Jiu-jitsu is an art, make no mistake about it, which means a large portion of its practitioners have an artistic mindset. So like any other artist, the passion of the art they love can consume their focus and leave little room for other essential factors of survival, like running a successful school.
Having the same desire and drive to be as accomplished at the bank as you are on the mats is difficult. Passion can only burn so hot when it’s serving two masters, but one cannot survive without the other. In order for the art of jiu-jitsu to continue to grow, there have to be academies where students can practice… and those academies have to function as profitable businesses to stay open.
Cristina Rodriguez is a BJJ black belt that has managed to transverse that difficult landscape by combining her love for the art with her love of being an entrepreneur, and she willingly shares her systems with other school owners so they can learn to do the same.
Cristina was born in New Jersey and got her first introduction into martial arts from her mother, a former judoka. When Cristina was eight years old, they moved to Tampa, Florida where she started Taekwondo. “My mother was taking an aerobics class and I would sit and watch her. In the room next door at the same time, I could see a karate class begin taught. I begged my mother to enroll me, and she did. I’ve been studying martial arts ever since,” she says.
She very quickly developed an aptitude for the art, and at age 15, she became the first female instructor at her academy. She also took over many administrative responsibilities, including the payroll. “Almost from the beginning I was involved in all aspects of running a school,” she says. “I knew from that point on it was all I ever wanted to do.”
Like so many other early American BJJ artists, Cristina was introduced to jiu-jitsu through attending a seminar taught by Royce Gracie in 1996. Later she found a more permanent home at a small BJJ academy in Clearwater, FL. It didn’t take long for her to recognize the stark contrast between the ridged style and curriculum of her more traditional martial arts training from her karate background and the more laid-back atmosphere jiu-jitsu offered. “In the taekwondo school, we were always told what was expected of us. BJJ is way more casual. It was always, ‘Ok, what do you want to go over today?’ It made learning the skills of jiu-jitsu more of a challenge. I was always used to understanding exactly what was required, but in this case, there was no curriculum or structure to what we were being taught.”
Cristina also recognized the lack of structure in the administrative department at her new school. “All the billing information was written on a dry erase board. There were no agreements, just a board with everyone’s name written on it and what they owed. If you paid, your name was written in black. If you owed, your name was written in red.” This was not really the most efficient method for longevity in the very difficult world of running a successful gym.
After training for some time, Cristina competed at a team grappling event in New Jersey, where a chance encounter would prove to be a pivotal moment in her future success. “The tournament needed help, so the director asked if I was comfortable on a microphone. I worked as a DJ before, so I had experience announcing. After the event was over, the coordinator was pleased and invited me to go on the road with him as an announcer to his other events.” She went on to be the tournament director for the premier grappling contest of the era, Grapplers Quest.
While traveling the country with Grapplers Quest, Cristina connected with many members of the jiu-jitsu community, many of whom owned schools. When she later opened her own academy, these acquaintances would see pictures on social media of her successes, particularly complimenting her on the size of her children’s program — a profitable, but difficult demographic to conquer. These social media interactions lead to the development of her first online course, “Perfect Kids Jiu-Jitsu Class” — a program designed to help school owners maximize the potential of their kids’ programs. It was very successful and helped many of her friends to grow their businesses.
Cristina then thought, why stop at just helping school owners grow their children’s programs? Why not share with them her secrets to running a successful business from all aspects of running an academy?
“Jitz University 2.0” is her all-inclusive guide to running a profitable school from start to finish. The application is very user-friendly and has a table of contents that maps out every aspect of daily operations from marketing and sales to outlines on teaching classes. “I’ve made a ton of mistakes on the road to success, but I’ve learned from every one of them. This course gives school owners the chance to help avoid making the same ones and also give them the perseverance to get through them if they come up,” she says.
Rodriguez has spent her life devoted to the study and teaching of martial arts and over that time frame, she, her wife Stephanie, and her partner David have mastered both applying the art and marketing it to the masses in a way that everyday people relate to. Balancing the two is a very complicated aspect of any artistic endeavor. Cristina understands this better than most, and in the end, she just wants for her fellow martial artists to succeed: “You spent over a decade honing your skills in a craft. You could have been a doctor making six figures in the time you spent on the mat. Why do you feel like you don’t deserve it?”