And based on his performance in competition, I’m inclined to believe he’s one of the best BJJ players to answer this question.
In this article, I review Gordon Ryan’s instructional: The Sport Of Kings: High Performance Mindset For Grappling By Gordon Ryan.
Let’s dive in.
The Sport Of Kings By Gordon Ryan (Review): QUICK LINKS
The Sport Of Kings By Gordon Ryan: Review Summary
The Sport Of Kings is an excellent instructional that will help you get better at jiu-jitsu faster. Gordon Ryan breaks down how he developed his supreme confidence, how he structures his training sessions, how he prepares for competitions, and much more. It will help you improve your “mental” game, which is just as important as the “physical” game. It’s a must-watch for competitors, and hobbyists will also find it useful.
The Sport Of Kings By Gordon Ryan: Questions
Here are the questions I’m writing about before, during, and after watching this instructional.
What do I want to learn from it?
How does Gordon organize and structure his training?
How does Gordon “think” about jiu-jitsu?
How does Gordon have such supreme confidence?
Ultimately, how can I mimic how the best in the world approaches the mental side of BJJ?
Can I use this instructional to create a better BJJ journal?
What is the current status of this part of my game?
With regards to “mindset” — nada. Zilch. Zero.
I just show up to class consistently, and train 4-5 times per week.
I don’t know much at all about how to “think” about my training.
So, why not learn from the best of the best?
That’s why I’ve chosen this as my first BJJ instructional.
How easy is it to understand?
It’s easy to understand.
Gordon uses plain, simple language. He frequently uses examples and stories to explain the concepts.
Good economy of words.
As I’m taking notes, I’m having a lot of “a-ha” moments about how to improve my mindset and my approach to training. It’s awesome that you can learn this stuff from the best in the world.
How easy is it to apply?
It’s easy to apply. Some specific examples templates would make it even easier. Based on what he says about his mindset, routine, and journal, I have some specific and detailed improvements to make to mine.
Now, I can go into rolling with the knowledge of “specific training” — or, as Gordon says, the best way to get better in the shortest amount of time.
I haven’t competed yet, but I imagine that this portion of the instructional would be very helpful and easy to apply. For example, Gordon gives step-by-step instructions for how he gets rid of his nerves on the day of the competition, which is so specific he even gets down to how he takes breaths as the match begins.
Mindset stuff isn’t always super easy to apply, but Gordon makes it easy with the instructional.
After 6 weeks, how has it improved my game?
Yes, but in a “meta” sense.
It hasn’t improved my technique. It’s not designed for that.
But it has helped me improve my mental game.
I’ve created a BJJ journal to help me apply what I learn from class and instructionals.
I know which positions I should start with if I want to develop confidence like Gordon Ryan (pin & submission escapes).
I understand specific training, and how it’s the best way to get better at jiu-jitsu faster.
I’m confident that by improving my mental game, I’ll make faster and greater progress on my physical game.
Is there anything else I wish I learned?
More examples. Tape study on an opponent. His BJJ journal. Specific training breakdown. Complete workout schedule. This would really help solidify the concepts.
He does give many examples already, but I’m greedy and would have loved a few more specifics.
Would I recommend this to a close training partner?
Absolutely. It’s a fascinating look inside the mind of the best grappler in the world.
If you’re a competitor, this instructional is a must-buy.
However, if you’re a hobbyist who trains 2-3 times per week, it might be a bit too much for you.
The Sport Of Kings By Gordon Ryan: Highlights & Notes
Here are my notes from the instructional.
Chapter 1 – Introduction
- Gordon started training at 15. But he was always very confident and competitive with everything, even before he started training BJJ.
Chapter 2 – Training Schedule
- When Gordon started jiu-jitsu at 15, he trained 4-5 times per week.
- When he graduated high school, right around when he got his purple belt, Gary Tonon convinced him to start training 7 days per week. He would train 3-4 hours a day.
- He saved up enough to quit his job so he could train jiu-jitsu full time.
- Around the age of 21-22, he noticed that he was getting better while training LESS, but was more there mentally.
- Now, he’s lifting 3-4x per week. He does 1-2 sessions of jiu-jitsu per day, and feels like he’s getting better faster than ever before.
Chapter 3 – Short Term Goals Versus Long Term Goals (Training)
- Short term goals: a week to a few months.
- Long term goals: 1-5 years.
- You always want to go into a training session with a goal in mind. Imagine him asking you “what are 3 things you’re going to work on” and you should be able to give a specific answer.
