Category Archives: Interview

Various interviews, mostly from Can’s work for a number of magazines and websites

Interview: Chrissy & Brian Linzy On US Grappling

This week, Chrissy and Brian talk about US Grappling, further fleshing out the interview already posted on the Martial Arts Illustrated website (and indeed the article Chrissy wrote a few years ago). Chrissy and Brian talked about their start in BJJ last week, then will be talking about women’s classes and wrapping up next week.


CAN: So, you both started BJJ around 2005, 2006. When did US Grappling begin?

 CHRISSY LINZY: We started running events – they weren’t called US Grappling yet – in 2006. The first US Grappling events were just local tournaments in Richmond, paired up with MMA shows.

 BRIAN LINZY: At this point, Andrew had competed in hundreds of matches, just name the organisation.

 CHRISSY LINZY: Yeah, in jiu jitsu, wrestling, judo, all over the place. Andrew had tonnes of information about how to not run a good tournament, as well as how to run a good one of course, he’d seen it all over the years. 2007 was the first event that was ever run with the US Grappling name. That was a long time ago: it’s been more than seven years now! It’s so crazy, it doesn’t feel like that at all.

 BRIAN LINZY: In Milwaukee.

 CHRISSY LINZY: Yeah, Milwaukee: we went there in February. Best laid plans! [laughs] It was so cold, so cold.

 CAN: US Grappling is known for submission only. How did that come about?

 BRIAN LINZY: I remember the conversation.

 CHRISSY LINZY: Do you? I don’t remember the first conversation, so maybe you should talk about that.

 BRIAN LINZY: I believe Andrew was the first person to say it. I just remember we were standing in the kitchen, after a tournament. We were talking about planning future events in Virginia and we were discussing the possibility of an event in Roanoke. That’s not a big city: it’s probably five or six hours from Virginia Beach, way out west. I don’t remember what it was that was drawing us out there, but we were talking about an event there.


 CHRISSY LINZY: There are some colleges out that way, some jiu jitsu schools that find Richmond or Virginia a little too far. So, the thinking was if we did something a bit further west, it would get those people in. The diehard competitors will travel five or six hours, but we thought we could maybe expose grappling tournaments to a broader audience. I remember that part, we were trying to figure out ways to get new pockets into becoming competitors, then they would join the diehards.

So we started talking about ways to protect ourselves, like what if four hundred people show up? We had never run a four hundred person event at that point, around 2008. We capped registration, said it would be pre-reg only, then opened it up at the last minute saying we had space for a few more people. My brain immediately went to thinking that we would need data on everything. [laughs]

We changed our brackets to make sure that there was a space on there for the result of each match and how long it lasted. Then we just went for it. I think we were going to cap it at 150 people, then we got around 120 for the first event.

BRIAN LINZY: Yeah, this was in Winchester, VA.

CHRISSY LINZY: Which is north-western Virginia. We got all the brackets, I went through them one-by-one, calculating how many armbars were there, how long did each match last: I think you guys have seen the statistics, I’ve done that since the first event. It takes a little while, as it’s match by match and bracket by bracket, but you know, we get really good data.

I see trends in submissions, submission popularity trends, probably before most people. For example, blue belts really like bow and arrow chokes now. Two years ago, that was just starting: I’ve watched the bow and arrow statistics climb over the last two years. It’s an interesting thing. Kimuras are much more popular than they were five years ago. So that’s kind of interesting thing, if you’re into the stats side of things. [laughs]

CAN: [laughs] You know that I am! Yeah, you’ve mentioned that before, I think when you wrote that article for me, but that you didn’t want to release that data.

CHRISSY LINZY: Well, we put it all out there, but if I had more time, I would do even more analysis. I have no problem giving the data to whoever wants it, especially if they’re going to do something with it. If you just want to know what submissions Alliance blue belts are working on, we have that. We can certainly gather that. But if you just want it so you can gun for Alliance blue belts – or whoever it is, that’s the first team that popped into my head…

BRIAN LINZY: You can have our data if you’re going to do good with it.

CHRISSY LINZY: Yeah, you can use it for good, not evil. [laughs] There’s a guy in Richmond, mostly a judo guy, a crossfit, strength and conditioning coach. As part of his graduate work, he’s doing stuff with the submission data. I’m really interested to see what’s going to come out of the information he’s been using. But yeah, whatever information people want about the matches, I’m happy to share it. Women’s matches versus men’s, blue belts versus purple belts, whatever. I think it’s all really interesting.


CAN: Absolutely. I know I would love to have an in-depth breakdown of submissions at the different belt levels, what’s most effective, sweeps, that kind of thing. It is probably financially valuable data, you could release that as a book. There are lots of people who want to know the best submissions at different levels.

CHRISSY LINZY: Yeah, and we’ve certainly had that over the years. Not sweeps, but submissions for sure. Every match isn’t filmed, but absolutely how the matches end. We’ve done it in a few of our points events too, I just have to convince the table workers, “No really, I am going to read all these brackets, please write it all down!” It’s ends up about fifty percent of the matches go the distance, so half end in submission.

Stuff like that is invaluable when you’re trying to make an event that runs on time. Using this information is how we keep our events as close to on-time as we do. I think that’s something we’ve really improved on: we’ve focused on it over the years, so we work hard to make a good schedule and keep divisions going on time. That way you don’t have to sit around a smelly gym all day, it’s not what you want to do with your Saturday.

Almost every event that we do, because we post the events average time up afterwards, it is almost always around eight minutes. 07:49, 08:14. I think one event almost went up to around nine minutes, but we had another where for the whole event, the average match time was under five minutes. It was a smaller event to be fair, so fewer matches for data.

So it’s always really interesting to see that, the big average. I can’t average the five minute tournament with the nine minute tournament and get seven minutes, that’s not how it works. You have to do it by the match counts and get a proper average. But it still comes out at about eight minutes.

CAN: Do you think it could take over from something like the Mundials in terms of prestige?

CHRISSY LINZY: I think for some people it will always mean more to win by submission. I think it would be great if it did that, I would certainly love the opportunity to have four hundred black belts instead of eight or ten at an event. I would love for us to grow to that point, especially if we can do it with submission only and make multi-day submission only events for people. The most important thing is that we can still provide our product, to provide the real US Grappling experience.

One of the biggest things I like is when competitors come to weigh in, we remember them. We know who we’ve seen from place to place. It used to be me, because I weighed in everyone, but it’s no longer just me. The people that are coming now, that we’re training to do this, they remember the men and women from the previous event. “The last time we were in Chicago you were a blue belt, so you must have got promoted: congratulations!”

It’s the little things like that which I think really make a difference, when you can actually connect with the community. That makes you feel they are part of it in the same way you are, not just somebody who got lumped into the role of taking their money and yelling “Next.” We’re all part of the same community.

BRIAN LINZY: And we’re not gunning for any other organisations. I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to ‘replace’ IBJJF or anything like that. I still like to go to the Pan Ams, it’s a whole different kind of thing. In terms of will it or could it replace something like the Worlds, ‘will it’, I don’t know, but ‘could it’, certainly, but I’m not hoping for that. I wouldn’t even want US Grappling to be a monopoly. If we had the opportunity to buy the NAGAs and the Grapplers Quests, I wouldn’t.

CHRISSY LINZY: I agree with that. I think it’s really important for people to try different events to find an event that matches their style of competition, their style of getting ready for a competition. We don’t get a lot of guys shadow boxing in the corner, you know? It’s just a different experience and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is a place for that sort of competition, that sort of mindset for competing.

I’m all for it and think we need that difference, because there are so many types of grappler and styles of grappler out there. Like Brian said, I don’t think we ever want to be a monopoly.

Photos courtesy of US Grappling. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about future interviews: for the archive, go here

Interview: Chrissy & Brian Linzy On Starting BJJ

In 2014, Can travelled to the US for the third time to meet up with some of his American BJJ friends. He started in Virginia, a place that has an incredible BJJ community. At the heart of that are Chrissy and Brian Linzy, who together with Andrew Smith co-founded US Grappling.

In this first section of a five part interview, Chrissy and Brian talk about how they got into Brazilian jiu jitsu. The second part will be up next week, while the third and fourth parts can be found on the Martial Arts Illustrated website, here.

CAN: How did you get into jiu jitsu?

CHRISSY LINZY: I guess Brian got into it first, so you should start, then I’ll say what I did.

BRIAN LINZY: We lived in Colorado, then I took a job in Richmond, Virginia. I moved here to Virginia Beach and lived in a hotel for a few months, ahead of Chrissy while she was closing up our business in Colorado. My new job at AT&T mostly involved the management of AT&T hiding us in a room with no windows and pretending we weren’t there, because they were trying to work out what to do with all the non-union people that they had just hired. They felt that putting us on the floor with the union people would have been like throwing us to the lions, which it actually was. They were right.

So for the first week they couldn’t figure out what to do with us and just hid us in this conference room. One of the other new hires, Klint Radwani, was a purple belt at the time and had opened a gym. I think there were maybe eight of us in this group of new hires at AT&T. We sat in a conference room for eight hours a day, staring at each other. On the first day, after having spent my time sitting across from Klint staring at him, he said “What are you doing tonight?”

I said, “I’m going to sit in my hotel room and watch re-runs of Seinfeld.”

He replied, “No. I have a gym: you’ll come to my gym tonight.”

