Article #2, by Can Sönmez [FAQ Entry]
[This article is about the size of your school, rather than your training partner. If you're looking for advice on that, see here if you're small, or here if you're large]
Generically speaking, you can divide BJJ schools into two types, big and small. I began at the largest club in the UK, perhaps even the whole of Europe: the Roger Gracie Academy. There are several hundred students, with new white belts turning up every session, and a significant proportion disappearing soon after.
This is related to one of the disadvantages of a large school: with so many people, it can take a while to make social connections and feel a part of the team. However, in my experience this is not due to all the regulars forming a clique, but the rapid turnover of beginners. It's harder to invest time in somebody who you can't be certain will be there next week. Hence the tendency to wait until building relationships with newcomers.
In a large school, it's also difficult for the instructor to answer everybody's question. Even if there are several instructors present, there is only so much time to get round all the students. This conversely points to the major advantage of training at a big school: a broad range of experienced training partners of all shapes and sizes, who soon become integral to your development. That happens to an extent at every school, but especially if it has a lot of members.
In my case, I learned a great deal from Tran and Christina. Not only were they both much better than me, but also willing to answer all my never-ending questions on technique. As a result, much of what I try in sparring is directly influenced by them: what I refer to as the 'Tran side control escape' is something I use all the time.
At a small school, you don't get that same diversity of training partners, which is especially irksome if you're very small, rather large, or a woman. You have to make do with the same people most sessions, so you don't have the luxury of sticking to those around your size or skill level. The huge powerlifter known for neck cranks and injuring people, whose orbit you would have carefully avoided at a large school, suddenly becomes a regular opponent.
However, that also means there are less people competing for the instructor's opinion, meaning you can benefit from plenty of personal attention. Experienced training partners are a good thing, but easy access to an instructor is even better. I've really enjoyed taking full advantage of that where I am now, RGA High Wycombe.
Every lesson, I aim to put as many questions to Kev as possible (though naturally I don't want to get annoying, so I try to keep them sensible and concise). His brown belt knowledge has already been hugely helpful in the couple of months I've trained under him.
Having experienced both environments, I'm not certain I would pick one over the other given the choice. As with everything in life, there are both positive and negative elements to either option. However, I can say that I'm very happy where I am now: as long as there are people who can challenge you and help improve your game, you're at a good school, no matter the size.
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