Choosing the right Jiu Jitsu Academy

I have a lot of friends that are moving or traveling in the near future so I wanted to write a post to help them and my readers that might find themselves in a similar situation.

It’s suck moving or traveling for extended periods of time and having to find a new Jiu Jitsu academy.

Often the academy where you begin your Jiu Jitsu journey is like a home away from home and after a few years your training partners go from being strangers that try to choke you out to some of your best friends.

No academy will ever be able to replace your first but there might come a time when you will need to move in order to grow your career or to follow your passion(s).

So where do you start when it comes to picking a new Jiu Jitsu academy?

There are more academies now than there have ever been but with more options the harder it will be to decide. What if you don’t have the time or energy to try out all of the potential academies? There could literally be tens of academies in any major city in the U.S. There’s no way you could try out each and every individual academy.

What type of academy are you looking for?

Your unique preference will help determine which academies will show up on your radar and ultimately get your business.

If you like doing tournaments then there is a good chance that a more competition oriented academy will be a better fit versus a more self defense focused academy.

Or if you’re really into training no gi Jiu Jitsu but the academies that you are scoping out only offer no gi once a week. Then maybe those academies won’t make the cut.

You can be as picky as you want given you have options. At the end of the day it’s your choice.

I can’t stress enough that no academy is perfect. Not even your old academy. The funny thing about humans is that we tend to reminisce with rose tinted vision. The past always seems better. Emphasis on the seems part.

If I had to make a general classification of most Jiu Jitsu academies it would look a little like this.

  1. The all no gi academy
  2. The self defense only/minimal rolling academy
  3. The feelgood academy
  4. The competition academy
  5. The old school academy

All academies pretty much fit somewhere in my classification and many academies might even be a combination of two or more.

Ex. Minimal rolling academy and feelgood academy or the old school and the competition academies.

Knowing from the start what type of academy you are looking for will make your search a lot more efficient and it will make it easier for others to help in your search.

Talk to your training partners

Your biggest resource in finding a new Jiu Jitsu academy will be your current training partners.

I’m sure that you have a few training partners that travel for work and manage to train at different academies when they have some down time.

I know my business friends always pack a gi wherever they go.

So try asking around first and get your friends impressions of the area you are looking to relocate to and any academy recommendations they might have.

Talk to your instructor

If possible talk to your instructor about your move. Most of the time they will know many of the instructor’s in the area that you are planning on moving to and will often offer to make an introduction for you.

The Jiu Jitsu community is relatively tight knit. Some instructors will even ask around about prospective students. So try not to burn any bridges on your way out.

If nothing else it shows that you respect your instructor and appreciate their guidance. There is a lot to be said about the strength of the teacher and student relationship. Time and distance have no effect on it. Your instructor will always be your instructor no matter where you go.

So if possible let your instructor know that you are moving on. I’m sure they would like to help you in whatever way they can.

Read Reviews

Read online reviews about the academies that you plan on checking out.

The Jiu Jitsu community has always been open and outspoken of its critique of itself. That means that students are quick to post about both the good and bad.

I really don’t know of any other martial arts community that self polices itself like in Jiu Jitsu.

If there’s a fake black belt you can guarantee that someone in the community will expose them.

If there’s an instructor selling belts, I bet someone in the community will be posting about it online.

Take reviews with a grain of salt

Of course there might be a few reviews that are not positive. It happens.

Sometimes you do have situations here and there where a student is dissatisfied with an academy and post online about it but it’s usually over a billing/contract issue and not about the technique or instruction. If it is about the technique or then instruction then take that as a major red flag to probably avoid that academy.

I think it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Are most of the reviews positive? Does the instructor have a good reputation?

Find instructors or academies that are well known

There is something to be said about training under a well known instructor or academy.

Jiu Jitsu is one of the only sports where you can actually interact with your idols. Train under them, and even have one on one time with them.

Can you imagine having a private lesson with Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods?

In Jiu Jitsu this is more than possible.

Reputations in Jiu Jitsu aren’t built overnight and more often than not the famous instructor or academy will be able to back up any claims.

Look for well know academies, instructors and students that they have produced.

Just like there are Ivy League colleges. There are also really great academies out there that are top notch and produce some of the best students and teachers in the world.

