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"I Just Want to Teach Karate."

My karate instructor, the late, great Shihan William Oliver, used to joke about how everyone always wanted to tell him their troubles.  He would listen to these confessions daily as if he were a priest, or perhaps a free therapist, offering up snippets of advice that, if we are being honest, he was no more qualified to give than anyone else in the room. But he was a karate master, therefore it was assumed he knew everything about everything, had some magic key that could transform your miserable life into something glorious. "I need to install a couch," he would say. And then ultimately, "I just want to teach karate."

I just want to do heel hooks.

Listen, I get that this is complicated for you. I get that you need to fit me into a little martial arts box somewhere. Am I one of the super competitive ones? Am I just training for fun? Am I on the team that believes in one teacher for life or the one that feels the need to travel to a different open mat every weekend?

Neither. Both. Does it matter?

Let me make it simple for you. I train at UWS BJJ. I have always trained here, since the day my husband first lay down the red mats and decided it was time to include jiu-jitsu in the list of classes he was teaching. I own the dojo so the monthly tuition rate works really well for me. The teacher is my husband, but don't let that fool you, our program is the real deal and he is as well. 

Those UWS BJJ students are my friends and my family. No matter where else I go for class, I will always be on the mats with them on Tuesdays and Saturdays. But I live in Brooklyn. Our dojo is on 106th street and Columbus. We do not have any BJJ classes on weekday mornings and I, due to the nature of my job as a builder of tiny warriors (aka karate kids),  have all my mornings free. Because of this I have also always trained somewhere else.

For over five years it was at a place in Manhattan. But ultimately, for many reasons that I will not go into here, that place stopped working for me. So about a year and a half ago, I started training at a small school out in Brooklyn owned by a former training partner of mine. It is a truly wonderful place but they do not offer many daytime BJJ classes either and although I tried to attend some of the nighttime ones, I mostly had to settle for coming only once a week.

Meanwhile, for the past eight years my husband Matthew has been training at Brooklyn BJJ.  I have spent a lot of time with his instructors and training partners and they are all wonderful people. They train hard, respect each other, and have a philosophy of collaboration and positivity that I have always admired. For years people have been asking me why I don't just train where he trains.

But BBJJ never had daytime classes either. Until recently.

So now I train there. Matthew trains there. I train with Matthew. The association between the two places makes things a whole lot easier. 

I don't know what you think about me right now. Hopefully, you don't think much about me at all, but if you do, you think "Good for her, she is happy."  She is training hard. She is getting better at jiu-jitsu. I do not plan on bouncing from one random school to another, although I may hit the occasional women's open mat because the more women who can do this wonderful martial art the better! But I have never been, and never will be, a dojo hopper.  I loved my old Brooklyn school. If things were different I probably would have stayed there a long time. But I also love BBJJ. Matthew's teacher has always made me feel welcome and treated me like family. Different things are needed at different times in life, and right now, I need mat time. 

There is no drama here. All I want is to do BJJ, as much as possible, as many days as possible, in a place where I will learn and grow, be respected and be happy. That is all. 

It is all I want for you as well. 

A bunch of my UWS training partners got new belts yesterday. They are amazing. Lets talk about them instead. 

Much respect to ALL my BJJ people. 


  1. I always find the conversation about gyms and "gym loyalty" interesting. For example, I look at the words you used: "gym hopper" and it seemed like there was a negative connotation, especially coupled with the phrase "I have never been, and never will be, a ..."

    I love cross-training. I love meeting other jiu jitsu people. One thing I LOVED about my gym in Korea was that it was part of a larger network. If I wanted to visit another school, I'd tell my instructor, and he'd call over and everything was awesome. I visited I think 5 or 6 gyms while I was there, and I joined 4 different gyms. The first blew up on me. Bad place. Very bad. Not good. I then went over to my main gym with my primary instructor. I think I trained with him for 3? years. At the end of it, his gym price went way up, and he moved locations. I talked to him, and at the end of my contract, I chose a different school within my network for a few months, until finally I got to train at the gym with the only female BJJ black belt in Korea. All three schools were in the same network, so I continued seeing my old coaches at our team trainings every week. No drama that I was aware of.

    When I visited America, I always made sure to visit whatever schools I was at. I LOVED meeting more jiu jitsu folks! I loved getting to train with other people. My ideal situation is having a home gym and being able to occasionally visit other schools. The only thing that keeps me from doing that is pure laziness.

    This is to say: I'm happy that you're happy. If one place isn't working for you, we shouldn't have to feel like we're causing problems to want to change. We shouldn't feel GUILT if a place is not a good fit. We shouldn't feel BAD about picking a place that is better for us, for whatever reason. I think there ARE times when it's clear that the person is unethically switching schools - promises of a fast promotion, or opening up a school in the same neighborhood and stealing students, but overall - people shouldn't feel like they have to stay at a place that's not working for them. If a person is a high rank and no one is their rank, they're not going to progress as fast or as well if they're only rolling and training with white and blue belts. It should not be a shocker or surprise if they join a different team where they feel challenged.

    Caveat: PROBABLY this is not entirely related to your post. It's POSSIBLE this is a topic I've thought a lot about. I think I actually did write about this a while back. I remember there was an article about Creontes (or whatever the brazilian word is for "traitor!"), and it gave me a bad taste in my mouth that someone would be called a traitor for going to a gym that was a better fit for them.

  2. Thank you Julia for this wonderful comment! I think there is a bit of a difference between training at multiple schools and visiting schools occasionally, unless of course the schools are all within the same system and therefore have the same basic style and philosophy. I think the occasional dojo visit is awesome. You get to meet a lot of new people who do exactly what you do and hopefully learn some great things! I do think that training at multiple schools at once on a regular basis can be a bit confusing, especially when you are new. For example, some instructors ask for a calmer, more "flow" style of rolling in class while others prefer a faster, more competitive style. If you are training with both teachers at the same time you could be getting conflicting lessons which is hard to figure out in the beginning. BJJ is confusing

    Then again my background prior to BJJ was in traditional Japanese karate where you have one master, forever! I do think that some BJJ people take this loyalty idea a bit too far and I absolutely agree that people should feel free to change schools as many times as they need to in order to find the right one. And more importantly, I think that whatever a student decides to do is their own business and they should not feel the need to defend themselves.

    I guess when I wrote this I was feeling a bit sensitive to possible criticism and wanted to be clear that I have a lot of respect for all of my teachers and partners, former and present. There certainly is a lot of internet drama on this subject and I do not want it to be about

    Thanks for reading and for your very thoughtful response!


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