Inverted Gear Blog / Valerie Worthington

Ask a Panda: How to Deal with “Let’s Just Go Light” Guy/Gal


I am a male blue belt, 5’10” and 165lbs. I’m not small, but I’m also not the largest person in my gym. I try to be a good training partner, and I want to keep myself safe during training too.

I’m sure you’ve heard my question before: How do you deal with people who say want to go light during live training but then come at you super hard? It gets frustrating, and I’m worried I might get injured.


“Let’s Just Go Light” guy or gal is one of the most long-standing jiu-jitsu archetypes, though not one of the most beloved. In the typical situation, one person asks a partner to “just go light,” but then comes out of the gate like he or she is in a steel-cage death match. Some people probably do this to get the jump on the other person, but I am willing to bet that most genuinely have no idea that they are doing anything other than going as gently as a summer breeze. They are like those memes that show a .gif of a high-level judoka effortlessly tossing an opponent next to a .gif of a baby elephant trying to knock down a post with the captions “What I think I look like when doing takedowns” and “What I actually look like when doing takedowns.”

Instructors may not spend as much time as we probably should explaining how to “go light” or to flow roll, so the first thing to do is establish what it means. There are tons of ways to describe what is supposed to be happening during a flow roll or a warm-up round, but let us get straight to the heart of the matter. When we go light, it is each person’s job to strategically give up position. Let me say that again: When we go light, it is each person’s job to strategically give up position.

Think about it: Does it take more energy to refuse a sweep or to allow it to happen when your partner has executed correctly? The answer is probably obvious. When we allow a sweep to happen, then, we are, by definition, going lighter than when we defend. Logically, it makes sense that we would want to let the sweep happen, at least sometimes, if we are doing right by our partners in a “go light” situation.

However, logic and ego do not necessarily work hand in hand. Grapplers as a species often neglect to connect the fact that while allowing a sweep, for instance, also results in our partner “getting the better of us” in some way, this is the goal of going light. If both people are doing it right, then both partners stand to benefit from a flow roll because both partners are allowing each other to get the better of them at different times.

Everyone gets this intellectually. When we square off and feel ourselves losing position, though, we tend to go bananas and to throw our best collaborative intentions out the window. This results in a zero-sum game rather than a joint effort toward helping both people gain ground.

The thing is, we cannot really control what our partners do, only what we do. In this situation, you are the “lucky” one, because you have been given the gift of awareness. There was probably a time in your jiu-jitsu career when you were the person you are now concerned about, because you did not have the presence of mind you do now. But with power comes responsibility, so the suggestions I have are for how you can monitor and modify your own behavior. This may not be what you were hoping for, but with patience and thoughtfulness, they can help you AND help you pay it forward to your overly energetic flow rolling partners.

The first thing to do when going light with someone else is to set your own intention to do so—you do not want to be the person in the pair who takes unfair advantage. Many people accompany the fist bump that precedes most rounds with a verbalized wish for good training. Take that moment and that wish seriously, and decide you are going to work with your partner collaboratively. Try to stay relaxed, and if you find your entire body tensing like a rubber band, take a deep breath and let it out slowly.

The second thing to do is to pay attention during the round. Often when we train, we let our bodies do the work and give our minds over to the meditative aspects of training. When we are first learning to go light, though, we may need to focus more on how we are moving, how tense we are, and how determined we are to maintain dominance. Just like we cannot relegate specific sequences to our muscle memory until our muscles remember how to do them, we cannot expect to flow roll well if we do not concentrate on doing so, at least at first. So, breathe deeply. Check the tension of your muscles. Try to be like water. If you feel yourself straining or breathing rapidly, slow down.

