The Jiu-jitsu Ecosystem: Why your Support Matters

I’ve been involved in Jiu-jitsu for eight years. A lot has changed since I started though I imagine that for people who have been around much longer than me, those changes are exponential compared to my experience. When I started, there were substantially less schools,  less competitions, less kimono brands and consequently, much less money floating around. The ecosystem was sparse but it was ever-growing. I consider myself lucky to be around for many of these changes but a common theme I hear from people who haven’t been around as long as I or my predecessors have continues to be that “There’s no money in jiu-jitsu”.

There’s a legitimate argument to be made about jiu-jitsu athletes not making enough in competition to sustain themselves as professional athletes [Read: Not having to run a school or teach seminars, but strictly competing as a means of sustainable income]. Sure, there is much more money in other sports and you can also make a great argument that, true to Pareto’s law, 80% of the money that goes to the athletes is won by the top 10-20% of the champions in our sport. So while the Felipe Penas and the Gordon Ryans are probably making enough money yearly, the rest of everyone else have to resort to owning/operating schools, teaching seminars, producing content, selling clothing and kimonos, etc., etc.

So why is there “no money” in Jiu-jitsu?

Before I continue, I should note that I do believe there is money to be made. The great challenge is that our sport/art is still such a small niche. The ecosystem is still sparse though significantly greater than it was 10-20 years ago and it may be quite some time before we reach a point where athletes, school owners, brands and event producers are sustaining themselves far above a fragile level (“a fragile level” meaning most of the founders of jiu-jitsu brands still have day-jobs as their only reliable source of income).  At the moment, however, there simply is not enough money floating around the ecosystem and the money that currently circulates, belongs to a small number of elite brands and people.

Growth and the Jiu-jitsu Market Cap

I don’t pretend to know much about economics but stay with me for one second: If jiu-jitsu as a whole is a business, in order for this business to grow, the market cap would need to grow. In other words, more money needs to be flowing in and less money needs to be flowing out. If, for example, a thousand people buy a kimono and the kimono company founder uses 100% of the profits to buy a new car, then money has come into the Jiu-jitsu ecosystem and has immediately driven out. On the other hand, if those thousand people buy a kimono and the company uses a large amount of its profits to reinvest in jiu-jitsu athletes, the money stays in the ecosystem. The athletes are supported, they will continue to compete at big events, the big events will pay the athletes and in turn, the kimono company is supported through advertising on the big stage which theoretically should drive more sales.

Why is this important?

Throughout my life, I’ve often heard “support the people that support you.” I’m not suggesting this is bad advice but it is flawed. There are plenty of great people out there that don’t necessarily support you; they might not even know who you are. That does not mean they are undeserving of your support. I add “Support the people that support the community you belong to”.

A Cup must Overflow

You cannot pour from an empty cup. I tell my students this as it relates to being of service to their community. If everyone in a community takes and takes, no one in the community will have anything left to give. If, however, everyone in a community gives and gives, everyone else in the community will have much more to give. A community’s cup must be full if it is to give back.

Ways to Support the Ecosystem:

  1. Support [Read: Buy from] companies that reinvest into the community in an effort to help grow it. Companies like Shoyoroll, for example, has done an incredible amount of work and given a lot back to the community to grow the art. Supporting the brands that support the ecosystem is one of the top things we can do to make sure it continues to flourish, and furthermore, become more economically sustainable. Even Jiujiteiro are doing great work in their endeavor to be a lifestyle brand, creating products for everyday use. 
  2. Do more than just YouTube. Make sure you are paying for subscription services like FloGrappling or other OnDemand services like Budovideos and Digitsu. If you are not interested in streaming events or instructionals, fine, but if that’s your choice, please do not rip off someone else’s log-in information (something that I have been guilty of in the past). The more money that flows into these services, the more money that moves into the athletes’ and promoters’ hands.
  3. If you are going to buy non-jiujitsu related products (like supplements), try and purchase from brands that support jiu-jitsu athletes. There are many supplement companies, for example, that sponsor and take care of jiu-jitsu athletes. ATH Organics, Onnit and MusclePharm are huge in the jiu-jitsu community and even a company like Natural Stacks supported me for quite some time.
  4. Support charities that involve the Jiu-jitsu community. There are a lot of charitable organizations out there. I will never suggest where one should or should not donate because charitable contributions tend to be a bit more personal. There are, however, a few charitable organizations that are rooted in the jiu-jitsu community. Organizations such as We Defy Foundation (Helping Disabled Veterans), Tap Cancer Out (Cancer Awareness/Support), and BlackBelts for Butterflies (Autism) are just a few that are using jiu-jitsu as a tool to support their causes. If these causes mean something to you, give them a look.

The Most Important Thing

I conclude this by suggesting the last, and most important thing you can do to support the ecosystem is to be an ambassador of the art. You, as a jiu-jitsu practitioner, should always represent jiu-jitsu in the best possible way. Get your friends involved, get your families involved and never act in a manner that would deter others from wanting to train. Jiu-jitsu, though not for everyone, can be for everyone. How we carry ourselves can always make the difference in how our circles get involved. The more people that try jiu-jitsu and stick with it, the greater our community becomes.

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