Finding a great BJJ school is like dating, you gotta try as many as you can to see which one is going to be a good fit for you!
We created this guide to help you decide how to choose the right Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school.
This is not a hard and fast list that your prospective BJJ Gym must meet every criteria or they are OUT, rather we provide some considerations for you to think over as you are evaluating each school.
Luckily for you most if not all the BJJ gyms near you will provide a free trial without a commitment to join. Typically the free trial will last 1 to 2 weeks. Some gyms only offer a 1 day free trial class and other schools will offer a free month. DO ASK!
Schools will also provide you a loaner gi so to trying BJJ out is pretty frictionless.
16 Rules for Choosing the Right BJJ Gym for YOU
- Proximity to your home or place of work.
- Your schedule versus the schools available schedule.
- Your goals versus the schools focus.
- Instructor’s Lineage, Belt Rank & Competition Record.
- Instructor’s Physical Size & Build.
- School Association or Affiliation.
- Student Belt Depth.
- Your age, gender and body type.
- Class Size, Type & Structure.
- School Facilities.
- Your budget 🙂
- School Fees and Contract / No Contract.
- School / Instructor Reputation.
- School Vibe.
1. Proximity to your home or place of work
How close is the gym? This is a big sticking point. To get better you must be consistent with your BJJ training. Battling traffic and long commutes to the gym will wear on you and create friction to attending. But you say Hey I’m REALLY COMMITTED to driving to this awesome gym 45 minutes away, when you are new you surely will do that.
Eventually you will have highs and lows in your Jiu Jitsu journey and you will find excuses to not go when you have long commute to your gym. Proximity is key to consistency.
2. Your schedule versus the schools available schedule
Again this will be obvious but does the schools schedule work for you? Does the gym have morning classes? Lunch classes?
They will have evening classes for sure but what about the weekend? You may not initially take the morning classes but life and work changes may make you shift your schedule, so it is better to have a wide array of available classes to attend.
3. Your goals versus the schools focus.
Yes this one should be obvious but really … what are your goals in learning Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Are you looking to compete in MMA? Do you want to be a professional MMA fighter? Do you want to learn self defense? Are you looking for something fun to do while losing weight?
Assess what you want to do with BJJ and your goals. Make sure your gym can help you reach your goals. Look at the class schedule to see if they offer class geared toward your interest in taking BJJ. For example some gyms will be competition focused while other gyms will incorporate self defense into their curriculum.
While some gym like MMA gyms will have a more holistic approach to BJJ and how it relates to stand up fighting incorporating shoot boxing (striking with takedowns), bjj with strikes and takedowns (wrestling).
4. Instructor’s Belt Rank
When looking at the school and class schedule, look to see which instructor will be teaching the class. What is the instructor’s belt ranking?
At a high level the belt rankings for Adults is:
White Belt -> Blue Belt -> Purple Belt -> Brown Belt -> Black Belt -> Red/Black, Coral & Red Belts based on time in teaching and practicing BJJ and contribution. Average time between belt rankings can last anywhere from 2-3 years or longer (or shorter depending on student dedication and skill). When a bjj practitioner achieves black belt status, this is usually after 10 years or more on the mats training.
Black belts also earn degrees for time in their black belt ranking. They look like taped stripes on their belt. Often instructors are described as “Black Belt 3rd Degree” etc and these degrees are the time in black belt rank and are represented again by the tape stripes on their belts.
There are rules as to whom which belt rank can promote students to the next highest belt rank. You don’t necessarily have to have a black belt to promote a white belt student to blue belt (a purple belt can do this). However to be awarded a black belt (from brown) this must be done by a black belt with 2 degrees on their belt.
Long story short – Becoming a black belt takes a long time and only other bjj practitioners who have dedicated a lot of time to the gentle art can promote others to this elite level.
Typically nowadays, most Brazilian Jiu Jitsu schools will have at least a black belt level instruction. Black belt is highest belt given based on skill. There are higher belts than black belt in BJJ, but they are awarded for time in black belt active in training and teaching jiu jitsu.
You can see belt rankings and requirements here: https://ibjjf.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-IBJJF-Graduation-System-Poster.pdf
Now just below black belt is brown belt. Brown belt skillswise can be pretty formidable and a lot of brown belts are at a black belt level.
It used to be Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was so new in most areas that you could only find blue and purple belt instructors. Those days are long past.
Generally you will want to look for black belt instructors (better with degrees, best if they are a red/black, coral red/white or red belt).
5. Instructors Lineage
The instructors linerage is another important factor. What this means is who did the instructor learn Jiu Jitsu from? Who were his/her teacher?
Where did their teachers learn Jiu Jitsu from? This is very important as the skill level, game (the way the instructor plays or uses their BJJ skill) and style and type of technique they use will derive from there teachers as they were coming up the ranks.
