Progressing in Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) is dependant on many factors, not the least of which is the quality of your training partners. It is well known that in any sport that the higher caliber of people you surround yourself with, the more you will push each other and the better you will all get. In other words, the better you are as a teammate, the more you will help those around you get better, and in turn they will reciprocate and elevate your game as well. Here are five tips on how to be a good teammate on the mats, in chronological order of what to do before even coming to class all the way through to sparring:
1) Good hygiene
One thing that anyone who has spent much time on the mats knows is how awful it is to train with “that guy” who smells like he skipped the shower the past few days. If you want to come to practice, please make sure you don’t smell like a compost bin, that you have trimmed your finger and toe nails, that you wash your uniform EVERY TIME and only wear clean gis to training, and that your breath doesn’t smell too nasty … keep mouthwash in your gear bag if needed.
Another thing to point out that may not be as obvious is the cleanliness of your feet. You should NEVER use the restroom in bare feet then go out to the mats to train. C’mon, that is just gross. Additionally, it is usually a good idea to wear sandals/shoes from the changing area to and from the mats. In some academies this is a requirement, so I suggest checking with your instructor as to what his/her policies are. The floors in the gym may not be any cleaner than the sidewalk, and you don’t want to be tracking that onto the mats.
2) Stay home if you are contagious
This one goes for colds, flus, and don’t forget skin infections. If you have something I might catch, STAY HOME. I don’t want your funk, and neither does anyone else. How are your teammates supposed to get better if they’re sick and can’t train, and how would you feel if that was your fault because you gave it to them? Likewise, putting some athletic tape over your ringworm does nothing to guarantee I won’t catch it from you. Use some Lamisil and stay home for a week until it’s gone.
As noted in #1 above, it is crucial to wash your gi after every practice. Even if you don’t have a visible skin infection, you can still pass along nasty crap to your partners when you smear them with a dirty gi. For those wanting to go the extra mile, there are even options available now for gis with anti-microbial properties, such as Datsusara who uses hemp and Origin who weaves silver into their cotton on some models.
3) Show up on time!
This one seems obvious to me, but it happens enough that it warrants discussion. Look at it from this perspective: if you are late to practice, then you missed instruction. As a result, one of two things will happen. Either a) the instructor will have to show you the techniques individually, thus taking his/her attention away from the rest of their students (not fair), or b) your partner will have to be the one to show you those techniques, which again takes away from their own training time. Your partner should be getting in his/her own reps on the technique, not explaining it to you because you didn’t show up on time. I have trained at academies where if you were more than 5 min late the instructor would not let you join because it was unfair to the other students. Obviously not all academies do this, but you could certainly make an argument for why it is a reasonable thing to do. Please show respect to your teammates and instructor and be on the mats on time.
4) During drilling, practice what the instructor showed.
You, and your teammates, are paying for instruction from your coach. As cool as you think the latest Fire Breathing Dragon Guard is that you saw on YouTube, if your coach wants the class to work on escapes from side control, then your FBDG needs to wait until open mat time. Your partner is here to work on what the instructor has planned on the curriculum, so don’t rob him/her of their training time by distracting them with the latest YouTube sensation instead of doing the task at hand. Besides, I would bet that your favorite YouTube hero has practiced their FUNDAMENTALS more times than you’ve even stepped on the mats, so maybe try to follow their lead.
Additionally, even though I know you THINK you’ve mastered the move that coach just showed after 5 reps of drilling it, experience tells me that you’ll get even better if you do 10 reps, and even better than that if you do 15 reps, and, believe it or not, EVEN BETTER THAN THAT if you do 20 reps. I know it sounds hard to believe that practicing more makes you better, but my experience shows this to be true time and time again. So, instead of doing one set of 5 then sitting around chatting until it is time to move on, try using the full time allotted to practice your techniques and watch your progress skyrocket!
Also, please use an appropriate resistance level when drilling. If your partner wanted a limp body to practice on then they’d buy a grappling dummy. Likewise, save the sparring for, well, sparring time. As a partner, you are responsible for giving the right “feed” so that your teammate can practice the technique correctly. For example, if the class is working on a particular sweep, you are not doing anyone any favors by just flopping over each time. On the flip side, if you “defend” the sweep during practice time, then you are depriving your partner of their reps they’re supposed to be getting in. The best thing to do is find a reasonable middle ground where you don’t just flop, but also to let your partner actually practice the technique instead of turning it into a match. Think about it like Goldilocks, you don’t want to be too hot or too cold, you want it to be just right.
5) Be considerate of injuries or other limitations
I make it a habit to ask all of my sparring partners if they have any injuries I should know about before we roll. Most of the time it is just the typical stuff that is easy to work around or avoid, but you shouldn’t take that for granted. Along the same lines, if someone is wearing a brace on a joint, please don’t confuse their brace with a bull’s eye. If your partner has an ankle brace on, then today is probably not the best day to do your best Dean Lister impersonation. I have even heard of times where one partner has told the other that they have injured ribs before the round starts, only to then have the other person go to knee on belly on them! C’mon man, be better than that. You’ll appreciate their consideration when you’re injured, so let’s make sure we return the favor to them.
Remember, not all limitations are joint injuries. If someone is in their first practice back after having bronchitis, maybe it isn’t the best time to go at it like a gold medal at the Pans is on the line. Odds are that you have plenty of training partners who are healthy enough to spar with at full resistance, you can dial it back a little for the guy who just missed three weeks being sick.
OK guys, that’s it. I know some of these may be obvious, especially for those who have been training for a while, but in all seriousness it is the little things that count and make everyone’s mat time as enjoyable and productive as possible.
- Tony Gracia, Head Coach