This question came in response to The case for dividing classes by belt rank, given my flexible stance on “the basics.”

Q: Does your new approach to divided classes change your “anything can be a fundamental technique” stance?

Thanks–I’m appreciating that you’re making your expertise so available to the community.

A: The divisions between classes have less to do my philosophy about basic versus advanced techniques and more to do with the right way of teaching and structuring classes for different kinds of students. Even if I think all good techniques, even “advanced” ones, have their own fundamentals, it doesn’t mean I teach just any moves to beginners. Certain techniques are more appropriate for new students, and more importantly, certain ways of running classes are better for beginners. The same is true of advanced students.

What may help you understand what I mean is if I explain how we run our classes at Gracie Barra Clearwater. This is in line with how Gracie Barra HQ is organizing all of their schools.

Fundamental class: These classes are open to all belt levels, but they are especially good for new white belts. In these classes, the focus is on core BJJ techniques with an emphasis on self defense. These moves tend to require less exact timing, finesse and strategy, traits beginners aren’t expect to have yet. For live training, students do positional sparring (from the positions learned that day) rather than free sparring, since this focuses their attention and prevents injuries (fewer reckless scrambles).

Advanced class: Open to three stripe white belts and higher. In these classes, the emphasis shifts to sport BJJ techniques, though some self defense is still covered. An example of this would be in teaching two versions of a double leg takedown, one for a grappling tournament (breaking gi grips, penetration step with knee touching the ground), and the other for a street fight (defending punches while shooting, not dropping your knee to the cement). These classes also do positional sparring, but they get to do free sparring too.

Black belt class: Open to blue belts and higher. In these classes, the instructor is free to cover any topic he wants, since he doesn’t have to worry about beginners being confused or left behind. These classes feature more takedowns, more combinations, deeper strategy, and harder conditioning. Like always, positional sparring is used (since it’s just a good training method) but much more free sparring and competition style sparring is done.

When we first switched to this class structure, I spoke to the classes about how the purpose was to give students the right type of training for where they are in their development, and not to “hide” techniques from them. BJJ doesn’t have any true “secret” moves, and that’s something I’ve always liked. To have “black belt only” moves, you have to either not spar (so no one ever sees the move, and you can’t really know if it works), or you have to kill everyone who sees it (which makes you a true kung fu master). We show everything we know in BJJ, and it’s our depth of understanding and our training methods that make our knowledge valuable.

As an instructor, I could easily teach “the same” moves at all three classes, but what would be different is the depth to which I expect each group to understand it.

Let’s take butterfly guard as an example. In the beginners class, I would expect them to be working on the good habits of sitting up, getting underhooks, keeping their hooks alive, and doing a simple hook sweep.

In the advanced class, I would cover this too, but expect people to already have a decent grasp of the positioning, allowing me to go into more detail on the sweep, and show simple combinations for when that sweep is countered.

In the highest level class, I wouldn’t need to worry as much about the positioning or the basic sweeps, allowing me to show combinations and attacks that need timing and awareness that I wouldn’t expect a beginner to have.

Hopefully that explains my stance well enough. If not, send in more questions or debate in the comments below!

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