Formulating a Curriculum

Synopsis: Children thrive on structured learning. As a thoughtful, meticulous coach you should be invested in their development, you have the potential to guide and shape their learning. Do you have a curriculum to be able to do this? If so, is it lazer-focused on developing classes rich of talent, a group of children that understands your subject matter. If you don’t have a curriculum, why not? In this article, split over three parts, I discuss the specifics or formulating a curriculum that is specific to age, goals, ability and has the capability to provide longevity to the learner.

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A Curriculum. Do you have one?

It is very easy not to.

For years, Jiu Jitsu coaches were notorious for coaching with no apparent structure, teaching what they wanted, rather than what the class required.

Over the years I have trained under some coaches where it has been abundantly clear they have no logical framework in terms of progression for the sake of the student, even though their skill in implementing their own game is world-class.

For students that stuck to this protocol, skill has undoubtedly developed, however, the skills learned are almost a cloned result with an explicit bias towards this specific expression of Jiu Jitsu – a representation of the instructor not themselves.

This begs the question:

“Is this a cultural thing? Something that comes with Jiu Jitsu?”

I’m not sure.

I have also learned from a number of coaches that have had an amazing talent for delivering a structured session – usually, older schooled instructors that maybe graduated from the ‘self-defence first’ mentality.

This raises another question:

“Has a perceived, less structured approach grown as a result of the post 2000 worldwide rapid explosion of Jiu Jitsu and can this thirst be attributed to the lack of structure from some instructors?

As a coach looking to develop classes rich of talent, a group of kids that ‘understands’ the subject matter and ultimately, as a result, growing your kids classes, the argument must surely be to develop a complete, well-rounded Jiu Jitsoka.

Children thrive on structured learning, thus, having a functioning curriculum with a focused syllabus that pertains to all areas is the solution.

The Problem of Rigidity.

Before I run through the issues concerned with developing protocol for learning, let’s consider the perception that rigidity and stringency can be born from an enforced curriculum. Any syllabus must be thorough and functional but at the same time, accept adaptability and appeal therefore to the organic nature of Jiu Jitsu. Curriculums, by their very nature, have a repressive reputation with respect to creativity and vision.

There are many organisations that offer a curriculum to member schools where sessions are pre-planned and orchestrated to the letter, instructors are expected to subscribe and implement its material into every session. Assistants, students, parents and receptionist know each session in advance and this methodology is taught worldwide across the whole association. Is this a bad model to replicate?

Consistently, said associations have produced brilliant instructors, competitors and general students alike, so draw your own conclusion.

From my own experience, any kind of curriculum you implement has to be rational, logical and must be measurable – after all, “what gets measured, gets improved upon…”

Let’s look at the thought-process behind developing a curriculum, the discerning principles associated with its implementation and some comparable examples from differing implementations.

Constituent Parts Of A Curriculum.

There are many things to consider when looking at formulating, focussing and fulfilling an appropriate curriculum: age, goals, audience and skill level. Indeed, it may be necessary; provided you have the time, space or support, to adopt several curriculums, each one dependant and focussed on the tier at which you are targeting.

For example, at my own academy I have four tiers of age groups, each has its own curriculum. Each entertains the age, goal and ability specifics of the respective group of learners.

Age specific.

Does your curriculum address the desired needs of the age group it’s designed to serve?
Does your curriculum serve its consumer base sufficiently?

  • Self-defence vs. Sport vs. Motor & Social Development.

As a general rule, younger children require more of a foundation in general motor and social functioning over Jiu Jitsu specific skills, thus lending longevity, validity and functionality to their learning. Children that are older may have been learning from you for an extended period of time and may well have ‘graduated’ into a more advanced curriculum or have goals that earlier models of learning no longer fulfil.

It is your job to understand the relevant stages of learning, realise these complications and implement solutions for the good of your group and growth of your class.

Goal specific.

Once you have considered and addressed the specific needs referring to the age distinction of your class, what about the drivers of outcome?

