I’ve been taking notes on jiu jitsu now for nearly a year, and in that time I have learned several valuable points that has helped improve my note taking in class. Some of this may be VERY OBVIOUS, but for me, it was a huge learning process. I wanted to share my 7 tips about taking notes in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class in hopes that you can find a tip that can help you improve your own note taking.

First, why I take notes:

  1. My memory is crap. The physical act of writing down something means I have that much more of a chance to remember it. It’s bad enough that if I’ve learned 3 moves during class and we’re asked to do all 3, I usually can’t remember all 3.
  2. It helps me be able to talk about jiu jitsu. This is where I’ve found the biggest gains. I remember trying to describe something we were working on in class. I felt like an idiot because I couldn’t talk about physical actions in a meaningful way. Now I can.
  3. It helps me take my jiu jitsu seriously. For ME, if I just show up at class, do the moves and go home, it feels no different than if I were going to an aerobics class or going out for a run. When I am diligently trying to LEARN something, I mentally need a notebook for me to indicate to myself that I’m taking it seriously. Remember my personal frustrations – feeling like I’m often the worst student in the class? For me, this is also a way to demonstrate to myself, my instructor, and my fellow students that jiu jitsu IS important to me, even if it doesn’t always show on the mats. 
  4. It’s record keeping. I’m a huge fan of record keeping. If someone asks – what did we learn in class two days ago, I can look. If my coach says “Hey – I haven’t seen you here much” I can show him that I was taking some classes at one of our affiliates.
  5. It’s a tool for the future. When I went to Ukraine for vacation, I didn’t have any notes. Everything was in my head, and when my drilling partner asked “Hey, what have you been learning” everything had fallen out of my head. Had I had my notebook, I could have reviewed, strengthened, or even showed him what I’d been learning.

What initiated my note taking journey was my  West Coast Tour. I hit as many jiu jitsu academies as humanly possible in a very short period of time. I took a BJJ class the night before my trip, then when the plane landed in San Diego from Seoul, I dropped my things at my aunts, and went over to University of Jiu Jitsu. The following day I took another class, Sunday, another, etc

I love my BJJ notebook!

Previously, I had  resisted taking notes – I had such a difficult time wrapping my head around what was being done physically in jiu jitsu class, that translating jiu jitsu into plain English seemed impossible for me.

However, for my trip I decided to be diligent and take as many notes as possible. My results were inconsistent at best.

By the time I met up with DirtyRancher, a brown belt friend of mine from Jiu Jitsu Forums, I was on my 8th class in under a week and jet lagged on top of it. Perhaps not a big deal to you, but for a fat, out of shape woman, it is. ^_^

DR offered to drill some of the things I’d learned. I looked at my notes and found this :

Vague at best.

Thankfully, DR was a brown belt, and so he was able to take this crazed white belt with jibberish scribbled down and translate it back into jiu jitsu.

1. Notes are a different medium.
The problem WAS that my jiu jitsu notes were not stand alone notes. Instead, this was the technique I used in class to verbally walk myself through a technique – my mnemonic device, which is PERFECT for putting it in my short term memory arm, knee, foot, post, leg over, armbar. It’s terrible for trying to reconstruct later. What position is this from? Where do you put your arm? 

Compare with my notes now:

Still somewhat coded, but I know what the coding means

There are more physical descriptions, I included where to grab, what the partner is doing, if I’m in defensive or offensive position, etc. Essentially, I can take my notes nowadays and know exactly what I’m talking about.

2. Develop your own language.
Create your own codes, verbal shortcuts, your own phrases – whatever will help you know exactly what you are talking about. I know EXACTLY what I mean when I say: Wax off his hand until it’s trapped in your armpit. Here are some of mine:

  • P = partner
  • Eating grapes = scarf
  • Wax on = circle arms/legs in
  • Wax off = circle arms/legs out
  • Elbow fat = that meaty part behind the elbow
  • Saulo prayer = both hands on your chest
  • Saulo defense = holding the biceps
  • 4 in 1 out = gripping with the fingertips
  • Fonzie = when you are defending and holding your hand to your head/hair. Ayyyyy!
  • Drive left = when you are gripping two points of your partner and you turn them like a steering wheel

3. Use pictures/sketches.
It helps if I can have my partner hold still or if I can pause a video.

My partner graciously modeled this using my legs.

