For most martial arts practitioners, the tatami is a sacred place where people gather to learn and practice in a safe, friendly and respectful environment. Often times, we bow before entering, giving respect to the founders of our gentle art, whom have given us the Brazilian form of the Jiu-Jitsu that we hold so dear. On the tatami, before sparring, we greet each other with a little open palm slap followed by a gentle fist bump to show mutual agreement that the fight is on. Soon after, we try our best to gently strangle, pressure and coerce our partners into submission. Most of us know the unwritten rules of sparring, like being playful, working on your techniques, protecting ourselves and our partners from injury. It’s a journey of challenges, and we all contribute to helping each other grow and develop our jiu-jitsu together. However, for some individuals, none of this seems to have any significance whatsoever. Individuals like this are toxic to the group often stirring up negative emotions among other practitioners by either using excessive force to pulverize his partners, injuring, bullying or belittling others, terrible hygiene, creating rumors or speaking negatively about members of the academy inside and outside of the gym.
What to do when someone at your gym is toxic?
First and foremost, BJJ should be a joyful experience. It is the instructors job to make sure everybody on the mat is safe, and it is the instructor who should be made aware that something is not right at the gym. Please note that often times the toxic person might not even be aware he is causing negative vibes and perhaps this is his interpretation of what sparring in Brazilian jiu-jitsu should look like. (He could also just be a d.ck) A good idea for the instructor is to be straight forward in all communication, explaining the rules of conduct to new members before or after the first practice. Another possibility is to give new members a trial period. This way, the instructor and the group will have time to familiarize themselves with the new member before he is accepted to sign up for a full membership. If the toxic individual continues with these type of behaviors, the instructor should have a serious conversation where is made completely clear that this is not an acceptable behavior, and that the next step is that he is no longer welcomed at the gym. After all, it is better to take care of the problem at an early stage than to wait and let it grow.
A taste of his own medicine.
If you are part of the old-school BJJ community, then the toxic individual could also be forced to change his behavior by constantly being smashed by the strongest members of the group. This way, the individual will have to either change his behavior or keep being smashed until he conforms, or quits. After, all, the gentle art is supposed to be gentle. Right?
Written by Mike Mella, 10th planet purple belt.