What’s it like to be a BJJ instructor?

What’s it like to be a BJJ instructor?

In January 2019, I have been offered a great opportunity. A BJJ club where I have been attending open mat on weekends asked me if I wanted to teach women’s classes there. Without thinking I said yes, asked my coach for permission and got a blessing (how awesome is this guy!) and was ready to go. I was too nervous to sleep before the first class, but there was no going back. Here is what I’ve learned so far!

The first class is the hardest

Tacit knowledge is a special type of knowledge, which can’t be passed on by written or spoken language and a type that can only be acquired by carrying out the activity in question. Think kneading dough, or drawing. It’s as if you tried to learn BJJ without ever stepping onto the mat. Teaching jiu jitsu is exactly the same.

The first class is the hardest, because that’s when you acquire the biggest chunk of that knowledge. What should I do if the students get carried away chatting? Should you react if they are showing some questionable moves to one another? What happens if your mind just goes blank in the middle of the class?

That initial session answers many of those questions. Afterwards there’s still a lot more to learn, but getting a feel for it and making the first step towards building your own teaching routine is incredibly helpful.

It’s good to have a plan

Initially, I picked techniques to teach, based on the average level of all students present on the day. Sometimes I would prepare something more advanced only to quickly switch to a simpler move that even first-timers would understand.

Soon enough, I realised that I’d need to come up with some kind of curriculum. Teaching random techniques was working for more advanced students, but a few girls were brand new. I started drawing up a loose plan to make sure that I wouldn’t start teaching lapel guard, but forget about the single leg takedown. This also forces you to rediscover ‘basic’ positions, which is a great learning process for the instructor.

Roughly pre-planning the class helps a lot. Your mind won’t randomly go blank in the middle of the class, you’ll always know what you’ve covered and you can make warmup more interesting by mixing up exercises.

And a few more random observations

  • Music helps so much! It’s a massive good-vibes booster and I dread teaching a class without any music in the background. It distracts the mind from feeling tired and spares everyone a lot of awkwardness when the whole class starts breathing heavily 😀
  • People who initially seemed mildly interested or undecided whether or not they enjoy jiu jitsu seem to improve a lot… if enough attention is paid to them. Feedback from my coach always gives me a motivation boost and this seems to be true for my students too. And once they get into it, their learning speed is incredible.
  • It’s a valuable learning experience. Being in charge of a group of people and making sure they are learning things properly, while having fun, is tough. New challenges and insights come with every class, but if you manage to make the students happy it is also extremely rewarding.

This marks the end of the confessions of the newbie BJJ instructor. Let me know what your experience has been like!

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