Inverted Gear Blog / Matt Kirtley
The only thing BJJ guys like to talk about more than acai bowls recipes and black belt Twitter feuds is how messed up their bodies are. If someone complains about a popped elbow or tweaked knee, it become show-and-tell for everyone in the room to share their lingering pains and biggest, baddest battle scars. Being in shambles is almost a matter of pride. You must not be training hard enough if you’re not limping around with blown out ACLs or unable to lift your arms high enough to pull your own rashguard off.
Let’s change that. You don’t need to destroy your body to do BJJ. But you do need to figure out what to do to keep yourself whole. This quick guide will get you on the right track:
1. Find a sports physical therapist who wants you back on the mats.
I’m no doctor, and while I may play one on TV, I recommend you find a health professional who is qualified to correctly diagnose and treat your joint problems. The trouble is finding the right one.
After my biggest injury, I bounced between doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, yogis, massage therapists, fitness trainers, etc. looking for help. Some helped a little, others not at all, but I was always left with nagging pains or grinding joints.
When you tell most doctors “It hurts when I do jiu-jitsu,” they’ll tell you “Don’t do jiu-jitsu.” That’s not the advice you want to spend $100 to hear.
This continued for years until I finally chanced across a sports physical therapist who had a very up-to-date education and an attitude of “let’s get you back on the mats.” She quickly diagnosed issues everyone else had missed and put me on a program that got to the root of the problem. I got put on a self-care program and encouraged to start strength training and keep doing BJJ.
Find a professional who can correctly diagnose your problems, especially ones that ones caused by chronic joint problems and movement faults. Get on a proactive plan to repair yourself and ramp up into improving performance. You may need to be persistent in seeking out the right professional and asking for second opinions and referrals.
The famous kettlebell guru Pavel gives this rule of thumb: Don’t go to a physical therapist or chiropractor who deadlifts less than you.
2. Do a slow-n-steady strength and conditioning program.
For too long I drank the BJJ Kool-Aid: “Zhoo-zhitzu is pure technique, my friend. You don’t need strength. What good are big muscles -- better to be flexible.” Just do some sit-ups during warm-ups and stretch to touch your toes after class and you’re all set.
“No strength” is a good practice for learning techniques, but it’s a poor plan for staying healthy and in one piece in a combat sport. Despite what every PE coach told me while growing up, stretching is not very effective at preventing injuries. Research shows that strength training is the best at dropping injury rates.
The few times I did try to join in a conditioning class, it was the usual high intensity circuit training that BJJ and MMA loves. Always harder, always faster, push push push, never quit, do those burpees, jump on those boxes, slam the ball, now wind sprint, go go go!
It’s probably because I’m a big sissy, but I never enjoyed those workouts or felt much benefit from them. They usually beat me up so badly I couldn’t train for a few days, and I just felt more likely to get injured afterward.
A workout doesn’t need to be very intense and turn you into a floppy pile of sweaty flesh to be effective. Anyone can slap together a bunch of random exercises and call it a “WOD.” BJJ is taxing enough, so you’re probably better off finding a simple program that focuses on overall health and steady progress. You can get into more demanding programs if you need that for peak performance later.
What kind of program you follow will be largely dependent on what you have access to and what your body responds to best. A safe bet is sticking to the classics: basic weight lifting with squats and deadlifts, bodyweight exercises like push ups and pull-ups, and perhaps kettlebells for swings.
You have many good programs to pick from if you do some research. Here are a few questions you can ask when you evaluate them:
- Does the program make sense for your goals (e.g. stay in shape, get stronger, avoid injury, etc.)?
- Does it follow a logical progression and focus on proper technique first?
- Can the intensity be tuned to be in balance with the demands of BJJ training?
- Will you need a trainer to teach you or special equipment to do it?
