When looking for a place to study jiu-jitsu there are several variables a person should consider. One of the more common is who is the head instructor as they are, what is thought to be, the guide for the student on their journey. But the truth is a new white belt is going to spend far less training time with the head instructor than with the rest of the student body as a whole. The head instructor is responsible for crafting the school culture, but it ends up taking on a life of its own. Therefore, looking at the culture of the school and the types of students who train there can be more important than the head instructor himself. Make sure it is something that is compatible with your goals and makes you feel welcome because it will end up teaching you more than the coaches. It takes time to get a feel for it as it is not as obvious as seeing the credentials of an individual. Yet it can make all the difference in your experience.
The best schools for the average participant are inclusive and diverse. There are students of all body types, ages, and abilities. To be able to do this the instructor needs to be a generalist on some level. To be able to help each student achieve their potential, instructors need to be proficient at as many techniques, tactics, and mindsets as possible. To buffer this a healthy school culture will include advanced students who are better than the head instructor in certain areas. If you find yourself enjoying a style that the head instructor doesn’t excel at there will be other people with more experience to assist. This allows all techniques to be explored. Every student isn’t a "cookie cutter" of the instructor's A game. You see people playing all different types of guards, passes, positions, and submissions. There is the practical aspect that without exposure to different styles you don't know what you don't know. You might have the prerequisites to be a footlock whiz, but if no one instructs you on the intricacies of the control that leads to the submission, because the instructor doesn’t like footlocks, you may never find out. Is the student body solely composed of males age 18-24 or is the student body more diverse? If you yourself are older or simply plan to train for a long period of time make sure you are not at a school where the oldest student is 30. If everyone in their 40s quits you have to ask yourself what is it about the school that is making them quit. Are the techniques being taught, the physicality of training, and the philosophy on training level appropriate?
How is tapping seen in the community? Do you hear people brag about tapping someone or about not being tapped? It seems common to think that advanced students have to be able to tap everyone in the school and never, or rarely, get tapped. But that is actually less important than an advanced student finding joy in helping lower students improve. Training in the school is always a positive sum game. A culture that focuses on the transfer of knowledge over “beating” everyone in the school will be the quickest way to safely improve. Injuries in jiu-jitsu are unavoidable. The physical nature of training makes them impossible to eliminate. But some schools do a better job of embedding safety protocol into daily training. Does the instructor simply go over "rules" or are they reinforcing the identity of the school? Is everyone aware of what is expected?
How much of a student's progress can an instructor really take credit for? The actual "group lesson" taught makes up only a fraction of the learning. Your partner for technique/drilling will help to more intimately micro-correct 100% of the time while the instructor walks the room. Plus actual rolling with your classmates teaches you as much as you are able to absorb. Even when you are sitting on the side, watching the room of other people rolling, you are both consciously and subconsciously learning what jiu-jitsu is just by observing what’s in front of you. The instructor should get some credit for the student's growth, but more important is getting the credit for creating an environment that created the growth.
photo credit // cauliphlower