Every day another invitational super fight gets announced. This moment in Brazilian jiu-jitsu history is an exciting one because we are seeing the sport go from truly underground and unrecognized to a potential professional sport. I’m not saying that there weren’t professional jiu-jitsu athletes in the past (I think that many credit Wallid Ismail as one of the first sponsored jiu-jitsu athletes to have a go at making a living doing jiu-jitsu) but the stakes are increasing. As the stakes increase, so does the level and volume of trash talk.
Speaking of Wallid Ismail, look him up on youtube sometime. He was talking trash about opponents while Gordon Ryan was still in diapers.
Similarly, before Wallid Ismail was even born Helio Gracie famously walked into a venue in which he was set to compete against Kimura with a casket for Kimura. So if anyone tries to tell me trash talk goes against the tradition of the art they’re lying to themselves…
If you are active on social media, you see almost daily posts containing volumes of trash talk. At this moment the most vocal trash talkers are Garry Tonon, Gordon Ryan, DJ Jackson, AJ Agazarm and Vagner Rocha, with others chiming in when the opportunity presents itself. And it raises interest in upcoming matches.
I’ve seen a lot of people denounce trash talk, saying that we practice a sport that tradition dictates should be respectful and reserved. “Let your jiu jitsu speak for you.” Carlson Gracie famously said. “Always enter like a kitten and leave like a lion. But NEVER enter like a lion and leave like a kitten. Always be humble.” Then again the aforementioned Wallid Ismail was one of Carlson’s top students.
Is the increase of trash talk bad or good for our beloved sport?
Trash talk forces people to “pick sides.” When you have two athletes that are quiet and respectful of each other, you may not have the same emotional investment as when there are two athletes talking trash. It also increases the entertainment value, adding an element of comedy and drama to the sport. When I read the trash talk between some of the current greats in the sport today, I am entertained! When the opportunity arises to get to see them actually battle on the mat, I am far more likely to tune in.
On the flip side, as a martial art, jiu-jitsu is supposed to be about abandoning the ego. Irony would have it that some of the most egotistical people on the planet happen to be martial artists. Many believe (myself included) that the best way to really learn and absorb jiu-jitsu is to leave your ego at the door and put yourself in bad situations with the intention of finding your own weaknesses. Once those weaknesses are found, you can use that information to improve upon your technique. Can people who freely talk trash about their opponents really focus on that information? This is not a rhetorical question; I genuinely want to know!
Trash talk has a lot of potential positives and negatives. I can honestly say that I am undecided as to whether or not I think it has a place in our sport and art. I do however believe that as the sport continues to grow, the volume and quality of the trash talk will increase. Meanwhile I’ll be sitting here, popcorn in hand, laughing at my computer screen.