When I first tried training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the previous city I lived in, I didn’t think it was for me. I took a free trial class after the school attended my company’s health fair and struggled through it, but enjoyed it. Once I was in a tired and dehydrated state, I was placed into a room with a high pressure sales person who wore me down until I signed a deal. No big deal, since it was $70 for unlimited classes that included BJJ, kickboxing, and fitness classes, but right from the get go it didn’t feel right. I never meshed with the students or coaches. Part of the poor fit was on me, but part of it was the culture set by the head coach and owner of the school. It wasn’t uncommon for the coach to get frustrated with the students in the beginners class, spend time texting on the phone during class, or focus his attention on the very athletic or very cute female students.
Since this was my first time in BJJ, I didn’t know the difference between a good or bad coach or if how he behaved was normal. Ultimately, I didn’t advance very far or last very long before a career change moved me to another city. After a year and half away from BJJ, I decided to give it another chance and was amazed by the 180 degree difference between my previous academy and my new one. The school I attended had a structured curriculum, dedicated coaches, a positive learning environment, and friendly students that helped me finally enjoy training in the gentle art. Again, the culture all starts from the top and trickles down to the other instructors and students. Here are five qualities on what prospective BJJ students should look for in a BJJ instructor.
Technical knowledge: A coach doesn’t have to be a high-level black belt world champion. Also, being a high level competitor doesn’t translate to being a great coach. How many boxing world titles has Freddie Roach won, compared to the number of world champions that seek out his knowledge? A good BJJ coach should be very knowledgeable about the fundamentals, key details in techniques, open-minded to new moves, and always learning and expanding on what their library of knowledge How do you know if a coach is technical? Watch a few videos online from Shawn Williams and observe the details he includes in his videos. If the instructor of the prospective school you are visiting quickly demonstrates moves without explaining the importance or reasons behind the fundamental details, it can lead to picking up bad habits and not being as efficient with your movements or technique. I
Patience: A key part of being a great teacher is exhibiting patience, especially with new students who never trained before. Some instructors forget that being the new student is a very intimidating process for new students and it is compounded when a lot of new terminology and foreign movements are continually introduced. An impatient instructor that gets frustrated by a student’s inability to grasp a concept or technique will cause the student to also get frustrated and feel uneasy. When the instructor is patient with students, it will trickle down to the upper belt students who will also show patience with their novice training partners. Taking the time extra time to help students and make them feel comfortable will go a long way in building a positive relationship with students.
Attentive: Is the head coach teaching classes? Even if the head coach is teaching, is the coach actively walking around, helping students while they drill and answering questions or is the coach sitting on the sidelines swiping right on Tinder and texting? Is there a curriculum or plan for each class and the month or is the coach just winging it? A regular BJJ class runs 60 to 90 minutes and students are paying $100 to $200 per month for the instruction. If the coach wants to be respected by students, then the coach should also show respect for the students by being attentive and active during class time.
Great Communication Skills: This ties back to the first three points. Teaching BJJ is both a verbal and physical skill that requires being able to speak clearly and move effectively. A coach can demonstrate a technique, but it is the verbal communication that will really provide students with the key details and lay the foundations for the fundamentals. Also, there is an issue of body language the instructor exudes during class. Does the coach appear approachable or standoffish. Are the coach’s facial expressions full of smiles and inviting or is there a constantly frown or brooding look. What a coach communicates both verbally and through body language says a lot about a coach.
Decent Human Being: You can be a great at BJJ, but a horrible human being. There are coaches that hide behind the veneer of BJJ being ego free and humbling, while acting pompous and arrogant. You hear stories of married coaches hitting on students in class or bullying students to reinforce their position as the top alpha male. Its hard to learn if a coach is a decent human being from just casual or surface-level encounters. You can look online for reviews and stories about a coach, but you ultimately won’t know whether or not a coach is a decent human being until you join and get to see the coach’s good and bad sides. The best piece of advice would be to observe and sample a few classes from a prospective coach to see if you believe you can mesh with the coach’s teaching style and the overall culture of the school.