3.05.2009

FROM THE OUTSIDE IN

"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.

COMMENTS:

-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.

-Luke

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

shoots,look at all the great fighters they look out side the box . Buy watching all kinds of tapes and dvd series they can find. It all comes down to resources that you kind use, because there nothing that you haven't seen yet .

Anonymous said...

I think learning from instructionals can be hazardous to your learning curve.

BJJ more then any other sport is about sequence and learning things as they are suppose to flow.

Lots of guys get wrapped up in learning new moves rather than perfecting what they already know.

I'd rather be fluent with 3 moves from the open guard then know 30 but am unable to pull any off.

Its important to train under a legit instructor who understands structured lessons.

LUKE said...

"Its important to train under a legit instructor who understands structured lessons."

I agree 100% but I think there are circumstances here in SEA where a legit instructor is not available. My emphasis is that nothing will replace live quality instruction and proper context. Very few instructionals offer sequences as part of the technique.

Anonymous said...

"Its important to train under a legit instructor who understands structured lessons."

IMHO there are a lot of LEGIT instructors who do NOT understand structured lessons. Most teach "buffet" style, with no logic, rhyme, or reason. In the course of a year if you attend every class you'll pick it all up (out of sequence) but heaven help the student coming twice a week.

My instructor actually endorses instructionals, but he has recommendations about which ones fit with the "style" he teaches us (different schools have different variations or place emphasis on different techniques). Ask your instructor what he recommends. The quality of instructionals keeps getting better and better.

And focus on ONE technique at a time until you can nail it. It's tempting to one to fill your head with the 3 back up or alternate moves that fit in with that technique, but if you do, you'll brain freeze when sparring.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, BJJ is one dimensional, you just win over submission or by points as compared to Judo which you can win either by standing or by grappling, "just like in MMA." But as they say, different people, different strokes.

But for those who experienced training both, one will realize that BJJ grappling is just a spin-off of Judo grappling. Heck, it came from it. I think JUdo grappling is more efficient cause it adheres to the maxim, "minimum effort, maximum efficiency" by Jigoro Kano. No wasted movements.

My advice, cross train with a senior judoka (look for those who coached and competed intensively) and tell them to teach you grappling and then continue training with your BJJ club and you will handle your mates.

LUKE said...

I believe KMA Fitness Martial Arts in the Philippines has a great combination of instructors between Stephen Kampuis (BJJ black-belt) and John Baylon (Judo & BJJ black-belt).

I'd like to hear more detail on what is so one-dimensional about BJJ unless this is someone trolling. There is a separation in focus between tachiwaza and newaza. The one judo group that emphasized newaza equally to throws was Kosen Judo.

LUKE said...

One fighter that has made a resurgence to the BJJ competition scene that has a strong Judo background and a BJJ black-belt, Leo Leite from Brasa. Really impressive jiu-jitsu game but has lost to some skilled guard-players like Braulio Estima.

Anonymous said...

It will be senseless to continue with these discussions cause you have your sensibilites and I have mine.

I just mentioned the nuances that I've observed in both sports while training in both sports.

LUKE said...

I think it's an interesting subject because I'm very interested in Judo for myself. I've been looking for a Judo coach to teach at my academy but haven't had much luck. The only Judo instruction here in Thailand is conducted at the universities and even that is a bit political from what I hear.

I'd like to consider myself a pretty open person and if anything I have a lot of respect for all martial arts. If anything, I think whatever fits your needs the best is what is right for you, the individual. All the instructors that I've been under have a strong foundation in Judo as well as BJJ.

I'd like to frame it more contextually than pit one style/name against another.

Anonymous said...

I took up BJJ and Judo almost at the same time, and I can say I think I am good in grappling rather than throwing.

Whenever we do judo randori, I don't aim to sweep or throw judokas. I pull guard them immediately after grip fighting and look for submissions. But, if there is any opening I try my best to utilize throwing or sweep techniques.

