What does it mean to be a jiu-jitsu professional in 2021? When you think of a professional in jiu-jitsu, you probably think of a competitor or a coach. However, a jiu-jitsu professional is anyone who makes a living through the sport. An athlete, a coach, a jiu-jitsu-related business owner, and even a jiu-jitsu content creator can all be included in the professional category.
The ways one can make money in the art have changed over the last few years and continue to change daily. While there have always been ways for jiu-jitsu instructors to make a living through teaching at their academies, we now see athletes make money strictly through competition.
The popularity of jiu-jitsu competition has also led to innovations in jiu-jitsu gis and apparel. There are more gi companies now than ever before, and we see more and more brands pop up every day.
The growth of the sport has also led to an increase in bjj content creators. Practitioners are now creating content via podcasts, YouTube, and various social media channels, allowing them to devote more time and energy to the sport.
Each of these professionals plays an essential role in jiu-jitsu and will be integral to the sport’s growth moving forward.
The first and most well-established way to make a living in jiu-jitsu is through teaching. The efficacy of jiu-jitsu was proven during the early ’90s in the UFC, and since then, the number of academies worldwide has grown exponentially. It is now possible to learn world-class jiu-jitsu in nearly every part of the world.
In addition to teaching at one academy, many jiu-jitsu instructors also utilize seminars for income. High-level competitors will often go on seminar tours after a major tournament, teaching the techniques they used to win world titles or super fights.
Teaching jiu-jitsu also was limited to being in-person only previously. Nowadays, there are multiple avenues for video instruction. Companies like BJJ Fanatics and Jiu-Jitsu X provide a platform for athletes to teach their best systems, and some instructors even prefer to simply have their own YouTube channels.
In the late ’90s and early 2000s, the best BJJ competitors often transitioned to mixed martial arts to build their personal brands and ultimately use those brands to open academies. This model worked for many competitors as they opened successful schools all across the world. Now, as more and more professional organizations have been established, many would-be BJJ instructors have started to shift more energy into full-time training and competing. What began as professional divisions at tournaments or one-off events has evolved into a plethora of events with various rulesets both with and without the gi. Fight to Win, Third Coast Grappling, Who’s #1, and many other events have consistently offered cash prizes to competitors for winning high-profile matches.
While cash prizes are not necessarily new to jiu-jitsu, competitors now have more options than ever to make money, with professional events held nearly every weekend. Although it is still challenging to make a living solely from BJJ competition, the top athletes successfully use professional competition to, at the very least, supplement their income.
Jiu-Jitsu Business Owner
The growth of the sport has opened doors for a ton of different Jiu-Jitsu-related businesses. As the sport and the techniques have evolved, so too have the gis. Lightweight gi’s for competition, durable gi’s for everyday training, and more aesthetically pleasing gi’s are all in demand. In addition to gi brands, many BJJ lifestyle brands now have an important place in the sport. Some brands have traditional martial art aesthetics, while others associate with surf culture. Supplement companies and even companies that sell specific jiu-jitsu accessories are regularly part of the jiu-jitsu scene. As the number of practitioners continues to grow worldwide, we will see more and more jiu-jitsu businesses created to accommodate the increase in demand for jiu-jitsu-related products.
Jiu-jitsu content creators utilize the internet and various social media channels to create videos, podcasts, and articles about the current happenings in the sport. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tik Tok, and YouTube provide BJJ coaches, athletes, and enthusiasts various avenues for building a following. Athletes often create content to build their following and then market their instructional videos or other products to their fanbase. Social media has leveled the playing field in nearly every industry, jiu-jitsu included. It is no longer necessary to be rich or famous to start growing a large group of followers. With consistent content and the ability to connect to people, a jiu-jitsu coach, athlete, or enthusiast can begin to build a devoted following regardless of belt rank. Many of today’s high-level black belt competitors already had a large following before receiving their black belts.
Why Does it Matter?
Being a jiu-jitsu professional can mean different things to different people. Jiu-jitsu practitioners can now earn money through teaching, competing, running a BJJ business, or simply creating and sharing content. One thing is for sure; if you train BJJ and you’re looking to make it your profession, there are more ways than ever to do so. The growth in opportunities for jiu-jitsu practitioners to make a living matters because it will ultimately help grow the sport. These avenues provide practitioners the opportunity to devote more time and resources to the sport. Jiu-Jitsu needs more high-level competitors and more instructors, brands, and media to get more people watching and attending professional events. This will ultimately lead to more practitioners and more big sponsors, which are necessary for the future growth of our sport.
Danny O’Donnell is a Jiu Jitsu enthusiast, co-host of the Open GuardCast, and an assistant instructor at Marcio Andre Jiu Jitsu Academy in Phoenix, Arizona.