What’s Wrong With BJJ

I have to say that the Gracies have made a huge contribution to my life.  I love Jiu-Jitsu.  It is one of the most amazing martial arts I have ever encountered, that I am still challenged and mystified by.  I am very thankful to them. They have helped make me a more complete martial artist and confident person.

The problem I have is that only part of the art of Jiu-Jitsu has been passed down.  I don’t know if the original Japanese who taught the Gracies didn’t teach the philosophy, or there was a language barrier, or the Gracies took the philosophy out.  All I know is that the philosophy is missing in many schools.

Having trained in Eastern and Western arts, I have experienced huge contrasts in training environments.  I was a black belt in Kung Fu before I ever trained BJJ, and the school I trained in was traditional.  You were to show respect to the teacher and other students, and there was an atmosphere of discipline and humility.  There was physical etiquette- bowing on and off the mat, not talking while the teacher is talking, sitting in straight lines and not moving during the opening ceremony, etc…

So my first few months of training Jiu-Jitsu were often shocking!

I remember being in BJJ class and hearing students make fun of the Judo students who shared the dojo with us.  I remember students cursing and making sex jokes in class.  I remember one student had arranged a fight to happen in the dojo that night with a stand up fighter from Canada.  Students nearly got in fights with eachother.  They gossiped about eachother and the teacher.  These are things that would never happen in the traditional dojos I had attended!

I remember feeling kind of dirty many times when I left training.  I learned good techniques, but I felt like I was in a low vibe that I needed to shake off.  There was a lot of fear, arrogance, and ego, and it did not feel good to be around.  I always thought, “If I have my own class or school someday, I never want my students to feel like this.”  I just had to stick it out to learn the techniques and not imbibe the low mentality that I was surrounded with.

The Eastern / Traditional School

In general, the Eastern / traditional training attitude of a student is to appreciate what you are given, don’t question it, and don’t change it.  Just work it until you master it.  You are to be loyal to your teacher and your system.  You are a representative of your teacher and your art so make sure you are making your teacher proud.  There is a focus on good attitude, ritual, and tradition.

In the Eastern arts you  will get traditions like Praying Mantis Kung Fu, where a student proudly told me that he could trace the lineage of his art back 300 years!  He could tell me the names of all the masters, and that nothing had been changed in 300 years.  There is a humility, loyalty, and unselfishness that I appreciate about the Eastern mindset.

Drawbacks of Most Traditional Schools

The problem with this attitude is that it results in arts that haven’t evolved!  It’s like saying “I drive a Model-T.”  Tradition for the sake of tradition is very limiting.

When you’re talking about BJJ, the Gracies took what they learned and modified it.  It continues to grow and get more efficient.  I have friends that will come back to training after a few years off and there is a catching up period where they have to learn the new submissions and concepts that have been created while they were gone.

And to face facts honestly, Jiu-Jitsu practitioners can fight (at least on the ground). There are many traditional schools where the students cannot fight.  They have great etiquette and discipline, but I would feel sorry for them if they had to defend themselves.

The Western / Non Traditional Environment

The West, the non traditional learning environment, is opposite in many ways.  Whatever you learn, try to make it better.  Question it.  Change it.  Innovation is more important than tradition.

The problem with the attitude of the Western student, who likes to innovate, is that they sometimes have a bad attitude.  I have seen a lot of this in the students and teachers of BJJ.  Students get this “What have you done for me lately?” attitude.  They jump from teacher to teacher, completely focused on their goal of getting a belt, winning tournaments, winning in the cage, and they don’t care about anyone else.  It’s very selfish.

I could go on for quite a while with stories of BJJ teachers not being examples of good behavior.  Not to say that all bjj schools are ego driven and out of control.  There are lots of very high minded instructors who are great role models.  But there are a large amount that are bad.  They can submit almost anybody, but they are lacking in the integrity department!  Instructors threatening and beating up their students.  Owners of schools starting fights and bragging about the people that they hurt and beat.  Teachers having restraining orders against them from their wives.  Not to say that the Eastern martial arts don’t have their stories of teachers getting drunk and spilling secrets of their system and promoting students!   But the stories about Eastern teachers acting out are few and far between.

