Why Jiu-Jitsu Gym Culture Is Important


Let me begin by saying that there will be no negativity in this article except at the end where I get a little salty.

I’m really lucky. I started hanging out with Scott Miller, who is a Professor at my gym and one of the founders of Flow Club. I haven’t been training that long and I probably would not have had the courage to visit other gyms without him.

One day, Scott told me that a buddy was in town and they were going to an open mat at a locally famous MMA gym. I said that was pretty cool and he asked if I wanted to join. I was kind of nervous at first, but Scott told me not to worry.

He was right.

I walked into this amazing warehouse filled with mats, bags, and cages. It was awesome to see the people rolling both gi and nogi with others nearby working the bags with punches. There were people sparring, drilling, and being generally badass. The wall was lined with belts that the fighters at the gym bled for.

Scott was already rolling with another black belt and I kind of walked onto the mats awkwardly. In a couple of minutes I got to roll with a blue belt who was also visiting the gym. I explained that I’m a newby and we rolled. After tapping me out in new ways, he explained some things that I should work on. Super nice guy.

I then got introduced to a brown belt that Scott knew personally and we rolled. His pressure was heavy and at the end of the round, he complimented my framing. He also identified some of the key mistakes that he noticed and also explained some aspects of pressure that he put on me when I asked him about it. Again, super nice guy and I learned much from that experience.

Afterwards, I rolled with a few other people and we talked a bit. A lady there invited me to visit her home gym’s open mat sometime, which I will do in the future.

The overall experience was enlightening because even to a new practitioner like myself, I could feel the different styles. I was exposed to different techniques and the best part was the camaraderie that was there.

A lot of these people compete against each other from different schools but there was no animosity or rivalry. It was fun, inviting, and exciting.

Recently, I went on a trip with Scott where he coached some of my teammates at IBJJF Masters Worlds. However, before the tournament, we stopped by a famous gym with an even more famous instructor in San Diego. The moment I walked into that Jiu-Jitsu gym, I felt like I was at home. It had a lot of similarities with the hometown MMA gym I visited and my home gym that I normally train at. Scott and I, originally planned on staying for only one class but ended up taking two and showed up again the next day.

However, right next door to that gym is another Jiu-Jitsu gym. Literally in the same strip mall and two store spaces down is another BJJ gym that is also world famous. Scott and I, finished our first class there and decided to stop by the next door gym to take a look at their schedule.

The 2nd gym was impressive in the sense of the top level tournament medals that were encased on the walls. There were legends walking around and Portuguese was the only language around. I liked it. Until I realized that nobody acknowledged us and I got the sense that were unwelcome. In fact, people were staring us down for no reason. We patiently waiting in line to get more information and I do not think we did anything wrong.

I walked in still high from the amazing experience at the previous gym, only to be disappointed by the next. To be honest, I was more excited to visit this second gym because one of the professors there wrote a book I read. However, instead of meeting my hero, I witnessed a steroid pumped room of ego. Seriously, one guy kept flexing his arm in front of a mirror while occasionally glaring at us.

Needless to say, we didn’t go to a class there.

I’m going to give them the benefit of doubt and imagine that it was an unusual night there. Perhaps I committed some sort of unintended insult while quietly waiting in line. It was apparently the end of a promotion which I thought was a joyous event, but who knows? Maybe someone wanted to sandbag more but got forced to belt up? I will mention the head instructor there swept the mats himself at the end of promotions which I thought very Oss.

The reality is that the gym culture you foster, is reflected through your students and thus your reputation. As we left the second gym, one black belt member smoked a cigarette right outside the front doors and glared at Scott. As we walked towards our car parked near the first gym next door, a student was leaving in their car, and whoever it was, smiled and waved at us. The difference was staggering and hilariously comparable side-by-side.

I will always remember these gyms and what I experienced. To be honest, I barely remember the techniques I learned at the first gym (luckily Scott made me take notes which he needs to send me), but hey, if I ever go back to San Diego, guess which gym I’m visiting? The one with steroids of course because I want to win Abu Dhabi and IBJJF so I can stare down visitors, while flexing my huge biceps… Just kidding, of course I’m going back to visit Professor Baret Yoshida at The Arena and skipping the world champions in Suite H2 next door.  


