When the UFC looked to be in its death throes in the final years of SEG, after getting kicked off cable, MMA fans online helped keep the UFC alive. That vibrant internet community was closely related to BJJ, a sport which has greatly benefitted from the growth of mixed martial arts.
The internet has also expanded exponentially over the last decade, meaning that BJJ now has a major presence on the world wide web. There are thousands of BJJers on a huge number of blogs and message boards, discussing the latest gossip, events, and of course, how to get better at jiu jitsu.
With the development of YouTube, it was inevitable that somebody would make the connection between an online community hungry for training resources and a business opportunity. As far as I'm aware, Jean Jacques Machado was the first to take advantage of this market, announcing his online program in late 2006. A few others followed, like the Grapplers Guide in 2007, but online training was still a niche interest.
That appears to have changed, most likely thanks to the advent of Gracie University, which hit the internet in March 2009. Machado's program was and is respected, but it didn't have the aggressive marketing tactics of the Gracie Academy to push it forward. Rorion and his sons may not have been the first to go online, but their widely advertised system demonstrated the viability of online training as a profitable endeavour.
At least, other instructors seem to think so. Tinguinha set up a program in October 2009, Marcelo Garcia in Action opened that December and most recently, Draculino launched his offering in early 2010. Those are just three of the bigger names: there is now considerable competition for your online subscription. They're even pitching their product in forum threads, addressing potential subscribers directly.
Another reason Gracie University arguably made bigger waves than Machado was because they offered rank. For the first time, a Gracie jiu jitsu student could earn their belts without ever stepping inside a school. Whether or not that belt really means anything is quite another question: I still don't feel online ranking is a good idea. Apparently most of the other online training providers agree. Draculino in particular has been explicit about his objections to online ranking:
The belt is something that really matters: it's not a joke. You really have to earn your belts and it's not something that you can give away easy. I sweat a lot, I had to work hard to get my belts [...] because of that, I'm not going to be giving away belts, online. I don't see how somebody can be awarded a belt online, especially if you never met the guy before.
Ok, they're going to show a couple of techniques, and they have to do correctly. Ok, but it's not just show technique, you know? The first thing with a belt, you have to prove time on the mats. [...] You have to see the guy live, you have to put a hand on him, you have to watch him.
The nature of the internet means that online training is quite different to older formats, like tapes, books or indeed DVDs. You can't ask Demian Maia a question as he runs through The Science of Jiu Jitsu: he is just a picture on a screen, which you can pause, rewind and fast-forward. There is no interaction.
By contrast, online training comes with the tempting prospect of having a conversation with those pixels, not just watching them. That is a particular attraction if it is a major figure in the sport, like Marcelo Garcia. I'm sure my old instructor Roger Gracie would do a roaring trade if he ever developed a similar product. An online training program can keep on growing and adapting to the needs of subscribers, though unlike a DVD, you are forced to rely on your internet connection and streaming videos.
Personally, I haven't been tempted: I already have a monthly subscription to a real academy, so lack any desire to pay for a virtual one as well. Still, I can see the benefits, if you have plenty of bandwidth and time. I'm happy working on the fundamental skills and asking my instructor questions, while using a few trusted DVD sets (like Roy Dean, Saulo Ribeiro and Cindy Omatsu) to refine what I already know. So for the moment at least, I'll be keeping my training on the mats instead of a keyboard.
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