The history of Jiu-Jitsu and how to run a martial arts school today

TeamUp's very own Tom Fisher walks us through the history and growth of Jiu-Jitsu and what's needed to run a successful martial arts business in today's world.

To celebrate the upcoming International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federations 2021 World Championship in December, we sat down with TeamUp's very own Jiu-Jitsu purple belt, Tom Fischer. With over 10 years of training Jiu-Jitsu and attending the live international competition and event, Tom walked us through the history of Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts and why the championship is such an important event for Jiu-Jitsu business owners. Due to his experience in the industry and as a TeamUp team member he also shares why martial arts schools should use booking software and how it can help schools grow their businesses.

See what Tom has to say, learn about the importance of Jiu-Jitsu, and how to run the best martial arts school by following along with our interview.

Tom gets his opponent in a kimura hold.

My name is Tom and I have been involved with various martial arts throughout my life. I've always been a big fan of martial arts and the philosophy and lifestyle associated with various styles as a means for personal growth and self-improvement. I have seen the practice of martial arts change countless lives for the better and therefore I am a huge advocate for the community. These days I spend most of my training focused on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where I have so far made it to the rank of a purple belt (about halfway black belt). I'm excited for the opportunity to share my passion for martial arts with the intention of continuing to help the community grow and flourish.

History of Jiu-Jitsu

Over the last 25 years, the martial arts scene has developed incredibly, especially in the States and around the world. There was a big familiarity with the UFC and that was a huge influence on the boom of Jiu-Jitsu on a consumer level. The popularity of it made people seek similar sport and recreation out and they Jiu-Jitsu grew. The very first UFC fight was in Denver, Colorado in 1993 and it was created by the Gracie family, who are traditionally known families for bringing Jiu-Jitsu to mainstream popularity. The whole reason they created UFC was to demonstrate Jiu-Jitsu's effectiveness against any other martial art such as karate, boxing, wrestling, and so on.

In the early days, Jiu-Jitsu was very underground and wasn't well organised as a sport. The creation of the UFC put Jiu-Jitsu on the map in the early nineties leading into the early two thousands. In the early days the UFC was seen as a brutal and blood sport before becoming the organised sport it is today. As the popularity of the UFC grew, so did the general population's interest in Jiu-Jitsu, leading to better organization as a sport.

Jiu-Jitsu in the present

Since then Jiu-Jitsu has grown and grown. What grew into a "you have to know someone" to get into the sport has now grown into an international network and community of students and fighters from all points of the globe. The growth in popularity of mixed martial arts (MMA) has created more organisation, there are different leagues featured on ESPN, even Fox for a while, and there is a loyal fandom of people who train and fight and people who watch and don't want to actually become a fighter. There are layers in the industry rather than the path of only becoming a fighter, it's a fully-fledged community.

What is the IBJJF World Championship and why is it such an important event in the martial arts community?

The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) World Championship is what it sounds like, the World Championships! It's the most prestigious and important event of the year because it determines who are the absolute best jiu-jitsu fighters in the world. The top athletes train their entire lives in hopes of one day achieving the title of IBJJF World Champion. From a fan's perspective, it's the biggest show of the year, guaranteed to deliver amazing matches where the highest proficiency of jiu-jitsu is displayed. As the sport continues to grow, this event and other larger ones like it become a week-long convention with tons of different vendors and the opportunity to meet, chat, network, and take pictures with your favourite athletes.

Keep reading and find out about the developing trends Tom has seen in Jiu-Jitsu

What are some changes you have seen in the Jiu-Jitsu community?

Accessibility in the industry

Jiu-Jitsu is now more open and accessible to more people who wish to train and participate. The sport has really opened up to women and kids and they're welcome.

There are a couple of people franchising now, but not many. However, those are good examples of businesses taking the Jiu-Jitsu is for everyone approach and changing the way it was previously done. They welcome students no matter size, shape, background, where you come from, and you'll fit in no matter what. It's very accommodating and welcoming.

Women in Jiu-Jitsu

Women's Jiu-Jitsu has really grown over the last 10 years. 10 years used to be the average it took to go from a white belt to a black belt. For women's tournaments, there were two weight classes and they would combine a lot of skill levels and belt levels. Now women in Jiu-Jitsu have all the same classes and tournaments that men have and it is split appropriately by age, level, weight, and class. It's a really great example of growth in the sport. Now we have women running their own schools and it's becoming more of the norm.

Training Jiu-Jitsu and networking between schools

Back in the day maybe 10-15+ years ago, there was a lot of loyalty to only one school. You never trained anywhere else and you weren't meant to be friends with anyone from other schools. Nowadays, training Jiu-jitsu is much more acceptable in multiple schools. Even in my local area, we have an event called the travelling open mat. Each weekend a different school hosts the open mat for all other schools to come in and mingle, train together, train with different people. It's evolving and is now much more common than not. Even if I don't train at a certain school, I can still go there and pay a drop-in feed like a traditional fitness class.

Now even schools network with each other and refer each other. For example, if a student wants to train at one school but it might not be convenient for them, that school might recommend another school that better meets their needs. It's great for schools to network with other surrounding schools. It's not as competitive when the schools are working together to build the industry rather than necessarily just focusing on themselves as independent.

Jiu-Jitsu in consumer culture

The sport has become much more of a lifestyle and culture. People have custom uniforms made, have sponsors, and brand their uniforms. Some even make limited-edition gear and merchandise to support their schools and team. The main largest population of the Jiu-Jitsu community is 30-45. This population has a more disposable income they're willing to spend on their hobbies. They are combining their free time and training, travelling to events and making vacations out of going to tournaments.

