach.

    Your actually coach is meant to show a technique or two, provide details and instruction, and guide the class.

    But what you’re not getting by showing up to class without a goal or intention in mind is tailoring training specifically to your needs.

    1. You should always be learning something new – have a goal to hit a specific new sweep or pass in class on a lower belt.
    2. Let a lower belt get you in a submission or position that you struggle to escape

    After a year or so of bjj you just can’t rely on learning one random move each class anymore

    2. Inconsistent Training Habits

    We all know consistency is king in BJJ.

    Inconsistent training sessions can hinder progress and prevent practitioners from building upon their skills.

    • It is essential to establish a regular training schedule and stick to it. If you miss a training day make it a point to show up the next day
    • If you get beat badly by a higher belt or a lower belt catches you in a submission while you’re coach was watching – again make it a point to show up the next day ready to take another beating if necessary

    I get it balancing the demands of work, family, and other commitments with BJJ can be challenging, but making it a priority and finding creative ways to incorporate training into your daily routine is the basis for improving.

    How Often Should You Train BJJ?

    The optimal frequency of BJJ training depends on individual goals, fitness levels, and lifestyle factors. For beginners, training 2-3 times per week is generally sufficient to build a solid foundation in BJJ techniques and concepts.

    As you become more advanced, increasing the frequency of training to 4-5 times per week can help accelerate progress and skill development.

    However, it is important to balance training with adequate rest and recovery, as overtraining can lead to injury and burnout.

    You must understand that showing up to class everyday and going 100% is going to lead nowhere. Keep in mind the rate of diminishing returns and how many sessions you can train each week without overtraining:

    3. Overemphasis on Strengths While Neglecting Weaknesses

    It is natural for practitioners to gravitate towards techniques and positions that suit their strengths.

    People want to get the sub, sweep, or takedown using only their favorite techniques.

    However, neglecting weaknesses can lead to imbalances in skill development and make it difficult to progress.

    Recognizing areas of weakness and dedicating time to addressing them can help create a well-rounded skill set is one of the main things I see people not doing that can definitely lead to lack of improvement.

    4. Limited Exposure to Different Skill Levels and Styles

    Training exclusively with partners of lower or similar skill levels can limit a practitioner’s growth.

    Exposure to various training partners, belt ranks, and styles can provide invaluable learning experiences and challenge practitioners to adapt and evolve.

    By regularly training with higher-ranked practitioners, you can gain insights into advanced techniques and strategies and find out what really works at higher levels.

    Similarly, training with lower-ranked practitioners can help you refine your basics, and improve on your escapes.

    Make an effort to roll with atleast one higher belt each class to keep your ego in check and test your highest percentage techniques.

    How to Improve at BJJ

    1. Becoming Your Own Coach

    While a good coach is essential, BJJ practitioners must also take responsibility for their own progress. Becoming your own coach involves self-assessment, goal setting, and feedback.

    2. Self-Assessment of Strengths and Weaknesses

    Step back and conduct a regular self-assessment of your BJJ abilities.

    Identify your strengths and weaknesses, and create a plan to address those areas that need improvement.

    Keep a training journal to document your thoughts, feelings, and observations during training sessions, which can help you track your progress and identify patterns over time.

    3. Setting Clear and Achievable Goals

    Establish short-term and long-term goals for your BJJ journey.

    Some goal examples can be:

    • hit a new technique in a class 3x
    • finish 1 bjj instructional over the course of 2 months
    • compete once a month
    • go to 1 advanced class per week
    • using positional sparring start in one of your weak areas in atleast 1 roll

    Breaking these goals down into smaller, manageable tasks that can be accomplished during your training sessions will give you a plan for each class.

    4. Tracking Progress and Adjusting Training Plans

    Monitor your progress and adjust your training plan as needed.

    If possible, I strongly recommend filming your rolls, this will give you a better idea of what you need to work on as well as things that went right or wrong during your rounds.

    If you find that you are not progressing as expected, reevaluate your goals and approach to training. You can also seek advice from your coach or experienced training partners to identify potential areas for adjustment.

    5. Positional Sparring

    Positional sparring is an essential component of BJJ skill development. It allows practitioners to focus on specific positions and techniques, honing their skills in a controlled environment.

