Dec 15

Structuring a Curriculum for Competitors VS the General Public

Structuring a Curriculum for Competitors Versus the General Public

Why so serious?

Right now, I’m working on a large project, and some of my teammates are assisting by sending me any random jiu-jitsu questions that they can think of. This post was inspired by one of those questions because I received one that just didn’t fit my project at all, but it was fascinating on its own merits. So I’m going to share that question in its entirety and then walk through my thought process on it.

The Question

John Doe is a black belt opening a school. Explain how you believe the curriculum should be structured. Are there differences between structuring it for competitors vs the general public? How would the structure affect the business and inspire creativity in expressing the art?

Choice of Focus

First of all, what’s in the curriculum matters very little. I reject the idea that there is such thing as basic or advanced technique. There are just techniques that work and those that don’t, and our task is to find techniques that work for us then figure out ways to make them work better.

What matters more is how and why you teach. For example, my coach once said that his goal isn’t to teach people how to fight, instead he wants to inspire the development of character through the martial arts. That’s the vision he has for his academy, and the curriculum should be a reflection of that.

My vision is different. I’m far more focused on personal expression and growth. So if I had an academy, I would say that my goal is to inspire others to view the mat as their canvas and movements as their paint strokes. I want them to see that they can take this art and create something that is uniquely their own, and I want them to progress in that journey consistently.

For that reason, I believe that a choice doesn’t have to be made between competitors and the general public. If the goal is to create an environment that encourages all students to create their own unique expression of the art, competition becomes only one option for achieving that end.

When Competition Matters

Competitors warrant no special treatment, but competition does have specific benefits for students, if they view it with the right mindset.

First of all, you have to reinforce the idea that the result matters far less than the process. No matter what the result is, the true benefit isn’t attained on the podium; it’s attained before and after they step on and off that mat. What matters is what they have to become in order to achieve the result they desire, and failures are just temporary setbacks, if they never stop moving forward.

If they approach tournaments with that mindset, there is nothing that can be lost, and like a rising tide the whole gym will be elevated. So competition should always be accessible and encouraged but never required, and the willingness to strive for victory should always be more worthy of praise than the result.

Business and Creativity

The business of jiu-jitsu can never be ignored because if you can’t convince people to exchange dollars for your services, you can’t keep the lights on. Again though, I believe what you do is less important than why you do it, and I credit [easyazon_link asin=”1591846447″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”bjjcanvas-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]Start with Why[/easyazon_link] for that belief.

One of the arguments the book makes is that customers buy why you sell not what you sell because it reinforces the image of who they want to be. A good example is the Apple commercial series that aired some years ago. In it, the Macintosh was represented as a young hip guy while the PC was an older stick-in-the-mud. The intent of those ads was to create the impression that Apple is young and hip, and you can be too.

That imagery has been a part of Apple’s brand for decades. I’m not sure about now, but in the past, Apple was all about challenging the status quo and being a rebel with a cause. That was their why.

My why is to inspire growth and creativity, and key to that is early successes. Why? It’s because you can’t get to growth and creativity until you get past the steep hill that stands before you on your first day. The steepness of that hill is different for everyone but the small things like performing a technique right for the first time matter because it proves that you can learn.

That’s what I mean by early successes.

So any curriculum I develop will be focused on creating those early successes that encourage you to continue on. In my mind, progress is sexy, even if each step forward doesn’t cover much distance. For that reason, I prefer to focus on depth over breadth.


I have avoided the question of how curriculums should be structured because I don’t believe that there is a definite answer. I say that from the perspective of someone who has visited many gyms. Not once yet I have walked into two different gyms and seen the same exact structure.

How Jiu-jitsu is taught is a reflection on the gym and why it exists. It tells you what their purpose is and what they wish to accomplish.

So I can’t tell anyone how to structure a curriculum. All I can focus is how I would do it, and my focus would be early success, growth and creativity. So here are some things I would like to do:

  • Create a basics class focused on chain drills so that students would not only learn basic techniques but also how to start chaining those movements together.
  • Select a concept or movement every week, and then spend the whole week demonstrating how the concept/movement applies to jiu-jitsu in as many different situations as possible.
  • Create a class focused on Q/A so that everyone can troubleshoot and brainstorm scenarios as a group.

Now those are all ideas that I want to test but they are all a reflection of my why. So they represent the brand I want to create. That makes it personal, and it makes it art.