Another thing to try when you feel you are staying calm and relaxed but feel the force of a wind tunnel coming at you is to stop moving. Your partner will eventually notice, and sometimes that can serve as a non-verbal reminder to them that they need to relax a little. At the very least, it will make them stop and take notice for a second. If necessary, you can say something like, “I was getting a little bit tense, so I wanted to take a breath.” (I understand that you may not actually be the person who is getting tense, but this is where ego control comes in handy.) Repeat as needed. Note that this also has the added benefit of giving you something reasonable to say and do if your partner happens to outrank you; many of us at all belt levels need to work on just going light, not just beginners.

A third thing to do is tap. As with ceasing your movement, tapping can give you an opportunity to reset. Oftentimes we can escalate each other’s energy without meaning to, and if you feel your shared energy getting too animated, you can say something like, “I feel like we are a bit more intense than we want to be, so I figured we could just reset.”

In short, the best thing you can do is model appropriate behavior, react calmly when the behavior is less than appropriate (e.g., stop moving or tap to energy rather than a finish), and be supportive as your partner learns a bit more every day about how to control his/her energy. If all else fails, mentally categorize that person as someone you will go hard with for now; if they ask you go to light, find a reason to say no. You have a responsibility to help your teammates, but you also have a responsibility to keep yourself safe.

How do others help your partners get the hang of flow rolling? Post your suggestions in the comments section.

Have a question? Get an answer from Val!

About Valerie Worthington

Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that define me: parents who are psychologists, a childhood spent in the New Jersey suburbs except for a year my family spent in Germany, studying English literature and learning theory, always trying for the funny--not matter how self-deprecating, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art I have been training for almost 20 years. I travel a lot and enjoy snacks just as much. I am reasonably intelligent, but this is undercut by my love of irreverence and childish humor. I am also the author of Training Wheels: How a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Road Trip Jump-Started My Search for a Fulfilling Life.


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Ask a Panda: Dealing with the Jiu-Jitsu Blahs

Question: I am a brown belt, and I love jiu-jitsu. I am in it for the long haul—there is no question about that—but sometimes I find myself feeling ambivalent. I look at some of my teammates, particularly ones who have not been training for as long as I have, and they seem so excited. I know I used to feel that way, but nowadays it feels more like a slog. Lately I go to class, get in my reps and my rounds, and am out the door at the end while some people are still tinkering and asking questions, or even just chatting. These are all things I used to do, but no more. I do not feel enthusiastic or inspired, though I know I am still committed.

My question is: What do I do? I know I will always train, but how do I get through this slump? How do I get back the excitement I used to feel about training?

Answer: I suspect all of us ask this question of ourselves at different points in our lives, regardless of whether we train. Even the most exciting times in our lives eventually end or even out. This is not always bad. In fact, a heart-stopping level of excitement is usually unsustainable for the long haul. Consider the feelings people often have for a new crush. That person may permeate all their thoughts and disrupt their normal functioning—they cannot eat, they cannot sleep, they cannot concentrate, all because they are consumed with thoughts of this special someone. Eventually, though, if this ardor is to be sustainable, it must mellow out; otherwise it is impossible to see to the rest of life’s demands.

A longstanding couple may not always feel that giddy, crush-y feeling for each other, but in the best-case scenario, that feeling becomes more of an accent to a deeper, stronger connection. It sounds like you might have the same kind of relationship with jiu-jitsu: it started out like a wildfire and morphed into a steady blaze, but sometimes it feels that blaze is in danger of dwindling to an ember. Read on for some suggestions for feeding the flames.

Ask some teammates what excites them about jiu-jitsu. People who have not been training for as long as you are more likely to demonstrate youthful exuberance because they are less likely to have accumulated injuries and experienced the cumulative physical and mental effects of years of the jiu-jitsu grind. Ask some of them what excites them; you might awaken some reminders of your own early enthusiasm that have become muted by years of dedication.

Switch up your game. After years of training, sometimes our worldview narrows. We invest time and effort in certain sequences and go-to moves, and/or we find ourselves in similar situations roll after roll. This can certainly become repetitive at times. One cure for this is to branch out. Got a teammate who leglocks everyone? Looking to try more smash-pass tactics? Rusty on the feet? Find someone whose game incorporates these aspects of jiu-jitsu and become a new student all over again. You may experience the wonder of learning something new, and you will have the added benefit of being able to learn more quickly than your white belt self, thanks to your years of training.

