William Vandry: Your responsibilities as a Martial artist, and BJJ black belt

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New Vandry BJJ black belt ranks

I just finished teaching my quarterly association seminar for my representatives out of town, and local students.  Of all my seminars, this was the top of them.  Of course I usually think that each seminar.  Jiu-jitsu has so many personality types, goals, mentalities that you literally deal with a melting pot of society.  I have completed a weekend of a rush, adrenaline, awe and grace to God for all he has given me.  My seminar awarded four new BJJ black belts, and a first degree Black belt, along with new blue and purple belts.

A huge congratulations to my new black belts and degreed black belts:

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Matt Serfoss 1st degree

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Jeff Anderson Black belt

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Ian Haynes black belt

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Michael Drabek black belt

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Josh Travieso black belt

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Jesse Armas black belt

Congratulations, and thank you for your years of commitment, loyalty, respect and support.  Matt has been with me for 13 years.  Jeff for almost 15.  Ian for almost 17 years, he started with me in Killeen before I moved to Austin.  Michael for 12 years,  Josh for 9  years., and Jesse Armas almost as long as his father and fellow black belt, Jesus Armas.

I have trained with all of them hundreds of hours.  They are all great leaders, and leading in rank is also a responsibility.

I looked around at the seminar and beamed with pride.  I will say at this time, this is the best my academy has been in my career.  I am grateful to God for success, and giving me the abilities he has.  I held a senior belt meeting and training session on counters the Friday night before the seminar.  I wanted to discuss responsibility, goals, and a code of honor I expect from my students.  I asked for reflection, and the positive result of meetings like these.  Students need mentorship, and leadership.  There has to be a format for people to follow responsibility and expectations as Martial artists.  Senior belts should mentor junior belts, and always remind themselves of their duties as seniors.

Responsibilities

“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today”

-Abraham Lincoln

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

– George Santayana

BJJ is a great martial art.  It has so many good things including fitness, learning, developing, mentoring, changing lives for the better, duties and responsibilities.  I had a student recently in class who is now a Black belt.  He was training for a past tournament.  He approached me after a class and said:

“William, I want to thank you for all that you have done over 8 years.  You have treated me so well, and are one of my best buds.  You were one of the first people I met when I came to Austin, and we are still together and close.”

I am a fifth degree Black belt in the art of BJJ.  I never asked for rank,  bargained for it, hinted at it or felt I deserved anything unless my instructor gave it to me.  I earned it.

As in the Star Wars movies, there is the good and dark side of the force.  We have that in Jiu-jitsu, and as a matter of fact in all martial arts, and life.  In a different 2009 article I wrote about responsibility:

…This does not come with a Black belt.  This is a self charged responsibility

….but we should also understand that our conduct is an everyday microscope

Most of these bullying mentalities are immature, and are not impressive, and most of the time these types never grow out of it….

If your instructor has a small school, support him.  There may be different variables:

 1) He may not be a good instructor and lacks credentials, fundamentals, drills, cannot oversee students

 2) He may not be a credible instructor

 3) He may have issues outside of class that he brings to the school (drugs, marital issues, alcohol, etc.)

Ethics vs. Malevolent acts

I am not referring to types regarding drugs or alcohol.  Those are obvious.  We have a different plague growing.  I had a fellow black belt visit me recently.  He told me how another black belt he knew opened a school near his.  That created an issue between two former friends.  In addition, another school opened across from his, and solicited his students.  I told him one thing you cannot teach is ethics.  I told him if students eagerly leave your school for what seems to be greener pastures for them, then let them go.  Students can  make errors influenced by peer pressure, or poor judgment.  However, if you are a student that makes a decision knowing it can injure your instructor or his business financially, think about what you are doing first.

Years ago my mentor had quite a dilemma.  Many of his students did an about-face, and left his school.  When they left, this also caused a drop of students.  This obviously would attribute to financial loss.  I remember how many of his students were still there and how many were not there for him.  I was the first one in line behind him.  You always support your instructor.  Always.  They are not perfect, and they do mistakes and blunders.  But like all true relationships, you have to accept the flaws as well.

I am not here to argue why some left his school.  I know some of them.  Some are friends of mine, and I think at times communication can be a factor.  There are billing, scheduling, oversights, plain forgetfulness, or procrastinating when issues should be handled.

