This is an interesting post. I decided to share because I recently had an opportunity to use my creative side in Jiu-Jitsu. I haven’t used my fingertips in a while for typing, so my writing may be a bit rusty.
Jeff, my Jiu-Jitsu instructor, decided to attend a Neiman Gracie seminar down in Norwich, CT last night. The Norwich school is owned and operated by our good friend Charlie McShane, who, in my opinion, is one of the best BJJ players in CT. I actually think Charlie has given new meaning to the word, “Rolling.” Take a look.
Kirkor vs Charlie 2012
Anyway, I haven’t seen Jeff since last night, so I have no idea how the seminar went. According to Charlie’s blog, it was a sold out showing, which is good.
The reason I am writing this post is because Jeff asked me to cover class last night. I wanted to tell you about it.
Now, let’s remember that I’ve been practicing Jiu-Jitsu for almost four years but have relatively little formal teaching experience. I do enjoy one-on-one sort of private lessons, but as far as guiding large classes…let’s just say I am fresh in that department. And just as luck would have it, last night’s class was traditionally large. We have our regulars as well as two new students.
Ever since Jeff asked me to cover class, I thought about ways to put my own style on what I was going to cover. I’m not very good at presenting a technique and having students imitate me. I know that’s the way it’s done all over the globe and that it works, but for some strange reason, ever since the day I was born, I’ve been different. If you say up, I say down. You get the picture. So this case was no different. I needed to involve the students with what I wanted to go over. I wanted them to teach me as I sit, smile and nod. I just needed to figure out a way to accomplish that.
In the email that Jeff sent over, he reminded me that we have been covering sweeps to submissions. He also reminded me that Wednesdays are beginner classes. Which is fine. I can handle beginner stuff. I prefer advanced material, but I can handle beginner stuff. I just have to battle my wandering mind and stay focused, but it’s fine.
Since we’ve been going over various types of sweeps to submissions, I felt that some good, in-depth coverage of the quintessential scissor sweep was in order. Something different – something unexpected. What I am talking about is something like this (and this is pretty much how it went last night – verbatim):
“Guys. Can I have your attention. Ah-hem. Please do one hundred crunches and fifty push-ups. Yes, I said fifty.”
I like push-ups and we don’t nearly do enough of them. Okay, so after we all got our stretching and exercises done, I told everyone what was on my mind.
“I know that we’ve been covering various sweeps to submissions, so Jeff asked that I stay on that topic.”
Now, this is where I get nervous because I realize that there are fifteen people who have decided to quiet down and stare at me. I’m generally good at bursts of information and then running away. I’m not so good at talking, stopping, realizing others are looking at me and then continuing on. But I pushed through because I didn’t want to submit (no pun intended) to my innate desire to give up and simply go over some sweep I was comfortable with and just have everyone follow. I really think I had a good idea, so I kept going.
“John, how long have you been at this sport? A few years, I know. Do you know the scissor sweep?”
“Yeah, I can demonstrate it, but I still have trouble getting it on the mat.”
“I hear you. So do I. How many others know the scissor sweep but don’t really have it in your bag of tricks when we spar at the end of class?”
Lot’s of people nodded their heads.
A few people gave answers. I think the consensus was that we’re all pretty much aware of each others game by this point, “surprising” each other with that type of sweep isn’t really going to happen. If there is an extraordinary mismatch in weight, there’s no need for surprise. The larger person can simply muscle through the sweep and can get whatever they want. But they can do that with anything, so we’re used to it.
“Alright. Here’s what I want to do. I want to basically lay a foundation of truth – of what we know. Toby, can you and Rich please come to the middle of the mat? Good. Rich, can you please sweep Toby using the scissor sweep. Now Toby, you are completely unaware that Rich is going to sweep you. Translated, that means you will be swept.”
With that, Rich swept Toby.
“Now, Rich, please sweep Toby again. This time, Toby is aware that he will be swept and he will not let that happen under and circumstance.”
With that, Rich failed at sweeping Toby. What I didn’t tell you is that Toby has a good fifty pounds on Rich and that Toby is quite strong. Quite.
“Okay, can the two of you please switch positions and do the same thing? Toby, sweep Rich and Rich please allow him to. Good. Now, Toby, please sweep him again and this time, Rich, don’t let him.”
Hmmm. Something strange happened that time. Even though Rich tried to block Toby’s sweep, he got swept anyway. Toby’s strength was too much for him and Rich had to go where Toby told him to.
There was a moral to this exercise. I wasn’t exactly sure what it would be, but things turned out wonderfully. The moral went something like this:
“So guys – what happened here? Both times, the first sweeps went without a hitch, but the second time, only one of them occurred successfully. What I’d say happened was that even though we all know the scissor sweep under normal drilling scenarios when we have non-resistant partners, we still have trouble getting it in the “real world.” Unless of course, we are much stronger than our opponent. Now, what I want to look at in tonight’s class is how we deal with something like this simple scissor sweep in a real life scenario. And what I’ve been thinking about all day is that practicing it during sparring isn’t good enough. I have an idea.”
I went on to explain that my idea was to have everyone pair up in twos. I wanted each person to perform an uninterrupted sweep on their partner. Then, for the second sweep, I wanted their partner to resist about 10%. Next, 20% all the way up to 100%. So each person in the pair should be doing about ten or eleven scissor sweeps, each one getting more and more difficult to perform.
I explained that I was well aware that towards the end of each person’s set of sweeps, the would begin to fail. My hope was that they would adjust their position to find success and eventually abandon the sweep altogether and replace it with something else.
Hint: My real goal was to secretly open up the “balance game” to the students. By encountering increasing resistance, they would be forced to adjust and reassess their situation. They would also learn that simply practicing the same technique from the same position over and over again just doesn’t cut it. Constantly moving and playing with an opponent’s balance is key. I also wanted to show them that there comes a time to say goodbye to something that isn’t working and when to replace it with something else.
I asked that each person really pay attention to what they were doing and what type of resistance they were encountering toward their fifth, sixth, seventh sweep. I told them that I was going to ask three people to come out into the middle of the mat after we were done. I wanted them to share their experiences and what they did to handle the situation. Then, I wanted them to perform the actual movements and replacement sweeps.
Surprisingly, things went very well. We really do have a higher intelligence than average flowing through our group, so I never doubted it, but people really stepped up and shared what they felt was going on. I acted only as a moderator and let each person say what they wanted to say. I felt that at this point, with everyone having gone over this specific technique pretty much since day one, the group was ripe for some analysis.
I was only going to have three people come out and talk about what they did, but since things were going so well, I had five. And the others responded well.
Each person (with their partner) who came out, explained their own modification to the sweep (or adjustment to position), when they felt they needed to implement it and how it turned out. The last two people explained that they abandoned the sweep altogether and switched it up with something else. I was impressed.
Now, you tell me. Does this work? Is this a good way to engage students who’ve been around a while? I’ve been thinking more and more about this because I’m trying to develop my natural style of teaching. This is the way I like things and if it works, then I’ll keep going. If not, I’ll change course, but I have a feeling it’s working.