Do you get on with people you train with?

Your choice of judo club and training partners says a lot about you, your motivations and aspirations..

Well, do you? People come in all shapes and sizes. And temperaments, motivations and ambitions.

When people tell me they’ve moved somewhere new and they don’t have any friends I always recommend they join a Judo or BJJ gym. The shared struggle of learning something new that is inherently complex can really bring people together. I’ve found that the mutual frustrations to get something to work, to battle at things over the course of weeks/months/years creates a shared history to those involved.

The club/gym itself

It helps when the gym in question has an alignment that matches yours. If it’s a place with internal decor covered in trophies and the majority of the gym-goers are avid competitors then you as a casual judoka will likely be treated as a second-class citizen. Perhaps there’s a self-defence bias, or perhaps the gym is focussed on its younger generation – there’s plenty to observe. No judo club is going to be all things to all people, that’s not to say that if it’s not 100% aligned to you then you should look elsewhere.

Just like in any company there is always an organisational culture, a collective creation from all the individuals that work within it. It’s greatly influenced by management (the top-down effect) as well as by hiring (we tend to employ people that are similar to us in some way). The culture may not be completely perfect but there could be opportunities for you to positively impact it in some way and make it more homely for you.


We also need to be honest with ourselves when we consider what kind of club member we truly are. What is our individual motivation? It helps to reflect the values we would like in others e.g. if I want to avoid injuries then I may want to go at a pace that is safe for myself as well as for my training partners.

I’ve noticed in myself in the past how I’d ask too many goddamn questions when a technique is being shown. I’m wanting to get to the real heart of the technique by shortcuts, rather than just practising the technique in question and developing my own feel for it. It took me a while to recognize this. 

Judo is fascinating in that you really need to be helpful to others if you want to get better yourself. If you’re standing stiff and solid when someone is practicing uchi-komi on you or attempting a throw, your partner will take significantly longer to develop that all-important feel for that opportune time to make the throw. It takes novices a while to develop this, partly because they don’t know and partly because they’re afraid of falling.

I’ve noticed in novice members an almost mercurial change where once randori begins ‘Casual Calvin’ becomes ‘Furious Freddy’; a partner who you were having a light-hearted chat with a moment ago during a technique drill changes his breathing patterns.. his movements after the rei become jerky and he’s in a highly stressed ‘battle mode’. Club randori for some people is almost a self-esteem validator which is just plain wrong.

The realities of combat sports

If something doesn’t sit right we need to call it out. I recently had an awkward confrontation in a BJJ gym that is probably worth mentioning:

I was free sparring with a chap I’d sparred multiple times before. He’s someone a lot heavier than me, younger, more experienced in BJJ (I’m a white belt there) and with a lot more involvement in the martial arts (I previously heard he runs a Krav Maga school). While we were rolling about he started cursing in his own native language which I took no notice of as I didn’t understand what he was saying. He then complained loudly and aggressively in english that I should stop punching and kicking him. That if I continue my aggressive sparring he would match it with his own punching and kicking.

I was taken aback since I wasn’t aware of what I was doing from my poor technique. Or that I’d directly caused such an extreme reaction in someone in what appeared to be so suddenly. Let’s also not dismiss the fact that this chap provided a thinly-veiled threat by suggesting he would start his own striking retaliation. 

We continued to spar, and he was jumping in and out of my space (I was on the floor and he was standing). His movement was explosive (this is his general style) so I found his knee was often coming quite close to my face. I started noticing my unrefined movements and reaction times were causing my hands and legs to flex out to stop his appendages – before I knew it I’d struck him again! He proceeded to jump on me and cross-face me (which is essentially a shoulder-based choke). I tapped profusely, noting a momentary pause before he released me from his death grip. I promptly got up and moved off the mat and pretty much created a scene after this. Everyone has their personal philosophy but for me there’s really no place for displays of outright anger in my life.

The last thing I ever want to do is to be damaging my training partners; this would be a cause of shame – noone wants to be ‘that guy’ that comes to a session causing widespread groans. Equally, communication is key with all relationships in life. By communicating to me after it escalated in his mind it was too late to remedy the situation in a mutually beneficial manner and face-saving manner.

How could it have been remedied? Ideally he, as the more experienced player could have suggested more targeted/situational sparring. Or he could have just said “Mate, you need to take it easy or I won’t spar with you” or similar. This is what I would have done in my preferred domain of Judo. 

Anyhow, I hope this post resonated with you in some way. I’m curious to hear of any other situations anyone else has come across in their Judo or BJJ training – please use the comments section below.

I hope you enjoyed my judo rant for today. If you did, please consider subscribing to this blog (link at the bottom right of this page) so you can be emailed when I come up with something new.

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