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How A 22 Year Old University Drop-Out Started The Premier Jiu-Jitsu Tournament In Singapore

It wasn't easy.

Singapore BJJ Open: The Most Cliche Name Ever

Everyone I speak with gives me the impression that they thought I had some sort of Master Plan, that I somehow spotted a chink in the armour, a niche in the market that could be capitalized upon. For those who clicked on this article expecting a story of a unicorn start-up, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

SGBJJO was started on a whim.

It all began in early 2018 when I was still in University. I was in debt trying to pay for my (atrociously expensive) studies, so to make some spare money I would teach beginner’s MMA & Boxing classes at a gym close to my school. For 2–3 times a week, during after-school hours or the weekends, Yours Truly could be found there teaching noobs the finer details of throwing down the best his amateur ass can.

It was after a couple of months of these late-night sessions that I got to know my eventual business partner. More often than not, we would lock up the gym and he would give me a ride to the nearest bus stop (where I would have to take a 90-minute bus ride home. Ah, the endless joys of staying in Yishun.)

One particular night we were making conversation in the car when the idea of hosting an event came up. “Well, you have all this mat space. We could do a Jiu-Jitsu tournament.” I said, mostly jokingly. What started off as friendly banter became more serious, and the discussion swiftly became spirited.

He dropped me off, and we continued the discussion on Whatsapp while I was on the bus back home. (A little off-topic, but I am a huge believer of maximizing your time while commuting. Especially if you live in the backwaters of the North like me and your daily commute is >2 hours long.)

I remember going to bed that night excited. The whole thing ignited something in me, something innate. It still burns now, more than a year later, hot and bright and beautiful.

I loved the idea of being able to create something uniquely my own. The clincher was realizing I’ll be able to give back to the local BJJ community, and to the sport which gave me so much. On a less altruistic front, I figured if I could make some money on this side hustle, I’d be able to pay off above-mentioned atrociously expensive University fees. Win-win!

And thus, with a healthy mix of young twenties idealism and classic Singaporean personal gain, Singapore BJJ Open (SGBJJO) was born.

The Whim That Grew Into A Monster

Our very first event. A motley crew if there ever was one, but I love them to bits. Some are volunteers, but all are receiving little in the way of remuneration or recognition. They did it to help the sport grow.

I remember coining the name Singapore BJJ Open and launching our first little pilot event on Facebook.

The response we got far exceeded all expectations. In fact, it would be true for every single SGBJJO tournament we would hold for the next 14 months.

On the first day alone I got barraged with a deluge of questions. Via social media, the phone, email- you name it. As the company grew (and I alongside it, especially after reading a tremendous book called the Four Hour Work Week) I’ve finally been able to streamline communications, but for the first few months, I really understood what it was like being a hot girl on social media.

You get dozens of strangers (mostly guys) messaging you at all hours of the day, and they all want something from you. Ladies….I empathize.

All jokes aside, on hindsight it was a good problem to have. I cannot overstate how proud I am for the popularity of SGBJJO, but man, those first few months were rough. I spent many an anxious night pondering my deepest fear; namely what if no one signs up, or so little people sign up it won’t be a “legit” tournament at all.

Which is funny, considering that the biggest problem we have to date is growing pains.


Popular and growing fast

Now, this isn’t to brag, but the fact of the matter is that SGBJJO’s growth has been quick. Since our inception, we went from a 70 competitor event to more than tripling our competitor numbers. From a one mat tournament in a small gym to packing out not one, but two air-conditioned sports halls.

In a little more than a year, no less.

Not bad for a side hustle started on a whim, huh?

Thank you for reading my story :)

Read more of Alvin's articles on Medium.

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