Most people just show up to class and train, you can get good that way but it’s probably the slowest way to do it. If you have had previous experience with other sports then you quickly realize that when you played those sports there was more to practice than just playing a full game. For example, if you played little league soccer, baseball, or football then your practice did not consist of the coach dividing the team into two separate teams and then playing a full game, instead the coach divided the team into smaller groups to work on specific skills and then you would have a scrimmage or a game at the end of the week. This is actually the way that you learn anything including jiu-jitsu, you need to break it into small pieces first and practice them individually before putting all of the pieces together.
Live training or free rolling is a fun part of class but there are many other aspects to a serious training schedule, I like to think about two kinds of training, general and specific. General training isn’t focused on one specific thing, its just training designed to gain overall experience in jiu-jitsu. We need general training but it can also interrupt our learning by letting us hide from our weaknesses, particularly if you are one of the higher ranks in class. Specific training or positional training is designed with a specific goal in mind, the idea is to improve in a certain area or with a certain technique, specific training is a powerful tool. In my mind specific training focuses on 2 things, getter better at something you are already good at and getting better at things that you are not good at. I will generally tell students to think about their favorite position and also the position that they hate the most, this is the basis for their specific training and this is exactly how I train as well.
I always wanted to have a world class triangle but I also had difficulties escaping side control, those were the two areas that i focused on for a very long time. I used specific training in a couple of different ways to help me improve in these two areas. First i would spend any extra time I had drilling my triangle set ups and figuring out ways to set up the triangle from all positions, I would also pick out a couple of days out of the week and focus only on submitting my training partners with triangles from all positions even if I would lose position or pass up an easier submission. I would also set up certain times to train with a partner and again focus on the triangle, I would start in basic positions like guard or half guard and I had to sweep or submit my partner and they would have to pass my guard, if someone won then we would reset. Even though for the sake of the drill I could sweep or use any submission to win, I always tried to fit the triangle in somehow either using it as a set up to another submission or sweep or setting up the triangle as my partner defended another attack. After this I would start already with the triangle locked on (just my ankles crosses,not a full figure four lock) and go from there, my partner had to escape and I had to finish, if someone won then we would reset. I did the same thing with escaping side control, I would not only drill my escapes but also pick out a couple of days in the week and let everyone pass my guard and put me in side control as well as finding extra time to focuses specifically on escaping and defending side control. It’s this kind of training that allows you to make improvements in specific areas in a relatively short amount of time. Now, the general training is important too, we need time to put everything together and learn how to connect all the pieces but usually class time rolling is enough for that, use any extra time you have to focus on that specific training. Correctly utilizing general and specific training is a crucial part of development in jiu-jitsu.