When you go to a doctor for an ailment, you generally have a list of symptoms ready when the doctor asks what's wrong. The doctor may ask questions or run tests to rule things out and get a more precise sense of what could be wrong. Based on this information, the doctor will provide a treatment plan.


This process all hinges on you, the patient, giving the doctor clear information every step of the way. If I were to show up to my doctor's office and say, "Doc, I don't feel good," and was unable to provide any more specific information than that, my doctor would have no idea where to even begin to address my problems.


This article is for people who are looking to obtain that clarity so they can improve in their practice, whatever it is. The approach I will discuss is especially useful if you have a coach or are a coach working with an athlete or student. I find it particularly valuable for practicing natural movement skills in a complex environment where there are a lot of variables to account for.

Internal perception is a valuable skill for natural movement.

You think you move like Spiderman, but is your perception a reality?

Don't Ignore the Details

Like the example of the doctor and patient, when I teach Brazilian jiu jitsu or MovNat lessons, I need my students to provide specific information about what works and is not working in their personal practice. I need to know how a choke is working in BJJ practice or how a pop up is working for my students when they try to climb various types of trees.


More than this, I need specific information about what happened when they attempt these movements, especially when the context is complex. If I'm told a choke didn't work because the opponent used his or her left hand to cup my student’s right biceps to block, then I can help. If I'm told the student was unable to do a tuck pop up onto a tree branch because it was a particular type of tree with extremely smooth and slippery branches, then I can suggest a more appropriate technique for ascending.


So how can I get the most accurate information from my students? I know from my own practice how difficult it can be to know what went wrong in a technique. Maybe I simply cannot remember, or maybe I don't know. Or perhaps I have an unclear and inaccurate picture of what happened in a situation. Without this accurate information, I’ll have a hard time giving or requesting feedback.


Here are two methods I use to obtain accurate information from students and in my own practice.


1. Video

The most obvious way to get accurate information is to videotape your sessions. The benefit of video is it does not lie. You can see almost exactly what happened, at least on a gross surface level. You can also refer back to it endlessly (provided you don't accidentally erase your footage on a regular basis like I do) and measure your progress with each iteration of video taping. It's also pretty easy to video your sessions, given the wide availability of smart phones with decent quality cameras.


There are a few downsides to video, though. First of all, relying too much on video makes it easier to outsource the work your brain should be doing. It’s kind of like how relying on a calculator can make it easier to let your long division skills atrophy.


Another downside is it can be hard to capture small, nuanced movement on video. You also really can't capture how something feels on video. Both of these are important aspects of performance.


2. Internal Video

The second method I focus on with my students is developing an "internal video camera.” This is a skill to be developed over time. The idea is to develop a more and more accurate and clear sense of exactly what happened during a Brazilian jiu jitsu match or movement session. Internal video also improves your ability to remember it afterwards.


Relaying specific information to your coach helps improve movement flaws.

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At first you will likely remember big, fuzzy shapes and rough outlines of the major parts of what happened, but with practice and focus, you begin to sharpen the picture and remember with more and more clarity. The process begins with me asking my students directed questions. "Exactly what happened when you tried to choke Angie?" or, "What was the hardest part of climbing the tree the other day?" I explain to them why I am asking this, and over time I get better and better answers which I can work with.


This technique trains my students to develop a strong awareness of what exactly is happening during their matches, which also develops intense focus. My students develop a sense of how the movements work and what each part of the movement does. This is a crucial part of teaching my students how to solve their own problems, and it gives me a sense of how well they grasp the techniques and concepts we are practicing. It also helps fine-tune the students’ visualization abilities, which are a valuable part of practice, particularly when you are injured or unable to train. These are the elements I feel are outsourced by relying too heavily on video footage.

Combining the Two

The major problem with the internal video camera is it can be wildly inaccurate. This is why it's important to combine actual video with this approach so you can make sure what you think is happening is actually happening. My brief forays into the world of muay Thai practice are a perfect example of this. In practice, I often felt like my technique was perfect and beautiful. Rather than slick, powerful techniques executed with feline grace, video footage revealed I more often looked like a drunk six-year-old throwing a temper tantrum on the heavy bag. Mercifully, my coach expressed my need for improvement more kindly.


The task then becomes to close the gap between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing. This is where regular practice of both methods and comparison between the two becomes crucial. If I can match the Josh Vogel in my brain with the Josh Vogel on video, I can get better at giving my coaches more and more accurate information, and in turn, they can provide me with better feedback. And that's the golden combination.


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Photo 1 courtesy of MovNat.

Photo 2 courtesy of Ana Nieves.

Headline photo courtesy of Jorge Huerta Photography.