Higher Jiu Jitsu began as the Jiu Jitsu Commune, a place where BJJ practitioners of all teams and affiliations come in and learn and train and hang out and have fun with the art of jiu jitsu. There were numerous reasons why I did this. But the real heavy reason why I loved the thought of a Commune was a little experience I had as a blue belt.
I started at SPMA because I was studying at Macquarie University and it was on my way to uni and from uni. I used to live in Earlwood, in Sydney’s inner west, and SPMA was in Concord. It was during uni break that I had some spare time and thought I would venture out to another school.
Sure it was curiosity to see how other schools trained and learned. Having been to Brazil for an extended period of time, I was also a little excited to hang out with a Brazilian teacher and practice some of my Brazilian words that I’d picked up. So off I went to Ryan Gracie Jiu Jitsu, now known as MYBJJ. It was in Marrickville at the time, otherwise known as my hood and not 10 mins away from my house.
I got to meet some new students of the art, & roll with the boys and girls that I’d met at competitions. I saw how Prof Mario took class, which was different to the SPMA format that I was used to. I had fun, and I thought only positive things came from the visit, so I went another two times.
It might have been the third visit that I went there that Professor Mario pulled me aside after class for a chat. I was more than willing to pay a fee to attend class, but he respectfully told me that due to his school competing with my school SPMA at competitions, it isn’t right that I train with his students without becoming a fully fledged member of his school.
Not to mention I told AP what I was doing and while he isn’t very good at hiding his emotions let me know in clear terms that what I was doing wasn’t right on him or his school either. And that I should quit complaining about a 20-30 min drive to Concord when he was travelling hours each way to train with Carlos in Dallas Texas.
Initially I was taken aback for doing wrong when I didn’t mean to. How could this possibly be a problem when all I want is some extra training? What is wrong with getting some extra rounds in with people that I haven’t trained with before? Is it doing harm to one school or the other? These were all questions I had which weren’t answered.
Cross training has been a hot topic of discussion in the jits ranks for a long time, and the consensus seems to evolve continuously. Ultimately it was this pseudo loyalty crisis led to the creation of the politics and affiliation free BJJ Commune. This was about 7 years ago, and a lot has changed since then.
Now I am a school owner, and this territory comes with a different perspective. To be honest, I can now see both sides of the debate. So is it a bad thing to cross train? Not at all. WIth this being said, here are a few tips to consider in order to visit different schools and remain on the right side of both parties:
1. You don’t need to ask for permission, but do run it past your coach.
No you’re not a slave to your coach, and he doesn’t own you, and it’s a free world and you can do as you please. I understand. But, you call your coach your coach for a reason. There ought to be mutual respect here – he respects you as a student of his or her school, and you respect what they’ve built and what they offer you which is why you are there to train and learn. So it makes sense for you to have a chat with your coach and say ‘coach, these are my plans, is there anything I ought to know about beforehand?’
He or she may message the coach and let them know to look after you, or tell you to find a different school to visit, or give you some advice before you go, according to what he thinks of your abilities and plans. When you don’t ask for permission it feels as though you’re going behind the coach’s back, even if you aren’t. If you don’t say anything, it’s as though there is something to hide, and or you don’t value the opinion of your teacher, or you’re not happy with your current environment, and this isn’t your intention.
2. Call or message the coach or staff at the other school and ask if it’s also OK for them.
With this being said, it’s every school owner’s prerogative to accept casual visits or not. Just because you think it’s a good idea doesn’t mean he wants you there. Some gym owners don’t appreciate having students from differetn schools on their mats. Or there may also be a class that’s better for visitors than others, or a special circumstance at the school that you ought to know about before showing up.
So it’s a good idea to hit up the school beforehand, and let them know about your plans. It doesn’t take long to do, it shows respect, it avoids problems, and most importantly it helps you to build a friendly, working relationship with the coach, and thus the school.
