BJJ journals, training diaries / notebooks. Do you use them?

Do you use a BJJ diary, journal or any system (manual or electronic) to record your Brazilian Jiu Jitsu sessions and chart your progress? Don't you hate it when you forget details that can either make or break a technique and wish you had written it down or recorded it somewhere?

We often hear in BJJ / Grappling and all combat sports that it's not how much you know (number of sweeps, transitions and submissions) but how well you know it (depth of jiu jitsu details, correct timing in response to opponent indicators, essential components and their sequence). Any good jiu jitsu instructor will spend the majority of your time on the mat ensuring you are consistently doing the right things, avoiding the wrong grappling habits and drilling against progressive resistance. With me so far?

But the jiu jitsu session has to end at some point. Whether it's a 60, 90 minute session or longer it has to end and you are left with, at best, a fragmented memory of these do-this-but-not-that grappling details. Obviously it is your responsibility to ensure that you retain this wealth of jiu jitsu information and drill it (say, during open mat time) against various training partners until it becomes a habitual act. An automated response. The problem we all face (to varying degrees) is:

How do I make sure I'm covering the most essential details when drilling with my buddies but without the watchful eyes of my BJJ instructor?

To put in context, if you learn the tripod sweep from open guard on Monday and make a committment to drill this with you brilliant buddy Benny or great mate Kate at the next Open-Mat session on, say, Friday or Saturday, how do you make sure you retain as much as possible of the detailed instruction you recieved? After all, we all know that practice does NOT make perfect. Only PERFECT practice makes PERFECT.

Over the 7 or so years I've been training grappling (and all thru-out my Karate, Taekwondo and Kung fu years before that) I always kept notes. Sometimes I supplemented these notes with diagrams. Detailed diagrams, with arrows and frikking speech bubbles and shit! In fact, my diagrams of Wing Chun stances, moves and techniques were a gazillion times better than my actual Wing Chun!

Some other times, I omitted all technical notes and kept a mental / psych journal instead. I learned how to do that from an awesome sports performance book called The Mental Athlete*. In a nutshell, you analysed your sessions and noted:

(1) What went well,
(2) What went less than well,
(3) Why you think (2) didn't go so well and
(4) What will you do to avoid it happening again.

That journal actually saw me thru blue belt all the way to purple. It was great because you listed all the positive things about the session and even the negative things got turned into actions. I highly recommend the book and this type of journal.

Around that time, I started this blog (or rather, the first version of this blog!). I found the blogosphere to be a great medium to communicate and share but I also find sharing my personal training in the blog Uber-boring. There are people who are really good at documenting their training / teaching such as Slideyfoot and they actually make reading it very beneficial. I can't do that. I bore myself so I wouldn't expect you to read it.

I do, however still keep notes of my jiu jitsu / grappling learning. I separate these into:

1. Notes on techniques I learn from instructors (Martyn, David, Stephen, sparring partners and from attending seminars...etc.)
2. Notes on techniques I learn from media (Books, DVDs, apps, YouTube, Gracie University...etc.)
3. Notes on techniques I teach (sessions, privates, videos I record for the blog...etc.)

I use a number of tools for my note-taking. These are:

1. A video recording device (FlipPhone, iPod touch, BlackBerry)
2. A camera for pictures
3. A phone App where I can take notes
4. Training Journal (stays at home)

I use (3) to note the details ASAP after I learn them so I can note the maximum depth so I can transfer all that to (4) when I get home. The only problem has been that sometimes, I can't or simply don't want to goof around on my phone (or any electronic media) at or immediately after a BJJ session. I was, therefore, VERY happy to learn about this awesome website called PocketMod.

PocketMod is a completely free web-based resource. Using a very simple and efficient template, you learn to create and publish an 8 page booklet, in less than a minute! It's very cool**.

PocketMod allows you to choose from a variety of note-taking formats (up to 8 pages) and then drag and drop them onto a big template. Once you print this on a standard A4 paper, you follow theire simple instructions to fold that A4 into an A7-sized 8-page booklet that you can easily slip into your training bag. This is neither an expensive phone nor a cumbersome training journal. You can take it with you to the mat (or at least mat-side) and if one of you friends steps on it by mistake, it's cool!

Here is an example of one I created today:

And here are the notes I put on page 2:

Super quick. Go now to PocketMod and create your first training notebook. Play around with it until you nail it.

Just remember where you heard about it first ;o)

*The Mental Athlete is available from and
**If you're a geek like me :)

Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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