Compliments can be a minefield to navigate in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. What is said, what is meant, and what is perceived can all be very different things. Context is very important. The relationship you have with that training partner too. Here is an easy solution and some general hints to help you in the future.
“You’re strong!” can be considered an insult. It can be used to be dismissive of an opponent’s technique. You have to be careful saying this. It can sound like you are making an excuse for why they performed better than you in a way that demeans them. “You feel strong” has a better connotation. This could be a reference to their technique and frames. The best option is to be specific. Say what feels strong. “Your guard passing was strong.” “You have strong top control.”
It is also important to never express surprise at someone’s capabilities.
Do not be surprised when a higher belt beats you. Do not be surprised when a woman or smaller person beats you. This can be insulting and can display your biases and ignorance. You may think you are complimenting them when you say something like “wow, you’re good.” Or “I can’t believe you beat me.” Instead it can reveal what low expectations you had for them. They are more likely to hear it as, “wow, I didn’t think, despite the time you have put into training, that you could possibly give me a challenge.”
Again, this can be solved by being specific. Tell them how a specific move was slick, or their guard passing game was tough. You can be surprised by a move new to you and ask about it. We are all learning. General amazement in someone’s ability is not complimentary.
The exception is someone you know very well. You can compliment how someone is “on” that day, or how they’ve leveled up recently. Yet in these examples, a time frame is being used to help be more specific.
This sport is one of the few times telling someone they feel heavy is a compliment. Do not forget the “feel” part in the compliment. It changes from a comment on their weight to that of their technique.
I may wish this wasn’t so, but this is especially important with women. Most of us were brought up in a culture where weight is something sensitive. You wanted to be small. Our self worth can be connected to our size. So be aware of the wording you choose.
In short, be specific with your compliments, and do not express extreme surprise at your partners abilities!
About the Author:
Ketra Bartek AKA the Cuddly Killer is a brown belt based out of Austin Texas. She loves to aggressively cuddle for fun and competition. Her favorite way to relax after training is snuggling her dogs while finding cute pet videos to inundate her friends.