Lessons I’ve learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Lesson 11: Mat Snobs, and How to Shut Them Down.

What the heck is a Mat Snob, you ask? A Mat Snob is a mercifully rare creature who, for whatever reason, thinks their jits/academy/style/entire being is better than most other folks. They only roll with certain people, they often skip drills with their nose in the air, or drill something entirely different and they’re about as huggable as Joffrey Baratheon on the throne once they earn their blue belt. The Mat Snob isn’t always a snob on the mats, either. This is the person you hear stirring up forums with crap like “Gi is real BJJ, No Gi is catch wrestling/you have to train in the Gi”, they can go on at length about how superior their academy is while throwing shade all over you for your academy and generally tries to tear folks down around them in relation to BJJ.

My suspicion is that these folks are already pretty condescending people, BJJ didn’t cause this poor behaviour, it’s just being used as an avenue to act out. Thank the powers that be that these people are really rare in their final form. Most full-fledged Mat Snobs tend to live out their BJJ career online, and even the most insufferable snob eventually gets straightened out on the mats sooner or later. That said, we should take care to remember that at some point, many of us may have been a Mat Snob about something too; be it talking down to someone new to jits regarding something they’re probably justifiably ignorant about or refusing to roll with a newbie simply because they’re not very good yet.

So how do you shut a Mat Snob down? Don’t engage with their poor behaviour and don’t waste any time arguing with them. Your time on the mats is important. While we all work as a team to improve each other, the Mat Snob probably isn’t all that interested in helping you improve. In fact, to these jerks, the people around them are more like bit actors in their own personal sitcom; walk-on extras, only there to develop the Mat Snob’s own plot and devoid of much personhood. Hold your head high in dignified silence when you’re forced to be around someone like this. If you’re disgusted by their behaviour, then it’s a pretty safe bet that you’re in some way a better person than they are. Probably. Don’t be rude, just keep your distance and stay classy.

Sometimes the Mat Snob is ranked higher than you are. Understandably, some people can feel trapped in the system, a bit uncomfortable about avoiding someone in a ranked environment. Pick a drilling partner before that awkward moment when your instructor tells the class to pair up, and half the group is looking around uncomfortably like pre-teens at their first dance. If someone else does the pairing and you keep getting the Mat Snob, speak up! Talk to your coach if they’re sucking the fun out of your mat time. No one who coaches a team or runs a gym wants anyone to have a bad time. They would rather get things running smoothly and harmoniously as quickly as possible, so bringing a joy-assassinating Mat Snob to your coach’s attention is in the best interest of everyone in the gym.

Mat snobs suck, but thankfully they’re rare and the vast majority of gyms are not very inviting to them anyways. With any luck, you’ll never run into one during your time on the mats, and hopefully you’ll never be one yourself.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson # 7: How to be Cool and Avoid Making People Feel Awkward.

Lesson # 7: How to be Cool and Avoid Making People Feel Awkward.

This isn’t quite so much about being cool as it is minimizing any awkwardness we might inadvertently cause. I don’t really know how to be cool, so to say I can pass that skill on to you would be a wild and spurious claim on my part. That said, I’ve sat back and watched, sometimes cringed, while people come, go and stay at the gym. Some people know what they’re doing in a team setting and others need some help. A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym is home to all walks of life. Men, women, gay, straight, married, single, young, old and so on. Sometimes it’s tough to navigate all the corners of a heterogeneous team sport. This barely-cool blogger is coming to the rescue! I’ve laid out a loose dos and don’ts of how not to make people feel awkward, based on my own experiences (I’ve been aaaaaawkward!) and observations in and around BJJ.

Do: be friendly and personable on and off the mats. We’re not all chatty and smiles all the time. If you’re a reserved person, don’t feel pressured to come out of a shell you’re not ready to emerge from, but being friendly and approachable will go a long way. Likewise, if you’re an extrovert, small doses of your charm can draw out even the shyest student, and help to create a really inviting environment.

Don’t: be overly personable. This sounds a bit contradictory considering the previous ‘do’, but being too friendly too fast makes people on the mats feel uncomfortable. I’ve seen it over and over again: A new student joins, then they’re immediately trying to be best friends with everyone, and posts YouTube videos on the coach’s Facebook wall daily. Basically, don’t smother your new partners! The overly-friendly individual is always a really great person, but they need to let people figure that out for themselves. The alternative is that folks start thinking there’s something a bit off about them, which sucks and probably isn’t very fair. The new student’s intentions are good, but the approach was messy. Take your time when you first start and let people warm up to the awesomeness of you in their own time. Generally people in a gym (mine, at least. Can’t vouch for every other one, but most should be fine) are pretty friendly already, and will make you feel right at home in no time anyways.

