Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Teach The Arm Drag...and everything else

"The most important thing to remember is to grip the shoulder, not the arm, and instead of attempting to PULL with your arm, keep your elbow in tight to your side and allow your body weight to pressure your opponent into the ground". I started my explanation for how to begin the arm drag to the basics wrestling class by emphasizing a piece that I had the hardest time with when I first learned a proper wrestling arm-drag from James Torres (Asst. Coach at George Mason University) almost one year ago.

James himself came in halfway through the half hour class I teach on Wednesdays because he teaches the Advanced Wrestling class next on the schedule. Not one to be able to watch someone do anything wrong for any length of time, it took him all of 2 minutes watching before he asked me if he could give one of the groups that was having trouble a few pointers. His quick point to this individual was, "Don't grip the shoulder, hit the armpit with your wrist and allow your hand to catch quickly and then pull your elbow HARD down and in to your side".

The interesting thing is that both James and I were looking for the same result. Some students (like I used to do) pulled too much and didn't connect enough, others didn't pull at all and were too worried about connecting. It appears that no matter which way you first describe a technique, someone is going to need you to emphasize a different aspect as everyone's tendencies and experience levels are different. I have one student (not here tonight) who gets too attached to a specific description instead of realizing that often as an instructor you over emphasize generalizations in order to focus on the most important aspect. The challenge as a student is to be able to accept generalizations as 100% truths until the instructor adds the next piece. The challenge to the new instructor is to know which piece is most important at a given level.

When I first started teaching BJJ regularly one year ago, I thought the importance of each technique was all in the details. That, like in swimming, careful, exacting practice at the beginning stages would set the parameters for future successful performance. But after working with James and seeing the way most adults approach Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I am beginning to think that it is more important to push for people to just try, try, try, as aggressively as possible and to fix after the fact. Maybe with children who are more likely to proceed with wanton abandon and no thought, slowing them down can be more successful (I'm not sure about that yet) but it seems with most adults, the biggest hang up is fear. Fear of failure, fear of looking stupid, or fear of injury. We need to be pushed to be more child-like in our approach, to just GO for it!

Of course there are always those who need to be treated differently. The child who needs to be pushed to be more aggressive or the adult who needs to be reigned in. But recognizing the differences in your students and adjusting your instructions to fit each individual is what great coaches are so successful at. I need to keep working on this. But I'm happy to be in a gym where no instructor is above learning from any other and all feel comfortable with someone else offering an alternative description or point when they are showing a particular technique. As I described above, a different explanation is not necessarily contradictory...but often the addition of another's point of view is complimentary.

I've seen coaches who don't like to be questioned, or don't like teaching when there are higher level belts on the mat. Schools that don't allow visitors at the rank or of higher rank than the head instructors for fear of being contradicted or shown up. But at our gym, you might find head instructors Ryan or Seph taking my wrestling class. Or someone like a visiting world champion caliber black belt, Murilo Santana sitting in on a regular class like any white or blue belt in the room. This is an environment I am proud of and very happy to be a part of.


  1. Great insight in how adults and children differ in their perception.

  2. @PTG Thanks! I used to be a professional swim coach and spent 15 years teaching 100's and 100's of children and adults. But being able to teach BJJ - fighting - requires somewhat different skills. And actually I haven't had a significant amount of opportunities to teach BJJ to children yet, so I'm making an assumption based on my experience teaching swimming. But we hope to start a children's program in the fall and I can't WAIT!

  3. Dang, I was working on a similar blog posting a couple of weeks ago. I don't think I could have said it better. Very good insights.


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