Some time ago, a fireman strong as a bull in New York caused a deep change in mindset in one of jiujitsu's most celebrated teachers, Renzo Gracie.
Renzo was at a pizza place when an unknown man, around 120kg, approached, causing Renzo to look up.
A fan of MMA and of the UFC, the fireman told Renzo his story. He had given jiujitsu a chance, but had tossed his gi aside one month later.
“I didn't know how to fight, and in the beginning it was all very tough. I'd lose all the time, I'd get beaten by all other students. I started feeling bad, uncomfortable, you know? I felt ridiculous on the mats. I felt like people made fun of me. And then I quit.”
That encounter, as Renzo says in his memoir, Renzo Gracie—A Heroic Life, hit him like a ton of bricks.
“The moment the guy told me that, I thought: I'm gonna have to change the whole concept related to the beginners, to the way of teaching a white-belt.”
The reasoning occurring after the metaphorical ton of bricks was this: boy, if a man with an impeccable physique like him felt bad practicing martial arts, how must the vast majority of individuals with so-called normal physiques—or smaller people—feel? Or overweight people, or executives with little time for physical activity?
Renzo went to his gym and changed the entire novice program:
“Starting that same day, I began putting great emphasis on the beginning of each student's process, to make sure they would not quit before reaching one month of jiujitsu. I gave special attention to new arrivals. I began sheltering the new students, understanding the specificities of each one as an individual, getting to know the person, learning their name, conversing and learning how they feel.”
Renzo studied and started realizing that it wasn't just jiujitsu:
“This happens a lot in weightlifting gyms around the world: most people go for two weeks, lose their enthusiasm and never return. If the person manages to stay for more than a month, that turns into a habit, and part of their life. After this period of initial adversity in the martial arts, something that is absolutely normal in the first 30 days, the student soon starts making friends, and their confidence—in others and in themselves—only tends to grow.”
Master Rickson, Renzo's cousin, has also spent many years dedicating special attention to the perfect method for jiujitsu to welcome new students, and not push them away for good like our fireman friend. Check out, in the following video, how Rickson thinks about this question.