I recently received a reader question:
“I remember seeing you say in your posts a few times that you had to switch gyms at least a few different times in jiu-jitsu. Did you ever experience anxiety about joining a new jiu-jitsu gym after you had already left a couple of them? Like worrying if the people at the next gym would be crappy or if the instructor or the atmosphere would be shady? I left the jiu-jitsu gym that I was training at almost two months ago because they had a bad atmosphere and the instructors were shady, and I was wondering if you had any advice about when I try to find a new place to train at in my area. I have a gym in mind but haven’t stepped in it yet because I’m worried if they will be not very good too.”
When I first moved back to Cleveland, I had several bad experiences before finally finding the gym where I currently train. Long story short, I joined and left three gyms over the course of about three years. In that process, I learned a lot about jiu-jitsu people and people in general.
For starters: you MUST cross train. Set at least one day every month to go to another gym in the area. There are plenty of etiquette guides as to how to do this, and if your current affiliation doesn’t allow this, you may want to consider switching academies. There are countless benefits to dropping in at other gyms, but a big one is that you’ll start to feel the differences between different academies. You’ll also start to feel which environments best suit your personality.
So let’s say you chose the wrong place, you are no longer there, and are trying to figure out where to train and made the mistake of not cross-training (I’ve been there). Start by reaching out to the various gym owners in the area, tell them that you’re looking to make a switch and would like to come check their gym out, and then attend class for the duration of a trial period. Don’t settle at any one place until you’ve checked them all out. There’s a possibility that even though you find one viable option, another one will feel more like home.
Anxiety is natural. You’d be crazy not to be anxious about the things you’ve mentioned, especially after having a negative experience. And of course, I was extremely anxious when I went through my experiences. One thing that helped solidify a good relationship with my current coach was explaining as objectively as possible why I left my last academy. I found that in some cases this caused issues, but when I finally found the gym where I currently train, my forthcoming approach helped bridge the gap and made my transition smoother. However, that can be hit or miss.
I have a lot of experience with not stepping into an academy because of prejudgment. The current place that I train is an MMA gym, and in fact one of the largest, nicest facilities I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been around. Based on the published schedule, based on the prices quoted to me when I called on the phone, and based on my own biases, I never considered the place where I train as a possibility. Turns out that the schedule is different from what is published, the prices quoted over the phone are the worst-case scenario prices (you can get in for way cheaper if you have a conversation with the sales staff) and most of my biases were wrong. I wound up checking this gym out of desperation, and it turned out to be the best possible option for me. It’s possible that that journey may have led me to appreciate it more, though, so don’t feel too bad if that winds up happening to you, but don’t let your prejudices and biases prevent you from at least taking a few classes.
The best advice I can give you is to give everywhere a chance, but to go with your instincts. Spend a bit of time at each gym in the area, and don’t exclude any options because you may miss the perfect option.