I Wish I Could Quit You
Leaving a Jiu Jitsu School
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been in transition between different states, cities, apartments; I’ve bounced from career to career until I found my current calling; I’ve said more goodbyes and see-ya’s than my heart can bear to remember. Yet these transitions still pale in comparison to the toughest transition that I’ve had to make, which was swapping out one jiu jitsu school for another.
There’s plenty of content on the Internet explaining how to leave a gym without burning bridges, but it begs the question why this is even a consideration that someone needs to make. After all, to the layperson, leaving a jiu jitsu school should be as easy as deciding to go to the local coffee shop down the street, instead of the nearby chain, or perhaps, at worst, akin to breaking one’s lease to move from one apartment to another.
But jiu jitsu isn’t like swapping out one chain store for another, or deciding to try out a new place for dinner. For some, particularly those stuck in unsavory, political environments that believe in creonte (traitor) culture, leaving a jiu jitsu school is anything but a simple transactional affair. Instead, the stakes are high, not simply because of the financial hit that can happen from breaking a membership, but the emotional and social repercussions of leaving a community—a “family” even—that you once believed was good for you.
For those who are trying to decide whether or how to leave a school, it can mean walking away from a primary or sole source of income; facing ostracism from current members and leadership; and finding out, the hard way, who is really your friend…or enemy. Leaving can mean a difficult, sometimes painful, reckoning of the gaslighting and trauma that took place, combined with a harsh and highly subjective soul-searching into the degrees of personal responsibility. Leaving can mean both an isolating, terrifying experience traveled only through “hush hush” DMs or fiery, emotionally-fueled public blowouts on social media.
In short, the jiu jitsu world has places where leaving is difficult, and what some may call “culty”—and rightfully so, given that it is usually the most toxic schools that espouse a message that if you’re not in, you’re out—and that there is something very wrong with you for leaving. Even for schools that have less of an extreme culture, most people who struggle to leave do so because leaving produces a profound sense of loss and grief. Jiu jitsu, whether by choice or accidentally, often latches onto a person’s identity and self-worth and has the power to destroy or help its host, and it makes for a dicey drama.
Note, the reasons in which you are leaving do not have to be shared with anyone. They do not have to be rational (though for logically-minded people like me, this helps in conveying to yourself that they are acceptable reasons), nor do they have to be well-articulated.
These reasons for leaving do not have to pass muster with your coach, your friends/teammates, your parents, your boss, your partner, or anyone else from which you typically seek validation and assistance.
What the reasons should be, however, is personally meaningful. In making those reasons personally meaningful, you can stay motivated and make the right choices for when you start the process of leaving your school. There typically is no single reason that may make leaving a 100% certain proposition — often, it is a combination of a multitude of issues specific to the experience and boundaries of that person. It may be that you feel like the culture of the school isn’t right for you — perhaps, you find it hard to make friends at this particular school, while everyone “next door” seems to get along just fine. It could be the distance or cost of attending the school, or their limited class hours.
Or, it could be, as it always seems to be when the school is particularly toxic, a deep sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach that something isn’t quite right for you. Sometimes, this sinister feeling comes about due to truly horrific experiences that no person should endure — violence, abuse, prejudice, assault (certainly a non-exhaustive list) — but sometimes, that feeling comes about when you realize that you no longer have a sense of agency and appreciation for your own learning; when you feel a sense of dread every time you think of yourself setting foot in that school; and dare I argue, worst of all, when you think about quitting jiu jitsu.
The emotions and thoughts that go into a decision to leave a school should be taken seriously. Internet trolls would have you believe that no jiu jitsu school holds power over you in terms of your physical presence, that you are being “too sensitive” or “overthinking” it. What I want to acknowledge, and validate, is that it may be harder to let go of a mental grip that your current academy may have on you. It is this invisible hold on a person’s psyche that is perhaps the most damaging, since mental messiness is one of the most difficult things to unravel.
I want to beg you, as much as I can, dear sir, to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.
- Rainer Maria Rilke