This is so important to the instructors that in marketing materials and in conversations, their lineage will be raised and be a point of pride for the instructor and school. In fact a lot of schools will have pictures of the founders of BJJ and their the schools original founders and lineage of the instructor on the academy’s wall.
* TIP * – As someone who is new to BJJ you will not know this information, so you can search a site called BJJHeroes.com
In Google type “site:bjjheroes.com INSTRUCTOR’S NAME” to see if they are listed their on the site.
or in Google type “site:bjjheroes.com INSTRUCTOR’S TEACHER’S NAME”
The most notable and accomplished black belts in BJJ will be listed on BJJHeroes.
6. Instructor’s Competition Record
This is not as important as a factor BUT if the gym’s instructor is an active competitor (or was recently an active competitor) the gym’s instruction, drilling & overall class structure will reflect their competition mindset. They will teach from a standpoint of what really works in a competition setting.
Now there are a lot of great teachers of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu who have never competed so this is not a huge sticking point in deciding on the school. However if you want to compete eventually this is something you will want to consider.
7. Instructors Size & Build
WAIT – you are saying what does this have to do with me choosing a school? Well in BJJ culture when describing instructors, most often people will talk about their GAME (and the instructor or bjj practitioner will be described as BJJ Players). What this GAME terminology means is which techniques and strategies does the instructor use to win a match or to submit an opponent.
Most often their instructor’s GAME will revolve around their body type and build. Is the instructor small and with a small frame? They generally will employ a GAME based around misdirection, speed, getting to certain positions like on their opponent’s back and applying strangles or chokes as opposed to Joint Locks.
Is the instructor BIG? Weighs over 200 pounds? – then they generally will have a different GAME and strategy then a more diminutive instructor will have. They will employ more pressure style in their GAME. They might look at different attacks than the more diminutive instructor would.
Now all instructors will know the basics, the different strangles, chokes and joint locks that are apart of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. It just that the instructors will have a preference and it will carry over into their teachings.
What this means for YOU, is that ideally you want to match up your body type and size to the instructors. If you are on the smaller scale then matching up with a smaller instructor will benefit YOU because they will know more on what techniques and strategies work on a bigger opponents. Same if your are larger size.
Now the side effect an instructor’s size has on the school is that the students of a similar size will naturally gravitate to that instructor. Generally the available training partners at the gym will closely match your build which will be of benefit to YOU in your Jiu Jitsu journey.
8. School Association or Affiliation.
Vast majority of BJJ gyms will be affiliated with a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association. An association will be similar to a headquarters of a major multinational conglomerate and the BJJ gym that you are looking into will be like a franchisee. On one end of the scale of the Affiliation and local Gym relationship, the association can have a strict rules that the gym must abide by and on the other end of the scale there will be a more relaxed relationship giving the local gym almost total freedom to run their school any way they see fit.
So you may be asking “What does this have to do with picking a BJJ gym that is right for me?” – and the answer is there is a lot depending on the parent association of the gym.
For example, Gracie Barra, one of the largest Brazilian Jiu Jitsu associations in the world, will dictate to their local affiliate gym rules on how the gym will be run. Gracie Barra has rules such as a uniform policy. You can only buy BJJ Apparel (Gi and No Gi apparel) from the gym. No outside Gis or training apparel are permitted.
Along with uniform policy, each association will dictate training regimen, belt promotions (paying for promotion), etiquette in training (bowing and more formal behavior only permitted) and other daily details of the gym.
Now there are advantages to belonging to an association like having access to world class instructors, being able to train at different location around the world for free, have structure around training, learning and rolling, feeling like you are part of a team and a larger organization.
The will be downsides like more expenses related to uniform cost, more formal contracts, paying for the brand so to speak, more structure and rules if you don’t like to live or train that way.
A lot of gyms do not belong to an association so this may or may not be a consideration for you. However if the gym belongs to an association, you should look into the additional expenses and structure to see if that is a right fit for you!
9. Student Belt Depth
What do we mean by Student Belt Depth? Simple how many students are in each belt color ranking at the school you are looking at. Now ideally you will want to see at least a few or more black belts, quite few brown belts, good amount of purple belts, a large amount blue belts, and even larger amount of white belts.
Having depth in the belt ranks of the academy will be like having depth on a sports team. It is a sign of healthy gym that has been operating for a while.
If for example you go to check out a school and the only students you see in the academy are white belts with some blue belts is typically not a good sign. It may the the gym is new and not well established. Maybe BJJ has just taken root in the local area so there not a lot of students who have been training long enough, or there is a toxic culture in the gym. Also maybe the training is not compelling enough for upper belts to stick around.
