In most professions and disciplines you are either the student or the coach. You either commit yourself to learning and growing through the guidance of a mentor, or you give of yourself and your years of knowledge and skills in order help others learn and grow. It is rare to be both a competitive student of a discipline as well as a wise and selfless mentor or coach. At some point the selfishness of the student fiercely conflicts with the selfless generosity of the teacher.

I may be relatively new to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, but I have been around the world of martial arts for a decade now. Those who are truly great at teaching are generally not competitive or not successfully competitive and the athletes who choose to teach their sport for a living tend to always straddle with the line between their needs to train and better themselves and the time that teaching others can strip from their growth.

Athletes particularly in the fight space, are gruelingly selfish and inwardly focused. You hear countless ‘thank you speeches’ after fights where these athletes thank their families for the sacrifices made that have allowed them to achieve their glory. The media portrays stories of doting supportive wives and to a lesser extent, husbands who walk through hell with their competitive partners in order to achieve the goal in front of them.

I have been married to a selfless coach of MMA for ten years. The man has never canceled a session with a client due to the sniffles. He sacrifices early morning sleep-ins and family dinners in order to give of himself to his students. A fighter earning extra money through coaching will drop you like a hot cake in order to rest tired muscles or nurse a sore throat. They will gladly rise before the sun, not to teach a class but rather to attend to their own training needs. Their teaching style will often be reflective of their personal preferences rather than the possibilities for you as an individual and this something to consider when looking at your coach.

The bottom line is that a true coach will always put his students first and a fighter will always ensure that their needs finish first. I have huge respect and admiration for both coaches and fighters but after seeing friends struggle in wearing both hats simultaneously for years now I have officially decided that you can’t be both.