Ask DeBlass: The Ten Lessons for Academy Owners and Students

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Tom DeBlass and his instructor Ricardo Almeida.--photo by Mark Ward, Garden State Photography-courtesy of Tom DeBlass

With this edition of Ask DeBlass, Jiu Jitsu Times joins Professor Tom DeBlass in celebrating the tenth anniversary of his Academy, Ocean County Brazilian Jiu Jitsu being open.  Tom DeBlass has competed at the highest levels of both BJJ and MMA.  He has produced 10 black belts, including prolific competitor Garry Tonon.  His students have won Pan American and World Championships.  His Academy has upwards of 300 students of all walks of life.  One will find at the center of this highly successful enterprise is a humble husband and father of two who loves sweets and shares many of the same everyday challenges we all face.  Here are the lessons he’s garnered from ten years as a jiu jitsu academy owner.

Professor DeBlass at a seminar at his academy--photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography--courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Professor DeBlass at a seminar at his academy–photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography–courtesy of Tom DeBlass

This year I celebrated 10 years being open as an Academy.  It’s been an amazing journey.  I have had the opportunity to touch countless lives through Jiu-Jitsu and will continue to do so. I figured it may be of interest to highlight ten of the most important things I have learned the last decade in running my own martial arts Academy.

BE KIND

Kindness retains more students than toughness. What I mean by this is that it’s imperative that you “care” about your students. This must be the case not just on the mats,  but in life as well. My students know that I will always be there for them to help them in any way I can.  Zig Ziglar, the famous motivational speaker has a quote “The more you help people get what they want, you will get more of what you want.”

WELCOME EVERYONE

Create an environment where everyone can thrive. My academy is a place where students from all walks of life come and train. I have doctors, lawyers, painters, carpenters, mechanics, literally every type of job imaginable. I have students of many races and many women and young students. I have students who are millionaires and students who struggle to pay the rent.  All people feel comfortable walking through the doors of Ocean County Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and this is something I take pride in.

Professor Tom DeBlass and a few of his high level students--photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Professor Tom DeBlass , Jen Allen Russell and Kyle Cranmer–photo courtesy of Tom DeBlass

BUILD TRUST

Be trust worthy. As an instructor,  I find that trust is essential in building a meaningful student-teacher relationship. Over time, the students I trust the most I train the hardest with and this inspires all of us to improve. My students also trust that I will do my best to provide them the best training environment possible.

UNDERSTAND EVERYONE’S GOALS DIFFER

Don’t cater solely to the competitive students. The vast majority, probably 90% of Jiu-Jitsu practitioners do not compete and everyone deserves equal attention. I have been competing at a world class level for the last 7 years and understand how important competition training is. However, I also understand that everyone’s goals deserve to be respected and I am going to do everything I can to encourage and support my students’ in chasing theirs.

Packed house at Ocean County BJJ--Photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography--courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Packed house at Ocean County BJJ–Photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography–courtesy of Tom DeBlass

DON’T TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE

You can never please everyone. This is as simple as it sounds. Some people can have the best of everything and still not be happy. This is not the instructors fault, we must continue to do what is right and do it for the right reasons.

PRAISE PERSEVERANCE

Focus on the students showing up.  It can be very stressful during slow months running your own Academy. However, if we focus on the Academy being slow and the classes small the students that are doing their part and showing up can be neglected. Focus on the students showing up.  Give everything you can to them and their development and their success will naturally attract new students looking to experience all the great things they’ve been hearing about from their friends.

Professor DeBlass and a young competitor--photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography--courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Professor DeBlass and a young competitor–photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography–courtesy of Tom DeBlass

BE THANKFUL

Appreciation is key. I appreciate my students, because without them I will not have much. However, my students appreciate me because they know what I provide for them is far from the norm.

LEARN FROM EVERYONE

Keep an open mind and learn from your students. I will forever be a student. I have developed into a teacher and competitor and along the way I have helped to create some amazing Jiu-Jitsu practicioners. It has gotten to the point,  I can watch my students train or teach and learn valuable lessons.

Tom DeBlass, Garry Tonon, Jen Allen Russell and Professor Ricardo Almeida--photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography--courtesy of Tom DeBlass
Tom DeBlass, Garry Tonon, Jen Allen Russell and Professor Ricardo Almeida–photo by Mark Ward of Garden State Photography–courtesy of Tom DeBlass

BE FLEXIBLE

Adjust with the times. I won the Pan Ams and Worlds as a brown belt 8 years ago!  Eight years later I can still compete at the highest levels. Why? Because I understand that in order for me to be a successful teacher and competitor, I must keep up with the newest techniques. You most likely will not see me trying to berimbolo, however, I understand it, learn it, and can effectively teach it.

BELIEVE

Believe in yourself and believe you deserve to run a successful academy. But remember, belief alone, without action will only take you so far. I believe in myself so much because everyday I work hard for my students. I know i deserve what I have and more, simply because I work everyday to provide an environment and academy that has helped, and will continue to help so many in life.

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