jiu jitsu academy

 

To many guys who train jiu jitsu, the idea of owning their own successful academy seems like the ultimate dream. Even if it’s not a goal of yours, I’m sure you’ve thought about it. The possibility of quitting the 9-5 and teaching the art full-time is very tempting to almost anyone who truly loves jiu jitsu.

But as with almost everything in life, it’s not quite what it appears to be from the outside. I’ve seen the progression happen so many times now. It goes something like this:

A guy starts training BJJ and falls in love with it. He dedicates himself to earning some medals and his black belt so he can open his own place with his head held high. Through hard work and dedication he achieves both and a few months later rents a space and starts teaching.

After the initial excitement of the new project wears off the realities of running a business and being on the mat constantly begin to hit home. Jiu Jitsu has now become his job. Within a couple of years he’s over-worked, burned out on teaching and making barely enough money to survive. Very often he walks away from it all.

Starting a jiu jitsu academy puts you in a strange position – your career, hobby and social life all blend into one. You’ll be much more than just a coach. Every successful academy owner has at some point been a teacher, businessman, cleaner, marketer and sometimes even a crisis counsellor. For some people it’s not what they expected and can be overwhelming.

Total Passion & Commitment is Required

If you’re considering it, here’s my advice: Make sure you really, really love jiu jitsu. Notice I didn’t say ‘like’ or ‘enjoy’. If you just like or enjoy jiu jitsu and you start your own academy, I doubt you’ll get through the first 24 months. Most people enjoy chocolate cake. But try to make them eat chocolate cake 2 to 3 times per day 6 days per week, 50 weeks per year and see how long that lasts.

Don’t start your own place unless you have a burning passion for jiu jitsu and know in your bones that teaching it is what you want to do with your life. And prepare yourself for a LOT of hard work. If you think renting a room, rolling out some mats and teaching a few classes per week is the recipe for a lucrative BJJ business then you’re in for a few surprises.

I’m not trying to scare you out of it. I believe that when done properly and by the right person, a jiu jitsu academy can be rewarding on so many levels. It can lead to great friendships and a fantastic business network – there are few things that will create a ‘tribe’ of your own faster than having your own popular matspace. Also, a good jiu jitsu school benefits not just the owner but the community at large as well.

Over the last 15 years I’ve started and run several grappling academies and I’ve also visited literally hundreds of others all over the planet. At this point I am able to tell the difference between those that are thriving and profitable and those that are not pretty quickly.

Below are mini-interviews with seven black belt owners of successful BJJ gyms from around the world. If you’re considering opening your own academy, or if you want to improve your existing academy, they are worth checking out.

 

1. Roy Dean – Roy Dean Academy (USA)

 

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

Several forces aligned which showed me it was the right path.  I was coming up on my black belt after 9 years of training, the company I was working for was operating on borrowed time, and my jiu jitsu classes in San Diego had begun attracting people from other academies, without even trying.  The signs were good.  I saw this was an opportunity to become an entrepreneur, and went for it 100%.  That was one of the best decisions I ever made.

 

What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

Seeing the development of students is priceless.  Of course, watching an athletic competitor dominating with the skills you’ve shown them is very satisfying.  But seeing the uncoordinated, unathletic, and timid gain authorship over their bodies is even better.  I taught a college class where a few students had never done anything even remotely physical in their lives.  Their personal discoveries of what their bodies were capable of were some of my brightest moments in teaching.

 

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

Most challenges in running a jiu jitsu business have nothing to do with technical riddles towards submitting an opponent.  For example, constantly managing personalities can be difficult.  There’s a lot of passion and energy in this art.  Egos can flare, and students often demand special attention, creating drama.  Expect this.  Certain dynamics repeat themselves, and the first the first time you see them, it can throw you for a loop.  Remain calm.  Be professional, and caring, yet unattached to whether or not students come or go. Over time, you will lose every student that comes to train with you, so appreciate each moment you have with them.

