I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the most effective way to teach Jiu-jitsu and have come to the conclusion that it’s somewhat of a moving target.
First of all, I think we need to admit that we’re all wrong. I don’t know, I just think that if the world is doing something one way, we should probably do it another way. Rarely is the herd mentality ideal. This just can’t be the absolute best we can do. If we break it down – the way we currently teach and learn Jiu-Jitsu, in general, it goes something like this (and this is the way I’ve taught things when I was asked to do so):
“Okay class, today I am going to show you how to do the triangle. Watch this. Now you try.”
Really? Is that it? We can do better, because right now, it doesn’t matter if you’ve been training for a month or ten years, anyone can accomplish that style of teaching.
I’ve seen video after video of black belts trying to show classrooms full of eager students how to learn Jiu-Jitsu and I have to say, I am sometimes shocked at how unqualified they are at what they are doing. I think it’s the way they communicate. Or perhaps the way they don’t.
I remember taking a remedial Algebra course back in college. I wasn’t the best at math, so they stuck me in the remedial course to catch up with the others. Before the class began for the semester, I was somewhat nervous, because I was really bad and I needed to get through what I was trying to do. I didn’t think the instructor had it in him to connect me with the problems I would face. Want to know something? That instructor, with no advanced degree, was the best math teacher I have ever had. In later years, after making it all the way up to Calculus, I never saw teaching methods as effective as the ones I experienced by the “white belt.”
So what did that first instructor do that was so much different than the others? Well, for one, he didn’t spout out what he knew and what was required of us to learn. He showed us what things “meant.”
I’ll give you an example. And you can chew on this for a while. Say that, right this instant, someone walked up to you and wanted to know what love is. Say they just crawled out from under a rock or landed on this planet from somewhere far away and had heard so much about this “love” thing that they wanted to know all about it. Say they wanted you to teach them all they needed to know about love.
Now, how would you go about doing that? Would you demonstrate the actions that two people take when they are in love? Would you hold hands with them? Would you kiss them? Would you take them to the movies? Of course you wouldn’t because those things I just wrote have nothing to do with love. They are merely “symptoms” of love, if you want to look at it one way or “results” of love, if you want to look at it another.
So how would you go about it? I’m glad I’m asking you this question because I haven’t the foggiest idea how I would. I couldn’t, because love isn’t something someone can learn, it just happens. And it happens at the oddest moments.
I suppose, if you were really good, you could “lead” someone to love. You could bring them places and show them people you think they might be interested in. You could expose them to a wide variety of situations where they would experience different emotions, therefore finding something they don’t want to leave. When they argue with you after you tell them it’s time to go home, I think you may have done a decent job. When they stop paying attention and lose focus, you’re done.
I think a lot of things can be compared to the example I just gave you. If you take the time to analyze what it takes to allow someone to fully understand and experience something, you’ll be getting close to what it takes for someone to learn that something.
The biggest question I’ve always had, whenever I did anything, was “why?” Jay, go do this. “Why?” Jay, this is the way it’s done. “Why?”
The reason I kept asking “why” was because no one ever presented me with a problem that their solution would fix. They simply wanted to teach me lessons all the time. “Don’t take any wooden nickels” and “Be sure to look both ways before you cross the road” were sayings I heard a lot. I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t listen to people very much.
I guess if I had been swindled out of some money, told my parents about it, and had them warn me before I went into any similar type dealings, I would have been more receptive. Or if I had been hit by a car because I walked into the middle of the road, I sure would listen to the warnings to be careful the next time I had someplace to go.
Why? Because I would be referring back to something I already experienced. If I burned my hand from touching a hot stove, I would heed the warning that the stove was on, the next time I went near it.
I’ve rambled on for long enough already, but I guess my point is this – How in the heck can we effectively – and I mean effectively, learn the triangle choke, if we have no idea why we are learning the triangle? What good is the triangle? When should I use the triangle? If there a position to initiate the triangle from that’s most effective? When someone sees the triangle coming, do they react a certain way? How long does it take for someone to generally tap when they get the triangle thrown on them and how to people get out of the triangle?
