I once attended a seminar taught by a big name in BJJ (don’t ask me who – my lips are sealed!).
It was in a medium-sized town, but for whatever reason, attendance was terrible. There were only about 8 people there, myself included.
And it didn’t take very long to figure out that that at least six of the eight attendees were brand new beginners. We’re talking about never-been-taught-the-armbar-from-the-guard beginners….
So what did we work on?
The big name instructor decided to impress his newbie audience with the most complicated stuff imaginable.
It was jiu-jitsu from outer space… reverse triangle chokes from the open guard… intricate lapel chokes from the top… elaborate guard passes against advanced guard variations.
I enjoyed the material, but then again I had already been doing BJJ for a decade at the time. And I’m not 100% sure, but maybe the blue belt seminar host got something out of it too…
But for everyone else it was way, way, way over their heads!
Consequently the gym was soon filled with a palpable sense of confusion. I think it’s safe to say that hardly anyone retained even a single technique from the seminar.
The only take-home lesson those people learned was that jiu-jitsu is very, very complicated and very, very discouraging.
I made arrangements to go back to the same school the next day to train. Before I even showed up that next day the instructor texted me asking if I wanted to teach the class.
I was happy to help out, so I said yes. And guess what we worked on?
Yup, we started with the super-basic armbar from guard. Then moved on to the ‘Upa’ escape from mount. And then covered a whole lot of bread and butter fundamentals that the students sorely needed.
Maybe it was just because I was juxtaposed to the seminar-from-hell the day before, but I got some great feedback from that little imprompu class. I didn’t really show anything super special, but it happened to be what they needed at the time.
And for that the students were very grateful and appreciative.
There’s certainly a time and a place for complicated. Sometimes you need complicated and advanced stuff to get an edge on your training partners in the arms race that occurs on the mat every day in every jiu-jitsu school.
But first you walk, THEN you run. And advanced jiu-jitsu comes AFTER you at least have some grasp of the basics.
(Not to mention that the basics will save your ass if you ever go to the ground in the street. Knowing how to apply the RNC, or how to maintain mount on someone much bigger than you, or how to defend against punches is far more relevant to self defense than the latest inside-out reverse worm guard sweep.)
Back to the seminar incident…
I don’t know why the seminar instructor misjudged his audience so badly that day.
Maybe he was bored of teaching the basics. Maybe he wanted to try out some experimental stuff he’d been researching. Or maybe he wanted to impress the crowd with his deep and expansive knowledge.
But none of those are good reasons for confusing people.
As an instructor people are paying you good money to be guided by your expertise. And part of that expertise is reading your audience and knowing both what they need to work on, and the best way to impart that knowledge.
Or more bluntly, if your students just aren’t getting something then it’s not their fault; it’s YOUR fault.
If your students are having problems with a technique then, most likely,
- They’re not ready for that technique, or
- It’s a really difficult technique and you need break it down better, or
- They’re not physically suited for that technique, or
- You’re teaching it wrong.
In all these 4 cases the student’s struggles are your fault. You misjudged the situation. I’ve done this, the big name did this, and every instructor on the planet has done this.
Making mistakes is part of the teaching game. What matters is what you do next.
Find a better way to teach the technique, a different way to help your students understand, or move on and teach them the stuff that they really need to be learning instead.
Have you had a similar experience at a seminar? If so, post your own tale of woe below!
And if you want a checklist of the basic skills, positions and techniques of BJJ then check out the free download of my Roadmap for BJJ book.
Good luck with your training (and your teaching)!