Spectrum of Teaching Styles for Grappling & Martial Arts

The spectrum of teaching styles for grappling & martial arts appears as a unified theory of teaching that aims to describe the structure of all possible teaching methods. It starts from the basis that education will be a chain of decision making, with each teaching decision being a result of the previous one.

The Anatomy Of Any Teaching Style

Anatomy Of Any Style

It identifies that the decisions can come from either the teacher or learner and in three distinct phases of a learning experience: pre-impact, impact, and post-impact. Pre-impact will be the planning and intention behind what you want people to learn; impact will be the decisions made during the lesson, and post-impact will be assessing how the experience went and incorporating any feedback.

Depending on the configuration of decisions between teacher and learner will determine where the teaching style will fall on the scale. The two extremes are if the teacher makes all the decisions, which will result in a military-style strict drilling lesson. The other end will be if the learner makes all the decisions, which results in a concept style of self-teaching.

Reproduction & Production

Reproduction Style
Production Style

The full spectrum illustrates 11-landmark teaching-learning approaches that appear divided into cognitive clusters. The first five styles are Command, Practice, Reciprocal, Self-check, and Inclusion. Together they form a group that focuses on reproduction and memory. The remaining six methods, which are Guided Discovery, Convergent Discovery, Divergent Discovery, Learner-designed Individual Program, Learner-initiated, Self-teaching focus on the production of new knowledge.

The Framework

The reproduction styles will focus on reproducing and recalling already existing knowledge. In contrast, the discovery styles focus on the learners to produce new information they did not know previously, such as concepts and principles. In future posts, I will outline the details of the 11 landmark styles and the space between these, which becomes a wide variety of teaching variations known as canopies.

As you can see, grappling training as a choice between “Techniques or Concepts” comes at the problem in an oversimplified manner. In reality, the spectrum could illustrate a more nuanced and informed approach to learning grappling.

Development Of The Spectrum Of Teaching Styles

Teaching is a Chain of Decision Making

The spectrum of teaching styles was developed by Muska Mosston in 1966 and did not propose a one size fits all solution for what would be considered “good” teaching. Instead, it offers a range of styles that could be best suited for a lesson based on its intended objective. Each style has its purpose, and just because you attempt to use a style does not mean it will be better. Each method has its positives and negatives, so a style can still suffer from misuse in a given context.

Reproduction Styles

Reproduction Teaching Styles

Teaching styles that are instructor centred and focus on direct instruction fall under the reproduction styles cluster. Five distinct styles exist called command, practice, reciprocal, self-check & inclusion. Each style slowly gives the students more input into the decisions in the lesson.

Most commonly in martial arts, the warm-ups will be run in a command style. The class gets instructed on techniques and performs them all at the same time or in rhythm. It becomes beneficial to run a warm-up with this style to be efficient with the time available to teach.

Reproduction styles are negatively stereotyped as being old, outdated, and lacking the option for creativity. But if you keep in mind that every method has its purpose based on the constraints and goals, it still has plenty of utility. Take the warm-up example; telling people to warm up on their own might work once they already know what they need to do and how to do it. But until they reach that point of proficiency, instructing everyone together will be a time saver. Also, they can be appreciated by the student who simply wants to turn up to class and be told what to do without having to think so much; after a day of work, they might want to do the reps and get fit.

Primarily, the reproduction styles rely on taking knowledge discovered previously and letting the students memorise and repeat it. While looking at the ideas of BJJ concepts (especially my podcasts with School Of Grappling), I realised that although we can create a list of concepts and principles, these are often still taught in a reproduction style. In a manner of “Here are some concepts I prepared earlier”. In further posts, I will go through each reproduction style to explain how they operate before crossing the “discovery threshold” into the production cluster of teaching styles.

Production Styles

Production Teaching Styles

Student-centred teaching styles focus on indirect instruction fall under the production styles cluster. Six distinct styles exist called guided discovery, convergent discovery, divergent discovery, learner-designed individual program, learner-initiated and self-teaching. The styles encourage students to develop new knowledge and information about problems that the teacher comes up with and eventually to issues they come up with on their own.

These are found on the spectrum of teaching styles once you pass the “discovery threshold”. As these styles are best suited to teaching concepts and principles it would make sense for these to work for concepts in grappling, but I have not seen too many examples of this being the case. The idea is that whatever solution to a problem the instructor has in mind, you give the student enough guidance that they come up with the answer on their own instead of being told.

