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  • Writer's pictureRyan Gossen

Why BJJ Black Belts smell so good?

The next time you meet a black belt as they enter the gym, go up and smell them. What is that, cedar? And Listerine? This person, your senior, has given twice as much consideration to you as you have to them, and you haven't (read more below)

even slapped hands yet. This is high level Jiu Jitsu. I'm tempted to say, the higher the belt, the better the smell, but I can’t tell the difference in smell beyond one-stripe black belt, much like I can’t judge the quality of high end wines.

When you start training, you learn new skills other than Jiu Jitsu: how to push yourself, how to cross train, how to eat, how to shut up in class, how to get over perceived disrespect, how to live with imposter syndrome, how to keep pushing when you want to stop, how to give up and tap.

Some of these things are a surprise. You thought you were just signing up to learn this physical thing, maybe overcome some fear, but then all this baggage reveals itself. If you hang in there, you must find ways to transcend yourself and beyond that, there is an even higher level: laundry.

First you have the one gi. Do you need to wash it after every class? You get a second gi, a third. You experiment with air drying and stain remover. Maybe you try bleach. Statistically, you are probably a young man and, I don't mean any disrespect when I say this, you might be used to your mom doing your laundry. You are out of your depth.

There are guys that just smell bad. Maybe its diet, or stress from work, or they just reek when they sweat. They might be otherwise great training partners and it's not that important, just something the rest of us will get used to, but dirty gi smell is different. It happens when a gi is sweat in, put away somewhere without ventilation, and put back on. In the summer when it's humid, the funk may descend on your gi if you leave it in the washer for a couple hours before drying it and it doesn't seem fair. But dirty gi smell is a sign of immaturity, poor hygiene, lack of control over the basic elements of your life, and disrespect to your training partners. Coming to class in a clean gi is about more than smell, it's about Ringworm, Impetigo, Herpes Simplex, Staph... You wouldn't train at a gym if you knew they didn't clean the mats properly. Same goes for your training partner and their gi.

Before you go out on a date, you make sure you’re clean and you smell good because you want another person to feel comfortable being physically close to you. While intimacy is not the goal of bjj training, it is part of it and there is a very good chance you will be more physically intimate with your training partners than with anyone else this week. You may think of it as just going to work out with your bros, but the black belt understands the role those bros will play, and gives us that level of respect.

Jiu Jitsu is very hierarchical, so it was striking when I realized that people above me were

showing me more consideration than I was for them. I'm embarrassed to say how long it took me to notice this, and then to develop the patterns to deal with the laundry demands of a normal Jiu Jitsu practice. I'm a long way from belt belt, but it's never too soon to start working on the smell.

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