Tips for Having a Great BJJ Private

Preamble: I recently talked about BJJ private classes gone bad. This tip is about how to make sure that that doesn’t happen.

Training in a group setting under the watchful eye of your main instructor is a good thing. Hopefully he cares about your development as a grappler, knows where you’ve been and is helping you progress. (And if that’s not the case then you should find a new school. Seriously).

However if your game has gotten stale, then a private class might be just what you need to break you out of your rut. Of course you can take a private with your main instructor. But sometimes taking a private from a different instructor can give you new insights. In extreme cases, it can even lead to having a major breakthrough for a technique, strategy or training method.

For the sake of this article, let’s assume you’re thinking about training with someone new. Maybe a famous BJJ competitor is coming through town on a seminar tour. Maybe you’re traveling and discover that you’re in the same city as a well-known instructor. Either way, before you plunk down your hard-earned cash you want to do a few things…

FIRST, TRY TO GATHER SOME INFORMATION!

If you don’t already know the instructor, you want to do a bit of a background check first. You can ask your training partners if they’ve heard anything him, or you can post a question (“What Are Instructor X’s Privates Like”) on one of the big forums like MMA.tv or Sherdog. Just take the responses with a grain of salt, as some of the posters may have an axe to grind, whereas others may want to pump up their own (bad) instructor.

Keep in mind that you can get a pretty good sense of someone’s teaching style from watching their instructional DVDs or Youtube clips (if they have them). The important thing is that his teaching style matches your learning style.

Here are some things you might want to find out before you reserve your slot.

  • Is there a specific format to his private classes? For example, is he open to questions?
  • Will he spar with you (or is that ALL he ever wants to do)?
  • If you’re from another school or team, is this going to be a problem?
  • How much will it cost? Do you also need to sign up for his organization? Is it extra if you bring someone else to be your training partner?
  • Can you film the session? Most people will say no, because they don’t want their material to end up on Youtube in an uncontrolled manner. Some instructors take it so far that they won’t even allow you to take notes, which would be a deal-breaker for me.

THEN HAVE A PLAN

Have an idea of what you want to learn. What do you want to walk away with after the session?

My suggestion is to focus on a specific technique or area of your game. Let’s take something as ‘simple’ as the armbar from the guard. If you’re working with someone who really understands that technique you can easily spend an hour on it and not yet have covered all the principles, entries, counters and recounters.

Another approach I’ve used is to have a list of questions on different topics. I did this for my first private with Erik Paulson many years ago – I wanted his opinion on different leglocks, the application details of the rear naked choke, setting up shoots, etc. It made for a bit of a scattered session, but I came away with answers to a lot of questions that had been vexing me for a while. For this approach I like to write my list of questions down, just so I don’t forget.

Don’t be afraid to be specific. Asking “what can I do from butterfly guard when my opponent is keeping his elbows back” is a hundred times better than just going in there and just saying “show me some stuff because I need to work on everything.”

WHAT TO COVER (AND WHAT NOT TO COVER)

Now I’ll talk about something that’s obvious in retrospect, but easy to screw up on.

Is this teacher known for certain techniques and positions? Is he an open guard wizard, for example? Does he have a killer clinch game? Can he hit leglocks from every known position? This is important to know, because you want to learn from the instructor’s strengths, and not force him to teach from his weaknesses. (And yes, everyone has weaknesses).

Once I made a hash out of a private with a very good instructor by breaking this rule. At the time I was mostly working on my bottom game, so I had lots of questions for ‘Instructor X’ about the half guard, the half butterfly and the deep half guard (he was famous, so I figured he had to know the answers, right?).

Well ‘Instructor X’ showed me a lot of half guard stuff. The problem was that most of that material didn’t ‘click’ for me in sparring later. It took a few months, but I eventually figured the problem – he was a top player and didn’t like the half guard! He didn’t want to disappoint me in the private and tried his best, but his answers lacked the depth, sophistication and perspective he would have been able to offer had he been teaching one of his strengths.

If we had stuck to passing the half guard I would have come away with tons of good stuff, I’m sure.

Finally, also try to figure out how YOU learn best. Do you need new techniques broken down verbally? Does a Q-and-A format work for you or do you just like to have material presented to you? How much repetition do you need to remember a new technique? Do you learn fastest if you physically feel someone doing it to you? Do you have to try something in sparring before you ‘get it?”

You’re paying the guy for his time and knowledge, but some of the responsibility comes back to you to make the most of your session.

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