I remember when I started BJJ. The last part of the class we were supposed to spar. My partner put his legs around me into closed guard. I stopped and looked at him and said, “What am I supposed to do?” “Pass my guard.” “Ummm what is a guard, and what does it mean to pass it?” I had zero knowledge about jiu jitsu, couldn’t understand what the goal of sparring was, and didn’t understand the vocabulary.
It was the equivalent of being thrown in a pool and told “Swim!” I eventually did, but it was rough. Each class was mixed, beginner and advanced.
The rationale behind our beginner class is to give absolute beginners a basic jiu jitsu vocabulary. It’s to expose them to jiu jitsu ideas, give them an overall foundation, and to teach them how to be good training partners. In the Jiu Jitsu Institute curriculum, the beginner curriculum teaches a mix of sport and self-defense.
The beginner class is also a safe place. It addresses this idea of ego threat, where adult beginners may feel a threat to their self-worth, and so when surrounded by other fumbling individuals, it is okay to feel like a n00b spazz because everyone does. It’s also a bonding time – classes are smaller, they can ask the “dumb” questions that they might not ask in front of a group full of advanced students.
To that end, the beginners are required to attend 25 Beginner classes. At the end of the 25 classes, students earn one stripe, and they can then proceed to the Fundamentals course. The beginner classes have no sparring, although they are welcome to join the sparring that goes on after class.
In the past I had been adamantly against learning self-defense in jiu jitsu. However, in this case, it makes sense to me. First, Ben Eaton, the owner of our academy, has a background in law enforcement. The self-defense aspect is important to him. Second, because beginners have a wide variety of reasons for doing jiu jitsu, this reaches both the self-defense minded folks, as well as the sports focused people. It gives an overall feel of jiu jitsu, and I can definitely stand behind that.
Here is an example of our curriculum:
Class 12 of 25
- Sit through defense vs standing headlock
- Demonstrate basic survival position
- Scoop escape
- Escape vs back with seatbelt
HOW THE CLASSES ARE TAUGHT
Although the curriculum is set, each instructor can choose how they want to teach it, and so there is a bit of variation from one class to the next. Some of it, such as the scoop escape, is straight out of University of Jiu Jitsu, and is standardized. Others, such as an armbar from mount or a scissors sweep, is not.
In our academy, students are encouraged to ask questions, so after each point is demonstrated, I ask if there are any questions or if they would like to see it again. Students are generally given 2 minutes to practice the move on their own, then their partner has 2 minutes to practice. Afterward they are encouraged to ask more questions.
I love eliciting from students. In today’s class, I had the students tell me what I was doing wrong and asked them to fix it. Other times I will ask “What are the important points about this move,” or ask a student to demonstrate the move. Eliciting is important because it engages students. It lets them be responsible for what they’ve learned. Additionally, it lets the teacher see what students know and then build off of that, rather than assuming everyone is starting from scratch.
I also like to break things down in steps. I go slowly, I repeat a minimum of 3 times, and I have students repeat my steps back to me with key words. For example, on “Scoop Escape” the key steps were:
- Scoot down (scoot)
- Kickstart the leg to release the hook (Kick)
- Elbow in the pocket and roll over (Elbow roll)
- Adjust knee and head (Knee head)
- Grab behind and drive (Grab drive)
I personally practice these ahead of time, figuring out what my steps will be and what the key words would be. Before students do it on their own, I have them walk me through the steps. “What is step 1? What is step 2?” etc.
I am very thankful that my academy has a beginner program. It has a solid curriculum, it is methodical, it has room for my flair, and really does help guide students to be awesome training partners. I’m also very thankful to be part of it. I really love the beginners, and I have so much fun teaching them.
Jiu Jiu’s Question: Have you attended a beginner class? Does your academy have them? What are your thoughts on them?