BJJ Gym Contracts: Ask These 15 Questions Before You Sign
There are a number of important factors that go into picking a good gym, though not all of them will apply to your specific search. If you find yourself overwhelmed by this list, keep in mind that you don’t need to know the answer to every question. The purpose of this list is to get you thinking before you jump into a situation that is not right for you. Read through the questions, make note of what seems important to you, and take the time to think about questions you may not have considered.
The following list is categorized by a mixture of priority and difficulty; you may not know the answer to some questions until you've spent time training at the gym. If you aren’t interested in getting granular when picking a gym, then just take a look at the first few items in the priority list. If you are the kind of person that wants to be as prepared as possible, then read each question, and try to think of additional questions that may have been missing from this list.
#1 - Is the gym Beginner Friendly?
Are there beginner classes available on the class schedule?
Does the gym require you to attend special classes as a beginner?
When looking at the schedule, see if any of the classes specifically state that they are for beginners. The classes might be called, “Beginner BJJ,” “Intro to BJJ,” “BJJ 101,” or something along those lines. Depending on the size of the gym, you may find that these classes are indeed for only beginners, or they may be filled with a mix of beginner and advanced students. Regardless, finding a gym that includes classes with the word “beginner” may indicate that they are more friendly toward beginning students.
You should also ask whether you will be required to attend beginner classes or private lessons before attending other classes. Some gyms may want to introduce you to the sport in a very specific way, and other gyms may want to get you into the general population as quickly as possible. Neither way is right or wrong, but it is good to understand that different gyms have different approaches. Additionally, if you are looking to ease into the sport, you may want to select a gym with a mandatory beginner course.
Conclusion: Find a gym that offers classes for beginners.
#2 - Are There Female Members?
How many female members typically attend the BJJ classes?
Are there any female BJJ instructors at the gym?
If you are a female looking for a gym, these are important questions to ask. If you are a male, you may be tempted to gloss over this section of questions, but you shouldn’t. I would highly recommend that you take this section just as seriously as a female who is looking for a gym. The number of female students and/or instructors can often be indicative of the culture at the gym.
Generally speaking, if the gym is filled with meatheads and inappropriate behavior, women won’t be sticking around. Contrarily, if there is a healthy mix of female and male grapplers, it is likely a better culture. That being said, understand that there will probably be fewer females overall who participate in the sport, so that percentage will vary. If you are a female and looking to primarily train with females, look for an all-women gym. They do exist, even if there are not that many of them just yet.
Conclusion: Female members can indicate a healthy culture.
#3 - How Much Money Will it Cost?
How much are the membership dues?
Are there any other fees at signup, such as an initiation fee?
Do the monthly dues include a limited number of classes per month?
BJJ dues are typically not cheap, but some gyms are simply overpriced. Know your budget, and don’t get pressured into signing up at a gym that you can’t afford. You should expect to pay around $25-$50 per month on the cheap end, $100-$125 for your average gym, and around $175-$200 for the high end. Of course, you’ll get what you pay for, but you don’t need to train with the best in the world when you’re first starting. Consider trying out the sport at a more relaxed, less expensive gym, and just make sure that you even like it.
There are many people who train for six months or a year and decide they would like to move on. Other grapplers just want to have a side hobby and don’t train very seriously. Whatever you decide, make sure it’s the right decision for you. Once you have been training for some time, and you decide you want to take your game to the next level, then you may want to seek out a better gym that is likely more expensive. When you first start training, however, you don’t need to learn from the most decorated competitor who is charging premium rates.
Conclusion: Don’t start out at the most expensive gym.
#4 - What are the People Like?
If you talked to anyone on the phone, how friendly were they?
Did they seem excited for you to come visit?
If you left a message, did they call you back?
It doesn’t matter if you train with the best BJJ practitioner in the world, if they are hard to communicate with or talk down to you, the training will likely be a negative experience. While some grapplers may prefer a tough style of coaching, there is a difference between tough love and abusive behavior. Furthermore, most people who train will be participating as a hobbyist, and it’s not worth it to train a few days a week if it’s going to be miserable. You don’t necessarily need to find people who are overly friendly, but finding professional training partners will go a long way.
This is an important step in finding a gym, but it can be difficult to gauge the behavior of gym coaches and members until you've spent time training with them. The sooner you can discover the type of people you're training with, the better, but keep in mind that it could take some time. In the meantime, be friendly and positive, but keep a healthy distance and don't be overly trusting. This step is listed above signing a contract, in hopes that you will be able to learn more about the people you're training with before committing to a contractual obligation.
Conclusion: Know the difference between tough love and abusive behavior.
#5 - What Kind of Contracts do They Offer?
Can you pay month-to-month or does it have to be a long-term contract?
Do you save money by signing up for a long-term contract?
What is the cancellation policy?
Do you have the options to purchase a lifetime membership?
