Inverted Gear Blog / Matt Kirtley

My Personal Code of Ethics as an Instructor

My last post about my rules as an instructor was well received, but many of you asked for more of my ethical and moral rules, not just ones related to how I teach techniques or run warm-ups.

Treat all students equally.

Every student deserves equally opportunities for an instructor’s time and guidance.

In reality, some students will need more attention than others, but I make an effort to spend time with every student in my class and be available to help them if needed.

The point is to not play favorites or allow cliques to form. Even the clumsiest, bumbling, most clueless white belt deserves your attention.

Show up to class and pay attention the entire time.

This rule may seem obvious to the point of stupidity, but you would be surprised (or maybe not so surprised) by how many BJJ instructors fail at it.

Have you ever showed up for a scheduled class only to stand outside of a locked gym door for 20 minutes until a frantic purple belt rushes over to open up and cover class because the head instructor cannot be found?

Have you ever had an instructor who would just show a move, then walk away to check his phone or chat on the side with a clique of higher belts?

These are common occurrences in the BJJ world, but they should not be. If I cannot get to class, I make sure it is covered or I make sure the students get enough warning to change their plans. Nothing is worse than getting ready to train and driving all the way to the gym just to turn around and drive home. That cannot happen as long as people are paying to train at your school.

Do not get into relationships with students.

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned “don’t bang your students” as an obvious rule, but many readers wanted to hear more on that, which is partly why we are getting this second post.

Let’s look to what the code of ethics for Olympic coaches says about this:

Coaches do not engage in sexual intimacies with current athletes.

The code even goes one step further to ban sexual relations between coaches and former athletes for two years after the coach-athlete relationship ends, explaining it like this:

Because sexual intimacies with a former athlete are so frequently harmful to the athlete, and because such intimacies undermine public confidence in the coaching profession and thereby deter the public's use of needed services, coaches do not engage in sexual intimacies with former athletes even after a two-year interval except in the most unusual circumstances.The coach who engages in such activity after the two years following cessation or termination of the coach-athlete relationship bears the burden of demonstrating that there has been no exploitation, in light of all relevant factors, including:
(1) the amount of time that has passed since the coach-athlete relationship terminated,
(2) the circumstances of termination,
(3) the athlete's personal history.
(4) the athlete's current mental status,
(5) the likelihood of adverse impact on the athlete and others, and
(6) any statements or actions made by the coach during the course of the athlete-coach relationship suggesting or inviting the possibility of a post-termination sexual or romantic relationship with the athlete or coach.

A BJJ gym is not held to the same standard as an Olympic training center, but it is still a bad idea for instructors to sleep with students for the same reasons. The teacher-student dynamic -- like any with one person having more authority, control, and influence over the other -- has too much potential for abuse. Students (especially women) should not need to worry that their coach has other intentions than to teach them what they signed up to learn.

I will admit I know of a few times where a BJJ black belt dated a student and they ended up happily married, but I have many more stories about nasty break-ups, rifts breaking up the gym, jealousy, angry wives, and all the drama you would expect from a Brazilian soap opera. It’s better to just keep it in your pants.

Prepare your students for the physical demands you will place on them.

This is a newer rule for me, but one I wish was more common as I was coming up the ranks. As I said in my other post, I do not turn my BJJ classes into strength and conditioning workouts, and I am not a fan of long warm-ups, but I have come to believe it is an BJJ instructor’s duty to prepare students (especially beginners) to handle the positions and stresses we will put them through. To do otherwise is to set them up for injuries and chronic pain. My training in Functional Range Conditioning has driven this point home, and now I feel that I have the tools to do the right movement prep without turning warm-ups into touch butt.

Share everything you know and keep no secrets.

Just as I do not believe in the old school “creonte” mindset, I do not believe in keeping “secret techniques” from my students. Nevermind that it is nearly impossible to have a true secret technique these days, because the minute it is used in tournament, it will be up on ShowtheART, reddit, and get 4000 shares on Facebook.

