If you love jiu-jitsu, the greatest gift you can give someone else is encouragement that leads them to the same kind of dedication to jiu-jitsu. You don’t have to be an instructor or academy owner; you just need to be passionate about jiu-jitsu and be good at what a new student needs from you.
Think back to your first day on the mats. No matter what your martial arts background, or how athletic you felt, you were likely a bit overwhelmed. Now think about your first time sparring with a blue belt or higher. No matter how strong, fast, or explosive you were, you were routinely tapped out. The higher level students or instructors seemed to have ESP about your every move.
If you want to have jiu-jitsu be a valued gift for someone, you need to make sure that a new student realizes it’s a gift. It’s not just up to the instructors or the office staff. New students will be spending most of their time with other students, so it’s everyone’s responsibility to help encourage them to learn jiu-jitsu and see it as a gift in their life.
Working With The New Student
If you are a higher level student, make sure you look for the new students when they step on the mat. A little extra attention from someone who knows what they are doing shows that everybody is valued on the mats. Of course it’s common for people to try jiu-jitsu and quit within days or months, but that doesn’t mean they should be ignored until they’ve proven themselves. How can we expect them to stay if they are treated as if it’s inevitable they are going to quit? Give them the benefit of the doubt.
No matter what your level in jiu-jitsu is, act as if their decision to join the academy is based solely on your actions during their first days on the mats. How would you want to be treated? Jiu-jitsu has inherently demoralizing elements and it constantly confronts you with your own failures. New students need encouragement, not relegation to a new guys corner.
Make sure they know that jiu-jitsu is for everyone, and they can do it if they really want to, no matter how they feel at first. When drilling technique with new students, look for ways to compliment the things they do right, and only correct one small thing at a time if they do things wrong. Be sensitive to personal space. We are used to close contact, but this can take some getting used to, especially for people who are interested in jiu-jitsu for self-defense to avoid being bullied or attacked.
After class, talk with the new students and find out why they wanted to try jiu-jitsu. Find common ground and relate them to your own experiences. Shared experiences and shared history are a part of the social aspect of jiu-jitsu, as well as any other group activity. The sooner you can establish these ties with new students, the more likely they are to want to stay and learn jiu-jitsu for themselves.
Being An Ambassador
Remember, treat every interaction you have with a new jiu-jitsu student as if you are a jiu-jitsu ambassador – because you are. Make them feel welcome and valued because every single person that steps on the mats adds true value to the academy. Show them that jiu-jitsu is a gift that you want to share with them. Jiu-jitsu is a gift that keeps on giving, but only if they take it to begin with. Convince them by your actions to take the gift.