Make a difference with Jiu-Jitsu: Getting your BJJ school involved in your local community.
Martial arts schools have a deeper connection to their local community than most local businesses. They represent learning and discipline. People trust their kids there during the day, and spend their time there during the evenings. It’s more than a place where currency and services are traded.
It’s only natural that many schools try to build on this connection and get more involved in their local community, through supporting charity and running events at their location. It’s a win-win scenario - You can attract new members while supporting a good cause or providing entertainment.
Let’s take a look at some of the more common ways in which BJJ gyms get involved in their local communities.
(Roll4Life is a series of charity events through Jiu-Jitsu)
Charity events and fundraisers
A BJJ gym is a great place for organizing a charity event or a fundraiser. It’s very likely you know someone at your gym that could use a helping hand - Whether it’s financial issues or dealing with a medical situation - And it’s likely many more in the community are in the same boat.
Donations for cancer treatment is a common theme as it affects many around us. The good people at Tap Cancer Out have created a nonprofit dedicated to promoting this cause through BJJ. They organize tournaments and host grapplethons - a grappling marathon - at local gyms, for the purpose of increasing awareness and collecting funds for cancer treatment and research.
Regardless of the cause you want to support, your BJJ school is a great place to do so. If you take the initiative and talk to your school owner - most would be happy to help.
Women self defense classes
Women are, sadly, underrepresented in most BJJ schools. The close contact nature of the sport and sparring with much bigger and muscular people, is understandably a deterrent for many.
One of the best ways to overcome that initial barrier is by creating a more comfortable setting with offering a women-only class. Combine that with a focus on skills that sound useful even to people who never trained Jiu-Jitsu - self defense - and you can make a strong appeal for women in your community to try out your gym.
For schools that don’t have a female instructor, it helps greatly if there’s a higher-belt female member who could participate and help lead the class. At my previous school, one of the blue-belt members was actively involved in organizing a weekly women-only class that became a huge success, and grew the female team from an initial 2 members to over a dozen in a couple of months.
MMA fight promotions and camps
Jiu-Jitsu’s connection to MMA is undeniable. It was those first UFCs, where Royce Gracie convincingly beat multiple bigger opponents that exploded MMA and BJJ in the world outside of Brazil.
Hence, it’s not surprising that many BJJ gyms hold MMA events at their location. Fight organizations often need a place to hold media events, and a gym with large open area can be a great fit.
Organizing MMA events requires more effort and connections than the previous events mentioned, but if you have the right person in your gym or in your contact list on Facebook, it can often materialize easier than you might think.
The nice thing about MMA events that they can easily attract the attention of local media, putting a spotlight on your gym and exposing it to people who might otherwise not know about it.
How to make events a success
Once you decide to organize an event at your gym, there’s plenty of work to be done to make sure it’s a successful one.
1. Plan the event at least a month ahead. You need that much time to get the minimum amount of attention to make the event worthwhile.
2. Promote the event on your and your gym’s social media accounts. Ask people to share it and tell their friends. Your base membership is your best initial source for spreading the word, as they would typically be located in your immediate area.
3. Promote the event offline. Create fliers (hopefully you have a designer in your gym willing to help) and hand them out to gym visitors. Give a pack of those to people who visit other local communities, and ask them to distribute it there as well. Put up a large poster outside the gym, and on the pin-up board of local community centers.
4. If possible, try to get the local media interested. Local publications, including online-only, are always looking to report on interesting activities in the area. Sometimes a cold email or phone call can be enough - but you might have someone in your gym with the relevant connections already.
5. Involve gym members in organizing the event. Many people are quite happy to help if only you take the initiative and ask them to. People with experience organizing events would be especially useful.
If running a charity, make sure to pick a specific organization to donate to ahead of time - don’t leave that decision for later. People want to know where their money is going to, and that it’s actually going to help someone. Once you do, contact that organization and ask them to help promote your event - they would be happy to.
All in all, if you know what you’re doing and are smart about it, organizing an event doesn’t have to take a lot of your time. By delegating tasks to the right people and thinking things ahead of time, you can do much with minimal impact to your normal routine. The first couple of events are usually the busiest, but once you get the hang of it you can run it without much of a fuss.
Getting your gym more involved in the local community is a net profit for both sides. It does require going out of your comfort zone a little - not unlike Jiu-Jitsu training for the new beginner.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community outreach attempts to bring value and dignity to the children of international refugees.
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina Project 658 is an organization that works with the international refugee community. Project 658 mission aims in helping get migrants established into their new home country and provide them with the basic necessities and skills required to thrive. The Holistic Care ministry helps them with proper housing, job training, clothing, and academic/education services. Project 658 continues to expand its programs, adding new classes and giving their refugee recipients more opportunities to learn and grow.
Known for his artwork in the MMA community and other charitable contributions in the Queen City JM Smith (Founder of Disciple Dojo) has joined forces with Project 658 offering a free weekly BJJ/self-defense class for refugee kids in the Charlotte community. It’s only the second month into the program and the enthusiastic participants have already caught the love bug for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
BJJ Legends got the opportunity to talk with JM Smith about this philanthropic program and the building of Refugee-Jitsu.
You are known for your charitable contributions in the MMA community and in your home region of Charlotte. How did the collaboration with Project 658 come about and what got you motivated to do it?
JM: Honestly, man, it came about through frustration. As I watched the international refugee crisis unfold over the past year, I found my heart breaking for the millions of families—many of them children—who were simply trying to get away from hellish war zones over which they had absolutely no control or influence. I was also frustrated by the seeming lack of concern that many of my fellow Christians were showing and the stereotypes they were helping to reinforce about refugees through the comparisons to things like poison or an infestation or any other number of dehumanizing labels I was seeing shared on social media. The more I started to push back against such stereotypes and the more I started encouraging Christians in particular to reach out in love and service to refugees, no matter where they come from, the more I was met with the “What are YOU doing about it then? How are YOU helping?” type responses. I resolved that while I don’t have financial or material resources (being a starving-artist/Bible-teacher!), I should at least do something here in the city in which I live…which just so happens to have a large refugee population.
So I reached out to my friend Rob, who works with various refugee ministries here in Charlotte, and asked him who I could talk with about offering a free weekly Jiu-jitsu class to refugee families. He put me in touch with Project 658 and I sent them an email proposal for such a program. My friend Laura, meanwhile, had also met a member of their staff and shared with her about my desire to offer such a class as well as women’s self-defense seminars for the members of the refugee community. So when I reached out to them, they were very receptive. We met at their facility the following week in early December and they were very enthusiastic about the idea, as they were looking for something to offer the kids in addition to traditional sports like soccer. We decided to offer an initial one-time class and see who showed up in order to gage the level of interest.
