Finding the right gym to train at is a big deal.

Here are some of the guidelines I use put together from my experience and the experiences of others.

Things You Will Need

- Some Cajones
- Dash of Craziness
- Common Sense

Step 1

Do Your Homework!

Before joining a gym, do as much research on it as you can. That means googling the instructors and watching them fight, teach and compete to make sure they're the real deal.

Yelp is actually a useful resource for finding out if a school is any good or not. Although BEWARE, Yelp can be misleading and I once joined a gym that rated very high on Yelp (with the help of a few of the instructors' friends, I'm sure) and it turned into a certified nightmare when I joined and then couldn't get out of my contract when it hit me that the place was NOT for me.

This means you'll need to glean some word of mouth. The ef="/Mixed Mar tial Arts">mixed martial arts and brazilian jiu jitsu communities are unfortunately quite political. People don't post their true opinions on sites like Yelp and prominent MMA forums because it can be construed (and often is) as somehow dishonorable even though you're paying somebody to train you and do a good job and not waste your time. Yet, that's one of the unspoken and unquestioned rules. And I would say try to abide by it, as stupid and irrational as it is, because if you get a bad reputation in this community, it will follow you everywhere and nobody will want to train you or train with you.

On the other hand, don't take nonsense from others. This is a business, after all. Quietly make your intentions and expectations known from the start and you can avoid an unpleasant situation down the road.

Next you'll want to...

Step 2

Visit Schools

Go around and sit in on a couple of classes at the academies you're considering and get a feel for how things are done there. Really trust your gut instinct here because if you get a sense that this place doesn't jive with you, you're probably right. Trust me on this one.

Meet the instructor, talk to him.

Meet the students, talk to them.

Academies can be worlds apart in terms of the atmosphere. One thing I've found is that some schools are a breeding grounds for bullies and punks. The instructor is to blame entirely in this situation. And typically, when this is the case, the instructor is bully numero uno. Stay away from these schools. You may think training at a place like this will make you tougher but all it will do is drain you emotionally and impede your progress.

Studies have shown repeatedly that the best learning takes place in the context of positive emotions. You won't feel very positive when students three belts above you are choking you unconscious for asking a question (yes, it's happened to me and people I know). You shouldn't feel like you have to keep your mouth shut at all times. You're supposed to be learning and asking questions at appropriate times is a vital part of that process. And, it bears repeating, you're paying the instructor for his experience and it's your prerogative as a good student to draw on it as much as possible.

When you're at the right school for you, you'll KNOW it. It all depends on who you are and how you learn, but my feeling is that the best schools are like open forums. The teacher teaches and the students learn and yet they also have room to breathe, experiment, ask questions. One sign that you've found an amazing school is when the instructor actively learns from his students. Old school jiu jitsu types can be very dogmatic and insist on everything being their way or the old way when bjj and mma is in its infancy and techniques are evolving at lightning speed. Training under these guys may mean falling behind the curve.

Step 3

Observe The Instructor Very Carefully

The truth is that you go to a school as much for the camaraderie and vibe as for the instructor. Because this is the guy who's steering your jiu jitsu and mma path.

Determine if he's not only good at doing, but good at showing. There are plenty of fighters who couldn't really teach you how they do what they do, it's too natural to them.

A good teacher possesses "explicit" knowledge of their art and can teach it well.

This also means having a teacher who's learning style jives with your own. Do they approach teaching logically? Do they show you what happens every step of the way and most crucially, WHY?

They should. You're lining their pockets, remember?

Your instructor is also your mentor and friend. Ask yourself, do I want this person as a role model? Do I want him as a friend?

Step 4

Don't Sign A Contract

Whatever you do, DO NOT sign a contract.

If the school doesn't have a month-to-month payment option, implore the instructor to work it out with you.

You never know what's going to happen, and being stuck with an extra $150 a month bill for 6 months to a year can be a major bummer. You might get laid off or have a medical bill or need to help out your family. Life happens. And also, you may have thought you joined a great school and it turned out to suck. A lot. Now you're stuck paying for a school you don't even want to attend. Then you begrudgingly attend a couple of days a week and begin to hate it. Now you've got negative emotions associated with jiu-jitsu. A fine way to hamper your love for a beautiful sport.

Month to month is the way to go. Be firm on this one. Contracts are HARD to get out of!

Step 5

Train Hard, Train Smart

If you really want to take your mma and jiu jitsu game to the next level, training smart is just as vital as training hard.

Work on the most important things first and worry about fancy stuff later.

Read bjj and mma books and watch instructional videos.

There are some amazing programs online that can teach you the basics and lots of practical grappling methods.

There are plenty of videos available online that demonstrate various submission techniques. There are moves out there that don't look like they're possible, yet they exist!

Also, wear a cup! This is so important that I can't stress it enough.

If you don't want cauliflower ears, wear the protective head gear.

Be safe and make your opponent sorry!
Use your common sense and trust your instinct. That, and don't sign a contract! And you'll be fine. Don't learn this one the hard, expensive way. Take the advice laid out above!

Tips & Warnings