Teaching Your Game v. Teaching Art

Shen (a Rey Diogo BJJ student on the BJJ Forum) had an interesting thread on the BJJ forum called "Teaching your Game v. Teaching BJJ"

Here is his original post:
The Bolo thread got me (and I'm sure others) thinking about a topic I have seen come up tangentially in a few threads...
That is, the topic of teaching BJJ vs. teaching your personal expression of BJJ.

I think we can agree that ALL BJJ teachers play and teach a little --or a lot--differently. Everyone has their own style of BJJ. One could even well argue there as many styles of BJJ as there are BJJ players.

So the question becomes:

1) When it comes time for you to teach BJJ to others, WHAT do you teach them...? Do you teach your students what has worked well for you or do you somehow have a larger responsibility to teach them a more classical (for lack of a better word) syllabus of BJJ and allow them to formulate their own style? Or perhaps, you teach them some combination of your stuff and the classics?

This brings up a second question:

2) Are there certain things a BJJ player MUST know how to do to be considered a true/legit BJJ player/teacher...? Are their SPECIFIC knowledge requirements?

For example, what if an instructor doesn't teach, say, the Triangle Choke at all...? What if someone else doesn't teach the Omoplata or Americana...? Maybe they have very good reasons for dropping these techniques and have developed effective alternatives which they feel are superior.

BUT, is this teacher then an innovator helping to evolve the art or is this teacher hurting the art and short-changing his students in the long run?

I realize this is a somewhat unwieldy question, but I'd like to know what your feelings are on this topic.


OK back to me: I'd curious of the forum's responses on this topic about teaching a martial art in its traditional form versus teaching your personal expression of it. It is my understanding that Guru Dan teaches more of an art like kali in its traditional form - in that he gives credit to the origin of different techniques to his various teachers and includes responses to attacks that may not be his personal favorites.

There is some possible criticism from his students as to a lack of emphasis on what Guru Dan would actually do in that particular circumstance, i.e. what he favors.

I am interested in what the JKD's forums views are on this admittedly (as Shen said) "unwieldly" topic

I will include Shen's and Andreh's (his teammates) conclusion below:

From: shen

Date: 03/26/08 11:58 AM
Member Since: 01/01/2001
6823 Total Posts Ignore User

^^In general, I tend to agree with that philosophy myself.
Coaches need to know THE game, not just THEIR game.

As already mentioned, a coach WILL have definite preferences that will shape his choices, but a broad spectrum of BJJ info should be available to the student.

It's like being a parent, you might want to "guide" your son or daughter towards playing sports, but you should expose them to music and other artistic endevors for his or her benefit. It's their decision what they like, not yours. Your job is to show them the options.

Same with BJJ. YOU might not like the Omplata or Triangle, but you might have a student who is an Omoplata phenom!

So in general, I think there should be a distinction between an instructor's personal game and the way they teach BJJ. I prefer if they teach it in a way that allows the student to develop a game of their own.

Eddie Bravo didn't learn the Rubber Guard. He learned BJJ and developed his own game out of that. He got to go through the process of deciding: I like this, I don't like that, this works well for me, this doesn't.

Everyone should get that.

BJJ is like a buffett. The beauty is that YOU get to try different stuff and see what you like.

Learning from a teacher who has already made those decisions for you, robs you of that.

(For your "own benefit" your teacher may have exculded Pinapple Rings from his BJJ buffet, but you LOVE Pinapple Rings --OMG, they have Pinapple Rings in BJJ! --Why didn't anyone ever tell me???. But how would your teacher know you love Pineapple rings? He got rid of them because they are gross, in order to make the BJJ Buffet "better").

My concern is, I'm not sure if teaching one's own game allows students to develop their own game to the extent that teaching a comprehensive approach to BJJ does. My sense is that while it certainly helps some students, it doesn't work for many other students who would be better served by learning "regular" BJJ and getting to go through the process of developing their own game.

