Elements Of A BJJ Gym’s Culture

A few weeks ago I wrote about how to research potential Jiu Jitsu gyms.  The choices can seem daunting to someone who is new.  At the core, there are 3 main elements of a BJJ gym that deeply effect culture.  Analyzing these can help make the decision process easier.

  1. Training Style
  2. Teaching Style
  3. How The Academy Is Run

Each element is important, but very few gyms will be perfect in all three.  Depending on your goals, certain elements will be more important to you than others.  Just like picking your favorite car, there is no wrong answer (and probably no perfect answer either)!

I have chosen to focus on a few exaggerated examples gym types as examples for each of the 3 main elements.  My hope is that you can start to see how any type of environment will have both its positives and negatives.  For me, a gym which practices good hygiene is non-negotiable, but for someone else may seem less important.

Picking A Gym Is Tough - Purple Belt Action Shot


The 3 Elements Of A BJJ Gym In Action – (With Examples)

I’m going to take it for granted that you’ve already overcome the main obstacles to start training and are ready.  Here are some things to keep an eye on in potential gyms.

1.) This is Sparta! – Training Style Example

The main focus of this type of gym is in making everyone tough.  Everything is focused on gritting through hard workouts.  The upper belts feel like it is their duty to beat up the lower belts to toughen them up.  This approach is a double edged sword.

To new people it feels largely like being thrown into a shark tank and told to swim.  Similar to a hazing ritual, knowing that the upper belts made it through this process inspires new grapplers to keep aspiring to toughen up.

Does it work?

Interestingly enough, this type of gym actually can be very successful at producing top level competitors both in MMA and Jiu Jitsu.

The downside is the attrition caused by injuries or lack of nurturing skillsets.  Often the people who thrive in gyms like these are fairly athletic to begin with and I would wager they would also excel in other gyms off this list.

After all, if 80% of the white belts don’t make it, soon there will be a large division of experienced people beating up new people and the attrition will grow and grow.

I have seen more moderate gyms have success by engaging this “go hard” mode of training in short bursts. Instead of killing each other every day, the spend most of the time building each other up.  Optional training camps that last a few weeks to a month help prepare their competitors without making training unbearable for someone with minimal skills throughout the year.

Exhausted After Jiu Jitsu Training

Does it work for you?

Typically training at a level that can be maintained is ideal.  The “Sparta” mentality starts to wear down grapplers and is hard to maintain.  Injuries and getting discouraged are two huge reasons people may quit training.

Jiu Jitsu improvement is largely a factor of time, so if people can learn quality techniques, over time they will become better and better training partners to elevate an entire gym.

If you think this type of gym is a good fit for your goals and aspirations, I would really recommend getting your training in at a different gym to start for a few years to build some techniques, then transferring.

For competitors who have already been training for a few years and feel confident in their abilities to minimize injuries, this type of environment can be exactly what is needed to sharpen their sword and prepare them for battle.  For the casual hobbyist grappler, this environment can be an unwelcoming nightmare.

2.) The Academy – Teaching Style Example

A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym is a learning institution really.  The focus is on passing techniques down from experienced practitioners to less experienced practitioners.  Not all information is of the same quality or depth, and the teaching itself is an art form.

Instructors must be constantly learning through seminars, private lessons with other top level practitioners, and competition experiences.  This keeps a flow of new information coming into the school and trickling down the ranks.

Pre-planned curriculum allows for a structured learning environment.  Students learn the different needed concepts and never feel like they are wasting their time because the teacher is just “winging-it.”

While I would prefer someone who has depth to their teaching over a coach who can only advise me to “get mean with it and try harder,” there is such a thing as too technical.Tim Montiero Teaching A Seminar Walking Around Inspecting Technique

What’s the downside?

Sometimes an overly technique focused approach can become too clinical.  Remember, Jiu Jitsu isn’t just about knowing what a move is, but being able to apply it in under resistance.  Techniques don’t work in a bubble.  It has to be done to another actively resisting body to be judged as valid.

A bit of the “Sparta” mentality is required to make sure techniques are truly being mastered.  Making sure that under the guise of being technical we aren’t living in a fantasy world is really important.  Of course the movement works when our partner cooperates.  What if they don’t?

A truly technical instructor should often have the answer or concept to countering the counter that counters the counter…AND be able to apply it.

3.) But Wait, There’s More – Running A Business

At their core, a gym is a business.  Money is what makes these businesses work., and some gyms focus on generating income first and foremost.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but make sure they selling you a quality product in a fair manner.  If you

Richard Teaching a seminar

followed my advice in researching a gym’s lineage, this probably won’t be as much of a problem.  Are they selling you a steak or just the sizzle?  If your spider senses are tingling, trying out another gym or two before signing on the line isn’t a bad idea.

I have seen some gyms where cross training and competing are discouraged largely because they are afraid that once their students make the comparison in technique they will know they have been scammed.  Information solves most of these problems, so if it seems like everyone has drank the kool-aid be wary.

What’s the alternative?

On the far other end of the spectrum are the gym’s that are run like a clubhouse or group of friends.  While this may be fun while it is small, there are huge growing pains created by lack of processes.  There is a lack of consistency and always a danger of a gym with a weak business model having to close their doors for good.

Stability is important to having an academy that allows growth.  It is hard to improve if you are helping move mats to a new location every few months.

A blend of business flexibility where the owner will work with students who fall on hard times, but also has structured management is my preferred mix. I want a gym that plans to be open for the long term constantly growing and improving.

The Perfect BJJ Gym

The Perfect Gym

A gym where quality technique is taught, and tested under fire against appropriately tough competition.  The business is in order so the 10 year journey to black belt is a clear, affordable path.  New people have a chance to flourish and thrive and become the next generation of leaders.  The older generation isn’t neglected just for new sign-ups but is also cultivated into ever better grapplers and human beings.

May your gym move ever closer to perfection my friends.  Have a great day.

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