If you live in Chicagoland and train jiu jitsu, or are thinking about starting, you are lucky to be living in such an exciting time in such a great area. While Chicago is not quite the mecca of BJJ that California is, we’ve come a long way in the past decade.
Chicago, and the Midwest as a whole, has always been home to grapplers as tough as the local winters. There are many decorated wrestling champions with roots from this area. The Midlands, one of wrestling’s most prestigious tournaments, is held at Northwestern University every December. But Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a fairly new grappling sport that has experienced tremendous local growth over the past few years.
Back when I started in 2002, I could probably count the number of black belts in the area on one hand. And choosing a school was a lot simpler because you didn’t have many choices. You just had to be willing to drive at least half an hour, and many times longer, to be able to train with a legitimate instructor. Now there are three schools within five miles of my house.
For competitions, there were only a few very small tournaments usually held at a local school. You were lucky to see a couple of purple belts competing. If you wanted something on the regional or national stage, you had to travel to Ohio for the Arnold’s Gracie Worlds which was held once a year or fly out to California for the Pan Ams.
Fast forward to 2015; there are pockets of Chicagoland where there are schools within a few miles from each other. Homegrown black belts are now plentiful and eager to share their years of experience. Schools have grown from individual dojos to a massive network of teams and affiliations.
The tournament scene has exploded as well. There’s a competition almost every month; from smaller promotions like NAGA, U.S. Grappling and New Breed, to the IBJJF Chicago Open which is considered by many to be “the big show”.
It’s certainly made moving easier. Although sticking with your school is ideal, often times moving too far just doesn’t make it possible. Now instead of quitting or cutting down on training, you’re more likely to find a school in your new neighborhood than you were in the past. And if you’re part of a big team, there may even be an affiliate school in the area.
There are a lot more options when looking for a school to fit your needs. Each school has their own vibe and atmosphere. Some are more competitive focused. Some are more family oriented. Some are stricter and very traditional. While others are more laid back. Now you can try out several schools within a reasonable distance to make sure the one you ultimately choose is the perfect fit. There's no need to settle for less than what you expect.
As a consumer, it’s great to have all these great options. And as an instructor, it pushes you to provide the best BJJ product you can deliver. All in all, this growth has really upped the level of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. For those of you just starting, relish the fact that many have laid the groundwork for this journey you’re about to take. Realize you’re now part of a subculture with a very rich recent history that you can actually trace. For those of you that have been part of it all a long, be proud of the local scene you helped to create.
Now let's all enjoy every minute of our time on the mat.
Looking for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school in the western suburbs of Chicago? Make sure you put Bodhi Collaborative BJJ at CounterStrike MMA on your list of schools to try. We’re conveniently located in Downers Grove just off I-355 and I-88, so it’s a short ride from surrounding areas such as Bolingbrook, Wheaton, Addison, Oak Brook, Naperville, Lisle, as well as all the surrounding areas.
Contact us today to set up a free trial class!