I really had nothing else to do. I’m alone, Chrissy is in Colorado. So I went to the gym that night. It was weird, it was awkward, it was uncomfortable and a little man nearly choked me unconscious with his legs. By the end, I was looking at the schedule and saying “What’s with Sundays? It looks like you’re closed on Sundays. I can only do this six days a week?”

Klint said, “Yeah, but you’ll probably find that’s enough.” So I went Tuesday and Thursday, then Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday…Friday…oh wow. [laughs] I was pretty much instantly hooked.

CAN: It wasn’t a matter of seeing the UFC, those usual reasons for starting at that time?

BRIAN LINZY: This was in 2005. By chance, in 1993 when the first UFC happened, I was living with my parents because I was in high school. My brother did come home that weekend and bought the UFC and I watched it with him, so we saw Royce go through everybody. Then I never thought about jiu jitsu again until 2005.

CAN: So when Klint mentioned it, you were aware of what jiu jitsu was?

BRIAN LINZY: Yeah, I connected it with “the thing that Royce did a long time ago.” I had for years before that had it in my head to do some kind of martial art. From going around to different schools wherever we lived, I had decided that kung fu was probably going to be the thing to do. I just never pulled the trigger on it. Then jiu jitsu just kind of appeared in front of me. That was it, I never looked back.

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interview with Chrissy Linzy and Brian LinzyCHRISSY LINZY: After Brian had been to class, he called me and said “I went to this gym and did this weird thing.” I think his first words were “You will never do this.” I have personal space issues, I have germ issues. He said, “People sweat on you: you are going to hate this.”

 I came to visit Brian maybe six weeks later and I watched a class. I was like, “Yeah, that’s not for me at all.” [laughs] But the muay thai looked interesting, minimal contact with other people. So when I came, I started with muay thai, not jiu jitsu. After about three or four weeks of muay thai, they let the person holding the pads hit you back. That was not pleasant, I did not care for that. [laughs]

 So I waited until it was a Saturday that Brian had to work, then I tried the Saturday jiu jitsu class. I did it intentionally when he wouldn’t be there in case I freaked out, so he wouldn’t have to see that: it could have been really bad. Our muay thai instructor also took jiu jitsu, so I worked with him. That made it a little less terrible, but he just showed me chokes from mount for an hour, so it was still pretty awful. [laughs]

 I still did a little bit of muay thai, but only one day a week for another three or four months. It was pretty much all jiu jitsu after that. Just like Brian, I went every day that there was class for a long time, probably until one of us got injured or I had to travel for work.

 BRIAN LINZY: It was real awkward for a while, when Chrissy first started training. If I was just standing there at the edge of the mats, when some guy would go with Chrissy and shake hands, they’d wait and look past her at me, until they made eye contact. Then I’d have to give them the nod.

 CHRISSY LINZY: Yeah, nobody ever asked me to train. I had to go get my own training partner every day. I was kind of oblivious: I had no idea Brian was basically approving or declining my partners.

 BRIAN LINZY: I didn’t decline anybody. [laughs]

 CHRISSY LINZY: [laughs] It was always fun, but I had no idea that was happening. It was always out of the corner of their eye, “Is it ok if I train with her?”

 CAN: Was that just because you were her husband, or because you’re a big guy?

 BRIAN LINZY: I guess a little bit of both.

CHRISSY LINZY: Probably. By the time I got there, he’d only been training three or four months, so people were still finding out what he’s like. To look at him from across the room he’s scary, but after a conversation with him, not so much. [laughs]

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interview with Chrissy Linzy and Brian Linzy, early competing

Photos courtesy of Jimmy Cerra, Frederick Hal Duff and Can’s Instagram. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about future interviews: for the archive, go here

Interview: Ricardo de la Riva on Competing, Women & Teams

Continuing our interview with Ricardo de la Riva (the first part is here), this week he talks about competing, women and the importance of training outside your own team. Sections of this interview appeared in Issue #004 of Jiu Jitsu Style and are reprinted with the kind permission of the editor.

Photo by Seymour Yang, featured in Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Interview with Ricardo de la Riva in action2

ARTEMIS BJJ: I can remember in other interviews you’ve said that during your first competition as a black belt, you fought in both your weight and the absolute, beating Royce and Rolker Gracie along the way. How important do you think it is for smaller fighters to compete in the absolute as well as at their weight?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: It is always a bit risky to fight in the absolute, in case you get injured. So some fighters, they are quite tactical, they are not going to fight in the absolute because they might get injured and then not be able to fight in their own category.

But if you feel you can do the absolute, why not? If you think you’re fit enough, you’ve trained hard enough, if you think you have a chance, why not?

ARTEMIS BJJ: Is that something that has helped you, competing in the absolute?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: To be honest, I only fought once in the absolute: that first competition was the only time, and I won. In Carlson’s team, everyone was very big, heavy, strong. But in this competition alone, there was nobody my own size, so I had to go and fight the big guys as well. That was the only time.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Ah, so it is not something you would do much yourself, but you’d recommend other people try it, if they’re smaller?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Yes, if they’re fit enough and prepared. But that is not something I did, because there were normally so many people in my own category. I felt it wasn’t necessary for me to do the absolute, it wasn’t needed.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Back when you started your training, do you remember many women training as well, or was that unusual?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: When I started to teach, I was teaching a group of fifteen year old girls, about fifteen of them. There was a time allocated just for girls at the academy. The difference now, even at my own academy, is that the girls are mixing with the boys. Previously they were a bit embarrassed or reluctant to join in with the boys, but now they are all in the same class. They are more confident. The girls are very keen to train, so have no problem training with the boys.

Jiu jitsu is very good for women, as it is a technical game. They benefit from it: it is good for the mind, the body. The moves don’t require much strength. You just have to relax a little bit, because sometimes when you walk up to a class, there are twenty men and only one woman. If they can overcome this first hurdle of sometimes being the only girl on the mat, then their jiu jitsu can really take off.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Did many of those fifteen year old girls that you taught continue in the sport, maybe up to black belt?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: I have a number of students who went off to have families, but they came back. Some have achieved brown belt, purple belt, and there are also many beginners. Remember, Rio is a very sporty city, very active. To practice a sport like jiu jitsu is common. Everybody wants to be in shape, due to the beach, so both boys and girls are very active in sports.

ARTEMIS BJJ: For some time, I and various others have been trying to establish who the first female Brazilian jiu jitsu black belt was. The top contenders at the moment are Karla Gracie, Patricia Lage, and possibly Kim Gracie. There is also somebody who is apparently from your lineage, Carmem Casca Grossa. Do you have any thoughts on who it might have been?

[Note: BJJ Heroes has managed to finally answer that question, identifying Yvone Duarte as the first]

Photo by Seymour Yang, featured in Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Interview with Ricardo de la Riva3

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: It definitely wasn’t Carmem Casca Grossa, she trains with me now, and may have got the black belt four or five years ago. There are other women who have got the black belt beforehand, but I’m not too sure who it may have been. Karla or Kim are a possibility, but I’m not sure.

There wasn’t any competition for women then, you see. It is a fairly recent thing, women competing. Thirty years ago, there were no women competing, so it is hard to know who the first women black belt was due to that. The women have a different weight category. So it is hard to really determine.

ARTEMIS BJJ: In judo, athletes fight for their country. What do you think are the good and bad things about the way BJJ is instead structured around teams, like Carlson, Gracie Barra, Alliance etc?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: The disadvantage to this way is a ‘silent treatment’ that is very deeply rooted in jiu jitsu. You fight for your own academy. The down side of this, fighting for your own academy, you don’t get to know other games.

In the past, it was very, very serious. You would not be invited to go visit another academy. If you did, you would really suffer. You would not be welcomed: you would really have bad times, my friend! Everybody would frown at you, really want to have a go at you, solely because you’re from another academy.

The problem is that means you don’t get to fight with different people, to try different games. It is still deeply rooted, but it is getting better. So many foreigners come and train now, you have to look after them. It doesn’t matter where they train in their own country. I want to show my jiu jitsu, I want them to taste what my academy is like. Regardless whether they like it or not, they can have a go. At my academy, there is no politics.

The academy itself, you’re very patriotic about your academy. The country is a bit irrelevant: the flag is your academy. If I was Brazil, Carlson Gracie was Spain, it doesn’t matter. The ‘country flag’ is the logo of the academy you fight for, although of course I would be happy to fight for Brazil if that was an option.

Nowadays in some tournaments, regardless of who won, they take the Brazilians against the Spanish against the Americans, so they have teams fighting against other countries. So that’s starting to happen as well. This is very interesting.

ARTEMIS BJJ: People come to your academy from around the world to train with you, like Nick Brooks. So based on what you said above, presumably you think it is important for students to experience other teaching styles and training partners outside of their home academy?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: It is good to see different styles, but ultimately people will come back to where they feel most welcome, most comfortable, where they feel they’re learning the most. My black belt student who came with me to England has been with me for twenty years. He did try going to other academies, but he ultimately came back to my academy.

It is like when you go on holiday. You try out various restaurants, you eat out in many places, but ultimately you’ll come back to the one you enjoy the most. In Copacabana, you have about fifteen or twenty different academies. If you want to go and try them all out, see their different styles, teaching, the atmosphere, why not? But you will eventually come back to the one that you belong to.

ARTEMIS BJJ: So you would encourage students to check out other places?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Of course, they should. Especially if they know people from other academies, they have friends training there. It is not like you are knocking on the door and challenging the instructor, as that isn’t very polite. But if you have friends who train in other academies, you should train with them.

