One of the things that fascinates me about BJJ is the concept of self improvement. So many people talk about their personal progression. I sometimes find this a bit hard to swallow because, I think, many people are basing their personal progress solely on their belt or medals. Now there is nothing wrong with this, I just think it is a bit subjective and, dare I say, sometimes a little arbitrary. There are people who are amazing, talented, committed and hard working and people who, let's be honest, are just persistent.
It does not bother me.
My personal view is to look at my progress I need to look at my progress critically and importantly support it with data (emphasis on 'my' here is important. As Kacey Musgraves would say Follow Your Arrow). Quite a few years back I read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers. It clearly had an impression on me because one of the things I started tracking early on in my training was number of hours trained. In my head I felt like if I could measure hours trained then I could slowly tick off the 10,000 hours that I would need to become an expert. Like a prison sentence! Recently I have started a new data set looking at my heart rate, but that's for another blog post.
I have just finished listening to the Freakonomics Podcast - How to Become Great At Just About Anything and if you are interested in how to improve performance I would suggest this is worth listening to. It sounds like Gladwell's 10,000 hours also needs to be tempered with a little more structure. In the show one prominent scientist in this area K. Anders Ericsson, who Gladwell cited in his book, suggests that the 10,000 hours is an attractive number but the key to expertise is in 'Deliberate Practice' which is later defined in the show as '...a very organized, canonized, or codified, way of working really, really hard.'
From this perspective it would suggest that expertise, and therefore progression, comes from continued repetition of ever more challenging drills. Ericsson says "Deliberate practice takes place outside one’s comfort zone and requires a student to constantly try things that are just beyond his or her current abilities.”
This does seem to suggest that drilling is key to progression. Yeah I said it, sorry Kit. Interestingly in the same podcast Ericsson says this; "...when you’re playing, there’s really no target where you’re actually trying to change something specifically and where you have the opportunity of repeating it and actually refine it so you can assure that you will improve that particular aspect." So the bit that we all LOVE of any class, the roll, is not the key to improvement. Sure it helps us pressure test but does specific or scenario training do the same thing?
Does this mean that you could progress in Jiu-Jitsu by just drilling? Nope, I am not saying that but the research does seem to suggest that progress towards expertise hinges on constant increases in difficulty and repetition. Or to put it another way, to get good you have to drill often and when you do drill you should be drilling things that you find hard. Seems so obvious when you write it down...
I will be reading Ericsson's book though:
Peak - Secrets from the New Science of Expertise