Everything flows and nothing abides. ~Heraclitus
Every time we train, we grapplers get an object lesson in the fluidity of circumstance. This principle is as true for our personal lives off the mats, as it is for any given spar. At some point in our grappling journeys we may find ourselves in need of a new club. Relocation, changes to work or school schedule, the arrival of children, intra-club bullying or harassment, the breakdown of an intra-club romance, or a change in one’s training goals – these things and more can lead to the need to find a new place to train. This isn’t an easy task. So what are some tips on how to change BJJ schools?
How to Change BJJ Schools
Up until January of this year, I had been lucky enough to have trained with Dave Birkett at Dartford Academy throughout my 10 years in BJJ. In February 2015, after 17 years living in the UK, my family and I moved back to my hometown of Rochester, NY. For me, a big part of making this city my home again, has been finding a new group to train with. This process has given me some experience in how to change BJJ schools.
Let’s start with some parting advice from Dave Birkett:
- observe a class
- have a private with the head instructor
- do a trial class
Now, this is good advice and it assumes that you’ve done some initial leg-work, perhaps online, looking into what schools and teams are available in your area. Firstly, by observing a class before mucking in, you can determine if you feel safe and welcome in the environment and if the material is the sort of stuff you’re interested in. Secondly, by having a private with the head instructor, you can get a feel of his/her degree of professionalism; this person will be setting the tone for the club and if you feel good about how they teach and behave, you’re ready for the next step. Thirdly, do a trial class. Train and roll with the students. Perhaps from here you can do 2-3 more classes ‘a la carte’ before committing to a membership. Likewise, if after this process finishes, you feel a particular place may not be quite the right fit, no biggie, you haven’t bedded in too much with a group, so no hard feelings. All very reasonable and a rational and methodical way to change BJJ schools. I’d add to this, if you do discover a school isn’t quite right for you, be sure to communicate this frankly and clearly to the instructors who kindly opened their doors to you. Ours is a small community and there’s no point in burning bridges; some folk may take it personally while others will see that we each have our own path and welcome you to the local scene, regardless of where you might end up training.
From ‘BJJ’ to ‘GJJ’
Rochester has some great options and the BJJ scene has really evolved in the years of my absence. There’s something for everyone from the ‘sportier’ side of things to a bigger focus on the fundamentals and ‘punch proofing’. I tried my hand at a few places. All were welcoming and showed technical proficiency. After weighing my options, I’ve decided to join Gracie Jiu Jitsu Victor, a Gracie Academy Certified Training Centre.
GJJ Victor is run by John Ingallina, owner and operator of United Martial Arts Center in Victor, NY. John, though relatively new to GJJ/BJJ, is a veteran martial artist with in-depth experience in traditional martial arts including Japanese jiu jitsu. He runs a clean, respectful and welcoming facility that attracts men and women of a wide age range. His teaching is clear, methodical and professional. He and his students have been very open to some mad purple belt coming in off the streets and I’m delighted to have met John and his students.
GJJ, or the fundamental and basic core of BJJ, is what appeals to me. I have some reservations about the Gracie University approach. I also recognise its strengths and I hope to discuss this topic further when I have greater experience with the Gracie University method of teaching and learning. What I do know, right now, is that material branded ‘GJJ’ is what I want to train. Dave Birkett and Marc Walder, my instructors back in the UK, focused on GJJ material to a very fine degree of detail. This is not the post to dwell on the community’s divisions over the relative merits of BJJ versus GJJ (you can see a nice post by Dave on this here). I will assert now that ‘GJJ’ represents the bread and butter of ‘BJJ’. These are the techniques that I have drilled since coming into the art. They have helped to ‘save my bacon’ when rolling with bigger, stronger, younger, faster players. I love this material. It is what I want to continue to drill and hone. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Victor can offer me that and I am excited to be joining this group of detail-oriented and careful practitioners.
Many of the folks at GJJ Victor have significant Japanese jiu jitsu experience and there are opportunities to spar in the traditional classes and open mat sessions. The GJJ classes, as currently offered, do not include sparring. (This probably represents my central gripe about the Gracie University approach, though, again, I can see some benefits as staving off sparring does seem to entice a wider range of folks onto the mat and perhaps once players are a bit more seasoned they can handle the ‘realness’ without the drop out rate – would be interested in some data on this!). Happily, I’ve been invited to attend a regular open mat at another local BJJ club, and as both instructors are cool with me sparring around town, this can help me get in some extra sparring while meeting more practitioners here in Rochester. Very impressed to have found some dedicated professionals running clubs here in Roc City.
