5 Tips on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gym Selection
As a white belt who has recently sampled his fair share of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms both in the Portland area and beyond, I wanted to write briefly about my experiences, and what I found to be the significant factors, when it came to selecting the BJJ gym I felt was right for me. Hopefully this might help prospective students of the art in their own selection, or even provide coaches and students with a reminder of what they can do to make new-faces feel like they have come to the right place.
5 Things to look for in a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Gym
It is no doubt a cliché to say it, but first impressions count. This is true throughout life; starting a job interview, welcoming a potential customer, meeting the in-laws, but it is especially true when it comes to entering a BJJ gym for the first time. With Brazilian jiu jitsu having such a presence in MMA, UFC, and its legions of rabid fans, a complete newcomer walking through the doors has no idea what to expect, and with aggressive photos and logos adorning the walls, it can feel like a sheep wandering into a den of wolves. Whilst it may not be a sign of the quality of the coaching at a gym, I’ve found that the presence of a welcoming face, accepting of new-comers and honest inquiries, is a great early indicator of the gym’s ethos and approach to the sport. Perhaps it is dependent on what you want to achieve, but a friendly welcome is a good early sign that your training will be fun.
When arriving at the gym for the first time, and when lining up for a trial class, one can’t help but notice the other students they are about to train with. In fact, I think it is wise to make a point of doing so. Not so that you can figure out who you might be stronger than, or because you like to discriminate for no apparent reason(!), but because the students can be an excellent indicator of the character of the gym, as well as the quality of the coaching. SBG Coach Cane Prevost has written an excellent article regarding this over on his blog (http://www.caneprevost.com/2013/05/10/evaluate-a-gym-in-5-minutes-or-less/ ), and it holds true that a gym which attracts only one type of student does so for a reason. From my own experiences, I can recall multiple trial sessions that have had me lined-up
and bowing-in with a bunch of muscular jocks, who inevitably train so hard and with so much aggression, that a beginner can be left wondering what if anything they’ve learnt (and if they’ll be able to lift their arms tomorrow). Looking for a diverse group suggests
a gym that is open and accepting of all levels of skill and athleticism, and finds a healthy balance between serious training and a fun atmosphere.
Be it Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, chess, a foreign language, or the piano, a beginner is a beginner; they will have questions, and they will make mistakes. In selecting a gym, I looked for a coach who would spend a great deal of time explaining fundamentals simply and clearly, and one who allowed, and indeed welcomed, questions and input from the students. In a sport where the slightest shift in posture and pressure can be the difference between a dominant position and being easily swept, attention should be paid to ensure beginners are grasping the fundamentals. I feel when it comes to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the emphasis of the coach should be in the role of teacher, not personal trainer; one who slows you down, makes corrections, and points you in the right direction, not one who fires you up my dominating you and pushing you beyond your comfort zone.
Along with a patient and competent coach, this, to me, is essential. In trying to identify a gym to join, I have found it is all too common that many have little apparent structure to either their individual classes, or their curriculum as a whole. In my experience, classes can often be little more than a brief demonstration of one particular position, posture, escape or submission, followed by ten minutes of running through it in pairs, before 45 minutes of open-rolling. The benefits of spending time rolling are obvious, but for the beginner, this should be secondary to the need for understanding of the fundamentals. Introductions to various postures, pressures and techniques, and the ability to recognize scenarios that call for them through training with gradual increases in resistance, allow a student to apply these skills more effectively when a live roll eventually occurs. Being thrown in at the deep end only leads to the beginner splashing around and panicking in an attempt to survive. A good Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym should have structure both in each of its classes, and throughout its curriculum as a whole.
I’ve saved this one for last, because I think it incorporates a lot of what I’ve already said, whilst adding a final thought that is a little hard to pin down. With the wide array of potential gyms open currently, when making a choice, one has to find a gym with a strong identity, and an identity that fits in with what the student is seeking. This could be present in a number of ways, from a long and illustrious history, to a clearly defined approach to coaching, but it should be present in every aspect of the gym as a whole. A gym’s identity, if strong enough, will be evident in the approach of the coaches, in the attitudes and camaraderie of the students, and the style of the classes. This identity can involve old traditions or constant evolution, set patterns or acceptance of new styles and ideas, it can encourage either aggression or a peaceful approach. Whilst none of these things are necessarily negative, and depend on what the student is seeking, one thing that is important is that the identity isn’t little more than ego. In choosing a gym, I didn’t want one that felt it was the biggest, baddest and strongest around; this attitude would only translate to aggressive, meat-head students and an unhealthy atmosphere. I also didn’t want to join a gym so set in the traditions of ancient martial arts that it thought itself better than those who dare question its wisdom, methods and effectiveness, breeding students practicing moves in perfect harmony against nothing but air, assuming their way is best. I sought a gym that both proves its effectiveness through results and also has the humility to question and constantly interrogate its own methods (http://www.caneprevost.com/2011/03/17/bullshit-meter/); one with a strong track record, but without the arrogance to assume there was only one way, their way, of doing things, and imposing this on all their students.
In many ways the first four ideas of what I look for in a gym are all evidence that points to the fifth idea. I sought a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gym that has the right outlook and ethos; one that is evident in its coaches, its style of training and its students. That said, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong approach to gym selection. What is important to you, what did you look for, and what made you decide on your gym?