How To Improve (or not lose) Your Jiu Jitsu When You Can’t Train

For many of us, Jiu Jitsu is a coping mechanism or a chance to improve ourselves, what we turn to to help us deal with hard times. When the very nature of the challenge we face means that most of us can’t train, it can leave a lot of us feeling uncentered.

I have personally gone through tough times in life where I could not train. For about a year I could only train on average once a month. This was a difficult time in life for other reasons as well, but Jiu Jitsu still got me through it. Because even when you can’t actually train physically, you can train mentally.

Of course, the most efficient use of your time will be to work on your strength and conditioning. And this can be an effective coping strategy as well. But for many of us, Jiu Jitsu is what we love. We don’t want to just forget it. So in addition to strength or cardio training, here’s how you can keep your Jiu Jitsu fresh, and maybe even improve a little bit.

Improve Your Jiu Jitsu With Instructionals

Many instructors are giving out free instructionals right now. And of course there is a massive amount of content already available for free on YouTube. The problem with this is simple: information overload. If you aren’t able to drill for real or try a technique out in sparring, you’ll just move on to the next video without retaining anything.

So how can you get something out of instructionals? Although it shouldn’t be all you do, there is something to be said for just watching through a massive amount of content. Firstly, its fun. Secondly, you expose yourself to new moves, positions, transitions, etc. Getting these kinds of things in your mind means you will recognize them when it comes time to learn them in depth.

The best use for an instructional, however, is when you stick to a specific position, or family of positions. Jiu Jitsu isn’t one comprehensive skill set: there are many different types of skills for different situations.

For example: my favorite guard is single leg x guard. That has very little to do with spider guard (besides for transitions between them.) But it is a part of the broader leg entanglement game. 50/50, the modern leglock meta, X guard, deep half, crabride, and even some berimbolo stuff. These kinds of positions use a lot of the same control principles.

If you can, try to identify instructionals that cover topics that you already understand somewhat. When you are comfortable in a position, you will have a realistic mental picture of it. You will understand what is physically possible from there, which will help you be aware of what you must do to make the move work.

Mental Drilling

This sounds like a silly idea, but I claim this is the only way retain more than a cursory understanding without physically drilling.

The ability to create and manipulate mental images is a difficult cognitive task. The interaction of two human bodies is very complex, and it takes practice to create a mental simulation. Without physical experience in a certain position, it is practically impossible to simulate it accurately.

That said, if you can create this mental image you can start manipulating it in order to learn new variations on the position. Try watching the video through and then going back to a specific transition or position that you found interesting. Watch it through a couple of times; don’t hesitate to pause and rewatch specific segments. Even play it back at different speeds if you need to.

Then close your eyes and try and imagine yourself in that position. Be as detailed as possible. Work your way through the technique that you’ve learned, trying as much as possible to figure out where you’ll encounter physical resistance.

The biggest problem with mental drilling is that you will, without realizing it, picture yourself moving in a way which is physically impossible. You will be inhumanly flexible or long or short or dexterous. You will picture your opponent weightless and compliant. Do your best to create an accurate simulation and little by little, add in all the problems you will run into.

When possible, try and physically perform some of the movements as well. Obviously you can’t do this in every situation, and it is of limited utility even when you can. But still, at least having some physical feedback on the limitations of one of the people in your simulation can help you get started.


We all love Jiu Jitsu, and not being able to train sucks. Many people will tell you not to dwell, to move on to something new. But sometimes, especially when you are going through a hard time, you just need something familiar to cope. Try and stay as active as possible to avoid getting depressed. One day we’ll all be back on the mats.