The absence of jiu-jitsu during the COVID-19 pandemic has been hard on us all, but beginners in the sport may be feeling particularly lost or bummed out. Getting into BJJ is hard enough as it is, but if you’ve just started out, all of the free instructionals and video content may seem too overwhelming or advanced for what you know so far.
Now, BJJ black belt and Groundswell Grappling Concepts founder Emily Kwok will be hosting a couple of online workshops specifically designed with beginners in mind. Kwok is a pioneer in the martial art, having been instrumental in helping to grow the sport and get more women on the mats as well as winning both Worlds and No-Gi Worlds. Her GrappleArts series exploring “How to Defeat a Bigger, Stronger Opponent with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu” has been a hit, but her upcoming workshops are going to be provided on a “pay what you can” donation basis.
Kwok told the Jiu-Jitsu Times that her inspiration for doing the workshops came from paying “close attention” to who was attending the virtual classes from Princeton BJJ during the coronavirus outbreak. “Though we get great traction, I noticed a lot of the newer white belts that had just joined us prior to stay at home orders were instituted haven’t been on as much,” she said. “I wondered why this was. Is it because they aren’t as ingrained in our community? Are they intimidated by the material? Do they feel like the attempt is futile because of the format? There could be any number of reasons, but I feel like many people (all levels) have been a bit hesitant to do virtual classes because it’s not what we’re ‘used’ to doing. We don’t really have much control over when we can go back to what we’re used to doing, but we should be prepared to entertain the thought that it might be a very long time.”
“If that’s the case, how do we not stagnate in our growth? BJJ itself isn’t going anywhere, but if our practice has to change format for a bit, are we willing to try and adapt? And shouldn’t we try to adapt because we need to float and save our industry? And how does our industry grow? [By] making the sport more approachable for beginners. How many beginners or newer players are being left out of this movement because they might not know what to do with a free instructional? I’m talking about people who were just learning to do a shrimp… what are they going to do with a deep half-guard sweep? We might be at risk of losing a large number of students because they are at a stage of development that we might all take for granted.
“So I thought in order to encourage some of my own students and to save other students who are at risk of just giving up on BJJ that I would put together a virtual seminar to help them cover this ground. Make them more comfortable with all the skills we take for granted. What is the technical stand up for? Why should we bridge? Squat? Then discuss things like proper posture, three points of contact, the importance of grip fighting… and give them solo exercises that can help them practice these fundamental frameworks so that they can learn the movements, gain confidence with why they do them and what they’re for so that when we can gather together again they can be better prepared for class.
“In the struggle to keep up with your peers, many beginners neglect to do things the right way. Not learning fundamental principles of the game or movements hurt us as an intermediate or advanced level. So why not make use of this time? And I would encourage all black belts out there to do the same — share these skills that we don’t even think about anymore — because remember what it was like to not know anything? It was a scary time. This is about taking the time for me, someone who’s been training for 20 years, to say, ‘This is day 1 or day 45 for others… how can I help them stay engaged with BJJ so that they will one day get to year 20?’ And all the drills that advanced belts might not feel like practicing in quarantine because they’re ‘boring’ or you know them well enough… some new student out there needs the reps. Why shouldn’t we cater to them? Or to cater to those of us who have a beginner’s mind? I would love to learn how all the great stars of BJJ do basic things like shrimp, roll, or posture… how do I do it differently? Can I learn something new from them?”
Kwok had originally planned to do just one workshop, but she says that the response has been “overwhelmingly positive” and is now opening up an additional workshop to accommodate as many interested students as possible.
“I’ve had people of all levels reach out to say they’re interested in joining in, and I have a number of emails from people who said they started one month before this hit and they don’t know what to do with themselves. So there is definitely a need to service our newer students. I’m also offering this as a donation-based workshop because so many people have been hit hard by this crisis. We work in a luxury industry, and I believe in paying it forward. Hopefully if you trust me online, then it will encourage you to invest in other virtual platforms when/if you have the time and money. No doubt in my mind that when we come out of this our industry will be changed in some way. Why not be on the leading edge of that?”
Kwok says she wants this endeavor to inspire other black belts to make similar efforts to help less experienced students.
“I hope more black belts are encouraged to teach the things we might think are not worth teaching. For those of us who are more advanced in our practice, is it always important to learn something new? Or can we learn something new about things we already know?”
The first workshop on Monday, May 4 at 6:00 pm EST only has a handful of spots left in the interest of quality control, as Kwok wants to make sure she can give feedback just as she would in an in-person seminar. But she’s now decided to add another session Saturday, May 9 at 11:30 am EST, the earlier time intended to better accommodate attendees in other parts of the world. Anyone who wants to attend can get more information and the relevant Zoom link at email@example.com. Donations can also be made on PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org.