Sunday, January 27, 2019

Finding the Right Gym: Personality Assessment

When you make the decision to join a jiu jitsu gym, finding the right fit is important. When Shelly and I began this silly adventure (as 37 year old former ultrarunner hippies), we inadvertently stumbled into the perfect gym for us - San Diego Fight Club in El Cajon, CA. By pure happenstance (I'll tell the story in a later post), we connected with Charlie Kohler (Nelson Monteiro black belt and former King of the Cage world champ, among other things.) 

It would be several years before we really understood just how lucky we were to find Charlie. Not only is he a god damned combat sport encyclopedia, but his personality matched ours to a T. Or is it "tee"? 

Anyway, Charlie was the perfect combination of sadistic (we like suffering and pain... see the "ultrarunner" comment above), analytical, and tough in the sense that he did not give us external validation when training jits, boxing, kickboxing, or mma. Neither Shelly nor I can tolerate empty affirmations; pats on the head make us uncomfortable. And he gave us the freedom to explore the sport on our own terms while still providing precise technical instruction and wisdom. We hated living in San Diego because we're country folk at heart, but we tolerated it for almost six years mostly because we loved Charlie (and our teammates.)

Anyway, during that time, we saw A LOT of people come and go. For some, jiu jitsu wasn't for them. For others, the gym culture wasn't the right fit. That resonated with me. As a public high school teacher, I fully understand the importance of finding a teacher that that fits YOUR personality. To that end, I'll share some of my collected wisdom on the matter (worth noting - I'm a psychology teacher with an academic background in experimental social psychology... this topic is a borderline obsession of mine.) To find a gym with the right fit, follow these steps. 

Step One: Understand yourself. Take this test. You'll get one of sixteen personality types based on the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. And yes, I fully understand the limitations of personality assessment, which includes a complete understanding of the Forer Effect. Still, I have been using this particular test in my classroom for years, and it's decent. And free. More importantly, it works for this particular purpose. 

Once you get your results, pay attention to the "Strengths and Weaknesses" section. And maybe the "Friendships" section. This will give you insight to what you need in regards to a gym environment. 

Step Two: Understand your coaches. This can be tricky if you don't actually know your coaches. In regards to the El Diablo Jits Project, we can tell you precisely who we are and what we're about. Or just get to know us. You'll know if we're a good fit pretty early on; we don't hide any part of our personality. Well, outside the bedroom, anyway. Mostly

If you're trying a gym other than El Diablo, just try it out for a month or three and pay close attention to the coaches and how they interact with students. And trust your intuition.

If you ARE interested in El Diablo, I'm going to go into considerable detail on myself because it's important my potential students really understand what I'm all about. If you only know me topically, I probably seem somewhat schizophrenic and definitely weird because I seem to be filled with a ton of contradictions. 

My Personality

I'm a mix of Debater and Logician. True to my experimental psychology background, life is one giant playful, adventurous experiment and I take an objective view on anything and everything. I love learning and love playing with and synthesizing new, unorthodox ideas. I blame my left-handedness

I thrive on creative problem-solving and am perpetually drawn to the unconventional (like this project.) I get annoyed with routine and tradition. I am constantly refining my underlying values and guiding principles, and go to great lengths to live precisely what I believe. Authenticity is incredibly important to me; I do not tolerate hypocrisy. As such, I tend to befriend people who are strong enough to point out my own hypocrisy; and I love them for that. 

I'm militantly open-minded and intellectually humble, but will argue incessantly and assertively not because I need to right, rather I need to fuel the internal debates in my head with new perspectives and ideas. I work off the assumption that I'm always wrong, so I'm on a perpetual journey to get closer and closer to the asymptote that is "the truth", but recognize it's a journey with no end.

I'm assertive, confident, and decisive. Irrationally, sometimes. I love to lead people and have zero tolerance for bad leadership or people who do not take responsibility for their actions. I hate childish melodrama or emotional outbursts; I consider both a serious character weakness. I can be extremely condescending to people who have strong opinions but can't back up said opinions with logic and reason. I do not tolerate drama queens, people who emotionally manipulate, or people who prey on the weak or gullible. I have a decidedly dark sense of humor and sarcasm is my second language.

