No Gi Reflections #7 | Class Quality – the difference between hosting and coaching

One of my biggest influences in the coaching world; John Danaher.

One of my biggest influences in the coaching world; John Danaher.

I’m going to try and refrain from turning this post into a rant and the reason for that can only be due to the fact that I have been spoilt. Yes, spoilt in the realms of high quality coaching. Instead, I will try to form this post into more of a published discussion that I had with a training partner of mine recently, in the hope to shed some light towards the current holes in the BJJ club format here in the county of Surrey, UK.

Over the last 3 years, I have carried out much of my own research, self-experimentation and learning from others at the ever amazing Locker 27 Strength and Conditioning Gym in Surrey, UK.

However, it is perhaps only in the last few months since attending No Gi classes twice a week that I have come to appreciate a core element of the Locker’s ethos more than ever; quality coaching. I have been exposed to some of the best coaches in the country at this place, many of whom work for the Harlequins rugby team, some being ex-professional athletes themselves and others just very passionate coaches and scholars. By default, my mirror neurons have picked up on the importance of quality and I strive to apply it to all of my clients’ sessions, be it via strength coaching, mobility assessments or submission grappling.

The flip side to that coin, though, is the fact that I have somewhat re-entered the outside world in the form of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu clubs and classes and have fast come to the conclusion that there is a LOT to be desired with; the class format, coaching quality and (lack thereof) syllabuses.

Class Format and Quantity

No Gi classes in Surrey are a rareity. I have touched on this before and location definitely has something to do with it. For the most part, Surrey doesn’t push the boudaries in any field other than public schooling and detatched housing prices. I expect the frequency of classes in London is higher but still not comparable to the USA.

Formatting, fortunately, has not been too bad. In my experience, there have been two main class formats for No Gi sessions; a class for people who don’t train outside of their club, and a class for people that do.
The former is essentially a 45 minute conditioning beat down to start the class, then once a state of pre-exhaustion hits, a couple of techniques are taught to a semi-receptive brain, followed by numerous rounds of sparring. This format perhaps suits the individual who does no form of strength and conditioning, whatsoever, and is looking for a workout as much as an experience. No points for guessing from my tone that I am not a fan of this format at all and have in fact left clubs because of it.

The latter is not so bad; a brief 15 minute warm up, 30-45 minutes of techniques, then 30-45 minutes of sparring. Clubs that follow this itinerary have kept my attention, as it suits a more skills-based approach and someone who does their S&C outside of club times.

(As a side note, a quick scan over 2016’s No Gi competition results show that the Chris Rees Academy produces more winners and team point victories that any other club in the UK. Scanning a little deeper, you also see that this academy provides FOUR, sixty minute No Gi classes per week. No coincidence.)


So with a fairly decent format, but only a couple of classes per week to attend, surely the syllabus would be paramount? As grappling is such an infinite world in and of itself and ever expanding, to me it would make sense to split up the game into the most common positions and start from there.
An approach I heard recently, by the Strongman mat-beast that is Daniel Strauss, and one that I agreed with immediately upon hearing, was that breaking a syllabus down into 6 week cycles (or 4, 8, 12 week etc) that focuses on one of these most common positions and how to utilise attack and defence strategies from there. My guess is from his Strength and Conditioning background, Daniel has applied what he knows about the importance of programming and its relevance to increasing strength and skill to the world of BJJ and his classes. Fucking fantastic. There is a definitive syllabus that allows students to work on all aspects of their game, whether they favour that position or not.
Let’s compare that to the classes I attend. So if a club only provides one No Gi class per week, do you not think it would make sense to let each weekly class follow on from the last, so say at the end of 6 weeks, you will have had 6 sessions that focus on a specific position? As opposed to what I currently have access to; one technique one week that has perhaps 3-4 follow ups, then the following week a completely unrelated position that also has 3-4 follow ups. There seems to be no session syllabus outline in either of the clubs I train at and I feel that could be improved, greatly. I also don’t feel comfortable voicing my opinion at the classes I attend for fear of going against the host’s traditional patterns and causing offence, which is why I am voicing it on my on blog.
And I use the term host, deliberately.

Hosting vs Coaching

Yes, there is a difference. The joys of lineage mean that you’re unlikely to have your class taken by your art’s founder, or sometimes even the club’s founder, for that matter. As a result, a student of a high rank, given to them by the founder, often takes the class. There is no guarantee that this student is a good coach, though. In fact, I cannot say for sure but I would not be surprised if the top dogs do zero screening on a high level student’s coaching ability, at all. Instead, my inkling is the attitude is far more likely to be ‘Well, they are a brown/black belt, so they know how classes should run and they are able to take several classes a week at another branch of my academy.”
As a result, this student is given the responsibility of taking over this branch but becomes more of a host instead of a coach. They are friendly, they can perform all techniques that they demonstrate and they can probably submit the entirety of attendees. But can they coach?

My answer so far is no, they don’t. Perhaps they can but my leaning is if they could coach, they would have a syllabus. They would also have various ways of demonstrating a technique. If we take the premise that out of all the students in attendance, some will learn best via visual cues, some best by audio and some by kinaesthetic practice, then a good coach will be able to differentiate, perhaps after a few weeks of getting to know their members, which person learns best with which appropriate form of cue. Again, let’s not forget I have been spoilt with good coaching in the world of S&C. Let’s also remember, and this was going to be the original title for this post, you get what you pay for. I pay £10 per class and if we break it down, that’s probably what I receive. I can really understand why people pay for 1-1 tutition for a higher rate if it means they are receiving quality coaching.

For me, I’m at a stage where I could benefit with a coach cueing me during sparring rounds. Instead, both of my teachers get involved in the sparring rounds themselves, thus putting them out of action until you get to roll with them and ask questions (if you remember to). Fair enough, if they’re as addicted as me they are probably itching to roll come sparring time. Or, if not sparring, they simply sit on the side and watch. Yes, watch the class and say nothing! That bugs me a bit, but hey, perhaps that’s normal for the class’ price bracket.

Regardless of price, though, I feel there is still a lot to be desired with the quality of coaching within the realms of the classes I attend. It’s hard to judge what quality of service should be provided for ten british pounds and I’m quite sure my expectations are too high. But what it does mean is that I’m now hungry to seek out quality coaches for my own practice and up my motivation for providing the best quality coaching I can give to my own students.

Next episode I will be looking at the methods I can employ to improve my own game in the meantime, without a coach.


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Harry Cloudfoot is a writer and explorer of movement and mind. You can check his social media if you want but you'd be better off going and doing something, instead.
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