A Day in the Life of A Full Time Competitor/Instructor Pt. 2 - Black Belts

By Maureen Ramirez

All of us have heard the quote “Jiu Jitsu is for everyone.” It definitely is. As Jiu Jitsu athletes, we are filled with excitement when it is time to train, compete, and spectate. The majority of Jiu Jitsu athletes enjoy Jiu Jitsu for various reasons including physical activity, camaraderie, and the occasional competitive aspect of it. It’s our getaway from our jobs, school, stress, and is often a way for us to spend more time with our friends and families. For some people, Jiu Jitsu is more than just a hobby. In Arizona, there are actually quite a few full time competitors who revolve their lives around Jiu Jitsu and embody the “Jiu Jitsu lifestyle” to say the least. They make their money from being an instructor, sponsors, competing in tournaments with cash prizes, or part time jobs that allow them to still train full time. There are many people who may have dabbled with the idea of pursuing a full time Jiu Jitsu career and don’t necessarily know what to expect. This interview is with Santos Rivera (black belt from Undisputed Tucson), and Josh Rodriguez (black belt from GD Jiu Jitsu Academy) and is part of a 2 part series.

At what point did you decide you wanted to pursue a full time Jiu Jitsu career?

Josh: “As a blue belt, I took 3rd place at Pans in a huge featherweight division. That was when I decided this is what I want.”

Santos: “It was around the end of my blue belt, start of my purple belt days. I quit both my jobs and I was training all day. When I placed 2nd at Pans at purple belt, I realized I was onto something and could compete with the best in my division.”

How have you adjusted your lifestyle to fit in with Jiu Jitsu? Did you quit any jobs, picked up smaller jobs that are more flexible with your schedule, etc?

Josh: “I had a pretty good job working for Rinchem (hazardous chemicals) but I was never happy doing it. I quit my job a few months after I started teaching. I was a purple belt making less than $200 a week. But I knew it would pay off in the long run.”

Santos: “Like I said, I quit both jobs (one in a restaurant, the other landscaping) to train all day. It wasn’t easy. It was honestly hard for me to even buy food (good thing I was cutting weight all the time lol). I did have to pick up another small part time job to help with expenses since teaching alone wasn’t enough but now I’m at a place where I can make fairly good money just teaching and training.”

On average, how many times do you train a day? How often do you teach?

Josh: “My training has changed over the years. Before I would train up to 3x daily but as my teaching schedule picked up, I would say I train once daily and teach 3+ classes a day. I always say teaching is like mental drilling.”

Santos: “I try to train 2-3 times a day but I’m always doing extra work if I can. I teach a minimum of 4 classes per week, but I sometimes can teach as many as 8 or 9 plus private lessons. If I teach, I usually try to roll at the end of class or stay after and roll with some training partners. I would say I try to get in 5-6 rounds of rolling for every class so about 15 rounds a day. I don’t have much time to drill so I’ll come in before a class and drill for half an hour or so when I can.

What time do you wake up and what is your morning routine?

Josh: “I wake up around 8am, drink coffee, and study Jiu Jitsu almost every morning. I’ll usually train at the 10am class and then teach the rest of the day.”

Santos: “I usually wake up around 8:30 or 9 and drink a big glass of water before anything else. Then I’ll make some oatmeal for breakfast, have some caffeine, then head to the gym to either teach or train, depending on the day.”

Have you received any negative reactions from family or friends because you have decided to pursue Jiu Jitsu full time?

Josh: “Yes, definitely. People always used to judge me for quitting my job. My dad used to tell me that eventually I am going to have to quit playing games and get a real job. Now it’s the complete opposite. Everyone wishes they had my job haha.”

Santos: “Not really from family or friends but more so people that I don’t know too well haha. I feel like it’s looked down upon a little.”

What is something you’d like people who wish to train full time to know?

Josh: “I would say training/teaching full time is super tough and you have to really believe that you’re going to make it. It’s not glamorous and you don’t make much money. But you can travel the world competing and meet some pretty amazing people along the way.”

Santos: “It all depends on who you are and where you come from. If you have the support from your parents or family to ensure you have everything you need, it’ll be a lot easier to pursue. If you lack that support, it’s going to be a lot harder. I had to ride the bus and walk to the gym. I also didn’t always have the means to properly nourish my body after training but I had some great friends to help me out and I pushed through a lot of tough times at lower belts and it is currently paying off at black belt.”