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Some martial arts are composed for thousands of movements. I know two ways to teach Jiu Jitsu. Others possibly exist.

  1. Each class teaches few movements (5-7 movements). This way the student learn/see many movements per month. In this way the student has contact with a wide range of movements but they practice each just a few times each. Students with a better memory can remember better, but they won't know details.

  2. Each week, teach no more than 3 movements. This way the student practices each one more times, but learn/saw just a few movements per month. In this case the class can be repetitive but the movements are very detailed. In case of Jiu Jitsu where exist lots of variations (sweeps, mount, guard, pass guard) the first month for a new student can be lost during the sparring.

Is it best that the student should learn wide range of movements or it is better to learn slowly and practice more?

  • 5-7 is a lot of moves per class just about any way you slice it. – Dave Liepmann Nov 2 '15 at 9:11
  • I agree with you @DaveLiepmann, but this happens in some places. – AFetter Nov 3 '15 at 0:31
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This is an age-old question about training in general. It's generalized as the "Breadth vs. Depth" dilemma.

A "Depth First" training philosophy would prefer to train in a small number of things, but teach them deeply before moving onto other things. This way, you get really good at everything you learn, but you won't have a good understanding of the broader range of knowledge, at least not for a very long time.

Whereas, a "Breadth First" training philosophy would prefer to train in a large number of things, but obviously that means not spending much time on any one thing before moving on to the next. This way, you get a really good idea of the range of different things to learn, but you won't get a good understanding of anything in a deep way for a very long time.

Which is better for jiujitsu? I observe that most jiujitsu schools have success teaching more broadly at first, showing the student a good overview of the system before coming back to certain topics in order to gain a deeper understanding of them. So for most jiujitsu schools, it's more of a breadth first philosophy at first, and then it changes to a depth first philosophy, sometime after blue belt has been reached.

That's my impression, but I could be wrong.

For martial arts in general, or really anything you want to learn, this is probably the training philosophy with which most people do best in the long term. Teach broadly at first, and then later on teach more deeply.

But there's more to learning than that. Learning must involve repetition. That's how human minds learn. We have to repeat it a lot at first in order to learn it. And we have to come back to it again and again later on. This will go on until we feel we no longer need to repeat it as often, but we'll probably never be able to stop repeating it entirely without forgetting it or without letting our skills deteriorate.

It turns out that there's a learning method that memory experts have discovered for optimally remembering anything in general. They call it the "Spaced Repetition" method, which you can read about here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spaced_repetition

Now, most of the time when memory experts are talking about Spaced Repetition, they're talking about memorizing lots of data. It's about pure memorization. For example, learning new vocabulary words or new languages. But it turns out it can be applied to pretty much anything, including martial arts training.

Spaced Repetition gives you a way of training so that you never forget it, and it's always fresh in your mind. At the same time, it lets you continue to learn more and more over time without overwhelming you.

So for example, you might learn a technique on Monday in your jiujitsu class. You repeat it 100 times that day to really drill it in. Then on Tuesday you come back and repeat it just 70 times. Then you skip Wednesday and come back to it on Thursday and repeat it just 50 times. Then you skip Friday and Saturday and come back to it on Sunday to repeat it just 30 times. Then you skip Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and come back to it on Thursday to repeat it just 20 times. Etc.

Each time you repeat it, you can repeat it a smaller number of times than the previous day you did it. And each day you practice it, there can be more days in between that you are not practicing it. Over time, you might only have to practice it once a month or once every two months, and repeat it only a small number of times that day.

Why does this matter? It matters because there's a lot of stuff to learn! It makes no sense to repeat everything you've learned the same number of times and do it everyday. You would wear yourself out, and you'd run out of partners. So you have to be smart about it. Time is limited.

The stuff you just learned will need to be repeated a lot more than stuff you've learned a year ago and have already practiced a lot. So your time will be spent mostly (but never entirely) on repeating stuff you've only recently learned.

A good martial arts instructor will be aware of this, even if he/she doesn't know the actual phrase, "Spaced Repetition". They know what topics are fresh in their students minds and which aren't. So they continuously refresh topics that are beginning to deteriorate. We don't ever want our skills to deteriorate.

Now, the trouble is that this must be tailored to the individual, yet teachers are teaching lots of people at the same time. So teachers will never be perfect at this. Some students may come in only once a week, for example. Others are there every day of the week. How do you teach classes when your students are all different? It's tricky, and it's going to come down to the teacher's awareness of his/her students.

As a student, that should tell you something. It should say that you probably want to manage your own practice outside of class with your own personalized Spaced Repetition method. You might keep track of all the techniques or topics you've been taught in class. Each time you practice a topic, you record when you practiced it, how many times you repeated it, and whether or not you ended the practice feeling like you were successful. Then you decide how many days should go by before you come back and practice it again as well as how many times it should be repeated on that day. Schedule it, and keep to the schedule. Do this with every topic you have.

