Leonardo “Gloglo” De Seixas has made a life and career in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ), a grappling martial art that gained worldwide popularity in the 90s with the rise of mixed martial arts. Gloglo (a Brazilian nickname he earned for his favored choke submission) trained and taught in Brazil with many notable members of the Gracie family, the founders and foremost businessmen of the sport. When Gloglo moved to California in 2008, he opened an academy in San Jose under his own name. Gloglo Brazilian Jiu Jitsu now has over 100 students with Gloglo as head instructor and business owner. Here is his story.
I started teaching when I got my purple belt at 19. That was a big deal, like having a black belt today. There were very few purple belts then because jiu jitsu was just getting started. I owned an academy in Brazil. But in Brazil it’s hard to make money in sports. The money isn’t stable and in Brazil everything is expensive. So I moved here. I had a lot of friends in the USA and in California in particular. I didn’t choose California, but I had a lot of connections in California and that opened doors for me. People wanted me to teach at their academies like Renzo Gracie, Ralph Gracie. But I said no, because the money isn’t as good as teaching at my own academy.
Running the business
How did you learn to run your business?
I was a head instructor at the Gracie Barra Academy in Brazil and I opened an academy under the Gracie Barra name. In Brazil it was different. There I rent a space and students just show up and they pay with cash. Here I have a contract with the student with the monthly fee and the waiver.
What is the biggest challenge of running your business?
Everything is new and everything has to be in English. I do everything myself. All the paperwork, talking to the students and the parents… It is hard, but that is how I am— I like to do it myself and make the decisions. A lot of my friends don’t do it like I do. Some teach at someone else’s academy. Most of my friends are married so their wives take care of the bills at home and cook. I’m not married. In Brazil everyone has someone who cooks and cleans the house, but here I don’t. I don’t eat as healthy. America has made me fat, haha.
I stopped training because of a back injury, and I’ve been too busy with the academy. Things are crazy right now, but soon I want to get back in shape. I want to train, run, and surf again. I want to have a normal life.
What is the most surprising thing about running your own business?
In Brazil I didn’t have to advertise. Everyone knew me, and they come to my school because they know my name. Promoting and marketing is different here. Groupon isn’t good for me. People buy the groupon and they disappear after the free month is done. Here I have to learn Facebook, and Google+, and Yelp. And then in the kids class all the moms tell me I need an instagram so I need to learn how to use instagram.
What is the most rewarding thing about owning your own business?
I came to the U.S. with nothing. I’m lucky to have all this in 5 years. I have money to pay the bills, not much more, but it’s more than a lot of people who move here.
The academy has grown a lot. I moved to this larger location; I have the mats, the carpet put in, the changing rooms, and soon the showers; I have new Gloglo BJJ gi’s coming in. I have a lot of plans for the future.
What I’ve learned
If you could go back and do it again, would you do it differently?
No. I’ve been doing BJJ all my life. It’s what I know how to do, so I do it. I knew since I was 16 that BJJ would be my life.
Advice for others?
I think it is better to focus on one thing. That is how I am. You want to be a black belt in BJJ? You need to focus and train BJJ. People change their minds; they say “oh I want to try this, I want to do that,” and they don’t decide until they are 30. It is better to focus on one thing, in training, education, in life.
About the Author — Sarah is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley where she learned to love the diverse personalities of mom-and-pop stores. She likes intriguing storefronts, creative specialty stores, and well-designed business websites.