There is No Place for Heinous Crime in BJJ Culture

Because of the internet, devastating news travels so fast now and the recent rape arrest of the Lloyd Irvin Medal chasers, Maldonado &Schultz, have gotten a lot of us thinking. Some of us were already doing that but heinous crime has a way of putting a big fire under folks and even though some of the discussion in BJJ circles has slowed down, the impact has not. It is a reminder that although we would like to believe this recent rape case and the 1990 arrest of Lloyd Irvin are isolated, sex crimes are rampant everywhere and these are not the only serious crimes by martial artists.  Jiu-jitsu is not immune.

Instead of engaging in a fight over one topic, one faction, one person, can we take a break and ask ourselves a larger question? What is really going on in martial arts and where are we headed?

Of course these horrific events are not the norm and do not represent a cross section of the high caliber individuals who train and practice the arts. For those who have devoted their lives in an honorable and forthright manner to training, teaching methods, and business practices, the notion that these events and other various abuses of power that occur in our industry could ever reflect the actual “culture” of what we do every day is heartbreaking to say the least. Abuse of power is not what we do, it is the thing we learn how to stop doing.

The BJJ industry has seen enormous growth and with that comes ever increasing responsibility.  In the 90’s very few people in the US had even heard of BJJ or MMA, or the UFC. Most of us think everyone follows the UFC, but just ask your fellow PTA moms if they watch the fights and you will often get a blank stare. Many know about BJJ but everyone knows about martial arts and they will automatically attach BJJ to what they already know about martial arts.


Perhaps it is time for a little collaboration with martial arts at large, which has flourished worldwide since the 60’s and 70’s and boasts some pretty dedicated and mindful leaders. If BJJ is the fastest growing art, which many of us believe, then we will help set the stage for generations to come and we need all the help we can get.

What we know for sure is that our students tell us consistently, This is my therapy and Jiu-jitsu changed my life. We know that jiu-jitsu is transformative. It changes people’s lives, mends families, rights the course of the young and old, the wayward and lost. That said, we know some people need more help than we can give but we are also nowhere near the maximum potential of what jiu-jitsu can offer to the community. We all know about the training environments that are dysfunctional and it is true that there will be people who do bad things, but creating high standards will, and already do, hedge against tragic events in many schools.

Jiu-jitsu as a transformative practice works on and through individuals and groups to develop strong character, equanimity, trust and compassion. Human beings can mess just about anything up. So, let’s take this up anyway and wonder what it looks like if we develop more collective agreement about what acceptable teaching methods are and how to hold leaders in our industry accountable for their methods? The conversation begins inside each person:  What is your code of conduct? What are your standards? Not just with women and children, but with everyone.

I’m not talking about creating a dogma for BJJ or any art. Religion and politics already have that covered (and we don’t want to end up with the same scandals they have). We are not a cult, we have a culture. Some teams do exhibit some of the telltale characteristics that are red flags with cult experts but ultimately jiu-jitsu can never become an “us and them” endeavor.

If we can take some of the best practices and principles, some of our best ideas, our best people, we can strengthen our foundation and continue to open up our art to as many populations as possible. This helps everyone. So the question becomes: What are our best practices? Where do we draw the line with accountability? Who will fight for these things and make the sacrifices that are necessary?

We are not going to be regulated by the government like the school system and other institutions. We do not have any formal governing body to enforce our codes, principles, and etiquette (not yet), but surely we have like-minded individuals who are leading the industry, bringing clarity to some of these issues. What elements of the jiu-jitsu culture (not cult) at large do we hope will stand out as the representation of what we have devoted our lives to? I was once at a sales meeting where one of the most respected black belts in SoCal turned and said to me, “You simply cannot sell your soul”.

It has only been in the last 7-8 years that we have  had more than a few really strong kids programs in the US and the last 4-5 years that you could go anywhere and find more than 1 woman at nearly any school. Of course there are exceptions, but the point is that the growth of BJJ is very significant and dear to all of us. The industry has remade itself from the “tough guy” years to include more people.  BJJ is what people want to do, and we have so much more work to do in reaching those specialized populations that can benefit like special needs, those with disabilities, older age groups, and more.

Heinous crimes are heartbreaking and horrific for everyone involved. The recent rape case involving Lloyd Irvin’s students, and the revelation that Lloyd himself had a past arrest have brought up a lot of questions. Historically speaking, this type of thing can lead to great social change, and although devastating, we can begin to look at it through the lens of possibility.  When terrible things happen, it is bad for everyone, but history tells us that if we heed the call, change can come. 

BJJ folks are not the type to let opportunities pass without utilizing the momentum they have in front of them. They are more the type to devote 100% heart, mind and soul to what is important. With the awareness we have right now, I have no doubt that we will capitalize on the momentum to create something beneficial to the future generations of BJJ practitioners.

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