Professor Kama with Master Rickson Gracie and the phenomenal Kron Gracie at the first ever JJGF CITP.

Professor Kama with Master Rickson Gracie and the phenomenal Kron Gracie at the first ever JJGF CITP.

Which Is Better, Group Jiu-Jitsu Lessons Or Private Jiu-Jitsu Lessons?
by Dave Kama, Professor 4th Degree, Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

(Normally, my student Prof Ryan Young writes the entries on our pages, but this time, I figured I’d give him a break and take on the writing duties on occasion)

Traditional Methods of Teaching Gracie Jiu-Jitsu

When I first began my training in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in one of the “Gracie Garages” in Torrance, CA in the mid 1980s, all training was done in a private or semi-private setting. I trained privately with Rorion, Royce, and mostly, Rickson. I just took whoever was available when I could get there. They literally did hundreds of sessions every month in three different homes! When I had time off from work, I’d call in and see who had time when I was able to get there. They’d tell me which house to go to, and who my lesson would be with. Back then, I would often take lessons with whoever had an opening.

I didn’t know it then, but the way I was learning Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, was the way it was taught for decades.

As the popularity of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu increased, the need for group classes created itself. By the time the Gracie Academy opened in the early 90’s, most of the students there were taught in group sessions.

Of course, the Gracies still taught privately, but the majority of students were taking group lessons. The same thing was happening at Rickson’s new academy in West Los Angeles. I trained with Rickson both privately and in his group classes along with all the other students from the original Gracie Garage that followed Rickson (like my friend and fellow Dirty Dozen member Prof Chris Saunders). It just depended on my work schedule and Rickson’s openings in his schedule.

To this day, I’m still fortunate in that Rickson still makes time to teach me some of his newest concepts and philosophies. I’m definitely blessed. No matter how good I get, or how well I think I understand a position, “Hix” (as I’ve always called him) always makes me feel like my correct belt is a white belt, haha!

Using him as my example, I always try to make myself available to my students, in whatever learning capacity they want. I teach both group classes (in my Irvine academy) and private sessions regularly.

Group Lessons

The vast majority of students learn jiu-jitsu in a group class setting. That is the same case here at Kama Jiu-Jitsu, as well. The bulk of our students learn at any of our three academies in Irvine, CA (where I teach most often), Laguna Niguel, CA (where Profs Fernando Costa and Jack Taufer run our classes), and Flower Mound, TX (where Prof Ryan Young runs our classes).

Although we are a small “boutique” academy specializing in Rickson’s Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and we run smallish group classes (up to 10-15 members at the moment), we don’t actually “limit” the size of our group classes. We’re just playing things by ear for now, as our campuses continue to grow. As things change, we will cross bridges when we come to them.

In our group classes, we typically have at least one black belt running the class. Sometimes, we also have junior instructors in the class to help as well. But just like in a school classroom setting, students do have to take charge of their own learning, to a small degree. Also, it’s easiest if the students can be grouped by ability levels. That way, students needing to conquer similar parts of the curriculum can work with each other.

Group classes are definitely the way to go if you’re looking for a more economical, but still incredibly effective way to learn the Rickson’s Gracie Jiu-Jitsu!

Private Lessons

Like I mentioned earlier, I spent my “foundation” time learning Gracie Jiu-Jitsu in private, 1-on-1 sessions with whoever was available when I could make it out there. As I found I learned best from Rickson’s styley of teaching, I began to request him exclusively. Funny note here… I had no idea he was the family champion, and head and shoulders above the rest of the family in ability until I was a purple belt, when the Gracie Academy opened in the early 90’s – I just felt like I learned best when he was teaching me.

My student Ryan, who also started in the 80’s, learned in Hawaii from Relson in both Relson’s group classes as well as private sessions in his garage. My other black belts Fernando (began in the early 90s) and Jack (began in the mid 90s) spent their time learning also with a combination of both group and private sessions.

When someone asks me, I always say that the absolute best way to learn Kama Jiu-Jitsu is with a combination of group classes and private sessions.

By using a combination of both, you can use the group sessions to implement what you learn in the private sessions. Also, if you find yourself having a hard time with a particular concept, you can use your private session to get more detail on something you may need extra help on. It’s not uncommon to spend an entire session (30-min or 60-min) going over a single concept. You will learn in a group class, but it’s pretty difficult to devote so much time to one concept with one student in a group class.

Actually, it’s impossible (without ignoring all the other students in the class).

All of my black belts at Kama Jiu-Jitsu have private students who book regular sessions as well as students who book occasional sessions. Depending on the student’s life situation, we all even have students who study Kama Jiu-Jitsu in private sessions exclusively. Sometimes, people just don’t have openings in their schedule to make our group classes and feel that weekly private sessions is their best opportunity to learn.

In our Trophy Club, Texas campus, Prof Ryan is trying out an old concept; teaching Kama Jiu-Jitsu to students in limited, semi-private group classes. In those classes, attendance is limited to just 4 students maximum. There could be less, but there will never be more than four students.

If that concept works in TX, we’ll try that here in Southern CA.

Either way, you cannot go wrong. After all, we believe there is no better martial art to know than Rickson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and the best place to learn in Orange County, CA and DFW, TX, is at one of my academies.

See you on the mats!