My Criteria For Choosing A Jiu-Jitsu Gym To Train At

Whitebelt Darby | Flowclub BJJ

I am a research nerd. Before I picked my gym I researched a lot of aspects about Jiu-Jitsu gym culture and ultimately came to a few criteria that really helped me decide which gym I would train at.

Gym Location, Training Schedule, and Budget

I needed a gym that fit my schedule and within a reasonable driving distance. Lucky for me, there were a ton of gyms around me with flexible schedules, which gave me further options to be picky.

BJJ is expensive but the range can be pretty vast and I think it is important that you can afford your membership.

Self-Defense Emphasis

I wanted a gym that had a Gracie lineage because I definitely wanted a self-defense emphasis; and I did not know if I wanted to compete yet. I watched some of the Gracie combatives and I’m not saying that other schools don’t teach self-defense or sports Jiu-Jitsu is ineffective in a self-defense scenario. However, with my limited knowledge, and the information that I was exposed to, said that it is important to pick a school that fit your training goals and that Gracie schools usually started with self-defense.


If the mats at a gym were only cleaned once a month or less, I would not train there. I don’t want staph, ringworm, or any other nasty disease because a gym is too lazy to clean their mats. My gym had this down when I walked in the doors. I bought multiple Gi’s as a beginner because I wanted to be sanitary myself and not smell like a sweaty troll. I also expect my training partners and gym to reciprocate a level of cleanliness and vice-versa.

Gi, NoGi, and Striking

Though self-defense was my emphasis, I still wanted to try both Gi and NoGi. Not all gyms have both styles, but both would be awesome. Striking wasn’t huge on the list but if they also had a program then I definitely wasn’t complaining.

Gym Culture

I definitely wanted a gym that had both competitors and hobbyists. This was because I wasn’t sure if I wanted to compete, but I definitely wanted to have the option and support if I decided to. Further, I wanted the place to feel safe and friendly because I have worked in toxic environments before, which made even fun work shitty. It’s nice when a choke comes with a smile or anything else for that matter.

Belt Distribution and Body Types

I wanted a gym that had a few black belts and a reasonable distribution of belts. This is because I wanted to be able to train with different levels of skills if possible. Granted, the only thing I noticed is that I get wrecked regardless of belt color at this time so I’m not sure if I really care at this point about the distribution.

However, body types are still important to me. I want to be able to defend against bears, rabbits, eagles, giraffes, monkeys and tigers. Also, big people, little people, strong people, weak people, Frankenstein, Lebron James, Tyrion Lannister, and The Mountain. Not to be creepy, but if you’re one of my training partners, it’s cause I like your body. Practicing with you is teaching me how to kill your type of body in the real world, and for this, I thank you. Granted, I also learn new ways I can die or get mangled, which is pretty awesome. Also, don’t mess with nice little ladies or pretty much anyone else in the real world because killers at my gym look like nice normal people. 

Kick My butt

Before I went to any Jiu-Jitsu gyms, I decided that if I got to roll with any colored belts my first week, I better get my butt kicked efficiently. Wish granted. Thank you Dan, Teddy, and pretty much everyone who tapped me early on, you made me excited to train because of your BJJ skills of death.

Why learn if you’re good at it, am I right?

Additional Membership Perks

Alright, now I’m going to brag a bit. My gym has a crossfit-like gym, A/C, showers, and steam room. I train at a fancy BJJ gym but these were simply cherries on top. Also, I was lucky enough to have people I really click with at my gym and I’m making friends with people who practice killing me, which is freaking sweet!

Anyways, these were the main things that I remember putting on my checklist before walking into my first gym. Granted, the first gym I went to fit all these categories, and that’s because I do my research first with some geographical luck.

Thanks for reading, and if you are a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner, please leave a comment if you had something that was on your checklist before you joined that wasn’t on mine. Oss!


Why I Was Nervous About Starting Jiu-Jitsu

whitebelt darby

I’ve been aware of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu since 2005 and Judo all my life, but I didn’t start Judo till March of 2017 and Jiu-Jitsu May of 2017. Yes, I am a baby white-belt, and it’s amazing. Currently, I am pretty addicted to Jiu-Jitsu where I am literally volunteering to write an article about Jiu-Jitsu while training a lot. Sure, I know about the blue belt blues but I am pretty sure this is going to be a lifelong affair.

