Jiu Jiu’s note: This week I have a guest writer, Daniel Frank, a brown belt with experience in teaching language as well as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I asked him to write an article detailing how he structures his jiu jitsu classes.

Planning and Teaching: Critical Jiu Jitsu

Beginning my jiu jitsu career in 2002, I have had the privilege of sitting through thousands of jiu jitsu classes, in many different countries, taught in many different languages, with different instructors, students, structure of classes, formats, intensities, vibes, levels, and expectations.

Since my days as a purple belt I have been teaching classes, privates, seminars, self-defense courses, drill sessions, and competition training camps. These experiences have helped me to refine my class structure and teaching methods. I also strongly believe that my background as a professional teacher has provided me with insight into teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu to others.

What types of classes are there?

Classes can be broken down into many types. Primarily, classes are structured depending on the expected class size. One can expect to get more done in a one-hour private session rather than in a one-hour class with twenty students.

Once the size of the class is determined then the skill level and the nature of the class should be addressed. Is this class an advanced no-gi class? Is it a beginners self-defense course? Is it a children’s class? Is it competition preparation? Is it the first lesson in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu these students will receive?

Lastly, the time frame and the content of the lesson will become determining factors in what type of class is taught and what lessons the students will receive.

How does one determine the content of each lesson?

There are many different methods in determining the content of a class and the context that that content is being presented to the student(s). For more advanced classes I like to dedicate a significant amount of time on one concept. For example, the triangle. One month can be dedicated to this one concept. However, each week presents an opportunity to look at it from another situation (or angle you might say).

Week one can be dedicated to triangles from the guard and the proper mechanics to finishing this technique. Week two can deal with triangles from side control and mount position. Week three can be dedicated to triangle set ups and defenses. Week four can be dedicated to more unique attacks (spinning triangle, reverse/inverted triangle, etc.).

Using this method allows the students to optimize their learning experience by focusing on one concept and reinforcing that concept through continued practice of the concept through similar situations.

What is the best way to teach a beginners class? How do you plan and structure it?

Learning Brazilian jiu jitsu is not a linear process, where one technique leads to another and another down the line, where as technique number three is not related to technique number seven. Learning jiu jitsu and its techniques is more closely related to a spider’s web. One technique branches off in many directions. As a student follows one branch(or web string) it may lead back to the original position after three or four turns. It may lead to a whole new position and all of it’s ensuing branches. It does however have an endgame- the submission.

Now how do you teach that to beginners? One word. Slowly.

When I plan for a beginners class, I divide the class into six sections: stretches, drilling, self-defense, review techniques, new techniques, and sparring. These sections may not all be addressed in one class. For example, review and sparring would not be taught the first day(for obvious reasons).

Stretching is done from head to toes to give students a sense of their bodies and where there might be some troubles for that class. If, while stretching, your hamstrings seem tight be sure not to overdue your training of them that session. I usually plan five to ten minutes of stretching each class.

Drilling is very important for beginners and should relate to the day’s lesson. If we are escaping today then the bridge and the shrimp drills should be addressed. Another ten minutes is allotted for drilling.

Self-defense is the most important part of jiu jitsu. Basic self-defense techniques should be addressed at each lesson. I dedicate fifteen minutes to one or two techniques to protect against the punch, kick, grabs, holds, and weapon attacks.

Reviewing techniques is just as critical to a practitioner as learning new techniques is. If you want to study World War II in history, it is probably important to review World War I and the Global Depression to understand it better. I spend twenty minutes reviewing techniques studied in the previous class(es) to keep those ideas fresh in the students minds.

New techniques are covered for about twenty to twenty-five minutes a class. I plan two or three techniques(depending on the perceived difficulty) and dedicate more or less time to them depending on how the class reacts to learning the lesson. Sometimes techniques are easily learned, sometimes more time is needed to understand a concept or technique.

Lastly, I dedicate the last fifteen minutes of class to sparring. For the first month, or two, of class this is positional sparring. Students need to gain a sense of the conditions of real sparring before doing it. Also, students lack a repertoire of attacks, defenses, passes, and sweeps to keep a roll moving. Once more techniques are learned students will gain more freedom to spar regularly. I still find positional sparring to be extremely helpful for all levels.

How do you keep all of this together?

I plan my lessons like I would a History or English lesson in school. I write it down. I list the sections in order of which I want them taught. I assign each section an amount of time. These items are not set in stone. After class I look at my lesson and make notes on the times, on what was done and what may not have been done. I assess what was learned easily and what was difficult. I determine what should be more thoroughly reviewed in the next class. I note which things were positively (or negatively) accepted by the students. I leave space in my lesson to jot down attendance and the results of the class. This gives me a chance to monitor the students’ progress and also to understand where we are headed tomorrow.


About the author: Daniel Frank began his jiu jitsu career in 2002 in Seoul, South, Korea at the Korea BJJ Academy under Lee Hee Sung. Daniel received his brown belt in January 2011. He regularly competes at the Pan-Ams and Mundials along with countless local tournaments. He is currently working as an instructor at Revolution BJJ in Richmond, Virginia along with teaching private lessons and self-defense courses in the area. Hopefully you can see Daniel with his black belt and his own school sometime in 2013.