Teach. Another way to combat the blahs in your training is to teach. Most teachers, of jiu-jitsu or of other things, will tell you that being a teacher requires an orientation to a subject matter that is different from that of a student. As a simple experiment, think about one of your favorite sequences to execute during training. Now, think about how you would explain to a novice how you do it and how they could do it. Extend the experiment by delivering your explanation to someone, and think about how your focus and energy compare to those of your student perspective. By teaching, you can develop an even more sophisticated understanding of techniques in your arsenal, and you also get to experience the satisfaction of helping someone else achieve a goal. If you like the feeling, talk to your instructor about opportunities to teach a class here and there.

Go to a tournament. Even if you do not compete and have no interest in competing, the energy at a jiu-jitsu tournament is a marked departure from what you are likely to experience at your academy. Take it all in: the matches, of course, but also the comments and reactions of the spectators, the activity in the bullpen, the commands of the referees and coaches. Observe the preparation of the competitors and their intensity in competition. Even check out the interactions at the snack bars and gear tables. Do some serious people-watching. All of this spectacle is part of the world you have chosen to participate in, and perhaps by watching a competition you will be inspired by techniques you see or the camaraderie of teammates. Go and observe. See what moves you.

Visit a different academy. Experiencing the environment at a different academy can be a shot in the arm in much the same way going to a tournament can. Everything from the way instructors run warm-ups to the kinds of techniques the students tend to go for can provide different stimuli. So, whether you are traveling for business or taking a field trip, investigate how the other half lives. Just make sure to clear it with your instructor first.

Take some time off. Sometimes lethargy and ambivalence are a sign of burnout. If it has been a while since you have taken an extended period of time off (we’re talking days or weeks, not hours, people), consider unplugging. Yes, I know, you may fear that on one of the days you are gone your instructor will divulge the one simple trick that will make you a jiu-jitsu master the likes of which the world has not seen since <insert name of person you believe is the GOAT>. But if you are burned out, you will be no good to anyone anyway. Rest is a vital part of training, and if you do not schedule breaks into your training, then you are not training as effectively as you could.

Embrace a new normal—for now. You are a brown belt, which means you have likely been training for upwards of six or eight years. Chances are that when you started jiu-jitsu, your life circumstances were different. Perhaps back then you did not have children and now you do. Perhaps you have a more demanding job. Perhaps you have acquired additional interests, which is allowed. It simply means you will need to allocate your available time differently.

It sounds like you still enjoy training. Perhaps you simply do not have time to linger anymore because you have other things to get to. This could be your new normal—for now. You come to class, get your work done, and go on your way, because right now that is what your life demands. Then the cycle will continue, and perhaps you will find you have a bit more free time. Such is life, and variety is one of the characteristics that keeps it from becoming too blah, which is where we started in the first place.

You are bound to experience the blahs if you train long enough. If you find yourself struggling a bit with motivation or inspiration, try one of the tactics described above to jump start your energy. Good luck, and thank you for the question!

Have a question for Val? Submit it here!

Photo credit: CAM Photos & Design

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Redefining Respectful Rolling: It Takes Two to Train

Several years ago, I was warming up at an open mat. I was a black belt at the time, and the person nearest me was a large male blue belt, maybe 220lbs. I asked him if he would like to pair up, and he responded by looking back at me with what could only be described as discomfort and saying, “Uh, sure.” Not sure what he was concerned about, I smiled and cracked a joke to try to put him at ease. We slapped hands, squared off, and started training.

Or, I started. My partner did very little, lying mostly still while I climbed around him trying to get a reaction. He was paying attention, keeping his elbows tight and his chin tucked, but he did not try at all to advance. After about a minute of this, I tapped and disengaged. I was a bit annoyed, wondering why my partner refused to move, and assuming for a split second that his discomfort stemmed from some manifestation of sexism. I was tempted to voice my annoyance, vehemently.

Instead, I theorized about what might be motivating his behavior. I said, “I want to thank you, because I get the sense that you are trying hard not to hurt me. I want you to know I really appreciate you being concerned for my safety.”

He almost sagged with relief. “I thought you were going to yell at me for not going harder with you,” he said. “I get that from some women and smaller men. They think I am dissing them. But my parents taught me to be aware of my size and to watch out for others’ safety. I’m not going to stop doing that anywhere, even on the mat. Even though you outrank me,” he added, then looking down, worried he had miscalculated with the last comment.

I used to be the woman who would yell, or at least who would want to. For many years, I believed that the only way for a man to show me the respect in jiu-jitsu that I craved was to go all out with me, show me no quarter. Especially if I outranked him. Anything else was sexist and disrespectful. Over time, though, I came to realize that there is something to be said for the “feeling out” period of a roll, where you take a few seconds to experience your partner’s energy, tension level, and skill set, AND that after that there are choices besides going full-bore to try to reduce him or her to a grease spot. This becomes even more important as I age. I am still willing and able to go hard, but first I need to learn more about the nature of the hurricane coming at me so I can adjust accordingly.

That day, with that 220-lb male blue belt, I took the time to listen to him, and it turns out his rationale was one I appreciated and could work with. Since we were talking, maybe we could come to an agreement about how intensely to train together. I replied, “I completely understand. I do want to make sure we both get something out of this round, so would you feel comfortable going a little bit harder?”

He agreed, and I reiterated that it was okay for either of us to tap if we thought the energy was problematic in either direction. We spent the five minutes of that timed round figuring out a pace that was comfortable for both of us, and then we decided to train again the next round to take advantage of what we had puzzled over together. As with many things jiu-jitsu related, I learned more from training with him than just how to advance against a larger opponent. Here are a few of my takeaways:

It is okay for us to use our words, especially before they become heated. You would think it would be more common for pairs to have conversations on the mat about pacing and energy level, given how much trust we must place in our training partners to allow them into our personal space. Using our words when doubt exists is not generally modeled, however. If I had to guess, I would say the reason is twofold. First, newer belts may not feel comfortable speaking up and may not even know what they need to ask for, and second, upper belts, socialized in an environment where these kinds of conversations do not often happen before the boiling point, do not have practice naming the various elephants in the room even though they are better able to identify them. For this reason, teachable moments may pass unnoticed, and misunderstandings may occur and persist when they could have been nipped in the bud.

It is important, then, for instructors to watch for problematic dynamics and address them before they spill over. It is also important to model the use of conversations to make sure both people in a pair are on the same page, and to encourage everyone, white through black belt, to speak up if they feel uncomfortable. These do not need to be lengthy discussions, but sometimes even a few words can make all the difference. This leads to the second thing I learned.

Upper belts are in a better position than lower belts to set the tone. I relearn this at least once a month, usually when I have missed an opportunity to help a student learn something or to learn something myself. We will never know, but I am willing to bet that if I had not stopped to talk with my blue belt partner, he would have continued to do what he believed was right. He would not have had a chance to explain why, though, and he might have continued to believe he should take heat for it. As the higher belt, it was appropriate for me to take more responsibility, and it was also tacitly expected that he would defer to me.

Big people have feelings too. A training session between a large man and a smaller woman, for example, is not just about making sure the woman feels comfortable. If I had not asked my blue belt partner about his motivation for (not) moving the way he was, I would have assumed he was being disrespectful or disengaged on purpose. Instead, it turns out he had very strong beliefs about how he should behave with others, and it was I who was in danger of being disrespectful. I did not get to corner the market on getting my training needs met simply because I was smaller.

