Pros and Cons of Gym Hopping

Over the course of the last ten years, jiu-jitsu schools and individual jiu-jiteiros have largely accepted that cross-training is a good thing. An instructor who salts the earth for students who dare visit a neighboring academy is typically viewed as unreasonable and perhaps even toxic. Thus, the pendulum has swung away from Creonte culture and into a new jiu-jitsu world where students with time and resources train at multiple gyms in a single week.

In the denser cities where academies are plentiful, I have met grapplers who will teach at one school, drop in to two other schools, and then meet up with a bunch of friends for an open mat (or a varying blend of those options). This level of access in jiu-jitsu is relatively new, and seeing grapplers take advantage of cross-training and idea-sharing is really exciting.

As that pendulum swings away from closed doors and intense discussions of what loyalty means, we should also be wary of the opposite extreme could mean for your development as well.

The benefits of gym hopping are pretty straightforward but worth reviewing:

  • Exposure to new styles and approaches to training and technique
  • Fresh perspectives on your strengths and weaknesses from new instructors
  • More variety in sparring partners and challenging rolls
  • A broader network of friendships to make traveling, competing, and training in general more enjoyable

I’m a fan. I like the idea of open-sourcing jiu-jitsu and leaving behind the tribal idea that jiu-jitsu schools are somehow at war with each other. Homey, I pay a mortgage and won’t throw away boxes if my cat likes to play in them. I’m not interested in grappling for the honor of an instructor who will lock me out of his gym as soon as my credit card payment doesn’t go through.

So, let’s all train and get along and have fun.

At the same time, however, we should recognize that gym hopping can have drawbacks. The emphasis on can is intentional because the potential pitfalls are avoidable. I highlight them here so that we can continue the trend of openness in the healthiest ways possible. If you like to practice nomadic jiu-jitsu, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Not all grapplers are friendly, so be wary of rolling with strangers. Stay technical, protect yourself, and feel out the intensity. It’s natural for hometown heroes to test a visitor, and in truth, most people will be perfectly nice, but assuming that someone will take it easy on you is a quick way to get hurt.
  • Each gym is its own petri dish. I’ve met grapplers who will leave a class at one academy and drive to the next, dropping in on a class with a fresh gi but with no shower in between. Even the cleanest gyms are prone to outbreaks, and if you are a frequent traveler you will be exposed to more germs than most. Make it a point to practice basic hygiene (wash your hands, wear clean gear), but also be wary of what you carry from gym to gym. If you are training at multiple places in a day, shower in between.
  • A variety of ideas and techniques is invaluable but so is the long-term mentorship of an engaged instructor. If you love to gym hop, that’s great, but the impact of an instructor who has seen your game evolve over the course of years and can feed you new positions and ideas as you need is hard to replicate. If you gym hop, try to establish a home base with an instructor invested in your development. The tricky thing here is that these instructors are hard to find. Even if you train at the same gym every day of the week, you still might not have an instructor who cares enough to go this extra mile.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this aspect of jiu-jitsu culture evolves, and I hope that it continues being positive.