3. Build your prehab/rehab self-treatment toolkit.
In the past few years, mobility exercises have become more in vogue in the BJJ community, likely due to CrossFit coach Kelly Starrett’s popular MobilityWOD videos and Becoming a Supple Leopard book. Whatever joint or movement problems you have, there’s some way to stretch or smash or massage or grind it that’s supposed help fix it.
Many gizmos can be used for mobility work: lacrosse balls and sports balls of all kinds, elastic rubber bands, voodoo bands, foam rollers, all sorts of sticks, bars and knobblers, PVC pipes, etc. It’s worth trying some of the cheaper DIY options and buying pro versions if they seem worth it.
You can also ditch the gadgets and work on mobility through movement practices like Josh Vogel’s “Mobility in an alley” routine:
4. Escape your desk prison and move more.
You shouldn’t be surprised to have bad posture, tight hips and a stiff back if you spend most of your wakeful hours sitting hunched over a keyboard. Sitting for too long usually results in common postural faults: head forward, hunched back, shoulders rounded, hips tight, knee turned out.
Then you get up and shuffle your way to BJJ, where you actively put yourself in positions where you have your head forward, back hunched, shoulders rounded… You see where this is going.
Physical therapy, strength training, and extra mobility work will all help, but doing those a few times a week can’t make up for the other 99% of the time you spend doing the wrong thing.
Standing desks are becoming trendy, which is good, but it’s not that standing all day instead is especially good for you too -- it’s being able to change between positions and move around. You need to go out and be in different environments that don’t have you staring into a screen 3 feet from your face.
Low intensity activities like walking, hiking or swimming can be very therapeutic by helping you escape from the same few crunched up postures that modern living tends to force you into.
5. Rest like you mean it.
Daily habits like what you eat and how you sleep have big effects on you as well. Rest is vital for your body to recover from the strains of training BJJ and working out.
Sleep is vital not just for repairing the body but also for solidifying learning. Science is still trying to figure out the precise inner workings, but it’s clear that the brain uses sleep to process and incorporate your daily experiences and newly learned skills.
Diet is important too, but that’s a bit outside my area of expertise, so I’ll give the same advice that underlies everything I recommend: do some research, stick to the basics, start simple, and don’t get too complicated unless you really need to.
If you want more help, my mega post Jiu-Jitsu Will Destroy You If You Let It: How I Finally Started Fixing My Broken Body lays out a very comprehensive guide to finding the help you need to repair yourself.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is frustrating and humbling. I’ve got five pieces of advice if you want to make it a lifelong pursuit.
Aim for the top of the mountain, but keep your feet on the trail.
The path to black belt takes many years, and when you finally reach it, you realize the path toward mastery continues on for decades and then lifetimes (I’ll leave it to the Buddhists to figure out how to be reincarnated with all our jiu-jitsu skills still intact). Setting your sights on a distant goal will help you stay on the path toward it.
The mountain path metaphor is a particularly good illustration, if you imagine it accurately. You don’t simply starting at the bottom and walk straight up to the top.
It’s not that simple.
The path is winding. It goes up and down. You’ll run into obstacles. You’ll get lost. You’ll go down dead ends and need to backtrack. Often, you’re making progress even when you don’t feel like you are, and when you finally reach a peak and start feeling proud of yourself, you look up and see there’s another, higher one…
The only way to stay sane is to not get too emotionally invested in any particular high or low. Certainly, enjoy the good times, and don’t get too bummed about the bad times, but as King Solomon’s ring reminded him: “this too shall pass.”
Jiu-jitsu is a lifelong endeavor, if you stick to it, so don’t worry about rushing. Keep pushing forward, but settle in for the long haul.
Keep your body from breaking down by doing corrective exercises.
Injuries and chronic joint pain are, in my estimation, the main reason people quit jiu-jitsu. Whether or not that’s true, every other reason to quit becomes easier when you’re in pain.