- If you go into rolling mindlessly, you won’t come out much better than when you started.
- “What do I want to learn this week? What do I want to learn over the next 5 months? What do I learn in 12 months? Where do I see myself 5 years from now?” You should have a vision for where you’re trying to.
- This is called specific training, and it’s more fun. It forces you to continually learn, apply, and improve specific moves.
- Template: “Today I’m going to X.”
- Ex: Today I’m going to take a guy’s back and trap the wrist in a certain way.
- This is how you go into a session and come out better than how you were before.
Chapter 4 – Short Term Goals Versus Long Term Goals (Competition)
- Set ambitious but realistic goals.
- You should compete against guys who are better than you, but you still go out and try to beat those guys.
- If you’re a blue belt, you shouldn’t be satisfied beating other blue belts. Strive to beat purple belts.
Chapter 5 – Overconfidence Versus Underconfidence
- Undercofindence will lose you more matches than overconfidence.
- In competition, it’s better to know fewer moves, but be more confident in those moves.
- Confidence come from success in training. If you keep hitting guillotines while rolling, you’ll have the confidence you can hit it in a competition.
Chapter 6 – The Origin Of Supreme Confidence
- Brown belt is when Gordon started to feel very confident about his jiu-jitsu.
- His confidence came from his pin escapes and submission escapes — he couldn’t be pinned or submitted.
Chapter 7 – Always Taking The Extra Step
- Gordon prides himself on making things as hard as possible on himself and doing more than he has to.
- Gordon attacks people on the internet to make himself miserable on purpose — it helps with making him tougher, sharp, and motivated to be the best.
Chapter 8 – Time Is Always The X Factor
- The fastest way to get better — by far — is by doing situational training. It forces you to become better at specific positions and techniques. And it trains you to force your opponents into specific positions.
- If you’ve been training less overall than an opponent — but you have more training time in a specific position which you can force them into — you can finish them.
Chapter 9 – Hard work – Physical And Mental
- Hard work is also mental, not just physical. In jiu-jitsu, the mental “hard work” is watching tape, instructionals, journaling, etc.
- Mental hard work is what determines world champions from regular people. Regular people only speak about hard physical work.
Chapter 10 – Competition Breakthrough
After an EBI tournament is when Gordon felt like he could beat anyone.
Chapter 11 – Mental Preparation And Training – Which Academy To Choose (Hobbyists)
- As a hobbyist who doesn’t want to be a world champion, it doesn’t matter which gym you train at. Pick a gym that you like.
- The internet gives you access to the best teachers in the world. With instructionals, you can have a “second sensei” to also train you. So you don’t have to train at the best academies in the world to beat good grapplers.
Chapter 12 – Which Academy to choose (Competitors)
- It is possible to be a world level with training partners that aren’t very good. Roger Gracie did it. How? Because of how he trained, because he began teaching more, and because he handicapped himself during training.
- In general, it’s preferable to have a gym with training partners that you’re better than, at your level, and that are better than you.
Chapter 13 – Choosing Your Training Partners (Hobbyists)
- It’s important for hobbyists to pick and choose who they train with. Most importantly, you want to train with people who roll safely.
- Also, you want to train with people who are game for specific training.
Chapter 14 – Choosing Your Training Partners (Competitors)
- Gordon picks training partners depending on what type of ruleset he is preparing for.
- John Danaher does no breaks in between rounds.
- Gordon always picks the hardest rounds, no matter how tired he is. This is how he prepares himself for competition.
- As a competitor, you have to get used to putting yourself in terrible spots so it doesn’t phase you in competition.
Chapter 1 – How To Deal With Losing Rounds In Training (Hobbyists)
- If BJJ isn’t your main focus, you have to be ok with the fact that some people will surpass you.
Chapter 2 – How To Deal With Losing Rounds In Training (Competitors)
- “The second you don’t care that your training partner is better than you, your athletic career is over.”
- It is your job to strive to be the best guy in all aspects. You should be angry if a training partner beats you.
Chapter 3 – Putting Yourself In Bad Spots
- You should focus heavily on the spots that you’re bad at and disadvantageous positions.
- Gordon puts himself in poor positions until he feels like he can escape without an issue.
- Every couple of months, he assesses himself: what have I not worked on a while? What do I need to get better at?
Chapter 4 – Training With Lower Belts
- You should help the lower belts so that they get better — and then, they can then help YOU get better.
- The best way to progress while training with lower belts is to handicap yourself. For example, Gordon was recently working on only arm barring people from top mount.
