The Cycle of Learning: Going Back to the Basics

As my jiu jitsu slowly improves, the inclination to become complacent grows as well. It’s easy to stop drilling, to stop studying video, to stop being obsessive about the smallest details of favorite techniques. None of this happens overnight of course. It’s a gradual relaxation. It’s fun to come in, learn a couple techniques, and then train hard for an hour where you mentally relax and just enjoy the game of the jiu jitsu. The better I get technically, the easier it is to enjoy the experience.

The Cycle of Learning

Over a period of several months, I’ll drift into this peaceful state of comfort, until… I get a wake-up call, usually at a tournament, when a tough match will make me realize the obvious: that systematic learning is not something you do as a blue belt and then you’re done. It’s something you do for the rest of your life, the same pain-in-the-ass mentally-exhausting “deliberate practice” that got you to improve in the first place. But no matter how harsh the wake-up call, once gain, in a few months, as sure as day, I start becoming lazy again and again drift into my comfort zone. Then it’s time for another wake-up call, and so on… In this way, the journey of learning continues, running in circles. I would describe it in the following 4 steps:

  1. Get good.
  2. Get lazy.
  3. Wake-up call.
  4. Go back to step #1.

Laziness is something that everyone battles against in all aspects of life. It’s the process of stepping outside the short-term comfort zone in order to attain a longer-term benefit. There’s no way around the fact that this process is unpleasant, but it’s ultimately rewarding.

The Basics as a Process

Rhadi Ferguson described the “basics” process well in a video a few years back (see below). He explains that you have to return to doing the same old process that you’ve done from the very beginning. That’s what he calls THE BASICS. It’s not some set of techniques that’s “basic”, it’s the process of drilling, improving, perfecting those techniques that’s “basic”.

Tournaments as Wake-up Calls

Jimmy Cerra was the first person to tell me about the importance of the “wake-up call” in reference to jiu jitsu. I think he saw me lose a match, and mentioned briefly that this experience should serve as a wake-up call. That concept stuck with me.

competition-losingWhile I compete mostly for the challenge of testing myself and for the fun of winning, those reasons are short-term, and last only a few days. The practical long-term benefits of competition is that it gives me plenty of wake-up calls. Even if I win every match, I’m bombarded by instances where I realized how weak certain aspects of my game are from general problems to the the tiniest details. You can get the same kind of wake-up call in training as well, but it’s not as “in your face” jarring as in competition.

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