As Jiu Jitsu gains popularity, its practitioners have a constantly increasing number of options of where to train. In most medium to big cities in the USA there are several schools to choose from. Once a person chooses a school to train at, very often they insulate themselves at that school and only train there. Here’s a tip: cross train. After talking to your professor to make sure there aren’t any hidden politics, contact other schools, find out if they allow drop ins, if they have open mats, and what their general policy is for visitors. Doing this will yield huge benefits.
As we start to learn about this Jiu Jitsu thing, we also begin to be able to time our training partners, we know what tricks they use and learn the counters to those tricks. They also learn the counters to ours. This is good in that it forces us to learn new tricks and skills, but it doesn’t necessarily allow us to cultivate those tricks. Cross training allows us to face off against people who train but don’t know us well in a reasonably friendly and safe environment. We can try these tricks and skills against strangers and see if they work. We can also be exposed to tricks and skills that may not be emphasized in our academies.
As you may or may not know, different schools emphasize different concepts and techniques, usually based on the instructor’s preferences. For example, one instructor may be partial to full guard while another may rarely if ever play it. If you are fortunate enough to be able to go to another school and roll with their instructor, ask them to help you with whatever area they specialize in. This will expand your skills and improve on techniques you may only have a passing understanding of.
Another benefit is the social one. Being friendly with instructors and members of other gyms means that if you ever need somewhere to train outside of your gym (for example on a day your gym doesn’t have class when you can train) you can go there and be welcomed. Also it’s nice to know people at tournaments, I’ve had guys from other gyms coach me when my coach wasn’t around, which is very reassuring (don’t count on this though, alas you may wind up going against one of their teammates!)
Open mat sessions are extremely valuable as they allow us to field test our skills, but they can also be humbling. Some schools have more stringent requirements for belt promotion (or don’t have a black belt present to give out promotions as often), so don’t be surprised or angry if a person of a lower rank is able to do better against you than expected. When I was still a white belt, I’d occasionally go to open mats and do better against higher ranks than they expected me to, and I’ve been on the receiving and of that experience. Remember it’s just open mat, go in there with an open mind and be ready to have some of your preconceptions shattered.
Jiu Jitsu has a tendency to sometimes have an element of tribalism. Very often we adopt an “us against the world” mentality. The reality is, many big names often train with and are very friendly with their competition. Going to another school to test the waters doesn’t make you any less loyal to your professor, and if you are discouraged from cross-training you might want to reassess where you train. What it all comes down to is that every roll benefits us and the more willing and eager we are to roll, the faster we will improve.