In Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we’re conditioned to remain loyal to our home academies with many instructors flat out refusing to allow students to train at other schools unless they’re traveling out of town. I began my Jiu Jitsu journey under Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro in NYC. Until very recently, I often had to travel extensively for work, so the only way I could train sometimes was to visit other academies out of town and even out of the country. To date, I’ve trained BJJ in NYC, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, London, Hamburg, Tel Aviv, Tokyo, and Osaka. Thankfully, Shaolin was always very understanding and supportive of my need to train while out of time, though like most other instructors, I wouldn’t expect him to be as understanding if I wished to train at another local academy, nor would I expect him to condone it.
During the Covid pandemic, I married my girlfriend and moved in with her, moving my place of residence from Manhattan to Queens, meaning that I would be beyond commuting distance from Shaolin’s school in midtown Manhattan. While gyms were still shut down, I began to train Muay Thai combinations with my wife in the backyard as she’s been a longtime kickboxing student of Julio Arce at Tiger Schulmann’s Bayside. We also bought some mats to train some BJJ in the living room, and I created a small training pod with a teammate from Shaolin’s who lived nearby. Unfortunately, that didn’t quite cut it and I was soon craving the camaraderie of regular class and the thrill of learning new skills each training session.
My wife soon resumed her training at Tiger Schulmann’s and I decided to check out options for Muay Thai in the area, thinking it would be a bit safer than grappling during a worldwide pandemic. I remembered meeting one of the head instructors from A-Force BJJ while helping at a local tournament, so I reached out and discovered that they were offering outdoor Muay Thai training in a park in Great Neck, NY, a short drive from my new home. Aside from discovering that I loved doing Muay Thai, I found the level of instruction to be quite high and I really enjoyed the vibe. Once the vaccines rolled out and it felt reasonably safe to return to BJJ, I had a choice.
I evaluated the feasibility of commuting into Manhattan to continue training at Shaolin’s and ultimately realized that it was an unworkable solution. The cost of the train fare alone would add an additional $240 per month to the cost of my training, not to mention the amount of time and energy the commute would take. I soon realized that I would have to switch academies. I tried a few BJJ classes at A-Force and discovered that I really liked the energy there. The team was very welcoming, the training was at a very high level, the instruction was excellent, and the commute was only 10 minutes from my home. I knew that I had to speak with Shaolin.
During a phone conversation with Shaolin, I explained my situation and he was extremely understanding and supportive. The instructors at A-Force were friends of his, so the move didn’t feel foreign. Shaolin understood the practical matters regarding the commute, and he gave me his blessing to move to A-Force. Like everything related to his academy and his approach to BJJ, Shaolin handled it like a true gentleman, and for that I’m grateful.
As it turns out, the move worked out great for my training. Being only a ten minute drive from my new home, I’m now easily able to train four days per week consistently, which has been amazing for my progress. Also, my new academy is much smaller, which suits my learning style much more. If I want access to a wider variety of training partners, A-Force has four academies on Long Island, all close enough to me to easily be able to go to classes at any location. This was one of my biggest concerns with leaving Shaolin’s academy. There were so many students there that everyone could benefit tremendously from being able to train with such a wide variety of partners. However, as we’re all individuals we all learn differently. I benefit more from being in a smaller and more intimate environment and having more one on one time with my instructors and my teammates.
I’m looking forward to going back to Shaolin’s for some open mats and maybe even some classes here and there (this was already approved by both Shaolin and the A-Force instructors). Unfortunately, there simply hasn’t been time between work and the now longer commute into the city. I’m still in touch with several of my old teammates from Shaolin’s and I enjoy running into other team members when I see them at competitions. That said, I feel like I’ve found my “home” at A-Force. The vibe speaks to me, I’ve formed meaningful bonds with my teammates, and I’m progressing more quickly than I ever have. I suppose that we all have different learning styles, and I’ve now learned that part of choosing an academy is finding one which aligns with how one learns.