It's Been a Year
It's Been a Year
I think this review has been up for a while now, and so it's probably time to update it.
The former chief instructor got married and moved to San Francisco.
We've had some good temporary instructors so far (no surprise, given the Academy's connections), but would naturally like to have a permanent instructor.
The physical plant is still the same - big mat area, men's and women's showers and changing areas - but the class schedule recently changed. Instead of "one size fits all" classes, we now have "core classes" and "specialized" classes.
The "core classes" are the classic BJJ format - conditioning, drilling, and sparring, while the "specialized" classes are a BJJ specific flexibility class; a BJJ techniques class (no cardio, conditioning, or sparring); a take-down class focusing on take-downs for competition; and no-gi classes. The "core" classes are now at more consistent times, and start late enough for those of us with a long commute to make it on time, so this means I can mix and match my training schedule better.
The Academy is a little cleaner this year - we have a "work-study" student who regularly cleans the mats, the changing areas, etc.
There seem to be fewer female students than before. On the other hand, there don't seem to be a lot at other BJJ dojos either, so I guess it's just the nature of the sport. The Academy is certainly supportive of female grapplers, there just aren't a lot to go around.
Most of the former white belts have graduated to blue in the last year - so while before there were only a few blues and a sea of whites, now there are only a few whites in a sea of blues. Since blue belt is purgatory - you spend a lot of time there - I imagine by next year the whites and blues will be 50-50 with few if any of the blues graduating to purple, even though some of the "senior" blue belts are getting pretty darn good.
It will be interesting to see what happens as the Cal Berkeley students which make up a large part of the student body graduate - will they move out of the area or stay? Will they train or get busy with a job and maybe family too?
For now I am happy with the skill level of my classmates - my only hope is to get more classmates in my size/weight category, since I've gotten interested in competition and it makes more sense to train with the same size of people you'll get in a competition. But if I am a little on the small size now, that's partly my own fault for shedding the useles belly I used to carry around.
I am bumping up the ratings a little. This is one of the top Bay Area academies. I put in a 10 for "Weapons Instruction" since there isn't a NA (not applicable) alternative and didn't want to drag down the other ratings. The Academy offers three Muy Thai classes a week, taught by a pretty good instructor, but I rate that instruction lower because I think you need a good pad person to train well, and the skill level of the students isn't there yet (and one instructor isn't enough to go around).
REVIEW UPDATE JANUARY 2008
It's spring cleaning time. "Big Dave," Dave Clanahan, one of Ralph Gracie's original U.S. black belts, is tinkering with the physical plant and with the training schedule. He said we are a "young academy" (this branch) and both the physical plant and the training will evolve as the overall skill level and commitment increase.
In terms of the physical plant, it looks like the following changes are scheduled to be implemented this first quarter:
1. The dividing wall between the Krav Maga training area and the BJJ training area is going to be removed. I don't know what will separate the two classes when they run concurrently - traffic cones? - :evil6: But for sure when classes AREN'T running concurrently, there will be a larger mat space, but more importantly it means the Academy will have a large enough mat area to be able to sponsor local competitions, much in the same way the Claudio Franca academy in Santa Cruz holds "in house" meets.
2. The "rack" supporting the punching bags on the west wall is coming down. There will be a punching bag area, but probably on the south wall at the end of the Krav Maga training area. The Krav people like to punch more than us anyway. :icon_thum
3. The BJJ mat area is going gain another tatami or two towards the west wall, once the rack is down. The expectation is that people will enter, take off their shoes, and then go the the changing room.
4. The reception area, which has become a defacto child care center (seriously, but at least we don't have a pit bull!), will get shrunk down to make space for the mat expansion. It will probably get relocated south of the entry door.
5. We might get a "quarter cage" to go into the north west corner where the child care - oops, reception - area is presently located. This would be for practicing techniques when your back is up against a cage, see the curriculum updates below.
6. The present water cooler area is going to become a weight training area - Big Dave brought in tons - that's metaphorical, actually hundreds of pounds - of light to medium dumb bells for weight training.
Blame me for early and eager reporting and not the Academy if some of these changes take longer than the first quarter.
In terms of curriculum changes, last quarter saw two main changes:
A. Two no gi classes; one stretching class; and two take down classes were added.
B. "Assistant" instructors (our two brown belts and one blue belt who is a judo black belt) started stepping up to help out, with the new classes.
Right now the following changes have been implemented:
I. The no gi classes have been given better priority on the schedule, bumped to Monday and Wednesday at 6:30 to 7:30. Before, they followed a grueling 1.5 hour gi class and attendance suffered as a result. This schedule change is my personal favorite, since I love no gi - it means I can get home early enough to see my kids, and still get an effective, short and sweet work out.
II. There is a "competition" class right after the first no gi class. I don't know what this means yet, I heard from one fellow student that they coach you on tournament strategy, and from another that you just roll for an hour. So there is a little confusion, at least on my part, right now.
