I recently wrote an article about some ways to get the most out of private lessons, and I started thinking about seminars as well. Seminars are extremely popular in BJJ as they allow us to train with people we would normally only get to see on YouTube or from across a stadium at a major competition. Generally a school makes plans to bring a popular practitioner in for a seminar, hypes it up for a bit, and then the seminar happens. Seminars can cost a lot of money, and sometimes involve people who are viewed as the very pinnacle of BJJ.
For starters, it is important to remember that not everyone who can do can teach, and vice versa. One of the best seminars Ive ever been to was taught by someone who has never won worlds or pans. On the other side of things, I have been to seminars with very high level athletes and didnt really learn as much as I would have liked to. A good way to tell if the person you are going to be learning from is going to help your game is to figure out what that person is known for, and if what they are known for fits in with what you like to do in your Jiu Jitsu.
Another factor that should be taken into account is the persons teaching methodology. If you are better at learning things conceptually, you may want to skip seminars taught by people who like to teach a lot of different moves but dont focus on concepts. If on the other hand youre not looking to change your understanding of what Jiu Jitsu is, and just want to learn cool moves, these sorts of seminars may be the way to go.
One kind of seminar Ive run into that seems to be perhaps the very best is the charity seminar. Sometimes, schools will invite black belts to teach seminars specifically for the purpose of raising money for a cause. From what Ive seen, the mentality held by people running these sorts of seminars is conducive with a great learning environment, and as a result these sorts of seminars very often are not only in support of good causes but also have a lot to offer.
Like private lessons, when at all possible record what you can from the seminar, of course checking with the instructor first. Dont be surprised if the instructor would prefer you not record him or her, but would prefer you record yourself doing their moves, this is customary. Also like private lessons, bring a notebook as you will be getting a lot of information in a relatively short period of time and may not be able to absorb all of that information.
If the instructor is willing (and time permits,) roll with them. I went to a seminar taught by a very high level black belt who was rolling with everyone who asked and honestly experiencing the level that this person is capable of grappling at was possibly more valuable than the seminar itself. Many of us have no idea what its like to roll with a top tier black belt.
Go to seminars as they can be very valuable and can give us game changing details, but dont expect a seminar to be a substitute for good, regular training.
Emil Fischer an active blue belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training with Strong Style Brasa. For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete page at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj