Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Applying Marzano to Teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Summarizing and Note-Taking

In the first post in this series, I discussed the idea of having jiu jitsu students compare and contrast knowledge learned in class using Marzano's "Identify Similarities and Differences" educational strategy. In this post, I'll discuss Marzano's second strategy - Summarizing and Note-Taking

This idea is one of the few that's actually fairly well-known within the jiu jitsu community. In fact, there are a lot of "Jiu Jitsu Journals" on the market (like this one) that are specifically formatted for this very purpose. 

Journaling works like this. You go to class and bring your notebook. As the coach is discussing whatever you're learning that day, you write it down. Maybe include the date, who was teaching, and other information that'll help you organize the material. 

That's it. That's all there is to it. Over time, you end up with a record of each technique you covered. Given we forget a large percentage of the knowledge we learn in class, this gives you a permanent record of what you've learned, which can be reviewed in the future.

I kept fairly detailed notebooks all the way through blue belt, and those notebooks have been an invaluable resource as I advanced through the ranks. Not only does it remind me of techniques and concepts I had forgotten, but it also reminded me of details I would miss when actually trying techniques live.

How to Make Note-Taking and Journaling More Effective

 You can make this exercise far more effective by taking a few simple steps, including:

  1. Actively make decisions on what details are important and which ones are unimportant. Critically thinking of what you should include is one of the best ways to deeply process new information, which takes your learning to new heights.
  2. Write it in your own words. This is another deep processing strategy. Putting something into your own words forces you to consider what you are really learning.
  3. Use diagrams and doodles. Yet another deep processing strategy. It doesn't matter if your artistic skills are garbage; these diagrams and doodles are for YOU, not others. They're not going to be hanging in the Guggenheim.
  4. Compare and contrast to other semi-related concepts or techniques. This idea borrows from the first concept. Compare what you're learning now to something related you've learned in the past.
  5. Add questions you may have about this information. Asking questions is another excellent deep-processing hack. Ask questions about the HOW, WHY, WHEN, WHERE, etc. for anything and everything you learn. Personally, as an instructor, I LOVE when m students ask questions. It gives me a change to clarify and indicates they're actively engaging with the material. It's no surprise the students who ask the most questions tend to advance in jiu jitsu the fastest.
  6. Add additional information. In my notes, I included the date, where I was training, who was teaching the class, who I was paired with for drilling (usually Shelly), who I rolled with and what the outcomes were, whether or not I was able to execute whatever we learned while live rolling, any injuries I may have sustained and what I was doing when they happened, and so on.
For instructors, you can also keep a "teaching journal", which I just started. It's the same idea, only I talk about what we covered in class. I include information like who was in class, what activities we did, and how it went. What things went well? What things sucked? What methods did I use for formative assessment, and how successful was it? What questions did students ask and how did I answer? I'll use this information in the future to systematically improve my own teaching.

Give it a shot! Leave a comment and let us know how it went.



Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Applying Marzano to Teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu: Identifying Similarities and Differences

 "I forget 80% of what I JUST learned in class tonight!"
- Every jiu jitsu practitioner in the history of forever

We've all been there. We teach a jiu jitsu class and our students forget almost everything we taught. This should indicate our methods of teaching are kinda crappy, yet I rarely see this issue being addressed by the jiu jitsu community. Here's a solution.

Continuing with my series on applying educational theory to the teaching of Brazilian jiu jitsu, this post introduces Bob Marzano et. al. and their concept of "essential nine" educational strategies teachers use to effectively convey whatever we're teaching. Today, I'll cover the first of these nine strategies - identifying similarities and differences

In jiu jitsu, we have a nearly-unlimited number of techniques, concepts, positions, transitions, sweeps, escapes... the list goes on and on. Basically, there's a shit-ton of information related to the art. For a student learning the art, this can be overwhelming. I'm a brown belt and have been doing this for somewhere north of seven years and I'm still sometimes overwhelmed by what I don't know.

Just this last week, we had a very good competitive black belt visit our school. Aside from the thrashing I received (man, I love that!), he piqued my interest in de la Riva guard, an open guard I've largely ignored in favor of x-guard, butterfly, lasso, and lapel-and-sleeve guard. 

This highlights the major conundrum of the sport - how does a student learn everything there is to learn? 

The traditional answer, of course, is to just keep training. Time on mat. Just keep showing up and it'll eventually make sense. While this *appears* to be the case based on long-term practitioners eventually "getting" more and more knowledge, perhaps the art is just self-selecting. Those who are predisposed to understanding jiu jitsu as it's currently taught just happen to be the folks who stick with it, while the people who can't, don't, or won't learn that knowledge might just weed themselves out by quitting prematurely. 

