It’s been a little less than six months since the news story broke that two male grapplers allegedly sexually assaulted their female teammate on New Year’s Eve. It is a story that has rattled the grappling community, particularly those who consider themselves to be decent human beings, and particularly as additional allegations have continued to surface. There has been a lot of finger pointing, a lot of woulda-coulda-shoulda, and a lot of heated discussion that is, unfortunately, sometimes leading to increased misunderstanding and distrust. While not ideal, this is understandable because stakes and emotions are running high and extend beyond the world of grappling.
But some grapply people and groups have taken meaningful action toward outcomes I support. Some have galvanized the community in ways that make me proud to be part of it, because they are putting the lie to the idea that, automatically, grappler = thug. They are helping us define ourselves in terms of the best that is possible in humanity rather than the worst.
We have a ways to go, in grappling and in general, toward creating environments where everyone feels welcome, safe, and respected. And while the fervor around this particular incident may have died down somewhat, there is still a very great need to address the fact that we live in a world where it – and, sadly, countless other incidents like it – are possible.
In this article, I decided to highlight some people and groups that have taken action, leading the grappling community in a positive direction, and then to share my own efforts at contributing to the foundation they have laid. What happened six months ago and how we as a community and as individuals choose to respond is not just about grappling. It’s about the kind of people we decide to be, every day, with every choice we make.
If living a principled life is as important to you as it is to me, read on for inspiration. And bear in mind that this sampling of efforts is by no means exhaustive. Feel free to post additional information to comments.
Grapplers Liz Sussan, Maggie Ghamry, Lana Hunter, and Brittany Senter put their heads together to design a gi patch. All profit is going to be donated to Network for Victim Recovery of DC (NVRDC), the organization which has been helping the survivor of the NYE attack with counseling and court support. NHB Gear and Da Firma Kimonos donated the patches, which are available for purchase here.
Blogger Can Sonmez, known in the grappling community as Slideyfoot, recently hosted a grapplethon to support the work of RapeCrisis, a United Kingdom-based organization.
Australian Girls in Gi is hosting an event to support White Ribbon, “Australia’s campaign to stop violence against women.”
Mixed Martial World is a website run by grapplers whose mission is “to bring back and continue to support the positivity, knowledge, moral responsibility, strength, honor, and integrity that martial arts stem from.”
An Open Letter to the Martial Arts Community is a missive grappler Ryan Hall wrote in the aftermath of the events. Part autobiography and part call to action, it gave grapplers everywhere the language to explain and understand the responsibility of the individual practitioner.
Each of these people and groups did something. They acted according to their consciences, positively affecting the rest of us in the process. They are proof that one person or a small group can make a difference, and they remind us that we all have a responsibility to do more than claim to be outraged.
So, how might we build on their work? Well, as I’ve said before, I am the only person whose actions I can control. The same goes for you. Further, every action has a consequence, no matter how small. So if you don’t want to host an event or create something, don’t. But don’t extrapolate from there that you are somehow off the hook. Decide now that your very next decision will be to do something – anything – positive and build from there.
Here are some ways I’m working on making a difference and building on the efforts of the people described above and others like them. See what you are inspired to do yourself, remembering that taking a small step is actually taking a big step, and post your ideas to comments.
First, I’m currently re-reading The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker. Honestly, every human being should read it. It is a book that can help everyone learn more about the mechanisms at work in the human psyche that have the potential to endanger us and the people we love. It may help women feel more empowered to demonstrate the self-care they deserve. It may give men even the smallest glimpse into the day-to-day experience of being a woman.
Second, I’m striving to make a difference one person at a time. I have the privilege of writing for Breaking Muscle, and doing so gives me the opportunity to share my ideas and opinions with a wide audience. This is incredibly gratifying. What is even more gratifying is that I also have the opportunity to reach individuals because of my writing. Every now and then, individual readers are moved enough by something I have written that they contact me privately with questions or concerns. And sometimes these questions or concerns are about personal safety or how to act. I consider all of the private (and they stay private) communications I receive to be part of the privilege and the responsibility of writing for Breaking Muscle, and I respond to every one, sharing my best thinking about personal responsibility and ethical “jiu jitsu citizenship.” I am by no means an expert, but of course I believe I have something to say.
Third, I seek to understand before I judge. I get exasperated like everyone else, and since I’m a writer, I can describe my exasperation quite colorfully. But I have redoubled my efforts to understand every day in every situation where another person is coming from before I pass judgment on his/her behavior or words. It isn’t easy, but it helps me more accurately identify the underlying issue and what I am bringing to the table myself. (Remember, I can only control my own behavior, and you can only control yours.) Sometimes I conclude that the other person needs an attitude adjustment, but sometimes I’m the one who needs to take five.
I hope with these and other actions that I am actively contributing to the development of a grappling community and to the creation of a world where the idea of what happened six months ago is as repellent to person Z as it is to person A, and where we can develop a shared understanding of what it means to act with integrity, and further, a shared expectation that we will all do so.
I believe the way we make this happen is by listening more than we talk, by assuming responsibility for our own actions, and by making sure our actions are aligned with principles of honor, decency, and self- and mutual respect. Let’s all take a cue from people like those described above, and take action too. If we call ourselves martial artists, how can we settle for anything less?
Photos courtesy of Shutterstock.