From: andre

Date: 03/26/08 12:45 PM
Member Since: 01/01/2001
33792 Total Posts Ignore User

"My question is for those who have not taught it both ways, how do you know which way is more beneficial?"
Because when it comes down to it, the top schools in Brazil and the US have always been the ones that had the most solid foundation in the basics. I've never seen students from a school in which the instructor's game was taught from day one perform nearly as well as students from a school that emphasized the basics for beginners.

Here is my response (limited to specifically discussing the art of Gracie Jiu-jitsu):

From: FatBuddha

Date: 03/26/08 02:27 PM
Member Since: 01/01/2001
7074 Total Posts Ignore User

Last edited:26-Mar-08 02:32 PM

Shen: Great question. I would argue that a Gracie Jiu-jitsu teacher (to be cosidered a Gracie Jiu-jitsu teacher) must teach at a bare minimum:
1. A striking and clinching strategy

  1. A throwing strategy including the cinturada takedown (leg trip takedown similar to koso-gake), and throws such as o-goshi, o-soto-gari and o-uchi-gari

  2. The standing self defense curriculum

  3. On the ground: (1) A hierarchy of positions with the mount (and back mount) being #1 (2) the mata-leon (3) the triangle (4) recomposing guard from side control bottom (5) controlling the mount (6) the straight armbar (7) the americana (8) the kimura (9) the standard gi chokes (10) defending punches from the guard (11) the upa escape (12) the elbow escape

I have no problem if any of these most basic elements are missing. Just call your art something else besides Gracie Jiu-jitsu.

Coincidentally, I agree with andre from the bjj forum. He's usually right, imo.


LOL at Andre!

Good post. Yet, I take for granted sometimes that this is something that we all understand already.

Sifu Dan Inosanto almost always says much of the same as above. In fact, he even uses the same buffet analogy.

Martial arts SHOULD be like a buffet. You should be able to go through and sample a little of each thing and then later go back and place emphasis on the areas that you like the best and feel are the most beneficial to you personally.

He often says, "the worst thing a teacher can do is influence their students." Meaning, the teacher should be a non-biased guide, letting the student find their own way. You should be able to provide your wisdom in helping the student find their way, but in the end, the journey is theirs.

As a fighter, you may only need an accumulative amount of techniques that equal maybe only one page out of the collective book of effective martial training. As a teacher, however, you need to know the whole book, or at least as much as possible. One technique may not fit one person, but may be perfect for the other.

For example, using Sifu Dan again, Rigan Machado told him that he should just forget about ever using the triangle. He's just too short and thick and it doesn't fit him well. So, if he taught HIS game, his students would never learn the triangle.

Because we are all human, it's almost impossible to get the whole, unbiased art from any one instructor. That's why it is important to have an open mind and seek out as many instructors as possible. Although your teacher may have been totally unbiased in his teaching of the art, how do you know that his instructor was, or maybe HIS instructor. What if someone else has found a better way or more efficient way or just something different that will catch your opponent off guard?


In "Fighting Spirit" by Bruce Thomas, Dan Inosanto says that part of the problem about Bruce was that he expected people to get to the twentieth rung of the ladder with himself, but didn't understand that they didn't get the chance to climb the ladder to be where he was. Bruce got to his level by doing specific things first. By learning certain basics, doing certain training and working for years developing his art.

Many martial arts instructors have had this same dilemma. They try to teach an art that they developed as a result of studying for years and spending much of that time rooting themselves in basics that allowed them to develop the foundation needed to develop their own "game". Trying to teach that is nearly impossible. The students will rarely ever get the same results.

I tell the same thing to my students that want to get all enamored over Eddie Bravo and HIS system. He spent years developing his game after learning the proper basics. He has a different feel and understanding than you will ever have if you try to just learn his system. For him, if he ever runs into a road block with his system, he has his wide knowledge of BJJ to guide him. You will not.

