Why do Jiu Jitsu competitors transition to MMA?

I first wrote about this topic in a guest post I did last year, The Next Great American Champion, but it’s still very relevant today.

It’s not easy to make it in Jiu Jitsu. But it’s definitely getting easier.

When I was coming up the ranks. I never thought that I would be doing Jiu Jitsu as a career. It was just a hobby that I was really passionate about. However, I still went to school and worked while I trained. I didn’t have dreams of opening an academy or being an instructor.

But I think the generation coming up now is different. They will want to make Jiu Jitsu their livelihood and they will have more access to money making opportunities.

As a high level competitor today you have a few options to support yourself.

Instruct
Compete
Work (full or part-time)
Be independently wealthy

How much potential earning power you have will depend on a number of factors. Like which tournaments you’ve won, your social media, your personality, your business sense.

You could be one of the greatest grapplers in the world but if no one knows who you are. It will be very hard to promote yourself for seminars, instructor positions, and super fights.

The very best competitors in Jiu Jitsu might make some where in the low six figures. Not including those with academies or large associations. But this is only for the top 1%. Everyone else is left fighting for scraps and trying to carve out a niche for themselves.

I believe teaching Jiu Jitsu is a good long term career plan and running your own academy is a great investment.

But what about young athletes who aren’t established yet and have many years of competitions ahead of themselves?

Running an academy and being an active competitors isn’t easy. Let alone trying to become the very best in the world in order to make a decent living.

Comparably, a middle tier professional fighter in the UFC or Bellator has the potential to earn as much as or more than the very best Jiu Jitsu athletes, with more exposure and a lot more name recognition.

While a top tier black belt competitor ranked in the IBJJF, world’s or Pans medalist might have to scrape by with a lot less.

I’m not advocating that all Jiu Jitsu competitors should move on to mixed martial arts. It needs to be something that you’re passionate about.

However, I am saying that if you decide to pursue mma and happen to do well. The sky’s the limit. Just look at figures like Conor Mcgregor or Ronda Rousey. They were able to transcend their sport into mainstream popularity, wealth, and unlimited opportunities.

I can’t say the same thing about Jiu Jitsu. You could win the world championship and the open class, and still be broke.

Recall Jacare Souza and his transition from Jiu Jitsu to mma after breaking his arm in a match against Roger Gracie. Of course he won, but afterwards there was no reward outside of a hard fought victory. At least in mma they will cover your doctor bill.

Even the success and popularity of Jiu Jitsu is often contributed to the rise of mma.

Popularity

While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is growing every year, it’s growth is nowhere near what MMA has experienced during a similar time frame.

It’s important to note that the optimal years for Jiu Jitsu athletes are the same as those of MMA fighters.

I think many Jiu Jitsu athletes get to the point where they consider making the transition to mixed martial arts often due to financial reasons. If you’ve reached a high level in Jiu Jitsu but don’t see a way of supporting yourself. MMA is one way to utilize your developed skill set to make a living.

MMA has a lot to offer athletes that is just not currently present in the sport of Jiu Jitsu namely:
Millions of people potentially knowing who you are
Ability to make a great living, even millions of dollars
Exposure to branch out into other fields like acting
Status as a professional athlete
Lucrative sponsorships with well known companies

There have already been many top competitors and world champions that have made the move to MMA and been successful. Being a Jiu Jitsu athlete, it’s inspiring when I seen guys that I used to compete against in tournaments making it to the most prestigious MMA events and making 5-6 figures per fight. I can see why a lot of competitors make the move from Jiu Jitsu to MMA.

If you love the lifestyle of training all the time and want to monetize you martial art and athletic skills then you really only have one option.

Jiu Jitsu Athletes that transitioned to MMA
Beneil Dariush
Roberto Satoshi
Demian Maia
Ronaldo Jacare
Roger Gracie
Rodolfo Vieira
Ryan Hall
Gilbert Burns
Augusto Mendes
Gabi Garcia
Mackenzie Dern
DJ Jackson

I could keep going but this list is only going to keep getting longer, especially as MMA continues to grow and be able to offer Jiu Jitsu athletes access to more resources, sponsorships, and paydays.

Moving forward

I predict that a lot of up and coming athletes will use the greater popularity and potential earning power of mma in order to fund their lives and martial arts academies.

