Teaching points for BJJ
By: Scott Cunningham
I’m going to write this little blog to highlight some of the important observations I have noticed in the realm of jiu-jitsu instructions and as it relates to the educational process of students.
To start off, I think it’s important to reiterate that everyone learns differently. The success of an instructor is not necessarily correlated to your personal skillset, but the means of which you are able to relay the information to others. Case in point, Wayne Gretzky (my vote for best hockey player of all time) was not successful as a coach. So, it is my opinion, the success of the students relies on the success of the teaching, not necessarily the technique.
Teaching is the act of imparting knowledge on others, and largely knowledge they aren’t privy to. As this is new knowledge, I find using comparisons or analogies to bridge the unknown is valuable in their learning process.
If you imagine High School math class for example, your teacher will be instructing a particular math unit or subject. Say for example you are doing algebra. Every day, you will be building on previous knowledge while reviewing and discussing that unit or topic until completion. The students know what to expect and by sticking to that unit, you’re allowing the students to build on previous knowledge. In jiu-jitsu however, it’s common place to jump from multiple techniques and positions every individual class. It would be as if one day your math teacher discusses Algebra, then the next day you’re doing exponents, and finally finishing the week off with geometry. The varying “units” or “topic” would create confusion and hurt the depth of understanding. This has been such common practice in all the multiple mma and bjj gyms I’ve ever trained at.
By sticking conceptually to a strategy or topic, students will be able to build on previous knowledge and set a foundation. It isn’t to say they will not need consistent review as they advance, but you are allowing the “cement” to dry, before dumping wet cement on wet cement day in day out.
Research has shown that we can only grasp and retain a certain amount of information at one time. You can imagine a student’s mind like a cup of water. We as teachers can only add so much water to their cup before it overflows and technique and detail are lost. If we are instructing multiple techniques per week, you need to be aware that there will be an overflow of information. The best way to check, is by testing your students. I believe it’s important to have your students EXPLAIN what they learned either post or pre-training. In the education world, we call it an exit-slip or pre-slip. It’s a formative assessment (does not count towards their grade) and gives the teacher immediate feedback on how well the lesson was received. It will also highlight who understood and who didn’t. If the class is quiet during review, chances are they are silent due to not looking foolish in the face of others as they feel they do not know it well enough. It’s imperative to make the review or questions as laid back and welcoming as possible. No scolding or mocking for wrong answers as it’ll hurt future participation and confidence. There needs to be a test to find out how well your lessons are being received and retained. How else will you know if your methods are successful? Yes…from a technical aspect you may be spot on, but that doesn’t mean you taught it well or that it was received and understood. This is highly crucial in teaching and instructions. This is the MAJOR mistake Many make in thinking that accolades makes successful teachers and mentors.
One final point to continue with how the mind works, I will provide an example to help bridge the gap on how people learn.
Imagine during a class, I ask you to remember the number 89.
I ask you to repeat that number 10 times out loud….please do so now! Yes you!
And write it down
And then ask you what 88+1 =
And what 90-1 =
And what two numbers make up 89 ( an 8 and a 9)
The following class, there’s a high probability if I were to ask you what that number was you would likely remember 89 (at least a large percentage of people would)
If during the class I told you to remember
98, 74, 44, 57, 22, …… the odds of someone recalling even 1 of these numbers drops significantly.
If you don’t believe me, after reading this I’m going to call sometime next week and see which ones you recalled. Jokes, not calling.
Obviously, this is just a comparison to highlight the damage over teaching technique. Very often students are taught 3-4+ techniques per night….then 3+4 different techniques the following night and so on and so forth.
Imagine a brand new student started in January. They focused on learning only 2 techniques per month, but learned those two techniques very well and had them down. After 1 year that student would have 24 techniques that they know quite well. THAT’S A LOT! Imagine having to technically break down 24 techniques with high level details only after 1 year. Just that feat would be quite impressive….and asking a lot from most new students.
Well….that’s just them learning 2 techniques per month!
Currently jiutjitsu schools are teaching 3-4 different techniques x 2-3 a week = 9-12 detailed techniques per week or 36-48 techniques per month! OVERLOAD
Again, I’m aware that certain classes overlap and technique is cycled around. The point here, is highlighting that in teaching LESS IS MORE.
Do not overload students with technique during class, or after class.
We like to think we are helping, showcasing our knowledge, or just providing our own ego with a boost, but taking new students aside and hammering extra technique into their brains is over kill + +
By the way….what was the 1 number I had you rehearse from above? What were the other 5 numbers after that? 😊
In conclusion, the point of this little blog post was to just provide another way of thinking about how you should teach jiujitsu. Just because Someone taught this way for years doesn’t make it correct. Look at what John Danaher is doing with his squad. There’s a reason he is the number 1 BJJ instructor on the planet, and he has his team destroying the competition. He has experience teaching at the University level at a prestigious school in the states. When he is applying these principles. I believe we WILL ultimately help our students learn and enjoy the martial art we love EVEN MORE, WITH THESE POINTS IN MIND.
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