Do: have a full and wonderful social life that includes Jiu Jitsu and the friends you’ve made through it. Keep in touch on social media with the people you’re friends with through BJJ. The community’s pretty small; you can end up in huge and often hilarious online discussions with people who share your passion for Jiu Jitsu. And then go do something else for the rest of your day because you have a life outside of Jiu Jitsu.

Don’t: make Jiu Jitsu your sole identity. It’s really easy to get caught up in the lifestyle and hype around Jiu Jitsu. Lots of new white belts Instagram their kale shakes, tweet about their full-shin lockdown bruises or mat burn and join every BJJ related Facebook page they can find. That’s fine and actually, par for the course. But don’t be one-dimensional about your love of Jits! After a few months of hammering your social media with nothing but bjj memes and your opinions on everything involving Jiu Jitsu and BJJ politics, people can start to think you’re either really boring or a know-it-all. No one likes a white-belt-know-it-all, and I’ll be frank with you: it’s embarrassing to watch. Use restraint when you dive into the BJJ online community. Remember that it’s small and people talk. Don’t overdo it and definitely don’t be overly familiar online with other Jits folks that you don’t really know. Like I said, people talk. It’s best they don’t talk about you at all, and if they do, make sure you give them good things to talk about- like the crazy good baseball choke you posted from your last competition- rather than have them quietly agreeing that you’re being annoying, or worse, creepy.

Do: work to become part of the team. Come out to class, roll, roll, roll and when you have no more left, roll again. Mat time is the quickest way into everyone’s heart, and the only way to get better at BJJ!

Don’t: get sour if you don’t feel like you’re ‘part of the team’ after a month of training. Yes, mat snobs are a thing (we’ll address those cats another day), but if after a month you don’t feel like you’re on the team or accepted, don’t panic, quit or give everyone stink eye for being exclusionary jerks. It isn’t that your team doesn’t like you, they just don’t know yet if you’re going to quit tomorrow. This was something I personally struggled with in my first few months. I began at a college drop-in BJJ program that had a handful of vets who watched as dozens of new faces came and left in a two semester period. I felt ignored and disliked, but after displaying my dedication (I travelled five hours round trip three times a week to train…no biggie), I was part of the team! Give it time. BJJ isn’t for everyone and mat vets know that. They’re just waiting until it’s safe to get attached to you.

Do: be respectful to everyone. Always. In the gym, online, at competitions, at the bar, the bus stop…I could keep going. Think before you speak, and consider other people’s feelings and experiences before you say something you’re not sure about.

Don’t: be a crude and disrespectful person, especially on the mats. Race jokes are not kosher. Rape jokes are never okay.  By calling your buddy on the mats gay, you meant he was totally fabulous, right? You get the picture. I’m not going to proscribe what you can’t say in life, I have faith in you. Don’t be a jerk. If you absolutely must be a jerk and tell a stupid, offensive joke, save it for your stupid and offensive friend’s ears only, m’kay? I once heard an Eddie Bravo quote: “Jiu Jitsu is the ultimate douchebag filter”. That isn’t always true, but it’s one of the better jerk filters available. We see through jerks quickly.

At the end of the day, just be as naturally you as you can. Sometimes a little insight into how an unfamiliar social setting functions is helpful, though.

Lessons I’ve Learned Studying Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Lesson #6: The White Belt Spazz.

Lesson #6: The White Belt Spazz.

You’re sitting there on the edge of the mats, mouth guard at the ready, eying potential rolls. To your left a tiny, shy voice breaks in: “Hey, uh, you, uh, you wanna roll?” It’s a new guy, eight weeks into training, looking meek. “For sure!” you say. He doesn’t know what he’s doing yet, but he’s only about 160lbs, won’t be too bad, right? Let him work, you’ll work on your defenses. You slap, bump…and suddenly he grabs your wrist and throws his body into yours in his best attempt at a guard pass. You’re struggling to control him while you eat knees and elbows to the face, chest and shins, fending off every ounce of strength and exertion he can muster. This guy is going H.A.M on you like you’re in the finals of No Gi Worlds, knowing the deed to his house and his first born son are yours if he loses. He’s holding onto anything within reach, reefing on every joint in an attempt to get some kind of submission out of you. You’re not having much fun at all. You decide to turn it up in the hopes he might get the picture that he’s going too hard. Nope, he goes harder, with even less thought about where his limbs end up. You’ve set up an armbar from mount, but he’s bucking wildly trying to get out. That arm is yours, but during his little freak out- which can only be compared to a cat trying to escape from a burning pillowcase- his hand suddenly slips from his defense, and only the control you’ve learned over the years saves his elbow from pointing the wrong way. Mazel Tov, you just rolled with a White Belt Spazz. Dress your wounds, be thankful for a good cup or mouth guard and try to forgive him, knowing you probably did the same thing when you first started.

