You have the power to speed up your learning of Jiu Jitsu by a staggering percentage. You don’t have to spend more time on the mat; add extra training days; watch videos non-stop in your free time. You don’t have to do anything extra—you just have to change the way you practice.
By changing the way you approach learning, you can speed up your progress by nearly 1.5 times.
Illusion Of Mastery
The best way to learn anything was probably never taught to you. The way most schools approach learning—demonstration, repetition, concentration — has been empirically shown to be less than effective.
Learning, real learning, is not a passive activity. Learning is active. You do learning. Think of the most significant things you have learned in your life, like walking and talking. No one taught you those things. You learned them by trying, struggling and trying some more.
While teachers mean well in their attempts to help, that approach might not be helpful at all.
“The uncomfortable reality is this,” Peter Brown writes in Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning. “The most effective learning strategies do not feel productive, whereas the less effective strategies we often favor create illusions of mastery.”
“Mastery requires understanding of the concepts behind a (subject), connecting them to what you already know and elaborating on them in your own (way). For memory to be durable, you need to periodically practice retrieving it.”
The best way to learn anything, Brown writes, is by practicing active retrieval — also referred to as forced recall.
In active retrieval, you try to bring information out of your brain, not put it in. You work to remember what you previously studied.
Active retrieval has been shown to be significantly more effective as a learning strategy compared to other passive methods.
Make It Stick details a study where participants learned vocabulary from a foreign language.
Active retrieval practice took performance from nearly total forgetting to extremely good retention (about 80 percent correct) one week after an initial learning experience. Other studies have shown an improvement of over 50% compared to standard learning methods like rereading, memorizing, or group study.
“One of the most striking research findings,” Brown writes, “is the power of active retrieval — testing — to strengthen memory, and the more effortful the retrieval, the stronger the benefit.”
Every time you come to Jiu Jitsu class, and work on skills you have previously practiced without being shown how to do them first by your instructor, you are employing active retrieval.
Real learning is one of the hardest challenges we face in life. As adults, there are few things we will choose to learn that are as difficult as Jiu Jitsu.
“We are poor judges of when we are learning well and when we’re not,” Brown writes. “When the going is harder and slower and it doesn’t feel productive, we are drawn to strategies that feel more fruitful, unaware that the gains from these strategies are often temporary.”
Make It Stick lays out four learning strategies that are backed by research. Try to do things on your own; mix up practice to include more than one element; space practice sessions out and try to recall material without help. Working to recall what you’ve done is key to bringing out what you know, instead of forcing things in.
When you put all four strategies together, they challenge the brain’s learning process. You are creating difficulty for yourself. This difficulty, Brown writes, is actually desirable and solidifies learning, while also strengthening the brain’s capacity for learning new things.
“When you space out practice at a task and get a little rusty between sessions, or you interleave practice of two or more subjects, retrieval is harder and feels less productive, but the effort produces longer lasting learning and enables more versatile application of it in later settings.”
This working to remember — active retrieval — is how you learn. Working to remember builds your brain and ingrains your skills, and is key to successful learning.
“We make the effort because the effort itself extends the boundaries of our abilities,” Brown writes. “What we do shapes who we become and what we’re capable of doing. The more we do, the more we can do.