Category: Interviews

Flipping the BJJ Classroom with Bruce Hoyer

Last week a friend directed me to a video called “How I teach BJJ” by black belt Bruce Hoyer. In the video, Bruce explains how he has converted his school to the “flipped classroom” model, inspired by a recent movement to reform education made popular by organizations like Khan Academy.

In an academic setting, a flipped classroom has students watching online videos of lectures on their own, then coming to class to do their practice problems, group discussions, hands-on projects, etc. with the teacher going around to give one-on-one attention. Bruce has adopted this for his BJJ classes at Next Edge Academy in Sioux Falls, SD. Watch his explanation:

Watch “How I teach BJJ” on Youtube.

As you read through the Q&A with Bruce below, you’ll see mixed in videos by cognitive scientist Robert Bjork as he talks about the science of learning that supports Bruce’s approach to teaching.

Q: As an instructor, did you have any mental blocks that made it difficult to get away from the classic class model?

A: The biggest mental block I had to overcome was the fact that I had yet to see anyone teach this way so I assumed it must not be a proper way to instruct. I kept researching and researching and finally I just decided to take the leap because much of the information I read about learning pointed to this style of teaching. I made sure to keep one group learning the traditional way just to see the difference in the two groups.

Q: How much work was it to film the techniques and set up the online components? What would have made this easier?

A: The first step was building a curriculum. So far I have about 300 5-minute videos that I have filmed for the curriculum and they are kind of ever-evolving, so I am constantly making changes.

My first stab at this had things broke down into systems and I quickly realized this was a bad idea because the student could go a long time without learning basic positions and fundamentals.

The second version of my curriculum had techniques more widely scattered which worked better. The mind tries to make sense of everything so sometimes putting things in systems can, in my opinion, actually hurt people’s progressions because they are not coming to the conclusion on their own. Essentially I am giving them the dots and asking to connect them, rather than me showing them how they are connected. From everything I have read, if they come to this conclusion rather than having it given to them they will retain it better.

The third version I added moves before and after the move to help with association. So say the move is kimura from guard. The first class you would learn kimura from guard — that’s it. The second class would then be getting into guard and doing a kimura — so maybe you are escaping side and going into guard. The third class in this sequence, which is actually about 10 classes later, would be getting into the guard, doing a kimura then something after the move fails, maybe a guillotine or hip bump sweep. They get to pick the techniques before and after for the most part so they get to influence their game, so they start to associate the new move with moves they already know. I also purposely put it 10 classes after because that will force them to recall a move from a few weeks ago. The more they have to think about it, the better chance it will stick.

So long story short, to date that’s the best possible system I could come up with that and I would try to mimic that, but once the curriculum is set the videos don’t take long. Keep them short, 5-6 minutes per class tops so the person can review easily before class. Also on review days you don’t need to show the move again. Those review videos in my curriculum are me just talking about the concepts of the moves.

Q: Have you run into any unexpected problems implementing the flipped classroom model?

A: With a flipped classroom the problem I was surprised with was how quickly you have to convey to everyone what they are doing. Often I will yell out what everyone is doing that round and I only give myself 1 minute to do it in. If I have a class of 25 that’s a hard task to tell 13 people what move they are doing. The TVs helped with that. Now everyone can look but I still yell them out just as a confirmation that they understand.


In this system, the higher belts have to know the name of the moves by heart so they can help. This was difficult in the beginning too. All of our higher belts had to go back through the white belt curriculum so they knew what I meant. This is tough for new students from other schools coming in that were blue or purple belts already. I feel that it is necessary though.

The other big one is keeping up on lesson plans. It doesn’t take long, maybe 10 minutes tops for a class of 25 people, but sometimes you get sidetracked and the students are like “Hey, where is my lesson plan!?” The nice part is at least you know they care!

Q: I have seen concern that this method doesn’t suit the student who just wants to show up and not put in extra time outside class. Is this a concern you share?