These errors cost us in business.  Those issues instructors have to hold themselves accountable for.  However, the one issue I disagree with strongly is when students, competitors or former employees intentionally attempt to damage that instructor’s living.  When you have those that intended to do harm, or attempt to pillage from an instructor’s network of students, it’s a malevolent, or evil act as defined by the Oxford dictionary.

I know a fellow black belt from DFW area that told me he experienced assistants leaving his school and solicited about 40 of his students with them.  Fellow black belts of mine told me they experienced this many times.

I personally have experienced  this more than once.  I had a student years ago who felt self entitled to open a school and solicit my students without my knowledge.  About 40-50 students pulled me aside privately, and told me he was emailing them, and soliciting their kids from my kids class.  I dismissed him.  Another experience I had with another past student was one who asked me for help in many ways.  He told me specifically that he just wanted a chance in life’ in a matter when no one else could help him.  I helped him, but at a later time felt he deserved a black belt whether he earned it or not.  What was his reason?  He thought he had a big cash cow opportunity mentioned in an email he sent me:

“…I have had a great opportunity that I feel I must act upon. This decision will best benefit my students, my school, as well as myself.  As a part of my departure, I must request that I completely and promptly be removed from your website….”

Notice it wasn’t mistreatment, an illegitimate school, or anything related.  He felt he was about to have a big gold mine.  The unfortunate thing was when he failed to achieve a black belt under me, he tried to go to three of my instructors, then elsewhere.

I had another past student that opened a school without my knowledge.  I found out at a later time he was soliciting my students through facebook.  I noticed missing white belts.  I saw him in person one day, and he expressed that he missed our conversations and company.  I told him in person that I could not have anything to do with anyone that intended to make a living off my living.  He had no response or explanation.

I had another  former student who like a previous one above, could not achieve his black belt.  He failed testing, and seemed to only attend classes late during sparring, and not practice techniques.  Within a few weeks of failing an exam, he sent me a vague email stating he was leaving my school.  I tried to email and call him back to make sure nothing was wrong with his health or at home.  He then explained it was about he not receiving a black belt.  In his email he made bizarre points:

“….So, I felt like by choosing to go to another school, where nobody knows me or has expectations of me that I cannot fulfill, is my only option. I am not asking for you to make a special exception for me, as I know you have strong reasons and thoughts for your new requirements, but because of them, it doesn’t seem like it’s a good fit for me to stay any longer…” 

Anytime a student states he is going to go far away, or fading out, or in this instance where he stated he was going to go where nobody knows him or has expectations he can’t fulfill, I will tell each school owner, they actually intend to do the exact opposite.

I changed all of my locks three weeks before he did what I thought he was going to try to do.  Students of mine forwarded emails or text messages he sent to them basically soliciting them to leave my school.  Some of his solicitations to my students even tried appealing to their friendships as a reason.  These unethical tactics went beyond shameful when he asked one of my children’s class instructors to leave my school.

To me that didn’t sound like someone going where no one knows him or has never heard of him.  It didn’t sound like a very ethical person either.

Here is my advice to instructors.  For students you had that were solicited, if you feel you have to contact them or explain to them, you don’t.  It wont matter.  There is a saying, your real friends don’t need explanations and your enemies won’t believe you anyway.  I think most instructors are angry or vent when this happens at their schools.  Maybe 15 years ago I would, but I kind of just got a laugh each time I found out something new and chalked it up as experience.  I wrote him off and kept teaching and working on my school.  After I was shown so many of his contacts, emails, text messages and stories, that should have been the end of it, right?  Well, guess what happened six months later?  I received another email from him:

…i know we haven’t spoken in awhile, but i thought you might find this interesting.

hope you are well.

Sincerely…

Ironically, when I read that email, for a second, I sincerely felt sorry for him.  I felt a sincere pity for a person that didn’t want to earn something the right way, and worse, someone who threw away many relationships with fellow students he thought he could control, and now was attempting to somehow undo his damage.

In Martial arts business, if anyone leaves after you’ve treated them well for their stay as a student, they have developed that type of relationship with many in their life.  This is one example of what seems to be a plague in BJJ.  Now we have white or blue belts breaking off to open schools to start a business at their instructor’s expense.

This is wrong.  And malevolent.  Unprofessional and unethical.  I have had past students who are some of the most unethical people I’ve ever met, but I have had way more that are worth their weight in gold.  I’ve had those that I gave jobs to, and later regretted it due to missing accounts and disaster business-wise.   I’ve helped students with food, rent, jobs, but in the end we as instructors rarely hear “thank you”.