It is not difficult to have friends in Rio who train in other academies. In the range of Copacabana, you are bound to know someone, who might invite you to train with them.

Photo by Seymour Yang, featured in Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Interview with Ricardo de la Riva in action

ARTEMIS BJJ: As we wrap things up, is there anything you’d like to say to the readers of this interview?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: You can’t just be a dreamer. You have to believe in your dream. You have to really strive to reach your dream, with respect, dedication and humility. There are many aspects to success and achieving your dream. This triad, respect, dedication and humility, is what my family taught me, what jiu jitsu taught me and what I’d like to pass on to the readers.

I always respect my opponents, I’ve always been humble with my game, I’ve always worked really hard, staying humble along the way. It pays off. I learned that from my family, but jiu jitsu taught it to me too. Some days, you are at the top of your game, some days you are not so good, but keep persisting, keep working hard, with dedication, respect and humility. That transfers to your life outside the academy.

Photos by Seymour Yang and translation by David Soares. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about future interviews: for the archive, go here

Interview: Ricardo de la Riva on DLR Guard, Modern Guards & Carlson

Ricardo de la Riva is among the handful of people whose name has been immortalised within the BJJ lexicon. He was not the first grappler to wrap his leg around his opponent’s lower limbs, but he became synonymous with that hook. In one of Can’s earliest interviews for JJS, he spoke to de la Riva during a visit by the famous guard player at Nick Brooks’ school in Mill Hill.

Sections of this interview appeared in Issue #004 of Jiu Jitsu Style and are reprinted with the kind permission of the editor. In the first of two parts, de la Riva talks about the genesis of his eponymous guard, training with Carlson and his thoughts on modern guard styles

Photo by Seymour Yang, featured in Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Interview with Ricardo de la Riva in action3
Ricardo de la Riva using his famous guard

ARTEMIS BJJ: You are famous for the de la Riva guard. I’ve read Carlson himself often referred to it as the ‘jello guard’, so did any of that come from a pre-existing guard you learned from Carlson, or was it something you largely developed yourself?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Carlson’s team was very much focused on passing the guard, so the guard passing aspect was strong: that had a huge influence on my game. I’m very flexible, I’ve always been very flexible.

So, everyone wanted to pass my guard. Since I was a blue belt, I gave the higher grades a hard time because of my flexibility and effective use of the guard. Carlson was always watching over me, supporting me, giving me tips on how to perfect my guard.

ARTEMIS BJJ: I’ve also read you have particularly flexible ankles: was that also helpful?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Yes, my toes, feet, knees. A few years back, I could easily put my foot behind my head with no problem. Very flexible and thankfully injury free.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Do you think it is more important for a beginning student to develop a solid closed guard, or should they have a good understanding of open guard early on?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA:Teaching is very simple. Teach the hard stuff first, so let’s teach open guard first. That’s how I do it at my academy. If the student is comfortable using open guard, when they progress to closed guard, they’re not going to want to use closed guard, because it’s not as interesting as open guard. Even if the opponent passes their guard, at least the student is trying to play an open game.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You started your training with Marcus Soares. How would you compare his style of teaching to Carlson?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Marcus Soares was a brown belt at the time, under Carlson. I was training with Marcus at his home, upstairs. But because Marcus wasn’t affiliated to anybody, I couldn’t compete under him. So, I had to move to Carlson, where I won a competition, from yellow belt to blue belt, under Carlson.

However, the teaching style was very similar, because Marcus was a student of Carlson. So it was a natural progression. There was no difference in the teaching style. We were both students, Marcus and me, under Carlson.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Do you have any favourite memories training with the legendary Carlson competition team during its heyday?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Every day, you had to kill the lion, because the training was very very hard, very tense. But it was healthy, it wasn’t a sacrifice by any means. You’re looking after the body, after the mind. It was fun, it wasn’t a chore to go train jiu jitsu, although it was hard.

After the fight, you wouldn’t stay still: at most martial arts, you’re expected to stand still. You would socialise with friends, crack a joke, talk about what happened at the weekend. It was a joy, a pleasure, despite the hard work. I never missed a session. I went to university, but I carried on through my degree, regardless of exams or illnesses.

Photo by Seymour Yang, featured in Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Interview with Ricardo de la Riva2ARTEMIS BJJ: What was it like to teach at the Carlson academy during the ’80s?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: As a blue belt, I used to help with teaching girls and children, until I was awarded my purple belt. Then I could teach the whole class by myself. I developed my teaching style by looking at Carlson, who was a big, strong, hard guy, but with a huge heart. I would see the children running around him and hugging him, but at the same time you see this figure who looks very scary.

However, he was captivating, he was someone very charismatic. That’s the same approach I was developing. If my instructor is like this, strong and hard with a mean look, but at the same time very welcoming, very warm, that’s my style.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Having taught that early on, do you think it is generally a good thing for blue belts and purple belts to be teaching and heading up schools, or should it always be a black belt?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: As long as you have support from a black belt. You should encourage, by all means, a purple belt to start learning how to teach, how to pass on the knowledge from the black belt. Sometimes you find a white belt who wants to be a jiu jitsu instructor. So why not give them the opportunity? You pass on the responsibility to a blue belt, to help out the white belt.

It is almost like a monitor at university. You have those monitors at university who give you a hand – you know, PhD students. You give lectures, so you get a PhD student to deliver the class. I’m an example of this. At university, I used to help my lecturers out with the running. I graduated in sports science, so I was always helping my lecturers in that sense.

If you have somebody looking over you, knowing you can rely upon them if you need to, why not?

ARTEMIS BJJ: Do you have any thoughts on more recent developments in BJJ competition, like the fifty/fifty guard, or is it no different than when other guards first emerged, like spider guard or your own de la Riva guard?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: What has changed in this position is that when you sweep the guy, in a fifty/fifty, you lock a triangle on his legs. What I used to do was sweep the guy, but without locking off the triangle, so the guard was still open. It is a very handy position. The new thing about the fifty/fifty is that you have this variation, which is effective, of locking the triangle.

It is like the spider guard. Before, you used to control the sleeve, putting your foot on the bicep. Later on, the foot went under the armpit. So it is the same principle, the same variation. Just a detail has changed in the position. That’s what is wonderful about jiu jitsu: it is always evolving, always progressing. New things are being taught.

You have a position, so many practitioners, different bodies, different sizes. So you have to adapt the position. It is always evolving, always changing. The evolution of jiu jitsu is continuous.

Photo by Seymour Yang, featured in Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Interview with Ricardo de la Riva4ARTEMIS BJJ: So is that something you work on in your own game, incorporating these new developments, or do you stick with tried and tested techniques you’ve used for years?

RICARDO DE LA RIVA: Of course: I adapt, I welcome these changes. I prefer to start off with the de la Riva hook and then go to the fifty/fifty position. So yes, I do incorporate it into my own game. You are adding on to your own game, you are adding on to your arsenal of choices. It is not simply just changing one for the other, my game to the fifty/fifty. It is embedding the fifty/fifty onto my own game, making it richer.

Photos by Seymour Yang and translation by David Soares. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about part two: for more interviews, go here

Interview: John Will on Teaching & Australian BJJ

Continuing our John Will interview series (which began here), we conclude with a discussion on the development of Australian BJJ, maintaining a global affiliate network and how to teach a great seminar. Sections of this interview appeared in Issue #010 of Jiu Jitsu Style and are reprinted with the kind permission of the editor.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, shown with Jean Jacques Machado
John Will with Jean Jacques Machado

ARTEMIS BJJ:  You were the pioneer of BJJ in Australia, with perhaps the major starting point being the ten day seminar tour you arranged with Carlos Jr and Renzo. What year was that and how did it go?

JOHN WILL: I brought them over in 1990, they were on the cover of the magazine I had [Blitz]. Due to the magazine I had some minor influence, so I was able to set up some seminars for them. We did three or four and a lot of people came: I think it was about sixty. It was well attended, given that at the time, BJJ was unknown.

The only reason anybody in Australia knew anything about it was because I’d written two articles. The UFC hadn’t hit yet, it was just not on anyone’s radar. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, outside of Brazil there was hardly anything apart from Rorion’s school in the States.

So, people came along and it was great. They wrestled everybody and everyone went “Oh my goodness.” We just lined them all up and it was mayhem [laughs]. There was Carlos Gracie Jr and I was a ‘seasoned’ white belt, Renzo was a brown belt. That was the start of the groundswell I guess.

ARTEMIS BJJ: When I recently went to Scotland, both the instructors I interviewed cited a Royce seminar as their starting point, so it seems to have been a seminal moment there. Was the Carlos Jr and Renzo seminar tour around Australia at all similar?

JOHN WILL: No, I don’t think it started for anyone at that seminar. I started it. It was only a couple of years after that it got going. Everyone came and went, “Wow, that’s cool.”

So, I guess what it did was put me in touch with some people who said, “Do you mind coming to my school and giving me a lesson?” I then started to do…well, I wouldn’t call them seminars, but I visited people’s schools and ran a class for them.

It got that going, then people heard about it interstate and would ask, “Can you fly up and teach a seminar?” I’d think, “A seminar? I’m not worthy,” blah blah blah. It was only when I got a purple belt and came back that I started saying yes to things like that. I felt that I could offer something as a purple belt and started doing seminars. I’ve done them ever since.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, teaching in Coventry

ARTEMIS BJJ:  What are the main changes you’ve seen in Australasian BJJ since then?

