Wednesday, December 7, 2011

BJJ Confessions: I Am In Love With My Instructor

Ok, the title is a little misleading. I don't have feelings for my instructor, but a friend that I train with does.

I can understand how this happened. Our instructor is all kinds of awesome. He is warm, caring, patient and genuinely cares about what is happening in the lives of his students, not to mention he is awesome at BJJ. It is not uncommon to hear about him helping someone out with a personal issue, whether just by offering them encouragement or advice, or helping them out by actually getting involved with the situation and trying to find a solution. He believes in his students and tells them so and goes out of his way to build them up.

With that alone, I can see how it would be easy for someone to form an emotional attachment to him. They might mistake his caring for romantic interest, even if there is no real flirting happening on his side of things.

But I think there is another element involved here. It is all too common for students to develop crushes on their instructors, whether it be in BJJ or in college or in basket weaving. There is a bond that forms between a student and an instructor, naturally. They share a common passion and work closely together. It is also normal to have respect and even admiration for an instructor. After all, they have a large amount of knowledge and experience in a field that the student is passionate about. And, if they are a good instructor, then it is natural to admire their character and skills as a teacher.

But sometimes a student starts to idealize their instructor. They think that their instructor is the "perfect man" or "perfect woman". I think that crushes like these are less about sex and are more about the attractiveness of the instructors confidence, his or her impressive knowledge and accomplishments and the emotional need they sometimes involuntarily meet in their students.

Wait, what was that last part, you ask?

Sometimes instructors end up unintentionally filling some emotional void that one of their students have. If a student is feeling lonely, rejected and unimportant, and an instructor tells them they are talented and intelligent, you can bet that student will latch onto that. They have an emotional void and may be tempted to try to have it filled by their instructor.

Here is the recipe for disaster in a BJJ gym:

1 student with an emotional void
1 instructor with a caring attitude
3 classes a week/6 hours a week of close physical contact and shared common interest

Why is this a disaster?

Well, for starters, many bjj instructors are married already. If that is the case, this attachment is wrong for obvious reasons. But even if the instructor is single, I would venture to say that a relationship that comes out of the instructor/student dynamic is unlikely to be long lasting. The reason why, I think, is that the bond between the teacher and the student is based more on the emotional need the instructor is filling and less on a real compatibility of two people. Healthy relationships happen when two people--who are independently healthy on their own--find common ground and attraction and build off of that.

Bottom line: If you think you are in love with your instructor, you probably aren't. You are more likely infatuated with an idealized version of your instructor and are caught up in having an emotional need met through his/her attention and praise.

What I would ask what do you really know about him/her? Do you see what he/she is like when they are not at the gym or at a function with people from the gym? Do you know how he/she treats their family? Do you know what he/she does in their spare time? What kind of music they like? What they like to eat? What books they read? What movies they prefer? What are their political views? Their religious views? How do they handle their money? Do they keep a clean house or are they a slob? How do they resolve personal conflicts? What are their dreams and ambitions?

If you've started drawing a blank about these last questions, chances are you don't really know your instructor all that well outside the gym. You know a part of who they are, not the whole.

You also might ask yourself what it is what attracts you to him/her? Do you share common ground OUTSIDE of your love for BJJ? Would you still want to be with this person if they were no longer involved in BJJ?

I am not saying that all relationships born out of an instructor/student relationship are doomed to failure. But I am saying that, if you do think you are in love with your instructor, think hard before you dive into a relationship. If it is not based on a real connection, then it will not last long. And then you will have a very awkward situation on your hands and may have to face leaving your gym and starting over somewhere else.

Also, I didn't even go into what kind of relational disasters come out of a situation where the instructor has emotional voids that they are trying to have met through their students. Can you say teachers sleeping with their underage students? Grrrrrrr!!!!!!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Why Tournament Stress if Good For Me

BJJ is my therapy. No, really. It is.

About 6 years ago, after the birth of my son, I went through a debilitating depression. It was the lowest point in my life. Now, after having to give up a career that I loved and poured myself into and having to start over again, I am teetering on the brink of another bout with depression and one of the few things--apart from God--that keeps me from slipping into those negative emotions is Jiu-jitsu.

For me, so much of my negative feelings are linked to a fear of failure. Looking at my lost career, I wonder what I could have done differently. I wonder if it was my fault, or if the blame lies with circumstances beyond my control. My mind has been in a constant tumult of insecurity.

Then, I competed in a tournament a few weekends ago. My 4th tournament. Not exactly a low stress situation. Probably not the most soothing thing for someone struggling with severe self doubt. At least, at first glance it wouldn't seem to be. I stress over tournaments the same way I stressed over my career. What if I lost? Would people be disappointed with me? Would I lose the respect of my coach and teammates?

But those fears are exactly why tournaments and BJJ itself are good for me. I have to face my fears and anxieties and learn to manage them in a healthy way. I face the worst case scenario--losing--and then realize that life doesn't fall apart.

