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The best BJJ Gym: How do I find the right fit for me?

The best BJJ Gym: How do I find the right fit for me?

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is booming everywhere. With jiu-jitsu gyms opening up all over the place and the general awareness of the sport rising to an all-time high, the opportunities to train are endless. If you wanted to learn this martial art fifteen years ago, you would have been lucky to find a BJJ gym in your city. Today, a quick Google search will deliver several results for jiu-jitsu academies to train at in your vicinity, but the choice of where to train is not necessarily an easy one.

Jiu-jitsu gyms are not all the same. They differ in many ways beyond things like coaching style and whether or not they offer kids BJJ classes. We’ve come up with a guide to help you in your endeavour to find the perfect fit for your BJJ journey.

Before Googling ‘jiu-jitsu gyms near me’ and drowning in options, we believe you should have a think about what it is that you are looking to achieve from jiu-jitsu. For example, are you looking for a gym that offers women's only classes, one that caters for BJJ competitors or perhaps one that is more focused on self defence? Each BJJ Academy can have its own unique characteristics, but generally fall into one of the groups below. By considering the things that are most important to you, it will make the decision making process much simpler.

1. The Competition Focussed jiu-jitsu academy
The popularity of Brazilian jiu-jitsu has grown significantly, and it is continuing on this trajectory with no signs of slowing down. With this growth, the sport and competition side of the BJJ has grown with several high profile international events now on the calendar. This includes Pay Per View events, and this has resulted in some becoming dedicated jiu-jitsu athletes. These people train several times a day and jiu-jitsu is more than a hobby - it’s what they do, who they are, it’s a lifestyle.

With this, there are now several BJJ gyms that cater for these competitors. Mats are full of dedicated athletes, with training structures and schedules featuring several competition focussed classes. Generally, in the ‘Competition Classes’ the instructor teaches with a competition focus and their specific ruleset in mind, and the training is likely to get harder leading up to big events. If you are naturally athletic or have high competitive ambitions yourself, this type of BJJ school could be the one for you.

So-called ‘hobbyists’ are welcome too, but to avoid running into the young prodigies that study jiu jitsu religiously and travel to BJJ tournaments every weekend, you may consider steering clear of attending the competition classes! On the other hand, even for those practicing jiujitsu recreationally, a competitive gym can be the right fit, as few things are as inspiring as a room full of high achievers that aim to better themselves every day.

2. The self defence focussed jiu-jitsu academy
This jiu jitsu gym focuses less on competition and more on the self defence aspect of the sport. Positional fundamentals are reinforced and self-protection skills make up most of the curriculum. Some of these BJJ gyms practice and reinforce these fundamental skills during light sparring sessions, and some even teach the handling of, and protection against, weapons.

This type of BJJ academy can be a great fit for beginners who want an introduction to the basics of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, or to feel safe and empowered in critical situations and building self confidence.

3. The Hybrid Jiu-Jitsu Academy
This jiu-jitsu gym focuses on a bit of everything. A bit of sport jiu-jitsu, a bit of self defence and a lot of fun! These gyms have jiu-jitsu competitors but competition is not the sole focus. They teach you the fundamentals of BJJ and how to protect yourself but also expose you to the sport and, as many would agree, the most fun aspect of jiu-jitsu. There’s nothing better than rolling with your team mates at the end of the class!

These gyms are frequented by hobbyists, some who still train multiple times a day and take their ‘hobby’ seriously. Others may work full time jobs, be studying or using it to learn a new skill, have fun and get a workout. Sessions are followed by extended rolling sessions and chats with training partners, many of whom quickly become friends.

If you are looking to learn jiu-jitsu in a relaxed atmosphere with people who don’t take them too seriously, then this may be the type of academy for you.

4. The Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) Academy
Many gyms offer a combination of mixed martial arts. These gyms generally have separate programs for jiu jitsu, muay thai, boxing, wrestling and more. Essentially they offer a space for the practice of multiple martial arts programs under the one roof.

The focus of this gym is not just Brazilian jiu jitsu. Having said that, it doesn’t always mean that the instructors aren’t of a high level or that they don’t have excellent programs. This can be more down to the coach running the BJJ program, their skills and the purposes of the program. For example, is the BJJ program run with an MMA focus in mind, where it is more important to avoid or protect yourself from strikes with a goal to get to a neutral position or back to your feet? Or is the jiu-jitsu program completely independent, where you are exposed to a variety of positions and guards, some of which are not ideal for use in MMA.

On the other hand, if you are interested in cross training in other martial arts, then a gym that offers BJJ as a part of a mixed martial arts program could be the perfect option.

5. The BJJ Affiliation
Some jiu-jitsu gyms are a part of large affiliations. These are networks of other similarly branded gyms, some with sister academies in other regions or states. The larger international affiliations with academies all around the world. Some of these affiliations include Gracie Barra, Gracie Humaita, Alliance and more.

If you travel regularly around your own state, country or even internationally, these gyms could be a great option, as many will permit you to train at their affiliates for free.

Generally speaking, many of these affiliations have specific rules that you may need to follow. For example, some only allow you to train and compete in the BJJ gis and BJJ apparel that they sell, which can often be significantly more expensive than training gear that you can purchase elsewhere. Also, many may not permit you to train at other academies outside of their affiliates. So if you wanted to drop in to another academy where a friend trains for a session, this may be frowned upon/not permitted. This restriction may exist at other types of academies, too. So, if these things are important to you, you may want to ask these questions prior to signing up.

In conclusion, not all jiu jitsu gyms are created equal and they can offer you vastly different experiences. A gym’s culture is influenced by many factors but a respectful community and a competent coach should be a given.

Next, it is important to consider those things that are most important to you, and then finding a gym that matches up closely with your values and goals. Nearly all jiu-jitsu gyms offer free trial classes, so make sure you take advantage of these and don’t be afraid to try out multiple gyms before you make your decision. It’s also important to remember that you are signing up for a service and paying your fees, so if you no longer feel that the gym you chose is the place for you, don’t be afraid to try another jiu-jitsu gym before you decide to give up this wonderful martial art.


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