JOHN WILL: When it started out, all of us – myself included – were already invested in some other martial art, but were adding a little jiu jitsu to their classes. There is still quite a lot of that going on, but over the years a big thing has been bringing people up through the ranks.

I got a black belt, then I had to create people to brown belt, when I got my second degree I was able to grade people to black belt. Now there are plenty of schools that are purely BJJ schools. That’s the biggest change I’ve seen. Now there are BJJ schools with hundreds of students, who are standing on their own two feet without teaching anything else.

I had no idea that was going to happen. I didn’t particularly want that to happen. I just thought I would add some of this stuff to what I’m already doing. I didn’t know BJJ would take over my life.

ARTEMIS BJJ:  Do you think there is anything different about Australian BJJ compared to other national scenes?

JOHN WILL: In Australia, probably New Zealand too, there is probably – and certainly was in the early days – a bit of problem solving going on. When you’re isolated, you can’t just run over to your coach and ask for an answer, you’ve got to start thinking for yourself and analysing. I think there was a lot of that going on, whereas in America they got lucky.

I noticed that when I went to the US, the American students would come up to me and say, “Hey John, what were all those omoplatas and crucifix entries that Rigan taught last year?”

I’d respond, “You were there!”

They’d go, “Yeah, but you remember it!” The only reason that I remembered it is that it cost me a lot to get over there and meant a lot to me. So, I was taking a lot of notes: there’s no way I forgot anything anyone ever taught me. In the early days in America, I think the attitude was more, “I can ask tomorrow, I don’t really need to remember now.”

In Australia, we were behind the eight ball and isolated – like the UK was – it had value. We really valued any technique. Each technique, each strategy, each concept was like a gold ingot. In America, I think it was just a silver ingot, if you know what I mean. That underpinned the way we had to solve problems ourselves.

America is a large place, so there is a lot more crazy stuff going on, people doing 50/50 guard and all these weird things. Probably we’re a bit more fundamental than that. Good solid fundamentals, maybe because that’s all we had to work with at the beginning, we had that ethos. In America, they liked to create a lot of stuff. I’m not saying either is right or wrong, it is what it is.

Some people need to do that, but I think you can go down a weird and windy path. Go underneath there, get under deep half, wrap his belt three times around his leg, put his gi collar in your mouth. That’s all cool and fun, but it has no relationship with reality. We don’t do as much of that. “Oh x-guard, yeah, that’s cool.” I learned x-guard way before it was called x-guard, twenty years ago.

We’re a little bit more like the UK, in that I think we’re more pragmatic, not off in Disneyland like some people elsewhere.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, Can at a John Will seminar in 2012
Can at a John Will seminar in 2012

ARTEMIS BJJ:  You are a very experienced seminar instructor, having taught all over the world for decades. What in your opinion are the keys to teaching a good seminar?

JOHN WILL: Firstly, you have to engage the class. The class must be fully engaged. It doesn’t matter how good your information is – and it certainly doesn’t matter how good you are – if they are not one hundred percent engaged with what you’re doing. So, the first thing is the science of engagement, it’s a big subject.

You also have to have a very profound understanding of the subject matter, irrespective of what you’re teaching. Not a cursory understanding, a deep understanding. That has to be delivered in a way that is idiot-proof. You might be teaching something that is seemingly quite complex, but if you break it down so that it is very process driven, A-B-C-D-E-F-G, then the worst person on the mat can do it and have a sense of achievement. I think that is a very important skill.

You’ve got to be a world class noticer. You have to be on that mat and you have to really notice what’s going on, that’s a key element as well. It also needs to be highly structured. You can’t have people just facing any direction, going any which way, letting them decide when they switch partners. No. You need to guide them through the process so there is very little room for misinterpretation.

ARTEMIS BJJ: I had another question on what challenges you face as an instructor with so many affiliates on different continents, which you’ve essentially answered already. I guess there is a similarity in what you were saying about having to take BJJ back home and develop it there, with lots of people asking you for seminars: it sounds as if your broader affiliate network is an extension of that?

JOHN WILL: Let me first say, it was accidental. I had no plans for that, people ask me to come over. I don’t like taking responsibility for grading people, especially if I can’t get to them very often. In Australia, it’s easier now because we have a lot of black belts. The class has already been taught by a black belt, then I turn up, though even there it is every three months. I’ve got a circuit that I do three times a year, so I get a lot of contact.

Over in the UK, I only come here once a year, so it is very difficult. I’ve just taught seminars on this trip to people connected with Royce, with Braulio or with whomever. They come to my seminars because they like my teaching style and all of that stuff. The last thing I would ever do is encourage them to come over to us. No, stay with your instructor and be one hundred percent loyal, I’m a big believer in that. I would discourage anyone from jumping ship.

I don’t want to take responsibility, because that is a big responsibility. To take someone from white belt to black belt, you’re talking about a ten to twelve year commitment of your life. From my point of view, that’s the last thing that I want. There are a couple of people in the UK who have said, “No, I want you to do it,” and I’ve reluctantly agreed, but I’m not saying that anymore. I can’t do my job, I can’t fulfil that obligation as well as I would like to be able to fulfil it.

It’s easy in Australia, in my school, but it gets harder as you move away from that school! [laughs]

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, on 'noticing'

ARTEMIS BJJ:  As you’ve said, you’re not trying to attract potential students from overseas, but what do you think you have to offer that perhaps a local black belt does not?

JOHN WILL: I teach very differently, that’s the feedback I get. People come because they’re only going to get that from me. Not only that, as I’m not only teaching jiu jitsu: it’s my vehicle for them learning how to apply principles from jiu jitsu in the wider aspects of their lives. I like doing that.

I think the jiu jitsu community is pretty interesting in that a lot of people are very willing – certainly all the student base are willing – to fraternise. That’s how life should be, right? Some of the instructors might not like that, but they’re losing sight of the fact like-minded people want to get together.

It doesn’t mean that they’re going to be disloyal: they’re going to come right back to you. By allowing people to get together…guys are doing it everywhere. They train at one school, then get together at weekends in their garage and they’re from five different places, because they want time to fraternise and compare notes. They’re not going to jump ship, they’re going to go right back to their instructor, but people want to share the experience. I think that’s a great thing.

ARTEMIS BJJ:  Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers of this interview?

JOHN WILL: I think that when we’re on the mat, the least return on investment is when you learn a technique that is a solution for a specific situation. If you can learn something off your instructor that you can see six or eight ways to apply throughout your game, then that is a way better return on your investment in time.

But the next level again is if you can figure out a way something you’ve learned on the mat can be used in the wider landscape of your life. Your marriage, your business, the way you live. That’s the biggest return you can ever get on your training.

Don’t just keep a narrow focus. Think about the wider use of what you’re learning, because there are some deep and meaningful concepts in BJJ that we can apply to all aspects of our lives. To not recognise that is really missing the point. I use jiu jitsu as a way of living my life.

Photos courtesy of John Will and Esther Smith. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about future interviews: Carlos Machado, Ricardo de la Riva and Carlson Jr are all in the pipeline. To see all the Artemis BJJ interviews so far, go here

Interview: John Will on Chuck Norris & Belt Promotions

Following on from last week, the John Will interview series continues with his memories of introducing Chuck Norris to the sport. He also talks about going straight from white to purple belt, leading into his thoughts on promotion. Sections of this interview appeared in Issue #010 of Jiu Jitsu Style and are reprinted with the kind permission of the editor.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, shown with Chuck Norris, 1990s
John Will with Chuck Norris, early 1990s

ARTEMIS BJJ: Moving on slightly, I have read several different versions of how Chuck Norris became involved with BJJ and more specifically the Machados. Black Belt Magazine states Carlos Machado met Chuck Norris while on vacation in Las Vegas during 1988, during his UFAF convention.

The Los Angeles Times claims Rigan met Norris in 1989, while scuba diving. In yet another magazine, it instead points to your old friend Richard Norton. So, what’s you recollection of what actually happened?

JOHN WILL: My goodness, I’d hate to give you a fourth version! [laughs] Also, please understand, this is going back a while, so it is all a bit blurry. Ok, I don’t know if this is politically correct to say, but I’ll tell you what happened and you can decide whether to use it or not, because it may ruffle some feathers.

I’m not certain how he first saw jiu jitsu, but recalling what Chuck said to me, I think he was in Brazil for some reason, with Bob Wall. I think they were down there, perhaps scuba diving, or something like that. They heard about this family and they went along to one of the academies. Bob Wall being Bob Wall said “I’d side kick you,” or something ridiculous, he’s always been like that.

Either way, Chuck was impressed. If I’m not mistaken, it might have been Rickson who was out there. I’m sure they were treated very well, as it was Chuck (Bob is a bit combative whereas Chuck is super-nice), so I think that was Chuck’s first impression, how he connected with it. I’m pretty certain that’s right.

Then what happened is he went back home and he wanted to do more, follow up. I think he knew about Rorion being in Torrance, I think through the Jet Centre, because I believe they knew because Gene LeBell knew, and he’s a friend of Chuck’s. Then, Chuck had his annual UFAF convention in Las Vegas, where he invited Rorion along, as a guest. When you’re invited there, it’s always as a guest, nobody is getting paid fees or anything.

