Jiu-Jitsu Is Only A “Douchebag Filter” If We Actively Filter Out Douchebags

Image Source: Issys Calderon Photography

I was told when I first started training that jiu-jitsu is a “douchebag filter” — that for the most part, bad people who signed up for jiu-jitsu either became good people or would simply not last long on the mats.

As the years have passed, however, I have mixed feelings about the claim. On one hand, I have seen arrogant “street fighter” bros get humbled on the mats and dedicate themselves to becoming better as people and athletes. But then, I’ve also seen entitled bullies come in as day-one white belts, and now they’re still entitled bullies, but also purple belts who know how to hurt people and are in an environment where they are given plenty of opportunities to do so.

I don’t think jiu-jitsu is a douchebag filter. I think it provides an excellent vehicle for the unlearning of douchebaggery, much as a car is an excellent vehicle for taking a douchebag to a jiu-jitsu gym. But neither a car nor an anti-douchebag education can get very far without a competent driver, and in the wrong hands, both vehicles can cause disaster.

Jiu-jitsu instructors have far more influence than jiu-jitsu itself over new students. Their ability to set and enforce rules and dictate who gets a stern warning and who’s never allowed to return to the academy is what determines what is and isn’t acceptable within the gym walls. This, of course, isn’t to say that more rules and tougher enforcement are the answer — prohibiting any cross-training, for example, may foster an environment of elitism — but this does set the tone for the type of culture that grows inside the gym.

Instructors, is your douchebag filter functional? When you look at the “rules” poster that hangs in your gym, is it truly a code of conduct or just a decoration? If it says to “treat your training partners with respect,” but you pretend not to notice when your star athlete makes homophobic jokes or uses racial slurs, are you really maintaining your gym’s douchebag filter? If you let your assistant coach continue coaching despite credible accusations of bullying or abuse, is your filter even on? If you yourself are trying to sleep with every naive white belt who walks into the gym, are you not the walking, talking evidence that the “jiu-jitsu douchebag filter” missed a spot?

If you stick with it, jiu-jitsu will inevitably show you the rewards of persistence. It will teach you that you have to be defeated and admit defeat over and over again until you are able to impose defeat on others. It will also teach you how to kill or hospitalize a person with your bare hands. If you continue to train a person who disregards others’ physical and emotional wellbeing, you aren’t filtering out a douchebag, you’re weaponizing a douchebag with tools they will always have access to.

Jiu-jitsu can’t possibly do all the work when it comes to removing bad people from the mats. Coaches are the ones who need to make tough decisions when it comes to reprimanding or removing students for poor behavior. And as students, when we see coaches who have made it through the filter, we also need to make tough choices. Sometimes that involves talking with your instructor about where you’d like to see improvement, and other times, it involves filtering with your wallet and paying a different instructor at a different gym to teach you jiu-jitsu.

You can decide for yourself what makes someone an irredeemable jerk and what makes them “only human.” As you ponder on it, though, ask yourself what you believe is the worst thing they are realistically capable of doing, and ask yourself if you want your name to be attached to their history of martial arts education. We can’t prevent every scumbag from making their way into the sport, but we can do our best to keep jiu-jitsu as safe and welcoming as possible.


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