In the summer of 2013, I was invited by Brentwood BJJ Academy owner/BJJ Black belt Professor Jeremy Akin and Kid's Program Head/BJJ Purple belt Instructor Eron Johnsey to join the Brentwood Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Academy Kid's Program as an Assistant Instructor. Of course, I accepted as this was a huge honor for me. Six months later, I have found that the kids were not the only ones learning. Teaching BJJ to children has made me a better teacher, father and BJJ player.
Teaching has improved my BJJ Knowledge and my BJJ game.
Teaching runs in my family. My father, an educator for 30+ years, has a passion for teaching and instruction. He instilled in me a very deep respect for those people who take on the mantle, Teacher. There is an old saying "Those who can do, and those who can't teach." I dislike this saying and I think it minimizes the impact of education. This phrase has "stuck in my craw" (I don't know what a craw is, but I know having something stuck in it sounds unpleasant.) Well, I have a better saying that I have heard Instructor Eron Johnsey say and find myself repeating. "Knowing a technique and teaching a technique are two completely different things." If you train or have trained in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, there is a good chance you have drilled an armbar from the guard. It is a fundamental closed guard attack. I recently asked Eron how many times he had drilled this technique. His answer was a thoughtful pause followed by, "A lot."
I can tell you without a doubt, I know how to perform a closed guard armbar. But the first time I ever tried to teach an armbar from the closed guard, I felt lost in the wilderness. I explained the armbar technique and showed the kids how to perform it. Things broke down, however, when I realized that my technique was sloppy. See, I had learned ways to force the technique and developed bad habits along my BJJ career. While I KNEW the right way to perform the technique, I rarely put my knowledge into practice. Teaching the children how to PROPERLY do the armbar from the guard, re-enforced the knowledge in my own Jiu-jitsu.
This past Saturday, I had a déjà vu moment as I was teaching the kid's class. I showed the kid's my armbar technique full speed and my muscle movement had re-incorporated the GOOD HABITS. I demonstrated a solid armbar from the guard. It just felt right. Everything was in its place. Let me clarify: My BJJ improved directly as a result of teaching a room full of wide-eyed, enthusiastic and intelligent children a technique. And it's happening ALL THE TIME.
Another note about this: Sometimes Coach Eron and I will have different ways to approach the same technique. I love when this happens because A) I'm a BJJ Nerd and B) I get to learn something from a different yet similar perspective. In that moment, we evolved with the art and that evolution is also passed down to the children.
Children see you as a role model and you rise to it.
Children hold their heroes to high standards. They are also eager for mentorship. It is the way we are biologically designed. In the primal sense, the natural state of children is one of learning. Typically, children learn from their elders, or elders in the community. Children NEED good role models, especially in today's world. When you are teaching a martial art to a child, you are entering a pact of trust and responsibility with them. They are trusting you to teach and be a good role model. And you are trusting them to learn from you. This bond to me is sacred. I know, I know, I sound more than a little hokey right now (see: Too many viewings of the 1980's Karate Kid), but the important take away here is that CHILDREN REALLY BELIEVE IN THEIR HEROES and will hold them to the highest of standards.
Coach Eron and I talk a lot with the kids about how to go about being a good member of society and community. We share life lessons we have learned and give advice on how to handle difficult situations. We mentor. We teach. But we, as instructors, also are charged with the responsibility of living out those same teachings and lessons in our daily lives. I find myself rising to each day thinking more and more about BEING the example. This permeates my entire life, not just who I am at the academy. To me, this is an amazing feat because at 34 years old, I'm finally the hero I always wanted to be. I have the children that I teach (including my own) to thank for that. I know that all of the instruction team at Brentwood Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Academy feel the same way. You can see it in our passion and excitement when we are in the academy and you can see it in our daily lives.
Teaching BJJ has made me a better father.
Both my sons train in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at Brentwood Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Academy. As a lucky dad, I not only get to share the Gentle Art with my boys, but I am also fortunate enough to actively participate in their instruction.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is not only a team sport but also an individual life improvement plan. In this way, BJJ is a very personal and unique experience for each individual. My sons share a lot of qualities, but their differences are as vast and intense as their similarities. When I observe them learning BJJ, this becomes so obvious to me and I am shocked that I never REALLY noticed this before. This has helped me to relate to each son as his own entity in the academy and at home. I feel like I connect better with my sons because we share a bond that is forged through the Brentwood BJJ Academy core values.