Moving cities or states is a life-changing event. You have to find a new home, transfer all of your belongings, navigate a new town, and of course, find a new place to train jiu jitsu. As many of you know, I recently moved from Gainesville, FL to Boston, MA.
This marks the second time I have switched jiu jitsu/martial arts schools, and I wanted to share some lessons learned from my experiences in the hope that those facing similar situations can return to training as soon as possible. For those making such a move this may help elate fears while finding and transitioning to a new school. So without further delay, here are the lessons and realizations I had during my most recent journey to find a new training “home.”
1.) My first piece of advice is don’t wait to find a school and start training again. I made this mistake after my first move/transition and it took me 6 months to get back into it! As soon as you unpack and get settled, go train! Why these words of caution? Well, we all know how fast the jiu jitsu “endurance” fleets. You start to feel your endurance wane after just a week off the mats, let alone a month, which creates a dilemma. No matter your rank, and despite your tamed ego, you will want to show up to a new school and show them what you’ve got. I am not insinuating you are going to show up the first day and act like you’re in the finals at Worlds, but you are probably going to want to demonstrate that you deserve your rank, that you can “hang” with belts of your color, and you are likely going to want to show pride for your previous school and professor. So as your endurance wanes, you are going to try to convince yourself to wait until you “get back in shape” first, and you won’t because jiu jitsu was your primary method of staying in shape in the first place. Bottom line… don’t wait!
2.) You have certainly become comfortable with members of your previous school and leaving long-time training partners can feel like breaking up with a significant other. Faced with changing schools, you may also feel apprehensive about how receptive your future potential training partners will be to new additions. So how will you be viewed in the eyes of your new partners? First, realize that jiu jitsu can be thought of as a language spoken by a select few. bjj beltAnd just as a person aboard is excited to meet someone who speaks their native tongue, such is the case with those who “speak” jiu jitsu. Jiu jitsu is your international passport that allows you to immediately access a group of people who share a common interest. It doesn’t matter if you have been training for 3 months or 30 years; you are “in the club” and people will largely be excited to meet you and train with you. They will be excited to experience your jiu jitsu dialect (to keep the language analogy going), which has developed based on your past training and personal style. From my experience, schools are very welcoming to potential students. I am sure there are those schools out there that are not so welcoming, but those schools will likely be crossed off early in your search (see more below for finding the right school for you). Overall, people will be friendly, excited to meet new practitioners and experience their particular style and energy.
3.) So how do you go about choosing a new place to train? Well if you are in a large academy network like Gracie Barra or Alliance, you may be in luck and there may be an affiliated school in your new town. For most of us, this will unfortunately not be the case. Frist, you need to start your research early, right around the time you start looking for an apartment or home in your new city. If jiu jitsu is as important to you as it is to me, the location of a good school may in fact affect what area you end up moving to (don’t mention this motivation to your significant other). Look at the schools in your area and narrow them down by geography, then check out their websites, reviews, and social media pages. Learn as much as you can about their instructors and students. If there is a big name associated with the school and this is part of your decision, find out how often they teach and if they actively roll with their students. Importantly, make sure the school fits your style, whether self-defense, sport, or competition. Narrow your search down to two or three schools. When you get into town, go and try them out. Most schools offer a free week of training and the majority of them are very welcoming. Even if you like the first school you visit, still go and try the others! You may find out you like the other school better.
4.) Some people may scoff at my suggestion to shop schools, which essentially translates into changing styles or lineages. As we know, jiu jitsu practitioners often have considerable loyalty to one professors and/or lineage of the art. Loyalty is of course a great personal quality; however, sometimes it is not possible to continue training in one lineage for your entire jiu jitsu life. I have previously trained at schools affiliated with Erik Paulson, Royce Gracie, Marcelo Garcia, and now Carlos Gracie. The amazing benefit of these transitions among schools and their lineages is that you are exposed to a myriad of techniques as well as different styles of teaching and training. You will learn new approaches, new techniques, and variations of techniques you already know. Best of all, the techniques of your new training partners will be completely different than you are use to. You will feel different energy and expand your proficiency in escaping/countering positions you are not as comfortable with. This is great if you are a competitor who is likely to face a variety of styles during competition. As Bruce Lee famously said, “Adapt what is useful, reject what is useless, and add what is specifically your own.” This is the mentality you should have when starting training at a new school.
5.) Now for making your final decision… When it comes down to it, I have selected my last two schools based on the professor. There is something beyond the tangible that I look for in a teacher. First, of course, is their dedication to the school, students, and art as a whole. These qualities will be reflected in the energy of the school and the students it attracts. Lack of respect for students will breed lack of respect between the students. But beyond this fundamental requirement, I look for the ability of the professor to articulate movement as well as their attention to detail.
This is what, in my opinion, separates a good instructor from a great one. Jiu jitsu is an art of complex movement, and the real talent of an instructor lies in breaking down those movements and adapting them for their diverse students. In the end, something just clicks and I feel at home at the new school. If you have doubts, then follow your gut and continue your search.
In conclusion, just remember to enter with an open mind and a willingness to learn. No matter what your experience level or your previous style of jiu jitsu, avoid the “Well I was taught to do this move like this” attitude. Give it a chance, learn their way of doing it, and who knows, you may end up liking it better or blending the techniques for you game. You will be surprised at what you can learn by being taught the same move in a different way. Also, remember that you have much to learn from your new training partners. Don’t be discouraged if you find yourself getting tapped more than usual. You are likely going to have to adapt to your partners new and unfamiliar game. Also, be humble if you find yourself on the other side of that scenario tapping more people than usual. Just have fun and as always, train hard!
About the author: Taj Azarian received his purple belt under Kon Ying at Marcelo Garcia Gainesville Association. He is currently training under Professor Keith Florian at Florian Martial Arts Center in Boston, Massachusetts.