And the following changes are on the horizon:
i. An MMA class or two will be added. Not clear whether this is going to be an evolutionary change to the no gi class (I personally hope not) or whether MMA will follow the no gi, or what.
So right now the "Academy" itself (the Ralph Gracie side of the academy) consists of the following class options: Gi; no gi; stretching; take down (for gi, judo techniques); competition; and muy thai. With MMA on the horizon.
The Krav Maga runs separately and offers their own curriculum and seminars.
Finally, the Academy has hired permanent, black belt instructor (it took a long time to get a business visa approved) and when I have details will update.
One of the new white belts told me he likes our location. He said the blue belts try to help out, instead of just trying to kill, the newbies and white belts. I can't say the white belts return the favor. They seem to think the blue belts are "fair game." :toothy2:
This review is bullshit as long as weapons is ranked a 10 when the school doesn't have any such instruction. If anyone had posted inflated scores about some other style, many posters would have taken a few seconds to move Gracie balls from their mouths to explain that the ratings are supposed to be based on an objective standard.
As explained in an earlier post, there is no weapons training and if some arbitrary score is not inserted, a "0" drags down the average of the other scores.
Originally Posted by Rivington
Also I think most dojo ratings are pretty subjective (not objective) unless a person has trained at a number of academies AND has enough experience to make a judgment. I make no apologies for posting my subjective rating. I try to make the rating mean something by giving details of stuff that I observe. Please remember that anytime you are in the area, you can drop in, take a free introductory class, and then post your own observations and ratings here. Bullshido is purely "diy" or "do it yourself."
The review and updates I have posted are my honest opinion. That's all I can say. :deadhorse
Yeah, and as I said earlier, this review is bullshit when you give a school that doesn't teach weapons a ten in weapons.
Originally Posted by OldDog53
Look at some of the other review threads around here. The ranking are not subjective. To give a school a ten in, say, striking, means something — it means that it would be difficult to find a better gym anywhere in the world that offered better training, and that the people coming out of that gym and dominating the major tournaments.
So too with the other categories. Imagine a "great" no-contact karate school, but the reviewer gave the school a ten in aliveness anyway, because otherwise the high score would be "arbitrarily" lowered if he didn't. Good idea? Of course not.
So why is it a good idea in this case? I mean, other than the obvious reason that many people enjoy fishing corn out of Gracie sphincters.
New Instructor, Good News; No Air, Bad News
Some great academy news, and the first bad news.
First the great news: we have a new black belt instructor. His Brazilian nickname, if I get the spelling right, is "Savagio." I don't want to risk mis-spelling his regular name, so I'll have to wait until something gets posted on the website or at the Academy to update you (I didn't even know our old instructor's regular name for a year).
Classmates have been pretty excited about the level of instruction we are now getting and have been talking about it positively. Savagio is very technical, he speaks English, and he takes the time to show us the details we have been missing. He also explains the principles behind the techniques so the details make sense. He has been teaching both gi and no gi classes and his no gi is tops. So far, no "12 step moves" (where the technique takes more than 3-4 steps to complete).
Savagio is also friendly and approachable, and stays after class to help students. He will train with students of all levels to give them a feel for the techniques. Rumor has it he used to teach at the Ralph's location in Orange County, but missed his family and returned to Brazil. This time his family has come with him and we hope he stays for the foreseeable future (years and years).
Ok, now the bad news. There is a "windows war" going on. There is a faction in the Academy that wants the windows closed completely all the time to keep it warmer (although keeping warm with the workouts and training we do doesn't seem a problem, at least here in Cali where the winters are mild) and the other faction wants as many windows as possible open as wide as possible.
In the past, the main concession was to throttle down windows near the front desk so the receptionist wouldn't get cold, and near any visitors seated under the windows, so they wouldn't get cold.
But when the main proponent of "open windows" took a break, the anti-window faction got more active and not only throttled down the windows, closed them entirely. There have even been nights when the heater has been turned on, creating a stifling heat than can only be reminiscent of a Brazilian summer. Oddly enough it hasn't been the Brazilian instructors advocating the "hot house" environment (most of them surf all year in San Francisco and are very hardy), it's the Americans, particularly the skinnier, older students who seem to suffer from even a mild drop in the temperature.
So right now we have a situation where one person goes and opens as many windows as possible, then another person goes around and closes them back down.
Apart from all the humidity with the windows closed, and the stink and breath of our training partners, we also have to deal with the heavy out-gassing (plastic and chemical smell) from the floor covering and training mats. Some of the students are sensitive to these chemicals. So you can tell I personally come down in favor of having at least a couple of windows open so we don't suffocate or cough and wheeze that night after class.
