Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sparring time in Brazil

I'm just back from Brazil and I'm going to jump right into what I noticed there that changes the way I'm teaching my classes.

The technical instruction portion that takes up a significant amount of class time here in the U.S. is actually the shortest part of class in Brazil. Instead, there are extensive warmups with exercises that relate to common movements in jiujitsu, drills that simulate specific segments of a match, and a lot of open mat time for sparring and problem solving. The last part deserves the most attention because it's easy to dismiss this open mat time as "just" sparring, but if you pay close attention to what's really going on during this time you'll see find the secret to the effectiveness of the way Brazilians practice the art vs the way most Americans do.
Once the instructor signals that open mat has begun, many of the students pair up and start to spar, while the rest form small groups to figure out solutions to problems they're facing in training or competition. This is self-directed stuff, as the instructor is often in the corner working with a white or blue belt on whatever it is he feels the student needs to work on--almost like a short private. What you don't see is "lounging." Some people are resting in between rolls, but for the most part, everyone is using the time to improve some aspect of their game. They are sparring hard, but no one is taking anything personally. It's all about improvement. Purple belts catch brown belts and no one notices, or if they do, they certainly don't seem to care. They just keep rolling.
The mood is light. People laugh and have fun while sweating their asses off. Jiu-jitsu is FUN there. This not only keeps you wanting to return, but it actually serves a useful purpose in the development of your game because you are not afraid to open up and really MOVE when you're on the mat. While I felt tremendous pressure from the top guy when someone was trying to pass, I never felt like someone was trying to hold me down to ride out the clock for a "win" in sparring. The positions felt seamless, as there was constant movement, a real sense of "flowing", but not in any light, unrealistic or choreographed way.
You really see the creative, artistic aspect of jiujitsu when it is performed this way. You feel less like there is a formula to the positions and more like what you are seeing is the moment to moment changes of each partner reacting to the other in constant motion. Obviously this develops your technique because you are thinking faster and piecing things together more smoothly, but it also develops your physical agility, core strength, and cardio. Every workout is exhausting, but rewarding. You always leave feeling like you've taken another significant step in improving your game.
I am hoping to create this type of environment for my students.
Here are some pics from the trip:

Juquinha, Gracie Humaita black belt, helping a student during open mat.
Juquinha and me after class.

Open mat time. Everyone training.
One of Juquinha's black belts rolling with a purple belt.

Class almost over. Everyone exhausted.