Look for academies that have been around the longest

There is a reason that these academies have been around for a long time.

You will find that most academies within the area will have some type of relationship with the more established academy. Most likely either the instructor or some of the students trained with the more established academy at some point.

I know this was definitely the case in the early days of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in the U.S.

For example my instructor was the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teacher in my city and many of the biggest academies and black belt instructors were associated with him at one point.

Jiu Jitsu is an art form that takes years to master in its application and instruction. When you study under instructors that have been teaching for 20+ years it’s hard to describe just the wealth of knowledge of Jiu Jitsu and its history that they have and that they are able to convey.

More things to look for in a new academy

  • Level of instruction – This is more subjective. The higher your level the higher the level of instruction and coaching you will need in order to improve. If you are just starting out there’s really not that big of a difference but as you progress you’re going to want the ability to advance already in place. For example many academies will have a beginner, intermediate, and an advanced classes.
    • Higher belts – The more the better. Although newer academies tend to have fewer higher belts.
    • Atmosphere – Look for academies with a good atmosphere and no drama if possible. If the atmosphere feels off to you that is a huge red flag to try out another academy.
    • History – Every instructor and academy has a history. If the academy doesn’t mention it’s history or the instructor doesn’t talk about his or her instructor/lineage then you might be walking into a trap.
  • Professionalism – Do the classes start and end on time? Is there a system for handling belt graduation? This can be a toss up even for more well known and established academies. But shouldn’t be a deal breaker.
  • Communication – Communication is a two way street. Are you able to talk about any concerns or questions that you may have with the instructor(s)? What about with the staff? More traditional academies tend to have a do as I say mentality that makes communication a little bit harder, especially if the instructor is older.
  • Cleanliness – This should be self explanatory but you would be surprised by the number of academies where this is an issue. Clean mats and bathrooms are a prerequisite of any successful academy.
  • Diversity – A cool part of Jiu Jitsu is that it brings together people from completely different backgrounds.
  • Location – The academy needs to be accessible enough for you to be able to attend classes regularly. That might mean that it’s close to where you live or work. Either way it needs to be convenient.

Ultimately you are going to have to find an academy that fits your needs.

Everyone’s needs are different.

For example, if I were to move to another city and look for a new academy. I would have a completely different set of requirements than a blue belt looking to train 2-3 times a week.

I want to end this post by reminding you to do your due diligence in your search for a new Jiu Jitsu home. Take your time, try a class or two before deciding. It might take a while for the training partners and instructor(s) to warm up to you. But if the academy feels right, it’s convenient, and you like the people who train there then that’s all that really matters.

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Training in Japan

I’m going to start off saying that my trip to Japan started as a joke to a friend. He’s lived in Tokyo for a few years along with his family and I just happened to message him out of the blue.

After messaging back and forth through email for a while I decided to be funny and say that I would come and visit not thinking much of it until my friend actually invited me to come. I would have a place to stay and train. I just needed to get myself there.

That’s how life is sometimes. There will be times when opportunity shows itself and it will be up to you on whether or not you to capitalize on it.

I’ve found that if you put yourself out there that often times your message will be heard by the right ears.

I dreamed of going to Japan every since I started training in martial arts. I’m not sure if it’s all the karate movies that I watched as a kid or anime that made me think that this would be an awesome place to visit. I just knew that I wanted to go.

My experience in Japan was really life changing. I was definitely out of my comfort zone the entire time I was there and this really pushed me to really focus on my training, on my business and building my brand.

Because of the language barrier there were a lot of times when I really couldn’t communicate with anyone let alone have a conversation for weeks at a time.

I think this can make a lot of long term visitors and the foreigners that reside in Japan lonely in a sense. Luckily, I used this time for self reflection and hard training.


I traveled around a bit during my time training in Japan but I spent the majority of my time in Tokyo.

Getting around Tokyo is pretty easy seeing as Japan has one of the best transit systems in the world so it’s very convenient to get around. But I will talk more about that in my travel tips section.

Of course, I came to see my friend and his family but I also wanted to train and compete. Being a full time Jiu Jitsu athlete, that’s pretty much how I travel. So I planned most of my schedule around the different tournaments nearby.

Pro Tip: If you plan tournaments back to back make sure that you give yourself adequate recovery time.

