When you first start training in jiu-jitsu it's obvious that one of the main things you need to do is learn lots of techniques and build up knowledge of all the positions. Learning totally new techniques becomes less important as you become more experienced (although there are always new things to learn) but something which is important from day one is refining the techniques you already know.
So how can you go about refining techniques? Not just by repetition, but that does have it's place. Drilling with an experienced partner who can give you the correct situation to hit the technique in a realistic manner is the best way to do this. As long as you can perform the technique correctly, doing it at high speed (without becoming loose) will mean your reactions and movement will get better and better.
However, the best place to refine your technique is the place where you use it... in a full resistance situation. Obviously competition isn't really the best place to try to refine technique, although you certainly can if you want to (and there is definitely a place for it for some people... regular competitors with big aspirations), so this is going to be done in sparring. But exactly how should you go about it?
The most important thing is to try to take physicality of any sort out of it. So aim to perform the technique successfully without relying on strength, flexibility or speed. Now, it's impossible to remove these attributes totally... you have to move your body to perform techniques, grip strength is a big part of gi jiu-jitsu and if you are highly flexible it's hard to judge what is within the normal limit. There are ways to minimise use of attributes though;
- slow yourself down. The slower you perform a technique the more control you need. If you can take longer than necessary to do something then it shows that you aren't leaving any gaps where escapes become possible. Doing things slower will also help you become more aware of what people try to do to escape or prevent your attack; every time you move on in the transition think about what your partner/opponent is trying to do... what are you doing that prevents it? Where can you feel that they have movement and what can you do to to shut it down? Taking your time to go through these things in your head will really help you understand what are the most important aspects to the technique.
- concentrate on overall body position, especially your hips. Make sure you're always putting your hips in the best position possible, get fully onto your side if applicable... this should make sure you're never having to stretch and aren't relying on flexibility to put your feet where you want them.
- only use easy movements. If you need to forcefully push or pull to move a limb or reposition somebody then you're definitely using strength. If you can use your whole body with good leverage then most of your movements should be easy. Don't get me wrong, when people are fully resisting and are a similar level to you, this is very hard to do... but those are not the sort of people to refine your technique on.
So doing those things will help you concentrate on using proper technique not just physicality, but there is plenty more you can do to refine your technique...
Once you know a technique well you will know the points where escapes tend to happen and the technique can break down. So look at these points and work on them. Get to a stage where you've had a lot of people escape and then gradually release the control and pressure you have. This will help in a few ways... you will start to learn exactly how much space people need to escape and you'll learn all the different escapes which people use from there. Then by letting people escape you can work on ways to shut down the escapes or to counter them into different techniques or variations of the original.
Also look at each position or transition involved and think what other techniques involve similar stuff. Doing this can help you realise that there are better ways to move during the technique; maybe thinking of your hip movement during a rolling armbar will help you get a much better hip position and angle on your triangle from back control. You'll also start seeing new ways to transition into and set-up the technique; maybe your favourite back take x-guard is also possible off a guard pass etc
Finally, if you're working on a submission, try to constantly reduce the amount of pressure or movement you have to apply to get a tap. The reasons for this should be obvious.
Ok, that wasn't finally... something I haven't covered is that you need to pick who to try this on carefully. As I sort of touched on, if someone is able to give you a really tough fight they are not the best to try this stuff on. To start with you need to pick people that you can control fairly easily, but you want to make them as high level as possible so that you get good reactions to whatever you're trying. There is no point refining your technique on a 1 week white belt who will be doing everything wrong. Whatever level you start using to refine your technique (which will vary depending on your level) you should always look to advance to doing it on higher levels as you get better at it. This should, in fact, be a natural progression and is the very reason for refining technique in the first place... you get better at doing a technique by refining it on a white or blue belt, so then you can use the technique on blue or purple belts, then you can start refining it on them and so on...
So with these thoughts in mind, next time you're training pick a technique you know fairly well and see how you can work on making it even better. Enjoy!