Coming to Terms with Being a BJJ Nomad
I was 19 years old when I began training in jiu-jitsu. I started in college, so I rarely settled at a gym for long during my first few years.
That hardly changed when I graduated, as I spent the next few years trying to find my career path and adjusting my life and my training accordingly. In nearly a decade of practicing jiu-jitsu, I have been a member of at least seven different academies. I have never received more than one promotion from the same instructor.
My life has settled down in the last few years. East Coast United BJJ has been my home for five years, and it’s been a nice change to grow with a community, to be part of a place for longer than one trending technique.
I used to call myself a BJJ nomad, but now I considered that lifestyle part of my past. I had been a purple belt under four different professors. But when I received my brown belt in 2018, I was relieved to think that my black belt would eventually come from the same hands.
Last week, I received an unexpected job offer halfway across the country. It’s my dream job, and I’m ecstatic for this opportunity. Still, I can’t help but grieve at the thought that I’m being uprooted from another community which has become a family to me.
There are some upsides in the nomadic BJJ lifestyle. Most importantly, I have learned how to sniff out a positive gym culture and how to look for red flags. When I move to a new area, finding a new academy is the first thing on my list. Jiu-jitsu is my everyday hobby, my source of friendship, exercise and relaxation. I have learned through experience that some vibes can make it difficult for me to get everything I need out of that environment.
When I explore new gyms, I hone into the mindsets and the energies of the instructors and the members to ensure that I end up at a place where I can thrive and where I feel welcome to give back.
While I’m fixated on finding a culture that resembles one I’m familiar with, another major benefit of being a BJJ nomad is the ability to see jiu-jitsu from new angles. When you have trained at one or two academies, it’s easy to be confined by a myopic way of seeing jiu-jitsu. As a purple belt, when I moved several times a year, I noticed that my style of play was entirely foreign at each new gym. I had different habits than my training partners in every position or scenario. Each new instructor had a different lens through which they interpreted a situation based on their favorite techniques. This has always offered a great opportunity to reflect on my game, to find weaknesses I hadn’t seen and to refine my approach with new feedback and new perspectives.
So while it is heartbreaking to leave the academy that has felt like home for so many years, I’m excited for the opportunity to be the new guy with the unusual style: to offer and be offered different interpretations of movement and strategy. And there’s no better community to be part of when moving to a new area. Jiu-jitsu people are some of the most welcoming people in the world. Time and time again I’ve been able to find a mat space and a group of like-minded people that I am able to call “home.”
Corey Stockton is a brown belt at East Coast United BJJ in White Plains, NY under Jojo Guarin. He competes more often than is healthy, and spends the rest of his free time writing about other, far superior competitors for FloGrappling.