How to Ask Questions in Jiu Jitsu
You have probably head the old saying “There is No such thing as a stupid question,” and yet one notion that daunts many jiu jitsu practitioners is how exactly to ask the RIGHT questions and how to get the most out of the questions you ask in training. What are some ways to ensure that the questions you ask are productive and helpful? Many professors do not like being asked “what if” questions in regards to moves they teach, are these questions counterproductive?
Always make sure your questions have a purpose.
For a while, I would ask anything I was curious about regarding a new technique I was learning, but at a certain point I realized that I was essentially inundating myself with useless information rather than focusing on what I needed to learn. When learning a new technique, get good at that technique before asking questions that are extraneous. That is to say, if you are learning a new move, do not ask about the potential defenses to that move until you have mastered it. Your questions may be answered in the process of you learning the move.
The first questions I ask myself about any question before posing it to the instructor is: how will the answer help me? Very often it will NOT. Very often, the questions we ask are not really helpful to us or anyone else. As a rule I try to avoid questions that are not helpful.
When I am formulating a question, I always make sure to dial it in to something very specific. For example I will not ask “what happens if my foot is not in that position for this move” instead I ask about a specific foot placement. Your professor will best be able to help you if he or she is asked very specific questions.
“What if” questions are often frowned upon, but they can be valid and productive. There have been some moves that my professor has shown me that were far too easy to negate, so I asked the “what if” question. In some cases, it turned out I was missing a crucial detail in the execution of the move, and by asking that “what if” question my professor was able to correct that mistake.
In other cases, my naïveté and lack of knowledge actually helped my professor and I to find a potential flaw in the move that could be addressed with follow-up moves. A good instructor learns WITH their students while teaching them. The collaborative learning process is one of the best possible training tools, both for instructor as well as for the student.
Asking questions can be nerve-wracking, lots of people do not want to annoy their instructor, but a good instructor will welcome all questions, and if they feel a question is not helpful they will say that, and explain why. As a student, it is your responsibility to be as curious as possible to learn about techniques and actually understand them so that you can progress in your technical abilities. It is not easy for some, but it is important.
Sometimes the answer to a question will open up follow up questions. It is important to consider these follow up questions with the same seriousness that you considered the initial question. I have seen people ask a great initial question and then follow up with a terrible follow up. It is crucial to take the decision to ask a question as seriously as you want your professor to consider their answer.
So ask questions, but more important than asking question: ask the RIGHT questions, and avoid asking the wrong ones. They should be specific, and should be specific to the move being shown. It is pretty easy when you start considering your questions critically before asking them to determine which ones are worth asking and which are not. The more questions you ask, the better your professor will be able to help you improve on your jiu jitsu, so when the instructor asks “Does anyone have any questions?” after showing a move, try to have something ready for them.
Check out this video of BJJ black belt competitor Ken Primola talking about how he wants students to ask him questions
A good place to start working if you’re having a hard time figuring out what questions to ask is learning how to escape from bad spots. Take a look at Bernardo Faria’s “Escapes From Everywhere” DVD set and get working on it!