How to Measure Progress in BJJ / Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Progress in BJJ

At some point in your training you will start to question whether or not you are making progress. The first rule of progress is to stop expecting it to be easy. progress in BJJ or any martial art, MMA etc will take work and dedication just like any other skill set you want to learn.

Personal talent, and attributes or lack of do not allow or stop progress in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, they can simply speed it up or slow it down but everyone has a learning rate that happens regardless as long as certain conditions are being met.

The equation for progress is: High Quality Teaching + Consistency in practice = progress always.

Expecting too much too soon.

In Chinese martial arts the word Kung fu translated means great skill through hard work.
unfortunately in this day and age of instant gratification and disposable culture, the time and effort it takes to become good at a skill such as BJJ, MMA or any martial art is an alien concept to many.

People often expect to be able to be shown a technique, once and then be able to perform it perfectly for the rest of their lives but this is not how it works, to gain great skill at fighting requires hard work over a long period of time and constant repetition until the movements are an automatic reaction, effortless and subconscious. we need repetition over a long period of time to deeply encode them into our body.

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You can learn a technique on a mental level but that doesn’t mean you can perform it against resistance yet. at this point it is only theory stored in the mind, it needs to be performed physically to be actually used. This is where the bio physical encoding process takes place and this takes work, time and much repetition. This is why we must be intelligent about our training and invest our time on the mats wisely.

Improvement will not seen on a class by class basis in BJJ, its an accumulation of many classes that give the progress and every so often you have one class in particular when the conditions are right to bring this to light, this is when people say they’ve had a good session. what they don’t understand is that you are always improving even when you have what they call a “bad session”.

All time spent on the mat is learning time, a session when you made nothing but mistakes is a “good session” as its firmly imprinting in you the lesson of what not to do. now the resulting feeling of when you’ve had a session where you felt you didn’t perform well can either go one of two ways. positive or negative.

1) Negative. especially In the early stages but also sometimes later on it can cause someone who isn’t familiar with the fact that this is a normal occurrence of the path to progress decide to quit. This is where a good instructor must keep them motivated and understanding that they are on the path to success.

2) Positive. this feeling of not performing up to the standard you aspire to can and should be channelled to serve as fuel to motivate you to want to improve as much as possible. after all if we had nowhere further to go on our journey we would have no motivation to train. All a bad session is, is masses of feedback on how and where we can improve and this feedback is priceless. if you had performed to your best on that session those holes would not have revealed themselves to you, thus those “bad sessions” are totally necessary both to push you further and show you where you can improve to become more well rounded.

The path to progress in anything is never a straight-line, its more like a gradual climb with near constant rises and falls within this. once you accept this and stop measuring your progress on a class by class basis but instead on a long term basis your training will be so much more fulfilling and then you will see the true value of it all.

Think About Who You Are Practising With.

It can especially feel like your not improving when you are training with someone who has equal or more skill than you. and even more so in a realistic MMA style art such as BJJ where the feedback about where you are in terms of ability is brutally honest and accurate.

The thing to remember is if the person you are training with is consistently training themselves at the same rate as you, there is a good chance you will never “catch up” to their skill level unless you increase the frequency of your own training. Because you have to remember that even though you keep progressing your partner is also getting better, which makes it hard to gauge your progress. but that doesn’t mean you aren’t getting better, just that its not always possible to see, since they are improving too.

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You can also feel you aren’t progressing, if your skill level is low and your training partners aren’t allowing you to practice your techniques.  In order for you to really grasp a technique, you need to practice it slower and against less resistance before increasing the pressure gradually as your skill increases, so make sure to get plenty of practice in with partners that understand this concept. Testing a technique you have just learned two minutes ago against total resistance during the drilling in class is pointless, this should come later once you have practiced, understood and developed its performance sufficiently.

A good way to reliably see just how much you have improved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is in how you perform against new people and or people who have been away from training for a while whilst you have been consistent in attendance to class as this will show how far you’ve come compared to where you were when they stopped or when you first started.

Receive Good Instruction.

One half of the equation and a crucial part of progressing is receiving good teaching, You can read my article What Is A Teacher? as a good guide as to whether or not you receiving good instruction but without it you will simply be fumbling around in the dark, one year of good BJJ instruction is far better than years of just being left to spar and trying to figure it out for yourself, and the path to progress is to stand on the shoulders of those that have successfully gone before us and absorb and learn from their wisdom.

Improving in BJJ

You could be doing everything else in this article but without good Jiu-Jitsu instruction you will not be progressing much, especially compared to others who are. Bad instruction is something that should not deserve to exist and if you don’t become a part of the solution of starving it, your part of the problem from feeding it. if you are not receiving good instruction then this is something you need to address.