Rorion came along to teach, but then gave Chuck a bill at the end of it. Now, I’ve heard, though I certainly don’t know if it’s true, that this bill was $15,000. That made Chuck go, “Oh my god. That’s not what we’re doing here.” Now, even if it’s true, I’m not saying Rorion is wrong, because he is certainly entitled to get paid for what he does, but I don’t think that’s what Chuck thought, so there was obviously some miscommunication.

The end result of it was Chuck saying, “Well, here’s your money,” but he decided he wouldn’t have anything more to do with those guys.

ARTEMIS BJJ: So it wasn’t that he couldn’t afford it, but that he didn’t want to have that kind of arrangement?

JOHN WILL: I think it just started out wrong. You know how these things go, it could just as easily have started out right. A lot of things, I’m now old enough to know, it’s just miscommunication. People come in not understanding clearly what was going on, because that’s what happens in life.

So, that’s probably unfortunate, that’s what happened. Chuck kind of went cold on the whole idea. Then I came along, so I think it might have been me that met him, and I said to him, “Hey Chuck, look, one of the Machados is right here in town. They’re really good people, they’re not…I’m not saying Rorion is all about the money, but they’re not all about the money. They’re about jiu jitsu and promoting it, you’re going to love it.”

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will at Chuck Norris' house, 1990s

Richard Norton’s account of how Chuck came to connect up with the Machados would without doubt be more accurate and complete than mine: it should be noted that I only have a vague recollection. All I remember is pretty much one conversation I had with Chuck at the Jet Centre, where I espoused on how great the Machado brothers were and that he should train with them. Richard, no doubt, had pre-empted me on this. He played the pivotal role in introducing Chuck to the Machados and should be recognised for such.

So, Chuck came along and he met the Machados, Rigan, if I’m not mistaken. Then Chuck said “Oh wow, this is different,” because their response was, “We don’t want your money: you’re Chuck Norris! Could you give us an autograph? We’ll teach you for free!” [laughs]

That’s when he got into it, and then he became so into it that he was instrumental in bringing all of them up, getting their green cards and getting Carlos Machado established in Texas, where he lived. I think that’s fairly accurate.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Yeah, that seems to mesh with the various stories I’ve read. So, that would have been about 1990?

JOHN WILL: It was before the UFC, so I reckon you’re about right. It was probably around 1990, pre-UFC. Yeah.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You mention in your book that you went straight from white belt to purple. I assume that was as unusual then as it is now: if so, did you realise your comparatively unique status at the time?

JOHN WILL: The first thing I’d like to say is that I have no natural talent. I think that situation was a function of me living in Australia and travelling over for training, spending time there then coming back, that kind of stuff. So, it was me going away, and I probably passed blue belt level, meaning I should have been graded to blue but I just wasn’t there.

So, at some point when I was training down in Redondo Beach, my first grading was purple. How are you getting this information? Not many people know that. [laughs]

ARTEMIS BJJ: It’s all in your books. [laughs]

JOHN WILL: So, I went straight to purple. I didn’t like that. I’ve fought tooth and nail against every grading I’ve ever had, said “Please, don’t do that, please just let me be a blue belt.”

They said, “No, you’re a purple belt.” I remember the day it happened. I had to wrestle a Brazilian purple belt: they said if I beat him, I get a purple. I made a big mistake, beat him, which was not a good idea. But it wasn’t anything to do with me being special, absolutely not, it was the time I was away. I was not there for my blue belt grading, put it that way. That’s all it was.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, shown with JJ Machado
John Will with Jean Jacques Machado

ARTEMIS BJJ: You mention that you didn’t want the belt. There seems to be this split when people get promoted, into two groups. The first is very humble, saying they don’t want it, they’re not ready, they’d rather stay a white belt their entire time in jiu jitsu. The second, which I see on the internet all the time, are excited about their achievement and will shout it to everyone, “Hooray, I got my blue belt!”

What’s your perspective on that? 

JOHN WILL: Who am I to say anything? People can think what they like, but all I can say is what I felt, and I never felt adequate. There was always more, I always felt I just needed a bit more training, to be a bit fitter, a bit better. I need to be a bit better husband, I need to be a better whatever. I think anybody striving towards excellence in anything is like that. They’re a little bit dissatisfied with the level that they’ve reached, so they’re always trying to raise the bar, whereas other people are happy to be right where they are, and I also think there is a large part of the martial arts community trying to lower the bar.

So, I think it’s like a bell curve. Some people at one extreme are trying to raise the bar, they’re really working at that, and other people are very much the other way, giving out black belts, not even BJJ but other schools. Everyone else falls somewhere in the middle. Certainly when I was starting out, I never felt that I was good enough.

Also, I was hanging out with an unusual crowd. My BJJ friends were Renzo, Rilion, Ralph: they were all in my class. My classmate Cesar Gracie and I came up together through the ranks. I was not with a bunch of people who just walked off the street. I thought all brown belts were like Renzo, all purple belts are like Cesar, all black belts are like Jean Jacques and Rigan. Of course, that’s not the case, but straight away, I was calibrated to that. Naturally I therefore thought, “Jeez, I’m a crappy purple belt.” [laughs]

ARTEMIS BJJ: Has that impacted on your own standards of promotion?

JOHN WILL: It probably has, I would say so. A little bit. But I’m ok with that and I’m certainly not in judgement of anyone else. There’s something to be said for it being easier than it was back then. I think it is way better that we keep people, because they feel they’re making progress, as they can see their new belts. It is way better that you keep then, rather than it is so hard that you lose them and now they’re not training.

It’s a balance. At the end of the day, we want certain outcomes, we want people to keep training. If that means it is a little bit easier to get a blue belt nowadays, then I’m totally fine with that.

ARTEMIS BJJ: That kind of ties into the next question. Perhaps the most striking story I read in Passion & Purpose was the anecdote about David Meyer.

He was a Danzan Ryu Jiu Jitsu third degree black belt, but shortly after starting BJJ and getting dominated by your purple belt self, he announced to his class that he could no longer in good conscience wear his black belt and teach them. Instead, he was going to shut down the school and strap on a white belt.

That kind of humility is very rare, due to the prestige of a black belt. With the increasingly widespread growth of BJJ, are people like Meyer becoming more or less common?

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, shown with Rilion in 1987
John Will with Rilion Gracie in 1987

JOHN WILL: It’s a good question, an interesting question. Certainly at the time, it was startling to me that he did that. It showed me the heart of the guy, right away, in an instant. He is one of the most moral, ethical people that I’ve ever met: he’s had a profound influence on me. I’m a much better person for having known David Meyer. I think that’s a great way to choose your friends. If you’re better off having known them, they’re good people. So, we became fast friends because of that.

Maybe you’re right. Maybe it is easier nowadays. Maybe today, people are a little bit less wedded to the rank and therefore it might be easier for them to do what Meyer did back then. But when he did it, it was climbing Mount Everest for the first time. Nowadays, lots of people do it, and they aren’t even mountain climbers. Probably nowadays it is a little easier, because there’s so much literal proof all around us that a BJJ black belt is a very worthy goal, it is easier for people to start. I’m sure of it, actually, as thousands of martial artists have done exactly that.

Now, maybe they haven’t closed their schools down, but in fairness David only had twenty or thirty students. It wasn’t like he was closing his business down, that would have been pretty incredible. He was closing his hobby down. I don’t want to take away from him, because it was still a wonderful thing. He was trying to encourage them, though interestingly enough, only one or two of them came over, but after six months none of them were there. Except for Dick Treanor, he came over and he’s still pottering around.

Photos courtesy of John Will. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about part three. For more interviews, go here

Update October 2014: Richard Norton contacted the site to add his recollections of how Chuck Norris first encountered BJJ. He also pointed to a recent interview with Norris himself, which can be read in the first issue of The Complete Martial Artist. Norris discusses first meeting the Gracies in 1986, along with how Norton introduced him to the Machado brothers. Here are Norton’s thoughts:

RICHARD NORTON: My own introduction to the Machado brothers and BJJ was when Chuck came back from Brazil and brought with him a video of an early Vale Tudo match that Rickson Gracie had with this other fighter, Zulu.

I remember Chuck showing me the tape and both of us thinking how interesting this grappling and striking no rules submission fighting was. Remember, this was years before the UFC ever came into being.  John Will and I were sitting in my lounge after a workout and watching this tape with Rickson that I had brought back to Australia. We were fascinated by this (at least for us) new form of submission fighting.

Soon after, I travelled back to California and managed to locate Rorion Gracie, Helio’s son and the original UFC founder, who as it turned out was living in a house not far from where I lived in the US. I immediately started doing private lessons with the legendary Rickson Gracie and Royce Gracie in a garage at Rorion’s house in Redondo Beach.

I trained doing privates with Rickson for at least eight months before meeting Renzo Gracie. He then introduced me to the Machado brothers, who had also recently moved to California to set up shop. I remember after I started training with the Machados that I said to Chuck, “You have got to meet these guys, they are unbelievable”.

So of course Chuck said, “Let’s bring them to the house and do a couple of hours of private lessons with them.”

I remember laughing and saying, “I think half an hour will be plenty!” As it turned out, it was absolutely plenty, because wrestling with these guys for half an hour was like doing a four-hour work out with anybody else. They were that good.

Anyway, Chuck and I eventually helped set up the five Machado brothers at their very first school in Los Angeles. One more thing that I feel I must add. which to me again illustrated the type of attitude that helped make Chuck the champion he was, is that when we first started BJJ classes with the Machados in their new academy, the very first person on the mat, with a white belt on, was Chuck Norris.

