Forgetting techniques is like peeing in the shower: you think you’re the only one who does it, but really, everyone does it.
No, you’re not stupid, and this forgetfulness doesn’t inherently mean you have a cognitive problem — in fact, it’s pretty normal. Some people can see a technique once and immediately begin to rep it like they’ve been doing it their whole lives, but many of us will forget how to do it (or even what we did in class at all) within 24 hours of seeing it. Heck, plenty of BJJ students can almost feel the technique evaporate from their brains the moment after the class claps and breaks up to drill the movement with their partners.
The realization that you forget, like, everything you learn in class is frustrating and embarrassing, and the shame only increases the longer you train. You may feel like a sham, having been promoted multiple times without figuring out how to make Monday’s technique stick in your brain until Thursday. You may feel like you’re wasting all your hard-earned cash on lessons that you aren’t really even learning. You might even feel like jiu-jitsu simply isn’t for you.
Jiu-jitsu is such a combination of mental and physical education, though, that it’s unrealistic to expect yourself to remember all the details to a technique the first time you see it. Think of it like you’re learning a language: you can’t expect to remember twenty new vocabulary words after seeing them once, and you certainly couldn’t string together a sentence with a grammatical concept the first time you learned about it. But as you start to learn how the words and concepts work together, you’ll be able to see them as pieces of a puzzle, and as you become more fluent in the language, new words and ideas will integrate themselves more smoothly into your speech.
In BJJ, the idea is the same. You probably won’t remember everything (or, you know, anything) about a technique the first time you see it, but once you see it again in the future, it will likely make a lot more sense to you. Even trying to integrate it into your rolling can help you “connect the dots” better, allowing you to refine and improve on it when you see it again later down the line.
If simply waiting for your understanding and memory of techniques to improve isn’t enough for you, there are other ways you can improve your retention. However, figuring out what works best for you can require some experimentation. Visual learners may find that videoing themselves drilling the technique (or even finding an instructional on YouTube) can help them remember it better, while other people may have better luck keeping a jiu-jitsu diary and writing down what they learned in every class. Even something as simple as trying to recall the technique on your daily commute can help keep it fresh in your mind so you don’t go weeks without thinking about it.
Above all, try not to beat yourself up if your lesson retention is way worse than your guard retention. Everyone goes through this journey at their own pace and in their own way, and just because it takes you a little longer to mentally grasp a movement doesn’t mean that you’ll never understand or remember it.
By Averi Clements