Learning BJJ Online vs. In Person: A Debate That’s Already Done

Learning BJJ Online vs. In Person: A Debate That’s Already Done

You see instructors sparring pretty frequently, but somehow, watching them go back and forth on social media manages to be even more fascinating (at least for me it does). This match up? Ryron Gracie vs. Gui Valente (check it out…it’s an interesting Twitter exchange.)

Now, I didn’t realize that this at the time, but it was all sparked by a comment that Ryron’s younger brother, Rener, made earlier about learning BJJ online.

Some people do not understand that online study is even more effective than learning in the traditional school. In a live class, there are students of all stripes, and the teacher gives the same lesson for everyone. Online, each one has its specific class. Some people tried to learn in the classroom, but the lessons were random, and some students had difficulty learning. And what did they do? Resorted to Gracie University.“

 Uncle Royce weighed in on Instagram

“I wonder if Gracie Academy Students paying $200 know that all they need to get good at jiu-jitsu is to join online Gracie University. I find it ironic that worlds like Gracie and Online learning are somehow tied into worlds like Helio Gracie. It’s a shame when your own family changes the concepts of everything you stood for then uses your name and then is actually tying to convince the world that it’s better to learn from a screen then a person specially the art as complex and technical as jiujitsu. And on keepingitplayful. Helio Gracie has a saying “two men playing I smell blood” #ikeepithonest. @realroyce”

Two debates

Two debates are going on here…one, (likely never to be resolved) is rooted in family conflict, and conjecture around what people who have passed on would have thought about the current state of education in BJJ—something I won’t weigh in on, mostly because I’m not qualified to.

The other, which I think we all (especially instructors), need to pay attention to, is the discussion around learning BJJ online, its efficacy and ethics of the instruction itself.

Online Education…not just a BJJ problem

I know what you’re thinking…online education is one thing when you’re talking chemistry or creative writing. If you want to learn BJJ online, it just isn’t the same. BJJ isn’t digging new ground in trying to tackle this issue—the problem is already being worked out, in home school environments, online secondary ed and even higher education. Still, teaching someone how to monitor their heart rate isn’t the same as explaining a lapel choke.

I’ll be the first to admit that I initially dismissed the idea of learning jiu jitsu online. Even with two decades of distance and online instruction under my belt, I just didn’t get how it was possible. I still don’t—but reading some of the benefits of taking physical education online tells me that there is definitely room for all jiu jitsu students, and BJJ as a whole to benefit from an online offering…

  • Schedule flexibility
  • Allowing students to learn at an individualized pace
  • World wide availability
  • Portability of a standard instructor
  • Allowing students who may be reluctant to learn in an environment of their choosing.

That last one is huge, and I think is at the core of what Rener was getting at. His comment to me (though it likely could have benefited from a “can be” instead of an “is” in a spot or two) spoke to a gaping weak point in the BJJ instructional culture.

Pedagogy Problems

BJJ has an ENORMOUS drop out rate. Yes, a lot of that is because it’s hard and frustrating and breaks your ego down only to build it up and split it into a million pieces again. Some of those students leave though, because they’re scared or uncomfortable—sometimes that’s individual, sometimes it’s because they started at an academy that doesn’t prioritize student well-being. Many students never start because of those same issues. From what I can see, little is done to plug those holes.

The Gracie Era is Dead…Long Live the Gracie Era

There’s opportunity to be had here.. Pedagogy is BJJ is young…and by young I mean virtually non-existent. Some instructors get help from their affiliations, but a large number are just winging it. Some wing it well, some come from traditional educational backgrounds and draw on those experiences. Some are naturally gifted teachers and still others go out on their own and do the work it takes to become a good instructor.

At the end of the day though, the BJJ instructional environment is largely a product of chance, with anyone who can find some backing and a Facebook page, opening a school and giving lessons–this is where the concept of something like GracieUniversity has the most potential. While we’re moving out of an era where Gracie is the only name associated with BJJ, the fact that so many others are adding their own special sauce to the jiu jitsu mix is exactly the reason the name Gracie is so important in creating a reliable, online standard.

You can look at higher online education, and how pioneer organizations (like University of Phoenix) were initially scoffed at, but when Cornell and Oxford began offering online programs and Harvard and MIT began offering hybrid courses and complete course materials online, the concept of an online degree shed its stigma because of the history behind established names who had adopted the model.

Rivals or Teammates?

It’s important not to look at the two–in-person BJJ and remote BJJ–as perfect substitutions or polar opposites. They are not and they will serve different students differently. Isn’t that diversity a hallmark of BJJ? That it’s for anybody? Does the existence of an online program mean that students who were learning in person will drop out and forever learn online? I doubt it. Does it mean that students who were destined to train in person will now never set foot in an academy? Not likely. Why the hand-wringing then?

From instructors, I get it. They have quite a few reasons to be concerned…

  • Genuine concern about dilution of the art through commercialization and commoditization
  • Concern about the safety of students who develop false senses of security around self-defense abilities or are training in unsupervised environments
  • Questions around promotion and how students opponent resistance is worked into education
  • Fear that online education will eventually overtake traditional and their market will shrink
  • Fear that online BJJ education is cannibalizing their personal, student base (a.k.a., income)

I believe that only the first three are completely valid. The last, stem from monetary concerns that can be addressed in other ways.

 A Spited Face

I think though, that detractors who dismiss online BJJ education (yes, YouTube included), purely for the sake of it being online, are missing out on the opportunity it brings even them. The funnel into BJJ is a hot mess right now–people wander into classes because they watched the last UFC or want to learn self-defense. They pick a school at random, frequently with zero understanding of what it means to join a BJJ academy. I don’t endorse Gracie University as I’ve never tried it, but coming at BJJ as a non-traditional student who even today experiences physical intimidation in training, I see potential value, if only in the model and knowledge level of instructors.

So what would Helio have thought? I don’t think it really matters. It’s a debate worth having, but the practice of BJJ will progress and reflect the attributes of whatever societies it touches, regardless of what even living practitioners believe…which is part of what makes it so special.



← Interview: Emily Kwok and Groundswell Coed Grappling Camps Competition Judo vs. Competition BJJ-What BJJ can Learn →

About the author

Leave A Reply

One Comment

Leave A Reply