But see there is a valuable point.  Always remember those that preserve, and give back to your community and keep them forever.  Regarding these types that black belts and myself have experienced with, I remembered a quote from Proverbs 16:28:

“A dishonest man spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends”

And from Proverbs 6:16-19:

16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:

 17         haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood,
18         a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil,
19         a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Treachery

” You’re going to be held to account for the things you’ve done.  Do you know that? Do you?”

– The Book of Eli (2010)

“A psychopath ain’t a professional. You can’t work with a psychopath.”

Reservoir Dogs (1992)

In 2012 I wrote an article on the Code of ethics:

…The most valuable assets of great students; Work Ethic, Respect, Loyalty and the Code of ethics…This one is also vital.  The loyalty issue is something you either have, or you will never have.  And blind loyalty is not the answer eitherIf you have an instructor that aids you, or mentors you, cherish that relationship and never lose it I have known my instructor Carlos Machado for almost 17 years.  I always give him props, and remind everyone where I came fromNever shame yourself to your instructor.  Never shame or embarrass your instructor with your words or actions.  And never try to use your instructor 

There is a quote I remember in the bible about false prophets, which somehow got into my mind when I was writing this.  For those who do not have religious preferences or practice a different religion, or are atheist or agnostic, the quote I am speaking of comes from one of Christ’s apostle’s  named Peter.  Peter discusses false prophets in Peter 2 2:1:

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction…”

Here are the Code of Ethics list from the article:

…Jiu-jitsu continually strives to live up to the seven principles of the Code of Bushido “the way of the warrior.” The Code of Bushido teaches humility, truthfulness, bravery, benevolence, compassion, sincerity, loyalty and devotion.  As Martial Arts practitioners we believe that (the) Code of Bushido serves as our constant reminder to perfect our character, as well as facing our weaknesses…

Respect your instructor

Are there answers?  First, if you are a student, respect your instructor.  Act like a Martial artist, not a bully, user, or self entitled.  Clear that evil.  I have always told any student from another school that wants to become a student under me:

“Did you speak to your instructor?”

Usually, they reply no.  I then tell them they should always talk to their instructor.  Even if you do not stay at their school, you should respect those that taught you or introduced you into the Martial arts.  See, many in this business think about money, or a new student, prostituting ranks, and they don’t care where they come from.  You should.  What do you think is going to happen with you?

Personal attacks

A fellow black belt endured a very unfortunate attack and threats to him, his students and his academy on facebook.  He is a legitimate black belt, and started a little after I did.  Now these days we have competitor schools, former students or former employees that act as if they are a concerned citizen to defame that business or school under screen names and aliases.  Even worse, they mask themselves under the guise of the ‘BJJ police’, ‘ethics moderators’ or ‘community regulators’.  Who made them that?  How many of these people have a full time job, a happy marriages or relationships, and don’t spend 12 hours a day on facebook?  How many of these people post on the Internet without swearing, gossip, judging credible black belts when they themselves are not?  How many of these actually do real charity in their community like my wife and I do year round?  How many of them consider charity volunteering at an animal shelter one time and promoting themselves, or donating $20 to a charity and mentioning it every conversation?  Jigoro Kano formed Judo, and his belt system was what promulgated our BJJ original base through Count Koma.  Did Grandmaster Carlos Gracie ever see children wearing yellow, orange and green belts like today?  Attacks like this (death threats against instructor and children), and many others are personal, vindictive, yet they all have one thing in common: they attack legitimate black belts, not just hokesters or impersonators of Martial artists.

It used to be when people wanted to expose frauds for public awareness and safety.  There were the fake Kung Fu or Karate instructors in the 70’s or 80’s.  Now they don’t care.  Just flaming a blog on someone’s reputation is proof enough!

Martial arts schools are supposed to teach self defense.  Not MMA, or fighting or being a competitor.

If a Martial arts academy has a 50 belt system, as long as the instructor is legitimate, who cares?  Gracie Barra, RCJ Machado and other lines from Brazil have adopted and modified belt standards since the days of Grandmaster Carlos Gracie.  Who really feels that is the issue?  Keep in mind, a Martial arts program is different from a BJJ program.  There are school owners out there that automatically label themselves as ‘Professor’, even ‘Master’.

