Some Thoughts about Teaching Jiu-Jitsu

Nathan instructing the kids--photo courtesy of Nathan Mendelsohn

I’ve been doing jiu-jitsu off and on for a long time, and throughout that time have accrued a lot of information.  Some of the information has stuck and has shaped me as a jiu-jitsu practitioner, but the reality is I’ve probably forgotten more than I’ve learned.

Over the past few months I’ve begun accepting opportunities to teach classes both at my gym and at affiliates. In that process I’ve made some observations and learned some things about my own jiu-jitsu and jiu-jitsu in general that I think are interesting and potentially useful.

I guess the biggest challenge for me is to take something that I can do instinctively at this point and teach another adult human being to do.  For example: shrimping.  I’ve been shrimping for so long at this point that I shrimp out of bed in the morning without thinking about it.  It’s made its way so deep into my psyche and nervous system that it happens without me thinking about it. However, it’s actually quite difficult to teach someone who has no idea how to use their hips at all to shrimp.  And this is just one of many similar examples.

Here’s the catch though: every time I teach someone how to shrimp, every time I am able to get someone to smoothly glide across the mat in shrimping motion, my shrimping gets just a little bit sharper and more technically sound.  Every time I explain the nuances of this extremely basic movement, I absorb some of the subtleties that I hadn’t truly internalized prior.

And that’s just shrimping.

I am terrified to give someone bad information.  I see guys who think too highly of their own abilities and think they are qualified to teach. I’ve personally fallen victim to it in the past, and in the process developed bad habits.  The last thing I want to do is give another person bad habits that they will then need to break, because breaking bad habits sucks.  Teach only what you know, and you’d better know it on a high level if you’re going to dare to teach it.

The more time I spend teaching, the more I value fundamentals.  I am far more confident in my ability to teach someone how to shrimp or how to recover guard from bottom side control than I am in my ability to teach the fine details of deep half guard.  It’s easier to teach fundamentals, and it’s easier for someone with a limited base (or lack thereof) to learn those fundamentals.

When it comes to details, sometimes less is more, and other times you need to give it all you’ve got.  Detail oriented teaching is the only way people are going to properly absorb techniques, but there’s the age old saying,”A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” (George S. Patton.)  Sometimes it’s better for a student to have a rough idea of how to do a technique and then fine tune the details than it is to try to fine tune the details before ever learning the technique.  Then again, as mentioned prior, if a student develops bad habits today, those bad habits may plague them for a while. Breaking bad habits sucks.

These are some of my thoughts from teaching fairly regularly over the past few months.  My experience with teaching is admittedly limited, and my opinions may change as time progresses.

What do the experienced instructors reading this think?  Do you disagree with my observations?  Or do you share my sentiments?


  1. I think it’s important as an instructor to evaluate yourself and evolve your teaching style and content as you evolve as Jiu Jitsu practitioner.


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