So if a healthy school will have depth in all of it’s belt ranks seeing the opposite in a school should make you pause to think… and you should assess for yourself why that may be before deciding.
Another reason that belt depth (especially in the upper belts) is so important is that more often than not, your will be learning a lot from the upper belts. In a sense they may mentor you from time to time. Distilling wisdom and training know how to you. They will also have a stabilizing effect on the gym and help out if the gym instructor/owner can not teach class.
10. Your age, gender and body type.
This goes along with the instructors age, gender and build. Does the school offer similar body type to you? Are you 6’5″ and 260 pounds and the next closest heavyweight is 200 pounds? You will get bored fast one you acquire the basics of BJJ as you will not have anyone to push you. Same with being a lightweight in a gym full of heavyweights you will get smashed a ton and playing a lot of defense.
Ideally you will want to see students that have a similar size as you as well as bigger and smaller builds.
Same with gender, do you really want to be the only female in class full of guys?
11. Class Size, Class Type, Class Structure
Class Size – When you go the BJJ gym you are interested in, observe the class size. Are there a lot of students on the mat? Very few? Typically you want the class size to be in a sweet spot say around 15- 30 students on the mat. You want enough students to have a variety of training partners. However you do not want too many students that you get lost in the crowd. When your pair up with a training partner the 30 person class becomes 15 groups that the instructor can walk around and give guidance, which is manageable.
Having less training partners in the beginning may seem like a bonus when you are starting. More personalized attention, almost like getting a private with the Coach. It also get awkward as well. What if you are the only to show up? That could get awkward. What if is just you and the 120 pound teenager who will not give you a competitive training session. With classes are that are larger will have an energy about them that is hard to replicate in smaller classes.
Class Type – What kind of classes will you be able to attend when you start? What you want to see as a new student is what is called a “Fundamental” class. As the name applies the class should go over the basics of BJJ. You will rarely have classes tailored to brand new students. Fundamentals will be kind of classes that will allow you to learn BJJ while not getting in over your head on advanced concepts.
Class Structure – How is the class taught? Observe how the class structure is run by the coach. Ideally you will see a few classes to gauge how the school structures their training. You will want to see drilling, positional sparring and free rolling in a class, consistency in the instruction and the lessons should flow together. You do not want to see different random lessons during the week.
12. School Facilities
Again this should be obvious but let us go over some scenarios so that you can make the right decision.
Hygiene – Does the gym have a consistent clean and hygienic training facility. One way to gauge is look at the bathrooms. Are the bathrooms gross? Are they clean and orderly. You can tell a lot about a gym and its cleanliness by the way the bathroom looks. You will want to make sure the gym you join is on top of cleaning especially the mats. There are too many skin infections that you catch if the gym does not take hygiene and cleanliness seriously.
Does the gym have a shower and changing area? – This is important if you want to train during or before work hours and plan on commuting straight to the office. When you start training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu you will sweat a lot! Do you really want to get into your car or public transportation reeking of sweat?
Is parking an issue? You will need to factor that in as you will want to be on time for class. One thing that will universally annoy BJJ instructors is students who consistently show up late to class. For some and it is a huge deal and for others it’s a more of a minor issue. But no matter what it will still annoy your instructor so make sure you can park and attend class on time.
13. Your budget
Consider your budget when choosing a gym. It’s not just the monthly gym fee but add in the ancillary costs such as Gi No Gi apparel, cleaning and supplements. Are there mandatory seminars you must attend and pay for?
14. School Fees and Contract / No Contract
Definitely ask the gym the following questions before signing a contract or enquire about the contract.
- Is there a contract and minimum commitment?
- what is the fee to join? Can you reduce or remove that joining fee?
- What is the monthly fee? Can I get a discount if I pay in advance (not recommended) or have my kids join the kids class?
- How can I cancel the contract?
- How do I need to cancel the contract? (In person, email over the phone)
- What happens if I get injured? Can I pause or cancel the contract?
- What happens if I move?
- Who handles the payment – A lot of gyms will work with a third party payment processor that handles the debiting from your account
Ideally you will want to see ZERO joining fee and NO CONTRACT – Just month to month. A lot of BJJ gyms will offer this option and it is a fair way to do business. A lot of things can happen, life happens and you will want the flexibility to change or stop the billing if you need to.
15. School / Instructor Reputation
Do not use google or yelp reviews to decode upon a gym’s reputation. One of the more reliable ways to get guidance is to ask or search Reddit’s r/bjj community. With well over 100K members it is one of the largest online communities dedicated to BJJ. There will most likely be thread from other users asking about which gyms are best in your area. If you do not see a recent thread you can always ask the community for guidance.
16. School Vibe
How does the overall school vibe with you? How do the fellow students vibe with you? You will be spending a lot of time at the BBJ gym so make sure you can see yourself there having fun and learning!