For those of you who takes notes or keep a MA diary.

What kinds of things do you write down? Do you try and document each technique into a "database" of technique notes? or do you document each class in a more diary format? For techniques, what kind of format do you write the technique down in? do you use pictures at all? do you find this process useful and make use of these notes later?

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    Can we rephrase the question slightly to make it less of a poll of the community? Aug 14, 2012 at 14:57
  • "What are the disadvantages or advantages of taking notes after class?" Aug 14, 2012 at 15:51
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    I guess it really depends on the person, but I have always been taught that it is impossible to learn Martial arts in theory. The only way to learn is by doing. Same reason Martial arts books can never replace real classes. I guess it depends on the person though. It is possible that it could help you practice at home, but notes are usually used for studying for a written test. In order to be a skilled Martial artist, you have be able to do things in practice, not just in theory. Notes seem to be used for studying theory.
    – Ephraim
    Aug 14, 2012 at 23:29
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    @Ephraim Your comment would make for a great answer. I disagree on some points but it's something that should be one of the answers. Aug 15, 2012 at 14:09
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    @Ephraim - notes are reminders for things you need to focus on. They are "what you are doing" reminders, not a theory body for someone else to read.
    – Andy Dent
    Dec 20, 2012 at 6:37

10 Answers 10


I've found a distinct difference between my note-taking habits at judo and my note-taking habits when dabbling in Brazilian jiu-jitsu or boxing. I think my method makes sense, though I could certainly be rationalizing.

(Remember--I'm not accomplished in any of these disciplines, so taking the opposite of my approach might be called for!)

Judo notes

I rarely take notes for my twice-weekly judo classes. I used to, but it seemed to be a distraction from just buckling down and doing the work. (That was true even if I took notes after class instead of during.) My note-taking tended to devolve into either "this is a way to do X" or "this is the way to do X", both of which were less helpful than just visualizing the technique and how it felt.

I think a large component of this is that judo's actual syllabus is rather simple. I understand that the gokyo and list of official and non-offical but recognized techniques, including groundwork, makes the number close to two hundred. But over and over, we see that there are a few techniques that are wildly more successful than all others: osotogari, seoinage, kouchigari, uchimata, haraigoshi, pick-ups, jujigatame, kesagatame, sangakujime. Some others are common but clearly not in the same class, such as sasaetsurikomiashi, or ouchigari. The art is sublime and complex, but limiting one's practice almost entirely to this subset is a very successful and fairly common approach.

The real place that things get hairy is variations and gripping. There are thousands of these techniques, and in my case they don't seem to get names. "Billy's uchimata", "that grip break from camp", or "Bobby's kouchigari" is as close as we get. Hayward Nishioka emphasizes the importance of such unnamed techniques:

The problem with not having a name to tag a technique with is that it becomes less recognizable and hard to study. With out a name it’s sort of like meeting someone interesting but you didn’t get a name or a number. This happens more so with other means of overcoming an opponent other than throws, pins, chokes and arm bars. These areas include counter moves, combinations, advanced tactics, which include an area that is ever more important today than in the past, gripping skills.

You will most likely report to others, “[Teddy Riner] did a powerful osotogari,” when in fact he did much more. If you are a coach what will you be preparing your athlete for? Will it be the osotogari, or the gripping techniques leading to the one handed technique?

Since my instructor focuses on classic Japanese judo, these unnamed techniques remain unnamed. We practice set-ups, gripping, combinations and so on, but they are more transient than permanent techniques. We try them, play with them, then discard them if they don't fit into our game. I think this is because judo is so fluid and fuzzy. Things happen quickly in randori, and are hard to pin down with words or diagrams. The movements that distinguish Bobby's kouchigari from the kouchigari in the gokyo involve the whole body, but are subtle. Describing them in notes is hard.

If I come across a particularly stunning revelation, I might jot it down if it's confusing, or I've been doing it wrong for years. I'll put it in my training blog if I can make an interesting anecdote out of it. Usually just remembering that a possibility exists is plenty.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu notes

In contrast, BJJ is an art with a huge list of even basic techniques. Sweeps, passes, submissions, transitions, and hierarchies abound. Just getting your head around all the very different possibilities for each position takes a good chunk of brain space.

More importantly, BJJ techniques are easy to break down. The art is sublime and complex, like judo, but it is much more sequential. "Take this grip. Pivot your hips this way. Swing your leg this way. Roll on top. Make sure your leg goes over here during the transition. Slide the knee through. Establish the side control."

For me, BJJ lends itself to note-taking, so after class (never during), I jot down the steps of the technique and any sticking points that I ran into. Reviewing these notes has been fairly productive for remembering techniques.

I also find that the process of writing the notes is more productive than the process (often omitted) of reviewing the notes.

