Notes on giving a private lesson
Tonight I had a new experience of running a private lesson with two students and I wanted to keep notes on it to evaluate how it went. I figured I'd share them so others could get some ideas from what I taught or offer me some advice.
The lesson took place during a normal class, but these two in particular were having the same problem, and I got permission from the instructor to teach a lesson I had put together for them.
For warm-ups, we did what ever else did, which was:
10 minutes of:
- Running laps
- Running sideways judo style (back upright, feet parallel)
- Running sideways wrestling style (hips low, legs bent, feet staggered)
Two times down the mat:
- Forward breakfalls
- Backwards breakfalls
1 minute rounds of:
At this point, me and my two students split off from the rest of the class and we took our own corner of the mats.
I started be telling them that I had lesson for them based on how they had both been complaining about having trouble with and wanting to improve their open guards. I told them that I felt the best way I could do this was not to just show them more techniques, but to change how they think about the open guard and put them in the right mindset to play it. And while I will teach techniques, I wanted them to think about how they illustrate broader concepts.
After the introduction, I got into the actual training by explaining the concept of spring-loaded legs and how you want your hooks to stick to their leg by maintaining constant contact and upwards pressure (I have Kesting to thank for this bit). I had one of them get in my butterfly guard and move around while I explained this so I could show it in motion.
To get them working their hooks right, I started them off with a solo drill/functional exercise called reverse bicycling (which I picked up from Kesting's Grappling Drills DVD). They lay on their backs and circle their feet in the air like they're riding a bike backwards, turning their hips from side to side. This trains the hooking, lifting and pulling motions that are so important to open guard as well as strengthening the legs and abs for this type of movement.
After 1 minute of this exercise, I again had one of them get in my butterfly guard and move around. I added the point of sitting up and spinning on your butt so you can follow your opponent as he tries to move around you. I showed how hard it is to spin when I lay flat, since my hips and back are dragging to the ground.
I had each do 1 minute of isolated drilling where they take butterfly guard and keep their hooks as their partner moves around on knees, steps up, stands, drops down, etc. but never actually tries to pass. I had them start at low intensity and speed up as they went.
While doing the drill, one of my students tried laying flat to see what I was talking about and found out for herself how hard it was to keep her hooks if she didn't sit up. She made her partner try this too when they switched so they would also see why sitting up was so important and how laying back makes you too slow to keep butterfly guard.
Capitalizing on their moment of insight, I told one of them how I had seen that she was having a lot of trouble when she lost her spider guard grips and probably felt lost and frantic trying to keep them from passing because she stays lying flat on her back (which she has a habit of doing). This clicked with her and she brightened up when she realized that it was true but that she had just learned part of the solution. This made me happy since this was an exact problem I wanted to address with her.
One of them also commented on how she could feel how simply using their hooks like this could lead to sweeps, since it almost had while they were just doing this light drill. This is significant since they have had no faith at all in the open guard until now, so even this is a major improvement.
I was happy to see them trying things out on their own, seeing how things do and don't work, and making sure their training partner was doing so too.
Knowing that one of them only feels safe with closed guard, I decided to start there and show how to safely move to open guard. I picked my favorite stupid simple sweep for this. I demonstrated it three times, starting with a simple explanation of the main points first, then adding more details the second time, and more the third. Then I had each of them drill it 10 times.
I had each of them try gripping the sleeve my way then different ways to see the pros and cons of each. I had explained why I pistol grip (I don't feel my grip is worth my fingers hurting all the time) but I knew that one of them preferred claw gripping so I let them experiment with it on their own. They weren't comfortable with it but said they would keep trying it out.
I had them try pushing the knee out the right way and the wrong way so they could feel the difference. I want them to understand through experience and experimentation, not just because I said so.
While drilling, one of them asked if they could try sweeping to the other side. This was a great point that I hadn't even though to bring up, but I was happy to they did since it showed they were thinking with the sweep. I had them try it and see how the person is free to post with their arm on that side, so the sweep doesn't really work, but in trying to defend the sweep, they will overcompensate to the other side, setting up the sweep they really want. This is the kind of "fake left, go right" thinking I wanted them to start developing so I was happy to see it happening.
One of them was having trouble moving their hips back to create space and experimented with first walking back on her shoulders, then found that just doing a single shrimp accomplished the same thing faster and more easily. She made sure he partner tried this too and they both found it much easier.
After they finished drilling the sweep, I explained how I use this as my "jab" for open guard. I rarely sweep anyone with it, but it is how I create space, keep them on the run, break their base and posture, setup other moves, etc. I showed a couple ways the move can be countered, but how this gives them other options, like coming to knees, taking the back, etc.
I had been thinking of an analogy to explain the difference between closed and open guard and I tried it on them. I said to pretend each guard had its own default setting. In closed guard, all you have to default to is keeping your ankles crossed and you can pretty much do nothing else. But with open guard, the default needs to be something more active, some kind of constant motion like a sweep attempt or at least breaking grips.