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

Stay true to your vision.  Jiu Jitsu is a flexible and yielding art that adapts to each age.  There is plenty of room for different approaches, different styles, and different emphasis.  Whatever your particular vision is that motivated you to begin an academy, stick with it and follow through.  Many people will give you advice on how to run things, what you should be doing, what else needs to happen, etc.  Listen, be open minded, but don’t be a hasty about  putting these suggestions into action.  Their opinions cost them nothing to offer are rarely  grounded in any business or real life experience.  You are the one taking the risks.  Follow your own path.

 

2. Liam Resnekov – VT 1 Martial Arts (Australia)

 

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

I started my Academy in order to create the atmosphere and training methods I wanted for myself. I think that’s always the best reason to do anything – to create something that you dream of having for yourself and then sharing it with others. I also felt like coaching was a great way to evolve and solidify my Jiu Jitsu and MMA systems and I wasn’t wrong, I fall in love and learn something every single day I’m on the mats.

 

What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

The people who let me come on their journey and having them join me on mine. When you see that inward smile, the moment when a students realize they are capable of much more than they thought they were, that’s my fuel every day.

 

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

Jiu Jitsu and MMA are still very rudimentary compared to other sports when it comes to coaching, programs and the day to day running of an academy. There are no mentorship programs and very little useful guidance. We had to figure out a lot of stuff on our own, through traveling and making a lot of mistakes over the last 15 years, to be where we are now.

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

Run it as a business, not a hobby. Many people think business is a dirty word. Greed dressed as business is the culprit and there are too many examples of it in the martial arts world. The catch is, that if you don’t treat it like a business, eventually you’ll close and your students wont have anywhere to train.

If you understand the core philosophy of running a business successfully, everybody will always win. You need to provide the best product, journey, experience and programs for the student consistently (The key word here), providing the same level of quality and service every single day. That is running a business. A hobby is just being lazy.

 

3. Marc Barton – Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood London (UK)

 

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

I originally started the academy in Kingston because it was over an hour to travel to the academy that I as training at back then. I had a couple of friends living locally who were really keen to give BJJ a try and I had just been awarded the purple belt so we started training together once a week. The whole thing just organically grew after that.

 

What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

I have an absolutely tremendous group of students and training partners. They are genuinely like my extended family and I get to hang out and roll with them 6 days a week. Life doesn’t get much better than that right?

 

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

Where we are based in Kingston property is expensive and as a consequence hall hire is expensive. I ran the academy at slight loss for the first year or so. Running the finances has been difficult, particularly in the early stages but thankfully things are much better from that perspective now. I think just like every other BJJ coach out there I would much rather spend my time on the mats than doing the accounts!

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

Be patient! Nothing happens quickly in life and running an academy is no different. Just keep turning up and be consistent. If you put love and attention into running it then things will grow and people will come and train. Also don’t be disheartened if the classes are quiet to start with. I can remember nights when there were just one or two people training and one night when I put the mats out and ended up just doing yoga on my own. Now sometimes we have over 30 people training and classes 6 days per week.

 

4. Yuki Ishikawa – Carpe Diem (Japan)

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

I just wanted to create a place where I could train often. I hadn’t really thought of it as a business at the time.

 

What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

I’m at my happiest when I get a lot of students coming to me and saying how jiu-jitsu changed their lives for the better.

 

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

There’s a lot more office work involved than I originally realized, and as a result I’m not really able to train myself all that often. It’s really not at all what I initially expected. I think I probably had more opportunities to pursue my own training before I opened a dojo.

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

Analyzing yourself objectively is the most critical thing, understanding what you can and can’t do. When you run your own dojo, no one is going to tell you when you make a mistake. This means it is essential that you have the ability to check yourself and your own work. I’m not one of the Mendes brothers, for example. There are plenty of things they can do that I can’t, and I accept that. However, I think there are probably things I can do that they can’t, too, and I keep that in mind as I move forward. You need to be able to detach yourself a little bit and observe things from a higher perspective.

 

5. Adilson Higa Dorval – Higa Jiu Jitsu Club (Brazil)

 

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

I’ve been training jiu-jitsu training since 1992, and I have lived in the United States and Japan. I have always been training and competing when possible. In 2009 I suffered a motorcycle accident and lost my left arm. This was the personal motivation to make Jiu-Jitsu a lifestyle and source of income.