Boxing notes

Using the axes of simple/complex or sequential/diffuse discussed above, one would expect my notes on boxing to be sparse. However, the other variable involved is simple training frequency.

I don't train in boxing at all. I occasionally do a session with a friend, and I'll hit the heavy bag once in a while. Training this is not.

Because I box so infrequently, I feel the need to cement the information more formally. So after my friend shows me a couple defensive head movements, I'll write them down. I don't train or test my boxing frequently enough to know if this is helpful, however. (NB: my BJJ is fairly infrequent as well, which is another factor in notes being useful in my practice of it.)

  • yeah, I find with BJJ I just find the quantity of techniques and the variations of each technique and transitions is just huge, and writing some of this down is proving reasonably useful, but I find I'm ending up with quite a big list of things that I'm not quite sure how I can better organise things. Aug 14, 2012 at 19:51
  • @KeithNicholas Since most of the benefit for many people is in the writing (not the organizing or reading), it might not matter. Jot down the technique of the day after class, review your pile of notes occasionally, and chat with your instructor about ways to chunk the information or subset the most important techniques. (For instance, Marcelo is very particular about a small list of broadly-defined guard passes.) Or, start a tumblog and use tags diligently. Aug 14, 2012 at 19:55

I take notes when learning a new technique. I'm on my 4th (of 10) belt now in the American Kempo system. Whenever I learn a new technique, either the first night, or sometimes the second night (for more complex ones) working on that technique, I will go home and write down the technique step by step.

Personally I find this useful, not so much for studying necessarily, but for cementing. I've always been the type of person who once I write something down, it sticks it in my head better,.. even if I never look at the notes again.

As an example, here are my notes for our technique Combination 8:

Outside block, stepping back with opposite foot,
Keep weight on the front foot.
Back foot snap kick, followed by a roundhouse kick.
Cross and cover.

I absolutely take notes. Our school actively encourages it, even during class--it's important to capture the information while it's still fresh. It's even more important to actually use those notes.

The more senses engaged during learning the better you'll tend to retain that information.

I also have some shorthand I use to help writing it down, for eaxmple, "LH" for left-hand, O and I with circles around them for "outside" and "inside", etc. The techniques of a specific art might also get their own shorthand. I might try to sketch particularly-tricky things, although I can't really draw :(

I return to those notes, or write down notes if I didn't take any during class, as soon after class as possible. During that time I visualize what we did in class, expand the notes, re-write them in a martial arts journal, and so on. I'm currently re-structuring that information in a variety of ways, including adding more meta-data so I can find "similar" techniques, group things in ways that make sense to me, associate them with any supplemental info I have (books, videos, etc.) and so on.

I've also found that even just an audio recording of the class session can help me remember info I either didn't write down, wrote down poorly, or just plain forgot. It's not great audio since the device is in my gear bag at the side of the room, but it still helps.

  • Hi Dave; you mention about adding meta-data etc. I don't know how you keep your notes, but I've found Springpad very useful for this. I can review the notes any time on my phone or tablet, and can tag and categorize and add any associated media there may be. Of course note-taking tends to be a very personal experience and technique, but you may want to check it out.
    – eidylon
    Aug 14, 2012 at 14:03
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    @eidylon I use a variety, including Evernote, but most things end up in a fairly-heavily customized wiki with a variety of front ends that include a mind mapping interface and a very configurable search/autocomplete mechanism. Aug 14, 2012 at 14:37
  • What style is practiced in your school where it's encouraged? What's the student/teacher ratio? Aug 14, 2012 at 15:03
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    @eidylon Gathering, tracking, recalling, etc. info is a bit of a hobby, and it's at least part of what I do as a programmer. The MM interface is a gutted FreeMind, although when I'm done about the only thing left from it will be the renderer. Search is built on a variety of autocompletes (work in progress), Lucene/Solr, some clustering/similarity stuff that I'll switch to Mahout. Wiki right now is XWiki but I don't know how long that will last. Will use Alfresco for XMS. Goal is to make weaving info from disparate sources intuitive and fast, and be able to retrieve/view same in a unified way. Aug 14, 2012 at 15:28
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    If you integrated the comments into your answer it would be a great answer. Aug 14, 2012 at 15:32

I'm nearly 50 and my originally bad memory is getting worse.

We don't have note-taking in class so I want to get things down as quickly as possible as I leave. I use Evernote on my mobile and record audio notes as I'm walking away and driving. I later transcribe them but retain the originals - I find the mixture of spoken and written helps recall the context. Transcribing a few days later also seems to help me relive the experience.

Using a cloud-service like Evernote means I have the notes on both my phone and other computers without having to think about copying (I used to use a digital recorder and even an old analogue tape one before that - I've been an audio noter for a long time!)


