This is a topic I’ve wrestled with a lot. There’ll be times when you feel like you’re just not getting better at BJJ. And trust me, this is normal. Everyone goes through it.
Often, it’s just in your head because BJJ progress doesn’t go in a straight line. It comes in steps. But sometimes, it’s true—you’re either not getting better or getting better really, really slow.
That was me in my first year of BJJ. Sure, I made some progress, but it was tiny. I didn’t feel like I was moving ahead much. And the truth is, I wasn’t. But the good news is, if you’re not getting better, it’s not because you’re not gifted. There are many things in your control that you can implement to get out of that rut.
In this post, I’ll share my mistakes and talk about why you might also be having difficulty improving in BJJ.
Why You Are Not Getting Better At BJJ?
This is the number one reason you’re stuck and not getting better at BJJ. With all the BJJ techniques you have to learn, consistency is key. During my first 6 months in BJJ, I only went to BJJ training once a week because I was also doing other martial arts. But once a week is just not enough.
Even going twice a week is questionable. To move the needle, you have to get on the mat at least three times a week.
When I started to go a minimum of 3 times a week, that’s where I started seeing progress in my BJJ.
That’s the tough truth about Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It has to become a priority, or you’re just not gonna get it. That’s also a reason why many will quit as a white belt. You’ll be a beginner for a long time.
Now, most of us don’t have to stress about overtraining. It’s not your issue unless you’re hitting the mats up to 6 days a week. But I been there. There was a time when I trained twice a day, nearly every day. That’s like 10-12 training sessions a week. And it wore me down. I felt tired and sluggish. This is typically when you get injured.
But it’s not just about your body. Your brain needs time to catch up with all the techniques. In my overtraining phase, my head was all over the place.
I’d learn a new technique, and before I could process it, I was already onto the next one. That was too much for my brain. It was hard to take more information in.
So I cut back. Some days, I’d just come in to roll and fine-tune what I’d already learned. So don’t burn out your body and brain. But like I said, for most of us, the real issue is not training enough, not the other way around.
3. Bad Coaching
Having a good coach is essential for getting better at BJJ. Your coach should at least be a purple belt, but that’s not the only thing to look at. Are they rolling with you? Do you get the impression that they know what they are talking about? Have they competed? Who did they learn from?
If your coach isn’t good, you’re setting yourself up for a fall. Bad techniques can worm their way into your muscle memory. And once they’re there, they’re a pain to get rid of. So if you’re serious about BJJ, make sure your coach is, too.
4. Bad Gym
Not all BJJ gyms are created equal. Many places seem more interested in belt promotions than in teaching the art. If a gym promises you’ll get a new belt after a set time—get out of there. Belt promotions should be about skill, not time. Some places use belts to lure people in. Don’t fall for it.
Now, what about the people there? Are the students nice? Respectful? The students are the mirror of the coach. If the folks training there are bad, chances are the coaching’s not great either.
Picking a good gym is so important that I wrote a full guide on what to look for when choosing your BJJ Gym if you need help to decide.
5. You Get Injured A Lot
If you’re getting injured a lot, it’s time to look in the mirror. A bunch of injuries can be dodged if you’re smart about it. I used to get hurt constantly, and it took a while to figure out that this was my mistake. I used to skip warming up or grappling too hard when live rolling too often.
But that also means investing in proper MMA gear. Read here what you need for No-Gi BJJ training to protect you from injuries.
Being injured means you’re sitting out, not training. No training means no getting better at BJJ. If this is a pattern for you, you gotta break it.
Of course, some injuries are also bad luck. I am just saying that you need to know how to avoid injuries. This will decrease your injury rate by 90%.
6. You Come to Practice Without Intention
Consistency is important. But just showing up aimless won’t gonna make you better at BJJ. When you walk into the gym, you’ve got to have your intention set. You’re there for a reason: to get better at BJJ. Don’t just go through the motions or treat it like it’s something to check off your to-do list.
Each time you step onto that mat, remind yourself, “Today, I’m all in. I’m here to learn and make progress.” Having a focus for each training session will change how much you get out of it.
Since I started setting an intention before each training session, I remember more of what I learned. It made a huge difference and helped me to get better faster in BJJ.
7. You Focus on Rolling, Not Drilling
I get it. Rolling is fun. But if you’re a white belt and you’re only rolling, you’re doing it wrong. You’ll keep going back to the same techniques and repeat the same mistakes. You have to master the basics first.
