You sure you want to take that step? You love BJJ with all your heart. You have found your calling. This is what you were made to do. So how do you do it? How do you make Jiu-Jitsu your career? Should you?
I remember after 15 years of working part then full-time jobs, going to college, having a family, trying to balance everything and still keep Jiu-Jitsu in my life, reaching that moment of having to take the leap. The leap was making a go at teaching Jiu-Jitsu full-time for a career. I was fortunate to have an understanding and supportive family, a place I was already teaching with an established student base, and a brown belt under Royce Gracie. But even with those accolades and advantages, it was a daunting and intimidating task. I did not own my own academy, I didn’t have a big name in the bjj community as a teacher or competitor, and I was not making nearly enough money through teaching.
I think everyone hits forks in the road in life where you have to take a chance on a path. Many times these paths are a balance of passion and safety. Take the path that seems a little more secure and maybe isn’t the one you desire the most, or follow that compulsion of what speaks to your heart, and risk failure and loss. I chose the latter and that has made all the difference. I could have done it earlier. I could have taken bigger risks. I could have waited and been more secure. But like all decisions, I did it when I was readiest.
Should you? How would you? From what I can see, it boils down to firstly a financial decision; because face it, who doesn’t want to get paid for doing bjj?! That is something I will ask again in a little while. But you have to make a living. The main ways people make money in bjj is through competition and/or teaching. Both are difficult and require equal measures of business acumen and talent for the art.
The Competitor Route
If this is the route you’re taking, be prepared to train hard, train smart, and compete often. Winning is good, but not enough. You have to be recognizable in the competition arena and you have to be in the right tournaments. Nothing wrong with entering small upstart organization tournaments (ethically a great thing to do to support the community), but you need that IBJJF card and to look into getting into the big sanctioned events. Being recognized means a higher potential for acquiring sponsors and established notoriety. This is really just a parlay into the teaching realm eventually anyway, so concentrate on your teaching ability as well and have a good place to work with prospective students.
The Teaching Route
Teaching classes, seminars, and especially private lessons are the key to a sustainable career in bjj. If you think that Marcelo Garcia, Braulio Estima, Buchecha or even Royce Gracie make enough off of sponsorship and fame alone, you are mistaken. Do you have to have your own academy? Not necessarily, but it helps. I am fortunate that, while I am not the owner of my home academy, Three Rivers Martial Arts, I have been there long enough to help it grow from humble beginnings to a large enough school to support multiple instructors. Could I make more money if I started my own school? Absolutely! But I have found ways to do all right where I am, and I love my academy too much to leave.
I have been teaching for a long time and I have found certain elements necessary: knowledge, personality and accreditation. Knowledge is obvious, because bjj isn’t something you can fake. I have seen people strap on a karate black belt with all kinds of degrees on it and lie about their accomplishments in order to dupe students into believing they are something they aren’t. That doesn’t work with bjj. Not to say Karate is bad or that there are not legitimate sources out there, but it can be a little more academicized than can a more performance-based art like bjj. No, you must have the technical know-how and some ability to back it up. I have seen blue belts run successful academies with only a few years training.
If your personality and enthusiasm, ultimately how passionate you are for the art and helping others on their journey, is lacking then forget it. You have no business teaching and need to wait or stick to competing. Don’t do the Jiu-Jitsu community the disservice of trying to support your bjj addiction by making a few bucks teaching. It is empty and shallow, and a waste of everyone’s time. If you truly love the art and want to help others better their lives as you have your with Jiu-Jitsu, then you are on the right path.
You need a reputable affiliation. The last name of Gracie is helpful, but there are so many big names and great sources out there that it isn’t necessary. I like to be close to the source, and I am proud to be in the Royce Gracie Network as one of his black belts. But you don’t have to be a black belt to make it work. People can smell your authenticity, knowledge and confidence in what you are teaching easier than you might think, and you better be prepared.
Offering private lessons is a valuable way to go. Figure out what you have to offer, what your time is worth, and what audience you have where you are located and customize your lessons accordingly. People like the ease of scheduling, attention to detail, customized learning pace and undivided attention they receive from private instruction. I personally have paid up to $400 for a single hour of private instruction and can walk away feeling like it was totally worth every penny. I don’t charge quite that much personally, but I still want my students being able to walk away with confidence and certainty in what I have shown them in each and every lesson. Remember, what you acquire too cheaply, you esteem too lightly!
Group classes are a different animal than private. The energy is different. In each there needs to be a palpable sense of enthusiasm, but you are more of a presenter in the group situation. You also have more to pay attention to in a group, because you are responsible not just for the transfer of the information, but also for monitoring the students’ interactions with each other and the pros and cons that come along with this. The environment is everything in the group, even more than the private. If the energy is wrong then all the awesome techniques in the world will not keep your students coming back.
When Do I Become A Sellout?
This has to be a concern at some point. Even writing this blog I question what I am doing talking about money issues. But at the end of the day I want to help. I believe in Jiu-Jitsu and want to better my sphere of influence by spreading all I can. And if potential readers want to teach and spread the art as well, if their intentions are good, I want to help them also. The hipsters and the uppity groups will always criticize the making of money from things they care about, as if it cheapens the art somehow. It doesn’t degrade the art to make it more accessible, nor does it make you a sellout if someone wants to pay you for your time. This only allows you to focus on Jiu-Jitsu more without having to balance a second or third job.
You have to evaluate your own ethical code and stick to it. If you are only looking to make money and will compromise your integrity then you are a sellout and will ultimately fail…or at least whatever you accomplish will be meaningless and empty. That is the difference between a sellout and someone making a living doing what they love. If you still have concerns then read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”
Always remember, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Keeping to those words of Zig Ziglar, you will succeed if your intentions are true.
Welcome to the Dark Side
So, now that I have possibly motivated you, let me knock you down a few notches. I have struggled, faltered, lost, and hurt on my path to being a Jiu-Jitsu professional. Relationships and friendships have been tested. People will doubt you and misunderstand you. You won’t make everyone happy, and in fact, if you don’t acquire a hater or two along the way you are probably not doing something right. You won’t make real money right away. Be prepared to struggle. And then, when things start going good, be prepared for burnout. I have figured out how to overcome it (a later blog), but I have been hit with it in the past. Training burnout is one thing, but teaching burnout is a wholly different one. At least with training burnout you feel it a little more immediately. With teaching burnout, often you won’t realize it until you see a look of lackluster or disappointment on the face of your student. You have given sub-par enthusiasm or insufficiently conveyed the lesson material and the student is left a little flat feeling. I have no suggestion of how to prevent this other than time and renewed enthusiasm daily.
Ultimately, all anyone can do is offer their experiences and lessons they had to learn, which is what I am doing here. If I came across as telling you what you should do or have to do for success, it was not my intention. I am no celebrity or millionaire, but I have found a way to make my passion into my career, and I think it is a wonderful thing. If there is anything in this that helps you, then that only makes me feel even more successful. That’s how I judge my success, not the money I make but the people I help.
Now GO TRAIN! The most fundamental part of being successful with Jiu-Jitsu is training it!