It being jiu jitsu, nothing is as simple as it seems in terms of resolving the current problem, and the "windows politics" have evolved to the point where only a black belt can authorize a window opening, but when he authorizes window opening, that doesn't seem to stop the other faction from closing them back down while we are drilling, whereupon the black belt just shrugs his shoulders and tries to stay out of the way.
Anyway, I have to laugh at my own post as I write this, but such is the stuff of jiu jitsu life. Shrug off bruised and cracked ribs, bitch about the bad air conditions. Seriously though, if you were there I'm sure you'd want SOME fresh air, right? :help:
Aliveness is a defining characteristic of whether a school is good. Weapons have nothing to do with bjj. The first is relevant to the quality of the school, the second isn't. The score is fine here and you're a whiny tool.
Originally Posted by Rivington
The new instructor's name was posted last night. Eduardo "Savagio" Fraga.
General consensus among my classmates (including the opinions of the upper belts) is that we really hit the jackpot with the new instructor. Very detailed, explains the reasons for a move, positive mat attitude, sense of humor. Respectful and not disparaging of his students. Very hard workouts but no "drill sergeant" meanness.
Big Dave (the BB who gives overall guidance to Academy operations) is implementing some schedule changes to offer some shorter classes that will be principally techniques and not sparring, so we can take more classes without that "beatdown" feeling that comes from taking the REALLY hard classes. That is very appealing to me, personally, since my "sparring limit" seems to be about three intense sessions a week - I need the days off to heal. But I'd really like to take additional "drilling" classes.
I am planning on restoring my "unlimited" membership in May, after I come back from my April vacation.
I took a private lesson from the new instructor and he is also great with private lessons. Some instructors are very capable of teaching in the group setting, because you can generally hit the "middle" of the class in terms of difficulty and complexity of a technique. It is much harder to deliver "value" in a private lesson. Aim too low and the private student is bored or thinks he wasted his money. Aim too high and the private student becomes frustrated, doubts his or her own ability, or sees what is going on but has to file it away in the "when I'm better" department for future use. Savagio was able to tune in to my skill level and taught me things I can use right away. He gave me some good advice on side control leverage and pressure points - I have been getting a little lost in side control due to the great variety of positions and variations. I will probably take one private lesson a month to supplement my group classes. The private lesson rate is fair and the premium for taking lessons one at a time vs. signing up for a "book" is lower than you usually see, which is good for me - I don't feel locked in or like I "have" to use up a "book."
Other students have told me that they are getting helpful tips and advice during the group classes and after class.
What's funny is that during our period of temporary instructors, I always thought we had good instruction, but when you meet someone really great, you realize what you were missing. Not that the former instructors suddenly look bad, you just realize that the spectrum runs from ok to good to great and it's MUCH better to be training with someone who is "great" than even with instructors who are "good."
A couple of other updates. First of all, the "once a week judo class" students seem to be getting better at an alarming (to me, since I don't take that class) rate. Ugh. More judoka to contend with, except these are good on the ground too. It is encouraging to see the new white belts who are signed up, they are certainly going to have a better balance of standup and ground skills later on.
My concerns about the previous lack of regular standup instruction is now mollified. Our students have as good a chance as any, now, of dealing with the standup portion of competitions. I continue to take an occasional private lesson in standup so I won't be completely lost (I'd much rather be thrown or taken down by an experienced instructor than by a classmate just learning - the danger isn't in a technique properly and even forcefully executed, it's in a technique gone wrong).
Second, the no gi classes at 6:30 have a heavy emphasis on wrestling takedowns, which are of course the other part of the standup equation. I still can't get the takedown details right so I doubt I'll be taking anyone good down soon, but my tie-ups and general jousting are a lot better, which keeps my opponents (even some of the former wrestlers) wary and my sprawl is getting better. 90% (ok, 50%) of good standup is not being afraid of being taken down, and I'm gradually getting there.
Third, the "orphan" (because the gi students are too tired to stick around) no gi classes after the 8 p.m. Tues/Thurs "beatdown" gi classes are being re-engineered to cover techniques instead of sparring - to acknowledge that an hour and a half of gi jiu jitsu with sparring plus an hour of no gi with sparring might be discouraging attendance.
Fourth, it looks like we will have some version of "Cross Fit" style training in the near future, adapted to BJJ needs by the instructor from the nearby Cross Fit style fitness academy. He will write up programs and routines for us and we would work them at yet another class.
Finally, there appears to be a "truce" in the windows wars, which proves that academies WILL listen to input from their students. We get to have at least one window open at all times. The skinny crazy brown belt who gets cold easy DOES occasionally try to shut it down, but the new instructor waits until he is drilling and surreptitiously reopens it. All's well that ends well. :laughing4
I barely recognize the academy I signed up at in 2006. I wonder what it will look like in 2009?
If any readers are in the Berkeley area, stop by to check out the academy and to roll as a guest.
sounds like a great environment. I trained at RG Mountain View and had good experiences there too.