When Our True Hero is Not on the Mat

Jiu Jitsu Mat Culture

Mat culture. It shapes our training experience, how we perform on the mat, how we relate to our teammates, and ultimately drives the direction of the academy as a whole. It is set by the head instructors and influenced by all team members. We each play an important part in determining and reinforcing our culture.

Mat culture is the beliefs and behaviors that determine how interactions are expressed within the team. Each academy, and even each class and program have its own unique culture. The culture is made up of our shared values, goals and behaviors, as a team and academy. It sets expectations and guides us on how things are run. Some academies are more traditional and structured; others focus on rigorous competition training, while there are those that embrace a more laid-back approach. Your training objectives and preferences will determine which style is the best fit for you. Though, mat culture transcends these structural differences to include the fabric of the training environment: the relational aspect.

I venture to say that most of us fundamentally desire a positive training environment. One that is marked by friendship, healthy competition that pushes us to the next level, and humility, where we enter the mat ready to learn, to perform at the best of our ability, and help others learn and improve. But too often this does not translate into reality on the mat. Our own selfishness, insecurities, lack of vision, stress from the day, or, simply and most critically, poor leadership undermine such a training environment.

Aspects of mat culture are revealed in the level of comradery and collaboration of its students (teamwork), how instructors reinforce class structure and how students adhere to that structure (leadership and discipline), even to the cleanliness of the facility, the music that is played and the language used by members (self-respect). Are those around us being built up? Are we honoring everyone? Do members have respect for the academy, their teammates, and themselves? Or is there a pervasive aggressive competitiveness based on pride and ego? Do members speak negatively about their teammates or even other teams?

As Believers on the mat, we are called to take a proactive approach in protecting and reinforcing the integrity of each student and the academy. As we actively participate in the day-to-day with those around us we are the salt and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16, John 17:6). We are each change-agents assigned to uphold and improve upon the culture; a culture that values collaboration, excellence, integrity, and a relationship-centered approach. Birthed from the consciousness of Jesus in our lives and understanding our identity and authority we have inherited in Him, we are being transformed into Jesus’ likeness (2 Corinthians 3:18). We carry the very presence of the Holy Spirit and it is His presence that automatically changes the atmosphere at every place where we set our feet.

Culture is not immobile but rather dynamic, ever evolving and… contagious. Just as we can have a positive influence on the mat culture we can likewise have a negative influence. The mat culture can easily become contaminated. Left to our own nature, the mat culture would be permeated with unhealthy competition fueled by pride, envy, strife, gossip, and deception and perpetuated by our own fears, hurts and insecurities. To illustrate, unhealthy competition and ego is revealed when someone, who recently received a belt promotion, rolls with higher belts roll with the objective to show that they earned the belt through beating the other teammate rather than rolling to improve their game or rolling for the sake of rolling. Another example is negative talk, gossiping or perpetual complaining, for example, which is a slippery slope. It is the responsibility of everyone to cut this off immediately. These actions can taint the atmosphere and usually spread among students.

It is important for each of us to set personal boundaries clearly, firmly and early so that interactions can function healthily for the benefit of everyone. Ideally, the goal of the academy should be that of a safe place to decompress and support one another. It is the head instructor’s responsibility to address and work to resolve situations that are contrary to a positive mat culture and all parties should aim toward peace, and when necessary, reconciliation. In some circumstances, we are to walk away and choose another training environment all together.

A positive mat culture will attract individuals with similar values and, with minimal exception, will raise others to that same level. A healthy environment is mutually reinforcing to build everyone up. And while there will be unfavorable circumstances and events outside of our control, when the culture is strong and healthy, it allows things to line up, for us to bounce back from mistakes and continue to move forward. Raising the bar and being uncompromising in our standards of behavior and working with excellence will provide a strong foundation and sure footing for us to progress and achieve.

  • Written by Amy Passos

About Amy Passos

Amy is the Director of Operations for Team Passos Jiu Jitsu. She is a believer and witness that Jesus performs miracles and uses Jiu Jitsu as a tool to change lives. Amy has a background in business administration and international economic development. She is passionate about entrepreneurship and business as a way to advance human flourishing. She believes that the most beautiful thing in life is someone enjoying the work of their hands while pursuing their passions to realize their purpose and potential. Amy enjoys cycling, strength training, traveling and exploring life.

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