Joining a Jiu Jitsu Association

In my post instructor progression I talked a little bit about what an association head was and some of their duties.

So now I want to touch more on Jiu Jitsu associations because it is a big topic that affects all levels of academies. From the little academies starting out all the way to the bigger ones that have produced multiple world champions.

This article is going to be a little bit heavier on definitions and describing exactly what associations are since there aren’t many sources on them so I want to develop a base of knowledge and terms first before tackling associations more in depth in future posts.

As far as elevating the level of knowledge about Jiu Jitsu, it’s important that we study topics like this because it affects everyone in the Jiu Jitsu community. Many writers and blogs will post about the technical part of Jiu Jitsu but neglect the business aspect. Or when they do talk about the business part of Jiu Jitsu, it’s often a fluff piece designed to get the maximum amount of clicks and email sign ups.

The more I write, the more I come into contact with academy owners, students and others in the Jiu Jitsu community and there is a large need for discussion on many subjects like this one that involve each and everyone of us.

But back on topic.

Most academies are under some type of association or have their own association. Some major ones that come to mind are:

  • Alliance Association
  • Gracie Barra Association
  • Gracie Humaita Association
  • Pedro Sauer Association
  • Royce Gracie Association
  • Checkmat Association
  • Atos Association
  • Rilion Gracie Association
  • SBG

I missed a lot of associations too but that just shows you how widespread  association are within the Jiu Jitsu community.

Many martial arts academies have ties to their head academy or the academy of their instructor and it is the same in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with a few key differences that I hope to cover in this article.

What is a Jiu Jitsu association?

There really is no set definition for what exactly a Jiu Jitsu association is but I will do my best to describe my observations from being a part of one of the largest Jiu Jitsu associations in the world and interacting with several other associations and affiliated academies.

This is a topic that is really important if you decide to have your own academy one day but we will get to that later.

A Jiu Jitsu association is the head or governing organization of a group of closely connected or affiliated academies.

How closely these academies are depends solely on the leadership of the association. Some associations are deeply involved in the affiliated academies in its organization. Giving strict guidelines over everything from how academies structure their business and graduate their students. While others are more informal and leave all the decisions to the individual academies.

Informal Associations

Informal associations are what I would describe as the traditional model found in most martial arts. Usually serving as a way of honoring one’s instructor and their lineage. Often there is no form of payment or dues paid to the head academy or association. Instead relying on the sacred relationship between student and teacher.

Think Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san from the Karate Kid movies.

A few academies still operate in this manner and I really respect that. I write this all the time but Jiu Jitsu is more than just a business. No matter how hard many instructors try. You just can’t force it into that mold because you’re dealing with people in a very intimate and nurturing environment.

Of course there will be a McDojo here and there or even a fake black belt or two. But they never last, because Jiu Jitsu weeds them out in the way that it’s structured. You can’t fake Jiu Jitsu.

I’m all for academies making money and being profitable. Their success means that there will be more opportunities for instructors and competitors to teach and make a living. But when schools begin to put profit above the martial art and even their students, something is wrong and something often goes wrong.

This isn’t an attack on associations by any means. Associations are very important and ingrained in the fabric of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. But Jiu Jitsu is all about accountability and we have to keep any governing body accountable for its actions.

Formal Associations

Formal Jiu Jitsu associations have a far more hands on approach. I mentioned earlier that the leadership of the association or the head academy can involve itself in how it’s affiliated schools run their individual businesses.

This is very true.

Association can and often do set policies that academies affiliated underneath them have to follow. My favorite and the easiest example is the official uniform that many associated academies often implement. You know the ones where you can only wear the official association’s gi. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, I find it makes most academies look more professional than the old school hodgepodge of people wearing mix matched gis.

I used to rock a red gi back in the day so I know a thing or two about mixing it up.

While cool, its better for academies to have an official uniform to keep their business looking professional.
While cool, its better for academies to have an official uniform to keep their business looking professional.

But this just goes to show the power that the association leadership has over the academies in its associations. Outside of its ability to effect the policies of individual martial art businesses. There are many upsides which include giving academies  access to top level athletes that they normally might not have access to. As well as usage of marketing tools, training, and certifications.

Common Benefits of Associations

  • Training programs
  • Certifications
  • Marketing tools
  • Mentorship
  • Access to instructors
  • Networking
  • Wholesale product pricing
  • Belt testing
  • Competition training

What is an affiliate?

An affiliate academy is an individual martial arts academy that chooses to associate itself under another academy or organization or individual.

Affiliate schools often have to pay a membership fee to the association that can range in the $$,$$$ per year.

In exchange, the affiliated academy gets access to the resources of the association which often includes it’s staple of instructors and competitors, business management training, and wholesale access to products and gear leveraged by the size of the association.

When to join?

This isn’t a simple question. Each academy is a unique and individual business.

I suggest that all academies take their time in deciding on when and with which organization that they decide to affiliate themselves with.

Of course, many academy owners and head instructors will want to affiliate with their instructor but more often than you think this is not a viable option.

Regardless, do your research!

Talk to others academy owners that are members of the associations that you are looking to join.

Find out the association’s policies. Are they very hands on or will they allow you the autonomy to operate your business the way you want?

There comes a time when it makes sense to affiliate your academy. Especially when it’s time to graduate your students to higher belts or if you decide to compete in major tournaments.

If you are a lower belt operating an academy or a black belt without two stripes. You will be really limited in your ability to promote students without the backing of a more seasoned instructor.

Reasons:

  • As a lower belt instructor you need a higher belt instructor to graduate your students.
  • You have students that want to compete. Often, you will need to be registered underneath a team.
  • Affiliating lends credibility to your program. Many people know Alliance and Gracie Barra. While they might not necessarily know who you are as an individual.

Even if you have access to unlimited funds and the association is offering a completely turnkey solution to operating your academy. Still take your time.

If you think jumping teams is frowned upon. Changing affiliations is even worse since there is a lot more money involved.

When not to Affiliate?

If you’re starting out and you’re bootstrapping it, or short on resources.

Don’t affiliate!

Instead focus on building your academy and your business.

Differences in affiliations

There are lots of differences between the associations. The larger associations have more systems in place and resources. While smaller associations can be more personal and easier to communicate with.

It’s a preference really. Do your research, see what the association offers you in exchange for membership, and most importantly if their values and vision fits with your business. Many instructors and academy owners can let their loyalty to their instructor or association blind their judgement, but ultimately you need to insure that joining will be in you and your students best interest.

P.S. – If you would like to learn more about topics that involve owning and operating a Jiu Jitsu academy please join my newsletter for more knowledge bombs.