Networking in Jiu Jitsu

Networking in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is one of the most underutilized benefits of training with such a diverse group.

The normal clientele of a Jiu Jitsu academy can consists of: doctors, lawyers, businessmen, etc. All willing to lend you a hand.

Looking for a new job? Hit up your Jiu Jitsu network to see if anyone is hiring.

Need a good accountant? Ask around the academy to see if someone has a great one on speed dial.

The same can be said about acquiring a sponsorship.

Often, your best bet will be your immediate circle of instructor(s) and training partners. If you’re lucky, someone that you know might be in contact with the owner of company looking to sponsor.

Having an “in” is a big advantage in getting sponsored.

Knowing someone who is already sponsored by a company that you are interested in can make a big difference.

Even if you haven’t quite made a name for yourself or you haven’t been picked up by major Jiu Jitsu news networks and streaming sites like flowgrappling.

Having someone vouch for you as a reference for your skill and ability. Can be a game changer.

Many of the sponsorships that I’ve landed have been through my relationship with a third party. Either an instructor that was already sponsored or a friend that put me in contact with someone of influence with a sponsoring company.

But what if you’re in a position where you don’t know anyone?

Then you’ll have to hustle.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

One lesson that Jiu Jitsu teaches us all is how to persevere through tough times and situations.

If you want something bad enough. You will find a way.

Step outside of your comfort zone

I know the average Jiu Jitsu athlete believes that winning on the mat is all they need to do In order to be successful. Sure there are some outliers that do exactly this.

However, you have to realize that they are the exception, and not the rule.

If you look at many of the top competitors and athletes in our sport.

Yes, their techniques are great, and they win big tournaments.

But they’re also more than that.

They are people that you look up to.

They are people you want to emulate.

They are people that you want to hangout with outside of the academy.

They have that “it” factor and that is exactly what sponsors, professional grappling events, and academies are looking for.

Even if you aren’t where you want to be now in your Jiu jitsu career. You should always be looking ahead and have an idea of what goals you want to achieve.

Personality

I’ve talked a lot about personality before but it’s so important that I have to keep bringing it up.

You need to have some personality if you want people to follow you and companies to sponsor you. Your personality is what keeps people interested in you and wanting more. As much as you want the support of a brand. You need to realize that you are your own brand.

Style of Jiu Jitsu

I hate to say this but your style is important.

No, not the way you dress off of the mats.

But the actual techniques that you use. Your style of Jiu Jitsu.

Winning is important. But also how you win is important.

If your game is to win on advantages or by stalling. There’s a good chance that most sponsors will overlook you and I’m sure most academies will pass on hosting you for a seminar.

I’m not saying that you should change your style to be more marketable.

But realize that a lot of success is based on how people perceive you and your style of Jiu Jitsu.

Is your style super reliant on physical attributes like power and conditioning or is it more based on technique and timing?

Do you have a style that others would like to emulate?

Networking

Networking in Jiu Jitsu is no different than networking in any other type of business or community.

It can mean forming new (business) relationships or strengthening old ones.

Sharing information on techniques, business opportunities.

And everything in between.

It’s what you make of it that counts.

If you want to stay ahead of the new cutting edge techniques.

Or if you want to learn about a new event looking for athletes.

Or you’re interested in academies looking for instructors.

You’re going to have to network and make those connections so that you can get access to that inside knowledge

Reaching out

Make an effort to network not only with the people and companies that you want to sponsor you but everyone else as well.

Tournaments
Seminars
Fundraisers
Open mats
Belt graduations

Are all great opportunities to expand your Jiu Jitsu network.

Network with other athletes.

Network with the tournament staff.

Network with academy owners

Network with fans.

Hell, even network with your haters.

The Jiu Jitsu community is so small and intimate that you never know when an opportunity will reveal itself. That’s why you have to continually keep putting yourself out there. Keep competing. Keep posting on social media. Keep networking and building relationships.

Martial Arts Business Blunders

I had a really cool article about guard development that I was really excited to post.

But sometimes things happen or events occur that warrant me addressing them.

If you guys know me in real life. I make it a point to talk to and to keep in contact with the owners of the academies that I meet.

Even if it’s just in passing. You can learn a lot about the martial arts business from the ones that are savvy.

It’s no secret why they are successful. You can see it in their mindset and how they approach challenges.

So when they’re excited about another year of member growth or they expanded into a new location. It’s really no surprise.

But I’ve come into contact with a few academies that seem to be making blunder after blunder.

Even more well established academies that have been open for decades are making blunders that are mainly due to a lack of basic business principles.

Making mistakes isn’t bad. It’s not learning from them and continuing to do same things that is the problem.

When you’re in the martial arts business or any business really, you can’t afford to make blunders.

I’ve recently taken up playing chess. I completely suck (right now) but it’s crazy how you can relate that game back to the business aspects of Jiu Jitsu.

For those of you not avid players. In the chess world a blunder is considered:

“a very bad move. It is usually caused by some tactical oversight, whether from time trouble, overconfidence or carelessness.”

