What would the perfect BJJ gym look like today — at once connected to modern times and to the traditions of the martial art?
To Rickson Gracie, one of the main aspects would be the quality of the dojo in relation to the teaching both of self-defense and competition techniques, without the practice of one being neglected in favor of the other.
"The perfect jiu-jitsu gym needs these two environments that many judge to be contradictory to connect," he says. "That is, the teacher must teach both audiences, from the older lady who just wants some exercise to the young man anxious to become world champion."
More than exemplary didactics, this is to Rickson the only way to stop most students from giving up in the first month:
"When you introduce jiu-jitsu to the newcomer through fighting, with more-demanding maneuvers and techniques seen in competition, you are playing dice with your white-belts," Rickson teaches. "If the student is tough and has a warrior's heart, and is lucky not to get injured against a more experienced partner, the teacher has gotten lucky, and maybe they'll stay. Most of the time, however, that doesn't happen — and there are studies that guarantee that more than 80% of practitioners give up on the gi in those first few weeks. When the students don't see themselves as prepared (yet) to deal with confrontation, they jump ship at the drop of a hat. And they never give jiu-jitsu another chance."
That's why, to Rickson, any new student's starting point must be in the gentle environment of self-defense, of the simple defensive moves that enhance any person's mental and physical power. "Starting with self-defense, when the student starts becoming comfortable in jiu-jitsu, then indeed do they feel the confidence to test themselves against other students' technique, in that popular game of chess that are competitions. If the newcomer possesses that competitive spirit, they can get started at the gym in that game of 'my jiu-jitsu against yours': 'Will he pass my guard?' 'Can I finish him?' And so on. It depends on each person's taste, but the role of a good gym is clear: we need to offer self-defense as introduction and sport techniques only to the most advanced. Competition is not for everybody, but jiu-jitsu is. Self-defense is accessible to each and every student profile."
So pay attention: playing jiu-jitsu against someone who knows jiu-jitsu is lots of fun and reinvigorating. But you must leave your gym ready to face an attacker who knows zero jiu-jitsu, but whose only resource, although not very versatile, may be truly dangerous: they just have to know one punch, one headlock, or have one heavy stick, to ruin your day. But only those who don't learn complete jiu-jitsu need worry about that.