If you are new to BJJ you may have heard of the term gym or mat enforcer but not quite know what it means. This term has been butchered over the years but it’s time to breakdown its origins and if enforcers still exist today.
What Is A BJJ Gym Enforcer?
A BJJ gym enforcer is a skilled student who the coach uses to protect the integrity and safety of the gym. If another athlete joins the gym and starts beating up other students then the enforcer will put that person in place by giving them a taste of their own medicine.
A BJJ gym enforcer may seem like a strange concept and something that is a little medieval but you have to understand the history of BJJ.
When BJJ academies were first opening in the 90s and early 2000s in the US you would often get other martial artists, street fighters, and local tough guys dropping into BJJ gyms looking to test themselves and the martial art.
The Gracies always had an open-door policy that stated that anyone could show up and fight a BJJ athlete. They were always ready to demonstrate the effectiveness of BJJ. Many of these matches were filmed and can be seen online. They were dubbed Gracie in action tapes.
BJJ coaches would often select their best students to accept these challenges and defend the gym’s honor and the effectiveness of the martial art. These highly skilled chosen students were the original gym enforcers.
They would fight anyone who walked through the door in a no rules fight that often included biting, eye gouging and genital strikes. Gym enforcers showed immense bravery taking on these fights at a moment’s notice.
These enforcers ensured that other students were kept safe when random people showed up looking for a fight and the martial art’s reputation as being powerful remained intact.
Matt Serra, former UFC champion was known as the original mat enforcer at Renzo Gracie’s gym in New York. John Danaher has told stories of Serra when he was a teenager and in his early 20s fighting numerous crazies who walked in off the street looking for a fight. Serra never backed down and was always able to win.
As BJJ has become more mainstream and gyms have become commercialized the days of the original mat enforcers having no holds barred fights with street fighters and black belts in the middle of the gym are long gone.
If this era has passed why do gym enforcers still exist?
Nowadays mat and gym enforcers are a shadow of their former self. They are now really only used when an upper belt from another Jiu Jitsu academy or a high level wrestler or Judoka shows up with something to prove.
These ego-fueled high level grapplers occasionally like to show up at random gyms and embarrass the students by destroying them during sparring. This makes the coach look incompetent and has the potential to injure or discourage the students.
To prevent this situation if a coach sees a new skilled athlete going too hard in sparring they will send in their best student to beat up the visitor. After getting his ass handed to him the visitor will often get the message, check their ego and tone down their behavior.
Some people like to claim they are a mat enforcer when they take it on themselves to roll hard and put an over-eager white belt in their place. You can hardly call this being a mat enforcer as in this situation the white belt has no idea what they are doing is wrong and it would be more effective to tell them to calm down.
Gym enforcers are a hotly debated topic in BJJ. Some are against them and believe that they are an ineffective way to get unruly athletes to conform to gym’s rules. While others think they are the only way to get the message through to out of control Jiu Jitsu players.
What can’t be debated is the glory days of being an old school BJJ gym enforcer and fighting Kung-Fu black belts, bar fighters, and local nutjobs are over.