I only take notes if I'm dealing with something bigger than my mind can process and store at once. Sometimes this works against me, as I usually expect to be able to store everything that's handed to me, so when I get a buffer overflow, I'm not prepared to dump what I already got.

My mind works pretty well when it comes to storing things and retrieving them later. I'm also very good at connecting the dots, and I don't need to be able to connect information to prior knowledge to store it - I make the connection later. I can also remember things by connecting one element to its successor. For instance, I may not know off the top of my head an entire sequence but, given the first element, I'll remember the next, and so on until the end.

It is also worth noting that I am always training in some way, shape or form. I may not be in a uniform and working up a sweat, but there's usually an element of training to what I'm doing - whether it's walking, standing, trying something in the air while I have a few seconds, or even just thinking about it.

I have an unusual mind and memory. I am not a representative sample of the population.

I have considered a martial arts diary, to keep track of thoughts and events. Hasn't been necessary yet. Again, it goes back to my memory. I'm vaguely aware that my memory may degrade as I age and I should write important stuff down now just in case. It's just not that important to me right now.

  • I can't remember chunks of many of my 16 forms without starting from a few "waypoints" within the forms. So +1 for connecting dots!
    – Andy Dent
    Dec 20, 2012 at 6:33

An example I've thought about expanding this article into a wiki and then further expanding with other kata. (I'm obsessed with Koryu Dai San right now because it is my grading kata.]

Some of the keys - for me - are to find meaningful terms. There are many ways to do "oshi taoshi", but within a kata, there is only 1 right way to do it. Even within the kata, there are specific grading points, and one of the points my sempai is emphasizing is that the attack has to be sincere and valid. I need to expand these notes to indicate the specific things the attacker needs to do to make sure that attack is valid and sincere - and the exercises to validate that attack. So we have dojo nicknames for many of the techniques; helps to remember variations.

The other themes in my notes are "things that sempai has told me more than once" - stuff I'm clearly having trouble integrating into muscular memory.


I record general concepts, specific techniques, and things trainers tell me I specifically need to work on. I also record competition results and string together game plans.

I used Google Docs for a while which is really good, but I needed a bit more structure as the 40 page doc grew, so I created an app which allows me to record all the same info (openmat.training), including my crude sketches I used to do. There are a couple of other sites like it.


I have found notes are very effective for mechanics, or generally any part of a MA which can be fully isolated and described on its own. I find it gets more difficult to take notes on subtle things because my word choices are often insufficient to actually capture the nuances I am picking up during training. It helps to have a lingo custom tailored to capture the particular subtleties your art focuses on ("shift you weight to the yin side of the leg" is an example of a phrasing in such a custom lingo), but in the end, some things are simply hard to capture in words.

I find notes are best for things which I believe I need to internalize, but have reason to believe that I will not do so immediately. For instance, I may learn a very subtle way to manipulate the lower spine, but I know that I'm planning on going to PT soon, and I'll lose all the subtlety I am working on when I overexert those muscles (which I totally do). In those cases, capturing the idea in intellectual words can serve as a scaffolding for me to try to recreate what I was working on later, and maybe succeed at internalizing it then. These notes, as mentioned elsewhere, are always taken after class, never during. During class, it is more valuable to focus on learning from your teacher than trying to capture a scaffolding for posterity.


I used to take copious notes. And they are useful, however now I take a lot less notes as I can either remember/internalize movements/techniques better or give myself much easier shorthand ("Like the 2nd form except from the inside") etc.

I often will use stick figures to figure out angles for deflection/entry, and grappling movements. For standing grappling, I found drawing combatants from above - noting head, shoulders and hand locations made it easier for me to track how it was working, supplemented with a note or two if the movement is complicated ("hook your elbow into their elbow crook here, then pull then head as you twist") and usually between the picture and the stick figures, I had it down.

That said, if you are at a regular school and not doing a one-off seminar, teachers and other students are usually pretty ok with you recording a short clip of something so you can watch and rewatch, and that has taken the place of a lot of note taking these days.

Sometime later, I reorganize my notes. I rewrite them clearer, grouped by technique or principle being studied, I type them up. I redo the drawings a little more clearly as well. It also helps when you're trying to share with another student on how to do something.


For me I found that a mixture of written notes and video are helpful. For say patterns in Karate, having someone perform it and taking a video allowed for a quick recap and replay in case you miss something in class.

For Judo and BJJ, taking quick words to describe the steps, ie: how to transition from mount to gaurd to a scissor armbar. Doing this after class and writing down anything you can remember will assist you when it comes to reviewing and practising later. Also having the name(s) of the technique will help as you could use Youtube to search for someone using it in a fight situation - different applications

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