Keeping no secrets does not mean that you have to teach literally everything any time you are asked. Students have a limit on how much they can absorb, and they need to learn the basics before you show them advanced techniques. You can still tell a student “I would show you that but I don’t think it’s the most important thing for you to learn right now. Here’s something better.” The point is that you do not place “tests of loyalty” or other nonsense between your students and what you are willing to show them.

Keep politics and drama off the mats.

Do not abuse the fact your students have to listen to you to preach to them beyond your beliefs about BJJ. Religion, politics, and gossip are best kept off the mats. (That’s what Facebook is for.)

Be direct with your students if there is a problem.

That stinky white belt with claws for nails and funk growing behind his ears? The girl who did not realize she had her period in her white gi pants? The creepy new guy who keeps trying to slink over to partner up with the girls? The newly minted blue belt who tries to run mini-seminars for the white belts when everyone else is rolling? Those are all your problems as an instructor. Those will require an awkward conversation to handle, but you just need to step up and do it -- being as tactful as possible, of course.

Remember, being a black belt does not make you a better person.

Being a better person makes you a better person. Maybe BJJ helps you do that, or maybe it doesn’t. I have known my fair share of crappy people who happen to be good at BJJ.

We like to do this weird thing where we wear cotton pajamas styled after feudal Japanese clothing and throw each other around on rubber padding. We give each other colored strips of fabric to wrap around our waists so we can show how good we are at this odd activity. We make up hashtags like #jiujitsulifestyle and #bjjsavedmylife and we post on reddit about how our boyfriends and girlfriends just don’t get us.

These are all fun to do but they do not make you a good person. They just make you a person with an unusual hobby.

Here are things that make you a good person:

  • Loving and caring for your family and friends
  • Treating people with fairness
  • Showing kindness and compassion
  • Helping a stranger in need

Things that do not make you a better person:

  • Being good at armbars
  • Having a strong sprawl
  • Throwing people on their heads
  • Lower belts bowing to you

I am not saying this to diminish the positive changes many people experiences through doing BJJ. Anything that requires dedication, commitment and social interaction with others can lead to personal growth. The point I am making is: you need to stay humble. Between me as a BJJ black belt and a white belt who is a plumber, society needs him far more than it needs me.

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Does that code of ethics square with what you believe? Would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.

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10 Steps to Adding Unorthodox Techniques to Your Game

Grappling trends come and go, and new techniques pop up every season. When I started training, everyone was trying to figure out x-guard and arm drags. Now it is leglocks and heel hooks. Eventually, the best elements of these techniques get folded into “standard” jiu-jitsu but not before the initial rush of grapplers scrambling to learn the secrets of the new hotness.

This guide will help you be one of those early adopters. Here are my 10 tips for adding new or unorthodox techniques to your game:

  1. Do your homework. Before you launch into learning that cool technique you saw in a GIF on Reddit, let’s make sure it is worth the effort. Gather up the answers to these questions:
  • Who is good at this technique or position, and at what level do they compete?
  • Do they have instructionals available? If not, does someone else?
  • Can you find tournament footage of it in action?
  • Has anyone done a competition footage analysis?

We only have so much time and energy, so make sure it’s well spent. By answering these questions, you might discover that the technique is perhaps too new to justify an intense investment of your time and study or that you just don’t have the resources yet to really understand it. This step prepares you for the next steps.

