“Teaching is a constant revision and expansion of methods based
on a training program which is systematic and progressive”
– Donn Draeger, 1962
Some of you may already be familiar with the concept of a “rotating curriculum”. I’ll explain not only how it works but also address aspects and features unique to a Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) program. These are suggestions based upon my personal experience. Each instructor will have to determine for themselves specifics and make modifications based upon their unique circumstances.
The rotating curriculum concept is not necessarily a new idea, but it has gained popularity recently and is now used by most commercially successful schools. First, let me explain how it works. Then we can discuss why we use it and the benefits. Using a rotating curriculum, the whole class is working the same material.
The most popular model is to set up six “semesters” of two months each. Since the sequence is not what is important here, let’s instead label the semesters with letters.
Semester A is January/February
Semester B is March/April
Semester C is May/June
Semester D is July/August
Semester E is September/October
Semester F is November/December
It’s up to the instructor to determine what material will be covered in each semester. Most instructors will want to mix up different skills in a semester; i.e. certain boxing drills, kickboxing drills, throws, and self defense techniques per semester. In a traditional martial arts program, each semester might include learning one form.
The key to this concept is that EVERYONE will be learning the same material during that semester, whether they joined that month or three months ago. Most traditional instructors initially have trouble with this concept. They can’t imagine a student who has been studying for 6 months learning the same material as someone who just joined that month. It’s something you’ll have to get used to, but experience will show you that this sort of program works.
For traditional martial arts programs, belts and/or ranking figures into this arrangement as well. In a year period, a student progresses through six semesters and, if you are using a belt system, you can award a belt after successful completion of each semester. You’ll probably immediately observe that if you implement a rotating curriculum, two students with two months’ training (in most martial arts systems, the equivalent of a gold belt) may not know the same material. The student who joined in “Semester A” at the end of two months knows different material than the student who joined in “Semester D”. I am also aware that in some systems, like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, belts are never “given away” and even the first rank of blue belt is considered an achievement.
In response to those concerned that a rotating curriculum “waters down” or “cheapens” rank, I offer a different perspective. Remember that under a rotating curriculum, after a year of training each student will all know the all the same techniques. In my opinion, these are the sorts of benchmarks we should be worried about. After a year, whether you call it “first level” or “blue belt” or “star spangled red belt” a student should have the basics of your program. A rotating curriculum will make sure this happens.
Let’s start examining why this happens, why having a rotating curriculum allows us to organize our classes better and make sure everyone is learning the material correctly. Think about the traditional model of teaching. When a student joins, the first thing he learns are punch #1, kick #1 and block #1. So “Joe” joins your school in January and by February he has learned all those techniques. It’s time to teach him punch #2, kick #2 and block #2. However, in February, “Mike” has joined the class. So in February, according to the traditional model, you have to teach “Joe” the #2’s and “Mike” the #1’s. March rolls in and “John” has joined. Now you have to teach John the #1’s, “Mike” the #2’s and “Joe” the #3’s….
In reality, you’d all better hope you have a lot more than one student joining a month. In reality, you may have 12 people in class, representing four different groups. Do you have three other instructors so you can run a mini-class within a class? Do you have four different time slots to teach the different groups? The answer to both is probably not. Nor would you want to. You’re dividing up your resources and you’re dividing up your energy. You’re also denying your students a diversity of partners to work with. If you use a rotating curriculum, everyone in your school gets to work together. This also means your students can all become friends. This adds to the excitement and enjoyment of their classes.
I hope by now you are starting to understand the idea of a rotating curriculum. I also hope you are starting to see some of the advantages. The next step is to start arranging your curriculum so you can create those semesters. I suggest you start by examining what broad categories of skills you offer as part of your program. At New York San Da, we tend to think of the following divisions
Basic skills: Thai pads, leg kick shield, focus mitts, etc.
Partner work: Boxing drills
Partner work: Kickboxing drills
Partner work: The clinch for striking
Partner work: The clinch for throws and takedowns
Jiu Jitsu: Top positions
Jiu Jitsu: Bottom positions
Obviously, that leaves us with a lot of material in which to fill out our semesters.