Quick Notes on (Jiu-Jitsu) Note-Taking
Benefits of Note-Taking
Note-taking has forced me to organize my thoughts better regarding technique. I’ve developed a better vocabulary and structure for capturing all of the necessary details in a move. This helps me recall the technique better when I need to drill it or show someone else.
I have learned that it takes me 6-9 months from learning the technique to being able to pull it off in live sparring. This is because I have a date attached to every technique, and because I go back and review my notes from time to time, I can see when it was shown to me. This also helps me whenever I get discouraged that I can’t pull something off the first time I learn it, because now I have more reasonable expectations of when that will happen.
Taking notes is an excuse to decorate something with stickers. I really like stickers.
Note-taking on what went well/poorly prioritizes my own personal experience of jiu jitsu. I can write down how I felt about class that day and to see the ups-and-downs laid out before me. For instance, 4 days before my best tournament performance, I had written that I wasn’t feeling great about my technique. Then I took gold. This shows me that how I feel in jiu jitsu can change even within a short period of time.
Note-taking is an effective form of accountability to see if 1) I’ve absorbed the technique’s details (or if I need to go back and ask follow-up questions) and 2) if I care enough about what I’ve learned to invest time to write it down.
Note-taking has allowed me to make creative connections that I would otherwise not make, like how the toe-hold is the “kimura of the foot” and a guillotine is essentially a “front naked choke.” This weird expressions come about because I’m being challenged to write things down in a way that I’ll understand and remember.
Journaling about jiu jitsu helps maintain sanity with my partner, who doesn’t train. I can “talk” about jiu jitsu with myself without needing to inundate him with details of how to “take the back when they backstep you from half guard without the cross-face.”
Note-taking helps satisfy the academic, nerdy, studious side of me that has helped me achieve a lot of great things in other areas of my life. It puts me in the student mindset, without all the baggage of high school.
Common Problems (and Proposed Solutions)
I’m too tired to take notes right after class
Learn how to use short-form crib notes that can jog your memory the next day.
I don’t know the names of anything.
Ask during class, or come up with your own way of naming it. This will force you to at least think about the techniques’ main features. Also, even if you don’t know how to name the technique the first time around, at least you know the details behind it. If you’re a beginner, your notes will improve over time as you learn more jiu jitsu vocabulary.
My notes are incomprehensible or confusing.
Try to find some way of structuring your notes across different class days. This is the structure I currently like to follow:
Start with the end goal of the move (pass the guard to side control; get a submission by putting pressure on their elbow joint; secure mount).
Describe the opponent’s position, and in response, the grips/control you need to establish.
Then, list the intermediate goals of the technique (if you were to take screenshots of a video, which screenshots would you choose?).
Fill in the details for how to reach those goals.
Finally, at the end, create a separate section that troubleshoots common issues or reactions that would lead to a different option.
I like this structure because each section focuses on 1-2 topics. You’ll hopefully find that your notes flow more smoothly. Even if the instructor has presented the content in a certain order, re-arranging the techniques in thematic buckets helps with seeing the gaps and practicing logical organization.
I forget to/don’t want to look at my notes.
Like with most habits, it will take time to develop. I find that if I’m taking notes in the same physical notebook, I’m more likely to leaf through prior lessons. Also, as you accumulate more notes and get better at presentation, you will become more motivated to look at your notebook because the content is more useful.
Also: Consider looking at your journal before class instead of looking at your phone. 🥲
We did the same thing all week/month - I don’t want to write down the same thing.
Consider recording only the new details that you have learned. Make a note to refer to pages X, Y, and Z for the core technique. (If you didn’t learn any new details, then did you even go to class? 😶🌫️) Or, try the technique out multiple times during sparring or situationals. Note where you’re successful or not in applying the technique.
Things I Did Wrong (At the Beginning)
Wait a whole week before writing notes. You can tell when I procrastinated on writing down notes because I would remember 3 bullet points’ worth of content instead of 13.
Trying to be too fancy with tech tools. An old fashioned notebook helps keep you focused. You can make a table of contents easily from scratch. No need to invest in an expensive program that just gets you staring at a screen (and potentially distracted).
Try to write everything down. The pressure of trying to create perfect notes would make me procrastinate or stressed. Instead, I wrote down what I thought were important details, and I accepted that I will have to tweak the technique in the future.
Drawing out techniques. Unless you are a competent artist, drawing out the technique will cause more frustration than not. Find a picture on the internet or take a still of you doing the technique if you absolutely must have a picture.
Try to do all forms of journaling every single day. For me, my technique journal is king. I also have 3 other journals for the days when I’m extra motivated: feelings/gratitude; things I did well/could improve on; instructionals content. But I prioritize the technique journal over everything else, because that’s what I have found to have the most utility. I don’t have the time or energy to fill out every single journal on a daily basis.
Never bring my notebook to the gym. It’s good to be able to quickly refer to a detail that you might have forgotten during class, sometimes even just between rounds. Also, you’ll never be out of ideas for what to drill.
Use a cheap notebook. Get a really nice notebook that you like to hold, write on, and want to see on your desk/bookshelf. I wrote my notes initially on scraps of paper, and my interest did not last very long.
I just started taking the first steps to contact a graphic designer and a jiu jitsu artist to create the layout and artwork for a custom jiu jitsu journal. The plan is to come up with a free prototype to test out with those interested, and then launch the full product.