When first starting out, be wary of gyms that only offer long-term contracts. Look for gyms that offer a free class, week, or month or training before you have to sign up. Always try the free class before signing a contract. I would highly recommend training multiple classes at multiple gyms before you decide to sign a contract anywhere. After a few classes, you should have a good feel for the gym and whether it is a good fit for what you’re looking for.
When you are ready to sign up, make sure you ask about the cancellation policy. If things get awkward when you start asking questions, this might be a red flag. Also, ask if the gym offers the ability to purchase a lifetime membership. This will likely be expensive, probably in the thousands of dollars. Even if you aren’t interested in purchasing one, it can be an indication that the owner plans on keeping the gym open for as long as possible.
Conclusion: Avoid signing a long-term contract when starting out.
#6 - Are Specific Uniforms Required?
Does the gym offer classes for Gi, No Gi, or both?
Does your membership signup come with a uniform?
Are you required to wear only your gym’s uniform?
Traditionally, BJJ is performed in the Gi, which includes a jacket, pants, and belt. Some gyms also offer No Gi classes, more commonly found in gyms that also offer Wrestling or MMA classes. The No Gi class may even be labeled as a Wrestling class or Competition Class. If you think you’ll want to compete, see if you can find a gym that offers both Gi and No Gi classes. That way, when you decide to start competing, you will have more competition options.
Some gyms will require you to purchase a Gi with their specific branding on it. The branding typically comes in the form of a “patch” that is sewn onto the back of the Gi. In these instances, it may be disrespectful to wear a Gi with a different branding on it. Make sure you clarify whether you are allowed to wear a generic Gi. You will likely want multiple uniforms, and generic brands are often much less expensive to purchase.
You will probably find that most gyms do not require their specific branding, and some gyms will even throw in a free Gi when you sign a contract with them. The more laid back the culture is, the more likely the gym is to allow any Gi. That being said, some of the best competitors in the world train at strict gyms. They can be a great place to become a world-class competitor. However, they may not be the best place to start out, and they are less like to be the best choice for the beginner or hobbyist.
Conclusion: Start out at a laid-back gym with no required uniform branding.
#7 - Do Students and Instructors Compete?
Does the gym offer Wrestling, Judo, or Competition classes?
Does the gym have members that compete regularly?
Do any of the instructors compete regularly?
In most cases, you will find that gym owners or head coaches at BJJ gyms compete or have competed at tournaments locally, nationally, or even internationally. While this isn’t the be-all and end-all, it should be a key factor in making a decision. One of the critical components of the BJJ philosophy is to test your game against resisting opponents. While it’s not necessary for every student to compete, those who go into teaching and coaching should probably have competed at least once. Whether they are winning competitors isn’t even necessarily important; it’s about whether they have been willing to test their game and risk a public loss.
If you think you’ll want to compete down the road, look for a gym with coaches who regularly enter competitions. Not only will they be able to get you ready for the competition mentally and physically, but these coaches will often show up for your competition, help you warm up, and coach you from the sidelines during your matches. It can be a daunting experience to compete. It is a lot easier when you have a coach who is willing to help you prepare and cheer you on during your matches.
Conclusion: If you want to compete, find coaches who actively compete.
#8 - Is Cross Training Allowed?
Is cross-training at other gyms allowed?
Does the gym offer an open mat to the public?
Do any of the members regularly attend open mats in the area?
At some BJJ gyms, they discourage their students from training elsewhere or attending open mats at other gyms. The reason for this philosophy will vary from gym-to-gym, though the purpose is typically to hide their specific curriculum so that it can’t be replicated easily. This usually stems from an old-school martial arts mentality based on secrecy and spoon-feeding students a small amount of information at a time. While the internet has made it nearly impossible to stop the spread of information, you will still find that some BJJ gyms or instructors intentionally withhold information in an attempt to keep students keep coming back.
Conclusion: Find a gym that encourages cross-training at other gyms.
#9 - What is Their Schedule?
Morning classes and/ or evening classes?
How long are the classes?
Do classes include rolling or sparring?
Is there an option to roll or spar after?
There are many different ways to structure a schedule, but you will likely find that weekday classes in the evening are most common. If you don’t work a traditional 9-5 schedule, you will want to find a gym that offers morning classes, but this might be harder to find. Most gyms will offer weekend classes, so this can also be a good option if you can’t make evening classes. Additionally, it never hurts to inquire if anyone trains outside of the schedule. You might find that some people come in on a regular outside of normal hours, and this can be a great way to get in extra training.
When it comes to how the classes are structured, some gyms will offer one-hour classes with optional sparring after. Other gyms will include sparring in the class length and offer longer classes. When possible, there are usually students that stay after class for more rolling. If you are only training a few times per week, it can be very beneficial to find a gym that has long classes and will allow you to stay after and train. The general recommendation is to attend 3-4 classes per week in order to make progress. However, if you can only make 2 classes per week, but you are able to attend longer classes and stay after, this can help make up for that.
