Maybe Jiu-Jitsu Really Isn’t For Everyone, Would That Be So Bad?

Source: akiko yanagawa via Flickr Creative Commons

There’s a great line in the movie “Jerry Maguire” where the titular character concludes that the only way to keep the quality of his company is “fewer clients, less money.” He is promptly fired, despite most rank and file employees agreeing with him.

It past five or so years, there’s been a mantra going around in jiu-jitsu: “Jiu-Jitsu Is For Everyone.” And I get it, I really do.

I get that there’s a reason why Brazilian jiu-jitsu has been around nearly one hundred years, but is only now starting to explode across the world. The effectiveness of the art has never really been in question, but rather how approachable it was.

As schools across the world figure this out, and make adjustments to their gym culture, we are seeing the results. Celebrities, moms, and children are pushing the gentle art into new markets. Partially because we’re making it… a little gentler.

I’m all for this. Honestly, I’m a product of it. I don’t know if I would have stuck around in the tough, old school gyms of past decades.

Is It Really, Though?

But as I clock another year in on the mats, watching students come and go, I can’t help but think that jiu-jitsu really ISN’T for everyone. And that’s okay. If anything, it’s why I love it.

Bowling is for everyone. Frisbee is for everyone. They’re games that involve no pain, no long term commitment, and no mental toughness. Jiu-jitsu does, and that’s why anyone that can do it for more than a year probably can’t shut up about it. They’re proud of doing something that many people don’t.

When someone says “jiu-jitsu is for everyone” what I think they mean is, “anyone can physically do jiu-jitsu” which is true. Of course, that’s not as good of a slogan for schools trying to capture that bigger market share.

And while I’m all for getting more people into jiu-jitsu, I also think that keeping jiu-jitsu hard will keep it special. When I see schools doing everything they can to keep new students sheltered from anything too physical like sparring or cardio drills, they’re just delaying the inevitable. Maybe that student will stick around longer, but eventually they will have to roll with that killer blue belt, and that killer purple belt immediately after that. That’s when the real moment of truth comes.

If it was easy, everyone would do it.

The hard truth is, if jiu-jitsu was for everyone, everyone would be doing it already. But they’re not. Even in schools with the most beginner-friendly curriculum, most new students will leave before they get a purple belt. I’m okay with that.

If I’m being honest, I sort of like that ju-jitsu is fundamentally unfair. That it’s not always fun. I like that it’s a zero sum game, where you have to deal with “losing.” But a lot of people can’t handle things that are unfair, not always fun, and involve losing. So jiu-jitsu will never be for everyone, period.

I’m kinda happy knowing that anyone I meet on the mats is probably exceptional. That even the least skilled blue belt is still a one-percenter compared to the general population. Everyone I know in jiu-jitsu is interesting. They run the gamut in terms of age, color, and background. Most of them have a helluva work ethic, and ALL of them have grit.

Look, I really don’t want to go back the 90s, when gyms were 99 percent alpha males and seven out of ten students quit. But I also don’t want BJJ to become pilates. And if that means fewer clients and less money?

Hopefully the two aren’t so intertwined. I’d like to think that instead of the art lowering its standards, we can challenge people to meet us halfway.

So let’s keep getting more and more people into this amazing martial art. Because anyone can do jiu-jitsu, but only exceptional people actually will.


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