Boy, those certainly are valid questions and I think a wholistic approach to teaching and learning the triangle would be well received. How so?
I’m going to lay out a few ideas I just conjured up as I was writing this post. These may not be great, but it’s what came to mind.
– As an instructor, sit in the middle of a circle of students. Explain to them what the triangle is and why it’s so effective.
– Explain to the students what to look for (ripe triangle moments) when a triangle might be right around the corner.
– Have two higher belts move into the middle of the circle for a nice, smooth flow rolling session, where they are asked to find openings for the triangle.
– Let the remaining students watch where triangles originate from, how they are applied and how they are finished.
– As an instructor, offer commentary while the flow rolling is going on. Explain what the higher belts are doing and why they are doing those things.
– Mix in some lower belts with a higher belt out in the middle of the circle and let everyone offer commentary on the lower belt’s efforts.
– Most importantly, explain the benefit of performing the triangle choke during certain situations as opposed to other available techniques.
This is what I call learning. It captivates attention and is downright fun. If the lower belts think they are going to be called out to the middle, you bet they are going to pay attention and absorb what’s going on.
I’ve heard people say that techniques in Jiu-Jitsu should be drilled, drilled, drilled. While I agree that drilling helps improve technique, I also believe that telling someone to drill, drill, drill a technique over and over again is akin to telling someone to fall in love, fall in love, fall in love. If that someone hasn’t ever had the feeling of love, they have no idea what to look for when they are told to do so.
It’s not that I have something concrete I’m against with current Jiu-Jitsu teaching style, I am simply a Jiu-Jitsu black sheep. I have a difficult time believing that following the tradition of teaching a martial art, simply because that’s the way it’s always been done, is the right way to go. It can’t be the most effective, just because the first guy, a thousand, or a hundred, or ten years ago did it this way. It can’t be – and teaching phenoms have been sprinkled throughout history to reinforce my point. Think Confucius, think Socrates, think Jesus. These are people who transformed what people thought they already knew or taught people what they thought they needed to know.
Perhaps showing students the setup and the finish to a technique would suffice. Let them discover the technique itself.
I also have another idea that I picked up through the years. I’ve listened to students from a variety of schools and students that I’ve trained with at my current school. And it seems that though “concept” learning is a very exciting area.
The way I like to do things is sort of like this (and I’m totally copying this from how relational database indexing works) – Say there are five traditionally popular way to pass someone’s guard. Each scenario requires that the person passing the guard either travel above or below their opponent’s legs. I’m sure you can vision that if you’re into Jiu-Jitsu. It’s common and it’s the way we do things.
Now, say that each of the “passes” use some of the same chunks of technique for each one. There may be three main chunks for each pass and then beyond that, each is unique. So here’s what I mean – Say that each and every pass uses some sort of leg control, collar control (for gi) and head control. After that, each pass has unique elements only to that pass.
Here’s my question – Wouldn’t it be prudent to turn the “chunks” that are common among all passes into “concepts?” Perhaps collar control can be a lesson in itself. So instead of teaching techniques that use collar control independently, and never referring to the fact that collar control among all techniques is common, teach collar control as a concept and then the techniques around that. If you teach all the major concepts, techniques have no other option but to fall in place.
That “concept” idea is just that – an idea. I think of it as being similar to the way MySQL databases (or any relational database for that matter) work. Say you have ten records that all use the same sentence, “Boy, it sure is nice outside today.” You surely wouldn’t want to stick that sentence into each record. As the database grows and the number of records grow similarly, the database size is going to get out of hand. Instead, a better way to do it is to store the sentence, “Boy, it sure is nice outside today.” once and give it a number, such as 342. Every time that sentence is called for, the database just looks for number 342, instead of every single occurrence of the sentence. It’s much more efficient and I think teaching can be styled around something like this.
Okay, these are just my thoughts for Sunday night. If you have an opinion on them, please share with me below. I’ll be sure to respond.