Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is about implementing techniques with proper angles and not the use of strength or force. Selecting the proper school that has a good curriculum-based teaching system can be the most important decision any student makes before going on this journey. Below you will find the top twelve factors that you should consider when choosing your next Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu martial art school.
- School Location
- Jiu-Jitsu Curriculum
- School Main Area of Expertise
- Jiu-Jitsu Class Skill Separation
- Jiu-Jitsu Class Availability
- Professor Experience
- School Culture
- School Cleanliness
- Location Amenities
- Mat Size
- Your Budget
- Federation and Certification
Martial Art School Location
The physical location of the martial art school is self-explanatory. The location should be close to your home or on the path from/to work. The reason is that motivation is a factor for attending any type of workout or exercise. If the school’s location is inconvenient, you may not attend as often. This is especially true when your body may not be used to the workouts. Sometimes, students make a mental excuse to not attend.
Of course, the other factors may make it worth traveling a little further especially if you don’t have a jiu-jitsu school near you. Just keep in mind that if you become a member and you don’t attend, you are just wasting money.
The Jiu-Jitsu curriculum is the most important factor when choosing a BJJ school. The quality and consistency of their curriculum is what separates a good school from a mediocre school. Many smaller schools rely on the accomplishments of their professors as jiu-jitsu competitors. Unfortunately, the professor’s competition success does not always translate to teaching success.
Professors that do not follow a proper and formal jiu-jitsu curriculum usually teach what they like and not what the students need to know. There are many white belt Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu techniques that are boring to the experienced practitioner. They are fundamental to the art, but are so basic to the black belt that the instructor feels like everyone already knows them. Because of this phenomenon, professors sometimes neglect to teach them consistently.
Also, BJJ has over 1,000 documented moves. Many inexperienced professors try to teach a different move every day as they feel that this keeps the class more interesting. That may be true, but it also creates a deficiency on fundamentals and it confuses the students more than it helps. The solution to this problem is a consistent jiu-jitsu curriculum that teaches the fundamentals in a methodical way.
School’s Main Area of Expertise
Gyms in their infinite wisdom attempt to get more members by offering more programs to their school. They advertise as a jiu-jitsu school, but end up having a small mat, no curriculum, and inexperienced professors. When this happens, the quality of this wonderful martial art drops significantly. Most of the time, you end up learning incorrectly and inefficiently. As a result, you may start hearing on social media sites that jiu-jitsu does not work. Well, it is not hard to imagine why. About 95 percent of all physical confrontations end up on the ground. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art that has been proven time and time again to work in real world scenarios. Schools that are dedicated to BJJ or have just a few areas of expertise do a much better job at teaching.
For dedicated jiu-jitsu schools, you will need to understand if they teach sport or the self-defense BJJ. There is a difference as the sport jiu-jitsu teaches many moves that will put you in a bad position if you try to use them during a self-defense situation. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu should be taught both ways. A good curriculum will show the alternate ways to apply the techniques. If not, you are only learning half of what BJJ is about.
Jiu-Jitsu Class Skill Separation
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is a complex martial art. It has thousands of documented moves that range from simple to apply to very complex and hard to apply. Due to the complexity of the skills you will learn, it is important to learn in a progression from fundamental to advanced moves. In the adult Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu belt ranking system, there are 5 belts; white, blue, purple, brown and black. Each belt represents a skill level from fundamental, intermediate to advanced.
It is highly recommended not to jump to intermediate or advanced before mastering the fundamentals. Since most BJJ martial art schools are small, they may not have good class separation or they may allow the lower belt rank students to attend the advanced class. This causes two problems. First, the student will not learn the advanced techniques correctly due to their lack of experience. Second, this will discourage the student and more than likely cause them to quit. Both are bad for the student and for the school.