So I spent all of December praying about it and trying to raise the needed funds to purchase mats and some basic equipment needed to get the class going. While I received some criticism from a few people who simply—and ignorantly—equate “refugee” with “terrorist”, the overwhelming majority of responses have been very supportive. From fellow church members to local businesses to BJJ friends from all over the country, people donated the needed funds and thanks to their generosity and support, the program is now in its second month!
How was the overall reception of idea bringing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to the Project 658?
JM: They have been totally supportive. Not only does it give the kids a positive place to come and hang out for 2 hours on a Thursday night, it also teaches them skills that could save their lives one day while at the same time instilling the values of the martial arts into them at a very formative stage in their lives. Unlike other sports which require different practice times, expensive equipment, and weekend games, this simply requires the kids to show up once a week with a readiness to learn and have fun! They’ve asked us to do a BJJ Summer camp for a week in July and we will also be offering periodic weekend Women’s Self-Defense seminars to the community.
Talk to us about some of the students and also your experience teaching them thus far?
JM: I’m just getting to know the kids myself, but they are simply awesome! I tell people our class is like the United Nations of BJJ. We have kids from West Africa, Latin America, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Southeast Asia! Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu… all developing genuine friendships that inevitably result from doing BJJ together! That’s the beauty of the martial arts — it brings people together from the most varied backgrounds and shatters the dividers that the outside world frequently encourages us to maintain.
Many of them are coming from conditions that most of us could hardly imagine growing up in. They are coming from vastly different cultures all over the world… yet they are like any other middle school or high school kids you’d meet in your own community. They laugh, they cut up, they rag on each other, they joke around, they watch TV, they go to school, they have homework, they deal with all the normal experiences kids deal with at that age… but given their unique backgrounds and experiences, they show a level of gratitude and a craving for love and affirmation that is simply unbelievable. They practically fight each week over who gets to mop the mat, who gets to pull up the tape, who gets to roll them up, etc. They know that they have been given this equipment and they are intent on taking care of it! They are so grateful that they have this class and it is absolutely heartwarming to see.
For example, two of our students are a teenage brother and sister from Afghanistan whose father fought alongside the Marines against the Taliban. In addition to translating for U.S. forces, he was also a trained boxer and kickboxer who taught the Afghani police hand-to-hand combat. Now, he works in a factory here in the city and is studying to get his commercial truck license in hopes of building a business here where he can employ others and provide jobs for the community. But with his busy schedule, he is not able to train his son and daughter in self-defense at home like he wants to. So when he found out we were staring this class, he was ecstatic! He and I have become friends and he’s made sure his kids are there every week… and every week they are so eager to show me that they remember what we did the previous week and how excited they are to be there again. It’s every instructor’s dream to have students and parents so dedicated!
So I take it they are enjoying their lessons in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?
JM: Man, they are loving it! Every time I show a new technique their eyes get wide and you hear verbal “ooh”s and “ahh”s…it’s great! The only thing they know about martial arts is what they’ve seen in movies. The only thing they know about grappling is what they’ve seen watching WWE. They always ask me if I’ll show them various pro-wrestlers’ signature moves. Haha, I find myself frequently bursting some bubbles about what martial arts and grappling actually consist of in reality, and what is fantasy. But we have a lot of fun, even while maintaining an overall sense of discipline and respect.
Various instructors have different goals for their students what is your goal with the refugee students?
JM: My goals for them are simple: 1) to equip the kids with a basic working knowledge of Jiu-jitsu primarily for self-defense 2) to give them a place each week where they are encouraged, loved, and treated as normal kids rather than “foreigners” 3) to foster genuine deep friendships among them as well as within the larger martial arts community here in Charlotte 4) to help us as a city — and perhaps one day a nation — see those who have come to us from all over the world as fellow human beings, bearers of God’s Image; to break down the walls of suspicion and hostility that many in our society thrive on keeping in place. And lastly, 5) to reflect the love of God that I’ve been shown my whole life into the lives of these kids and their families regardless of their beliefs, background, or ethnicity.
Project 658 is always open to volunteers coming to help with various sectors in their organization. Is the option open for BJJ practitioners coming to assist with the program?
JM: Absolutely! As I post each week on Facebook and Instagram, ANYONE in the area is invited to come help on Thursdays! Any grappler from any academy or gym with a good attitude who wants to meet some amazing kids and help encourage them in their training is invited to come help us whenever they are able, especially female grapplers! We are trying to encourage more women in particular to get involved so that the girls who come to class will have other girls to drill and roll with. There is still a bit of hesitancy, perhaps due to cultural backgrounds, when it comes to the girls and having such close contact with boys who aren’t a family member—contact which is a necessary part of BJJ, obviously. So to help overcome this hesitancy it’s always helpful to have women there who can not only train with them, but also show them that it’s ultimately possible to train with the boys in ways that do not compromise any ethical integrity.
But male or female, grappler or novice, anyone who’d like to help is invited to come see what we do and meet some incredible kids each week. In fact, we’ve had BJJ students from at least four different local academies helping us in classes so far! It’s been great seeing so many different team patches and GIs on the mats with the kids, all under the single banner of “Jiu-jitsu”!
What are some other resources you are using to expand the program?
JM: The goal all along has been to make the class entirely free for any member of the refugee community. These families come here with almost nothing sometimes, and Project 658 is a huge help in getting them basic necessities so that the kids can live normal lives like any other kids in the city. So Disciple Dojo wants to make sure that this class and everything involved remains free to the families. From mats to train on, to striking pads/mitts, to GIs and rashguards, we want to make everything available to the kids. That doesn’t mean they don’t EARN the equipment though! Far from it! From day one we’ve stressed to the kids that while we do not require them to pay financially for the class and equipment, they DO have to pay for it… in dedicated attendance, focused training, and cleaning up and storing it all each week! The only way we can do this is through the support of the wider community, particularly the BJJ community. And the response has been encouraging so far. Deus Fight Co. has stepped up to support us by providing gis for the kids. As an artist, I’ve worked with Deus before on the Fight for the Forgotten gi when they found out about this program the owner, Geoff, sent me a text that simply said “how many gis do you need?”! Deus has a line of gis based on various cities’ NFL teams that they use to help raise funds for different charitable causes , so I said that given the Panthers Superbowl run this year, it was time to have a “Carolina” gi in the lineup! They loved the idea and the gis are in production as we speak! In order to get their gis and white belts, the kids have to have perfect attendance for over a month, show that they are dedicated in class and paying attention, and help with cleanup and teardown of the mats each week. They are so excited, and I’m truly grateful for the awesome work that Deus Fight Co. is doing not just for our program, but for some incredible causes all over the world.
