Typically when I teach private lessons, I spend 75% of the time teaching concepts and a lot less time teaching actual technique. I save techniques for specific areas where my student can improve, but you’ll often find that concepts are a lot easier to digest and are applicable in many more situations than the techniques themselves.
I just stumbled upon a great article by Kit Dale via Nic Gregoriades on the Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood website. In it, Kit talks about the importance of simplifying the movements in order to maximize learning. It all comes down to how we store information. There are different types of memory. Learning techniques involves “procedural memory”, where step by step instructions are stored in the areas of the brain more associated with motor skills. Concepts, however, is a part of one’s “semantic memories” that is stored in the parts of your brain involved in cognitive processes.
The difference between the two is that procedural memory does not require conscious thought. This type of memory is acquired and learned with lots of repetition and practice. Semantic memory on the other hand turns itself into a subgroup of knowledge about the everyday world. In other words, everything you learn from your everyday experiences can all relate to each other and your ability to recall concepts you learn from one experience can apply to the next.
So what does this mean?
If we take the supposition that learning new cognitive skills is dependent on the amount of cognitive resources we have available to learn those skills, then we have to assume that there is only so much room to learn new techniques. Most academies limit the amount of techniques they teach in one hour because it can be a little overwhelming to learn too much at once without adequate time for repetition. Teaching simple concepts, however, allows your students to generalize what they learn to other aspects of practice and life. Breaking down a concept like kuzushi (the art of breaking balance) can help a lot more than teaching 5 different sweeps. After all, a sweep cannot be executed if the ability to disturb one’s balance isn’t achieved.
Next time you train, try to understand the why while you learn the what. You’ll find how easily it will be to generalize what you learn to other positions, transitions and otherwise.