Value of Private Lessons, P.1

Since I began teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, martial arts, and self-defense lessons (on the roof of a Holiday Inn Hotel in San Diego, California) back in the summer of 1987, I have taught thousands of private lessons – in the U.S., Mexico, and 20+ countries. Each lesson has been unique because each individual wanted or needed something different.

In this article, I’d like to give you a glimpse into how I try to provide value in each lesson I teach.

First, I try to provide value to my clients by making a concerted effort to care for their individual needs. Experience has taught me that different clients have different needs – even though they may ask for the same things. Here are some examples from a lesson in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu:

1. Some clients need to participate in the teaching process to gain the most value out of the lesson. So, I allow them to “participate” for as long as they need. Surprisingly, some clients talk for 20-30 minutes of the lesson. And then afterward, they exclaim how great the lesson was!

2. Some clients need their questions answered clearly and concisely. I give them succinct answers to their very precise and well-thought-out questions. Here is an example of two questions at opposite ends of the spectrum:

QUESTION ONE: “Professor Harris, how do I escape from the bottom of the front mount position? I am having a lot of problems in this area!”

My answer to this question will be a bit longer because the student has asked a very general question.

QUESTION TWO: “Professor Harris, how do I escape from the bottom of the front mount position when the opponent has his feet hooked under my back, his chest is pressing downward and into my chest, his left forearm is hugging my neck, his left shoulder is pressing into the right side of my face, his head is pressing into the left side of my face and his right arm is straight out and to the side for base? I am a new blue belt and am having a lot of problems with the experienced brown belts who do this to me!”

My answer to this question will be short and simple because the student has asked a very specific question. NOTE: What’s interesting about answering these kinds of questions is that some students become disappointed with my answer. They believe the answer should be complicated and when I resolve the problem simplistically, they get a funny look on their face. Many of these students respond by saying, “Pfffffff! Why didn’t I think of that?

3. Some clients seek an in-depth understanding of the material I present. For example, I have had several clients focus on one thing in a two-hour-long private lesson. I can remember one client who focused on the details and training methods of the basic under-the-leg guard pass in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I remember another client who focused on the punch cut (and its variations) from Kalis Ilustrisimo for two hours.

4. Some clients request to spar with me so they can either test their current skill level or feel the rush of adrenaline they get when they spar with their instructor.

NOTE: When I spar with clients, I do so at four (4) different levels. These four levels challenge the clients by allowing them to struggle AND experience success. This way, my clients get the best experience! There are two additional level of sparring I have developed but I don’t use them very often.

5. Some clients ask technical questions, while others ask conceptual/instructor type questions. Here is an example of a technical kind of question: “When my opponent is in the high mount position in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu where their knees are high into my armpits and their belly is pushing down on my face, how do I escape this position?” Here is an example of a conceptual/instructor kind of question: “What kinds of things do you recommend to help me with students at the bottom and top of the attitude/personality scale? In other words, how can I take my aggressive students and turn them down a little so they don’t injure other students so often? And, how do I take the softer, more passive, students and turn them up so they can hold their own against those who are equally skilled?”

6. And, some clients just want to talk. I have had lessons where clients have paid me to just listen to them. Some have talked for thirty to forty minutes. Others have talked for sixty to seventy minutes. And some have talked for hours. One client talked for a little over eight hours. What do I do when my clients want to talk? I don’t say a word or give any advice – unless, of course, they ask me for input. Instead, I just listen!

Do you see the extra value provided by having an instructor care for the needs of the client?

Second, I make an effort to provide more value to my clients by giving them a little more than what they paid for. For example, a client who pays for an hour-long private lesson will usually receive a minimum of 65 to 70 minutes of instruction from me – sometimes more. Now, this is not always the case as there are days when I have to teach another private lesson in a different part of town and need to leave very soon after the lesson. However, I do try to give my clients a little more than what they pay for by spending extra time with them.

Why is this important? Well, we can lose money and earn more of it later. We can lose a car and buy another one at a later time. But we can never get back the time we have spent or invested in others. So, time is our most precious and important commodity. That’s why I try to give clients more of my time than requested!

NOTE: What if during the extra time spent with the client, he or she learns how to protect their neck from injury? And what if they never injure their neck again as a result of the extra five minutes spent? Can you put a price tag on that extra five minutes? Could the extra five minutes be viewed as “priceless”? Are you starting to understand the tremendous value of caring and extra time?

Third, I make the effort to provide great value to my clients by giving them more elements of training they will need for safety and longevity (rather than just teaching them techniques). For example, when I teach Brazilian Jiu Jitsu private lessons I will often teach clients how to properly position themselves BEFORE they begin to execute a technique. A good example of this is when I teach clients how to perform the basic under-the-leg guard pass. While teaching this technique, I will show them the details of how to prevent being caught in an arm lock or triangle choke by staying centered and not turning the corner (i.e. turning the corner is unnecessary and leads to unnecessary injuries). While the details of this technique might seem insignificant at first, their use will significantly reduce the frequency and severity of neck and elbow injuries.

So (for my older Brazilian Jiu Jitsu clients – those of you between the ages of 40 and 80) what price tag or value would you place on never (or rarely ever) tapping to a triangle choke or armlock any time in the next two to three decades? Or, what price tag or value could you assign to never having a sore or injured neck or elbow ever again?

Let me put this in another context:

Police officers and military personnel who are looking for realistic empty-hand training for the violent encounters they will face in their environments, I have a question: What value would you give to a realistic form of training where boxing gloves and hard punches are employed in the training but yet there was never any risk of injury? I know some think this is not possible, but it is. You just haven’t been taught how to do this yet! I shared this training method with some officers and military personnel recently and they loved it – because they saw the ability to keep realism within their training while simultaneously lowering the frequency of injuries.

Do you see the value and importance of an emphasis on safety and longevity in realistic training rather than JUST the emphasis on realism?

Fourth, I make an effort to provide great value by customizing what I teach to my clients. Here are a handful of examples:

1. Female Brazilian Jiu Jitsu clients have asked me to teach them how to spar more effectively with larger, stronger males.

2. Older Brazilian Jiu Jitsu clients (ages 50 to 70) have asked me to teach them how to significantly reduce the frequency and severity of injuries when sparring with younger, stronger, more athletic, and aggressive training partners.

3. Smaller police officers, deputies, and agents have asked me to teach them how to train more efficiently to control and handcuff resistive/assaultive suspects.

4. Military officers (Captains and Majors) have asked me to show them how to provide realistic training to their troops but also minimize injuries so that missions will not be aborted.

5. Female realtors have asked me to provide them with realistic solutions for showing homes to potential clients in the evening hours.

6. Visual/physical/hearing impaired clients have asked me to provide them with solutions for their unique challenges.

7. Pilots and flight attendants have asked me to help them handle difficult (and even assaultive) persons in confined spaces at 30,000 feet.

Are you starting to see the value of care, extra time, reduced injuries, an emphasis on longevity, and customized training? I hope so. And, I hope this helps you understand why my clients keep returning each week or month for additional lessons.

Roy Harris

P.S. Do you have questions or comments about this post? Let me know in the comments below, by sending me an email, or by clicking on the social media icon above and writing to me there!

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