By Brendan Hufford
You’ve reached that stage in your BJJ journey where your instructor feels you’re ready to start teaching a class or two. Most of you will be a little anxious under these circumstances and wondering if you have what it takes to deliver when leading a class. Your instincts as a novice teacher may be to just replicate what you know, or to hope for inspiration to strike as you step up to the front.
If you’re serious about delivering a great session for your students and want to walk away at the end feeling positive about the experience and keen to do more, then you really need to prepare for success. Here’s how!
How many times have you seen this in a Brazilian jiu jitsu class? The instructor teaches a technique 3-5 times while the students sit silently. The instructor asks if anybody has any questions and is met with silence. The instructor shows the technique one more time (maybe).
The students are sent off to drill the technique. No more than a minute passes before the instructor calls the students back, telling them they’re all doing the technique wrong. The instructor shows the technique another couple of times, the students still ask no questions and are sent off to drill again. Depending on the academy, roughly 20-50% of class time is wasted in such a manner.
Why? Because the instructor has no idea whether the students have understood what has been taught.
In classroom teaching, we are taught to formally and informally check for comprehension. There are six great ways to check to see if students comprehend what has been taught: orally, physically, drilling, positional work, sparring, and at the end of class. By using a combination of these methods of checking comprehension, instructors can ensure that their students are actually learning what they are teaching!
1. ORAL COMPREHENSION CHECKS
During demonstration of a technique, the BJJ instructor should show the technique twice. On the third run-through, give the first step of the technique and then ask the students, “What should I do next? Why should I do that?” Oral comprehension checks like this provide a quick, informal assessment to see if students understand what is being taught. Maybe the class has a lot of beginners and the instructor needs to show the technique four to five times before checking for comprehension. Conversely, the class may be more advanced so this check could be skipped entirely. I would still recommend that BJJ instructors use this in every single class.
2. PHYSICAL COMPREHENSION CHECKS
After demonstrating the technique, using oral comprehension checks, and allowing the students time to drill the technique, the instructor could then ask the students, “Who understands the technique?” A student may then demonstrate the technique with a partner in front of the rest of the class. The instructor and class can constructively critique the student’s work.
There are two benefits to this type of instruction: first, it allows the entire class to learn together and allows the instructor to give truly undivided attention to a single student. It also helps the students to get used to being nervous and performing in front of a group. In future they will feel less and less nervous and it will prepare them for the “nerves” that often accompany competition.
The first time I experienced a physical comprehension check in a BJJ academy was at a Caio Terra seminar. Needless to say, there are few things more nerve-wracking than being asked to demonstrate a technique that Caio just taught you in front of 60 other people. I failed horribly, but in 5 minutes I truly understood the technique and every student who demonstrated after me did an excellent job because they had learned from my mistakes.
3. COMPREHENSION CHECKS DURING DRILLING
This is probably the comprehension check that 99% of BJJ instructors know and use. This often happens after instructors have shown the technique and they walk around to see how students are doing with drilling it. Instructors will teach students much more individually as the drilling portion of class affords them the opportunity to address students in small groups.
Don’t get me wrong though. Just because it’s the most common, doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s actually the perfect time to check on students’ comprehension, but it shouldn’t be the only way instructors see if students are learning.
4. COMPREHENSION CHECKS DURING POSITIONAL WORK
I believe that positional work can range in intensity anywhere from 50% to 100% and is one of the best times to check for students’ comprehension. If a student shows full comprehension during 0% resistance, instructors could have their partner increase resistance gradually and see how well they can continue to demonstrate what they have learned.
I would recommend that every instructor use this method as it will give students a chance to attempt the techniques that were taught in class that day. If you’ve just taught armlocks from the closed guard, close the class with multiple rounds of sparring from the closed guard. This will force students to attempt and defend what they have learned on that day. If students learned 3 half guard sweeps during class, start all sparring that day from the half guard position.
See which students are effectively using the techniques from class and coach them through if they are struggling. By doing this, instructors will drastically reduce their students’ learning curve and increase the effectiveness of their instruction as well!
5. SPARRING OR COMPETITION
Some of the best instructors I have ever had the chance to train under take sparring seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they would take time away from their own sparring to observe and assess their own students.
The ultimate display of comprehension is when students make a technique part of their game and use it in sparring and competition. If a student is able to execute a technique against an opponent of equal skill in the heat of competition, you know they have full comprehension. Alternately, if a student can demonstrate a mount escape perfectly in class, but gets mounted in every competition match and can never escape, you have a much better picture of that student’s understanding of escaping the mount position.
6. DRILL WHAT YOU REMEMBER
So your students are exhausted. They’ve just been through a 90+ minute class including hard drilling and sparring. They’re so thankful that the last round of sparring has ended and are ready to bow out and go home. If you let them just walk off the mat, you miss one of the most golden opportunities to see if they understood the lesson from today.
Have your students get a partner and, without instruction, perform 10-20 reps of each technique they learned that day. Stress that each rep must be perfect. In their depleted mental and physical state, you will be able to quickly gauge who has the highest level of conceptual understanding.
Don’t stop the students if they are doing it wrong, but instead make a mental note to pull them aside after class and help them with whatever mistake(s) they were making. This is, without a doubt, my favourite way to assess understanding and also to ingrain technical memory into my students’ minds and muscles.
A CHECKLIST TO REALLY KNOW IF YOUR STUDENTS ARE LEARNING
Have them orally walk you through techniques
Have them demonstrate techniques in front of others
Check them while drilling
Have them do high-intensity drilling or positional sparring using the technique
Critically observe sparring
Have students end class by drilling what they remember from earlier
Brendan Hufford has a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration and is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu purple belt under Miguel Torres / Andre Maneco. He currently writing at GiReviews.Net