This is a guest post by the instructor of Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood London, Dr Marc Barton

Over the past couple of years teaching Jiu Jitsu has become something that I love and look forward to and I am always looking for methods and systems to improve my ability to transmit knowledge to my students.

Although I am relatively new to teaching Jiu Jitsu I have been involved in the teaching of medical students and doctors in my other life as an Emergency Physician since 2001.

How to Teach Jiu Jitsu

Very early on as a student of Jiu Jitsu I noticed that there were many parallels between the way in which my instructors passed on the highly technical skills required in Jiu Jitsu and the way in which I taught a very different, but equally technical skill set to medical personnel. One of the principal similarities was the structure with which a good teacher approached the class.

Plan Your Class

The army have a saying that ‘proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance’. It has become abundantly clear to me during my time as both a student and a teacher that the best teachers have always planned and prepared properly. So, how exactly can a teacher plan and prepare for his classes in order to maximise the learning potential of his students?

There are many different ways of doing this, but in my opinion dividing your planned teaching into three parts, the set, the dialogue and closure, is an excellent method. This is the framework that was taught to me when I embarked on my journey as a medical educationalist and it is one that I return to time and time again.

The Set

The set is the theatre within which you teach. It is the stage, the props you use and the environment around you. All of these things are integral to the teaching process. Ignoring the simplest things can sabotage your ability to deliver your teaching. The set prepares your class for the learning that is about to happen.

For example poor lighting or visibility can prevent students from being able to watch you demonstrate techniques and a student that cannot hear you during a demonstration will clearly be unable to learn effectively.

The set also includes the ‘atmosphere’ within the class. Are your classes friendly and welcoming and do they create an environment that will help your students to remain motivated? Ask your students how they felt the first time they came to your class and what they enjoy about the way in which you conduct your classes. Focus on keeping the things that you do well and eliminating the things that you do badly.

Props are often overlooked. Certain things are a given and must be present in order for you to teach your class. Good quality mats are an example of this and a clock and timer are also essentials for most Jiu Jitsu classes. When teaching children I use a variety of props, such as balls, balloons, soft crash mats and cones. When planning my classes I always set these props aside and ensure that they are transported to the class. There is nothing worse than arriving at a class having planned to play a certain game or use a certain prop and then realising you have left it at home. This can completely undermine your lesson plan.

The objectives of your class should be stated in your set. I find it very helpful to convey a sense of the significance of what I am teaching to my students, especially with children and beginners. If you are teaching the straight armlock from closed guard, do your students have an understanding of what the closed guard is and why it is relevant? Does the technique that you are teaching have self-defence applications? If you are teaching something that is more competition based, does it score points or will the improper application of it result in potential disqualification? A statement of the objectives or learning outcomes can provide a very useful agenda for the class and I often revisit it in the final part of the session.

The Dialogue

The dialogue is your means of communicating your lesson plan to your students. This is the core part of the planned learning experience and facilitates the passage of knowledge from you to your student.

Some experts argue that less than 10% of communication is made up of the words that you speak and that vocal variety and non-verbal communication are actually much more important.

Your voice has a major impact upon your students and if your voice is monotone and unexciting you run the risk of boring them. One of the commonest mistakes made by teachers during the dialogue is to talk too quickly, fortunately this is also the easiest to fix by simply slowing down. Another common mistake is to talk too quietly so that you cannot be heard by all of your students.

Non-verbal communication is also very important and covers a wide range of behaviours including gesturing, facial expression and eye contact. A great example of a Jiu Jitsu teacher that uses non-verbal communication very well during his lessons is my instructor and friend Oli Geddes. I noticed a while back that Oli uses a few different gestures with great effect during his lesson. An example of this is the clicking of his fingers, if Oli wants emphasise a particular movement, such as an underhook, he directs your attention by clicking the fingers of the hand that will thread the underhook. I started to use this in my children’s classes and noticed that the retention of the technique improved dramatically and that the children were no longer mixing up their left and right hands. This simple gesture had a dramatic effect upon the ability of the kids to learn the techniques.


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The Four-Stage Teaching Approach

One teaching technique that I commonly use during the dialogue is ‘the four-stage teaching approach’. This is the principal method I have used to teach complex trauma management and resuscitation skills over the years, and it translates beautifully into teaching Jiu Jitsu techniques.

The four-stages can be summarised as follows:

1. The technique is demonstrated in real time. This can be done silently or with speech but it should show the technique as it would appear without it being broken down into smaller steps.

2. The technique is repeated, this time broken down into steps and accompanied by dialogue. Rationale for your actions should by provided in this stage

3. The technique is demonstrated once again, this time with the individual steps guided by your students. I do this by asking the class to talk me through the technique step-by-step and then perform each step as they guide me.

4. The students go away and drill the technique together in pairs or groups. Enough time should be allowed to practice the technique until the class is confident and competent in the technique. This step completes the transference of the technique from the teacher to the student.


I like to separate closure into two distinct parts: the asking of questions and the summary. I usually do this after teaching part of the session and before sparring commences but I sometimes leave to until the very end of the class after the warm down. I don’t believe that there is a right or wrong time to do it but it should always form part of learning experience.

There is a popular phrase that states ‘There is no such thing as a stupid question’ and I always try to encourage my students to ask questions, as it is an opportunity to check any uncertainties that they might have. Never make your students feel stupid for asking a question that might have an obvious answer and try to look at the techniques that you have taught through the eyes of a white belt.

The summary is an opportunity to reinforce what has been learnt and give your students a ‘take home message’. If there is one thing you want them to remember from today’s lesson this is your chance to emphasise it. Remain succinct and to the point and try not to run through every detail that you have taught.

Optimise the passage of knowledge from you to your students

Try using this structure next time you teach a class and see if it makes a difference to your lesson. By ensuring that the set well prepared, the dialogue is engaging and the closure is clear and succinct, the learning experience should be optimal for the rapid and effective passage of knowledge from you to your students.

Good luck, and enjoy your teaching!

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