I recently had the pleasure of attending a 1 week Gracie Survival Tactics Instructor Course. I had not found many reviews of this program on the internet except for a few very positive comments from the GST site or sites endorsed by GST. I went into this program not really knowing what to expect and honestly my enrollment was so last minute I drove 13 hours on 2 days notice to be in the class (the original registrant was injured and could not attend).
First some background on myself, I am a law enforcement officer with 10 years experience. I am also an active defensive tactics instructor and a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with Gracie Barra. I compete regularly and train BJJ on average 3-5 times a week along with training some MMA. I also have a unique position in that my BJJ instructor (3rd degree black belt) is also a law enforcement officer and a certified expert witness in use of force proceedings for civil court. This same instructor has already developed and actively teaches ground defense and other defensive tactics programs for our area and helped establish the defensive tactics curriculum I currently teach.
I went to the school with a very open mind and was excited to be able to learn from Rener Gracie himself. The first three days of the course was spent going over 23 techniques (some with variations). The techniques are shown, drilled, and some of them are turned into positional drilling.
Overall, it’s a great school but for the sake of a review I’ll start with some of the things I was disappointed in or I felt could be improved.
- Who you were partnered with was a large determination on your experience for the day. While we were encouraged to continued drilling there were 70 students on the mats and at times only 1 instructor. This meant counting on your partner to help you out, however they split the class into two groups, one group of those with no experience with GST or BJJ and the other side with those with 6 months of BJJ or more or had previously been through GST. On one day I was paired up with a rather nonathletic guy who only wanted to drill the techniques a couple times. Anyone that has done BJJ for any amount of time will be able to point this type of person out form their gym, however instead of being paired up for a 1 hour class, I was stuck with this partner for 6 hours. I was okay because I knew BJJ but my partner was not and seemed somewhat apathetic to this fact. This is not necessarily a reflection on the GST program, but more of a drawback to having such a big class. It would not be fair for me to not preface this criticism with the fact that 1 instructor was snowed in for that first day, however even with that instructor it was still a 70:2 ratio. Rener was only present for the last 2 days.
- For me, none of the techniques were new or revolutionary. In fact they were all pretty basic. Prior to coming to the course I read reviews from officers that have been through the GST program that stated it was revolutionary, mind-blowing, and game changing. Once I attended and learned the techniques I realized that we were being taught basic BJJ fundamentals. In fact Gracie Academy teaches these same techniques (save some weapon retention techniques) as part of their Gracie Combatives program, which is essentially their white belt curriculum. I can see how someone that has never been exposed to BJJ having their mind blown but I imagine anyone that walks into a BJJ school and does 6-12 weeks of training will have covered all of these techniques and positions, although without a few of the law enforcement specific tweaks.
- You will be subjected to some slick Gracie University marketing. I can’t really blame them on this but there was some pretty overt, “our jiu jitsu is better than sport jiu jits” comments made by Rener and the instructors. I will mention that I did wear my Gracie Barra gi pants on several days and I never sensed any disrespect from anyone connected to GST or had anyone say anything close to disrespectful to me. Rather the comments were made to those officers without any prior BJJ experience who inquired more. Again, I can’t blame Gracie University for plugging their brand since they hosted and instructed the school. On Thursday, Rener brought lots of Gracie University gear (t-shirts, rash guards, gi pants, spats, etc..) in all kinds of sizes. A good 10 minutes at the end of class was spent hawking the products to the class and in a genius move (honestly this was brilliant), he told the people in the class to take what they wanted, let one of the assistants know and they could “square up” the next day. He never used the word pay and they didn’t accept any money until the next day. This meant people could take what they liked, have an entire day to go get cash and then come back the final day and pay up. I say it’s genius because they never use the word “pay”, they knew it was a class full of cops (not likely to steal), and if anyone did not pay GST was holding their certificates. This wasn’t a huge deal but I was a bit turned off by the marketing and a I admit I was a bit judgmental when I saw a handful of guys with 4 days of BJJ experience show up in full Gracie Academy gear. I’m talking spats, shorts, rash guard.
- We are all now certified instructors…and many of use shouldn’t be. This is my chief complaint, and it is common among many law enforcement defensive tactics schools. I attended a 1 week course along with all the other students. We spent 3 days learning techniques. All of us, including those that didn’t know what the guard position was prior to the class, are now equally certified by Gracie Academy to teach jiu jitsu to law enforcement. Let that sink in…an officer with essentially 3 days of BJJ can now teach BJJ self defense to officers in their department. As I said before, this is common in law enforcement , Krav Maga Instructor is 1 week long for example. 23 techniques (more when counting variations) and someone with no experience learning those well enough in 3 days to turn around and teach is just not realistic. I would have liked to see this as a user course rather than an instructor certification course.
If those areas sound nit-picky, it’s because largely they are. Overall this was a fantastic class. There is a lot to like about this class but I’ll try to highlight a few points.
- The instruction received was consistent and outstanding. In fact the best part of the class was the last 2 days where Rener taught us the Slice Presentation Formula. This is a method developed by Gracie Academy to teach these techniques to civilians and law enforcement alike. And I can tell you that it works. I have even started adopting it when I teach and I notice my classes area already more efficient and quicker paced. Although I wasn’t impressed with the techniques themselves, I made a recommendation that every DT instructor in our agency should attend simply for the “train the trainer” portion.
- This is one of the most professional and well put together classes I have ever attended. Every minute of the day was accounted for and not wasted. We started promptly and for the most part ended when we were told we would end. This is not common in law enforcement classes that often start on time and end way early or run late and the last few hours get crammed with information. It was obvious that they have taught this class many times and have an excellent and efficient procedure for conducting the class.
- This class was truly geared to the lowest common denominator. The class was and is designed for the officer with no exposure to BJJ to come in and learn some of the basic self defense techniques. Technique was stressed over strength and we were constantly reminded to go slow and do the technique. In a class of 70 cops, not one person I know of became injured or complained of an injury. For a week-long defensive tactics class this is almost unheard of and shows the care that went into providing a safe environment.
- They know their audience! My biggest worry was having civilians who have never arrested someone teach us how to arrest someone. Sam Fernandez, a Gracie Academy Black Belt that taught much of the course told us from the beginning he was not a cop and afforded the students the respect for their profession. Not once did I, nor my coworker get the feeling that “these are not cops” when hearing the instruction. They did an outstanding job of forecasting the technique to the point where department policy or procedure would dictate what would happen next. We were never lectured about the placement of our duty belt items nor lectured about proper handcuffing technique and I think that went a long way with many of the salty veterans in the class. In fact they knew us so well they provided two things that all cops love….free t-shirts and a challenge coin upon completion of the course.
This was a great course, however if you are already a law enforcement officer and training BJJ don’t expect to learn anything game-changing or ground breaking. If you are a LEO and not training BJJ…go train!. In all seriousness attend this course if you can and hopefully it wets your appetite to train more. And that I think was the best part of the course. I left the course with a couple new tricks and a motivation to go back and teach. I felt that vibe among many of my classmates and that may have been the most valuable part of the training.