Wednesday, January 9, 2008

4 Pet Peeves I Have with MMA/ BJJ Schools

As many of you know, my martial arts background largely constitutes training at more traditional schools. It was only in recent years that I started investigating the value of the training offered at Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts schools. Over time I identified a number of issues that irritate me about the these types of schools, issues that hinder the development of its students and/ or turn people off from training at them.

1) Body Odor. I personally don't understand why people set foot on the mat without wearing deodorant or wearing clothes that stink of the sweat from prior training sessions, yet it happens with frightening regularity. And when you have to grapple and be in close physical contact during training, it is cruel and unusual punishment for the partners of the perpetrators.

2) Swearing. I want to be clear here that I'm not morally opposed to swearing, but there is a time and place for everything. Swearing on the mat can get people's hackles up and cause the training environment to be more macho as a result. It also reinforces the public perception that MMA and BJJ students are little more than thugs. I can understand when people accidentally swear as an expletive due to an injury, but I think that swearing and macho smack talk should be left off the mat to keep the atmosphere professional and respectful.

3) Overuse of Strength.
Being a woman in a male-dominated training arena, this pet peeve comes into play quite often. I want to become skilled at the technical aspects of MMA and BJJ, but if I'm grappling with a guy that is much heavier than me and he's using strength to dominate me, neither of us learn anything. Not only that, if the guy is powering through a move recklessly, there is a much greater chance he could injure me before I have time to tap out. This can go the other way too. Last night I was training with someone 60 lbs. heavier than me and he was passing my guard much more forcefully than was necessary. As a result he slammed his face into my elbow causing him to get a nasty black eye.

4) Macho Attitudes. This issue has a role in all the other points here, but I think it's worth mentioning on its own. Macho attitudes more often than not hinder a student's development. For example, if the class is told to do 20 push-ups and a student isn't strong enough to complete this number with proper form, the student will likely cheat on his form in order to finish. If the macho attitude were removed, however, the student wouldn't feel ashamed to go to his knees in order to do them with proper form, ensuring that he gets the full muscle development that is intended with the exercise. This is just one example, but really, macho attitudes permeate every aspect of training because people are afraid to show weakness. But if a student isn't able to admit to his or her weaknesses, how are they supposed to get past them?

The lack of formality at MMA and BJJ schools has helped these newer breeds of martial arts to develop their effectiveness at what they do at an exponential rate. This is largely because it encourages a certain amount of open-mindedness and flexibility towards training. If it works, use it. If it doesn't, scrap it. That being said, the lack of formality also allows students to descend into a brawler's mentality toward training. The lines of respect become blurry and macho posturing can take hold, hindering personal development and pushing people away from the martial arts, the ones who stand to gain the most from its benefits.

4 comments: said...

Here-here - I agree with all your points, especially the swearing part. And there's nothing I hate more than having my face buried in some guy's week-old training shirt....

As an older guy (42), I think part of this is general lack of respect and impatience that permeates the younger (under 30) segment of our society.

I'm often told that respect has to be 'earned' and I think that's baloney. Each one of us is due common courtesy and respect because we are all human beings with feelings.

In a today's dojos, it seems there's much less emphasis on respect and humility, both of which are required if one is to be a good student.

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NickWilliams said...

Being someone who trains with you and having a first hand experience of what you're talking about I have to agree... But I do think you're being a little harsh.

Body odor is an ABSURD issue... I agree entirely, it shouldn't be a question to wash your gi after every practice... if thats too hard, get another gi! I personally have 5 or 6 for that exact reason.

The other issues all seem to come down to levels of comfort and security with oneself. In my experience, it's always the newer people who have any reason to swear (aside from going shitshitshitshit in a joking tone when you know you've been caught by a friend and know its over momentarily), overuse strength, or have a macho attitude. I find that as people cool down and realize their place in the grand scheme of BJJ they tend to calm down.

Lori O'Connell said...

Thanks for your comments, Nick. You're right that it does depend on the situation, but it also depends on the school. I've checked out a number of different places and the school at which we trained together honestly wasn't bad for swearing. Your school's instructors and advanced belts tended to discourage swearing implicitly by not swearing themselves, but also explicitly by telling people to ease off when they swear overmuch. Everyone slips now and again, but there are some places that let it run wild and you can really see how it affects the atmosphere.

And while macho attitudes and overuse of strength does tend to go away after the student has been around awhile, it only happens when the leaders at the school set a good example. I think your school does a reasonable job of this.

All that being said, however, it only takes one slip-up overusing strength to cause a major injury. And if instructors aren't discouraging this right from the onset someone can get hurt at the expense of a beginner's "learning experience." Being a much smaller woman, I have always worried about this.