Finding an Appropriate BJJ Instructor

You can develop a pretty good collection of moves from studying all the ripped off Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu DVDs and smarmy self-­promotion videos posted on Youtube. There’s no doubt about the strange world of online prestige generation being a boon to the bargain hunters of the world. Why pay an instructor and be responsible for showing up to class when you can just surf the interwebs for the skills you intend to develop?

I don’t like to get all negative about the general appeal of tapping a button and finding endless identical little “channels” of folks rehearsing their moves. Techniques have always been available, after all, books before videos, and even going as far back as the renaissance there were sets of etchings of puffy­pants wearing, long­-haired folk demonstrating grappling.

(17th century grappling illustration by de Hooghe) The trouble arises in the fact that you can’t expert feedback on your own performance if you only pursue self­study. Imagine any other art you may want to acquire without a teacher. Imagine, for example, playing tennis using only the plethora of video on tennis without actually dealing with an instructor who can quickly locate your errors and get you correcting them before you turn them into habits.

In Jiu­jitsu, for whatever reason, people, especially young men, are ever eager to build a reputation for themselves as prestigious practitioners of fighting arts, and the internet is where most of them wind up prosecuting their plans for success. I have personally witnessed gym­hopping beginners developing lessons for you, and folks with literally no Brazilian Jiu­jitsu training demonstrating techniques that reek of ill­advised creative invention. In one infamous video I was being shown by a friend, the “instructor” was demonstrating something from a half­guard and proceeded to assume the position in a manner I’d never seen anyone undertake­lying as flat as a steamrolled cartoon character, demonstrating no hip angle, using no torso muscles. I’d never seen anything like it and laughed out loud until I realized that this joker was making money!

Friends, the internet is a terrific resource but you need an education to know how to use it. The problem with watching is that it is a passive exercise. Passive exercises like television watching, have been shown to be the least effective means of acquiring knowledge of any useful form (you’ll be able to repeat, “Don’t squeeze the Charmin”, or recognize a Nike swoosh symbol, but you won’t have any skills!) Skill development requires doing, and doing requires partners and expert teachers who can fix your errors, take you into challenging practice you haven’t experienced and produce for you personal feedback on your progress.

Sometimes just watching what we do in class can leave a newbie baffled. What is all that sweaty rolling around? Is it self-defense? Is it a sport? Or is it some esoteric cardio­vascular exercise? Well it’s actually all of those, and it takes a careful introduction to make it clear. You want a teacher who comes from an actual academy. You want a black belt with some years behind him or her. Look for gray hairs.

The best way to apply what you learn (application being a strong aspect of learning; academic instruction also talks about knowledge, synthesis, and creation of new combinations of the knowledge) is to play with it. Play is the most natural mammal method of learning. It’s how we begin our lives, goofing around, imagining and tumbling with our family and friends, like lion cubs, ceaselessly exploring, tussling, and acquiring and returning to our teachers to review.

We all dream of short cuts to the system. We all wish we could simply take pills and gain experience (the tap of a mouse button being a near equivalent). But it’s actually very good that these fantasies aren’t fact because we wouldn’t value them. Those things not worked for are not valuable. Those things that cost us no effort to achieve gives us no pleasure or prestige. And so, hard work, getting the direct feedback from an experienced teacher, and constant play are the keys to success. Enjoy!


Geoff Balme is a second degree black belt and the lead instructor at Open Guard Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Kickboxing.

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