Surviving BJJ in Brazil as a Gringa

Mar 25, 2014

alliance girls 2

By no means am I an expert in jiu jitsu gyms etiquette, but I am quickly learning. Since October last year, we have visited about 20 different academies in 5 different countries, ranging from tiny gyms with blue belt instructors to the biggest and best teams in the world.

The familiar feeling of anxiety when visiting a new club has long gone now. I have experienced people writing to me and Lachie inviting us to train, asking us to run classes, being one of the higher ranked on the mats, being the lowest ranked belt, being the only woman, having people completely ignore us, having people greet us as soon as we walked in, I’ve had girls going completely mental at me and pretending it’s World War 3 and shoot doubles into a wall before we even shook hands, I’ve also mostly had AMAZING training partners who have become great friends in the process, but mainly I have been lucky to have a chance to quietly observe different cultures and swallow my ego.

Here is a quick list, which makes me survive whilst training overseas:

  • Try to learn a few words of the local language, it goes a long way. And don’t assume people speak english – more often than not, they don’t.
  • Before you visit a club, it’s a good idea to get in touch with the head instructor/owner to make sure it is ok. Introduce yourself, always pay for the class and follow the rules – some clubs make it compulsory the wear rashies under their gis, some don’t allow non-traditional gi colours, others have belt-specific classes.
  • Be on time.
  • A smile goes a long way in any situation.
  • Never talk during class.
  • ALWAYS greet everyone on the mat. You may feel awkward at the start, but taking 5 minutes out of your time to shake everyone’s hand and say hello is a sign of respect and a great ice-breaker.
  • When you tap hands to roll for their first time, don’t go nuts. Start slowly, even let the other person get their grips. If you start like a competition, chances are your partner will respond the same way. Reputations spread quickly, and having senior belts ‘discipline’ you is the last thing you want.
  • It’s ok to roll hard and give it your best effort, but never go crazy. It is definitely expected in a competition type class, but suss out how relaxed people roll in a normal class.
  • Don’t sit out of rolls and don’t leave the mat without asking the instructor.
  • Sometimes it’s easier to let things go, than arguing for the sake of ‘winning’ a roll. If you bump into another couple/wall and have to restart, do so from the same position. If you were underneath, start back underneath. If you were in a dominant position, but your partner ends up restarting from a neutral position, just let it go. Smile, tap hands and go again.
  • Never, ever sigh, bang the mat or show frustration when someone taps you, passes you or sweeps you, especially if it’s a higher belt. Accept that they are probably better than you and be thankful for it.
  • It’s always ok to ask questions.
  • Don’t talk yourself up in the first 5 minutes of meeting a new person- believe it or not, people don’t really care how you won your last local comp.
  • If you are a woman, the greetings can get confusing. From fist bumps, to back pats, to hand shakes, to bows, to hugs, to one kiss, 2 kisses, 3 kisses… aghhh, makes me crazy thinking about it. Observe and learn quickly and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself if you stuff up.

Have I missed anything? Who else has their own set of rules they try to follow in a BJJ gym?

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  • Reply xguard March 25, 2014 at 11:41 pm

    1.Never give unsolicited advice when it’s not asked for
    2. Ends every rounds with “OSS”
    3. Hit the nightmarket for some delicious soft shell crab burgers

    • Reply admin March 25, 2014 at 11:48 pm

      1. Yes.
      2. I hate saying OSSS. But I have said it so many times here, mainly because I have no idea what else to say most of the time. Haha
      3. Ummm, yes pls. Where on Earth can I find that in SP though, ha, xguard?

  • Reply King Mark Nienaber March 26, 2014 at 6:09 am

    That’s great Liv,
    Good advice to give to everyone going to any new gym.

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