Jiu Jiu’s Note: HAPPY SUMMER! It’s been a wild ride so far. Some key words: Road trip to Canada, Flight to Colorado, Crazy scavenger hunts, GISHWHES, 1st anniversary, 40th birthday, step-mom-ing, and family visiting! I’ll update in a non-BJJ post later.
I visited a gym in Lafayette, CO while staying with a friend, and she asked me to check out this gym with her. We went to check it out, and after the visit, she felt really good about it! There are several good articles about finding a good gym. One of my favorites is Valerie Worthington’s tips on choosing a BJJ gym. I also wrote an article about what you need/want in a BJJ gym, but after that visit, I realized a lot has changed in six years.
WHAT HAS CHANGED?
When I wrote my article about what I wanted in a gym, it was written from a place of pain. My first instructor, Myung-Hoon Choi, was a total trainwreck and it took a while to recover from him, an aside – this douche was arrested in 2015 for raping a woman! But I digress. I was an overweight woman, a no-stripe white belt, a foreigner who didn’t speak the language, and really out of shape, so I felt vulnerable in a way I no longer do.
Because I’m not emotionally vulnerable, finding an emotionally safe place isn’t even on my radar. I’m no longer solo in a foreign country, and between being burned at a few places and having a fancy new husband, I’m no longer eager to tie up my entire social life in a jiu jitsu gym. I no longer crave feeling valued or validated because my belt + gender + years in BJJ = value at most academies. Instead, the actual training is the most important to me now, along with the folks I am learning from and with.
CRITERIA I USE TO CHOOSE A PLACE
Before checking out ANY place, I always look at price, location, schedule. The school MUST fit these before I actually apply any of my criteria, so I don’t usually consider these “criteria” because they’re the minimum baseline.
After meeting the baseline, my first, most important criteria is the instructor. This is the person I will be learning from, and I want to feel good about giving them my money. I want someone 2+ belts/ranks higher than me. A brown belt is okay, black is better. I observe how they engage with the students – how they physically with students, how they address struggling students, how they interact with students after class, and even if they roll. I see how they interact with students off the mats.
The second most important criteria are the other students. I will be learning from and with them. I don’t need students to be overtly welcoming, although you have my heart if you are. I need them to be polite and amiable – a solidly positive neutral. I look for a variety of students – ones who can dominate me, and ones I can dominate. I look for hesitation in partnering with me, weird vibes, and aggressive language.
I also look at the atmosphere. I look for a focused yet friendly place to train. I don’t mind if it’s less on the professional side if it’s higher on the friendly side. I look for friendly competition rather than cutthroat attitudes. I also have started to think about whether I’d be comfortable taking my stepson to the gym.
When I stop by a place, I ask a series of questions. While none are necessarily deal breakers, they are things to consider, and the “wrong” answer often raises a yellow flag. Overall, I also look for how open and willing they are to answer these questions about their gym practices.
- How many women train here? Do any have colored belts? I hope for a mix, and I hope for at least some blue ladies. It’s hard to know if no women are there because no women have been there or if it is because they have driven off the women. I don’t actually mind being a groundbreaker at a school.
- How competitive is your school? What is the mix between competitor and hobbyist? I am a hobbyist. I think that having a competition-minded school can be good, but not at the point of making the hobbyist feel unwelcome. I don’t want a STFU and train school.
- How often do you clean your mats? Do you ask students to wash their belts? If someone came in a very stinky gi, what would you do? Because BJJ is so close contact, having good hygiene is important. It’s personally important to me – I wash my uniform AND belt every single time, but to be honest, I wouldn’t not train at a school if this were the only yellow flag. It would always bother me, though.
- Do you conduct belt testing or are people just given a belt at an appropriate time? Belt testing is fairly controversial in jiu jitsu. I was at one school that had it, and while I could verbally explain why, it never sat right with me.
- What are the uniform policies? Do we have to wear specific colors or brands? What about mixing and matching tops and bottoms? Do folks need to wear rash guards? I prefer a place where anything goes on gis. I also prefer a place where folks wear rash guards.
- How big are your classes? Do you still teach if only 1-2 people come? Small classes have the advantage of having more hands-on time with the instructor, while larger classes give you the advantage of more variety of partners. It’s problematic if people show up to class and are not taught.
MY ADVICE TO NEWBIES
Don’t worry about lineage, notoriety, etc. Don’t worry about the BEST school. Don’t worry about sport vs self-defense. Instead, find something you feel comfortable with and are willing to go to. Remove whatever barriers you have for starting. Choose a place you feel comfortable with which might include the training environment, how clean and well maintained a place is, how friendly or polite people are, how welcoming the instructor is, and how open they are to talking to you.
Jiu Jiu’s Question: What criteria do you use when looking for a gym? How has this changed since you started?