Being a Good Jiu Jitsu Visitor
Part One: What To Know Before You Step on the Mats
If you stay in jiu jitsu for any length of time (and I hope you do!) then at some point you will probably be a visitor to another academy, school, dojo, gym, mat, club, lab or whatever name your host will use to refer to the place where they do jiu jitsu. Each will have its own unique rules and dynamics. As a visitor, you represent both yourself and your team. Knowing what to expect can help you be the best guest you can be. Through the years, I have come to the realization that I was not always an ideal guest. The following is what I wish I had known when I first started.
Why would you visit an academy other than your own?
There are a lot of great reasons to visit another academy. They host seminars, camps, special events, and open mats open to members of the jiu jitsu community. I highly recommend taking advantage of these events. They can be incredible opportunities to learn new techniques and meet members of the community. Always mention to the head of your academy if you plan to attend an event. It is a sign of respect to your team to let them know where their students will be, and they may have information you
need to know about who you are visiting. They may even ask you to share what you learned when you
Other types of visits are more personal and you will be the only representative of your team on the mats. If your academy is part of a larger affiliation, you might drop in at other locations within that affiliation. A friend from another team may invite you to visit their academy as a guest. Perhaps you are on vacation or a work trip and want to stop in somewhere to get your jiu jitsu fix. The toughest visit of all is when you are looking for a new jiu jitsu home. There are many reasons you may need to find a new academy, and for the purpose of this article we will assume you are on good terms with your previous team. In any of these situations, let your head instructor know ahead of time that you are planning to visit another academy and the reasons behind it. Your teammates and instructors might have connections and recommendations for places to visit in other cities. Typically your academy will have a policy about cross training. Find out what that policy is. With social media, visiting without letting your instructor know can easily get back to them and be interpreted as disloyalty. Jiu jitsu is not an individual sport and trust is earned between teammates and with your instructors. Take care not to break the trust of your jiu jitsu family.
In addition to being up front with your instructor, there are some basic things to do before you arrive to the academy you are visiting. For events (Seminars, Open Mats, etc.), always pre-register or sign up as “attending” if possible. This will give the host a better idea of how many are coming and hopefully allow them to contact you if there are any last minute changes. If you have a child, find out whether they are allowed to attend the event or if there will be a place for them to hang out while you participate.
Whether visiting on your own or with a friend, contact the owner ahead of time for permission to stop by. They have no obligation to allow you to participate even if you show up with one of their students. They are responsible for the safety of everyone that visits their academy, and allowing you onto their mats is a risk that they do not have to take. Additionally, not all classes may be open to visitors or those below a certain rank. Some academies will not want you to drop in unless the head instructor is on site. When you contact the owner, always offer to pay a drop-in fee and ask what it is. Drop-in fees vary quite a bit, and you should never assume fees will be waived for you.
If an academy has a website, it can be a great source for information when kept up to date. It is a good idea to check the website before contacting the instructor. There are several basic things to find out about the class you want to attend: type of class; start time; and attire. Many academies teach a variety of classes so know what you are getting into. Do not show up to advanced MMA class expecting beginner jiu jitsu. Uniform requirements vary by academy. Example questions for uniforms include:
Are there requirements for gi colors?
Are patches from other teams allowed?
For no-gi/MMA are spats without shorts allowed?
Are rash guards required?
Do you know what submissions and positions are allowed for your rank and below? This can vary
significantly and is important to know for your own safety as well as the safety of your host’s students. Never assume that what is allowed is the same as your home academy. Safe submissions are not universally agreed upon within jiu jitsu.
Whether attending an event or visiting a class, it is best to show up early. Some academies run on
“Brazilian time” and you may end up hanging around outside for a bit waiting for the place to open. Others have punishments for late arrivals. It is better to be early than arriving at the last moment or late. When you arrive, be ready to sign a waiver and pay your drop-in fee. Show up clean (body, clothing, and equipment) and well-groomed with nails trimmed. Don't assume that an academy will have sufficient private changing space for you to get into uniform after you arrive. If possible, arrive so that you could get into the remainder of your uniform in full public view. It may not be necessary, but it is better than having to wait for the only restroom.
DO NOT WALK INTO A RESTROOM BAREFOOT!!! Footwear and how it is dealt with at different academies has surprised me more than any other item. Figure out the rule for footwear as soon as you enter the building. Sometimes you will have to leave your shoes next to the front door. Other places you must wear them at all times until you step onto the mat. In general, never walk onto the mat in shoes and never walk into the bathroom without. For anything in between, it is probably directly related to how the academy is cleaned and not following the rules can cause bacteria and grime to be tracked where it can cause a problem.
Once you know what to do with your shoes, have filled out the paperwork, and are changed for class,
take some time to introduce yourself to the instructor and other students. Talking to members of another team can be tricky. Everything you say reflects on you as well as your jiu jitsu teammates. When it comes to first impressions, the best option is to stay positive. Whether talking about your own team or one you are not associated with say nice things or keep quiet. Leave any frustrations or problems you have at the door. Talking poorly about a rival academy or student will reflect very poorly on yourself as well was your team. The impression you will leave with your host is that you are a gossip that talks poorly about people behind their back. They’ll be left wondering what you will be telling others about them. By association, your academy can develop the same reputation.
Typically students do not talk poorly of their own team. They tend to err toward excessive praise of
their instructors and teammates. Remember to be humble when talking about your home academy. You think you’ve got the best instructors and students? That’s great! Then why are you visiting? Realize that they have something special to offer. It could be their location, a class at a time you can actually make, a seminar you want to attend, or that friend that you came with. Saying your team is the best ever means you think the academy you are visiting is not. Maybe your academy truly is that incredible, but respect your host enough to keep your praise in check.
Are you ready to step on the mat? Check out part 2 next week!
Ms. Faisão is a cunning and relentless purple belt with triangles from everywhere.