Promoting a great training environment

The environment of an academy can make or break it.

I’ve thought a lot about this topic. Both as an instructor and as a student. And my hypothesis is that academies with a great training environment tend to do better financially and in competitions.

It’s hard to explain what makes for a great training environment. However, I do know that no matter how good your academy is there will always be someone that gets rubbed the wrong way.

You can’t please everyone. And that’s okay.

But I will touch on a few key factors that have no part of any academy. As well as things that I look for in the academies that I visit and train under.

Drama between students

A lot of the drama between students (and sometimes instructors) occurs because of their relationship outside of the academy.

I’ve seen a lot of drama ensue after two students began dating, break up, and then start dating other students within the academy.

There’s been a few instances where I’ve tried to pair students to train not knowing that they had some prior romantic relationship. One time, I had a student flat out tell me that he would not work with another student right in the middle of the class.

Not only was this an awkward situation but it really hindered the mood of the training. The environment went from fun and exciting to unpleasant and heavy.

I’ve yet to find a solution to this outside of asking students to keep their personal lives (and relationships) out of the academy but this topic definitely deserves its own post.

In school fighting

This also relates to personal issues and relationships. But instead of students, this often involves academy owners and/or instructors.

Here in Sweden, we actually have a board that decides many of the important issues that affect an academy.

But most academies have one or two owners that also instruct.

In this case, if there are differences in how they believe they should run their academy. Like which students to graduate, or who they should affiliate with. This can cause a lot of tension that students can feel even if they don’t know the details of the situation. Negatively affecting the environment for everyone.

Splits and breaks

Splits or breaks from an academy can often be seen in two different lights.

In one way, it could be seen as filtering out bad students or members that don’t follow the code of conduct.

I’ve see this a lot with some of the top academies. Often, the students will continue pushing the limit until their behavior will have to be addressed by the instructors or the owners of the academy.

I believe this is what happened fairly recently when Dillon Danis and Mansher Khera were asked to leave MGA earlier this year (2017).

On the other hand, a break or split could be the sign of a toxic training environment.

A few years ago there was a major team break off from TLI that I was a part of at the time.

I won’t got into to much detail, but I will say that a negative environment can often attract a bad element into your academy. Undoing all of your hard work and making the training unbearable.

There’s just no way to sustain an academy with a bad or toxic environment. It affects everything from the energy, moral, and motivation of students and instructors alike.

Academy culture

The best academies that I’ve had the pleasure of attending all had a strong culture.

A culture of mutual respect between: students and teachers, lower belts and higher belts, men and women, and young and old.

It’s hard to put into words what exactly an academy’s culture is. It’s more of the experience that you have when you train. It’s different shades of grey between good or bad, and differs between academies and our own individual perception.

As a some what well known black belt I (usually) get treated differently than a new white belt off of the street.

But a great academy will treat us both equally well.

As my friend Sam Yang writes in his post Lead from the Front – Don’t Boss from the Back

“In the dojo, the teacher must be egalitarian. The techniques should be libertarian. The culture should be socialistic. This is the balancing act of any sound leadership.”

Promoting a great training environment

Promoting a great training environment is no easy task. It takes a lot of time, effort, and thought.

In all honesty, it’s best to create the training environment that you want from the very start. Having it ingrained into your academy’s core. Obviously, this is the task for the academy owner/instructors.

It’s much harder to clean up a toxic environment that’s been left to fester and completely take over an entire academy. Even for the best, most experienced instructors out there.

Change has to come from the top. Down to the students.

As an instructor, you have to constantly monitor the environment at your academy.

Is it positive?

Are students motivated?

Do they have a good time?

How can I make the environment even better?

These are just a few of the questions that I ask myself on a daily basis.

As a student, you can also do your part to enhance the training environment at your academy.

Like, if you see a new student struggling with a technique. If the instructor is preoccupied, take the initiative and go help them out.

Or if there’s an event hosted by your academy. Go and give your support.

I really feel that mutual respect is also a major key behind keeping and maintaining a great environment.

There have been times when I was traveling and some of the academies didn’t have a culture of respect. It was really offputting.

It doesn’t matter how technically good an academy is if the environment is bad.

Similar to my post Building Better Relationships with your students.

I believe that the key to promoting a great training environment is like cultivating any of your other relationships.

There needs to be clear and open communication. Members have to feel and know that their thoughts and concerns are heard and valued.

