Masterclass 1


Hi Guys, good evening and welcome to my first live broadcast of “Life off Jiu Jitsu” about gym management for Jiu Jitsu. I’m really happy to see you all here, thank-you all for coming.

I wanted to start this class off with a pertinent question: How should we treat our student?

Disciple or Client 

Should we treat our student like a disciple or like a client? If we look at the 1990’s when the majority of teachers were active, they were brought up in a really competitive environment where competition mattered, and where being a follower of your master mattered. Obviously, if you had this experience as a student, it’s natural to replicate this pattern as a teacher, so what happens in most academies? We see the second option — the student is a disciple. If the student doesn’t do what the teacher would like, or if he leaves to try and find a better service, he’ll be called a “traitor,” and this is part of what Jiu Jitsu still sees today. Nowadays, maybe the most serious thing a Jiu Jitsu teacher can do is try and control their students without giving good service. If we have a slightly different vision and treat our student like a client, how does this work in practice? I have to give a better service and if I don’t, my student will simply look for a different gym next to me, and he has every right to do this.

If I treat my student like a disciple, I have to think of him like my possession — that he’ll do everything I say. This attitude really came about from the era of competition in the 1990s and it was when the academies started to shrink. It was actually a really difficult time for Jiu Jitsu despite its growth. Let’s look at what happened in the decade of the 90s? There was Vale Tudo in 1991 – Jiu Jitsu against Luta Livre which was the beginning of the explosion of Jiu Jitsu in Brazil. It was televised on the Brazilian TV channel Globo, and the academies in Rio de Janeiro started to fill up (Rio back then was still the epicentre of Jiu Jitsu). After 1993, there was the launch of UFC and after that everyone wanted to do Jiu Jitsu and this fever spread throughout the world. The Brazilian Federation (CBJJ) was also founded in the 90s, and soon after that, the International Federation (IBJJF). In 1996, the first World Championship competitions happened. Everything that we’re talking about here are the main competitive events. Jiu Jitsu returned completely to this focus of competition. The evolution of the competitive side of the sport was obviously very nice, it was something evident and beneficial but up to a certain point.

During this time, the other side of Jiu Jitsu had been forgotten. Just to give you a statistic so you can think about this — the first Gracie academy in the 1950s belonging to Master Carlos and Helio Gracie had 600 private students. Why? Because the culture then wasn’t about competition, the culture was about dispersing a service to the community for people who wanted to learn self-defence, feel safer or to be in a healthy environment — they would go to the Gracie academy and learn a self-defence program. We’ll talk about this a little more when we talk about the importance of the methodology, but what do you think happened? With time, these private students that trained within a private class program started to get better and better which forced the teachers to train better and more effectively with them. Imagine if you had 600 students, five tatami areas and the whole Gracie family working there giving classes. A teacher back then could easily give 8-10 classes a day, classes that lasted 30 minutes at that time. Imagine a teacher giving 10 daily classes, he would have been exhausted training 10 students in the same day. To relieve the burden on the teachers, the family started to invite these students to do the evening training which was just the family training. The family gave private classes and trained together in the evening for their own personal and technical evolution.

The first group classes

The tougher students joined that group and from there came the first collective group training within Jiu Jitsu, only there wasn’t any methodology; it was just people coming together to train almost like an “open mat.” The format was basically: a warm-up, someone would show maybe 2 techniques, they would roll and that was the training. Is this familiar to what you’re used to? The warm-up, 2 techniques, rolling — that was the structure of group training when Jiu Jitsu started to spread. The guy who learned in that way was the person who gives classes now; he was the student that was talented, but also wanted to teach, so he left the academy to give classes in another academy taking with him that model of teaching.

When various people started doing this, it created a competitive environment meaning that all the academies started focusing on competition and it happened more and more until it peaked in the decade of the 90s. The reason why it’s necessary to have this conversation is so you can understand where the problem came from and why we need to correct it.

What happened in the 90s, meant Jiu Jitsu could only be delivered to a really small quantity of people which was who? The athletes.