 

What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

I like to teach children’s classes, and self-defense classes. I also like to visit the branches and see the evolution of the students. It makes me realize what needs to be adjusted.

 

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

The hardest thing to have in my gym is the bigger numbers of women in the classes. Despite knowing the benefits of Jiu-Jitsu, there is still some fear among women of attending mixed classes. We have have a dedicated women-only class, but the demand is still small.

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

One advice that would give anyone who wants to open a Jiu-Jitsu academy is to be in a state of constant learning, whether through their teacher’s team, through seminars and courses, competing or through training with other black belts. Jiu-Jitsu is an art of eternal learning. We can always learn and evolve, work on specific aspects of exercise and movement as well as mental control.

 

6. Kev Capel – Roger Gracie Buckinghamshire (UK)

 

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

I never planned to open a jiu jitsu academy it just grew from friends training in my front room. As we out grew progressively bigger spaces the idea formed that a full time place could work – the main driving force behind it was generating a group of training partners in my home town.


What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

I love seeing people come in with very little awareness and coordination and any real ‘fight IQ’ and watch them change over the first 12 months into stronger, more coordinated and focused people – the difference after only a year is very noticeable in most people and very rewarding to watch.

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

The most difficult thing for me was just the day to day logistics of running a business. And it’s probably the same for all small businesses when they start up – making sure all the local government planning is adhered to, making sure legal obligations and taxes are correct and making sure you have all your insurance lined up is all a huge headache – but ignore it at your own peril. Unfortunately it’s not all about the time on the mat, but it is a bonus that after you’ve dealt with all the boring stuff, you can enjoy some training to de-stress

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

I would advise someone to learn from others mistakes rather than just repeat obvious pitfalls – of course finding your own way is rewarding but a lot of time can be saved by observing people that have already walked a path that you want to go down. There will still be plenty of opportunity to do things your own way but it’s foolish to ignore helpful blueprints to success if they are available.

 

7. Steve Jones – Roger Gracie Academy Chester (UK)

 

Why did you start a jiu jitsu academy?

Originally I started coaching because I moved away from my academy and had nowhere to train. Plus being a personal trainer I thought I could do a good job as I was used to interacting with groups of people. But mainly it was so I could keep training because I was hooked on jiu jitsu.

 

What is the thing you love most about running your own academy?

The best thing about running an academy is the potential it brings. We have had some amazing practitioners visit and do seminars and some of them were guys I thought I would never meet. On some days everyone has been a little star-struck. Plus the atmosphere at the end of a good class is priceless. You will hear everyone chatting and having a good time. Sometimes I just like to sit and listen and take it all in. Plus the best thing is when a white belt nearly catches you something you showed him. Watching that new guy progress and ‘find’ his jiu jitsu is best thing ever.

 

What is the thing you find most difficult about having your own academy?

The fact that it’s a full-time job. There’s always something that needs to be done, whether it be administration or repairs to the mats or just general business stuff. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have much time to myself any more.

 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d offer to a friend who was thinking of opening his own bjj academy?

If you were thinking of opening an academy, rule one is: if your’e not already make sure you become a black belt. You can’t produce a black belts unless you’re  one yourself, and people will take you more seriously when you have the grade. And consider sub-letting a space before you get your own building. You wont have extra bills and all the cleaning of the mats etc is done for you. It’s easier to teach for 90 mins then leave.


Jiu Jitsu Brotherhood Recommends:

Here are our recommendations for products and services that can improve your jiu jitsu and health. This is a short list since it only includes our top picks.

For white and blue belts: BJJ Building Blocks - The ultimate fundamentals program for jiu jitsu beginners

For those wanting to use yoga to improve their jiu jitsu: Yoga for Grapplers - The ultimate fundamentals program for jiu jitsu beginners

For those wanting more advanced techniques: Flow Jitsu - Smooth-flowing combinations from 'BJJ After 40' Legend Mike Bidwell

For those struggling to remember their techniques: Beyond Technique - concept-focused jiu jitsu program by black belts Nic Gregoriades and Kit Dale

For those wanting a reference manual for BJJ: The Black Belt Blueprint - Nic Gregoriades’ bestselling book on the art of jiu jitsu