If you look at my credentials, you might ask yourself, who is this guy? So let me start by answering that question: I am your school’s next black belt; I am the next Marcelo Garcia; I am the one that puts your school on the map, I am all of these things and more than you could possibly imagine. I am a White Belt. A brand new white belt to be exact, I haven’t even officially selected a gym yet. So why does my opinion matter? Because I am everything I said I am and more; I’m a blank canvas waiting to become a masterpiece. Maybe I become the next Mona Lisa, or maybe I become the piece of art that collectors scoff at and criticize the artist that produced me; regardless of what I become, I’ll be a reflection of your school.
As a white belt, I understand that I am a plague to many of the upper belts; wasting their precious mat space with my poor posture and weak understanding of which grip to use when; but, as a white belt, I understand that YOU were once a white belt as well. I understand that someone had to show you how to tie your belt, just like you had to show me. Someone had to tell you to keep your elbows in, just like you had to tell me; and that there was even a time you, too, were yelled at for getting in the higher belts way when they were on the mats. I also understand that sometimes, you forget these things; that you forget that I am just as valuable to your school as another upper belt would be. But the hardest part about our journey together is not going to be my promotion from white to blue, or blue to purple, or so on; it’s not going to be teaching me how to properly defend a berimbolo, or the donkey guard, or how to transition from Mission Control to Chill Dog, or anything of that nature. The hardest challenge is going to be setting yourself apart from the other hundreds of Jiu-Jitsu schools out there.
With the recent growth in popularity there are more and more BJJ schools popping up around the country, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to set your school apart from another; that is why I am writing this. I am a longtime lover of Martial Arts, but because of life circumstances, I am just now being able to start training and in this journey that I’ve started, I’ve noticed some things that I feel need to be pointed out to the rest of the community. Not only to help grow this sport, but to help improve the schools that are more than just “McDojos“.
I was very deliberate in looking for schools; I started with Google, and then went to the closest school to me. Seriously. I went to that school all amped up and excited and was vastly let down the second I got there; I knew I had selected the wrong school. So, I went back to google and spent some more time researching this time; I called and asked a coworker who I knew did Martial Arts what he thought about the different schools, I checked each school’s Facebook page, I read reviews online; I was as thorough as I could possibly be. I narrowed it down to 3 schools based on the following Criteria:
1) Location – This might seem like it’s impossible to overcome, but it’s really not; in fact, the school I selected is farther than two of the other schools I visited. Location is more than just where you are located on a map though; make sure that the little things are addressed. One of the schools I visited I was almost late to class because I spent 5 minutes driving around looking for the school; most students are just going to give up and try somewhere else.
2) Social Media Presence – We live in the social media age, and while I don’t care how many people like your page, or who follows your twitter; We shouldn’t have to wonder if your school is still open because your last post on your Facebook was in 2011. Keep an active page, post pictures of class from time to time, and if you’re going to a competition it should be all over your page. This is a cheap way to make your school seem like it has a lot going on for it, which is appealing to someone trying to select what school they want to join.
3) Schedule – This is by far the most critical part of selecting a school; in fact, it’s the reason I selected the school that I did. School A was 2 minutes from my house and had more posts to their Facebook than a 14 year old girl with a selfie stick. But they only offered BJJ classes three nights a week, and two of those I had other obligations to my non-BJJ life, leaving me only one day a week to train. So even though I liked their school better than the others, I couldn’t pick it because training once a week wasn’t enough for me. The school I did pick offers class 6 days a week, and when I spoke with the Owner, he said that often times they have open mats on the 7th day too; it’s just not on the schedule. Another major factor in scheduling is offering a beginners class; even if it’s only once a week, the thought of being able to go to a class with other beginners while we learn together is a major advantage, I don’t have to worry about being the newbie because everyone is a newbie. It will also allow you to teach fundamentals to those who need to learn them most.
Now, I know that most people are going to be surprised that affiliation wasn’t listed on that criteria; but to be honest, with most people starting out in BJJ, it’s not overly important. Is it cool that your school is a Renzo Gracie affiliate? Sure, but is that going to sway me over a school that is a Grapple Fight Team affiliate who is closer to my house? Probably not. Affiliation is like a tie breaker, if I have two schools that both excel at the other 3 criteria I’m looking for, I might pick based off of which school’s affiliation I prefer; but other than that, it really doesn’t come into play that much because we know that just because you’re a Relson Gracie school doesn’t mean Relson is going to be teaching my white belt class.
These criteria are NOT going to be the same for all beginners, but I can pretty much assure you that one of those three are going to play a factor in everyone’s decision for a school. However, you can nail all three criteria, but if you botch the first time someone steps into your school it’ll be for nothing. In the part of the series, I’ll share my experiences from my multiple school visits and list the pros and cons from each one for everyone (Students, Instructors, and Owners alike) to learn from.