Conclusion: Find a gym with a schedule that allows you to train as much as possible.
#10 - How Difficult is the Commute?
How close is the gym to your home?
How close is the gym to your work?
Is it close, but hard to get to?
How difficult your commute will be is one of those things that might seem unimportant when you first start training, but it will eventually become a huge hassle for you if it’s a long drive. If you end up becoming a BJJ addict, you might not even find a long drive all that bad. However, consider that if you have a family or significant other in the mix, a long drive might mean the difference between them being awake or asleep when you get home.
Some practitioners like to go straight from work to the gym. They might have a couple evenings during the week that they set aside to train, and so they prioritize the gym being located closer to work than home. This can end up being a long day, and it requires lots of preparation ahead of time. To start out with, it might be better to find a gym near your home. This will make it easier to space out your classes throughout the weekdays and weekend.
Additionally, if the gym is technically nearby, but it’s impossible to get to during rush hour traffic, this can be an additional headache you probably don’t need to deal with. Granted, not everyone will have the luxury of being picky on these points. If you live in a rural area, you will be lucky to have one gym within a 30-45 minute drive.
Conclusion: Find a gym that is close to your home and easy to get to.
#11 - Is the Neighborhood Safe?
What does the neighborhood near the gym look like?
Would you feel safe leaving the gym late at night?
Are you comfortable leaving your car for hours at a time?
If you plan on attending evening classes, consider the surrounding neighborhood. If the gym does not have a parking lot and you have to find street parking, consider whether it’s on a well-lit street or in a sketchy area. If parking is difficult to find in the area, you might have to walk a significant distance alone in the dark. If you stay after class to get in that extra training, you could easily be walking back to your car fairly late. Make sure you consider your safety when deciding which gym to sign up at.
Conclusion: Make sure you would feel safe walking to your car late at night.
#12 - What are People Saying?
What are people saying about this gym?
Are there online reviews, and are they positive?
People are getting more and more comfortable submitting reviews for businesses they are passionate about, and BJJ practitioners are often extremely passionate about the sport. If you are unable to find reviews through Facebook or Google Maps (also known as Google My Business), this likely indicates a very small gym. That is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if you live in a rural area. However, if you live in the city, you should expect most reputable gyms to have glowing reviews. There are rare occasions in which a gym owner was unfairly targeted, and it resulted in tons of negative reviews. To be safe, you should probably make sure your first BJJ gym is a business with a strong online review presence with mostly positive reviews.
Conclusion: If you live in the city, your gym should have good reviews.
#13 - What are the Facilities Like?
Does the gym have a run-down look to it?
Are there separate changing rooms for men and women?
Are there restrooms?
Are there showers?
Is there a drinking fountain?
Are the mats in good condition?
The condition of the facilities and the amenities provided will be more important to some people than others. If this is your first gym, though, you should know that there are places that offer showers, changing rooms, bathrooms, drinking fountains, and mats with good conditions. They do exist, so don’t let yourself be fooled into thinking that training out of some guy’s garage is going to be a more legitimate experience. There’s no point in training BJJ if you’re going to spend most of your time off the mats recovering from a ringworm or staph infection.
Conclusion: Look for a gym with clean facilities (and hopefully a shower).
#14 - Do They Have an Online Presence?
Does this gym have a website?
Are they active on social media?
Does it have an active Facebook profile or group?
When looking for reviews for your gym, you may have come across their website, Facebook profile, or other social media accounts. You probably shouldn’t expect your gym’s site to be the epitome of modern website design, but they should at least have their current contact information, hours of operation, and schedule. You can even look for a private Facebook group that gyms will often have, which allow their members to easily communicate with one another. A gym with no online presence might not be a deal breaker, but it will add a huge level of convenience if they do. For example, even if all they do is post Facebook updates regarding holiday hours or whenever a coach is running late, it has the potential to be very beneficial to you.
Conclusion: A current online presence can save you a lot of hassle.
#15 - How Does the gym Track Membership?
Does the gym have a computer system or a card system?
How does the gym track membership?
Do you have to check in before class?
If you have had a regular gym membership at a place like 24 Hour Fitness, you know that they expect you to sign in to verify your membership before you can work out. Many BJJ gyms operate quite differently and do not require members to check in before class. This is indicative of a very tight group of people where everyone is recognized on sight. Even large gyms can be extremely close-knit, especially if they offer many classes throughout the day. The gym may even officially state that they require check-in, but ask if it is usually enforced. Either way, it may not seem like a big deal to you, but some people prefer to train in a smaller community that will know them by sight.
Conclusion: If you prefer a small community, avoid gyms that require check-in.
Did you Find This Helpful?
If you are new to BJJ, I hope this helped you get a better idea of what to expect. If you think of something that wasn't covered or would like to know more about a specific detail, leave a comment below or send us a message.