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Rookie Mistakes

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

This morning when I showed up for drills class there was a woman I did not recognize stretching out on the mats. I don't know if she was brand new (I only attend daytime classes so there is a whole group of students I have never met) but she was a white belt and she was new to me. I gave her a shy but friendly wave and went into the changing room where I discovered she had put her bag in my usual corner. Damn that new girl! Now she is my enemy! Time to x-choke her!

I am joking of course. Not about the x-choke, we did do those today, but about my instant hatred of her. In actuality, I was thrilled to see another woman on the mat. I did not partner up with her though. Instead I went with my usual Monday partner,  a good friend of mine and someone who I am completely comfortable with. Should I have sauntered up to the new girl, introduced myself and instantly volunteered to teach her how to choke me? Perhaps. Maybe next time I'll do that. But at least I said hello. That's something, right?

When I was coming up through the karate ranks there was a man who trained at my dojo named Jose. That was his real name. He was a jerk-face so he does not deserve the courtesy of a name change and should be happy I did not include his last name, his home address,  and his social security number.

Jose liked sparring very much, particularly the part where he got to welcome newbies by beating the pulp out of them. To be fair, when he was new to sparring class, the black belts had done the same to him. Well, not everyone. But enough of them for him to glean the lesson that this was appropriate behavior. Jose only respected people who could keep up with his brutality, or surpass it. Everyone else was his personal punching bag, which he smacked around with little regard for its age or size. Unless you were a woman, that is. Those he fought by dropping his hands to his sides, revealing his big, beefy chest and telling you to hit him while he let his bored gaze wander to the other, more worthy, warriors in the room.

Really, he was a peach.

I don't know what he was like when he took his gi and gloves off. It is certainly possible that he was a sweet family man, who brought his wife flowers daily and was a pro with a diaper change. Stranger things have happened. But I do know that we lost numerous students over the years due to his violent ways and that he was eventually asked to leave the dojo. For good.

How you treat newbies says a lot about the way you view your own training, and your own role in the dojo. Jose was a classic bully, who got beat up and then turned his own aggression on those who were weaker than him. If you asked him, he would probably say that he wasn't being mean. Rather he was just inducting them into the ways of sparring, showing them the hardships they would have to endure if they wanted to be a part of his club. His club. After all, he already took his beating and survived. This was his house now.

Thankfully, most of the students at my BJJ school are nothing like Jose. Not that they do not claim ownership of the mats they have spent so many hours sweating on. On the contrary, it is because it is their house that they can be so welcoming to newbies. Its the difference between offering your guest a freshly made cocktail and giving them a tour of your home, and throwing said cocktail in their unsuspecting face. Most do the former. During my first months there, people introduced themselves to me, tried to help me out when I was staring at their sleeves in utter confusion (grab where???), or at worst, ignored me completely. Even the women didn't beat me up too badly. (All two of them.)

As for me, I am somewhere in the middle. If I don't recognize you, I will shake your hand and introduce myself. If I am feeling particuarly bold, I may even volunteer to be your partner. And then, if you are a new white belt, I can walk you through an arm bar. I can teach you how to sweep me. Most importantly, I can go slow, and will go slow unless you try to slam me first. But to be perfectly honest, there are some days where I just don't want to be bothered. Selfish days. I don't want the awkwardness of an unfamiliar partner. I don't want to go slow. I just want to train. Unencumbered.

So yes, there is a teeny tiny bit of Jose in me. Its so small that you might never see it, but its there. I think its there in everyone. After all, I took my own beatings and am still tying on my belt. Doesn't that earn me one or two really aggressive moments?  Especially when, for the most part, I am still getting comfortable with my blue belt and the status that goes along with it. I have lots of friends here but occasionally I am still unsure of who to roll with. I am not a newbie anymore, but sometimes I still feel kind of lost. So for me, the occasional moment of dominance is a good thing. Trust me, I am not scaring anyone away.

But for those of you who have climbed and clawed your way to the very top of the pack, try to rule with grace. Be confident, but humble; dominant, but welcoming. Give the newbies a tough roll but then help them up and offer them some water.

In other words, be balanced.
Or...just don't be an a**hole.
Easy, right?

And newbies, do the same. Be open minded.  Be gracious. Be controlled. Be cautious, but push hard.  Try hard. Work hard.

And please move your bag. That corner by the wall is mine.


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