How much better an example is there than to see a world karate champion and a black belt in judo on the mat as a white belt, with no ego and just simply being content with being a student? He was more than willing to do whatever it took to learn and add to his knowledge base. The rest is history: Chuck and I are still devout students and dear friends of the Machados to this day.

Presently I am honoured to hold a 4th degree black belt under Jean Jacques Machado and to have the privilege of being the first ever 4th degree black belt in BJJ in Australia.

Interview: John Will on BJJ in the ’80s

John Will is a true pioneer in BJJ, one of the rare people outside of Brazil to have trained in BJJ almost a decade before the UFC. On top of that, he has membership in an even rarer group, the ‘Dirty Dozen’: they are the first twelve non-Brazilian black belts. Can was lucky enough to meet John Will back in 2012, before a seminar in the UK, where they talked at length about BJJ history.

Sections of this interview appeared in Issue #010 of Jiu Jitsu Style and are reprinted with the kind permission of the editor. In the first of several parts, John Will talks about what it was like to train BJJ back when it was still barely known outside of its native Brazil.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, shown with Renzo in the mid 80s
John Will training with Renzo Gracie in the mid ’80s

ARTEMIS BJJYou’re a member of a very special group, the Dirty Dozen. Therefore I’d like to start with a number of questions about your memories of the early years of BJJ’s international expansion. To begin, I’d like to ask when you first met Rorion, and secondly what it was like being on the receiving end of his classic “try and escape my mount” introductory lesson?

JOHN WILL: I was owner and editor of the Australian martial arts magazine, Blitz. I started that magazine. It was probably only two issues in, around the mid 1980s. A guy came to Australia called Marcelo Behring, and he came offering the challenge that was going around back then: $50,000 for anyone who could beat him. That was at a time when nobody was doing that, so it was quite a radical departure from the way people were behaving in the martial arts.

Naturally even though it was a very small article, it was a $50,000 challenge, I was intrigued by that. I put it right at the front of the magazine, but no-one responded. You know, no-one had $50,000, but then it went $20,000, $10,000, $5000 and still no-one responded. I think the guy was out there surfing, so he just thought he’d give it a crack.

So, nothing happened, but it certainly got me curious. I made a few phone calls to some friends in Los Angeles, and I said “Have you heard of these Brazilian guys, who are apparently fighting no rules for money. It can’t be capoeira: have you heard of that?”

Then one of them went away for a week and sniffed around a bit, and he came back to me and said “Yeah, I think there is a guy out in Torrance, teaching out of his garage.” Of course it turned out this was Rorion Gracie. Rickson was there also and Royce was quite young, still a kid. My friend continued, “By the way, we did a lesson. John, you’ve got to come out here, these guys are really good.”

I got on a plane, which was difficult for me as I didn’t have any money. I was just a dojo rat: my magazine was barely eking me a living, but that’s why I had the magazine, it was an excuse to travel. I came to America, because at least it was all tax deductible. I thought what I’m really going to do is spend my time training at the Jet Centre with Benny the Jet and different things like that. I did that, then I went out to Torrance.

I rang up and Rorion answered, though I didn’t know who he was at the time. Then I asked “Can I come out?” and he said sure. I asked, “Shall I bring anything?”

He said, “Bring a kimono.”

I thought he meant one of those Japanese kimonos, like a pink one [laughs]. What a weird request! But of course, I’ll go and I bought him a Japanese kimono! [laughs] I rocked up and that was my present for him. When he got that kimono he probably thought I was insane, but we’d never used that word, ‘kimono’. That was not a word associated with martial arts.

So anyway, I rocked up out there and asked if I could do some lessons, I’ll do an interview. I put him on the front of the magazine and did all that, but it didn’t buy me any brownie points with him. In any other martial art, I would have been training for free. Not in this case: it was expensive, nearly $100 a private lesson, which was more money than I had at that time.

ARTEMIS BJJ: So, that would have been late 1980s?

JOHN WILL: That was either ’85 or ’86. I think it was 1986. I only had $400 and it was going to cost $500, so I had to borrow $100: I was destitute. However, I was so impressed when I went out there. I did the first few lessons with him, then on the last day, he said he couldn’t take the lesson, he was going to Disneyland with his kids, but his cousin was coming up from Brazil, Rigan Machado. Rorion had him there working for $5 a class or something. Rigan was teaching fifteen classes a day for a milkshake and a hamburger. [laughs]

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, pictured with Helio and Rigan

So, I lucked out and I met Rigan. He taught me my last class, which I really loved. He was really passionate about it, a national champion at the time, obviously excited to be in America. Long story short, I basically went home, with what you can imagine you would learn in five lessons: basic sweep, upa, armbar, guard pass, side control, Americana, kimura. A few other little things, headlock escapes.

With that handful of techniques, I just jumped all over every judo black belt and Japanese Jujitsu black belt I could find. I thought, “Oh my goodness, I’m tying these guys in knots with five lessons. Maybe I should take ten lessons!” [laughs]

I saved up my money hard, became enthusiastic and made my way back there with the intention of getting an address off Rorion for Brazil. I figured that would be cheaper, so I could afford it. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to train with him, I just seriously couldn’t afford it.

When I went back, the same thing happened. He said he couldn’t teach me today, but his cousin was still here. I head up and hear “My Australian friend!” Then Rigan said, “Don’t train here, come to Brazil! We’re going to train every morning and every night.”

I said, “Yeah, that’s what I want, an address in Brazil.”

He replied, “You don’t need an address in Brazil”, because by this time he had learned more English, “I’m going down in two days, come with me.” I’ve been with all of those guys ever since.

ARTEMIS BJJ: That leads into the next question, as in your books, you talk a lot about Rigan. I was therefore wondering if you could talk a bit about him?

JOHN WILL: I thought, this is a person I want to spend time around. I didn’t know how good he was at jiu jitsu. I mean, any blue belt would have been quite enough of a coach at that point for me, right?

I only realised when I was in Rio, sitting in Barra Gracie. Back then, it was owned by several of the Machados, Carlos Gracie Jr and a woman called Danielle Dutra. So, I was sitting there and Renzo was sitting next to me. He was one of the few people who could speak fluent English. All these really great guys were coming in: Rilion Gracie, top guys who were top competitors at the time, everyone was going “ooo” and “aah” as these guys were coming through the door.

I said to Renzo, “What’s going on, is it some special occasion tonight?”

“Oh yeah, yeah. They’ve come to train with him.”

Rigan was sitting next to me. I looked past Rigan, saying “Who? Who?”

“With him!”

I said, “What, with this goofball?” To me, Rigan was just my goofy friend. “Really, with him?”

Renzo then asked, “Don’t you know who that is?”

“Yeah, that’s my friend Rigan.”

“John, he’s absolutely awesome.”

So, it was purely luck as to how it went, in terms of choosing a coach. I think it is great to choose people based on “Hey, I like spending time in their company.” I did, because he was so nice and generous, all that stuff.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol interview with John Will, training at Gracie Barra in 1987
John Will training at the original Gracie Barra school in 1987

ARTEMIS BJJ: Do you remember what year it would have been when you were at Barra?

JOHN WILL: 1987.

ARTEMIS BJJ: So, shortly after you trained with Rorion?

JOHN WILL: Correct. Within a year. I must say, Rorion and Royce and those guys, Rickson, that was my first experience. A wonderful experience, because that’s why I was inspired. It was like an injection of spirit. I really thought, “this is absolutely awesome.” It all kicked off from there.

Photos courtesy of John Will. ‘Like’ the Artemis BJJ Facebook group to be notified about part two: for more interviews, go here

Interview: Saulo Ribeiro on Jiu Jitsu University & Teaching

Following on from part one of Can’s interview with Saulo, conducted during his June 2013 trip, it’s time for part two. This week, the BJJ legend talks about his immensely popular book, Jiu Jitsu University, widely seen as the gold standard for instructional BJJ volumes. He also shares his thoughts on teaching, drawing on his vast experience of running a class.

This interview originally appeared in Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine #17, so is being republished on the Artemis BJJ site with the JJS editor’s kind permission. Along with the two parts on, the third part is still up on the JJS website, here.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian jiu jitsu in Bristol Saulo Interview  IMG_9228

ARTEMIS BJJ: Kevin Howell said that discussing the “if you think” principle with you led directly to writing your book, Jiu Jitsu University. It is widely regarded as the best instructional book out there: why do you think your book has been so successful?      

SAULO: Because it’s real, it’s about my life. It’s about the problems that I had when I was a white belt, blue belt. A great group of people came together and said “Let’s do the best jiu jitsu book in the world.” It’s like in jiu jitsu, you don’t win by yourself. It’s an individual sport, but if you don’t have the best friends to train with, if you don’t have the best sponsors to support you, if you don’t have the best family at home.

Everybody asks me, “Saulo, why don’t you do another book?” I say, because I don’t want a comparison with my first child. Let me have another version with another identity, where I can reach way more people. That is BJJ Library. That’s why the book now, I have already pretty much all written, the second one. But the second one is about mental toughness. It’s different. In this new generation of YouTube, all these jiu jitsu practitioners, they are getting very empty inside, about all the things that motivate the machine to work. About self confidence, discipline, respect, honour, attitude, family, principles, about everything!

That’s the core of martial arts. And you want to sell all this nonsense before you start to really touch the human being? That’s a tragedy. What kind of society is this? It’s not American jiu jitsu. It’s Brazilian jiu jitsu, with the culture and the principles and everything. It’s like when I go to the Kodokan, I’m not learning Brazilian judo over there. I’m learning the traditional judo from Kodokan. That’s what I’m going there to do.

