Jiu Jitsu can be dynamic, fluid, fun and beautiful. When you train with the right mindset, it feels like a game. In fact, the first English-language book on Jiu Jitsu was actually titled The Game of Jiu Jitsu. At Zenyo Jiu Jitsu, we apply a training method that will help you improve faster than you thought possible, have a ton of fun and stay healthy while doing it. Why? Because it’s based in science.
Modern sports science has taken a radical break from traditional training methods. Examined under the lens of research, much sports and martial arts training fails to measure up. Mindless repetition, static drilling, compliant partners: all these things are not supported by research.
Muscle memory isn’t a thing. Your brain being able to make good decisions in all circumstances is.
That’s why at Zenyo we’ve moved away from traditional approaches. We are part of the movement, guided by modern sports science research, against the separation of technique and skill. At Zenyo, we put the learning and doing in Jiu Jitsu back together. Our training is now based around live interaction with a partner in an unscripted way. The science of training shows this is the best way to develop functional, adaptable, creative behavior.
Jiu Jitsu means the gentle art. Zenyo means best use. Our training could be described as the gentle art of best use.
We just call it the Zenyo Game.
Get In The Game
• How To Play: The Zenyo Game is run with one person always helping the other during training. Help your partner get stuff on you, like an armbar or choke, and try to work your way out. The game should be smooth and the goal is non-stop movement that you can sustain at a pace for 20 minutes to an hour. The focus is on the brains, balance and beauty of Jiu Jitsu — not just the brawn.
• Elements of the game: Help, Beauty, Brains and Balance. Notice that brawn is left out. Save trying to be a beast for your hard training sessions. The bulk of training should be fun and easy.
• Why it works: The reason the Zenyo Game is so great at developing skill is that it combines all the research of modern sports science into one activity. Below, let’s look into the elements that make the game so important in developing the skills of Jiu Jitsu.
Sarah and Terrence playing the Zenyo Game.
Good training has a sound—laughter. I know that good things are happening when I hear laughter during training. My own favorite memories of training involve playing around with technique and goofing off during rolling.
As a blue belt, I got to train with a multiple-time world champion. He swept me with the same sweep – butterfly — into the same submission — triangle — three times in a row. He went for it a fourth time and while I tried to block it with all my might, I looked at him and said, “no, no no, no.” He laughed and said, “yes, yes, yes, yes.” We both had a great time training and laughing.
It felt like play. Now I realize it was. Good training is play.
Psychologist David Elkind says, “Play is not only our creative drive; it’s a fundamental mode of learning.”
Look at the best athletes in history—they all loved to play.
The Zenyo Game is fun and full of play. You get in a lot of trouble and then see if you can get out, which makes training exciting. It’s rewarding and makes you want to do more.
Play more, learn more, improve more.
One element stands out in research more than all others—psychological safety.
It may seem unusual to talk about safety in Jiu Jitsu—a martial art that in its nature is potentially dangerous—but it is critical to training success. You do best when you feel free to explore, make mistakes, fail and not worry about the risk of looking bad or getting smashed by some hulk. If you are not stretching your boundaries and challenging yourself in training because you don’t feel comfortable opening up, then you are unlikely to spark meaningful development.
“What’s going to happen is that the athlete is going to avoid taking any risks,” says Dr. Mustafa Sarkar, Associate Professor of Sport and Performance Psychology at Nottingham Trent University. “When we take risks, we’re more creative, more innovative.”
The Zenyo Game helps you to be brave and take risks because your partner will help you recover and not punish you for making mistakes.This works both ways. You help your partner get into a move, an armbar maybe, and you help yourself work to get out.
By helping others to win, you win.
You need help learning Jiu Jitsu. But help may not be what you think. It’s not your instructor or Internet videos telling you exactly what to do. Help is your partner working with you in an unscripted manner so that you can see what you know and try new things. Your partner acts as a guide as you start to form your Jiu Jitsu as an expression of yourself. You get to play with creating the art in Jiu Jitsu.
“There’s a lot of research on physical guidance being a hindrance to learning. . . Cause you’re not actually learning. Someone is kind of doing it for you,” researcher Nicola Hodges says.
When you practice, you want your partner to react in an unscripted manner, like in a real match. But you won’t be able to learn if they use the same amount of force that they would in a real match. In the Zenyo Game, you remove the level of force so you can pick up valuable information that will benefit you later during hard sparring. Your partner helps you see what is happening in front of you and gives you opportunities for action. During regular rolling, you might not ever get a chance to try an armbar against a resisting partner. But in the game, you might get 20 to 30 attempts.
The volume of what you do in this kind of training is so much greater that your experience level expands exponentially from class to class.
Many neuroscientists believe that movement is the basis of human learning, that the brain learns through movement.
“We have a brain for one reason and one reason only – that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements,” writes Daniel Wolpert, a professor of engineering at the University of Cambridge and a leading researcher on human motor control.
As you move, you experience more and start to see other possibilities for action in the environment. The Zenyo Game encourages movement, not the holding and stalling that can be common in Jiu Jitsu. During the game, your are moving all the time. The game helps you become fluid and light.
Don’t worry about needing to figure everything out first. A significant piece of important research from sports science is that in complex systems like Jiu Jitsu, you know as you go, not before.
Anthropologist Tim Ingold, who has spent his life researching how people become skilled, notes that attention, timing and movement are not skills that can be taught. They can only be developed through experience and they distinguish experts from beginners.
“By paying attention,” he writes, “experts can tune their movements to the ever-varying conditions of a task as it unfolds in practice. They can tell precisely the right moment at which to make a move, when the forces that bear upon the success of an enterprise are in favorable alignment.”
In these abilities — “and not in the practiced ability to execute standardized movements with greater speed or ergonomic efficiency” — are where real skill, and beautiful Jiu Jitsu, reside.
To get good at Jiu Jitsu, you need a lot of time.
Most people could be great but quit long before they are because training is too rough and hard to be sustainable.
Hobbyists try to train like pros, like beasts, but overlook that most champions spend the bulk of their time doing light training.
A general rule is that 80 percent of your training should be spent in an easy, fun way, while 20 percent should be hard sparring. Non-productive training focuses too much on the beast of training and not enough on the beauty.
The Zenyo Game is sustainable for the long term. It won’t beat you up and break you down like training hard all the time. It will keep you fresher and allow you to avoid the typical force escalations that turn rolls into death matches.
Get in the game with a helpful partner and watch as both of you jump to the next level in Jiu Jitsu.
Training in The Zenyo Game At Zenyo Jiu Jitsu In Baltimore. The reason the Zenyo Game is so great at developing skill is that it combines all the research of modern sports science into one activity. The game is fun, unscripted, fluid, supportive, and sustainable.
Best in the world: Watch Olympic legends Dave Schultz and John Smith train using a style of the game.
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“Class is amazing. Everyone that is a part of it loves the way you teach. I don’t think most of us had an experience like this before. It’s new and surprising!” Max Von Der Decken, Jiu Jitsu student at Zenyo for five years.