Does your BJJ professor know you exist?
In this article we will explore the type of professor you may (or may not) have. Our goal is to open the eyes of Jiu Jitsu practitioners and help students decide if they should perhaps seek instruction elsewhere, but also to nudge professors to step up and get more involved keeping students for the long term!
Nobody said teaching Jiu Jitsu was easy. Students have different body types, are different ages, have different rates of learning and require different types of attention. We also need to keep in mind the school’s owner may have large class sizes and therefor endures a lot of responsibility.
Let’s first look at the different types of schools.
We have your big brand, well known school that has a location in almost every major city (think Gracie Barra or 10th Planet). These schools tend to have hundreds of students and are packed with kid’s classes. Adult classes usually are at noon or in the evenings (6-8pm) and generally have 2-3 (or more) black belts on the mat at a time. These schools are competition focused, however not all may be true self-defense or MMA-type schools. (This is not to say that sport Jiu Jitsu won’t help you in a fight at purple belt level or above, but if you paired these higher belt people against people who also train MMA, I think we know who you would put your money on… just sayin’!)
There are your boutique schools that may or may not be affiliated with a big brand, however they have their own name- such as "Forged Iron Jiu Jitsu" or "thinking flows". There usually is a large class for kids and the same schedule mentioned above for adults (noon and 6-8pm). There maybe even a morning class for those who want to train before work to get their Jiu Jitsu craving out of the way. These people also compete and most likely are focused on the practical or street use of BJJ. A lot even have MMA classes.
There are your mini (independent?) schools that may be in a person’s garage or 3rd bedroom. This type of school has limited space and is most likely not a candidate for this discussion but let’s pretend it is. This type of school likely teaches private classes, has a handful of students (10 or so) and hosts open mats to practice with fellow Jiu jitsu enthusiasts.
You have your blended schools where they offer BJJ or MMA as part of the overall curriculum, however they are most likely not a competition Jiu Jitsu school. This may be a karate school that includes ground fighting or a hired a black belt in Jiu Jitsu to offer BJJ because of both its popularity and effectiveness.
OK- Here is the real question Does your professor know “your game” and has he/she taken a direct interest in helping you to improve? Do they teach class and make sure they are always available? Do they focus on only a few students that they favor and are these students the best in the school? Do you often feel lost during class? Do you feel like when the professor says you’re doing a technique correctly it still does not feel like it’s working?
HERE’S AN IDEA (For blue belts and above, because let’s be honest, white belts do not really have a game yet...do they?) The next time you’re in class, try asking your professor the following: "What are my strengths in BJJ, what’s my game (or what are the holes in my game) and how can I improve?" If he or she says "let’s see you roll" or "the next time you roll ill dial in a bit more" or "let me think about that and get back to you" it probably means he or she simply doesn’t know (and maybe has not been paying attention).
DISCLAIMER: This is not to say he or she does not care (I hope). It’s simply that they do not know.
EXAMPLES OF WHAT WE PERHAPS SHOULD BE HEARING: "John, you play open guard a lot and are stuck on lasso a bit much. You grip wrong and don’t have the hip movement to address the toreando pass, nor the flexibility to invert if that happens. You need to tighten up your triangles because your entries are improving, but you’re simply not finishing, and you get stacked and passed a lot. Ill teach better triangles next week and we can work on how to tighten up your game a bit" or " you have a great closed guard, but you do not break posture enough. You should start controlling the upper body the moment you close your guard. Once you sweep or start your attacks, I feel like you are more comfortable. Why not start drilling open guard and play with the idea of evolving your game?" THESE ARE GREAT RESPONSES BY A PROFESSOR WHO KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT THEIR STUDENTS ARE DOING!
EXAMPLE OF WHAT WE PERHAPS SHOULD NOT BE HEARING: John you should "drill more" or "you need more mat time" or "how often do you train?" or "we should focus on that and schedule a private lesson" or "keep training, it will all come together" or "you should compete". (Ok ... "keep training" is a generally a good recommendation, but not the specific response a professor should be replying to your cry for help)
Another question we should perhaps ask is should professors really take an interest in all their students? This is debatable. Every student may train Jiu Jitsu for different reasons. Some do it to stay fit or out of boredom, some do it for self-defense reasons, and some do it for social reasons.
Not everybody cares about being better at Jiu Jitsu. (sadly)
In every school there is a person who NEVER GETS BETTER (maybe this is hypothetical). This person simply shows up and for whatever reason has taken a lot longer to level up if they have leveled up at all.
In my opinion a Jiu Jitsu professor should give each student attention. A school should have a sense of direction and a curriculum. A professor should know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, and constantly give them tasks, drills and goals to improve; otherwise, we may end up having to learn on our own or the “level up” process is in the hands of the head of our ninja clan… OSS?
Truly Yours, Anonymous White Belt