Again, how many days go by before you practice something again as well as how many times you would repeat it on that day is determined by how you feel about the last time you practiced it. If you feel your skill at that technique is getting worse, then you might decrease the number of days between practicing it and increase the number of times you repeat it on the day you practice it. If you feel your skill at it is getting better or staying the same, that means you can increase the number of days between practicing it and decrease the number of repetitions when you practice it again.

This is a feedback loop. It requires you to keep a journal and continuously update your schedule. There might be apps either for cell phones or for desktop PC's that allow you to do this on computer. But it's fairly easy to do with just pen and paper.

And by the way, for most people, this isn't something they care to do even if they know about it. Only the most serious students will practice this way. But most serious students I've seen practice a lot more than they need to. They over-practice. They don't know about Spaced Repetition, so they end up repeating things more than they need to and more often than they need to. They might also neglect to practice the older stuff they were taught, preferring to rigorously practice the new stuff they've been taught. That results in deterioration over time.

Time is the reason why this matters. There's too much to learn, yet we all have just a limited amount of time in which to learn it. It makes sense to use however much free time you have in the most optimal way.

My thoughts anyway.

Hope that helps.

  • Good answer overall. Could you clarify what you mean by serious students overpracticing? When they practice one technique and neglect other things, isn't that just practice in depth? How much time does the serious student you have in mind practice? – mattm Nov 1 '15 at 15:28
  • Over-practicing means practicing more than you need to in order to retain what you already have or get better. There are diminishing returns to repeating something over and over again, basically. Doing something 1000 times may be no better, or nearly no better, than doing it 100 times. This even applies to when you have a teacher there giving you correction and feedback as you go, because it often takes down-time and sleep to allow your brain to make the connections that it needs to. Sleep and down-time is integral to learning. But beyond that, what over-practicing does is to crowd out... – Steve Weigand Nov 2 '15 at 4:02
  • ... other things that you need to practice in order to just retain your skill level in those things. Practicing just the stuff you're learning in class right now necessarily means you're not practicing the stuff you learned a year ago. When you totally neglect something, it will deteriorate. There's a bare minimum amount of practice you need to retain it over the long term... This can be applied to either a depth-first or a breadth-first strategy. It's just about how you can optimally learn and retain what you learn. A depth-first strategy would not just teach you something and repeat it... – Steve Weigand Nov 2 '15 at 4:11
  • ... Rather, a depth-first strategy explores all aspects of that thing they teach you. So there might be 20 ways to get a guillotine choke. In a breadth-first strategy you might learn 2 ways for white belt one stripe, while learning a dozen other techniques besides the guillotine. In a depth-first strategy, you learn all 20 ways before moving on to the next technique. As for learning, however, it's all the same. It's just stuff that you repeat. Whether it's 20 variations of the guillotine or 20 completely different techniques. It's 20 things. – Steve Weigand Nov 2 '15 at 4:15
4

There is no simple answer to this question. The approach to teaching depends both on the students (age, experience level, fitness level), and on the immediate goals (general development, competition, self-defense, teacher development). The points I make below are mostly from my judo experience.

Help students experience success early

It's best if students can experience early success in applying techniques. Students will naturally have affinity for some techniques and not others. Focusing with a beginner for too long on a technique that is not well-suited to them will create frustration. Showing a variety of techniques early increases the likelihood students will find techniques they can be successful at, then build around.

Early on, don't teach strategies that may stunt future growth

In judo, for example, there are throws where the standing position is sacrificed to throw the opponent. These can be quite powerful, but have the significant drawback that it is harder to build combinations of attacks using sacrifice throws. Because of this, the normal teaching strategy is to save these for more advanced students, and give beginner students a more adaptable foundation first.

Tiered instruction

In classes, the teacher often needs to be able to teach across a range of experience levels. The trouble is that if the lesson is too complicated, beginners get lost; but if the lesson is too basic, the advanced students get bored. To keep a class together, try to develop a tiered approach to teaching any particular technique. On the same day, show the most basic version first, followed by progressively more difficult/complex versions. This helps students to focus on the most important elements for their personal situation.

Competition/fighting is not a test of breadth

To win competitions or be an effective fighter, it's not necessary to know a lot of techniques. A handful of well-trained techniques is sufficient to be successful. The wisdom from all martial arts systems I have studied is that successful fighting is a result of training more in depth than in breadth.

Teaching requires breadth

To be an effective teacher, breadth is required. Students will come in all shapes and backgrounds, and a teacher needs to be able to adapt to the particular needs/goals of the students present. Teachers must be able to convey the main ideas of techniques they themselves may not excel at.

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