Rivalry in BJJ
Rivalry in competition is completely normal, especially in Jiu-Jitsu where competition often spans multiple teams and affiliations. As the saying goes, “Our rivals may be our greatest enemy, but they are also our greatest motivators.”
According to sport psychology research, rivalries can actually boost our performance in sport, business, and everyday life because everyone has that drive to be the best. Multiple studies have shown that rivalry increases both effort and performance. However, there is a downside when rivalries get taken too far.
If too much focus is placed on beating our rivals, we develop “tunnel vision,” which can lead to a preoccupation that turns on the blinders to other competitive threats. This in turn, can be discouraging and lead to feelings of hostility, resentment, and envy. As we all know, especially at competitions, emotions run high – not just from competitors but sometimes coaches as well. Competition literally brings out the best and sometimes the worst of people.
Over the past few months, I’ve attended two of the largest competitions in my area and was surprised to witness the actions of a notable black belt in the community. At one event, this person began coaching everyone and anyone competing against athletes from a particular team. Some of these competitors weren’t even his students. He even audibly (so others could clearly hear) made comments along the lines of how a particular black belt must not know jiu-jitsu and other negative comments about competitors from this particular team. While most shrugged it off as him being a little “off his rocker,” it wasn’t until recently when his actions escalated at another event. This time he shouted derogatory things to another black belt competitor, calling him a “vagabundo” (or “bum”) the whole time during one of his matches (and not even against one of his students).
This type of behavior should be completely unacceptable and not tolerated at all. While rivalry in sports is necessary for growth, the fact that a community with such great people who have been working so hard to grow BJJ in their areas throughout the world cannot just turn a blind’s eye to this type of behavior when it happens.
One of the premises of martial arts is respect. Respect for your instructors, training partners, and fellow competitors. If we bring this kind of “rivalry” to competition, we actually take a step backwards in making the sport the best that it can be. If students feel uncomfortable representing their team by wearing their colors or patches because they feel they will be verbally (or physically) attacked by others, that is totally wrong. So is having blind loyalty to your instructor or team by going along with this kind of behavior for no reason other than because your leader is instigating it.
Don’t let others promote hate and unhealthy rivalries within our community. We have to remember the real reasons why we train and compete. The BJJ community has often been referred to as a special one. We come together in times of tragedy, need, and happiness. Let’s keep it this way and leave the rivalries where they should be – on the mat.