The Eclectic Approach

I named my first school East West Martial Arts because I wanted to have a culture that takes the best of East and West.  Appreciate what you are taught and who taught you.  Be humble and know that there is always more to learn, and you can learn from everyone.  Never abuse your art, but use it to help others and yourself.  While maintaining a good attitude, try to find ways that you can improve upon what you learn.  Learn it so well that you can share the variations with the ones that taught you, helping them to get better.  Share as much as possible so that others around you get better, and you have better training partners, so you get better.  Create win / win situations.

My goal has always been to have a school that is free of egos, politics, and stupid human drama.  I wanted students that could fight AND had good attitudes.  Students that are martial artists, not just fighters, and not just artists.  Role models of confidence, humility, kindness, and discipline.  People that make the world a more peaceful and happy place.

The interesting thing is that Jiu-Jitsu is now coming full circle.  In Japan it was practiced in a very structured, disciplined environment.  A culture that in some ways prevented the art from growing.  In Brazil, Jiu-Jitsu evolved at a super speed into an amazing fighting form.  The Gracies bragged about how many street fights they got into, and the idea that martial arts is used only for self defense was thrown out the window!

Now BJJ has spread all over the world.  Outside of Brazil, there are more BJJ practitioners in the U.S. than any other country.  Many of the schools here are similar to academies in Brazil (the non-traditional / Western approach), where the focus is on tournaments and cage fighting.  But there are a lot of American martial arts teachers that are studying BJJ and teaching it in a more traditional environment.  They are calling the instructor “Sensei,” or “Professor,” and/or “Sir / Ma’am.”  They are bowing before matches.  They are bringing back the tradition of respect, humility, focus, and discipline back to Jiu-Jitsu, without losing it’s effectiveness in self defense situations.

I am not saying that it is absolutely necessary for a school to follow all of the martial arts rituals and traditions  to be a high minded training environment.  I have in traditional environments where some students were following the physical etiquette but had a terrible attitude.  They would bow to you before a match while thinking, “I’m going to destroy and humiliate you!”  They are following the rules but not observing the spirit of the rule.

It is possible to follow the spirit of the rule without having a rule, like calling the teacher by first name but having respect for the teacher, the teacher’s teacher, the school, and the other students.  But then again some people need strict rules to guide their behavior!

My point is that the culture of the school- the collective attitude of the teachers and students is really important.  When the focus is on winning and ego gratification, the environment is harder to learn in, and the students often become worse people.  When the students and teacher practice consideration, respect, discipline, and humility, they become more considerate, respectful, disciplined, and humble.  When the culture of the school is focused on the art and self improvement, it is much easier to learn and the students become better people.

4 Responses to “What’s Wrong With BJJ”

  1. Shawn says:

    That’s great info that everyone who is training should take into consideration.

    I too have trained in both traditional and “Brazilian” style less traditional schools and have seen first hand the drastic differences in how they are run.

    In fact… I have run them both ways myself to some degree.

    However, as I saw the trend of students learning to fight and not have the respect, discipline and proper mindset of a real martial artist I quickly had to make adjustments to my teaching style back into more of a disciplined traditional way that included things like bowing, “yes sir” “no sir”, and talking about more of the deeper aspects of the martial arts.

    Very important…

    Great article… Keep em’ comin…

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  3. Aaron says:

    All this is very true!

    As an Asian American (who does traditional Asian martial arts and that American/modern stuff) sometimes it pisses me off when people don’t understand my culture.

    They think Karate/Kung Fu/Muay Thai/Jiu Jitsu/whatever is about kicking ass and hurting people.

    It’s not! It’s about defending yourself and protecting your loved ones.

    Ego or no ego, sometimes you have to put your pride aside if you’re just trying to protect someone you care about.

    I hate saying it because I’m an American too, but I really hate it when these god damn Americans behave like barbarians and pervert The Art.

    Thanks or sharing.

  4. Marcelo Freire says:

    Excelent Article, a great pleasure to read it.
    Best regards from Brazil,
    Marcelo Freire

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