A: I do often run into are people being unprepared. Most of my students are prepared which is great. However some don’t want to put in the work. At first this upset me, but later I understood that not everyone is looking to become the best. Some people just want to train and that’s fine. Now if someone hasn’t studied before they came in, they are the last person to drill so it doesn’t take away from others’ time, then I or a higher belt will show them how to do the move. I feel that even with them not preparing beforehand, they learn a lot. I just think it would sink in more if they reviewed the 5 minute video before class and after. Some of the students make notes after each class in their online notebook that I can see, and I think that further helps cement the learning process. The goal is to not make it detrimental to those trying to learn.

Q: What advice do you have for someone interested in trying the flipped classroom?

A: It’s a lot of work in the beginning and you should prepare for your students to reject it at first. It will feel super clunky for about 2 weeks then once people get the idea they really like it. It also makes for tougher learning in the sense that you have to bridge some of those gaps I talked about earlier. So people start to get frustrated when they can’t think of a move to do before or after, but like you have learned with “training dirty or ugly,” that’s often when the real progress is made. You start to form links and force your brain to remember these things because your brain has determined that they are essential. I am a huge fan of active recall. If I can get someone to remember move associations that they have built they are far more likely to remember it rather than telling them “do an armbar, now a triangle, now an omoplata.” For me that’s the biggest part.

I want to use as much research on learning as possible to develop a system where no matter who it is, they will learn at an accelerated pace. A lot of information is out there and we as a community refuse to use it because that is the way it has been done. Does the old system work? For sure! Can it be better? I think so.

Grapplers of the 1920’s took Judo and modified it into what today is known as BJJ. They broke traditions and evolved it to fit more body types and work for everyone. I feel like the same needs to be done in teaching, not only for BJJ but in schools in the USA as well. I still feel like I am maybe just now a blue belt at this learning stuff, so I think my personal system will change dramatically the more I learn.

With that being said, people shouldn’t be afraid to try new things with teaching. The best support I get is from my students because they know the hard work I put into it. When they see that, they try harder and it makes my goal easier to achieve. You have to really take time to set it up so it won’t fail. However, if you do put in the time, your students will love it. To my knowledge, I don’t have a single student that would prefer learning the other way and that speaks volumes to me.

If anyone is interested in trying it, please let me know I would be happy to lend a helping hand and maybe you can show me a better way!


The Flow Podcast with

Episode 3 of The Flow Podcast by is now up. You can download on iTunes or listen using the embedded player on my site.

So what is this show even about? Emilio, the host, and I talk for close to an hour about topics like…

  • my background and the history of and BJJ blogging in general
  • the BJJ gi survey and its most interesting results so far
  • the good and bad that comes from Youtube jiu-jitsu
  • the ups and downs of training jiu-jitsu
  • about Eduardo de Lima, my instructor at Gracie Barra Clearwater
  • how teaching changes your perspective on BJJ
  • the role of competition in personal development
  • and even an alternative business model for instructional videos

The FightWorks Podcast #251: BJJ Gi Survey!

2011 BJJ Gi SurveyIn this week’s FightWorks Podcast, Caleb and I talk about the 2011 BJJ Gi Survey and how your participation will help the BJJ community (and your checkbook.) Here’s what Caleb wrote:

You spend a lot of time on the mats. It’s what Brazilian jiu-jitsu people do. You also may spend a lot of money to train BJJ. For example, we know that even two years ago more than half of the people who train were paying more than $100 per month for classes!

In the same way you want to make sure you get the most value for your training dollars, you want to also know that the gi you buy is going to give you exactly what you expected. Gis are expensive too, right? And the average price of a gi seems to be going up every year though many would probably say that the quality of the average gi is not changing very much.

Luckily there is someone very passionate about gathering information about gis out there. Aesopian, aka Matt Kirtley, began collecting information about jiu-jitsu practitioners’ opinions in 2009. And he’s now collecting data again!

This week on the “audio home of Brazilian jiu-jitsu”, we’ll speak with Matt and learn a little about this year’s gi survey, including:

  • why you should participate
  • how long it takes
  • what’s new in this year’s survey
  • what we can expect to learn from it


Even if you never get a chance to listen to today’s show, it’s important to take the 5 minutes and participate in the survey. Knowledge is power, so help make the jiu-jitsu community stronger by sharing your information in his survey!

