"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!