Should Jiu Jitsu Academies Enforce Contractual Obligations? (Opinion)
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a martial art that is filled with many realities. Fake people, fake belts and fake techniques are recognized with a quickness that is simply stunning to behold. One of the nuanced realities of BJJ is that we train at academies that are operated by business owners. Whether we like it or not, martial arts is a business. Most of us rational individuals recognize this dichotomy and make our adult decisions to be in accord with this dialectic.
It is obligatory for an academy to keep its doors open and the business operational in order to properly serve its body of students. To achieve this, capital is necessary. On top of the costs to operate the business, the academy owner also needs to provide for his or her family. Should a Jiu Jitsu black belt live in pious poverty like a guru of religion? Or, should they be allowed to live a comfortable life comparable to others?
I am not an academy owner but I can picture what it would be like to be one. You would want to build a gym with a family environment that is based on the concept of a team. Yet you also need money, or none of it will exist at all.
BJJ academies make the bulk of their money from monthly membership dues. Cross-fit gyms, regular gyms, yoga studios, dance academies, etc, all have contracts in place to ensure that a continuous stream of income can not only be collected, but counted on. When you are planning for the future it is extremely helpful to be able to gauge how much money will be coming in at a particular time. This is facilitated via contract. Having a contract also serves the purpose of making the contracted person feel obligated to show up to the academy as opposed to just coming a few times than quitting.
The sticky part of the situation occurs when a student wants to outright back out of their contractual agreement, that they as an adult, agreed to sign in to.
Should the academy owner let everyone who wants to, break their contract? If yes, can we justify a reason to therefore have a contract in the first place? Is there a certain point in time where your friendship with the academy owner supersedes their need for capital? Probably not.
In my opinion it is reprehensible and irresponsible adult behavior to sign an agreement that you do not 100% believe that you can oblige. For instance, my academy offers 1, 2 and 3 year contracts. The 3 year is naturally cheaper because the owner can rest easy for 3 years knowing that that revenue will be coming in. The 1 year contract is cheaper to buy out of but is more expensive per month because the academy owner cannot add into the accounting the 3 years of guaranteed income.
Most contracts have clauses to help the student if the need arises. If you are injured, more than likely you can have your academy “freeze” your account while you heal up. When you are fit to train, the contract will start back up again. The months that you didn’t attend will be added onto to the term of the agreement.
If you are moving, all you need to do is prove it through documentation.
If you simply want to quit, most contracts have a buy out clause. You may have to pay a few hundred dollars, but that is what adults do. You made a decision to enter an agreement that you couldn’t handle, so you must absorb some of the financial obligation.
Does this mean that you should now be angry with the academy because you were in err? Should you “tell the world” how evil the academy owner is for actually enforcing their contracts the way any other business in the world does?
Try telling your mortgage company that you cannot pay and you will lose your house. Tell your auto loan company that you cannot pay and you will lose your car. They will repossess your car, and you will still owe the balance! Why? Because you signed an agreement that says you understand the terms.
Your instructor is not faking their friendship with you, nor the family and team environment. If you cannot meet your obligations, you are not a friend, teammate or family member. I like to associate with those who stick to their agreements and those who make wise decisions. I tend to disassociate with those who make rash decisions that they regret later.
In summary, I believe that your BJJ academy should honor their agreement to keep the doors of the business open, and to teach me the martial art that they sold me on during the introduction period (giving me full view of the academy and what is taught BEFORE the contract was signed). I also believe that the student should meet their obligation to pay, or expect the penalties included in the contract to be enforced. This could mean court, attorney’s, etc.
Consider it a blessing that you only have to deal with small claims court, and not an angry Jiu Jitsu black belt hunting you down.
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