    Importance of Positional Sparring in Skill Development

    By isolating specific positions and techniques, positional sparring enables practitioners to dedicate focused time and effort to their development. This targeted approach can lead to rapid improvements in weak areas and help solidify understanding of fundamental concepts.

    Tips for Effective Positional Sparring

    1. Prioritize positions where improvement is needed: Identify areas in your game that require attention and spend dedicated time working on them during positional sparring sessions.
    2. Limit submissions to encourage focus on technique: By restricting submissions or focusing on specific ones, practitioners are forced to concentrate on the technical aspects of a position rather than relying on strength or athleticism.

    6. Partner Selection and Communication

    Choose training partners who will challenge and support your growth.

    You want to choose a variety of training partners and all of whom you should be able to trust.

    Communicate your goals and expectations for the round or positional sparring session if you have specific goals and encourage your partner to do the same.

    7. Competing

    Competing in BJJ tournaments can provide a wealth of benefits for practitioners seeking to improve their skills. The competitive environment offers unique opportunities for learning, growth, and self-assessment.

    Read More: How to Prepare for your First BJJ Competition

    It, of course, comes with stressors, expectations, and possibility of failure, embarrasment, injury, but the feeeback you get on your jiu jitsu is invaluable.

    Even in training you can always tell the competitors from the non competitors.

    While competing in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is optional, it is highly recommended due to its value for improvement.

    Competitions can be stressful and results can be arbitrary, especially in single elimination formats.

    However, competition offers the most realistic and least arbitrary form of training available.

    Think of competitions as highly organized training sessions. Opponents don’t hold back, allowing you to experience the full intensity of BJJ. Competing helps identify patterns and subtleties in your game that may not be apparent during regular training sessions. These insights can help you refine your techniques and develop a no-nonsense approach to your practice.

    To gain the benefits of competing, we recommend signing up for several tournaments in a single month (this will get you more quickly accustomed to competing) and finally, embrace the challenge, regardless of the outcome.

    Experiencing the nerves, intensity, and even the disappointment of losing can be invaluable for your growth in Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

    Benefits of Competition for BJJ Improvement

    Competing allows practitioners to

    • test their skills against opponents outside their regular training environment
    • providing invaluable insights into their strengths and weaknesses.

    The adrenaline and pressure of competition can also reveal gaps in one’s mental and physical preparedness, highlighting areas for improvement.

    Choosing the Right Tournaments and Divisions

    Select competitions that align with your skill level, goals, and experience.

    Consider factors such as the tournament’s prestige, location, and ruleset when making your decision.

    Additionally, ensure that you are competing in the appropriate division based on your belt rank and weight class.

    Preparing Mentally and Physically for Competition

    Develop a comprehensive training plan that incorporates both physical and mental preparation for competition.

    This plan should include a combination

    • technical drills
    • strength and conditioning exercises
    • mental training techniques

    Physical Preparation

    In the months leading up to a competition, gradually increase the intensity and volume of your training sessions then lessen the training to only drilling on the day or two before the compeition.

    We always recommend incorporate strength and conditioning and cardio based exercises like sprints that complement your BJJ training, such as functional weightlifting, plyometrics, and mobility work.

    Tailor your conditioning program to address your specific needs and weaknesses, ensuring that you are optimally prepared for competition.

    Technical Drills and Sparring

    Intensify your technical drilling and sparring sessions to simulate competition-like conditions. Focus on refining your competition game plan and executing your techniques under pressure.

    This may involve increasing the intensity of your rolls, practicing specific competition scenarios, and working on your preferred techniques and strategies.

    Mental Preparation

    Mental preparation is just as important as physical preparation.

    Develop a mental training routine that includes visualization exercises, positive self-talk, and stress management techniques.

    By mentally rehearsing your competition performance and building mental resilience, you can better navigate the pressures and challenges of competition.

    Read More: Detailed Competition Mental Prep Guide

    8. Working on Your Weaknesses

    Identifying and addressing weaknesses is a crucial aspect of BJJ improvement. This is the number one thing I see people miss who are stagnating in their jiu jitsu.

    Developing targeted drills and exercises, embracing challenges, and maintaining a growth mindset can all contribute to overcoming weaknesses.

    Read More: My Personal, Proven Action Plan to Improve your Wrestling for BJJ

    Identifying Specific Areas for Improvement

    Analyze your BJJ game and pinpoint specific areas that require improvement.

