If you have trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, or any martial art for that matter, you are probably aware of the premium placed on loyalty to your gym.

When it comes to BJJ, loyalty can be a tricky subject.

Traditionally speaking, leaving your gym, or switching instructors was highly frowned upon and considered disrespectful, or worse.

Carlson Gracie Sr

In fact, BJJ has the term ‘Creonte’ (pronounced ‘Cree-yonch’) to describe a student who switches gyms or instructors. The term was coined by Carlson Gracie based on Brazilian soap opera character who was wishy washy and disloyal.

Despite the traditional distain for gym-switchers, in the modern era of BJJ, switching gyms is less taboo. 

Let’s break down the original justification for placing a premium on gym loyalty. 

We then discuss the reality of BJJ in the modern era and some valid reasons you might choose to switch gyms.

The Origins of Loyalty in BJJ

Before BJJ gyms functioned as businesses in capitalist societies, die-hard loyalty had a clear place in BJJ culture.

In the older days of martial arts, black belt instructors would often take students under their wing and train them without collecting monthly gym dues.

The student might give back to the school by cleaning or coaching, and the instructor would share their style, techniques, and secrets that defined that instructor’s style.

An instructor who invested years into a student’s development and shared their unique knowledge would understandably be upset if the student left for another gym.

The former pupil would be bringing the techniques and knowledge to a competitor and leaving the original school and instructor high-and-dry.

As such, the culture of loyalty ran deep, and a student known for leaving one school after another might end up blacklisted from local academies.

The Reality of Modern BJJ Loyalty

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms today, particularly in the United States, do not operate as institutions offering free training to loyal students or dedicated in-house competitors.

Even though BJJ is quite different from CrossFit, step aerobics, or weightlifting, BJJ gyms in American cities fundamentally operate as small businesses.

In a business, the owners and institution provide value to the customer in return for payment. 

It is the duty of the business to ensure the customer receives value.

On the other hand, the customer must pay for the service of the gym. 

The gym has expenses such as rent and utilities, and the coaches bring their experience and teaching ability and deserve to be compensated.

Art of Jiu Jitsu

Art of Jiu Jitsu – Costa Mesa, CA

While some gyms may elect to have students train for free in exchange for some input such as helping clean or coach classes, the average person training at a BJJ school pays for the service.

Given that students are forking over their hard-earned money for training, they have the freedom to take their time and money elsewhere and should not be shamed for doing so.

Since BJJ requires a different level of commitment and instructor-to-student relationship compared to traditional fitness businesses, we often get uncomfortable with the notion of the business relationship in BJJ.

Nevertheless, the old-school loyalty-over-everything mentality is less applicable to modern BJJ given that there is a financial exchange that should benefit both parties.

Additionally, with the large number of instructionals and social media posts breaking down every technique in BJJ, there are few ‘secret techniques.’ 

Most instructors do not think of techniques as intellectual property the way they might have in the past. 

Valid Reasons For Switching BJJ Schools

Committing to a new Jiu Jitsu school is not a decision to take lightly. 

Given that you will be spending hundreds or even thousands of hours and dollars at the academy where you train, its vital that you get the most benefit for your time and money.

The following are a few valid reasons you might consider switching schools.

The instructor is not the right fit

While no individual earns a black belt without dedication, hard work, and true skill, the reality is that BJJ coaches are not created equal.

This is not just about which coach is the most accomplished competitor.

Different coaches have different teaching styles and BJJ game plans that work better for some students than others.

You may really like a certain instructor, but another person may find that instructor’s style difficult to learn from, or vice versa.

There is nothing wrong with this, it is simply a fact of the learning process.

Particularly as a new student, you should try several instructors to find one you like and can learn from. BJJ takes many years to learn, and its vital that you groove with the instructor.

You do not like the school’s subculture

Every BJJ school has its own vibe.

Certain schools place heavy emphasis on high-level competition while others are more casual focused.

Some schools are very formal and traditional.

Others are laid back and may not even bow in and out of class.

Depending on your goals and personality, the overall culture at a given school may be a better fit for you, and it may be worth switching schools if this is the case.

The location of the school makes training unfeasible

You may have a BJJ school you really like but are forced to move or switch jobs, making transportation difficult.

While driving an extra 10 minutes for the right BJJ school is probably worth it, a multi-hour commute may make training unfeasible, even if you love the academy.

Life forces you to change locations, and if BJJ is important to you, that may require you to switch to a school that is closer to your new location.

Interpersonal conflict makes training uncomfortable

While serious conflicts are not common within BJJ schools, there are times when a conflict between you and a coach or another student may make it uncomfortable for you to train.

You should of course try to resolve the conflict before simply walking away, however there are certainly times when you cannot clear up an interpersonal issue with another person at the gym.

Particularly if that person outranks you or is an instructor, it may be best to find another school if you are no longer comfortable at your gym.

Loyalty in BJJ: The Bottom Line

While there are some good reasons you might switch schools, you should still consider the decision carefully.

It often takes years to develop the relationships with coaches and training partners that ultimately make BJJ so rewarding.

While old-school notions of loyalty may be a bit outdated, there is still a cost to switching gyms and rebuilding your training relationships from the ground up.

Furthermore, if you do choose to leave your school, you must be prepared for the fact that you could lose friends and reputation from your old training partners.

Nevertheless, if you know in your heart that you are at the wrong BJJ school, you should not stay out of an arbitrary notion of loyalty.

January 04, 2021 — Casey Kluver