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Thursday, August 07, 2014


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Miles Moffit / Southside Jiu Jitsu

I have done almost all of the above and although on paper it all makes sense, in reality there are various problems with these ideas. I've been teaching and running my own academy for more than 17 yrs. I currently have two locations with just over 70 students total, most of which are white belts of course. I used to separate the ranks, but now I "lump" my classes. Running white belt only classes doesn't work well. Whites need the blues to roll with otherwise too much roughness occurs. Pitting white belts against other white belts is almost always a strength battle with very little Jiu Jitsu being used and in my opinion slows the progress of the white belt. My blues are taught not to smash the white belts but instead to calm them down and help them understand that strength is not the answer. Having blue belts and purple belts training in the same class as the white belts give the white belts direction and I've found that they learn faster and calm down much sooner than if the whites are confined to their own class. Of course pairing everyone up properly so that each person is compatible for the other for drilling and live training is paramount in order for everyone to have a pleasant experience. And I absolutely do not allow "smashing" of white belts unless they need it and some do need it, some more than others. I do not allow the students to pick their partners. I choose who you drill with and who you train with.

While my classes are structured and the moves are linked together, I gave up on rigidly structured curriculums years ago. Lesson plans go out the window based on who shows up for class. If you have a triangle lesson planned and overweight short legged white belts show up that night and you stick with the triangle series that was are about to lose some overweight discouraged students because you have just embarrassed all of them and shown them how uncoordinated and handicapped they are. I am always working in a particular direction, but have learned to teach "on the fly" based on who shows up for class.

Now, having said all that, if you have 200 students on the roster and regularly get 30-40 students attend class at one could be a little more rigid.

Thomas Nadelhoffer


Thanks for your comments. I meant to include another facet of the pedagogy of jiu jitsu into this post, but it slipped my mind--namely, the difference between gyms like Gracie Barra that limit new students to positional rolls until they have more experience and gyms that allow students to live roll right from the start. In my experience at two different Gracie Barra gyms plus several other more loosely run gyms, by forcing white belts to limit themselves to positional rolling, the GB approach struck a nice balance that I thought helped address both the problem I mentioned--namely, the hungry blue belt syndrome--and the one you mention--namely, the blind leading the blind. Of course, the instructors at GB also dictate which students roll with one another in their fundamentals course--which also maps onto what you're doing in your own school.

So, while I am still convinced from my own experiences at different gyms over their years that tiered classes are ideal, it's certainly possible to do a good job with the lumping approach (especially at smaller academies). After all, the situation instructors find themselves in is often not ideal (as you point out). That's partly why I included the post script. That caveat was supposed to make it clear that I think an instructor could do a really good job even if they don't have a structured curriculum, run tiered classes, etc.

My main goal in the post was to encourage instructors to think more carefully about pedagogy--something a number of instructors fail to do. I am confident that with 17 years in the business, you have encountered a number of lazy instructors who do a disservice to both the art and their students. If more instructors were forced to think through what they're doing more carefully--that is, if they were forced to think about the pedagogy of jiu jitsu--everyone would be better off. Based on what you've said in this comment thread, you're an instructor who is already ahead of the pedagogical curve. As such, I greatly appreciate your feedback. I will have a follow up piece about pedagogy posted this week. Hopefully, you'll check it out and leave me your thoughts. A friend of mine is opening a gym here in Charleston. So, we've been trying to figure out how best to organize and run his school. Hence, any and all feedback is appreciated--especially from seasoned instructors!

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