The moment you walk into a new gym you are trespassing. The people that train there everyday are a family. They sweat and bleed together. You, on the other hand, are a complete stranger.
This isn’t to say that you are not welcome – quite the contrary – my experiences training as a visitor / traveler have been almost all positive. Most gyms will make you feel at home and the best gyms will make you feel like part of the family. This, however, is only AFTER you have shown them that you can be trusted. That you are a true student, and that you respect their mats and them for allowing you to train. Go in with the wrong attitude, or even no remarkable attitude at all and you might very well find yourself shunned off of the mat. Being a full-time traveler and Jiu-Jitero I have seen the good and the bad of it. Here I share with you my top five MUST FOLLOW rules for traveling and training.
- If at all possible, and I mean it – if there is anyway at all possible, contact the gym first. Walking in unannounced is not only poor etiquette but can be aggravating for yourself and for the instructor. What if there is a “team only” seminar going on? Or maybe you are a white belt and it’s “advanced class”, or black belt class? They probably won’t gang-rush you and throw you out the window, but it puts the instructor in an awkward place to have to tell you to leave. Besides, it’s a complete waste of your time to head to the gym only to have to leave again, which brings me to number two…
- If you haven’t made arrangements for where and when to show up then be ready to be turned away…and BE READY TO THANK THEM FOR THE OPPORTUNITY. If you just can’t make arrangements ahead of time tell yourself that going to the gym is just a trial run. Take your gear but leave it in the car (unless that isn’t possible – like in my case when I walk or ride a bike to the gym). Show up and act like you know nothing about BJJ or the gym. Act like a new student and wait for someone to approach you. When they ask if they can help you, explain your situation and ask if and when you could train with them. It doesn’t matter that you already checked the online schedule and KNOW they are having class just then. Pretend like you don’t know. Don’t worry, if you are welcome, they will invite you! This way, you didn’t ask if you could train, they invited you to train.
- When you get to the mat, smile and make your way around to EVERYONE on the mat and shake their hand. In the U.S. this seems to rarely happen but in some gyms (particularly in Rio De Janeiro) it is an expectation. In De La Riva’s main gym in Rio it is considered extremely rude to skip shaking everyone’s hand. I’ve seen 4 stripe black belts get up, escort a person back to the front of the room and instruct them on how to greet everyone. It’s just part of the “family” culture. In other countries…hey no big deal right? But I say, How can it hurt? It shows that you are courteous, polite, friendly and interested in meeting everyone. Who doesn’t like a person like that?
- Don’t roll hard! Well, not at first anyway. The first roll or two you have should be kept friendly and is a good way to ease in to harder rolling later. If you are rolling with a lower belt (especially white) make it a point to be easy and somewhat gentle with them. I remember Professor Jeremy Harris (Saulo Ribeiro Black Belt) telling me that the first time I came to his academy, he had no idea who I was but just that I had a company called YOLOBJJ. He wasn’t sure what that meant so he paired me with a two-stripe white belt (I was a new purple then) just so he could watch how I treated them. When I asked if I did okay with his guy he smiled a little and said “If you hadn’t, you would have been rollin’ with me next”. That experience taught me two things: 1 – That Professors care about their students like their own family and 2 – To get respect, treat their family with respect. Don’t BJJ-bully his littlest student to make yourself feel good or to show everybody your awesome skills. Instead, go into that roll with the plan to make that young white belt feel good about himself! That will win you respect in the eyes of the Professor. (Pro-Tip: – don’t EVER think that the Professor isn’t watching the new guy in the room roll with his students). BTW, Professor Harris is one of my biggest supporters now and I visit his gym regularly when I am back in the States!
- This one goes on EVERY “must-do” / “top-ten” list I will ever write regarding BJJ. Do NOT…repeat, do NOT show up in a DIRTY GI or worse, with a case of LIVE RINGWORM. Nothing says “I think I am more important than you and therefore I don’t care about you” like a “Silver-Dollar” ringworm and/or the “Cat Litter” gi. Enough said. (Pro-Tip: If you are even slightly thinking…”yeah, I might have once or twice…” then read #5 four more times). Yeah, sure. Maybe your only going to be in town for a day or two. Maybe you will never see these people again. Maybe this is the only chance you’ll get to train while you’re on vacation. That’s no one’s fault, it just is what it is. A bad circumstance, yes, but no one should be made to suffer for it. While I am at it, listen: ONE gi = ONE class. No exceptions. This is first grade math people! 🙂
So, there it is. After travelling two continents, three countries, many – mucho – muito states and training in all of them, this is my top five “Must-do’s” as a travelling Jiu-Jitero. I know it seems like I am going overboard on the self-deprecating, gracious approach, but it really boils down to a “give respect – get respect” sort of relationship, but if you were ever unsure then here ya go 🙂 If you have any “Must-Do’s” that I have missed, please let me know in the comments!
I hope to see some of you on YOUR mats someday!