I spent most of my time training at Axis Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and with the Nichidai Wrestling team with an occasional trip down to Yokohama to train with Hiro Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. So I got around a lot.

Axis Jiu Jitsu

I was really happy to be introduced to Axis Jiu Jitsu through my friends David and Paul who both train there.

Axis Jiu Jitsu is headed by Taka-sensei and Joao-sensei and is the affiliate school of Rickson Gracie in Tokyo.

The classes are taught more in the traditional style of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Combining a lot of self defense in addition to more competition based techniques and sparring.

I’ve been to many academy’s where the focus is completely on techniques for tournaments. Which is perfectly okay and has it place, but it felt really good to review and learn more self defense since I’ve spent so much time competing these last couple of years. It’s exactly how I remember classes being taught when I first started learning Jiu Jitsu.

As Jiu Jitsu continues progressing, I fear that many academies will lose or have already lost this aspect of our art form. Leaving just two extremes, the all competition academies and the all self defense academies, with no middle ground. Hopefully, schools like Axis will continue to carry on the tradition.

I really enjoyed my time training here and look forward to my next visit. This academy is super friendly to travelers. In fact, all of the classes are held in English and Japanese, and both Taka-sensei and Joao-sensei are fluent in Portuguese. I definitely recommend Axis if you’re ever in Tokyo.

Training at Axis BJJ in Tokyo with Sawada-san
Training at Axis BJJ in Tokyo with Sawada-san

Nichidai Wrestling

Training wrestling in Japan was the one thing that I didn’t have a reference for what to expect. I’ve been exposed to wrestling through Jiu Jitsu for years and had even taken a few lessons on the subject, but it’s different doing wrestling for wrestling’s sake versus doing wrestling for Jiu Jitsu. .

In the U.S. most scholastic and collegiate wrestling in based on folk style wrestling. But here in Japan and internationally, freestyle is king. I won’t go into the main differences between the two styles. I just want you know that the rules on scoring is what sets them apart.

In addition to never really focusing on a pure wrestling style, there was also a large language barrier. All of my wrestling training partners were in college where they have to learn English in middle and high school, but it’s very much like taking a foreign language in the U.S. where it’s more about passing the class than becoming fluent.

So my two major hurdles were learning wrestling and figuring out a way to navigate my way with my very basic level of Japanese.

Luckily there were a handful of students that knew a few words in English, otherwise I just had to figure out things on my own. I’m sure that’s what babies go through. You know that stage where they can’t move that well but they still try even though they fall down a lot, or when they are learning how to speak but all they manage to do is make up gibberish. I think babies have read my post on the white belt mindset. That would explain a lot.

Starting wrestling I had a lot of questions about how the sessions would be set up. This was a topic that was really interesting for me coming from a Jiu Jitsu background. Many of the schools that I’ve trained at and visited have similar ways in setting up their classes. Often there is a warm up involving movement specific drills or straight into learning technique. Then students are sent to practice the technique until it is time to spar or roll as we call it.

The training in wrestling is very different. Of course there are some similar movements and drills. But the whole setup of the training is different in a good way. Depending on the day there was an overall focus on either conditioning or technique. Regardless, all of the sessions were grueling but also a lot of fun.

All of the wrestlers were friendly and trained hard every session. Always managing to work their conditioning and their technique whenever they could. It wasn’t uncommon to see guys working the timing of their double legs or doing footwork drills between wrestling sparring.

Many of the coaches were gone for the Olympics so a lot of the sessions were lead by the senior students. So we didn’t work as much group technique but we did do a lot of flowrestling and situational training.

Outside of the hard training, it was fun hanging out with the wrestlers. They were so young, I was definitely the oldest guy training but they always showed me respect and tried their best to help me.

The funniest thing is that at the end of every session all of the students would line up with the coaches facing the students and they would always make me go with the coaches. Most of these kids have been wrestling all of their lives and I’m up there setting in front of them.

For me training wrestling was a very humbling experience. Jiu Jitsu can prepare you for a lot. Many schools even teach basic wrestling and judo techniques. But it’s different when you do the real thing. My most embarrassing moment occurred when I was working on a few techniques with my partner but I just wasn’t getting them down, even after a few attempts and having my partner explain the moves over again,  when he looks at me and says, “This is a really basic move”. I knew he was frustrated with me but I kept working at it and eventually go it down somewhat.

