What Can You Do To Ensure That Day 1 Students Stick Around?

Michael Cowling and his students participate in Roll for ROWW in 2015. Photo Source: Chantelle Martin/ Roll for ROWW

The truth is that many of us who train for six months, a year, 10 years, etc., have a tendency of forgetting what it was like to be first day students.  Someone (I don’t remember who) once said one should never forget their first day on the mat.

The first day of any endeavor is always going to be disorienting.  In jiu-jitsu it can be downright humiliating and painful if you’re in an unhealthy or unwelcoming environment.  The truth is that while everyone’s experience is their own, and ultimately you are responsible for your own growth and development, there are things that we senior members can do to help the newbs feel welcome and stick around.

Perhaps the most important thing that a more experienced practitioner can do is to let the newer members know that there’s nothing to “prove” in the gym.  Far too often, I see overzealous senior members (most often newer blue belts) who feel the need to put white belts “in their place.”  This kind of mentality breeds an unhealthy competitive environment in the gym.

The first time I roll with anyone unfamiliar, I let them know that I will match their energy.  I will give them the same level of output as they give me.  I have no hesitation in stopping a roll to let someone know that they are doing something that is potentially dangerous to one of us.  This kind of communication must be done gently, I usually go with something along the lines of “hey, when you _____ it puts _____ at risk. For now lets slow it down a bit and stay safe. Maybe later we can explore what happens when you ____.”  If a beginner feels confronted they are likely to get defensive which can create barriers to learning.

When drilling with a beginner, a lot of frustration can arise from being unable to do a move.  Inability to perform techniques can be simply a result of poor instruction.  As an instructor I go through a process:

  1. Show.  I show the technique to the class step-by-step, allowing them to ask whatever questions they may have. I focus on the details that make each move work making it more likely that the majority of the students will “get it.”
  2. Tell.  If I see a student failing to execute a technique, I’ll tell them what they’re doing wrong.  This solves the problem a lot of the time.
  3. Feel. I do the technique to you and then you do the technique to me.  Very often having a technique done to you will help you realize where you are going wrong, and very often as an instructor, having a technique done to you will tell you where your student is going wrong.
  4. Do it in tandem: If all else fails I grab two senior students, one for the person doing the technique and one for me, and we do the technique in tandem step-by-step receiving feedback from the senior students.  Here’s a video of me using this last method to teach a day 1 white belt how to execute a triangle:

Teaching a first day white belt at Izzah Kombat Sports & Fitness last night. Triangles can be tricky especially if it's your first time grappling. First I tried explaining the move but the student was still struggling so I got the 2 seniormost students to help me teach. I had one be the beginner's uke, and the other was mine and we did the technique together, step by step. Jiu jitsu is amazing but can be very difficult to learn. One crucial element is having a patient instructor who is willing to go to any lengths to ensure you learn properly. I am grateful to my coaches Pablo Angel Castro III and Sean Daugherty for setting a great example in how they teach. Every other Wednesday I teach a #fundamentals #gi class at Izzah at 7pm in the basement of 2490 Lee Blvd in #Cleveland heights. I also occasionally teach at Strong Style Training Center.If you want to come check the next class out in 2 weeks, the mat fee at Izzah is only 7$. Teaching at Izzah Kombat Sports & Fitness has been amazing thus far and I am thrilled to see the group constantly grow. #bakingcookiestakinglimbs #fryingfritters #emilkatsu #justapurplebelt #grappling #bjjlife #bjjlifestyle #jiujitsu #gi #bjj #jiujitsulifestyle #martialarts #teamstrongstyle #ludwigvan #StrongStyleBrasa #hydrus #impactmouthguards #northsouthjiujitsu #ClevelandCryo216 #codechiro #cannabody #valorfightwear #valorfightwearusa #AmyJoyDonuts #Meerkatsu

Posted by Emil Fischer on Thursday, January 25, 2018

Be welcoming to beginners.  Let them feel that they are in a healthy environment where they can learn these new skills and their growth will be faster and more sustained.  What we do is difficult; the human element should make it easier, not harder.

For the instructors and senior students out there: what do you do to ensure that the day 1 student returns?


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