Is Your Jiu-Jitsu Gym Toxic?
Exploring indicators of a toxic Jiu Jitsu culture…
Often times, dirty mats come to mind when we think of a toxic Jiu Jitsu gym. Most likely, we all have seen one gym that should have been cleaned with fire. However, there are other ways a Jiu Jitsu club can be toxic. Here is a list of warning signs that your gym has a potentially toxic culture:
Jiu-Jitsu Rolling and Sparring
The first component is roll culture. Is every roll in class being treated like it's a like the final round of an ADCC? Or is every roll a soft flow roll? Certainly there are times where the death rolls are needed and other times where it may be appropriate for a flow roll. However, everyone should able to exercise discretion and not apply a one size fits all approach to rolling. Another indicator of a poor roll culture is ripping submission. People always speak of a catch and release policy for leg locks. But the reality is if you catch your partner in any position in the training room and they are not aware of the danger then you should let the submission go. Certainly they should be educated but injury should not be the first choice of teachers.
Toxic Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Instructor
A second indication that your gym may be toxic is with instructor’s behavior.
Is your instructor always absent? It may unrealistic to think your instructor will be at every class. A lot of modern gyms have 3 or more classes a day. However, if students are paying a lot of money to learn from a well-known instructor then the instructor should be teaching some classes.
Cheap instructors who nickel and dime BJJ students
A second possible indictment of instructors is in nickeling and diming students. A lot of gym memberships are expensive. I would argue that more often than not they are worth every penny. However, is there value in the instructor charging students testing fees or the cost of a new belt? If I am paying well over $100 a month for membership, it seems silly to be charged $20 every couple of years for a new belt when promotions are due. Mandatory training gear is another example of nickeling and diming students. I am all for supporting a school but if the only gi or rash guard a student is allowed to wear has to be bought from the school that support becomes a little absurd.
Lastly, a sign of a toxic school is if the instructor uses loyalty as a sales tool. Loyalty in Jiu Jitsu is a two way street. Instructors have duties to their students just as students have an obligation to their instructor.
In the end, a student needs to find the best place for themselves. Just because someone gave you your first stripe on your white belt does not mean it’s till death do you part.
Focusing less on BJJ techniques
A third indication of a toxic school is if the school is offering what is being advertised. Too much conditioning is one example of this. I am not against warm up in Jiu Jitsu. I understand the value of warm ups. However, if you have an hour for a class, doing 30 minutes of warm ups seem absurd. Students are here to learn Jiu Jitsu. Spending a disproportion amount of time doing burpees and jumping jacks may not be the best way to facilitate that goal. Another example is with take downs. If wrestling or Judo is being advertised then some instruction should be consistently available. What is being advertised should always be offered.
Respect between BJJ instructors and students
A fourth indication of a toxic gym culture may be with respect. Is it an unfriendly and disrespectful environment? Is the gym full of clicks? Certainly, trash talking will always be a part of combat sports and it is natural to have closer friendships with some people than with others. However, it crosses a line when friendly trash talking becomes malevolent or ego impacts the way you treat someone. Everyone in a gym should be treated with respect. Female students should not be sexually harassed. The focus should be on all the students and not just the ones who win competitions.
Finding the best jiu-jitsu gym for you
Jiu jitsu is a beautiful thing. However, just because Jiu Jitsu is advertised on the sign does not mean it is a good place to train. For a lot of us, Jiu Jitsu is a significant investment in both time and money. We should be careful that we make the investments in the right club. I am not saying that just because your instructor charges for belt promotions or there is a small clique in the gym that it necessitates the gym is toxic. I am saying these are indicators that should be seriously considered.
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