Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Circles, Pyramids, Shotguns, and Lasers

During a brief but very productive conversation with Georgette (Who I hope will write up her own perspective on this) today we briefly got onto the subject of how techniques and classes are taught. She had a very interesting metaphor involving Pyramids vs Circles that goes thusly:
The two most common ways to teach techniques are the Pyramid, whereby a strong base of fundamental techniques is taught in sequence with each additional layer of techniques relying on the knowledge from the previous techniques, and the Circle, whereby techniques are introduced in a cycle that doesn't rely on or really connect with the previous set of techniques but are repeated on a regular basis in a cycle.
The advantages to the pyramid are that you build a very cohesive game that fits together very tightly. The disadvantage is that if you miss a chunk of the foundation techniques it may take a while before you see them again so the later techniques may be more difficult to learn until you pick them up.
The advantages of the circle are that it doesn't matter where you come into the cycle, you will eventually see all of the techniques over and over again, getting better at them each time until you master them. The disadvantage is that it may take a very long time to master a given technique because you don't have a foundation to build from.

Now, within the Pyramid and the Circle there are teaching methods for individual classes. The way I describe this is using the Shotgun approach or the Laser approach. With the shotgun you are covering 3-5 techniques or technique variations each class, with only enough detail to practice each one a few times. The idea being that each class will offer something valuable to everyone and that over time you will pick up more techniques and go into greater depth on the ones you prefer.
With the Laser method you only introduce one or two techniques or technique variations in a class and go into deep detail on it. You cover fewer techniques in a given time period,. but the ones you do cover you have a more comprehensive knowledge of.

Now, there's nothing wrong with any of these methods. Some people learn better from one than the other, but all of them are valid. I'm a Pyramid-Laser person. I like a strong foundation of techniques that all build on each other, and I like to pick one or two techniques and go into deep detail on them in a given class.
Other people might be Circle-Laser learners, they prefer to learn their techniques in isolation and develop their own path from one to the other, but still like in depth examination of those techniques. There are several combinations and knowing what kind of learner you are can help speed up your development.

Now, from a teaching perspective knowing what kind of teacher you are is even more important. I teach the way I learn, but my gym is more of a Circle-Shotgun gym. Our home gym in Atlanta seems to be a Circle-Laser gym with a lot of depth on one or two techniques each class, operating on a cycle that isn't really dependent on the previous technique.

So how do you prefer to learn? How does your academy teach?


  1. Definitely Pyramid-Laser, which is also how I try to teach. The other assistant instructor teaches the same way, which is why his classes are also the ones I tend to make at the moment.

    The head instructor, however, is more of a circle guy. Probably circle-laser, but then he doesn't always show that many details.

  2. Hmmm... I think this needs a write up on my blog.

    Of course, I immediately thought of language and fundamentals of grammar/vocabulary :)

    My instructor changes. He does seem to show the same type of movements repeatedly - the circle action, but some months are more a pyramid.

    I think when people don't necessarily come from an education background some of what they're doing is by feel, and it's easy to find a great way to teach but then lapse into inconsistency. I spend a lot of time thinking about methodology, so if I taught bjj it would definitely be well planned out :)

    The other big issue is that because you have people who can join at any time, if you are too focused on "building a pyramid" then if someone comes late they miss it. If you teach more the circle-laser way, it really doesn't matter when people come into the cycle.

    I really liked that Ralph Gracie's school had a white belt class curriculum that repeated - and even upper belts could go back and review the fundamentals. They were taught very much in a pyramid way.

  3. I'm planning a follow up article to this one about class and curriculum design that you'll probably enjoy.

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