    These may include technical deficiencies, lack of positional understanding, lack of knowlege, lack of defenses or lack of experience in specifc positions like wrestling or leg attacks.

    Consider seeking input from your coach and training partners to gain a more comprehensive understanding of your weaknesses.

    Developing Targeted Drills and Exercises

    Once you’ve identified your weaknesses, develop targeted drills and exercises to address them.

    For example, if you struggle with escaping side control, practice side control escape drills during your training sessions. Make it a point to start from bottom side control at the start of every round.

    Be patient and consistent in your efforts, as progress may be slow and incremental.

    Embracing Challenges and Maintaining a Growth Mindset

    Acknowledge and embrace the challenges associated with addressing your weaknesses. Working on your weaknesses isn’t always fun but I promise it will bring new life into your training once your feel yourself bringing up those areas that are lacking.

    For me, learning to wrestle more opened up a whole new world of my jiu jitsu. Now I’m not afraid to start the round standing, or stand up during sparring whenever possible.

    Maintaining a growth mindset — the belief that your abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — can help you stay motivated and committed to improvement. View setbacks and failures as opportunities for learning and growth, rather than indications of your limitations.

    9. Testing Strengths Against Higher Belts

    Regularly training with higher-ranked teammates is an essential component of BJJ improvement.

    If something works on a higher belt you know its legit.

    If you only roll with lower belts you are not getting true feedback on your best techniques.

    These advanced training partners can provide unique insights into techniques and strategies, while also challenging you to elevate your game.

    Importance of Training with More Advanced Partners

    Training with higher belts exposes you to advanced techniques, strategies, and mindsets that can help you refine your own game. These practitioners have a wealth of experience and knowledge that can provide valuable lessons for your development.

    Learning from Higher Belts’ Techniques and Strategies

    Observe and analyze the techniques and strategies employed by higher-ranked practitioners.

    This can be done through watching high level matches, instructionals, or even watching higher belts roll at your gym*

    Try to understand the underlying concepts and principles that drive their success, and seek to incorporate these lessons into your own game.

    10. Weight Training

    Incorporating weight training into your BJJ routine can yield significant benefits in terms of strength, power, and injury prevention. By selecting appropriate exercises and balancing your strength training with BJJ practice, you can optimize your performance on the mat.

    Read More: Our full weight training guide for BJJ with PDF included

    Example of the pdf included in our weightlifting for bjj guide

    Benefits of Weight Training for BJJ Performance

    Weight training can enhance your BJJ performance by providing

    • better circulation
    • faster injury recovery
    • increased musclar endurance
    • (obviously) strenght gains
    • Injury prevention both on and off the jiu jitsu mat (by increasing your bone density)
    • longevity – weight lifting will help you age gracefully and with better posture
    • not to mention the non physical benefits such as gaining more confidence

    Recommended Exercises and Training Programs

    When selecting exercises for your weight training program, focus on functional movements that translate well to BJJ. Some recommended exercises include:

    1. Deadlifts: Improve overall strength and posterior chain development, which is crucial for many BJJ techniques.
    2. Squats: Develop lower body strength and stability, which are essential for takedowns, guard passing, and maintaining base.
    3. Bench Press: Strengthen upper body pushing muscles, which can aid in framing and escapes.
    4. Pull-ups: Increase upper body pulling strength, which is vital for grips, submissions, and controlling your opponent.
    5. Rows: Strengthen back muscles and improve posture, which can help prevent injuries and improve overall grappling ability.

    In addition to these exercises, consider incorporating core exercises, plyometric movements, intense cardio like sprints, and mobility work into your training program.

    Balancing Strength Training with BJJ Practice

    While weight training can significantly benefit your BJJ performance, it is crucial to strike the right balance between strength training and BJJ practice.

    Overemphasizing one aspect of your training at the expense of the other can lead to suboptimal results.

    Overtraining is real so find a weekly manageable schedule for bjj and weight training that you can optimally recover from and stick to it.

    Ensure that your strength training complements your BJJ training, rather than detracting from it. Listen to your body, and adjust your training program as needed to maintain a healthy balance between both.

    11. Consistency

    Establishing and maintaining a consistent training schedule is crucial for BJJ improvement.

