For many people BJJ is more than a sport. The Brazilian martial art is often dubbed as a “lifestyle” as it can encapsulate some of its practitioners who derive their entire self worth from the sport. Those who get too deep into the BJJ “lifestyle” share many similarities with cult members. In this article we will detail the warning signs of potential cult like behavior in BJJ so you can spot the early warning signs.
Is my BJJ gym a cult? If your BJJ gym doesn’t allow you to train at other gyms, regularly pressures you into paying for extras such as clothing, seminars and private lessons, requests you perform labor for free such as teaching classes and cleaning the gym, builds a cult of personality around the gym owner then your gym is likely a cult.
Is It Ok To Train At Multiple BJJ Gyms?
Yes, it is ok to train at multiple BJJ gyms. If your main coach has a problem with you training at multiple schools or dropping into other gyms then you need to find another gym.
There is this strange culture in some BJJ gyms where coaches will attempt to ban students from training at other gyms. This a ridiculous tradition. A paying customer has the right to choose where he goes and who he hires. If a paying customer can find a better or more convenient service elsewhere than it is up to them if they partake in that service.
If your coach is banning you from training at other gyms then this is a warning sign that your BJJ gym is a cult. Cult leaders will attempt to isolate their followers from others as it makes them easier to control. Many BJJ coaches are scared that if they let their students train at other gyms then they will realize that their coaching abilities are inferior and all their students will leave. If your coach does not let you train at other gyms and also openly criticizes surrounding clubs then this is a double red flag and is most likely an attempt to make up for his poor coaching ability.
A coach who is confident in his abilities would not be threatened by other gyms and would not fear losing students by allowing them to train at other clubs. A high level coach would encourage his students to train at other clubs as they could learn new techniques or training styles that they could bring back to his gym, improving the quality of his gym.
Do I Have To Buy A Gi And Rashguard From My BJJ Gym?
Many BJJ gyms will implement a uniform policy. They will force you to wear their gym’s gear while training. This is nothing more than a money grab as they will force you to buy often cheap gear with a large markup from their gym shop.
If your gym has a uniform policy I would consider looking for another gym. A gym that has a uniform policy views its students as customers who are to be squeezed for their money. You are already paying monthly fees to train, the fact that they feel they have the right to force you to shell out even more money to wear their clothing is kind of gross.
If your gym forces you to buy their gear and also charges a high markup then this is another warning sign of cult like behavior. Cults like to come up with different ways to financially drain their followers. A uniform policy is simply a slightly hidden way to get students to cough up more money. The fact that nearly all gyms that have a uniform policy charge premium rates for poor quality gear is proof of that.
If a gym has a uniform policy and they were charging small markups for high quality gear this may be slightly acceptable but I am yet to find an example of this. As gyms who have uniform policies are greedy and can’t help themselves to their students’ wallets.
Do I Have To Attend A BJJ Seminar?
No, BJJ seminars are optional. If your BJJ gym is pressuring you to attend a seminar then find another gym. Any gym that is engaging in hard sales tactics to sell seminars is a scammy gym and a possible cult. BJJ seminars can be a great way to learn new techniques and meet BJJ community members but they are often costly and you should only attend if you see value and actually want to go. Do not let your BJJ coach or team mates try to pressure you into going.
Seminars are another way cult like BJJ gym owners like to prey on students. They often start with soft pressure saying things like you will learn so much, it will be great for you to meet whoever is running the seminar. Then they will apply more pressure talking about how it will really help the gym out financially. Then they can ramp the pressure up by saying you won’t get promoted or receive a stripe if you don’t attend.
A number of gyms will only do promotions at seminars. Of course they won’t tell students if they are getting promoted at that particular seminar. So you have students who are desperate for a new belt shelling out money for seminars they would never go to because of the chance of promotion.
If your gym puts any pressure on you to attend BJJ seminars I would leave. At best they are a school that wants to extract as much money from you possible and at worst are a cult which is looking to scam you into buying things you don’t want.
Do I Have To Pay To Receive My BJJ Belt?
No, at most gyms you do not have to pay to receive your belt. However, some BJJ gyms do charge for gradings. They will hold special seminars or training sessions where you have to pay to receive your belt.
If your gym holds gradings where they force you to pay to receive a promotion I would leave the gym. This is a blatant money grab. The gradings should be covered by the monthly training fees. This is another hidden charge that scam artist gym owners use to skim more money from their students.
If gym owners were up front with their students about all the extra charges they would throw at them many would have never signed up in the first place. Gym owners, just like cult leaders get the students through the door and then as they build a relationship with them and get them ingrained in the BJJ “lifestyle” they start applying the financial pressure and get them to hand over more and more money.
Gym owners who attempt to make money off their students through hidden fees such as gradings are possible cult leaders who should be avoided for engaging in scam like operations.
Do I Have To Clean My BJJ School?
No, you do not have to clean your BJJ school. If your BJJ school is asking you to clean or perform labor you should be receiving compensation. If you aren’t receiving compensation they are taking advantage of you and you may be in a cult.
Many BJJ gyms will attempt to take advantage of eager BJJ students by getting them to perform labor for the gym. They will often provide no compensation for this labor. So you will find students who are paying full fees spending hours every week cleaning the mats, performing repairs on the gym and teaching class for no reward.
If a gym is asking you to perform labor and not mentioning any compensation then get out of there. Any gym that would ask you to work for free while still charging to train is a cult.
If a gym asks you to work for them but is willing to compensate you fairly this is acceptable and is a great way to earn a bit of money while helping your gym. However, if your coach thinks its acceptable for you to work for free then he is not your friend and may be running a cult as he has no problem trying to exploit you.
Do I Have To Bow To My BJJ Instructor?
No, you do not have to bow to your BJJ instructor. Most schools do not have bowing. Some schools will attempt to force you to bow to your coach. This can be a sign of cult like behavior as they try to establish the coach as being above you and an almost god like figure.
Bowing comes from Japan where it is a common greeting. However, in the West bowing is associated with religion and submitting yourself to someone. The act of trying to force a Westerner to bow is strange and gives off cult like vibes.
I personally would never train in school that had a forced bowing rule. I think it is a sign that the coach may be attempting to set himself up as some god like figure.
If your BJJ school forces you to bow to your coach and there is an atmosphere of not being able to criticize your coach then this is a warning sign of a potential cult and you should look for another gym. Cult leaders will attempt to separate themselves from their followers by getting their followers to worship them and put themselves beyond the realm of criticism.
BJJ is so much fun. Unfortunately, this can lead many BJJ practitioners becoming so immersed in the martial art that they fall for cult like gyms and coaches. If your gym doesn’t let you train at other gyms, puts pressure on you to buy extras like private lessons and clothing, forces you to perform labor for free and has created an atmosphere where the head coach is worshiped then you are likely in a cult and you should look for another gym.