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Sorting Through The BJJ Baloney


Photo by Josh Stockman. Used with permission.

by Josh Stockman

The longer I train jiu-jitsu, the deeper I fall in love with its intricacies and its dedicated practitioners. Our art is one of solving puzzles . . . while someone moves the pieces! It’s complex and physically demanding and, most importantly, fun! So it comes as no surprise that more and more people are joining us on the mats every day. As a public service to the new folks, below is some BJJ baloney to sort out ASAP. Most of it makes sense if you just use your head.

Jiu-jitsu is self-defense …

…so schools that specialize in it are a bit like car lots that specialize in transportation. It is true that some schools focus more on tournament competition than “real life” attack scenarios, but even tournament rules are based on positions of combative advantage. For example, points are awarded for mount, knee on belly, and takedowns but not for pulling guard. Assuming they have the sense to switch gears and not drop Berimbolo on concrete or play Worm Guard against a T-shirt, most tournament competitors I know would do just fine in a “real” fight. Also, in order to sell something unique many schools have self-defense techniques that are effectively a solution in search of a problem. Bear hugs and hair pulls, as seen in many traditional curricula, are just not that common (outside of grade school). If being assaulted is high on your list of concerns, you’re better off training for probability instead of possibility (shove, sucker punch, etc.) – and you’d better be training it a lot to make the responses second nature. So, use your head: if a sport-focused guy like Keenan Cornelius can take you down and put his knee in your stomach, why couldn’t he add in a couple punches to seal the deal?

Size absolutely matters . . .

. . . unless your opponent is totally clueless (yes, this is played, but apparently still in debate). Once upon a time, when almost no one outside of Brazil knew jiu-jitsu, the trickery of our art surprised people. The cat is out of the bag now though, so size (including height) and strength are all issues to be addressed. They are not always deciding factors, but all technique is enhanced by body weight and at some point there is a size differential where almost no amount of skill will save you. Like rich people who say money doesn’t matter, the guys still saying size doesn’t matter are usually the biggest on the mat. If size were all that mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle; however, if size didn’t matter at all, lions would be taking down elephants! So use your head: If jiu-jitsu could completely nullify size and strength, why wouldn’t someone like Demian Maia be the UFC heavyweight champ?

No, you’re not the only BJJ competitor without a sponsorship . . .

. . . in fact very few are actually sponsored (at least not in the way most people think of sponsored athletes). Many get some support through local businesses (i.e. discounted services) and some even get free gear, but only the elite are actually paid to exclusively endorse and use specific products. It definitely sounds cool when competitors thank their sponsors and, if money is fungible, any type of discount helps defray costs; however, most of the “sponsorships” you see are effectively discounts that are likely offered to the general public. So, use your head: how does it make financial sense for a company to actually sponsor a colored belt who’s never won anything?

The proof is in the pudding . . .

. . . and the pudding is on the mat. Forget about big names on signs, medals in windows, and stripes on belts. These are things that can be easily manipulated. The bottom line indicator of a school’s quality is attendance. If a commercial gym is consistently packed, there’s probably a reason – especially with a school now on every corner. Conversely, if a school is not new, has very few members, and even fewer high ranks, something is likely awry. Of course, it’s true that faddism and super-cheap prices could pack a place in the short run, but over the course of time only content people stick around. And yes, there are a few well-kept secrets out there with instructors who don’t need the money, but overall the market speaks. So, use your head: if a lousy restaurant doesn’t usually have a line out the door, why would a lousy gym be filled with brown and black belts?

Loyalty is a scam . . .

. . . at least when it’s used against you. Loyalty as a trait is important. It’s defined as a strong feeling of support or allegiance; however, it must be support and allegiance for something you want (and it must be a two-way street). If you find yourself in a training situation that doesn’t meet your needs (too far to drive, too expensive, etc.) there is no shame in respectfully relocating. Comically, it is almost always the instructor accusing the student of disloyalty and never the other way around (with the loyalty in question coincidentally connected to his check book!). Even more laughable is how some instructors gladly accept “disloyal” students who come from other gyms. The expectation that a student must endure anything at a gym simply because he or she started there is preposterous. There are dozens of acceptable reasons to leave a school . . . including the fact that you want to (so long as you conduct yourself respectfully)! It is your time and your money, so use your head: if it’s reasonable to leave a job, a city, or even a marriage that doesn’t meet your needs, how is it unacceptable to leave a jiu-jitsu school?

Josh Stockman is an IBJJF No-Gi Worlds Gold Medalist, an Arizona State Champion, and a nine-time NAGA winner. He teaches jiu jitsu and Hatha Yoga in Phoenix and is a BJJ Black Belt competing for Undisputed/Team Shawn Hammonds.  You can follow him on Instagram: @yogamusheen  



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