By Ramses Bugarin
Since our opening in June 2019, Jim and I have been teaching kids classes for ages 4 – 12 and it’s been an awesome experience for me. I had very little experience teaching children since the start of my own training in late 2011, and there have been a lot of valuable lessons learned since I’ve become a kids teacher. Coach Jim has had a lot more experience than I but he too realized there was plenty of uncharted territory because, unlike his prior experience, this was OUR gym now. And with the standards we set for ourselves being higher, our performance had to be better to match. My objectives for the kids class are as follows:
To teach kids Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and make sure no one is left behind to the best of my ability.
BJJ is a cerebral pursuit which, to the casual observer, might not be obvious. It is demanding on the mental faculties of a young mind. It is also obviously physical and there will be challenges on the muscular endurance, cardiovascular endurance, and flexibility of a student. With that in mind, we know that there are limits to how much we can ask of a child within the hour. Part of my own learning process as a teacher has been getting a feel for the attention span of individual students and the room as a whole. As with any complex learning endeavor, there is always an element of drudgery in the practice of certain skills. Things that take repetition. Things that take refinement and policing by a coach with scrutinizing eyes. In short, things that are not super fun to do. Jim and I are sensitive to the strain this can put on the concentration endurance for the day. We have put together a lot of tools to break up the monotony that comes from drilling moves over and over again. We also have become more and more sensitive to the signs of burnout with a given activity or drill. Having a child act out in minor ways (spacing out during instruction or being slow to comply with commands) are valuable cues for Jim and I. They tell us that we are at the limit with a given exercise and we should either move on, or do something fun. We have noticed some parents from time to time express displeasure with their child(ren) and shout reprimands from off of the mat. We are totally supportive of the intention behind this, but it is not the most helpful to the integrity of the class setting. It results in distraction, often for the whole group, while Jiu Jitsu instruction is happening. Once that disruption has taken place, it takes a few extra seconds to refocus the kids and get them back on track. If you notice your child doing something they aren’t supposed to or performing less than optimally, please let us be the ones to handle it. We have become adept at course-correcting in a positive way with minimal disturbance to the class flow. Also, it is vital that every student listen to us first and foremost during class as we have the best eyes for identifying and addressing any potentially unsafe situations.
To make the experience super fun for the kids while still making meaningful progress.
We go to great lengths to keep all of this fun for our kids. Jim and I have heard the gamut of reasons parents sign their children up for martial arts classes. Everything ranging from exercise to self-defense and discipline and we agree that BJJ training can provide those things.
In order to illustrate the point I’m trying to make, I will give a brief summary of my training career.
When I first found Jiu Jitsu I was hovering just over 200 pounds (definitely not my healthiest at that time in my life). Training became a means to better health both as a motivational tool (cleaning up my diet for optimal performance on the mat / dropping down a couple weight classes for tournaments) and as challenging exercise in and of itself. My formative years were full of muscle soreness, bruises, stubbed toes/fingers, and any number of adversities that come with contact sports. There were innumerable moments of pain and discomfort. What made me keep pushing past all of that? I would like to boast a special fortitude or mental toughness, but the simple answer is that training Jiu Jitsu is simply SO MUCH FUN! I would NOT have continued if I wasn’t having a TON of fun throughout all of that. Jiu Jitsu is challenging. There are losers and winners with every exchange. There are bumped heads. There are bruises. With all that being said, Jim and I both strongly feel that practice must be fun if a child is to stay motivated to push through.
To teach children how to deal with adversity in a healthy manner.
Probably the single greatest benefit of an individual contact sport is learning how to approach hardship. In Jiu Jitsu there will be plenty of that. An integral lesson that took me a long time to learn (even as an adult) is that we are all training partners. And while on the mat, we are ultimately not competing with each other, but we are competing with our old selves. Through training I learn not take things personally, to think critically, to look at failure as an opportunity for improvement. This is what makes training stimulating and a source of personal growth in my life. That being said, we aim to help children understand that not every scrape or head bump is worth dwelling over. Those will happen despite everyone’s best effort to be careful and controlled. And aside from the accidental stuff, there will be many instances where the “right” move is one of the hardest things to do. An example would be escaping a bad position like being mounted. This might require a succession of explosive and tiring movements and even if all of the right things are being done, it’s going to be hard to escape if the opponent is well-trained. Learning to push through the feeling of wanting to give up is paramount to success on and off the mat. Adversity builds strong minds and Jiu Jitsu provides a safe medium for the practice of persevering through struggles.