The White Belt Spazz is ubiquitous in every gym, primarily because inexperience and pride go hand in hand (see Lesson #3 for more on this), and there’s always someone new on the mats. I don’t mean this in a condescending way, it’s just a fact of life; we don’t know what we don’t know, but dammit, we’re not going to lose. After a bit of time on the mats, almost everyone learns to slow their roll down, use more leverage than strength, seize the opportunities available and tap when caught. But most folks who are new don’t understand the mechanics of Jiu Jitsu yet, don’t want to lose and often roll way too hard, hurting themselves or their partners in the process. This can lead to the Spazz having a tough time finding someone willing to roll with them and sometimes even hard feelings. So how can you avoid being the White Belt Spazz? It’s a pretty simple three-step process: Slow down, relax, lose the pride. Let’s break it down.

Slow down: This is pretty straight forward. I could get all preachy and talk about how much more you will learn if you take your time, but in the first formative months of a white belt’s journey, slowing down is more of a safety issue than anything. I remember once trying a no gi torreador pass when I was still quite new. I had an idea of how it worked, but all I managed to do was this weird wobble from side to side, slipped forward and smoked my face on my partner’s knees. In my head I imagined my coach beaming down at me in approval for my skill and speed. In reality, I just bit my tongue and got triangled for my troubles. Similarly, you’re going to do a lot less damage to your rolling partner when you slow down and quit flailing wildly. You’re a long way away from being a BJJ great, so explosive movements aren’t going to work for you yet. Chill out and master control before you work on speed. Shooting a leg through to catch a straight ankle is a really great skill to have, but you’re not making friends in the gym if 7 out of 10 times you wind up violently gas-pedaling your partner instead. Slow. Your. Roll.

Relax: This goes along with slow down, but has it’s own special place. A couple weeks ago I was drilling with a young man who was so tense that I though the guy was going to vibrate into another dimension all together. He held onto my arms like a vise grip, and even when he wasn’t engaged I could see the muscular stiffness in his whole body. By the time he was done his second rep, he was breathing heavy and sweating profusely. When my turn came, he was so stiff and resistant that I couldn’t work through the technique properly. Quietly in my head I resolved to drill with someone else next time, and myself being a bit on the smaller side, I totally wrote him off as a rolling partner until he relaxes more. But I understand! I was datch guy. I had to be reminded to breathe, sometimes. Tenseness is tiring. You’ll gas out in no time. Practice an economy of energy as often as you can. Breathe slowly, control your exertion as well as your emotions. I try to imagine myself as a large predator in an environment with few opportunities to eat, and all my prey is fast. If I use too much energy on the wrong thing I may starve to death if I fail to catch what I’m chasing. This is especially important to keep in mind for larger people who only have so much in their gas tank. Relax, use your energy strategically and use your muscles wisely.

Last but not least, lose the pride: This is hands down the most important part of de-spazzing. Arguably, pride is the single largest contributing factor to the Spazz, but it’s the hardest to conquer. We want to be good at what we do, and this drive is magnified in competitive, athletic environments. I’d be lying if I said I never imagine my superiors talking about how much of a natural I am at jits, how I ‘just get it’ and so forth. In reality I’m pretty average, but I want greatness, and my inner dialogue can trick me into thinking greatness can be mine if I just give it my all and mimic the superstars on the scene as best I can. I’ve seen naturals, but trust me when I say they’re only slightly less rare than a unicorn that speaks perfect Klingon. The rest of us have to settle with earning first our mediocrity, then greatness through good old fashioned grind. Don’t settle for mediocrity, but don’t force greatness, let it come. Accept that you’re going to be not-very-good until you learn to be good. The sooner you embrace this, the sooner you can bust down the mental wall that’s blocking you from seeing your true skill level, and where you need to put work in.

The White Belt Spazz, in its natural habitat is a curious beast to observe, and formidable to encounter. If you’re the spazz, just slow down, relax and check your pride. If you find yourself facing a spazz, be patient and honest. Tell them politely they need to slow their roll and help them, don’t alienate them. I’m pretty sure from time to time I still throw a careless elbow or knee, but I do my best to try and check myself when I get carried away.