"IMPORTANT: The aim of this article is to allow the reader to train with a group of friends or make suggestions to the instructor on how to improve the level of the students. It should be clear that nobody can do this alone; nor is it our goal to change the traditional structure of the class. So this training should be done in a group, at an alternate time, train hard."
The text above was taken from a BJJ/Grappling magazine as a disclaimer to a series of exercises and drills. I am sure this was included to safeguard the relationship between student and teacher. That the information in the magazine should act as a supplement to what is already being taught and used more as suggestions or tips then as a replacement for qualified instruction. Which brings me to a topic that I've come across these past few weeks from teaching BJJ. With the growing number of resources from DVDs, books, youtube, websites and such; where do we find the balance between what is being taught in class and what the students bring with them from outside?
During the last couple of weeks I've been covering classes I would open things up for Q&A for both the technique of the day or on general issues the students might be having. On several occasions I was confronted with questions like, 'So how do you do the flying-armbar?' or 'Can I just step through and land with the triangle? I saw this black-belt do it in some video I found on youtube.' To be honest I had to giggle when these would come up for several reasons and mind you these are coming from white-belts. One, I've never attempted any flying technique for a good reason since I walk at nearly 200lbs and in no way resemble Shinya Aoki, haha. Two, regardless of how long I've been training, my personal game revolves around the basics and is what I feel most comfortable teaching. So while I had a good chuckle when asked these questions, I did congratulate the student on taking the initiative to check things out for themselves and bring their ideas back to the classroom. These were extreme cases of how to do some amazing acrobatic techniques but there are even more questions that may or may not fall into my realm of knowledge or comfort. So I started asking myself some questions to see how I felt about this and how I could best adapt where I stood to benefit the students without extinguishing their enthusiasm for learning.
DOES YOUR ACADEMY ENCOURAGE THE USE OF OUTSIDE LEARNING MATERIAL (DVDs, YOUTUBE, BOOKS)?
-I can only speak for myself in that I encourage the students to do as much research as they like, provided they bring it back to the classroom to explore what they've learned. Especially before they introduce it to sparring to safeguard themselves from injury. If there is any restriction, it is based out of genuine concern for the student's safety and their training partners. I believe there is a lot of great techniques out there that are both fun and innovative but also carry some risk. I think without mutual consent or knowledge of the defenses to such techniques, there is too much risk involved to keep this unsupervised. This readily applies to any muscle-slicers, cranks or twisting leg/foot locks.
-I think in other situations where such research is discouraged it becomes a personal choice on how to deal with it. Perhaps like the disclaimer says, find time outside of class to drill and try out these new moves. Perhaps in the right context, the academy and instructor is more open to see what you have to share.
-The more you're able to communicate and share with your instructor or teammates, the more feedback you will receive on said technique. If the academy can act as a laboratory with everyone sharing, the technique in question can be dissected from different vantage points. In the end it may yield even stronger results. At least then, you've given your instructor the opportunity share his/her thoughts on the matter, setting the tone of how things can be introduced to the school.
HOW IS THE INFORMATION BALANCED BETWEEN THE DIRECTION/FOCUS OF THE CLASS AND WHAT THE STUDENT HAS IN MIND AFTER DISCOVERING THE NEWEST GRAPPLING TECHNIQUE FROM OUTSIDE CLASS?
-I would definitely stress the importance of respect for the instructor, the lesson and to the other students when introducing new material. I believe there is a good and bad way to introduce the 'what if' in class. The instructor has taken the time to create a lesson plan that applies to the greater interest of the class and has most likely catered it to the skill level of the students. There will always be a 'what if' scenario to any position and that is a part of BJJ's beauty. Even so, that may not be the point of the given class and the 'what if' can be quite disruptive and disrespectful if delivered mid-instruction. Wait until the instructor has finished the lesson and has offered to open the class to Q&A or ask for a moment of his/her time apart from everyone else. By doing so, you've created the appropriate context for the instructor to address your idea/question without outright challenging the lesson. There is nothing wrong with asking questions, just know when and how to ask.
-I think it is also worth noting what your instructors preferences are in regards to self-defense, sports jiu-jitsu, no-gi grappling and or MMA. I've trained with a number of instructors that place a priority on different aspects of jiu-jitsu whether it be a very conservative MMA-friendly game or balls-out sports jiu-jitsu game. With that said, instructors will have their own stance on the importance of gi or no-gi and how the two relate to each other. This may also help you to judge what is relevant to share in class or do on your own if you're so inclined.
-Be honest with yourself about what motivates you to learn so many techniques (in/out of class). I've met a few guys that are complete sponges for information but can't implement a single thing they've learned. There is so much to learn but very few of us have the luxury to dedicate ourselves to BJJ full time.