Later, one of them referred to the analogy again and commented on how one of her main problems with open guard was they she was too used to how she didn't really have to do anything to keep closed guard, so having to keep busy when it was open wasn't something she would do, which is why it failed.
I used the stupid simple sweep I had just taught as an example. Even when I don't really know what I want to do, even if my mind is blank and I am just trying to figure out my next step, I'm still trying to hit the stupid simple sweep over and over again. At the very least, it keeps them from simply jumping past my guard.
I actually hadn't thought of what sweep I wanted to teach next, but I had decided that I wanted to get them to use their hooks more, since the stupid simple sweep was more about stepping on the hips and knees.
Luckily, a great sweep came to mind and went with it.
The second sweep starts with them attempting the first, but this time, their partner resists by pulling back and posturing. You put your butterfly hooks in and use this resistance to pull yourself to them as you cross the arm and grab the back. Then you rock back and kick both hooks to the side, sweeping them as you come into side control.
I really stressed how it's the first sweep the sets up the second, and how you're using their resistance as the energy for it to work. Saying "Use your enemies strength against him" has become a cliche so I felt it was better to get them to just actually feel it with moves that exemplify this.
I showed them the right and wrong way to reach across the back (reach as far as you can to the other side but keep your elbow low and your chest on their shoulder so they can't uncross their arm). I had them try both ways while drilling to feel if what I said was true.
While drilling this, one of them based out to stop the sweep as a joke. This lead to their partner asking what they should do if this happened. I just said "Take the back" and they had it in a second. I explained how like the first sweep and this one go together, so do this sweep and taking the back, since their defense to the sweep is to open themself up to getting their back taken.
After they had put in their reps on the second sweep, I demonstrated some more possible counters to this guard as a whole, like going to combat base and standing up, and how they need to stop thinking of their open guards seperately but as just a bunch of different ways of using their same hooks.
I asked them if they had any questions before we went on to give them a chance to get them out of the way now and they said they didn't, but they would be sure to ask any that came up while they trained.
Now I moved on to 3 minute rounds of isolated drilling of these sweeps at about 30-70 percent resistance, but never actually really trying to pass guard. More just "reps versus resistance".
I went with each one first to feed them the resistances I felt were most common, like pulling out of the first sweep (to get them to go for the second), trying to just base out of sweeps and trying to push down their knees.
One of them started using the stupid simple sweep to setup a triangle, which is one of my favorite moves, so I was happy to see them finding it for themselves.
After I had saw they were were doing well trying this guard game and sweeps, I had them each do 3 minute rounds with each outher. To get them to understand how the drill worked, I told them to give "generic resistance", which was a term they immediately understood. ("Oh, you mean you just want us to do all the things a white belt does with a lot of stength that don't actually counter the sweep but sure feel like they should.")
I ended the lesson by talking more about open guard in general and how to think with it. I said that they need to stop thinking about their guard as seperate things (e.g. "my closed guard, my spider guard, my butterfly guard) and to think about hooking, creating space, doing default sweeps, etc. I refered them to a series of butterfly guard and spider guard retention drills we do a lot at the school and some other
The student who had had the most trouble with open guard had a realization when they heard me talking about all the guards (by name) as just one big guard (in practice). They realized that they had also been so reliant on closed guard that just having someone open their guard was just as bad to them as having someone pass. They finally realized that it wasn't, and that it just meant that they needs to adapt their guard, which may mean they need to open it up and work their hooks.
It made me very happy to hear this, since this is exactly the kind of change in thinking I had set out to give them.
I would have had them spar or at least do higher resistance passing the guard, but the normal class was ending by now and they were both completely wiped (each had just gotten back to training this week after 2 months off for family and health reasons).
I will be giving another lesson to them on Thursday and Friday so I want to work on the same material and just build on the details rather than go into more techinques.
Share with Your Students?
Have you thought about sharing your notes with your students? Even just reading the notes here on the forum, without the benefit of the actual demonstration and drilling, I find them helpful, since you emphasize "principles" and not just "nuts and bolts." I particularly benefited from your comments on hitting a move several times even when not successful (stupid simple sweep) to keep your opponent from settling in, in addition to opening up alternative sweep opportunities; your concept of not just feinting to distract them mentally, but to get them to push in the direction you really want to take them; and your concept that "guard" includes all the variations and transitions of open guard, as well as the Big One, Closed Guard; your concept that moving from closed guard to open guard isn't the same as being passed, instead there is a transition from closed to open to sweep.
I'm getting the impression bjj might be a moving art, instead of a tableau of death-grips.
Two of my problems right now are letting my opponent settle in on top, instead of trying one escape repeatedly then another; and trying to escape with a single telegraphed burst instead of probing, fencing, and using their overreaction to my own advantage.
One thing I've noticed in my own learning is that I learn better when an instructor returns to an earlier movement after taking a break (drilling a different move), as opposed to the saturation approach where you drill a move intensively but only once that night. In other words, did you have time to review the basics from the beginning at the end of class? Or will you do that next time?