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9 Tips on Choosing a Jiu-Jitsu Academy

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9 Tips on Choosing a Jiu-Jitsu Academy

 

So, you want to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Awesome! But, where to start?

I mean considering a person can spend more than a few years (10 years average) to receive their Black Belt, picking the right gym counts. 

Besides, you might want to invite friends, family, co-workers to come check the school out so you would want to have this reflect well on you after all. I cannot stress this enough, don't make this too serious.

It's not like you are picking a medical or business school; most may go through a few gyms, just to find a school that agrees with their philosophy, training style, overall atmosphere, and of course energy between the other students.

Through this, and other experiences, and crowd-sourced internet searching, there is some basic criteria that repeats itself as important to consider when looking for a BJJ gym.

 

1. Is the head instructor a black belt?

At a BJJ gym, a school or even dojo, the instructor is the most important piece of the puzzle.  You would assume a black belt is required to be an instructor, but this is not always the case. Basically; you would want someone with experience to match your ambitions. If you are just starting out and are just want to be a hobbyist, maybe compete on the local level, then a purple or brown belt could be just fine. However, if you are looking to really go the stretch and set your eyes to competing on the national level, such as the IBJJF, then choosing a black belt instructor who has experience competing could better guide you.

Take our Professor at Underground Jiu-Jitsu, Diego actively competes to sharpen his skills both as an instructor but also to help those who want to compete.  As John Danaher has taught us, you don’t have to compete to teach competitors, but it sure helps. Look at the top students if not the Professor (instructor) – do they compete? Are they samples of who you want to be some day?

 

2. Does the school allow white belts to ‘roll’?

Some places only allow white belts to watch rolling / drilling / sparring or whatever they may call it. Personally, I disagree with this; positional drilling, sparring, fighting or whatever you call it ought to be accessible to all levels at the very least. If you find yourself with only schools near you that don’t allow free sparring, then fine, some jiujitsu is better than no jiujitsu. But try to find somewhere that lets you practice live rolling.

If you find a gym that makes you wait until you get to your blue belt (about a year), then you might want to consider looking at other school’s.

 

3. Does the instructor roll with his or her students?

Now this can be a tricky one. Some instructors, and I know many in North Dallas, actively train outside of their normal class times. They could spend time at the track working on their conditioning, hitting the weight room to improve their strength, or roll with other black belts to learn and refine their technique so they could very well be tired, or injured, or they’ve simply been teaching all day so don’t be too quick to judge if they don’t’ get on the mat’s. However, if the instructor doesn’t EVER roll with their students and does not compete, it could be the sign of an ego problem. Do they only roll with women, smaller guys, and/or white belts? Does it feel like they are trying to smash or just grind you, or does it feel more like a fluid dance?

You should be able to roll with higher belts who normally could run right over you, but take the time to correct and work with you so you walk away feeling like you learned something.

 

4. Are there a good number of female students?

Ladies, look at this one, and guys pay attention to this as well. If a gym has NO regular ladies actively training – or if women come, stay a week or two, and never come back, there may be something sketchy going on. Sure, if the gym only has about 20 folks on their training roster, and there happen to be no females, that’s not so odd. But if there are upwards of 30 students and not a single one of them is female, you might want to question why.

 

5. What’s the membership cost?

Training fees can vary drastically based on location. You can’t compare what a gym charges from the Northeast with what a jiu-jitsu gym charges in Plano, TX. Be sure to do your research and if one gym charges twice as much as the others, make sure you’re getting the value to justify the increase in cost (more classes, better instruction, better facility, etc.).

This one might make some mad, but coming from a McDojo school background, beware of “belt fees”. Some places do belt testing – this is not to my taste, but it’s not necessarily illegitimate. However, some gyms charge a large fee for belt tests. These programs come off as money grabs, or if you are required to attend a seminar to receive rank, yeah same deal. If they offer seminars as a cool extra, with a reasonable fee attached, that’s another thing entirely. As long as the extras are optional, you should be good.

Do they require a specific uniform? Again, not a deal-breaker as some programs are more regimented than others, but if you’re switching gyms and have a half-dozen color gis, and they allow only white gis, you’ll have to consider whether you want to invest in all new gis.

 

6. Do they have other programs? Do these other programs take focus away from BJJ or supplement it?

Some places have a strong karate program, others offer kickboxing, and others are designated MMA gyms. Look at how BJJ is treated within the bigger picture, and decide if that’s something you’re okay with.

 

7. When you walk in, are you excited? Are the mats clean, are the students smiling?

How are you treated when you walk in? Does the instructor greet you with a smile, or a scowl? Are you treated with kindness when you walk in? Any martial arts gym should be a place that you look forward to going to, not somewhere you feel judged. Your teammates should become just this - teammates. That’s not to say they’ll go easy on you, but they’ll let you know that everyone has worn that white belt knows how hard it can be.

Conversely, if you walk in, and no one says anything to you, the mats are grungy, there’s a funky smell – get out now. A gym should be a happy place, a place of encouragement and learning. Sure, you’ll have hard days, but the people you train with should make those days a little better.

 

8. What will your commute be like?

Is the gym with the best instruction two hours away? It might be worth considering a gym that’s a bit more convenient. It’s the same as a regular gym, or anything else for that matter – if you have to travel far, you’re less likely to go often, even if you love it.

Particularly at the beginning, consider compromising instruction for proximity. Get a taste for it. A blue belt can teach a white belt the absolute basics; should you decide you love it, you can always leave and go train somewhere else.

 

9. What are you waiting for? Sign up and get training!

Do a Google search of “BJJ gyms near ____”, give them a call and ask if you can drop in for a class. Ask if you’ll be able to borrow a Gi, the answer will almost always be yes, and if you should know anything before you come in.

Google is your friend here. Google your instructor as well – find out who they got their black belt from (it should say on their website if they’re not a competitor). Remember, you are interviewing them when you walk in the doors so don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Most importantly, go forth, get on the mats and enjoy the process!

 


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