Starting your BJJ journey is exciting, but choosing the right gym can be overwhelming. The gym you choose can make all the difference in whether your BJJ experience is fun or boring and whether you learn real BJJ or “McDojo BJJ.”
It’s not always easy to decide on a BJJ gym, but this article will help you. Read on to learn what to look for in a BJJ dojo and how to select the right one.
- How To Research a BJJ Gym and What To Look For
- Finding and Evaluating Reviews (Reddit, Referrals, Google Reviews)
- What Is the Focus of the BJJ GYM (Competition vs. Sport)
- Is It Beginner-Friendly?
- Age and Profile of Students
- Who Are the Instructors (Their Background, Rank)?
- How Much Does a BJJ Gym Cost?
- Do You Need To Wear a Specific Type of Uniform?
- Sales Tactics To Look Out For/Red Flags
- Additional Factors To Consider in Deciding the Right Fit for Your Personality and Goals
- Types of BJJ Gyms
How To Research a BJJ Gym and What To Look For
The following are 10 things to consider when researching a BJJ training school. BJJ is so widespread that many low-quality schools masquerade as professional BJJ training centers. These 10 things will help you weed them out.
Finding and Evaluating Reviews (Reddit, Referrals, Google Reviews)
First things first: Check the reviews. User reviews on third-party platforms will give you essential insights into the experiences of real students.
Read as many reviews as possible to get as many viewpoints as possible. Some students may not have any experience in BJJ, so they may not be able to tell apart bad techniques from good ones. Other students with some prior experience may be able to tell you that the trainers at the gym don’t know what they’re doing.
Here are several things to look for in the reviews:
- Are people learning authentic skills?
- Are reviewers satisfied with the level of attention the trainers provide to each student?
- What is the dojo culture like? Are people friendly and welcoming to newcomers?
There will always be a few people with negative experiences. Don’t let a few bad reviews scare you away. However, if certain negatives are showing up consistently across many reviews, you may want to stay away.
It’s worth looking beyond Google reviews and checking reviews on platforms like Facebook and Reddit. People on Reddit are usually more detailed in their thoughts, although finding reviews on Reddit might be tricky if you live in a small town without a big BJJ scene.
Referrals can also come in handy. If you know someone who does BJJ or any type of martial art, ask them which school they go to. Even if they do Judo, Taekwondo, or traditional boxing, they likely know people who also cross-train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
What Is the Focus of the BJJ GYM (Competition vs. Sport)
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools can have several focuses:
- Fun and recreation
Competition BJJ focuses on preparing you to compete in professional BJJ competitions. While it’s great for self-defense as well (a trained BJJ practitioner will almost always beat a non-trained street fighter), it’s not as great as a school that focuses on self-defense.
For example, you might train in starting positions that you should never put yourself in on the street. Lying on your back is one example.
A self-defense school may incorporate additional techniques that are useful in self-defense. It may include more stand-up grappling and teach more takedown techniques.
While BJJ is chiefly ground fighting, it’s crucial to know takedowns as well. What’s the point of learning how to fight someone on the floor if you can’t take them to the ground?
Finally, there are BJJ academies that don’t focus on either. People might go there for fun, to get a good workout, or to meet other people.
You’ll need to figure out what your goals are and then choose a school accordingly. If your goal is to defend yourself and the people around you, go to a school that focuses on self-defense. If your goal is to compete, go to a competition training school.
Is It Beginner-Friendly?
If you’re new to BJJ, it’s critical to select a school that is beginner-friendly. BJJ can be challenging, and fighting against people who have been doing it for years can be scary for newcomers.
A school considered beginner-friendly might have separate classes for white belts just starting. Even if they don’t, they will have friendly practitioners who know how to go easy on beginners when rolling.
You want an environment that is welcoming and encouraging, not one with people who want to show you how much better they are than you. You don’t want to go to a gym where practitioners want to show off and crush white belts.
Fortunately, such gyms are rare, as the BJJ scene is pretty welcoming and friendly in general, and most practitioners are humble and kind.
