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Unraveling The Myth of Loyalty

In the intricate tapestry of Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), there exists a notion deeply ingrained within its culture - the concept of loyalty. It's a term often heralded as sacred, synonymous with dedication, commitment, and unwavering support. Yet, beneath its surface lies a complex landscape of expectations, relationships, and personal growth.



At first glance, loyalty in Jiu-Jitsu seems straightforward - students pledge allegiance to their instructors, teammates, and the academy itself. They show up faithfully, train diligently, and stand by each other. It's a bond forged on the mats, where blood, sweat, and tears intertwine to create a sense of belonging and camaraderie.


However, as one delves deeper into the dynamics of loyalty, cracks begin to emerge in its façade. The reality is that loyalty in Jiu-Jitsu is not always reciprocal nor unconditional. In some instances, it becomes a tool used to manipulate and control, a means to exert power and authority over others. Students may feel obligated to remain loyal out of fear of repercussions or social ostracization, regardless of their true feelings or circumstances.


Moreover, the hierarchical structure of Jiu-Jitsu academies can exacerbate the pressure to conform to a certain standard of loyalty. Students may find themselves torn between their allegiance to their instructor and their own personal growth and well-being. They may suppress their doubts and concerns, sacrificing authenticity for the sake of preserving the status quo.


But true loyalty in Jiu-Jitsu transcends mere obligation or conformity. It is rooted in mutual respect, trust, and genuine care for one another's journey. It's about fostering a supportive environment where individuals are encouraged to question, challenge, and evolve both on and off the mats. In essence, loyalty should be earned through actions, not demanded through coercion.


I have been the student of and trained out of a gym that used loyalty in a very coercive and almost dirty way. The word was brought up quite often when you did something that was questionable in the eyes of the owner. While he never deemed me disloyal, he often framed discussions about my actions as something less than loyal. These discussions happened around things that I did which were utterly harmless, but went against some internal unwritten gym rule.


For myself, as someone who believed myself to be loyal, it grated on me. I taught classes, both paid and unpaid. I substituted when called. I helped clean when I had time. I was a positive force for the gym. During the Covid-19 Lockdown, I continued to pay even though I wasn't training. Looking back, if I'm being completely honest, this was my biggest regret in all of my time at that academy. I paid when I didn't have to out of loyalty, yet my loyalty was still being questioned. If I could do it all over again, I would have frozen my account immediately.


Over time, my frustrations around the use of "loyalty" and it bothered me every time it was brought up. It felt cultish and abusive, a tactic that was used to get people to behave against their own best interests. Unfortunately, loyalty only went so far from the other way. Loyalty from the instructor or the academy had it's own shelf life, it was limited, or outright non-existent when it came to certain topics.



So, how can we navigate the complexities of loyalty in Jiu-Jitsu while staying true to ourselves? The answer lies in cultivating self-awareness and integrity. It requires courage to speak up against injustice, to set boundaries, and to prioritize our own growth and well-being. It means embracing vulnerability and embracing the journey of self-discovery, even if it means facing discomfort or uncertainty.


As instructors and teammates, we have a responsibility to lead by example, to foster a culture of inclusivity, transparency, and accountability. We must create space for open dialogue and constructive feedback, where everyone's voice is heard and valued. It's through this collective effort that we can redefine the meaning of loyalty in Jiu-Jitsu and cultivate a community built on authenticity and mutual respect.


I as an instructor cannot expect loyalty from my students. It just doesn't work that way. Honestly speaking, I shouldn't even bring it up. Loyalty is something that's quietly earned through acts of selflessness. It's earned by checking in on students when you haven't seen them in a while. Spending time assessing their unique needs on the mats and adapting your coaching style to what speaks best to them. It's showing up to their competitions, knowing you're sacrificing your own personal time away from home.



Loyalty cannot be demanded, instead it's almost bartered. It's part technical product, the instructions you give when you're teaching. It's also part customer service, the way you treat them when they make mistakes and the way you praise when they reach their accomplishments. Loyalty is a biproduct of the exchange between student and instructor. Maintaining that exchange rate is on me as the instructor. It is not to be abused and cashed in nor is it owed. I can do all the right things and a student can still leave. That's fine, they owe me nothing.


In conclusion, the myth of loyalty in Jiu-Jitsu serves as a powerful reminder of the complexities inherent in human relationships. While loyalty can be a source of strength and solidarity, it can also be manipulated and exploited if left unchecked. By embracing self-awareness, integrity, and open communication, we can navigate these complexities with grace and authenticity, forging deeper connections and fostering growth both individually and collectively on our journey through Jiu-Jitsu.




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