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On BJJ and Rape

On New Years Eve of 2013, Matthew and I were in a bar in Washington DC. We had hired a babysitter to sit awkwardly on our hotel bed and watch TV while our daughter slept so we could go out and paarrrrtay! Which for me meant have a nice dinner with my man, then struggle to stay awake past 10:30. We ultimately ended up sitting at the hotel bar until 11:30 before finally admitting that we would rather be in bed. (And not in the I'm so tipsy lets have some NYE sexy time kind of way.)  I watched the ball drop through half closed eyes, under a cozy blanket with my wonderful husband alongside me and my five year old asleep on a pullout couch nearby. In my opinion, it was a perfect way to bring in the New Year. I was asleep by 12:20.  I am who I am and even more, I like who I am. I am no party animal. Why pretend otherwise?

 In another part of Washington DC, while I was dozing in my hotel bed, a different woman was being raped. For those of you who did not hear about this, it is your typical horror story. She was drunk, so drunk that she could barely stand. The men were "friends" of hers. They offered her a ride home and instead ended up forcing themselves upon her in a parking lot. Oh, and also they apparently all trained at the same jiu-jitsu school.

Many  female BJJ bloggers had something to say about this. Here are some of their posts:
Feel free to read them, they are good bloggers. But just in case you don't, I will sum it all up by saying that everyone is appalled. Rape by a teammate? Yeah that's almost as bad as it gets. As a woman, its scary enough to think that a man could someday force himself upon you. But a man whom you know has trained in jiu-jitsu, thereby reducing any chance you might have of fighting your way out, is even worse. Any comfort us tiny girls may get from our knowledge of the rear naked choke goes out the window when our attacker knows how to defend against it.

So yes, rape is horrible. But that is not what I was thinking about as I read all these angry responses. It is not  just that they were insulted as women, these girls were also insulted as jiu-jitsu practitioners. They said things about "the jiu-jitsu community" and "people who train in BJJ." As if it were somehow worse that the rapists occasionally wore gis.

Rape is rape. But, as someone who has been involved in the world of martial arts for over 24 years, I understand the outrage. I have always expected more of martial artists than so-called "normal" people. I come from a traditional Japanese karate background, a place where honor and respect go hand in hand with punches and kicks. So yes, I do believe that those who wear a gi have an extra responsibility to be decent human beings, in fact I wrote a whole post about it A dude who starts a drunken bar fight is an idiot but if that dude trains he is not only embarrassing himself, he is in some way disrespecting his school, his teacher and the entire world of martial arts. Unfair? Maybe. But it is no different than lawyers or doctors or teachers or any other group being angry when one of their own gets caught being sketchy. Hey buddy, stop that. You are making all of us look bad.

I don't know anything about the school where the two men are said to have trained. I don't know if it is a traditional dojo, a competition oriented school, or a thugish MMA gym. It probably does not matter. While I would love to fantasize that every time you tie your belt you attach a code of honor to it, I know that some people just like to fight. Period. That for some, being a part of a team just means more opportunities to win trophies, to dominate other guys on the mat.

In other words, jerks take jiu-jitsu too.
But I guess if it were up to me, they wouldn't.

My husband trains at a school that recites a "student creed" at the end of every class. A lot of negative things have been said on the Internet about this practice; that it is silly, wimpy, even cultish. Student reviewers on sites such as Yelp, have even used the lack of a "time wasting" creed as a selling point for less traditional BJJ schools.

Here is what they say at his place:
"I intend to develop myself in a positive manner and avoid anything that will reduce my mental growth or physical health.. I intend to develop self-discipline in order to bring out the best in myself and others. I intend to use what I learn in class constructively and defensively to help myself and my fellow man and never to be abusive or offensive."

Never be abusive or offensive.

I am not saying that reciting a student creed prevents rape. Rapists will be rapists. And all jiu-jitsu students do not necessarily consider themselves "martial artists". Many are just "doing the jits". But perhaps we all need a reminder that what we are learning is more than just cool chokes and fancy flying triangles, that we have a responsibility to be decent human beings too.

Shame on you Matthew Maldanado! Shame on you Nicholas Schultz!  I hope you get lots of opportunities to practice your prison.


  1. Great point regarding increased expectations of being a martial artist. I didn't articulate it, but it was boiling somewhere in my subconscious.

    There's been massive talk about the environment where these two criminals trained (Lloyd Irvin) and more drama around that than I thought possible. It's very much sparked the discussion in the BJJ community of our standards of respect and morality off the mats and whether gym environment was a contributing factor in this case.


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