Friday, January 27, 2012

Exercise: What makes a good coach in BJJ?

Julia Johansen posted an exercise she learned from "Magical" Ray Elbe on her blog today.  The essential question she posed to him was, what do you look for when you promote someone to blue belt?  Among other factors, the most interesting part of his answer (imho) was: "when you give someone a belt, you’re passing on YOUR lineage."

She continues:

"Then he did an exercise with me. This was taught to him by Marcos Avellan, a BJJ black belt who guest taught at Ray’s gym for a month, and which I now pass it along to you, because it’s really freaking cool. . . . [M]ake a list of everything you want in your ideal BJJ coach."

This is especially timely as I have done more and more thinking about what "quality coaching" entails.  Partially because I just switched academies, partially because of Megan's post the other day on what it takes to start a successful BJJ academy.

So here's my list--
  • excellent technique (gotta know it to be able to teach it!)
  • can teach to different types of learners effectively-- visual, aural, kinesthetic
  • kind, compassionate
  • good listening skills, observant
  • humble, self-critical
  • detail-oriented
  • patient
  • adaptable, flexible
  • dedicated
  • has competition experience
  • good judgment-- of character, of business decisions, knows when to push you and when to hold back
Next step: "Okay – now go through it and write a T next to anything that is a TRAIT (ie. dealing with personality) and an S next to anything that is a SKILL, anything that needs to be gained/learned."

But I had a hard time with this.  Some seemed "personality" oriented but I believe they can be learned behaviors also.  Hmmmm.
S            excellent technique
S             can teach to different types of learners effectively-- visual, aural, kinesthetic
T            kind, compassionate
S (T?)    good listening skills, observant
T (S?)    humble, self-critical
T           detail-oriented
T           patient
T           adaptable, flexible
T           dedicated
S           has competition experience
S&T!   good judgment-- of character, of business decisions, knows when to push, etc.

The conclusion: "Then Ray pointed at the TRAITS and said if you’re looking for a coach who is friendly, accessible, knowledgeable, understanding, etc, then promote based on that list. So someone could be a total genius at jiu jitsu at white belt, but if they’re a complete tool they will be a white belt for a VERY long time. This made so much sense to me. If I am passing on a LINEAGE to someone, they’re going to be a reflection of me. If I were a black belt, I wouldn’t give some toolbag my lineage. I would give it to people who I would be proud to attach my name to."

Well.  I like it.  And yet I find it leaves me still... reaching.  It seems to add a welcome focus on "moral character" to promotion decisions, which is great.  But still doesn't tell me anything about the "readiness" to be a new belt level.  It's a floor, perhaps, but not the ceiling-- if that makes sense.

Share your list of what makes a good coach in BJJ.....


Anonymous said...

Willingness to train and put it out there with his or her students. To me that is a huge sign of mat maturity and lack of ego.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog, Georgette. I recently changed too for various reasons, and am glad I did. Longer drive = more $ but a much better fit for me. My previous club was great for strong young MMA type guys with top-level fitness, but the approach was kind of one size fits all, and I felt like I needed to go slower, practice the basics more, explore the variations and details that would allow me to better execute the basics with my limitations - more adaptation and less boot camp. My new coach understands what I am trying to say, also, and doesn't interpret inquisitiveness as disagreement. Making a hole in my pocket though. ;(

nick said...

The instructor should participate with all students during class, having students practice technique on the instructor and vise versus so that the student has a clear understanding of how it should feel and work and the instructor can feel the student doing it correctly. The instructor should also spar with all the students on a regular basis. Not every class but most of the time. This corrects bad habits from forming as the student can't get away with slop technique to escape or hold position. This is something I have learned from my new academy and feel I have made positive progress on a clear path to improvement because of it.

SL said...

Hey hey! Actually Ray mentioned that the Skill section is exclusively BJJ related.

So that would make stuff like:
Good listening skills
Humble, self-critical
Good judgement of character

as Traits instead of skills :)

Just thought I'd point that out.

Julia Johansne said...


This is Jiu Jiu. GRRRRR.

SL - thanks! I'm editing my blog post so that it reflects that - I hadn't realized it was unclear.

Such cool discussion.

Agreed - while some of the traits are directly related to personality, these things can be fostered - you're looking for someone who is patient - I guarantee that the douchebag MMA white belt who comes in is NOT patient naturally. However, SL and I were talking about BJJ (shocker!) and she mentioned that people who stay in BJJ consistently stop being douchebags - or they're kicked out of the club. :)

Just as the flailing n00b who keeps kicking everyone in the face can be taught not to do that, so patience and humility can be fostered as well.

Nick said...

This is a great post. It makes so much sense to me now when I see alot of guys get promoted that are sometimes less talented than the guys who are not getting promoted.

As for what makes a good coach, they need to have a passion for teaching. Just like anything else, if you don't enjoy it, you probably wont be great at it.

Marshal D. Carper said...

I agree that instructors should be concerned about the character of their students, but it can quickly become problematic when you're attaching that character to belt promotions. What do you tell a white belt that has the skill of a blue belt when he is not promoted? "Yeah, well, when you're less of a dick, I'll promote you."

This is not a conversation appropriate for a belt promotion. If this person was really a big enough jerk to warrant a delay in his promotion, why wasn't the problem addressed a long time ago? If you're trying to promote a positive gym atmosphere, it is the job of the instructor and of other students to encourage positive behaviors and to quickly stamp out negative behaviors. If someone walks into my class and is being a jerk, it is my responsibility to address that problem immediately, both for the sake of my students and for the sake of my business.

Waiting until a belt promotion will just poison your school. Maintaining a high quality of character in all of your students should be a daily task.