  1. Understand its fundamentals. Notice I said “its fundamentals” not “the fundamentals.” We call the basic moves of jiu-jitsu “fundamentals,” but here I’m referring to the key principles, concepts, and building blocks for the new position you are trying to learn. Even strange positions--if they are good--are built on certain basic rules: body mechanics, off balancing, leverage, timing, etc. The ones that don’t have solid fundamentals are often gimmicks--maybe you get a few surprise taps, or it could be a counter to a very specific “flash in the pan” technique that caught on at your gym.  Find the answer to these questions:
  • How does it work?
  • What makes it fail?
  • What key points of control do you need to maintain to be successful with it?
  • When is the right or wrong time to go for it?
  • If you had to reduce to a few core rules, what would they be?
  1. Study your role model. Back in step one (do your homework), you should have picked out one or more competitors/instructors whose competition footage and/or instructional videos to study. With all the YouTube and BJJ video subscription sites available these days, see if you can find even more about them. Watch competition footage in slow mo and take notes. Channel your inner BJJScout. You may spot details or variations they fail to teach. Keep an eye out for seminars where you can go to learn it in person. You may be surprised how different a technique feels when done by your hero compared to what you could cobble together from Instagram clips.
  1. Find a partner in crime. Having a training partner who is learning the same material can boost progress for both of you. You gain the benefit of their experiences, and they may spot details you missed (and vice versa). Having a trusty partner who shares your goals greatly increases learning speed.
  1. Practice outside group class. Get together with your loyal training partner outside of regular class hours to do the extra work. Teachers often get annoyed when students sit off to the side during regular class hours and do their own thing instead of doing what the rest of the class is doing. Either show up earlier or stay later, and use open mat time to work on your new material.
  1. Put in the reps (but mix it up). There is no getting around it: “Repetitio mater studiorum est. Repetition is the mother of all learning.” I quoted Latin so you know it’s true. Put in reps whenever you get a chance. In those extra training sessions with your buddy, mix it up by doing random practice. That means that instead of practices 3 techniques by doing 3 sets of 10 reps, do 30 reps where you mix up which technique you do at random. You can do it where your partner calls out the technique to do, or they just feed you the trigger to do it. Jason C. Brown wrote about block vs random practice on the blog here: Applying the Science of Motor Learning to Your BJJ Practice.
  1. Do positional sparring. When you get together with your buddy, set a timer and put in rounds of positional sparring. Take turns attacking and defending. Start where the target technique is most relevant and sometimes feed your partner the trigger they need to go for it. Raise the difficulty as you improve. Work up a good sweat and don’t stop to talk until you’ve put in enough rounds of trial and error.
  1. Go for it in free sparring. Try it on a few clueless white belts then work up the food chain as you have success. You will need to put your “A game” on the back burner while you develop this new material. Be mindful that old school teachers may get annoyed if you neglect the techniques they teach you in favor of your “YouTube zhoo-zhitzu,” but as long as you stay inside the agreed upon rules for your school you are probably OK.
  1. Find the connection to your existing game. Often when someone (especially intermediate level grapplers) tries to emulate someone else’s style, they run into difficulty because it doesn’t connect to anything else they are doing. Some techniques gel better with others. Your personal style may not suit a certain technique or position, at least not without experimenting.
  1. Expect to fail more than you succeed in the beginning. When you bring a new trick to your school, you will often enjoy early success (and the rush of excitement that brings) followed quickly by everyone shutting your crap down hard (and all the salty tears that brings). Do not be discouraged if you have a rough time with the new techniques. Think of yourself as a “white belt” in those moves even if you aren’t a white belt any more.

Putting those 10 steps into action will take months of hard work and mat time, but you will be rewarded for your efforts with exclamations of "What the hell was that?" from your opponents. Do me a favor and share your experiences and technical findings in a video or blog post. I’d love to see what you come up with.

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My Rules as an Instructor

Over my career as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor, I have decided on a set of self-imposed rules for how I run classes and how I manage my relationship with students. If you’re not an instructor, you might slowly become one unofficially as you rise through the ranks. Sure, you might not have your own class, but you will probably mentor a few white belts in your time, and these rules can help you too. Here are the top 6:

1. Students are free to train wherever they want with whoever they want

All of my students are free to seek out the best instruction and training available to them. I don’t believe in the old school “creonte” culture. I do not rule my school with a cult-like “us vs them” mentality. BJJ schools aren’t rival gangs or warring ninja clans. They don’t need to ask my permission to cross-train or hide the fact they go to other schools.

