10 Ways to Inject Positivity Into Your BJJ Community

Be a force for good in your jiu jitsu world and crush negativity into the mat.

Sometimes it seems like an inordinate number of column inches are dedicated to news stories about the lousy things people in the jiu jitsu community do. Particularly in recent years, there has been ample fodder for those column inches. This is terrible, both because in an ideal world there would be fodder for zero of these kinds of stories, and also because they overshadow the fact that there are many decent people in jiu-jitsu.

I get to work with good people all the time in my capacity as one of the principals of Groundswell Grappling Concepts, which hosts jiu jitsu camps for female and co-ed audiences. At one of the recent co-ed camps, I had the opportunity to meet and become friends with Chris Gleeson, an attendee who thinks about how he can be a force for good in the jiu jitsu world. (No wonder we get along so well.) This article is a collaborative effort between Chris and me, and it is our attempt to contribute to a conversation about how those of us who love jiu jitsu and also care about living a principled life can bring both to bear in a positive way on the BJJ community.

If you have ever thought about how to bring positive energy to your own academy and to the larger jiu jitsu community, read on for ten suggestions from us. We hope they provide some food for thought for those of you who want to counter and ultimately eradicate the need for depressing BJJ headlines.

10 Ways to Inject Positivity

#1: Employ the Golden Rule

First, repeat it to yourself to get it in your mind: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Think about what it would really take to employ it, rather than immediately checking the box in your mind. Consider remembering a time when someone did not use the Golden Rule with you. How did that feel? How would you have preferred that person act toward you?

#2: Think Before You Press Send

We are constantly bombarded with opinions that differ from our own, in jiu-jitsu and in life in general. Even if you vehemently disagree with something someone in the jiu jitsu community has posted online, do you need to flame him or her? Do you honestly believe that flaming someone will bring about a change of heart? Could you instead consider trying to craft a reasoned argument explaining why you disagree? Respectful debate is a cornerstone of any healthy community, not name-calling and disdain.

#3: Support Practitioners Who Share Your Values

We do not believe jiu jitsu is about legislating behavior writ large. But if you attend the seminars or support the events of people whose priorities differ significantly from your own along the dimensions of integrity and respect for others, ask yourself why – or at least consider other options. It’s likely there are alternative events that offer just as much value and are put on by people you mesh with ideologically. Along those lines…

#4: If You See Something Bad, Say Something

Whether it is de-escalating your own training when it gets too intense, coming to the defense of someone who is being berated – online or in person – or calling out someone on his or her entitlement behavior, walk your talk. It is amazing how many awkward or uncomfortable situations can be resolved simply by having an honest conversation with the people involved.

Take an active role in shaping BJJ for the better.

#5: Pay it Forward

When you are in a position to help an up-and-coming enthusiast, consider throwing him or her a bone. “Like” her tournament poster. Attend his open mat. Connect them with people who can help them take their next step in the jiu jitsu world. Of course you do not have to give away your services to everyone, but chances are you have been the recipient of good will from one or more practitioners in your day. Follow in their footsteps.

#6: Consider Your Language

We like a good f-bomb as much as the next person, but there is a time and place for everything. There are jokes that are totally appropriate in context and among friends, but taken out of context or simply overheard by others they can sound totally different. For example, pejoratives based on gender or sexual orientation can be “understood” in certain contexts and still end up being taken differently by others. We are not suggesting you parse every single thing you say for the potential to offend, but rather, err on the side of speaking with caution and compassion.

#7: Be Willing to Invest in the New Members of Your Academy

Ultimately, the way people become enthusiasts is by falling in love with the art. Whether or not this happens is tremendously influenced by what kind of experience people have in the beginning of their training, before they decide if they want to stick around long term.

While it’s true that people first starting out often find the more experienced people at their gym to be a bit aloof, you can help them by going out of your way to make them feel included. This can be as big as offering to drill with them for a few rounds to help them retain the day’s lesson, or as small as a smile when they walk past you as they arrive. This investment has the potential to pay a huge return for you and your school in the long run.

#8 Remember That Almost Everyone Is Looked Up to

This is obviously true for coaches and professors, but even white belts who have only trained for a few months will be looked up to by the very newest beginners (who arrive not even knowing how to tie their belt, so help them with that, please). We all set an example for others. As writer Sam Harris says, “Specific beliefs produce specific actions.” If you understand and believe you are in a role model position (yes, even as a white belt), this will positively influence your actions on and off the mat.

#9 Have Fun on the Mat

The value of having fun on the mat is easily overlooked. It’s so easy to get swept up in the competitive nature of jiu jitsu that we can lose track of the sense of fun that inspired us to start in the first place. Sometimes people forget you can take this sport seriously, train hard, push yourself…and still have fun. Fun is a “secret ingredient” that can contribute to a positive mat culture.

“Create an environment on our mats that welcomes women and minorities, as well as people of all gender identification and sexual orientation, age, and ability levels.”

The more smiling faces you see on any given mat, the healthier that mat tends to be for everyone who walks onto it, and this is something that can be grown and cultivated. All it really takes is a willingness to try things for fun, be eager to experiment, communicate honestly, and not try to “win the training,” as the legendary Hannette Staack would say.

#10: Dig for Your Unique Qualities

Figure out what unique qualities you bring to the community. Techniques succeed when the proper force is applied in the proper direction at the proper time. People succeed in the same manner, and knowing when and how to apply yourself is a key element to achieving success. So, if you are motivated to do some good in your community, take some time to really reflect on what you have to offer. Whatever you discover will help guide you as you look to give something back. There is no such thing as a person who has nothing to offer. Check out Groundswell Grappling events or The Just Roll Podcast as just two examples of how we chose to try to contribute to the jiu jitsu community.

Ground Yourself & Keep Perspective

The Internet has connected us in ways both great and small. As a result, our definition of community has become bigger than just the people in our own school or affiliation. We live in a hyper-connected world where our BJJ family can now be linked across great distances, both geographical and cultural. We are expanding from the kind of family that we are born into to the kind of family that we choose for ourselves. As our reach extends, so does our influence, and that is why it is so important to make sure our actions align with our beliefs. This particularly applies to creating an environment on our mats that welcomes women and minorities, as well as people of all gender identification and sexual orientation, age, and ability levels.

The philosopher Plutarch said, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.” We believe this is true for everyone, and we hope this list helps kindle a flame inside you to think about how you can become a force for good on your mats and in your larger community. We all have to live in the world that we help create. Why not take an active role in shaping it for the better?

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Photos courtesy of Baltimore BJJ.

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