I also use any proceeds from sales of my artwork and the gear I design to help fund Disciple Dojo as much as I can. I’m one of only a handful of artists I know of who focus on MMA/BJJ portraits, so any help in getting word out about my artwork is always appreciated and I love seeing my stuff hanging in various academies all over the world… because I know what it goes to help support!
Eventually, I’m hoping that the program will continue to grow and as the kids move from basic self-defense BJJ into the more competitive aspects of the art, I would love to connect with a tournament that would consider providing sponsorships for some of the kids to compete. But that is still a ways off, I believe. Right now the focus is on building community and laying the foundation for the dozen or so kids we currently have in the class, while continuing to encourage others to join in as well.
Finally 10 years from now what do you see for Disciple Dojo’s Refugee-Jiu-jitsu program?
JM: Honestly, I don’t even know what it will look like 10 MONTHS from now! I’m just along for the ride! But my hope is that in 10 years there will be dozens of young 20- and 30-something adults in this city from all over the world who know that they are valued. Who know that they have come to a city where they are seen not as “foreign” or “different”, but rather as fellow citizens and members of the community. Who know the joys that come from dedicated training in the Gentle Art and who have a sense of self-confidence, humility, kindness, and integrity that come from the crucible of Jiu-jitsu classes. And most of all, who know that they are, loved as young men and women created in God’s Image and possessing intrinsic value and dignity. If even a handful of these kids end up experiencing this over the next 10 years, it will have all been worth it.
Any final thoughts before we wrap up this interview?
JM: I’ve been so encouraged by the response to our program. It shows that despite the geopolitical events surrounding us, there are people who have the courage to reach out with a hand of friendship rather than a fist of anger. I’m grateful for the support we’ve been shown by people from so many different backgrounds — from local academies, to members of the UG, to instructors from across the country, to church members, to companies like Deus Fight. Jiu-jitsu has a way of bringing people together who would otherwise likely not have much in common. This program is a testimony to that fact. I’m especially grateful to my instructor Derek “TC” Richardson for introducing me into the Renzo Gracie Jiu-jitsu family over nine years ago and modeled what it looks like to combine the martial arts with community outreach and self-sacrificial giving to those who may not be able to do anything in return. And I’m grateful for my training partners and friends at Renzo Gracie Charlotte/Leadership Martial Arts who have kicked, punched, twisted, cranked, smothered, smashed, and choked me silly for nearly a decade now. Outside of my biological and church families, they have been the biggest source of support and encouragement in my life.
I’m hoping and praying that what we’re doing here through Disciple Dojo and Project 658 may in some small way inspire the greater BJJ community all over the world to reach out to those on the margins and share with them the art we all love so deeply, so that they may be transformed by it as we have been. I would be absolutely thrilled to find out that other martial artists in other cities were starting similar programs among their own communities—whether refugees, immigrants, or any other subset of society who are often stereotyped and stigmatized. I may not be able to solve the world refugee crisis, but I can at least reach out to those who have been its victims and say “You are valued and you have dignity. Let me help you cultivate both through this thing called Jiu-jitsu.”
In this interview we learn more about twenty-year-old, world champion, female black belt Dominyka Oblenyte and her fight for equal pay for women in Jiu-Jitsu competitions.
“We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution.” ―Subcomandante Marcos
What do you stand for? What cause is worth fighting for? A 20 year old Lithuanian took her place at the top of the podium at Worlds as a Champion this year. Now she is challenging the BJJ community as a whole to take a stand with her on the issue of Equal Pay. That podium she stood on represented much more than the culmination of all the years of her hard work, she is using it as a stepping stone to promote worthwhile change.
Sometimes what you don't say on the isssue of equal pay is just as POWERFUL as what you do say. Not taking a stand speaks volumes however, it is clear EXACTLY where Black Belt Domynika Obelentye stands. At such a young age (20) she is already making her presence known in the BJJ community both on and off the mat using her position to push for progressive changes. It's inspiring. It doesn't matter which side of the Mason Dixon you stand on in this particular issue. Everyone has an opinion and is entitled to it but this young lady has started a movement. This is about much more than how she feels, it is about what she believes is right. Much like a Civil War, her Equal Pay Movement is something that many agree is the right thing, but they don't want to rock the boat over it, and they CERTAINLY are not going to put their two cents in on the issue. Regardless of what others don't say, Domynika has plenty to say.
BJJL: You are from Lithuania, is BJJ popular there?
DO: No. I definitely don’t think it makes it into the top three categories haha. Even though it is a small country, BJJ is surprisingly gaining traction over there. I know that there are at least three gyms currently operating there and I went to visit one of them run by my friend, Donatas Uktveris, when I went abroad this summer. There were almost thirty students present and all were super enthusiastic to train and learn. I think the one thing that makes me really proud of the small but determined Lithuanian BJJ scene is that the people involved have an unconditional love for the sport and a real thirst to learn more about it. Although these men and women don’t have a surplus of legendary coaches like Marcelo Garcia and world champion training partners their enthusiasm for the sport surpasses that of many BJJ die-hards I’ve gotten a chance to meet over my lifetime.
BJJL: Why did you began training?
DO: I first began training Japanese style Jiu-Jitsu, because the first elementary school I went to had a bit of a bullying problem and my parents wanted me to learn how to defend and stand up for myself. Then, when my family and I moved to New Jersey, my dad went on a hunt for gyms that were similar to the one I trained in prior to the move. He found an ad for a BJJ gym about twenty minutes from our house and after my first lesson there I was hooked.
BJJL: What’s your Lineage?
DO: So it’s a little complicated. The first gym I started out at was Performance BJJ, which at the time was a Gracie Humaita affiliate. I got my white, yellow, and orange belts there. I first met JT Torres and Jay Hayes at that school and I consistently took privates from both. They were almost like my main instructors. When they decided to leave and join Team Lloyd Irvin I followed suit. Unfortunately, while they had the freedom to make it down to Maryland I was still in school so I could only get down to train there a few weekends. Because of this, I trained in other schools around New Jersey and took privates with JT whenever he was home. It was JT that promoted me to green belt. I made my final transition to Marcelo Garcia’s Academy thanks to my friend Emily Kwok. Because I wasn’t able to go train at TLI very often and because JT was preoccupied with his own training I sought out other highly skilled BJJ practitioners in the area, and stumbled upon Emily Kwok. I took privates with her for a while and she facilitated my ultimate transition to Marcelo’s. Marcelo has promoted me to blue, purple, brown, and black belt.
