BJJ Good Read: How to Spot a Toxic Martial Arts Club Environment by Sally Arsenault


The writer is

I found this article and just put some of the information on this blog for our readers in New Zealand.

Please go on the above link for the full article.

"Martial arts can attract people who feel helpless in their lives. They may have been abused mentally or physically as children and learning martial arts can help them to feel a sense of control. It can make them feel powerful. As they progress in their training, they will become proficient at the techniques and begin to submit other people. Time goes by and if these people stick around and train consistently they may become the best people at their clubs, as others leave or lose interest in training.

Over time, more students look up to this person and ask for help with technique. Teammates may think that because this person is better than them at jiu jitsu, he or she must be better than them at everything. What they don’t realize is that martial arts isn’t a magical cure-all. When a person who has not overcome his or her feeling of low self-worth becomes an instructor, he or she can create a toxic training environment for vulnerable students. These type of people make up for the lack of power they feel in their lives by controlling and/or emotionally abusing others.

So what are some of the warning signs that you’re in a toxic environment?

  • You are not allowed to train at other clubs or socialize with people your instructor doesn’t like.
  • You are not allowed to ask too many questions about things like technique or club rules or give feedback about club operations.
  • Club rules are not written down and therefore students never really know what they are. The instructor changes them as he or she sees fit.
  • Your instructor overreacts to perceived betrayals or disobedience, sometimes making an example of the violator in front of the whole class.
  • Your instructor frequently loses control and yells at you and others.
  • Your instructor makes inappropriate comments about your gender or sexuality, berates you, or calls you names.
  • Your instructor consistently disparages other clubs or athletes, yet is friendly with them socially.
How do you feel when you are in a toxic club environment? It’s very similar to way you would feel if you were in an abusive relationship. If you can compare your instructor’s behavior to that of a crazy ex, you may be in a negative environment.

  • You often wonder what how your instructor would react and go to him or her to ask permission regarding martial arts related subjects.
  • You feel as though you are walking on eggshells because you never really know “the rules” as they are always changing.
  • Your instructor’s volatile nature creates tension in class.
  • You are nervous about approaching your instructor for help because you are afraid he or she may have a negative reaction.
  • You lie about going to seminars or open mats and avoid having your picture taken because you don’t want to be punished or kicked out of the club.
  • You maintain secret relationships with past members.
  • You train sick or injured because you don’t want to miss class and have to face consequences.
  • When you finally get out, you can’t believe it took so long for you to leave."


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