Master Caique, who received a red and black belt from Master Rickson Gracie in 2010 strictly enforces a good teaching policy where you cannot give a black belt until you have been a black belt for 9 years from cjjusa.com:

‘…Once you complete the ninth (9th) year of wearing a Black Belt, the Red Patch Black Belt is allowed to promote a new Black Belt…’

What are the qualifications of these ‘peers’ that personally attack Martial artists on a blog?  When we weed out personal attacks, competitors, former students, or former employees, what else do you have?

Very little to write about.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013, lists both sociopathy and psychopathy under the heading of Antisocial Personality Disorders (ASPD). These disorders share many common behavioral traits which lead to the confusion between them. Key traits that sociopaths and psychopaths share include:

  • A disregard for laws and social mores
  • A disregard for the rights of others
  • A failure to feel remorse or guilt
  • A tendency to display violent behavior

In addition to their commonalities, sociopaths and psychopaths also have their own unique behavioral characteristics, as well.  Sociopaths tend to be nervous and easily agitated.  Psychopaths, on the other hand, are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust.

Reference: Bouchard, T.J., Jr., Lykken, D.T., McGue, M., Segal, N.L. and Tellegen, A. 1990.”Sources of human psychological differences: The Minnesota Study of Twins Reared Apart.” Science 250 (4978), pp. 223–228.

The standard definition of a psychopath is the one made famous by Robert Hare, and most recently written about in the psych-nonfiction hybrid called ‘The key qualities of the psychopath’, a.k.a. person with antisocial personality disorder, include:

– committing acts that harm others (and showing no remorse),

– being incapable of showing empathy

– engaging in impulsive behaviors,

– being sexually promiscuous,

– and manipulating others to get his or her own way.

Internet hostility and Matthew 7:1

If I get a new student, we go over the different programs, I explain it nice and easy, and students are very respectful, train technically, and work on bad positions, new techniques, not simply trying to win.

Those are great students.  And those are the good side of Jiu-jitsu.  When I received my black belt, I was one of the first four black belts of Texas.

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Photo: Texas first four Black belts under Carlos Machado: Tim Burril, Travis Lutter, Klay Pittman and William Vandry

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Texas second set of black belts: Roman Kilgore, Tery Corkran and David Sullivan (Carlos Machado front, William Vandry back)

I happen to know a great group of my mentors and fellow black belts that have this creed:

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8th Degree Carlos and 6th Degree John Machado and the brothers

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5th Degree Tim Burill

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5th Degree Klay Pittman

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5th Degree William Vandry

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5th degree Marcos Santos

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3rd Degree Travis Lutter

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4th Degree Tery Corkran

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4th degree Orlando Waugh

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4th degree Roman Kilgore

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Black belt Eric Shaw

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4th degree David Sullivan

There are many more, like my BJJ brother Robert DeFranco, Steve Teas, and a lot more I could mention.  Who or what are peers?  Black’s law dictionary defines peers as:

“Equals: those who are a man’s equals in rank and station: this being the meaning in the phrase “trial by a jury of his peers.”

I think if we are to be judged by our peers, that group mentioned above is a place to start.

So what needs to be done?  To start, Instructors should hold themselves to a higher standard.  Their instructors should as well.  Unethical students should not be embraced for a new set of dues or money, they should be sent back to their instructor.  I have sent many back to their instructors.  There is a quote many use from scripture regarding judging people. The quote is from Jesus in Matthew 7:1:

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”  Most do not understand what that quote means.  It doesn’t say do not judge, it says to judge on standards you would judge yourself.

Matthew 7:2-5 states:

“For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

What Jesus was condemning here was hypocritical, self-righteous judgments of others.

Protect Jiu-jitsu among the public, and community.  Preserve our legacy from Maeda to Grandmaster Carlos Gracie, to Grandmaster Helio Gracie to Rolls Gracie, to the Machados, to today.  You can always work to be a better student of the art, not just the mat.

Finishing this article, when I was a little kid I collected comic books.  I had some old comics that I read over and over.  I remember this quote from one, and I never forgot it:

“Men like you are driven by greed!  I have a stronger motivation!  I hate crime…I hate it with every fibre of my being!  Even in a world as confused and uncertain as ours, justice still exists—and whether through me or through the machinery of civilization…the law–Justice triumphs!”

– Batman, issue # 268

Congratulations to my new black belts and students!!

Professor William Vandry (5th degree black belt, BJJ)

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