How Do You Set Goals in BJJ?

By Joshua Rozenboom

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most rewarding and frustrating martial arts that one can practice. It is a lifetime journey in which the tangible metrics take years to accomplish, but you can measure your progress in other ways. These measurements may amount to some level of frustration, but by using them as short-term goals, you can get a lot of enjoyment out of the daily grind of training.

Exercise science and sports psychology generally divides athletes into two categories: task-oriented and goal-oriented. Task-oriented athletes are motivated by the rewards of individual exercises, where achieving a particular result motivates goal-oriented athletes. While there are varying opinions as to which one is better, for our purpose we’ll look at how these types of motivation help us move forward with our training.

In BJJ, we’ll use drilling vs. achieving belts as examples. Some of us get enough from showing up every day, learning new techniques and reaping the physical rewards of training. Others may view the next belt level as a goal that motivates them to train, to work on conditioning, or even to compete. The intrinsic reward is not the daily benefits of training, but in working for a particular result. Competitive athletes may set long-term goals of winning the Worlds of Pan-Ams, and gear their training towards that goal.

So, which is better for Jiu Jitsu? That’s up to you. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu falls into an interesting space where participants can practice it for the art, for the exercise, for the achievement of belt promotion, AND for the chance to compete on a regular basis. Any given person may be training for one or all of those reasons. What’s difficult about these motivations is that they’re not always measured on paper, and being part of a huge school means feeling like your personal progress is not being tracked.

So, what kind of small goals can a person set that will help manage expectations? Task-oriented people might feel secure in drilling and sparring, but also feel like they aren’t getting anywhere in their training. Setting a small goal that requires you to focus on a set of particular skills might help add focus to your training, such as mastering triangle or omoplata setups from all positions. You can then adapt your drilling and sparring to that goal, and then move on to the next.

For those interested in a particular result, repetitive technique might seem aimless. Many experienced professors will recommend setting small goals and keeping a journal of your progress. For example, if you find yourself getting bored while drilling techniques and just going through the motions, set a goal of performing the reps with perfect technique, exactly the same way every time. This will slow you down and give you more focus in the moment. Keep track of the inconsistencies and write them down, and watch your improvement day-by-day. Or plan to compete and set a progress marker for your tournament, other than a vague “going for gold”.

Jiu Jitsu is such a complex arrangement of moving parts that we can find endless ways to slow down, focus on the moment, and get the most enjoyment out of our daily training. If you are not the type of person who gets their satisfaction out of simply showing up and working, then put some thought into setting small goals and progress markers to keep things interesting. The best part is that at its simplest, mat time translates to improvement and achievement. However, how you find fulfillment out of that is really up to you!

What tips do you have for goal setting in Jiu Jitsu? Let us know in the comments!