The experimental psychologist in me would love to actually study this phenomenon, but that's an adventure for the future. In the interim, we can borrow lessons from the classroom and utilize Marzano's first idea - Identifying Similarities and Differences.

In the classroom, this strategy involves breaking concepts down into simpler parts, then classifying the concepts based on similarities or differences. For example, if we're studying European colonialism, we could classify the expansion of each nation based on their economic goals. The idea is to get students to process the knowledge at a deeper level by actually having to THINK about the knowledge in some critical way, which is a necessity when you're identifying similarities and differences. 

In jiu jisu classes, instructors can use the same idea. Take two submissions - an Americana and a kimura. After demonstrating and drilling each, split your class up into groups of four or five. Have each group discuss the similarities an differences between each submission. Give them four or five minutes to come up with two similarities and two differences, then have them report their "findings" to the rest of the class. We have a white board on the wall, so I'd have each group send one member up to write their findings under a "similarities" and "differences" headings. 

This method is effective because it gets the students thinking about the nature of the submissions. Specifically, it gets them thinking about the DETAILS of the submissions. That's the only way you can assess similarities and differences. How does the submissions work mechanically? What specific parts of the joints are being affected? What grips are being used? What detals are permitting you to control the opponent when the submission is applied? And so on.

Our brains, based on our best evidence, work like a giant interconnected network. Somewhere, the procedural memories of how to execute an Americana and a kimura reside. Those memory locations are interconnected with other areas based on how you've manipulated the knowledge of those memories. The more interconnected those memories are, the easier it is to pull them off in live rolling. Basically, the more we think about the submissions on a deeper level, the faster and more efficiently we learn them.

In a typical gym using typical bjj training methods, a student would learn the gross motor movements of an Americana, drill it, then maybe try to pull it off live while doing some positional sparring. Six months later, they may cover it again, and they'll learn a few more details, drill it, then try to hit it while rolling. This trend continues for years as the student moves from learning the gross motor skills to ever-more detailed fine motor skills. By the time they reach black belt some 8-12 years after starting, they'll be really proficient at the Americana. 

The next class, the instructor goes trough the same process with the kimura. Demo -> drill -> practice live. Lather, rinse, repeat. By black belt, they're really good at the kimura.

But it takes 8-12 YEARS.

Now let's look at how Marzano's first concept can help using an El Diablo Combatives class as an example. We demo the Americana and show a great deal of both fine and gross motor skill details. Students pair up and drill the technique enough to get familiar enough with the mechanics. Then, in the same class, we go through the same process with the kimura. Now we split the class up into groups of four or five and they discuss the similarities and differences between the two submissions, then report out to the group.

A few interesting things happen in these groups. First, every group member is going to remember specific-but-different details from the demonstrations. By discussing these details, they'll remind each other of the details they may have missed or already forgotten. Normally, sudents would have to wait months (or even years) before a technique is covered again so they'd have a chance to review these details. Now they're getting that review immediately, which makes a HUGE difference in them remembering the details. 

Second, they are being forced to think about HOW the submission actually works because the Americana and kimura have different mechanics that affect the shoulder joint differently. Instead of just having a vague notion of the mechanism of breakage (which is what happens in a traditional jiu jitsu class), the Marzano students will know exactly how the submission works.

Third, this helps students understand the underlying concepts behind submissions, which includes learning how to defend the submissions. This simple ten minute exercise dramatically boosts student understanding of how to apply the submissions effectively because they understand the submissions at a significantly deeper level. Because pretty much all defenses to submissions involves doing the opposite of what is needed to apply the submission, this deep understanding will help students recognize and apply effective defenses.

Finally, this idea promotes group cohesiveness through cooperative problem-solving. Cooperative interdependence, where students have to rely on each other to reach a particular goal (in this case, identifying the similarities and differences between submissions), forges stronger social bonds among the participants because they have to engage in real, substantial conversations. In essence, the students get to know each other better, which strengthens their bonds. In a sport where we absolutely must rely on our partners to keep us safe, this is a critical-yet-often overlooked aspect of running jiu jitsu classes.

Jiu jitsu instructors - give the idea a shot and report back by commenting here. If you're not a jiu jitsu instructor, forward this post to your instructors. This idea works, but I thnk it can by tweaked for the specific application in jiu jitsu classes. To that end, I'd LOVE to hear feedback, both positive and negative, regarding this idea. Have fun with it and let me know how it goes!



