After watching the video Alec Baulding made titled “Being Black in Jiu-Jitsu” there was one thing that he said that really stuck in my mind more than anything else;
“I always felt the jiu-jitsu sphere was safe, that it was protected from the outside world, it was more a picture of what the world could be. I always held jiu-jitsu practitioners to a higher standard, I always felt like jiu-jitsu people were better than the regular person, but yeah that’s how I felt. It’s a different breed of person that would put themselves in an uncomfortable position and set their ego aside and have to learn”
When I heard this, I wholeheartedly agreed. I have always thought the jiu-jitsu space incorporated everyone equally, and looking back now, I realize that that’s a very privileged way of looking at things. Jiu-jitsu is a microcosm of the world around us and seeing these racial injustices happen more recently, has brought to light a lot of those issues that have been allowed to creep into jiu-jitsu. Being a white male, I definitely had to take off the rose-tinted glasses to question some of my own thoughts and practices as well as many of the jiu-jitsu professionals I looked up to. I reached out to Alec Baulding for an interview to get more on his perspective and see how we as a community can work to create an environment where everyone is truly equal.
Grappling Insider (GI) : What made you make this video?
Alec Baulding (Alec): I hadn’t heard too many people speak out, that was the big factor, and my sister did a dialogue at her school, and seeing young people speaking out made me want to speak out in my field. Especially now with quarantine and other factors, people are really showing their true colors. People you thought you were cool with, you’re now like “man can I even talk to this person?” so it’s clearly been hard on everybody.
GI: You said in your video ” Just because someone is good at jiu-jitsu, that doesn’t mean you need to listen to them”. In what aspects do you mean and how far do let it go before you disregard their entire opinion?
Alec: Look at their field of practice, if they are good at jiu-jitsu, listen to their jiu-jitsu but be careful listening to them anywhere else. You have to realize for some of these guys jiu-jitsu is all that they do, they don’t read, some of them never went to college, they’re so invested in BJJ where I would be skeptical of listening to their opinion anywhere else, myself included.
GI: One issue for me personally that I have seen is people supporting black lives matter or any racial injustice movement but still support these athletes in jiu-jitsu that use very hateful rhetoric.
Alec: It’s tough because there is so much hero worship, it’s almost like a cult of personality. People want to be just like that person, so they will do whatever they say…it’s hard to watch.
GI: How far do you extend the coutesy of rolling with someone once you have seen some of these negative personality traits come out off the mat?
Alec: That’s rough. I can’t recall a situation where I thought I couldn’t train with someone. For the last few years I’ve only been training with my friends, so I think you have to find a good environment for yourself, so maybe leave the academy you train at or find different training partners. Since I made the video, I’ve people reach out to me and say “Hey I think my instructor might be racist, what should I do?” It’s tough, it’s not an easy decision because you get so comfortable. I think it took this kind of break for people to reassess who they want to train with and where they want to train.
GI: In your video you talk about people talking trash to get their clout, you are a big name in jiu-jitsu and I have never really seen that from you. Where do you land on this?
Alec: I mean it’s hard, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. I just felt like even though it’s an act, a lot of that carries over to real life, especially with young people. They think it’s like pro wrestling, where people think it’s real and they aren’t able to tell the difference. The difficult thing is that the more they talk like that, the more followers they get the more of a platform they get. I think for me it was more old school, you work hard but it will pay off and I try and hold true to that. But you have to market yourself and you can choose how you market yourself. You can play the heel character, where you call people out and say crazy stuff to get attention, but at the end of the day, I don’t think that is very healthy. Hopefully, it pays off financially but mentally I don’t think its the best route to go.
GI: When you see someone online psoting hateful content, between blocking them, calling them out or educating them, where do you stand?
Alec: I always lean toward educating as much as possible, but can you really win an argument? It’s kind of like when you are learning, you have to be open-minded and measure your principles and values. If someone comes to you with a good argument, maybe you need to rethink what they are saying and how you are interpreting it. But there are times when you realize the person you are talking to isn’t going to change. Going back to mental health, when you see all this negativity, you may need to block the person for your own mental health, you need to be able to find a healthy balance for yourself personally. And I want people to know that that’s okay. You can still be friends with someone without looking at their social media but sometimes you may have to cut people off.
I wanted to thank Alec for taking the time to talk to me and give me some of his perspectives. I think for this sport to grow and get to a place where we think it is now, we have to have conversations that make us uncomfortable. We need to have empathy for each other as teammates and friends where we can create an environment where everyone feels comfortable. It going to take more than one person to do it. We all need to speak up when we see any type of injustice happen, especially when we are on the mats. We can’t grow alone, it needs to be done together.
Or if you’re interested in the original video that Alec Baulding posted, “Being Black In Jiu Jitsu”: