The best way to progress quickly in Jiu Jitsu is to go slow. Going slow sounds easy, but we are programmed to act fast and think fast. Going slow goes against our nature, but slow-motion training pays off in rapid improvement. That’s because practicing slow builds more than just “muscle memory.” Training slow builds a better brain.
Building Your Brain
How do you get good at Jiu Jitsu — or anything else you wish to pursue? Practice? Hard work? Talent? Good genes?
Author Daniel Coyle answers that questions in his fascinating book — The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown, Here’s How. In writing The Talent Code, Coyle visited some of the best academies in the world for education, music, and athletics. His research took him deep into the world of neurology. Coyle found that excellence is not something we are born with, but something we develop through work.
Not just any kind of work. Not just any kind of practice. But what he calls “deep practice.” Deep — or deliberate — practice is slow, effortful and focused. This kind of practice changes the internal structure of the brain. Practicing in slow motion is the best method to make quick progress.
“Super-slow practice works because practice is about construction,” Coyle writes in his blog. (http://danielcoyle.com/2009/10/15/slow-is-beautiful/)
“We are literally building a neural circuit — connection by connection. Slowing down lets us pay deeper attention to those connections; it lets us fire the circuit more accurately. Super-slow practice allows us to not only perform the action, but to also simultaneously observe that performance; to coach ourselves. When we go fast, on the other hand, we are only performing.”
If the fast path to success is to slow down, why don’t more people practice that way naturally? The answer is that going slow is not easy. Our brains are wired to respond quickly, with little conscious thought. Our brains do not wait for feedback, and then evaluate best options and make a choice. The brain makes predictions about the future, before feedback has time to arrive, and then sends signals to act. If the brain guesses wrong, it’s called a prediction error. (Read more Why Learning Jiu Jitsu Is Not Rocket Science.)
Going slow goes against the grain.
“New students are surprised at the seemingly glacial pace — three or five times slower than they’ve ever gone,” Coyle writes of deliberate practice. The effort in deliberate practice for Jiu Jitsu is not one of physical effort but of mental effort.
Coyle describes students practicing music at a prestigious academy. One teacher, he writes, has a rule of thumb, “If a passerby can recognize the song being played, it’s not being practiced correctly.”
“Going slow allows you to attend more closely to errors, creating a higher degree of precision,” Coyle writes. “Going slow helps the practicer to develop … a working perception of the skill’s internal blueprints — the shape and rhythm of the interlocking skills circuits.”
The best moments in Jiu Jitsu are the aha moments. You’ve been working and working on a skill or problem over and over. At times, it seemed like you would never get it. Then, as if magic, aha!
My experience coaching is that the aha moment is not magic. I see them all the time. Students see them when they are ready. Students start to see them when they learn to tap into the power of slow motion practice. Going slow is a skill and must be worked on just like any skill. At first, students move in regular speed. Instructions to slow down are usually instantly forgotten. With time, they slow down a little. The aha moment comes when they realize what they think is slow is not slow at all.
Once they figure out how to go slow, the real learning starts. Slow motion practice builds more than skill. Slow motion practice builds insight and knowledge.
Going slow gets you there faster.
“Through (slow) practice,” Coyle writes, “students had developed something more important than mere skill; they’d grown a detailed conceptual understanding that allowed them to control and adapt their performance, to fix problems, and to customize their circuits (neural) to new situations.”