Does Your BJJ School Divide Classes Based On Experience Level?

A packed class at Ocean County BJJ--photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

Different BJJ schools approach class formats differently. Some schools will offer Beginner or Fundamentals classes seperate from Advanced classes.

Other schools just group everyone into the same class. I’ve been to top notch academies that do both approaches and both produce skilled practitioners.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both formats.

All Levels In The Same Class

Smaller BJJ schools without sufficient student numbers to populate classes with different experience levels are forced to hold everyone in the same class.

The challenge in this format is for the instructor to show positions that are basic enough for beginner students to benefit from, but interesting enough for students with several years of experience.

The vast difference in experience levels can make it challenging for the instructor not to quickly overwhelm the beginners while not frustrating the blue and purple belts with techniques that they already have a solid grasp of.

Some instructors manage this (e.g. showing a Kimura attack) by first showing a basic variation that the beginners can understand, and then following with a more advanced variation with additional details meant for the advanced students. One instructor taught his classes that way and noted that inevitably the beginners went straight for the more advanced variation while the upper belts were often content to drill the basic version!

Another important way that beginners and more advanced students can coexist in the same class is when the more advanced student is paired with a beginner. This allows the advanced student to correct the technique of the beginner. The benefit is not all one-sided as the advanced student learns more deeply about the techniques by correcting the mistakes of the new student. I asked black belt instructor Henry Akins for advice on how to learn the so called “basic” techniques with all of the advanced details that make the basics so effective. His answer was simple: “Teach the basics and you will learn by teaching.”

As a brown belt I still enjoyed going to Fundamentals classes with more basic techniques because my game was more based on basics (inspired by my two favorite BJJ fighters, Roger Gracie and Kron Gracie) and those basic techniques are deep with many fine details for application against experienced opponents.

Separate Classes

At Gracie Barra and many other larger academies, the classes are separated according to experience. If the student numbers permit, this is probably the best way to run the classes.

The Fundamentals classes are focused on the basic skills that beginners most need without them feeling overwhelmed by more complex positions. When beginners are in the advanced class, the entire class flow may grind to a halt when several students become hopelessly lost.

The advanced students benefit more from a class pace that is better suited to their capacity, and their interest is higher when they can experiment with some of the fun, advanced positions. It can be frustrating for an advanced student to drill something with a partner who is far below their level and is not able to keep up.

How are the classes formatted at your BJJ school? Divided by experience level or everyone in a single group?


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