Grappling & Skill Learning

Hey boys & girls,

Lots of people write and tell me that a big problem for them is… they JUST CAN’T REMEMBER THEIR GRAPPLING MOVES. If that sounds like you, there’s nothing wrong with you…

…but there’s probably something wrong with your approach to learning. The better you understand about the “process of learning”, the better you’ll be at learning your grappling moves. I’ve recorded this video to try and help you (viewing time is about 10 minutes).

After watching it, if you have anything to add to help others, please post!



  1. At the highest level of grappling, a feel for positions and moves without thinking is necessary, particularly when tired or with an odd situation or opponent. For instance, towards the end of the match, when mental toughness and strength/conditioning become a factor, you have to know your moves instinctively. Another example, if your opponent is larger than you or more skilled and you feel overwhelmed, in order to go berserk while controlling each position and using your setups, your techniques must be instinctive. If one has to think about grappling technique in competition or combat, then that person is likely to get outclassed by skilled opponents. (This basic principle is exactly why we train so that positions, setups, and techniques become natural.)

  2. For most of us: when we first learn something. We learn by repetition. We need to visualize it and then go through the steps. This isn’t a fault, you should not beat yourself up about it. The more proficient you become. The less thinking you will do and it will be second nature. You just feel it, flowing out of you like water. Remember how a child learns to walk, he doesn’t start out running (yet he keeps doing it without a mindset). But a lot of students have a mindset how difficult BJJ is. Which doesn’t serve them, only defeats the purpose.
    When I first started I felt my Kenpo, TKD and physical attributes (flexibility, size, strength) would make it easier. It didn’t happen, they exploited all of my attributes. Held on for the ride as they exhausted me, then capitalized. I was constantly thinking: elbows in, trap an arm/leg, legs tight, elbow escape, or that their seemed to be ten steps for one move (and somehow I forgot to do steps 3 & 6, etc). One day I rolled with my instructor and his words clicked for me. “Breathe, relax, stop thinking. You’re thinking 10-20 things at once. BJJ is about constantly transitioning into various setups to secure your opponent. But if you’re only thinking with no feeling. You’re thinking counter, while you’re opponent has 5 counters to your one. He’s baiting you. He’s wearing you down with very little energy. Make him work twice as hard in your guard. And remember each step has a purpose, don’t think of the step, just realize it’s purpose.” I have seen a lot of students quit because of this. Don’t get frustrated, when you’re not rolling. Watch the more experienced practitioners: expressions on their faces, their composure, they might be pouring in sweat (yet exerting half the energy you are). And with their 10 years of experience, they still have to adjust each technique. Now realize that most of them started the same way you & I did.

  3. Lol–“i have students who do a move 3-4x and then say “I’ve got it.””

    So true–and those are the most annoying people to train with b/c they think doing a move that few of times is good enough to “get the move down.”

    Thanks Bob for the video and the dummy.

  4. Thanks. Excellent explanation. To follow up on what Nick wrote, it is even more frustrating when the instructor only has students repeat a complicated move two or three times and then says, “roll.”

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