Sunday, July 28, 2019

Ideas that Help Us Become a Better Jiu Jitsu Player: Vgotsky's Zones of Proximal Development

Jiu jitsu is a sport with near-infinite breadth and depth. There's a reason it takes 10 years or more for most people to earn a black belt... there's just a hell of a lot of knowledge to learn and apply. Anything we can do to make this learning process easier or more efficient needs to be embraced, and Soviet Psychologist Lev Vygotsky's (1896-1934) "zones of proximal development" is one such idea.

The idea is pretty simple and is represented by this diagram:

The middle white triangle represents what you've already learned through previous training. The black area represents all the knowledge that exists about jiu jitsu (note this is not drawn to scale.) The red area represents the knowledge you CAN learn based on your present abilities, usually with outside help. In our sport, that usually means our coaches, but that help can also come from teammates, instructionals, books, etc. Once we do master the area in red, we'd change it to white and expand the red triangle out a little bit farther.

Theoretically, this concept is simple and, without any conscious effort on our part, is already being used by all of us whenever we learn something new in class (or anywhere else.) Practically, though, this concept can get a whole lot more effective if we consciously define exactly what that red triangle entails. The red triangle usually consists of the stuff we know we don't know, while the black consists mostly of that which we do not know we know. Since we cannot know what we don't know, we need to focus on what we know we don;t know. You know?

So how do you decide what's in the white triangle?

Step One: Start by assessing the two biggest your biggest holes in your game and write them down. Does your guard retention suck? Do you have trouble finishing an Americana? And let's face it- we could all work on our takedowns. If you have trouble with this step, just ask the training partners you roll with regularly. Now write down one strength of your game. Write that down, too.

Step Two: Talk to your coaches. Tell them explicitly what you would like to work on, ask them for advice, and ask if they could pay attention to those things. Your coaches are in the best position to give you expert feedback and instruction, which is the secret boost to utilizing Vgotsky's Zones of Proximal Development. 

Step Three: Put in the work. Now you train. While training, focus on these three things whenever possible. When you feel you've made adequate progress in correcting one of the two weaknesses or you've improved your strength to the point where you can use it on almost all of your training partners, go back to step one and identify something new. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Give it a shot. If this process works well for you, tell us the story in the comments!



Friday, July 19, 2019

The Different Levels of Rolling

Here I am, a brown belt, and I'm ***still*** confused about how hard I should be rolling.

Well, not really, But sometimes it feels like it. "How hard should I be rolling" is one of the most avoided questions in our art. When I started years ago, I distinctly remember my first-ever live roll. It was with fellow white belt who had maybe a year of experience. Former wrestler. Strong and aggressive. I was just coming off several years of running ultramarathons in mountains, and had just finished my last 100 mile race about two months prior. I had cardio for days an had the capacity to spazz for a good hour straight. 

Needless to say, that first roll was six or so minutes of absolute WAR!

Well, not really. But it felt like it. In reality, that first roll consisted of us starting on our knees, my partner pulling guard, scissor sweeping me to mount, then armbarring me as I tried to frantically escape. But EVERY movement that day was executed at 100%. 

I LOVED it! That initial experience probably played a pivotal role in my decision to stick with the sport for those first few frustrating months. It would take years before I really understood how you're supposed to regulate rolling intensity and really understand what is meant by a "flow roll", a "light roll", or a "hard roll."

But eventually I did, and my jiu jitsu improved immediately. And my training partners probably gave a huge, collective sigh of relief. 

Over the years, I've discovered I'm not alone in this struggle. Almost everyone who starts jiu jitsu struggles with understanding how hard they should be rolling at any given time. Being a teacher, my "I'm am hammer..." tendency is to solve problems through... you guessed it - teaching! This is the system I'm implementing with my students to help alleviate this problem. It explicitly defines how you start the roll, what the goals of the roll are, and how each training partner should respond if there's a difference in ability, size, etc.

Rules of Rolling

1. Always Protect Your Partner. Our ability to train jiu jitsu is entirely dependent on having healthy training partners. Assuring our partners remain safe and injury-free is our HIGHEST priority when rolling. This means we never intentionally injure our partners, we ask our partner if they have any existing injuries before we roll, and we diligently follow the other two rules. 

2. The Two Second Rule. Submissions are meant to simulate either murder (via strangulation) or breaking limbs (via joint locks.) There's an inherent danger in training this stuff. To help assure our training partners remain injury-free, it's important we give them an opportunity to tap to whatever submission we're pulling off. We do this using the two second rule. Any time we're executing a submission, we need to be in control of the position and take about two seconds to apply said submission. This is especially true of all white belts who may not have trained long enough to understand exactly when they're caught in an inescapable submission attempt. 

