In the last two posts I discussed why it is critical to place the highest value on core fundamentals, and we also discussed how the sequence those fundamentals are offered in matters. It is important to remember that as much as that may all seem like common sense, we shouldn’t assume that people who have never had any formal training whatsoever as teachers would automatically get it right; most teachers do not.
I have watched many classes from very high level BJJ players who simply begin with any random technique they may have been working on at the moment; and although that may be fine for a guest appearance, or at a seminar, or when working with a group of already seasoned brown belts, when your working with the same people week after week who are starting from scratch, learning simple concepts such as the relative importance of the order of the material can make all the difference in the world. And it can mean your students may be able to compete at a solid blue belt level within a Year, as opposed to two or three.
How do you know what order to place the material in?
Here are three simple rules of thumb I often use:
1- Teach things in the order in which they arise naturally on the mat.
2- Teach them in the order in which you want your students to apply them as habits.
3- And don’t create problems before they arise naturally on the mat.
Regarding number one, if I am teaching how to open the closed guard to a brand new group of people, I am not going to start with a couple specific leg opening movements and then proceed later into base and posture. That would be out of sequence with what they will experience when they are rolling. So obviously there we would start with base and posture, and then proceed to opening the legs. Point number one and point number two tend to blend together when you are teaching. They are like two sides of the same coin.
As a good Coach what you obviously want is for your students to develop the habit of defending and applying things in the same order in which they actually occur during a live role. And that means always trying to solve things as early as possible, not at the last possible minute.
Here is another example of point number two (you can see where it relates to point number one throughout). Lets use the example of leg lock counters.
If I show a group of people new to leg locks how to counter an achilles hold, and I start with the lock almost completely on, then I have skipped at least five different steps.
The natural by product of teaching this way is that you will have a room full of beginners who will often start their counter movements at a point in which they are just about to tap. As a teacher who wants his students to be catching these things as early as possible, this would not be good.
Instead, first I would start with where to put your feet. I would follow with how to clear your foot once someone grabs it. I would follow that with how to stay attached, and not allow your opponent to lay back and get position for the leg lock (assuming you could not prevent them from grabbing it in the first place, and once grabbed you were unable to free your foot), and only after all of those things would I proceed with the last ditch counter-submission movements.
Rickson had a very simple order in which he taught his curriculum. He called it:
defense – offense – defense.
What I believe he meant by that was that he started with the fundamentals of a given position. In his case he started with escapes. As you have to teach top in order to teach bottom, we can call that first segment titled ‘defense’, fundamental positions. Your first, and by far your best means of defense is to always seek the advantage found in positional dominance. That is what BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is about.
Following positional dominance he taught the second section of core ‘offense’, chokes, armbars, etc. All of these flow off of maintaining position first, as it’s the position that gives you the leverage for the submission. This is a point all BJJ players know and learn very quickly.
Last he would teach ‘counter-offense’, this is the third section labeled ‘defense’, which is to say the counters to the submissions. This is a very logical progression, defense – offense – defense. And it relates to the same points I have made above.
The last rule of thumb was not creating problems before they arise naturally.
Again lets assume you are working with a group of brand new students. The lesson for the day is the triangle. The students have already worked some fundamentals about the guard, and as such they are well prepared for introduction to this fundamental submission.
Here is the question, if the triangle is a new movement for the majority of the group, would I want to drill the counter to the submission in the same class?
My answer to that is almost always (remember warnings not rules) an emphatic no.
What I want to see first is the students in the class tapping each other out in live rolls using a triangle. In a good class, this can often occur the same day. But that stated, I would probably give the group at least a few weeks to work the submission before I started drilling the counter to it. After a few weeks every time I got to the Q & A section at the end of class I am quite sure there would be at least a few people who would raise their hand and tell me they were having trouble getting caught with triangles. The problem has now arisen, and as such it would be time to work the counter to it.
What I don’t want to do is drill the counter to the triangle before anyone in the class is really able to pull off a triangle in a competitive roll. If I do, I may actually be doing a disservice to my students. I will be shortchanging their ability to play with, and grow into this submission.
Of course I am not suggesting that you will not mention key points that will involve what others may do in an attempt to counter the movement you just taught, i.e. with a triangle you will probably discuss the need to keep the opponent from getting posture. You may also work what to do if the opponent tries to pick them up and slam them, or tries to hide their own arm, make a frame, etc. But, the distinction here is one of perspective. We are working from the perspective of the person applying the triangle, so the majority of drill time will be aimed at this objective. That does not mean you will not expose your students to the things that may come up while attempting the movement.
Again, as common sense as that idea seems to be, we cannot assume that anyone teaching BJJ will automatically understand it.
As good Coaches it is our job to help our staff learn how to best impart this information to others. I have seen many coaches introduce a new submission to the class, and then five minutes later teach the counter to the very same submission. The natural by product of that is that a good percentage of the students never actually learn to use the submission, as everyone counters it before they have even gotten a chance to develop it. A few weeks go by, and the move is forgotten. Perhaps only to be picked up Years later when some of the students are purple belt, and they say “Oh ya, I remember seeing that 4 Years ago but I could never do it?”
By sticking to the guidelines listed above, teaching things in the order they arise, creating habits in the order we want them to be executed, and avoiding the creation of problems before they arise naturally, we can help create that optimum environment for growth that will allow the students to thrive.