Plan for Tomorrow, Teach for Today

Don't come to class with an agenda. Follow your instructor's lead.

After the success of Royce Gracie in the early UFC events, experienced martial artists began a frantic search for ‘authentic’ Brazilian jiu-jitsu schools. When they located these schools, many folks coming from the more traditional disciplines of karate, judo, and the like were taken aback by the lack of formality and overt structure in the classes and on the mat. It seemed that the laid back mentality and easy going attitude of the Brazilian beach culture seeped its way into daily practice.

The implementation of this laissez faire South American lifestyle into a martial art is, in many ways, the foundational strength of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Rather than forcing an external belief system or strict regulations on the art, BJJ purists let the art speak for itself. Or, as Rickson Gracie says: “Jiu-Jitsu is more applicable than theoretical.” The BJJ fighter is reminded to remain malleable in the adoption and application of techniques.

The malleability of Brazilian jiu-jitsu extends beyond the fight and into the dynamic between student and teacher. As BJJ schools spread across the US at a rate like an online video of Charlie Sheen working the room at a gentlemen’s club, there are an ever-increasing amount of martial arts business models being introduced into the market. There are, however, not many options for learning how to teach the art.

In a way, the teaching neophyte is left with two lesson styles to replicate. First, he can look to the Gracie Academy model being implemented with increased frequency, where there is a very specific lesson curriculum for students at each belt level.

Second, he may emulate the teacher who looks around, shrugs, and shares a move or technique completely unrelated to the one taught the day before.

Stepping away from these two polar opposites, a third option provides a plan that remains flexible to changing circumstances. In this method, an academy will focus on one position or idea for, say, the week (i.e., the mount, the back, self-defense, etc.). Based upon the experience level of the students in the class, the instructor will decide which aspect of the position is most applicable.

With this approach, students are exposed to the wide range of possibilities within the parameters of a given idea. Over time, the goal is for the student to contextualize a number of techniques associated with a particular position into the larger canvas of Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

This flexible teaching style works especially well for the academy that has more than one instructor because it allows for different teachers to each apply their own “special sauce,” as my teacher, Franjinha, would say.

The accommodation of a lesson plan to the needs of students’ understanding is reminiscent of Mike Tyson’s maxim: “Everyone has a plan until they get hit.” Have a plan, but be ready to change it when hit with ten white belts who are staring blankly as you attempt to explain a counter to the berimbolo sweep.


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