1. #1

    Join Date
    Oct 2011

    Teaching BJJ - Concepts vs Techniques

    For a while now, I've been helping to teach white and new blue belts, so I've had this topic in my mind: should I focus on teaching concepts or techniques?

    It seems that some schools enjoy showing and working off concepts, without regard to specific techniques really. For example, SBG has lessons like The Fundamental 5 of Topgame and 5 Point Guard Passing, or the Inquery Method, and so on. Then there are schools that give you some techniques to practice and just hammer them into you with drilling and sparring. I can see the benefits of both.

    I was talking to a brown belt about how he picks what to teach. He said he often doesn't have any specific techniques in mind before class, just a central concept, but from this concept, he derives specific techniques.

    For example, the night I talked to him about this, all of the moves we learned involved crossing the opponent's arm while he's in your guard. He explained how he met a black belt of 16 years in Gracie Barra Rio whose entire game was built around that single concept. He said that when they sparred, he spent 8 minutes just trying to keep his arm uncrossed. Regardless of specific techniques, the guy was just going to cross your arm somehow.

    Here's a brief description of the moves the brown belt then taught with this in mind:

    1. Closed guard - Break his grip on your lapel with a figure-four grip, cross his arm, take the back.

    2. Closed guard - Underhook a leg and swing your hips out (like a pendulum sweep) and go for an armbar. They stack to defend, but their arm is now crossed. Swing out of the armbar and take their back.

    3. Butterfly guard - Break his grip on your knee, cross his arm, grab across the back for the belt and sweep.

    He said he may have never learned or seen these techniques in isolation before, because they might be something he "just does" on his own in sparring, or just saw someone else doing.

    But he can't go out in front of a bunch of white and blue belts and just say "Work on crossing the arm. Just make up some techniques." He has to show something specific that EVERYONE can understand and drill and do, regardless of skill level.

    So while the concept of "Cross their arm in your guard" might be the main point he wants to teach (and he does explain it as a concept), he uses the techniques to give everyone something they can actually DO to illustrate it. Of course, the three moves he showed are not the only three ways to apply "Crossing the arm", but by teaching specific techniques, he gives the student the first pieces to exploring the concept themselves.

    He also made an interesting point on how he picks techniques that (while they all share a central concept) are different enough to allow the student to explore the other techniques that exist BETWEEN those positions. From the examples above, you can see how he varies the guards and situations so that you have seperation between the positions to think of other ways to apply the same concept.

    From this, I don't think it's so much a case of "concepts versus techniques" but "concepts and techniques". Of course it comes down the the individual, their experience level, the experience level of the class, etc., but I think you know what I mean.

    What's your take on this?

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    in conclusion, MMA sucks.
    I believe that one should underline principals or "concepts" because techniques are by nature more mechanical but principals can apply to so much more in life and in the dojo

  3. #3
    Dr. Fagbot Q. MacGillicuddy, PhD's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2004
    Twirling Foot Kung Fu
    i apologize for speaking in general terms rather than bjj-specific ones, but i might have a little insight on this. in my current day job, where i design and write simulation-based software tutorials, i've had to pick up sort of a practical, working knowledge of instructional design on the fly.

    as aesopian implies, concept and application complement each other. the important is to ensure both are clearly defined and easily communicable. when designing a tutorial or lesson, i generally start with concept: what something is, and how it can be exploited. then i'll move to context, giving an example of when it might be used to flesh out the concept and make a transition to the application, the steps necessary to execute the technique.

    when working with new students in the gym, this process is more or less reversed: "you know that kick you've been doing on the bag for two months? it can be useful when a guy is moving in on you. here, i'm going to move in on you, and you do it. you can also do it when you want to move in on a guy -- you come in behind it. do it to me. good, now refine it (this way)." etc. after you've effectively communicated something like this, or, i'm assuming, beginning bjj techniques, you can bridge to follow-up moves and/or extrapolate the basic concept to talk about strategy.

    in my (admittedly limited) experience, both behind a desk and in the ring, making sure you include concept, context and technique during instruction greatly enhances knowledge retention and encourages learners to start looking at their training with a useful level of abstraction -- i.e. they start developing a better view of the bigger picture, develop strategical thinking skills and learn to apply specific techniques in different contexts.

    the important thing is to have concept, context and application clearly defined in your own mind, so they can easily be communicated. it's also important, in my opinion, not to "marry" a technique or application to a single context during explanation (unless of course you're demonstrating a technique that's only used in a very specific way, and this would most likely apply only to an advanced student).
    Quote Originally Posted by Hedgehogey
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  4. #4
    Mostly, I just sit here. Mostly. staffhall of fame
    Stick's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    Washington DC. USA
    I've only done a bit of teaching myself, but when I am given free reign or asked for ideas on what to go over I tend to think about something I've noticed in previous classes, problems people have had. If I'm unable to address a spcific problem, I have two "lesson plans" that I'm particularly fond of.

    Start of with something simple like kimura/hammer-lock/paint-brush from side control or mount: something even the newbs can nail. Then show how the same technique can be applied from numerous positions and directions, I show it to them from say mount, guard, half guard, and standing and encourage them to look for it in the various positions they find themselves in rolling. I suppose this is more of a concept approach, the concept of one technique. Newbs love it cause they can just work it where they need to, basically just keep practicing the technique and maybe try a new position or direction, and it gets the more experienced people thinking and trying new things as well.

    My favorite is just to do a submission combination for the night. Always telling people to think of flowing from one sub to the other, not wasting effort on one that's already been defended. I guess this is a more technique based plan, but it is all chained together to drill into people's heads the need to transition and see openings for new subs.

    So I suppose I just have a particular point or principal in mind and give it to people with a healthy dose of techniques. I really don't like having a lesson conssist of "here's this technique, do it, ok now here's this completely unrelated technique", things should connect and go together, build on each other if possible; if the last thing you learn in practice can reinforce the first thing you learned that night, I think you're better off for it.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Melbourne, Australia
    Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
    I think you're exactly right. It has to be both. If you just teach mechanics you're making it harder for the person to see the bigger picture. If you only look at the bigger picture, you'll miss the important details that are the beauty of BJJ.

    My instructor, John Will, is the best instructor I've ever trained with. Every lesson he teaches I come away with both a concept and techniques, as well as being inspired to find my own way with that concept. The worst classes/seminars I've seen have been where an instructor teaches disparate techniques with no connection between the technique and no underlying concept or theme to help remember the class.

  6. #6
    jnp's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2005
    Austin, TX
    BJJ, wrestling
    Mastery of any technique will only come when the practitioner understands the underlying concepts. While I agree that the two should be taught together I have often observed that an explanation of the concept first benefits the students greatly. When you combine this explanation with a series of related techniques, even if you only drill one or two, the students seem to absorb more knowledge. To be clear, while my instructor occasionally asks me to teach class, I base my observations on watching him teach.
    Shut the hell up and train.

  7. #7
    Moleculo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Dec 2002
    Totally agree. When my instructor shows the many permutations that are available from an initial arm-drag (for example) I gain a sort of recursive knowledge that is less attainable through static drilling of just one technique.
    Also, if a student is shown several concept-related techniques such as blocking a foot/knee/elbow/arm for a sweep or roll he can instantly make the connection and his or her brain can start figuring out a way to apply that concept or at least manifest the awareness of how and when the tactic can be employed in general rolling.
    Last edited by Moleculo; 12/24/2005 3:58am at .


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