Why Jiu-Jitsu Gym Culture Is Important

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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.