We are almost two months removed from the criminal accusations that shook our Jiu-Jitsu community (Matthew Maldonado, Nicholas Schultz accused in New Year's Eve rape) and I can’t say I’m surprised by the responses thus far. Reactions have ranged from the unequivocal denial, to the centrist and measured “innocent until proven guilty,“ to the outraged and vehemently hostile. Out of all those who have voiced an opinion, there are a substantial more that have dug their heads into the ground and remained silent. Dr. Martin Luther King was attributed as saying, “All it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to stand by and do nothing.” These words and the meaning implied wherein has great relevance to where we find ourselves today.
Willful blindness is a term used in law to when an individual seeks to avoid liability for a wrongful act by intentionally putting himself in a position where he will be unaware of the facts that would render him liable. The irony of willful blindness is that it makes us feel safer even as it puts us in danger.
In the microcosm that is the Jiu-Jitsu world, we are a tiny group in which what the majority condones will become the standard in which we operate. As such, we must take great care never to surrender critical thought for social acceptance.
Turning a blind eye to blatant disrespect, gender discrimination, bullying, unethical business practices and criminal behavior makes the observer complicit, albeit to a lesser degree, but nevertheless a party to the transgression and in some cases legally liable. A feeling of futility has provoked our collective silence.
Yet change has come in the dialogue now being had regarding cultish behavior, criminal background checks for martial arts instructors, a renaissance and return to a holistic martial arts education, in which the mind and body are taught in concert and many other great threads of conversation. These thoughts and communications are seeds of change, it just takes time to grow.
We cannot forget that Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that promotes the concept that the smaller weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger opponent. So why wouldn't we, as a community and individuals, try and protect the smaller weaker person in all respects. Remember, what you permit, you promote.
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.