Used properly, a private lesson is one of the most powerful learning experiences available. You get the undivided attention of the instructor for a period of time during which you have full access to his expertise and experience.

Despite the huge benefit that private lessons can provide, the perceived high cost causes many martial arts students to hesitate to invest in them. I wanted to provide some tips so that you can make the most of your coaching experience.

Aristotle teaching a young Alexander the Great

So you see, you’re not turning your hip enough when apply the Omoplata!

First things first, take notes or record the lesson. I’m a big fan of taking notes rather than shooting video because taking notes requires more analysis. But if you just need to record moves for drilling, then filming it is fine. Don’t forget to review your notes later.

Second, bring a partner. This makes things a lot easier for the instructor. Being both the trainer and the Uke is awkward and slows down the lesson. (In Japanese martial arts, the Uke is the person who receives the technique ie the training dummy).

Finally, you need to determine what the purpose of your private lessons are. A few common situations…

Not Sure What You Need?

If you feel you need to improve or have plateaued but you’re not sure WHAT you need to do – don’t stress – this is common. In all the private lessons I’ve participated in (as coach and student), the instructor asks the student what he wants to work on. This doesn’t make sense because oftentimes the student doesn’t know exactly. So, think of this type of lesson as research or exploratory surgery. Two good ways to do the “research” are as follows…

1. Spend the Private Lesson time having the instructor watch you spar during a class.

2. Spend the Private Lesson rolling with the instructor.

Afterwards, spend the lesson identifying improvement areas.


Know Exactly What You Need?

The best and easiest use of private lessons is for additive lessons. Unless you’re at every single class, you’re going miss some of the pieces of your school’s curriculum or system.

For example, we have been working on Omoplatas and the various setups and finishes for the past 4 weeks. If you missed some classes and haven’t learned the full system, taking private lessons would be helpful. If you want to learn something “cool” or something you’re missing, then this is also a good option.


Problem Solving

The #1 reason that people end up doing private lesson!. A position or classmate or opponent gives them trouble and they want to fix the problem (or beat their classmate). What I’ve noticed with these type of lessons is that there are usually not enough problems to take up the entire time. And #2, most students just want an introduction to the technique, to drill it once or twice, and then go onto the next one.

One suggestion – You will get more tangible benefits through drilling and getting a feel for the technique. So try to fix one or two things as best you can while under the eye of the instructor rather than everything.


Cleaning Up

This is an offshoot of Problem Solving but rather than figuring out how to fix an issue, you want to sharpen up your existing tools. There’s a real phenomenon of “invisible jiu jitsu” where two people can do the technique and it LOOKS THE SAME. But when you FEEL the technique, one person’s technique is way better. This is where cleaning up the techniques and transitions come in.


Other ideas for Private Lessons

  • Ask the instructor: What are your favorite attacks / techniques /defenses, etc.?
  • Ask the instructor: What are YOU working on right now?
  • Breaking down film of your competitions.
  • Have the instructor analyze your training partners
  • Studying film of Competitions.
    As a coach, I find it valuable to listen to what different coaches say about the same footage. What do we all notice? What do I think is important vs. what does he think is important? Why do they think it was important?
  • Breaking down film of Your Competitions.
UFC in Rio - Maia vs Story

Demian Maia is a true Jiu Jitsu master, utilizing submissions in the UFC cage – with very little striking needed.

I remember an interview with ADCC Champion Demian Maia in which he highlights the true value of Private Lessons. As a younger student, he got the opportunity (or “job” for the glass-half-empty types) to be the Uke for Fabio Gurgel’s private lessons. Fabio Gurgel is the most successful Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach of all time, having lead Alliance to 5 World Titles.

Although the lessons were not tailored for Maia, he still improved so much that he talked about the experiences a decade later. Maia observed Gurgel, a true master of the art, address the various problems brought to him during the lessons. Maia was able to figure out how the acclaimed Black Belt thought about Jiu-Jitsu – what was important, what was not, and more. To gain that insight is the most valuable benefit of this type of learning experience. Oftentimes, this is difficult to get in a group class setting.

Hopefully, this article demonstrated the value of private lessons and also provided some guidance in how you can get more out of them.