Choosing the right Jiu Jitsu Academy

I have a lot of friends that are moving or traveling in the near future so I wanted to write a post to help them and my readers that might find themselves in a similar situation.

It’s suck moving or traveling for extended periods of time and having to find a new Jiu Jitsu academy.

Often the academy where you begin your Jiu Jitsu journey is like a home away from home and after a few years your training partners go from being strangers that try to choke you out to some of your best friends.

No academy will ever be able to replace your first but there might come a time when you will need to move in order to grow your career or to follow your passion(s).

So where do you start when it comes to picking a new Jiu Jitsu academy?

There are more academies now than there have ever been but with more options the harder it will be to decide. What if you don’t have the time or energy to try out all of the potential academies? There could literally be tens of academies in any major city in the U.S. There’s no way you could try out each and every individual academy.

What type of academy are you looking for?

Your unique preference will help determine which academies will show up on your radar and ultimately get your business.

If you like doing tournaments then there is a good chance that a more competition oriented academy will be a better fit versus a more self defense focused academy.

Or if you’re really into training no gi Jiu Jitsu but the academies that you are scoping out only offer no gi once a week. Then maybe those academies won’t make the cut.

You can be as picky as you want given you have options. At the end of the day it’s your choice.

I can’t stress enough that no academy is perfect. Not even your old academy. The funny thing about humans is that we tend to reminisce with rose tinted vision. The past always seems better. Emphasis on the seems part.

If I had to make a general classification of most Jiu Jitsu academies it would look a little like this.

  1. The all no gi academy
  2. The self defense only/minimal rolling academy
  3. The feelgood academy
  4. The competition academy
  5. The old school academy

All academies pretty much fit somewhere in my classification and many academies might even be a combination of two or more.

Ex. Minimal rolling academy and feelgood academy or the old school and the competition academies.

Knowing from the start what type of academy you are looking for will make your search a lot more efficient and it will make it easier for others to help in your search.

Talk to your training partners

Your biggest resource in finding a new Jiu Jitsu academy will be your current training partners.

I’m sure that you have a few training partners that travel for work and manage to train at different academies when they have some down time.

I know my business friends always pack a gi wherever they go.

So try asking around first and get your friends impressions of the area you are looking to relocate to and any academy recommendations they might have.

Talk to your instructor

If possible talk to your instructor about your move. Most of the time they will know many of the instructor’s in the area that you are planning on moving to and will often offer to make an introduction for you.

The Jiu Jitsu community is relatively tight knit. Some instructors will even ask around about prospective students. So try not to burn any bridges on your way out.

If nothing else it shows that you respect your instructor and appreciate their guidance. There is a lot to be said about the strength of the teacher and student relationship. Time and distance have no effect on it. Your instructor will always be your instructor no matter where you go.

So if possible let your instructor know that you are moving on. I’m sure they would like to help you in whatever way they can.

Read Reviews

Read online reviews about the academies that you plan on checking out.

The Jiu Jitsu community has always been open and outspoken of its critique of itself. That means that students are quick to post about both the good and bad.

I really don’t know of any other martial arts community that self polices itself like in Jiu Jitsu.

If there’s a fake black belt you can guarantee that someone in the community will expose them.

If there’s an instructor selling belts, I bet someone in the community will be posting about it online.

Take reviews with a grain of salt

Of course there might be a few reviews that are not positive. It happens.

Sometimes you do have situations here and there where a student is dissatisfied with an academy and post online about it but it’s usually over a billing/contract issue and not about the technique or instruction. If it is about the technique or then instruction then take that as a major red flag to probably avoid that academy.

I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Are most of the reviews positive? Does the instructor have a good reputation?

Find instructors or academies that are well known

There is something to be said about training under a well known instructor or academy.

Jiu Jitsu is one of the only sports where you can actually interact with your idols. Train under them, and even have one on one time with them.

Can you imagine having a private lesson with Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods?

In Jiu Jitsu this is more than possible.

Reputations in Jiu Jitsu aren’t built overnight and more often than not the famous instructor or academy will be able to back up any claims.

Look for well know academies, instructors and students that they have produced.

Just like there are Ivy League colleges. There are also really great academies out there that are top notch and produce some of the best students and teachers in the world.

Look for academies that have been around the longest

There is a reason that these academies have been around for a long time.

You will find that most academies within the area will have some type of relationship with the more established academy. Most likely either the instructor or some of the students trained with the more established academy at some point.

I know this was definitely the case in the early days of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the U.S.

For example my instructor was the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teacher in my city and many of the biggest academies and black belt instructors were associated with him at one point.

Jiu Jitsu is an art form that takes years to master in its application and instruction. When you study under instructors that have been teaching for 20+ years it’s hard to describe just the wealth of knowledge of Jiu Jitsu and its history that they have and that they are able to convey.

More things to look for in a new academy

  • Level of instruction – This is more subjective. The higher your level the higher the level of instruction and coaching you will need in order to improve. If you are just starting out there’s really not that big of a difference but as you progress you’re going to want the ability to advance already in place. For example many academies will have a beginner, intermediate, and an advanced classes.
    • Higher belts – The more the better. Although newer academies tend to have fewer higher belts.
    • Atmosphere – Look for academies with a good atmosphere and no drama if possible. If the atmosphere feels off to you that is a huge red flag to try out another academy.
    • History – Every instructor and academy has a history. If the academy doesn’t mention it’s history or the instructor doesn’t talk about his or her instructor/lineage then you might be walking into a trap.
  • Professionalism – Do the classes start and end on time? Is there a system for handling belt graduation? This can be a toss up even for more well known and established academies. But shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
  • Communication – Communication is a two way street. Are you able to talk about any concerns or questions that you may have with the instructor(s)? What about with the staff? More traditional academies tend to have a do as I say mentality that makes communication a little bit harder, especially if the instructor is older.
  • Cleanliness – This should be self explanatory but you would be surprised by the number of academies where this is an issue. Clean mats and bathrooms are a prerequisite of any successful academy.
  • Diversity – A cool part of Jiu Jitsu is that it brings together people from completely different backgrounds.
  • Location – The academy needs to be accessible enough for you to be able to attend classes regularly. That might mean that it’s close to where you live or work. Either way it needs to be convenient.

Ultimately you are going to have to find an academy that fits your needs.

Everyone’s needs are different.

For example, if I were to move to another city and look for a new academy. I would have a completely different set of requirements than a blue belt looking to train 2-3 times a week.

I want to end this post by reminding you to do your due diligence in your search for a new Jiu Jitsu home. Take your time, try a class or two before deciding. It might take a while for the training partners and instructor(s) to warm up to you. But if the academy feels right, it’s convenient, and you like the people who train there then that’s all that really matters.

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