For years, I would have told you stretching is a good way to prevent injury (because that’s what I was taught since childhood PE classes, as were most people), but the research doesn’t back that up, at least not for the old fashioned “touch your toes” stretches. The science points towards strength, stability, mobility, and endurance being more important factors.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending a 4-hour mobility and conditioning seminar by Steve Maxwell. He advocates for following practices that develop joint health, especially by counteracting whatever postures and muscular tensions your sport and daily life overdo. For most BJJ guys, this is forward head, rounded shoulders, hunched back, tight hips, weak glutes, crappy knees, and stiff ankles. That’s doubly true if you’re a desk jockey.
The world of fitness is mind-boggling, with countless “experts” selling a million different “best” exercise systems. You’d go insane trying to find the “perfect” program to follow. You can retain some of your sanity by finding something simple and sticking to it until you need something more. This could be yoga, kettlebells, bodyweight, barbells, etc.
Whatever you pick, keep it simple. You can do a lot with basics like push-ups, pull-ups, squats, and bearcrawling around the mats. Realize that working out for your overall health is not always the same as training to be an elite athlete or to “make gainz”.
Come to appreciate simplicity, and reinvestigate “old” techniques in greater depth.
A hot new trend sweeps through the competitive Brazilian jiu-jitsu scene every year or so. We call this “Instagram jiu-jitsu” these days, and before that, it was “YouTube jiu-jitsu.” (Before that, I imagine it was “Grappling Magazine jiu-jitsu.”) Some make a lasting impression, like leg drags and berimbolos, but most fade away (sorry, velvet x-guard).
These trends can be very fun, so I’m not saying you should ignore them. Having fun with training is good. Whenever my friend (and black belt under Marcelo Garcia) Leo Kirby saw a cool new move he wanted to try, he called this tossing up another “spinning plate.”
Just accept that every time you toss up a new plate, you risk letting another fall. You only have so many hands and so much time and attention.
What you’ll find with most old timers is that they stop being too concerned about the hot new techs and instead return to their roots. When you reach black belt, those techniques you learned in your first year of training have a way of “suddenly” having so many more details or core concepts than you remembered. You can mine these for a much greater understanding of essential movements of jiu-jitsu.
Your approach to a subject can be measured in two dimensions: breadth and depth. Seeking breadth is like visiting a city and trying to run around to every tourist spot on the map, just to say you’ve been there. Seeking depth is picking a few favorite spots and spending the day really getting to know everything about them.
Jiu-jitsu has an incredible depth, and as you get older, you’ll appreciate how those fundamental moves rarely require extreme strength, flexibility, speed, or any other trait that diminishes with age. And you can always jump on Instagram for a cool move when you want to spice things up.
Befriend training buddies who are committed to putting in the extra work.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not a solo sport. We don’t have katas, we don’t break boards, we have no astral projection (at least not that I’m at liberty to discuss with non-black belts). You can do a few solo drills (maybe to follow my earlier advice about joint mobility and healthy movement), but when it comes down to it, you need another human being to practice on.
You may need some interpersonal skills to make a friend at the gym, or you can at least aim for someone who’s equally socially maladjusted as yourself. However you do it, get someone who wants to put in extra time practicing with you. You want someone who shows initiative and enjoys thinking about how to improve and studying outside of class.
Find and accept the role jiu-jitsu fills in the changing seasons of your life.
Your life will change over the years, and the role jiu-jitsu will play in it will change too. We can’t all be 19-year-olds who train 7 days a week, though some of the lucky ones reading this were. Though your opinion on how “lucky” you were may change when your joints are falling apart before you’re 30, since teenagers don’t listen to boring advice about healthy posture.
Many life events will affect your ability and desire to train: Getting married. Having kids. Being promoted at work. Moving to a new city. Finding other hobbies.
I’m not saying to let all these events knock you out of training, as they often do. You will need to figure out how to keep jiu-jitsu in your life (which mostly means keeping it in your day planner schedule) and finding the motivation to train when your old reasons may have faded away.
Looking for more advice? Check out these other great articles from the Inverted Gear blog:
- My trilogy for white to blue, blue to purple, and brown to black belt.