I temper the abrasive parts of my personality with warmth, compassion, and humor, though I do not hand out any of those things to those who I feel are not deserving. I'm passionate about defending those who cannot defend themselves, but am disgusted by people who play the victim if they're otherwise capable to taking care of their own shit. 

I'm also humble on the mats and take jiu jitsu idioms like "check your ego at the door" and "there's winning and learning" incredibly seriously. I love getting my ass kicked on the mats not because I like to lose (I'm actually hyper-competitive but see the big picture), but rather because it affords me the best opportunity to learn. Iron sharpens iron, after all. I am, however, willing and able to dish out some "smashing pressure game" justice if needed, and I'll be giggling the whole time. 

I don't give a shit about belt rank, status symbols, fame, inducing envy in others, or receiving external affirmations. I'm not motivated by money, praise, winning medals, or otherwise trying to "prove" myself. I do what I do because it's intrinsically motivating. I do what I do for the journey, not to reach a destination. This is the reason I don't compete in bjj very often, but I DO have a strong desire to do one more mma fight before I'm sent out to pasture. Jiu jitsu competitions, to me, are just inconvenient, expensive training sessions. MMA, however, is a high like none I've ever experienced in my life. Despite being somewhat of a pacifist, I love recreational, consensual violence. 

I don't follow competitive jiu jitsu and am not impressed by name-dropping unless it's part of an intelligent conversation about something deeper. Celebrities, in my mind, are no different than you or I and deserve no special treatment or recognition. 

Shelly's a Campaigner and, to a lesser degree, also a Logician. I'll let her explain her own personality in a future post. 

Okay, so what's the next step after you get to know your coaches? 

Step Three: Assess the match. Once you learn about yourself and you learn about your potential coaches, decide if the match is acceptable. After all, you're probably going to spend a lot of time, money, sweat, blood, and tears on this endeavor. The right match will be the difference between sticking with this sport for the rest of your life (pro tip: follow the advice of those who have come before us and don't make earning a black belt your goal), or dropping out at the first sign of adversity. 

If you're training at another gym, this will require a bit of intuition. Though you can use those personalities on the 16personalities website as a rough guide (you'll have to guess what their type is, but it's not too difficult.) Or just talk them into taking the test. 

If you're interested in El Diablo, I can make it easy. Like I said earlier, I've used this methodology in the classroom for years. I can teach any of the personality types, but some definitely resonate with my personality better than others. In regards to El Diablo, a better fit will definitely result in a far more positive experience. 

The Best Matches

This list goes in approximate order from best to worst fits.
  • Debaters (ENTP): This is my type; this is also one of the two types that typically become my closest personal friends. Debaters intuitively "get" me (and I them), which frees up our time to spend doing the weird shit debaters like to do. 
  • Campaigners (ENFP): This is Shelly's primary personality type. We've been together since the mid-aughts, which probably tells you all you need to know about my ability to work with this type. Campaigners are basically deep-thinking Debaters with more of a focus on the emotional than the logical, so we tend to compliment each other well while still intuitively understanding each other. This is the other type of personality that usually results in close personal friendships. 
  • Commanders (ENTJ): We share a love of logical reasoning, and we also share a love of leading. As such, I love bouncing ideas off Commanders. I usually become pretty close friends with Commanders. 
  • Architects (INTJ): Architects possess the intellectual curiosity and emotional resilience to thrive under me, but there's just enough of a difference to provide a great mutually-beneficial relationship.
  • Logicians (INTP): Logicians *should* be higher on the list given I'm kinda an INTP some of the time, but we tend to argue a lot. While it's not upsetting to each other (we argue logic and don't take it personally), it can be annoying to bystanders. I try to surround myself with other Logicians, more than any other personality type, have the unique ability to call me out on ALL of my hypocrisy, especially that which I do not see. That's incredibly important to me, which is why I have so much respect for fellow Logicians.
  • Virtuosos (ISTP): What I do in my head, Virtuosos do in real life. These guys are basically a practical manifestation of creative problem-solving, and we tend to develop mutually-satisfying relationships in anything in general and in jiu jitsu in particular. When teaming with Virtuosos, there's not much we can't accomplish.
  • Entrepreneurs (ESTP): Entertainers work well with me because they love to play. Their lack of seriousness fits well, though they sometimes get bored with my incessant logical reasoning.