    By overcoming common obstacles to consistency and prioritizing rest and recovery, you can set yourself up for long-term success.

    However many days you choose to train, choose specific days/sessions each week and stick to them no matter what.

    Establishing a Regular Training Schedule

    Create a training schedule that works for your lifestyle and goals.

    Consider factors such as your work, family, and social commitments when planning your training sessions.

    Be realistic about the frequency and duration of your training sessions, and strive for consistency over intensity. If you need to do a drilling only session that’s fine. You want to make sure you mix up your high intensity and low intensity training sessions.

    Importance of Rest and Recovery

    While consistency is key, it is equally important to prioritize rest and recovery.

    Overtraining can lead to physical and mental burnout, which can ultimately hinder your progress.

    Say you up your weekly bjj days per week to 6 days a week, then get injury or sick and miss the entire next week of training wouldn’t it have been better to just train 3 days that week?

    Ensure that you are allowing your body ample time to recover between training sessions, and consider incorporating activities such as yoga, stretching, and foam rolling into your routine to facilitate recovery.

    12. Learning at Home from Instructionals or Other Resources

    Supplementing your in-person training with at-home learning resources can be highly beneficial for your BJJ development. By leveraging instructional videos, books, and other resources, you can deepen your understanding of techniques and concepts outside of the gym.

    If you prefer books, here are some of the best instructional, motivational, and inspring books that bjj has to offer.

    Top Instructional Resources for BJJ Practitioners

    Numerous instructional resources are available to BJJ practitioners, ranging from online video libraries to instructional books and DVDs.

    Some popular platforms include:

    • BJJ Fanatics
    • Jiu Jitsu X
    • Grapplers Guide
    • Digitsu.

    These resources offer in-depth instruction from world-class competitors and coaches, providing valuable insights and guidance for your BJJ journey.

    Choose a specific weakness or area you need to work on and dive in.

    Maximizing Learning from Video and Online Content

    To get the most out of instructional content, approach it with a focused and deliberate mindset.

    Take notes, pause and rewind as necessary, and actively engage with the material. Try to visualize yourself performing the techniques and consider how they might fit into your existing game.

    Read More: See our full guide for how to get the most out of dense bjj instructionals

    Supplementing In-Person Training with At-Home Practice

    In addition to watching instructional content, consider practicing techniques at home using a grappling dummy or partner.

    This supplementary practice can help reinforce your learning and accelerate your progress on the mat only if you take the proper time to learn and drill it.

    13. Focusing on Chaining BJJ Techniques

    The problem I see with many bjj students is that they learn a handful of random techniques in the beginning of learning jiu jitsu, but after a year or two they stop improving – because this isn’t the way to continue to advance.

    Ideally, after learning the basics they should choose pecific positions and learning how to effective chain attacks, sweeps, or positions from that position based on their partner’s reactions.

    By focusing on a single positions or submission and all of the possible techniques that can come next you can begin building you game in a more structured way.

    Mastering the art of chaining techniques is a critical aspect of BJJ success. By developing smooth transitions and combinations, you can create a dynamic and unpredictable game that keeps your opponents on their toes.

    Importance of Technique Chaining for Effective BJJ

    Technique chaining allows you to seamlessly transition from one move to another, capitalizing on your opponent’s reactions and counterattacks. This fluidity can make your attacks more effective and difficult to defend, giving you an edge in both training and competition.

    Tips for Developing Smooth Transitions and Combinations

    1. Analyze your favorite techniques and identify common positions or scenarios where they can be applied.
    2. Consider how your opponent is likely to react to your initial attack, and develop follow-up techniques that capitalize on their reactions.
    3. Drill your combinations and transitions with a focus on smoothness and efficiency. Aim to minimize any gaps or pauses between techniques, creating a continuous flow of movement.

    Drilling and Repetition for Technique Mastery

    Repetition is the key to mastering technique chaining. The more you practice your combinations and transitions, the more instinctive and natural they will become. Dedicate time during your training sessions to drilling your chains, focusing on refining your movement and eliminating any inefficiencies.

    Examples of How to Chain Attacks or BJJ Techniques

    To provide a concrete example of technique chaining, consider the following sequence:

    1. Attempt a basic collar choke from the closed guard.
    2. If your opponent defends by posturing up, transition to an armbar.
    3. If they defend the armbar by pulling their arm out, switch to a triangle choke.