Yes, it gets complicated when we get into which team gets repped in competition, what patches go on their gi, or if the other school is actively trying to poach students. The solutions to those problem are still not to force students to worship you as their master and ostracize students who dare betray you by dropping in to open mats across town.

When a student leaves to join a different school, I may miss them because I like seeing my students, but I don’t feel possessive over them. They are adults who can make their own decisions and go where they want to go. Instead I have to ask myself if it’s because of a problem at my school, or something mundane like the other gym being closer to their house, cheaper, offering a different vibe, etc.

Just because someone has a black belt and has a following of students does not make them morally superior to others. Adults should be free to associate with whoever they want as long as it does not harm others or the school.

2. You’re not running a strength and conditioning bootcamp so don’t pretend to

Warm-ups should not destroy your students and leave them gassed and exhausted. That’s not a warm up -- that’s a poorly designed workout. Old school instructors often believe that tough “warm ups” will make their students more technical because they will have no strength left when they spar. That is true in its own stupid way, but the research on motor learning and athletic training says your technical training and your conditioning are both better when done separately. Tough warm ups may give you tough students through Darwinian survival of the fittest, but it’s not because it’s the smartest way to run classes.

3. Show the whole technique before talking too much

This is a simple rule: when teaching a move, first just show the whole move first, then talk about it.

Many instructors (myself included) are guilty of over-teaching techniques because we want to share every detail. We need to realize those details don’t mean much if the student isn’t even sure where the move is heading. Now I will show the move, then explain its most important points, then go into greater detail only after the students have had a chance to practice it. You don’t need to frontload the drilling time with 15 minutes of small details, possible variations, counters, and re-counters.

4. Don’t forget what it’s like to be a frustrated beginner

BJJ instructors, like experts in every field, take many things for granted. That’s how mastery works: you get good enough to not have to think about every little thing you’re doing. The problem is that when working with students at a lower level, you can forget they are still struggling with those little things.

Here’s how this rule works in practice:

  • Explicitly state the names of positions and techniques where possible
  • Explain why one position is better than another (this isn’t always obvious to beginners)
  • Take a moment to explain the theories and concepts that underly the techniques
  • Have regressions a student can do instead if a technique is too hard for now

5. Don’t blame a student for not knowing something you’ve never shown them

This point relates to the last one, but it’s worth discussing in its own right. Instructors are often guilty of blaming a student for not doing a technique or knowing how to handle a strange position only to have the student say, “You never showed me that.” As instructors, we’re walking around with a billion techniques floating around in our head, and we tend to overestimate how often we show any single technique.

6. Don’t apologize for teaching the basics

As an instructor, giving in to the temptation to show the hottest, coolest moves or sneaky, next-level techniques is easy. You want to keep class interesting, maybe as much for yourself as your students, but what is really going to make the biggest difference to the most students? 99% of the time the answer is “the basics.” (The other 1% of the time is when the higher belts are hanging out and geeking out over current competition metagame tactics.)

I’ve given this advice to wrestling and judo coaches who come into BJJ schools. They often preface lessons with “I know this is basic but…” as an apology. They are so tired of seeing these drills since they have done them since childhood. They expect us to be disappointed too, but it’s honestly what we need most. The truth is that the real fun does not come from seeing fancy or novel techniques, but from a well run class with live games, situational drills, etc. that put those simple skills to use.

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Those are the main rules I gave myself that relate to how I run classes. Of course more exist, like ethical codes like “don’t bang your students” (a lesson a lot of instructors seem to have trouble with) but we’ll save those for another day!

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[Video] Solo Drills: Bridging and Sit Outs

Solo Drills in this video:

  1. Bridging - Straight Up
  2. Bridging - Over Alternating Shoulders
  3. Bridging - Turn Over to Knees
  4. Bridging - Twist Under to Knees
  5. Bridge to Shrimp
  6. Sit Outs
  7. Sit Out to Swinging Pivots
  8. "Brazilian Dance" Sit Outs
  9. Box Sit Outs

Be careful with box sit outs if you have bad wrists, elbows, or shoulders. The crab walk position is often aggravating if you do.

