My Personal Code of Ethics as an Instructor

My last post about my rules as an instructor was well received, but many of you asked for more of my ethical and moral rules, not just ones related to how I teach techniques or run warm-ups.

Treat all students equally.

Every student deserves equally opportunities for an instructor’s time and guidance.

In reality, some students will need more attention than others, but I make an effort to spend time with every student in my class and be available to help them if needed.

The point is to not play favorites or allow cliques to form. Even the clumsiest, bumbling, most clueless white belt deserves your attention.

Show up to class and pay attention the entire time.

This rule may seem obvious to the point of stupidity, but you would be surprised (or maybe not so surprised) by how many BJJ instructors fail at it.

Have you ever showed up for a scheduled class only to stand outside of a locked gym door for 20 minutes until a frantic purple belt rushes over to open up and cover class because the head instructor cannot be found?

Have you ever had an instructor who would just show a move, then walk away to check his phone or chat on the side with a clique of higher belts?

These are common occurrences in the BJJ world, but they should not be. If I cannot get to class, I make sure it is covered or I make sure the students get enough warning to change their plans. Nothing is worse than getting ready to train and driving all the way to the gym just to turn around and drive home. That cannot happen as long as people are paying to train at your school.

Do not get into relationships with students.

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned “don’t bang your students” as an obvious rule, but many readers wanted to hear more on that, which is partly why we are getting this second post.

Let’s look to what the code of ethics for Olympic coaches says about this:

Coaches do not engage in sexual intimacies with current athletes.

The code even goes one step further to ban sexual relations between coaches and former athletes for two years after the coach-athlete relationship ends, explaining it like this:

Because sexual intimacies with a former athlete are so frequently harmful to the athlete, and because such intimacies undermine public confidence in the coaching profession and thereby deter the public's use of needed services, coaches do not engage in sexual intimacies with former athletes even after a two-year interval except in the most unusual circumstances.The coach who engages in such activity after the two years following cessation or termination of the coach-athlete relationship bears the burden of demonstrating that there has been no exploitation, in light of all relevant factors, including:
(1) the amount of time that has passed since the coach-athlete relationship terminated,
(2) the circumstances of termination,
(3) the athlete's personal history.
(4) the athlete's current mental status,
(5) the likelihood of adverse impact on the athlete and others, and
(6) any statements or actions made by the coach during the course of the athlete-coach relationship suggesting or inviting the possibility of a post-termination sexual or romantic relationship with the athlete or coach.

A BJJ gym is not held to the same standard as an Olympic training center, but it is still a bad idea for instructors to sleep with students for the same reasons. The teacher-student dynamic -- like any with one person having more authority, control, and influence over the other -- has too much potential for abuse. Students (especially women) should not need to worry that their coach has other intentions than to teach them what they signed up to learn.

I will admit I know of a few times where a BJJ black belt dated a student and they ended up happily married, but I have many more stories about nasty break-ups, rifts breaking up the gym, jealousy, angry wives, and all the drama you would expect from a Brazilian soap opera. It’s better to just keep it in your pants.

Prepare your students for the physical demands you will place on them.

This is a newer rule for me, but one I wish was more common as I was coming up the ranks. As I said in my other post, I do not turn my BJJ classes into strength and conditioning workouts, and I am not a fan of long warm-ups, but I have come to believe it is an BJJ instructor’s duty to prepare students (especially beginners) to handle the positions and stresses we will put them through. To do otherwise is to set them up for injuries and chronic pain. My training in Functional Range Conditioning has driven this point home, and now I feel that I have the tools to do the right movement prep without turning warm-ups into touch butt.

Share everything you know and keep no secrets.

Just as I do not believe in the old school “creonte” mindset, I do not believe in keeping “secret techniques” from my students. Nevermind that it is nearly impossible to have a true secret technique these days, because the minute it is used in tournament, it will be up on ShowtheART, reddit, and get 4000 shares on Facebook.

Keeping no secrets does not mean that you have to teach literally everything any time you are asked. Students have a limit on how much they can absorb, and they need to learn the basics before you show them advanced techniques. You can still tell a student “I would show you that but I don’t think it’s the most important thing for you to learn right now. Here’s something better.” The point is that you do not place “tests of loyalty” or other nonsense between your students and what you are willing to show them.

Keep politics and drama off the mats.

Do not abuse the fact your students have to listen to you to preach to them beyond your beliefs about BJJ. Religion, politics, and gossip are best kept off the mats. (That’s what Facebook is for.)

Be direct with your students if there is a problem.

That stinky white belt with claws for nails and funk growing behind his ears? The girl who did not realize she had her period in her white gi pants? The creepy new guy who keeps trying to slink over to partner up with the girls? The newly minted blue belt who tries to run mini-seminars for the white belts when everyone else is rolling? Those are all your problems as an instructor. Those will require an awkward conversation to handle, but you just need to step up and do it -- being as tactful as possible, of course.

Remember, being a black belt does not make you a better person.

Being a better person makes you a better person. Maybe BJJ helps you do that, or maybe it doesn’t. I have known my fair share of crappy people who happen to be good at BJJ.

We like to do this weird thing where we wear cotton pajamas styled after feudal Japanese clothing and throw each other around on rubber padding. We give each other colored strips of fabric to wrap around our waists so we can show how good we are at this odd activity. We make up hashtags like #jiujitsulifestyle and #bjjsavedmylife and we post on reddit about how our boyfriends and girlfriends just don’t get us.

These are all fun to do but they do not make you a good person. They just make you a person with an unusual hobby.

Here are things that make you a good person:

  • Loving and caring for your family and friends
  • Treating people with fairness
  • Showing kindness and compassion
  • Helping a stranger in need

Things that do not make you a better person:

  • Being good at armbars
  • Having a strong sprawl
  • Throwing people on their heads
  • Lower belts bowing to you

I am not saying this to diminish the positive changes many people experiences through doing BJJ. Anything that requires dedication, commitment and social interaction with others can lead to personal growth. The point I am making is: you need to stay humble. Between me as a BJJ black belt and a white belt who is a plumber, society needs him far more than it needs me.


Does that code of ethics square with what you believe? Would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments below.

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