Now. Lest you think I am advocating for people coming at each other a million miles an hour or for bigger people squishing smaller people, rest assured that I am not. It is still no fun to be on the receiving end of a Tasmanian devil of any size or gender. I would rather be partnered with a sloth than a wind-up monkey with cymbals, at least at first. Sloths can move when they want to, but wind-up monkeys with cymbals will keep clanging until they wind down.

My point is that it benefits us to assume the best of people when they are going slowly with us, even those of us who are highly-ranked women or smaller guys. Even before that, it is never a bad idea to proceed with caution when we train, especially with people we do not know, except perhaps in competition, which may require a different kind of caution. It is also important for us to communicate with each other, assume responsibility for the tone of a training session, especially if we are the ranking belt, and recognize that we and our training partners are in it together.

So, use your voice, use your authority, and use your compassion every time you roll.

Photo credit: Charles Smith

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Confessions of a Jiu-Jitsu Instructor

At the beginning of my jiu-jitsu journey, I thought my instructors were flawless. I had enough difficulty trying to execute technique, and they could not only execute but also teach, down to the finest details. They answered questions I did not even know needed to be asked, and they had a commanding presence I would never have been able to muster. Of course, as time went on, my technique and my ability to explain both improved, and I also became better able to allow my instructors to be the complex, talented, flawed human beings they were.

Now that I am a black belt and an instructor, I hope other people do not view me the way I viewed my instructors in those early years. Knowing what is on the other side of my particular curtain, I can say that, at least in my case, you should not believe the hype. Well, you can believe some of it. I work hard to be a good instructor, but you can spy chinks in my armor if you pay enough attention. Here are just a few:

I do not like anticipating teaching jiu-jitsu. Let me clarify. I like teaching jiu-jitsu. When I am “on,” when I feel I am explaining details well, when I can tell my energy is where it needs to be, there is precious little that is more rewarding than playing a role in helping people improve at an activity they really want to improve at. It always makes me happy when I have useful answers to questions and when I can encourage students to keep trying until they finally succeed at whatever they are attempting.

Still, I experience performance anxiety good and thoroughly, before every class, seminar, open mat, or other teaching situation. Even if I am teaching something I have taught many times before, even though I believe in the techniques I share and the people who taught them to me, I am tempted before every teaching obligation to pretend I fell in a deep hole and cannot get out, so sorry. I understand that some great actors throw up due to nerves, so I guess I am in good company. I wish it did not happen, and I am sure it does not happen to all other instructors. I must be one of the lucky ones.

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about music. Many instructors will play music during class, particularly during sparring. This happens so often that when there is no music, the silence can seem deafening. I have Spotify on my phone, and it is great, though since I refuse to pay for the upgrade there are regular commercials. Then there is the question of what genre to play. Reggae is always a safe bet, but some genres have blue language, some are on playlists that feature good songs followed by duds, and some I find to be too shouty. Recently I used a playlist that was one of the search results for “funk,” and that was a goldmine. (“You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” “Give up the Funk,” etc.) Much as I may want to, though, I cannot play it during every class because everyone will get bored.

I am similarly challenged when it comes to social media. I am not the person who is going to remember to take a picture of her restaurant meal—until after I have eaten it. I take a perverse pride in the fact that I have never taken a mirror selfie. (In the interest of full disclosure, I have been involved in other selfies, including ones using a selfie stick, but never the mirror variety.) Still, I understand that social media is a way to get the word out about things I think are important, and I believe in the school and the art that take up so much of my time.

The challenge lies in the fact that I am not eager to feature myself in pictures or videos, and after a time, even the coolest free rolling session can look exactly like the last one I captured and shared. This
means I do what I always do: Go for the funny. I find something around the school to take a picture of and then make a joke about it. For instance, the coat hooks on the wall of the school look exactly like pugilistic octopuses. I was not the first person to point this out, but I am one of the people who is exceedingly glad somebody did. You may not find my “Still Life with Water Bottle” humorous, but I do, which means at least someone is always laughing, even if it is me.

