With the increase in popularity of Brazilian Jiu-Jtsu (BJJ), more and more people are trying it for the first time. Choosing a grappling academy is no small feat. For those of us who become addicted and allow ourselves to be transformed by what BJJ requires of us, we will spend our free hours there; leave our blood, sweat, and tears there; make friends and memories there; decide exactly what kind of person we want to be there.
So the choice is no trivial matter. It’s not exactly like choosing a spouse, but it is kind of like choosing the place you will live in with your spouse, complete with welcoming/nosey/annoying neighbors, access to local amenities, and pride of place. Can you picture moving your things in and staying for a while?
Here are some things to consider in a BJJ academy before you take the plunge:
You’re going to get to know a lot of people at your grappling academy. You’ll be allowing them access to your personal space and trusting they will watch out for your safety while simultaneously helping you improve at an intense, inherently adversarial physical activity. You want to feel like you fit in and like the staff and students are truly glad you have come to inquire about training and about the possibility you will stick around.
Questions to consider: Do the staff welcome you and try to make you feel comfortable? Are the current students friendly and helpful? Do they seem happy to be there? Do you resonate with the energy?
Jiu-jitsu is a sport that entails lots of close contact, sweat, and the occasional injury. Skin infections can occur, and if an academy does not clean their mats on a regular basis, or if they allow students with active conditions to train, you might run the risk of catching something yourself.
Questions to consider: Does the academy clean the mats regularly and often? Do students wear clean uniforms and keep themselves well groomed? Do students wear shoes when they step off the mat, so as to prevent tracking dirt from the bathroom or outside into the training area – the area where you will be spending lots of time lying down on your face, by the way? Does the overall academy look and smell clean?
Quality of Instruction:
This is the heart of the matter. The other issues are certainly important in selecting an academy, but they cannot make up for shortcomings in what you’re really after: high quality jiu-jitsu instruction. To increase the likelihood the instruction you receive meets your needs and is reflective of sound BJJ technique and philosophy, consider consulting a practitioner who has been around for a while to get his/her advice on what you should be looking for.
Questions to consider: Does the instructor have a competition record? This isn’t necessary, but it does suggest a more well-rounded understanding of what it takes to succeed in the sport. How do the students do in competition? What is the instructors’ teaching philosophy, and how do instructors work with students to help them improve? Do they articulate this clearly? Does this mesh with your own learning style?
If you want a positive experience as a novice Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner, make sure you know what you’re looking for. Consider these facets of the personality of a grappling academy before you make a decision—as well as any others you deem important. And finally, to quote an old grappling saw, now go train jiu-jitsu!