Changing BJJ Academies: Good or Bad Decision?

by Caleb on October 22, 2010

Bruno Malfacine
Bruno Malfacine changed teams in 2008. It’s worked out well for him, as he’s won the World Championship twice since then.

by Eric (Blue Belt 4 Life) Stafford

These days moving from a Bally’s to a Crunch gym is as easy as 1, 2, 3. But what happens when you want to change your BJJ academy? As a person that has done it before I know it wasn’t an easy decision. There are many different reasons why people may change academies, relocating, family, cost, etc. So, I wanted to get other peoples take on it, I asked instructors, competitors and leisure practitioners. The first person I spoke with was a training buddy of mine Tatiana L., it’s been a solid year and half since we both moved from our previous academy. Tatiana L. is a Blue Belt training at Marcelo Garcia’s in NYC and she states, “I kind of wish I’d been able to train all of my years at the same place. However as a customer you learn what you want/don’t want. What kind of instructor you like. What kind of training partners. Type of facility.” Tatiana and I definitely share the same sentiment when deciding which academy to attend. I asked Ken Primola, a Gracie Jiu Jitsu Black Belt and owner of Flow Jiu Jitsu in Delaware, the same question and his answer surprised me a bit. Ken states, “It’s up to the instructor to decide and let the student know his rules of loyalty.” I had to sit back and stew on his answer for a moment. Ken’s answer made complete sense to me because his view is as a teacher, a mentor in the martial art. I think we forget sometimes that no matter what we want to call BJJ, it is a martial art and that some teachers may feel , well how should I put it, not so good about you leaving their academy. Our teachers watch us develop and progress through our techniques and we as students aren’t the only ones that invest our time. As Nova Uniao Black Belt Marcelino Freitas put it, “you need to first trust in your master and second the feeling of your school because it’s the same as family.”

If you spend a significant amount of time on the mat like I am sure you do, your training partners do become your family. So making a decision to train elsewhere can be hard no matter what the reason. My only advice is to take a step back and think about it, ask the important questions. I literally wrote down what was most important to me when I was doing my search. I am not saying this will work for everyone but it makes your decision a little easier in the end. Valerie Worthington, Black Belt & Blogger, told me, “I don’t think it’s anything anyone goes into BJJ planning to do. But it happens sometimes, for many different reasons.” No matter what you decide and what academy you train just remember, it has to feel like home.


This is a guest post by one of the Mighty 600,000. (Thank you Eric!) If you have an idea for content here on thefightworkspodcast.com, please contact us!

Also check out our 2009 poll on why BJJ folks change schools!

- Caleb

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Liam Wandi - The Part Time Grappler October 22, 2010 at 6:25 am

In our case the change was organic. We had the same coach and the same (mostly) training partners but moved to a different club and affiliation.

THE BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ME (BJJ context)

We are a very happy family now :)

chris October 22, 2010 at 9:23 am

I can understand a professional competitor that changes teams. I can also understand that life events can cause you to change (moves, transfers, commuting time, ect…).
However, in my experience ive seen more people move because the new instructor gives them a new belt, esp at the purple-brown-black belt level. Many students feel that they deserve a belt, or their training has stagnated. Intstead of looking inward, they belame the school. They get a new belt from the new instructor, and for a time… feel better. These days loyalty isn’t rewarded. There is a lack of loyalty in the family, in the workplace, in society. People feel that since they are paying the instructor, loyalty isn’t an issue. The academy is just a commodity.

thpii October 22, 2010 at 1:49 pm

I was training at a place for two and a half years before deciding to leave. The reason I left is because my instructor was bat shit crazy. As a result of his craziness there was a mass exodus and he ended up losing in the upwards of 100 people. This person was/is abusive, manipulative and evil. Leaving the school was one of the toughest choices I’ve ever made but ended up being the best decision I’ve ever made. I have a real family now, my training has gotten a thousand times better and I don’t have to deal with anymore douchiness.

little ol' me October 22, 2010 at 10:29 pm

say you are a newb and you just pick the place closest to your house. but 2 years later as a blue belt you want to do mma, or no gi, or more competition, or place with dudes all your size. or your learning under a purple or brown or just a regular bb and a big name jj star moves to your town.

if your needs change, and your school cant meet them. i see no problem moving. top guys move all the time and no one cares. but if your a purple and you switch schools in the same town its like your the worst person they ever know.

i think too many times it’s treated like a divorce. it’s not.

go ahead and call me a creonte. i dont care. soulless capitalist american with no sense of loyalty. i dont care.

i do jj for me. for my life. not for the approval of a surrogate father figure. so yes, if you go to a place you like better, where ever, for whatever reason then it is good.

rant off.

Kane October 25, 2010 at 12:34 am

Agree totally with little.

