In this article I want to delve into and discuss and look at what truly makes and defines a teacher in BJJ, martial arts or any other field of education.
This definition of a teacher is what I always aim to follow and give to my students when teaching my own Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes in Portsmouth. Hampshire, UK
What is a Teacher?
A Teacher is someone who gives to their students.
Tirelessly, effortlessly and with enjoyment.
The more you give, the better your students get, its really that simple.
The more time, energy, advice, guidance, help and personal input you give to each person in your class the better they will be.
Coming from a martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu perspective, the single most defining characteristic of a true teacher is detailed technical advice on the mat. This has to be there for you to learn and develop and must come before anything else. If you do not have this it will be very hard and a long uphill struggle to progress in BJJ or any other martial art.
It has to feel like the person teaching your BJJ class really wants to be there, being there to offer advice before the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu class starts and hanging around after it finishes. Its not enough to just go through the motions with no real passion. You have to put your all into your teaching and be present with your students, most importantly interacting with them and not your mobile phone.
Teaching goes on 24/7 before and after the BJJ lessons start and finish and on and off the mats. You have to be there with advice and guidance as every question, every piece of advice and instruction you give, creates an increase in understanding and an improvement in your students. This is something I keep in mind always when I’m teaching my Portsmouth Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu lessons.
You have to have a real passion for your specific martial art and making your students better at it and give to them tirelessly. There is nothing more deflating for a student than feeling like your instructor doesn’t want to be there and like your being a burden to them by being there to learn and asking questions. There is no room for laziness in a teacher. It requires massive motivation and an unwavering passion for creating excellence in the practitioners of your art. Without it they will not achieve their true potential anytime soon.
It is not enough to do the bare minimum, to be a teacher you have to go the extra mile in everything you do, staying behind to give people more of an explanation and advice, lots of rolling/ sparring with feedback for your students, answering questions both during and outside of class. If you have time to stop still during lessons and discuss unrelated topics your not giving it your all. An instructor needs to be there every step of the way for a student and the most crucial tool they can deliver is feedback.
Something I like to apply in own my own Jiu-Jitsu classes in Portsmouth in order to make the most of every second I’m teaching is if I’m not rolling with anyone that round (or even if i am) then I find it hugely beneficial to give my students feedback while they are rolling. I find if they are told to do something that works for them while they are under pressure the information sinks in deeper and they are more likely to remember it in future.
Teaching For Status Validation Or Ego Boost = Bad.
Teaching isn’t something you should do just for the status or the ego boost. The instructor is seen as the alpha of the pack, therefore some people are attracted to the idea of the elevated status and gravitas of the title. Again this is not what it’s about at all, but they want it so that others look up to them and give them validation.
It’s not about being a celebrity or figure of worship. It’s not about having others inflate your ego or having a Vip status. It’s not about being famous. Its about giving and creating something in someone else, being on your game 100% and actively engaging and encouraging the students with energy and a driving inspiring enthusiasm giving as much help and support as you can possibly give both in the time frame of the lesson and outside of it.
When I’m teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in our Portsmouth Classes I aim to be engaging as actively as possible with the students. Lethargy has no place in the equation.
Competition Medals, Names And Belts Do Not Mean Good Teaching.
One of the most misleading ideas that people often assume is that if someone is amazing in competition and has piles of medals and is a well known name they will make a fantastic teacher, incorrect. To make one thing clear, being good at performing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does not automatically make you good at teaching it.
No matter how many medals you have, it will not improve your communication skills nor your individual motivation to help people other than yourself. Just because someone can perform a movement doesn’t mean they have the motivation to or the ability to break it down on an intellectual level in order to teach other people to do it.
That’s not to say that one cannot happen with the other, and of course you need a good skill at actually doing the thing you are teaching, its just that teaching and performing are in fact separate abilities from each others having success at one in no way makes you automatically talented in another.
They are in essence separate things. Competing is about focusing on you, teaching is about focusing on others. Competing is self orientated and much more physical in nature, whereas teaching is orientated to help others and involves communication skills combined with a strong cerebral knowledge and understanding of the mechanical processes taking place.
Often someone will be able to perform a technique fantastically but when it comes to communicating and explaining how to do it to someone else and giving them the ability to recreate it they will struggle.
This is because their skill is largely in encoded in muscle memory form only and performed as a function of physical intelligence, and not understood to the same extent on a cerebral level. They haven’t intellectualised the movement and broken down the technique into steps, nor analysed the mechanical process of the technique into enough detail to be able to explain how they do it.
This will often be shown in vague explanations like “grab the arm, throw the leg over the head and pull it” there will be no mention of the subtle less visible details such as placement, pressure and direction, reasons for doing it, and specific situational variances, everything will just seem a bit too easy and very very vague.