Sometimes they’re super fast sketches. If I’m jotting down notes during class I use txtspk.

Sometimes they’re much more detailed:

My goal NOW when making these note books is to learn and be able to recreate things. Perhaps your goal is different.

4. Write down mistakes.
This was the biggest change – as you can see in the last picture I wrote: Mistake – grabbing wrong side gi. One thing I realized a long time back was that my instincts are all wrong. I need to train these instincts. Unfortunately I’m not aware of them. Sometimes if you can realize what you’re doing wrong it can help you do it right. So I write down the things that my instructor corrected with me, the points I felt confused about, because I guarantee that were I trying to recreate this, I’d likely still make those same mistakes.

If I am observing a class, I’ll write down the mistakes I see other people make, or how the instructor corrects them. Or, if the class is stopped and the instructor makes an entire-class correction, it means that he’s observed many people making this mistake. I also write that down.

5. Take simple notes during class, detailed ones after.
While I was benched for 6 months, doing observation only, I would video the class, then while people drilled, I would watch and pause the video, taking careful notes.

If I try to write down too many details during class, it prevents me from fully paying attention. What I will do is jot down the big ideas during class, then after class sit down and write out everything. The cool thing about doing this – I have a bad memory. So when I try to recall things, it forces me to remember it better than when I’m actually doing it.

Hand – cannot – grab – pen – tired – muscles.

6. Be systematic.
I use a 4 color pen. I find that having different colors is extremely helpful in separating points, drawing attention to something, or creating a more visually organized note. I always try to put the mistakes or the important point! in another color.

I also now have a way to deal with how moves are shown. It took me a while on this one, but I just recently got my system down. In classes, videos and books, the instructor will often show a basic move, then variations on that, but the beginning part is always the same. Here’s now my notes now reflect that:

The example above is from Saulo’s book Jiu Jitsu University. I take notes all the way through the first technique. Then I draw a line between what is the base for all the variations, and put a number next to each ending. So in the above picture you can see that side control drills are the same until after the hip escape, so I draw a line after hip escape, then put a 1 next to what comes after – the all 4s, then I put a space and a 2 next to the second variation.

7. Bonus! For the potential teachers!
I don’t do this in my jiu jitsu classes because I’m not planning to teach jiu jitsu. However, if I were looking to do that, I would take notes differently by only 1 point. My notes would not simply contain CONTENT, but I would also take notes on the FORMAT.

My notes are content notes. They’re about the moves and jiu jitsu, period. However, format notes contain teacher notes. Teacher notes can be about any of the following:

  • How the teacher demonstrated the move: was it with everyone gathered around, on one side, etc.
  • How the teacher monitored: did he check in with everyone? just those who needed help? did he ignore the newbies?
  • How the teacher paired people together: were there two new white belts together and also two upper blues together – was this okay or did the coach split them up?
  • How did the teacher correct the students?
  • What was my reaction as a student OR what were the students’ reactions?
  • What activities did the students love?
  • Did everyone get enough time to drill?
  • How many minutes spent on warmups, drills, instructions, etc.

I do this when I observe English teachers or when I go to conferences. These are notes I took during a KOTESOL conference:

I fold my paper over by 1/3, draw a line, then in the largest section I take content notes, and in the smaller section I take format notes. The smaller section can sometimes also be random notes to myself, ideas for lessons, brain dump, etc. Sometimes they’re completely unrelated to content, sometimes they contain my partner’s names, sometimes they are ideas for my own lessons, or observations on the class, the teacher-student interaction, etc.

Do you take notes in your jiu jitsu class? Why or why not? Do you have any other helpful hints to share? Things you’ve learned along the way? Were any of these ideas helpful?