What’s Old For You Is New For Someone Else

Flickr/Creative Commons: Andres Trujillo

The biggest hurdle I had to overcome when I first started teaching other jiu-jitsu students wasn’t a fear of public speaking. It wasn’t worrying that I’d have the answers to every question or ensuring that I could execute everything I taught without flaw (though that isn’t to say that these concerns don’t plague my mind every once in a while).

No, my biggest struggle was thinking that I would be dumbing things down too much for the students I taught — that the techniques I demonstrated were so painfully basic that everyone but the newest of white belts would be bored out of their skulls. I assumed that, because I had been practicing a certain armbar setup from my very early white belt days, everyone else in the room would also see that setup as old news. Never mind that I’d learned that armbar setup from a different coach in a different country nearly a decade ago, or that it had taken me a few weeks to really get the hang of it. In my head, because I could now do that setup in my sleep, the less experienced students in front of me would also start to doze off in the middle of drilling it.

I’ve seen a lot of jiu-jitsu coaches fall prey to the cognitive bias that is sometimes known as “the curse of knowledge.” Often, it manifests in the form of techniques that are far too advanced for the audience, with coaches assuming that everyone in the room has either already learned or implicitly understands the foundational principles required to perform more extensive, detailed techniques. These coaches have spent so long being really, really good at jiu-jitsu that they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a beginner or intermediate-level student, and the result is a room of confused white, blue, and purple belts who are still figuring out step one when their coach expects them to be on step seven.

On the other end of that spectrum, still succumbing to that bias, are people like me. We question ourselves so much that we think any technique we know is simply common knowledge. Without realizing it, we contribute to that room full of confused students by assuming that what we teach will be too simplistic to keep our their attention, unintentionally creating the knowledge gap that will cause them problems down the road… especially when another coach feels comfortable assuming that they really are comfortable with the technique we didn’t teach because we thought it would be thought was “too basic” for them.

A dedicated fundamentals class is perhaps the easiest remedy, setting the expectation (for both students and coach) that the techniques taught in class will be, well, fundamental. But even in more advanced or all-level classes, we shouldn’t be afraid to risk repeating the demonstration of a “basic” technique. For all we know, our students may have seen it just once, years ago, when they were too new to really grasp the concept. Revisiting that technique may give them the opportunity they need to solidify their knowledge and make it a part of their game.

Even if your students have already firmly grasped the concept of the technique you’re showing them, who cares? Is there truly no benefit to seeing a technique again? No other details they may pick up or questions that may sprout from seeing it a second or third time? Maybe this is just the opportunity they need to allow themselves to experiment with the technique, taking it beyond simply “getting it” and instead making it their own. Much like a treasured family recipe that was born from a generic cookbook many years ago, the ability to master what is basic and then build on it, seasoning it with our own flavors and finishing it off with a touch that is uniquely “us,” is what transforms the ordinary into the remarkable. Sometimes, all it takes is that one additional lesson for jiu-jitsu students to feel comfortable enough with a technique to start to get creative with it.

More than anything, we should never assume that something that is “old” for us is also old for others. There are jiu-jitsu practitioners out there who are at or even far below your level who have seen techniques and details that you’ve never been taught. Before you dismiss your own knowledge as being too fundamental to be worthwhile, ask yourself if you’d choose to see a technique more than once over the course of your jiu-jitsu career, or if you’d prefer to never learn it at all. The repetition that is boring to some is what sharpens the blade for others. Your students will benefit from the knowledge you have to share. You just need to believe that it’s worth sharing.


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