As some readers may remember, I posted a while ago about my own stance towards the traditional (and I believe outdated and stifling) attitudes among the old guard in jiu jitsu concerning the lowly creonte and the importance of loyalty in jiu jitsu. I still stand by what I said then. As someone who came to jiu jitsu with a background in wrestling, I knew from the start that it doesn't make sense to limit one's development and progression by narrow-mindedly focusing on just one instructor, system, or approach to jiu jitsu. Being permiscuous will not only help your game, but it will also help the art of jiu jitsu to grow and evolve. So, while one's main focus might be learning jiu jitsu, there is much to be learned from judo, sambo, luta livre, and other grappling arts. The same goes for studying with different instructors and training with partners from other schools.
Needless to say, not everyone shares my open-mindedness. Instead, many practicioners are explicityly denied the opportunity to work outside their immediate circle. On this view, training at other gyms, learning from DVDs, attending seminars by people outside one's own school/association, and trying to incorporate techniques from different arts and systems are all signs of disloyalty and hence disrespect. In some extreme cases, not only are these behaviors frowned upon and ridiculed--they are explicitly forbidden. When this occurs, the dogmatic insistence upon loyalty at all costs actually leads to a toxic training environment--an environment which might financially benefit the association/school/instructor, but which is detrimental to the students (whose dignity as automous and rational agents is undermined).
Over at Breaking Muscle, Sally Arsenault wrote an interesting piece entitled, "How to Spot a Toxic Martial Arts Club Environment." You can head over there to see the full story. For present purposes, I just wanted to share her list of things to look out for to determine whether you find yourself laboring under the toxicity of a blind and stifling deference to loyalty (and perhaps even hero worship). Here they are:
So what are some of the warning signs that you’re in a toxic environment?
- You are not allowed to train at other clubs or socialize with people your instructor doesn’t like.
- You are not allowed to ask too many questions about things like technique or club rules or give feedback about club operations.
- Club rules are not written down and therefore students never really know what they are. The instructor changes them as he or she sees fit.
- Your instructor overreacts to perceived betrayals or disobedience, sometimes making an example of the violator in front of the whole class.
- Your instructor frequently loses control and yells at you and others.
- Your instructor makes inappropriate comments about your gender or sexuality, berates you, or calls you names.
- Your instructor consistently disparages other clubs or athletes, yet is friendly with them socially.
How do you feel when you are in a toxic club environment? It’s very similar to way you would feel if you were in an abusive relationship. If you can compare your instructor’s behavior to that of a crazy ex, you may be in a negative environment.
- You often wonder what how your instructor would react and go to him or her to ask permission regarding martial arts related subjects.
- You feel as though you are walking on eggshells because you never really know “the rules” as they are always changing.
- Your instructor’s volatile nature creates tension in class.
- You are nervous about approaching your instructor for help because you are afraid he or she may have a negative reaction.
- You lie about going to seminars or open mats and avoid having your picture taken because you don’t want to be punished or kicked out of the club.
- You maintain secret relationships with past members.
- You train sick or injured because you don’t want to miss class and have to face consequences.
- When you finally get out, you can’t believe it took so long for you to leave.
So what should you do if you find yourself in this type of situation? That's for you to decide. I, for one, would think long and hard about what is really driving the insistence upon loyalty and the ridicule of traitorous creontes. Does your instructor have your interests at heart? Or rather, is he merely looking to protect his own bottom line? If the latter, then perhaps it's time to spread your wings and open your mind. Life is too short to artificially limit what you are allowed to learn, where you're allowed to learn, and from whom.