Have you ever tried to convince a friend to come with you to Jiu-Jitsu?
Oftentimes, I’ve found that people are extremely excited when you tell them about the idea.
“I’ve always wanted to try that stuff”
“I trained for a few months with some friends and loved it and I’ve always wanted to check out an actual academy…”
“I’ve been looking for a fun way to lose weight…”
For me, the rush of satisfaction and genuine happiness for that individual is immediate. I’m so thankful that this person is about to gain some or all of the benefits that I have received from the martial arts. Usually, after this conversation, we part ways with a promise to reunite at practice later that day/week.
Many of you know what happens next: the person never shows up to the practice they guaranteed they would attend. The next time you see them, maybe at work or your usual hangout spot, they start things off when an apology and something along the lines of “Man, my kids were going crazy that night…” or “My back was hurting and I decided it was best to take it easy…”
I used to get so disappointed. At times, I even got frustrated or a bit angry.
Why does this happen? I’d try so hard to get friends, family, coworkers, and everyone in between to experience the joys I’ve received from martial arts. Doubts emerged about why no one ever showed up: Was I being too cultish? Was I too intimidating? Too eager and friendly? Every so often, someone would sign-up but, most of the time, people would either never arrive or come once and never return.
It used to make me downright sad.
Then, later on, after some early disappointments, I turned to the dark side. My mood about these situations changed:
“Jiu-Jitsu is only for the strong!”
“You’ll either find a way or you’ll find an excuse!”
Nowadays, I’ve settled somewhere in the middle at what I believe is a happy medium.
To harken back to some of my old posts diving into the deep waters of philosophical thinking, there’s a line here that must be navigated:
“Please come to Jiu-Jitsu, I’ll do anything!” -------------------------------------------- “You’re Making Excuses”
On the one end, we have the person who I was at the beginning: Willing to do almost everything in my power to entice my friends and coworkers into a life contract with the gentle art. On the other end, we have the individual who thinks all their friends and coworkers are making excuses, weak, not worthy of this incredible art, etc. etc. From my experience, I became this person by valuing myself too highly and placing too much emphasis on my own purpose for Jiu-Jitsu which I incorrectly exported onto everyone else.
That requires us to ask the question: What is the purpose of Jiu-Jitsu? Ask that question to 10 different BJJ practitioners and you’ll receive 10 different answers.
“Self-defense is the number 1 priority…”
“I want to win tournaments…”
“It helps me overcome depression and lose weight…”
“Let’s all have fun!”
So on and so on into forever…
What is one thing these have in common? Self-Improvement.
People want to become happier and more fulfilled.
So, going back to our line, neither end of the spectrum is going to help that individual become happier or more fulfilled… If I try to pressure/guilt that individual into attending a practice, I’m probably leading them along a path that they never wanted in the first place. Maybe they are coming out of a supposed obligation to me? Perhaps BJJ is something they want for themselves but they need some more time to prepare before making the pledge to join. If I pressured them into coming earlier than they’d like, it’s forcing them to jump-start their plan for their life.
I hear you from the dark shadows of the BJJ underworld:
“They just need to toughen up and make the jump! That’s what I did and it worked for me! Things will work out great!”
You might be correct for 50% of those people. The other 50%? Lost to the BJJ community.
More importantly, lost to their own goals for their own lives (at least for the moment).
In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie wrote about getting people to do things that you want them to do. In a gross oversimplification of his wise words, I will summarize: Find out what that person wants for themselves and then help them achieve that thing, rather than helping them achieve whatever it is that you think they should do. Forcing your own wants on someone is not nice, wise, or an effective way of accomplishing goals.
Back to the line, if I act all high-and-mighty and talk about how excuses are for the weak, I’m not understanding the legitimate excuses that someone might have for not wanting to take this step. Maybe they’re scared? Maybe your gym is a bit intimidating? Maybe they asked for help during the warmup and no one showed them how to shrimp?
So what is the best way? What is the one weird trick that will get people to join Jiu-Jitsu and change their lives?
I think the secret is cultivating empathy and understanding the reasons for why someone might not want to join your (or any) Jiu-Jitsu school.
When someone new walks into the gym, does everyone introduce themselves to the new person or are they greeted with silence?
What assumptions did that person have about the gym before walking in? Were they led to believe that it is a beginner-friendly environment when, in actuality, every class begins with 20 minutes of sparring?
I could go on forever but the point of this article is not to discuss how to make a BJJ gym environment more beginner friendly (I don’t even know if I have the credentials to write that article) but instead to suggest that you take the time to understand what the individual wants before pushing your own BJJ-oriented agenda onto that person.
Remember, most people are looking for some sense of greater fulfillment and happiness. Perhaps they will find that Jiu-Jitsu is not for them? Maybe they start Olympic Weightlifting, get jacked, win a bunch of tournaments, go the Olympics, set a world record, and make tons of money? Maybe they decide that they think martial arts are too violent and they go-on to study philosophy (a very noble calling) and write the next great philosophical work of the modern era.
Hypothetically, if someone comes into your gym, signs up for six-months, and decides to leave after 6-months to pursue some other calling… Did you fail? I don’t think you did because you helped that individual to understand themselves, find fulfillment on a deeper level, and better define their own goals (well, hopefully).
To summarize, try to understand people’s goals for their own lives, help them achieve those goals, and, if those goals include Jiu-Jitsu, provide a friendly and helping hand. If their goals end up not including Jiu-Jitsu, don’t be sad. After all, we are all just beings of nothingness that will eventually go back to the realm of the spheres… But that’s a topic for another post.