I once polled a bunch of my friends within a few cross-sections of my social media demographics about why more of them didn’t try training BJJ. The answers varied, and many would be the excellent cause for another post or ten, but I can address at least one simple answer here: the cost factor. More than one of my friends from very different walks of life immediately identified the prohibitive membership fees and gear prices, and I couldn’t argue with them. In fact, one friend in particular called it a “luxury hobby”. I think he was right.
Now, many of you will immediately rattle off your “someone motivated enough will find ways to make it happen” line. And its not that you’re wrong, it’s just that we’re forgetting about a window of time where people are even figuring out whether its a hobby they’d be interested in doing several times a week. Just as many of you will maintain the previous line, and insist that it’s a sort of in-built filter to weed everyone out but those with disposable income or else those who already know they really want to do it.
Sorry, but that’s really pretty silly in my opinion. Not everyone has to be immediately rabid about doing BJJ for it to have value in their lives. In fact, the vast majority of casuals and family-oriented students make up the actual segment of customers keeping most dojos open. Those students probably should not come with the same obsessive mat-rat attitude as the obsessed students; it will not, on average, be sustainable with everything else they have going on in their lives. Or, worse: that level of zeal will end up injuring them out of practice prematurely anyway.
With that in mind, let’s consider a few ways to make it that much more affordable for newbies, who might otherwise represent a group of students adding unique value, viewpoints, talents, and so on… when they might be getting priced out unnecessarily in many cases. Let’s at least review cost-saving things to make it easier on these potential students!Read More
Expensive Gear From The Get-Go: The Gi.
Aside from membership costs, this is nearly always the cost-objection raised by casuals. They are shocked when they find out the price of a nice gi (most crucially: one that actually fits them reasonably well, and that won’t disintegrate after a handful of grapples).
Some academies offer you a basic gi when you sign up… which is great! Some actually make you buy one of their branded gis… which might not be great! One will get you started, but many students, due to varying laundry bandwidths, will need at least one more. Additionally, if they plan to compete, some organizations (like IBJJF) will actually require them to have two different color gis with them.
When I very first started training, the standard-issue beginner gi was the unbleached oat-colored Tiger Claw Judo gi. Those are still around (and still cheap, at $30-$50 a pop) but they also fit loosely. There are also some great Fuji basic judo / BJJ gis that fit just a little bit better, but are about as bulky; also for about $40-$60. Either one of these will at least give you that second gi to rotate in.
Hack: Tailor Your Entry-Level Gis
As an experiment, I actually bought one of those standard-issue Tiger Claw gis (a larger size, so the sleeves wouldn’t be too short) much later in my BJJ career, and had it altered. I hired a tailor slim it down for about $20, so that the top would be less baggy and the sleeves would still be IBJJF-compliant for competitions.
The tailoring process for me was extra-useful because I’m already a tall lanky guy who has a hard time finding ideally-fitted gis. In my case, I did this as a trial run to see what would happen if I had a more expensive gi put through the same process; which I did later. The results were about the same. It worked!
For those budgeting their purchases paycheck to paycheck, this tailoring option can be really helpful. It lets you wear the baggy gi enough times that the laundry eventually shrinks it much more snugly than out-of-the-bag use. The tailoring you pay for later (maybe about a month or two in) can then dial in the size just right.
I might be one of the only people I know who did this inexpensive-gi tailoring hack, even just as an experiment, but again: the results worked perfectly for me. Your mileage may vary.
Look for Deals
I voluntarily sign up for e-newsletters from a few BJJ-related eCommerce websites which sell discounted gear; including gis. Several of the very best gis I’ve gotten have been from very aggressive deals run by these sites. It’s spammy email that I actually willingly seek out, because the deals are that good, every once in a while. BJJHQ is a great example, FightersMarket.com has run a decent deal or two I’ve noticed as well, though there are others.
Wait for Your Dojo’s Branded Gis
Again, a lot of dojos do at least limited productions of their own custom-branded Gis, with embroidery or otherwise. The template of gis for this can often be surprisingly good, and the reason is simple: many of the manufacturers overseas reach out directly (quite aggressively) to dojo owners even and other non-business black belts to try to get them running heavily discounted custom orders.
Assuming your dojo is not one of those aforementioned environments that make you buy a branded gi (usually heavily marked up for some profit), this can be a great opportunity for a great gi at a reasonable cost.
Ask your professor / sensei if they do this from time to time, and if so: ask how much they charge for it. I’ve had professors quite happily pass the savings onto their students just to encourage their branding to be all over the mat, on the student’s backs, etc.. You can definitely make do with an entry-level gi or two (or even, one tailored as mentioned above) until this cost-saving moment arrives.
Don’t Fall For The Expensive No-Gi Gear
There are quite steep diminishing returns for the extra dollars you spend for the best no-gi gear. There are definitely quite feasible alternatives for any who don’t want the simplicity of a high-school wrestling room’s typical array of t-shirts on top and basketball shorts (or board shorts, or swim trunks) on bottom.
So what are you actually paying for, in gear?
What you’re mostly paying for in rash-guards is a rapidly-drying compression gear that won’t catch toes and fingers in it, that will help prevent mat-borne skin infections. It also provides a layer of clothing which won’t be easily ripped like a t-shirt can be. It also won’t ride up your flesh as easily (and, for example: expose your butt-crack, or worse). It will endure just a bit of friction that cotton clothing will not withstand anywhere near as well.
