Updated: Aug 4

This is the third part in a three part series on unwanted behaviors in a BJJ Academy and how to manage them. In the first post I discuss the problems gym owners face with holding their highest ranked students accountable for bad behavior, in the second post I outline the behaviors that gyms owners should try to eliminate, and in this post I go over how Groundworks addresses behaviors we don't want.


Jiu-Jitsu changes most people for the better. It makes us more powerful and more confident and, in doing so, empowers us to be kinder and more understanding of others. That said, if a purple belt or above is still engaging in unacceptable behaviors, additional Jiu-Jitsu will not help them. They need to seek outside help, counseling, etc and take time away from the gym until they do.


When speaking with students about their behavior it's usually best to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume ignorance / lack of social awareness over bad intent. However, if they remove all doubt regarding their intent, it's important to remove them from the gym.


"When someone shows you who they are, believe them." -Maya Angelou


Steps Groundworks will use to address bad behavior

  • Step 1 - The instructor will state the expectation after class during closing remarks

  • At Groundworks, we state our expectations from time to time to reinforce the gym's culture or when we've spotted behaviors we don't want

  • Most students, if they are self-aware enough, will make the needed changes to their behavior without any additional prompting


  • Step 2 - The instructor will have a private conversation with the student engaging in the behavior and politely discuss the behavior. The student will either:

  • Be aware that they're engaging in the behavior

  • Be unaware that they're engaging in the behavior

  • Deny that they're engaging in the behavior

  • Additionally, they'll either:

  • Agree to stop the behavior, and stop

  • Agree to stop the behavior, but continue it

  • Refuse to stop the behavior


  • Step 3 - Based on their responses to Step 2 the Groundworks instructor will:

  • Feel comfortable that they won't do it again

  • Keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t do it again

  • Kick them out, because they will do it again


If the student engaging in bad behavior cannot stop or refuses to stop, especially if it's a more serious behavior, it’s time to ask them to take some time away from the gym.


There will likely be a time in the future when we have a student, who I care about, who needs to be removed from the gym due to repeated bad behavior. I’m probably not going to want to kick them out for all the reasons I mentioned in the first post in this series. I'm sharing my thoughts publicly about how this type of thing is handled at Groundworks so that our community can hold me accountable for it.

Updated: Aug 4

This is the second part in a three part series on unwanted behaviors in a BJJ Academy and how to manage them. In the first post I discuss the problems gym owners face with holding their highest ranked students accountable for bad behavior, in the second post I outline the behaviors that gyms owners should try to eliminate, and in the third post I go over how Groundworks addresses behaviors we don't want.


There are 8 major problems that a gym should not tolerate:


Using the gym for hookups


A BJJ gym is a community. I've been with my gym for over 20 years and highly value the relationships I've built over that time. I'm genuinely happy when two students find that they connect and start a romantic relationship. Whether the relationship works out or not, the longer term intention around it forwards our sense of community.


This is distinct from using the gym as a personal dating pool, trying to sleep with every new person that walks through the door, or trying to date your way up the belt hierarchy. Doing so takes from the community by causing people to leave it rather than deal with the drama or unwanted attention.


Sexual harassment


There's an inherent hierarchy in Jiu-Jitsu. Sexual harassment is almost always directed towards someone of a lower rank by someone of a higher rank. Therefore, in he said / she said scenarios, the lower ranking student's account of the situation should always be given more weight than the higher ranking student's.


I'm not saying higher ranking students can't ask someone out. I'm saying if the student doing the asking is told 'no,' he should say thank you and not ask again — even if he thinks they've changed their mind. I'm saying don't make sexual innuendos, especially while sparring. Don't "accidently" grope someone. Don't attempt to flirt with age inappropriate people, especially if they're under 18. Don’t offer to “help” a new student just so you can slide into their DM’s later.


Bullying


Bullying can happen on or off the mat. Like sexual harassment it's almost always directed toward someone of a lower rank by someone of a higher rank. The tell tale sign of bullying is that the bully can't handle the behaviors that they direct toward others when those same behaviors are directed at the bully.


Self-promoting to professor


It helps the gym when more experienced students provide constructive corrections to students who are struggling or repeatedly making the same mistake. However, it's not ok for a student to start teaching when he wasn't asked to or when he is supposed to be drilling or sparring. Doing so disrupts the flow of the class and makes it harder for other students to participate. If students want to teach they should talk to their instructor after class about how to best get started helping out with classes.


Disruption / distracting others from class


Some people love to be the center of attention. There’s nothing wrong with that in a social setting but in a class setting it just diminishes everyone else’s ability to learn. Students should not interrupt class with jokes or off topic conversations and shouldn't stop their partner from drilling to have a side conversation about what happened on the latest Daisy Fresh episode. There’s plenty of time after class and during open mats for attention loving students to get the recognition they want.


