If you were to sit in the stands at a high school track and see someone at the starting line, then close your eyes for a minute and when you opened them, that person was half-way around the track, you’d assume they walked over there at a fairly leisurely pace. But you couldn’t be sure how they got over there. Perhaps they sprinted the first 100 meters, sat down on the track for 20 seconds to catch their breath and then jogged over. Or perhaps they sprinted almost all the way over, then walked back and forth for a while and when you opened your eyes they were half-way around. All you really know is that where they are now is about 200 meters from where they were when you first saw them.
In some ways, progress in BJJ is like that. If you were to watch me after my first month and then watch me now, you wouldn’t know how I got to where I am, you would only see that I can do a couple things a bit better than I used to. In fact, if you were to watch me training for my first tournament and my training for my next tournament (in just 2 weeks) you’d see progress. What you wouldn’t see is the Paula Abdul phenomenon, where I’d take 2 step forward and then take 2 steps back.
What I’ve noticed in my training is that I will have spurts where I feel like I’m making progress. I may even have higher belts tell me something I did good (a couple weeks ago, I few guys told me that they thought I was getting bettter transitioning from armbar to triangle to oomaplata.) I will have a session where I do a good job avoiding submissions, improving my position or locking in a submission. That will almost certainly be followed by a period where I feel absolutely trapped and I wonder if I’ve learned anything. I lay flat on my back in cross-side, I can’t really get my hips to shrimp away, for some unexplained reason I stick my arm straight out and get armbarred.
I’m making progress, and I don’t doubt that. But it’s not linear by any stretch of the imagination. It’s sprinting forward one week, only to walk backwards the next. The next week I might just be sitting there, and then I slowly jog for a week or two. In the end, I’m still moving around the track, and if you only see me at intervals, you’ll think I’m making steady (if not slow) progress. If you were to watch the day to day progress, you’d see just how much I’m all over the place.