Ashley and Josiah at Renzo NYC

10 Tips for Visiting another Jiu Jitsu Gym

Visiting a new BJJ school while on vacation or to consider joining can feel a little scary, especially for introverts like me, but over the past year I’ve come to really appreciate the benefits I get from training as a visitor when traveling. Together my husband and I have now visited over 10 BJJ gyms in other cities.

Ashley and Josiah at Renzo NYC
Me and my husband at the Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City
Me and my husband at B Team in Austin, Texas

Based on what I’ve learned, I’ve put together this list of tips to help make your visit to a different Jiu Jitsu school a good experience.

1. Research Before You Go.

Before deciding to visit a gym, I always learn as much as I can beforehand about what to expect. I read about the owner or head instructor, I read reviews online, and I look at pictures on the gym’s social media. This helps me learn a little about the background and culture of the academy.

2. Register and sign a waiver in advance if possible.

Many Jiu Jitsu schools have a way to sign up for a free trial class on their website. I always do this so that I’ll be in their system and can go ahead and sign a waiver if they email me a link to one. This saves time when you arrive at the gym, but of course it’s not always possible.

Recently I tried register online for a free trial class at a gym in Colorado and didn’t get a response after filling out the form on the website, so I just showed up a bit early and ended up being able to train the same night. But keep in mind some BJJ schools limit their class sizes due to mat space, so if you do show up without communicating or registering in advance, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get to train. If this happens, you could ask to watch the class instead.

3. Call or Send an email to let them know you’re coming.

This isn’t a hard requirement, but I like to email the school before the day we plan to train to introduce myself and ask them if they’re anything I need to know before I show up for class. I feel this helps give a first impression of me as friendly and respectful.

Sometimes the school will reply to your email with information you actually need to know. For example, one gym in Texas replied and told me that it would normally be fine for me to visit but that their instructor would be out of town for a few days, and that I should wait to visit when he was back in town. I was glad to know this before making the 20 minute drive!

Also, there are a few Jiu Jitsu schools that do not allow visitors to drop in, or would require all visitors to attend a beginner class regardless of rank, so it’s good to know that in advance and skip those schools if you’re looking for a chance to roll.

4. Be Ready to pay.

Many gyms will let you train for free the first time you visit, but expressing that you’re willing to pay if necessary shows that you value the opportunity and are not just looking for free handouts.

Some Jiu Jitsu gyms charge visitors a drop-in fee. We paid $50 per day to drop in at B-Team in Austin and Renzo Gracie Academy in New York City, but $25 per day is more common at gyms that aren’t so well known.

5. Watch out for Uniform Rules.

Some gyms have rules about what gi colors are allowed or what is considered appropriate NoGi attire. Usually they will have this information on their website, but if not, a good way to figure out what type of training gear is allowed is to look at pictures on the gym’s social media. If in doubt, a white gi with no team logo on it is always acceptable for a gi class.

For an unknown NoGi class, my go-to outfit is grappling shorts over leggings or spats with a solid color rash guard. My husband, who is a big guy and a purple belt, likes to wear his Baby Yoda rash guard to show that he’s not trying to hurt anyone. 🙂

Another tip: Some gyms have gi’s you can rent or borrow for your visit. If this is an option, you can save space in your luggage!

6. Arrive 15 minutes early.

This is one of the most important tips on the list. By arriving early, you’ll have time to introduce yourself, find the bathroom, sign paperwork, and meet the instructor before class starts. All these will help both you and the instructor feel more comfortable with your visit. In my experience, if you arrive more than 15 minutes early (unless there is a class that meets before the one you’re attending) you may have to wait in your car until someone arrives to unlock the door.

7. Introduce yourself to the instructor.

I always say, “Hi, my name is Ashley, and I’m here visiting from out of town.” Then the instructor will ask me additional questions and will usually give me extra instructions during class about who to partner with, rules for games, etc.

If you do arrive late, stand off to the side of the mat until you can catch the attention of the instructor and they invite you to join the class. You might add a quick, “Thank you; sorry I’m late” if it seems appropriate.

8. Pay Attention to Mat Etiquette.

Procedure can differ from one school to another, but generally you’ll need to remove your shoes before stepping onto the mat and leave your water bottle and mouth guard somewhere handy off the mat. I always bow when stepping on and off the mat because I know these are traditions at many academies, even though it’s not something we do at my home gym. Watch other students and follow their lead.

9. Take it down a notch.

You won’t endear anyone to yourself by going too hard right out of the gate. Nobody likes a showoff, and students who don’t know you may already be wondering whether you’re safe to roll with, so if you give off a vibe that you’re trying to win at all costs, you’ll put people on the defensive.

I like to feel out my rolling partners and try to match but not exceed their intensity. Sometimes instead of fighting too hard for a submission, I’ll let the opportunity go and work instead on escaping from a bottom position or finding other submissions.

10. Be Humble and open to learning

Visiting other gyms has been a humbling experience for me because, as I quickly found out, every gym has its unique style and techniques they like to focus on, and those may be very different from what’s emphasized at my gym. Sometimes attending an advanced class at another gym makes feel like a white belt all over again, and as a purple belt it’s easy to feel insecure or start questioning whether I my rank.

Even though it can feel uncomfortable, being exposed to new options has been the very thing about visiting other gyms that has helped me grow as a Jiu Jitsu player. By incorporating the new information into my own game, I’ve been able to push past learning plateaus find solutions to problems I’d been stuck in for months, and I am not sure I would have been able to do that on my own without cross training.

If the techniques being taught at the gym you’re visiting are different than what you’re used to, my advice is to do your best to try the techniques the new way and be willing to learn. Accept input and correction from the instructor or your training partner without arguing, even if you don’t agree.

When it’s time to roll, try out the new techniques instead of relying only on techniques you’re already good at. You might be able to “win” with your go-to techniques that the people at the new gym aren’t as familiar with, but you may miss out on an opportunity to expand your game.

No matter what you think of the class, be polite and a good training partner and thank the instructor after class for giving you the opportunity to train.

Me at an all-women Open Mat I attended at V.O.W. BJJ in Austin, Texas

What other tips would you offer for training as a visitor at another gym? Leave a comment to let me know!

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