Don’t worry about people submitting you as a beginner. It’s going to happen – it’s just part of the learning journey. For the first few months, you might have difficulty submitting other people. After a few months, you will get better, and you’ll be able to submit others, especially other white belts.
The schedule also matters. You need a gym with classes that work on your schedule.
Some gyms have classes at night, allowing people to train after work. Weekend classes may also be available.
The best gym would be one offering a few classes a day, every day. That way, you have flexibility when you can show up. A gym with daily lessons allows you to train whenever you feel like it or have time.
While you can’t control when a particular school has classes, choosing a school that works best with your schedule is crucial.
Age and Profile of Students
Another thing that many people don’t consider is the age and profile of the students. If you’re an older gentleman who wants to train in BJJ, it might be hard to train with younger, more athletic, and stronger students. The pace might be too fast for you, and you may wear out earlier than the others.
On the other hand, if you are young and energetic, you might not want to go to a dojo with many older practitioners, as that may end up holding you back. Old age is a factor in BJJ injuries, so many older individuals take it easy.
The profile of the students matters as well. Are they hardcore martial artists dedicated to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or are they more casual grapplers who go to BJJ classes whenever they are free and bored? Where do you fit in on that spectrum?
Who Are the Instructors (Their Background, Rank)?
This factor is significant. If you have a terrible instructor, you will learn bad techniques that can cause you to lose in a competition or street fight.
First, look at the rank of the instructors. It’s best to find instructors who are black belts, but if you live in a small town, you may not find any. In that case, a brown or purple belt might be sufficient. Note that the five main belt ranks go as follows, in ascending order (newbies start as white belts):
- White belt
- Blue belt
- Purple belt
- Brown belt
- Black belt
However, the background of the instructor matters too. Where did they learn their techniques, and who gave them their black belt rank? Their overall fighting style and the methods they focus on will depend on which school they went to.
You might also check if the instructor has competed and won fights. You can fake a lot of stuff, but you can’t pretend to win real fights against trained, aggressive competitors.
Finally, make sure the instructor is good at instructing. They should be patient yet motivating, pushing you to your limits while explaining how each technique works.
How Much Does a BJJ Gym Cost?
Pricing will depend on your specific area, the overall focus of the BJJ gym, how many classes it has, etc. A single class might cost $25-50, so signing up for a month’s membership may make more sense economically. Note that many gyms will give you a free class if you are interested in signing up.
A monthly membership at a typical BJJ school can range from $100 to $300. A gym offering MMA, boxing, or wrestling classes might charge more for unlimited access. A gym that only has classes twice a week might charge less.
It’s crucial to find a gym that fits your budget. That way, you can continue training every month without fail. However, don’t choose a gym just because it’s cheaper, as the quality of training might not be as good.
Do You Need To Wear a Specific Type of Uniform?
The BJJ costume you see in pictures and online videos is the “gi.” Most BJJ schools will have both gi and no-gi classes.
Gi classes require you to wear a special uniform, as the techniques are slightly different due to the ability to grab the gi collar. You may have to buy this gi separately. While your gym may sell it, it might be cheaper online. Some gyms will give you a free gi uniform if you sign up for a monthly or yearly membership.
No-gi classes don’t require any uniform, although your gym might ask you to wear a t-shirt and shorts. Check if the gym offers no-gi classes if you don’t want to buy one.
Sales Tactics To Look Out For/Red Flags
Spotting a fake BJJ school isn’t always easy, but certain red flags are easy to spot.
One is promising a black belt within a specific time. You can’t get a black belt by simply renewing your membership and showing up to classes for several months. Instead, it’s something that your instructor will award you when you have demonstrated specific skills and knowledge.
The BJJ belt system is typically a lot stricter than other martial arts. Many dojos give out black belts in Taekwondo or Karate to kids. However, getting a BJJ black belt can often take a decade or more. First, you must move up the ranks and get your blue, purple, and brown belts.
Those take time to get as well. If people are getting belts too quickly at a school, stay away. They’re using the belt system as a marketing tactic to get people to renew their memberships for a certain period instead of forcing people to put in the work.
You should also never have to pay for a belt upgrade. If people are buying or paying for a blue, purple, or black belt, that’s a major red flag.
