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Creontes And The Free Market Economy

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A few months ago, a big name in the competitive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu community made waves by leaving his affiliation and striking out on his own.

In another sport, like baseball, a star player who decided to test the waters of free agency would hardly be news.  It wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. But for the BJJ community, the result was a great deal of questioning and concern.

Unlike baseball—which is a distinctly American sport whose entire evolution took place within the norms of U.S. culture—contemporary Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a child of two worlds.

Most dojos honor BJJ’s origins by bowing to pictures of its founders, Helio and Carlos Gracie, prior to every class.  And we take pains to distinguish BJJ from its Japanese ancestor by adding “Brazilian” to the discipline’s name.

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We also use Brazilian terms for many of the techniques that we drill and use in rolling.

In short, we romanticize those Brazilian origins, even adopting some of the values and attitudes that grew up in Brazil around BJJ’s creation.

One of those attitudes is team loyalty and the stigma associated with the “Creonte.”  In the early years of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil, it was considered a violation of the first order to leave one academy for another.  Doing so was interpreted as a breaking of trust, and the person who committed this act was presumed to be selfish, underhanded, and disreputable—in short, a creonte.

However, as Brazilian Jiu Jitsu took hold in America, this matter of honorable loyalty came up against a distinctly American attitude toward money and economics.

Simply put, Americans vote with their pocketbook.  We look for the best value that we can find, and we don’t feel any guilt or remorse when we walk out of one store and go to another because the second store has a better price.

Likewise, we’re not shy about seeking out the best value.  We Americans don’t feel any remorse about switching gym memberships because a new gym has better equipment.  

In this collision of cultural values, we’re forced to ask the unanswerable question about whether it is appropriate to “shop around” or if doing so is a violation of loyalty.

And I think, for most Americans, that question is a difficult one to answer.  

On the one hand, we admire values like loyalty.  We venerate heroes who act honorably. And we don’t want to be seen as disloyal or lacking in honor.

This part of our national character inclines us toward accepting those Brazilian expectations of loyalty.

On the other hand, Americans live their lives with a more individual-oriented attitude.  We tend to see ourselves first and our team second. That individualism, combined with our inclination to vote with our wallets, makes us more inclined to view an athlete who changes affiliations with no more than a shrug of the shoulders.

It’s quite a dilemma.  Fortunately, for most of us, it’s only a philosophical dilemma.  If we’ve found an academy in which we are happy and in which we feel that we are receiving quality instruction, we don’t have to struggle with this kind of decision.  We can sit back and be spectators when a big-name athlete makes the choice.

But there are situations when we will have to make a similar choice.  And, in those situations, how do we reconcile this clash of Brazilian values with American values?

There is no easy answer, especially if you are switching from one academy to a rival school in the same town.  In such a case, there’s bound to be hurt feelings.

Personally, I believe that such a switch is not to be taken lightly.  It’s a decision that deserves long thought.

It should also be based on a solid reason.

If the quality of instruction has fallen off at your gym or if you realize that your gym’s standards are not up to the standards at other schools, that would be a good reason in my book.

If the culture at your gym is problematic for some reason, you might also think about making a change.  If the school is dominated by bullies whose behavior goes unchecked by the instructor or coach, that definitely qualifies as a good reason to part ways.

Likewise, if your interest is in self-defense, and your gym’s focus is on competition and producing MMA athletes, acknowledging that poor fit makes good sense.  And the same holds true if your goal is to become a competitive Jiu Jitero and your school’s focus is primarily self-defense; moving on is probably the best choice in that case.

And sometimes, personalities just don’t click.  Maybe—through no one’s fault—you don’t click with an instructor.  That’s okay.

In most of these cases, though, you should recognize these problems early on.  Recognizing that a gym is a bad fit for you should happen pretty quickly after you start.  And, in these cases, your departure should be relatively painless since few friendships or expectation of loyalty will have formed.

The problem arises when a student decides to leave after years of practice in one gym.  At this point, coaches and teammates may feel a sense of hurt and betrayal since they’ve spent a significant amount of time helping guide your development.

That’s not to say that a long-term student won’t ever have a justification to switch academies, but those years will make the departure more difficult.  So, the longer you’ve been there, the better the reason you should have for leaving. At this point, jumping ship over a $10 or $20 difference in cost would just be petty.  Your decision needs to be substantial, and it needs to take into account the time investment that your coach and teammates have given you.

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