So I’ve been reading a ton of books by A.J. Jacobs, author of My Life as an Experiment (aka The Guinea Pig Diaries), The Year of Living Biblically, and various other books where he practices some random experiments, usually for a month each, which aids him on his quest to become a better person, or a smarter person, or a more literally biblical person (despite his atheism). Anyway, A.J. Jacobs is not the only one. Johnny B. Truant spent 2011 detailing various one-month experiments on his blog, and Julie Kucinski recently started her year of 30-day experiments.
I secretly embarked on my own journey quietly, only mentioning it to a few. I decided to spend a month not watching BJJ instructional videos, to be a clean slate, or, in the words of BJJ black belt Chris Haueter, to absorb myself in the three-dimensional real body art. This coincided with starting training in a new gym (which happens to have really great fundamentals classes), so I thought it’d work out well. It also coincided with my receipt of Emily Kwok’s new DVD set, which was a major bummer.
Compliance was fairly good. At first, I thought I’d not watch any BJJ DVDs or YouTube, but then I decided I could still watch matches as long as I did not watch instructionals. Although I couldn’t resist watching a few short videos demonstrating drills or submissions, I did not spend time watching DVDs and taking notes, or specifically working on strategies to improve my game. I decided to save that for my own physical experiences and what my coaches have shown me in class.
Challenges: Aside from not getting to watch DVDs I already have, I did feel a bit left out skipping out on the newest clips everyone was looking at. And though I had also decided not to read instructional manuals or materials, I completed several book reviews with an eye on what was in the material, as opposed to what I personally wanted to learn from and investigate in it. It isn’t easy to look at material solely this way, as I usually juggle what is personally interesting to me and what might be useful to others (there is usually some overlap).
Observations: I believe this experiment is best done when embarked on by choice. In the distant past, I’ve trained at academies that ban watching YouTube or DVDs or even reading non-affiliated magazines. In many ways, it makes sense–if you are trying to instill certain habits in a new student, why would you want them to get distracted by other materials? And there’s always the chance that the materials are either outdated, incomplete, or describe techniques poorly. This might make it difficult for a student to actually get something out of it. On the other hand, when people tell me I’m not allowed to read or watch something… I want to cry censorship and fight it tooth and nail. It is helpful to be training at an academy that is solid and where questions are answered and technique is at your level. If I wasn’t, I might have felt the need to seek outside information.
Benefits: Avoiding the awkwardness of asking a coach about something you watched which may be different from what they’re showing. It depends on where you go, and what the approach is, but I think it has the possibility of putting people in an awkward position where they feel the need to justify not teaching a technique, or it can put them on the spot if they’re not familiar with the technique (or don’t recognize it because you’re showing it all wrong.) If you’re really dumb, you’ll get in a debate with someone when they say the technique is crap and you’ll point out that your DVD was made by a 5X world champion, and on and on it goes: annoying and unproductive.
What I Learned: It is possible to learn more from feeling than watching. I’m not much of a visual learner anyway, but training fundamentals (along with taking notes and trying to reflect on what was taught each class) and then trying to work on specific things from the week during open mat really does work. When I look at my notes from classes for the past month, I’ve really picked up on a large amount of new things, and many of them have carried over to my training. I also think it’s better to really delve into a few techniques than it is to try to collect dozens of them.
Going Forward: I can’t say I’m going to continue my YouTube and instructional DVD fast, but I’m less obsessed with getting through my collection as quickly as possible. I’ve also been training 4-6 days a week, though, with amazing coaches, great training partners and more information than my little brain can handle… so it’s kind of like my own personal live YouTube channel. There is no reason to not approach my growing collection as supplementary material for real live instruction. This has not always been the case, though, so I’m feeling incredibly grateful to be where I’m at.
Have you played around with intentionally avoiding instructional videos? Leave your thoughts in the comments!