That’s why here at the University, everybody has to count to ten in Portuguese. They have to know the eight basic takedowns, because every single person in the world training jiu jitsu has to know how to fight standing. These are several things that you must know. There are a lot of things to be brought back.

I’m glad that we have a reputation for this and we still can improve, still can provide the real traditional Brazilian jiu jitsu. That’s why we’re here in the States. We didn’t move here to adapt. We moved here to set a culture of Brazilian jiu jitsu. That’s what it is all about. We’re not going to bend to any gi company that wants to put a yellow gi, a brown gi. A pink gi? This is not traditional jiu jitsu. Here, we have white and blue: it’s tradition.

That’s what we’re doing with jiu jitsu nowadays, and I think that BJJ Library is going to help us a lot to be the voice. And guys like you, that work and have the vision that we have. We are not here to try and convince anybody or anything. We are here as an option. When I wrote my book, the guy gave me twenty books to study. You know what I did? “Take this out!” I don’t want ideas from somebody else, I don’t want to see the opinions of this guy. I’m not this guy. They haven’t done what I’ve done in my life, they don’t have my history. We are different.

ARTEMIS BJJ: There is a very clear structure in Jiu Jitsu University, moving from survival through to escapes, the guard, passing and finally submissions. Presuming this is a structure you also use in your teaching, is it difficult to encourage that mentality for each belt?

SAULO: It is very difficult if they are not my students from day one. It’s like having your ex-boyfriend still on your mind, or ex-girlfriend. Their behaviour with you today is going to have the remains of what passed between them and that other person in the past. So we’ve got to clean the whole thing. That’s why we used to say – when they would come as a blue belt, a purple belt, from a different school – “Are you ready to let go of everything that you had until now, in order to accept this?” You might not get it now, but you’re going to get it very soon. Then you see that they have already developed certain instincts, reactions, that has nothing to do with what we preach. Then they have to re-adapt everything.

But if this starts from white belt, it’s pretty easy, because from day one, they see the mentality working. “Wow, I already don’t let this guy mount on me, because my elbow and knee are connected? That’s incredible!” Why? Because when you put somebody on your back, the first reaction is like they are babies again. So when they start to develop this, they are like, “Wow! This by itself is already totally new for my body reaction.” They are already on the journey, they already believe in you.

It’s like when you get a puppy and a big dog. To be a big dog, it will take a while.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You have a lot of experience as an instructor: what are your thoughts on developing a solid teaching methodology?

SAULO: The best way to teach is be yourself. Don’t teach what you don’t know, don’t try to impress all your students or anybody else. Be confident in what you’re showing, respect everyone and every question that comes your way. They are not a threat, they are maybe just a misunderstanding. You’ve got to really take it to the best of your ability, because that’s the only way you’re going to give your best. If you are giving your best and you really love jiu jitsu and believe it, there is no wrong. Period. There is no wrong.

Everything that we discuss below that, is just bar talk, is just “do you like black or yellow?” It doesn’t matter. But the main, the core of the thing, is what it is. Don’t come to America, put an assistant to teach your class and expect all your students to love you. They won’t. They’ll leave. They want you, they want the truth, what you have to show them. You came to America and you don’t like to teach? So what are you doing here? What kind of business are you doing? You can’t lie in jiu jitsu, you can’t lie.

You have to be honest, because your student may be a white belt in jiu jitsu, but they might have a lot of skills that you don’t. They are watching you. That’s why I say when we put on the gi, we are the same. What makes us different is the heart, your experience and your skills. Everything I need for my life, I have from jiu jitsu. Lawyers, doctors, real estate, mothers, cooks, DJs. All the specialists are here, it’s your army. The people that you go to the next level with.

If you don’t teach, that’s a problem. It’s not about the methodology, teaching jiu jitsu is like teaching your fingerprint. Everybody has a different one. You can choose a book, or maybe a system, like Gracie University. Or you can choose an instructor. That’s your truth of jiu jitsu and you’ve got to have no doubt.

If you have doubt, it’s better you shop around. That’s ok, that’s ok to shop around if you’re not that attached, if you feel like you belong to somewhere else. That’s completely fine. It hurts, but that’s the way it should be, because before you can be loyal to somebody, to a sensei, you’ve got to be loyal to yourself. Do I really believe that I should stay here? If you can say ‘yes’, good. If you have any ‘no’, go see what’s up, because you’re not 100%.

It’s a whole different thing. What was our first marketing in America? Teach the best American jiu jitsu guy how to be a world champion. That’s our marketing. I came to your country and I’m going to make an American a world champion, just to pay my dues to America.

So, we make Rafael Lovato, went back to Brazil and won. In Brazil! That was a wake up call for all the Brazilians. Hey, fighting in Brazil is important to influence this new generation of fighters. Don’t just come to America and fight for money. Fight for your country. Now, for all you guys, who has the crown in Brazil? An American guy.

That’s our silent way to make a statement, you know? Oh, we come to America. Thank you, thank you America. But let me do what I do best. Teach somebody to kick everybody’s ass.

Photos courtesy of the University of Jiu Jitsu. For more interviews, go here

Interview: Saulo Ribeiro on BJJ in the USA & His Famous Quotes

During the same June 2013 trip when he interviewed Fabio Santos (go here to read that), Can also had the chance to speak to one of his jiu jitsu heroes, Saulo Ribeiro. Among the greatest competitors in the history of BJJ, Saulo has gone on to become a great teacher too, at his University of Jiu Jitsu school in San Diego.

This interview originally appeared in Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine #17, so is being republished on the Artemis BJJ site with the JJS editor’s kind permission. The second part will be popping up next week, while the third part can be read on the JJS website, here.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You founded your first US based academy in Toledo, Ohio back in 1995. You said in 2006 that the reason you went for Ohio, rather than a more typical choice like California, was to understand “the pure mentality of America”, in order to better teach Americans. What have you learned in your time in the US?

SAULO: Brazil is a third world country. You have to do a lot of sacrifice, to be able to live well. When I moved to America I saw that it really is the land of opportunity and if you work really hard, you’re going to get it. But you cannot find a bunch of excuses for not doing. In the mid-west, truly American blue-collar workers live there. These guys work 7 to 5 every day and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what built America.

I was very fortunate to have a group of people introduce jiu jitsu over there in a very pleasant way. The guys that I have there are not only my students, they are my family in America, the guys that I consider brothers. We spent a lot of time together. Over there, things are cheaper, so there is no problem to make a couple of mistakes. It costs almost nothing, the cost of living there is way lower compared to California, or the East Coast, New York.

So I knew I had to spend some time over there trying to find what America is all about. I was very fortunate to meet Chris Blanke, who today is the director of the organisation, everything runs through him. It has been a very awesome ride.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Are there any differences between how you taught BJJ in Toledo and how you now teach BJJ in San Diego?

SAULO: Completely different. In Toledo, I taught with my heart and with the experience that I had from Brazil, the toughness. When I moved here to California, I saw there was a lot of demands for jiu jitsu. These people will be your best friend, but they will also be your clients, your customers. It is not just about me, that I am good. I’ve got to offer programs and options for reinventing jiu jitsu, besides being a world champ, besides competition, besides any other stuff.

Today, you see my brother and I offering information about self defence for women, for kids, another whole chapter of jiu jitsu that we rarely touched upon when we were just coming in as the champ, just competing, with that mindset on the mat. At the end of the day, it made us better, but we still keep the heart.

For example, we just went through ‘Hell Week’ here, Rafael Lovato, Clark Gracie, Xande, the best in the business just training and having so much fun at the highest level. On the other hand, we have to provide our fans and the people that want to get close, another door for jiu jitsu. The kind of people who say “No, I don’t like sparring, I just want to do self defence,” or “I just want to drill.”

Today, we have different programs that allow us to give this to our new jiu jitsu base and also, through BJJ Library, we can show the same technique, but online. It is like having Saulo in your house. But you can’t touch, which is why we’re going to have webinars once a month, where the person who thinks “Oh, I want to ask him, why is his hand there and not here?” can save their question for the webinar of the month.

That’s when I’m really going to talk to you guys. It’s not going to be like “ok, he showed this, but…” We want to answer the “but” that nobody has been answering. That’s the difference with our online program. We’re going to be there. It’s like when the baby cries, Papa’s here. [Laughs]

I’m not flying to seminars everywhere, I’m with this project, I’m with you guys that believe in us. That’s why I think it will have a huge impact when people feel warmth through the website. “Wow, he is here with me, for real!” That I think is going to be the big thing of this online system, that for you to understand and practice is going to take years.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian jiu jitsu in Bristol Saulo Interview  IMG_9214

It’s perfect, because it was our reward for all this hard work that we did in California, changing the whole system. Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu is now a system.  We developed the Harvard of jiu jitsu, something that is going to be…it’s not just what you know, it’s being willing to do it, you know? To know Ribeiro Jiu Jitsu will take a few years. It’s a blend of my understanding, my brother’s understanding, put together, that’s a heck of a program. I’m very happy with the results. It takes time.

And another thing, to film, you’ve got to be in the mood. You cannot come there and be, “Ok, I’ve got to film this, BJJ Library sucks,” no. That’s going to be terrible. Don’t do it. Don’t cheat yourself and don’t cheat the people that are watching you. Come in the mood to show what the positions are about. The position by itself is an empty box. The details and the talk and experience, the things that you’ve passed through, that makes the position rich.

