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:

  1. observe a class
  2. have a private with the head instructor
  3. 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.

John Ingallina, GJJ Victor NY
John Ingallina, GJJ Victor NY

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.

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Victor
Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Victor

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.