IS IT REALISTIC TO ALLOW SUCH VARIETY BEFORE HAVING DEVELOPED A FOUNDATION IN THE BASICS?
-When confronted with a question, alternative or counter to what I am teaching I do my best to redirect the student to what is most important, the mechanics of what is being taught. For example, I did a series on sweeps from the closed guard that included the scissor-sweep, barrel roll and flower-sweep. All three sweeps utilize the same mechanics in attacking the opponent's poster and balance by cutting in at two ends. The difference is where they cut in and at what level of the body. Perhaps all the finer details won't take hold on every student but what I try to emphasize is the mechanics of the move and what makes it work.
-I've been told by higher belts to ease up on the amount of information that I share when instructing or helping a beginner out. I can see how I may be overloading the student with details that they are not ready to grasp. They haven't built the sensitivity and timing yet and are still dealing with the grander motions of jiu-jitsu. Even so, I'm still inclined to give more since I believe everyone learns and accepts information in different ways. So I try to show the bigger picture then use a series of classes to pick at the details. There's not much I can do to police students from researching on their own or what they decide to look into. I can only do my best to bring them back in to what I believe is a core set of skills they need to one day accomplish their goals.
-Things are changing the growth of resources has challenged the traditional way of learning martial arts.
HOW CAN THE STUDENT APPROACH MATERIAL OUTSIDE OF THE ACADEMY IN A HEALTHY MANNER?
-Don't believe the hype! I think we often take what's so readily available for granted on so many levels. If you take a look at the evolution of the jiu-jitsu guard and compare what is was 15 years ago to what it is today, it's amazing. For every innovator of the guard, they had a solid foundation in the basics and mechanics of jiu-jitsu. From their own ingenuity or circumstance, they were able to build upon that foundation to expand the guard-game to what it is today; half-guard, quarter-guard, De La Riva-guard, spider-guard, inverted-guard, rubber-guard, octopus-guard, x-guard and more. All these innovations exist as options/tools to counter/attack/surprise the opponent but all have their root in the basics. Without proper posture, balance and framing it would be very hard to survive let alone implement any of these variations.
-Be open to learn new things but do yourself the favor of trying them out for yourself and make it your own. Take what is being given to you in class and take the full opportunity to make it yours before dismissing it for something new. More times than I can count, I've found myself relearning techniques that were introduced to me in my first year of BJJ.
HOW DO WE RECOGNIZE WHAT IS RELEVANT TO ONE'S SKILL LEVEL AND PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES?
-Trust and respect your instructor.
-Be honest with yourself in regards to your expectations and the reality of the challenge that is ahead of you. If my goal is to be a flying-armbar master I better prepare myself to fall on my head, take a few slams, potentially pop my shoulder and at some point hurt a few training partners. Now if I were 50 lbs. lighter it might be a different story but that's my reality and I'm pretty comfortable with that.
-Let's say you do have what it takes to do 'x' technique. Then I would say find yourself the right instructor and a willing training partner to make it happen. I think there are a lot of wonderful references out there but nothing will replace live instruction and aid. There's only so much you can catch from a book and video that will be much more obvious to an instructor that is observing your movement and technique live. In our mind's-eye we have this vision of ourselves moving and attacking like Marcelo Garcia but in reality it resembles a fish out of water. Your technique can be corrected and adjusted so that you can drill properly and have it ingrained in your muscle-memory.
HOW DO WE NURTURE THE STUDENT'S ENTHUSIASM TO LEARN WHILE BUILDING THEIR CORE FUNDAMENTALS?
-I think it depends on the head instructor or leader of the academy. We may not find ourselves in the company of a black-belt instructor to lead us. Perhaps we're just a handful of blues and whites. If that's the case then it would seem appropriate to treat the academy as a lab and bring in new material and test things out, keeping what works and putting aside what may not be relevant at this time. Ultimately, as the disclaimer states, "It should be clear that nobody can do this alone..."
-I thrive on being asked questions whether I can answer them or not. For me being able to articulate what I am doing improves my own understanding of my game and what I am teaching. Now if it's an outside source that is inspiring such questions then I would encourage that interest and find a way to connect it to what I believe the student needs most at the time. If the goal is to be able to do 'x' technique, then I think it's fair to help that student work towards their goal and find what works for them. When things are no longer fun or interesting is when we lose training partners, outside of injury, haha. So it can't hurt to have that 'carrot' hanging just out of reach.
-This post is a reflection on my recent experience as a temp instructor and can accept that my thoughts and feelings may change over time. Perhaps those with more experience may see things differently. While I've had a blast teaching, I miss being just a student. I have not reached full circle where I am in a position to be teaching more than what I practice or am able to do. And what I am capable of now is still limited. I hope to keep teaching at some level but welcome the return of my instructor.