Ask Maggie Moo: "What if the Black Belt Doesn't Like Me?"

3:48 AM Moo 0 Comments

It's been a while since I've responded to one of these, but this week's question comes from J.C about dealing with a difficult situation in the gym.

Question: I train at a gym with about 5 black belts. The main black belt is wonderful and treats us all well. One of the black belts really doesn’t like me and it bothers me. I feel like I am really well-liked at my gym and I am so kind to everyone. I know it’s stupid because we've never had a falling out, or exchanged mean words and I’ve always attended his classes and thought they were great. He isn’t flat out rude or unkind but he just sort of treats me like I don’t exist. If I ask a question during class he laughs it off, rolls his eyes and moves on to the next person. I haven’t done anything to him, so I’m confused and obviously a little sensitive. It makes me not want to attend his classes and it’s very uncomfortable in social situations. He is cold, short and distant with me but warm and friendly to other students. To the point of literally being the only one who doesn’t clap or say congratulations when my main black belt mentions my tournament successes. Yet, he will be the first to congratulate every other student. I  go out of my way to say hello and to make sure I’m always very respectful. What should I do? Sometimes it’s so uncomfortable I want to quit just to avoid the drama. Do I leave it alone and just deal with the awkwardness? Do I bring it up to the main black belt? - J.C.

First of all, if you have done nothing to harm him you are not responsible for the way he feels about you. Have you ever heard the saying “what people think about me is none of my business?” I get it; it is definitely uncomfortable, especially when one of the best parts of Jiu Jitsu is the team bond and family atmosphere. I’m certain there are people I train with/have trained with who don’t like me probably through no fault of my own, but as long as I treat them with respect and kindness- I'm staying true to my nature. And if they don’t like me? That is on them. Seriously. Their loss. People go through all sorts of things in their outside life- death, job loss, break ups, depression, etc. that can affect the way they feel about themselves and others. Maybe he is envious of your easy nature. If you are well liked there, focus on the people who like you. Support the people who support you. Black belts, of course, are looked to as leaders and mentors but in the end, they are people too, flawed, imperfect and also guilty of allowing emotion/pettiness, etc. to get the best of them. No one is obligated to like you, but they must respect you. For a black belt who literally deals with “customers” or practitioners all day long, he should be much better at his poker face and at the very least able to treat you with decency. His flaw is just that- his!

If you have gotten to a point where you are so uncomfortable you do not want to train, perhaps pull him aside and ask him “have I done something to offend you?” I am a big believer in the direct approach. If you are not comfortable with that, bring it up to your black belt. Maybe he has some perspective you are not considering or would be comfortable mediating the situation. Most people just want to train in a drama-free environment and the sooner you have that, the better you will feel. Most importantly, do not obsess over it. His damage is not your job to fix. You have stated that you love your gym, your main black belt and all of your training partners. Put your energy into those people. And whatever you do, do not quit. You are going to be a black belt someday and you will know how to treat your students- with kindness and respect.