Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On Taking Notes

“All right guys, do you remember the new verbs we learned yesterday?”
Silence. Dead silence.
“Okay, let's look at our notes from yesterday to see if that jogs our memory.”
Not a rustle of paper in the group of twenty.
“Okay, then, take out your notebooks—you’re going to want to take notes on these.”
Not a hair of movement in the whole class, and twenty blank faces staring at me. Was I speaking English? They seemed not to think so.
“Don't you keep notebooks?” I asked warily.
That got a few mumbles from my mostly-junior class. “Er, ummm . . . .” Some glances down at the shoelaces.
I launched onto my soap box and discussed the brain biology behind learning, how we actually learn by trying to remember—that’s what stretches the brain’s pathways to information.
By this time a notebook or two had appeared. “Hey, when you really want to remember something, and it’s important, if you write it down, then you can look back at it and it will help you remember it. You know,” I confessed, “I always jot down notes when I come back from jiu jitsu. Even though it’s not academic, it’s a sport, I come home and review what I have learned. I put it in a notebook so I can look back at it later, because it is important to me.”
“What?” A student gasped incredulously. “You take notes after your jiu jitsu class? That takes all the fun out of it!”
Sure, if “fun” is defined as repeating the same mistakes over and over again, struggling to remember that great move you thought would totally open up your game, and getting caught in the same submission class after class after class, then, yes, fun removed.

When I started jiu jitsu, I didn’t write down anything. I saw the blogs and the logs of jiu jitsu practitioners’ classes and I reacted like that gasping student, without the gasps. Jiu jitsu was supposed to be a break from have-tos and shoulds. If I came home and took notes, I was just adding another chore to my already too-long list. I understood why people did it, but that wasn’t for me.
I grudgingly started taking a few notes at the urging of a fellow student. I struggled with the best way to organize my notebook, but in the end realized that just getting something down was the most important part.
            I still am not consistent in my notes. I take them when I see something I really don’t want to forget. And the visuals. How do you put in words exactly how to move your body in this jiu jitsu way? My notes are filled with stick figures in weird embraces. And I have quirky little names and abbreviations for different sides and movements. When I look back at my notes, I have to decipher my own code. 
Trying to remember what I meant when I wrote the notes, I mentally go through the move, practicing it one way, now another. I must have meant this way, I think to myself, and then redo the move in my mind until it makes sense. That is what helps me learn.


  1. I don't necessarily check my notes after I've written them (though I do for teaching class, as I'll always write reminders to myself in the previous write-up). However, the act of writing down the notes, and the fact I know I'm going to write stuff up, makes me think more carefully about techniques.

    At the mo, I've got a massive backlog, as I did around 20 lessons at the BJJ Globetrotters camp. Lots of writing in my immediate future! ;)

    1. Glad you have written your backlog from camp. I have enjoyed those posts. Especially because I know one of the instructors.

    2. Cool, thanks! Which instructor do you know? They were all excellent teachers. :)


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