Why have an article about selecting a jujitsu dojo in a magazine read by experienced martial artists, judoka no less?  The answer is that there tends to be a greater variety of both jujitsu schools and reasons for studying jujitsu.  It’s important to select a school compatible with reasons for studying jujitsu.  Only with careful thought and analysis will the martial artist find a school offering the expected experience.

A prospective jujitsuka needs, at minimum, to answer the following:

  1. Why study jujitsu?

  2. Is the school’s style compatible with reasons for attending?

  3. What are the sensei’s teaching style and qualifications?

Possible reasons to study jujitsu include:

  1. Self-defense

  2. Exercise

  3. Development of character

  4. Family participation (i.e., a place where the entire family can study the same art)

It’s important to clarify reasons and rank their importance.  Reasons may conflict, necessitating compromise.  Suppose for example the prospective student wants a self-defense class offering vigorous physical exercise while the spouse wants a dojo spiritually oriented dojo with classes for children.  Obviously compromises are in order.  Ensuring a rewarding experience at a jujitsu dojo requires careful analysis.  Regardless of reason, the selected dojo must teach both inner and outer factors of the art for balanced development.

Style is important.  This can be confusing, especially for a judoka, since judo has a fairly standardized syllabus.  Jujitsu, in contrast, presents bewildering choices.  Some styles stress different types of competition.  Others emphasize self-defense or inner factors of martial arts.  Less-combative styles focus on minimizing damage to the assailant while still defending oneself.  Still others feature weapons systems.  The possibilities are endless.

Next of course is the sensei.  In school the classes we liked best were taught by the best teachers.  Jujitsu is no different.  Factors to consider include:

  1. The sensei’s qualifications and experience in the particular style of jujitsu.  Qualifications in other martial arts are interesting but not particularly relevant to jujitsu.  Unfortunately, many instructors professing jujitsu skill have high ranking black belt ranks in areas other than jujitsu but lack jujitsu expertise.

  2. The sensei’s teaching style.  Is it compatible with a teaching style the prospective student enjoys?  How does the sensei treat students?  Is there mutual respect?  How do jujitsuka treat one another?  With mutual respect?  The way jujitsuka treat each other reflects the sensei’s teaching style.

  3. The appropriateness of classes.  Does the sensei make allowances for students of different physical capabilities?  If the prospective student is not in great physical shape, classes may be too difficult.  Remember, the mind can absorb only as much as the butt can endure.

After considering these questions, the prospective student should watch a few classes to make sure that he or she has selected the right dojo.  Deciding on a dojo is a complex decision, but selecting the right one can yield many years of rewarding experiences.

Here’s how I selected a jujitsu dojo.  I had a background in Shotokan karate and was in relatively good shape.  I sought a dojo focusing on self-defense.  Karate, as most sport martial arts, emphasizes sportive aspects more than self-defense.  I visited several martial arts dojo, interviewed sensei, talked with students, and selected a dojo that stressed practical self-defense with a balanced focus on inner and outer factors.  However before deciding to join I observed several classes to make sure the sensei and style were right for me.  They were.  Now 30 years later, I realize that all the time and effort I put into selecting that jujitsu dojo was well worth it.

(Hal Zeidman, 6th dan in USJA Jujitsu and previously vice-chair of the USJA Jujitsu Committee, has studied martial arts for 33 years.  He lives in Connecticut and before moving there, ran a dojo in Ohio.  Zeidman Sensei conducts many seminars.)