Concepts Vs Techniques: Which Is Better?

I really enjoy watching jiu-jitsu instructional videos, but not all are of the same level of clarity and there are different styles of teaching.

Some more advanced instructionals focus more on concepts rather than the details of a move, and some can really drift into esoteric territory.

That is where I think some of their attempts to teach fail.

Let me give an example in guard passing. I recall seeing a few explanations of passing the open guard described ambiguously in terms of levers and controls with a few physics references thrown in.

The instructor was very experienced and had moved away from technique-based passing (“Use the leg drag to pass DLR guard”) to concept based passing (“All you need to do is create the angle and prevent the hip from crossing the horizontal axis. Simple!”). Clear as mud.

He wanted to share this knowledge with the best of intentions, but I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this nebulous language was merely confusing things. Was this approach helpful?

Not to most BJJ students I’ll wager.

Some guys have been black belts for so long that they have forgotten what it’s like to see jiu-jitsu as a beginner or intermediate student.

In the early part of our learning jiu-jitsu, we are just not at a point where we can comprehend and apply some of the valid but more abstract concepts. When we are trapped in the closed guard, we need a specific move to do.

I was attempting to teach a colleague a concept in Javascript on a work project. I explained that “Instead of giving him a fish, I.was going to teach him to fish.” He laughed, scratched his head and said, “I think right now I need a fish!”

There comes a time when you have sufficient command of the mechanics to understand the techniques where you can appreciate and make use of the more abstract concepts. But not early on.

I recall teaching some judo throws and explaining the concept of setup, timing, and kuzushi (all valuable concepts!). Satisfied with my explanation I asked if there were any questions from the class.

One student had a confused expression on his face.

“My right hand goes where?” he asked.

I realized that flowery explanations of the higher concepts were not only unhelpful, but actually making it more difficult for some of the students to learn the technique! This guy was not even hearing about kuzushi, he was trying to wrap his brain around where to put his hands.

There are different styles of learning and some students respond better than others to a detailed, analytical style of instruction. For most of us, trying to wrap our brains around abstract concepts before the basic moves are understood is not a very effective way to learn jiu-jitsu. You can’t skip all of that and get right into concepts of connection and hidden jiu-jitsu.

What do you think? What is your learning style?


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