It’s the nature of jiu jitsu schools that they have different cultures inherent within them. Some schools smile more than others. Whatever the case may be, have your smile on and ready to go. Sure you may be feeling a little nervous excitement to be there. Either way, your smile is telling people you come with pleasant intentions, and you come in peace ready to learn, and be friendly, and have fun.
Also be thankful post class. Make an effort to approach the instructor, even if you have to wait for them to become available, and personally thank them for their hospitality. They didn’t need to accept you, or teach you anything, but they did and that’s why you are expressing your gratitude.
4. Be there to Learn.
Being there to learn is having two ears and one mouth. Do not attempt to go in and show off your understanding of technique. Even if you do have a good counter to what’s being taught, or if you don’t think the technique is good, or you can do it better, this is NOT the time to let these students and teachers know. Nobody in that room cares for what you know, just yet. So listen to what is being said, ask genuine questions if the opportunity is offered to you, and go in with the white belt mentality, even if you are not a white belt.
5. Don’t Hunt for Submissions, Or Give It Your Best.
Imagine you are a visitor in your friend’s mate’s home that you’ve never previously met before. If you’re acting with appropriate etiquette in mind you wouldn’t walk straight to their fridge and open a beer for yourself, or turn on the TV, or demand that the group hang in the bedroom. Instead, you will be a little passive out of respect, and accept that beer only if you are offered it. This is how I learned to be polite anyway.
With this in mind, you wouldn’t go into another school and enforce your techniques, and hunt for submissions, dictate the pace of the rolls, and roll with all the intensity that you can muster up. It simply isn’t polite.
Even if you are a competitor, you are not there to compete because this is a friendly visit. Firstly it’s not intelligent, and by attacking something you don’t know much about, you allow yourself to be countered and this isn’t smart. Instead, focus on self defence first, and let your partner show you all of their moves first, and then you have the option of doing as you please when you know what’s coming your way.
Of course you won’t simply succumb to their techniques, or be a walkover, and you will be focusing on self defence, of your limbs and neck as always especially if you don’t know your partner. But you won’t attack them gung ho either or hunt for their limbs. Instead, let your training partners dictate the pace, and let them lead the conversation (roll).
Think Rylan Lizares’ visit to Higher. Save the hardcore rolls for the competition realm or at least when you know your new friends a little better.
6. Don’t make the Visits a Habit.
It’s one thing to visit a school every now and then, but if you make this a habit and continuously visit, it opens up new problems that aren’t beneficial for anyone.
For starters the opportunity cost of you going to another school is you not being at your home school. If you aren’t at your home school, you aren’t learning from your instructor, or helping your teammates, and/or making your school a better place with your presence.
For the school you are visiting, do they now consider you a teammate that they can trust, and learn from, and confide in? How much do you expect the visiting instructor to cater for you and help you as a non student of theirs? Bear in mind they also have many students of their own to help, that pay them directly every month, and help to make their school better.
From a school owner’s perspective, it isn’t the casual fees that pay the bills, but the regular student payments. If you aren’t assisting the teacher with their school, you are in a way leaching from their knowledge and environment.
If you want to go all the time, and you can, why don’t you sign up there? If this is a conversation you want to have, better to have it earlier rather than later to ensure you don’t ruffle any feathers that need not be ruffled.
7. Check in with your coach post visit.
It’s nice to know how your student went, any thoughts they had about the school, and reflections post visit. It reaffirms your loyalties and intentions when you come back to your teacher and speak to him about your experience. Is there anything the other school did well or not so well that your teacher can learn from? A quick chat goes a long way.
There you have it. Some advice for visiting students.
Please be aware that Higher Jiu Jitsu loves visitors that come in wanting to learn and share good times with our crew. With these pointers above you will be rest assured that you’l have a great time and be invited back again anytime.
Any thoughts about the above, or extra pointers to add? Maybe you’ve had a different experience that you’d like to share. Please let us know. We love feedback and ways to improve.
See you on the mats soon!