Take responsibility for your own development

I get regular emails from a BJJ site called Beginning Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu written by a dude name Stephan Kesting. A recent one happened to jump out at me and I thought it makes a good enough point to pass it along (obviously, he refers to techniques specific to BJJ here, but the idea can be applied, I think, universally):

Having a good instructor is a huge advantage when it comes to learning BJJ, but you also need to take responsibility for your own BJJ development. You might have the best instructor in the world, but ultimately you can't solely rely on any one person to always tell you what you need to work on.

For one thing it can be difficult for your instructor to cater to every single person's needs in a class. For example, 'Joe' might need to work on his armbar defense, 'Sally' might need to drill that basic guard pass, and 'Fred' should work on his leg and hip mobility in the open guard. How can one instructor spoon-feed everybody the exact information they need at all times?

The old proverb comes to mind: "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

In a BJJ context, "learning to fish" means having a system to figure out WHAT you need to work on next, and HOW you can work on that topic.

Here's the kicker: YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT YOU NEED TO WORK ON! Let me prove it to you...
• Did you get armbarred three times last night? If so, then you need to work on armbar defense!
• Do your opponents cut through your open guard like a hot knife through butter? Ummm, better work on leg and hip movement in the open guard!
• Do you have no clue how to submit your opponent from rear mount? I guess it's time to learn how to do the RNC or a good collar choke!
By now I'm sure that you're getting my point.

So try this two-step experiment:

Step 1 - Using the method above, figure out what you need to work on. (Working on "everything" is not really an acceptable answer, since even a beginner will have stronger and weaker areas).

Pick a manageable topic, like escaping ONE position, or learning ONE submission, or trying to use only ONE guard pass. If you bite off too big a chunk right now (e.g. deciding that you want to master "passing closed and open and half guard" in your first year of BJJ) it will take too long and your overall game will suffer.

Step 2 - Then, using all the various resources available to you, beat that subject to death! Ask your instructor about it. Read whatever you can find on that subject. Watch DVDs and search YouTube.

Most importantly, target your sparring around that topic.

Do this for a couple of weeks, and then evaluate your progress. If you're new to the sport then might be time to move on and work on getting the basics of another skill. You don't want to become a completely lop-sided player.

Advanced players often use similar strategies to develop their skills. The only difference is that they'll often bit off bigger chunks (and use longer training blocks) to explore the area in question.

So go forth and learn to fish!