BJJ & Martial Arts: Team / Style mentality. Are you passionate about your chosen Art or school? Why is that?

Don't you mess with my friends!
You often hear about team loyalty in BJJ. People who belong to a particular BJJ team or, as some call it, fly a certain flag, feel a sense of identity and common grounds with others from other BJJ clubs from the same team, even referring to them as "sister clubs" and such. In some cases, decreasingly so nowadays, you have BJJ athletes who refuse to train with non-team members and therefore never visit their jiu jitsu academies for a roll or a lesson. "Each to their own" taken to a whole new level.

That attitude has always bemused me a little. Maybe it has to do with my upbringing and maybe it has to do with my initial training in martial arts or even my introduction to Buddhism 5 years or so ago but I think it mainly has to do with a wider point of view. I feel it all has to do with how I look at luck, serendipity and randomness.

While I do believe there are fundamental differences between how a , for instance, Goju ryu karate practitioner practices and executes a cross punch to the way a taekwondo stylist does and I don't think silat throws and jiu jitsu throws are all the same, I do NOT believe for a second that the majority* of practitioners know this when they first stumble into a karate dojo, taekwondo dojang, kung fu kwoon, Brazilian jiu jitsu academy or MMA gym.

The CFS BJJ Team Annual Grading and Seminar 2011

Brand New Beginner, let's call her Brandy, starting her first session of martial arts does not know the difference between Karate and jiu jitsu, let alone Wado ryu vs Kanzenkai or Gracie Barra vs Nova Uniao vs Alliance. Yes she may have done some research online (unlikely), sent a few critical questions on an email to the instructor (forget about it) or even read a martial arts magazine article or book (what? why?) but even in the very unlikely event she may have done that, there is no way it could have prepared her for what the class actually feels like or (and here is the silly part) the nuances between different brands and styles of that particular martial art.

You are most likely to build some kind of a feel for BJJ  or the martial art you are practicing after some time (say, 6-12 months) on the mat. Only then can you say you have really tried jiu jitsu (or krav maga, Shotokan or silat) and only then can you claim an affinity (if any) or lack thereof. That's another reason why I hate the "first session free" mentality. What is one session going to show you? How do you expect a martial art that takes a life time to perfect to be condensed into 60 minutes?**

Friendship is more valuable than any team badge
After a few months of training at a martial art school, it is likely that you form a number of friendship bonds with others on the mat. All martial arts involve some form of partner work (kumite / sparring in Karate, randori in judo and rolling in BJJ) and you can't do this month in and month out without cracking a few smiles (or ribs) and becoming chums with your training partners. You come to appreciate each other and look forward to the sessions and if you think it's about the art and not the people, try training at another school (from the same style and team) and you will soon start to miss the familiar faces of your friends and mat-journey colleagues.

When this happens, it is easy to understand that you feel excitement when these friends compete or when your instructor is mentioned in a favourable light in an interview or even a random online conversations (hello forums!) and since teams are symbols, they carry that value of uniting the affinity of many team players. All this is fine and natural and human. I like my instructor and BJJ friends a lot so it is not weird to assume that he/she also likes her instructor and BJJ friends and they the same so it is not strange to assume that people who choose to train under the banner of my team kind of like each other and care for each other's well being. Yeay for my team and boo for other teams.

It's never easy to roll with a black belt,
but the hardest part was getting Eddie Kone to
take the session seriously!
The strange thing happens when people forget the complete randomness with which they stumbled into that particular martial arts school in the first place. I'm happy for people to love the team they train with but I find it embarrasing to see adults base whom they should spend their training (or in some extreme cases leisure) time with based on chance incidents that happened months or even worse, years ago. We enter the martial arts to grow. Self defense, competition, health...these are all expressions of the need to grow as people. I want to grow so I no longer fear the unknown (self defense), nerves and confrontations (competition) or even old age and illness (health) and every time you hesitate to spend time chatting / training with someone because they are from a different academy, team, faction or even style of martial art you are doing the opposite of growing.

I recently stumbled across this beautiful video on the healing powers of martial arts. Not chi or something like that but the positive effect they have on our being. I hope you enjoy it too.

*some do, but they are a tiny minority and half their information is wrong or out of context.
**to some extent, I understand that, say, a purple belt who is looking for a very competition-driven school may get a good feel for a new academy within a couple of weeks or so but certainly not from a single session.


Liam "The Part Time Grappler" Wandi

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Megan said...

Great piece Liam.

I think people's group-think around martial arts is just a reflection of the way they view life in general. Some people are just craving ways to exclude others from their lives and view them as "outsiders".

Georgette said...

Beautifully put. I was fortunate to have scratched the surface of BJJ through another martial art with four different instructors before I ever set foot in a BJJ academy-- then had a very negative experience there early on-- and while happily for the most part training at what was my home academy for the next 3 years, I trained at some ten other schools on an occasional basis when I traveled. So I had some amount of experience and ability to compare the pros and cons of various approaches and teams.

However, the older you are when you start BJJ-- and the greater the number of other activities in which you've participated-- the better you will be able to initially gauge the worth of whatever BJJ school you randomly stumble into. You may not know if they're teaching quality BJJ technique, but you can better asses the quality of their teaching skills. And we all know just because you can DO jiu jitsu, infrequently can you TEACH what you do well at all.

Liam H Wandi said...

Many thanks for the kind words to you both

Liam H Wandi said...

Megan, I completely agree. I've always felt that the most important part of the dojo/academy/church/youth recreation centre, restaurant...etc. is the door. You either use it as a gate to keep "the others" out or as an invitation to come in and join.

Liam H Wandi said...

Well said Georgette. I love that I started in BJJ as an adult. A man who has travelled, learned, taught, worked, moved house and country many times...etc. I know baloney when I see it :)

At the end of the day....the day ends! How we spent is what matters :)