Three BJJ Gym Owners Share What They’d Wish They’d Known Before Opening Their Own Academy

BJJ Champion Guli Kozama teaches a Little Samurai how to pass the guard.

Opening up a jiu-jitsu school is an attractive goal for many practitioners. Being able to cultivate your own gym culture, class schedule and have your own training facility is certainly a rewarding experience. It is not uncommon to see higher belts strive towards owning their own gym one day and becoming a professor. 

I reached out to four jiu-jitsu gym owners from South Carolina, Georgia, and New Hampshire to ask them to share some things they wish they knew before opening up their schools. The decision to begin your own jiu-jitsu facility is a big commitment, and these words of advice from some successful professors can shed some light on the endeavor. 

I first spoke to accomplished practitioner Professor James Finizio from Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Savannah, located in Savannah, Georgia. Professor Finizio has been training since 2007 and is a black belt under Professor Pedro Sauer. He opened his own gym four years ago because he had a desire to make a positive impact on the lives of others and recognized the opportunity to pass on all of Pedro’s knowledge and hard work. Professor Finizio mentioned he wished he had understood the value in merchandising and having gear on-hand before opening his facility. He also emphasized the importance of accepting that not everyone will see your vision, and to not be afraid to let go of toxic people rather than trying to help or nurture them.

Next, I went back to my roots to speak to my first-ever jiu-jitsu professor, Professor Victor Bazzani, owner of Bazzani Martial Arts Academy in Nashua, New Hampshire. Professor Bazzani is a black belt under Professor Andre “Dedeco” Almedia and has been training for over twelve years. Professor Bazzani’s decision to open his school was largely inspired by his daughter, Alexandra, who has trained and competed in jiu-jitsu from a young age. Professor Bazzani mentioned the student-professor bond and that had he known how incredibly rewarding it was, he would have started his own academy sooner. Professor Bazzani remarked, “A school is not the building, the equipment, or even the jiu-jitsu. It’s all about the people. Passing on skills, challenging yourself and others in the passion of jiu-jitsu.” He also spoke heavily about how opening his own jiu-jitsu academy equated to much more than a monetary decision for him, but rather a leap towards pursuing something he is very passionate about and hoping to ignite that passion within others. 

Professor John Juarez, owner of Riptide MMA in Bluffton, SC, has an extensive fighting background, and opened his own MMA school twelve years ago. Professor Juarez is a three-stripe brown belt under Professor Carlos Machado. What started out as primarily a mixed martial arts gym catered towards fighters, he has seamlessly adapted into a successful facility with a diverse selection of classes, jiu-jitsu included. Professor Juarez mentioned wishing he had initially established his target market. He spoke of the “power of diversifying his offerings,” seeing that there are classes that fit the demographic and something for everyone. Professor Juarez over the past few years began to integrate gi jiu-jitsu and mentioned having wished he had done so sooner. Adding gi jiu-jitsu to his list of programs has expanded his market even further and has been very successful. His school offers kickboxing, fitness classes, Muay Thai, kids’ programs, kickboxing for Parkinson’s, and jiu-jitsu.

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Lastly, I spoke to Professor John Kirkland, owner of May River BJJ in Bluffton, SC. Professor Kirkland is a brown belt and has been training for about eleven years. He was prompted to start his own academy when the one he had previously trained at closed. At the time, he says, there were no other training options in the area so he and some other members from the previous gym united to start a new school. Professor Kirkland commented, “Opening the school was definitely a learning process and still is.” He mentions having wished he knew more about teaching jiu-jitsu. He went on to elaborate about the technicalities of teaching. “On the surface it seems simple enough, but there is so much we assume the student knows when teaching. Glossing over certain ideas or details because of that assumption can really impede a student’s learning.”

Speaking to these instructors shed a lot of light on the venture of opening your own gym. They have all adapted to service their surrounding target markets and have been successful in spreading the art of jiu-jitsu. Though not without its challenges, it seems that for all these coaches, opening their own school has proven to be rewarding and very positive experience. 

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