Does the idea of keeping a BJJ training journal seem strange and foreign to you?
Then you just might be a stereotypical BJJ practitioner.
Sure, maybe you’ve written down some technique details when you went to that seminar with (insert famous BJJ practitioner here). But other than that, what’s the point of keeping a journal for BJJ?
Well, it might surprise you to hear that keeping a Jiu-Jitsu journal may be one of the easiest ways to boost your performance on the mat.
What is the difference between a white belt level armbar and a black belt level armbar? It’s knowledge of the little details.
Think back to techniques that have suddenly ‘clicked’ for you. One day you couldn’t even pull it off against beginners, the next day it’s well on the way to becoming one of your ‘A-game’ techniques. What happened?
The most common reason is that you figured out one or more key details that made the technique work for you. This is not uncommon; seemingly simple changes can have a disproportionate effect on the effectiveness of a technique.
What key details have changed your game? And more importantly, what key technique epiphanies (those a-ha! moments in rolling) have you forgotten?
It might be because you had one of these moments halfway through a rolling session, and three exhausting rolls later, you’ve completely forgotten about it. Or you attended a seminar jam-packed with details and one day later, you’ve forgotten 50% of them (Caio Terra seminars come to mind).
Well, that’s where a BJJ journal comes in! Being able to remember and refer to these key details can make a HUGE difference to your game.
You Can Set Goals and Hold Yourself Accountable
Structured and intelligent training is the most efficient way to improve. Which student will progress faster, Guy A who only shows up, does the class and then rolls. Or Guy B who sets drilling goals (e.g. 100 reps of a new technique per class) and rolling goals (e.g. will only pass on my weak side today)?
The answer is Guy B, and no doubt many of us have set such goals before. But how many of us actually keep to them? You may have told yourself “I will only work on my ‘B-game’ techniques during rolling today”. But as soon as the roll got tough, you found yourself reverting back to your ‘A-game’.
Keeping a jiu jitsu journal can ensure that you better stick to your goals. For instance, you wrote down ‘work on B-game techniques during rolling today’ but instead fell for the scenario above. You’d now have to write down something like FAILED next to your rolling goal. Having that on paper in writing will hold you accountable and make you more likely to carry out future goals.
Tracking your progress in BJJ can be a tricky thing. We may feel like we’re plateauing or getting worse, when the reality is that we are improving; just not as fast as our teammates. Keeping a training log in your journal is one way for you to better measure your performance and your recovery.
Consider a typical strength training log. A basic version would have type of exercise, weight lifted, and reps and sets performed. More advanced training logs include items such as Rate of Perceived Exertion, Orthopedic Index, density, and intensity. Your jiu jitsu journal can include items such as how tired you felt during a roll, which moves were working, whether you felt any potential injuries etc.
You can document these and then view them in a linear and sequential format over a period of time. This will give you a much better gauge of your Jiu-Jitsu progress than the standard ‘who you tapped in training’. As the famous engineering saying goes “What gets measured gets done”.
Even after reading the section above, you might be skeptical about the value of keeping a journal for your BJJ journey.
There is nothing wrong with this; the great part about training in a resisting martial art like Jiu-Jitsu is that we are always seeking evidence.
But research has backed up the value of note taking in improving learning. The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching found that note taking improved:
The WAC Journal also published a summary of the research concerning note taking.
They found that note-taking served two primary functions:
“contributes to the carrying out of a range of intellectual processes, such as making judgments, resolving issues, and making decisions. The taking of notes can aid time-consuming, real-time thought processes, such as the resolution of mathematical problems. In this respect, notes are similar to a rough draft in that they allow information to be coded, thereby relieving mnemonic processes and consequently helping with the development of the solution.”
What this means is that note-taking helps take the strain off your memory processes. This allows your brain to use other through processes to solve difficult problems.
Since everybody has a smartphone nowadays, a common refrain against keeping a physical journal is “Why shouldn’t I just take or dictate notes on my phone or better yet just record a video?”
The answer is a concept called disfluency.
In his 2016 book Smarter Faster Better: The Transformative Power of Real Productivity, author Charles Duhigg (you might recognize his name from his earlier bestseller The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business) explains the concept of disfluency.
Disfluency is the paradoxical idea of absorbing information better by making it more difficult to absorb. He cites a 2014 study by a group of researchers from Princeton and UCLA comparing the effectiveness of two note-taking methods, by hand and via laptops.
Taking notes by hand is more disfluent compared to typing, as it is both harder and less efficient compared to typing on a keyboard.
Duhigg notes in his book that “students who use laptops, in contrast, spend less time actively working during a lecture, and yet they still collect about twice as many notes as their handwriting peers. Put differently, writing is more disfluent than typing, because it requires more labor and captures fewer verbatim phrases.”
And yet, despite this ‘inefficient method’, the results of the test scores of these two groups were surprising. Duhigg continues:
“When the researchers looked at the test scores of those two groups, however, they found that the hand writers scored twice as well as the typists in remembering what a lecturer said. The scientists, at first, were skeptical. Maybe the hand writers were spending more time studying after class?
They conducted a second experiment, but this time they put the laptop users and the hand writers in the same lecture and then took away their notes as soon as it was over, so students couldn’t study on their own. A week later, they brought everyone back.
Once again, those who took notes by hand scored better on a test of the lecture’s content. No matter what constraints were placed on the groups, the students who forced themselves to use a more cumbersome note-taking method—who forced disfluency into how they processed information—learned more.”
Even when the notes were taken away right after class, the longhand note-takers still demonstrated better test scores.
This means that the very act of cumbersome note-taking is beneficial, even if you don’t refer to your notes again! It forces your brain to grapple and engage with the data. This will then build what Duhigg calls ‘mental folders’ that are at the core of learning.
