If you are about to embark on your jiu jitsu journey, one of the most daunting tasks can be choosing where to train. Nowadays, you will almost certainly have multiple academies within travelling distance to choose from, and all of these will have their own unique feel and style of teaching.
There are numerous factors you should consider when trying to choose between these academies and committing to a place to train multiple hours per week. Below, we will highlight what we feel are the most important questions you should be asking yourself when making this important decision.
Why are you starting jiu jitsu?
Everyone who is starting jiu jitsu has their own reasons for wanting to give it a go, and it is important to take time to consider what your own personal motivation is. Some people are keen to learn a form of self-defence, others want to get fit, some aspire to compete, and some are simply looking for a fun new hobby.
When researching the different academies that are available to you, try to find out if they are a good fit for you and have the right sort of classes, curriculum and focus for you. Some academies are more self-defence orientated, while others are more heavily involved in the competition scene. Some larger academies will have a great mix of both and provide different types of classes that you can choose from.
Make sure that whichever academy you choose, your goals are well aligned, and it can provide you with what you are looking for.
What are the head instructor and teaching team like?
So much about every jiu jitsu academy is determined by the head instructor and the teaching team. Try to find out as much as possible about the head instructor before committing to an academy.
Is the head instructor a black belt? As little as five years ago, it was not uncommon for academies to have brown or even purple belts as the head instructor, but in the past few years, the number of black belts teaching has exploded, and most academies now have a black belt head instructor. This is not to say that brown and purple belts can’t be great instructors, and there are many fantastic teachers of these ranks around, but the black belt is a stamp of quality, and you should be in safe hands with one. There are also degrees or ranks of black belts, and the higher the degree, the longer that instructor has been a black belt and the more experienced they will be.
What is the instructor’s lineage? In jiu jitsu, lineage refers to who a student received their belts from, and it shows how that belt can be traced back through generations of instructors, often back to the Gracie family, the founders of Brazilian jiu jitsu. Verifying an instructor’s lineage will ensure you receive quality training from a certified and competent black belt instructor. The instructor’s lineage will often also determine what their teaching style is like and what types of techniques they will teach.
What is the instructor’s personality like? So often, the head instructor’s personality sets the tone and vibe of the academy. Ideally, you want the instructor to be someone who is friendly and approachable and who teaches classes that you enjoy attending.
What is the affiliation of the academy?
Most jiu jitsu academies are now affiliated with a parent association and/or some form of national governing body. Any academy that isn’t should probably be investigated further and their legitimacy checked.
Being affiliated with a well-known association has many advantages and can open up opportunities to train with world-class instructors at visiting seminars. It also gives you the opportunity to be part of a larger team, which is great fun at competitions and events.
Being affiliated with some form of a governing body, for example, the UKBJJA in the UK will ensure that the instructors conform to a strict set of rules and have things like DBS checks and first aid training in place.
How easily can you make it to the classes?
To improve at jiu jitsu, it is absolutely essential that you make it to class regularly and train consistently. There are two main factors that are going to influence this; your proximity to the academy and how well the class timetable fits your lifestyle.
The distance from your home or work to the academy makes a big difference in whether or not you will make it to the classes regularly. The closer you are, the more likely you are to attend. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that there are situations where you might want to train at an academy located further away because you enjoy the classes more or the type of training suits your needs better.
The class timetable is also very important. For example, if you are a shift worker and can't make evening classes regularly, look for an academy that has some daytime classes that you can attend.
What are the classes like?
Classes can vary tremendously between different academies. The style of instruction, curriculum, amount of sparring and general vibe can be massively different from place to place. Most academies offer a free trial class or free training period, and you should attend at least one class before you commit to signing up. When attending trial classes, try and get a feel for the different teaching styles at different academies and see which you enjoy more and which suits your learning style best.
How busy are the classes? Classes with very few students present will limit your learning opportunities as you will only have a very limited number of different training partners available. Quiet classes often have less of a buzz than busy classes too, and this can sometimes make the classes less enjoyable. Conversely, classes that are far too busy are also less than ideal because you are much less likely to get intention from the instructor. Overly busy classes can also sometimes increase the risk of injury because of limited space available between people training. Usually, somewhere in the region of 15-30 students on the mat at one time is a good number. Daytime classes will usually be quieter, though, even at larger academies.
What are facilities like at the academy?
When you visit a prospective academy, make sure you check out the facilities. The foremost of this should be hygiene. Check that the mats are cleaned regularly, minimising the risk of infections, such as ringworm and staph. You should not have to compromise your health by training.
Showers and changing areas are valuable assets, particularly if you train before or after work or travel a long distance to the academy. Training jiu jitsu is very physical, and you will sweat a lot, so ideally, you will want to be able to shower and change before getting on public transport or embarking on a long car journey.
Another important and often overlooked factor is the availability of parking. If you are going to be driving to class, you need to ensure that you will be able to park your car nearby.
What are the students like?
You can gain a lot of information about an academy from the students that train there. A healthy, well-established academy will have a broad range of different students training of different ages, genders, and belt rankings. Most large academies have lots of white belts, a good number of blue belts, quite a few purple belts and a handful of brown and black belts. This diversity of belt ranges will give you fantastic different training opportunities and maximise your learning potential. If there are large numbers of white belts but hardly any coloured belts, this is a bit of a red flag as it indicates the academy is having trouble retaining students or getting them to a more advanced level.
Were the students friendly and welcoming? You obviously want to train in a pleasant environment where you can get on with the other students, make friends and have fun. The school's vibe is such an important factor when choosing an academy. Listen to your instincts on this, and make sure you feel that you can see yourself having fun and learning at your chosen place of training.
Do they have a beginner’s program?
A beginner's program is a massive asset to an academy. Instilling sound jiu jitsu fundamentals in the early stages of your training is akin to building the foundations of a house. The stronger these foundations are, the stronger your game will be as you move through the ranks. While not having a beginner's program is not necessarily a deal breaker when looking for an academy, it certainly should be considered a very appealing attribute.
Are the classes good value for money?
Jiu jitsu is generally quite an expensive martial art to train in. There are numerous reasons for this. The academies are often much larger than a lot of traditional martial arts, with higher overheads and more instructors needed. There are also far fewer 'hobbyist' instructors teaching, and most jiu jitsu instructors are doing so professionally and have been training vast numbers of hours for over ten years to get to the stage when they can teach. With that being said, it is essential that you can afford to train. Different academies have very different pricing structures depending on the nature of how they run and what is available.
You should also factor in that you will need to purchase kit and equipment to train, which can also be expensive. You will likely need a gi/kimono, rashguard and gumshield at a bare minimum. If you want to train no-gi, you will likely also need shorts and perhaps spats. Some academies make it mandatory that you buy their own club or association-branded gear, which is also worth enquiring about before you sign up.
Many larger academies also have other benefits to joining that will provide additional value. Check to see if they have other martial arts classes also, such as muay thai, wrestling, judo or MMA. Some classes also have yoga or conditioning classes that you can attend.
In summary, try to be as organised as possible considering the questions we have posed above when choosing an academy. Make sure you take at least one trial class and take your time when making the final decision.