Even being a black belt and training in martial arts, I still have trouble with some newer techniques. Whatever your skill level, I hope you are able to see that in life and in martial arts you will always be humbled. It’s how you handle those setbacks and tough moments that determines your character.

Rokiki Kids Wrestling

I was really fortunate to wrestle with the Rokiki Kids wrestling club. What makes this club special outside of the awesome kids that train really hard every Tuesday and Thursday is the fact that they do this at the headquarters for the Tokyo 6 police squad. In fact, all of the coaches are police officers.

All of the kids train really hard and most of the drills and techniques that they do is exactly the same as the university wrestling programs. This is due to the fact that all of the wrestling in Japan is built on the same model. I really had a great time training with these kids. They really love wrestling and have so much fun.

Training Wrestling with the Tokyo Police Squad 6 Youth Wrestling Program
Training Wrestling with the Tokyo Police Squad 6 Youth Wrestling Program

Hiro BJJ

I only had the chance to train at Hiro BJJ in Yokohama a few times along with teaching a seminar there, but each time I visited the training was tough. All of the students were friendly and not shy about asking me to roll. It’s funny, every time I went to Hiro BJJ I ended up rolling with all of the students in the class so be prepared.

Shout out to my friend Miki who helped set me up my training at Hiro.

Training at Hiro BJJ in Yokohama with Hiro-sensei
Training at Hiro BJJ in Yokohama with Hiro-sensei


I knew that I would be competing in three major tournaments during my stay. The All Japan Open, the Copa Bull Terrier, and the Asian Championship.

If you are going to travel and compete it’s important that you plan your competitions out ahead of time. Many tournaments allow last minute entries but through my travels I have found that this is often not the case. Often, promoters will uphold any preset deadlines no matter what your rank and who you know, and some of these tournaments will require additional registration and identification. Much like the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) and how it’s brown and black belts athletes must register every year in order to compete in their tournaments. So you might need a Japanese Jiu Jitsu federation card.

Other than that, I will say that communicating at these tournaments can be a challenge. Of course knowing Japanese is big, but surprisingly being fluent or knowing a few words in Portuguese also comes in handy. I didn’t realize just how big the Brazilian population in Japan is, and it’s really stands out when you go to these tournaments and all you hear is Japanese and Portuguese. I basically had to combine both languages to be able to get around.

Alec at the 2016 Asian Championship in Tokyo
Alec at the 2016 Asian Championship in Tokyo


I visited a few tourist locations like Tokyo tower, the big Buddha and a few shrines. But I mostly spent my time inside of Tokyo.

Whenever I wanted to have fun and just let out some steam I would visit the American Club and the Sanno.

Alec next to the big buddah
Alec next to the big buddah

The American Club

Also referred to as “TAC” , TAC is a great meeting point for foreigners and Japanese alike. If you plan on networking in Japan I definitely suggest getting a membership here. While not cheap by any means, it’s amenities really set a high standard. There is a rooftop pool with a great view of Tokyo Tower, large basketball court, bowling alley, game rooms, cafeteria. Dining rooms, bar, etc.

The Sanno

This is the U.S. Navy hotel.  For current military officers.

The Sanno is a really cool place to blow off some steam. Go for a swim or just chill. They are always hosting different events. The last time that I went they were hosting a huge Hawaiian luau. If you stop by, make sure you try their cheese cake!


Coming to Japan I really didn’t have an idea of what to expect.

I think a lot of people are curious about Japan. It has a very unique culture that many have experienced through its influence in many spheres.

