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Unraveling the Ties: Why People Stay in Toxic BJJ Gyms

Updated: Feb 18

Jiu-Jitsu is not just a sport; it's a way of life for many enthusiasts. The camaraderie, discipline, and self-improvement inherent in JJ make it a popular choice for those seeking physical and mental growth. However, not all JJ gyms provide the positive environment that practitioners deserve. Despite the toxic atmosphere, some individuals find themselves unwilling to part ways with their toxic BJJ gyms. In this blog post, we'll explore the intricate reasons behind this perplexing phenomenon.

Sense of Belonging

Humans are inherently social creatures, and Jiu-Jitsu gyms often foster a strong sense of belonging. Individuals become attached to the community they've built, even if it's not the healthiest environment. Leaving means severing ties with friends, mentors, and training partners, which can be emotionally challenging.

They hardest part of finally making that choice to leave a gym is giving up that sense of belonging. Training at a Jiu-Jitsu gym, similar when I was in the Army, builds bonds through overcoming physical challenges. That sense of belonging is built over the course of time and the thought of starting over prevents many students from making that change.

Fear of Isolation

The fear of being isolated or ostracized from the Jiu-Jitsu community can be a powerful deterrent. Toxic gyms may manipulate this fear by creating an "us vs. them" mentality, making individuals hesitant to leave due to potential negative repercussions.

When I left my last gym I knew that in some ways my reputation there was going to take a hit. I remember how the owner would talk about previous students and instructors that left the Academy. There was no way I wasn't going to be talked about the same way when I finally left.

In the end that's exactly what happen and in all reality I'm fine with it. I gained peace of mind after leaving and finally making full decision for myself.

Sunk Cost Fallacy

People tend to be influenced by the idea of not wasting time, effort, and resources invested in a pursuit. In the context of a toxic Jiu-Jitsu gym, individuals might believe that leaving would invalidate the progress they've made, making it difficult to cut ties.

This is a really common one, especially if you're not at the Black Belt level. Unlike when you transfer from one college to another, each Jiu-Jitsu gym grades differently. On top of that, the curriculum can be pretty different, perhaps putting you behind the learning curve in terms of attaining your next belt.

Lastly, some instructors will hold you for a bit no matter how close you are to your next promotion. It's their way of weeding out students who change schools looking for a quick promotion under a named academy.

Perceived Scarcity of Alternatives

In some areas, Jiu-Jitsu gyms may be limited, leading practitioners to believe that the toxic gym is their only option. The fear of losing access to Jiu-Jitsu training altogether can outweigh the desire to leave a negative environment.

This is possibly the hardest of all the issues listed. Lack of resources is difficult one to overcome in certain communities. Sometimes driving a half hour for a better environment over a shorter drive is a plus if it's possible.

Self-Identity and Ego

Jiu-Jitsu becomes an integral part of one's identity for many practitioners. Leaving a toxic gym might challenge their self-image and ego, as they could perceive it as admitting failure or weakness.

Taking the loss now is better than to have to take this burden on and still end up leaving later.

Manipulation and Gaslighting

Toxic environments often involve manipulation and gaslighting, where individuals are made to doubt their own experiences and emotions. This psychological manipulation can lead to individuals second-guessing their decision to leave, even when they know it's for the best.

I've seen many people, myself included to some extent get manipulated by an instructor who was looking to take advantage of the people around them. It's an ugly practice for someone who's in a position of power and apparent leadership.

Hope for Change

Optimism can play a role in keeping people tethered to toxic Jiu-Jitsu gyms. Individuals may hope that things will improve, that the atmosphere will change, or that the toxic elements will be weeded out, leading them to stay longer than they should.


The decision to stay in a toxic JiuJitsu gym is a complex interplay of emotions, psychology, and social factors. Recognizing and addressing these reasons is crucial for creating a healthier Jiu-Jitsu community. Whether it's fostering a sense of belonging without compromising individual well-being, providing better alternatives, or encouraging open conversations about toxic behaviors, there's a shared responsibility to create an environment that supports growth and mutual respect.

Ultimately, leaving a toxic Jiu-Jitsu gym might be challenging, but understanding these underlying factors can empower individuals to make the best decision for their physical and mental well-being, ensuring that their journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu remains one of growth and positivity.

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