Should topics like the Roe vs Wade reversal be discussed in your BJJ gym?

With topics like Roe vs Wade (amongst others) furthering the split in America's populace, should these heavy types of topics be discussed in the gym? In this blog we will discuss how your gym culture will dictate whether it should be discussed, both arguments for and against its discussion, and how you can foster discussion without losing students. No matter where you stand on a topic like the overturning of Roe vs Wade we can all agree that this topic is a divisive one. Most people feel very strongly about it on either side. These feelings can lead to heated arguments, name calling or even fights at the gym. With both sides thinking that they are on the moral high ground, finding a middle ground to stand on can be very hard.

There are a few different ways to navigate this particular challenge as a gym owner or leader. All of which come with varying degrees of preemptive communication based on what culture you would like to foster. These options as I see them are to never talk about hot topics, to build a gym around your opinions and biases, or to build an open environment where all topics can be discussed.

First, let’s talk about not talking about these types of topics at all. In a past life, I owned some bar/restaurants. Service was important along with creating a space where the customer can escape from the stresses of their day. For that reason, we had a rule to not talk about Race, Religion, or Politics with any of the customers. It was our job to provide a fun and light atmosphere that people would enjoy. If the customer was to bring it up, the bartender was just supposed to listen. Not agree or disagree but just listen and when possible change the subject.

Eventually, people would get that those very emotional topics were to be talked about somewhere else. We dictated that there was a time and place for everything and the time and place for an intellectual and possibly emotional conversation was not while the band played (as an example). This is a way of handling hot topics in the dojo. If you want your dojo to be an escape for people and a way of releasing stress, then perhaps this is a good way to go.

To implement this into your culture I suggest writing an email or message schoolwide before things happen. Explain the WHY you would prefer to keep these topics out of the gym. When it happens, then take the participants off to the side and remind them of your stance. Eventually, people will understand that your dojo isn’t the time or place for such discussion.

The downside to never talking about these topics in the dojo is then people don’t feel as at home. They seemingly can’t get comfortable in the environment because they have to hold what they feel like is a part of them inside. Additionally, deciding what topics are “too hot” and policing it can be a struggle.

My next suggestion is to pick a lane or a stance and live congruently by it. In the example of Roe vs Wade, I would suggest coming out and saying your stance and why you feel that way. Communicate your beliefs with respect but strongly. You will alienate those that do not agree with your stances however you will strengthen your bond to those that agree with you.

To tackle the challenge in this way you must not fear others judgements. Even if done in a respectful way, you will lose students that do not share your ideology. If this is ok with you and you want to build an echo chamber of like minded individuals then this may be the direction for you. Just make sure that you are congruent in your messaging so people know what to expect. My last suggestion is to create an atmosphere where all topics can and should be talked about. Full disclosure this is my personal recommendation but it also takes the most work. To create a culture were topics like Roe vs Wade can be talked about freely you need to consistently be open to each side and listen to the opinions of both sides without judgment or bias. Your Jiu Jtisu school will most likely attract people from all walks of life and to have open discussion you must be ok with that.

There are two soft skills that I often coach leaders on when trying to build an open culture. (To learn more about soft skill coaching go to Those soft skills are active listening and empathy. As the leader of the gym you must be versed in these two skills to create an open environment. The judgment you may have for a certain point of view must be realized as just a judgment from one person.

For example, let’s try to understand why both sides of Roe v Wade would be emotional. If you are pro-life and believe that abortion is murdering a child it is easy to see why you would be passionate about stopping it. If you are pro-choice, you believe that there is no baby without the mother and that it makes no sense for someone to tell you that you have to put your body at risk. This makes a lot of sense as well.

If you as the gym leader can listen to and have empathy for both sides then you can start foster good discussions. Good discussions lead to additional and better information coming to light. This new information, coming from a non judgemental lens can bring all walks of life closer. For the most part people aren’t bad, they just have different ideas of how to be good. The benefits for this way of handling it are immense. You are bringing people together that would otherwise be separate. You are creating an atmosphere where more information can be shared and analyzed by the individual. Instead of pretending these emotions are not there you are acknowledging them and building deeper connections with your students. Lastly, in your little sphere of influence, you are bringing together the people of America. If we all tried this, our nation's mental health would be drastically improved.

Joshua Janis

Black Belt in: BJJ / Soft Skills Development / Company Culture Coaching

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