I was hoping I would be able to get in some sparring, randori or chi saui, depending on who was practicing. However, I learned an even more important lesson: before you join any group to practice and learn, find out what what they do and how they do it so you know if it's a proper fit to your needs and expectations.
The night I visited, two groups were using the martial arts room: a Brazilian jui juitsu group and a mixed martial arts group.
The jui jitsu class was taught by a small woman.
Now, I have met some very powerful martial arts women through the years, and I know size isn't an indicator of power or strength. I never thought I would hear a woman say the safest place to be in a fight is on the ground. And yet, that is exactly what she told her group.
All I could think was: if she was fighting a 200-pound person, she would be at a 100-pound disadvantage
Don't get me wrong: I am a firm believer in ground-fighting. If you are going to learn to fight, you need to be able to survive wherever the fight could take you. I am just not sure that a small woman in a true self-defense situation should want to fight on the ground with someone almost twice her weight. (Frankly, I wouldn't advise this for anyone of small stature, man or woman.)
To drive her point home, the jui juitsu instructor demonstrated some take-downs with a man in the class who pinned her with his forearm against her neck. She was good enough to avoid getting choked, but she could not get out from under her opponent. This is a bad idea, especially for a small person, and for a woman.
My opinion is this: There are too many tools in the martial arts tool belt to assume that one type of fighting will protect you from all attacks — especially when you are limiting yourself to fighting mostly on the ground.
The second group practicing mixed martial arts were strictly ground-and-pound guys. I watched two men wrestle each other like their lives depended on it, and two others were, for lack of a better term, kickboxing. All four were wearing pads and mouth guards, and the kickboxing guys wore gloves.
I didn't join either group. I didn't want to practice ground fighting, and I didn't want to fight. Instead, I worked out on my own.
When checking out a martial art to study, educate yourself. Before you choose a studio or teacher with which to study or practice, do your homework. Check out the schools to find the right setting and tone for your personality.