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A Hierarchy of Archetypes?

There was an interesting post over at reddit/bjj recently (by "gunsglinger_006") about different kinds (or archetypes) of BJJ instructors (see below for details). Because I have bounced around a lot during my own decades long jiu jitsu journey (from FL to PA to CA to NC to PA to SC), I have had the privilege of studying at a variety of gyms and with a number of talented instructors--many of whom fit the descriptions listed below. Of course, as the author noted in the original post, the categories are not mutually exclusive--that is, some instructors are archetypal in more than one way. But I want to set that possibility aside for present purposes.  That said, the original list plus my commentary are below the fold!

BJJ Professor Archetypes

The Competitor - The Competitor is an active and frequent competitor and has a tremendous amount of experience in competition strategy, mental preparation, competition style training, and is always studying the current trends and dominant moves/styles being used at the highest level of competition. Competitors often produce champions and lead successful competition teams, even after their own competitive years are over.

The Encyclopedia - The Encyclopedia has a tremendous and volumetric knowledge all things BJJ, from technique, to history, to lineages, and more. This type of professor is often a bit older, and has been around long enough to know or be known by many of the big names in BJJ. Encyclopedias often have tons of great stories from their time in BJJ and are almost never unable to answer any BJJ related question in great detail.

The Old School Purist - The Old School Purist keeps fighting and BJJ's applicability to fighting at the forefront of everything they teach. Self defense is stressed at all times, pure sport positions and strategies are either ignored or discouraged, and the style that is taught is almost always in favor of the submission at all costs. Points are seen as a distraction from the real goal, which is survival and submission.

The Craftsman - The craftsman has devoted their life to the study and practice of martial arts, and BJJ is one of many disciplines in which they have attained a high degree of proficiency. The Craftsman typically is every bit as skilled in striking as grappling, and commonly has either a MMA background or many many years in multiple arts with practical application to fighting.

The Prodigy - The Prodigy is typically young and an extremely gifted athlete. The Prodigy typically either started BJJ at a very young age, or got their black belt in an unusually short period of time. Prodigies typically have a nearly superhuman ability to pick up new techniques and concepts with little practice, and what they may lack in volumetric knowledge and experience, they make up for with passion, adaptability, and rapid absorption of new ideas.

The Hobbyist - The Hobbyist is someone who was never a stand out competitor, and perhaps doesn't have the expansive knowledge to match The Encyclopedia. They may also not posess the mindset of the Old School Purist or the cross discipline skill of The Craftsman. The Hobbyist is the opposite of The Prodigy, often attaining their black belt after many years of dedicated practice. While at first glance, it might seem that the Hobbyist is a less desirable type of instructor than the others in this list, the Hobbyist is uniquely positioned to help the less athletic, or the slower learners, because they themselves were not necessarily gifted with high athleticism, or a super fast mind for learning...but they made up for this with work ethic, dedication, and a simple refusal to ever quit. Sometimes The Hobbyist is the best kind of teacher, as they can relate to many students who simply do not have the makeup to be world champions.

The Educator - The Educator excels at teaching. Educators often have an academic background, or a background in analytics. They have a natural gift for teaching, and for distilling complex sequences into their most salient, most natural details for absorption. The Educator may be able to teach a position very well, that they themselves do not use hardly at all, simply by virtue of understanding the fundamental elements and conveying them to the student in a precise and clear manner. Educators are often given the title "teacher's teacher" as their systematic approach to the delivery of information tends to rub off on their students, who in turn are likely to pattern their own teaching style in the manner of the Educator.

I liked this list for several reasons. First, I think it does a nice job of capturing the various backgrounds, styles, and approaches that instructors can bring to their craft. Second, I think a very similar list could unsurprisingly be constructed to capture the different kinds of students of jiu jitsu one might encounter. From the hobbyists and weekend warriors to the prodigal competitors and gym rats who just can't enough jiu jitsu, students of the gentle art--just like the instructors some of them will one day become--come in all kinds.

But I had two goals in sharing this list: First, I wanted to pass along what I took to be an interesting taxonomy of professors.  As an educator myself (in philosophy) and an all around fan of classificatory schemes, I think lists like this are illuminating and thought-provoking. Second, I wanted to use this as an opportunity to consider whether there is a hierarchy of archetypes--that is, are students (in general and all other things being equal) better served by one kind of professor rather than another? Now, this will clearly partly depend on the student's interests, goals, needs, and learning style. But there may nevertheless be a sense in which, all things considered, one archetype of professor is preferable to the others. Indeed, I think there is--which is what I want to discuss in this thread.

For what it's worth, here's my own (very loose and not especially settled) rank ordering of preferences:

  1. The Educator
  2. The Encyclopedia 
  3. The Hobbyist
  4. The Competitor
  5. The Prodigy
  6. The Old School Purist
  7. The Craftsman 

My criteria are the things that I (admittedly subjectively) think are best in the long run for the art of jiu jitsu. As such, I think the educator and the encyclopedia are best positioned to help any student--regardless of their unique goals and interests. Whether the student wants to just get in shape, learn self-defense, or prepare for a competition, educators and encylopedias have the broad knowledge base and the deep understanding necessary to help students achieve their individual goals. By definition, they are varied in their approach and they have a broad understanding of the various facets of both old school and new school jiu jitsu. It is this breadth that is often missing in the old school purists and the craftsmen--who have a narrower knowledge base and prefer to focus on a more limited set of skills. That's not to say the skills they prefer aren't important--it's just to say that the encyclopedia and the educator are more inclusive (in my experience).  

As for the competitor, they are often too narrowly focused--which is fine for like-minded students with similar goals and aspirations, but the competition mindset can be a turn-off for lots of students (which I am assuming is bad for the continued spread of the art). A similar problem arises for the prodigy--who may have a broad skill-set but lacks the ability to pass along this skill-set to others in an effective and engaging manner. Here again, this is great for the prodigy (and for students who learn quickly or pick things up on their own)--but it doesn't benefit everyone. Given that my main criterion here is how helpful a professor is to the continued growth of jiu jitsu--this is a knock against the prodigy. This is also why I have ranked the hobbyist above the prodigy and the competitor. For me, it doesn't matter how successful an instructor has been "in battle"--what matters is how effectively the instructor is able to transmit knowledge and retain students of all shapes, sizes, skill levels, and interests.

Given my preferred benchmark for success, a professor who has a broad knowledge base, an aptitude for teaching, and an appreciation for the struggles experienced by the less talented students is a professor who is more likely to retain a broader swath of students--which, in my eyes, is good for the gentle art in the long run. That's not to say that you can't find an excellent professor who is an old school purist, a competitor, or a craftsman--it's just to say that the educators, encyclopedias, and hobbyists are typically better for the continued growth of the gentle art (all other things being equal). 

Of course, as I noted at the outset (and as the original author of the taxonomy noted as well), these categories are not mutually exclusive. So, one can find professors who blend several elements from the different archetypes! As such, if you're lucky enough to have a professor who is an educator, an encyclopedia, a competitor, and a prodigy--well, that's great for you! This post was more of a philosophical thought-experiment for me predicated on the purity of the categories (which was assumed just for the sake of argument). More specfically, I wanted to use this taxonomy of professors as an opportunity to think about the all-important role that professors play in transmitting the knowledge of jiu jitsu, keeping students interested, helping them grow, and fostering the continued growth of jiu jitsu itself. When all of these factors are taken into consideration, it seems to me that not all archetypes are created equally.  What do you think?



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