How to Teach as a Lower Belt

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At Jiu Jitsu Times, reader questions help us give back to the jiu jitsu community by giving us the opportunity to share our experience.

We recently got the following question from one of our loyal readers:

“I’m a long time reader and typically find myself combing back through your articles for advice and tips. I had a question that I was wondering if you could help me out with. I have been a blue belt for almost six years and have worked hard to reestablish a jiu-jitsu program at my gym after we lost our original instructor. I have been an off and on temporary instructor for a few years now (we currently have 2 black belts and a very skilled brown belt) I try my best to break down the positions and moves for our fast growing white belt population but I feel as though I’m lacking in a structured curriculum. Do you have any tips for us lower belts that fill in when needed or like in my case teach on a weekly basis?”

For starters, I want to be clear that I am not an instructor at my gym.  I have covered a couple of classes when no one who outranked me was present, and I did my best to help the people in the class with what I taught. For that reason, I’m going to share more from a student’s perspective than an instructor’s perspective in hopes that it will help you out a bit.

An instructor’s primary objective should always be to improve his or her students.  If you are teaching, make sure you are teaching something with which you are intimately familiar. If you don’t know the answer to a question, make sure you defer to someone more knowledgeable than you. Otherwise your teaching can do more harm than good.

If I were coming up with a weekly curriculum, I would limit each class to two techniques that chain into each other for the sake of simplicity.  Choose BASIC techniques with which you are very comfortable, ones that are simple and easy to learn.

You may even want to go simpler: teach movements.  All too often I see people reach blue and sometimes purple belt without learning how to do some fundamental movements like shrimping, granby rolls, etc.  Cover things that every jiujiteiro needs: guard retention, posture, etc.

The simpler the exercise or technique the better chance you’ll have of teaching it right, and the better chance you’ll have of seeing your students execute the exercise or technique correctly.

Once you have a set of techniques that your students are comfortable with, begin focusing on drills.  Even the simplest drills can help ingrain movements into the minds of newer students.  Keep it simple: Partner A passes Partner B’s guard, Partner B recovers guard and sweeps, Partner B passes Partner A’s guard, etc.  Find drilling patterns that allow for a slim margin of error.

I’ve said it before: belts as a construct don’t really mean anything and can fail as an indicator of skill or experience.  If you’ve been a blue belt for almost 6 years and have trained consistently during that time, you probably have something to offer new students walking in the door.

One of my gym’s best instructors is a 4-stripe blue belt who is outranked by many of the people in the jiu jitsu program. However, he has a substantial background in Judo and Sambo.

There’s a reason belts exist, though, and more often than not, brown and black belts are more qualified as instructors than blue belts.  Maybe ask the black belts what they want you to cover when you teach.

Hopefully this helps put things into perspective.  Does anyone else reading this have experience teaching as a lower belt?  Any advice for our reader?

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Emil Fischer is an active brown belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ground Up BJJ (http://mpcle.com/class/ground-up-bjj/.) For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) NottaRookie, The Terphouse (www.TheTerphouse.com, used discount code COOKIES), Trap And Roll Soap Company (www.trapandrollsoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear, as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY) and Vanguard Kimono.
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