- You get better at new moves by using them on lower belts. As you gain more confidence with those moves, you begin using them on people at your level or higher.
- If you get submitted in training and while experimenting with new moves, who cares. You get submitted in training so you don’t get submitted in competition.
- “I get submitted more than anybody in training. I never get submitted in competition.”
Chapter 5 – Developing A Competition Game Plan
- You need two gameplans: one for the ruleset, and one for the athlete you’re competing against.
- Example: submission only ruleset. Force action, and spend the most time possible in situations which are going to lead to submissions. Submission output is critical.
- As your opponent gets more tired, that’s when you begin to expend more energy.
- For ADCC, Gordon will study all the athletes on his side of the bracket, and the two top athletes from the other side of the bracket he suspects that could make it to the final. Super fights are easy — you only have to study one athlete.
- When it comes to analyzing his opponents, Gordon looks at what they are good at, and what they’re not good at. His goal is to force his opponent into positions that they aren’t good at, and take them out of positions they are good at.
- “How can I exploit the rules of the tournament?”
- “How can I exploit the weaknesses of the athlete that I’m competing against?”
Chapter 6 – Off The Mat Supplemental Training
- For off-the-mat training, Gordon does weightlifting, stretching, gymnastics. He doesn’t run.
- Gymnasts do a lot of BW exercises that are very related to jiu-jitsu. Gymnastics are a great way to learn how to control your body and gain strength. A lot of the moves require the flexibility and athleticism that will carry over to jiu-jitsu.
- Weightlifting will make you stronger. Gordon does high reps (For example, 4 sets of 20) because it gets you in the mental mindset of having to redline. You’re going to want to quit (like in jiu-jitsu), but you learn to overcome it.
- Cardio in jiu-jitsu comes down to efficiency. Getting better at jiu-jitsu and becoming more efficient is the best way to improve your cardio.
Chapter 1 – Funding The Athletic Lifestyle
- Until he could sustain himself purely through jiu-jitsu, Gordon Ryan worked full-time.
- “If you want to do something, it’s up to you to make it happen.”
- Set goals, and find realistic ways to accomplish those goals.
Chapter 2 – Drilling Versus Not Drilling
- How can you get better in the shortest amount of time possible?
- How can you get to the highest level with a limited amount of time?
- Drilling just to drill is almost completely useless. The function of drilling is to get you good at the mechanics of a certain move.
- Gordon does an hour of drilling and 40 minutes of rolling – 6 6 minute matches. He drills with the intention of perfecting the mechanics of a move.
- Drilling with the intention of increasing the performance of the mechanics of the move is the best way to get better in the shortest amount of time possible.
Chapter 3- Should You Use A Sports Psychologist
- Gordon Ryan doesn’t believe you should use a sports psychologist — people can’t “speak” to give you confidence.
- Confidence in BJJ comes from positive results in the training room.
Chapter 4 – Managing Competition Anxiety
- The best way to manage competition anxiety is to compete as much as possible. The more you compete, the more you get used to it.
- Gordon competed a few times a month to get over his nerves.
- Mindset: nobody really cares if you win or lose.
- Gordon knows he’s far better at jiu-jitsu than his competition. He knows that everyone he’s competing against is terrified of him.
- He sees every match as the same: he’s chasing for submissions, and they are trying to stall him out.
- He’s not worried about being pinned or submitted. That takes an immense amount of pressure off your chest.
- Competition is the same thing you do every day, just in a different environment. It’s you and someone else rolling together — the same as what you do in class. The external environment around you doesn’t matter.
- “I’m constantly thinking about all the moves that are happening and making calculated decisions.”
Chapter 5 – Mindset One Month Out
- Doesn’t really think about the competition a month out. Stays distant to avoid stress and losing sleep.
- Does whatever kind of training he has to for the specific tournament ruleset and competition.
- Begins the mental warfare one month out.
Chapter 6 – Mindset One Week Out
- Camp is coming to a close and his confidence is at its peak.
- A week out, this is when he starts to get in the heads of other competitors.
- At this point, he’s studying who he’ll be facing. He knows what they’re posting, and reads all of the social media buzz around the competition.
- He screencaps all of the talk so he can use it to talk shit after the match.
- Tapers off his training for a few days until he competes.
Chapter 7 – Mindset Day Of Competition
- Getting a good night’s sleep is critical. If Gordon is competing Saturday morning, he’ll stay up very late Thursday, and then go to bed early on Friday so he can get 8-10 hours of sleep.
