Friday, February 17, 2012

The Banking Method of Jiu Jitsu

Since Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a Brazilian art, let's talk about the Brazilian educational system. Their most well known educator and educational theorist and philosopher is a guy named Paulo Freire. I am no expert by any means as you can get advanced degrees on his work. But I know a little, just enough to get my mind thinking.

The Big Flaw

He believes a flaw exists in education and learning, something which he calls the banking method of teaching. That we the students are empty vessels to be filled by the educators. We have no critical analysis, no self reflection, no consciousness. We are shaped by whatever gets filled into our empty coin slots of a mind. There is also then a dichotomy between teacher and student, authority and subject.

Unconscious Practical Knowledge and Self Reflective Knowledge

He thinks there are two ways to learn, unconscious practical knowledge and self reflective knowledge. To make it simple the way we learn now is passive learning, we know info and can regurgitate it but we have no idea how to apply it. As many new college graduates realized they know a lot of stuff but no way to apply it. We always call these people "book smart" because they seem to be an encyclopedia of knowledge but of little practical use. So the difference lies in passive learning, just storing information, or active learning, owning information. He questions knowledge and doesn't believe you know anything unless you know why that information is important, thought about it, and can apply it in some way.

This also happens in BJJ or a lot of martial arts. We are considered an empty vessel to be filled by our instructor. With no discussion, no self reflection, no dialogue. Whatever our instructor tells us or shows us becomes a belief but it never becomes knowledge. Knowledge is shaped by discussion and critical self reflection and dialogue.

So we learn this move, then that move, and whatever our instructor tells us is right. No wonder it seems like in BJJ there is some sort of destiny where some people get it, and some people never get matter how long they train. If BJJ is based on math and physics and logic, then it should be something every last human being should be able to grasp. But there is a high turnover rate especially at blue belt of people who quit because they never got it. Even people who get their ranks out of commitment, even though "they never get it."


There is even a problem with the whole teacher and student dichotomy. It's not a good organic environment to truly shape knowledge if there is someone in charge of it, who dictates if something is correct or not, and if they are the master of all that you learn. Freire believes there should be Teacher/Student and Student/Teacher. Meaning the teacher is always still a student who is willing to learn and the student is also a teacher who is willing to share discoveries.

Sometimes in training, when the class is over and there are a lot of good guys, just training, talking, sharing ideas, this is the hot bed of life in Jiu Jitsu. When your game will grow like a living organism. It won't be stuffed and stifled down by rules or waiting to ask questions or just sitting there and letting the teacher show you want he wants, not what you need. No wonder Robert Drysdale says sparring is more important than drilling. He may not realized it but during that time is when things bend, move, get reshaped and shaped. Knowledge is created. Not all the time but when the environment is right.

Some people feel this kind of learning has no structure. Well most active learning doesn't seem to have a structure because it is so organic but it definitely does. Don't mistake, teacher talks, you listen, with structure.

Even drilling a move incessantly is a form of passive learning. A mistake some people will make is, to think just because you drill a lot you are technical and have a grasp of Jiu Jitsu. It is just taking what the teacher showed you, and doing what he just showed you without the teacher being there. Basically an autonomous empty vessel who will now refill his mind slot with the teacher's information on his nauseam.

The structure to active learning is, identity, purpose, method. Identify what is being taught, what is the purpose of it, what is the best way to apply it. For instance I am training with someone and he is almost passing my guard. I must identify what he is doing, low pass! What is the purpose of this move? To pass my guard. What will be my method to retain my guard?

If we compete like we train, and in training we are just automatons who do the teacher's bidding, we will definitely have a hard time. Now if in your training you learned to identify, calculate purpose, figure out a method to change this threat, then you will also do this while sparring or competing.

Question what you think is truly "being technical" or a "good teacher" or a "good student." Then throw out the idea of student and teacher and being technical.


Challenge everything you think you know and you believe. Then make the correct adjustments to your training.

Sam is a martial arts nerd and efficiency nut. He also writes fitness hacking columns at All Out EffortFind Sam and Inner BJJ on FacebookYoutube, and Twitter.

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