Taking and never contributing


Some students mistakenly think they're the main character. They think their training partners are just there for them to practice on. They don't see any benefit to helping their teammates develop. They might refuse to roll with anyone who they deem "not good enough." If we don't help our teammates develop, especially our newer teammates, eventually we won't many people to train with.


Hygiene resistance


This is more of a safety thing than an smell thing;) If a student's gear is dirty enough to stink, it's dirty enough to spread skin infections. If a student is repeatedly walking on the floor in bare feet, especially if he's going to the bathroom, and then walking on the mat, he's putting everyone at risk for ringworm, staph, and MRSA.


Gym hopping


Sometimes we find ourselves at a gym that’s just a bad fit for us — maybe the gym is too competitive or too relaxed. If a student changes gyms twice, maybe he was just unlucky or needs to reevaluate how he assess a school and instructor he's going to train with. If the student changes gyms three times, it's not the gyms that are the problem, it's the student.


So how does Groundworks handle these behaviors when they come up? We'll cover that in the next post...

Updated: Aug 4

This is the first part in a three part series on unwanted behaviors in a BJJ Academy and how to manage them. In this post I discuss the problems gym owners face with holding their highest ranked students accountable for bad behavior, in the second post I outline the behaviors that gyms owners should try to eliminate, and in the third post I go over how Groundworks addresses behaviors we don't want.


It's hard for BJJ instructors and gym owners to hold their highest ranking students accountable for bad behavior. In the short term, BJJ instructors are incentivized to overlook bad behavior from their higher belts for three reasons:

  1. It's emotionally difficult to risk losing the student

  2. It's hard to risk losing the student's knowledge & experience

  3. It has the potential to financially hurt the gym

Let's look at each...


Emotional Pain


As instructors we spend years (sometimes decades) investing our time and energy into our students. Unfortunately, a Black Belt doesn't make us immune to the sunk cost fallacy. When a long time student repeatedly behaves badly, it can feel like we've personally failed as a coach and mentor. It's easy to think, "maybe if I just give him a little more attention, he'll change" and it's hard to acknowledge that he won't change no matter how much more attention he's given. This is doubly true when the student apologizes for their behavior and seems genuinely remorseful.


You're likely friends with the student, you've been through a lot together, and you've shared blood, sweat, and tears over many years. You feel like an uncle or big brother to him, and you've made multiple personal sacrifices to support and encourage him over the years. If you restrict his training or kick him out of the gym, he will feel betrayed by you and you will likely feel guilty about it regardless of whether it's the right decision.


Loss of Knowledge & Experience


Everything else being equal, higher belts are better training partners. They have more knowledge, offer tougher/more technical rolls, and pull the level in the gym up. Losing higher belts hurts your gym by reducing the number of good training partners available to your other students.


Financial Pain


It's normal for a group of higher belts to be friends and train together all the time. If you kick one out, you run the risk of his friends leaving too. This amplifies the loss of knowledge and experience at your gym. It may also have a substantial impact on your income.

There are probably some lower belts who like training with the problematic higher belt. You could lose them too as the problematic higher belt might take them to his new gym.


What happens in the long term if you don't remove problematic higher belts?


In the short term instructors have little incentive to remove problematic higher belts, but in long term it's a different story. Allowing problematic higher belts to continue their bad behavior:

  1. Fosters a toxic gym environment

  2. Reduces new student sign-ups

  3. Exposes you to legal and PR nightmares

Let's take a look at why...


Toxic Environment

When you don't remove the problematic student, your efforts to maintain a positive gym culture are thwarted because other students see that the rules/norms/etc don't apply to the highest ranking students. Lower ranking students are show that they can do whatever they want if they just get good enough at Jiu-Jitsu. This attracts assholes and predators who eventually cause your quality students to leave. After a few years of this you're left with a toxic gym full of jerks.


Reduced Sign-ups


If your problematic higher belts are teaching classes or if they are allowed to interact with prospective students, they can cause new people to not sign-up. One of the hallmarks of a problematic student is their unwillingness or inability to change their bad behaviors after you've brought those behaviors to their attention. They might manhandle timid students, berate students who've made an innocent mistake, or hit on students they find attractive.


Over the course of several months or a year, this causes more financial harm to the gym than losing the problematic higher belt and any students that choose to leave with him.


Legal & PR Problems


Problematic people get bolder in their bad behavior when there are limited consequences. At worst this can lead to them to commit crimes against your other students, exposing you to legal liabilities and possibly a spot on your local evening news. At best your gym will develop a poor reputation within your local BJJ community.


In the short term it makes little sense to remove a problematic student, but in the long term it's critical that you do. There's never a good time to remove someone. If you have a problematic student that hasn't changed their bad behavior after you've repeatedly tried to get them to address it, you need to get them out. Call them today, schedule a meeting, and have that conversation — your gym will be better for it.


What behaviors should gym owners not tolerate? I'll discuss that in the next post in this series.