Why Your Jiu-Jitsu Academy Loses Students

Why Your Jiu-Jitsu Academy Loses Students


Written by Brearin Land, a Financial Planner in Irvine, California and Orange County who authors the Black Belt of Finance BlogHe is the CEO of Irvine Wealth Management, and world renowned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt at the Gracie Barra Headquarters.

Sick of losing students during the holidays? Are students constantly freezing or cancelling their memberships during football and baseball season?

The majority of questions I get from instructors revolve around how to bring in more new students, but going beyond creating a niche and dominating the local market, your academy’s ability to bring in new students is dependent on retaining the ones you already have.

Here are four tips for retaining more students and building a massive referral network for your academy.

1. Build Community

Throughout my time as a martial artist and instructor I’ve helped manage some of the largest academies on the planet.

I’ve also been in the trenches of the smaller academies so I know first hand what makes a successful academy tick as well as the most common mistakes that lead a Jiu-Jitsu school to lose students.

The quickest way to retain more students and build a massive a referral network is by creating a community of evangelists.

At the Gracie Barra Headquarters I can speak for our kids program because that is my area of expertise. A few years ago parents would come in, drop off their kids, a few would watch, and that would be it.

Fast forward to today, nearly every parent on the bench now trains at the academy, has enrolled their spouse and kids, and have invited all their friends and neighbors.

It is a MASSIVE referral network.

It’s to the point now where an intro lesson will come in and our parents will have already explained the entire program to the new students/parents before the class is even over.

They give the new students a background of our facility and it’s instructors… it’s insane.

Of course, having good instruction and an incredible atmosphere is part of making this a reality, but make no mistake about it… Our ability to create a community of BJJ evangelists has to do with them actually being family.

I know it’s often taboo for a lot of academies but these parents are some of my closest friends and family; not just when the academy doors open and close, but on the weekends and during holidays.

They want to see us all succeed as much as we want them and their kids to. Build a community..

2. Build Structure

One area of academy management that I’ve seen both make and break a school is through it’s use of protocols and procedures. The students who pay the bills value structure.

When I was part of a smaller school in the midwest I realized early on that what set us apart was structure and organization.

There are so many schools out there that are teaching techniques at random, teaching techniques from YouTube, teaching based on their own agenda; it’s amateur hour.

Your most affluent students (you know.. the ones who pay the bills) value structure and organization.

We’ve all heard that people go to more traditional martial arts because of “discipline,” but this is nothing more than having an organized program.

From the moment a student walks in for their first intro lesson, the sales process, the day-to-day lessons, the handling of conflicts, every area of the student’s experience needs to be structured and organized.

For more info on building structure and organization from back-office to the mat, check out my article on how to build a massive kids program.

3. Adapt & Grow

If your goal is to continue growing your academy year after year, you’ll need to find ways continue keep your community happy over the long haul and to do this your methods for teaching and managing a school need to adapt over time.

Doing the same techniques month after month, year after year, gets old for you and the students. I know academies that have been showing the same lapel chokes for years. Where is the fun in that?

As an instructor of a couple hundred kids I know that if I’m showing the same crap all the time it is going to show in my demeanor. I get less enthusiastic about teaching, the atmosphere takes a hit, the community gets less excited to show up, students freeze and cancel.

You don’t have to watch YouTube and emulate the latest trends and techniques, in fact that is probably not you. What you need to do over time is adapt the techniques you have shown and continue to offer a new look on an old idea.

If you do not continue to offer an adaptive experience to your students they will seek to adapt without you.

4. Get Out of Your Own Way

One of the quickest ways to lose students is by letting secondary passions take away from the reason students came into academy in the first place: to learn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Crossfit, Krav, Muay Thai, Cardio Classes, etc. I’ve seen a couple successful attempts and the majority of them fail.

A couple off-hand suggestions for a new class or your own personal agenda turns into a full-scale attempt to turn BJJ students into yogi’s.

If this is your academy, you are not alone. I’ve made the same mistake on more than one occasion. I tried to incorporate both Muay Thai and fitness classes, pumping a good chunk of time and money into new programs only to have a bunch of equipment left over that no one uses.

These programs are a lot like forcing our own New Years resolutions down someone else’s throat. They tend to show up for the first month and before you know it there are 2 people in the class.

As the program becomes unsuccessful you find yourself putting more time into it than is warranted and you continue to take more and more time away from what pays the bills and makes your students happy.

They came to learn BJJ. Continue to harvest your community and reap the rewards of a strong referral network. Don’t shiny-ball your community. Cater your full attention to what 95% of your student’s want…simply teach interesting Jiu-Jitsu classes.

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