Turn Your Weaknesses into Strengths: Five Jiu-Jitsu Principles that can benefit an Entrepreneur

By Andrew Filev

For more than five years I’ve been training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’d say it’s not just a self-defense system, but a whole art that is based on the concept that even a smaller, weaker person can defeat a stronger opponent if he uses the right technique. For me, Jiu-Jitsu is much more than physical training; it’s a philosophy. It teaches you things that can be applied not only on the mat but in your personal and professional life as well. Here are just a few of the lessons it can teach you in business:

1. The size is irrelevant if you master the technique

‘If size mattered, the elephant would be the king of the jungle,’ Rickson Gracie, black belt in JJ and heir of BJJ founders, justly noted. Likewise, in business, nimble start-ups manage to disrupt markets dominated by ‘elephants’ or even create a market of their own. All such start-ups have one thing in common– the ability to act creatively. You can’t win by simply replicating a big company’s game that’s already been polished. A small company needs to use its own advantages, like agility, being closer to customers, and, of course, being different in some aspect that is important to customers.

For instance, there’s an interesting case study about how Bulldog, a small UK company producing male grooming products, found a way to compete against giants like L’Oreal and Nivea. First, instead of using generic skincare product formulas Bulldog developed its own recipes using all natural ingredients. They also decided to use an unorthodox marketing strategy and teamed up with comedian David Mitchell to sponsor a series of comedy monologues. These videos collected more than 8 million views and grew Bulldog’s retail sales in UK by 65.4%.

When Wrike came to the project management space seven years ago, most of the solutions were built for industrial business models. Instead of entering the market as ‘just another company’, we decided to develop our own market: we specialize in helping creative workers collaborate online. Wrike brought something new ‘real-time collaboration’ and, thanks to delivering the solution via cloud, made it considerably cheaper. This made Wrike one of the fastest growing companies in the project management and collaboration space.

2. “A black belt is a white belt that never quits”

Renzo Gracie, a world famous Jiu-Jitsu coach, phrased the secret of jiu-jitsu champions pretty cleverly in the quote above. They train harder, day after day, year after year. They find ways to organize their life around this tough schedule, and think about improving their skill even when they’re not training.

It may look like Silicon Valley is built on stories of ‘overnight success.’ However, it is determination and persistence that make this success happen. Of course, luck helps, too. But it’s the luck of being persistent enough to find numerous opportunities, and being smart and disciplined enough to make those opportunities work.

3. Dojo is a place to learn

In jiu-jitsu a dojo is a training place where you can share knowledge and try new moves without risk and fear. Often it’s something you’re not supposed to do in competition, where you go with a well-developed game.

In business, the same can be achieved by ‘inducing learning.’ Instead of making a big ‘all in’ move right away, you can run a test project and study the results. If it works well, you can quickly scale it. Prototyping, A/B tests, crowd funded pre-orders in consumer space, you name it. The toolset of techniques grows quickly and becomes more and more sophisticated; all you need to do is to integrate them into your company’s daily processes.

4. Never stop moving

In Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu once you stop moving you get caught in a submission hold. In business, no matter how big you are, once you stop moving forward the competition will pass you. Andy Grove, famous ex-CEO of Intel, and Clayton Christensen, who came up with the concept of disruptive innovation, developed this point in their books Only the Paranoid Survive and The Innovator’s Dilemma.

There are many examples of successful companies which became complacent and then when disruptive innovation happened turned into dinosaurs, such as Blockbuster and Kodak. Apple, on the other hand, is a testimony of a ‘paranoid mentality.’ When developing the iPhone, the company expected its sales of iPod to decline; and in developing the iPad, its Mac computer line to be negatively affected. But Apple chooses to constantly one-up itself. In fact, Steve Jobs famously said: ‘If you don’t cannibalize yourself, someone else will.’ It is exactly this mentality that allows the company to beat the ‘innovators’ dilemma.’

5. If you want to be a blue belt, make Jiu-jitsu your hobby. If you want to be a black belt, make it your life

Both in Jiu-Jitsu training and in business, genuine love for what you do and what you want to accomplish is, at the end of the day, what keeps you going. There are, of course rough patches, but when someone says that they have no idea how they would function day-to-day without your company (as our customer recently did), you know you must be doing something right. As Steve Jobs once stated, ‘Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.’ So, savor good moments, keep your eye on the goals you want to achieve, and enjoy the ride.

Are there any lessons that you can take from your hobby into your professional life?


Author’s Bio: Andrew Filev is the founder and CEO of Wrike, a leading provider of task management software. He is a seasoned software entrepreneur, project and product manager with 10+ years of experience and advisor to several fast-growing ventures. Apart from business, Andrew is interested in human and artificial intelligence – from cognitive psychology to neuroscience to machine learning. He also trains in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You can find Andrew on Twitter as @andrewsthoughts or @wrike (Wrike).


  1. says

    That’s a good stand point and view for the little guy in business. Every business was once a small business, where they fail is when they forget what it was like. The pressure of breakthrough is what made them great. They now are “dinosaurs” and just really bulky and not making movement like they use to. May I always be a cheetah and always on the move. I think cheetah is more like it. Thanks for this, and I’m sharing it on Twitter.

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