How A Blue Belt Academy Owner Went From 19 Students To 350 In Under Three Years

We’ve all seen them, the gyms that have a kill-or-be-killed mentality, ‘survival of the fittest’ if you will. Despite years of training and oftentimes succeeding in securing titles from some of the most prestigious tournaments, there are high-level black belts out there that struggle to create a sustainable business.

Why is it that one former ADCC champion, whose school I recently visited and took inventory of, cannot keep 50 students to save his life, whereas a Gracie University Certified Blue Belt is currently standing at 350 students in under three years with no signs of slowing down?

The answer, quite simply, is the methodology in running a school. There are different skill sets required to run an academy that is distanced from the raw mat time and jiu-jitsu skill set that most belief is the primary prerequisite in student retention. What stands out about the Gracie University model is not necessarily the techniques, as most schools have similar if not identical ‘moves’ that they incorporate in their fundamentals program. It is not the marketing drive of Gracie Breakdowns, as this is only good to bring people through the door and does little to retain the students on the back end.

It is the teaching methodology, the lessons on running a successful business, a proven track record of 150 schools and growing that make this an attractive career option for jiu-jitsu students that are looking to turn their passion into a profession.

As an impressionable white belt about 7 years ago, I heard a lot of negative trash talk about the Gracie University model from higher belts that had not looked deeply into the organization. I’ve trained at a multitude of different schools, yet have not found anything that even comes close to the curriculum organization, tracking capabilities, marketing arm, cooperative mat culture, and instructor certification requirements as GU. The Gracie Brothers were first movers on creating an online curriculum, despite receiving criticism for it upwards of a decade ago, today online instructionals have taken over as a mainstream way to increase one’s jiu-jitsu knowledge, at any hour of the day, from anywhere in the world.

Don’t be surprised if in the next decade the model for running a successful academy takes a similar turn.

Back then I envisioned opening a school one day only as a black belt, thinking that the legitimacy of my program and the rapport that I would be able to create with my students is a direct extension of my competition results. As time went on, as I’ve seen successful competitors flop on the business front, it is clear that there needs to be a different approach for the vast majority of academy owners that wish to run a sustainable business.

The GU model of opening a school has four phases; phase one is achieving a Gracie Combatives score of a 95 or greater which can take upward of 12 months, phase two is an online instructor course needing to be completed within 60 days, phase three is a live evaluation in Torrance over three days, and phase four is the establishment of a Certified Training Center (CTC) within 6 months of successful completion of the Live Evaluation.

Another reason the system works so well is that there are four levels at which a CTC can be recognized, so there is no ambiguity about what each school can offer prospective students. A Level 1 CTC, operated by a blue belt, only offers the the popular beginner programs, Gracie Combatives and Gracie Bullyproof. As the head instructor grows their knowledge base and climbs through the ranks, their certification status will increase to Levels 2 and 3, and they’ll be qualified to teach segments from the Master Cycle, Gracie University’s advanced curriculum. Once the instructor earns their black belt, the CTC is recognized at Level 4, the highest level of certification. The tiered approach to certification is unique to Gracie University, and it’s the reason why so many people, from blue to black belt, are jumping on board seeing such exceptional results.

Fledgling school owners, washed out competitors, or any combination thereof who are looking to increase their business knowledge will not find a better opportunity to align with a school that has the blueprint of running an academy, that succeed in teaching people how to teach, or instilling a mat culture that does not make quality training accessible only to those with the resilience and fortitude to undergo constant beatings. When did instilling a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality ever sound like a sustainable business model?

It’s worth noting that Gracie University only certifies one training center in each territory. Click here for more information on how to get involved and to see if your territory is available.


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