- Baby, Don't Hurt Me by Marshal D. Carper
- 5 Bridges Every Jiu-Jiteiro Should Do by Jason C. Brown
- The Best Black Belts Have White Belt Mindsets by Nelson Puentes
- What Drives Success in BJJ by Matt Kirtley
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Goals that Do Not Involve Becoming a World Champion by Nelson Puentes
When looking for what drives success--in BJJ or elsewhere--many traits are important: perseverance, grit, intelligence, talent, determination, and more. But which is most important?
Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest difference between the wannabes and the experts is self-discipline and focus. So what are these traits and how can you develop them?
Self-discipline is defined as “the ability to control one's feelings and overcome one's weaknesses” and “the ability to pursue what one thinks is right despite temptations to abandon it.”
To have focus is to be “able to direct your attention and efforts.”
Examples of self-discipline and focus:
- Showing up to practice when it would be easier to take a night off.
- Pushing yourself to do things you don’t like doing.
- Doing what’s necessary even if it’s sometimes boring.
- Not glossing over the “small” details, and refining them instead.
- Delaying instant gratification in favor of future reward.
- Refining an old skill instead of playing with a new flashy technique.
- Using your mat time to drill and train, not socialize and gossip.
To put it in the simplest terms, having self-discipline and focus means you show up, pay attention, and do the work.
My mom has been a school teacher all of my life. While visiting her recently, we talked about her experiences with “gifted” or “slow” kids. She said she wants kids to develop “backbone”--the ability to stand up to challenges and push through. She said she prefers a “slow” student with backbone over a “talented” student. The bright kid will breeze along unchallenged most of the time, usually to the praise of adults, while the slow kid plods along behind. But when they each run into a real challenge, the gifted kid often crumbles under the pressure, while the slow kid just pushes through.
This matches up to the recent research on how one’s beliefs about talent and hardwork affect success. People often either believe talent is innate and unchangeable (either you’re born with it or you’re not), or that success is the product of persistence and hardwork. Researchers call this fixed mindset versus growth mindset. These beliefs affect how people approach learning, overcome challenges and recover from failures. As you might guess, the growth mindset is associated with better outcomes in learning and problem solving.
If you have trained for any length of time, you’ve seen talented students come and go. Oddly enough, they are often the quickest to quit, maybe because it’s not a big enough challenge at the beginning stages. They could be truly gifted if they stuck to it, but it doesn’t matter how good someone “could” be if they quit too soon. Success is only for those who stick around.
So how do you develop self-discipline and focus? If I could answer that question so easily, I’d sell it for $19.95 and be a much richer man than I am today. But I will share what I can.
To be honest, I am not the most disciplined or focused person in many areas of life. During that same visit with my mom, she and I were talking about that, too. She was so thankful I found BJJ and stuck to it because I never had a passion like it before. I never liked playing sports, I didn’t do particularly well in school. I didn’t have any big ambitions. But somehow I got into BJJ and I found all the drive and purpose I lacked elsewhere.
Here’s what I can tell you:
Success is achieved by having a passion that drives you to use self-discipline and focus to achieve your goals.
Take the time to answer these questions for yourself:
What are your big picture BJJ goals?
Become a black belt, win at Worlds, be able to protect myself and my family, become a great teacher, etc.
What are your shorter term BJJ goals?
Lose 20 lbs., compete in 6 weeks, develop a new skill or technique, improve a weakness, etc.
Do your daily habits align with those goals? If not, how can you change them?
Your sleep, work and training schedule, diet and nutrition, maintaining relationships with friends and family.
- What are you willing to give up to achieve those goals?
- Partying, junk food, other hobbies, free time, etc. You still need your friends and family, so don’t think you can drop them, but you may need to help them see why your goals are important and positive for you to gain their support.
If you want to send me your answers to those questions and get my feedback, feel free to message me through Aesopian BJJ on Facebook.