BJJL: What is your first memory of BJJ?
DO: My first memory of BJJ is probably my first ever class at my first ever BJJ gym. I had no idea what I was doing, and I remember wearing sweatpants and a track jacket when everyone around me was wearing gis. I felt out of place and awkward, especially during the warm ups! The roll outs were tough, but the shrimping was even harder!
BJJL: What was your first competition like?
DO: I’m not going to sugarcoat it, my first competition was awful. I was a nervous wreck, and I sought out comfort from my teammates at the time. One of the guys was pretty confident in himself and he told me he won his first competition, the other told me he lost, and the third told me he threw up. Needless to say my nerves remained. I believe my first competition was a NAGA and I had two fights total. I lost both of them and was pretty upset with myself as I basically did no Jiu Jitsu when I was actually on the mat. I wanted to get out of the venue so bad that I didn’t even pick up the third place medal I had won for participating haha.
BJJL: You are a VERY tall young lady, as you ascended the ranks was it difficult for you to find comparable training partners that were your gender (skill wise)?
DO: I don’t know if I ever sought out specific training partners throughout my BJJ career. I never really had that luxury. Since I started so young, most of my training partners were boys who were my age or older. When I started progressing, I joined in with the adult classes. Those were rough. I was a really young kid, maybe ten years old, and there were adult male blue belts that tried to kill me with no remorse haha. I think my main training partners for a long time were the people I was taking privates from, namely JT, Jay Hayes, and then Emily Kwok. Although they were adults, they didn’t have a whole lot of ego, and knew how to really train with me without crushing me or my spirit. When I joined Marcelo’s there was a plethora of training partners of all shapes and sizes available, but not a whole lot of women. I was around twelve when I joined so I mostly trained with blue belt men, and with Emily, and Marcelo’s wife, Tatiana, who was training at the time. Nowadays, I really train with everyone. I don’t try to train with only people I can beat, and I don’t exclusively train with black belts or anything. I have a few female training partners that I roll with, the majority remain to be guys.
BJJL: You are a young and gifted black belt, you are also very sharp. You attend Columbia University. KUDOS!!! Ivy League is not easy to get into. Now I will say that your peers probably can’t say that they were able to train, obtain their black belt at 20, and attend an Ivy League University. How in the world do you keep up with your studies and your training?
DO: It’s really difficult to do well in one thing without sacrificing the other. I am managing now, but this coming semester I will cut down on my training a little since I am taking a pretty full course load. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but what motivates me is my fellow female competitors that also hold careers, are mothers, and still manage to fit in time for training. They should be receiving medals for their efforts haha.
BJJL: The men and women of BJJ are not offered equal prize money and this irks you, when did it really begin to be something that you could no longer stand by and be silent about?
DO: I guess I really decided to break the silence after I won double gold at worlds. Without sounding arrogant, the spotlight was on me for a bit, since a lot of people didn’t know who I was/didn’t understand how someone that’s not necessarily a brand name could win, and I thought this was the right time to speak out. I also thought that the IBJJF would have improved the Pro prizes this year, since last year was the introductory year for those competitions. When I noticed that nothing had changed, I decided that somebody had to stir things up about the lack of fairness in the BJJ community regarding women.
BJJL: You are using your voice and position as a black belt in a proactive manner. You are a professor, and you are speaking out on something you are very passionate about. Are you hoping that you will be heard?
DO: Haha well of course I am hoping to be heard. I have gotten a lot of support as well as a lot of criticism from the BJJ community. I take it as a sign that I am still making people aware of the issues at hand and if the movement gains enough speed maybe we can facilitate the change that so many want but are afraid to fight for.
BJJL: I read an article where you mentioned some of your colleagues agree yet not many (if any) female black belts have been so vocal on the issue of equal prize money. Do you hope that if you keep speaking about this more of them will begin to do the same?
DO: I actually think many black belt females have been vocal, such as Gabi Garcia, Angelica Galvao, and Mackenzie Dern. I do believe that many more could be. I think at this point, there may be some people unwilling to get involved, not necessarily because they don’t agree with the cause, but because they may be afraid of the consequences attached to being so vocal against the IBJJF and other organizations. I do hope that more women and men get involved in vocally supporting the cause, though.
BJJL: Why do you think the prize money after all this time still isn’t equal?
DO: Well right now, I believe it has something to do with the concept of “waiting things out.” It seems like the IBJJF may just be waiting until things settle down so they can continue running tournaments as they please. At this point I am unwilling to settle down and I don’t think I’ll stop fighting for this even if I am alone in doing so haha. I do have to commend the IBJJF on introducing the equal rewards for top ranking male and female black belts. I think that was a move on their part to appease our cause, but the Pro prizes remain the same. I don’t want to stop until they have been changed as well.
BJJL: In BJJ, for the most part, those that hold the tournaments have the final say on how much they pay to who. Do you think it comes down to what they believe the athlete is or isn’t worth?
DO: I don’t know if the organizers are that devious haha. I think most tournament organizers are really self-interested, and they care a lot about the money their tournaments earn, so maybe they want to cut down on cash prizes so that it doesn’t hurt them as much. However, the IBJJF is an organization that has been around a long time, and the money they make from their tournaments is more than enough to finance equal prizes for men and women in their BJJ Pros. I don’t know if they conscientiously made the decision that women are inferior fighters and deserve less prize money, but I do think they maybe tried to cut costs by doing this, assuming that no one would make a big stink about it. I am in big support of the tournament organization Five Grappling, though. They are in support of the movement and offer equal prizes for both male and female competitors. In fact, they just had their Super League competition, with plenty of talented men and women, and it’s been commended by many of my friends and training partners. If you haven’t gotten the chance to check it out, you can order a 50% discounted replay here: fivegrappling.com/superleague.
BJJL: In the vast majority of professional sports the pay between men and women is not close. Why do you think BJJ should be different?
DO: Haha I don’t think BJJ is the only sport that should be different. Professional tennis commendably offers athletes equal prize money, and I don’t see why other sports should be different. Equal pay for equal work.
BJJL: I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. In some of the competitions women have no one in their division or only one fight whereas the men’s divisions have the decks stacked. Don’t you think that makes it more of a draw for the event organizers to pay the men more money? Don’t you think it is a bit unfair to pay someone who didn’t even have a fight a substantial amount of prize money or maybe one fight? To some degree it is about putting on a show.
