Washington, D.C. (Rook Communications) December 3, 2009 -- A growing number of homophobic incidents where skilled gay grapplers are bashed at MMA and Jiu-Jitsu schools is tarnishing one of the most popular sports. Among other topics, the new wrestling documentary, STRONGHOLD: In the Grip of Wrestling, looks at what happened to one gay-identified grappler in a South Carolina jiu-jitsu school.
The student describes in detail how another grappler unintentionally outed him by bragging about how well he had done at a jiu-jitsu tournament on a gay website. This led to death threats, calls in the middle of the night telling him to leave South Carolina, and eventually not being allowed to participate in any tournaments. The student did nothing wrong, did not act inappropriately at the school, and took grappling as seriously as any other heterosexual counterpart. The sensei (grappling instructor) at the school even admitted he was a great grappler, but buckled under the pressure. He told him he could not come back. All because he was gay.
Though it may seem like a rare one-time incident, it is becoming increasingly evident that the ultra-machismo stereotype created by MMA and UFC broadcasts has resulted in an unpleasant homophobic environment at many jiu-jitsu schools.
Filmmaker, Victor Rook, describes how he first came about knowledge of this. "It was about six months into making the STRONGHOLD documentary on wrestling when I decided that I wanted to also include jiu-jitsu as a great alternative for adult men to wrestle, since there are so few other opportunities outside of open amateur tournaments. I heard about what happened to this man, and also got calls from other gay grapplers who were frightened by how they were treated. Then I learned that 1 in 10 bashing incidents in Brazil are attributed to rogue Jiu-Jitsu grapplers beating up on the homeless and gay men. I was very disheartened by this because I always thought that along with the skill needed in the sport, respect for your opponent and others was also of utmost importance in any MMA ideology. I went out of my way to find a jiu-jitsu school that could address this situation."
Both Grappler's Quest and NAGA, two of the largest MMA tournament organizations, were asked to assist Mr. Rook in finding a model school, but neither were of much help. Eventually an old college mate tipped him off on a school in Michigan that spoke openly about the topic, saying, "people who treat other grapplers with such disrespect are cowards."
Recently there has been a surge of articles on whether or not 'MMA is gay,' or has a homoerotic appeal. Most have been written by writers with no real knowledge of the subject, going on pure speculation. STRONGHOLD made a point to cover both wrestling homoeroticism and homophobia in-depth, with a psychologist, to see how it has affected the overall sport.
"Certainly wrestling does have a homoerotic appeal for many, which is why people make gay jokes about it constantly. People make jokes like that because they are uncomfortable with their own feelings. Many guys grew up collecting wrestling magazines and watching midnight pro wrestling because they were attracted to the ultra-masculinity. And yes, quite frankly, they got off to what they saw. I've heard this over and over again from thousands of men, both gay and straight, married and single. This is just a normal part of development," says Rook.
"But whether someone is a gay or straight-identified grappler, it makes no difference. When they participate in a public competition or school, they only have one thing on their mind--not getting their asses kicked and doing their best at the sport," he adds.