BJJ Advice & Opinions

My Thoughts On The Joe Schilling Incident

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There’s part of our collective psyche as humans that love watching people who deserve it, get beat up and get their due. It’s part of the reason why superhero movies are so popular. There are fewer things more satisfying than seeing a mighty fist of justice crush ne’er-do-wells. 

This narrative isn’t limited to superhero movies either. Look at Happy Gilmore. The ultimate schadenfreude climax of the film comes after Shooter McGavin, antagonist and all-around unlikeable character, is beaten by an angry mob of his detractors. 

Indeed, jerks are bad. And comeuppance is sweet.

Enter Joe Schilling, accomplished muay thai and MMA fighter. A viral video of him knocking out a bar patron, the latter of whom has clearly never been in a fight in his life, has exploded over the martial art corner of social media. 

Now, for context, we don’t know the full details of this story. Schilling has alleged that the encounter was “life-threatening,” which adds a different wrinkle to the story that may justify his actions. 

That said, the angle that we get makes him look like the aggressor, at least physically. The gentleman with the clip-on tie may have said something rude, but it’s not discernable in the audio in the video. 

Call it a cliche, but power does come with responsibility. And while it’s great to stand up to bullies, there is such a thing as excessive force, and we shouldn’t celebrate amongst ourselves when such an instance arises. 

Before getting too judgmental, though, this is not an attack on Joe Schilling personally. And this one instance certainly doesn’t define him as a person, and there could indeed be something the video doesn’t show that would change its entire context. However, from the information present, it looks like an overreaction to me. A very dangerous one, too.

A Bad Trend 

Most people who start martial arts have a history of being bullied. Indeed, you could pull one of the most accomplished, cauliflower-eared, grizzled black belt world champions off the mats, and after you talk to them for a while, you’ll peel the layers down and reveal a kid who was insecure and tired of being picked on. You rarely run into a super-star athlete that eschewed their careers in much more popular (and profitable) sports to do martial arts. 

Where non-practitioners see a physically fit and intimidating human weapon, many martial artists started out of shape, depressed, or lacking purpose and direction. 

Tons of examples of this exist. Watch the first episode of FloGrappling’s Daisy Fresh docuseries. The key members of the gym discuss where they would be without jiu-jitsu; a disturbing number of them answered that they would have taken their own lives by now. Even Robert Drysdale spoke of the issues he had before he started training. Being an American growing up in Brazil, he was ruthlessly bullied. 

People find martial arts, more often than not, out of necessity more than interest. And that need may turn into a desire to compete and be great in a sport eventually, but that is usually not the impetus initially.

As a result, martial arts practitioners often see the people like the man who accosted Schilling as the bully from their collective childhoods and the former as the arbiter of justice, taking a few considerable chunks off his ego. 

We need to be a good example for kids and new grapplers in our respective martial arts. John Danaher was correct, “martial arts, as a tool, are neutral. In the hands of a good person, they could be great. But in the hands of someone who isn’t of high morality, they could just make that person even more dangerous.” 

That’s why celebrating bar altercations gives off the impression that martial artists and those who understand violence as a whole are just pugnacious meatheads looking for a fight at any turn. 

Again, Schilling might not be “that guy,” but celebrating his bar altercation creates that appearance to onlookers. And we need to be better than that.  

Fighting Smart 

Everyone loves to see someone in the wrong get what’s coming to them. It’s a primal part of our nature that feeds some of our darker tendencies. We want to show people that the individual we once we’re no longer exists and that we aren’t to be walked on or trifled with. 

Seeing the clip, and given the context that we know thus far, nothing would have inhibited Schilling from nodding sarcastically to the patron wearing the tie and resuming his night– leaving him unharmed. 

Indeed, it’s clear that the clip-on-tie guy doesn’t understand violence, and both he and Schilling are lucky he’s still alive. As a community, we should celebrate individuals testing themselves, overcoming fear, and defending themselves when necessary. That said, this doesn’t appear to meet the criteria of an instance that required the use of force. 

We want our gyms to be open and assure parents that training their kids in the arts we love won’t turn them into people looking for a fight. And as someone who grew up being provoked by smaller bullies and often getting sucked into skirmishes, I can tell you that it’s always the person getting beat up that looks like the victim, regardless of what they did to anger you. 

Now I’m 35-year-old brown belt in jiu-jitsu that happens to be 6’4” and an ultra-heavyweight. I could stand next to the largest NFL players and not look small. This isn’t to brag about my physical stature, but it’s to say that I know about being accosted by people looking for fights. 

Smaller individuals that drank too much alcohol have shoved me to earn some bragging rights amongst their friends many times. I’ve also bounced in bars and had drinks– both in plastic and glass cups– thrown at my head with angry patrons cheering them on. So, I’m not coming from a position of ignorance on this matter. I’ve been in the situation that Joe Schilling was in countless times. I always took a deep breath, smiled, and walked away. 

I hope Schilling, who, again, might be a great person, but made a mistake, learns from this and moves past it. I also hope the person who got punched makes a full recovery and chooses to be more respectful to those around him. But, I really hope that, as a community, we can stop glorifying instances that should, honestly, be shamefully forgotten.



Jeff Nelson is a brown belt under Danilo Cherman of Team Nova Uniao. He started training jiu-jitsu in 2014, and he always complains about Star Wars on his personal Instagram account.

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