So I’m a black belt now. What does that mean exactly?
It simply means that I was too stubborn to quit and demonstrated that I can persevere long term and become good at something. This does not make me a honorable person who is worthy of your highest level of respect – I still have to earn that by demonstrating long term that I am a worthwhile human being. I know plenty of black belts who I have zero respect for, due to their actions as human beings.
Being a black belt does not give me a license to bully or harass those below me. My task is to make the path easier in that regards. Just because I was given a hard time going up through the ranks, does not mean I have the right to make things difficult for others as well. I choose to break that pattern. I choose to nurture other students and create a safe retreat for people to work hard without extra distractions.
So all that said as preamble… a lot of people are finally starting to talk about sexual harassment and bullying among the ranks of Jiu Jitsu. It’s both heart breaking and refreshing at the same time. We like to foster this fantasy that earning a black belt also perfects your character, but a rotten foundation does not lead to a stable house. I know black belts who think that since they paid their dues that it gives them license to do whatever they want – when it really is the opposite. There’s this thing called power dynamics, think “with great power comes great responsibility”. I must hold myself to a higher standard now that I know people are looking to me to model behavior.
So… Dear Black Belts/Upper Ranks:
Yes you worked hard to get to where you are. You should be very proud of your accomplishment! Now regardless of if you are an official instructor or not, you are a teacher. This is the way.
You can be a badass killing machine without being a douche canoe.
If you make a racist or sexist joke, a lower rank is going to hear that and think it is an acceptable behavior. It’s a trickle down effect that influences the entire culture of your training space.
Mimicry is real – meaning people will model behavior that makes them seem like part of the group. Good or bad.
Don’t protect one another. If someone is being a creep to other students, you need to draw a hard line and call them out on it. Friendship can only go so far and some behavior cannot be excused by “they mean well”.
If you want your gym to be a safe haven of badassery, then do that. Cultivate the culture and boot out the bad eggs.
Dear Lower Ranks:
We appreciate you and love that you are starting this journey! It takes guts to step on the mats the first day. Whether your goal is weight loss, confidence, recovery, becoming a ninja assassin… your reason is valid!
You deserve to train in a safe environment.
Just because someone outranks you, does not mean that they have the right to make you feel threatened or uncomfortable.
If you get creepy vibes from someone, please tell your instructor. If it is the instructor giving you creepy vibes, tell your gym management. If the problem is systemic and you aren’t taken seriously, then go to a different academy. Training is hard enough without dealing with emotional turmoil from bullying or harassment! Some things aren’t worth pushing through.
If you ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe training with someone, say no to training with them. There are people who I will not train with even if my coach tells me to. If he wants to know details, he asks me after class. I am working to instill this in my students as well. Right of refusal applies here!
I had a meeting with management at my academy a few weeks ago along with an HR rep. They have promised to toe a hard line on zero tolerance of online and in person sexual harassment/bullying. They banned a member on the spot for sexual harassment. We have police officers in our academy who have given us a legal course of action we can take if needed as well. The amount of relief I have heard from our female members is both gratifying and saddening. It is going to be a tough road ahead as things get unearthed, but it will be worth it.