While jiu-jitsu techniques may seem easy if you’ve been practicing them for ages, they’re a lot harder to understand the first time you drill them. Many BJJ moves have a number of big steps, each of which contains a ton of small details that can make the entire technique fail if one of them is forgotten or done incorrectly. Some students easily absorb techniques, while others struggle to grasp even basic concepts.
I’m, uh, in the second group.
I’ve been a learner and a teacher both in a classroom and on the mats, but make no mistake — learning jiu-jitsu doesn’t come easily to me. The memory of what my coach literally just demonstrated dissolves within my brain as soon as we separate into groups, and I still have to think for a moment before figuring out the difference between left and right. Even once it’s been shown to me again and I finally drill the movement correctly, I often forget what we learned in class by the time the next day’s class rolls around. It’s not my coaches’ fault — jiu-jitsu is just tough for me to learn.
What I’ve discovered throughout my years of training, though, is that I’m far from alone. For every student who can watch an ADCC match and pick up five great techniques that they can apply in their next class, there are many more who have a hard time making sense of the physics and anatomy involved in jiu-jitsu. And if you’re teaching those students, you can modify your teaching methods in a way that helps their learning process without negatively impacting other students who do learn easier.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few ways you can make it easier for your students to remember the techniques you teach:
1. Break it down into steps.
There’s a reason people find it easier to read lists (like this one!) instead of long articles with minimal paragraph breaks. Humans like steps and lists. When we put furniture together or follow a recipe, we prefer to see the process broken down with numbers. Why wouldn’t the same be true when we’re learning how to “build” a jiu-jitsu technique? Demonstrating the move, then verbally stating the number of each step involved in completing it can help your students organize the technique in their minds. When they split off to drill the move, this also makes it easier for them to figure out if they’ve missed a step. Yes, your students can do this inside their own heads while they watch you demonstrate the technique, but they’ll appreciate the clarity you offer if you do it for them.
2. Ask questions.
Asking questions is one of the best ways to keep people engaged in conversations, on social media posts, and, yes, in jiu-jitsu class. Yes/no questions (“Should I cross my feet when I take the back?”) and open-ended questions (“Why shouldn’t I cross my feet when I take the back?” “Where should I keep my feet instead?” “What do I do with my arms here?”) get your students’ minds thinking critically about the techniques. This can help them remember details and ensure that they understand the move before they go practice it on their own.
3. Practice the technique together.
I’ve only seen this done at one academy, but it was brilliant. After the move was broken down into steps, the coach had the students pair off, and then, everyone practiced each step at the same time, much like doing a warmup routine together. After each student in the pairs had a chance to practice once like this, the coach asked if there were any questions, allowing the students to troubleshoot before drilling the move on their own. It took a little longer than more “traditional” teaching methods, but there were very few questions after the students started drilling on their own, and no one was sitting around looking confused and trying to watch other groups because they’d forgotten a detail.
4. Get creative with names and analogies.
The unusual sticks out in our minds, and we can use that to our advantage in jiu-jitsu. Come up with creative comparisons — a former coach of mine helped new students learn how to position their arms at the right angle when break-falling by reminding them to pose “like Iron Man, not Jesus.” Don’t be afraid to get silly with it. The more your lessons stand out, the easier it will be for your students to remember the content.
5. Record the classes for your students.
My coach records the teaching portion of every class and shares them in a private Facebook group consisting of the academy members. Students who attended the class can then revisit the technique at any time, and students who couldn’t make it can get a basic understanding of the technique before coming to the next class and feeling completely lost. As long as one of your students is willing to hold a cell phone while they watch you demonstrate, this is an easy way to help your students retain the information they learned in class while ensuring they have access to all of the details you want them to know.
Do you have any other tips or tricks for helping students remember jiu-jitsu techniques? Share them in the comments!