Photo of a woman training with a man

Please, Stop Coaching Your BJJ Training Partners.

This is a bit of a rant, which isn’t normally my style, but one of my biggest pet peeves is being “coached” or given unsolicited advice by my training partners during Jiu Jitsu class. I know that people who do it are usually just trying to help, but it’s often actually not helpful. Let me explain why:

1. It Can Confuse Your Training Partner.

A phrase that people used to say was, “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” I don’t think we are supposed to say that anymore, but the point remains: When too many people are giving input, it can be confusing to know who to listen to, especially when what they’re saying seems to conflict. Let the instructor do the teaching. If your partner wants your input too, they can ask you for it.

2. What works for you may not work for everyone.

Yes, there are fundamental techniques that everyone who does Jiu Jitsu needs to learn. But when it comes to decisions about which techniques to apply, what works well for you might not be the best strategy for someone else. Especially if you’re a bigger person, you may experience success with a technique that relies on your size more than you think, whereas a smaller person would do better to use a different technique to accomplish the same purpose. Flexibility is another factor that may make a move work for you that would be impossible or even dangerous for someone else.

3. You Might Be giving Bad Advice.

This is particularly directed at blue belts, who are notorious for over-explaining to white belts techniques they may not know as well as they think they do. I know…you feel like you know so much compared to your white belt companions, but you sound like a high school sophomore trying to convince a freshman of their worldly wisdom.

4. You might be giving more detail than the person can handle.

My instructor often says that the first time someone is introduced to a new technique, the goal is just to “outline the sketch,” that they can color in the picture later. It’s okay that a new person isn’t doing a move exactly right as long as they are getting the general idea, associating the name of the technique with the overall goal and beginning to feel out how the technique works. They’ll learn how to finesse the technique later.

The brain can only handle so much information at once, and if you give too much meta, you may actually prevent your training partner from remembering anything at all.

5. You’re Wasting Drilling Time by Talking.

Every minute that you spend talking is a minute wasted that you AND your partner could have been drilling, learning by experience and building muscle memory.

6. You’re Robbing Your Training Partner of A valuable Learning Experience.

You may have heard that if you “help” free a butterfly from its cocoon, you may cause it to die because the struggle to escape the cocoon is what allows it to develop the strength required to fly. Giving your training partner the solution to a problem instead of letting them solve the problem on their own is the same thing. When we encounter a challenge in Jiu Jitsu and then figure out the solution, we remember what we have learned far better than if someone had just told us what to do. Don’t take away your training partner’s opportunity for meaningful learning.

Emerging butterfly

7. You don’t know what your Training Partner is Working on.

As much as you may know about Jiu Jitsu, you are not the expert on my Jiu Jitsu journey. I and I alone am responsible for my own learning and for deciding what is helpful to me at a given moment.

Often I will spend a week or more focusing on improving just one area of my Jiu Jitsu game, and during that time I may temporarily neglect other areas of my game. For example, if I am working on escaping from under side control, I might not fight as hard to prevent a guard pass. Or if I’m working on mounted triangles, I might intentionally ignore an opportunity for an armbar. The last thing I need in that moment is for my training partner to point out the armbar or give me pointers for retaining guard.

8. It’s Disrespectful.

I know this point may be controversial because Brazilian Jiu Jitsu descends from a very hierarchical martial arts culture, where respect is given based on age and position alone. However, that is not how I live my life. As an adult woman, I choose who I want to accept as my teacher, and I don’t feel that I owe anyone my respect.

As a student of my Jiu Jitsu school, I have chosen to learn from the head instructor and anyone he delegates. If anyone else tells me what to do (instead of asking me if they may make a suggestion), they are assuming a position of authority over me that I have not granted them.

I’m not saying I’m never interested in learning from my peers, even including someone with a white or blue belt if they know something that I don’t. I’m saying that as a free individual, who to learn from is my decision, and anyone who wants my respect should communicate in a way that acknowledges that.

A simple way to do this is to say something like, “Mind if I give you a suggestion?” before offering input, and to not take offense if the answer is, “No thank you, I’m focused on something else right now.”

I believe that even brown and black belts should do this when they aren’t the one leading the class. One time while visiting a gym in another city as a blue belt, I trained with a black belt who communicated in this way, and that made me respect and value his input so much more than if he had treated me as if he was entitled to my respect.

When It’s Okay to Give Advice to Your Training Partners

Now that I’ve explained all the reasons I don’t think people should be coaching their training partners, I’m going to contradict myself and list some times that I think coaching one’s training partner is completely appropriate:

1. When Your training partner is Brand New.

This article is not about helping brand new people learn the basics. It’s about giving unsolicited advice to someone who already knows the basics.

2. When Your Training Partner is Doing Something Unsafe.

It’s always okay to call out unsafe behavior and educate people about how to take care of themselves and others. In fact, it would be irresponsible to do otherwise.

3. When the instructor has asked you to.

I recognize that upper belts helping lower belts is an important part of how many gyms operate. Sometimes an instructor will explicitly ask a student to work with and help another students. Some gyms have so many people on the mats at a given time that it’s impossible for the instructor to give everyone the individual attention they need, and lower level belts rely on upper level belts to help them learn and understand the technique being practiced. There are plenty of times when the instructor has given explicit or implied instruction to upper level belts to help instruct, and if that is the case, then that is what they should do.

4. When you are 2 or More Belt Levels Higher.

Even though I will respect a black belt more if they ask me if I want their advice before they share a tip, I acknowledge that anyone who is a black belt knows far more than me as a purple belt, so I will listen to what they have to say no matter how they communicate. I think the same goes for a brown belt speaking to a blue belt, and a purple speaking to a white belt. I do not feel the same way about people who outrank me by just one belt color.

I know this is somewhat arbitrary and others are free to disagree.

5. When Your Training Partner Has Expressed That They Want Your Input.

This condition trumps all else, and it’s a fairly common situation. If your training partner asks you for your input, then by all means give it to them. Or, if you see something your training partner could use help with and have asked them if they would like to hear your input and they agree, then go ahead.

But even in that case, keep in mind that you are not the expert on someone else’s Jiu Jitsu journey, and your goal should only be to help your training partner discover the solution to their problem, not to give them the answers.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree or disagree? Have you experienced helpful or unhelpful coaching from a training partner? Leave a comment to let me know!

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