Motor Control for BJJ 5: Optimizing Instruction

Many gyms structure their instructional portion in the following way: There will be a 30-60 minute block of instruction in which the coach will explain a technique and then have the student practice the technique for a set amount of reps or time, followed by another technique and another length of practice. Oftentimes, the amount of talking is greater than the time of physical practice.

Most beginners rely on the instruction portion of BJJ class as their primary mode of learning. This is due to their lack of knowledge of objectives and techniques, and their need to have these aspects verbally and visually explained to them. Because of this, most BJJ instructors rely on demonstrations of technique and verbal instructions as the primary method of teaching a skill. One area of instruction that is over emphasized is the verbal instructions. Many instructors will spend a significant amount of time explaining the movement related to a technique, as much time or more than is spent actually drilling or practicing the technique.  For example, a viewing of any BJJ instructional video will show the instructor verbally describing their movements as they perform the movements. While this may seem like a good way to impart knowledge of a technique to a student due to the belief that more information is better, we have all seen BJJ players who:


1. Perform expertly without being able to explain the details of their performance.
2. Explain the details in depth without being able to perform the technique live.

Many instructors will spend the majority of valuable class time explaining a technique.  While students may pick up information during these instructional portions, a student will not develop and reinforce the correct motor programs without physically performing the technique and movements. Students should spend the majority of time in class performing and reinforcing movements as opposed to lengthy sections of the instructor speaking.

It is the coach’s duty to say the least amount while conveying the most information.

Coaches should not verbally instruct portions of a technique that can be readily observed by a student, such as gross movements and placement of limbs. Verbal instructions on where to grip can be readily observed and do not need to be restated. Verbal instructions should point out things that are hard to observe or cannot be observed visually at all – such as where weight is distributed, where center of gravity lies, or what base of support is being pushed off of.

Verbal instruction should also be used in order to reinforce the most important aspects of a technique – for example while using smash passes one must control the hips, during demonstration of a smash pass the instructor should reinforce the idea of controlling the hips through verbal instructions. In order to develop a strong side control one must have control over the opponent’s shoulders, so instructors should make it a point to reinforce the idea of controlling the shoulders verbally.  Verbal instructions can also be used to emphasize the parameters of the action – how fast or how much force should be applied. Instructors should also present techniques from different angles in order for students to achieve a full visual inspection of techniques. Students should be encouraged to constantly walk around during instruction in order to view the technique at as many angles as possible.

The amount of techniques and maneuvers presented to students during each training session should also be limited as to not overload students’ with information. While it may be tempting to teach students ten moves in a day in order to prove you have a wealth of knowledge, it is better to introduce three to five techniques and concepts during each session in order to present a manageable amount of information. The instructor should be careful in structuring the techniques presented in order to have all techniques reinforce a concept or have all techniques relate to each other in sequence.

Verbal instructions should refer to the movement effects as opposed to the movements themselves. For example, when teaching the elbow push escape from side-control, verbal instructions should focus on pushing the opponent’s arm across, rather than focusing on the extension of the learner’s arm – “push your opponent’s arm across his body” as opposed to “extend your arm as far as possible”.

The instruction portion should act as a supplement to practice. A common complaint among instructors is that students try to accumulate techniques by watching videos online, but fail to implement the techniques into their games due to a lack of physical practice.

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