Don't fret, that's a common misstep. The world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is spreading faster than it ever has before. A lot of that has to do with the increasing popularity of MMA; and the online presence of the sport makes it easy to dip your toes in before really committing to the sport. That puts us in such a cool position to explore and really understand what you're getting into before it's too late. These days we're just a Google search away from exploring (anything). With that in mind, when you're considering a gym--either as someone new, or as someone changing schools--there are some things to keep in mind.
|Prof. Pedro Sauer with my instructors at Steel City Martial Arts|
In the world of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, a lot of weight is placed on your, and your school's, lineage--in short: who gave who their black belt. Why does that matter? Well, do you remember the "Telephone Game" we all played as children, and how the original message wasn't the same at the end? Unfortunately, BJJ is like that. That's not to say that adding your own flair--or passing it on through instruction--is a bad thing; because it's not. But what you want to avoid is someone teaching you some muddy form of BJJ and charging top dollar for it. Speaking on that subject, Relson Gracie once said that "water is purest closest to the spring," and I tend to believe that. When you're considering a school, take a look at your head instructor's lineage. If you're lucky enough to be training under a real-live Gracie, your homework is pretty easy. But if not, ask. A good instructor shouldn't find that question offensive and it will open up the lines of communication between the two of you.
There was a time when if you lived outside of Brazil and a Blue Belt came to your school it was a big deal (that time is referred to as "the 1990's"). At that time, a Purple Belt was nearly unheard of, so just learning any BJJ was better than nothing. To a point that's still true. But that point, for me, is how much are you paying versus what are you learning. Your head instructor should be a higher rank; and in my opinion, at least a Purple Belt. As always: if your options are restricted, then you can't whine too much. But if your options are open, you should be looking to obtain the best/highest level of education available to you.
ProTip: Both of those bits of information could be found on a schools website, with maybe more specific details found under the instructor's bio.
Pretty self explanatory here. What's the point in signing up for a school when you can never make the classes? Believe it or not, I've talked to people who did all the right homework on a school and signed the agreement only to find out they can only make 1 class a week due to work/personal schedules. So be careful! Great schools will have a lot of options and a lot of classes. No 'real' BJJ school only has 1 or 2 days of BJJ classes. If that's the case, then you're most likely dealing with a school that is concentrating on something else.
|Sensei Sonny Achille of Steel City Martial Arts|
Before you sign any papers, give the school a visit and talk to some people. Talking with the head instructor, as well as the other instructors, is a great place to start; but also reach out to current students. Get a vibe for the personalities of that place. Remember: Water seeks its own level. People tend to congregate with similar people. See if the people in your gym are your kind of people. There's no right or wrong answer here, but there is a right and wrong vibe for you personally. For the most part, BJJ folk are all fun, nice, polite, and friendly people. But the gym may be more intense than you anticipated from the way the nice guy sounded over the phone. e.g. A close friend of mine told me about a time he dropped in to a very well known BJJ school in SoCal; and how the training was turbo-intense. He was cool with that, but very surprised by how intense it got. Which might be a turnoff for some, but maybe perfect for others. So talk to the people there training and get a vibe for the atmosphere.
I know, you're probably wondering what that has to do with anything because you don't want to compete and have no intentions of it. Well, first of all you don't have to compete to join a school--I hope--but if you're at a school that produces consistent competition winners then I feel confident in saying that the instruction there is probably pretty good. I think as a potential customer and student that you need to know what sort of education you're buying into and looking at how the school does in competition is a good glimpse.
Remember when I mentioned Google searching? Check out the school's online reviews. Unlike a lot of other businesses, BJJ schools' online reviews are usually pretty fair. In other lines of business, people like to take the the web and use it as a place to complain about their bad customer service experience. Whereas with BJJ you'll see a fair mix of current students being proud and traveling BJJ practitioners leaving reviews for other travelers. I don't think anyone is safe from the upset student/parent that's mad about something leaving a nastygram review, so keep the number of reviews in mind--maybe even read them :)
With all that said, I think if you give at least those checkpoints some consideration when it comes time to pick a school you should be in good shape. If not, you tried. Remember: if it seems fishy, or slimy, then it probably is. There's a lot of people in the world looking to take advantage of people for money and our community isn't an exception. But with a little bit of homework and asking the right questions you can be comfortable with your choice.
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