Your Best Jiu Jitsu School: Big or Small?
If you’ve trained at or even visited more than one Jiu Jitsu school then you know that they are very different. One of the biggest differences is the size of the member base. To put it very simply there are bigger schools and smaller schools. There are pros and cons for students at each type of school. First I want to define Big and Small . I’m very passionate about people getting started right because jiu jitsu has been so beneficial for me.
I’m very passionate about people getting started right because jiu jitsu has been so beneficial for me. How people start out often makes a huge impact on their overall BJJ experience over the years. This is not an impartial essay and isn’t intended to be. We at Stout Training – Team Renzo Gracie (my school) now have a relatively big school. We were not always a large school. Seven years ago(!!) we started small. And of course it is all relative. For clarity I’ll define student numbers as 100 or below as a small school. Anything above that number, I’ll discuss here as a big school. Of course I could further define this. There are schools with 1000 plus members, but only a few with 1000 plus adult jiu jitsu students in a single location. There are also many schools with under 50 adult bjj practitioners. In fact I am going to make an educated guess that the 50 member or below school is the most common type of school. Student numbers are one of the most exaggerated stats in the martial arts world, so I almost never take school owners stated student numbers as a hard fact. In anycase the broad categories of 100+ or below 100 are usually pretty apparent. So let’s compare and contrast.
Advantage of a Large school
- More diversity of training partners and instructors
- Professionalism of instructors
- More class-times
- Better facilities
- Cross-Training opportunities
- More events
Advantages of Small schools
- More one-on-one environment
Advantage of a Small Jiu Jitsu Academy
The most apparent advantage is the one-on-one connection between the students and instructors at a small school. It often feels very personal because the instructor can dedicate more attention both on an off the mats to an individual. This is especially true of a school with less than 50 members. This is often very clear from the time you walk into a small school. In a large school it often feels initially less personal. This can change as you continue to train If the large school if the school has the right culture and systems in place. Private lessons at a larger school can mitigate this advantage of smaller schools. But, personal attention is not a trivial advantage and often smaller schools tend to bring an advantage here.
Advantages of a Large Jiu Jitsu Academy
There are many advantages to students who are members of a large BJJ School. One of the primary advantages is not apparent when someone begins training. It is having a large pool of different training partners. This is a huge learning advantage in the long run. Large schools provide training partners of different skill levels. There are also different styles and favorite techniques that a diverse group of training partners provides. In addition there are more than just a few body types and usually include some big people and small people, women, men, tall and short etc. This is very important as you develop your game to be exposed to this diversity. There is also the social element. At Stout Training we have had members from over 25 different countries and from all walks of life. I believe this adds to the lifestyle experience of training jiu jitsu. Small schools sometimes recognize that larger schools have and advantage here and promote an “open door” policy. You will often see small schools advocating the idea that you should not have a team but just train wherever. There are many problems with this philosophy and it is a separate topic and controversial.
Another advantage can be the professionalism of instructors. In many small schools, the instructors have other jobs in addition to teaching jiu jitsu and running the school. There are some truly great instructors that teach part-time. As a rule though, professionalism and full-time dedication makes better instructors.
Yet another key advantage that is often overlooked is that larger BJJ schools tend to have more class-times. At our Pittsburgh location we have currently have 41 scheduled times per week. This does not include unscheduled or invitation only practices! Why is this such an advantage? First it creates a situation where students can get more individual attention from instructors, making it more similar to a small school with a few class-times per week. Second, and most importantly, more times add an enormous amount of value to memberships because students can train when they are able. They are not forced into the often futile exercise of scheduling a busy life around when a couple of classes are offered. To me it doesnt make sense to compare membership prices of a place that, for example, offers 6 class-times per week with a place that offers 40+ class-times. The membership that offers more times is obviously more valuable. If you can’t use your membership because of your schedule it is not as valuable.
Another consideration is the facility. Although larger schools don’t always have a great facility, in general they can afford to keep the doors open and pay rent/mortgage on a larger mat area or areas and provide other amenities such as showers. Sometimes smaller schools cannot afford to provide an adequate facility. For example a small mat area or cheap mats can make a difference in the training experience.
An additional possible benefit of a larger school is cross training. Often larger schools offer other programs in addition to jiu jitsu. For example at both Stout Training locations we offer a full Muay Thai and Kickboxing program under expert instructors. We offer kids classes at the same time as Adult classes so parents can train while children are in classes. In our Strip District location we offer a fully equipped gym, specialty self defense classes, and MMA classes open to all levels. We also have a Mixed Martial Arts fight team and jiu jitsu competition team. Having these extras under the same roof promotes continuity in training, increases convenience, and can help save money. If you are interested or think you may be interested in other types of training, then going to a bigger school that offers them can be important.
A final benefit that is easy to overlook at first is the events such as seminars, social events, and competitions that larger schools often have. For example, at Stout Training we have brought world champion jiu jitsu competitors and world renowned wrestling and Muay Thai kickboxing coaches to our school and often have sold out these event to our members and did not announce to the public. We have get togethers to watch UFC, and fun social events like our summer barbecue.
My goal in writing this is to try to make apparent the benefits of a large school (run in the right way of course). Please consider this when you start your jiu jitsu journey. If you have been training for a while it might be worth considering also whether you are in the best school for your development. Finally keep in mind small schools can grow if the owners’ do the right things and large schools can foster a deteriorating quality if owners/managers do the wrong things. My advice is not base your decision on immediate impressions and don’t feel locked into something especially when you are just getting started. I also think team loyalty is important as you continue your journey but that’s another topic. Best of luck in your training 🙂
-Warren Stout , head jiu jitsu instructor at Stout Training – Team Renzo Gracie Pittsburgh, BJJ Black belt, former DI wrestler