DO: This is true in some respects but not all tournaments are like that. In fact, this year at worlds I had more fights to win absolute than the men’s black belt absolute winner. Last year, one of the Pro divisions had only two male black belts sign up and they ended up getting $5000 combined. It works both ways. I really believe though that by offering the opportunity for only one woman to win some prize money at the Pro the IBJJF is devaluing their female athletes, and is giving them no reason to book a plane ticket and a hotel, and exert time and energy into competing at these events. The prizes for the men are lucrative. Men from around the world may be interested in getting a shot at the money which will of course boost the amount of competitors willing to sign up. If you give women no reason to compete and spend money then why would they even sign up?
BJJL: In what way do you think change should be facilitated?
DO: I have talked about this before, but I think the best way the IBJJF can institute change is by putting a minimum requirement for competitors signed up to do a division before offering them prize money. The current minimum for men is four competitors. They should offer women competitors the exact same deal.
BJJL: It would probably help if someone that commands a great deal of respect in the BJJ World would come out and back the equal pay movement. Any thoughts on that?
DO: I wholeheartedly agree, but again, I think a lot of people are afraid to voice their opinions or show their support for the cause and somehow end up on the bad side of one of Jiu Jitsu’s largest tournament organizations. For example, if the entire Gracie family teamed up to support the movement, of course changes would occur. Unfortunately, that is not the case today, but I hope that it can be in the future.
BJJL: Someone told you to stop complaining, do something about it (regarding how you feel about the gap in pay). What all have you done so far since that moment?
DO: Haha absolutely everything I can to bring about awareness of the issue, and work for some sort of negotiation to give female athletes the equal prize money they rightfully deserve.
BJJL: Who in the BJJ World have been your major supporters of the movement?
DO: Definitely my female training partners, big names like Gabi Garcia, Angelica Galvao and Andre Galvao, my own instructor Marcelo Garcia and his wife Tatiana, my good friend Jay Hayes, a lot of the European black belts like Shanti Abelha and Ida Hansson, and even more women and men that aren’t huge standouts in the BJJ scene.
BJJL: Is there anyone that is fighting you every step of the way and thinks that equal pay is crazy?
DO: There are certain people and some of them are even people I am close to so it was even more heartbreaking when I found out they didn’t support the cause. I just try to tell myself that it is not a personal attack on me our ideologies just differ. I hope I can get these people to see the same way that I do in the future, though.
BJJL: If you could make an appeal regarding the equal pay movement to the BJJ Community, what would you say?
DO: I would say what I have always been saying. Women put in the same amount of blood, sweat and tears into training as men do. We pay the same fees for tournaments, plane tickets, hotels and gear. We work just as hard but we get rewarded less for it. It is time for change. Please sign the petition at: https://www.change.org/p/ibjjf-give-woman-athletes-equal-prize-money-2
Again, whatever your thoughts are on this issue or any issue you have to commend such a bright young burgeoning black belt just for taking a stand. She has stepped out and stepped up and that in itself takes just as much if not more courage than to set foot on that mat. When you decide to be a voice and a loud one on an issue that can be devisive, you can set yourself up for undue criticism and an overwhelming amount of grief. Your supporters will give you strength but those that are against you can make things unbelievably difficult. The August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment won women the right. On June 10th, 1963 the first Equal Pay Act was signed. Perhaps Obelente will receive her very own equal pay act for women's rights in BJJ and sooner rather than later.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.” ―Frantz Fanon
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu keeps it real. It’s hard physically and mentally. Now imagine if you didn’t get support from your family, friends or even teammates. To continue takes a different kind of strength. This is a repost of Ishtar Al-azawi’s Facebook post. (reprinted with permission)
I am not one to rant normally, but there has been a subject the has been bugging me for a while now; Being an Arab Muslim girl that trains and competes in BJJ I get a lot of criticism "its a mans sport" or "why cant you do something more feminine" "this sport isn't for women" "are you a lesbian" "your an Arab women not Western" the best one so far is "no man will accept to marry a girl that fights"
I wasn't really going to speak out about this matter but if I don't, if we don't who will ? why should Arab women be made to feel bad about training Jiujitsu ?
The crazy thing is if was to go out every night and smoke shisha or to a bar I don't think i would be given as much grief as I do now, the call me "westernized" regardless of where I grew up I am Arab and a proud Muslim, I participate in a sport that has given me confidence, drive, happiness and I feel that I can protect myself in most situations now.
The amount of women that have been exposed to rape, abuse, muggings and mental or physical abuse not only in the Middle East but the whole world is worrying, I personally believe that every women needs to learn how to defend herself, and not only that but gain self confidence to steer away bullies.
Stop this judging taboo and start supporting us! we are the pride of the Middle East we are proudly carrying our homeland flags, we work 9-5 jobs and we manage to look after our homes and train and compete.. we deserve more than you nasty remarks and criticism!
I am also so saddened to see that some women have been given ultimatums to stop BJJ if they get married, or even refused marriage because their partners do not accept for and Arab woman to participate in such a sport, we should be encouraging more women to participate so we can create strong ladies teams!
And to all our male sparring partners if you can't leave ur egos at the door then don't step on the mats BJJ isn't just a physical discipline it's a mental one too, and on the mats we work just as hard as you do! We all are very familiar with that one guy that will either smash to prove no girl can beat him or treat u like your a China vase that will break... Or u get the guys that will completely ignore ur existence because they see u as a waste of Mat space ! This is unacceptable and this is definitely not a jujitsu mind set !
An example of great Arab men that support us is SHIEKH MOHAMMED BIN ZAYED AND HIS BROTHER SHIEKH TAHNOON.. i think a lot of men should ask themselves if BJJ isn't for women then why would our leaders implement it into every school, and create a national team for girls to compete here and internationally!
Our leaders are great examples of how you should be!
So next time you have something negative to throw at us, our response to you is ; WE ARE MOTHERS,SISTERS, WIVES, AND DAUGHTERS, WE ARE WARRIORS, WE ARE FIGHTERS, WE ARE GENTLE YET WE ARE STRONG AND WE HAVE ENDURED ENOUGH !!STAND WITH US AND NOT AGAINST US ! Please share to show some support for WOMEN IN BJJ ! Osssss!
BJJ is the one sport one regularly sees people of vast age ranges on the mats actively engaged with one another. Many other competitive sports have an unwritten rule around age; when it's best to start the sport and when it's best for someone to walk away. In BJJ the rules are not so definite.