  1. The Tokyo transit system can be confusing at first. You have different trains, local train, express trains, semi-express trains and special trains. All you need is a Suica card, which is a prepaid card that you can use on most of the trains in Tokyo, buses, vending machines, and taxis. It’s super convenient and just so versatile. I really wish we had this in most of the major U.S. cities.
  1. The Japanese drive on the left side of the street in case you plan on driving. This also means that the direction people walk in reversed too. So stay to the left.
  1. Bikes are a great alternative to walking. But you might have to pay to park and although Japan is really safe, you will still need to have a bike lock just in case.
  1. Japan is still a cash based economy. So make sure you have a few thousand yen on you just in case. Many ATMs only take Japanese cards so you will have to find international ATMs or go visit a local 7-Eleven.
  • Beware: you will receive a lot of coins during normal transactions so you will need to find a good place to store them all.
  1. If you go to a supermarket you first pay for you items and then you have bag everything up afterwards at another separate counter.
  1. There are a few coin laundry places spread out around Tokyo. But be prepared to shell out 500-600 yen ($5-$6USD) per load of laundry. If you train as much as me that really adds up. So if you can, find someone with a washer and dryer.
  1. Earthquakes happen here a lot. You probably won’t notice them at first but the longer you stay there the more they will stand out. Just stay calm and wait for it to pass. It’s actually an exciting event that really shakes up your day.


The transit system, specifically the train system can really add up so make sure to plan ahead. I probably spent $6-$8 USD back and forth to go training. So a lot of times I would only train once per day or try to arrange my schedule so that I could attend multiple classes in a trip.

If you can, try to stay within walking or biking distance of where you plan on training. That way you won’t have to worry about getting lost or spending a fortune traveling.


The buses in Japan are pretty awesome! They’re cheaper than the subways systems, there’s a lot of stops, and there’s free wifi. The only downside is that bus times are limited and change on the weekends.


Biking in Japan is a lot of fun and sometimes the fastest way to get around. The bikes run on the same side of the road as cars but the rules are pretty relaxed so you can get away with a lot.


The taxis here all look like they were made in the 60’s or 70’s but they get the job done. They are everywhere. So if you’re really in need to arriving to your destination but have no clue on how to take the subway or bus system then it is a good alternative. The drivers don’t really speak English so that might be a hurdle but if you know any major landmarks or even the name of the station nearby your destination then you should be able to get to where you need to be. Japan is cash based economy so make sure you have enough yen to cover the cost of your trip or if you don’t have enough yen or don’t feel like carrying around any bills, you can also preload a Suica card that will also work in the taxis. Oh, and when you get out of the taxis you don’t have to close the door. It closes automatically.


I didn’t use uber during my trip. I do think it’s available, but the taxis system in Japan has been around for so long and there are just so many of them that I think it’s hard to justify waiting on an uber when you have so many different options when it comes to getting from one place to the next.


The food in Japan is some of the best in the world and had made its way all over the world. Sushi, Ramen, Udon, Mochi, etc. you can’t go wrong.

I didn’t have a lot of money when I went to Japan so I didn’t really eat out a lot. So while the food is well priced and there are a lot places that you can get a good meal at, most restaurants will run you $$ which can easily start to add up.

Also if you have plans on competing while you’re in Japan, a lot of the restaurant foods have a massive amount of sodium so you will need to be careful with what you eat. Unless you don’t mind going up a weight class.

I mostly ate Itsumo Foods Tuna in Coco along with salad. It’s so good! I definitely recommend trying it when it comes to the U.S. and international markets later this year.

Itsumo Tuna in Coconut Oil. I basically lived off of this while in Tokyo, Japan for 3 months.
Itsumo Tuna in Coconut Oil. I basically lived off of this while in Tokyo, Japan for 3 months.

Itsumo Amazon link


Japanese gets a bad rap for being a hard language to learn but I don’t think that’s the case. I was able to pick up a few really useful phrases and get by okay.

List of useful phrases:

  • Konnichiwa – Hello
  • Genki Desu Ka? – How are you?
  • Hisashiburi – Long time no see
  • Ohayo – Good morning
  • Konbanwa – Good Evening
  • Cheers – Kanpai
  • Itadakimasu – Have a nice meal
  • Wakaranai – I don’t know
  • Domo arigato – Thank you

Reading Japanese is a different animal, but when it comes to speaking it, it’s not that hard and most Japanese people will try to understand you. Although, it will be hard to get by with only English as many of the Japanese don’t speak it or are too shy even if they know a few words.

There are a few language exchange programs in Tokyo but I didn’t have the opportunity to check any out.


A really cool part of my traveling is being able to gauge the level of opportunities that exist for myself and for other Jiu Jitsu athletes in the locations that I visit.

