Jiu Jitsu gyms are as different as the people who train in them. Choosing a BJJ gym that fits you and offers credible instruction is an important task. There are several factors to consider when finding the right gym for you, such as technical style, gym culture, and overall compatibility. So taking time to do your research is essential.
Not All BJJ Gyms Are The Same
The only thing that all BJJ gyms have in common is that they teach Jiu Jitsu. Other than that, you’ll find that every gym has its own style, culture, and goals. Some gyms are run in a regimented way while others are more casual.
For example, my professor specifically teaches Gracie Jiu Jitsu. We only wear white or blue gis, and white belts follow the Gracie curriculum for stripe requirements until they reach blue belt. The self defense aspect of Jiu Jitsu is highly regarded in our school in addition to competitive techniques.
On the other hand, I have friends who attend gyms that are not Gracie specific and are more informal. They allow any color gi to be worn and have no particular promotion requirements. Some don’t teach self defense classes at all.
Then there are some gyms that operate as a mix between traditional and casual. They may require a specific type of gi, but have no set promotional requirements. Or they may allow any color gi from pink to tie-dye, but may have tests in order to level up.
Within these worlds are different gym cultures. Some seek gyms that have a family-friendly atmosphere, while others want aggressive rolls or competition culture.
Most Common BJJ Gym Types
The Huge Academy
Large schools like Gracie Barra function as a chain with hundreds of schools worldwide that all operate the same way. They have the same rules and instructional formats under which each franchise owner operates. Gracie Barra, in particular, also requires their students to wear GB branded gear.
Some may attribute this to a McDojo style (mentioned below) where the school requires you to buy their merch. However this factor alone is not always a good indicator on whether to label a school a McDojo. Gracie Barra has a good reputation in molding world champion competitors and bears a credible name.
Huge academies can work well for anyone looking for camaraderie on a large scale. Those who travel can benefit from huge academies because they should be able to find a school that bears their name nationally or worldwide.
The Competitors’ Lair
Competition focused schools usually have a full schedule of competition-based classes as well as ones for the hobbyist. Schools like Atos BJJ in California and Renzo Gracie Academy in NYC are great examples of the Competitor’s Lair (though Renzo’s can also be considered a Huge Academy).
In these gyms, aggressive, fast-paced competition classes focus on strategic methods and techniques paired along with intense training sessions to help their students win championships, such as IBJJF and ADCC. If you have a competition mindset and are up for the challenge, you should consider this type of gym.
The Recreational BJJ Gym
The Recreational BJJ Gym is for those who are not interested in serious competition, but love the sport of BJJ and the atmosphere it creates. The recreational BJJ gym member is more interested in making friends and having fun while learning the art and challenging him/herself.
Most gyms can be classified as a recreational BJJ gym with members from a wide variety of backgrounds. In the recreational gym, you can find the high school wrestler rolling with the 40-year-old lawyer or the mother or father of two training while their children take the kids’ class.
The most casual of all of the gym types, the recreational BJJ Gym will suit most laypeople.
The No-Gi Universe
Gyms like Eddie Bravo’s 10th Planet focus mainly on no-gi. Since no-gi is infamously fast-paced, these gyms are also suitable for practitioners interested in competition or a killer workout.
Those who want to cultivate speed and flexibility would be a good fit for the No-Gi Universe. The No Gi Universe can overlap with the Competitor’s Lair, as these gyms often produce high-level athletes and world champions.
Mixed Martial Arts Gyms
Many people join Jiu Jitsu gyms because they watch the UFC. Most MMA gyms hold BJJ classes. However, they’re not as traditional as, say, a Gracie BJJ gym. These gyms offer striking, Jiu Jitsu, and combination classes.
If your goal is geared more towards the MMA side of things, this gym would be a good fit. But if you want a deep foundation in BJJ, a more traditional route would be the way to go.
Some practitioners choose to split their time between MMA and traditional BJJ gyms, which helps them get a good foundation in all aspects of fighting.
And last, but certainly not least, is the McDojo. Ah, the McDojo. This gym will charge you for everything from your gi to your stripes. Though these schools may have legit instructors, their main concern is making a profit off of you.
The McDojo will force you to pay for everything: your gi, your belts, and possibly promotional tests. When picking a BJJ gym, one rule of thumb is to stay far away if they make you pay for everything, especially promotions which should be earned not bought.
Beware of the McDojo who doesn’t have a credible instructor. Always research your instructor’s credentials. If they’re not listed on the gym’s website, ask the instructor. If he/she won’t give up his/her credentials, that’s a giant red flag.
If his/her background is genuine, it’s something to be proud of. The instructor should be an open book about his/her credentials. Don’t be afraid to ask and to research the information you’ve been given. Your instructor should have a lineage and you should be able to easily research that lineage. If not, move on to the next gym.
How To Choose A BJJ Gym For You?
When choosing a BJJ gym, ask yourself, “What are my Jiu Jitsu goals, and what is my preferred training style?” Then you can decide which type of gym is right for you. Sometimes more than one gym will suit a practitioner, just as the Competitor’s Lair and the No-Gi Universe may serve the same purpose.
Choosing a BJJ gym is really about finding a gym that will complement your personality and goals. Once you find a gym to try out, check out the instructor’s credentials and teaching style.
Participate in a trial class and pay attention to how he/she teaches. Look at how the classes are arranged. Are they all technique, all rolling, situationals, a combination?
I would also suggest staying after class and watching the students roll. You can tell a lot about a gym from the students—how they roll, how they interact with each other, and how the instructor interacts with them. If you have any bad feelings, walk away, and try another gym.
When choosing a gym, consider the options and how they can benefit you. Remember, you don’t have to choose a gym in a day or even a week. Take your time.
Though it’s not terrible to switch gyms, I’d recommend avoiding it, if possible, by choosing the type of gym that’s right for you from the start. There is no pressure unless you place it on yourself. Take your time and choose wisely.
Kimberly is a Jiu Jitsu purple belt who also holds a black belt in Siljun Dobup Korean Sword Arts. When she’s not on the mats, she enjoys immersing herself in nature or a good book. She trains in New Jersey with her 9-year-old son.