How to Become a Better Grappler Quickly (the eternal question)

It often seems that some people just seem to improve faster than others and have more competition success. An often-touted reason for this is that it is “all about mat time”. Basically, people argue that you just need to train constantly to become the best. But this logic doesn’t seem to fit with the evidence in the real world.

Take Mikey Musumeci, who just won the roosterweight division in the IBJJF Worlds. Musumeci is only 22 years old, so has almost certainly not spent the same amount of mat time as all of those he beat, (despite beginning training at 4 years old), notably 9 time world champion veteran Bruno Malfacine. This leads us to question what does make top competitors good at jiu jitsu? How can you use their training strategies to improve fastest?

Natural attributes

Whilst potentially not the most important factor determining success, they do still play a role. The most commonly mentioned things are important, such as strength, intelligence and flexibility.

However, an often-neglected natural attribute is someone’s mental resilience and toughness. In his interview with Flograppling after winning the Worlds, Mikey talks about all the sacrifices he and his sister, Tammi, had to make to get this far. He talks about how hard they trained, saying they would get up at 4 a.m. to drill before school.

Watching the infamous Flograppling Road to Worlds 2018 video at Unity Jiu Jitsu New York, where the students go in the shower to cool off between hard sparring rounds, it is hard to believe that training hard enough to be elite level doesn’t take mental toughness.

Training Regime: Drilling vs Sparring

There is lots of debate within Jiu Jitsu about the best way to train: is it lots of drilling or lots of sparring? There has been success with both at the highest level. André Galvao, 2x ADCC and multiple world champion is a member of the drilling camp, writing a book that neatly sums up his attitude; Drill to Win. Other competitors, such as Lachlan Giles, who has just qualified for ADCC, and also Kit Dale, are firm believers in sparring, especially specific sparring.

Overall, the answer probably depends on the individual as to which method maximises progress. The most important factor is more likely to be how you drill/spar. In order to win in competition, you need to maximise your limited time to improve your competition game. This is something highlighted in Gianni Grippo and Kit Dale’s debate on the matter. Kit argues that, with limited time, “drilling was not an option” and so he had to spar to progress. Grippo, however, argues that “with hours of organized and consistent sessions of drilling specific techniques your game will improve”.

The most efficient method may vary, but whatever it is, it must be specific, as expressed by Lachlan Giles on the Rasperry Ape Podcast.  

Choosing the method that works for you is something that everyone has to decide for themselves. It varies from person to person. Both Kit and Gianni conclude in their debate that, in the words of Grippo, “everyone may have something different that works better for them”