*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.
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.
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?