Nobody likes being the last one to know an unwritten rule. Every single gym has its own set of unique rules, both written and unwritten. Having a set of easily understood rules helps new people to start training with a clear understanding of expectations. We should get these ideas hammered out as efficiently as possible and focus on Jiu Jitsu!Most gyms have simple expectations: Be clean, be on time, and take what we are doing with a reasonable amount of seriousness. I want to discuss some of the unwritten but common ’rules’ that many gyms have, and what we do here. Before we begin, let people have their customs. It’s ok for everyone to have their own version within a reasonable framework. When visiting other gyms, or when we have a prestigious visitor, please err towards being polite.
#1 Bow on and off the mats. Obviously a sign of respect, common to many other martial arts. At my place, I don’t care what you do. We line up by rank and bow at the beginning of class so everyone is comfortable with the custom for seminars and traveling. Some people want you to bow to the instructor and introduce yourself upon entering the mat area.
#2 Turn towards the wall when tying your belt. This is another intuitive thing that makes sense. At my place, I don’t care again. New people are always asking the obvious and awkward question of how to tie their belt. Watching someone else is a natural way to learn basic things. Some people probably see this as a modesty thing, so be polite in unsure environments.
#3 In live rolling, move out of the way for higher ranks. Why do you think this is? The lower ranks are still developing a sense of awareness, and this expectation helps to develop exactly that. Also, it affords the upper ranks less interruptions when having a look at the more complicated questions in bjj. At my gym, this is actually a written rule. But I also ask that people are polite when reminding others. Saying ‘get out of my way!’ is no way to speak to anyone.
#4 Don’t talk when someone is teaching. Most people don’t need to be told, except for parents in the kids class. There is actually a range of expected behavior in different schools. I’ve been places where everyone is supposed to stand during the lesson. Someone visited a place where they stand in a line against the wall. On the opposite end of the spectrum, my wrestling coach used to encourage us to grab a partner and look at the position while he was still talking. I like to encourage people to move to where they can see the details.
#5 Don’t ask upper ranks to roll. This is actually a subject of debate. I personally don’t understand why anyone can’t politely decline a roll. There are many reasons to be selective of training partners, and upper ranks are great to learn from. If you’re visiting another place, I recommend asking if they have this rule.
#6 Ask a Black Belt to get a drink or use the restroom. Constantly having people milling in and out of the training area can appear disorderly, so I understand why some people have this rule. At my place, I don’t care. I got my Black Belt because I wanted to learn more about Jiu Jitsu, not to regulate people’s tinkle schedule.
#7 Show up, even if you will be late. Some places won’t let you join class if you’re late. At my gym, if you can only get ten minutes of training in it’s better than none. We are all adults with busy schedules, no need to explain. We will make fun of purple belts who consistently miss warmups, it’s an important custom.
#8 Do not show up sick. This has thankfully become common knowledge since COVID. We all have days when we don’t feel like training, and have to make ourselves go. Being sick is not one of those times.