What is the demographic and aptitude of your class?
Do the children you coach actively want to pursue the competitive arena?
What is the environment in which you are employed?
Would a self-defence remit serve the goals of your audience better?
Is it evident your class requires a grounding in self-defence over sport specific practice?

  • Self-defence vs. Sport

There are arguments on both sides for this, both present very compelling points of view.

Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu is a fantastic example where competency in sport Jiu Jitsu or, more specifically, no-Gi submission grappling is the goal, ahead of a specific self-defence foundation that you may find within the Gracie Barra or Humaitá association or indeed a Behring Jiu Jitsu School.

All examples have fantastic scope and success in the relevant areas of expertise.

Longevity specific.

Your curriculum could also be governed by the longevity of the learner, again relating back to the specific age and goals you are addressing.

Remember, some children begin their journey at age 4 or 5, are you looking for their journey to continue beyond any competitive career and well into adulthood and beyond? The intensive rigour of continuous sports specific work could cause over training and burn out not to mention the psychological strain of competition either way, any learning environment must consider the cultivation of growth through language.

  • Breadth/Depth-based (Long Term) vs. Performance/Results-based (Short Term).

One model  with a definite acceleration in success at a competitive level is the environment created by John Danaher. His logical “system’s” surrounded by the ‘four goals concept’ of 1. getting the fight to the floor, 2. pass the legs, 3. obtain a position and 4. successfully execute a submission is a prime example of curriculum that is performance/results-based and one that has catapulted his students onto a world stage in a fraction of the time other athletes have spent learning the gentle art.

Whereas Rener and Ryron Gracie, Kron Gracie, Roger Gracie and Ian Behring have a more generalised, approach with a perceived broader and deeper understanding of Jiu Jitsu as not only a sport but also a legacy of tradition when it comes to a grounding in the self-defence aspects.

The Gracie Family especially provide a great insight to a curriculum that has been specific to age and goals but also has innate longevity for the learner, transcending our next area of consideration.

Audience specific.

Once a level of skill has been acquired, the substance of your curriculum may require further revision and formulation to accommodate varying degrees of skill level.

  • Open Skills vs. Closed Skill.

Putting a curriculum together and considering the variety of skills to be taught over time, based around the learners skill level, affects specificity. Rather than a specific curriculum, this area of design could be referred to as segmenting your curriculum, incorporating separate classes based on level of performance that in turn, support the overall syllabus and growth of your classes.


As I have suggested, children thrive on structured learning and as a thoughtful, conscientious coach you will have the ability to plan and guide their experiences, if you are invested in their development wholeheartedly. At this stage of development, decide the principles, purpose and focus of you curriculum. Correct planning here will ensure the best possible enrichment and entitlement for the children enrolled onto your classes.  In my opinion your curriculum should not be too rigid, it must allow for differences, differentiated in terms of age, ability and goals. One extra consideration may be the addition of attached values-based learning, adding to the longevity of your value as a coach and providing a narrative to your teaching.

Values-based education adds a level of credibility and consideration, particular partnerships appreciate these influences and understand the good that your brand achieves (partnerships extend to parents, schools and outside agencies) all of which eventually help to scale your brand internally and externally.

Share your curriculum, don’t be scared to display it. Even as a form of Intellectual Property it demonstrates your level of expertise, it displays a framework to a child’s learning and could be considered a differentiator from alternatives and substitutes that do not take the time to invest in such nuanced details.

Finally, do not be fearful to change your curriculum. By the very nature of an organic, less-rigid operation flaws appear, weaknesses become apparent over time. Be the coach that is always looking to identify, improve and invigorate your learning model if you concentrate on such details growth is inevitable.

In part two of this article I will discuss how your style of coaching impacts on your curriculum, looking at points to emphasis through the session and comparable styles of delivery when working with children. This will add balance and breadth to your work and you will begin the process of assessing feedback from those to which you are delivering your material.

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