Throughout my years of training, there is a lot of finger pointing among different communities on each gym that is practising cult culture but how does a real cult gym look like? I have been to different gyms both domestic & abroad and have had my fair share of experiences of amazing gyms & I have also had bad experiences in some gyms.
My good experience includes receiving a warm welcome from the students and instructors while my bad experience happened where instructors & students were being unwelcoming & unfriendly. Prior to opening my gym in 2012, the BJJ community was very small where there were very limited gyms in my country. In order to grow the sport, cross-training plays an important role but not many gyms were keen on this idea. Is that a cult culture or refusal to collaborate with other gyms? Personally, I have no answer to this.
But looking into each gym culture from the inside, it is easier to identify it by seeing how instructors are treating their students or the culture they build from inside. There are a few red flags that you can look into to verify if it is a cult gym.
The gym or instructor refused to have visitors or are displaying unwelcoming sign to visitors. It happens all the time. It can either be the visitors is known to be assholes or if the visitors are nice yet your instructor is showing unwelcoming sign, it’s a red flag. It can be either they are insecure of their skills or they hate to pass on their “secret techniques” to visitors. LOL.
They limit you from training at other gyms
This is the most significant sign of a cult gym. Come & think about it, students are also your paid members where they are paying for your service & knowledge. It is important to have mutual respect with each other & I personally don’t see any problem to have my gym members or customers train at another gym. BJJ is a limitless knowledge sport where it is a never ending learning process for everyone. As an instructor, you may be good at certain moves & be bad at some. If your members seek to learn from different instructors, you should support their decision to seek grow their BJJ knowledge & skills. If you get punished or embarrassed for cross training, leave the gym.
Instructors Refused To support cross training among gyms
There are many instructors that will be very busy with excuses on why they never show up for any cross training events. If they truly support the community & wanting to grow the sports, they should collaborate together to grow the sports.
Questionable Qualifications & Credentials
Sometimes we may find some instructors where they have weird credentials or you have no idea when or how they got their belt. As the sports is huge, we may find 1-2 frauds in each community.
Instructors Promote Hate Among Students & Other Gyms
If you hear your instructor bad mouth other instructors skills, you should change your gym immediately. As I mentioned earlier, each instructor is good at certain things & bad at some so there is no need to bad mouth others especially among students.
Senior Students Spread Negativity Among Students
There are also cases where seniors starting to act like co-instructor where they start’ to share their knowledge while your instructor is leading the class. Or they will always be judgemental towards your instructor’s promotion to others. If you have ever experienced such seniors, you should either tell your instructor about it or avoid having further interaction with those people.
Instructor Taking Advantage on Students
It is common where cult instructors will try to take advantage of their students. It can be a trade off for free stuff or even sexual request. Being respectful does not equal to worshipping. If you have ever encountered such situations, you should walk off immediately.
As a lifetime martial arts student, my community started as white belts teaching white belts where we learn techniques from YouTube & it involved many trial & error. Our lucky days would be when random blue belts or higher ranking visitors walk in to share their knowledge & skills with us. After starting my gym, I am also lucky to have multiple instructors & a World Champion coach to guide us for the past 6 years where he managed to grow the community by promoting cross-training & sharing of his knowledge. One of his most important tips for being a world champion is to have frequent cross-training to learn & also train with different training partners therefore he never limits his students to train in other gyms.
Each of us have a huge passion for BJJ & we will come across those red flags. Never be afraid to walk off from those gyms as you will always find a better gym among your community. As a paid customer, you should always pay to get the best service & if your current gym is not up to your expectation, you should try out other gyms to have a better comparison.
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