It has been a bit of a process choosing a club. February weather in Western NY is no joke and there was promptly 35 inches / 90cm of snow upon our arrival. This messes with travel, not to mention waiting to close on our house, get jobs, bank accounts, and set up the rest of one’s mundane life infrastructure all while handling a child and trying to eat clean and get to the gym. As Spring sprung and we settled into a routine, I had the opportunity to trial a couple clubs. I knew GJJ Victor was the place for me as soon as we started drilling those good ol’ basic techniques. I can’t speak on how to shop around for a club without BJJ experience, but as someone who has logged a respectable number of years in this game, I think it is reasonable to suggest that one can expect a love at first sight feeling when one has found the right club. While you may find great people at many dojos you’ll know, as an experienced hand, what style of instruction and what material you’re after. The new-fangled, finely-grained positioning for competition is cool and challenging. That’s a great thing to study if that’s your bag, but for me, I want core basics, the fundamentals. GJJ and GJJ-style training can offer that. GJJ Victor, specifically, I believe, can also offer a respectful and mature training environment managed by humble and committed instructors. So, as the rest of GJJ Victor did when entering the Gracie University system, I too will put on a white belt and work my way through the GJJ belt system (more on this as we go!). It is early days, and I miss Dave and my team at the Dartford Academy everyday. As a grappler, dear reader, you know change is the only constant and one must adapt or tap. Onwards!
Photos reproduced here with permission of John Ingallina, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Victor.
BJJ Purple Belt Switches to GJJ Academy & Starts from White Belt | Bjj Eastern Europe
13 May 2015 @ 12:20 pm
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13 May 2015 @ 3:42 pm
Good article and well written. Interesting to see this approach as many jujitsu practitioners in the US have dismissed so many other martial arts that have students practice with “no contact” in controlled one-step sparring situations in an effort to culture that “bread n butter” prior to moving into sparring sessions. Interested to see how this will affect attitudes towards this scaffold-style curriculum.
13 May 2015 @ 5:29 pm
Many thanks for reading and commenting, Jeremiah! To be honest, as mentioned in the post, I am not, personally, ‘drinking the kool aid’ when it comes to the lack of sparring at white belt. I recognise that it has benefits, in particular it can help folk who might not normally get involved in BJJ, get comfortable on the mats.
For me, having come from a traditional background (I have a black belt in Shorinji Kempo), I came into BJJ looking for more ‘realness’, with less likelihood of head trauma than a striking art. While those first few months were dire – I spent 3 months just tapping from a mount – I pushed through them and that was the right path for me to get started. I am grateful that I sparred from day one and have HAD to make techniques work in live sparring conditions. I have never been able to abide those who don’t spar with much intensity preaching on imagined scenarios of ‘what the other person will do’. Easy way to find out – roll and work that technique until you’ve got the skill and timing.
That being said, I fully recognise that a ‘baptism by fire’ is not right for everyone and I do support nurturing a diverse group of practitioners. The Gracie University approach can help to achieve that. Essentially, I appreciate that while, for me, sparring from the start was the right way to go, that isn’t everyone’s truth.
In my case, as a ‘GJJ’ practitioner, I am able to spar outside of the Combatives intro classes at open mats at GJJ Victor, itself, and elsewhere in Rochester. This is a good balance based on my personal training goals and options at this time.
Thanks again for taking the time to read and comment. Means a lot.
13 May 2015 @ 6:38 pm
I can understand starting over, demoting yourself to white belt, if it was done out of respect to your new blue belt instructor. Your decision was selfless, thoughtful and kind.
I couldn’t have chosen that route, for two reasons.
I think my own pride, in my accomplishment, prevents me from believing an instructor could be so bold or insecure to ask this of me.
Secondly, I believe this may be considered offensive to my previous instructor and affiliate, who invested themselves to teaching me. Since you’re simply changing to a different jiu-jitsu school, and not shall in kung-fu, I would have discussed this with my previous instructor. I believe only the instructor or affiliate, that promoted you can demote you. I would hope they would understand and consider your request.
13 May 2015 @ 6:48 pm
I hate auto-correct. Shall in was originally “Shaolin kung-fu”.
13 May 2015 @ 7:18 pm
Hello! Thank you very much for your comment, Robert. It is really gratifying that people such as yourself take the time to read and share their thoughts.
I am beginning to realise that the one sentence reference to a belt change is what is getting the most attention in this post! I will need to follow up with a fuller discussion of my decision. For now let me clarify in brief.
The decision to wear a white belt was purely my own. John, the head instructor at GJJ Victor, respects my purple belt and was happy for me to keep it on. To me, it felt right and respectful to my new club to work through their grades starting with a white belt. Changing belts certainly does not take away any of my experience or abilities and I am still a 3 stripe purple belt under Dave Birkett at Dartford BJJ, and still perfectly capable of kicking ass and taking names and/or tap-tap-tapping as a roll allows! In essence, I’ll sort of have two belts running in parallel, and for the purposes of the GJJ progression, I’ll start at white. Again, this was my decision alone and not asked of me by John. I wouldn’t want to give that impression as that would be a disservice to both of us.
