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How to get the most out of a private lesson

(Originally published February 21, 2021)

I had my private Zoom lesson with Dax yesterday. First of all, it was nice to see some of the old gang. He had a couple of guys there to help out. One to be his practice dummy and another to hold the camera.

Any time you train with Dax you can expect to have your mind blown, and this was no exception. He went over 18+ techniques near as I can count. At least a dozen of them were specifically geared toward what he saw on the videos of me sparring. The rest were based on questions that came up over the course of the lesson.

Some of the techniques were things I know I've seen Dax teach in class before, but had forgotten about. Some I just wasn't ready to pick up the first time around but this time they just clicked into place. Others were completely new. All of them were directly applicable to my game at this point in time.

That's the great thing about private lessons. It's Jiu Jitsu custom designed for you at your particular point on your Jiu Jitsu journey. They're pricey, but so worth it if you can afford them. There's no better way to accelerate your progress.

How do you know you're ready for private lessons?

Some folks say that private lessons really aren't worth it until you reach a certain level. They feel that you have to have a basic understanding of the fundamentals, and some experience applying those fundamentals in sparring before you can fully appreciate the value communicated through private lessons.

Try telling that to the Gracie family. In the original Gracie Academy in Rio de Janeiro in the 1950s, they only taught private lessons for a period of time. A student would come in, there were several instructors, and they only taught private classes. They did this because the order in which you learn techniques can greatly affect how long it takes you to master the art. A student was permitted to join group classes only after they had a firm grasp of the fundamentals.

They only switched to an all group classes model when they had gained so many students that it was no longer practical to teach them all via private lessons.

Rener Gracie says that, if he could choose the journey for a newer student today, private classes would give them the most amount of comprehension and the greatest understanding of the art in the least amount of time possible.

So the bottom line here is that if you train Jiu Jitsu at any level, you're ready for private lessons.

How do you prepare for a private lesson?

Your instructor will probably ask you what you want to work on. You should probably have an answer ready for him. You could begin with whatever questions pop into your head, but consider this... What position do you find yourself in the most?
On the Back trying to Submit
Top Mount trying to take the Back or Submit
Top Side Control trying to Mount or Submit
Top Guard trying to Pass
Bottom Guard trying to Sweep
Pinned trying to Escape

This is a simplified list of positions, but it'll work for our purposes. If you're a newbie, you probably don't find yourself mounted on top of your opponents very often. You probably find yourself pinned good amount of the time. It doesn't really do you any good to focus on guard passes at this point if you can't even escape a pin, right? The basic idea is this, wherever you find yourself the most during sparring, that's probably what you need to be working on.

When your instructor asks you what you want to work on, you tell him that you find yourself on the bottom of side control more often than not, and just can't seem to escape. Or maybe your escapes and sweeps are fine, but you just can't seem to pass the guard. You get the idea.

Another thing you can do is record footage of you rolling, and send it to your instructor a week in advance. Thanks to this little strategy Dax was able to analyze my game and come ready with some things to work on. This is so much easier to do than it was 20 years ago. If you're reading this blog, chances are you have a cell phone with a camera on it. Just bite the bullet and ask a buddy to record a few of your rolls.

But wait a minute Big Mike! My instructor watches me every day in class. Shouldn't he already know what I need to work on? Having taught classes for a little while now I've gotta say it's tough to watch all the sparring matches going on at the same time. And that's if I'm not rolling that day for some reason. I've had students come up to me after busy class, ask me how I thought they were doing, and I couldn't even remember who they rolled with. That's why I try to get around to rolling with everyone. But it takes awhile. Your instructor just can't roll with everyone every class. So giving him some tape to watch goes a long way.

Now that I think of it, even if your instructor rolls with you, he can't read your mind. If you're technologically savvy you could narrate the footage of you rolling, explaining to your instructor just what you were thinking at each point during roll. You can point out the mistakes that you notice, what moves you are going for and why so that he has a better idea of which holes in your game are systemic, and which are just brain farts. This can only make your session more productive.

What to do during your lesson

Take notes. There's nothing worse than paying for an hour of private, personalized instruction, only to forget all of the techniques the day after.

Don't be afraid to drive the lesson to some extent. If you need to see a technique second, third time, don't be afraid to ask.

If your brain is getting full ask to stop and review what you've learned. I had to do that yesterday myself. After 40 minutes, I was afraid that if I learned one more technique, one of the others was going to fall out of my left ear hole! So I asked if I could just run through the ones we'd went over so far.

You could ask to record the session. Your instructor may or may not go for the idea. Not everybody's okay with seeing themselves all over the internet. If your instructor values his privacy, no big deal. But if he says yes, a video is worth a thousand notes! Just don't be a douchebag and post it on the internet afterwards. At least not without your instructor's permission. You paid for that instruction and the video. The rest of the internet didn't.

What to do after your lesson

Review your notes. Go through the notes you jotted down during your lesson. This will help keep you from forgetting what you went over.

Add to your notes. If you're like me, you write everything down during a lesson. There's just not enough time. So you write down just enough to remind yourself what you went over. After the lesson go back and fill in the blanks. Add in as many details as you can remember.

Make a clean list of all the techniques you went over. If they have names, use the names your instructor uses. If they don't, make up your own names for them.

Make flashcards. Write down the name of a technique on a flashcard. On the other side write down the individual steps of that technique. For example:

Upa Mount Escape
Trap the arm
Trap the leg
Bridge and roll
Base and posture
Chair fly all of those techniques at least three times each. In other words, sit down in your favorite, comfy chair, close your eyes, and imagine yourself performing the technique by the numbers. If you get confused or miss a step, check the procedure on the back of your flash card.

Once you get the hang of this, you should be able to go through 10 techniques 3 times each in about 10 minutes. Do this every day for the next 2 weeks and it'll hard-wire them into your brain. After about two weeks you'll have these down. If you haven't been hitting them while rolling in your group classes by that point, you will be soon!


So there you have it. Big Mike's little guide for getting the most out of your next private lesson. When you feel like you're in a good position to do so, talk to your instructor and schedule that private lesson. I think you'll be glad you did.


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