All photos courtesy of Skylar Ransom
Case in point: If one attends the Monday/Wednesday 8 pm advanced class at Cobrinha BJJ and Fitness, one will witness the unlikely pairing of a 14 year old and a 62 year old. The two BJJ players mentioned are Tyler Ransom (14) and Levon Alexanian (62). They have been training partners going on two years.
The lessons they have learned despite the age difference, or probably as a result of, have opened a pathway to a deeper understanding and value for what they individually bring to the table.
What were your thoughts when you found out one another's age?
Tyler: I was use to seeing a lot younger people on the mats, so it took me by surprise. He is very open and friendly with everyone, and he acts like he’s much younger, not sure if that makes sense.
Levon: He looks so tall I actually thought he was like 16 or older. When I found out I thought it was cool that someone so young could be training with adults.
What did you think when it was time to drill?
Tyler: The first thing I thought was I’m gonna have to go slow, because I figured he would not have good cardio. I also thought I would have to be careful, because I did not want to injure him.
Levon: My main focus was to not discourage him, or intimidate him. I wanted to let him get good positions, encourage him, give him praise and make him excited to train.
After your first time sparring what did you think of the other’s skills?
Tyler: It was live positional training, we were doing the spider guard and I started on the bottom. Right away I noticed how strong his grips were on my gi pants, then he threw my legs to the side and moved to knee on belly in one motion before I had time to react. It was at that point I realized he was fast, strong, and he was technical.
Levon: I have to admit he caught me with a sweep that was unexpected, that being said he had good technique and he understands the game of BJJ very well. What he lacks is physical maturity, which will come when he gets older and then he will be able to combine strength with his technique.
What are some positive things you gain from being partners?
Tyler: When we are doing drills he is really nit picky, he pays attention to every detail. If I miss any step he points it out and has me start over. He also gives me like a backstory on each move. He’ll tell me how someone used it on him, or he tried the move and someone was able to get out, and how you have to be aware of the steps, so he is like a teacher and a partner.
Levon: There are a lot of benefits to being partners with Tyler. One thing is I am able to try different things with him, I discover ways to refine my moves, make them more efficient. He is tall, but he is thin, with long limbs, so I have to alter my moves and positions, which is good.
What have you learned about age differences?
Tyler: That many times, age may not really matter. I don’t view Levon as an older person, I have serious nervous energy every time before sparing, because I know how good he is.
Levon: Well you have to understand that I feel like I am 25 years old when I get on the mat, so I never really take any age differences into consideration. That said, of course there are differences, but I don’t really think it has to do with age, it has to do with the amount of experience.
Do you two have anything in common in addition to BJJ?
Tyler: Yes, we both love jazz, and we both play instruments, he plays the alto saxophone and I play the alto, tenor and baritone saxophone along with the guitar. We spend time talking about old school jazz musicians and music in general a lot of the time.
Levon: What we have in common was a shock to me I mean how many kids his age like jazz? We both enjoy, no, I’d say love jazz, and the fact that he plays all the different saxophones is very impressive. I know you said in addition to BJJ, but it is very important that people know we share the BJJ lifestyle, which means we use the principles we learn on the mat in life to improve our health, gain patience and be humble.
What would you say to those who question whether to train with someone older or younger?
Tyler: Well to me older means wiser, so I see it as an opportunity to gain even more knowledge and get twice as good. I also have to say that I felt bad about how I judged him at first, because I have been judged for many years when people see me, a kid in the adult class or when they find out about my kidney illness. I’m just glad that I got over the judgment after that initial class and realized that he has more to offer than a lot of the others on the mat.
Levon: it doesn’t matter age wise or size wise, its like a dancer who has different dance partners, so he has to adapt to that person’s strengths and weaknesses. I benefits from training with Tyler, because I learn when I am showing him moves. It also helps me to get his perspective on moves and techniques, a fresh pair of eyes.
Side bar: Levon: My goal is to get my black belt by the time I am 75, this BJJ is age proof, I am extending my life and I’m maintaining the full capacity of being a man.
Levon Combat Sports Bio: Boxed for a 8 years, Taekwondo 2 years, at 45 started grappling mixed with combat sambo for 14 years, started with a gi at Cobrinha’s when it opened to present day.
Tyler: I have been doing BJJ for a little over 8 years, and whenever I have stress from my illness, school or anything, I use what I’ve learned on the mats. I cannot imagine not having it as a part of my life. Please go and check out my site www.healingtyler.com thanks.
Tyler’s Combat Sports Bio: Karate for 3 years, Muay Thai for 1 year, BJJ for 8 years to present day.
Because we practice Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu does not mean we are immune to the ugliness, underbelly or subversiveness of human culture. We are a tight knit group. We bond fast and tight. Yet there are some who will take advantage of this and use it to exploit their own goals. Here are some stories sent in to BJJ Legends anonymously and paraphrased.
“Always be careful of where you run to. When the going gets tough, take it easy and slow down, else you venture into the den of lions.” ― Michael Bassey Johnson
Has this ever happened to you on your BJJ Journey:
You are training at a gym and realize your new addiction is putting a dent in your budget. A fellow student is going to open a new place (same affiliation) with much better pricing options. He talks to you and you jump at the opportunity to save some cash while receiving optimal training. You feel blessed and can't believe that after so many setbacks you have finally caught a break (financially) in your journey. You leave a place you do love but can't afford. You even become best friends with the wife of the gym owner. You are so overwhelmed by how things are coming together but you are somehow waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then, the owner offers you incentives on and off the mat to offset training costs. The proposition was met with disgust and utter disbelief. The professor's gym never garnered a following and the place had to close. The student returned to training in a much happier and productive environment and is even more selective now when it comes to training opportunities that sound to good to be true.
Has this ever happened to you on your BJJ Journey:
You are a new BJJ practitioner, a white belt without a clue. You are a former athlete, even still there is a major intimidation factor when a asking stranger for assistance. All you want to do is improve. You're preparing for IBJJF Worlds 2014, clueless of the interim professor's plans. There were inappropriate text messages and FULL-Monty photographs. But you ignored the advances. You are focused on one thing, the Worlds. Once he figured out nothing was going to happen, he did the worst thing a professor could do. The professor refused to provide training at all. It is difficult enough to come forward when you have been sexually harassed but it is worse when you have to bow to your harasser or shake their hand as a sign of respect.
Has this ever happened to you on your BJJ journey?
You attend an academy for a while but then over time it no longer suits your needs so you move on. Then some time later you bump into an old teammate. Your teammate asks you some very strange and particular questions. Apparently you only left your own gym because you are gay and your homosexual advances towards the gym owner and head coach led to you being asked to leave. You find the entire story laughable but also insulting. You're not gay but so what if you were? You had no idea that the act of moving would incite such a frenzy and bring people to slander.
