One of the most important decisions you can make when training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is what school to train at. I will discuss some of the most important factors to look at when picking which school you will learn at. I highly recommend attending a few classes at a school before you sign up, especially if there is a length contract.
1) What are the students like at the school?
If almost everyone is a white belt, this is a red flag. Why aren’t there any higher belts? Does everyone leave before they get promoted because the instructor isn’t very good? A lack of higher belts can really hurt you because there will be fewer people that can help teach you techniques and you won’t have more skilled students to roll with. I find that I learn the most when rolling with blue and purple belts.
What are the other students like physically? Are most of the other students much smaller or much larger than you? Are most of the students older or younger than you? You will probably want to train at a school that has several people of similar size to you with people both smaller and larger. It is good to roll with a diverse set of students to allow you to develop a well-rounded game. If you are always rolling with people who are much larger than you it will be difficult to learn how to do submissions. If you are always rolling with people who are much smaller than you then you won’t get as much experience on the bottom.
2) How does the instructor teach?
It is important to make sure that you are able to learn from the instructor, does the instructor’s teaching style work for you?
3) What are the goals of the gym?
You will want to make sure the goals of the gym and your goals align. If everyone else is competing in tournaments and you are doing BJJ for recreational enjoyment then rolling with the other student might be too intense. On the flip side, if you want to compete and no one else in you gym does, it will be tough for you to get the high intensity rolling sessions you need to prepare for tournaments.
4) How often does the gym have classes?
I have seen a wide range in the frequency of classes at gyms. Some schools only train twice a week while others have 10 or more classes a week. Make sure that you feel that your school has enough classes to meet your training goals. Keep in mind that after you start training you will probably want to train more than you initially think you want to train. BJJ is addictive like that.
5) Does the gym train in Gi, No-Gi or both?
I recommend finding a gym that trains in both Gi and No-Gi. Check out my entry about Gi vs No-Gi BJJ.
6) How large is the gym? How many students show up per class?
Make sure that there are enough students showing up so that you will have plenty of student to roll with. You will also want to make sure classes are not too crowded either. If there is not enough matt space for everyone to roll at the same time, you will lose precious training time.
7) Is the gym a 10th Planet BJJ school?
Many people do not like the style of 10th planet. These schools typically teach a limited subset of BJJ. Carefully research 10th planet and their style of BJJ before you sign up to train at one of their gyms. I will leave it up to you to decide if their system is right for you.
My ideal school has at least 50% higher belt, and a diverse set of students, most of which weigh more than 160 pounds. It should offer classes every day and should have several students interested in competing. The school should offer training in both Gi and No-Gi.