3. The 10% Rule. Time on mat matters, and the mat never lies. The longer you train, the better you get. This means you'll eventually end up training with people who you can utterly and completely dominate. Unless we're doing a Comp Roll (discussed later), there's little value in rolls where the more experienced partner just destroys the less experienced partner. The more experienced partner should, under normal circumstances, always adjust their game to be about 10% better than the less experienced partner. As the more experienced partner, this is your chance to learn physical and emotional CONTROL, which are critical skills to learn to advance in jiu jitsu. Let them hit sweeps. Let them escape. Let them replace guard. Feed them submissions. Let them tap you on occasion, which also teaches you HUMILITY, yet another critical skill to learn to advance in this sport.

The Basic Starting Positions

Let's start with how we start. Any given roll can start on our feet (if we're working takedowns), on our knees (if space is limited), or in a specific position

If we're starting from a specific position, we can be "loose" or "tight." If we're playing loose, neither partner gets grips and starts with their hands behind their head. The goal is to practice fighting for and establishing grips and a superior position. If we're playing tight, we start with our preferred grips and position. Usually (but not always) the person in the inferior position will establish their grips and position first. 


Any given roll may serve a variety of purposes. Sometimes we will "roll to the tap", which means we're trying to win via submission. If someone taps, you reset in the original position you started from. This is our normal default rolling situation.

Sometimes we may play the "positional dominance" game. The goal here is to go from our starting position to the most advanced potion we can attain (usually back mount), then hold that position as long as we can. Our opponent's goal is the same - move up the positional hierarchy. The "winner" is the person who can maintain positional superiority the longest. We do not attempt submissions in this game. 

Finally, we may have "special" goals based on the grappling games we play in class. Sometimes we might have to take off a sock our opponent is wearing and put it on our own foot. Sometimes we might have to gain control of a tennis ball. Sometimes we might have to prevent someone from passing our guard without the use of our hands. Whatever. The special goals will be explained before the roll. 

Levels of Intensity

This one really hits on the issue I had in the beginning - just how hard am I supposed to roll? We use four "levels" of intensity; each one serves a specific purpose.  

The first is a "feeder roll." This is a LOW INTENSITY roll where each partner takes turns "feeding" each other positions that lead to obvious submissions. The opponent executes the submission SLOWLY to the tap. The partners stay in the same approximate position, and the partner who just executed the submission feeds their partner a submission. Each partner should be landing three or four submissions per minute. The goal of this roll is to practice "seeing" openings for submissions during scrambles and transitions. 

The second is a "light roll." This is what is often called "flow rolling." This is also a LOW INTENSITY roll, but the training partners do not feed each other submissions. When one partner gets a submission, reset to the starting position. There are two general rules for this type of roll - you should never have to use strength and you should never breathe hard. You should be able to have an easy conversation when rolling. If you're struggling to speak in complete sentences, you're rolling too hard. The goal of  this roll is almost always to warm up before heavy training (sometimes we use this as part of our warm-ups) OR to help develop the ability to relax when rolling. 

The third type of roll is a "hard roll." This kind of roll will feature VARIABLE INTENSITY, which can be high. But also may be low depending on the circumstances. This is the typical kind of roll we do toward the end of class. If we're rolling to the tap, reset after and start again. The goal of this roll is to develop the depth and breadth of our defensive and offense games against resisting opponents. While the intensity will get very high in this type of roll, the goal is to learn to regulate that intensity effectively enough to be able to do a thirty minute hard roll.

The fourth and last type of roll is a "comp roll." This is a HIGH INTENSITY roll meant to simulate a jiu jitsu competition, mma fight, or real-world self-defense scenario. This is an all-out balls-to-the-wall roll meant to simulate violence under conditions where both partners are highly motivated to win (or do damage in the case of mma or self-defense.) Both training partners should be using their best "A" games, which means they;re using their most effective offensive weapons and defense. In this type of roll, we still observe the "Always Protect Your Partner" and "Two Second Rule", but usually ignore the "10% Rule." This is the kind of roll where lower belts can expect to be completely smashed by higher belts. 


"How hard do I roll" doesn't have to be a mysterious question that takes years to figure out. Using the rules and guidelines above, it's easy to teach some basic ideas that will make training significantly safer AND more effective.

What do you think? How do you organize and manage your own rolling? Leave a comment!



Jiu Jitsu Three Minute Hack #3: Co-Teaching

Co-teaching is a concept that isn't new in the field of education, but is virtually unheard of in jiu jitsu. The idea is that two...