Martial arts is a service business, you pay for the lessons.
If you choose to stay because you like the place and the teacher, then great.
If not you have absolutely the right to go elsewhere if you feel like it.

Could you imagine a restaurant owner getting upset and calling you a disloyal dog because you chose to go eat somewhere else?

The only true loyalty that really matters and the most important, is the teacher being loyal to the students, they after all are making it possible for the teacher to earn a living, when the student is ready to go- (and we all do eventually) the instructor should say thank you and good luck- no questions or interrogations or this ridiculous loan shark mentality where you received a belt and now you are a ward of the state or something- give me a break!

Bjj Instructors need to quit thinking so highly of themselves and their importance to the world, teach your art- do it to the best of your ability, charge a price for your services and know from the beginning that students will not stay for ever.

Many Bjj instructors are hypocrites, they have probably been through different clubs on the way up- but now some demand a student stay forever- please.

No go train!

Kane October 25, 2010 at 12:46 am

meant to stay property of the state

Franck October 25, 2010 at 10:49 am

I think that no one should be subjected to anyone else , if you ” belong ” to an academy ..and then you feel that you need to change , then go for it…I do understand the challenge though and this may be a tough call …but we must see Bjj as a whole where ever we train…so if someone feel that you betrayed him be leaving …maybe that person needs you more that you need her… And being an instructor doesn’t mean to haave control or influence on other people’s mind…

Franck October 25, 2010 at 10:50 am

…by leaving ( sorry )…

WhiteToBlack March 2, 2011 at 9:32 am

It is like a family – but the fact is its not – and you’re paying good money to learn an art.

You need to ask yourself a few questions:-

1) Does the coach care more about the money ? How do you know ? Is it obvious or subtle ?
2) Does he treat others differently ? Charge them less money ? Give them more for their money because they’re a higher belt ?
3) Is there a lot of ego in the gym ? Are you getting hurt a lot ?
4) Is there a lot of back biting in the gym ? Does the instructor talk about students with other students ?
5) Because you’re not part of the inner circle do you get less instruction – less tips – less detail?

If you’re worried about your slow progress you need to reflect within yourself – it could be you rather than the gym….

You have to be honest with yourself as well as being critical about the gym ….. and don’t forget the new gym may have a new set of problems !! If you feel like moving you should since you need to feel comfortable and safe whereever you are.

Hit Hard, Choke Harder October 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I had trained at the same gym with the same team for the last 4-5 years. I recently stopped training because of one of the instructors. He didn’t like me for some reason he never told me about aand it caused a lot of tension. This has left a very sour taste in my mouth because like most martial artists I feel that the relationship between teacher (mentor) and student is a sacred one. Jiu Jitsu is not about money; it’s about building people up. It shouldn’t ultimately be built on financial gain.
Things like loyalty are a two way street. If a student doesn’t show his instructor loyalty then he doesn’t deserve the instructor. If an instructor doesn’t show loyalty to his students (who pay his salary and probably provide other services like teaching class and cleaning up the school) then he doesn’t deserve his students. I think Whitetoblack asked all the right questions. These can at least help you know if you are in the right place or not. For instance:
1. I was in a school were the coach cared more about money than his students development. I could tell he cared more about money because of the discussions I overheard between him and the other instructor.
2. He doesn’t charge some students the same but that’s not it. What bothered me is the black belt instructors didn’t pay attention to their students equally. They would only “roll” with a certain group of students that they personally hung out with. There is another instructor who was a brown belt that rolled with everyone when I left though and that was great.
3. There is ego in the gym. Everybody wants to be the “big dog” and nobody truly respects each others opinion unless their clicked up.
4. I caught one of the black belt instructors talking about a brown belt instructor behind his back with his click. I heard a purple belt talking about another purple belt badly the other day. I think that just sucks.
5. I would say that I do get less instruction because I am not clicked up. I try talking to the instructor and ask him questions. Most of the time he acts like he doesn’t want to be bothered. If there was another school in the area or one cheaper in Wilmington where I live, I would go there.

WhiteToBlack August 10, 2013 at 7:22 am

I just came across this post after nearly a year and just to update you all –

Reflecting on my comments I think the no.1 take away is making a change is not easy and the change may not be for the better – be absolutely sure that where you’re going to will improve your game. BJJ is about your personal development and if you’re not developing here be 100% sure you will develop somewhere else and be absolutely certain the reason your lack of development doesn’t lie within yourself.

I’ve tried really hard to stay out of the politics but it seems other higher belts just pull me into it….. I just want to train and improve but higher belts will do everything they can to hold you back and talk badly about you to the instructor to ensure you don’t get the instruction or the rank….. I’ve decided not to roll with them – I see the fear in their eyes since my level has improved – I’ve worked hard and they’re worried but I don’t want to get injured so focus on your own development and not tapping or submitting anyone – BJJ is about me and not about them !

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