Observing how people learn JiuJitsu

Fortunately whilst the world has been collapsing, my local jiujitsu environment has been thriving. Loopholes and work arounds, combined with an insatiable appetite amongst training partners has meant jiujitsu in my world hasn’t even come close to grinding to a halt. All things considered, I’m very fortunate to be in this position.

Being on the mats daily, I have begun to notice by default how people are internalising their jiujitsu, via methods that favour their own ways of learning. We have stumbled across some interesting drills that have proved to be useful for all of us, despite being aware of the differences in how we each like to learn something new.

As far as I know, science has debunked “Learning Styles” at least in terms of absolutes. We all utilise many methods during a learning process; audible, visual, kinaesthetic, etc., not just one faculty in isolation. However, I still see amongst jiujitsu students and my training partners that certain methods of learning favour certain people. Meaning; if performing the technique correctly is the end goal, everyone’s journey takes a slightly different route but everyone arrives there eventually, nonetheless.

Differences in how I learn vs my training partners

I need to see a jiujitsu technique or sequence performed before I try it, then I’m halfway there. After that, I have to practice it over and over to hear and feel the rhythm of the sequence/technique. Once I have the move dialled, I’m able to understand why it works more easily, and from there I can really distill it down into simple steps to be able to teach it to someone else.

Now I have a couple of training partners who barely even receive information visually. They will be shown a move or sequence and it doesn’t register. Often they will ask “What are we doing again?” or “Where did you say I am starting from?” It’s only when they get into position physically and start experiencing jiujitsu do their faculties kick in and they reorientate themselves. By doing the sequences over and over, their understanding increases. They discover nuanced details through trial, error and repetition. They build their own internal models to be able to recall the technique and sometimes teach it to others, too. But words and explanations of the technique don’t really help at all, if anything, they pollute and confuse the process. My guess is that words are not necessary for some people to internalise and model a sequence at all. Their models are based on feeling and recall is triggered by physically getting into a position, not by thought.

To perform jiujitsu you don’t need words. You don’t need visual imagery. It’s literally a case of having positional sensitivity relative to your opponent and a sense of directed strategy – one of many reasons why jiujitsu is universally popular, regardless of creed, race, IQ or location.

Where this becomes interesting for me is in the realm of teaching and coaching. I believe that you do actually need a lexicon for coaching sound jiujitsu to others, and you also need various models to assist with systemising the art of fighting that uses systems.

Aware learners make better coaches

In my opinion, pure doers make sub-par coaches. They struggle to explain in words how they do what they do and why it works. They can demonstrate perfectly, but often that will just produce students who can copy but don’t necessarily understand what’s happening on a conceptual, principle or fundamental level. I was one of these students. I could copy what had been shown to me by the instructor, no problem. I could even practice it enough and then pull it off live in sparring. But I couldn’t tell you why it worked, or how it fitted in to a particular system. And if I was to teach it, I could only pass it forward like a parrot. If you were to ask me deeper questions about the fundamental stucture, reasoning and physics behind what was going on, I wouldn’t be able to give you an answer. I could only show you.
If someone is acutely aware how they learn a given skill, I believe the odds of them being able to teach that same skill to someone else successfuly, are high. You still need to be a competent doer to be a good coach, but awareness of how you learn vs world class doing ability, is more important.

The use of verbiage is not just limited to developing a jiujitsu lexicon and terminology, either. In competition, the only practical method of communication that a coach has with their athlete is verbal. Meaning the athlete needs to develop the skill of listening to instruction whilst competing, and the coach needs to develop the skill of succinct communication and instruction through verbiage. As long as both parties are of the same understanding regarding the chosen language, clear communication at a distance should be possible. We’ve seen this in the striking and MMA worlds; coaches will communicate in code to their athletes to get them to pull off a certain combination of strikes. That’s because both parties understand the code as a total language, and then the individual pieces of vocabulary that when chained together, form the command.

How do you best learn in jiujitsu? From the day you’re first taught a technique, all the way through to using it in competition successfully, I’d be interested in hearing your process.

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