• Everything you wanted to know about club etiquette, but were afraid to ask.

    Since starting a jiu jitsu club over twelve months ago I have been caught between years of traditional martial arts rituals and the more relaxed way BJJ is generally taught. This relaxed approach has worked fine with people who have experienced some degree of structure in their martial arts training previously but now that numbers are increasing on the mat I thought I might put down what my expectations are of all students during training. This way it’s in black and white and there can be no confusion. I have modified the lessons I learnt from 20 plus years of karate training and tried to minimize bowing and scrapping, hero worship, dogma and other assorted BS.

    The following then is a compendium of club etiquette. Etiquette is a collection of details, some small, some not so small. Taken together though, they make a big difference in our training. Please remember it is best to aim for a middle ground: don’t be blasé about etiquette, but by the same token, you don’t need to be an etiquette fascist. We all have good and bad days and how we behave follows accordingly. As I often say its all about attitude and intent.

    Although at first there may seem to be many forms of etiquette to remember, they will become natural as you continue to train. Please do not be resentful if you are corrected on a point of etiquette from now on. In the good old days, mat etiquette was gained by osmosis. Quite frankly, those that didn’t get it after a while usually didn’t last too long in our dojo. These days, the martial arts have attracted a much more varied group of individuals. Osmosis is just not as good as it used to be. No one is above the common courtesies expressed in this document. Always remember that all students from beginner to advanced train on the same floor. All practice the same techniques and aspire toward the same ideals. Therefore, all are governed by the same requirements of etiquette… If you have questions, concerns, or comments, ask your coach. Good etiquette means good manners. As we practice good etiquette, we work to perfect our humanity.

    Beginning Class
    Arrive at least 15 minutes early. Upon stepping onto the mat, you should try to leave your problems behind. Training requires a focused mind. Being aware and using common sense is a precursor to following proper etiquette. Always address the instructor as Coach. Never contradict your Coach in front of others. If you are late, you should wait until Coach signals for you to join the class. It is important that you do not disrupt the class in doing so. Respect your training “tools”. Gi’s should be clean and presentable. Protective equipment should be functional and provide the safety you expect from them. The belt should always be treated with respect. While the color of the belt is not so important, the effort to gain the belt should be remembered and cherished! Your belt should be aired dry but never washed, as it symbolically contains the spirit of your hard training. There should be no eating, drinking, or gum chewing on the mat at any time. No jewelry should be worn during class. Fingernails and toenails must be short, so as to avoid injury to others or oneself. Feet must be clean. Shoes or sandals are never allowed on the mat. Long hair should be tied back out of the way. Students from time to time will be asked to help clean the dojo mat as needed. The coach will never ask you to do anything he has not already done many times before you! The facilities at the club (rest rooms, drink machine, locker rooms, etc.) should be left in the same, if not better, condition as they were found upon arriving. Notify your coach if you plan to miss any or all scheduled classes.

    During Training
    A club where people respect each other is the key to learning. The teaching and learning is bi- directional: even though it may seem that the coach is doing all the teaching, he or she is still learning from their students as well. If you have a pre-existing medical condition, a cold, an injury or whatnot, try to work through it. Part of the challenge of any martial art is working through what you think your limits are. Listen to your body and use common sense in these instances. If you have something contagious, your fellow students will appreciate your absence. If you are injured, or in pain, you need to back off and allow your body to heal. Let your coach know beforehand if you are not up to 100% of your game. If you are injured during class and are unable to continue, try to stay on the mat and watch.

    Questions during class should be directed to the coach at an opportune moment. Try not to disrupt class in doing so. On the other hand, you may find very often that other students are keenly interested in the same questions you may have. If class is very busy, senior students can also answer questions or simply defer your question until end of class.

    Generally speaking the coach is the only person who should be instructing students unless he or she expressly directs others to do so! Just because you may outrank another student this does not entitle you to instruct others. In general, a senior person should be aware of a junior person’s abilities and modify working with them accordingly to keep things safe. Executing techniques will involve contact and this requires the utmost control. Good communication between you and your partner is vital. Just because you’re junior doesn’t mean that there isn’t half the burden of communicating with your partner on you. Do not leave the mat during class except in the case of injury or illness or, if permitted, to drink water. (Water is important! Do not let yourself get too dehydrated). If you need to leave the mat for a drink or to go to the toilet, do so quickly and return as soon as possible, If you must leave class early, make sure you inform your coach. Do not just disappear. When a coach yells “Time” this means that you and your partner should STOP immediately. It is necessary to respect the way in which the instructor of the class directs the training. Receive instruction and carry out suggestions for training sincerely and to the best of your ability. There is no room for argument on the mat. Never stand or lie about idly on the mat unless you are listening intently to instruction. You should be practicing, or if necessary waiting your turn.

    If you have a question for the coach during class ask politely and respectfully and wait for their acknowledgement. When the coach is instructing another student, you may stop your practice to watch. It is important for you not only to learn the technique being taught but also how your coach conducts the instruction. Some day you too will teach others. If you know the technique being studied and you are working with someone who does not, you may lead the person through it, but do not assume the role of the instructor. You are here for practice; do not force your ideas on others. At the same time, respect those who are more experienced. Always train within the ability of your partner. Do not practice so as to injure your partner. You are both responsible for each other. Be aware at all times of those around you. Train to develop awareness in all directions. Always give way to the more senior person on the mat whilst rolling. If you are ever unsure of what to do in a particular situation ask a senior student or simply follow their lead. The strength of training is not just in muscular force. Of equal importance are flexibility, timing, control and modesty. Be aware of your limitations as well as your shortcomings.

    Never practice free wrestling unless an instructor is present. When practicing with a senior do you’re very best, but show some respect for the rank. If you think you can go harder then do so, but remember that they often have your lower rank in mind while they are sparring, and so will not be fighting their hardest all the time. The instructor, whoever it may be, should be treated with the respect that you yourself would expect as common courtesy. If you cannot find it in you to show respect to a person who is taking their time to teach you, then you do not belong on a mat. Never question his/her direction; such compliance over time develops a bond of trust between the instructor and student, which improves mutual receptivity, simplifying and speeding the learning process.

    Any time your coach or a higher rank offers to help you, always accept and listen closely with great enthusiasm and proper respect. Before beginning a match it is proper to slap hands with your opponent. Don’t ask when you will be promoted to a higher (belt) level. Remember that you are constantly being tested. When you are ready you will receive your reward and be advanced forward only by your individual efforts and merit when your coach sees you are ready. No one takes greater pleasure in presenting you with your deserved promotion to a higher level than that of your Coach. This also assures that you are ready to grow into this rank and obtain additional knowledge that goes with the level of achievement. Remember rank does not confer privilege or power. It imposes responsibility.

    Whilst drilling remember the repetition of pre-set movements during a workout are a practical form of meditation, as it forces the mind to focus on the task at hand until the movements become almost unconscious. Never tire of learning, anywhere, any time. Be eager to ask questions and learn. Appreciate the thrill of learning. Be willing to sacrifice for the art and the instructor. Respect the skills you are learning and the efforts it took to bring them to you. Practice what you learn and try to perfect your techniques to the best of your abilities. This includes spare time on the mat, and regularly doing conditioning exercises at home or on off days. Help other students to learn and succeed. Recognize that you are all members of a strong group sharing common goals and interests.