Learning Conceptually

When I first started BJJ, I believed that BJJ was all about the tiny details. For two years, I made detailed notes about every class I attended. Pridefully, I thought the notes were pretty good. They read like a recipe for each technique “R hand cross grips opponent’s lapel with fingers in, knuckles resting on collarbone. L hand grips outside of opponent’s R sleeve with thumb up. L foot on opponent’s R hip …”

These notes are, of course, worthless. Their only use is to show that I didn’t understand BJJ at all.

With a recipe approach, a student becomes stuck when the move fails. A student typically assumes that the details aren’t being applied precisely enough: “My hand must not be in the right position, or perhaps I’m doing the steps in the wrong order”. The end result is confusion, or concluding that the move doesn’t work.

A recipe doesn’t give any information as to which are the essential steps, and which can be modified or left out. But the biggest problem with the recipe approach is that the student has no idea why the steps are being performed.

A better approach is to focus on the concepts first. Details can be added later, or more likely, left to improvisation. With the one or two important concepts of the move, the student knows what they are trying to achieve. The movements they make have the definite purpose of achieving those concepts.

An example: escaping the mount position. The most important concept is to keep your elbows glued to your ribs. In this position your arms are strong and can’t be harvested. Your elbows block your opponent’s thighs keeping his hips over your hips and, more importantly, his feet accessible to your feet.

The second concept is winning the foot battle. The top person will be trying to keep his toes together and feet under your butt / thighs. You must clear his feet so your feet or legs can touch the floor with the top person’s feet to the outside of them.

From here, you can apply high percentage escapes — bridge and roll, elbow-knee escape, hydraulic etc. The key details of these escapes can be shown in a couple of minutes.

The concepts, in this case elbows to ribs and winning the foot battle, are the most important things a student needs to remember. The details are the means by which the concepts are achieved. I find teaching concepts first is a faster way to learn BJJ.

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