If you’re interested in starting BJJ, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will arm you with the knowledge you need to pick the right BJJ school for you.
When evaluating BJJ schools, these are the key factors to consider:
- Location - What schools are closest to you and how far are you willing to travel?
- Schedule - Do they run classes at times that are convenient for you?
- Classes - Do they offer what you want to learn: gi, no-gi, MMA, judo, wrestling, etc.?
- Instructor - Are the coaches qualified and do they have good reputations?
- Culture - Are the instructors and students friendly and helpful?
- Facility - Is the school clean and does it have any amenities?
- Cost - Can you work tuition fees into your budget?
Location and schedule have a huge impact on whether or not you train.
Location and class schedule may seem like mundane details but they can have the biggest influence on whether or not you stick to training. A new student is likely to quit if they’re always showing up late because they couldn’t get out of work in time and got stuck in traffic. If it becomes more appealing to say “Screw it; I’ll just go another day,” you’re slipping towards quitting. Everything else being equal, you’ll train more at a school you can more easily get to on time.
That said, a great instructor is worth the longer drive if you are disciplined enough to make the trip.
Does an instructor need to be a BJJ black belt?
Not necessarily, but it’s usually better if they are. A purple or brown belt with a great personality and a professional attitude can run a better school than a grumpy old black belt who doesn’t show up except to hang out with buddies and look at Facebook on his phone. But a veteran black belt, even a grumpy old one with broken English, who focuses on his or her students’ development gets my vote.
Why can’t you find prices anywhere?
You’ve likely been frustrated trying to find prices on any school’s websites, or have even contacted a gym to ask, only to be told “come in and try it out first.” School owners do this because there’s a common business practice of hiding prices until after they get prospective new students in the door.
The logic is that if they put their prices out there, people get to comparison shop, but they probably don’t know anything about martial arts, so they’ll likely just find a karate or taekwondo McDojo that’s cheaper. By getting that prospective student into the school, they can provide an exciting hands-on experience, making the face-to-face sale easier.
Whether or not you agree with that, that’s why prices are hard to find.
How much should I expect to pay?
Cost is important to you, but don’t let it rule your decision. Cheapest is rarely best. A black belt world champion with a 5,000 sq. ft. facility will charge more than a blue belt with puzzle mats in his garage. Weigh all the factors before deciding based on pricing.
BJJ tends to cost more than other martial arts. I would say around $150 per month is average, but $250 or higher is possible in places like New York City or California.
What should you expect for your first class?
You’ll get the best experience by contacting the gym first. They should have a free trial sign up form on their website or at least a Facebook page. They may tell you to come to any class or schedule you for an intro.
An intro class usually consists of learning some techniques one-on-one with an instructor, though not necessarily the head instructor or even a black belt. Afterwards, they may go straight to talking about signing up, or send you into the group class to keep training.
If you are dropped into a group class, just try to follow along. No one expects you to have any idea what’s going on, so just be willing to look to the instructor or nearby students for guidance if you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing. There may be formalities like lining up in a certain order and bowing at the start of class.
A normal class usually follows this format:
- Warm ups - Jogging, push ups, jumping jacks, solo BJJ movement drills, etc.
- Technique - The instructor will teach techniques, then students pair up to drill.
- Live training - Games where you try your techniques against resisting partners.
- Sparring - One-on-one matches where you can try whatever you know.
They may not have you spar on your first day as a matter of safety, but many places have no problem with new students sparring. You can ask to sit out if you don’t feel ready yet.
What should you be looking for during this first class?
This is your chance to check out the instructor, the facility, and the culture. After class, answer these questions for yourself:
- Was the instructor attentive?
- Did the instructor clearly explain techniques?
- Did the instructor give you any direct attention?
- Did classes start and end on time?
- Were the mats clean?
- Was the bathroom clean?
- Were students friendly and willing to help you?
What gear do you need to get started?