And I really want to emphasize the overconfidence and carelessness parts.

In a game like chess mistakes are expected. Especially during the beginning stages.

However, when you decide to enter into the martial arts business world. It’s very much like entering the black belt division.

If you have any major (or minor) holes in your game. They will be exposed for all to see.

And everyone is out to beat you. Even if it means hurting you to do so.

The same goes for the business side of Jiu Jitsu.

If you don’t have the right training.

You will suffer.

If you don’t have the right experience.

You will struggle.

When you’re the head of an academy you have a lot of people counting on your success.

Your family.

Your students.

Unfortunately, I’ve seen many martial arts academies not make it.

Not only does the owner feel like they let their family and their students down. But they often internalize those feelings which can lead to anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other bad stuff.

Common Blunders

Listen, you’re going to make mistakes over the course of managing your business.

Mistakes happen.

But you can’t afford to make mistake after mistake and hope to stay in business.

There’s just too much competition out there.

Pick the right location – it’s better to outgrow a location than it is to have a big academy right off the back.

Avoid the wrong instructor(s) – Find instructors that are a good fit and will represent your academy well.

Avoid joining the wrong associations – Join associations that make your business better and bring value.

Have the right credentials – If you don’t have the right credentials. You’re not a black belt (or soon to be promoted) or you haven’t differentiated yourself enough yet through tournaments, social media, etc. Then maybe you should hold off opening an academy until you have more experience. Otherwise you might do a disservice to yourself and actually limit your progression.

Investing back into your business – This is where I see a lot of academies drop the ball. You have to invest back into your academy.

Keep your academy looking good. Update your equipment and mats every few years.

Invest back into your students by bringing the right instructors.

Invest in your staff by making sure they get the right training that they need to be successful.

Academies are the center of the Jiu Jitsu community

The academy is the foundation of the Jiu Jitsu community.

It’s where student go to practice their techniques.

Where competitors go to sharpen their skills.

And where instructors go to master their craft.

Without successful academies their would be no Jiu Jitsu. It’s only through the success of academies, both small and large, that Jiu Jitsu will continue to grow.

Advice overload

I’ve spent a lot of time with the owners of academies throughout my career and I’ve seen that the ones that tend to struggle the most are often the same ones to turn down good advice or wise council.

It’s funny that in Jiu Jitsu we promote having no ego and being open minded.

But often these same people are less willing to take their own advice when it comes to business matters.

I’m not saying that you have to take every piece of advice to heart and that you have to implement right away.

That would be a terrible idea.

But you should keep an open mind when someone more experienced than yourself reaches out to you or when one of your students voice a good suggestion.

Feedback and how to filter

From Giving feedback:

Being receptive to feedback is an important part of Jiu Jitsu (business) because it is the only way that you will be able to improve.

Receiving Feedback
Actively listen. Respond and remember what is being said.
Say thanks. Regardless of whether the feedback is useful or not.
Evaluate feedback. Think about how you can effectively apply the feedback to grow your Jiu Jitsu (business).

These same steps can be used in receiving advice (aka feedback) on your marital arts business.

It’s telling that many of the best competitors and instructors are also some of the most receptive to feedback.

Jiu Jitsu and entrepreneurs

I’ve found that many of the business owners and entrepreneurs that I know love talking about their businesses and actively seek feedback and advice about their business.

That’s one way that I know that an academy owner will be successful.

It’s when I come across owners that still operate their business like it’s 1980’s Brazil or ones that consistently seem to struggle that I begin to worry.

Not everyone is cut out for it

I’ve said this before but just because you’re good at Jiu Jitsu doesn’t mean that you will be good at running a Jiu Jitsu business.

You could be a world champion.

Or the best instructor in the world.

And that alone would not be enough to ensure that your martial arts business will be a success.

That’s the hard, uncomfortable truth.

The most successful academies weren’t started by Jiu Jitsu practitioners alone.

In fact they started off as a partnership between a high level competitor or well known instructor and someone with a background in business and ample resources.

The Mendez brothers and RVCA founder PM Tenore.

Marcelo Garcia and chess prodigy Josh Waitzkin.

And many more well known academies that you have probably heard of.

Get help

It’s hard asking for help but if your martial arts business is struggling. You have to look at the big picture.

It’s better to get help now and save your business than to not get help and slowly let your business fail.

This might seem so illogical to many of my readers but I’ve witnessed first hand the decline of an academy.

It wasn’t pretty and completely avoidable.

Don’t be another statistic.

Even if your academy is doing well. Is there a way to take it to the next level?

By having the right people looking out for you like mentors, other business owners, and even knowledgeable students, you already have a competitive advantage.

But you will also need to be receptive to what they say. Even if it’s not what you want to hear.

No ego.

Private Lessons

It’s funny but the majority of my posts come from conversations or questions that I get asked.

A lot questions about making it in Jiu Jitsu

How to make money in Jiu Jitsu?
How can you do Jiu Jitsu full time?

There are lots of ways to make money in Jiu Jitsu. Maybe I will do a later series of posts covering some of the other sources of income available to athletes and instructors.