However, I started to wonder, why did it take 12 years for me to start? I’ve always loved martial arts and been tempted to try BJJ consistently over the years by practitioners. I watched UFC and knew BJJ is proven effective. In fact, I spent all of 2016, and early 2017, reading about Jiu Jitsu and watching BJJ videos before I finally decided to train.

In reality, I was nervous and even afraid to start Jiu Jitsu.

Sure, I am a somewhat responsible guy and thought about my budget on top of time etc. But, too be honest, I was definitely nervous. So, why was I nervous? What was I afraid of?

People I Feared Trained BJJ

I wasn’t bullied and I’ve lived most of my life with a sense of false confidence that I can kick butt; and I’ve been lucky enough to avoid ever fighting a true killer. However, there were certain people and friends that I could almost feel the icy chill that flowed through their veins. These people weren’t always big, muscle-bound, or tattooed. Many had none of the usual warning signs. In fact, I have a theory on why you should only fight big dudes, which I’ll write about some other time. Anyways, most of these guys and gals were nice and humble, but definitely had a sense of confidence combined with a badass coolness. Basically, my type of people.

Here’s the crazy thing: almost all of these people either wrestled, trained BJJ, or sometimes both. Maybe I’m weird, but for some reason, if my Darby senses (Hi, I’m Darby) went off saying, “Do NOT mess with this person!”, they trained grappling of some sort or MMA. Because I witnessed Jiu Jitsu’s effectiveness on UFC and the reality that tough people I knew trained BJJ, I was scared to join.

Unknown Expectations Of Jiu Jitsu Gym Culture and Training Fueled By Self-Doubt

Of course, the logical thing would have been to train BJJ or wrestle in order to have that skill and confidence to ultimately become a chokeologist myself. However, I’m someone who makes calculated decisions and I usually do my research.

Unfortunately, there was no Reddit r/BJJ where I could post questions way back in the day. I wasn’t sure what BJJ culture and gym cultures were like. Would I go in and just get my butt kicked and arm broken? Did you have to be a tough guy to train or did BJJ make you badass? Do you have to have some natural talents? Did I have those talents?

I spent the year prior to joining my BJJ gym lurking r/BJJ and watching all kinds of videos to figure out if I could get some more insight into the questions in the back of my head. Unfortunately, nowadays there is actually a TON of Jiu-Jitsu content out there and sometimes the information is contradictory.

One thing I quickly realized was that there is a ‘meta’ BJJ culture of low egos, and unity. Seriously, the BJJ online community is pretty supportive and that’s pretty special. Through reading online conversations, I realised that ultimately each gym has its own culture and I needed to find the one that fit the criteria I sought.

Basically, I spent a whole year figuring out that I need to just get myelf into some Jiu Jitsu gyms. Inherently, I knew that the first step is showing up but I had self doubt creeping up. Luckily, I actually don’t think I completely wasted my time for a lot of reasons.

How Pre-Training Nervousness and Research Helped Me

During the one year of seriously researching Jiu-Jitsu, I learned terminology like ‘spazzing’ and while I still spazz, I was at least aware of it. Further, I watched so many videos that I feel I picked up a visual understanding of what certain guards and positions looked like which turned out to be really helpful. However, the biggest gain from this limbo period was that I was obsessed with Jiu-Jitsu for a year and my mind had been studying Jiu-Jitsu for a year.

In my short time training Jiu-Jitsu I have witnessed white belts, who started before or after me, quit already. I’m sure there are multiple reasons why people quit, but when I decided to train, I KNEW I wanted to train Jiu-Jitsu and that it’s for me.

The bruises were to be expected. I knew that I should expect to get submitted and completely dominated. I knew mat time is the way to improve. I knew the history of Jiu-Jitsu and that it wouldn’t be easy. I walked into my gym with the goal of obtaining a black belt in my 15 year plan.

Cauliflower Ear

Yeah, I wear headgear. I still don’t want cauliflower ear until I have my black belt where it won't matter if I have it or not. 

These were the reasons for my nervousness, and I’m sure you were nervous at one point too. In the comments below, I would love to read about your personal reasons or concerns that you had prior to starting the coolest thing I do. Oss!