BJJ in my eyes May article 2010
How to shop around for an academy worldwide in BJJ
First of all, I want to proudly state that our website www.austinbjj.com is one of the busiest BJJ websites in the world.
Our website has hundreds of members from all around the world. We also have high traffic regarding people who read my monthly article BJJ in my eyes, the good doctor Dr. Jeff Snow’s article How to stay Rollin’, and fitness trainer Lee Ann Urban’s article Fitness and BJJ.
Our articles are meant to educate the reader. I think the good doctor; Lee Ann and I have all been in our careers close to the same time, around 14 or so years.
Experience and wisdom channel new goals and ideas in any trade. My goals when I teach each week is to format a course that everyone will learn and remember. We need to always think of the student’s goals. Just like Dr. Snow’s goals treating patients, or Lee Ann’s goals to develop health and fitness with her clients, in BJJ it is a mental, physical and philosophical growth.
With the popularity of MMA and BJJ, there are potential new students everywhere in the USA. You have different types of different interests. Some are armchair fans, and enjoy watching more than actually being involved in a class, and there are some that are more interested in simply training hoping to one day is a world champion or even a professional fighter. And then you have the class in between. There are some students that are interested in just learning the science of BJJ, training and developing new ideas, and getting into physical shape. I receive emails during the year from many people across the USA and other countries asking for a referral on an academy in their particular areas. I always politely respond giving a suggestion for someone I am familiar with in his or her location, and I also refer him or her to an academy I think they will be comfortable at.
I also have students of mine or my association academies in Texas email me when they are in another state asking “Is this school good, or is this one better?”
To me, I look at a few items to pay heed on. Anytime you are a prospective new student to train at an academy, you should first look at some key points:
- Is there someone in the front to greet you?
- Is there a formal instructor or simply everyone sparring?
- Is the sparring controlled?
- Is there a format or curriculum the school has to offer?
- Can you view a class?
- Can you meet the instructor?
- Does the instructor have any certification?
- Is he ranked, and under who, and how long?
- Does the academy have a course, and how long?
- What is the method of payment? Cash, credit card?
I have had many experiences in my time with different BJJ instructors, seminars, etc., when I was a white belt. I understood immediately the difference between a buck and a profession. I have taken the time to train with many BJJ Black belts from Brazil, and I understand different teaching perspectives as well. I also have met, befriended and grown to have a relationship with the Machado brothers as if they are my own family, and they are.
About once a month, I have a student that goes out of town asking me what schools he or she can train at. I usually review or research who is teaching, where is the location at, and try to accumulate information from either their website or their name. If I am just not comfortable referring someone without knowing a little about his or her school, so I will tell my student so.
I had a student recently move to a different town, and tried a place out. He told me that it was basically a small place with headhunters pointing at him (literally) and attempted to tear his head off wrestling. He has experience, and took care of business on the mat, but what if he couldn’t? What if he was a simple white belt with no experience? What if he got hurt? These are issues it seems that are often unnoticed or not a priority. I always tell a student if he or she is going out of town, talk to the instructor and see if they are comfortable. If not, my suggestion is simply to wait until they get back in town. Usually if there is a Machado school, I refer one of theirs, but if not, you have to be careful.
This careful searching is exactly how you should be looking for a school.
Lets go over the points first.
1. Is there someone in the front to greet you?
At my academy, we have a separate lobby from the actual training area. We also have a staffer at the front lobby to greet or give information and answer questions. We usually discuss their particular goals, or questions they may want to ask. Our separate lobby is much more helpful by making sure we are not talking over a class, and it allows the potential new student an opportunity to view without pressure to ‘try a class’ or jump in. Now some people may think that anyone wants to jump in any martial arts class, but sometimes people do not want to feel threatened or want to make sure the camaraderie is comfortable with them, and view a class first. In my 14 years of teaching, I have also noticed some people that ask to ‘roll around’ or try a class are people that already have a specific idea of what a martial arts class is. At times there are people who have never called the school or emailed, but simply show up with a gi in a bag asking to drop in or roll around. Unfortunately in our American society, this is more of an assumption rather than respecting a facility. My first three years teaching I had a new person try out a class and I must say almost 90% of these never joined. Instead many of them want to see how good they are or how good they can do on the mat. This too is a wrong direction for a potential student. His or her first goal should be knowing the format of the school, times, class fees, etc. I also note that almost 100% of those that came with goals to learn and develop did join. Hmmmmm, no brainer here.