    By chaining these techniques together, you create a dynamic attack sequence that capitalizes on your opponent’s defensive reactions.

    Oftentimes the first attack won’t work. However, by having a plan for their specific reactions you can then possibly catching them in the next attack or the next or even sweep or advance position.

    This is just one example of how technique chaining can be applied in BJJ; countless combinations and transitions can be developed based on your unique game and preferences.

    Related Frequently Asked Questions

    How long does it take to learn jiu jitsu

    How Long does it take to get decent at BJJ?

    The time it takes to become decent at BJJ varies greatly depending on individual factors such as athleticism, previous martial arts experience, and the frequency and quality of training.

    On average, it takes most practitioners around 2-3 years to reach a blue belt level, which is often considered the first milestone in decent BJJ proficiency.

    At this point, a practitioner has acquired a solid foundation in BJJ techniques and concepts, and is capable of effectively defending themselves most against untrained opponents.

    However, it is important to note that “decent” is a subjective term, and individual progress will vary. Consistent training, dedication, and a growth mindset are crucial for steady improvement in BJJ.

    Can anyone become good at BJJ?

    Yes, virtually anyone can become good at BJJ with dedication, consistent practice, and the right mindset.

    How you deal with frustrations and setbacks in training will directly effect how far you go in Brazilian jiu jitsu.

    BJJ is a highly adaptable martial art, making it accessible to people of all ages, body types, and physical abilities. While some individuals may have natural advantages in terms of athleticism or previous experience, BJJ’s emphasis on technique and strategy allows practitioners to overcome physical limitations and develop a style that suits their unique strengths.

    The key to becoming good at BJJ is to remain committed to learning, be patient with your progress, and maintain a growth mindset that embraces challenges and setbacks as opportunities for improvement.

    Why is the learning curve for BJJ so steep?

    The learning curve for BJJ is steep because it is a complex and nuanced martial art that requires a deep understanding of human biomechanics, strategy, and adaptability.

    BJJ involves a vast array of techniques and positions, and practitioners must develop proficiency in both offensive and defensive skills.

    Additionally, BJJ relies on leveraging an opponent’s strength and movements against them, which requires a high degree of body awareness, timing, and sensitivity.

    The steep learning curve is also a result of the constantly evolving nature of BJJ, as practitioners continuously develop new techniques and strategies to counter existing ones.

    Why do some people get better at BJJ faster?

    There are several factors that can contribute to some individuals progressing faster in BJJ than others.

    These factors may include prior martial arts or grappling experience, natural athleticism, a strong work ethic, and consistent training.

    Additionally, the quality of coaching and training environment can play a significant role in a practitioner’s development.

    Individuals who have access to knowledgeable coaches, high level training partners, and a supportive community are more likely to progress rapidly in their BJJ journey.

    How often should you train BJJ?

    The ideal BJJ training frequency varies based on personal objectives, physical fitness, and daily life considerations.

    For novices, training 2-3 times weekly usually lays a strong BJJ foundation.

    As practitioners advance, increasing training to 4-5 times weekly may boost progress and skill growth.

    Nonetheless, it’s crucial to balance practice with sufficient rest and recuperation to prevent injuries and burnout.


    Improving at Brazilian jiu-jitsu requires dedication, patience, and a strategic approach to training. By incorporating the practical tips discussed in this blog post, you can overcome common challenges and accelerate your progress on the mat.

    In summary:

    1. Train with a diverse group of partners.
    2. Become your own coach through self-assessment, goal setting, and seeking feedback.
    3. Emphasize positional sparring and targeted practice.
    4. Compete to test your skills and gain valuable experience.
    5. Address your weaknesses through targeted drills and exercises.
    6. Train with higher-ranked practitioners to learn from their expertise.
    7. Incorporate weight training to enhance your BJJ performance.
    8. Maintain consistency in your training schedule.
    9. Supplement in-person training with at-home learning resources.
    10. Develop smooth technique chaining and transitions.

    By applying these tips and maintaining a growth mindset, you can continue to develop your skills and reach new heights in your Brazilian jiu-jitsu journey. Remember that BJJ improvement is a lifelong pursuit, and the lessons you learn on the mat can serve you well in all aspects of your life.

    Thanks for reading and see you in the next on – Zack

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