3 Things a Great Instructor Does

Far too often we see “fake black belt exposed” stories pop up on jiu-jitsu news websites and internet forums. In reality, these situations are rare and the jiu-jitsu community has a way of self policing and identifying frauds. The student selecting an academy must choose carefully as not all academies are run professionally.

It is important that beginning bjj students find a reputable school to start training with a qualified instructor. But the importance of an instructor extends well beyond their technical knowledge and whatever tournament medals they may claim.

At Gracie Barra, students train for many different reasons and the best instructors are able to help ALL of the students reach their personal goals.

Here are 3 Things a Great Instructor Does

1) Understands that different students have different needs

Not everyone starts bjj with the goal of becoming a Worlds Champion. There will be students of widely varying abilities and potentials but one thing is common to all: they are looking to improve some area of their lives.
The instructor should understand why that student comes to the academy?
What are their strengths and weaknesses?

From the Gracie Barra ICP5:
“Ask your students some questions to get to know them better:

What are your goals with Jiu-Jitsu this year?
What has been your most memorable moment in Jiu-Jitsu so far this year?
How is your family doing? [assuming your student has mentioned a family]
Are you having any challenges with which I can help?
What made you choose Jiu-Jitsu?
So when you’re not at Jiu-Jitsu classes, what are you doing?”

Some students will have low periods where they need encouragement from the head instructor to persevere through their own training challenges.

“Remind yourself of this every day before greeting your beginner class: There might be one student on the fringe – struggling with the class, struggling in life. What can I do today to make him feel welcome and show him that he is a part of the GB team?”


2) Continual learning to be the best possible instructor

This of course involves studying jiu-jitsu from outside sources.
Training at Gracie Barra in Rio de Janeiro, some of the professors there told me that Gracie Barra instructors from academies from all over the world would return to Brazil for holidays and share techniques they were developing in their remote GB academies. One instructor in Brazil told “When Braulio Estima was here for Christmas holidays he showed me this sweep.”

Even senior instructors like the highly respected “Draculino” openly admit that they are in a never ending search to learn more to become better instructors.

The Gracie Barra ICP5 is tremendously helpful in sharing the knowledge from the most prestigious and experienced instructors to help other GB instructors be the best that they can in leadership, running an academy and technical instruction.


3) They take a sincere interest in the student’s progress

Ask 10 students in the academy the name of the winner of last year’s World Absolute and maybe 2 could name the athlete.

The accolades of a top competitor can be a source of pride for all the members of an academy, but it is just not the most important to the average student who signs up for bjj classes. The student has their own personal goals (and challenges) and is at the academy looking for the guidance of an instructor to help them.

I witnessed one poor instructor who spent most of the class time with his face buried in his phone and occasionally looking up to mutter “Oh yeah, that’s good” to the students who were drilling.
Is this an instructor who really cares about helping the students?
The students were well aware of the distracted “instructor” and lost respect for him.

There is a great quote by Master Carlos Gracie Jr.:
“Strong soldiers do not follow weak generals”.

The instructor must demonstrate to the students above all else, that they sincerely care about helping the students progress.


read also: Steel Sharpens Steel – Why Your Training Partners Are So Important

Credits: Mark Mullen
Gracie Barra Black belt based in Saigon, Vietnam
Twitter: @MarkMullenBJJ