Part 15 of 21 improvements BJJ has had on my life. This series was inspired by Tangled Triangle: 21 Days of Improvement. You can read my Part 14 here!

15/21 Improvements from BJJ:  Being Clear

I did teacher training for 5 years, and within those 5 years, giving clear instructions was one of the hardest things to learn and teach. I was teaching a group of 50 year old women how to play a board game. It was simple, but I was totally shocked to realize they were doing it completely wrong. They were using one single token, they were all moving it together, doing the thing on the space, rolling, and moving together.

I also tried to teach a group of Ukrainian children how to play baseball. Thought I was clear until the kid hit the ball, ran to first, then the person at first base ran with him to second base, then the kids in the outfield ran in, and by the time they got to home base, all the children were running together. ::facepalm::

Ultimately, we all THINK we’re being clear. We tell students to do something, they don’t do it, and we get frustrated. I’m again linking to the Bullyproof Parents Preparation video by Rener and Ryron Gracie. Again, this video is 10 minutes long, but worth every moment. The entire video is available to watch here.


On Reddit, there was a thread about student habits that drive instructors crazy. There were a couple comments that stood out:

If a student doesn’t understand what I am saying, I will occasionally grab their foot/hand/head/whatever and place it where I want it to be. Don’t put it back where it was before. Don’t fight me when I move it. Stop. Why would you do that? Just stop.

The most frustrating thing is when I say not to do something, they go ahead and do exactly that, and then ask me why they’re having trouble.

when you tell a student to do something while they are rolling and they ignore you or then get angry or frustrated with you for ‘yelling’ at them, fuck me for trying to help.

When I told her to use her hips to move to my side/behind me, she said “I can’t” and continued to struggle against my clearly not going anywhere arm. And I asked, how could you possibly not be able to move your hips? And she said, “I just can’t.”

My thought was they probably didn’t understand what you meant or wanted. Your words were likely leaving room for interpretation and confusion, despite you thinking you’re being so clear. In general, impatient teachers are not good teachers. It’s easy to dismiss someone as being dumb, or incapable of being taught, or disrespectful, but MUCH more uncomfortable and true to realize that it may come down to you not being as clear as you intended.

A new white belt gal started last week, and today I was her partner. We did a magic move – one where you do step 1, step 2, magic, and final position. Okay, it was from side control, and it was a spin out move from the bottom person – one that I could do fairly easily, but it looks super complicated. The person helping us was saying “Move your hips” and verbally trying to explain what to do. I could see her getting frustrated, and it comes back to Rener’s saying:

When you verbally correct the child, you leave room for interpretation and confusion. Language can be misinterpreted.

Does “Move your hips” mean wiggle them? Move it toward them? Away from them? It’s like a person saying something to you in a foreign language and when you don’t get it they just start saying it louder. When the teacher gets impatient, the student knows, and it can make them feel just as frustrated and dumb. It’s not their fault that you weren’t clear or that they don’t yet understand the vocabulary or what is expected of them.

Being a beginner at jiu jitsu helped me understand how vague our language can be, especially in my language classrooms. I’ve learned both through BJJ and through being a kindergarten teacher, exactly what it means to give clear directions, and that’s invaluable.

And by the way, just asking “Do you understand” is not a good way to check. a) They may think they understand. b) They may say “yes” just to move on. c) You may not be giving them enough time to ask questions. Instead, having them repeat it back or explain it to you is better. Like – saying “Step one” and having them tell you, “Step two,” etc.

Jiu Jiu’s Question: Please tell a story about you misunderstanding an instructor, or a student misunderstanding. What was the source of the misunderstanding? How have you learned to overcome this now?