At some point, many BJJ colored belts will be asked to fill in and teach the class when the instructor can’t make it. The head instructor might be injured, sick, or away coaching at a competition and one of the more experienced students will have to step up and run the class.
For some people, the prospect of speaking in front of a group fills them with dread. What if they can’t remember what they were saying or get caught not knowing something about a question one of the students asks in front of the entire class? Many people report one of their biggest fears as public speaking. But like most other things, once you do it a few times, the fear dissipates.
What most often surprises the first-time instructor is that by teaching basic techniques to new students, they LEARN more about those techniques.
How can this be so?
Let’s say that you are teaching the Kimura shoulder lock from side control. You teach the movement in five steps: “First you grip the opponent’s wrist…” And so on. Easy right?
Then the training partners go to different parts of the mat to drill the kimura that you just demonstrated. You hope that they aren’t bored. Maybe you should have shown that Rafa Mendes rolling kimura pass on seated guard instead?
But to your surprise, as you rotate around the mat, you’ll see some of the pairs struggling to understand some of the aspects of the Kimura that you assumed that everyone knows: People making the incorrect grip altogether switching their base and weight in the completely wrong direction.
After making a round of the class, correcting five new errors in their mechanics, you realize that there are not merely five steps to the “basic” kimura, but also five additional essential points to pay attention to.
Another student will call you over and say that they think that they’re doing everything correctly, but their training partner doesn’t feel the pressure on the shoulder. You get down on the mat and feel their kimura and quickly identify a problem with their technique. You realize that as a more experienced grappler, there are many things (like keeping everything tight) that you do intuitively but beginning students don’t yet do. It can be quite an illuminating experience to teach a roomful of new students “basic” techniques, and you’ll be forced to pay much closer attention to all of the details that are important to the seemingly simple moves.
When you train with high-level black belts, you’ll be astounded at some of the additional details they know on the basic moves that significantly amplify their effectiveness. I asked Rickson Gracie black belt Henry Akins about how he felt was the best way to learn those extra details, to which he replied, “You learn those details by teaching the basics to others.”
Talking with other new instructors, they express how much more they have learned about jiu-jitsu since they began teaching. Their own training in more advanced positions is sacrificed, but their knowledge of the basics deepened considerably. The next time you (as a colored belt) get paired with a new student, see it as an opportunity to learn by teaching and improve your own jiu-jitsu at the same time.