Its not necessarily that the person won’t be using those details themselves, things like pressure, placement and direction could be there in their performance of the technique, (unless they are making up for that lack of knowledge with a heavy focus on physical attributes) its just not understood on a conscious level enough to have the awareness of them to associate them with the correct words.
if in your in doubt and the explanation sounds a little too vague and simple, remember the saying “if it was that easy everyone would be doing it” vagueness is an enemy of good jiu-jitsu instruction.
Teaching like anything else in life is something that the more you practice and really apply yourself when doing it, the better at it you get. And to truly apply yourself you need motivation and enthusiasm to help others through your communication.
A teacher is a master communicator, communicating and interacting with the students is at the forefront of everything they do. The better they can communicate and help you understand the art the better you will become but it needs to be combined with something else.
Enthusiasm + Motivation.
You always know a great teacher especially in BJJ when you ask them a question and find their still there showing you things 5 minutes well after the initial question has been answered. This is what Id advise to look for in any teacher as this is an indicator of passion for the art and passion for helping others, rather than looking for medals or trophies or belts or a big name which aren’t a reliable indicator of great teaching.
It is from teachers such as these that I have sourced my greatest insights that I endeavour to pass on in our Portsmouth Brazilian Jiujitsu Classes.
A teacher must be enthusiastic about their subject. it is only by this sheer enthusiasm, focus and practice of the subject that they acquire a vast and powerful knowledge of it. It is this enthusiasm that causes them to learn and understand those extra game changing details, and to truly understand the art on a deep philosophical level.
After all the more enthusiasm they have, the more they will learn and the more they acquire combined with the motivation to help others, the more they can give and the better their students will get. There are no exceptional teachers in a subject they are not passionate about. But crucially they need to equally passionate about sharing this enthusiasm with others and helping them to improve. An absence of these things indicates they simply don’t feel passionate enough about helping others to care.
Enthusiasm is pretty obvious if you spend any amount of time in someone’s company. Most good BJJ instructors will live and breathe the art, watching videos, attending events, talking about it for hours on end without getting bored. If Jiu-Jitsu is not usually their favourite subject something is a little off. Their enthusiasm will be inescapable, and crucially when this enthusiasm for the art is combined with an enthusiasm for helping people it will translate into inspiring and generous teaching.
So how does enthusiasm and giving more equate with better students? Well lets use the analogy of money. Lets say one instructor is giving their student £1 every class and another is giving them £50, who is going to get richer first, substitute the money for knowledge and you can see how the more help and attention the students are given the better they will get.
No matter how much training and sparring you do your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will only be as good as the quality and amount of information you receive and load into your body and mind. Otherwise it will be a long hard road to improvement.
Another wrong reason for becoming a teacher is doing it just for money. There is nothing wrong with making money from something your passionate about, especially when its from helping others. But if its your sole focus and only reason your really there and you don’t really have much enthusiasm for the students beyond that drive, your unlikely to be successful at it. You should find something else to focus on. Something that excites you and makes you want to be there for the love of what you are doing.
If you are doing it for the wrong reasons you are doing the students a disservice. Think of how high the drop out rate is in a martial art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Those people have likely come wanting to develop the ability to protect themselves. If they decide to quit because they are not getting anywhere with it due to a lazy teacher, they may never try again and simply log it in their brain as a belief that it is something they are just not that good at and will lose the chance of learning to defend themselves. When sometimes all they need is a bit more help and guidance to feel comfortable with what they are doing.
You are also doing other instructors a disservice as you are taking a job from someone who could be really happy and thrive at it, whilst helping people better protect themselves and making the planet a safer place at the same time. This for me is one of my main motivations for teaching and so I always go out of my way to make sure new people feel especially comfortable and that they are learning something worthwhile in our Portsmouth BJJ classes.
An Eternal Student Of The Art Themselves.
A teacher is simply a student that has a passion for passing on the things they learn to others. If it feels like a teacher thinks they have nothing more to learn about a subject then they are doing their students a disservice. We should never stop being students if we want to be the best teacher we can be, as in Brazilian jiu-jitsu as in all subjects, there is always something more to learn and the more we learn the more we can pass on.
Engaged With The Students.
Active engaged teaching is what gets results. A teachers place is on the mats with his students 100% of the way, helping, making corrections, giving information, advice and rolling with the students so they can learn from you. That’s what teaching is about.
If i give 100% of my help, support and instruction, my students get 100% of their deserved progress and potential. This is what I believe and always aim to provide when teaching my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes in Portsmouth.
If you want to be good teacher then just give as much as you can.