When you’re good at something, you take that into everything you do. If you’re lucky enough to find a work environment that wants you to bring it, don’t let the opportunity slip by.
Last Easton All-Staff Podcast episode, we chatted with experts from our creative and admin teams about the various shades a career in martial arts can take.
In the most recent episode of our podcast, host Mike Tousignant sits down with Littleton GM Nick Maverick and Denver GM Carlos Espinosa about how the right opportunity crossed with timing can have two guys who just loved Jiu Jitsu learning more and more until they’re running academies and teaching others.
Career-driven martial arts instruction
Working with people at a high level requires a certain amount of capacity to hold space for everyone. The list is endless for the reasons why someone might need to talk to a GM.
From parents to students and coaches; probably 70-80 percent of the job entails being at another’s disposal – making yourself available to go for a chat, get a coffee, and having the ability to hear them out and provide groundwork to move forward.
No matter what role we hold, we have to remember that the cause should supersede our ego. As instrumental as we become, it’s simply not about us.
Just because martial arts isn’t a team sport, doesn’t mean we don’t approach it with a team mentality. While in competition and in training, you can’t blame anyone but yourself, yet the sport also brings people together and forges deep trust over time.
One of the best parts of running a school is watching people transform physically and mentally as they learn the depth of what confidence means. For Carlos, not until he started teaching did he realize how fruitful a sport and career this is.
“I got really lucky,” says Carlos, “that I chose to train at Easton – one of the only martial arts academies that has career opportunities – if not the only one [with this sort of structure].”
In many ways, luck happened when hard work met with opportunity for nearly everybody working with Easton. What counts is what you do with it.
Find a space and fill it
It won’t always seem obvious, but if you stay true to what you do best and keep showing up, the right opportunities tend to reveal themselves.
Nick remembers when, after a recent career switch away from lucrative bartending, he found himself putting his own membership on pause.
One day Eliot overheard Nick talking to the front desk about suspending his membership and decided to comp him for a couple months. Ian, Denver’s GM at the time, knew of Nick’s interest in working with Easton, and put Nick’s personality to use by having him work some marketing booths.
From there, he became a blog writer and began trading blog posts for a comped membership, and one day – in a pinch – helped out when nobody else could teach a BJJ fundies class. This led to him taking over as that class’s instructor, and then officially heading up the 6:30 am class.
As he honed his skills and presence through coaching, Nick eventually started teaching BJJ at a newer Easton school, Littleton. The academy’s GM, Peter Straub, saw that Professor Nick brought something special to the mats, and made him the Jiu Jitsu Department Head. When Professor Peter moved to running Centennial, Nick took over as Littleton’s GM.
Nick has a variety of martial arts experience, from traditional Korean hapkido to tae kwon do and unique fighting styles like Kali/Escrima, the Filipino stick fighting style – all of this quite ironic, since as a kid, his ultra-pacifist parents prohibited even watching kung fu.
Around the same time, Professor Carlos had arrived in Denver from Miami.
Carlos, who started wrestling in high school as a form of self-defense, had always loved watching martial arts. After college, a friend (who happened to be a blue belt in BJJ) learned of his wrestling background and introduced him to Jiu Jitsu. Carlos was hooked. He began training religiously with a tight knit group of friends, eventually earning his purple belt before moving.
After a trip to Colorado where he fell in love with the state and decided to move, he hit Reddit to see where the top BJJ schools sat. Over half of the responses pointed him to Easton.
At the time the pro team trained out of Denver, so Carlos got to not only meet but train with high level athletes who he’d watched in the UFC for years.
He had less than a week in Colorado under his belt, no paycheck yet, and a fresh membership to Easton. Not ideal from a financial standpoint, but with some financial aid, Carlos made it work and eventually an opening appeared for him to join the front desk team.
After a couple years at the front desk in addition to teaching classes and becoming Denver’s Jiu Jitsu Department Head, he was offered the GM position. The transition to GM at Denver represented the completion of a shift Carlos had been undergoing over several years.
“If I’m honest…” said Carlos, who had never imagined running a school, “when I got into BJJ, up until I stepped foot into Easton, it was all very selfish – I just wanted to get better at Jiu Jitsu.”
Sometimes we need the chance to show them how good we are to see it ourselves.
Making a mark undetected
In community-based spaces where classes become really unique, it’s also easy to idolize your teachers.. We can forget that a leader serves as a way to help connect us to ourselves – to a greater truth, not to guide others in their own truth.
As with our core values, stewardship becomes one of the most important touchpoints of passing on the culture of our community. Even as we grow and evolve, we can’t forget that the heart of the mission – it’s not about us.
From how your instructors market themselves for private lessons to how they structure their classes, give the speech and build in their jokes – everyone has their own method.
However, sometimes you have to just lean onto the systems and perimeters that existed before and will exist after. Simultaneously growing in your role while making yourself (yes) replaceable requires a very rude removal of the ego.
If you don’t remove that ego, you’ll find it really hard to replace yourself and ultimately everyone suffers.