Sunday, May 29, 2011

What I learned (and didn't learn) from armbars from mount.

This submission has plagued me like no other before...though I think I may be glamorizing the good ol' days of triangle frustration.

I think though, that it is an excellent example of the recent clarity I've had in how I learn physical things. Not surprisingly, it is very similar to how I learn the intangible. I'm a top down learner, which means details are little more than disconnected lists of rote memorization until I know what the whole puzzle looks like. Always making comparisons to my adventures in language learning, I'm starting to make efforts to translate what I learned not to do while studying Japanese, and learned TO do in Spanish and Mandarin.

Here are the methods I use when studying language:

  • Listen as much as possible. 8 hrs a day of foreign radio at work, more at home and while driving if possible.
  • Study grammar, but in very, very small pieces that you concentrate on identifying during your listening sessions throughout the day.
  • Study vocabulary, but no more than 2-3 words a day that you keep an ear out for during listening sessions.
  • Engage in small, simple conversations as much as possible
  • Spend as much time as possible talking to native speakers.
  • Spend time with other learners for the sake of explanation and guidance from someone who's walked the same path you have.
  • Spend time with less advanced learners for the sake of explanation and guidance. Minimize listening, especially when starting off. 
  • Change little parts of your life for skills that require pure memorization (counting stretching in your non-native tongue, reading off numbers on signs you see, etc.)
  • Watch movies and shows in genres you enjoy in a foreign language
  • Listen to rap in that language (sounds nuts, but it does wonders for comprehension, listening speed and accent if you start to sing along)

This part right here? The bane of my jiu jitsu existence. 

Basically, I prefer a more subconscious method of language acquisiton partnered with light use of bottom-up methods like drills and vocabulary.

What's that mean in the world of BJJ? I find rolling more helpful than drilling. Now before the drilling police find me, I appreciate the importance of drilling...after 10 years of piano scales and finger exercises, I know all too well that certain muscle function is only acquired with massive amounts of time spent in repetition of movement. Beyond that though, when it comes to understanding a position, I need to see it in action. I need to watch other people react. I know I'm at a disadvantage because I've never watched MMA or grappling before training, so I have to watch more matches and more higher belts rolling...higher only. If I watch lower belts, I'll pick up their habits. I spent a year teaching newbies to Mandarin the basics of pronunciation, thinking "Yay! I'm helping someone learn Mandarin and at the same time, will improve my own because teaching helps you learn!" Yeah...only kinda. It helped me in my understanding of theory, but application? My tones muddied and I slowed massively in vocabulary acquisition.

So last week, I was sitting in a lesson with WrestlerInstructor (brown) and KickboxerInstructor (purple), having the steps of an armbar explained to me. While trying not to completely smother the poor teen that was my dummy for the day, I would imitate, and then go off on my own tangential efforts of understanding overarching concepts, letting go of any details that had just been given me.

I'll imitate a detail to advance a lesson, but I don't focus until I get the purpose. As a child, I did this in private, trying to follow along while my mind was racing, looking for the big picture. As an adult, I've learned to repeat what I see as the purpose of a detail, out loud. I have yet to have an instructor that didn't respond with a confirmation or correction.

I can though, see how this could be frustrating for an instructor. I imagine it can come off as if I'm forgetful or not listening, which in actuality, I'm simply not ready for the details I'm being given at the time. I'm thinking I'd benefit from discussion of a position before any demonstration begins.

Here are some issues I've found crop up for me in the step-by-step method of BJJ instruction:
  • I can repeat steps when they're presented to me, but retention is far from optimal.
  • I can explain steps when they're presented, but application while rolling will be difficult.
  • I miss steps because I find myself concentrating on the entire move.
  • If a step has to be modified for my body type and I haven't grasped the entire big picture, I have to start rebuilding said picture from scratch.
  • Performing variations becomes difficult.
  • Countering an opponent's reactions becomes a daunting task of memorizing prescribed reactions to prescribed situations...neither of which can even come close to covering all the possibilities that come up in training.
  • I stall. A lot.  
I'm comforted somewhat by a gong fu friend of mine who "suffers" from the same issue. His sensei told him that his method of learning is much slower at the beginning, but provides for a more solid foundation of understanding since you are trying to learn much more from the get go.

Oh...the translation of that language rules...
  • Watch as much as possible. Get on YouTube and watch matching of grapplers you respect. Especially those with similar body types and strengths/weaknesses
  • Study principles, but only one or two at a time. Find people at the gym who execute them well and watch them.
  • Study moves but only a couple at a time. Focus on identifying them while you're watching others roll.
  • Position specific, full resistance drills are your friends.
  • Spend as much time as possible with high level belts.
  • Spend time with blues and high whites for the sake of explanation and guidance from someone who's memory is fresh on what it's like to be a newbie.
  • Teach other white belts. When rolling, play offense as much as possible. (I'm finding that defense against white belts isn't a very valuable skill.) 
  • Incorporate drills into your life. Stretch at work. Bridge and hip shoot to get moving in the morning. Use bodyweight exercises to come down from work.
  • Watch Red Belt.
  • Listen to Brazilian rap. 


Liam H Wandi said...

Excellent analogy! Couldn't agree with you more (except for the Red Belt thing. It's rubbish!)

Megan said...

Hey! I enjoyed it. I'm going to send you a copy out of spite;)

Georgette said...

I have to be "taught" a technique 5 separate times before it starts to sink in for me. By this I mean, not have it shown to me or explained to me five times in one day, but five separate days. This used to frustrate the living heck out of me, but then someone told me it's because in jiu jitsu, you have to learn (and be able to apply) 80% of a technique before you can even "hear" or "see" much less "learn" and "apply" the last 20% of it.

Megan said...

Thanks Georgette...I think I'm down to a few techniques in our beginner's curriculum that I have a mental distaste for.