Set different varied goals and measure your progress not just on tapping or being tapped.

I address this further in this article here about Goals In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu but If your measure of improvement is just whether you tap someone or get tapped then you are looking at things in to broad a scale. did you pull of a new escape, did you get further with a move than before, did you pass a guard, did you pull of some sweeps, did you defend against a submission, did you manage to survive a round without being put in trouble these are all reliable signs of progress, there is so much varying detail of improvement going on underneath the surface of simply submitting or being submitted that you are missing it if this is all your concentrating on.

Expecting Results Without Any Work.

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Due to the Hollywood portrayed myths of invincible martial arts masters with undefeatable prowess made to look easy. lots of people who start training don’t understand that in order to be good at fighting you have to actually get your hands dirty and fight. this is a fundamental law of the universe as strong as that of gravity or the tides of the ocean. and something that has been shown by MMA, as all the successful component arts used in mixed martial arts feature training against resistance.

Its not a case of you walk into a dojo pay money and the instructor just gives you information and that information then instantly becomes fighting ability. this is what all too many people expect and this where the reality check comes in and is shown by the component arts of MMA training, in Portsmouth classes one of the first things I see with martial artists who have never sparred against resisting opponents is how quickly they learn its necessary.

The information needs to eventually (but not immediately) be practised against someone trying to stop you and in return do similar things to you and it means that at first it won’t work, but by attempting it over and over again against varying resistance over a period of time with a constant reminder of the important details taught that we are physically missing being highlighted every time we fail, our bodies make these details an increasingly better habit and learn how to make this information work, attributes such as timing and reading the opponent kinaesthetically are developed and the technique is refined as the body learns how to apply it and its important details are highlighted and its sculpted and shaved down into something much more potent and tailored to the situation than its original attempt.

Embrace Mistakes & Failure As Part Of The Process.

To get good at something you have to actually practice doing it. there is no way around this, what martial arts is, is an approach to cut the learning curve of fighting ability as much as possible by incorporating intelligent training methods and science and employing them as efficiently as possible, to put us at a great advantage to uncontrolled brawling. but you still have to practice against someone resisting and this is going to mean getting your ass kicked on a regular basis. Now this doesn’t have to mean serious violence with a risk of dangerous injury, but it does mean bruises and taking a few knocks and scrapes here and there and getting roughed up. More importantly it means accepting defeat on the mats, and here some peoples egos cannot take it, your ego must first accept this.

Its important to understand that this is a normal part of any Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA training. In Portsmouth sessions I make sure my students are aware that practising against resistance is an important part of gaining skill in BJJ or any martial arts you actually want to be able to use. You will tap on a regular basis. you can and will get beaten on the mats and its a good thing, because again as discussed earlier it shows us where we can improve and without this resistance there is nothing for us to push back against and sharpen our skills into something that’s not just theory but something we can use for real.

Children are great at learning new skills, not only because the plasticity of their brains allows them to learn faster but also because their ego is much less. A child is happy to play at something without worrying about whether they are good or bad at it. Show them something and they will just try it without worry of failure. There is something inherently limiting about our culture and society as modern adults that we feel that we have to be immediately great at everything or else we are a failure. this is unrealistic and dangerously limiting if we choose to follow this idea. To get good at something you have to start from zero and play with it. Mistakes are simply a crucial part of the learning and practice process. If you want to learn to juggle, you will drop the balls many times, it’s not a sign of failure, just normal and a sure sign that your on the path to improvement. This is how we learn by trying, it not working and trying again. Accept mistakes and incorrect performances as good and embrace them and you will start to see them as they truly are, not an indicator of failure but just an import attribute of learning.

Mistakes and non effective performances are simply offcuts in the sculpting process, expect to have to make these offcuts, find and remove what is not necessary to reveal the correct work of art underneath and you will change the way you look at them and no longer see failure as a bad thing but just a crucial part of progress. and the sooner we get to them the sooner we can get to the skill that follows them.

BJJ Sand Sculpture

We start with no skill and skill is built with practice. mistakes are part of practice. Without mistakes there will be no improvement in skill.

So expect to make lots of mistakes and see them for what they actually are, a crucial part of the learning process.


Do you want to be one of the many or one of the few?

Expect progress to take time, don’t expect it to be constant, ensure you are a receiving good teaching and think about who you are training with and remember if others are training they are improving too. Apply intelligence to your training, Expect to have to work at it. expect resistance “failure” and mistakes and embrace them as good things. and you will see your progress.

Never has there been a better time for success when so many expect so much for so little and your willing to go the extra mile.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is good Jiu-Jitsu.


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