And while there are more and more resources being put into Jiu Jitsu competitions like the IBJJF Grand Prix, Abu Dhabi World Pro, and their best of the season awards.

Only the very best competitors in the world will win. Compared to an mma fight where both athletes walk away with something. Things are slowly changing as our industry moves towards more superfight for high level competitors. But the prizes still pale in comparison.

A good example of this would be my old rival Benny Dariush. He was able to use his success in the UFC to start his own academy. While I’m sure he would have a great career in Jiu Jitsu. If he were to do the same thing doing only Jiu Jitsu. It might take a greater time commitment and effort to achieve similar.

And just because you pursue MMA doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your Jiu Jitsu. There are many fighters that still manage to compete in many of the biggest grappling events. But at a certain level you will have to decide which path to dedicate yourself too.

 

Promoting a great training environment

The environment of an academy can make or break it.

I’ve thought a lot about this topic. Both as an instructor and as a student. And my hypothesis is that academies with a great training environment tend to do better financially and in competitions.

It’s hard to explain what makes for a great training environment. However, I do know that no matter how good your academy is there will always be someone that gets rubbed the wrong way.

You can’t please everyone. And that’s okay.

But I will touch on a few key factors that have no part of any academy. As well as things that I look for in the academies that I visit and train under.

Drama between students

A lot of the drama between students (and sometimes instructors) occurs because of their relationship outside of the academy.

I’ve seen a lot of drama ensue after two students began dating, break up, and then start dating other students within the academy.

There’s been a few instances where I’ve tried to pair students to train not knowing that they had some prior romantic relationship. One time, I had a student flat out tell me that he would not work with another student right in the middle of the class.

Not only was this an awkward situation but it really hindered the mood of the training. The environment went from fun and exciting to unpleasant and heavy.

I’ve yet to find a solution to this outside of asking students to keep their personal lives (and relationships) out of the academy but this topic definitely deserves its own post.

In school fighting

This also relates to personal issues and relationships. But instead of students, this often involves academy owners and/or instructors.

Here in Sweden, we actually have a board that decides many of the important issues that affect an academy.

But most academies have one or two owners that also instruct.

In this case, if there are differences in how they believe they should run their academy. Like which students to graduate, or who they should affiliate with. This can cause a lot of tension that students can feel even if they don’t know the details of the situation. Negatively affecting the environment for everyone.

Splits and breaks

Splits or breaks from an academy can often be seen in two different lights.

In one way, it could be seen as filtering out bad students or members that don’t follow the code of conduct.

I’ve see this a lot with some of the top academies. Often, the students will continue pushing the limit until their behavior will have to be addressed by the instructors or the owners of the academy.

I believe this is what happened fairly recently when Dillon Danis and Mansher Khera were asked to leave MGA earlier this year (2017).

On the other hand, a break or split could be the sign of a toxic training environment.

A few years ago there was a major team break off from TLI that I was a part of at the time.

I won’t got into to much detail, but I will say that a negative environment can often attract a bad element into your academy. Undoing all of your hard work and making the training unbearable.

There’s just no way to sustain an academy with a bad or toxic environment. It affects everything from the energy, moral, and motivation of students and instructors alike.

Academy culture

The best academies that I’ve had the pleasure of attending all had a strong culture.

A culture of mutual respect between: students and teachers, lower belts and higher belts, men and women, and young and old.

It’s hard to put into words what exactly an academy’s culture is. It’s more of the experience that you have when you train. It’s different shades of grey between good or bad, and differs between academies and our own individual perception.

As a some what well known black belt I (usually) get treated differently than a new white belt off of the street.

But a great academy will treat us both equally well.

As my friend Sam Yang writes in his post Lead from the Front – Don’t Boss from the Back

“In the dojo, the teacher must be egalitarian. The techniques should be libertarian. The culture should be socialistic. This is the balancing act of any sound leadership.”

Promoting a great training environment

Promoting a great training environment is no easy task. It takes a lot of time, effort, and thought.

In all honesty, it’s best to create the training environment that you want from the very start. Having it ingrained into your academy’s core. Obviously, this is the task for the academy owner/instructors.

It’s much harder to clean up a toxic environment that’s been left to fester and completely take over an entire academy. Even for the best, most experienced instructors out there.

Change has to come from the top. Down to the students.

As an instructor, you have to constantly monitor the environment at your academy.

Is it positive?

Are students motivated?

Do they have a good time?

How can I make the environment even better?

