In response to the flurry of sexual assault allegations coming out in the jiu-jitsu world as of late, we look to the leaders of our community to address these issues head on. There is not one jiu-jitsu school in the world that is immune to the notion of a potential culprit walking into their school on any given day. It is impractical to do background checks on everyone that walks through your door thus there should be safeguards in place to prevent anything questionable happening between male instructors and female students.
As architects of the Gracie Women Empowered program and leaders of a network that encompasses roughly 200 affiliates around the globe, Eve and Rener Gracie are two people who patrons of the art would look to address these sort of events with a statement. As they succinctly put it, there are reasonable measures that every gym can take to make sure a culture of cover-ups and victim blaming does not transpire at any gym. While full-on background checks may seem unreasonable costly for all incoming students, it is certainly well-worth the cost for anyone that will be teaching in your gym, particularly if they are going to be around children. They also take the liberty to cross-reference every new sign-up with the National Sex Offender Database to see if the prospective student has been convicted of any sex crimes, ultimately refusing service and issuing a refund to anyone that pops up on the database.
A big takeaway from their discussion is the understanding of the power dynamic that exists in BJJ. Many schools harbor a culture where the black belt is looked at and treated as a person of authority, whose word stands above all others, and who is ultimately the boss on the mat for all others to serve. Another way of putting it is the ‘pecking order’ mentality. This can breed an environment where a newer student may feel afraid or intimidated to confide in others about inappropriate actions being done by higher belts. In a healthy academy culture they argue, the opposite should be true. Higher belts must be there to serve lower belts. The onus is on the higher belt to make sure that the lower belt understands the technique and can safely help them navigate through the lessons of the day.
As more and more schools open up around the world, the hard reality of the situation is that BJJ is a completely unregulated market. Anybody can open a jiu-jitsu school and begin teaching students. Unless the new school owner is opening under an organization that background checks its instructors, there is inherent risk to anyone that steps through that door for the first time. It is important to look for signs that point to a toxic culture, such as the idea that the lower belts are there as fodder for the upper belts. Pay close attention to the social dynamic in any academy you walk in. Jiu-jitsu has a plethora of wonderful things it can add to someone’s life, it is our duties as a collective community to police ourselves and speak up when the rights of others are violated, and this is especially prevalent in the unregulated market of jiu-jitsu.
Watch Eve and Rener’s full discussion below:
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