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Finding A BJJ Academy
Without a doubt, the hardest thing to do in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is to start.
Sure, rolling for the first time can be intimidating and so can competing, but nothing is as nerve-wracking and terrifying as walking into a BJJ school for the first time.
Travis Stevens has simple concepts that he applies to his throws, take downs and guard passing. His approach is simple, and makes him one of the best grapplers ever.
Not only is it terrifying, but anyone who has watched The Karate Kid knows that not all martial arts academies are the same. Some are hard-core cults where everyone moves and shouts in perfect unison and the coach is more likely to hit you than offer constructive advice. Others offer a more serene approach to Jiu Jitsu and preach a doctrine of self-defense (think Mr. Miyagi). Then, there’s the McDojo—the “academy” that is basically a money-making enterprise where students put in a minimum of work and a maximum of cash to buy a belt promotion.
The big question for the potential student is: how do you tell what kind of academy you’re dealing with?
Unfortunately, there’s only one way: research.
There are a number of steps you can take to assess a potential training academy before you walk through the door that first time.
First off, look at their website. Oh, wait, no website? That’s a red flag! I know that web design is not part of the black belt curriculum in BJJ, but any instructor who has a serious interest in running a thriving academy will make sure to have a website.
That website should tell you something about the instructor and the philosophy of the school. Does the write-up talk about competition? Does it talk about self-defense? Does it mention “belt-testing” fees? What does the instructor say about him or herself? Also, look at the pictures. Is the instructor scowling? Or smiling? All of this is valuable information that tells you whether an academy leans toward competitions that build the reputation of the school or if the professor is more interested in equipping students with self-defense skills and self-confidence. It tells you whether the professor views himself as a friendly coach or an imposing master. Plus, an emphasis on fees tells you whether you may be dealing with a McDojo.
Next, look at reviews. Check for Google reviews to see what students have to say about the school. Do the reviews match up with the impression you get from the website? How do the reviews refer to the instructor? By their first name? By a title? Again, this will tell you a lot about the feel of an academy.
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Finally, make contact. Send an email or make a phone call expressing interest in sitting in on a class or in a trial membership. How long does it take to get a response? How warm is the welcome they offer? A good academy will usually allow you to come and observe a class before making a decision on a trial membership. On the other hand, a McDojo probably won’t let you in the door without first getting a few swipes on your credit card. Do they start talking about money right away? Do they demand that you buy a gi immediately? Again, these are potential warning signs.
If a potential academy has passed your careful scrutiny so far, you can walk through the door for the first time with a bit more confidence. Sadly, there are never guarantees, and one particular academy may still not be a perfect fit for you. You’ll still find a wide variety among academies, with some remaining very formal and traditional while others are a bit more relaxed. Regardless, though, you can definitely improve your odds of finding a good fit for yourself by doing a bit of research ahead of time.