Toxic Gyms – Red Flags of a Bad Martial Arts School

Students need to see their martial arts school as a professionally run business and positive environment,.
Unfortunately, some martial arts schools are not operated to a standard that the students deserve.
Fighting ability is not the same as the expertise to run a professional business.

Here are 5 “Red Flags” of a bad martial arts school

1) Under qualified instructors teaching classes
The instructor does not have to be a world champion to be a capable teacher, but I have seen white belts teaching classes because they would work for free or teach.
The school may be small or starting out and not have a depth of instructors, but students who are beginning students themselves should not be responsible to for teaching new students.
Safety comes first when people are training techniques that carry the potential for injury.
I have seen students invest YEARS of sincere effort training under self promoted “8th degree Masters” and sadly have no real skills to show for it.


2) Dirty facility
You don’t need to be a Grandmaster in any martial art to mop the mats and pick up trash that accumulates in the academy!
Empty water bottles littering the training area, unpleasant smells indicating that the floors are not regularly mopped and disinfected, washrooms that resemble a 2rd world gas station rest stop?
You are in a business that the management doesn’t care about.
When we think about communicable skin conditions, there is no reason to accept dirty mats in a bjj academy!
A bottle of bleach and a mop don’t cost much so there is no excuse for a dirty facility.


3) Unprofessional instructor
I have witnessed instructors spending more time on their cell phones than paying attention to the students during the class time.
Students deserve the instructors full attention during the lessons.
What kind of message does this communicate to the students?
A lack of respect for their efforts and sweat!
Instructors who spend more time bad mouthing other gyms and instructors than improving their own gyms.
If you want the tallest building in town, instead of trying to knock down other buildings around you, how about concentrating your efforts on building your own up?


4) Lack of leadership
Just because an instructor has competition success, does not mean that they are a good business person or a capable leader.
All of us have worked under managers in a business who had not spent a single hour learning about how to effectively lead people.
The martial arts is no different.
In some cases, the head instructor is seldom at the school teaching the classes and the school is run by others.
In one sorry case I saw, the gym decisions were made by the girlfriend (who did not even train!) of the owner.
She would go on about “honour and respect” in the martial arts despite never actually training in any martial arts.


5) Cult mentality by owner
This one is all too common sadly. Not everyone who opens a martial arts school does so because they genuinely love teaching the martial arts and helping improve student’s lives.
Some people want their name on the sign; want to be perceived as important; wish to surround themselves with people who tell them they are great.
Perhaps their ego demands the attention?
These types see themselves as bigger than the martial arts and will often disparage other instructors and schools and prohibit the students from training anywhere else.
Their school is the best and if they don’t know it – it isn’t worth knowing!
Avoid these types!

What are your signs of a toxic martial arts school?


  1. Schools were unneccessary aggression is tolerated and even endorsed.
    I took a sample class in an MMA gym where the instructors were demanding to hit with full force during last rounds of sparring with little regard of the physical or technical capabilities of the people involved. Dangerous, to say the least.

  2. I have taken two different martial arts training and also Krav Maga. The Krav Maga was the best for real street fighting and is run very professionally. The first two martial arts training were OK but did not prepare me for real street self defense. I wish I had known about Krav Maga 20 years ago.

  3. I finally threw in the towel last summer, as I too had enough of the culty-like, unprofessional “Dojo” I had been a member of for too long.

    I had taken Shotokan Karate in Toronto during my early years. This was a excellent learning experience as all aspects of Karate were covered. I was there for eleven wonderful years.
    In 2013, I returned to my native Austria, residing in Baden (30 Km outside of Vienna) and was elated to find a Shotokan Karate club close to me. Unfortunately, this was to be very different expedience. First of all, this club called itself a Dojo, although it was a dingy, rented-out gym in Baden’s community center. OK, but must I do Karate where people had Ballet and Yoga before? People there seemed to be more interested in themselves, there was alot of macho attitude and little reference to Karate’s origins and principles. Children were always misbehaved and Belt acceleration was very rapid, in fact every 6 months, this was silly, being as there were many portly young students with green belts who weren’t capable of even one push up, or counting in Japanese. Kumite (sparring) was only for Blue belts/above, and you had to be “invited”, which I found stupid. Though I had tried to fit-in to their club, it was apparent [to them] that I had learned a more well-rounded Karate in Toronto.

    Things took a turn for the worse when a second dan black belt “student” also trained elsewhere (and equally ranked to the master’s egocentric assistant) was expelled for having his own opinion. Before leaving, he emailed his five-cents worth to ALL the members, in so painfully exposing the club’s narrow-mindedness and other deficiencies. I called it quits when I was “failed” during belt grading. There was nothing wrong with my Kata and presentation, while other students who had forgotten their Katas or were not in stance at all, were passed. I know failing me was preconceived so I would eventually lose interest and leave.

    This was to be my last class as I left without giving any reason. If any of these students ever had to defend themselves for real, I would only hope for quick police intervention. Shop around and adhere to points given, never thought it would happen to me.

    Markus 😊

  4. I was in a school where the instructor walked off the floor while we were drilling, even during grappling. They also talked about all the different ways we were supposed to show respect for the instructor, but some people got away with interrupting the teacher and bullying others all the time. They only used their “respect” rule to belittle and humiliate people whom they personally targeted.

  5. We know what is ideal. However, the reality is that there is both “good” and “bad” in every school. Therefore, there are really no perfect schools or instructors or even perfect students ? The instructor, (hopefully, a certified 1st Dan or better in your style) even if not technically proficient or qualified, and even if they are “no good,” must be helpful to his students and strive for professionalism and also, must teach kindness and niceness to the students. I say this because some instructors are technically, very good, but are also assholes and teach thug martial arts at the expense of real learning. signed, real instructor with 46 years of experience)


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