Tuesday, January 17, 2012

What Your BJJ Instructor is Looking For

We had something exciting happen in our Women's Class. Rowan got her first stripe on her white belt! 

At 12 years old, "Robo Rowan" is our first girl coming through the Women's Class to get a stripe. Congratulations, Rowan! I can't tell you how exciting it is for me to see all the girls learning and using the techniques. So proud of all of you gals!!

Teaching is really making me think differently about BJJ. It has helped me better understand what the goals of each class are--what I should be looking to "get out of" each session--and to give me a better understanding of what how instructors might view their students. Some things I have personally learned are:

1. When I watch the girls, I am not as concerned about whether or not they are winning the match they are in and I'm more concerned with seeing whether or not they are using the techniques they know. If I put on the new girls against Stephanie, I know Stephanie is going to "win" because of her longer experience and technical advantage. Or, if I put a smaller girl with a bigger girl, I know strength and size will be a factor in the grapple. What I am looking for is whether or not the disadvantaged student is using the tools they have learned. If they are on bottom, are they trying to use the escapes that they know? If they are making attempts, at what points are they being effective and at what points are they having trouble? A lot of times, I am pleased even if the student remembers an escape, tries it but doesn't quite make it. The fact that they remembered that tool and are working on it is great! Eventually, I know they will get it.

2. I have learned that, for me, a student who comes in with a humble attitude and who is willing to work hard is much more desirable than someone who has a prideful, selfish attitude, even if that prideful one has more natural talent. What I have noticed with new people is that pride will kill a person's bjj journey before it ever really gets started. A lot of times, girls will come in expecting to do well because maybe they are in really good shape or maybe they have had experience in some other martial art. When they aren't instantly "winning" at BJJ, they feel frustrated and don't enjoy it. They end up not coming back. But when someone with no expectations comes in, they are more able to accept that they are not going to be able to dominate everyone they grapple and therefore they are free to enjoy learning. 

3. It does not impress me when a student shows off by being unnecessarily rough with another student. In fact, that kind of behavior does the opposite of impressing me. It makes me want to grapple that person with the same kind of selfish attitude that they showed to their teammate.    

4. There are sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo many holes in my knowledge of BJJ. I can't tell you how many times I have gone to Fabio's classes, seen him show a technique and cringe because I just taught that technique to the girls and left some really important detail out. My only solace is that I will have chances to show that same technique again and point it out later! lol 

5. Above all, I have learned that nothing makes me happier than to see the girls ENJOYING the class and to see them gain confidence in themselves. 


fenix said...

Heh, there are no women, let alone girls at our school.

The issues you described are right on. In my experience, they equally apply when I teach a class full of grownup men :-)

Liam H Wandi said...

"I have learned that, for me, a student who comes in with a humble attitude and who is willing to work hard is much more desirable than someone who has a prideful, selfish attitude, even if that prideful one has more natural talent."

I know what you mean, but at the same time, someone who has a prideful and selfish attitude is often protecting a fragile self. They are, for whatever reason, scared of letting go of control. They need jiu jitsu just like the ones who need it because they are physically weak :o)

Obviously, your top priority is the safety of your students and colleagues, but (as long as the safety is maintained) it's also important for the strong to learn to be gentle and for the gentle to learn how to handle the strong :)

A.D. McClish said...

@Fenix: Wow, I feel lucky then to have so many girls at our school! And bravo for taking on teaching the men. Do you ever have a problem with feeling less respected because you are a woman?

@Liam: That's a very good point. But unfortunately, as much as I try to make it fun for them, a lot of people that come in with pride don't come back for a second class. What would you suggest for getting them to try again?

Liam H Wandi said...

Sometimes, you can take a horse to the water but you can't make it drink

Sometimes, the content (and focus) of the lesson is not what they were looking for

Either way, all you can do as an instructor is follow your bliss. Be nice, open hearted and open minded and let the first lesson be as welcoming as possible.

I personally (and this doesn't mean you should do this) never do anything sparring-ish in the first few lessons. I introduce a technique (usually a self defence one like closing the distance and clinching vs punches or even upa escape from mount) and let people try it out a few times. Every time they perform it, I add a small technical detail here or there. In the end, we perform it against just a little bit of resistance (50% or so) and to me that says:

1. they learned something useful
2. they tested it against some resistance
3. they saw how much depth there is to the art
4. they saw that it's all very do-able and not reserved for muscle heads.

I follow this format for about a month and then slowly gently introduce resistance. I'm both protecting newbies agaisnt injury and also keeping a look out for pride. Pride usually shows it's ugly face when people are challenged. I try to keep that aside while I feed them techniques because techniques and delivery systems are options. If they have options they might (just might) not always resort to pride :)

Having said that, it doesn't always work, but it works better than other methods I've tried.