How can you tell if it’s worth it to train with an instructor before you start shelling out a couple hundred dollars a month to him?
Um…the trial class. Duh!
Okay, fair enough. But is there a way to feel relatively confident about an instructor even before doing the trial class?
Actually, yes. Thanks to the magic of the internet, followed by a couple minutes worth of questions, you can feel fairly sure the person you’re planning on training under is legit.
Yes, I’m aware of the fact that I said “fairly” and “relatively.” There is no surefire way to know if an instructor will be good until you actually train under her.
However, you can at least reduce the risk that you will waste time with a toxic instructor before you even step on her mats.
Check her lineage.
The instructor should be able to trace her lineage all the way back to Helio or Carlos Gracie. Luckily, it doesn’t take much sleuthing to find out if she is legit. In fact, thanks to the magic of the Internet, it usually only takes a matter of minutes (an hour tops).
Start out by googling the instructor’s name. If you get ten articles calling her a fake black belt, that should serve as a red flag, and you should immediately start looking for a new school.
If the instructor is a first degree black belt or above, you may also be able to find her on sites like Rate My BJJ Instructor or BJJ Tree. If she shows up on either of these two sites, she’s probably legit. And if she shows up on BJJ Heroes, the instructor is definitely legit. In fact, she’s a super star.
However, if your instructor doesn’t show up on any of these sites, have no fear. Go onto her social media or her school’s website (I’ve yet to see a school without a website or Facebook page) and scroll through the photos. If you see pictures of her competing — especially at big name competitions like ADCC, NAGA, and IBJJF — you can be almost certain she’s legit.
But again, if you don’t, not to worry! Plenty of instructors don’t compete.
While scrolling through her photos, see if you can find pictures of her getting promoted. For most people, getting promoted — especially to black belt — is something they’re going to proudly display in their social media. If you find a picture of your instructor getting promoted, especially in front of a large group of students in what looks like a large school, you can feel confident that she’s the real deal.
Finally, if you can’t find any information about her, call up and ask. She should be more than willing to tell you who she trained under. Most students are proud of their instructors. If you’re suspicious, do your research on her instructor, and if you can confidently determine he’s legit, call him up and ask if he knows the instructor you want to train under. If he says no, the instructor you wanted to train under is a fraud.
One more thing: there’s nothing wrong with training under someone who hasn’t gotten her black belt. Brown belts, purple belts, and even blue belts can still teach you a lot about jiu-jitsu.
Make sure he has the right attitude.
You’re going to want to go to the instructor’s school for this one. Once you get there, ask to speak to the instructor. You may have to wait if he’s teaching class.
Once you get a chance to talk to him, ask him whatever BJJ-related questions are on your mind. While he’s answering you, ask yourself if you feel comfortable asking him questions and if he seems eager to answer you.
If the answer is no to either of those questions, find another school. Remember: your instructor is the one who is going to teach you BJJ (obviously!), and you’re not going to learn much under him if you don’t feel comfortable talking to him or if he shows little to no desire to talk to you.
Your instructor should be eager for your business. If he’s not, find someone who is.
Is she white belt friendly?
Does this instructor act as if working with new students is below her? Do she and her brown and black belts remind you of the popular kids at school, only conversing among themselves and ignoring those they see as unworthy of their attention?
If so, why waste your time with her? She clearly doesn’t want to waste her time with you.
If possible, watch the instructor teach class. Assuming the class is reasonably small, she should be spending about as much time helping white belts as she is helping upper belts. When she is helping white belts, she should be patient and look like she’s eager to help. At the very least, she shouldn’t look like she’s bored or annoyed.
Look for a clean gym.
This one gets overlooked frequently. The instructor should be obsessed with keeping his gym clean. A dirty gym is not only a paradise for germs, but it shows the instructor neither cares about his gym nor his students’ health.
While you’re visiting the gym and asking the instructor questions, glance around at the place. Does it look clean? Would you be embarrassed to say you trained here?
Here’s a tip: after you’re done talking, ask if you can use the bathroom. The bathroom is the hardest room in most buildings to keep clean. If the gym’s staff is taking the time to keep the bathroom tidy and germ-free, you can feel confident that the rest of the gym is also clean.
By the way, the gym does not have to be the Taj Mahal in order to be clean. I once trained BJJ in a guy’s basement, but this guy kept his gym so spotless that I would have been comfortable having surgery there. Little gyms can be great gyms, too.
Expect a professional appearance.
No, this isn’t superficial. Your instructor’s appearance is important. Poor personal hygiene, an improperly tied belt, and a dirty uniform suggests the instructor doesn’t care much about herself and probably doesn’t care much about her students.
Granted, if you walk in the gym right after she had a hard roll against her top students, you should expect her hair to be messed up. Also, many people in the BJJ community have tattoos.
But the instructor of the academy is the standard that all students should be expected to measure themselves up against. If she’s an unkempt slacker who cares nothing for her appearance, how exactly are her school and students going to be?