Replication of the Known

With the reproduction cluster of teaching styles, the instructor aims to get students to replicate knowledge through repetition and memory. 

Remember that it does not need to be a one-size-fits-all approach; the different styles have different benefits based on your goals, and multiple styles could be used in a single lesson.

Command Style

A- Command Style
The instructor makes all the decisions for the class, including the timing of when the students will perform. It is useful when safety considerations have to be taken into account and It can also ensure the maximum amount of time will be spent on a task as the instructor sets the pace. Often seen in warm-ups, think of military-style drilling.

Practice Style

B – Practice Style
The instructor will show the technique, and then the students will be given time to practice and drill at their own pace. The instructor moves around the class giving individual feedback. The practice style would be the most common teaching style for grappling that I have seen.

Reciprocal Style

C – Reciprocal Style
The instructor designs drills for pairs or small groups and provides criteria for feedback on the technique. One student performs the technique and the partners give feedback from the criteria. The style increases socialisation among students, placing trust in them and giving them an active role in the learning process.

Self Check Style

D – Self Check Style
Similar to the reciprocal style but the students assess themselves against set criteria. The instructor can circulate through the class and work with students to develop their own goals, focusing on the result of a technique and not the technique itself. Students monitor themselves and self-correct their learning. 

Inclusion Style

E – Inclusion Style
The instructor designs a variety of drills or tasks that have multiple levels of difficulty. The students then decide which difficulty level they want to attempt based on their ability level. The style caters to individual needs as students can increase the difficulty when they feel ready or decrease it if they find it too hard. 

Discovery Of The Unknown

With the production cluster of teaching styles, the instructor aims to get students to produce knowledge or techniques that are previously unknown to them. The discovery process remains an ideal way to teach concepts, principles, theories, strategies & game tactics. Students will need a base level of skill to use the styles effectively. But once a student knows the fundamentals, it would be possible that they could develop more rapidly and find the process more enjoyable using the discovery styles. The following summarises the six of these landmark styles from the spectrum of teaching styles.

Guided Discovery

F – Guided Discovery
The instructor designs a series of questions and problems that lead the student towards discovering a specific predetermined concept or principle. Like climbing steps of a ladder, one question leads to the other in a logically sequenced manner.  

Convergant Discovery

G – Convergent Discovery
The instructor chooses a situation unfamiliar to the student so that they must discover the single predetermined response by using their logic and reasoning ability.

Divergent Discovery

H – Divergent Discovery
The instructor selects an unfamiliar situation, and then the student will produce multiple solutions to the problem. The instructor does not look for any single solution but encourages the production of numerous explanations.  

Learner Designed

I – Learner Designed
The instructor selects an area for the student to investigate. The student then designs their plan to examine and find solutions to the problem and will grade their performance.

Learner Initiated

J – Learner Initiated
The student will design their own learning experience and decide on the problems and solutions they will investigate. The instructor’s role becomes a facilitator to ask the students questions about their decisions.

Self Teaching

K – Self Teaching
When the student becomes the teacher, they are now in charge of all their learning decisions which becomes a continual process. Consider this the 36th Chamber of Shaolin.

The spectrum of Teaching Styles for BJJ, Grappling & MMA

Most of the way that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu still seems taught seems firmly on the reproduction side of the spectrum. It focuses on replication and memory, which can be great for teaching routines, previous models of techniques and rules.

I think this may have its place for beginners as they need to become accustomed to the fundamentals, which can be a time-efficient way for them to learn them. The production styles are better suited to teaching principles, and concepts as it leads the learner to make a discovery, which may be more suitable for higher belts past a certain rank.

The Right Tool for The Right Job

But what may be surprising would be that the majority of ways I have seen teaching “CONCEPTUAL BJJ” still fall firmly on the reproduction side of the teaching spectrum.

While they may be showing a concept, their methods appear based on the already dominant replication styles. According to the teaching spectrum, it would not be the best way to reach the intended outcome of teaching a concept.

Each style has the capacity to uniquely contribute to human development and content acquisition.

Teacher are the Architects of Learning

“No teaching style is inherently good or bad. Each style IS. Each style accomplishes the objectives intrinsic to its specific Teacher – Learner decision configuration.”

Reference: Mosston, M., & Ashworth, S. (2008) Teaching physical education: First online edition. Spectrum Institute for Teaching and Learning.

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