Competitive Jiu Jitsu is going through a moment of enormous growth. The IBJJF alone holds more than 120 championships a year around the world — not to mention all the other events, with different formats, organized by other bodies.
In addition to this, the prize money increases all the time, making the option of becoming a professional Jiu Jitsu athlete even more viable and attractive.
It is very gratifying to see the athletes that work persistently towards their goal, be rewarded for their efforts — to be able to see them reap the fruits of those arduous battles. But there is an important factor to be considered in this story: Jiu Jitsu, despite expanding immeasurably, is not a mainstream sport.
This means that no matter how big the events are, the audience is not big enough to generate revenue from sponsorship and pay-per-view to pay those athletes. In other words, even though an athlete is at their peak, it is still very difficult to obtain true financial independence from competition alone. That is why many opt for the path of becoming a teacher and then owning their own academy.
And this is where the trap lies.
There is this notorious belief that training hard and competing a lot will automatically make you a good teacher. And another common belief — that being a tough black belt will give you sufficient skills to be a good manager. After all, if you have an arsenal of techniques in competitive scenarios and a wall of medals behind you, who wouldn’t want to be your student, right? The follow-on logic is that with a lot of students, running an academy would be easy.
I want to tell you that the reality is very different from the picture painted.
There is no doubt that dedication to technical evolution, hard training and good performance in competitions will help you, but to effectively “live off Jiu Jitsu,” and to become an entrepreneur, you will have to do much more than that.
Learning from the past.
I am the result of the generation of competitors form the 90s — a decade marked by several changes to the sport in terms of competition. There was the creation of the UFC in 1993 and the origin of the World Jiu Jitsu Championship in 1996. In addition, it was when great names in our sport started to emerge and it was the time when most of the teachers who are working today were training.
Despite all the events mentioned so far, it was also the moment when the number of practitioners diminished substantially. Almost all academies were focused on competition. The training was strenuous, and there was no methodology or clear path to be followed by the student. Consequently, Jiu Jitsu became something exclusive only for high performance athletes. Considering, roughly 3% of students are competitors, you can see that a lot of people were left out.
My thinking changed a lot when I visited a Wing Chun professor in Germany who had 50,000 students (check out more about the story in the video below), and it was after that trip, I decided to implement one of the elements that was fundamental to the success of my academy and my trajectory as an entrepreneur: The teaching methodology.
Teaching Jiu Jitsu is different from training.
Think of the familiar class format — a warm-up, two technical positions and then rolling. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular models of training in most gyms.
This kind of training often occurs without any division of levels and of course, it’s a model that can work well for those who have the responsibility of overseeing sparring, but to really deliver value to your students (and ultimately retain them) you have to teach Jiu Jitsu.
When you teach Jiu Jitsu, you have to pass on technical knowledge, history and philosophy in an efficient and appropriate way catered to the needs of each student. To teach Jiu Jitsu, it’s essential to have a methodology that allows students with different profiles and skill levels to move through the journey in the best possible way. Within this journey, there must be clear and attainable goals so your students stay motivated and engaged.
The true Jiu Jitsu teacher must constantly study and expand their technical repertoire. In this way, they will have the necessary tools to disseminate knowledge that helps students to evolve in the best possible way.
The student must be treated as a client, not a disciple.
When I tell people that in the 1950s the first Gracie academy in Rio de Janeiro had 600 private students, many are impressed. Back then, the philosophy was to provide a service to society which was fundamental to the essence of Jiu Jitsu. The idea was to teach an art that was good for people’s lives.
Transition from a teacher to manager.
After following the path of a teacher, there are many professionals who want to own their own academy. This is the most natural progression after all. They believe they will be able to round off their professional careers with satisfaction, and allowing them more time and more financial freedom.
There is some truth to that because starting a successful business can be an extremely fulfilling journey, however, it requires another set of skills. Owning and managing an academy requires even more work and study. To put this simply, the teacher now has to become a manager. The teacher who aims to develop a successful business must now assume a leadership position.
Your technical knowledge has to be upgraded so it can be effective when acting within the three management pillars of a gym: technical structure (the way you will deliver Jiu Jitsu as a service to your students), financial structure (how you manage the money the business makes), marketing (how you reach potential students). In addition, there are several elements that must be implemented, constantly evaluated and improved by the manager, such as the service delivered, the sales process, facilities, standardization, payment plans, management software and many other things.
The change comes from you.
As we have seen, the teacher and manager who wants to have a solid business and deliver Jiu Jitsu as a quality service must constantly strive to develop personally and professionally.
Only in this way will they learn the skills required to pass on the technical knowledge and philosophy essential to our sport, and to manage a sustainable business. Owning a business today requires a variety of skills and the commitment to continuous learning. This transformation is part of the individual. It is up to the professional to assume a leadership position and look for information and knowledge in different areas.
Like Jiu Jitsu, entrepreneurship is not an easy fight.
Being a black belt in your martial art will not guarantee you a black belt in business.
A great world champion can carry a powerful brand with his name and image, but for this brand to be transformed into something that adds value to a business, there needs to be something else.The athlete must first of all learn to provide a professional high quality service, but in this way they will be able to reap the fruits and satisfaction of that journey. Looking to continuously evolve and deliver Jiu Jitsu in an effective and appropriate way for each client is the way forward.