In judo you will be good in kumikata (gripping), develop lighting quick reflexes, cause you have to be nimble to exploit the slightest openings (it's throw or grapple or be thrown or be grappled), you will have good base, and you can have a slight advantage once you get to the ground granting the position advantageous even if you're not a good grappler.

So Judo is more complete and exciting cause you can win either by standing or in the ground. In the ground, there are no points unlike in BJJ (guard pass, side control mount, etc.) only submissions and osaekomi (hold downs) positions which you have to escape within a time frame or you lose.

When I roll in BJJ classes, most of the time we start rolling in the kneeling position which we also do in Judo but sometimes we do it back to back position.

Anonymous said...

sorry you can also score in osaekomi if you get to hold him at a certain length

Anonymous said...

Judo vs. Jiu Jitsu? Didn't Helio and others already test that out? Seems like the greats in one, can give the greats in the other, a run for their money.

What's more pertinent to me is which can be practiced more widely. To me, judo is like rugby, and jiu jitsu is like soccer. More people can practice jiu jitsu, for longer in their lives, than judo.

That isn't the fault of judo. It's the fault of its aggro practitioners, who don't use more progressive training and thicker "fall" mats to drill; who have lost the spirit of cooperation that Kano espoused; and who'd rather land on their heads than give their opponent the respect of the ippon.

There's a saying that bad money drives out the good, and the over the top, win at all costs, judoka who set the tone have driven out most recreational, or would be recreational, players.

I've done both, and if I run into an aggro BJJ practitioner, I can pretty much protect myself from injury, but that's not the case in judo. High amplitude, hard hitting. Great training for marines, a little tough on the post 25 crowd.

And no, the judo black belts who come train BJJ with us don't wipe the mats with us. For most of them, the ground is a place they'd rather stand back up from at first, than hang out on and spar. But damn, they do pick it up quickly, as we (in the martial arts community) would hope.

Is the judo style that made much more of a 50/50 split between ground and stand-up Fusen-ryu?

Anonymous said...

It's really a Judo vs. BJJ, but a sort of collation.

I still cross train BJJ to practice my newaza skills

Anonymous said...

It's not really a Judo vs. BJJ thing , but a sort of collation.

I still cross train BJJ to practice my newaza skills

slideyfoot said...

Great post, Luke: I really enjoy it when you stick down long, analytical pieces or those extended interviews. Look forward to more! :D

As to the very tired judo vs BJJ question that popped up in the comments, I'd agree that while judo is an excellent martial art, it is much harder on the body than BJJ. Hence why I've pretty much discounted judo in favour of concentrating on BJJ. Of course, I'm not all that interested in either competition or self-defence, so that heavily influences my approach.

I go into my own views on the value of supplemental instructional material here: in short, I would advise new students restrict supplemental learning to refining what they've already been shown in class, rather than something they've never seen demonstrated in person.

Out of interest and on the topic of supplemental material, any thoughts on the new Gracie University online course thats been inciting strong condemnation over the various BJJ boards (e.g., Bullshido)?

(Unless you already have: catching up on my subscribed blogs in Google Reader...)

LUKE said...

Hey Slideyfoot,

Thanks for the support. I believe there's more to articulate about the supplemental material and it's often a case-by-case situation between student and instructor. I've heard some buzzing about the online instruction from the Gracie camp but haven't looked into it deeply. I'm sure it'll work for some and not others. It's interesting to see how the sport/art grows, more steps are taken to organize and unify how things are taught. Grading is a topic that is still covered in mystique and can vary so much between schools.

I'll check out your write-up and thanks again for sharing.

Luke

Anonymous said...

"I've been looking for a Judo coach to teach at my academy but haven't had much luck."

At EMAC P'To arranged for "Kob", a Thai national team Judoka, to teach some stand-up techniques for a week or 2. Kob is a really really nice guy.
Personally, I just don't like stand-up, for me it's ground ground ground and groundgame (due to physical limitations), but practising stand up these 2 weeks has forced me to adopt a stand-up strategy which otherwise i wouldn't have.