On the Scale of Progress - How To Get Better.

You’ve been training for some time now. You go in to class enthusiastic, eager to learn, and grow as a martial artist. 

You work hard, and you’ve dedicated more of your time to jiu jitsu than every other endeavour you’ve ever tried. You love it. So naturally, you want to get better at it. 

You can’t manage what you can’t measure
— W. Edwards Dening (Supposedly)

When you think of measurement, rulers, and tally counts, and statistics come to mind. These numbers let you think you know what is really going on. But progress in an endeavour like jiu jitsu is never linear.

While 1 + 1 = 2, more jiu jitsu doesn’t automatically mean better jiu jitsu. There are good days and not so good days and these are all part of the process of learning. Beyond the quantitative data there is always more to the story.

W. Edwards Dening was an intelligent businessman. So it’s fitting he was misquoted. What he actually said was: 

It is wrong to suppose that if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it – a costly myth
— W. Edward Dening (Actually)

This was in the context of organisational management. And the point was that overreaction to short term variations like profit is harmful to long term success. 

The same can be said for the mats. There’s days that you’re rocking it. You go in, you’re enthusiastic, there’s a spring in your step, and you’re loving life. When it comes to roll, you’re nailing it. The sweeps are on point, and the submissions come in droves. Your frame feels strong, and your mind is sharp. 



Other days feel terrible. You're uncoordinated. Techniques that usually work aren't working. Your brain feels dull, and your body feels like it’s never done this before. You tap, and tap, and everything is off and it's just not your day. 

Focus on Behaviours not Outcomes


Getting a submission may signal success to some. And yet one does not simply wish for a submission and expect that it happens.  You need to set it up first. So you establish control, you maintain the position while you tend to the next step, and by the end of it all, if it's precise it comes off. Sometimes you're not precise enough and your opponent lives another day, so you keep trying.

You can't control your progress but you can control your actions. 

You can determine whether you take the time to refine the steps in the sequence. You do this by showing up to training which is done by planning in advance to get there.

You can choose to rely on your strengths against your teammates, or you can put yourself in a less than advantageous position to practice what you're not so good at. 

You can't just fill up your gas tank, but you can devote attention to your breath during training, and you can go to the grocery store to ensure you have a fridge full of goodies to eat in and around training. 

The end goal is but a mere culmination of the process it takes to get there. 

Relax, and Float 

To have faith is to trust yourself to the water. When you swim you don’t grab hold of the water, because if you do you will sink and drown. Instead you relax, and float.
— Alan Watts

You don't improve with control, but with consistency.

Look around you in class. The better guys are the consistent ones. You become consistent by showing up.

As your understanding of jiu jitsu deepens, you realise that you cannot will yourself to improvement. Progress comes not by trying hard but by learning well. Learning takes time, and that's why jiu jitsu is best played as a long game. 

Just like a never ending stream, if you swim against the flow you get tired and slowly but surely fatigue will win and you will die. When you swim with it, you can move as you please as you subtly direct your body amongst the smooth energy of the water. When you get tired you move over to the banks, take a rest, and get back into it. 

This way becomes possible when you're able to yield to the things around you. The submissions, and locks, and chokes are all part of the process.  The dips and troughs are part of the fun. It's the disappointments that pave the way for times of delight. Have faith in this beautiful journey known as jiu jitsu. It is way too vast, and complex, and adaptable to control.

Work with it and together you float Higher and Higher. This is how you get better.