How to Be a Good Training Partner, Part 2: What to Wear to Grapple
In an earlier piece, I gave some suggestions about how to be a good training partner in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Those suggestions focused on how to ACT. In this piece, I’d like to focus on suggestions for how to present your actual self, your body, your bag o’ bones. What you choose to have on your person when you attend BJJ class speaks volumes about the kind of training partner people will believe you are likely to be - before you even step on the mat.
Within the confines of the appropriate gi and no gi attire, there is some wiggle room. But don’t wiggle too hard, because you might hurt yourself. Ladies, cover up everything that should be covered. For instance, wear a rash guard over your sports bra, even under a gi. Whale tails, cleavage, and other glimpses of the goods may send the message you aren’t really serious about BJJ and just want a boyfriend, whether or not this is actually true. It will also confuse the gents and irritate the ladies.
Guys, you need to leave something to the imagination as well. Are you a professional mixed martial artist? If the answer is no, which it probably is, then when you are training no-gi, put on a rash guard or shirt to cover up that chest and armpit hair, and put on some board shorts over your compression shorts. Georges St. Pierre gets to display his assets, because very few people are going to be able to tell him not to. But the vocational grappler should follow a different, more circumspect set of rules. As a wise person (me) once quipped to a teammate who thought he was going to wear a wifebeater to no-gi class: “This ain’t your dirtbag beach party.” (And yes, it got a laugh; yes, the other students in the class, male AND female, were glad I said something; and yes, he put on a regular t-shirt. You’re welcome.)
Nobody is trying to curtail your fashion statements when they ask you to remove your jewelry. They are trying to keep from getting vivisected by your pointy gold medallion. Grappling requires close contact and explosive movement. Adding sharp metal objects to this equation is an example of the Stupid Math. I heard a story about a woman who had to have a bobby pin surgically removed from her ear because her training partner didn’t realize wearing one in her hair could be like hiding a miniature spear on her person. So, to keep yourself and your training partners safe from slings and arrows, or at least things that are shaped like them, remove your chains, barrettes, and all manner of rings (toe, lip, ear, regular). If you are worried about losing them, leave them at home.
Keep the makeup to a minimum. Once very early in my grappling career, I noticed some tan and black smears on the collar of my (white) gi after a training session. It turns out my partner, a lovely but unaware lady, had been wearing full-on foundation, blush, eyeliner, and eyeshadow while we trained, and it sweated off onto my gi. Ladies, makeup has no place on the grappling mat, because it is likely to stay on the grappling mat, or on your partner. And gents, you have a role to play too, lest you think you’re getting off easy on this one. Yes, styling gel, hairspray, cologne, body butter, spray tan, and the like all have a place. But to quote the illustrious Madonna, that place is called a dance floor.
One of the jokes in the grappling world is about "Stinky-Gi Guy." Every academy seems to have one. Stinky-Gi Guy is the student who sweats for hours in his gi, wads it up, leaves it in the trunk of his car for 2 days in 85-degree weather, and then shakes it out and puts it back on again, unwashed, the next time he trains. He smells like a barn full of zombies, and he is likely a walking, talking infection. Don’t be Stinky-Gi Guy. Nobody wants to train with that. Show up to class wearing clean, well-fitting, nice-smelling clothes.
Make sure your person is well-groomed as well. Manicures and pedicures are nice in normal life, but long finger- and toenails are not advised on the mat, because they can gouge the crap out of someone who might be able to smash you. In addition, if you have any skin lesions, either thanks to Mr. Gi Guy or for another reason, keep them off the mat. The close contact and warm, moist conditions of grappling create a field day for conditions like ringworm, staph, and folliculitis. These can spread like wildfire through an academy, sidelining many people who will be more than a little upset you decided to share the wealth. Stay off the mat until your skin clears up and you are no longer contagious.
So if you are a grappler, think twice about what you wear the next time you show up to class. Remember just as in other aspects of our lives, for better or worse, in grappling our sartorial decisions affect how people react to us. Make sure your decisions result in positive reactions!