How well you learn the techniques of jiu jitsu is directly founded on how jiu jitsu is taught to you.
While there are all kinds of advice about choosing a school for its proximity to where you live, for its affiliation to a specific team or even the cleanliness of the showers, your main focus should be on the pedagogical style of the main instructor and how that matches up with your learning style. In other words, we all learn differently and some styles of teaching will match our needs better than others.
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“>We have all attended sessions that were based on the traditional class structure of warm-ups then two techniques and then rolling. The techniques were taught in a step-by-step manner of “Ok guys, do this, then do this and put your foot here for the submission.” Usually, there was little context for the technique and the order of instruction always felt like it depended on what the instructor felt like doing on that particular day. For most learners, this procedural style of teaching leaves them lost for up to two years with no rationale for what they are attempting to learn. Eventually, students would leave and jiu jitsu would suffer great attrition from all but the most dedicated, self-motivated students.
At some point, schools such as Gracie Humaita realized that students needed a structural curriculum that created context for the techniques and a natural sequence for learning skills based on positions and fundamental principles. Since that point, the internet and instructional videos have forever changed learning. Not only do students have a new source for supplementing their classes, but teachers also have other exceptional teachers to model their own pedagogy upon.
What are these different pedagogical styles and what should you look for from any prospective instructor before you sign up for a yearly membership at the local academy? Like any high school, there is a collection of archetypal teachers whose personal way of communicating tends to work for most students, but not all. Each style has its drawbacks and its inherent appeal for students, so you will need to do a bit of homework to reflect on what kind of learner you are and what you need to find success.
The Ultimate Showman: Chael Sonnen
An extremely popular communication archetype can be found in Chael Sonnen’s showmanship. Every sentence is a piece of grift and promises wisdom never before seen by mere humans, and it is spoken with confidence and enthusiasm. In high school, he would have been your English teacher that all of the girls loved and the athletes admired. You cannot help but pay attention to Chael’s instruction because he mimics the circus barker or the ringmaster: step right up and learn the secrets of jiu jitsu. Indeed, the American Gangster has a great deal to offer the aural learner and the student who has attention challenges. I can listen to Chael talk for hours and be quite amused simply because he has charisma and knows how to sell a lesson. The only challenge with Chael’s style, however, is that it does not always follow a linear order. He often shares a brilliant idea, a personal opinion and then a next step in no particular order; if your brain functions like his, then you will love Gangster Grappling. Caveat emptor: it will be hard to find a jiu jitsu instructor like Sonnen unless you are lucky enough to be near a school run by former UFC/WWE participants, but you might just be lucky enough to have an instructor with his enthusiasm living nearby.
Guard Passing Philosophy – Chael Sonnen
The Boys In The Back: Kurt Osiander and Chris Haueter
Kurt and Chris are the real deal. They have fought their way through the old days, survived relatively intact and have surreptitiously discovered that they have much to teach a wide audience of eager students. In a high school, they would be the teachers who taught you car mechanics and shop. They know how everything actually works and they have no problem telling you that you are wrong, dumb or misguided. They personify a “man’s man” bravado that is backed up by years and years of slugging it out on the mats in the Wild West of jiu jitsu.
Kurt Osiander “Move of the Week” – Lapel Choke with Tony Bourdain
They could have easily become dinosaurs lost to history had it not been for their viral success on the internet. For Kurt, his “Move of the Week” series brought him tens of thousands of viewers and a platform to share his no nonsense communication style. He lovingly berates his students, toughens them up, and then betrays his love of the world through his natural humour. Chris found his audience in Stuart Cooper’s “ROLL: Jiu Jitsu in So Cal” which has racked up over a million views. As one of the first dozen American black belts, Chris has fought his way through a difficult journey and unlike most practitioners he can share great wisdom in sound bytes of 30 seconds. What both of these black belts have in common is that they force you to become better, to take stock in your shortcomings and have no problem telling you where you went wrong. The trick with this type of instructor, however, is that you need to ask questions and you need to listen to the whole story. A simple question can turn into a two-hour seminar, but it will forever change how you see jiu jitsu. If you were the kid who lived for shop and the feeling like you came alive there, then perhaps Kurt Osiander’s Fundamentals of a Jiu Jitsu Renegade or Chris Hauter’s Old School Efficient BJJ are where you can find examples of the teaching style that might best work for you.
Chris Haueter in ROLL
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The Tough Uncle: Tom DeBlass
Finally, we have Tom DeBlass. Tom is the teacher who has a heart and really cares about his students. Sure, he has excellent techniques and he will show all of them to you, but it is his calm, thoughtful manner of delivery that makes him a great teacher. In the high school scenario, Tom would probably been found straddling a role in the Guidance department with classes in History and Well-Being. He is the gentle warrior who has both philosophy to calm his inner beast and a methodical way of teaching you drills, positional techniques and has a structure from which his shares all of his learning. He will also destroy you on the mats if you feel like what he has to share has no validity or that you would rather “do it your way.” The foundationals that Tom teaches are the real deal and you will need to put honest work into your training to meet the expectations for promotion and competition.
What an instructor like Tom will give you is a solid gym to train in where your needs can be met, but where you will also need to put in the effort to employ with jiu jitsu being taught to you. He would be the type of instructor from whom you would want to schedule private lessons with every month or two just to go over where you are in your jiu jitsu journey. Unlike the other instructors mentioned here in this blog, the tough uncle is a little easier to find in your local area. Jiu jitsu often attracts the instructor who has worked hard, competed from an early age and who wants to share his life’s work with the community because he sees the value in that transformation for all humans. If you are the type of player who only cares about technical progress, submitting others with reckless abandon and yourself, then this might be a tough teacher to deal with. You can find eight video series with Tom DeBlass at BJJ Fanatics, including his latest e-book and audio download: The Road to Black Belt and Beyond.
Tom DeBlass Half Guard Drag to Spartan Kick
What you may notice from my analysis of these four well-worn instructors is that each of them appeals to a part of your brain that acknowledges the durability needed to play the game of jiu jitsu, but also the humour, the showmanship and the caring community of killers that can be found in schools near you. For the second part of this blog series, I will examine the archetypes of The Whiz Kid, The Mad Professor, The Technician and The Wise Master. I wonder who those BJJ Fanatics will be?
“It’s not who’s good, it’s who’s left”
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