Monday, April 30, 2012

motor learning, part 3

Last weekend was the US Grappling NC state championships, a tournament that I was using as a tune-up before the Mundials. I had some very good competition and ended up taking 2 golds and 2 silvers.  More importantly, the tournament served the two purposes I'd hoped it would - 1) it was a big confidence booster for me and 2) I got plenty of feedback on things to work on before the Mundials.

It also emphasized to me the importance of motor learning in jiu jitsu and pointed out some things that I really need to drill before the Mundials. Which beings me around to FINALLY posting part 3 of my motor learning blogs.

Here's what happened. Before the tournament, knowing that I have trouble taking down larger opponents, I came up with a go-to take down and drilled it about a thousand times. I drilled it with my instructor, my training partners, and my husband at home. Indeed, our house became an unsafe living environment, as I was constantly looking to set up this move. However, all the aforementioned people are right handed, so I drilled it only on the right side. Then at the tournament, my opponent reached for me with her left hand and I absolutely froze. I had no muscle memory for that side. My brain knew what to do, but my body did not. The move was of no use to me. I fumbled around on my feet for a while, before I myself got taken down.

I don't want something like this to happen to me at the Mundials. When I am adrenaline charged and rolling at tournament intensity, I know that the only moves that I have in my arsenal are those that I have successfully replicated time and again in practice. So as I step up my drilling these next few weeks, I will keep the following principles in mind, to maximize results.

  •  The greater the amount of practice, the greater the likelihood that motor learning will occur. This is why drilling is so important. The more you practice a move correctly against no resistance, the greater the likelihood that you can access it during more stressful conditions.
  • Practice should occur as frequently as possible. Four fifteen minute practice sessions spread out throughout the day is more conducive to motor learning than one full hour session. Drill something 5 min a day, everyday, for a week, and you are well on your way to having that move in your repertoire.
  • Variability is important.  Vary the stimuli and the context of a behavior, so that it can occur in different situations. Drilling kamuras from guard is great. But consider drilling kamuras from guard, half guard, and side control if you want to generalize the skill to other contexts. 
  • Target complex, whole movements, instead of simple pieces of movement.  Complex behaviors will generalize to simpler ones, but not vice versa. Drilling advanced moves, even if they seem above your head, can help you sharpen and refine basic movements. 
  • It's better to receive feedback after, not while, a move is being performed. Do your best to talk yourself through it - then find out what you did wrong. If you rely on someone to walk you through it, performance decreases when that someone is no longer there. 
  • Sensory learning is uber important. Paying attention to how a move feels, rather than the mechanics of it, increases the likelihood of motor learning. One of my instructors likes to close his eyes while drilling and sometimes rolling. It seemed silly to me at first and a good way to grab someone's boob or maybe a handful of ass-fabric. That is, until he made me try it. Now I'm a believer.
Of course, I'm not an expert. But these ideas help me teach my kiddos at work to say their S's and R's. So maybe they can help me learn jiu jitsu too.

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