Gym vs Academy
Jiu-Jitsu Gym vs Jiu-Jitsu Academy. What’s the difference?
Once you’ve decided to train jiu-jitsu, the next step is deciding where you’ll actually train. If you are brand new to jiu-jitsu, you may not understand how the words like “gym” or “academy” are used in the context of jiu-jitsu. You may even think they are interchangeable.
While there are a lot of similarities between jiu-jitsu gyms and jiu-jitsu academies because both teach students jiu-jitsu, the ways that they go about teaching are very different, as Ryan Young of Kama Jiu-Jitsu explains in the below video.
In a gym, the focus is on rolling rather than being taught in a step-by-step manner. You may learn a technique during the first ten minutes of the class after doing a warmup, but it’s all rolling after that even if it’s your first day.
Within a gym, there’s very little structure and fighters often become comfortable being in certain positions. Bigger and stronger people going up against smaller opponents of similar skill frequently end up on top. If this keeps up over time, these fighters tend to become more comfortable in the mount and may learn more submission techniques early on. Conversely, smaller and less strong people will frequently end up in the bottom position. If this keeps up, they may become more accustomed to being in guard and learning more escape techniques.
More importantly, jiu-jitsu gyms tend to favor a mentality that is more sink-or-swim (or, in the words of Ryan, “you learn by getting thrown into the ocean with the sharks”). True, you can always stop and ask your partner to go over technique step by step, but the emphasis is really on learning by experimenting.
In an academy, the class will be divided into more advanced students and beginners. While the more advanced students are rolling, the beginners learn the basics of jiu-jitsu in a step-by-step or linear fashion. Rather than jumping right into a spar session, beginners work with their training partner in more of a fight simulation.
As Ryan says, “Once you learn the ABCs, we’ll teach you how to put words together. Once we teach you how to put words together, we teach you how to put phrases together, then sentences, then paragraphs, then short stories, then novels.”
Ideally, no student spends more time on time than their partner, regardless of size. This gives everyone in the class a more thorough understanding of the basics of jiu-jitsu and the opportunity to become a more well-rounded fighter. Whereas fighters from gyms often become extremely accustomed in a specific position and establish a style based on being in that comfort zone, fighters from academies tend to be comfortable in multiple positions.
Which One Is Better?
The simple answer is that it depends on your preferences. Black belts come from both gyms and academies. What matters is finding a place to train that fits your personality and your skill level.
For those who already have a background in martial arts or for those who thrive in a trial by fire environment, a gym may be the way to go. Conversely, those who are new to martial arts and smaller in size may find it difficult to endure psychologically when training at a gym. You will start out getting pummeled day in and day out and that can be very discouraging. While getting submitted is part of everyone’s jiu-jitsu journey, and learning humility is a necessary part of that journey, getting dominated every time you come to class without learning much technique is no one’s idea of fun. It can just feel like punishment.
At the end of the day, you are in control of your jiu-jitsu journey, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to learn a martial art a specific way. Furthermore, there’s no shame in leaving an academy or a gym if you don’t feel like it’s not a good fit. What is important is that you find a place that where you feel you belong and that will give you the best results.