For the JKD experience as a student or a teacher, this understanding is vital. It is understood in every other endeavor of study and knowledge that we have. As martial artists, however, it sometimes seems that this insight is too hard to comprehend. It is the danger of the ego of "I".

1) Being able to teach your own personal game requires an intimate knowledge of your total experience in that art.

2) Being able to teach the art requires an intimate knowledge of subjects OUTSIDE of that art.

  • Knowing how to teach an armbar to the general population requires knowing not only the sequence, but anatomical and biomechanical references. Knowing how the shoulder girdle operates creates a better understanding of WHY the lower leg must be on top of the opponent's upper back.

  • Knowing how to teach an armbar to specific populations requires knowing the sequence, anatomy/biomechanics, AND that specific student's specialty. Relating an armbar to a movement in powerlifting will help the student with a powerlifting background mkae the jump towards greater understanding of that technique.

Overall, I'm of the firm belief that teaching any physical endeavor requires a sound, scientific understanding of the human body, and the athletic disciplines/subjects that correlate to it.

Again, a lot of the discussion came down to this salient point:

2) Are there certain things a BJJ player MUST know how to do to be considered a true/legit BJJ player/teacher...? Are their SPECIFIC knowledge requirements?

The words 'Certain things'.

Now are those certain things techniques, or concepts/fundamentals?

Good posts.

Kai, I was actually thinking more along the lines of "techniques".

"I tell the same thing to my students that want to get all enamored over Eddie Bravo and HIS system. He spent years developing his game after learning the proper basics. He has a different feel and understanding than you will ever have if you try to just learn his system. For him, if he ever runs into a road block with his system, he has his wide knowledge of BJJ to guide him. You will not. "

Well said...

I think it's worth noting, for example, that Ueshiba didn't study Aikido and Bruce Lee didn't come up learning JKD.

Instead, they each had fairly vast experience in a variety of martial arts before the eventual formulation their own personal expression of the martial arts.

If there is a "fatal flaw" with great innovators like them, I think it is that they tend to believe they have the ability to cut-out the RIGHT "unimportant stuff" and just give their students the good stuff; basically, creating a short-cut to martial prowess, without "wasting" all the time they may feel they have wasted.

I don't think that is necessarily true. So often, the students of great innovators don't come remotely close to the skill level of their teacher.

Shen: See that's where I differ. I believe that we should more be looking for Concepts and fundamentals that can be performed, not specific techniques.

Understanding that form will follow function, many of the techniques that arrive will be techniques that seem fundamental, but why get into the worries of a specific technique when you can show someone a fundamental idea

I'd rather have a person understand and be able to perform the fundamental skills of:

1) controlling the hips
2) Maintaining Underhook
3) Off Balancing
4) Balanced footwork
5) Keeping their hands up
6) Back the same way it went out.
7) Use the body, not the limb.

...Than have them understand and perform even 3 times that many techniques.

Because those performance based concepts will serve them for the rest of their lives.

"but why get into the worries of a specific technique when you can show someone a fundamental idea"

So students don't have to re-invent the wheel everytime and can benefit from the colletive knowledge of others who have tried to solve the same problems.

Is it your belief that students should "discover" all their own techniques in BJJ through trial & error without instructional input from others?

Shen: They seem to learn quicker when they discover, rather than just ape the exact technique without understanding why it works.

When you show someone a series of techniques that are all related based on how they work, it seems to click in people's heads better.


I agree with Shen in that teaching specific techniques prevents students from reinvent the wheel which it seems, in my opinion, is all to common these days.

One thing about specific techniques which need to be considered is more often then not the fundamental concepts you listed are often better illustrated in some techniques then others. AND the fundamental concepts are often applied or better said expressed in different ways in different techniques even in the variation or deviation of one given technique.