Instructors and academy owners also need to keep bringing value. This could mean upgrading to better facilities, teaching newer techniques, or even bringing in instructors for seminars.

A Jiu Jitsu academy is really a little community. Made of people from all different walks of life, status, age groups, ethnicities, social class, etc. Where else could all of these people mix together?

This shared environment is definitely worth cultivating and protecting.

Common Ground

With the 2016 presidential election out of the way. I think now more than ever the Jiu Jitsu community needs to come together.

This past year I’ve witnessed friends and training partners bickering, fighting, and name calling.

I’m sure that a lot of friendships were damaged on and off the mats.

In Jiu Jitsu we aren’t strangers to dealing with politics. It’s everywhere around us.

There’s politics in belt graduations. Who gets promoted versus those that are held back longer.

Politics in which academies that you can visit. Being allowed to only train at affiliated academies while being deterred from training at non-affiliated academies.

Politics in tournaments between different teams, tournament rule sets, and referees.

There is no shortage of examples on how politics affect each and everyone of us.

But I believe that it’s important not to let our differences separate us.

Diversity

The Jiu Jitsu community is a really diverse environment. It brings so many unique individuals together in a positive environment that you don’t see in many places.

Recently, I went out to lunch with a group of my training partners after a Saturday session. And when we all got up to leave, a woman approached our group asking how we all knew each other and what brought such a diverse group of people together.

This seemed so out of the ordinary to this lady. But to us it was just a normal day.

What other place can you have executives, doctors, and lawyers training with small business owners, college students, and blue collar workers.

A place where there is no social class, division by wealth, politics or whatever else that separates so many of us in our daily lives.

A place where people from all over the world gather on a daily basis to sweat together and to learn together.

While there is a hierarchy. The upper ranks are equally accessible to all members considering they put in the time and effort.

That’s as fair as life gets!

Politics

While there will always be politics inside and outside of your academy. Every academy has politics. It’s just to what degree those politics affect you.

Academies with more politics do tend to have more drama. If possible try to avoid them. But you never really know until you actually spend some time in that academy.

But again all academies will have some degree of politics. Whether or not it is a deal breaker will be up to you to decide.

Bond created and shared through Jiu Jitsu
Bond created and shared through Jiu Jitsu

Special breed

It takes a special breed of person to endure the grind that is martial arts. Especially the grappling arts such as Wrestling, Judo, Sambo, and of course Jiu Jitsu.

It’s such a physical and mental martial art that you have to develop a deep trust and respect for your fellow training partners and instructors.

For example consider the action of doing a hip throw (O Goshi). While it is a simple technique, there is a lot behind it that makes it work. For one, the thrower must have the proper technique to perform the throw and the receiver (uke) must trust that the thrower will put him/her down safely. The thrower must also trust the receiver to not get injured on the way down by properly doing a break fall.

When you’re dealing with potentially dangerous techniques that can injure, choke, break, twist, tear or whatever combination that you can think of. There has to be this deep level of trust to insure that everyone stays safe.

Support

From day one in Jiu Jitsu you are confronted with your limitations in conditioning, strength, technique, and experience.

And yet people continue training. Until, slowly but surely their conditioning gets a little bit better. They can make it through the warm up and a few rolls. As they continue their training they gain the strength necessary to play in those intricate guard positions and passing positions. Now they can develop good technique and not have to rely on their strength as much. Until they’ve gained the experience to utilize everything that they’ve learned throughout their journey.

While Jiu Jitsu is a seriously introspective art form (in a way all martial arts are). The only way to make it is through the support of your training partner’s and instructors.

You might not consider it but even those people that you compete against in tournaments make you better.

Conclusion

We need to stick together now more than ever.

In a society that is ready to separate us based on social status, gender, race, etc. We have to stand together.

From my experience, training Jiu Jitsu (in the right environment) makes one

  • More respectful of other cultures and religions
  • More open to different and opposing ideals
  • Less judgmental

These are all qualities that we should hope to embody and to impart on those that we interact with on a daily basis. Be it friends outside of our Jiu Jitsu circle, coworkers, family members, etc.

Just by doing Jiu Jitsu we have this incredible thing that connects us all together. It doesn’t matter if you do gi or nogi, if you’re male or female, white belt or black belt. Jiu Jitsu is for everyone. It’s our common bond.