Shop Talk is a weekly column highlighting local businesses. This week, we talk to Wyatt Green of Oneonta Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
How long have you lived in the area?
All three of our instructors at Oneonta Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (myself, Matt Martindale and Ken Graig) grew up in the surrounding area, attended SUNY schools in central New York and ultimately decided that the Oneonta area is a pretty good place to live.
Tell me about your business:
Oneonta Brazilian Jiu Jitsu offers formal classes in traditional Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and no gi submission grappling, and also offers instruction and sparring opportunities for students to practice kickboxing and mixed martial arts (MMA).
Brazilian jujitsu is a grappling-based martial art that relies on overcoming an opponent through technique and leverage, rather than size or strength.
Submission grappling is essentially Brazilian jujitsu without using the traditional gi jacket and pants, which means that you can’t rely on gripping sleeves or collars to control your opponent. We also focus heavily on wrestling take-downs in this class.
By offering kickboxing as well, we provide the foundational skills for students who are interested in mixed martial arts.
We appeal to a wide range of students and our members include teenagers in high school as well as professionals in their 40s. Some are interested purely in jujitsu, whether it is for sport or self defense; others are interested in incorporating striking and building skills in MMA. Many students are looking for an enjoyable hobby or way to stay fit; others are training to actively compete in jujitsu or mixed martial arts events and have performed very well in recent grappling tournaments.
Describe a typical day in your business:
Our classes begin with warm up exercises designed to loosen up the body, increase strength and endurance and provide a review of techniques that have already been learned. Instructors then teach the specific techniques of the day. Students are given opportunities to practice while the instructor guides them and corrects their technique. Class usually finishes with sparring that enables students to practice their techniques against resisting opponents.
Class is immediately followed by open mat. Here, students can drill moves, use our training equipment, spar against each other in grappling or striking, or work on their striking techniques with our kickboxing instructor.
Where do you see this business in five years?
In five years we will have more students, more mats and equipment, and additional time slots for classes to accommodate the extra students. We currently have a great core group of beginning students who come in every day and train hard. In five years, this group will be advanced students with upper belt ranks who will inspire and help instruct the new crop of beginning students.
How did you get started in this line of work?
It began simply with looking for a place to train. I had studied jujitsu years ago, but the school’s instructor had left the area. I was happy to find that Ken Graig and Matt Martindale were developing a part-time school in Oneonta. I had a background in wrestling so I volunteered to share my knowledge. As the numbers of people training with us grew, it became clear that we could do more, and we decided to offer full time classes.
An important step was enlisting the aid of Tai Kai jujitsu black belt Dennis Sugrue in overseeing the school, which means that dedicated students can be officially promoted in belt rank all the way to black belt. We are the only Brazilian jujitsu school in the Oneonta area.
Describe a memorable moment in your workplace:
There are many memorable moments, but I would say that many of them have something in common — the moment when you catch an initially awkward, inexperienced student smoothly pulling off a technique on another student. It is at that time that it is fully clear how much progress they have made. Belt promotions are very gratifying for that same reason, as it is a formal acknowledgement of how much a student has improved.
What is the hardest thing you have to do?
One of the things that I have seen many schools struggle with is dealing with the many levels of skill and experience that can be present in a class at the same time. If an instructor focuses on beginning techniques, advanced students do not progress; if they focus on more advanced techniques, beginners get lost.
We didn’t want that to be a problem at our school; we wanted beginners without any experience to feel comfortable in every class and we also wanted to teach advanced techniques. Our solution, which has worked out very well for us, is to divide our classes into groups and teach both basic and advanced techniques each class. This lets every student, regardless of their experience level, learn the techniques that are best suited for them.
Of course, since we make it a point to check and correct each student’s technique individually, this can require us to work harder each class that we teach, but the end results have certainly justified the extra energy that is required on our part.
The most enjoyable?
The most enjoyable part for me is seeing students discover for themselves the real beauty of the art. I have many hobbies, but jujitsu has always been my favorite, and it is gratifying to see it bring others the same enjoyment that it brings me. When I hear students talk about obsessively watching Youtube technique videos at one in the morning, I know they are hooked as well.
How do you define success for your business?
This business came about not as a scheme to make a lot of money, but primarily because we wanted a place to train. Since there was no school in the area, we needed to create one. This is the place where we train and develop our own skills, so we want the place to be as good as it can be. So, to us, success means having a school where we have a core group of dedicated training partners who consistently come in looking to improve. We want to have an environment where people who drag themselves in to train after a long day will be energized by their partners. If we can have that and be able to pay the bills then that will be a huge success.
What are some advantages/drawbacks of doing business in this area?
An obvious advantage of doing business in this area is that we have no competition. We are the only Brazilian jujitsu academy in the area. The closest schools are over an hour away.
The presence of two colleges is also an advantage, as we offer something that is quite popular with college students. MMA has exploded in popularity in recent years, especially among this demographic.
What sets you apart from your competitors?
We are the only school overseen by a black belt in the area. We offer formal classes five days a week, and students can be promoted up to black belt level. There is simply no other place in the area where students can get this.
Also, all of our instructors enjoy teaching. In fact, we are all teachers by trade — Matt in physical education, Ken in special education and myself in biology. We are in this not to make money or because it is the only option available to us, but because it is something that we love to do. It is not a rare thing to find skilled practitioners who make very poor teachers. This is not the case with us.
What advice would you give to someone trying to enter your field of work?
Teaching Brazilian jujitsu to adults is rarely a lucrative profession. So to get into that field for that reason would be a mistake. Do it because you like jujitsu and enjoy teaching.Oneonta Brazilian Jiu @Breakout Box:Jitsu 55 S. Main St., Oneonta @Breakout Box:Owner/instructors: Wyatt Green, Matt Martindale and Ken Graig OneontaMartialArts.com