BJJ: Is Your Gym Like a Bad Boyfriend?

*Please change the pronouns to your preferred gender.

Realizing you are at a Bad Gym sucks. What sucks even more is when you don’t realize you’re at a Bad Gym. I think some warning signs for “Are You Dating an Abusive Dude” articles are applicable here.

YOU FEEL ISOLATED

It’s totally normal to join a new social activity and feel alone. If you’ve been coming consistently for 3 months, you’re friendly, and folks still don’t say hello to you, don’t know your name, and you feel alone, that’s not normal.

YOU CRY A LOT

Tears are normal in jiu jitsu. A lot of tears are not normal. I think I’ve had a total of about 5 or 6 breakdowns during my five years training. I know that my occasional meltdown is not the norm, and usually is a symptom of my life being overwhelming. Only you know what is a lot for you. If jiu jitsu is mostly emotional upheaval for you, why?

YOUR GYM COMES WITH A DISCLAIMER

In my first few months I chatted with a black belt in another state. “My instructor doesn’t roll with me.” “That’s a red flag,” he said. “My instructor doesn’t directly help me.” “That’s a red flag.” I ended up uncomfortably defending him. The instructor didn’t speak much English, I should have known X Y or Z, etc. “Haha I sound like I’m in an abusive relationship.” “You said it, not me.” A good school doesn’t come with a disclaimer.

YOU’RE NOT SUPPORTED

If you go to a tournament, does your gym help support you both in the gym and at the tournament? If you can’t understand things, do they help you or let you twist? If you reach out for help, do they help you or ignore you? With a good gym, you’re part of a team.

LOVE HURTS

Do folks intentionally hurt others? If someone makes a mistake, do they “teach them a lesson?” Do they retaliate against folks? Do they tell you you’re not “allowed” to tap to certain things? Do they require you do physically keep up with them even if you’re not able? Using jiu jitsu to physically injure someone is not okay. 

SO. MUCH. DRAMA.

Not every gym is a good fit for everyone, but what about folks who leave? Does the owner badmouth them? Are they all creontes? Is everything a Really Big Deal? Is everyone out to get him? Do they badmouth people on social media or engage in Vague-Booking? Are normal problems turned around as though you are the issue? Talking about issues should not be a potential script idea for a telenovela.

“Savage Seduction,” a Warehouse 13 Telenovela

WHAT DOES A GOOD GYM LOOK LIKE?

Here’s what a good gym looks like for ME. It is clean. The instructor rolls with the students. I feel welcome and part of the team. They care about my progress. They act professionally. There is a balance between strictly professional and strictly jiu jitsu. It is a neutrally-charged atmosphere that I would feel comfortable taking my son to.

I MIGHT BE AT A BAD GYM

What if you ARE at a bad gym? What does that mean? If you’re okay with it, big hugs to you, friend. Please take care of yourself because they won’t. If you’re not okay with it, it’s time to change gyms.

Don’t do it this way: girl dates boy. Girl doesn’t want to continue dating boy but she avoids confrontation, so instead of breaking up with him, she ignores him until he “gets the hint.” She starts dating new boy. She runs into old boy while she is with new boy. Drama ensues.

Do your best to behave as if changing gyms is in no way controversial, and you invite your coach to act profressionally. One way to do it is to simply say, “This will be my last month here.” Another way to do it is to say, “I don’t think this gym is a good fit for me. Do you have a recommendation of another gym for me?” The Jiu-Jitsu community is small, and your old coach WILL find out you’re training elsewhere. Rip that bandaid off in whatever form you feel comfortable: in person, phone, text, email, etc.

Please note: If you felt defensive reading this, ask yourself why – I have no idea who you  or your gym are, and in no way am I saying that yes to ONE of these = a bad gym. Only you can decide if your gym is good or bad for you.

Jiu-Jiu’s Question: What are some warning signs I missed? What does a good gym look like to YOU? Have you ever been with a bad gym? What brought it to your attention? How did you leave/deal with it? What advice would you give folks in a bad gym?

Leave a reply! Please remember that you are replying to an actual human being.

  1. So- Question to all the experienced- My gym isn’t bad. Most of the coaches are supportive and all but a few of my classmates are great! (there is always one in a group-that will never change) That said- we are not allowed to roll. Until you get your 4th stripe on your white belt, you are not allowed. I keep reading about people frustrated that they cant get a submission. Get one? We are not allowed to try. It takes 8 months minimum to get your stripes r/t testing schedule. Is it reasonable to have to pay for that many classes before you get to try? 2 or 3 times I’ve been in a class where at the end they would let us try to keep are partners in a hold we had just covered while they tried to escape. Other than that is it just drilling. I know of at least one person who left over this. Thoughts???

    • I’m so sorry that I took a 5 month break from reading/approving comments. What a jerk I am! From this point on, your comments are auto approved (unless you turn into a jerk, heh), so you can comment away and people can immediately read them.

      Here’s my feeling about rolling: I started IMMEDIATELY, and it was frustrating because I had literally nothing to pull from. I had zero jiu jitsu, and so I couldn’t use jiu jitsu. A former instructor once said that it’s sort of like going to a boxing class. They don’t put brand new people in the ring and say “okay…box!” because they won’t be boxing – they’ll be fighting. I think there is value in both – starting immediately as well as delaying starting. Those who prescribe to delaying rolling believe you need to build up a basic jiu jitsu vocabulary so that you can attempt to start a conversation. Can you imagine going to a Chinese language class and on day 1, when you learned the words for “horse” and “sing” and “fork” and you’re now supposed to get in a debate or a conversation with someone who has been learning for years? Of course not! You’d feel frustrated and overwhelmed, and you’d use English, yelling, hand waving instead of Chinese – because you don’t know any. What if, instead, they built up some basic vocabulary with you and THEN, after you’ve grasped SOME fundamentals, they put you in that situation?

      I don’t know which is right or wrong, but I do know I felt that overwhelming excitement and frustration. My thoughts are: you’re LEARNING jiu jitsu. It’s a long journey, and they’re trying to build you up to the point where you actually can USE jiu jitsu when you roll. If you don’t know jiu jitsu, you’ll be using strength, athleticism, and even just random flailing to get out of a submission rather than using jiu jitsu.

      It’s now so many months later, so my question now is: do you still feel the same way? Have you stuck with it or quit? What are your thoughts now?

  2. Glad you wrote this, hope you are doing well! Academy owners need to remember that, for most of us, BJJ is a hobby and something to do to unwind and have peace in your life.

    • Hi Ruben! Your comment is now approved (geez – 3 months later). I’ve found a gym to visit now – it’s now up to me to actually take initiative and go, and it sucks because now that I’ve NOT done BJJ for X months, it’s easier for me to NOT do it than to do it. 🙁 I’m going tonight, though.

      Your comments are now auto-approved, so anything you write will auto-show now! Ps. Thanks for your comment – I’m checking out your blog now! I hadn’t seen it before – I have the week off, so I will definitely be checking it out this week and commenting. 🙂 Thanks again for your comment!

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