Many thanks again for stopping by and leaving your thoughts.
13 May 2015 @ 8:10 pm
I have to admit, like Robert… I’m a little torn over this. On one hand – I definitely respect the humbleness and respect for demoting yourself and can see how it would make things easier when you’re “the newb” to the class.
However, on the other hand – it’s not like you’re changing disciplines. BJJ and GJJ are the same art. It’s not like you’re going from Judo or Karate to BJJ… the belt you earned should carry over. More so… there may be a hint of unintended disrespect towards your former instructor. Like the time he spent teaching you didn’t matter or didn’t count. That’s my BIGGEST problem with the whole idea…
BUT, I’m a BIG believer in the fact that this is YOUR journey. Nobody else’s. It’s YOUR choice to take whichever path you see fit – if that path is starting over again as a white belt – that’s your prerogative as BJJ, as well as this life, is your journey. As long as you’re enjoying the ride – what people say or tell you doesn’t matter unless they matter to you.
13 May 2015 @ 10:40 pm
Good points and balanced feedback, thanks for taking the time, Shawn! I completely hear what you’re saying. As mentioned in my reply to Robert I’m working on a follow-up post to clarify some issues that are cropping up.
Briefly, here, on the idea of demotion, I don’t see it as such. Like it or lump it, Gracie University has gone its own way with a very clearly defined belt and grading system. So, from a CTC point of view, ‘my rank in BJJ is my rank in BJJ’ and that is between me and the instructor who awarded it to me. If I want to grade at John’s club, I need to work through the Gracie Academy belts, as this is how he is authorised to promote folks. John was happy for me to keep my purple belt on while I prepared for Gracie Academy tests, but to my mind this didn’t feel right or respectful to my new training partners. To be clear, this was my choice only. Likewise, I’ve been in regular comms with my original instructor, Dave, throughout the process of finding a new club. He supports me and my decisions 100%. That is to state, I have sought to respect myself, my original instructor and club, and my new instructor and club.
I will now carry three belts: white belt ‘Gracie Academy GJJ’; purple belt three stripes Dave Birkett BJJ; black belt Shorinji Kempo. To me, that’s all this new belt is, another branch to my tree of belts and promotions. For me, it represents an addition rather than a demotion. It does not override or replace my purple belt, it simply represents a new journey, albeit closely related. At the end of the day, GJJ Victor is the best place for me in terms of the material I want to study. It is the material I’d been doing with Dave and is the direction I want to continue in. As GJJ Victor is a CTC, they have their own grading scale.
I appreciate that the whole CTC ‘thang’, is controversial, and perhaps this is really what has some folks’ backs up. The fact that my purple belt isn’t, in fact, transferrable from a Gracie University point of view. That, in some sense, Gracie Academy has said BJJ and GJJ aren’t the same art is a serious and legitimate flashpoint in our community. Thus, my decision to wear a white belt for GC classes may appear ‘political’ as it implies consensus with the Gracie Academy point of view. I have some thoughts on the divisions in our community over ‘BJJ’ and ‘GJJ’ which I will organise and address more fully on this blog as soon as life’s other commitments allow.
Again, thank you for taking the time to read and leave a measured comment. I don’t disagree with many of your points, and I hope I’ve given some better context to my decision. I didn’t realise 1 sentence in this post would cause such a stir! Silly, Meg 🙂
13 May 2015 @ 9:01 pm
Cool to hear you’ve found a place that’s a good fit for you: I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes. The decision to go to white is an interesting one, though given that the Gracie Academy system has it’s own specific set of requirements for each belt I can understand why you might do that.
I’m also assuming that you could probably run through the blue belt test quite soon, probably most of the stripes as well? I’m not sure how purple belt ranking currently works at a CTC, given that the videos and accompanying requirements haven’t yet been produced at Gracie University (as far as I’m aware).
Either way, should make for good reading. Keep us posted! 😀
13 May 2015 @ 10:46 pm
Hi slideyfoot! Thank you for stopping by and leaving a note. I think you get where I’m coming from. I’ve added some details in my replies above and will be blogging more on the whole ‘Meg’s not wearing a purple belt in her GC classes’ issue, anon.
Indeed, as an experienced practitioner, I’ve been advised that I can test as and when I feel ready. I am quite familiar with the basic material and look forward to polishing and tweaking to prepare for the blue belt. It is a fun prospect and I look forward to the challenge of adding Gracie University belts to my quiver, so to speak.
Thanks again for reading and writing, appreciate it! And if you find yourself in the gorgeous Finger Lakes region on another US trip, let me know!
Does Changing BJJ Schools Mean Changing Belts?! | MegJitsu
14 May 2015 @ 12:40 pm
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