Another red flag is a lack of affiliation. A good BJJ school will likely have an association with a larger, national or international BJJ body. That ensures the school lives up to specific standards. Of course, there are great schools that don’t have any affiliation, but all too often, an unaffiliated school has no oversight or standards.
Some possible affiliations include:
Additional Factors To Consider in Deciding the Right Fit for Your Personality and Goals
Another thing you might want to consider is whether the club is female-friendly. Some clubs are male-dominated. While most women are comfortable rolling with men, there’s going to be a size disadvantage if all the men at the club are much bigger and heavier than you. If you prefer female-only classes, look for a gym that offers one.
You should also look at the students at the club and see how many blue, purple, brown, and black belts there are. If there are only white belts at the gym, you must ask yourself why. Is it because the gym is new, and nobody has had the time to achieve a higher-ranking belt?
Or is it because the gym has a low retention rate, with few students sticking around? If so, what’s keeping them away?
You must also double-check the instructor. Of course, they’re probably not that good if they are overweight and out of shape. However, your instructor should also spar with students. That shows that they don’t have an ego and are okay with being submitted – if they spar often enough, it will happen.
A good instructor will want their students to succeed and be able to submit them at times.
Look for a school that ensures students warm up first, which can help prevent injuries.
You should also stay away from gyms where instructors date their students. It’s not that common in BJJ, but it does happen. There’s a power imbalance, and the dynamics put dating students in a moral gray area that instructors should avoid. Instructors should keep things professional and not abuse their power.
Types of BJJ Gyms
We slightly touched upon the different types of BJJ gyms earlier. Let’s go into a bit more detail about the different types of BJJ academies you’re likely to come across and how they differ from each other.
McDojo BJJ Gyms
The McDojo is perhaps the most ubiquitous type of BJJ school. Due to the popularity of BJJ, there is a severe lack of quality control, similar to other popular martial arts like Karate, Taekwondo, and Krav Maga.
A dojo is a hall or big room where people practice Judo or other martial arts. The word McDojo is a play on words, comparing martial arts schools to McDonald’s restaurants – fast food places that pop up anywhere.
A McDojo isn’t a serious martial art school that turns students into actual fighters. Neither does the instructor have genuine qualifications to teach. Instead, the instructor teaches techniques that won’t work in a real fight or self-defense situation. Perhaps they made those techniques up or learned them from YouTube or their own teacher at a McDojo.
One of the characteristics of a McDojo is that the founder focuses on making money above everything else. They might make unrealistic self-defense claims, claiming you’ll be able to fight off any attacker armed with a knife or gun without suffering an injury. They may teach self-defense moves that don’t work in a real-world situation.
People also use “bullshido” to refer to such martial art moves. Bullshido is a play on words, combining Aikido (a martial art) with the term “bull****.
Anyone can set up a McDojo and claim to teach BJJ, Krav Maga, Kali, or Judo. That’s why researching the instructor and ensuring they are legit is essential. It’s another reason you should make sure the instructor spars with students themselves.
A McdDojo teacher might claim to be unbeatable, but a true martial arts practitioner knows that there is always someone who can beat them, no matter how good they are.
BJJ generally teaches humility, especially compared to more “hardcore” martial arts like boxing. Most BJJ schools have a friendly vibe, and nobody will look down on you for being a beginner unless it’s a McDojo.
Alternatively, the McDojo might be a black belt factory, awarding black belts to students who don’t deserve them. McDojos often target young kids, as which parent doesn’t want their child to get a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu or another martial art?
Most parents do not understand what Jiu-Jitsu is and how it works. They don’t realize the years of sweat, tears, and strenuous effort it takes to achieve a black belt. They want the pride of saying their child is a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu, so they send them to McDojos that give black belts out to kids left and right.
Stay away from McDojos. Not only are they a waste of money, but you’ll also learn bad techniques that will be hard to unlearn later.
A competition school focuses on preparing you for BJJ competitions. There is less of a focus on self-defense, although any knowledge of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu will give you an immense advantage in a street fight, as most people have no fighting training whatsoever.
Don’t be afraid to sign up for such a school, even if you don’t plan to compete. A competition-focused school is a serious one. As I said, you can’t fake a competition win, so the instructor knows that they have to up their game and produce serious students with actual capabilities.
If there are students that have gone on to compete and have won fights, that’s even better. That way, you know the school is not a McDojo.
Many BJJ academies go beyond Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and focus on Mixed Martial Arts. The truth is that a base in MMA is vital if you want to be a true fighter.
BJJ is excellent, but it focuses primarily on ground fighting. It focuses very little on stand-up grappling, especially when compared to Judo or wrestling. Furthermore, it doesn’t include any striking.
MMA became popular due to the UFC. An MMA school will give you a good base in the three main aspects of fighting:
- Ground fighting
Some MMA schools also teach knife or stick fighting, primarily Kali (a Filipino martial art). Others may teach Krav Maga as well.
However, remember that if you face an attacker with a knife, they will likely stab you at least once, regardless of how good of a martial artist you are. Often, it’s best to de-escalate the situation, give them your wallet (if they are mugging you), and get out of there as soon as possible.
For striking, MMA schools typically focus on boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai. For takedowns, they usually focus on wrestling and Judo. However, it all depends on your instructor’s background. If they have a background in karate, they will teach more karate moves. If they have a background in Taekwondo, it means you will be able to learn some taekwondo kicks.
MMA schools typically operate in one of two manners. Some schools have separate classes for different methodologies. For example, they might have a grappling class (focusing primarily on wrestling and BJJ) and a striking class (mainly focusing on Muay Thai). These classes might take place on different days or right after each other.
Other MMA schools truly focus on the art of MMA. They have one class that incorporates striking and grappling. The advantage here is that the two aren’t separate in your mind. You’re allowed to strike and switch to a wrestling takedown in one go. If the classes are separate, your brain will have a more challenging time transitioning from one fighting method to another.
An MMA school is good if you want to compete in MMA or if you want to learn martial arts for self-defense.
Striking is critical for self-defense. Ground fighting isn’t always viable, especially when multiple attackers exist. If you’re rolling on the ground, their friend can kick you in the head and stomp on your stomach. BJJ would be horrible in such a situation.
Boxing, however, can allow you to deliver a solid knockout punch to take your opponent out. You can then move on to the other opponent or quickly run away, saving yourself.
Furthermore, takedown skills are crucial as well. Sometimes, a simple Judo throw onto the concrete will put your attacker out of commission. There’s no need for extensive ground fighting in such situations.
In other scenarios, such as a fight on the subway or bus, BJJ is more beneficial. If someone tackles you from behind, a background in BJJ will also help.
If you want to be a well-rounded fighter, go to an MMA school.
Some BJJ schools are exclusively no-gi. These schools typically don’t focus on preparing you for competitions, as most competitions require you to wear the gi.
However, you could argue that no-gi is better for self-defense. Many moves involving the gi would be impractical in a self-defense situation. That’s because they rely on you being able to control your attacker by grabbing onto their gi collar.
While that may apply to a self-defense scenario in which your opponent is wearing a hoodie, most of the time, you will fight people wearing regular shirts or t-shirts. That’s why training no-gi is so essential.
There are both small BJJ schools, with classes of 5-20 students, and big academies. Large academics may be cheaper, and you will typically have more exposure to more skilled opponents. On the other hand, it can be harder to get individualized attention.
Many recreational BJJ schools focus primarily on improving overall fitness. The people there aren’t interested in becoming hardcore fighters. Instead, they simply want to work out, have fun, and learn a bit of grappling.
If your body can’t handle aggressive BJJ rolling, you might want to consider such an academy. If you’re going to become a true fighter, avoid it and look for a more serious dojo.
At the end of the day, starting your BJJ journey is about showing up. While it’s important to research each school and choose a good one, hesitating too much will cause you to procrastinate and push off starting.
If a school has good reviews, has reliable and qualified instructors, has an affiliation with an international BJJ organization, and fits your budget and schedule, go for it. Most schools offer free classes to new members, so try out a few schools until you find one you vibe with the best.
Remember, despite some minor differences between rulesets, BJJ is primarily universal. You can always switch to another school later if you wish.