The "Meh" Matches

There's only two in this category; there's not much middle ground in this whole "personality" thing.

  • Entertainers (ESFP): I love Entertainers; we share a sense of adventure and a bend towards uninhibited hedonism. Unfortunately, my sometimes unintentional criticism can be too harsh for them. This personality type can be wonderful if the Entertainer has developed somewhat thick skin.
  • Protagonists (ENFJ): Like the Entertainers, the biggest issue with Protagonists tends to be their sensitivity. Likewise, if they have thicker skin, the relationship is usually solid. 

The Bad Matches

Still listed in order from best to absolute worst. If you fall into this category, pay very close attention to the areas of conflict. I don't change who I am to accommodate, so you'd have to decide how flexible you're willing to be. Or, minimally, be willing to directly address the issue with me. Direct, immediate communication initiated by the student is absolutely necessary for these types. 

  • Advocates (INFJ): While I share a desire to change the world with Advocates, their sensitivity and perfectionist tendencies sometimes make it difficult to tolerate my ad hoc, freewheeling style. I usually either end up offending them or driving them crazy with my "good enough" approach to anything and everything. They can usually benefit from a more gentle, structured approach.
  • Mediators (INFP): I love Mediators; they're almost always genuinely kind, compassionate people. And we share a love of trying to see the big picture. Unfortunately, their tendency to take things personally almost always results in hurt feelings that do not get resolved, which eventually leads to resentment. Mediators usually require a more gentle approach.
  • Adventurers (ISFP): I love adventurers' tendency to screw with social norms; that shared love can result in great relationships. Their fluctuating self-esteem, coupled with inherent competitiveness, can result in a lot of misunderstandings, especially on the mat. And their typical high-strung nature doesn't always gel with my laid-back "chill" tendencies. They could benefit from a coach with more desire to prove themselves. 

The Matches I'll Likely Refuse to Work With

When it comes to compatibility, these personality types are the worst of the worst for me. It is difficult for me to teach these personality types, and it's difficult for them to learn from me. Conflicts and misunderstandings will be too frequent to establish any type of mutually-beneficial working relationship. Each one of these groups would definitely not enjoy the El Diablo culture and would be far better served training elsewhere, and I'd be happy to help them find that better fit. 

  • Consuls (ESFJ): Consuls are great because they're basically social glue, which is an awesome trait. But it's the other stuff that's problematic. Consuls need too much external validation (if I sense you need praise, I will refuse to give it; I'm a dick that way), do not take criticism well, are too inflexible, and are too concerned with social status for me to work with in this capacity. Consuls could benefit from a coach who is more sensitive to their emotional needs.
  • Logisticians (ISTJ): I have great respect for Logisticians, but my entire personality is based on going against convention. That's the precise opposite of logisticians. Basically, I drive them insane, and they usually blame themselves for this. This is a clear case of "It's me, not you that's the problem." Because of this, I avoid working with Logisticians. Logisticians would be better served in a far more traditional "academy." Look for the places where the coaches call themselves "professors" or "sensei."  
  • Defender (ISFJ): I share Defenders' desire to protect the weak, but their tendency to internalize will always cause problems. My assertive, blunt personality will offend them on a regular basis, but the hurt feelings never get resolved. So they build until they explode. That's never pretty. Defenders will be be better served to seek out more sensitive coaches. 
  • Executive (ESTJ): Being at the bottom of this list is about all you have to know about my ability to work with Executives. This personality type is so profoundly different than mine, there's no hope of producing a productive relationship. Executives would be better served finding coaches with far more structure and rigidity, perhaps those with a military background.


Finding an environment that matches your personality is important in jiu jitsu. Any ethical gym owner will make at least some attempt to recruit students who fit in well. Here at the El Diablo Jiu, this is a major priority for us, not only for the sake of our students, but also for the sake of Shelly and I. We care far more about creating the environment we know we need to thrive and succeed than padding our rosters and bank accounts. 

Will we lose potential students?

Sure. But guiding people to gyms that provide a better fit will serve the greater purpose of spreading this sport to the masses and improving the collective community. We take the abundance mentality seriously, and this is one such manifestation of the idea that really matters. 


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