You might be thinking to yourself, now this is all well and good, but what about the value of note-taking for physical skills such as BJJ? The examples and research above are purely academic in nature.
Valid question. Fortunately research also shows the benefits of note-taking for more than just mental activities.
This paper looked at the effects of journal writing on students in an athletic training curriculum.
Athletic training refers to students studying subjects such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, and nursing. These activities have both a mental knowledge and a physical execution component, just like BJJ.
The study notes that journal writing increased the reflection ability of the students, which is what distinguishes experts from their peers. To be more specific, experts engage in reflection-in-action; reflecting and reshaping their actions while doing it.
The paper goes on to rate journal writing as an effective teaching technique to bridge the gap between classroom and clinical knowledge. Is this so different from the gap between learning a technique and then trying to apply it in live training?
To cap off this section, here’s a video of Dr. Haley Perlus, PhD in sports and exercise psychology talking about how journaling can improve athletes’ motivation, confidence, and concentration. As she says definitively in the video: “Journals work, there is no doubt about it.”
Besides the obvious (i.e. the date and your instructor) - here are some sections that you would benefit from recording in your Jiu-Jitsu journal.
Session Type: What kind of training session is it going to be? Will it be gi or no-gi? Is it a standard class, an open mat, or a drill-only session? Write that down here.
Pre-Training Goals: What are your goals for this particular training session? For example it could be, a certain number of repetitions per technique, to roll X rounds without any breaks, to try a new move in rolling. Whatever it is, write that down here and hold yourself accountable to it.
This is a very important section. You want to make sure you come into every training session with a specific goal in mind. This can ensure you are engaging in deliberate practice, which plays a key role in skill development.
Techniques Covered: Write down whatever techniques you covered in the training session - as in: jiu jitsu techniques step by step. The level of detail you need to write down here will depend on your overall skill level and familiarity with the technique. The better you get, the fewer ‘steps’ you will have to write down (if at all).
Drills Performed / Repetitions Done: Record down how many repetitions of a technique or techniques that you did throughout the session.
Technique Notes and Observations: This is another crucial section. This is often where the key details and technique epiphanies emerge. When you are flipping back through past journal entries, scanning through this section can be invaluable.
Rolling Notes and Observations: Here you can record who you rolled against, how you did against them, and how you felt during rolling. You can also note which techniques worked and which didn’t, things you did or didn’t do well, and even what your rolling partners did or didn’t do well.
Some key details and technique epiphanies that you glean from rolling can also be written down here. Just don’t turn this section into a record of gym wins or who you tapped in training. Another thing to list here is feedback from your rolling partners; don’t discount this as it’s super valuable, especially when rolling with higher belts.
Other Sections: While the sections I listed above are what I consider to be the most important, each journal will be individual. Some people might wish to add in even more information such as strength and conditioning workouts or eating habits prior to the session. However some others might prefer to combine some of the sections to make it more concise e.g. combining techniques covered, repetitions done, and technique observations into one section.
Experiment and find out what works for you.
The more successful you are in this habit of journalling; the more successful you'll be in your BJJ journey.
Here are 3 extra tips that will help you succeed faster:
Just like pre-class mobility drills and post-class stretching, consistency is the key.
Look at your typical class structure and pick a time where you will be writing in your journal. For instance, the pre-training journaling can be done from your car in the parking lot. The technique sections can be written in the water break before rolling begins. The rolling reflections can be written right after rolling.
Whatever your journaling schedule is, find one that works for you and stick with it.
When you first start a BJJ journal, your motivation to maintain the journal will be high, but it will gradually taper. This is normal and happens with any new beneficial activity.
Hence, the temptation in the earlier stages when your motivation is high will be to record as much information as possible in your journal.
But if you do this, what happens when your motivation wanes? You might find it harder and harder to make yourself write down all that information session after session. This will sap your motivation and may lead to you stopping the journaling practice altogether.
So make things easy for yourself. Keep your journal as simple as possible.
Remember that even if you only train twice a week, that’s still over a hundred training sessions a year; over a hundred journal entries!
Everyone who’s trained for a few years knows about BJJ’s high attrition rate. It’s a tough sport and people often get discouraged and quit.
So again, don’t make things harder on yourself. Try to frame your journal as positively as possible. Try to focus on ‘wins’ instead of ‘losses’ e.g. writing ‘managed to maintain my base for 2 minutes’ vs. ‘got swept within 2 minutes.’
Of course, I am not suggesting that you gloss over your mistakes or areas of improvement. But even those can be framed positively. For instance, writing down ‘stop tucking your chin when defending a guillotine’ vs. ‘look toward the ceiling when defending a guillotine’.
Getting started - whats the Best BJJ Journal?
Hopefully by now you're sold on the idea and you're willing to give it a go.
Do a 1 month experiment to see if it works for you and you'll be shocked with the results. Pleasantly shocked.
But a quick Google search online shows lots of options. Whats the best jiu jitsu journal for you?
Here are a few to consider:
Here's a good video rundown thanks to Chewjitsu:
Over here on this site, our goal is to give you the 20% of things that account for 80% of your results.
Is journaling a practice that is part of that 20% that will account for 80% of your progress in BJJ? Of course not, and anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense.
But let’s reframe the question. Is journaling part of the 20% of non-physical things you can do that will account for your progress in BJJ off the mat?
I would say that the answer is a definite yes. It won’t affect your recovery. It won’t take up much time or cost you much money. And the benefits are both tangible and well-studied. Its done in MMA (An MMA training journal is a 'thing'), and its done in BJJ. It's done for a reason - it works.
In short, there is little reason NOT to keep a jiu jitsu journal.
Comment below if you have any questions.