Unfortunately, I am a slow learner. I struggled with anxiety the whole day of the tournament. I tried to control my breathing. Tried not to let on to my teammates that I was stressed. I cheered for my friends and tried to remind myself that the outcome of my fights would not be a matter of life or death.

And still, as soon as my first match started, my adrenaline spiked. It was a good match. Went into over time. I remember my mind being in a frenzied blur. I forgot so many things that I do every day in class. I can't even remember most of the details of the fight, now. I had a small injury during the grapple--actually a re-injury--but nothing broken.

Afterwards, I was exhausted. I grapple six times every class. Good, hard grapples. But one grapple in a tournament and I am spent. I know that the reason why I gas so quickly in tournaments is because of nerves. I am not sure how to get better at managing that kind of stress. One of my teammates told me that it comes with experience.

I am willing to put in the work to get there. Not just so I can perform better at tournaments but so that I can learn to manage anxiety better in life outside bjj.

Today, I am struggling. Going over and over in my mind the things I should have done in my grapple. Wondering whether or not my coach is disappointed in me. I am uncomfortable with how I did. But I think that discomfort is also good training. I need to accept that I can't always win. I need to accept that I did the best I could, that I made mistakes, that I have things I need to work on and I need to be able to move forward and not dwell on the negative.

That is where I am at right now. I will keep working.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Checking This Out

I am now mobile! Woohoo!
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Teaching: How Soon Is Too Soon ?

Here's the scenario:

I started training at the same time as another guy at my gym. We'll call him Johnny Bravo. We both got our first stripes on the same day. Both were promoted to blue belt on the same day. All together, we have only been training about a year and a half. He's a big guy; weighs upwards of 200 lbs. We're friends, but he's about ten years younger than me.

The other day, we were eating with a group of people from the gym after class, and Johnny mentions to me that he wants to start teaching a small group of people on the side. These are kids who are about four to six years younger than he is, around 13-16 years old. They don't have a lot of money and probably couldn't afford to come to our gym. He asked me what I thought and if I would do it with him.

At that point, he hadn't asked our sensei anything about it. He doesn't want to get paid by these kids. He just wants to teach them. 

Here's what I said:

My first response was to tell him that I didn't think we were qualified. We have only been training a year and a half. There are still a lot of details about basic things that I think I get wrong sometimes. Just the other day in class, I got corrected on something I did wrong while I was doing an armbar from guard; something you learn in your first few weeks of class.

Secondly, I warned him that he would be liable if any of these kids got hurt. We don't have any insurance for this kind of thing.

Third--I didn't tell him this because he was already getting annoyed with me--I am pretty sure our sensei would be PISSED if he found out Johnny wanted to start a side class. Even if it was an unpaid side class. It just seems a little presumptuous to me since we are still so new to Jiu-Jitsu.

Fourth, and perhaps my most concerning point, Johnny Bravo is the type of guy who ro0lls like he has something to prove. He is a good grappler, but he uses a LOT of strength. He has hurt me before enough times that I choose not to grapple with him. He doesn't know it, but I have asked not to be put with him in class. I am not confident that he wouldn't accidentally hurt one of these kids. He might even decide they need to be taught a lesson and hold onto a submission just to make them tap, even when he should let go. I could see some kids getting something popped. Not only would the kids get hurt, but their parents might possibly come after Johnny legally. (I wouldn't blame them.) 

I told him all of these things, but he kind of blew me off. He has been playing around with this idea for a while and I think it is only a matter of time before he decides to try to do it.

What would you do in my shoes?

Would you talk to him again and tell him it's a really bad idea? Would you tell your sensei what he is planning to do?

Or am I completely off base here? Should he be able to teach a side class when he is a brand new blue belt, only a year and a half into training. I don't know. Maybe that kind of thing happens all the time.

If anyone is reading this, I would love to know what they think.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

This Is the "Sitchiation"

I came into Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a martial arts virgin. I had always wanted to try out some kind of fighting art/sport, but it wasn't until some friends of mine dragged me to one of their classes one day that I made that dream a reality.

Now, almost a year into the sport of BJJ, I still have stars in my eyes when I meet a new black belt. And I am still convinced that they use The Force. But my rose colored glasses are not as rosy as they once were.

I didn't plan to do this blog. Mostly, it was me lurking around reading other people's blogs that led me to write this one. A lot of gyms operate differently from mine. I want to talk candidly about some of the things I see...while at the same time staying as anonymous as possible. Why? I don't want to piss of someone on my team and get myself shunned. Not that I think my team would do that. They've been nothing but nice and helpful to me ever since I started.

Even so, our gym is like a band of brothers (and a few sisters) who help each other and look out for each other. I don't want to talk about them in a negative light and have it reflect poorly on my sensei or on the rest of the team. But I do want to be able to get some things off my chest and to ask other what their opinions are about these things.

So, this is how it's going to go. Code names for everyone. No specific names or places. Just observations/scenarios open for conversation and debate. Enjoy.