I think that with right body type, style and Japanese language skills you can do really well for yourself in Japan, at least as far as doing seminars.

If you are a highly skilled featherweight or lower weight I think you can do really well, especially if you have already made a name for yourself at the major tournaments like pans and worlds.


The seminars in Japan are just like those in the U.S. Although the pricing might be set a little bit lower by between 20%-30%. So if you normally charge $60 USD (6000 yen) then your Japanese pricing would be around $40 USD (4000 yen).

I will say to check before hand to see if you will have a translator and if the academy will cover the cost. I made the mistake of not asking, and while everything worked out it did cost me.

It sucks having to write about stuff like this but if you’re ever in my shoes I want you to know what’s up and what can happen. So it’s important that you have an idea of how much you would like to make for your seminar, and how many students the host academy can realistically bring in going into the planning stage and insuring that all parties are accountable.

If they are not able to meet your requirements and are not willing to work with you as best they can, then don’t be afraid to walk away. It’s better to know your worth than to compromise.

Academies in Japan

There are a few academies in Tokyo and the surrounding cities and most of these academies are usually run by bilingual Japanese or Brazilian/Japanese instructors so I believe it would be very hard and simply unwise to try an open an academy here if you’re not already apart of this club.

Doing business in Japan is different than in the U.S. or Europe. Many companies and entrepreneurs believe that they can just go to Japan and it will be business as usual, but that’s far from the case. Japan has its own culture and way of doing business. So if you do have plans of starting an academy or another business here I really suggest you spend a minimum of 3-6 months here and talk to other foreign entrepreneurs that have been in Japan a lot longer than you.


I really would like to thank my sponsors, Itsumo Foods and Shoyoroll, for making it possible for me to have this awesome experience.

Without them, I would not have been able to make it out to Tokyo and be able to thrive in the city as long and as well as I did.

I would like to personally thank David Leibowitz for being a great friend, mentor and inspiration for me.

David has always been one of those really outgoing type of guys that is really passionate about his family, business, friends, everything actually.

Being able to hang out with David along with his sons Noah and Ty, daughter Mia, and wife Mayumi really made my trip to Japan special and I will always remember this time together.

Alec and David
Alec and David

Jiu Jitsu really is more than a martial art. More than about fighting and competing. Those are all important parts of it but I think at its base it’s all about building relationships.

Building relationships with people that you might never come in contact with through your regular lives.

Building relationships with people that live on the other side of the world and speak a completely different language than yourself.

I’ve met so many great people through Jiu Jitsu. People that have changed my life for the better and inspire me to help others in whatever ways that I can.

Leaving Japan

I spent a lot of time in Japan. I was only there for three months but it felt so much longer.

I think that it’s really great to do a long trip like this because it allows you to immerse yourself in the culture. The downside is that Tokyo is an expensive city.

If you decide to go to Japan to train and you want to make the most out of your trip then I suggest you:

  • Learn a little bit of the language
  • Explore the city
  • Figuring out how to get around
  • Try as many different foods as you can
  • Avoid trains, buses, and taxis during rush hour
  • Visit 100 yen stores
  • Never go full native haha
  • Exchange your yen coins before leaving

I really think traveling has helped my Jiu Jitsu grow. It’s easy to stay where you are, working the same techniques with the same partners. I know I got to a point where I would do the same things over the course of weeks, months, and even years. If there’s something that I’ve learned during my travels it’s that in order to grow you have to continually push yourself by stepping out of your comfort zone. If you always lift the same weight and do the same amount of reps you won’t gain any strength. The same also applies to your Jiu Jitsu.

P.S. I’m working on growing my email list so please join on the sidebar of my website.

P.P.S. I’m looking to set up a few seminars before the holidays. So if you or your academy would be interested please contact me at


This is a topic that’s hard for many athletes to talk about it.

We put so much hard work into achieving our goals but sometimes we end up falling short.

I’ve seen people handle losing in different ways. The humble ones are able to acknowledge their loss(es) and learn from their mistakes which I think is the best possible action. While others might not handle losing so well.

Rio 2016

If you were watching the 2016 Olympics in Rio, there was a lot of controversy over an Egyptian judo athlete refusing the shake the hand of an Israeli athlete after losing in their match. While there are obvious political and religious factors at play. Which I will not touch on. I’ve seen this behavior a few times even absent those factors.

