Should all Black Belts Be Good Teachers?
When searching up Jiu Jitsu academies, you’ll often see a list of medals and accolades front and center on all the academy’s promotional material and website home page. Understandably so, you want to make sure that you’re going to be training under a certified killer that has tested their Jiu Jitsu effectively. If your Professor can beat other world class Black Belts, that should mean his technique is solid, right? The funny thing is, none of those medals are for the ability to teach. You don’t hit the podium at ADCC or IBJJF Worlds by being the best teacher, you get those medals by beating other highly skilled athletes. Even when you earn any belt above White, is it possible that your Professor is looking at who you’re tapping and who you’re getting tapped by, not how you’re cultivating someone else’s knowledge? How much have most Professors really spent studying the best practices in pedagogical theory? Who teaches them how to teach and what makes a good teacher?
Time on the mat doesn’t equate to teaching ability. Most competitive Black Belts rose up through the ranks by beating others in competition, not necessarily by teaching others. Just because the head Professor of a prospective academy you’re looking at has a laundry list of first place finishes, doesn’t mean he/she will be the best person to cultivate your skills as a Jiu Jitsu athlete. Most of the time these Professors have engaged in an in depth study of techniques that work for them, but how many of them have actually spent any time learning the best way to become a teacher? How many of them REALLY know the science behind skill acquisition and mastery, and the shortest path to go from novice to master? Most Professors will just show their students a technique out of their A game and expect students to pick it up just by watching them drill against a non-resisting opponent. When faced with students that can’t learn in that particular way, most Professors will just keep repeating the ‘show and do’ until the allotted drilling time runs out. Most Professors may be able to show you 5 different heel hook variations, but not many would be able to tell you how to organize a curriculum or name learning styles? Now, can a Professor be a good teacher without being an accomplished athlete themselves?
If you look at John Danaher and the obvious rise of the DDS, you will see this. Danaher himself has never competed and even admits that in a competitive situation, he will be tapped out by other Black Belts due to his multiple health issues. If you look at the squad he has cultivated and the way he teaches, it is apparent that not only does he know the techniques of Jiu Jitsu very well, but also solid pedagogical theory that he implements with all his students. The results speak for themselves as his athletes tear through the no gi grappling scene, using almost the exact same game plan. Its safe to say that someone that’s a killer, won’t necessarily create other killers.
As consumers, we have to look past the accolades of our potential teachers and instead focus on how they teach and cultivate the skills of their student base. Out of 100 students at least 1-5 will be killers just due to the law of averages. On the flipside, there will be 5 students that are utterly untalented with almost no foundation. The 5 worst students are the true test of an academy’s tutelage. Are the 5 worst students killers in their own right, or at least competent practitioners? If so, it means that the instructors are able to adapt their teaching style to squeeze the potential out of untalented students. On the other hand, if the 5 worst students are utterly lacking even basic fundamentals and are overlooked by the instructors… maybe it’s a good idea to consider other candidates as places to train.
To Professors, maybe it’s also a good time to look up some books or podcasts on how to teach and acquire skills. If you spent 10 years practicing Jiu Jitsu, but have only really been studying how to teach at the end of those 10 years… you’re probably a white belt at teaching with all due respect.