Here’s what you need to train:
- A good BJJ gi
- A couple of rashguards
- No-gi shorts
- Athletic underwear
Not required, but recommended:
- Athletic tape
- Water bottle
- Gym bag
All of those necessities (except the underwear) are available in the Inverted Gear store. In particular, I recommend new students get the gold weave Panda Gi, one or two long or short sleeve ranked rashguards, and the RDojo shorts. That will get you through years of gi and no-gi training. You’ll just want to get more gear later to make laundry rotation easier.
White or blue are your safest colors for gis since some schools have policies about that. Check if black is fine with your school first. It’s OK to get the black rashguard as a white belt--no one will confuse you for a black belt.
Use coupon code NEWBIE to get 10% off your entire purchase as my thanks for reading all the way down to here.
I hope this guide helps you find a great school that launches you into your journey towards BJJ black belt!
10th Planet Chicago after 3 hours of crucifix shenanigans.
I owe a big thanks to Javi and Dan for organizing this trip after meeting them back at the Rdojo camp, and thanks to Barry from CMA and Josh at 10PJJC for hosting me. Everyone was welcoming and friendly and eager to train jiu-jitsu.
After both seminars, I was happy to get very positive feedback from students, first in person and later through Facebook messages. The most common praise was that they felt they really “got” the material and felt they would retain it. That was fantastic to hear because I know I hate when a seminar isn’t good for much more than getting a new profile pic with a famous black belt. I really want people to learn something that will make a big difference in their game.
The Chicago Martial Arts crew (some more
disappointed than others about lack of DnD).
I was especially honored that the head instructors at each school attended my seminars and afterwards complimented me on my teaching style. They said they liked how I had designed my instruction around retention, with logical progressions that tied everything together.
That was validating to hear, since I have given a lot of thought to my teaching methods. With this article, I want to lay out the principles that guide my teaching style. I hope these tips help you refine your own.
Here is my advice on teaching a good class or seminar:
Fold the reps into the bigger recipe.
We all know repetition is the key to learning. But we also know that endless repping gets boring. And modern research on how to practice for real world learning shows that the classic “do 10,000 reps” method isn’t as good as we thought it was. So how do we get students to put it reps without mindlessly putting in reps?
My answer has been to spend less time on each individual “technique” (meaning what the last thing I stopped class to demonstrate), but I teach chains of techniques that contain the skills I want the student to repeat the most. They may be entering into a position several different ways, but they keep arriving at the same point, then perhaps going on to different finishes.
Build around your core concepts.
The best seminars I have attended were built around core concepts, not just a bunch of assorted “hey, this is a cool move” techniques. Cool moves are, well, cool, but they are often quickly forgotten unless they fill a niche you needed filled.
You can still show cool moves, but when they are built into a larger conceptual framework, the students have a better chance of retaining what they learn. They may forget certain techniques, but through the drilling and games you had them do, they “know” it in their bones. Students love when you have a system where every piece fits into place and they can see the unifying logic for each position and technique variation.
Rdojo Shorts Squad (P.S. Rdojo shorts are back in stock in the Inverted Gear shop)
Show what you’re teaching before talking too much.
A pet peeve of mine is when an instructor, in an admirable but misguided desire to share as many details as possible, talks and talks and talks before even showing a single rep. Of course I appreciate detailed instruction, but I don’t need a 10 minute lecture about every possibility and counter and re-counter for a technique I haven’t even seen completed once. Show the move then let’s talk about it.
When introducing a new technique, I show it in its simplest form, without much (or any) explanation in the first few reps. Then I’ll demonstrate it again, sharing more details, focusing on the major points. Then I may just send people off to drill, even if I plan to go into more detail later. Fine details are built on gross motor movements, and not the other way around. I like showing “the same” technique a few times, but with each pass we go another layer further into the finer details and deeper understanding.
Don’t overcoach or overcorrect in the beginning.
