Finding Your Fight Family

My recent move to Denver Colorado left me excited yet apprehensive. I spent two months searching for the right gym for me in Denver. While I have not found a gym that will replace my Austin community, I have found that it’s important to persist in martial arts and keep rolling.

The practitioners in Denver have made me feel welcomed and are fun to roll with, so I’m excited to get more involved in the Jiu Jitsu community here. Learning a different city was stressful. I knew that a new fight family would ease the stress.

Here are 10 things to keep in mind while searching for a new gym:

  • Get to know the trainers and professors

It is important to understand how you feel around your potential teammates and professors. In any interview process, it’s good to keep the other talking about themselves. The same goes for building new friendships. Don’t over think your interactions, but imagine these people as your teammates.

Talk to your professors, ask them about their affiliation, and how they help their students grow. If you want to compete, imagine the professor as your competition coach.

  • Alternate open mats and free trials

Gyms often give a free trial so that you get a feel for their environment. Of course, go to as many open mats as possible. From open mats, you can sense the gym’s community and inclusiveness of other gyms. It’s definitely ideal to train at gyms that open their doors to others, as BJJ is a forever learning type of sport. Give yourself time to try other open mats as you enter a trial at another gym.

  • Explore locations near you

Time is power, and it can be beneficial if you find a gym near your work or home so that you’re more likely to train. That being said, if you find a place where you’re comfortable, sometimes the benefit of the community can outweigh the cost of the commute.

Before coming to Denver, I Google searched for BJJ gyms near my home and ranked them by distance. However, I found my favorite gyms roaming around on my bicycle. I used my city exploring time to find training facilities that are easy for me to get to.

  • Respect your learning style

If you  learn from smaller groups and more personalized attention, you may want to find a smaller gym. Huge competition gyms are promising, and more so if you do learn from big groups. Use your trial time to ensure that the instructor’s teaching style resonates with you.

I’m not naturally coordinated, so I appreciate extra attention and smaller classes, but will go to the larger gyms during open mats so that I know I’m exposed to a diverse set of skills.

  • Don’t get too invested in online reviews

Only people invested on the extreme ends will write a review and may not have your interests in mind. It could be good to hear what people say and see if something resonates with you, such as “no egos”, “tight community”, “great instructors”, “clean…”.

I tried ranking my top choices via Google and Facebook reviews and everybody had 5 stars. Among the sea of excellent reviews, I found a couple that were negative but didn’t fit in my own personal experience. Although you should take reviews with a grain of salt, the business owner replies may help inform your decision.

  • Ensure hygiene rules are being enforced

I’m a fan of those signs that say “No bare feet off the mat”, “Keep your nails clipped”, and “Clean your blood”. Ideally, people clean up their body fluids and keep the mats clean. Many gyms strongly enforce wearing shoes off the mat. I especially appreciate further explanations on risks such as ringworm and staph infection. Keeping your fight family informed keeps them safe and practitioners respecting the mats are respecting the gym family.

Furthermore, keep those nails trimmed and don’t slice and dice your training partners!

  • Train with the ladies

Especially if you’re looking to compete, you want to seek out the ladies who will challenge you. If you go to a class that seems male dominated, don’t get too discouraged just yet. Ask the other practitioners about the ladies in the gym and come back to an open mat.

  • Take your time

Moving is an arduous task and it’s important to spend time feeling your new location out. Don’t stress if you don’t find your new community soon, still miss your old Jiu Jitsu community, and still feel awkward in your new place. Everyone is awkward. Enjoy the process of finding a new fight family and introducing yourself to your new Jiu Jitsu community.

  • Check the Community Board

Some gyms post their events and upcoming competitions on a community board. One of my favorite Denver gyms uses a whiteboard in the classroom to post upcoming lesson plans, competitions, seminars and gym events. From their board, you can see they’re organized and have family oriented activities.

  • Go with your gut!

Your gut feeling is typically your brain filling information for you. If your gut is telling you to sign up for a gym where you like the trainers but the gym might be a little further out, there’s probably good reason. Simultaneously, if you find a good gym where everything checks out but your gut says no, don’t knock the gym out completely, but it’s probably not meant to be.

About the Author:



Genieva Croley

Guest Writer

Genieva Croley is a blue belt from Eastside Austin Elite. Recently moving to Denver Colorado, she is excited to become more involved with the Colorado Jiu Jitsu community. She started practicing Jiu Jitsu in January 2013 and is also an avid cyclist who enjoys playing outside, making people laugh, and volunteer work. She studied Computational Mathematics and Psychology at the University of Texas in Austin.

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