Obviously, the majority of Jiu Jitsu practitioners won’t be in a position to do private lessons.

But for anyone considering a career in Jiu Jitsu. This is a major stream of income especially for athletes/instructors starting out.

It’s a relatively low investment, high reward situation.

Think about it.

All you need is your knowledge and a space to train and you can literally take in hundreds of dollars per hour.

Starting out

Starting out, no one’s going to take you seriously until around the purple belt level. Before this it’s just the blind leading the blind. So it’s best to be at the point where you have mastered the basic movements of Jiu Jitsu, fundamental techniques, and self defense. While starting to develop your own style and game.

I remember being really nervous the first time I taught a private lesson.

I’m serious.

I was nervous about what techniques I would show.

I was nervous if the student would like my teaching.

I was nervous about accepting (a lot) money for something that I love to do.

Even if you lack confidence in your abilities. At this point you know more about Jiu Jitsu than 99% of people.

That’s all you need to get started.

Breakdown

If I had to break down what type of students take private lessons. I could narrow it down to three simple groups (ordered from lowest knowledge investment to highest knowledge investment)

1. Belt test private lessons

Most students interaction with private lessons often start as a crash course lesson to help them prepare for their belt test/promotion.

These lessons serve as a refresher for techniques that they might have missed or need help on.

Depending upon the academy. Belt test privates are a good and recurring source of income and not very difficult.

2. General private

This level of private lesson is more complex than the belt test private. Where you have a fixed number of techniques that you need to cover.

While a general private is really a consultation.

A student will come to you with questions on how to improve their guard.

Or possibly assistance on a specific position that gives them trouble. Like passing a knee shield.

You will see general privates more at blue belt level (and sometimes even higher belt levels). Where students will start investing more time and energy developing their own Jiu Jitsu.

Once you have mastered the fundamental techniques of Jiu Jitsu and have a firm grasp of the techniques of modern Jiu Jitsu.

All that’s left for you is to create your own unique style.

Of course, you can emulate others techniques and movements. But at the end of the day you will still have to make them your own.

3. Style specific private

The highest knowledge level of private lesson.

Students actively seek out a particular instructor for a specific move or set of moves.

These are the ones that I really enjoy personally because as a student of Jiu Jitsu I’ve put hundreds of hours into my game and the techniques that I use. So I’m more invested in showing my own moves versus more general techniques.

Example: You want to improve your butterfly guard so you take a private lesson with Marcelo Garcia.

Academy Privates

Most private lessons take place inside of an academy.

If you’re an instructor at an academy then there is really nothing stopping you from having a thriving private lesson business.

In fact, I’m surprised by how many academies (big and small) ignore private lessons.

Academies with hundreds of students might have 2-3 weekly privates going on.

My advice to you is just to promote private lessons more with in your academy.

I’ve been to a lot of academies where they never once talk about their private lesson programs and then wonder why no one takes privates.

If you’re not an instructor at your academy but you are a higher belt or high level athlete/instructor then your ability to do private lessons may be affected.

Some academies only let instructors do private lessons. So you will have to find alternatives.

Some academies charge a fee for every lesson that you teach. I’ve seen anywhere between 10-30 percent.

That means if you charge $100 for a private lesson. Your academy could be taking $20-$30.

Again, you will have to find the best situation that works for you.

In Home Lessons

In home lessons is a good alternative to doing private lessons inside of an academy.

It allows you the flexibility of working during non-standard hours when your academy might be closed or unavailable and all of the proceeds go to you.

Pricing

Pricing your private lesson is very subjective. Traditionally, higher belts charge more for their private lessons than lower belts.

At the high end I’ve seen athletes, world champions mind you, charge anywhere between 250-300+ per lesson.

It all depends on your competition accolades, teaching skill, technique, demand and a whole list of things that is too many to count.

Group Privates

I’m a big believer in group privates. As an instructor it’s easier for me to show a move on one student while the other(s) watch versus having to walk a student through a technique solo.

It’s also more efficient to have the students practice their moves on each other versus having them all practice their moves on you individually.

Group privates are a great alternative for many students that are turned off from the pricing of one-on-one privates.

$200 might be a lot for a lot for a solo private. But split 4 ways is only $50 per person.

Private Packages

In most businesses you give a discount for customers paying in advance.

Sure they can pay full price for a one off lesson.

But say they want to take 5, 10, or even 50 privates with you.

At that point it’s okay to show that you appreciate them deciding to work with you.

Privates aren’t cheap.

But knocking 20-25% off of your usual pricing won’t kill you and can even help promote your lessons.

I know many academies that will nickel and dime their loyal customers. But that’s just a lack of business knowledge.

You reward those loyal to you.

Don’t be afraid

Private lessons are a great source of income that is often under utilized.

I even know world class black belts that still feel weird about teaching private lessons and worry about bringing value to the students each time.

These are guys that are high level and just by conversing with them about Jiu Jitsu would help grow your understanding of the game exponentially.

Ultimately you have to realize that you have a lot to offer and that people will spend good money to learn from you.

And that’s okay.