These are just a few of the questions that I ask myself on a daily basis.

As a student, you can also do your part to enhance the training environment at your academy.

Like, if you see a new student struggling with a technique. If the instructor is preoccupied, take the initiative and go help them out.

Or if there’s an event hosted by your academy. Go and give your support.

I really feel that mutual respect is also a major key behind keeping and maintaining a great environment.

There have been times when I was traveling and some of the academies didn’t have a culture of respect. It was really offputting.

It doesn’t matter how technically good an academy is if the environment is bad.

Similar to my post Building Better Relationships with your students.

I believe that the key to promoting a great training environment is like cultivating any of your other relationships.

There needs to be clear and open communication. Members have to feel and know that their thoughts and concerns are heard and valued.

Instructors and academy owners also need to keep bringing value. This could mean upgrading to better facilities, teaching newer techniques, or even bringing in instructors for seminars.

A Jiu Jitsu academy is really a little community. Made of people from all different walks of life, status, age groups, ethnicities, social class, etc. Where else could all of these people mix together?

This shared environment is definitely worth cultivating and protecting.

Should your academy have a uniform policy?

Over the last few years I’ve observed more and more academies enacting a uniform policy for their members.

It’s nothing new in martial arts.

In traditional martial arts, they’ve had it for years.

The world’s largest Jiu Jitsu association, Gracie Barra, has always enforced a strict gi policy. Simply put, if you train at a Gracie Barra academy then you have to wear a Gracie Barra gi.

There’s different forms of uniform policy that I’m going to introduce today.

But I also want to touch on a few ways to make the transition easier for you and your students since a lot of academies seem to drop the ball at that step.

First, let’s look at some of the pros of a uniform policy.

1 Revenue source

The best reason to have a uniform is that it can serve as another source of revenue for your academy.

Gi’s, t-shirts, belts, hoodies, etc don’t seem like they will add to much to your academies coffers. But imagine students purchasing multiple items or a new student not having to shop around since you have everything they need.

2 More professional

No question here. When all of you students wear the same uniform it looks more professional and shows any visitors and new students that your academy is a well run business and not just a hobby or hodge podge.

3 Social media

This plays off my last point but in this age of social media it’s important how you present your business to the outside world. Matching uniforms look great in photos and videos.

Cons

Depending on how you set up your uniform and the time table you implement. It’s possible that some of your members will push back against this change.

In my old academy in Atlanta, we had a very similar situation occur. I won’t lie a few members complained and I knew of a a couple that decided to leave because of this change in policy.

As an instructor, a business owner, and a person you simply cannot please everyone.

If you make a decision you have to stick by it.

Implementing

I’ve observed two ways of implementing a uniform dress policy.

The easiest one to set into motion is to pick a color scheme for your academy. This means that you decide which color uniforms are allowed and which ones are not allowed.

Examples of this include the Art of Jiu Jitsu academy white gi policy, all black no gi, and Cobrinha’s white and blue gi policy.

With this policy, your students will be able to wear their favorite uniform. It will just have to conform.

The next step is a little bit harder so expect some push back from a few members. But could possibly generate even more revenue for your martial business if done properly.

At many of the top academies, there is a strict uniform policy where you have to wear the official academy uniform. Often this will be sourced in house. Meaning that the academy itself produces its own uniform or it goes through a third party gi manufacturer. These could be well known companies that many of you know and live, or some random startup out of Pakistan lol.

The uniform will usually contains patches with the academies logo on the pants and top as well as the manufactures logo.

Maybe I will go more into detail about gi production in a later post but for now I just wanted to introduce the topic of uniforms in Jiu Jitsu academies.

Ultimately, it is up to the owner/instructors on whether or not to set a uniform.

Of course, it looks great when an academy has a uniform. It’s no different than a sports team wearing the same uniform and looks great on social media. But implementing it can be tough. Old Members and students can become too accustomed to the way things have always been done that enacting change will ruffle some feathers.

My advice if you want to implement a uniform policy in your academy is to start slow. Offer your own academy branded apparel, gi, shorts, and rashguard. Don’t make it mandatory at first but just another option that your members can select.

Start slow, offer your gear to your beginning students and newer members and then on to the old members.

If you can, try to not go through any third parties manufacturers because that will cut into your profit and will often affect the pricing.

Maybe adding a uniform policy could be the right step to take your martial arts business to the next level.