What Does a Black Belt Work On In Training?

Whenever I get the chance to speak to a black belt in bjj, I always ask the question “What are you working on in your jiu-jitsu?” Many lesser experienced students have the misconception that once one reaches the rank of black belt, that they know everything there is to know about brazilian jiu-jitsu. Far from it!

In theory, black belts in jiu-jitsu will have a firm understanding of the principles that make bjj work (read also:4 Principles of Bjj You Can Use Today) and the basic techniques in addition to their personal advanced game.

But jiu-jitsu is so vast and contains so many different techniques that it is impossible for one to be an expert in every position. Some black belts will secretly admit that they don’t remember the last time that they tapped someone with an armlock from the guard or that they have never been able to make the head and arm choke / kata gatame work for them.

Here are  things that a Black Belt works on in training:

1) Learn the technique on both sides

Now admit it: How many techniques are you a “one side specialist”? Pass the guard only to your left? Can you only do an armlock on the opponent’s right arm?

Marcelo Garcia famously said that he preferred to get excellent at performing a technique on one side instead of being mediocre on both sides. Once you have mastered a technique on one side, then it is time to balance your game and devote time to bringing the weak side up.

A black belt in Brazil gave the advice that once you are a black belt, you need to be able to perform techniques on BOTH sides. You can not always choose which side your opponent attacks or gives you an opening!

Black Belt

2) Learn techniques that you don’t use in your own game

There are 2 main reasons for this:

A) By learning the rudiments of the berimbolo, you also learn what are the key parts of the technique. What does your opponent NEED in order to successfully berimbolo sweep you? That way, you can do the opposite and effectively counter the opponent’s techniques.

B) If you are an instructor, your students will need to learn techniques that you may not like to use, but as an instructor, it is your duty to be able to teach them. There is a difference between knowing your own game and understanding how all the techniques work so that you are able to teach to others. An instructor must have a more comprehensive knowledge beyond their own “A Game”.



3) Fixing weak spots

I spoke to several black belts who said that they had long harboured secret frustration that they could never get a certain sweep or submission. They resolved to correct that hole in their game and develop that technique.

It is unlikely that weakness will ever be close to the effectiveness of their strengths, even with drilling many reps, but it can be a personal challenge to finally get some level of proficiency with a long standing weakness.

This is also a great way for the black belt to “handicap” themselves when training against a lesser experienced opponent. If the black belt uses their “A Game” then the roll is not very challenging or interesting as the black belt is likely to be in full control.

But if the black belt decides to avoid their strong techniques and only try to use their weaker techniques, now the roll becomes much more competitive and a fun challenge for the black belt.


4) Setups and combinations

So you know how to do a straight armlock. After a year of classes most students have an idea of the correct mechanics. The more important question is: how do you GET to that armlock position?

The art of jiu-jitsu is when you can trick your opponent into putting themselves into the position that you want – as opposed to forcing them. To trick your opponent by faking with a choke attack and then they “give you their arm” for the arm bar.

Beyond the straight forward individual techniques, lays a DEEP world of setups and combination attacks that the black belts develop in their training.

Question for the blackbelt readers: What are you focusing on in your training?

read also:Advanced Methods: Limit Your Training

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Taiwan
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