Deciding which BJJ school to train at
Setting foot into a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym can be an intimidating prospect. Entering any place of learning can be a tricky situation for most people (Remember your first day in school/college/university?). The general public perception of BJJ gyms are that they are full of muscle-heads trying to smash each other in a grimy old basement. Nowadays this could not be further than the truth! Learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is incredibly rewarding and fun, especially if you choose the right gym. For this reason I have created this guide which includes 10 things to look for in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym.
This guide can be used alongside my other article : Getting started in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
1. Where will I be training?
For me, the location of the gym is quite possibly the most important consideration when it comes to things to look for in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym.
Think about it….You finish a gruelling day at work, Colin from Accounts has been on your case all day for your quarterly report. Tiredness is in danger of taking over, your mood is low but you can’t wait to try a new choke out on your buddies. (You were obviously watching BJJ videos at work instead of working on that report weren’t you?). You rush home, get your kit ready and kiss your wife goodbye before heading out for another night at your happy place.
Then you get stuck in the rush hour traffic, missing class. All because your choice of school is at the other end of the busiest road through town. Frustrating right?
Location should be at the front of your mind when looking for a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school. Use Google maps to check your route distance and time. More importantly, find out how long the journey will take during the times that you expect to train.
Looking for a BJJ gym in London? Check out this post ‘Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in London’
2. When can I train?
Most BJJ schools will publish their timetable through their website or social media channels. To make sure the timetable works for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- Which days do I want to train?
- What times will I be able to train?
- What kind of classes will I want to take? Gi, Nogi, Wrestling, etc
- How many classes in total are available?
Combine the answers to each of the above to understand how frequently you will be able to train in your chosen style.
3. Who is the instructor taking classes?
Some BJJ schools will include information on their instructors. If they don’t, you should treat this as a potential red flag against the school. One of the things to look for in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym is to know and understand who you will be learning from. This will ensure that you are more likely to be receiving quality BJJ instruction.
In addition to this, some BJJ schools will feature their head instructor in their advertisements but have a team of coaches running the day to day classes. There is nothing wrong with this but it is just something to be aware of when choosing a BJJ school.
For example, which would you choose?
A: A famous world champion black belt as head instructor who teaches once or twice per year? With the day to day classes being taught by lower level belts.
Or B: An independent school with a black belt owner who teaches every class on a daily basis?
4. What is the instructors lineage?
Who did the instructor learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from? Who was his/her teacher? Where did their teachers learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from?
These are all very important questions as the ability, style (the ‘game’ the instructor performs – e.g. Mike Tyson is quick, explosive combinations whereas Lennox Lewis would box cautiously behind a jab) type of techniques they use will be influenced by their teachers while coming up the ranks.
A lot of schools will have pictures of the founders of BJJ alongside the original founders of the school. Each level of lineage of the instructor may also be on display.
If you are unfamiliar with the names in any given lineage, take a look at a site like BJJ Heroes. Here you can learn about the top coaches and competitors past and present along with their lineage. You can also ask questions in Reddit’s r/bjj community. With over 100k members worldwide it is the largest online discussion resource dedicated to BJJ. It has been an invaluable tool for me over the last few years.
5. What kind of culture does it have?
What kind of gym is it? Is it competition focused? Self defence orientated? This will have a bearing on the teaching methodology.
For example a competition focused school will teach you how to win a BJJ match within a certain rule-set (also known as ‘Sport Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’). A school with foundations in self defence would focus more on the application of techniques to survive life-threatening situations.
Is it just BJJ or are there other classes available such as MMA, Thai Boxing, Wrestling? Learning other disciplines can be fun and will also make you a more well rounded fighter. However this could mean fewer BJJ classes than you would get at a BJJ-only school.
6. How many of each coloured belts are there?
This means how many students there are at each belt level. Ideally it would be well balanced with a large proportion of inexperienced beginners and blue belts. Additionally having a good amount of purple and brown belts indicates that the school has a healthy and well established environment.
If the only students you see are lower belts, it may be that the school is new or that BJJ is not yet popular enough in the area. It could also mean that there is a toxic gym culture or that the training is not challenging enough for upper belts to stay around.
Having a good depth of students means that you will always have someone to learn from as you climb the ranks. Senior belts can also help out when the instructor is not available.
7. How clean is the place (and the other students)?
Take a good look around the gym. Are the mats clean? Is the changing area organised and cleaned regularly? Does the facility have a bathroom/toilets, and if so are they regularly cleaned?
Equally important, do the students follow good hygiene practices? No shoes on the mat, no bare feet off the mat. Trimmed nails, clean clothing, nobody training while sick?
I can’t stress the importance of good hygiene enough. Skin infections are common but only in BJJ schools which do not follow good practices in all of the above areas. Those infections can keep you out of training for long periods of time, but more importantly they can kill you.
8. What kind of people train there?
Most BJJ schools are family friendly and have a diverse range of people training at any given time. A typical class at my gym can include pro MMA fighters and mid-40s hobbyists just looking for some fun rolls between work and family commitments.
Another of the things to look for in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym is that there is a healthy balance of all kinds of people. Good instructors carefully handpick suitable pairs based on size, age, ability, etc. This ensures that everyone enjoys a productive class. As a more ‘mature’ grappler I would generally avoid a gym which does not include at least a handful of older students.
9. How much will it cost?
It can be difficult to find out how much it costs to train in BJJ. A common practice is for a school to ask you to take a trial class before discussing prices. My opinion is that the comparatively high cost of BJJ against other martial arts could cause prospective students to take up a cheaper option such as Karate or Taekwondo. Getting their foot in the door is the first step towards showing a prospective student the benefits and effectiveness of BJJ.
Be aware of some costs which you may not have factored in such as uniform purchase, travel costs, car parking fees, and increased cost in laundry from the sweaty gear you will be washing every day!
10. Is there any small print?
This smoothly follows on from my advice on costs. If you are asked to sign a contract, make sure you read it carefully before signing. Just like you would when joining a fitness gym or entering any other service agreement.
Is there a uniform policy? Meaning that you may be required to wear only their gi, rashguard and shorts – all of which can increase the overall cost significantly.
Be on the lookout for administration fees, early cancellation costs, belt promotion fees (they do exist!). If you are unsure about something always ask questions before signing a contract.
There you have it. 10 things to look for when choosing a BJJ school. I hope you enjoyed it.