4 Ways to Be a Good Training Partner: Getting Started in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
I train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and submission grappling. I’m not the best technician, instructor, or competitor - not by a LONG shot. In fact, the more I train, the more I wish I could keep my gi closed with clear packing tape rather than a colored belt.
But I love the sport, and I know it has helped me become a better person overall. Heck, I believe it has the capacity to help everyone become better people. In fact, the slogan for the women’s grappling camps I run with my friends Emily and Lola is “Self Actualize through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.” Honestly, in the interest of full disclosure, BJJ is one of two things I’m actually evangelical about. (The other is seltzer. If you’ll let me, I’ll try to convince you to train BJJ and then rehydrate with some refreshing sparkly water.) And one thing I have become pretty good at is helping people feel comfortable drilling and training with me; this, in turn helps me have a more comfortable and enjoyable training experience.
This is an issue particularly if you are a woman who trains. While more and more women are entering the sport, it is still fairly male dominated. This ups the intimidation factor and may make it difficult to find partners who are fully comfortable training with you - at least at first.
This piece provides some suggestions for helping people feel comfortable training with you, particularly if you are a woman, though they all apply universally. It stems from my belief everyone can accrue benefits from training BJJ, my own experiences as an intimidated newbie (who happens to be female), and my tendency to evangelize about how worthwhile it is to stick with BJJ. So, here are a few handy tips for reducing the awkwardness attendant upon the close contact that BJJ requires. Note that this is not an exhaustive list by any means: just some food for thought while you are enjoying your seltzer.
1. Keep It Light:
Everyone feels more comfortable when they are laughing. Your jokes don’t even have to be all that funny. Mine rarely are. But I try to defuse the anxiety a partner, particularly an opposite-sex one, might have about training with me by saying something goofy and not taking myself seriously. Notice I said I don’t take MYSELF seriously. This means I smile and joke at appropriate times, but I do not make fun of others, speak while the instructor is speaking, or otherwise try to bond with my partner through disrespect or disruption.
2. Assume the Best of Everyone:
Particularly if you are a woman, newer men may be nervous to train with you because they don’t want to put their hands - or other body parts, for that matter - where they have been taught not to put them while in polite society, though sometimes this is unavoidable when drilling and training BJJ. However, you can usuallly tell when someone might be feeling a little clumsy, but means no harm. Give your partners the benefit of the doubt, and let your energy and attitude demonstrate you are doing this. If an errant body part brushes up against another errant body part, do not even draw attention to it if at all possible. Just move on to the next part of the technique.
3. Assume You Know Less Than Everyone:
It’s great if you have done your own research to learn more about BJJ, whether it’s through reading online forum posts, watching youtube videos, or buying instructionals. But when you are in an academy, you are there to learn from the instructor. This is not the time to “correct” others or “enhance” a move by sharing what you think you know. Indeed, if you continue to train for any length of time, you are likely to find out how little you really knew back when you thought you knew something. And if you’re anything like me, that realization of how little you know will persist forever and ever, amen.
4. Don’t Lose Your Cool:
BJJ can be emotional for everyone. It can be frustrating, frightening, exhilarating, and all the other “ings” related to those things we care about and that challenge us on multiple levels. And this could engender some truly intense feelings. However, people tend to be uncomfortable with large displays of emotion generally. Couple that with close physical contact in a public place, and you have the potential for a perfect storm of discomfort. If you feel like crying or shouting, either hold it together until you are alone, or excuse yourself. As Fantasy Island's Mr. Roarke used to say: "Smiles, everyone! Smiles!"
As I said, this is by no means a comprehensive or exhaustive list. But if you love BJJ or think you might grow to, these suggestions could help you maximize the positive aspects of your experience—and keep you coming back for more!
For more tips for beginners read: How to Be a Good Training Partner, Part 2: What to Wear to Grapple