Over the course of my 13 years of BJJ experience I have found that there is a clear and profound difference between going to class and absorbing whatever materials are being taught in the lesson AND understanding BJJ as a whole.
What most students do at their BJJ schools, is attend class to learn and apply techniques the teacher usually specializes in. In some cases, albeit rare, the teacher has developed a curriculum which the students follow. Whether or not the curriculum is actually effective stands to be known but at least there is thought and preparation going into the planning of each lesson.
What the best schools have done in the disciplines of Wrestling, Judo and Boxing is break the discipline itself into more digestible chunks and parts. For example, in boxing you may have days more dedicated to head movement, footwork, speed, power punching, etc. This is not meant to reflect how it should be done as it will vary gym to gym. The key factor is that there is a method to breaking apart and dissecting the sum of all parts with the end goal of mastering the art of Boxing, Wrestling, or BJJ.
This stands in complete contrast with the standard method of learning that is focused around learning the many techniques that make up the sport or art. An example of this in BJJ would be learning how to do an armbar attack from the bottom position on one day and the following days learning, a triangle attack, a Kimura attack, a takedown, until students learn multiple ways of doing things or your specific way. What this leads to is wide understanding of techniques rather than understanding each component and what it’s values, strengths and weaknesses are.
Ideally, a student should begin to develop an understanding of what to do in the Standing Position, Bottom Position and Top Position along with all the defensive and offensive aspects. This is done not by learning a wide variety of techniques but rather studying a systems based approach to the situations and reactions that occur within the Art as a whole.
An example of this in a training week might look like.
Week 1. Grip fighting, takedowns and going to the ground.
Week 2. Establishing a guard (gripping, defending, retaining) and setting up an attack (armbar, sweep or reversal,)
Week 3. Escaping pins (mount, side mount or back control) and attacking (armbar, sweep or reversal)
Week 4. Passing the legs, pinning (chest to chest, mount, side mount) and finishing from the top (armbar)
This is a rough example but in the course of a few months the student is not only well versed in the exact direction of the fight and what will occur but the attacks within each position are completely interchangeable. For example instead of studying a single leg takedown you might use a double leg or a tomoe nagae. In the case of substituting an attack you might use a Kimura attack instead of an armbar. This is very different than learning a series of submissions, takedowns and escapes with no order or relevance to the art as a whole. The end result, is a fighter who learns how to think about fighting from all the various positions versus how to apply single techniques.