The Culture Of Cross-Training; Navigating The Jiu-Jitsu Terrain

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Hypothetical question: if your friend asks you to come train at a school that they happen to go to, a location different than your own, would it be considered a violation of loyalty to your instructor to take them up on their offer?
You will find different belief systems spread out across the jiu jitsu landscape. A lingering culture exists from mid-twentieth century Brazil where a single class of training outside of your academy could be immediate grounds for expulsion. Training at your school could very much take on a tribal feel. The only instance where you were permitted to train with people from other schools were in competition. Although this type of thinking is becoming less and less common, it still exists within certain factions.
When I was a freshly minted purple belt, I decided to scratch off a bucket list item and attend a class at a local competition school run by a seasoned and well-known competitor. I was fortunate enough to belong to an academy that encouraged cross-training as a way to learn new styles and gain new knowledge. What I was not ready for was the reception I received once I walked through the door of the nearby academy:

“Oh you’re here to cross-train? Yea we don’t do that here.”

They very much held to a firm belief that it is their school versus the world. There was a bit of an awkward pause as I navigated which way the conversation would steer. I was being told this information by an assistant instructor, therefore I felt at liberty to at least ask to speak to their superior. I was informed he was not in, but that they would give me a call. I putzed back to my car dragging my feet, wondering if it was worth my time to travel out of my way in an attempt to train at this particular school.
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Fast forward two days later and I receive a call from the head instructor. He tells me that the policy I had been informed of is true, but indicated that they are not, in his words, ‘evil people’ and would certainly welcome me to train at their school one time. He noted my respectful posture in approaching the academy as validation for his decision and understood where I was coming from in terms of wanting to roll with different styles.
I walked away from the experience feeling I had made a new set of friends, gaining unique and valuable mat time in the process. Although I would be hard-pressed to set up any form of regular training at this academy, I had done what a vast majority of jiu-jitsu practitioners had never done simply by taking a class there. I had gone outside of my training comfort zone and navigated through unknown waters receiving my share of taps in the process.
This instructor has a reputation for being one of the more territorial academy owners in his area. The significance of striking up a connection with that school is not lost on me. As far as etiquette, I realized beforehand that my greatest chance at making a good first impression was to defer in every roll. I did not want to come off as someone coming in with something to prove. That type of behavior certainly would have landed me in hot water from the onset. Even given the passive nature with which I was moving in sparring, I was still feeling the wrath of their competitors. There was certainly no animosity, but there was not an easy roll in the academy.
Is there a moral to the story? It would appear that my saving grace was the respect with which I approached the academy. I have heard of a few instructors who may not feel as strongly as this particular instructor, however, advocate that you do not train at academies in the same city as your main academy. If you were to travel perhaps an hour or more outside of the city it would be a different story. I have had other instructors take an indifferent approach, with a cool confidence that they have a superior program and that there needn’t be any worry of anyone ultimately straying from their academy. Still, others are fans of personally going out of their way and seeking as much knowledge as possible.
The rise of the technological age and the advent of the internet effectively make the ban on cross-training obsolete in terms of hiding knowledge. Gone are the days where a competition is the only place to reveal new and innovative techniques. DVD’s, worldwide seminars, and internet curriculums make the modern dissemination of information more rapid than could possibly have been anticipated.
Every academy owner has a right to run their academy how they see fit. Certainly, anyone who would like to train anywhere for any period of time would be wise to abide by the law of the land. Today more so than ever, there are very few secrets in jiu-jitsu. Much of the information can be found online. The benefits of cross-training include, but are not limited to: making new connections, rolling with different styles, and experiencing different perspectives on the art. We are ultimately in charge of our own journey and therefore have the freedom to make decisions for ourselves. It is important, however, that the academy you call home have a favorable stance on cross-training before I would recommend stepping off your home turf. We live in a service society, and jiu-jitsu instructors are here to serve.
As one collective global family, it would not hurt to go say hi to your cohorts down the street even if you don’t train. The world of jiu-jitsu is vast and exponentially growing. It’s important to continue to be open-minded and observant of the development and growth of our beloved martial art.
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Arman Fathi is a staff contributor for the Jiu Jitsu Times. He is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu Brown Belt under the Redzovic family in Chicago. He is currently living in Southern California training under Professor Eddie Bravo at 10th Planet HQ and Professors Ryron & Rener Gracie at Gracie University HQ. He is a brand ambassador for Alavanca fight gear and Quikflip Apparel. Visit www.Alavanca.com for a full line of jiu-jitsu training gear and accessories. Visit www.quikflipapparel.com and enter code FLIP10 for 10% off any order. Arman can be found on Instagram @The_Arman_Hammer.
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