The first video in this series is available here: Solo Drills: Horizontal Movements.

My hombre Jason C. Brown has 5 more bridges for you to do in his aptly titled 5 Bridges Every Jiu-Jiteiro Should Do.

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[Video] Solo Drills: Horizontal Movements

Can you ever have enough solo grappling drills? I don't think so. That's why I filmed my favorite horizontal hip movements for you.

Detailed explanations for each drill demonstrated in the video:

Shrimping

The classic, universal BJJ warm-up drill. It goes by many names: shrimping, hip escapes, elbow escapes, ebi, eep 'scapes. Let's make sure you're doing it right.

  1. Lay flat on your back with your knees bent, feet on the floor and elbows bent, hands by your face.
  2. Plant one foot firmly and turn to the opposite side.
  3. Lift your hip by pressing your foot down and going up on to your shoulder.
  4. Shoot your hips back as you fold at the waist.
  5. Tuck your bottom knee up to your chest so it's not left behind.

Tip: Imagine a line on the floor under your shoulders. Your hips should scoot back that far.

Bad shrimping #1

This is usually caused by trying to extend and push the leg away, rather than planting the foot and shooting the hips back. Focus on lifting the hips up and back instead of pushing your foot away.

Bad shrimping #2

This is caused by laying flat and not turning your side and bending at the hips.Turn on your side more so you can put your weight into your shoulder and bend on the hips.

Sideways shrimping

This are my favorite way to practice shrimping since it mimics side control escapes better because the head and shoulders also move backwards.

  1. Turn somewhat on your side and plant both feet.
  2. Bring your hips, feet, or shoulders back (you can start with any one).
  3. If you brought your shoulders back, then bring your feet back, then your hips.
  4. Find a rhythm where your weight shifts between each of those body parts to free up the others to move backwards.

Circle shrimping

Similar to sideways, but with less backwards head and shoulder movement.

Circle walk

Not truly shrimping, but useful for moving around on your back to find better angles to escape.

  1. Turn to one side and plant both feet.
  2. Walk your feet (without crossing them) either forwards or backwards.
  3. After a few steps, go flat to your back but continue to walk in the same direction.

This movement become useful in certain escapes and reversals, like the "shovel" movement used in some half guard sweeps.

Reverse shrimping

  1. Laying on your back, do a side crunch to bring your shoulder closer to your feet.
  2. Lift your hips and pull yourself towards your heels as you shoulder walk.
  3. Throw your arms overhead to mimic tossing someone off you.

Tip: The key to this is shoulder walking from side to side as you use your legs to help out.

Hip skips

  1. Lay down, then angle off 45 degrees from the path you want to travel.
  2. Plant your outside foot and get on to the shoulder nearest the center line.
  3. Hop and swing your hips over the imaginary line.
  4. Repeat in the opposite direction.

Tips: You can also use the inside leg by turning the pinky toe side of your foot into the mat (this way is often harder to do). A good hip skip will have you "swinging" back and forth on your shoulders without your butt touching the ground much.

Backwards shoulder walks

Beginners often do this by accident when trying to shrimp. The movement is good to know but not when you're doing it by accident.

  1. Roll your shoulders from side to side to walk them backwards.
  2. Walk your feet in time with your shoulders.

Sit-up escape (tucking elbow)

  1. Shrimp like normal, but as your weight goes into your shoulder, tuck your elbow under you.
  2. Rock back on your elbow and shrimp again.
  3. Sit all the way up and get to your palm as you scoot backwards.

Sit-up escape (wide elbow)

Like the last one, but this time swing your arm out side to get on to your elbow.

Sit-up escape (crunch to elbow)

You skip shrimping by using a quick crunch to get to your elbow.

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