The Competitive Edge…or Competitive Wedge?

With our Christian witness on display, we must work at improving our game without jeopardizing our relationships with our teammates.

BJJ is one of those sports in which great personal improvements occur in the context of community.

There are no solitary katas or “shadow boxing” equivalents in our martial art (although, “Shadow Grappling” might make for an amusing DVD series). The surest way to be an effective practitioner of BJJ is through the process of training with other competitors and team-mates.

However, BJJ communities are different in that our relationships with one another exist in a climate of competition. And competition, by its very nature, does not naturally lend itself to community building. Competition singles out, elevates and celebrates the more experienced.

I believe this is why the majority of people who leave the sport do so within their first six months of training: the differences are too pronounced between the experienced and the inexperienced; the challenges seems too daunting for the beginner; and one’s inadequacies in their martial abilities are on full display for the community. It’s just emotionally too difficult to take for some folks- and so they leave the community.

Christians must be sensitive to the complexities of building relationships within competitive arenas. Each of us is working at personally improving our game by way of our teammates, but with our Christian witness on full display for the class, we mustn’t improve our game at the cost of our relationships with our teammates.    We mustn’t let our competitive edge become a relational wedge for someone else.

In Psalm 27:17, we see this: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Sharpening our strategy and our execution of technique are the things that develop our competitive edge. But the health of BJJ communities is directly dependent upon something altogether different: sharpening our relational skills with one another.

Here is a practical way that we can sharpen our relational skills:

I, like everyone else in the sport, appreciate the moment before a match when opponents tap hands before they engage in sparring. However, the moment after the match is more critical in the process of relationship-sharpening. In that moment, lie rich opportunities to build one another up relationally:

A word of encouragement: “I loved how you moved from arm-bar to triangle- that was great!”

A gracious word from the victor: “Thanks for the roll – it really helps me and I can see that you are really working at improving your game. Keep it up!”

An opportunity for the less experienced to inquire of, learn from and celebrate their teammate: 

“It’s always good to roll with you – I learn so much from you and it gives me hope that, in time, I’ll be as skilled as you!”

When our teammates sense that we really care about them as people- for their own sakes- and not just a means for us to improve our own games- that relational good-will sharpens the edges of the entire community while diminishing the occurrence of relational wedges. 

 As Christians, we must be mindful of these moments after the match. These are moments that give us opportunity to live out the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

After all, this is what Our Lord did in relationship with us.  So let’s keep training and sharpening our edges – in BJJ and in-relationship with one another- and see the good things that come from it!

  • Written by Elliott Powell

About Elliott Powell

The Reverend Elliott Powell is the founder and lead minister for EPM (Elliott Powell Ministries) whose mission is to introduce people to the person of Jesus Christ through distinct artistic and evangelistic presentations. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in California, Pennsylvania, and Northern Virginia. He is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Klay Pittman (5th Degree, Lubbock, TX). Being an itinerant person, Elliott trained extensively under Roger and Higan Machado (Pasadena, CA), Rich Latta (Renzo Gracie, Hatfield, PA), Paul Bush (Yamasaki Academy, Leesburg, VA) and Tony Passos (Passos BJJ, Sterling, VA). Elliott is happily married with two children. To learn more about Elliott's ministry, please visit

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