It’s no secret that I love Jiu-jitsu. So much so, that I really do think it has room for everyone and whatever their pursuits and goals are, whether that be the sport, the martial art, or using jiu-jitsu as a general physical outlet.
I do, however, have a frustration. It’s more of a frustration that other people are frustrated. I think a lot of people get turned off of or away from jiu-jitsu because it can seem like it’s something that’s not possible for them to do on a realistic and sustainable level. Lots of people either never get started or they give it an honest attempt and quit.
I think one of the first questions that a person who shoulders the responsibility of attracting and then retaining people to and for their cause eventually has to ask what it is that either keeps people from coming through the door or staying inside once they get there. Sounds obvious, right?
I can speak from my own experience, and I’ve also talked with dozens of other students on their frustrations and there are a couple of common themes, and most of them tend to fall under the same umbrella. Or at least the root of the problem can be traced to that umbrella, and it’s name is Complication.
Now, this article could go on for a very long time on things that I’ve seen myself and listened to from other students, but I’m going to keep this short and try to give folks something to roll around in their mind on their own. So, here’s a few questions that may help with stripping away the excess and is likely to introduce some simplicity into your jiu-jitsu practice. Addition by subtraction, so to speak.
Are you aware of the individual movements from which techniques are created?
Are you comfortable with controlling your body in space?
Are you familiar with the requirements both of yourself and your partner/opponent for the maintenance of Base, Connection, Posture, and Pressure? (Credit to Rickson Gracie, Matt Thornton, and Henry Akins for their most excellent works on these concepts.)
Are you able to modulate your own throttle regarding your pace? Do you know the difference between a learning pace, drilling/practice pace, and a competitive pace?
Does what your working or teaching have more than 3 to 4 steps and is emphasis made on the make-it-or-break-it details?
Do you have or are you giving adequate time for failure points to present themselves before testing under resistance? Or at least, are you able to revisit the lesson after adding that resistance?
Does what’s being learned or taught account for the fact that the other person has a say in how the exchange plays out?
Are you asking for attribute-based performance from students who haven’t developed or aren’t capable of those attributes?
Are you or your students talking and smiling? Those are signs of them being relaxed. If they’re relaxed, they can enjoy themselves. (This doesn’t include idle chatter that’s not relevant to the prescribed work.)
Are there leaders on the mat that help the instructor(s) make sure everyone is getting what they need from the lesson?
Are the techniques that are learned without pressure being seen when the pressure is on?
I’ll stop there. Sound complicated? Keeping it simple is hard enough, and there’s no need to make the student’s job harder by shotgunning complex movements that have a very narrow window of application. A window made even narrower by a lack of experience and familiarization with the topics above.
The Big Picture question should be – Is what’s being gone over in this class going to add structural integrity to the students’ tool box?
Didn’t I mean add tools to the tool box? Nope. If you’re not giving the students a strong place to put their tools, it doesn’t matter what tools you give them. They’ll clamber around in the moment, juggling tools, hoping the right one for the given moment falls into their hands. Build a box and give it some organization. No more juggling. We don’t want to “catch” things. That’s hoping. Gambling. That’s not jiu-jitsu.
Why are people leaving or not coming through the door? Because they’re likely not there for acrobatics or to become contortionists. Neither of which is required for a lifetime of successful jiu-jitsu practice.
There’s plenty of time for adding complexity. Being a competent jiu-jitsu practitioner shouldn’t be measured based on size, speed, strength, agility, flexibility, or endurance. Wrestling is the King of that game. Let them have it. There’s a reason you likely don’t know any old wrestlers who are still active. If you’re Wrestling and adding submissions…call it that.
John Danher’s definition of jiu-jitsu is the one that I most closely align myself with – The science and art of control that leads to submission.
Keep it simple, silly. Give yourself or your students a firm foundation that can be built upon. Focus less on what’s cool and more on what works at a high percentage or solves multiple problems. Focus less on winning and more on solidifying. Make sure you or your students are making meaningful gains and aren’t just going through the motions, hoping the next technique isn’t so difficult. People bore quickly with puzzles that can’t be solved. Knowing how to solve the puzzle is more important than how many pieces it has. Make sure that people have a chance to build some confidence. Confidence in themselves, their coaches, and jiu-jitsu as a whole. The K.I.S.S method does that.