If you’re thinking of starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, one of your main concerns will be telling if the gym that you’re looking at offers good Jiu Jitsu training. There is no governing body for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (the IBJJF is a commercial organization that runs tournaments, not an organization that offers ‘quality control’ for coaches), but that doesn’t mean that there’s any quality control in the sport at all. Because BJJ is a competitive sport as well as a martial art, it’s actually pretty easy to tell if a gym is legitimate.
Lineage is a very important thing in BJJ. The first thing that you should ask when you visit a gym is who gave the instructor his rank. Ideally, you should train under a black belt and that black belt should be able to tell you his instructor’s name, and often his instructor’s instructor as well. BJJ is a young sport, and most instructors are only four or five generations removed from a Gracie, Machado, or Maeda – big names in the history of the sport.
That said, it’s not always possible to train under a black belt. In some areas, the sport isn’t popular yet, and you might find that a brown, purple or even blue belt is the only option. In that case, ask them if they still have contact with an instructor of their own. A blue belt that makes regular journeys train with a black belt, who also competes, and who is transparent about the fact that they are still a relatively low belt is a perfectly good instructor for a beginner.
Sparring Tells All
During your first class, look at the make-up of the gym. How many people of different belts are there? In a gym run by a blue belt, it’s normal to expect that everyone else would be a white belt or a blue belt themselves. In a gym with a darker colored belt or a black belt, you would expect a mix of belts among the students.
Does the instructor roll with students on a regular basis? How are the students during sparring? In a good gym, you would expect that colored belts would look confident and fluid during sparring and that they would have good control. You should be able to see, clearly, that a colored belt is able to confidently handle a white belt of similar size and strength. That’s not to say that a lower rank should never tap out a colored belt, but the quality of movement, control and positional awareness of a higher belt should be evident in what they do.
Another thing to consider is their competition record. A gym that competes regularly will likely offer good training. A gym that actively discourages competition may not be a bad gym, but it’s certainly something that should raise some questions – after all, why would an instructor not want their students to test themselves on the mats unless they were worried that they wouldn’t measure up?