3 Business Practices That Don’t Benefit Students, No Matter How You Spin It.

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Jiu-jitsu schools are allowed to make money. They shouldn’t just be scraping by on charity. I’ll take it a step further: I think great instructors should get rich. They’re doing what they love, and the good ones are changing lives. I’m all for giving them my money.

Jiu-jitsu is like any business: you pay for services. But in other ways, it’s not. It’s heavily based on relationships. When my car insurance company raises prices or slaps a ridiculous fee on me, I’ll be vocal with my unhappiness. I might even leave. When you BJJ academy does the same, it’s tricky. Complaining to the people that are promoting you, coaching you, and guiding through you BJJ journey is tough. Leaving altogether is even harder.

Sometimes, I get the feeling that academies know this and know how to leverage it. I’ve heard many school owners say, “We instituted a new policy, and no one complained.”

But what if the students are afraid to complain? That they stand way more to lose than to gain?

It’s okay to push back and ask, “Why are we doing this? How is this going to make me better at jiu-jitsu?” It’s our money, and we deserve to know why it’s going out the door, especially if the explanation doesn’t make sense.

So if you’re not asking about why you’re paying for these three things, maybe you should:

Mandatory Contracts

Ever asked a girl to move in with you after one date? How’d it go?

Month-to-month used to be the standard in all BJJ schools. Students could put six months or a year down for a nice little discount, often after they had paid for several months already.

But something you see more and more of is mandatory contracts of six months to a year. I’ve even seen eight-year contracts for $10 thousand down (“terrific value!”). Often they’re priced in a way that heavily penalizes anything less than a year, offering month-to-month at close to $250, to drive students to a longer contract. They convince you that “the best value” is to put thousands of dollars down to lock you into a year of training with a school you’ve only been to once or twice.

The reasoning? “Martial arts is about commitment, and we want our students to be committed to training.”

Really? I thought you show commitment to training by… training. Doesn’t the choice to commit to a long contract have everything to do with that person’s financial situation? Or the fact that academy owners would rather have a large amount of money up-front that they can keep regardless of whether you stay or not?

What does that say about the confidence of the academy? Are you afraid I’m going to leave after I get to know this place more? Shouldn’t you want to earn my business month to month?

Mandatory Academy Uniforms

I used to be a big believer in this. Having all the students wear academy uniforms gives a feeling of cohesion and uniformity. Which does… something.

Having everyone buy and wear your branded gear may look aesthetically nice for the school’s website and Instagram. But it’s really a marketing cost that you’re passing off on the students.

“But the students love the feeling of pride and team spirit!”

If owners really believed this, they wouldn’t need to make it mandatory.

Some people like the feeling of uniformity. But no one in the locker room is raving about how the awesome the uniform policy is and how it’s really helped their game. The students would rather be able to wear their favorite brands and styles that they could spend as little or as much as they like for.

Real talk: isn’t mandatory academy apparel just a giant upsell? Doesn’t it just exist because gym owners figured out that every student spends hundreds of dollars on gear and they might as well buy it from them?

And honestly, is forcing all the students to buy hundreds of dollars in gis, shorts, and rashguards really the secret sauce to team pride? Are you telling me that the team that trains together, competes together, and is united under great leadership is any less of a team because they’re not all in white?

Belt Testing Fees

I put this last because I’m slightly sympathetic to it. Some schools essentially give you an hour-long private lesson to evaluate you for the next belt level. That instructor’s time is worth money, and I get that. I also get that belts cost money, albeit a small amount when schools buy wholesale.

So if a school wanted to charge me $30 for my blue belt exam, I’d shrug and say “whatever.” It’s when testing fees get into the hundreds when I ask, “why?”

Truthfully, I already did pay for my next belt. It’s called monthly dues. It’s also the time and energy of three days a week for the past X amount of years. Competing under the school’s name and helping the other students. It’s a recognition of not just skill, but a contribution to the academy.

Sure, we all want our next belt eventually. But using that as leverage to get money from us is wrong, especially when it costs very little to promote students.

Not to mention the can of worms you open when your revenue is directly tied to students’ promotions. Guess what that incentivizes an academy to do? I lived this, spending tens of thousands of dollars in a traditional martial art. I’d rather have an academy that makes most of their money by offering great services through expanding their schedule, adding showers, or hiring a wrestling instructor. I’d gladly pay more for those.

At the end of the day, here’s the golden rule for me: If I understand exactly how a policy makes the owners more money, it should be crystal clear how it makes the students better at jiu-jitsu.

If you’re a big jiu-jitsu nerd like me, you might like my website High Percentage. We crunch data from hundreds of BJJ matches to find the techniques, positions, and styles that win matches.


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