With the popularity of the UFC and mma fighting, many people enthusiastically want to jump in some form of it. I have had so many students from other school all across the USA join my school with knee surgeries, injuries, aches or permanent knee braces.
My goal is for a student to develop his skills and practice BJJ for life. Ok, lets get into the subject matter of
2. Is there a formal instructor or simply everyone sparring?
In this day and age, intensity is more prominent than a course that outlines teaching. Many times, and probably a majority of training facilities do not have an actual Black belt, or even a Black belt in BJJ with a course to teach or offer.
3. Is the sparring controlled?
A formal instructor should be in control or conveying the class course. If he or she is not there, then an assistant should be covering the class. By the way, what many people don’t understand is just because a person is covering a class, does not mean they are an instructor and this should be understood. For example, at my academy I have many senior students that assist me when I am demonstrating techniques, or drills. I have three official assistants, who actually are scheduled to teach or assist me each week. If the course is simply pairing up and sparring, this is simply covering time for the course and over training can result. I know this very well in my career, and many times students cannot train consistently week after week. Especially those with busy careers, etc.
This question is based on a safety protocol every school should have. I had a person that came to me years ago desiring to train in BJJ. He was so upset in his conversation telling me that he had trained at another school before, and the instructor had tried to demonstrate a takedown and fell on his leg, costing him $30,000 of reconstructive surgery to his knee. Everything needs to be slow and deliberate, and while sparring, new students should learn patience first. Many times myself or one of my assistants will spar with a new student his first class. Why? Because we can control them without hurting them, and they don’t feel threatened. Of course many times new white belts go very hard with each other, and we at our academy has to make sure to reassure them and formally alert them to slow down.
4. Is there a format or curriculum the school has to offer?
This is a key point for martial arts academies of all kind. I have a course or format for white, blue, purple, brown and black. I also with my association schools teach them the course so they can have a format in teaching. If there is no format, in my opinion there is no true course.
5. Can you view a class?
Going back to the first point, when most people drop by to get information, usually the first time you need information, fees, etc.. When people call on the phone, usually after greeting them, the first question is “How much does it cost to train there?”
If you give fees over the phone, most people asking these questions just keep calling around to find what is cheapest. What the real question should be is what programs and rates do you have for my budget? We would rather spend five minutes showing physical course outlines on paper, a view of the school and people, community and atmosphere first. This first hand information is much more helpful.
6. Can you meet the instructor?
Unless it is his or her day off, you should always have access to the chief instructor. If a school has one that is never there, or you never met, buyer beware.
7. Does the instructor have any certification?
Key point. When someone claims they have won 100 challenge matches, in my opinion run the other way. When someone boasts about who he has tapped out or Koed, or anything in the like, buyer beware. A certification should actually be a document of some sort that traces their particular history. I remember when BJJ started in the USA in the 90s; we could trace any black belt since there were very few. Now there are more, but when instructors or schools have three or four lineages or different instructors, the question to ask is why? There are some applicants to my association that want to apply simply because I am a BJJ Black belt, and I can easily be verified as a legitimate Black belt (3rd degree) in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu under any of the world famous Machado brothers from Brazil. I also educate my students on this, and when they have a full sheet of information, my lineage is listed as well all the way up to Carlos Gracie, our founder of BJJ.
8. Is he ranked, and under who, and how long?
Again, the above question under certification should answer this. Also in the martial arts many other forms of martial arts black belts are worn if they are teaching a BJJ class. This can be confusing, and if you are an instructor, you should always notify students to alleviate misunderstanding.
9. Does the academy have a course, and how long?
Questions regarding belt progression, time, effort, should be discussed with students. I note that any legitimate academy should also never recognize or transfer a belt rank from another style. (I have had many people in the past ask could they do this)
10. What is the method of payment? Cash, credit card?
And these are very valid questions students should ask. However, I will note that if a school receives an email something like this:
“Hey, how much does it cost?”
I personally would delete it. Usually emails like this don’t even have a name or any type of information. It shows a person that doesn’t even have the common courtesy to address the school or express interest in courses to learn and develop.
For my association schools across Texas, and of course other schools or instructors that read this, keep your course and outline it. Develop a friendly atmosphere, and spare the UFC talks when you first meet a student.
Most students usually join for personal reasons involving discipline, self-defense, self-confidence, physical training and exercise and community development.
Absorb, and think.
Professor William Vandry