My (budding) system for improving learning in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

So I’m a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt who’s recently discovered mnemonics. I’ve been thinking a fair bit about how this stuff could improve ones ability to memorize techniques. For those unfamiliar with BJJ, it’s a grappling art very similar to Judo. In BJJ there are an incredibly large number of potential techniques once you account for all the possible variations of techniques themselves and setups to techniques. Unfortunately, how to memorize movement doesn’t seem to be the most developed aspect of the art of memory (please prove me wrong if that’s the case), so I’m somewhat starting from scratch.

Now, a common complaint among beginners in BJJ is that its hard to remember all the new moves they are being exposed to. At best, they often only remember a very general motor pattern related to the technique and forget most of the crucial details to its execution - by the next day or next week. Often they can’t remember the move at all and can’t even get the technique started. More advanced students can also have trouble remembering moves. Now, for performance purposes, a general rule is that its better to be really good at a small subset of moves than to know a whole bunch of techniques. However, for instructors it may be necessary to know a larger number of techniques than is required for good personal performance because your students will have a variety of preferences/needs different than yours in terms of what techniques they want to be good at.

For starters, memory palaces don’t seem like a good place to store knowledge about the performance of a specific movement - not to me, anyway. Two methods that seem more appropriate to me are something like a linking system or a Tarot card.

Let me explain what I mean by Tarot cards first. When I see a Tarot card I imagine that there was probably meant to be esoteric knowledge stored in the artwork of the image. So, something that appeals to me is to imagine that for a technique you have one or more Tarot cards that “encode” the details of a technique in a memorable way. For example, if I want to remember the details of a hip throw, I see a Tarot card in my mind that shows two individuals in a clinch. Now lets say that a detail I want to remember is that I need to pinch my opponents arm under my armpit. I could imagine that the drawing of this scenario shows the performer having crocodile teeth under their armpit and its biting their opponents arm. Another detail is that I want to keep my head tight to my opponents chest. So, I see suction cups (like on an octopus’s tentacles) on the persons head and they are attached to the opponents chest/shoulder area. Those are just some examples for encoding the details to the starting position of the technique.

The other thing you could do is use a linking kind of system and imagine exaggerated imagery like the above as you go through the motions of the technique. The person performing the technique will morph (this is the “linking”) in memorable ways dictated by the requirements of the technique.

I see this mnemonic as being helpful for the initial stages of learning. Once you have drilled the technique enough that it becomes part of your muscle memory your Tarot card (or whatever) for the technique can be discarded. Or it can be kept for longer term memory retention for techniques you might want to remember but can’t put the time in for making part of your muscle memory.

Does that make sense? Thoughts?


Hi QiJitsu,

Although I don’t do BJJ, I did do judo when I was young and I have been keenly interested in martial arts, fighting sports and self defense for almost as long as I can remember. Many times I have wondered about the idea that there could be a method for memorizing sequences of body movements.

FWIW, I believe there are systematic methods for choreographing some types of dance. My daughter used to do synchronized swimming and they had standard ways of representing their movements so that they could visualize and practice movements even out of water. Anyway, it seems possible that dancers and synchronized swimmers (and probably figure skaters and others as well) might already have developed useful methods for efficiently learning body movement sequences that might be adaptable to BJJ and martial arts. In a way, it surprises me I have never seen a book on that topic.

Anyway, this is an excellent project. I hope to hear more.



Hi Tarnation,

I’ve seen the suggestion, in dance circles, to use story visualization, i.e. linking.

For example, reach up to grab an apple, then kick a ball, then spin around to avoid a tackle and so on. But I haven’t yet seen any suggestions of making the imagery especially odd like we do in The Art of Memory.

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When you mention some of those things, it reminds me of how in tai chi they have interesting names for moves, “wave hands to part the clouds”, “stroke the horse’s mane”, “kiss the golden monkey’s butt”, and so on.

[Disclosure: I may have made one of those up. :smiley: ]