Academy Etiquette On and Off the Mat

By Omar Choudhury

Martial Arts have been around for a very long time with some of the traditional aspects such as respect, honor, and discipline still being carried into today’s academies. In the past most academies taught one discipline ranging from Karate, Tae Kwon Do, Boxing, Kickboxing, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, etc. With the highly popular sport of MMA continuing its rise, most of these academies have transformed into MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) academies teaching a variety of arts. With that being said, I feel a lot of the martial arts etiquette has been brushed over a little. Now I’m not going to tell you to bow every time you encounter someone at the gym, but basically touch upon some rules any martial artist should try and follow regularly. Everything discussed is based off conversations I’ve had with other instructors and friends as well as my own experiences being a student and instructor. These are in no specific order and feel free to comment or even add to the list at the end.

  • Don’t be late to class. Try your best to get ready ASAP. Everyone has different schedules and responsibilities, which is understandable, but if you are late, make sure to acknowledge the instructor before jumping into class. That’s the respectful thing to do. This means to be on the mat when class begins, not after warm ups are completed, or when its time to roll. If you know you are going to be late let your instructor know ahead of time.
  • Don’t speak while the instructor is demonstrating or speaking. This is very disrespectful. All that is showing your instructor and teammates is that you don’t care to learn the move or think you already know it. No matter what your rank is, pay attention quietly and try to learn something. There is always going to be a small detail that you can focus to improve on.
  • Yield the mat for higher belts. If you are rolling or sparring and come close to another group in which a high rank is present, simply stop and move over. They put in the time and had to do the same as a lower rank, so it’s important to show them that respect.
  • Always have your gi belt tied during class. If your gi belt comes untied during a roll, tie it up right after. If your academy has a uniform that is required for another class such as kickboxing or nogi, always have that shirt for class or be prepared for whatever consequence your instructor has planned. With that being said, have proper attire to train. I feel this is common sense, but anything to revealing should not be worn on the mat.
  • Always wear a shirt/rashguard under your gi. In a class where there are civilians that have no intention of competing, I think it’s common courtesy to not have a bare chest which may come into contact with their face. This also depends on your academy rules and what your instructor allows.
  • This ties into the one above. Don’t train with your shirt off. Nobody wants to see that or workout with you. I feel the only guys that can get away with this are pro fighters in big shows preparing for a fight. If you are taking your sweaty shirt off, it should be in the locker room to change, not to walk around dripping sweat all over the mats as you check yourself out in the mirror.
  • Don’t sit or hang around the mats during class. You should always be practicing and getting your reps in. Just because you did the move your instructor demonstrated a few times, does not mean you know it. This is something that is commonly seen on the mats of any gym.
  • If you are not in class and not a coach, don’t coach anyone. The instructor has control of the mat not you. Observe and sit quietly until your class starts or until you have to leave.
  • When you are rolling or sparring in class, don’t stop to teach your partner a move or correct them on what they are doing wrong. Again, you are not the coach. Capitalize on their mistakes, that is the how both of you will get better. For example, if you stop to correct someone on what you think they are doing wrong or to guide them through the right steps, how do you expect to ever successfully attempt that same move in competition? You aren’t going to stop your opponent to correct them, so don’t do it while you are training.
  • Don’t crank submissions in grappling classes or blast punches in striking classes. You are not going to like it if someone does it to you. That competitive mentality is good, however don’t “be that guy.”
  • The use of a cup and mouthguard are highly recommended. Accidents happen regularly and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • After class, take all belongings with you. That includes your empty water bottles, tape or band aids that fell of your body, mouthguards, headgear, etc. Basically, just clean up after yourself. If you train consistently you probably love your gym and even consider it a second home. If you wouldn’t do it in your own house don’t do it at your academy. This includes locker rooms and bathroom/showers.
  • Be on top of your HYGIENE. Shower after class. Cut your fingernails and toenails. Wash all your gear after each use. NEVER wear the same gear to multiple classes. This will help prevent any skin infections as well as any other health related issue.
  • Watch your language as well as topics of discussion. Most gyms have a kids program and you never know when one is going to be nearby to hear what you are saying. This should be in effect even if there are no kids. You don’t want to offend anyone. Try to keep everything clean and respectful when inside your academy doors.

All these rules should be carried with you not only in your academy, but also outside your academy in public, when visiting another academy, or competing in a tournament.


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