Leggings are mostly to protect your flesh from infections, while still enabling flexibility in the lower body. Secondarily: it alleviates those moments when shorts get pulled all the way up your inner hip-lines. They come in handy for a lot of guard work requiring wide range of motion. People definitely use sweat-pants instead from time to time (again, like a high-school wrestling room sometimes does) but they will definitely not endure as well, and can have the same toe-and-finger-catching issues as cotton t-shirts do.
Shorts are basically just what you’re wearing if you don’t only want to wear leggings and underwear underneath the leggings. So the value they provide besides cosmetic concerns is mostly enduring the wear and tear when you scoot around on your hips and butt. And if you’re a guy, you can also wear a cup without it looking quite as ridiculous.
All those functions are definitely quite valuable, and worth the purchase sometimes. But every extra dollar beyond that is for the flashy design and for the company to make a profit. There are a few alternatives for almost as functional solutions.
Big Chain Retailers, Frequent Clearance Sales
Not that Wal-Mart or Target are awesome companies from an ethical perspective, but they often sell inexpensive long-sleeve compression shirts as well as other pieces I’ll mention below. They very frequently have seasonally-transitioning clearance sales where you can get pieces of gear for $10 or less.
As inexpensive as they are, they definitely serve most of the functions mentioned above. The “don’t ride up my flesh and show my butt-crack” factor can re-appear a bit though, since the shirts aren’t always long enough to tuck in (whereas: rash-guards usually are). However, there’s a rather elegant solution for that, for most people: plain-colored yoga pants.
Yoga pants have higher waists than other leggings designed for men. They function 100% better for no-gi grappling, in my experience. And if you’re insecure about being the butt of clothing-gendering jokes or something (first of all, get over it, but also…) you can get a solid-colored design. These basic-level yoga pants made of dry-fit material are often on sale at several times a year at these same retailers, also often for like ten bucks, or even less. They hold up well, they dry rapidly, they prevent the accidental butt-crack show, and help your legs keep staph infections etc. just a bit further away.
Swim trunks and board shorts at these same retailers can often be around the $10 or less mark. Which comes in handy. They are about as durable as any fight shorts you’d need, though they don’t always accommodate quite as much flexibility in the legs as fight shorts specifically designed for that. I’ve bought swim trunks from these retailers; I just cut out the internal netting, and sliced little side-cuts into it. They then worked almost as well as any fight-shorts I’d bought elsewhere.
Go Second-Hand Shopping
If you can get over any issues of pride, you can find a lot of really amazing stuff at second-hand stores, like Goodwill or even other less recognizable thrift stores. I’ve found incredible (very expensive when new) long-sleeve compression brands. I’ve also found plenty of dry-fit yoga leggings (and also explicitly male sport leggings), and board-shorts for just a handful of dollars each. Consequently, I have a closet full of totally functional no-gear gear, much of which I personally acquired this way. Any hygienic / bio-hazard-related jitters about previous owners come up, its nothing a little diluted bleach or ammonia in the laundry cycle didn’t resolve for me.
Seek out Gear Sponsors
If you post competition photos, or just happen to be one of those photogenic Instagram models without even trying to be, sometimes sponsors actually find you. I’ve had sponsors send me free gear in exchange for tagging and posting, once or twice in exchange for a video I shared on social media. Sometimes, you can seek out these sponsorships with hashtagging, direct messaging, and so on… particularly if you already boast a sizeable following and can demonstrate same.
Work out Tuition Deals
This is the other major, major cost issue for most people, apart from gear. Again, the tuition prices can be pretty prohibitive at many dojos. Some have work-trade options for somewhat menial (but critical) dojo operations needs, and are happy to extend them to prospective students with good attitudes. Not every dojo does though; not by a long shot. But for those that do, this can be a great option.
Some dojos will need help with running the kids classes. Badly. Kids can be a handful, and if you prove to be helpful (and can pass a background check), this can be a great option. I’ve seen more than a handful of budget-challenged (but talented) students make this option a reality, to both parties’ mutual benefit.
So aside from menial work-trades and helping with kids classes, perhaps do an inventory of skilled labor or other value you can propose. There is honestly never a shortage of things a small business like a dojo needs to run successfully, so let them know what you can do, and ask with confidence. Be prepared to show your skills too.
I can think of several cases I’ve personally seen of this work-trade, in practice. Maybe you’re eligible too! Maybe you’re the graphic design, website guru, or other variety of digital guru who can help them navigate other complex technical areas they need help with. Maybe you’re the photographer or videographer they’ve been looking for. Maybe you’re the mechanical repair guy that can do all the fix-it stuff around the dojo. Maybe you can help them with construction issues. I can go on, and on, and on. It doesn’t hurt anything to ask for deals in exchange for valuable trades, whether for reduced tuition or even neutralized $0.00 membership costs.
Whatever your proposition, also just be prepared to accept rejection humbly. Dojos struggle to keep the lights on, as often as not, and they are not always in position (or at least: disposition) to extend value-exchanging deals on reduced tuition, or free tuition.
Above and beyond the ideas I’ve mentioned here, there’s no shortage of problems for which the motivated human mind cannot find solutions. I’ve done several. I’ve even hand-stitched gis that ripped, partially just to see how such a stingy hack would hold-up to a pressure test (answer: dubiously). I’ve seen people manage to pay for their training by documenting it on YouTube and generating ad revenue, when they posed it as a fitness journey.
In summary, I’ve seen students do a fair degree of other totally out-of-the-box things to help keep them looped into an otherwise expensive hobby. If they can do it, maybe you can too. Get creative; BJJ is a problem-solvers sport as it is, so you’ll be getting off to a great start to solve this particular cost problem.