I like to use Judo and even wrestling as examples. The founder of Judo, Jigoro Kano, develop a learning progression for Judo which alot of people don't use. In this progression, which follows the natural principle of moving from easy to hard and simple to complex, specific principles and actions are illustrated using the most BASIC form of a given technique. It is from this basic model, where all the principles and fundamental actions that make that technique work are clearly illustrated in the simplest and most digestable way, that more complex variations and deviations are learned. It is interesting how some people who claim to have an understanding of certain universal principles seem to be clueless about some. For example the most basic version of Seoi-Nage illustrates specifc principles and action in the most simple and basic way far better than some more advance versions. Once a person sees and understands these principles and actions then they can go back to the more advance variations and actually do them better.

See, you can't really teach people concepts, principles and fundamental actions without showing them via a movement or technique. And since showing people concepts, principles, via a technique/movement is neccessary then it is logical and practical to do it through the natural progression of easy to hard, simple to complex, etc. But if you teach a movement/techniques that is a bit more complex or advance for the student it is likely the student will miss certain principles and action which were "better" illustrated in a more basic and simplier form of the movement/technique.

Years ago in Mario Sperry's first instructional series he made the point how people miss certain concepts because they take the time to build a good foundation. And he used a very simple drill, chaining together simple holddowns, as a means of teaching transition. He made the excellent point that if a person can't understand or DO simple drill like connection holds then that person will have a harder time doing anything else more complex.

More later M.G. but it's so important to remember that in Judo there are two CONCEPTS that are so damn important to how you do judo and aren't specific techniques, but if you don't know how to use them, no matter if you know how to do a specific technique, you are going to have lots of problems in Shiai and Randori:

Kazushi and Grip fighting.


I know about Kuzushi and Kumikata (grip fighting) BUT even these two concepts are taught through SPECIFIC techniques. It wuld be very hard to understand the purpose and function of those concepts without something TANGIBLE to see and feel.

Kuzushi is taught through the Happo no kuzushi or the 8 directions of off balance. Sometimes it is taught through 12 direction of off balance. These directions are actual and not theoretical. Furthermore the 8 directions are achieved through specific body actions which vary from throw to throw. Not only do they vary from throw to throw but also vary in variations of a single throw. Like for example the kuzushi for Osoto-gari in the standard version is achieve a certain way BUT in order to get that same kuzushi in a different variation of Osoto-Gari the angle of attack, the action of ones body and even the grips will be different. I have a DVD of one of the late great Judo champ, Masahiko Kimura's, best student. He decribed how Kimura taught Osoto Gari and how there were many variations. Now each variation had the same Kuzushi BUT the kuzushi was achieve with different body actions, footwork etc.

The same can be said of Kumikata. There is specific actions one is supposed to do for each grip. One is not suppose to take a given grip for the sake of it. When you do kumikata you're suppose to think of what action your hikite (pulling hand), Tsurite (setting or fishing hand) is doing in conjunction with your hiji-no-ri (force of your body through your elbow) and tai sabaki (body actions).

Both kuzushi and Kumikata are suppose to go together like hand and glove BUT both are hard to study and understand without specific techniques as reference and models. Again in order for either to be tangible and not just theoretical there needs to be clear examples of how they work in specifc throws.

M.g: But can you be a good Judoka without being taught the concepts of it?

mg: mind emailing me at abood23@hotmail.com? Thanks!

By the way, I agree that specific technical instruction is the best way to convey concepts which otherwise exist in the confusing abstract.

Excellent. thread, excellent, questions, and excellent answered. not that my opinion means squat, but you guys are dead on. Not to much to add here. Everything you said is true. just a quickie, It’s also important for the student to know what not to do and what doesn’t work for them. So yeah they kinda have to get a grip on the whole system so they can try everything and defiantly if they want to teach it. Communication between teach and student. is the key. Mission specific teacher says, what’s the goal?, what’s the time frame, any limitations, what’s the investment, what do you expect? simple screening.
if the student has experience easy questions to answer, if he does not know how to answer the questions, teacher teaches what he thinks is best until the student understands the questions. Revisit the screening and twick.