I don’t know what causes athletes to act so unsportsmanlike or maybe sportsmanship is more dependent upon the individual athlete and their values and attitudes. But I think we can all recognize bad sportsmanship when we see it such as in the case above.

I’m not going to talk about the numerous reasons why losing occurs but instead I’m going to focus on how we all can better handle dealing with losing.

Losing is something that I have personally experienced during my career in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

It kind of sucks writing about it but it’s true.
I will say that there are times when losing and having the right mindset can drive you to achieve more. But without the proper mindset, it can become a pit of despair and really hinder your growth and potential.

I’m going to draw from my own personal experience for a bit.

My Past

I received my purple belt during my first year of college. This also coincided with a well know World Champion moving to my academy. I had everything that I needed to succeed. I had great training partners that were a lot better than me, I had the best instructors in the world, and I had all the time in the world to train in between attending my college classes. You would think that I would start tearing up the competition circuit.

But I didn’t. In fact, I lost my first campaign at purple belt, losing my first match at the World Championship that year. I don’t remember if I was down or not, but I do remember being really frustrated. So, I went back home and decided to train harder.

The next year I had a little bit more success than the previous year. I even made it to the finals of the world championship this time. But again, I didn’t come out on top.

It took me three long years at purple belt before I was able to win at the major tournaments like pans and worlds. During that time I trained my ass off and competed as much as I could.

But if I never lost during those earlier years I’m not sure if I would have stuck with Jiu Jitsu and be where I am now. My losses forced me to focus even more on my technique, train harder and smarter, and to continue competing. Losing really is a learning experience but it’s up to the individual in how they handle their losses and move forward from there.

Current favorite athlete to follow

One of my favorite athletes to follow right now is Tammi Musumeci because she writes a lot about her experiences on and off the mats and she doesn’t sugarcoat her life. It’s really refreshing to get that level of insight into the inner workings of a high level competitor and how she deals with the same emotions that we’ve all experienced.

Namely, dealing with setbacks, the expectations, and the obstacles that athletes face in trying to make it to the top. I think we often put our favorite athletes and competitors on a pedestal. We admire their victories and personalities but we often don’t understand the time and the amount effort that it took to get them to that point.

But what about those people that don’t handle losing well?

I believe the people that have the hardest time dealing with loss are those whose entire identities are completely tied to Jiu Jitsu and how well they do in competitions, rolling in the academy, etc.

When they’re winning they feel great. As anyone would. But when they are faced with a setback, or loss, then a lot of times they don’t know how to handle it.

I’ve seen this a lot with students that were considered really talented. Jiu Jitsu came easy to them and they didn’t have to work hard to improve initially. But when it was no longer easy or when they lost to someone with the same amount of experience or less, but considered less talented or gifted. Their first action was often to just quit. That’s why it’s important to have instructors and higher belts to help encourage students through these rough periods.

Higher belt duties

It’s easy to let these students fall off and quit than to actually help them. But from the standpoint of a martial arts business owner, an instructor, and a student. You are losing out on an important part of your academy.

Jiu Jitsu is a people business. Not only are you training their body but you are also developing them. Molding them into something more than what they were when they first began their journey. But if you just let them walk out, not only are you missing out on a client that sustains your business, but also a precious student to pass your knowledge on to, and a valuable training partner.

I remember when I was a brown belt and being one of the best prospects to do well in the 2011 world championship. I felt great going into this tournament and was tearing up the competitions leading up to the event. But I didn’t win. In fact, I didn’t even place.

When I got back home I was so angry and down on myself. I was even bringing my emotions into my training and being an asshole to many of my training partners. I feel like I could have easily continued down this path until something bad would have happened. If it wasn’t for my friend Chris reaching out to me, I might have quit doing Jiu Jitsu.

Chris is someone that I’ve always looked up to and was the top guy in our academy but I’m sure he had been in the same position as me at some point during his competition career. Everyone that competes a lot, or wishes to compete is going to experience loss. We are pretty much courting defeat.

I was lucky enough to have Chris to help me get through this at an important part of my development and it shows the power that a higher belt can have in helping junior students struggling.

