The business of Brazilian jiu jitsu is on the rise, and in that sense Gracie Barra seems to be leading the way, being the team/association with the most affiliates around the globe and one of the most well structured franchises in the industry. From all those hundreds of schools and success stories inside GB’s network, Ulpiano Malachias‘ Westchase branch in Houston has stood out as one of the most important over the past couple of years.
Ulpiano arrived in the US almost 15 years ago helping Gracie Barra establish its brand in the northern hemisphere by working alongside Carlos Gracie Jr and Márcio Feitosa at the team’s headquarters in California. In 2010 due to his wife’s pregnancy Malachias sensed the urgency of improving his income to provide for his growing family. This led him to Houston – Texas: “The cost of living in California was too high. I had a small gym but could not make the leap to a bigger one due to the cost of rent. I spoke to Carlinhos (Gracie) and he advised me to go to Houston” Ulpiano said to BJJ Heroes.
Malachias started out with 3000 sq ft (278 sq mt) venue and in one year moved to a 5000 sq ft (465 sq mt) due to the high demand and growing numbers of students. The gym continued to prosper and is now a whopping 10,500 sq ft (975 sq mt) academy with well over 600 paying members, easily ranking in the top 5 biggest Gracie Barra gyms across all affiliations.
Although he did study management back in Brazil, a course Ulpiano took (admittedly just) to appease his parents desire to have him finish a degree, his organization skills pre-date any academic endeavors. This constant concern with logistics, planning and mapping is one of the keys for his success, mentioning that some of his friends often mock him for his obsessive use of forms and spreadsheets.
Another key element in student retention are his ideas on customer management. Although competition is instilled in Ulpiano’s program, it isn’t the main focus of the academy with only around 10% of his members being active competitors. He references that he believes “competition should be pushed in your team, it is important to have competitors but this shouldn’t be the sole focus of your gym.”
Location is another important piece of a BJJ gym’s success according to Malachias, after being asked about the success of more competition driven teams such as AOJ and PSLPB Ulpiano deciphers how these dynamics work: “You see the Mendes brothers, they were smart. They invested a lot of time on their kids team and are now reaping the benefits. They also have a planned advantage of being in Costa Mesa, one of the richest towns in California where students are willing to pay. Other academies will have the majority of their competitors as unpaid members, this is not the case with AOJ.” he goes on to say that on the opposite side of the spectrum is “Cicero Costha who has a load of very tough guys but they don’t pay. They didn’t study and have lower income families so don’t pay for their tuition and Cicero accepts this because he is a kind man who has chosen to follow this altruistic lifestyle, but what happens then? These students leave at the first opportunity to make some money and the result is that you will never have a strong team core/roots this way. The Mendes were savvy businessmen, they established a core group of paying members. At my academy we have a competitors team which is about 10% of the group, this is part of the Gracie Barra philosophy – jiu jitsu is not just about competition. Competition has its place, but we believe BJJ is for all walks of life.”
To watch out for his students, there are certain rules to follow by the competition team – particularly black belts who train together 3x per week at 10am in a tournament driven class, an effort usually pushed by Ulpiano’s good friend and world class competitor Inácio Neto. “I cannot do this [comp training] during the night schedule, it is too brutal and many injuries occur.” Said Ulpiano who references these rules as another important element for student retention. Injured students drop out or are forced to stop training for long periods of time which affects their progression and the gym’s growth.
Ulpiano’s life runs at a fast pace. Administrative work, classes, bills, family and many more day to day occurrences make Gracie Barra Westchase’s team leader off track, but if you thought being a busy businessman would force him to slow down on training, guess again. At 38 years of age Malachias finds time to work out 6x per week, often two times per day. This includes the competition training, strength and conditioning and regular rolls during class, a work ethics that is applied in his across all walks of life and understandably the reason for his success.