Drilling is the most important when you’re starting out. Pay attention when your coaches talk. Try to understand what they’re saying about each drill. Make it your priority. Drills help you get the basics down, and the basics are what make you better over time.
I know drilling is not as exciting. I see many people checking out when the drill gets explained. Like they are bored. I know that they won’t progress. They won’t get the technique down. So don’t be like that. Focus!
As you move up the belt ranks, rolling will become more important. But for now, give drilling the time it deserves.
8. You Are Not Trying New Techniques
In the beginning, I learned a few techniques, and I stuck to them in rolling because I knew how to do them. But this slowed down my progress.
Don’t stick to what you know. If you only use the techniques you’re good at, you won’t grow much. You need to try new ones.
So when rolling, focus on the new techniques you were drilling. Try to pull off a new sweep or takedown you are not sure about. Try to go new ways, untraveled paths.
Especially when you are rolling against less experienced folks – let them put you in bad positions and try to escape, don’t tap them right away, and work on your transitions. Work in many different positions. And they tap you, they taped you! Leave your ego out.
It’s cheesy but true – rolling isn’t about winning. It’s about learning. It’s where you test out new techniques. So if you just learned how to escape Mount. Now’s your chance to try it when you spar. Let yourself get mounted. Don’t worry if you get tapped out. Your goal is to work on that escape.
So be confident in trying new things. That’s how you learn. That’s how you get better. So visit open mats often. There’s the perfect place to practice techniques during your rolling sessions.
9. You Rely Only on Your Strength
Using only strength is not how it works in BJJ. I made this mistake. Being often the bigger guy, I used my muscles too much when training BJJ. I had success, but my technique was flawed. And that caught up on me eventually. The same guys I was tapping out some months ago now started tapping me.
You often hear smaller guys learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu faster because they can’t use muscle to hide bad technique. They have more urge to get the techniques right. So, if you’re a bigger person, don’t just power through. Make it your goal to nail the things you learn.
Why Is It So Hard To Learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
BJJ stands out as a unique martial art. No other fighting style has as many techniques as BJJ. You’re faced with many different techniques. It takes years to perfect them. There’s always something to refine. The beauty of jiu-jitsu is you’ll always be learning. There’s always something more to pick up, which means you’ll always be a student.
But it’s hard to learn because every training session throws a new technique at you. So, putting it all together takes time. Other martial arts focus more on repeating one technique over and over again. Many BJJ Gyms I have been to don’t have a structured approach.
In each session, we learn a new technique. And to learn a new technique, you need to drill each move over and over until it sticks in your muscle memory. So, when learning BJJ, the first rule is to be patient and keep showing up.
How Do I Know I’m Improving at BJJ?
Most people use as a metric how many people they tapped out. But tapping people out more is not the way to see if you’re getting better. If that’s your only focus, you’ll be frustrated because everyone you’re training with is also improving. You might be improving without being able to tap out more people.
Taps used to be more important for me. My ego was too much involved. That’s why I wasn’t playful. I wasn’t trying out new stuff, and I’d now work on escapes, defense, or transitions. The only thing I wanted to drill and pull off is submissions.
Sure, they are important, but they are not the only thing. You need to know how to get there first. That’s more important. I wanted to tap everybody quickly. The quicker you get rid of that mindset, the better.
Instead, focus on these signs:
- Less Fatigue: You don’t tire out as quickly. This means you’re using skill, not just muscles.
- New Techniques: If you’re pulling off a new escape or sweep, that’s a win.
- Fewer Taps: Not getting stuck in submissions as much? That’s progress.
- Escaping: Once you get stuck in spots like mount or side control. Now you can get out.
- Advice Giving: If people start asking you for advice, that’s a big one. They see you as someone who knows the ropes.
Remember, you’ll for sure get better if you are consistent. Even when you feel you’re not moving, everyone around you is also improving. Keep showing up, and improvement will follow. No two ways about it.
A lot of times, it just feels like you’re not getting better. That’s often not the truth. You are improving, even when it doesn’t feel like it. And if you think you’re not, look at the points we discussed today. These tips will help you get better.
The bottom line is this: Nobody who showed up again and again stayed the same. Hard work pays off. So don’t look at how fast other BJJ practitioners are growing. Your BJJ journey is yours alone. Stick with it, be patient, and keep coming to practice. You WILL get better. Trust the process and keep showing up.