This Is How A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Really Helps You Improve

Professor Tom DeBlass and his Instructor Ricardo Almeida--photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

Traveling to teach at some BJJ schools that do not have access to a black belt instructor, I notice a few common patterns. While it is obvious that an instructor teaches techniques and the details, there is more to a student’s progress than just being shown some cool moves.

Observing the students roll, I can spot a few tendencies when students are learning primarily from video instructionals. Much has been said about the negative aspects of new students learning from YouTube, and much of it is justified. YouTube BJJ videos are a great resource if used properly, and seldom a day goes by when I don’t watch a BJJ video or two.

But I see the limitations of learning from video when I visit an academy that doesn’t have regular access to an experienced instructor.

Here is how experienced instructors really help.

They show you which positions to learn.

One of the students in the academy said that while he occasionally watched some BJJ videos online, he avoided the videos in favor of learning techniques directly from other experienced students.

The reason he gave was the amount of instructionals was completely overwhelming! How many sweeps are there on YouTube? Which five or six of the hundreds of possible videos were the ones he should learn? Which instructors were teaching the move correctly and which videos were crap?

A good instructor knows the road well and can steer you away from low percentage techniques, sweeps for very specific situations, or techniques that are not suitable for your level.

As one instructor said, “Just concentrate on these 5 most important sweeps and forget about the rest for now.”

They help you feel jiu-jitsu.

Some of my favorite instructors —  Rickson Gracie, for instance — emphasize how the pressure and tightness of some positions must be felt to be truly understood.

I often will demonstrate a technique where a subtle shift in angle will apply significantly more pressure to the opponent. To the casual observer nothing appears different than the standard version. That is why I tell students, “People watching the match will not understand why you are unable to move, but you can feel the difference in pressure!”

When I attend a seminar or see a cool technique, I always ask the instructor if I may feel the technique applied on me. Nearly every time I will feel a specific tightness or pressure that was not easy to see when I was merely watching the technique.

You just can’t get that from a video.

They help you progress

After training BJJ for some months it probably occurred to you that jiu-jitsu was not simply about who knew the most moves. You saw that there were certain moves, positions, and concepts that one should learn at the start which provide a foundation for learning the advanced moves as the student progresses.

For example, learning a flower sweep (aka pendulum sweep) will teach many principles of sweeping that the student may apply to all of their other sweeps.

Should the new student learn a scissors sweep or an X guard sweep first? Videos do not give a clue as to which techniques should be taught according to their priority.

A good instructor can introduce moves to you at the appropriate time for your skill level. This saves you valuable time in not chasing moves that aren’t appropriate for your current skill level and wasting your valuable training time.

What does your instructor teach you that you can’t learn from videos?


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