- If Gordon is competing Saturday night, he will stay up late Friday night, sleep all the way through until 4-5 pm and then compete.
- The second he wakes up on the day of the competition, he posts that he’s going to “f*** everybody up.” This helps him get in his opponent’s heads.
- Gordon doesn’t eat anything on the day of the competition, only drinks water. Would rather have hunger pains.
- Gordon never thinks about losing.
- “When I step on the mats I’m cool, calm, and collected, knowing I’m doing the same thing I do every day with someone who’s not as good as my training partners.”
Chapter 8 – Tape Study
- Gordon watches tape, but John watches most of the tape for him.
- Tape study is how he understands what his opponents are good at.
Chapter 9 – Warmups And First Match
- Starts warmup with generic body movements to get a slight sweat going.
- He drills the submissions he wants to hit with a warmup partner. Pin escapes into submissions.
- The first match is when he has the most adrenaline. For his first match, Gordon looks at the crowd, and then the lights to adjust his eyes. The crowd builds his confidence, knowing that they are there for him.
- Takes one deep breath before the match. Ones the match starts, he often pulls guard. Then he takes another deep breath.
- Once he’s just doing jiu-jitsu and not focused on all the external environment, everything becomes much easier.
- Within the first 10 seconds of the match, all his anxiety is gone.
Chapter 1 – “You Either Win Or You Learn”
- Gordon thinks this is the dumbest statement of all time. It’s an excuse to make yourself feel better.
- You should be learning just as much if you win just as if you lose.
- He watches old tape of himself to learn from them: what he could have done better, opportunities he could have found, what he could have done better technically, what he could have done better tactically.
Chapter 2 – Dealing With Losses
- What makes dealing with losses easier is creating a new goal to focus on. It takes your mind off the loss.
- Look at what you did wrong, and make the necessary corrections so it doesn’t happen again. Then focus on your next goal.
Chapter 3 – Dealing With Injuries
- Injury history:
- Blue belt: grade 2 tear MCL right knee
- LCL reconstruction
- Reoccurring neck injury
- ankle’s been popped dozens of time
- fingers have been broken
- broke his hand
- Craig Jones broke his arm
- fractured his jaw
- broken toes
- You can’t push yourself to a point where you’re going to get re-injured.
- Gordon really babies injuries — for example, wearing a knee brace for a knee injury for a year so he didn’t even know which knee he hurt.
- Pick slow and controlled training partners when you’re hurt.
You train around injuries by adapting your game to fit whatever injury you have.
- If you can’t train, make sure you’re thinking about the sport.
- Gordon couldn’t train for 3 months when he got his LCL surgery — but got better by constantly thinking about the sport: watching instructionals, watching class, etc.
Chapter 4 – Staying Disciplined
- If motivation is an issue, that’s ok — but discipline should never be an issue.
- Gordon is motivated by the fact that people travel and pay to watch him compete.
- He doesn’t need motivation — he’s self-motivated. He’s focused on being better than the previous version of himself.
Chapter 5 – Handling Off The Mat Adversities
- For hobbyists, life gets in the way and it’s ok to miss time on the mats.
- For competitors, with the exception of if you’re very sick, you shouldn’t miss any training.
- If you want to be the best in the world, you can’t take time off like a normal person would.
Chapter 6 – Building A Routine
- If your goal is to be the best, you must have a routine. You have to have a boring life.
- Gordon committed his life to BJJ at 17 years old, which meant no partying and hanging out with friends.
- Routine: wake up trains, comes homes, lifts, goes to sleep — every day.
Chapter 7 – Closing Words
- Focus: mindset, routine, how to approach a competition, how to get better in the shortest time possible.
The Sport Of Kings By Gordon Ryan: Conclusion
The Sport Of Kings: High Performance Mindset For Grappling By Gordon Ryan is a fantastic instructional.
It will help you with one of the least-discussed aspects of BJJ: the mental game.
And who better to learn that from than the best no-gi grappler ever?
I highly recommend it for serious hobbyists and competitors.
It’s gotten me excited about training, journaling, and my next BJJ instructional.
It feels as though I’ve unlocked a completely new dynamic in my training.
What did you think about The Sport Of Kings by Gordon Ryan? How did it help you improve your BJJ?
Leave a comment in the section below.
BJJ Equipment, an assistant BJJ instructor at InFighting, and a BJJ blue belt. He's a passionate hobbyist and BJJ gear/equipment aficionado. He launched BJJ Equipment in 2022 to make it easy for grapplers to find the best BJJ gear so they look, feel, and perform at their best on the mats.