Jiu Jitsu was all about high-performance at that time, the only thing that mattered for academies was whether someone was a competitor or not. Everyone trained in the same environment, together. Today I’m a little more conscious of this and I talk about it easily because I lived through that same era, everybody’s academy was like this, mine included — there weren’t any exceptions. I doubt even that if Master Helio Gracie could incarnate again in this lifetime he would be able give a good class for someone with the objective of competition; a purple belt and a complete beginner in the same class — it’s virtually impossible because they have completely different objectives. So, the question is: How do we start delivering Jiu Jitsu for each profile of person? and it’s this that will make your academy successful. I simply can’t put everyone together. I can’t give the same class for everyone. My student needs to have a class specific to him, so with this understanding our student needs to be a client.

When did this become really obvious? As I said before, in the decade of the 90s. Jiu Jitsu was popularised by UFC — it spread around the world. People wanted to know about the sport. People started to contract people from Brazil to give seminars. Seminars were a way for Jiu Jitsu to develop for countries outside of Brazil and I was really happy to be considered a “highlight” in that moment. I was often invited abroad, and I went not only giving seminars but thinking about how I could build a network of academies, and how I could be invited again. Instead of doing a 2-hour seminar, I offered to stay for a week and explain how my academy works. I really just replicated what I did in Brazil and what was that? A training that was tough, because that is what I was used to; competition was the focus then and that is what I showed and sold to people outside of Brazil. Until one day, during a seminar in Germany I met a Wing Chun teacher.

Methodology is born

I didn’t know what Wing Chun was. This teacher was a guy around 50-years-old, still a white belt in Jiu Jitsu but totally besotted by Jiu Jitsu, he loved it. However, he thought the training was too tough, he couldn’t do it. Defending its difficulty, I said, ” Jiu Jitsu is for everyone.” He said, “are you crazy, there’s no way it’s for everyone — it’s for top athletes, I’m just here suffering because I really like it.”

He asked me how Alliance worked, and he asked me a question: Do you know how many Wing Chun students my master has in Germany? I didn’t have an idea. I said, “1000.” He told me, 50,000 students — 50,000 Wing Chun students!

I thought to myself, I should have chosen Wing Chun instead of Jiu Jitsu, I chose wrong!

Anyway, out of curiosity I went to watch a Wing Chun class. I needed to see what it was all about. But actually, I didn’t really see much regarding the efficacy compared to Jiu Jitsu, or even the physical part which didn’t seem like the best way to keep in shape, but what it did have was a system —  a system which showed the student exactly where he was inside the process. He knew how many classes he had to do to take a graduation exam etc, he knew about his process of evolution, something that Jiu Jitsu was so far away from. How did we graduate our students in Jiu Jitsu? There was the end of year graduation, or it was based on performance in competition. In our academy, graduations were based much more on performance than on the graduation at the end of the year, we almost never did end of year graduations. You had to have a really good performance, beating everyone in your category. If not, you wouldn’t get the following belt. But what was the message we were passing on? That you had to be the absolute best in your academy in order to get the next belt. Now imagine a normal student who has a different area of work and trains just as a hobby, how can you measure him against a professional? But this is what we based our graduations on — it was insanity. You never knew when you would get the next belt. When you eventually did, it was a real achievement, you conquered something really difficult. But how many people managed that? only a very few, so Jiu Jitsu shrunk and shrunk. This is what happened to Jiu Jitsu in the decade of the 90s.

I came back from that trip to Europe thinking that we were doing it all wrong. It wasn’t possible that Wing Chun could have 50,000 students and the whole of Alliance had maybe 1500 students back then. It didn’t make sense, so we had to be making a mistake in something, and it was a bad mistake. I knew what it was: we didn’t have any methodology. When I started learning Jiu Jitsu, I learned the Gracie Academy program. My academy was a small academy in a room with maybe 6 students, with the teacher showing us all the details one by one. It really enchanted me, so I stayed there. I continued the process and I fell in love with the sport, but it was that which got my attention. I said to myself, we need to start to write a method thinking about a group rather than just thinking about private classes, because there was already a program for individual classes. Individual classes don’t work for collective classes…

to be continued.




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