I remember The Buddy System from field trips as a grade schooler. The teacher would make sure everyone had a buddy for the day as a way to ensure that everyone completed the journey together. This same Buddy System in BJJ is essential for growth as well!
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is confusingly “an individual, team sport.” We can’t improve in a vacuum by ourselves. Great training partners are essential to our growth.
You won’t have a formal “pact” with a training partner to create The Buddy System. This is just a framework of thinking about your training partners to optimize your individual journey. Collaborate with them to maximize improvement for you both.
Why Set Up A Buddy System For BJJ
Method Of Measurement
It can be hard to measure our improvement in Jiu Jitsu. The trail markers become very hard to read. I could feel like I am stagnated when I am actually improving.
When I talk with grapplers frustrated with their progress I use the example of a yard stick on the door frame during childhood. As kids grow, their parents put a notch to show how tall they were last year, versus where they are now. Day to day, it is hard to see much change, but over time, the results are undeniably impressive.
The measuring stick for Jiu Jitsu is usually our performance against other grapplers at our academy in general. This ever changing metric makes for a fuzzy view of our progress.
Each individual improves over time, but the growth rates also vary. If we compare ourselves to one person one week, and another the next we have inaccuracies. One grappler may be in the middle of an individual growth spurt at that time and the other grappler may be stuck on an especially resilient problem in their game.
Jiu Jitsu practitioners forget that their training partners are also constantly improving. They are on the escalator of improvement with you and as you are going up, they are too.
I falsely think that if I am tapping him twice per round, as I get better I should tap him four times per round, and then six and so on. This is a moving target.
My training partners as a group are improving in various ways even as I am getting better. They aren’t a reliable measuring tool. Instead of using the group in general, I pick out a single person.
This person is how you will measure your progress. You know they are getting better. So if you are keeping pace with them, that means you are improving too. Feel relief in the fact that you are on the right path.
Once you have pitted yourself against a friendly rival, you will have motivation for days when you just aren’t feeling like training. Eating healthier, drinking more water, getting more sleep, and studying technique all become easier.
Skipping class doesn’t make much sense when you are pacing yourself against your buddy. If you aren’t there, your buddy probably is, and he’s getting better. You can’t let him get too far ahead of you.
Finding the right person to buddy up would actually naturally happen over time if you do nothing at all to focus on it. However, I feel the earlier you start thinking about training in this way, the faster you can start to maximize improvement.
Jiu Jitsu is a 1 on 1 sport. It only makes sense to set your training up with another 1 that will prepare you the best to achieve your goals.
How To Set Up Your Buddy System For BJJ
What To Look For In A Buddy
- Similar skill level
- Growth focused
- Attends the same training sessions
Similar Skill Level
It is important to be honest here. Don’t be overly egotistical in your abilities and don’t undervalue yourself. Ideally you should be reasonably closely matched in size (one or two weight classes apart maximum).
Look to someone that you have historically gone back and forth with. Maybe you tap him one week and he catches you the next and you stalemate a few weeks, then he pulls ahead for a month, then you leapfrog ahead for 2 months. This is the kind of setup that leads to motivating growth.
Blue belt, unless you are beating brown belts regularly, don’t pick a brown belt because he rolls nice with you. If he turned it on, you’d get smoked. The Buddy System for BJJ should be a mutually beneficial system that helps you both improve faster.
If your potential buddy is a close skill match to you but they are unmotivated, find someone else. The key is you and your training partner are going to encourage each other to improve and use your competition with each other as fuel.
The faster your buddy is going to be improving, the better (so long as you can keep up). If you pick someone way hungrier than you, but you know you won’t be able to find that same hunger in yourself to match them, take a step back. They will only be able to pull you along so far.
If you are focused on improving and your rival is not, then you should also take a step back. You will only be able to push them so far.
Pick someone who is going to stick out the journey and not give up.
Our life and training goals can be constantly changing. As your experience changes, picking a different buddy for the different stages of your journey is essential to sticking the course. You may have a few main training partners that you rely on equally. One is the minimum.
Attends Similar Training Sessions
If you never get to train with your friend, how will you pair up to keep pace on improvement? The more your schedules synch up, the better this system works.
What If No One At My Gym Is A Good Fit?
If you are one of the best grappler on the mats (read “What To Do When You Are One Of The Best Grapplers On The Mat” here), you may have to pick out a nemesis from local competitions instead.
Perhaps someone that is constantly in your division that you have close matches with or even that has beat you. This person will be your fuel to train and your competitive drive and you will check in a few times a year when you face them at tournaments. There are no unbreakable rules when setting up your Buddy System for BJJ.
If you are a black belt instructor at a school you may have to find another black belt in your affiliation or even your professor to meter your improvement with.
What if you are one of the worst grappler’s on the mat? (Read more about that here). Wait for someone new to join and latch on.
How Does The Buddy System For BJJ Change Training?
Establishing this rival is a great way to have a focus in your training. Building great Jiu Jitsu to beat “everyone else” is a little nebulous as far as goals go. Much more immediately achievable and actionable is “find a way to pass Mike’s half butterfly guard.” This is the pathway to building a Jiu Jitsu Style that works for your game.
As you achieve concrete goals you slowly patch your weaknesses and hone your strengths. You either leave your training partner in the dust and find a new one, or he catches up and adds new areas you have to overcome.
If I have made gains on my partner and he is repeating mistakes without knowing it, I must help him improve. There will be a time soon enough when I need help too.
There is no benefit to me in taking someone’s back repeatedly because they don’t know they should be wizzer-ing. I want to work those movements against a high level of resistance so my performance is ever improving. My training partner should help me become the best version of myself.
The Buddy System for BJJ In Action At The Highest Levels
Once I began thinking about The Buddy System in BJJ as a framework for improvement I noticed examples of it at the highest levels. Some easy examples of successful buddy system training partners we all know about: Kim and Caio Terra, Joao and Paulo Miyao, Gary Tonon and Eddie Cummings, Nick and Nate Diaz, Gui and Rafa Mendes, tons of jiu jitsu couples and others.
Many of those I named are related by blood with their “Jiu Jitsu Buddy,” but this isn’t necessary. The blood relation typically makes sense because they attend the same training sessions often starting as kids when their parents take them. Competition is always intense between siblings so that element is definitely accounted for.
Everyone on a team always works hard together to improve, but typically there will be one or two people who will pull the best out of you. Spend as much time possible with them and encourage their growth as well and the results will be exponential.
Now go get a training partner and get better.