Find out how martial arts schools are different to other fitness businesses

What is one way that the martial arts school business model differs from a typical fitness business model?

The way the Jiu-Jitsu community and Jiu-Jitsu schools are built centres around an affiliation type set-up. If I am a school and one of my students goes on to open his own school, It is common that he will use my name and affiliation with my school to support his. There is someone who starts the affiliation, typically world champion pros and it's their representation and affiliation that gets passed down through the lineage. The person will pay an affiliation fee to help with branding, marketing and setting up the structure of their business. This helps get started right away with support of the name and representation. It is normal for black belts from the affiliation to come at least once or a few times a year and give seminars and support their satellite school.

Of course, you can go out and start your own martial arts school without any affiliation or sponsorship, you don't need to start on that path. But it helps to have that bigger name behind you and the resources to get your business and school off on the right foot. There is still a pretty set stronghold as far as how people do things because some people need a lot of help and backing, but that mold is deteriorating a little bit and some people are trying to go more independent.

Why is using booking software important in martial arts schools?

Using martial arts booking software has become more popular partly because of modernizing their businesses. Getting with the times, everything is done from our phones nowadays. It simplifies a lot of the admin work. As far as all the reasons anyone would use software, for martial arts schools it really depends on how they are run. Some schools are just Jiu-Jitsu and some are mixed martial arts where you have a variety of different disciplines and classes. A school that only offers one type of class may have it simple enough where they don't think it's necessary, but it's all the other things software does that are beneficial no matter how many classes you have.

Software can help streamline things and it can be a deal-breaker that makes a new customer want to go somewhere else. If a customer comes in and has to start filling out paperwork it's that kind of old school thing that can push a customer away. However if a customer can sign up online, log in, check the schedule, sign up for a consultation, and know that someone will reach out to you to get you going, that would obviously help businesses get more people in the door. Once you have those systems in place, then it's much easier to run people through them with less manual work.

Discover how gym management software can help martial arts schools

What are some of the most obstacles issues Jiu-Jitsu schools run into without software?

Tracking attendance

Tracking attendance in classes is very important. It matters a lot to schools. If it's the same teacher every class, they can get a better feel of who's coming and who's not, but that's still not very objective or accurate. Logging classes and monitoring signs up is hugely important for businesses. They need to know their numbers and make changes and improve those numbers if they need to. Attendance is important when it comes to belt ranking as well. How often you're coming to class and progress in the skill.

Unpopular time slots

One problem that can be very common for fitness studios that is not typically a problem for Jiu-Jitsu schools, is overbooking. However, what is the problem is poor performing time slots or having time slots that don't get filled. Being able to pull reports to get a better picture of what's working and what's not or what needs to be adjusted or what needs attention, are the kinds of things that make classes better and more productive.

Retaining new members

Meeting people where they're at is very important and how the sport grows. If people have the slightest experience that makes them uncomfortable or hesitant, they won't want to come back. They're unsure and that can scare them off and then they lost business. Getting people in the door and getting them to stay is important. Setting clear expectations of what to expect in your first class, because a lot of people who know Jiu-Jitsu or have trained in martial arts before knowing what they're looking for. They're going to try out all the schools in the area and go to the one that fits best.

But if someone is completely new and has no idea what to expect, that initial experience and onboarding process is a make or break. The process as a new student used to be, jump in and get beat for the first six months to a year until you start figuring things out, but unless they really want to learn they won't stick around. Setting clear expectations, and having a great onboarding process helps a lot with the retention of new members.

Tom winning first place in a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competition

Why should martial arts schools use TeamUp for their booking software?

TeamUp is such a great platform for jiu-jitsu schools because in general, the operations are not that complicated.

A seamless customer booking experience

I would say the tools that TeamUp has that help schools be most successful are big ones such as memberships, class types, appointments, and payment integration. Those are huge for sure. Additionally, the On Demand feature that TeamUp has is a very useful tool that especially in the last year, people have been trying to utilize some form of on-demand content, but it's usually not in their membership software. It's commonly a whole other platform that they need to buy into and learn how to use, and that's a whole other login for their customers.

Easy to use outreach and communication tools

Outreach tools such as emailing lists and SMS where you can notify customers on different things are hugely important too. Being able to notify customers of weather updates, changes to the schedule or reminders of special events is really helpful especially to schools in the middle of a big city that can be hard to reach.

The ability to offer a variety of memberships

Being able to offer a variety of memberships for kids, adults, and families with a month to month commitment is really easy to do with Teamup.

TeamUp works with schools of all sizes

Some software is very traditional such as Mindbody who won't work with schools that are too small sometimes. Those schools get stuck between a rock and a hard place and keep using spreadsheets because they don't know where to go. It becomes much harder to grow your business because you have to keep track of more manual stuff until you're "approved" for more expensive software that you're probably only going to utilize 10% of their functionality.


What are martial arts?

Martial arts means many things and includes many different types of martial arts activities. I would consider boxing and wrestling martial arts, even though, probably traditionally people would more consider those just sports, but they are technically martial arts. This is my opinion, but it's not unheard of either. Krav Maga for sure is a martial art. Jiu-jitsu is a martial art. And then there are those ones on the fence, you could call them a sport or a martial art. It just depends on who you're talking to and in what context.

When is the IBJJF World Championship

The event will be held in Anaheim, California on December 9 - 12, 2021. Register to attend, here.

Thanks for reading, if you're interested in learning more about TeamUp for your martial arts school, sign up for a free 30-day trial here.