Jiu Jitsu Etiquette: Universal What Not to Do

Published on by Samantha Faulhaber

Photo Credit: Jeff Chu @jeffreyschu and Zac Fallah


Universal What Not to Do in the Academy

Academies differ in style, personality, and formality, but here’s a list of things I’ve collected over the years that I think most people and training partners would agree are good etiquette guidelines. Some probably are, but some aren’t always written down where you train. Feel free to share with new students or anyone you’d love to get the message!

Reset Bias

You’re running into something during training that you don’t want to hit – maybe a higher rank, a wall, or a rabid dog. Thank god. Your training partner just got to mount. Now you’ll get to reset from neutral. WRONG. Sometimes the position you needed to bail out of was really confusing or occurred during a scramble. In such cases you would be right to reset if you didn’t have enough time to check your grips and positioning before you had to move. Other than that, you should restart fairly and work hard to improve your position just like you would have if you weren’t interrupted. Be fair and honest about what you thought you had and get on with it quickly. At the same time, academy training isn’t Worlds so don’t spend more than 3 seconds arguing about it. Paying attention to a fair reset in the academy is good practice for mindfulness should you ever get reset in a tournament.

Sidenote: Cultivate your spatial awareness. I often see people move and restart in another place on the mat that is right next to someone or something else they’ll have to move for within 10 seconds. Scan the mat and position yourselves in the clearest area for your own sake!

Not Tapping

A lot of things have the caveat of “this is not Worlds”. You accept higher risks in big competition because you feel like you have something to gain that outweighs the risk more than usual. Everyday training is not worth putting yourself in danger for. Jiu-Jitsu operates under the sacred contract of “I tap, you let go” on both sides, but don’t make someone weigh your value as an uninjured training partner against their desire to win. You do need to learn how far you can let things go before you escape or tap. You also carry personal responsibility on the mat. If your training partner is advanced, they can work to control you in such a way there is no escape. If they are not, they’re going to heave on your elbow faster and faster to ensure they get you. Learn to tap, and learn from tapping.

Apologizing/Patronizing Thank You’s

We all apologize. I feel like women do this more than men, but that’s another article. You accidentally brush your opponent’s face during your attempts to break their arm and you’re sorry about it. You can argue all day about the value or ridiculousness of that sort of apology. The “I’m sorry” I’m referring to is when someone apologizes to you after they just beat your butt. Or when someone is overtly gracious about the train you just had and wants to make sure you KNOW they appreciated it. Thank your partners, don’t fawn over them. Related, I’ve had guys text me after everyone went home for the night asking if they went too hard with me, when I beat them soundly in every train we had. Not inherently a bad conversation to have but in those circumstances it comes across as patronizing and inappropriate.

Smelling Bad/Hygiene

#1 Universal Truth is you need to take care of your gear, your feet, and your skin. “I only sweat a little bit” – you still need to wash that gi. Stuff is growing on it as it dries out in your locker and it’s stinking up the locker room. No-gi stuff seems especially susceptible to funk. If you’re not sure, don’t wear it. If your feet are dirty, wash them. We’ve already accepted we drip sweat on each other, please don’t make someone have a conversation with you about why no one wants to be your partner.

Related: Long Nails (especially toes)

Keep them short and file them smooth, don’t lacerate your training partners.

Sore Loser

Live in the moment, lose graciously, try again. Don’t explain why the person beat you to them, don’t make excuses, swallow your pride, and certainly don’t get mad. You want people to beat you so that you can get better. As Valerie Worthington once wrote, “It’s not me, it’s the art.” As in the techniques beat you. Try to find it inspiring instead of infuriating. And if it is infuriating, don’t let anyone know about it.

Related: Celebrating

You really don’t know why you beat the person. You’ll never know how much stuff they “let” you get, how hard they were going, how distracted they were, or what new moves they’re trying out. Celebrating is self-congratulatory and puts an onus on people trying new things they need to grow. Appreciate what you did right, accept, and keep training.


Should be another no-brainer here up on the levels of good hygiene. If you start to feel angry or upset during a training session you need to excuse yourself and sit down until you regain control of your faculties. No good can come of high, angry emotions on the mat. You might hurt someone or force someone to hurt you (revisit “tapping” above). Stepping off the mat when you know you’re about to cross some line of self-control is something to be respected and a path towards self-improvement. Academies need to be safe spaces where accidents happen but pain leading to injury is never intentional.

Clean Up Your Mess

It’s no one else’s job to gather up your tape, water bottles, and/or sweaty clothing. Practice being a good teammate and ensure your good graces with your instructor and leave no trace as much as possible. I have thick black hair that is very obvious on the mat. I feel so bad about how much I shed I have actually had dreams about it. It helps to brush or comb my hair just before training. Still working on the best hairstyles to keep it contained.

I’m sure there’s more that we can all come together over, but this is a good list off the top of my head. Feel free to lend your suggestions for universal mat etiquette!