There are countless reasons why women should train in BJJ (Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu): It is a proven form of self-defense. It is a great way to keep fit. It challenges both the mind and body. It is just plain fun! But which gym should you go to? There are so many factors that go into choosing a gym. Price, location, schedule, instructor, etc. And for women, there is also the very important element of safety.
So how to choose a safe BJJ gym for women? Go through gym reviews, google the instructors, check out the physical place and ask to observe a class. Also, does the gym have a regular group of females training there? And how did the gym respond to your questions on safety?
That’s not to say that only females should care about safety issues, in fact (most of) the abovementioned tips can be applied to all genders. Let’s take a closer look at them.
Go through gym reviews
Seek out and read through as many gym reviews as you can. Place more emphasis on the most recent ones, as circumstances may change over time. Find out if there are any local online BJJ groups and communities (i.e. on Facebook). See if they have any posts on safe BJJ training for females. Ask for gym recommendations – most BJJ practitioners are more than happy to discuss and suggest gyms!
Google the instructors
Not only should you check out the gym, you need to google the individual instructors. Take a look at their social media accounts. You can tell a lot about someone from their social media posts and the comments they leave. See if their names appear on any forum discussions, etc. Sometimes, an instructor hit by scandal can move around and start afresh somewhere else – the gym should have done a proper background check on the instructor but sometimes things don’t work out that way. It’s better to be safe than sorry so carry out a little online investigation yourself!
Check out the physical place
Going for a trial class before committing yourself to a gym membership is always a good idea. But before even doing that, you should consider dropping by the gym just to look over the place. Unpleasant encounters can happen during a trial class too – so reduce the chances of that happening by adopting a “look-only” approach at the start.
First of all, check out the physical space. You will be surprised how some of these basic safety aspects can be easily overlooked.
- Is it at a safe location? Do you have to walk through some dark alleyway to get to the gym? What are the surroundings like? This can be a point of concern especially if the classes are in the early morning or late at night.
- Is the gym secure? Are there security cameras and alarms? How accessible is the main entrance? Can any random passerby just walk in unnoticed or is there always someone manning the door?
- Can classes be easily observed by the public? Some gyms have fully transparent glass walls so you must be comfortable with that.
- Does the gym have separate toilets/changing rooms for male and female? If so, are the entrances to the toilets/changing rooms angled such that people walking by cannot peep in?
Ask to observe a class
Secondly, ask if you can observe a class before even doing a trial session. This is a good way to study how the instructor behaves and how he/she interacts with the students. Another important thing to observe is the interaction between students. Does the instructor conduct himself/herself in a professional manner? Does everyone look comfortable with each other? Are instructors/staff/students friendly and respectful toward each other? Every gym has its own vibe and culture – sometimes there is no right or wrong, it’s just a matter of finding an environment where you will feel comfortable.
Does the gym have a regular group of females training there?
It is generally a good sign if there is already a regular group of females training at the gym. If possible, strike up a conversation with them and ask about the training there. Of course, it might be kind of weird to ask straight out “Hey, so have you ever been sexually harassed here?” – so just lead with basic questions like “How long have you been training here?”, “What do you like about this gym?”, and so on. You can tell a lot by how someone answers such simple questions.
That said, males still outnumber females in BJJ by a large majority, so don’t be too put off if the gym doesn’t have that many female students. It’s just a matter of statistics and does not necessarily mean the gym will be unsafe.
However, if you are a female and prefer to have drilling/rolling partners of the same gender – it will be important for you to find a gym that has a sizable number of female students.
How did the gym respond to your questions?
Talk to the instructor(s) and other gym staff. Ask them questions regarding safety and see how they respond. Did they treat your questions seriously? Did they provide you proper and direct answers? Or did they appear evasive? Were your concerns dismissed or even ridiculed? If they were evasive or disregard your queries, you might need to reconsider that gym. Safety is a very valid concern and should never be brushed off.
As empowering as jiu-jitsu can be, it is nevertheless a form of grappling and there will typically be a significant amount of physical contact between you, your instructor and your drilling/rolling partners.
Some actions can be obviously wrong or criminal (i.e. intentional groping of private parts, secret video-recording of the changing rooms, etc.). However, in such a physical sport, things are sometimes not so clear-cut. If someone grabbed your breasts during a roll, you might not know it was by mistake or done with malicious intent. Also, different people have different tolerance levels, so you might be uncomfortable in certain situations, without your instructor/partner realizing it. Therefore, it is crucial to find a gym with instructors and teammates whom you trust and feel comfortable with.
BJJ training can be tough and challenging, but it should overall be an enjoyable activity for you – you should never be made to feel ill-at-ease or distressed. Safety is paramount so spend as much time and effort as you need to find the right gym best suited to your personal preferences. It will be the gym which can offer you an environment where you can practice BJJ safely and comfortably.