Jiu-Jitsu Letter


The other day in class, I introduced some “bonus” techniques because we’d finished the lesson (a guard sweep) a little early. They were counters to the sweep, and then a counter to the counter.

A couple students were frustrated, and I told them that sometimes when we feel like we’re not learning, we’re actually learning more. That when it feels easy, we think we’re doing well, but it’s better to be frustrated sometimes. Then one asked if that’s really true.

“Yeah, I read it on the internet.” I said it like a joke, but I did read it on the internet, and said I’d send the link.

It was a research article titled: “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom.”


In conclusion, we find that students’ perception of their own learning can be anticorrelated with their actual learning under well-controlled implementations of active learning versus passive lectures. These results point to the importance of preparing and coaching students early in the semester for active instruction and suggest that instructors should persuade students that they are benefitting from active instruction. Without this preparation, students can be misled by the inherent disfluency associated with the sustained cognitive effort required for active learning, which in turn can have a negative impact on their actual learning.

It’s about passive learning vs active learning in a classroom setting, and how students in active learning classes tend to feel like they’re not learning as much as when they simply sit in on a lecture.

In jiu-jitsu class, we divide lessons into multiple sections, going from passive to active. Watching an instructor demonstrate the move is like listening to a lecture. Then it gets more active, as students drill on a non-resisting partner. Then the partner progressively increases the resistance. Then there’s positional and/or focus sparring, and finally freestyle sparring.

Going from 0 to sparring is mostly pointless, even though that’ll be the most active and frustrating. And staying in the 0 (100% passive) zone is non-productive.

Being frustrated is part of the process. Lately, I’m going through a bit of a slump, or plateau, myself, so I remind myself that it’s normal to feel like I’m not getting better sometimes.

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