Open Academy Vs. Private Club

The politics of martial arts academies are something academy owners no a whole lot about. Largely because in their journey through their respective art they saw some of the strengths and weaknesses of their instructors business practices. In any case, i’m here to tell you that there are many good (and bad) students that find themselves on the outs with their academies and or instructors due to politics within the organization. Most often, it centers around money. Finances are an all too real threat to any martial arts academy. The instructors are either to blame or credit for the success or failure of the organization. In nearly 20 years of BJJ training, i have seen how many different academies have been ran and the constant theme has always been financial.

The topic of this blog post is profound. The post is not intended to be a “how to” blue print of owning an academy or a judgement on whether academies are ran correctly or incorrectly. The topic of debate here is the pros and cons of having an open academy vs. a private club. I will be forthcoming in my admission that Sidewinder BJJ embraces the latter over the former. It is my opinion that the benefits of a private club over an open academy format far outweigh the drawbacks. I might begin by giving my definition of  what a private club is. A private club is one that does not invite open training sessions, drop-ins, outside students or coaches to attend any classes at the academy. To some extent this fly’s in the face of most organizations philosophies. Most academies value openness and appreciate their efforts at spreading the art to any and all practitioners. However, there is a dark side to this idea. The dark side is that it opens the academy up to anyone with possible nefarious or malicious intentions. While i have seen many academies successfully negotiate the landscape of open attendance or drop in’s, i have seen many that are dismantled from inside out by someone who comes in with bad intentions. “The road to hell was paved with good intentions” seems to fit here. I understand that there are many practitioners that simply want to enhance their game, cross train and or open their mind as to what else may be out there, but as owners who value the future of their organization, safety s paramount. Let me ask you; would you invite ANYONE to dine with your family at your dinner table? Don’t worry, ill wait.  The likely answer is a resounding NO! If you say no, its likely because you value the safety and security of your family over courtesy and a positive image. How is it any different within the jiu-jitsu community. Someone, somewhere set the practice of allowing anyone to attend a drop in class as an acceptable practice. This is tantamount to your neighbor telling you that you should allow anyone that shows up to the door of your home in for dinner, so long as they pay a fee. As owners, our academies are our livelihood. In my case, i’m blessed to have gainful employment elsewhere but it is still a large chunk of my income. Have i caught hell for my perspective? Absolutely! Do i care? Hell no, and here is why. Over the last two decades i have seen every situation you can imagine. It usually goes something like this. Student a has a “buddy”. Student A’s buddy shows up for a drop in but he attends at an academy across town. The instructor does his due diligence, asks around and is admittedly told that “buddy” is a good guy. Student a vouches for “buddy”. However, neither student a or the instructor are aware that “buddy” is either looking for a way out of his academy, in some way unhappy, or simply just a douche bag problem child that is no longer welcome at his own academy. You can see where this may all lead. Cancer starts with one cell and im here to tell you that i much prefer growing my own cancer, identifying it and eliminating it. At least i know how it works and i have experience with it. Inheriting someone else’s cancer is an all together different issue.

So what are the drawbacks? Well i guess there are more than a few. The question here is to what degree do you, the owner or student care? I care not. That aside, i can say that there are surely some who do. I find myself at about the median of either extreme. While i do not allow outside non students to attend, i encourage my students to train elsewhere as well. Call it hypocritical. As stated above, i do not care. I find that keeping my doors closed to outsiders eliminates the possibility of issues from other academies permeating my otherwise peaceful existence. Why do i encourage my students to train elsewhere? Because i want them to experience other styles of BJJ. Im just not willing to deal with the potential issues of allowing outsiders inside the door of my academy. The largest reason is this. I choose to never allow the allegation of student stealing be made of me. All too often, you find that a cross town academy professor is accusing another professor of enticing other students to come to their academy. My business practices give me 100 percent confidence that my students will not leave my academy, regardless of what is outside. If one of them do, they have violated my expectation of loyalty to not only myself, my flag and my lineage, but they have let their teammates who no doubt rely on them, down. Either way, i win and my students win. Someone else will step in to fill the place of the ex-communicado.

I must admit, at times i find myself vexed at the difficult situation it places my students in. However, i often find that it lends to an atmosphere of cultish and often desirable characteristics that outsiders find attractive. While students in my organization are instantly accepted as family, there are some things that only time will meet with reward. In our organization loyalty and respect are of the highest order. Patches, unofficial titles, insignias and the like are common place. The mundane business approach of pay me, show up to class, leave, rinse, repeat is out the door. It seems that outsiders, the same as any, embrace the concept of brother or sisterhood and want to belong to something larger than themselves. An organization that embraces the family first mentality attracts exactly those type of people that will make good bricks in the foundation of any academy.