“Its too hard to make a Lion Angry... He really doesn't care what others do around him... but if you do hurt His PRIDE... He wont let you live another Day” ― Indrani Biswas
The article examines Tammi Musumeci's gutsy performance versus Michelle Nicolini through what film and literature has taught us about grit and finding the value of our name.
The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper names.
on Tammi Musumeci
If there was ever a time in sport Jiu-Jitsu when you don't tap, that was it. Sunday at the 2014 IBJJF World Jiu-Jitsu Championship, Michelle Nicolini placed Tammi Musumeci in a brutal, behind-the-back arm-bar. Tammi did not tap, and Nicolini dislocated Tammi's elbow. Tammi was up 6 to 4 with less than a minute left.
She avoided a spider guard sweep by Nicolini, which allowed Nicolini to slip behind and capture the arm. Tammi's arm straightened, stiffened, and then popped. You could almost hear the hollow sound, two bones un-notching creating an uncanny bend. Tammi continued to fight, but Nicolini got to her knees and toppled Tammi over. The score was then tied 6-6, but Nicolini was up on advantages. Tammi had one final push, upa'ing into top guard. Her arm, however, was limp and bent the wrong way, like a doll whose owner reversed one of the arms. The match ended, Tammi dropped, and she released the held-in scream of pain that would have been a verbal tap during the match.
Sports wait for that moment. No, not an injured player, but of a contestant who gave it all they had, even a limb. Sports may be played for the win, but they are watched for that iconic, symbolic image. No one really believes a loss is the same as a win, despite the saying, "doesn't matter if you win or lose, what matters is how you play the game." However, there are times when a loss is more important than a win. Sometimes a loss transcends the win and the loser stands taller than the winner. Sometimes the one who is remembered is the one who lost. That moment is when Tammi found the meaning of her name in our sport.
The most obvious analog in Jiu-Jitsu is Jacare's win over Roger Gracie in the 2004 absolute Worlds finals. Roger snapped Jacare's arm. Jacare won. The problem with Jacare's win, though, is that it rings hollow. Jacare never continued the fight, as he stalled for a few minutes and ran away the rest of the match. He should have been disqualified. Lack of combativeness is cardinal sin number one in combat sports, including Jiu-Jitsu. In Judo it's an automatic hansoku make, which not only results in the loss of the match, but expulsion from the tournament itself, meaning even if it was the finals, the loser on such a major penalty would not receive second place.
Across other sports, history is full of moments when a contestant should have tapped, but didn't. The kink with most of these moments is that the player wound up winning in the end. In doing so, they became revered but unidentifiable to us. They become gods and legends. Kirk Gibson should not have stepped up to the plate against the Athletics in 1988 World Series; yet he did, and he hit a homerun, and we remember his iconic, slow limp around the bases, while pumping his arms. New Yorkers have Willis Reed returning from the locker room in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. These are win-wins. They risked and won. Obviously, it was worth it.
However, a loss that transcends the opponent's win is the stuff of great literature. That's what gives most of us, those who are not Gibson or Reed, we who won't win the championship or be the one, but be the other one, the second, third, or fourth place one, our symbolic force. It is with the contender that we really identify with. It's everywhere in the narrative arts.
For example, the Rocky Statue erected at the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Arts is not a sculpture of a winner but of someone who lost. In Rocky (1976), Rocky begins his run in the early morning. The song "Gonna Fly Now" plays in the background. He jogs through an empty, still sleeping, Philadelphia. Before he reaches the steps, he starts a sprint up, reaches the top, and raises his arms in victory. That is the moment, the pose, that is immortalized in the statue. Rocky lost the subsequent fight. The film's transcendence of the "fight story" is what made it the Best Picture winner for 1976. It is what gave Rocky the force of his name. In Rocky II (1979), Rocky runs up the steps, but is surrounded by a crowd raising their own hands. Rocky went on to win, and the films never recovered their artistic value. The Rocky Statue was erected for the filming of Rocky III (1982). The statue of a winner would have the crowd surrounding him, jumping on the bandwagon. The statue there, of one who lost, is of a sole combatant, of "an anyone" and everyone who has taken that jog alone in pursuit of a dream and not quite reached it.
I don't know if I have that in me. We would all love to know. To risk it and walk away with the loss. To risk it and walk away with the win, everyone wants that; that's sports fantasy number one. Yet, what everyone wants to know, wants to find out, is if we have it in us to lose. Deep down, we know that is when we know what we are made of. That is when we find out what our own proper name means. Who we are, in defeat.
That is the thingness of defeat. It is an encounter with the self. Tammi was the one. The warrior who can be wounded and lose. That is whom we truly identify with. William Wallace's cry of freedom has rung in our ears since we watched Braveheart (1995). Remember, Wallace can say the word mercy to save his life. Instead, he screams freedom which ensures his death.
Royal Magistrate: Now behold the awful price of treason. You will fall to your knees now. Declare yourself the king's loyal subject, and beg his mercy, and you shall have it.
Royal Magistrate: (leaning over to whisper to William) It can all end, right now. Peace. Bliss. Just say it. Cry out mercy.
The crowd starts chanting, "mercy."
Royal Magistrate: Cry out. Just say it. Mercy.
Hamish: Mercy, William, mercy.
Stephen: Jesus, just say it.
Royal Magistrate: (to the crowd) The prisoner wishes to say a word.
William: (after much struggle, shouting with all his might) FREEDOM!
Arthur Miller's The Crucible (1953 play, 1996 movie) examined the same thing. Set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, the protagonist, John Proctor, will not, in the end, confess falsely to having seen the devil and of being a witch. He tears up the confession when he sees his named signed on a lie. He realizes that all we have in this life, that we can carry with us and we leave behind, is our name.
Danforth: Then explain to me, Mr. Proctor, why you will not let -
Proctor, with a cry of his whole soul: Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
Danforth: Is that document a lie? If it is a lie I will not accept it! You will give me our honest confession in my hand, or I cannot keep you from the rope.
Parris: Proctor, Proctor!
Hale: Man, you will hang—you cannot! [...] (Turns to Elizabeth) Woman, plead with him! (Drum roll. Elizabeth avoids his eyes.) It is pride, it is vanity. Be his helper! – What profit him to bleed? Shall the dust praise him? Shall the worms declare his truth? Go to him, take his shame away.
ELIZABETH: He have his goodness now. God forbid I take it from him.
