London, England - Roger Gracie Academy
Update: 19/03/08: At £90 a month, the Roger Gracie Academy is expensive, so unless you can train at least twice a week, preferably more, it may not be your best option. However, if you can afford it, then RGA is an excellent class.
Everyone has to first attend a free Ďintroí session, which is taken by a blue belt or higher. They run the potential student through a basic warm-up (press-ups etc, then breakfalls and shrimping), after which the instructor will teach a throw (in my case, it was a basic hip-throw, or to use the Judo terminology, o-goshi). Quickly going through the main positions (guard, full mount, side control, back mount, scarf-hold etc), the practical part of the intro will finish with some groundwork. At my session, it was a guard pass.
Then comes the sales pitch from the secretary, who goes through the payment options (monthly direct debit is easiest, with the option to pause or cancel with a months notice). It's worth joining up quickly after your intro, as there are several offers, such as a free gi if you apply within a week. Note that you will also need to pay £50 annual membership.
You can then attend as many beginner classes as you want, running every day except Sunday - there are eight one-hour classes per week (schedule here. There are also two early morning mixed classes). After youíve progressed to third-stripe white, you have the option of also training in the advanced class, which becomes your only option after blue belt. Advanced classes are longer, at 1.5 hours, and slightly more numerous, with nine sessions a week, including both no-gi and gi. There are also children's classes, starting again on 19th April 08, taught by Ray Stevens.
The facilities at RGA are good, with a decent sized and purpose-built matted area (doubled in Feb 08, so considerably more room now), showers and two toilets onsite. The changing rooms have also doubled in size, so there's plenty of space. Transport is fairly straightforward, going down the Hammersmith & City line to Westbourne Park station, from which itís roughly a 10 minute walk (map).
Iíve now been training at RGA for a bit over a year. The 127 classes Iíve been to up to this point have almost all been taught by black belts, with 11 exceptions, when it was taken by either purple or brown belts. Normally the instructor has been Jude Samuel or Felipe Souza (who now runs the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu School at another location: see here for details), and more recently, Gustavo Dos Santos Pires. Rogerís father, MauriÁ„o Gomes, also covers classes on occasion, when he is in the country. From what Iíve experienced, Iíd say the instruction is top notch and the club has a great atmosphere. Classes vary, but there tends to be a broad mix of size and age (one guy started in his 80s), and usually at least a few girls each session. So far, Iíve come away from every lesson feeling Iíve learned something.
All classes begin with a warm-up, normally running round the room, with variations like knees up, heels up, sprints, circling the arms etc. That will generally be followed by breakfalls and shrimping, after which there is sometimes a two-man exercise (such as firemanís carry, throws up and down the room, running while one person holds the otherís belt etc).
Drills will usually begin with a throw, then a groundwork technique. The whole week is often geared around similar techniques: for example, in my first week, I attended three sessions, all of which focused on a standing guard pass and a sweep.
Finally, the techniques which have just been learned will be tested in specific sparring. This means the sparring is started from a particular position, such as from guard, with a predetermined purpose, such as passing the guard, after which the spar restarts. Full details of every single one I've attended here - this was my first class.
The advanced class is set up in a similar fashion to the beginners, except that it is half an hour longer: this is normally taken up by sparring. There is both specfic and free sparring, the latter starting from the knees (classes are frequently busy, so to go from standing would be difficult). Specific sparring on takedowns also sometimes takes place.
Techniques, unsurprisingly, tend to be a little more complicated, such as brabo chokes and De La Riva sweeps. At the advanced class you also have the option of no-gi once a week, which changes things considerably: class structure is largely the same (though instead of throws, double and single legs are more common), but classes are often smaller. Nogi isn't as popular, for some reason - for a while, there were two nogi classes on offer, but presumably due to lack of attendance, its back down to one, on a Friday (used to be Thursday - the shift means I can no longer make them regularly).
As with the beginners, I also have full details of the advanced sessions I've trained in, including nogi.