[iTunes] Subscribe to the Podcast directly in iTunes (recommended)
[mp3] Download the show


UPDATE: 10 Quick Tips on the FightWorks Podcast

Update! You can get 5 more tips in The FightWorks Podcast at the tail end of a really interesting show about the Pan Ams. Get it here.

This week Caleb of The FightWorks Podcast had me on to go over the first 5 of the 10 Quick Tips for White Belts. More interesting than that is Caique got his red and black belt from Rickson and sat down to talk about his introduction to the Gracie family, jiu-jitsu back in the day in Rio de Janeiro, his arrival in the United States, jiu-jitsu today, and much more. Check it out!


Jeff Rockwell Interview

Jeff Rockwell is a brown belt under Ricardo de la Riva and runs a DLR affiliate school, teaching BJJ and MMA at LionHeart Fitness and Mixed Martial Arts in State College, PA. You can find the address and schedule at

Jeff Rockwell and Ricardo de la Riva

Jeff Rockwell and Ricardo de la Riva.

How did you get into BJJ?

I got into the martial arts the same way a lot of people my age did: I saw Bruce Lee and I wanted to be just like him. My parents never really wanted me to get into martial arts as a kid, though, as they thought it would encourage me to fight. So I just watched movies, read books, and dreamed of defeating a room full of thugs with my nunchucku. Once I finally left home for college, I decided to find a place to start training. Luckily for me, there was a Jeet Kune Do club right on campus, so I jumped right in and joined up. Working with them led me to an actual school in Maryland, where I trained for several years. It was great, we trained a bit of everything – boxing, Muay Thai kickboxing, Jun Fan, kali, silat, sambo, shootwrestling, and jiu-jitsu. So I got exposed to a lot of ideas and styles. There was very little sparring or live rolling, however, so while I learned a lot, the timing under pressure just wasn’t there.

I gravitated towards jiu-jitsu and thai-boxing, and I started training at another gym as well. This gym was a Rigan Machado affiliate, and it was there I really got baptized in the jiu-jitsu fires… I quickly learned that all the leglocks and neck cranks in the world don’t help you if you can’t escape the side control of a seasoned jiu-jitsu practitioner. It was really tough…I got pretty discouraged at one point and actually gave it up for a few months. But the love of jiu-jitsu I had developed was deeper than the frustration, and when I went back, I found some very encouraging training partners who helped me through that period. Since then I have moved around the country a good bit and been at many different gyms, and I’m happy to say that I’ve never had to take more than a week or two off from training.

How have the demands on you changed since you started teaching at your gym?

Teaching full time is very demanding! In the mornings, I usually teach a private BJJ session for our MMA fighters, then I teach a lunchtime public BJJ class, then I lead a two-hour MMA team practice for our fighters, then I teach another public BJJ class in the evenings. On some days I squeeze in a private lesson for one of my students in there as well. I take four or five showers a day sometimes! I don’t have much down time these days, but I can’t complain, I love what I do.

Do you have any trouble balancing your personal development with teaching and running classes?

It is definitely a challenge to balance my personal development and that of my fighters and students. With the schedule I currently have, it’s pretty hard to find extra time for extra cardio, weightlifting, technical drilling, and other things I need to do to stay in competition shape. Plus, it is hard to keep up this pace and stay injury free. I am not that old (about to turn 33), but I feel like I am jumping from one injury to another these days. Nothing that keeps me off the mat completely, thank goodness, but enough to keep me from feeling I can train as hard as I would like to consistently. So that is annoying, but I just keep doing as much as I can, trying to get enough rest, and trying to find the perfect formula. I have really only been doing this job at this pace for a few months, and I am still figuring things out. I am optimistic that I’ll be able to find a good balance so I can continue to personally grow and compete at a high level, as well as teach others at this pace.

What’s the current makeup of your gym experience-wise?

We are still a fairly young gym, and we are primarily made up of white and blue belts at this point. A few of our blues are getting very close to purple belt level. In addition, our gym is really fortunate to have some of the best wrestlers in the country! It is not uncommon for us to have 5 or 6 Div. I All-Americans or even National Champions in our room at any given time, training BJJ, MMA, Boxing, or Thai boxing right alongside everyone else. They are incredible athletes with incredible work ethics, and they are a pleasure to train with. I learn just as much from them as they do from me, and everyone helps one another improve and evolve.

