Drowning in the Details

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By Jahred Dell [articulatebjj.com]


Like many things, the process of learning in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is time consuming and demands much attention to detail. Through training, we accumulate knowledge of technique, understanding of movement and engage with increasingly complex and abstract concepts.

Having previously discussed the merits of a detail-oriented learning approach, I wanted to extend on that discussion by exploring one of the pitfalls practitioners may encounter. The process of over-saturating ourselves with details can lead to stalling, or even regression, in our learning. By not focusing on anything in particular- being a Generalist– we risk drowning in the details.

Have you ever met the practitioner who, when asked, has a clear grasp of many details in almost every position, yet fails to execute many of them in sparring or competition? This is the prime example of someone who has drowned in the details. Through no conscious fault of their own, they have become overly detail oriented in their approach to their training. They are now so concerned with these details that they’re failing to execute because their brain is over- saturated. It’s like having too much background noise to a radio transmission; you simply can’t hear the message correctly through all the white noise.

Before we continue, let’s establish the understanding of two types of practitioners that we are concerned with in this discussion. The Generalist and The Specialist. 

There are merits to being a Generalist in anything. A broad base of knowledge is very useful for imparting a superficial level of knowledge to others. However, the Generalist often lacks depth of knowledge in any given area, which creates challenges around execution and performance in specific scenarios or imparting deeper knowledge to those further along the learning path. 

The Specialist is often not concerned with large swathes of details like the Generalist. For the Specialist, they are more focused on the skills and details required to perform a very small set of techniques; honing those particular techniques to perfection. The Specialist often encounters a different issue to the Generalist; they may lack the breadth of knowledge required to impart superficial knowledge over a broad range of topics. However, they are capable of providing huge depth of knowledge within their specialized areas; performing extremely well within their areas of specialization.

Depending on the practitioner, their learning style and many other influencing factors, the amount of detail and knowledge one is able to retain & recall will vary. In Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, there sheer mass of information, knowledge and level of detail is immense. It’s impossible to digest it all within a short amount of time. There is no cramming for this exam, attempts to do so will lead to over-saturation and an inability to perform effectively. I can’t aim to teach my students the entire history of Ancient Greece in a single afternoon or an entire Science curriculum in a week, our brains (and bodies) take significantly longer to make any meaningful learning progress.

As a beginner, I was obsessed with trying to ‘collect’ as many techniques as possible; trying to apply a broad range of techniques in every session. The problem with this approach was that I was generalizingTo correctly execute the wide number of techniques, I had to recall far too many details in any one session to be effective in the application of any of the techniques I wished to apply.Across one 5 minute round, I would attempt arm bars, chokes, sweeps and transitions; all requiring far too much recollection for my beginner brain. As a result, I was stalling and under-performing in almost every session and feeling largely dissatisfied in my training. As soon as I began to specialize, I noticed the difference. When I focused on executing a more restricted repertoire of moves over a number of rounds, I found my ability to apply them far more successful. This was simply because I wasn’t asking my brain to focus on fifty things like before, but now only five or ten. It was easier for me to consciously focus on only a handful of details and perform a small range of techniques well rather than trying to recall the plethora of details I needed to perform a broad range of techniques badly.

My suggestion here, as it has been in the past, is to reflect on how you best learn. Building on an understanding of how you learn is the best way to fast track your progression in anything. The same way that you weigh your body on a set of scales, you should be reflecting on how your brain functions to learn. BJJ is a physical and mental pursuit, you can’t attend to one aspect without the other. 

Thanks for reading,

Oss.


Jahred Dell is a 27 year old Kiwi/ South African. He has worked as a freelance sports journalist, is a published poet and is currently a practicing High School Teacher. Jahred also runs a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blog called Articulate BJJ which he began in 2017.

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