You have several options when it comes to mat time, and each has their own advantages and disadvantages.
Formal Classes at a Club or Academy
Sooner or later, if you want the full benefits of the jiu-jitsu lifestyle, you will need to join an academy.
When you find a potential academy, ask if you can watch class, or even better, if you can take a trial class. Use this time to make an assessment of the club.
Things to consider and notice include the following:
The most important aspect of any academy is the instructor. It has been my experience that the best jiu-jitsu instructors are friendly, easy going and humble. They smile a lot and treat their students with honesty and respect.
Be wary of anybody who badmouths his competitors or claims to be the best for whatever reason. If someone has truly been practising jiu-jitsu for a long time they will be humble about their skills. If your instructor is a legitimate black belt, he will be clear and open about the lineage of his grade.
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I have found that, more often than not, the students are a reflection of the instructor and visa versa. Happy, friendly students usually have happy, friendly instructors. Bullying, arrogant instructors have similar students.
Level of Professionalism
Although BJJ is a pretty laid back martial art, you should still expect high levels of professionalism from the academy you choose. Classes should start on time.
In a busy academy, the mats should be cleaned and disinfected often, preferably once per day. Don’t be afraid to ask about this. Staph infection is not fun.
Private lessons can be expensive, but if you choose a good instructor they will greatly speed up your progress.
The way to get the most out of private lessons is to be specific about what you want to learn. Don’t be afraid to ask the instructor. A good private instructor is, above all, patient.
If you have the time and energy, a good strategy is also to schedule your private lesson directly before or after a group class. In that way you can use what your instructor showed you in the class against your opponents, or ask questions about what you learned in the class while it is still fresh in your memory.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to take private classes from a black belt. A good purple or brown belt with decent teaching skills can give you a great private lesson, and usually at a lower rate. Remember to ask for a discount of block bookings of 5 or more lessons.
Training with friends
A lot of the best training I did was in these type of sessions. All you really need is a matted space and a buddy.
The quality of your training partners is especially important in this context. Obviously, the more experienced your training partners the better for you, but this might not always be possible, and you might find yourself with people as novice as you are. As long as they are willing to learn and in control of themselves, just about anyone can make a good training partner. Take a technique or movement that you want to learn and practise it with each. Two heads are much better than one.
Training materials such as DVD’s and books, In my opinion, are almost useless to read and watch by yourself. You should be on the mat going through the material with someone who is as eager to learn as yourself.
Make sure you warm up properly before you begin, as this is often neglected in informal sessions and can lead to injury.
For a Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood school in your area, see the ‘Academies’ section on this site.