Sunday, April 04, 2010

There's gotta be a better way to learn this stuff.

Been thinking about this a lot; Dev's wife's experience in her first BJJ class (described on his blog here) plus the comments that followed helped me to coalesce some thoughts on the matter. I'm now going to stick my foot in my mouth and down my throat-- here goes!

BJJ is obviously a physical activity. You can be good, even great, at it without necessarily being good at other, non-physical activities.. like writing, teaching, explaining, or designing curricula. In fact, you can be a great communicator of information and still not be great at designing the curriculum-- the ORDER of the topics that are taught can be as important as HOW they are taught, I would say.

"Those who can, do; those who can't, teach" is a common aphorism that saddens me-- because those who can't do it usually produce students who can't either, but those who can do it often can't teach it effectively.

It's a rare person who can both do well and teach well.

So-- generations of jitsukas are being produced, and have been produced, by a system that works okay, but not great. If only there were more instructors out there like Donald Park, or Cane Prevost (who blogs at The Gentle Art) who focus as much effort on finding the best way to teach, lead, and communicate concepts as they do on discovering and executing the best techniques.

Dev's wife is exactly right. No one really learns to swim well by getting tossed into the deep end of the pool. At best, you splutter, snort, flail wildly, clock someone else upside the head, and eventually learn to dogpaddle to the side. At worst, you feel like you're drowning, hate the experience, and flee the scene never to return. We don't teach kids to swim that way.. we start in the baby pool getting comfortable with water on our face. We build up to actual swimming gradually by teaching them the subsidiary skills they need and by bolstering their confidence.

More data points which, to me, seem to point in the direction of a mandatory noobs-only BJJ class which has to be "passed" before the student is allowed into "adult swim."


Dev said...

FANTASTIC post. Kelly agreed completely, which is much more validating than anything I could say. :)

I know some schools have "beginner" and "advanced" classes, and I get that, to a point. I think it's sort of what you're talking about here, although Kelly described her vision as something more akin to Allie's "clear belt" - a class before you can go in with the white belts, even.

I think for what it's worth, recognizing that some people really do learn differently and OFFERING a "super beginner" class - as opposed to making it mandatory... there are still quite a few of us who take some delight in being thoroughly thrashed.


Georgette said...

Yeah... you know, I don't really dig "beginner" vs. "advanced" classes... I'd take both, I think we all need to constantly drill and improve our basics, and I think I need to be exposed to more advanced moves well before I'm ready to use them, if only because I need to see stuff 5 or 6 times before it starts to sink into my thick skull.

But a "clear belt" class as a prerequisite for all brand-noobs sounds quite good to me. Because I know they'll get thoroughly thrashed regardless, in adult swim.. and because I think it would stand a good chance of keeping a higher proportion of women if not men too... and because I think the spazzy Tapout/Affliction a-holes will still get winnowed out in adult swim.

Ricky Gamboa said...

Thanks for the link to Cane's blog. It is a good read. Keep on posting and training.

Anonymous said...

another great post!!!

Anonymous said...

Another great post!

leslie said...

I agree -- I think some kind of intro/orientation to BJJ/the ground, the basic positions and goals, would probably help a lot of people.

Even in beginners' classes, you hit a learning curve. We don't really have beginners' classes, but often the instructors will teach as if it were, especially if there's a large number of newer white belts around. Last week, we worked an armbar escape... and then half the class needed to learn the basic armbar position so their partner could work the escape.

When I started, one of the guys was assigned to work with me on the side of the mat while everyone else rolled, so I got a kind of "clear belt" class. (I think I would have stayed anyway, but it certainly did help.) When new girls come in, I try to start off the same way with them, walking them through positions and the goal from each position.

BJJ CailĂ­n said...

I found that women need the "pre-basics" class more than men do. Women tend to be more particular about doing everything "right", while men tend to want to fight immediately. This is one of the reasons in my mind for having a women only class. It gives the women time to warm-up to BJJ at their pace.

All but one of our ladies enjoy the co-ed classes, but almost all took their first class in the women only program and almost all attend the women's classes regularly. (All 11 of our women are still beginners - white belts.) I think they find something different that they need and enjoy in both environments.

We also have seperate beginner and advanced classes each night. But advanced classes are for purples and above and only select advanced blue belts. We used to have combined classes but the beginners were frequently unsure/unable to follow along and the advanced students were being held back.

We encourage our advanced students to attend the beginner classes so that the classes aren't too compartmentalized (the blue belts are required to attend at least one per week in order to remain in the advanced classes). This way the advanced students don't feel held back by beginners when they are training for competitions but there are times built in where all levels train together so that the beginners don't miss out on being able to train with more experienced players.

But as I said, my instructor doesn't consider blue belts advanced so our beginners class is white and blue belts. So no matter what, you do regularly have students with up to 3 and 4 years of experience in the beginners class.

Georgette said...

Our classes are so long that there just isn't time to have two separate classes. Only our lunch classes are limited to two hours; morning and night classes are three hours long and sometimes people stretch the open mat afterwards for another 30-45 min. Usually techniques are taught from the ground up-- i.e. here's the basic armbar, if that's new to you or you need to polish that, do just that. If that's old hat, here's the next move .. and the next.. and the next.. counters, recounters etc. Kind of a buffet that feeds baby whites all the way up to the multistripe browns. (Usually the browns are rolling with each other on another mat till the preliminary moves are done..)

leslie said...

I've really noticed what Jen said with the two new girls -- they want more of a walk-through for their first few classes and are often asking "Is this right? What about this?" Maybe, too, it's that we aren't encouraged as little girls to rough-house and wrestle, and so this whole concept is just alien to us. We have to learn how to play on the ground. (New boys, on the other hand, seem to think "Yeah, Wrestlemania, baby!" and jump right in.)

Charles said...

Here's one conceptual structure I'm rather fond of.

Neilis said...

My gym has a 'fundamentals' class which has a roughly 3 month cycle specifically designed for new people and I found it extremely helpful. Granted I also found that it's very unhelpful if you get sick or hurt and manage to miss a big chunk because then you pretty much have to wait another 3 months to get that chunk.

I do think it's a great idea though.

The Part Time Grappler said...

That's an excellent post addressing a very important subject.

It's a hard balance. On one hand, you want to give (as a coach) and receive (as a student) as much info and details as possible. On the other, only so much will be grasped and it's very easy to give/receive too much.

That's why I love things like bare-minimums, PPPs and other ways of delivering one or two essentials. Beyond these, the journey belongs to the student.

How was I taught to swim as a kid? I was taken into the water at the shallow end and shown what the hands and feel are supposed to do. Then to the deep end just to play and watch the big people swim. Soon I started to hold onto the side and kick with the feet and my uncle would hold me so I can move all 4 limbs and soon...I wasn't afraid to have fun.

When FUN leaves the all falls apart :)

cane prevost said...

At Straight Blast Gym we don't necessarily have separate classes. We do have one class on Saturdays that is reserved for blue and above. Mostly just to make sure advanced belts get to roll with advanced belts. Our philosophy is a bit different though. We don't have advanced techniques or teachings. We teach and learn basics at all skill levels. Classes are scaffolded so that beginner and advanced student alike can progress along side each other. The only difference is that advanced students do basics better. Our classes rarely cover anything "fancy" or anything that a brand new beginning student can't use right away. We like this method because it breaks up the caste system that is inherent in martial arts schools where people naturally segregate by belt level. You don't see that at SBGi.