Kevin Santi, judo instructor at Revolution BJJ

Author: Kevin Santi (Black Belt Judo Instructor and BJJ Brown Belt)

I came across an excellent article that looks in great detail at the attributes and make up of a chess expert. The author used chess masters as a study group because there is a formal ranking system of chess players based solely on their performance.  After reading this article, I realized what was being said about chess could also be said for judo and jiu-jitsu.

http://wimse.fsu.edu/media/expert-mind.pdf  by Philip E. Ross

Attributes of an Expert:

  • A vast store of knowledge of positions.  Psychologist George Miller showed that people can contemplate only 5 to9 items at a time.  “Take the sentence ‘Mary had a little lamb.’ The number of information chunks in this  sentence depends on one’s     knowledge of the poem and the English language. For most native speakers  of  English, the sentence is part of  a much larger chunk, the familiar poem. For someone who knows English but not  the poem, the sentence is a single, self-contained chunk. For someone who has memorized the words but not  their meaning, the sentence is five chunks, and it is 18 chunks for someone who knows the letters but not the  words.”   For the novice, this means that they can keep 5-9 positions or techniques in their working memory.   Psychologists believe that experts can get around this limitation by packing hierarchies of information into chunks.  The expert is still limited to this 5-9 items.  Through years of experience, an expert is able to build up a library of  positions in his long term memory.  The expert’s library of knowledge is stored as chunks not individual items. One chunk may contain a series of moves and positions.  The expert is able to quickly recall  these chunks and use them in  their working memory. This allows the expert to quickly recognize a situation and decide the best course of action.
  • Motivation is a more profound key to becoming an expert than natural ability.“Yet this belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence  to substantiate it.”
  • 10 years or 10,000 hours or hard meaningful practice.

Thoughts on meaningful practice

I observe some students who come to practice, do the provided lesson, roll, and go home. The students that excel are the ones that use the lesson plan as a starting point. They start thinking about the techniques and strategies,  internalizing them, and  making the techniques their own. It’s one thing to see a technique and just repeat it, but it’s another to really grasp it. One must perform the technique and then start to ask themselves,  “where and when can I do  this?”  It is imperative that you create your own observations and impressions of the technique. By providing your own personal context to the technique, you will be able to more easily recall and apply the technique.  This will allow you to build your grappling knowledge base and create “chunks.”

Practice is the student’s time. The instructor can create a great environment and great lesson plan, but it is ultimately up to the student how fast they progress.  The more you own the technique and struggle with the position; the more you figure out its strengths and weakness.  Strive to be an aggressive learner who realizes that setbacks and failure are just learning tools, not a reason to get frustrated. Have both the will to learn and the will to fight.

-Good Training