I have been training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for about 6 years now. In those 6 years I have been at the same martial arts dojo the whole time. And while I don’t pay the gym’s bills or collect the gym’s revenue, I do take ownership of my martial arts gym. Its okay if you tell the real owner. He already knows.
I’m not the only one who owns our gym. We have quite a few members who feel the same way. What does it take to have ownership in your gym? Its quite easy as a matter of fact. Here are some things you can do to take ownership of your dojo.
Be on time. If class starts at 6:30, don’t be that dude that strolls in at 6:32. I was raised by a strict military officer father who always told me, “If you are not 15 minutes early, you are late”. That being said, the extreme to that is also not cool. If your class is at 6:30 and there is another class that began at 5:30, have some courtesy to that instructor and their students. It’s very distracting to be running a class and having some other dudes, and dudettes, busting through the door carrying on. And if you do find yourself coming in early, or late, do so quietly and with respect. Quietly enter the gym, get your stuff together and find a relatively out-of-the-way place to hang out. Don’t be high fiving other students or bragging about your most recent killer submission. Show respect for the students under instruction. If you are late, don’t explain yourself at the moment – that’s not the time. Quietly and quickly get ready and join the class with as little fanfare as possible. (Don’t be surprised to receive a little humiliation from the head instructor though).
Have fun but maintain a measure of respect. When sparring be respectful in asking someone to roll. You may have friends who you can have fun with and “call them out”, and that’s cool. Just make sure they know that. If you trash-talk a higher belt, be prepared to get thrashed for 5 to 6 minutes. (Ask me how I know!)
While on the subject of sparring. Remember the adage, “if you break ‘em, you gotta take ‘em”. If you injure your sparring partner, you are responsible for taking them to receive medical treatment. Try and not be a spaz. Sometimes that is difficult especially for newer white belts. If at all possible, roll with a higher belt who can more effectively control the pace. If you whack your partner with an elbow or a knee, apologize for it and move on. Try and not repeat it. Jiu Jitsu is a violent activity, there will be injuries. If you kick your lead instructor in the head two times attempting a particular sweep, maybe consider abandoning that attempt and not kick him a third time. I know from personal experience; he doesn’t like that.
Reflect and represent positively for your gym. In other words, if you are wearing the gym’s “merch”, be a decent human being. People will judge the gym by your reputation. The same applies in reverse too. If your gym has a shitty reputation of being a bunch of cowboys, they will probably assume you are a cowboy too. Understand that you are not only representing yourself and your gym, but you are also representing the entire Jiu Jitsu community.
Periodically, offer to stay late and help clean the mats. Though this is generally relegated to the lower belts, everyone should be willing to offer a helping hand. It shows that you care about your teammate’s health and safety. And if you do clean the mats, clean them where you would be comfortable having your young child or little sister roll around on them. Staph infections and ring worm are no fun in the gym.
There are generally four stages in Jiu Jitsu training. The technical lesson is the “class”. It usually begins with a warmup session. Don’t be that stereotypical purple belt who skips the group warmup or does their own thing. Be a good role model for all of the junior members. During the technical lesson the instructor shows the particular sweep, takedown, or submission, breaking down the moves piece by piece. Students will then break into pairs and drill the move. The drilling is the second component to training. Usually, partners are picked based on similar body sizes or belt levels. Sometimes it just might be a buddy. Be a good partner. Find a happy balance between being a dead fish and offering 100% resistance. Be the teammate that helps your partner succeed with the lesson. The third stage of training is the sparring. This usually occurs after the class. This is an opportunity for you to put your skills to the test in a controlled and safe environment. It should be an unwritten understanding that while each mat savage is trying to win, there is a little bit of control and reservation involved. If you don’t understand what that means, refer back to what happens when you “break ‘em”. If you are injured or otherwise not feeling 100%, it’s totally acceptable to “roll light”. In order for this to be successful, there has to be a clear understanding that submissions are OUT and catch and release is the name of the game. If there are submissions, then each maniac will do what’s necessary to win, and then you have a free for all.
The fourth, and last, stage of training is grappling in a tournament/competition. Though most of these tournaments have set rules and codes of conduct, they are often intense. Your opponent is going to really put it to you just as you ought to put it to them. Determine what kind of competitor you want to be. Smashing your opponent’s nose in order to sink in the rear naked choke is often very legal, just understand he will probably not take kindly to it and find an opportunity to make you pay for it. To each their own strategy but generally speaking, before the match your mindset should be to completely dominate your opponent. That is your medal up there and you need to be determined no one will stop you from achieving it. But then, after the match is over and the dust settles, you two will probably become the best Facebook friends ever. Remember, jiu jitsu competition is just a sport. Don’t take the final results personal.
Always keep in mind, that is YOUR dojo. You represent it and it represents you. You will get out of the experience only what you put into it. Take ownership of it.