The film ends with Proctor being taken to his execution on the charges of witchcraft. If he had signed a confession, he'd have lived.
In that fight, Tammi Musumeci found her name's meaning to us. Her name became embodied to us in a gruesome bend. She continued to fight and almost, almost still won. She held the scream until it was over. Warrior. Before his execution, in his jail cell, Isabella pleads to Wallace, "You will die. It will be awful." To which Wallace responds, "Every man dies, not every man lives." Every competitor fights, and knows you have to tap. Once in a while, a rare competitor appears and she shows us the once-in-a-lifetime moment when not to tap.
Keith Myers, a friend a training partner, publishes a blog at http://tapoften.wordpress.com/. I particularly liked this post and have republished with his permission. If you run across a particularly good blog post please let us know either through email or on Facebook. We'd love to share.
Humildade em Vitória
I often find myself pondering what I call the great pillars of jiu-jitsu. These are the character traits that should be cultivated through training to become a better person off the mats. These include:
Humility Honor Discipline Integrity Critical Thought Self-Control
This post will only deal with the first of those pillars: Humility. Specifically, I'd like to address the concept of humility in victory.
We are taught that jiu-jitsu is a great engine of humility and I believe it to be true: Everyone must tap thousands of times, put their egos aside and realize for a moment that they are not the rough and tumble bad-ass that they thought they were. Often enough, this lesson is drilled into us through training with partners both above and below what we deem our skill level. As a blue belt, I consistently tap to friends that are still wearing a white strap around their waist, reinforcing the concepts that A. a belt is not the thing to be striving for and B. that humility comes in defeat.
This letter send from Afghanistan touched me and I want to share it. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community is a community that is tighter than most. What I find surprising is the reach of the community. Also if you have friends who train and are currently serving or about to be deployed let them know that training is available.
Hello from Afghanistan....
I just read your words in BJJ Legends about the New Year’s Eve rape. From here in Afghanistan, I hadn't heard about it at all, and to be honest, I'm not very plugged into the BJJ community yet anyway. But I have to say.... I'm crushed. I guess I'm not so naïve that I think there are no douchebags in BJJ. But it still sucks soo bad what happened. And esp by people in the BJJ family. I read that it's similar to getting caught in a choke. I have no real fear of it when I get caught up and choked, because I totally trust my opponent to release me when I tap. I trust my BJJ family.
Over here, we're nothing special. All of us at the very beginning of our journey. But trusting each other in a choke or armbar etc, has brought us closer as a small family here.
The trust feeds the family feeling, and the family feeling feeds the trust. And because of that I think maybe we grow in our BJJ better. Let alone the violence & mental anguish of the act, I can't imagine the absolute betrayal this poor woman must have felt (still feels) from her BJJ family. the confusion, the shock, the betrayal. It just turns my stomach to think about it.... It's all just sad & disgusting.
Patrick Whelan Born & raised in St Louis, MO 1 of 4 kids, rowdied around a lot. Played lots of diff sports growing up. Joined the Coast Guard at 17, while still in high school. Joined the Air Force active after high school and worked in Electronic Warfare. Retired from the Air Force reserves after 23 years as Master Sergeant. Did Volunteer Fire & Rescue for 10 years. When stateside, white belt under Prof Marcelo Alonso at a center in Fife, WA. Now working as civilian advisor to the Afghan army on tech issues. Been deployed to Afghanistan for over past 3 years. Open FaceBook group Jiu-Jitsu Afghanistan.
Today, I hit my first spinning juji gatame in live rolling. The immediate double bonus points such an event applies to BJJ’s regular endorphin rewards were slowly overtaken by a creeping nausea. I hate spinning juji gatames, and not because until very recently my attempts to land them have involved spinning with less grace than drunk minor-league figure skaters. I hate them because spinning is an incredibly poor adjective for juji gatame, as the two terms are not from the same language (or language family. Or alphabet system.)
First, let me offer a definition: macaronic, per Merriam Webster, means “characterized by a mixture of two languages.” I am not against macaronic language per se; I do however feel that, like mixing ice cream flavors, it must be done with great care and circumspection. The brash smashing together of terms that has become the norm in Jiu Jitsu is disrespectful of the beauty of both source languages and of the potential of macaronic wordplay. Let the wrestlers grunt out ungainly combinations of signifiers; such quasi-linguistic noise is unbecoming of an art as elegant as ours.
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.
Holly McClung Reusing, thank you for this post, There is No Place for Heinous Crime in BJJ Culture, for being a part of the growing village of people who are looking deeply at what we do, why we do it, and what standards we might seek to hold ourselves to. For those reading this, I have to confess that Holly had asked me to contribute some of my thoughts --but I've had a bit of writer's block, due in part to my son's participation in "Team Lloyd Irvin." He sees nothing wrong with staying in that camp and doing nothing. For him, it's "business as usual," and he feels no obligation to the MA community, to us, his parents, or to the world in general. He dispels much of the dialogue as "rumors," says he has little or nothing to do with LI himself, and simply wants to continue to train with his "family" there, regardless of how it feels for his family here.
I had sent a note to LI after the rapes, essentially telling him he was "fired" and to send my son packing--and, of course, he has completely ignored me, except to tell me nothing's wrong in his world and to stop writing him. Keenan has received no small amount of grief from us about the morality of supporting people we consider to be way on the unsavory side, what it means if he actually lets these people give him his black belt (disgrace), and how, sometimes, you have to step up and take a stand for things that might make you uncomfortable --but are, nevertheless, right, just, and required of people with a conscience and set of grounded values.
Of course, Keenan is a 20-year-old man and gets to do exactly what he wants, regardless of how his parents feel. I did that when I was 20 (30, 40, etc.), and so I'm not surprised, just deeply disappointed.
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.
The past 3 weeks has been a rocky moment for the BJJ community. From rape allegations to ethic/moral beliefs it clear that this is a sad and intriguing moment for everyone involved in BJJ. Emotions have definitely erupted over the past weeks causing a serious separation in two classes almost like a religious war –lol- which pits the proud 97%ers against the almighty 3%ers.
For those that don’t know what these #’s mean let me give you a brief synopsis. (don’t worry I will be unbiased)
3%er- is one that strives to reach his highest potential at all cost. In our world it is those competitors who aspire to be world champions with no other obligations but toward himself and his ascension in the ranks.
97%er- a person who isn’t concerned with glory or gold medals but more centered toward personal growth. They carry a strong since of “martial art values” which upholds the standards of those who love the martial arts, and train to build strong Character, for Sport and to develop skill and awareness for Self-defense.