With all those wrestlers, have you seen any interesting examples of wrestling and BJJ, MMA, etc. blending together?

Absolutely! Off the top of my head, I have seen variations of the “anaconda” or “gator roll” choke come VERY naturally to the wrestlers I’ve worked with, along with the “Peruvian Necktie”… basically, anything with a front headlock. The wrestlers all wanted to choke people with those grips for years, so now that they are allowed to…it only takes a few sessions for them to start having fun with them.

What’s cool is that they are at such a high level that they will start making stuff up on their own. They understand how the body works and how to manipulate it, so I show them one move, and they end up figuring out 2 or 3 more positions to use it from, and I end up learning from them. Sometimes they make moves work in places that “BJJ Law” says that it shouldn’t!

It’s very interesting, as they all have different styles… some have speed and movement, some have crushing upper body holds, some even have the rare “heavy hips”… I am trying to get them to blend all of these together, while keeping in their different body types and personalities in mind.

What are the traits you look for in a good training partner or a good student?

Someone who is hungry to learn; someone who is willing to work very hard in training, but still laugh and have a good time; someone who is willing to drill the basics, over and over; someone who can easily adjust the “volume dial” of their training intensity up or down depending on who they are working with; someone who wants to teach others because they love jiu-jitsu, not because they want to feel superior.

What role has competition had in your training? Do you encourage your students to compete?

Competition has, and continues to, provide focus for my training. It’s easy to get caught up in the endless fancy variations of BJJ against the guys in your gym, but competition forces you to strip your game down to the bare bones and look at what you can make work against almost everyone, almost every time. It forces you to address your weaknesses and build a game plan around your strengths. Competition is the test at the end of the training semester to let you know how much you know and if you can apply what you’ve learned. Some people can get learn a lot in school never taking tests, but they are rare and very self motivated. Most people can benefit from having the type of focus that a competition brings. I never force my students to compete, but I definitely encourage it.

Which of your fighters should we be keeping an eye on? Who has matches coming up?

In the long run, everybody! We have such tough guys. In the near future, Paul Bradley and Phil Davis. Paul has made fantastic strides in his striking game recently, and has become a nightmare: a fantastic wrestler who wants to stay on his feet and knock you out. And he can, with either hand! He is extremely hard to take down, and extremely hard to submit. His jiu-jitsu game has taken some great leaps recently as well. In some ways, Paul takes his fighting more seriously than anyone.

Phil Davis has endless potential, and is a strange combination of showmanship and humility. It’s hard to believe he’s really only been training for about 6 months. Many things come very naturally to him… others he has to really put a lot of reps in before he feels he’s got it. I have seen this very thing discourage a lot of people who are so called “natural athletes”; they can’t stand to not be a master of everything on the first try. But not Phil, he digs in and stays after practice to do 50 more reps of whatever is bugging him that day. He comes early and stays late. He doesn’t want it to be “good enough”, he wants it to be “right”. He doesn’t just want to win, he wants to win with technique that will make people take notice. He knows how good he is already, and he knows how good he can be… but he also knows that it will take him a lot of hard work to really get there, and he is willing to eagerly listen to anyone who can help him become a better fighter. He has torn through amateur competition so far, and is getting ready to make waves in the pros. I don’t see a limit to how far he can go.

EVERYBODY at Lionheart has matches coming up! Our fighters don’t stay inactive for too long. Paul Bradley is fighting this weekend in Cleveland, and all of our fighters have fights lined up in the next few months.

What kind of loyalty do you expect from your students and what should they expect from you?

I always encourage my students to go train with other people and other gyms; as long as they promise to come back and show me any new tricks or positions they learned there! I always want my students to be exposed to as many different styles, philosophies, and techniques as possible, so they can see what is best for them. I try to show them as much as I can, even things I don’t personally use very much or prefer, but you can never know everything or even show all that you know, really. So it is best for them to be exposed to as many different points of view as they can. I am never worried about them leaving me for another gym. If that ever happens, whether for logistical or philosophical reasons, there are never any hard feelings. I always want people to feel like they are at home and getting the best training they can, in the best environment possible.

Techniques by Jeff: