Joining a new BJJ gym can be stressful and intimidating, but there are a number of ways that you can make the process easier for yourself. It can be difficult for new white belts to really identify how good a gym actually is and often, by the time that you’ve managed to figure it out you’re already several months through your training and have already spent a small fortune. There are a number of personal questions only you will be able to answer that will help you whittle down the prospective gyms, like whether you want to do gi or no gi exclusively, whether the gym schedule suits the rest of your life, and whether it’s close enough for you to regularly commit to training.
When you’ve answered those and found the BJJ gym or gyms that suit you, it’s time to take a trip to them in order to take a look at the facilities and maybe even try out the trial class. Once you make it through the front door, here are the four things that you want to pay attention to so you can find out whether the gym you’re in is a good atmosphere:
BJJ Gym Hygiene
This is one of the most important factors by far. Poor hygiene in a BJJ gym can be utterly disastrous, leading to outbreaks of minor irritants like Ringworm or even illnesses with severe consequences like Staph infections. Sweat is to be expected during a class and after a particularly hard session the mats might be pretty drenched, that’s not really anything to worry about. What is a cause for concern is what happens to the mats after the class. They should be cleaned thoroughly and at the beginning of each class the mats should look pristine, if that isn’t the case then that’s definitely a cause for concern. If you’re feeling confident, there’s nothing wrong with actually asking the owner or receptionist what their cleaning policy and procedures are.
Naturally, the instructor sets the tone for the rest of the BJJ gym. If the coach is unfriendly or even rude, then there’s a high chance that the people who train under them act in a similar manner. You don’t have to worry about being best friends with your coach from day 1, but it’s certainly important that they make you feel welcome and comfortable. Don’t just pay attention to the coach’s attitude either, but also take note of their involvement in the class. They should be attentive and correcting people continuously, not sitting on the sides and daydreaming or playing on their phone. It’s also important to see that they actually spar with their students, but worth remembering that those with a visible injury or at a more advanced age may be sparring less often than otherwise.
The Higher Belts
While the coach sets the tone, they can’t be at all places at all times. That’s where the higher belts come in to it. These are the people who have been training under the coach for years now, and they’ll likely mirror the same overall attitude and approach. How they roll with the newer people is how everyone is going to roll, if they’re smashing everyone and not helping them out, it’s unlikely to be a supportive atmosphere conducive to learning. Even more concerning is if there are no higher belts at all, as this means that nobody is sticking with this BJJ gym for very long. The obvious exception here is if the gym itself is very new, as you wouldn’t expect any higher belts at a gym that’s only been running for a year or two.
BJJ Gym Demographics
This isn’t necessarily the most important thing to observe but definitely worth paying attention to, and particularly if you’re a woman looking for a BJJ gym. Take a look at the people attending the class, how many of them are women? Generally speaking, women have a much lower tolerance for any of the aforementioned issues and any coach will tell you that the sport naturally appeals more to men than women. As a result, a gym that looks good on the surface will likely have a much lower number of women training than one that is clean, welcoming, and supportive in training. A small gym of 30 or so students might only have a handful of women but none at all is a little suspicious, as is a large gym of 100 or more students with only two or three women training.