That’s why I now make it a point to help lower belts whenever I can, either in person or through my writing and videos. You never truly know what impact your words and actions will have on others. So, let it be for the better.

Asian Influence

This is something that I gleaned from Asian (Japanese) culture that seems lost to us in the U.S. Of course we have respect for elders and those more experienced than ourselves. We have that part down, but the part that we seem to lack is the emphasis of senior students and instructors looking after the well being of the junior students.

In Japan, this is considered the sensei-sempai-kohai relationship. The sensi being the instructor or teacher. The sempai being the older, more experienced student and the Kohai the younger, less experienced student.

Don’t get me wrong. Some academies have a similar setup but it’s not built into the framework of Jiu Jitsu like how we show respect for our training partners before sparring with the fist bump and slap.

I would like to see a greater emphasis from Jiu Jitsu and martial arts instructors in promoting their students in going out of their way to help the lesser experienced students. Of course make sure that they get their technique down and train hard, but to also to take an interest in them personally and their wellbeing as well. As I said above, Jiu Jitsu is a people business.


I remember when I was just the Jiu Jitsu guy. I knew a lot techniques and I did well at tournaments but outside that I really didn’t have any other life experiences or knowledge outside the mats. No one was going to ask me for relationship advice, or my opinion on business matters or anything for that matter.

Now, imagine all you’re good at is one thing and you lose or fail in that one thing.

I hated that feeling.

When you limit yourself to only being good at Jiu Jitsu. Then, what are you left with when you’re not good at Jiu Jitsu either due to circumstance or injury?

I’ve known so many great Jiu Jitsu instructors and competitors over the years that simply got by because they were good at Jiu Jitsu and surrounded themselves with people that looked up to them and only told them what they wanted to hear because they were a black belt world champions.

But there’s no balance in that.

Develop yourself outside Jiu Jitsu

because it’s so important to develop yourself outside of Jiu Jitsu, outside of your career, or your family. Because you need to be more than that, because you are more than that.

Develop other interest, have some skills that you can hone that doesn’t involve Jiu Jitsu or that utilizes your Jiu Jitsu in an entrepreneurial way. Jiu Jitsu is a great martial art. But it’s also a great tool that you can use to better and improve yourself.

For me going to college, traveling, and working in business helped give me a sense of purpose that didn’t revolve around me being good at Jiu Jitsu. There will come a time when we will no longer be able to compete at the highest levels or when other obligations will side track us. That’s when you will be happy that you have other skill sets.

Let go

Learn to let go of your losses. There’s so many things that can cause you to not perform to your best such as:

  • Not feeling well
  • Bad weight cut
  • Opponent had a better day
  • Bad refereeing
  • Wrong gi

There will always be factors that get in your way and sometimes it does temporarily block your progress. At that point it’s up to you to learn from your losses and try to fix whatever might have caused you to not perform at your best.

Even after all of that, sometimes you still won’t be where you want to be and that’s okay. It’s okay to not win every match, it’s okay to be nervous, it’s okay to be the underdog. As long as you’re able to get back on your feet and try again with even more focus and effort, I know you will be alright.

Surviving in Jiu Jitsu

Listen, there is no way to survive in Jiu Jitsu without experiencing loss. Starting out you will be losing to everyone in your academy. That’s just the way that it is, but if you stick it out you will improve and get better.

I think at the colored belt level is when thoughts of losing, or overcoming loss becomes harder. We let our egos get in the way of our development.

I’ve talked about this before in the white belt mindset that white belts are more free in this regard because there really are no expectations for them. Any small victory is a step in the right direction. Every set back a lesson.

But like any skill. The white belt mindset can be developed and honed for any imaginable task.

Martial arts is about being more and gives you the tools to be more. I promise you that after a few weeks, months, and years from now you won’t remember the majority of your losses and setbacks.

In fact, those that you do remember you might begin to think of fondly as the point in time that you decided to rededicate yourself to your training, or as the event that you needed to overcome in order to improve.

Every loss is a lesson

When dealing with losing it’s best to learn whatever you can from the experience and then move on. Keep developing yourself outside of Jiu Jitsu and help others whenever you can. Even a few words could keep someone from completely quitting Jiu Jitsu.

Every loss is a lesson but it’s up to you to figure out what you need to learn from the experience.