Today’s article is a guest post by Joshua Burgess, a new white belt. 

Communication is the fundamental way we humans interact with each other in meaningful ways. We express our thoughts, feeling, needs and wants through both verbal and nonverbal cues. When we reduce our communication, we are reducing the effectiveness of the very thing we are trying to improve upon because our jiu-jitsu training is directly tied to others. Although on the surface it may seem like an individual sport, it is absolutely a team sport because we can only get better through each other.

I remember when I first started going to jiu-jitsu class at TCB Fight Factory just outside where I live in Springfield, MO. I wouldn’t say much if I didn’t understand something that was being demonstrated. I felt like I didn’t want to be the guy holding everyone back. Moreover, if I was in too much pain during drills, I wouldn’t say anything and just tough it out. What I began to learn is that there is no judgment on the jiu-jitsu mat. I also learned that the only way we are going to learn is if we understand what is being taught and our bodies are healthy enough to consistently make it in to practice. Once I started to get to know the rest of my teammates better, it became apparent that the things that I had been withholding were the same issues others had. They may have not understood a move but felt like everyone else way understanding so they should just go along with it. Or that they were nursing an injury or needed to do easy rolling or no rolling that day, but felt like they had to tough it out and go 100%.

Accidents happen, so don’t assume folks did it on purpose

I never assume malicious intent if someone accidentally knees me in the face or something like that because at the end of the day, it’s a contact sport and those kinds of things are going to happen. Whenever I do something I didn’t mean I automatically apologize and ask if they are good to go. If you are a female in a predominately male gym, you may find that a guy ego won’t admit to being hurt by a gal or act extra tough. This can be predominately a problem if either the teammates are new or just don’t know each other well. This is why it’s crucial to build report with your teammates so that you can communicate honestly and leave ego out of it.

We don’t always interpret body language or facial expressions correctly

Last week I went to an evening class that didn’t have too many people at it and noticed one of my teammates feeling his elbow every so often, so I asked him how it was feeling and though he said he was in some pain, he made no indications that we should alter our drilling to account for his nagging injury. This is what I think of as the “tough guy” mentality where your ego protects you from seeming weak. I took it upon myself to tell him that I’d like to do work on the other side of his body so that I didn’t get too one sided and to give that elbow of his a little bit of a rest. I had initially thought that something was going on with his elbow, but had I not further asked about it and offered some other options, I don’t necessarily think that he would have said anything about it.

We can’t actually know how people are thinking.

For me, I find that it’s best to initiate the conversation rather that to just wait until someone brings it up or by just making assumptions. We can also see this from our training partners perspective as well. How well do they know what we are thinking or wanting if we don’t make it known verbally? I personally don’t let any of my teammates make any assumptions.

Communication or misunderstanding can happen on different levels during jiu-jitsu class. Instructor to student, student to instructor, and student to student. When going over technique in class, the instructors need feedback. This can be a head nod if you understand or a simple raising of your hand for clarification. We must remember that none of our jiu-jitsu is perfect, and no student is a master. We all come to learn in an open environment where ideas are exchanged freely and not hindered by our silence. Student to student communication is key because theses are the people we are in direct, close contact with each training session and if we don’t learn to interact in ways that are productive to all parties, we won’t end up making progress in the art of jiu-jitsu.

Guest Post by Joshua Burgess
from TCB Fight Factory in Nixa, MO.

Jiu Jiu’s Question: As someone whose face often lies about how I actually feel, this topic is important to me. I am aware I often look angry or confused, when I might simply be thinking or preoccupied. I am an advocate for direct communication. How are you impacted by this topic? Has this changed over the years? In a combat sport, where your training partners may be beating you up (or vice versa), this seems especially critical. Share your experiences below!