I remember my first few Jiu Jitsu classes as a whirlwind of information that left me feeling confused, lost, a little embarrassed and self-conscious (man, I hope there’s not a test after this!), and asking:

Am I supposed to remember all this?

Many years later, I could probably say I’ve forgotten more techniques over time than I still retain- and I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered any of them; at least not yet.

However, what’s changed the most from those first few uncertain sessions has been my ability to remember techniques, and be able to drill them later with a pretty high level of detail and nuance retention.

How did I learn to do this?

Glad you asked. (You didn’t, but I’m going to tell you anyways, so buckle up.)

The good news is that you’re not destined to forever feel as though your professor or coach is flinging a handful of marbles (technique details) at the semi-sticky wall of your brain and hoping more will get stuck than bounce off.

While that may be a weird analogy, I’m sure some of you can relate.

I was always left wishing my brain was stickier.

Then, I figured out how to add the glue.

Here’s how I did it:

See, people don’t just see or hear something and then immediately retain it- not unless they’re lucky enough to have a photographic memory.

Instead, they have to go through levels of learning and application in order to really lock something in.

It would be great if we could just watch that sick berimbolo or Imanari roll on YouTube or Instagram and immediately strut into class while the Beegees was on full blast, throw down with the black belts and leglock them into oblivion…but that ain’t the way it works.


Instead, we have to check a series of boxes in order to have any hope of making things work.

Otherwise, we are always that guy at class who goes, “hey lemme show you this cool move,” and then a few fumbling steps in is like…”oh, shit. I think maybe I’ve got my hand in the wrong place or wrong lapel…uh, maybe my foot is supposed to go here or something…? Anyways, it was super cool.”

You know that guy.


So, to avoid him, first we have to:


This one is pretty obvious, right?

Without seeing the technique at all, we are pretty unlikely to learn it.

Try your best to really *see* what’s going on with the technique, though, rather than just passively watching.

Break things down- what is the left hand doing?

The right?

How are the feet positioned?

Is he on his right hip or left?


Actively watching the technique and logging that data helps you to actually get better at “seeing” techniques, and done slowly like this, in repetition, will help you learn from more advanced stuff, like watching high level matches.


After you’ve drilled the move quite a few times after you’ve first seen it, and going through the inevitable “uhh…coach?” and getting walked back through it, now you can think about “mapping it.”

By mapping, I mean, if we think about the structure of your game as a little map, with different positions being different areas of the map, where would this go?

Where does it fit into the larger context of *your* Jiu Jitsu-

For example, learning a new Omoplata entry from closed guard, you might think, “oh this would be the perfect thing to try if they shut down my scissor sweep!”

In this way, you start to put the new technique into the framework of your Jiu Jitsu, considering where it will be most useful, and what might come before, or after it.

This helps give the new technique real value, instead of being a disconnected move- you’re more likely to remember things when they fit like this.


Like the previous example of the scissor sweep, it’s important that when we start picking up new “moves,” that we actually have some kind of value to obtain from it.

If I mostly work a top-pressure game combined with front headlock, a new leglock entry might not have a huge value proposition to me at this point in time, which can make it hard to remember since it’s not interfacing with me personally, as it doesn’t have much of a spot in my game.

However, in the aforementioned example, the new Omoplata entry is going to be something I can really lock in place because I can immediately start using it in flow rolls or harder rounds as something to close up a gap in my “where do I go from a failed scissor sweep” weakness.

The more we are able to think about our game as a series of potential responses, the more we can interface with new techniques, see where they fit, and then directly personalize them by adding them swiftly into our live rolls.


Knowing why something works is important.

If you’re like me, as a kid, the answer “because” to “why?” was never a satisfactory answer.

When I see a technique now, I try to think “why does this work?” and “how did this technique develop?”

If someone at your gym is nailing certain submissions all the time, ask them why they got into that.

Sometimes the answer will surprise you- Coach Mitch McElroy of American Combat Club in Orlando (and father of our program here at Iron Legion, Ocala), is a notorious triangle choker.

He developed his triangle choke by obsessing over it.

When people started escaping it, he would ask “why is my triangle not working anymore?”

By studying their escapes, he would come up with answers to the “why?” and began developing alternate routes of attack that came off the back of their most common escapes.

Sometimes these would result in a different finish than the triangle- but it was the product of attacking with the triangle choke that led to forcing the escape he knew they were likely to do- in order to finish with the belly-down armbar- or whatever.

Knowing the why of Jiu Jitsu techniques will take you a long way to understanding the concepts behind the art that will up your level immensely.


You don’t own techniques you never use.

You don’t often get good at things you don’t try.

So- when you learn that new technique- set a goal for your training if you like it.

Tell yourself “I will attempt to get to this Omoplata entry 5 times tonight every roll before I do anything else.”

Making a plan for your training instead of just coming in to “roll” is always a valuable decision.

Successful people don’t attack their finances or weight training programs in a haphazard fashion- neither should you do this with your Jiu Jitsu.

Have a goal going into your sparring rounds or flow rolls- tie in that new technique and set a goal for it. Then, chain them together in a way that makes sense contextually:

I’ll try to scissor sweep everyone. If they defend, I’ll shoot for the Omoplata entry off that.”

From there, you can start thinking the obvious: “What if they shut down the Omoplata?”

That’s where you need to add another attack to add to your growing “stack.”

Whoever has the last answer in any “stack” is likely to win that engagement.

So, to recap-

See and drill the technique, map it out and give it a connection to your framework, interface with the technique by applying it directly to your game, understand it’s “why,” and underlying concepts, and then set and accomplish goals with it.

You’ll be subbing those black belts in no time!