Cross training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
There was a time when cross training was tabooed in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community—when loyalty to your instructor and training only at his or her school were mutually exclusive.
Now, however, Professors are more relaxed about their students going to train at a different academy once per week. I was at a Pedro Sauer seminar last year, and he encouraged it, saying that it’s the only way for an upcoming practitioner to reach his or her full potential.
Even though the stigma of cross training has been lifted from the Jiu-Jitsu community, there are still unwritten rules of conduct when visiting another gym. Jiu- Jitsu is a small community, and when someone has a reputation of being a menace at one gym—even if it’s not their main academy—it tends to follow them throughout the local network of schools.
Here are some ways you can avoid that, and here are just some of the unwritten rules I’ve picked up on from the extensive time I’ve spent cross training.
TALK TO YOUR PROFESSOR BEFORE GOING
This might contradict my introduction about the de-stigmatizing of cross training, but politics in Jiu-Jitsu is still a real thing. And, while the Professor at your school might not have an issue with you going, there may be greater affiliation implications that complicate the situation. If you go into a school from a different association, and you say you’re from a rival team, and you’re unaware of that rivalry, you might be in for a rough training session.
To add some historical context to this: Alexander the Great always had a historian when traveling, just to provide him with information about the cultures and the likelihood of being received with hostility. Odd analogy, and slightly pretentious, but it works. Do your research before going to a different gym with a different culture.
It’s also reassuring to your Professor. If he’s unaware you went to the school, and then sees a photo of you on social media without prior knowledge of you being there, he could be unsure of your intentions. A little transparency can avert a potential rift between you and your Professor.
WEAR AN IBJJF-APPROVED COLOR GI
Not many gyms care about this. Even the Grand Master of my network of schools, Marcio Stambowsky, a contemporary of Rickson Gracie whose presence in the art dates back to the seventies, has never spoken to me when I show up with a dark blue, gray, or any other non-IBJJF-approved colored gi. There are even pink gis on sale at his gym.
Still, there are some schools that care about this. And if you’re entering a gym for the first time, it’s good to enter assuming a formal setting. For those who have never competed in an IBJFF tournament, the colors that they allow are royal blue, white, or black. No other color is allowed, and if you attempt to enter the competitor area of an IBJFF tournament with a gi that is not one of those colors, you will be barred from it.
This may seem silly, but I had a friend who was traveling in South Carolina, and he said that, when he entered the gym with a red gi, they wouldn’t let him on the mats and made him change into a gi that fits the aforementioned rule set.
DON’T ROLL TO PROVE SOMETHING
I’ve trained at Unity Jiu-Jitsu in New York City several times, and a friend, who is also a respected member of the community, told me to “go there to learn, not to win.”
The point of this is simple: Don’t go to another school to try and beat up all of the students who regularly train there. You’re in their house, and you should treat them with respect. This isn’t to imply that you shouldn’t roll hard if the situation calls for it, but avoid driving your elbow across someone’s face in order to get them to roll away from you so you can rip an arm-bar after establishing triple-attack.
Roll hard if the situation calls for it, but roll clean, too.
YOU MIGHT DO WORSE THAN YOU DO AT YOUR GYM, AND THAT’S OKAY
Every gym has slight variations on techniques given the body type of the Professor or details in the technique that they’ve discovered through their own drilling and rolling. Because of this, the students at the academy you’re visiting might have a different approach to Jiu-Jitsu than the ones at yours.
If the teacher at the school you’re visiting just finished a unit on open guard sweeps, and passing open guard hasn’t been covered at your school for a few months, they might get the better of you—even the lower belts. Don’t second-guess yourself. The training and level of instruction at your school is likely equal to that of the academy you’re visiting, but because they might perform techniques in ways that you aren’t used to, you might have a hard time the first few times training there.
If that’s the case, go back a few more times and try to figure out what it is they’re doing. You’ll likely start becoming more accustomed to what they’re doing, and you can breathe knowing that your training crisis wasn’t merited.
THE TECHNIQUES MIGHT BE DIFFERENT THERE, AND THAT’S OKAY
There are hundreds of ways to do one move, and very few—if any at all—are wrong. There are three black belts at my academy, and all three would teach me a knee-cut with slightly different variations. This doesn’t make any one approach superior to the other; it just means they’ve found different quirks within the base technique that makes it more suitable for them.
When training at a different academy, you might see a technique that looks familiar, but has some differences that you haven’t seen before. If this is the case, don’t say during drilling—or worse, during the demonstration of the technique—that your school does it differently. I’ve never done this, but I’ve seen it done by fellow-cross trainers. It’s rude, and also it defeats the purpose of why you’re cross training. You’re there to learn details and techniques you might not see at your main gym.
INVITE THE STUDENTS TO YOUR SCHOOL
The first gym I ever cross-trained at was a Renzo Gracie affiliate in Clinton, Connecticut, and I remember when I first saw students from that school come to my gym. I felt like I played a small role in making the Connecticut Jiu-Jitsu scene slightly more connected.
So, after the training concludes, invite the students to your gym. Jiu-Jitsu is all about community, after all.
Jiu-Jitsu is often referred to as a journey, and no journey would be complete if you remained in the safety of your own home for its duration. So go explore, but tread lightly when necessary, and always remember where your home is.