Humility VS Humiliating: The Case of Constructive Criticism in BJJ
As an instructor, you want to see all of your students succeed – which includes doing the technique of the day correctly. Instructors have different teaching and coaching styles that can include: teasing, coddling, encouraging, and in some cases, humiliating students who they think need more of reality check in training. While the latter is not as common or sometimes intentional, it does happen.
For example, a friend shared with me that they didn’t want to go to class on a certain day because that instructor had made them feel bad during the training by teasing them (during drilling) to the point where it became humiliating to them and they didn’t want to come back.
There are a couple of sides to this, as I have had a similar experience in the past also. First, teasing is a natural part of our Jiu-Jitsu culture. It is the norm in Brazil, especially nicknames (as we discussed in a previous blog by Professor Jared Weiner here). Second, if you have a closer personal relationship with your instructor, they will treat you differently in the gym (i.e. teasing you more because they know you well). And finally, let’s face it. Sometimes we need the ego check. There are many times higher belts start doing fundamental drills wrong because of the way they like to do it better… or they start adding on “extras” and end up doing the technique completely wrong. Before that sets a bad example for the white belts or those drilling around them, sometimes getting called out or teased in front of the class is necessary to correct the behavior.
As an instructor, I am guilty of all of the above. I have a pretty small, intimate class of 4-12 students who all know each other and train with me regularly. I tease and joke with them during the training, but there have been some times where I’ve seen particular students start flexing their rank by not doing the drill correctly or going too hard when training with lower belts. In that case, I’ve had to call people out for their behavior. Did I like doing that? No. Did it need to happen? Absolutely. Did it help to alleviate future behavior like this? Yes.
However, there is a fine line between constant teasing and humiliation. I believe that the training environment should be fun and that a positive environment fosters more learning. Teasing provides some of that fun and in some ways, inadvertently kills some of the egos that may turn up during class. But when you are constantly humiliating students because they aren’t doing something the way that YOU want, or for no real reason at all, that’s wrong.
Just recently, I told my professor that I actually now appreciate it when he calls me out in class. Whether he is teasing me or stopping me from doing the technique because I’m doing it wrong, has definitely made me realize how little I actually know and it helps “put me in my place” when my ego can start creeping up. In this case, it has helped my mindset tremendously moving forward – especially when my next phase will be the black belt.