A Dojo Divided

The subject of tribalism in Brazilian jiu-jitsu has come up several times in recent years. Whether it’s religion, politics, or yes, even that fun hobby where we try to strangle each other, we humans don’t seem to be happy unless we are aligning with certain people, and by definition, excluding others. We tell ourselves things like “Our lineage is more pure”, or “Only we are doing true jiu-jitsu”, or “Those other schools hold themselves back.”  Jiu-jitsu provides innumerable ways to artificially feel superior to others.

Of course, we are lying to ourselves. Yes, certain teams are well known for their competitive successes, but in the end, we align with our local club, and our local instructor. Though it may be a source of pride to align yourself with someone like Andre Galvao or Renzo Gracie or yes, even the infamous Eddie Bravo, these phenomenal instructors do not grace our mats most evenings. Our choice to train at a particular club may have more to do with cost, convenience, or an atmosphere in which we feel comfortable. Yet, we proudly beat our chests and claim that we will forever ally ourselves with a single school of thought.  But what happens when more than one instructor, or even more than one affiliation/team try to coexist under a single roof?

Sometimes the simple answer is: it works. The most notable example of multiple schools/styles/teams training under one roof is the unique and quite popular Studio 540, home to such names as Fabio Santos, Joel Tudor, and Leticia Ribiero. The instructors at Studio 540 “seek to simply share knowledge and positively influence student’s lives”. This commitment to unaffiliated jiu-jitsu went so far as to host a large number of free seminars that further brought the local jiu-jitsu community together, and this commitment has made the school a must-visit academy for experienced and new grapplers alike.

Other schools have tried to house two teams with mixed success. One such team, Next Level Combat in Woodbury, MN, housed a GFT team that taught gi classes, as well as a 10th planet affiliate for their no gi instruction. Nate Kleinfeld, 10th Planet black belt under Eddie Bravo, explains that the system worked well because it provided specialized instruction for gi and no-gi, but faced challenges unifying his team as the gi players and no-gi players would claim only one of the two affiliations and not both, as was originally intended. “It broke the whole team aspect apart”, he said. Ultimately, GFT and 10th Planet parted ways. It should be noted that Next Level Combat still offers gi instruction under Nick Robinson, a black belt under Rigan Machado, proof that Kleinfeld still believes dissimilar styles can benefit one another immensely.

The concept of training multiple styles or affiliations clearly offers immense potential for the blending and sharing of information. The potential for learning in such an environment is exponential as multiple experts in a field share ideas and insights over time. Nova Gyms, in Wisconsin (Pewaukee and Oak Creek) has the benefit of three top notch instructors within one gym. Jason Kaz is an independent black belt promoted by Daniel Moreas, and is joined by Gilmar Ferreira (Gracie Humaita) and Marc Laimon, a black belt under John Lewis. These three work together to heighten the Nova athletes’ skillset with each instructor teaching multiple times per week.

Nova Gyms, founded by Chris Martin, has been at the forefront of bringing jiu jitsu innovation to a smaller market. He has paired with Marquette University to both create a jiu jitsu club program but also to host “jiu jitsu scrimmages” which bring multiple schools together without the high-stress environment of formal competitions. He recently brought in Laimon, a polarizing but undeniably brilliant jiu jitsu mind, when Laimon moved home to care for an ailing family member. Martin himself is notable as the creator not only of Nova Gyms, but as a founding member of the organization BJJ4Change, which pairs high level jiu jitsu coaches/seminars/videos with worldwide Peace and Prosperity initiatives. He is also a stroke survivor who returned to the mat after a bjj technique almost ended his life. His unique backstory adds to the incredible diversity of experiences that drive Nova Gyms.

Of course there are logistical discussions to be had in terms of when/how to rank a student, how and when to teach a particular technique and who a student will claim as “their” instructor. Nova Gyms has policies that involve tracking classes, and ranks are agreed upon between all coaches to avoid conflict or uncertainty. In examining multiple schools that have more than one instructor, it appears that the less attention that is paid to which tribe you represent, the more attention is paid to jiu -itsu itself and the more a student can grow.

There is also the benefit of diversity of thought. Even within one school with one instructor, you may have come across a particular training partner, coach, etc. that explains a technique you know well in a slightly different way. Getting new explanations and new details from multiple people may help get you past a training plateau. Imagine now that each of these separate voices is a black belt with a wealth of knowledge but perhaps a different mental conception of that technique. Sometimes that “one detail” that changes your game entirely is just a matter of wording, and multiple coaches are more likely to help your development in this way.

Most of us have attended seminars outside our affiliation. We cross train with other schools and in other arts.  And don’t lie, we all look at YouTube when athletes from a variety of teams post technique videos. When we shed the “need” to belong to a particular “tribe”, and instead begin to view all jiu jitsu players as our brothers and sisters, not only will our own jiu-jitsu grow, but the art itself will expand. It will reach new audiences, attract new students, and give us all new training partners. No matter what patches they may have on their uniform.


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