I am always shocked when someone acts star-struck in my presence. I am not nearly as well-known as many of my friends and colleagues, and this is okay by me. I have been around the jiu-jitsu world for a long time, and I am doing my best to make a meaningful contribution to it. It still surprises me, though, when a fellow practitioner wants to take a picture with me or thanks me for something I have written. It is gratifying but also unexpected, because from my perspective, I am just me.

I have a pretty good poker face, but it is not perfect. Jiu-jitsu instructors and students are people, and people are annoying. I know I am, and I know I (usually) do not mean to be, so when students do annoying things, as they are wont to do because they are people, I have a very long fuse. I can empathize with their frustration, their need to stroke their own egos, or their distractedness. I have been there, and I still go there sometimes. I know they are usually doing the very best they can, and if that still results in me finding them annoying in some way, I can usually let it slide. Even I can reach my limit, though. Sometimes a confluence of minor annoyances from multiple students or even from life circumstances that have nothing to do with training (we *all* bring our stuff onto the mat) can create the spark that reaches the end of my fuse, and I get snippy or short or even shouty, like those playlists I hesitate to use.

I always process the situation afterward to try to identify learnable moments and will apologize if I think it is warranted. I also do my best to deal with the situation and then move on rather than dwelling on it.

I am getting worse and worse with names. Sometimes I have heard a student’s name multiple times and it just does not stick. (I am getting older, and, though some commercials would have you think otherwise, not all parts of me are getting better, including my memory.) Sometimes it is simply that my window of opportunity for learning someone’s name has closed. I should know it by now, but for whatever reason I do not, and I am embarrassed about it.

On the other hand, I am terrific at remembering details of students’ lives, and I find them truly fascinating. If I call you “bro,” please forgive me, and then rest assured that I really do want to see pictures of your hamster’s new babies. I may even do a better job of remembering their names than yours. (Plus, I will never, ever call you “bro.”) More importantly, I am paying attention to you in class. I watch your reps and suggest ways to tighten up your technique, and I watch the training when I am on the sidelines, to keep you safe and to learn more about what you like to do so I can tailor my feedback. I aim to do better about names, but whether or not that improves, I do work hard to see to the care and feeding of the entire grappler.

I am not the best instructor in the world. I have my foibles and my weaknesses. Maybe I am not as good at hiding them as I think I am, so this confessional is akin to proclaiming that water is wet. I wonder if other instructors have a secret dark side too, though, and no matter how imperfect I am, I will always share whatever knowledge I have that will help students improve, even if some of it comes with a side of snark.

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The Modern Martial Artist: What Does Bushido Look Like in the 21st Century?

Earning a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a huge accomplishment, the result of many years of dedication and hard work. Some who have earned one feel like the black belt gives them the platform they need to really start learning. Some go on to be role models and serve their teammates, peers, and students. Some have been indicted on and convicted of charges of rape and child abuse, among other crimes.

I make this last observation not to be salacious; believe me when I say I wish it were not true. Rather, I offer it as context for questions I have been thinking about regarding our expectations for leaders in the jiu-jitsu community. Black belts in jiu-jitsu can be the targets of hero worship, where we sometimes assume that people who have a black belt and/or a successful competition record are also “good” people, as if these accomplishments magically confer some special capacity to be ethical and principled.

Our community is not alone, though. Some permutation of the following equation follows countless prominent sports, entertainment, and political figures:

Intrinsic Value of Famous and/or Talented People > Intrinsic Value of Other People

It is probably clear that there is some faulty math going on here. During a typical jiu-jitsu day, though, at the height of the excitement most of us who train feel about our training, it is not uncommon for people who are learning jiu-jitsu to believe their instructors walk on water due to their grappling ability. On the flip side, if we who are black belts and leaders hear it enough and are not vigilant, it can be tempting for us to believe the same of ourselves.