Jiu-Jitsu Class Availability
It is important for the school you choose to have many available classes during the day or when it is convenient for you. Pay attention to their schedule to see if each level has enough classes during the day. Otherwise, after you learn the fundamentals and are ready to move up, they may not have a good time slot of intermediate/ advanced classes for your progression. Since most jiu-jitsu schools have contracts, you may end up paying for a school that offers classes that you are unable to attend because the schedule is not convenient for you.
Jiu-Jitsu Professor Experience
This is a topic we already touched. However, it is good to mention again. The professor’s competition or rank experience does not necessarily translate to a good teacher. The easiest way to spot this is by noticing what they do after they teach you a skill. Do they just allow the students to roll or do they go back and explain again? When classes have more than 20 minutes of free roll time, you can usually say that a professor is either lazy or incompetent. In most BJJ schools, there are classes dedicated to free rolling. The curriculum technique classes are best when constructed with technique explanation followed by drills and specific training. Roll is important. However, too much free-roll will cause the student to rely on only their strong moves and neglect what they just learned.
Jiu-Jitsu School Culture
Sometimes, the school culture is hard to understand with just a few trial visits. There are usually two types of jiu-jitsu school cultures. One is built on student-to-student cooperation. The professor encourages the students to help each other to learn the techniques. The other type of school, will make confrontation and competition a priority. Professors encourage the students to win in order to get promoted. With this type of mentality, students tend to not show their partners what they did wrong and hide moves that they have learned. The reason is that if you teach your partner, it puts you at a disadvantage when competing against him or her. If winning is required for belt promotions, students tend not to cooperate. This creates an every-man-for-himself mentality. Which environment would you prefer?
Jiu-Jitsu School Cleanliness
It is unfortunate that we even have to mention school cleanliness. When you work out at a gym with other people, you may be at risk for skin infections. Jiu-jitsu schools that don’t clean their mats multiple times per day may help spread skin diseases. It is important to clean and disinfect the mats regularly. Avoid any martial art schools that do not follow good cleaning protocols.
Martial Art School Amenities
The amenities provided by the jiu-jitsu school factor into the price they offer. Having numerous showers and even towel service will increase the membership fees. Many students take showers at home. If shower availability is not important to you, maybe you can consider a good jiu-jitsu school with good professors and a good curriculum, rather than numerous showers.
Mat size is an indication of the commitment to Jiu-Jitsu Martial Art. Small mats usually mean that the gym is dedicating a large part of its budget to other aspect of their business. This may be a good quality indicator of the jiu-jitsu school. A smaller mat on which only a few students can roll will indicate a low level of commitment. Of course, having a large mat does not necessarily signify a good school. Pay attention to the other factors.
Jiu-Jitsu School Cost – (your budget)
Jiu-jitsu schools teach a specialized martial art that is complex and requires a high skill level. Consequently, they tend to be on the expensive side. For kids, it ranges from $99 to $150 per month with limited classes. For adults, it usually ranges from $149 to $350 per month. Jiu-jitsu schools in large metropolitan areas (ex. Houston, TX), tend to be more expensive than schools in smaller markets. The main costs are rent and professor salaries. It is simply more expensive to run a jiu-jitsu school in larger cities.
Jiu-Jitsu School Certifications and Federation Membership
The certification or federation memberships are not so important in the first year of study. However, it does make a difference as you progress through the ranks. For example, if the professor is certified by International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF), it means that they passed a background check, learned CPR, and have taken a referee course. It also certifies the professor’s belt rank. There are many fake black belts out there.
In addition, if a school is not a member of any federation, then when you compete you would not be able to represent the school. You will need to find a school that is certified and compete under their name. This can be problematic for students interested in competition. Be mindful of self-certifications.
There are only a few reputable and truly international federations. Yet there are hundreds of federations out there. The three biggest federations making a true contribution to the growth of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu are IBJJF, SJJIF and JJGF. IBJJF is the biggest with internationally recognized competition. If you win gold in IBJJF Worlds, you will be considered the best. You cannot say that with other federation competitions.