Beginners Learning Advanced Positions?

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Professor Brent Littell holds black belts in both 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu and from Gracie Barra.

I talked with Brett about new students who specialize in advanced sport positions early in their training and Brent shared his thoughts.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Beginners to BJJ are very excited about all of the awesome techniques and can’t wait to jump in the deep end of the pool and start “berimbolo’ing”.

The enthusiasm for fancy moves is understandable, but the majority of black belt instructors would discourage this approach.

Why is this the wrong approach for new students?

Brent Littell: If we start with the supposition that the goal of the sport is efficiency, then shouldn’t one begin with the simplest answers to the questions the opponent gives them, instead of the most complicated ones.  When someone is starting the sport, the opponents with whom they go are presenting them with very simplistic situations that have very simplistic answers. To complicate it is only for the sake of fancy.  Why should we teach someone calculus so that they can effectively use multiplication tables?

The secondary issue is that the complexity of the movements needed will often leave the beginner unable to execute. This will instill a feeling of failure and a belief  that our sport may be too complicated for them to be good at.

Beyond that, there is the problem of limited time.  The amount of time needed to master some of these high-level techniques is so great that it will leave little time for the beginner to begin the process of mastering the more fundamental movements of the sport.  In the time it would take one to learn the berimbolo, I could have a student fluent in the tripod sweep, the scissor sweep, butterfly sweeps, etc…   I don’t know whether that is a good trade off for a student to miss out on all those useful moves.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Some black belt instructors are teaching advanced sports jiu-jitsu positions to first year students. Is there anything wrong with that? What are your feelings on.this subject?

Brent Littell: The first year in the sport should really focus on fundamental movements and self-defense. If we are building a house, we do not start with the trim and the curtains.  We start with the foundation and the frame from which the house will be built. In this way, a beginner should be able to take what they learn in their first year and build from it for the rest of their career.  If one is learning these very specific advanced techniques, then they are neglecting that foundation.  This will leave them with a house that may have a really awesome wallpaper on wall that is falling down.

There are other issues as well.  One of those issues is flexibility and dexterity. Many beginners do not have those attributes to be able to properly execute some of these advanced movements.  They have to be developed over time.  So, we are giving them something that may not be particularly useful to them and could make them susceptible to injury.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Can you give a specific example of a situation where an instructor was teaching a position or technique that was inappropriate?

Brent Littell: I can speak personally about this. I used to be that instructor who would show complex sporting moves before teaching the most basic escapes. What I found is that my students eventually became severely lacking in some of the most basic fundamental movements that underpin all other technical in our sport.  They looked fantastic if they could get into a position to execute their high-level techniques. However, their ability to get into those positions was severely limited by their poor movement and lack of understanding of basic reactions in the sport.  If one cannot retain their guard, then how could they possibly get to show you their awesome inverted triangle from upsidedown guard.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: How might this “advanced too soon” approach negatively affect these new student’s jiu-jitsu?

Brent Littell: I think that when you teach highly advanced techniques to beginners, they often reinforce feelings of failure.  It also teaches that efficiency is not the answer. Let’s add in the risk of injury and it doesn’t look good for these beginners.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Instead of Donkey Guard, what should white belt students be concentrating on in their training? At what point can a BJJ student start exploring some of these advanced positions?

Brent Littell: Self-defense is the first thing.  People start this sport to learn how to defend themselves.   If they can’t do that, then what’s the point of an awesome tornado guard.

I think that people should explore the more sportive techniques midway through blue belt.  That way, they at least have a basic foundation.  However, I do believe that the overall aim should be to find ways to make moves with the least amount of moving parts work.  In the end, the simplest answers have the fewest places for errors to occur.

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