Your jiu jitsu academy isn't just the place where you train... it's your refuge from the daily stresses of life, it's where your friends are, and it's where you learn and grow, as both a practitioner and as a person.
Because it is such an important space in your daily life, it's important that you choose wisely. We've detailed a few things to keep in mind:
It's Okay to Shop Around
Not all academies are the same; each one has it's own vibe and micro-culture. You might find that the first academy you walk into is the one for you... or you may not be too sure. That's okay. It's all about finding the right fit. Most academies offer a free trial period, which usually ranges from a few classes to a week, or even a month. Try out a few academies in your area. Walking through their doors isn't a commitment, nor does trying another academy mean you've ruled out any of the others.
Your Professor and Teammates
One thing that makes the jiu jitsu community so special is the people in it. For the most part, jiu jitsu practitioners are an awesome - and very diverse - bunch of guys and gals. However, regardless of where you end up, there will always be a few teammates that you don't exactly mesh with. That's normal. What isn't normal is if you feel ignored, simply tolerated, or even bullied by the majority of your fellow teammates. This kind of negative collective behavior typically originates from the leader and/or leaders of the group, and is likely entrenched in the micro-culture of that academy. You don't need that. Additionally, make sure that your professor is someone that you feel like you can trust - particularly in regard to his/her level of technique - as well as respect, as a practitioner and a person. If not, you owe nothing to him or her and you should move on and find somewhere else - somewhere better - to train.
In jiu jitsu, we get into some really intimate positions, both with our fellow practitioners as well as the surface of the mat. Hopefully your teammates are keeping an adequate standard of hygiene, but the bigger concern is the cleanliness of the academy itself. The surface of the mat - and the cracks in between the mats - can harbor a lot of nasty stuff, like ringworm, staph, or even MRSA. It's not unreasonable to expect the mats at your academy to be cleaned at least once or twice a day, depending on how much they're used. Needless to say, the restrooms and locker rooms should also be clean and tidy, because otherwise that's just gross.
Cost and Amenities
Jiu jitsu is not cheap. You might find monthly rates under $100 at some smaller academies, but the vast majority cost between $125-$150 per month, and some are upwards of $250+. Yearly contracts can help lower your monthly rate, which, if you've decided to commit to that academy, is definitely worth the initial investment. Considering the tremendous benefits that jiu jitsu offers for your physical and psychological health, you can be sure that your money will be well spent... as long as the actual instruction is up to par, because that's what you're ultimately paying for. It also must be said that a cheaper academy doesn't necessarily mean that you're getting inferior training. Some of the best coaches I've met were at smaller, more economical academies.
As far as amenities go, the most basic academy will have a mat area, a restroom, and a water fountain. Some academies might offer a variety of extra amenities, such as separate locker rooms for men and women, showers, rental gis and gear, a pro-shop, or even laundry service. However, don't walk into any academy expecting them to have all the bells and whistles.
Wherever you find yourself training for the long term, welcome to our great big jiu jitsu family. Regardless of your affiliation, we're just happy you've found your way to the mats.
Train on. Oss.