Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Visiting another jiu jitsu academy-- part 2

Are you ready to step on the mat? Check out part 2 by Faisao, a purple belt champion competitor.

PART 2: What Happens After You Step on the Mats

If you’ve read the first part of this article, you are ready to step on the mats at a host academy. Whether learning from an instructor or doing open sparring, there are a few things to remember to get the most out of your visit. The following tips are from my own experiences, other students, and hosts.

When attending a class or seminar where someone is teaching technique, the most important thing to remember is that the instructor is the instructor. You are NOT the instructor. This can be particularly tough on upper belts when a class is being taught by someone of a lower rank. Respect that they have been entrusted to teach and do not question their techniques during class. Pay attention and do the technique that they are actually showing. If the details are different than how you have been taught in the past, do it the way the instructor is showing. Do not show your partner something that is contrary to what the instructor has shown. If you are not the one teaching, keep it to yourself. Only show a technique if asked directly by the instructor. Also, you should introduce yourself to your partner, but do not keep chatting with your partner during class.

Open rolling or sparring is typically less structured and can be an incredible experience. It can also be extremely frustrating for both host and visitor. When rolling with someone you have just met, you have no history of trust. The ego involved when rolling with someone from outside ones own academy can lead to additional problems. Visitor and host alike may feel they are representing their entire team. Remember that you roll to learn and not to win. Sparring is not a tournament and nobody is waiting with a medal for you. The things during a sparring session that will reflect poorly on your team have nothing to do with winning. Hurting your host's students is the worst possible transgression. They have accepted the risk of allowing you into their home. Do not make them regret their decision. Do not slam into or crank on submissions. Avoid pain submissions or submissions with higher risk of injury. Know what submissions are allowed. If you put their student into a submission they have not been exposed to there is a higher risk that they will respond incorrectly and injure themselves.

You must also protect yourself. Your host may allow submissions or techniques you have not learned.
Know what your host allows. If you are not prepared for certain positions or submissions, let your rolling partner know before you begin. If you have an injury, let them know before you begin. Be prepared to tap early. Putting yourself into dangerous positions and waiting too long to tap reflects poorly on your home academy.

To get the most out of your rolls, focus on more than the tap. Sparring allows you to find out how someone with a different teacher responds to situations. Rolling with someone outside of a competition that does not know your game is a great learning opportunity. Avoid thinking of yourself as better or worse than your partner. They may be giving you 10% or 100%.

Typically, timed rounds during a class should not involve pauses to discuss a position. If you are in an open mat situation, stopping to take a closer look at a position is usually acceptable. There is no universal rule for this so take cues from your partner and those around you. As a guest the following guidelines will serve you well:

  • If you are a lower rank than your partner, do not initiate teaching a technique unless asked to do so. Regardless of rank, be wary of saying a technique is outright wrong. Your partner may be attempting something from their instructor that you are not aware of. If you wish to offer suggestions, it can be as an option instead of replacement.

  • Mat etiquette varies significantly by academy. Rules for the same situation might be quite different. As an example, some academies have rules on who is allowed to ask someone else to roll or spar, while others do not. Rule variations I have seen include:

  • Only higher ranks may ask lower ranks to spar.

  • Any student may ask any other student.

  • Instructor determines who spars with each other.

Rolling with many different skill levels and body types can improve your jiu jitsu game, but you must know your limits and be strong enough to decline a request (even from an upper belt) if you do not feel comfortable rolling with them. If anyone ever warns you not to roll with a particular person from their team, there is probably a good reason. Listen to their advice.

Once you are sparring, be aware of what is happening around you and protect yourself and your partner. Most academies have rules to decide who must move when two or more pairs get close enough to risk colliding. Having these rules helps to reduce disruption during rolls. Some variations for “right-of-way” include:
  • Highest rank pair has right of way and lower rank pair must move.

  • Pair in position easiest to pause moves.
  • Pair in greatest fear of being crushed moves.

Any student will know the rule for their home academy, so you should be able to follow your partner’s lead. Whether rolling or drilling, try not to be a mat hog. Be aware of how much space you are using. Sweeps and takedowns typically take more space. If the mat is crowded, it might be better to work on something else.

The last big thing I’ve learned over the years is that every academy has rules you will never think to ask about. These are the unwritten rules that are reasonable and obvious to members of the academy but will completely blindside a visitor. It is almost impossible to know of these rules before you break them. If an instructor or student points one out to you, your best response it to thank them for letting you know and try not to do whatever you just did ever again.

Hopefully this article will help you make the most out of visiting other jiu jitsu academies. Most hosts are very forgiving of any mistakes you might make as long as you are respectful. Your team is your family, but there is a great extended jiu jitsu family out there for you to meet as well. I hope you make the best of it.

Monday, March 14, 2016

How to be a good jiu jitsu visitor... Part One.

A dear friend, talented purple belt, avid competitor and killer training partner, who now lives a little bit aways from me, wrote this lovely two-part post with some very useful advice.  Hope you enjoy! Part two, next week.

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.