Jiu-Jitsu Gyms & The Coffee Shop Principle

For some BJJ practitioners, there’s so much emotion that goes into their practicing of the art that they forget that they are customers at a business. It’s not really their fault — the cult mentality in BJJ is prevalent and powerful, with black belt worship being used to brainwash students into demonstrating an unjust amount of loyalty, even when the environment isn’t serving them as it should.

Showing a lot of loyalty to your home gym is understandable. You are likely proud of where you train and how much improvement you’ve seen in your jiu-jitsu since you started training there. You may have an emotional attachment to your coaches and teammates, and you might feel proud enough to show off your home gym on clothing and social media. But it’s important to remember that, even when your gym feels like it’s the home of your second family, you are still a paying customer, and you should be treated as such.

That’s why, when people come to me with a laundry list of problems they’re experiencing in their home gym and whether or not they’re justified in staying, I ask them to apply what I call the “coffee shop principle”: “How would you respond to this if it happened in your favorite coffee shop?”

While a coffee shop and a BJJ academy are wildly different places to be, many of us have some degree of loyalty to our favorite cafe, and we’re willing to let occasional imperfections slide. You may also have an emotional attachment to it — perhaps you’ve befriended the owner or baristas, or you might just love the atmosphere. Much like a BJJ gym, too, you may have developed a routine with your favorite cafe, stopping in every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday before work. And of course, there’s the reason you probably became a regular in the first place: the product. Everything else aside, surely the coffee itself is good enough to keep you coming back.

In both a coffee shop and a BJJ gym, you’re a customer. You may be a beloved customer, maybe even valued enough to get a few freebies if you fall on hard times, but generally speaking, you are allowed to consume that business’ product because you pay for it. You, as a customer, agree to adhere to that business’ code of conduct while on the premises, and you have certain expectations for the staff’s behavior as well. Most of the time, everyone involved is pretty happy if you pay for what you get and get what you pay for while being treated respectfully by the people that you treat respectfully.

It’s worth remembering that everyone has different standards for what they deem “acceptable” in a place of business. I’m not trying to tell you what you should or shouldn’t put up with when you go into a coffee shop or BJJ gym, even though I certainly have my own opinions. But if you can determine for yourself what you would and wouldn’t tolerate in your favorite coffee shop (or restaurant, or bar, or whatever other establishment you have some degree of loyalty and fondness for), you may have an easier time applying the same standards to your jiu-jitsu gym.

1. What is an acceptable display of loyalty to the business?

Would you voluntarily purchase a t-shirt to support your favorite coffee shop? Would you do so out of a sense of pride regarding your connection to the cafe, or would you do it out of a sense of obligation? How would you feel if you were only allowed to wear branded clothing while inside the coffee shop?

How about exclusivity? Imagine the coffee shop owner told you that as long as you purchased coffee from them, you weren’t allowed to buy coffee from anywhere else. Would that be an acceptable sacrifice to make in order to continue drinking their coffee, or would you consider it an overstep when they aren’t offering you anything beyond what you already pay for?

What if the coffee shop itself fell on hard times? Would it be worth continuing to pay the price of your daily beverage, even if the cafe had to close temporarily, to keep the business from permanently shutting down? How would you feel about being obligated to do this instead of volunteering to do it?

2. What is an acceptable way to be treated by staff and fellow customers?

How would you respond if you heard the manager of your favorite coffee shop use a derogatory slur? Or if you heard them making bigoted remarks about other customers? What if you were sexually harassed by a barista, and the owner or manager took no action?

Extend this comparison to other customers as well. Ask yourself how you’d respond if you were harassed by another regular, and your complaint was ignored or laughed off by the staff. How would you want your complaint to be handled? What would your ideal outcome be? Would you keep coming back if nothing was done to resolve the issue?

3. What would your options be if you didn’t want to (or couldn’t) get your coffee elsewhere?

Let’s say that your standards aren’t being met in your favorite coffee shop: the manager’s a jerk, the customers make you feel uncomfortable, and you hate their business practices… but dang, the coffee is just so good. Or worse, maybe it’s the only coffee shop around. You don’t feel safe or comfortable there, but getting your coffee elsewhere is out of the question for whatever reason.

What could you do to minimize your time and risk there? Would it be enough to stay away from certain customers, or would it be possible to come in on days when the other manager is running things? Is the coffee good enough that you’d be willing to simply get your drink and leave rather than hanging around with an empty cup as you finished working on your laptop? Or is it so bad there that you’d be better off learning how to make the best coffee possible at home until further notice, even though you know the quality wouldn’t be as good?


Again, I’m not asking you to compare your love for your home gym with your (probably lesser) love for your favorite coffee shop; I’m asking you to remember that a jiu-jitsu gym is a business. You can acknowledge a strong emotional attachment to the product and the people there while still being honest with yourself about what is and isn’t acceptable from a business perspective. What you deem “ok” and “not ok” is up to you, but if you’re not sure if you should let something slide, set aside your feelings and remember that you are paying to receive a service in an environment that feels, at a bare minimum, safe and comfortable. If it doesn’t, it may be time to make some tough choices.



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