I have a personal rule to not correct a student on their first rep. If they ask for help right away, I’ll still make them attempt it unaided while I watch. I want them to try to figure it out first, even if they ultimately fail. This does two major things:
First, it gives them a frame of reference for when I give corrections. An instructor can kill a valuable learning moment by rushing in to prevent a student from even doing a single rep poorly. The student may need to feel what it’s like to do a bad rep to appreciate what a good one feels like (assuming no risk of injury).
Second, the frustration a student feels when struggling spurs the brain to work overtime to resolve the problem. Your role as an instructor is not to eliminate all difficulties or confusions, but to guide the student so these “negative” experiences lead to growth and learning.
This also has a broader applications. When you teach too many counters to counters too early, your time is often wasted because the student needs a chance to both succeed and fail in live training. The success will give them a desire to succeed again, and the failure will give them a reason to dig deeper and ask better questions.
Javi, the Panda Hunter, insisted on a Panda Gi Club group photo.
Use regressions to prepare students.
Students often need more basic versions of techniques to get a feel for a new movement. You can use regressions to accomplish this. A regression would be a simplified version of the technique or certain aspects of a technique.
For example, if I know I will be teaching a complex sequence that is unfamiliar to the students, I may start with a simplified version that doesn’t demand as much from them. Once they start getting the feel for it, we can look at it again go “okay, now here’s how you really do it.”
You can also “regress” a technique during your warm-up by seeing if students can perform its basic movements in solo or partnered drills. This allows you to check if any students lack the flexibility or coordination that will be required later, and gives them a chance to prepare their motor skills for later.
Do warm-ups that complement the lesson plan.
When I attend seminars or visit other schools, I love collecting new solo and partnered warm-ups and drills, so I share my favorite ones when I can.
My warm-up drills tend to resemble motions that will be needed in the techniques that will be taught. I dislike when warm-ups turn into a grueling conditioning routine. That said, I do believe there can be a place for traditional bodyweight exercises like push ups, squats, etc. in some warm-ups, but I won’t make seminar attendees spend time on that. No one is paying me to come out and make them run laps and do jumping jacks.
Here is what I want my students to get out of warm-ups:
- Literally warm up the body--increase the heart rate, raise body temperature, limber up the big joints.
- Develop coordination, body control, and “mat awareness”, usually through ground-based movements.
- Prepare the students to perform what will be taught later with simplified movements that mimic components of the techniques.
- Compensate for anything that may be over-trained, like doing back extensions if I know we will do a lot of flexion.
Make students see, hear, do, feel, and even teach.
You’ve probably heard the popular idea that people can be divided up into learning styles: visual, tactile, auditory, etc. While this may just be a persistent myth, I do believe people learn best when they experience material in many different ways and through as many senses as possible. Here is how we can engage those senses:
- See it performed.
- Hear it explained.
- Do it themselves.
- Feel it done to them.
- Teach it to someone else.
- Read it (if possible, like in an Artechoke instructional).
People will usually say they learn best when they’re taught a certain way (“I just need to feel it first then I get it”), and that may be true, but don’t use it as an excuse to not learn any way you can. As a student, try to develop your ability to learn through any means possible.
Demand active recall.
Throughout the seminar, usually when I’m about to move on to a new topic or take a water break, I will ask students to recall and practice techniques from earlier in the day. I may ask to see a specific technique, or I’ll leave it up to them to pick one. This simple activity will greatly boost retention, especially when you go around asking the students to teach the techniques back to you.
To summarize my teaching philosophy:
- Have a progression that starts in the warm-ups and runs through the entire lesson.
- Present a logical system built around core concepts, not just assorted cool moves.
- Talk less at the start and get the students doing the moves sooner, then regroup to go into greater detail as their familiarity increases.
- Get the students thinking about the material for themselves and even struggling with it if that means they will ultimately retain it better.
- Keep the energy and interest high by showing variations or adding to the combo chain, but use that to get them doing more reps of the core techniques.
After-seminar Korean stir fry party (check out my party face).