This tendency may have some longstanding roots. Central to the history of martial arts is the concept of “bushido,” the way of the warrior. This is the ethical code that ancient martial artists adhered to, which emphasized loyalty, honor, and duty. Notably, the definition reads: “(in feudal Japan) the code of the samurai, stressing unquestioning loyalty and obedience and valuing honor above life.”

Perhaps each of us can name some jiu-jitsu leaders who expect this kind of behavior from their students, as well as some students who expect it of themselves toward their instructors. At the same time, perhaps some of us are unsettled by the concept of “unquestioning loyalty and obedience,” as it is at odds with the American ideal of independence and individuality, not to mention with healthy relationships of any kind. Perhaps this topic takes on added significance in the current political climate. At any rate, laws and sensibilities have changed over time such that the feudal idea of blind, one-way fealty on the part of an apprentice toward a master is now untenable. Or should be.

As a community, we who train jiu-jitsu may be learning to have more realistic expectations about our leaders, which includes the reality that they are people, who are equally capable of acting with integrity or with deceit, depending on the choices they make. Even those of us who work hard to walk an ethical line are far from perfect, on the mat or otherwise. In the aftermath of some of the more recent accusations against higher-ups in our community, we in the community have had more conversations, individually and on a broader scale, raising questions about how we should be policing ourselves. This leads to the question I have been considering: What should bushido look like nowadays, and who has the right/responsibility to identify and enforce it?

A logical place to start looking is at some of the prominent organizations in our community. A quick search shows codes of conduct from two sources that few would deny are major influences on the jiu-jitsu world:

The IBJJF’s Professor’s (sic) Code of Conduct includes general admonitions about behavior as well as specific rules governing coach behavior and dress at IBJJF events. There is a short section about penalties for violating the code.

The Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation’s Code of Ethics provides expectations for members of the federation and a separate set of expectations for black belt members. (The link provided connects to the website of Leonardo Xavier’s academy, as I was unable to find the JJGF Code of Ethics on the JJGF website)

In addition to these larger organizations, many individual academies of all sizes have also articulated their own sets of expectations, and sometimes these are displayed on the wall in the mat space, as well as being made available online. Just two examples are listed below:

The Gracie Barra Code of Conduct emphasizes principles including brotherhood, discipline, and respect. The Gracie Barra website also features separate pages on its etiquette expectations and philosophy.

The Art of Jiu Jitsu Code of Conduct includes rules for mat behavior as well more general admonishments about humility and respect.

These codes of conduct only go so far, however. Questions remain about how broad and deep we should go in articulating and legislating “appropriate” behavior among community members, how codes of conduct such as those listed above are and should be disseminated and enforced, and how infractions are and should be handled. Perhaps my experience is skewed, but over the course of many years and visits to dozens of academies, I have been involved in few if any conversations about ethics and my ethical responsibilities. It was only when I and my circle of colleagues and teammates heard about some of the more recent incidents that we started to discuss ethics at all. I learned through osmosis what constituted appropriate behavior and added that to my desire to be generally law-abiding and principled which I arrived at independent of my participation in jiu-jitsu. I have signed many waivers, but those are intended to protect the academies.

So, how much discussion and awareness of bushido belongs in the day-to-day instruction at the typical academy, in the larger conversations among our community’s governing bodies, and among individual practitioners in their lives off the mat? We work very hard on how to move. How much attention should we be paying to how we act? Right now, I have more questions than answers, but I intend to investigate further.

About Valerie Worthington

Here, in no particular order, are some of the things that define me: parents who are psychologists, a childhood spent in the New Jersey suburbs except for a year my family spent in Germany, studying English literature and learning theory, always trying for the funny--not matter how self-deprecating, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a martial art I have been training for almost 20 years. I travel a lot and enjoy snacks just as much. I am reasonably intelligent, but this is undercut by my love of irreverence and childish humor. I am also the author of Training Wheels: How a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Road Trip Jump-Started My Search for a Fulfilling Life.


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