Principles of Mentorship

One of the greatest aspects that we will encounter is the mentorship relationship that comes from Jiu-Jitsu. For myself, it’s been one of the most rewarding and thrilling aspects of my journey as an instructor and coach. While I’m a new Black Belt, approximately seven months in, I’ve been coaching and teaching in some capacity since I was a late Blue Belt.

The fact that I came into the sport late in age, allowed me to approach it with a more mature stand point. At thirty, I had worked in the military, offices, and my share of warehouses. Those working experiences allowed me to see what leadership qualities worked for most people and which negative traits tainted relationships. So I adapted those into how I both speak in general, how I instruct students, and how I correct negative habits.

With that being said, if I’m being honest, I personally don’t think I have a mentor in Jiu-Jitsu and haven’t had a dedicated one in years. Once you’ve reached a certain level of experience, part of you can become jaded and you become picky about who has influence over you. You don’t view your instructors through rose colored glasses. You understand how imperfect so many of them are, so you end up picking up their good qualities and discarding the rest. Too many people are controlling, impatient, or lack the understanding of who you are as a person to really guide you through your journey.

With that in mind, here are a few principles that I feel every mentor should have a could handled on if they want to mentor others around them.

Be The Guide

In my opinion, in most situations an instructor/mentor should be more of a gentle guide, not a demanding dictator. It’s incredibly easy for parents and people in position of power to try to dictate the course of a child or student. Through our experiences, we’ve seen the pitfalls, the potential mistakes, and hardships; us wanting to steer our pupils away from them is completely commendable. But my job is not to control you, it’s to make suggestions, offer insight, then be there when mistakes happen to help you course correct.

We cannot steer students based on our journey’s. They are not us and we are not them, the mistakes that I made may not be the same ones they make. Additionally, some mistakes have to be made in order for a student to understand the why before a specific method.

Patience and Humility

I coupled these together because you really can’t have one without the other. Having the humility to remember what it was like to be a student trying to figure all this out, will bring you a long way. Understanding that patience, above all the other traits, is the one that every instructor and mentor needs to have, will always place you in good standing with students. I’ve seen my share of students leave schools simply based on an instructors lack of patience and humility.

Neither the Mentor or the Apprentice are infallible, so the relationship must always take place with a healthy dose of humility and patience.

Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow

– Plato

Compassion

There’s a level of toughness that goes into this sport and martial art. It’s required in order to overcome doubt and even injuries. Having the ability to push past those moments of weakness when you feel your cardio fail you for example, is driven by toughness. It has to be built upon over time, but it requires compassion. We do not want to break our students simply because we want to develop toughness, a gentle but firm approach will often be a better approach.

Most of the time we have no idea why a student stepped through the doors and signed up. For some it’s because of a friend or due to seeing it done in MMA. For many, the decision came from trauma. Some have been on the receiving end of bullying while others domestic violence. These traumas are often still raw open wounds. While we don’t want to coddle, we do need to have compassion and respect for every student we interact with. We should never belittle or talk down to a student. We may think we are building mental toughness of some kind when we have the drill sergeant approach, but in the end it’s doing the very opposite.

We should never be the reasons a student quits the academy or the sport.

Servitude

There are plenty of people that rise to the role of instructor who are driven simply by ego. They feed off of the fact that they hold knowledge that others at the academy don’t possess. This is inherently a terrible position to hold as an instructor.

This role that we are in is foundationally built on servitude and doing for others. Our ability to assist, motivate, and inspire has to be done selflessly. It doesn’t mean that an instructor or mentor can’t be paid for their services, they should be, but it shouldn’t be the driving force for why you do things you do.

I’m personally driven by seeing students get better, yet I also shy away from attention. My ego is not tied into a student’s success and I don’t require public adulation in order to feel that my efforts were worth it.

Honesty

I have many students approach me asking if they should dive into a certain technique or if they should sign up for a specific competition. While I never want to shatter someone’s confidence or make them feel like I’m not behind them, I do have to be honest about things. I have no clue how a competition will go, so there’s usually no point in me speaking to what may happen. What I will speak to is their preparation. I’ll ask about their game planning and make suggestions about potential holes, and encourage them to train more.

When students ask about adding a specific technique, sometimes I have to be honest and say that it’s not something for them at the moment. I’ll tell them why, then suggest an alternative. Sometimes a student will listen and sometimes they wont. My objective isn’t to make them listen, it’s just to offer genuine feedback and allow them to move as they see fit. In the end, it’s their journey, not mine.

Understand Your Limitation

This goes hand in hand with honesty. No instructor is going to know everything, the game is just to vast. I have a portion of my class where I set aside time for questions, both about what we went over in that class and anything the students are having issues with in general. On occasion I’ve been stumped. On these occasions I offer what I would do but will be honest about my limited knowledge on the subject. I’ll end up doing one two things.

One, offering to look into it and get back to them.

Two, if I know someone who I know is an excellent point of reference, I’ll send them there. A while back a student asked about the Double Under Stack Pass. I showed him how I would do it then offered them the name of a Brown Belt who had made it their go to. My teammate Rob had this thing down to a beautiful science and would provide a much deeper perspective than I could.

If I don’t know or don’t have a solid enough answer, I’m honest. It’s better to be honest about what you don’t know, than to bullshit your way through and mislead them.

Last Thoughts

I hope that this blog post helps both the mentor and the mentee about what should be considered for such a relationship. I recently listened to Bjj Mental Models’ special presentation of The Master and The Apprentice. The conversation between Emily Kwok and Dominyka Obelenyte is a perfect example of what a great Mentor/Apprentice relationship can be. If you have a chance, it’s a great listen.

Published by David Figueroa-Martinez

I'm a Gracie Humaita Black Belt Instructor out of San Diego. I've been training Jiu-Jitsu since 2011 and started teaching in 2017.

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