JJS: You have produced many memorable quotes. My personal favourite is from Jiu Jitsu Revolution 1, where you’re demonstrating a guard pass and say:

 “You have to think that your partner, the guy that you’re training [with], has to be your best friend. So, you don’t want to hurt him, you don’t want to try to open his guard with your elbow, make him feel really pain, because jiu jitsu is not about pain.”

 How do you go about cultivating that mindset in your students?

 SAULO: I tell them they cannot train jiu jitsu by themselves. You cannot achieve excellence, you cannot improve if somebody on the other side is not putting the leverage against you. It’s a game of leverage. At the end of the day, if somebody doesn’t reproduce the action and reaction that you need to understand the move, you won’t get it. So at first, you have to bribe your training partner. Don’t repulse them, don’t make them think “Wow, this person is stupid, this person is whatever.” Don’t let them have a bad understanding about who you are.

 That’s one of the best things that I took from one of the business meetings I went to, the person said “90% of any problem is a misunderstanding.” In anything you’re going to do in business, in life, there is misunderstanding or misinterpretation. You’ve got to make sure things are square. So in jiu jitsu, somebody that is going to be sweating on you, grabbing you, has to be so intimately aware of who you are, otherwise you’re not going to go forward. You’ll go this way, they will go that way.

That’s what I mean by make them your best friend: you cannot feel a threat from them and vice versa, so you have a perfect partnership. “Make your training partner your best friend” is not only a rule, it’s a requirement for you in order to get better. So these guys have got to be your brothers and sisters. That’s why we always say “brothers in Ribeiro jiu jitsu”. The person that joins Ribeiro jiu jitsu has got to understand that really fast.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Your most famous quote is probably “If you think, you are late. If you are late, you use strength. If you use strength, you tire. And if you tire, you die.” Now, that makes sense in terms of developing an instinctive jiu jitsu where you can quickly respond. However, jiu jitsu is also something very cerebral, so where do you feel thinking has a place in training?

SAULO: Yes, when you’re drilling. Yes, when you are learning the technique. But when it’s time to go, it’s action/reaction, like Newton’s law, the same thing. You can’t go again, there is not a gap, “Ok, then, pow,” no. It’s on. If I think I’m scared, or I’m tired, or I’m this, the other person sees it. That sends a different kind of vibration. That’s why it is very hard to fight with me, because if you look at my fights, I’m always going forward. I don’t give you time to think.

I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do next, but I know that I’m going to push you. I’m not pausing to think, no. It’s a continuous pressure to force you to make a choice. “Oh no, I’m going to frame, or I’m going to scoop. I’m going to try to push, or I’m going to try and stand.” You have to make a choice, I don’t give you time. Action and reaction is the name of the game.

Courtesy of Victor Cantu Photography
Courtesy of Victor Cantu Photography

If you think, you’re going to carry your opponent, their body, because you back up. That’s why when we use strength, we stop the flow between us, because I’m just trying to stop you. I’m not flowing with you, it’s over. You submit, you don’t want any more. That’s why mentally for me, when I compete, it’s a dog fight. The first one to back up, they’re out, they don’t want to be there.

I was very blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with Helio Gracie. That guy was amazing. I don’t know if he is still in the subject of action and reaction, but he is the pure example of what it is to put pressure all the time. So, this quote I think has a lot to do with developing yourself if you want to be a competitor, the mentality of pressure. If you don’t have pressure, screw action and reaction, you don’t go nowhere. You’re going to spend a lot of energy, you’re going to muscle a lot, you’re going to get tired and you’re going to have a lot of doubt.

ARTEMIS BJJ: I can remember on your DVDs there are a couple of positions, particularly the running man escape and reverse de la Riva, where you say “Here you can take a breather, take your time.” That’s a different thing, I guess?

SAULO: Yeah, because you’re already behind. When you’re behind, it’s not an even game. You’re already on your side, they’re already past your leg, it’s not an even situation now. It’s about a hunter and you are the one being hunted. You’re not even, they are a little bit ahead. I cannot expose myself, or it will get worse. Now it is about blocking the space that will let them progress. So, you put it out the big door, boom. They are with their soldiers here, but that’s a narrow door. Keep your elbow up there, don’t let the elbow through, don’t let that get off: if that gets off, it gets ugly. They’re going to knock that door down.

That’s what it is all about when you’re at a disadvantage. They can rush, relieve the pressure, and you get out at a low cost. It depends how much they believe they are already there, that they’re going to finish you. So when you’re in a disadvantaged position, you’ve got to take your time. No more rush, they are already in the castle [Laughs]. Now you need to protect your king, your neck, and protect your queen, that’s your arms. Be patient.

Photos courtesy of the University of Jiu Jitsu. For more interviews, go here

Interview: Fabio Santos On Teaching

Continuing Can’s June 2013 interview with Fabio Santos, the BJJ pioneer moves on to his thoughts about teaching. You can read the first part of this interview here, covering Fabio’s background and his early years in the USA. The last part will be appearing on Groundwork BJJ.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You have a lot of experience as an instructor: what are your thoughts on developing a solid teaching methodology, class formats and the like?

FABIO SANTOS: I pay a lot of attention to stand up, I do a lot of judo with my guys. I do a lot of self defence with the white belts. A lot of times I have the higher belts help out, because they already know the self defence, they help during the warm up.

We have a methodology for the white belts, the lower belts, when they come in. If they have no knowledge of jiu jitsu, they are going to be off to the side. I will get somebody to help them do the elbow escape, upa, arm defence, pass the guard, off to the side. When I feel that they are ready, I will throw them in. They will go spar with everybody else. Everybody is really nice: if I see anyone brutalising the beginner, I’ll stop.

I play it by ear a lot. Some guys are naturals, so you want to get them out there as soon as possible, get them good. Some people take longer, so we have to protect them, whereas others don’t need any protection. They’re going for it, they’re tough naturally. But some you worry about them getting hurt. Those you protect, give them some gentle people to train with. That’s how I saw Rolls teach. All the time I saw Rolls’ teaching and Rickson’s teaching, Relson’s teaching: these are my teachers.

I think I’m just automatic, just like them I’m automatic. I try to put the bigger guys together, the guys in the same age group together. That’s important, so you don’t lose students. I try to have a methodology that doesn’t hurt anyone, that is acceptable. Sometimes you have a guy that is so much better than another guy, and this guy just trashes him and it’s discouraging. That’s why I try to match levels, so they can give each other a hard time, not one annihilating the other.

Of course it happens, when you change partners and all, but I always try to maintain the fairness.

ARTEMIS BJJ: In terms of actually teaching technique, there seems to be quite a bit of variance on that from school to school. I noticed in class today, you went through it fairly quickly, relying more on the drilling and sparring, rather than going into the fine detail.

FABIO SANTOS: Yeah, I show the position three, four or five times, and I like the guys to do repetitions a hundred times. That’s what is going to make them fluid, the movement fluid. The details come with time. If they are holding like this, holding like that, they will see that the position is not working smoothly. Then they’ll ask “What am I doing wrong?”, and I’ll tell them “Well, you could hold like that instead of holding like this.” He’ll ask the guy next to him, “What am I doing wrong?”

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol Fabio Santos Interview1I have around five or six black belts in class, which helps a lot. I don’t have to correct each guy any more, but I used to. “Stop. What are you doing here? Put your hand there. Now do it,” and they’d say “Oh yeah, now it feels smooth.” It takes a lot of watching and observing. You might not correct them today, but tomorrow or the next day. You see them again making the same mistake, you go over there, “All right, this is how you want to do it.”

It’s personal, you know? Some people immediately get it, they copy perfectly what you’ve shown, no problem at all. Then there is the other guy who has more difficulty copying, because of his background or whatever. Teaching is really personal. Some guys, they take forever to show the position, they take like half an hour. “Do this, make sure you do that, make sure you do this.” But their student is still going to make the mistake. You can’t make them do it perfectly the first time.

So, I show the position five times, “Ok, it’s kind of like this.” Then like this one, this two. On the tenth time, they should be doing it perfectly.  I always tell people to ask questions. If you think you are doing something wrong, ask a question and we’ll fix the situation. That’s how I see it.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Would you treat it the same way in a private lesson, or would that be a different kind of format?

FABIO SANTOS: The private lesson, if it is me and them, I like to feel their jiu jitsu. Then I can give my input on what they need to do. Sometimes, in a semi-private where you have more than one person, watching them train can be more effective. That’s because of the level, I don’t have to play a role with the guy, like if I have to play the role of a blue belt to see what this guy is doing. It is better sometimes having two blue belts, then I can see exactly what that person needs to do.

It can be more effective than having them train with me, because I’d be playing a role. I could just smash the guy, but that’s not what I want to do, so I play like a blue belt and see what they are doing wrong, at their level. It can be complicated to improve somebody.You have to see what they are doing wrong, then little by little you adjust.

Sometimes you leave your arm out to see if they notice, or you leave your neck exposed.There’s also why do they want to get better: do they want to compete, do they just want to be effective if somebody attacks them on the street. What do you want to do with your jiu jitsu? Then we’ll train accordingly.

I believe that you should always start on the ground. There are guys who insist “Oh no, you have to do throws!”, this and that: no. If you don’t know how to get out of the bottom, all that you’re learning is going to be worthless! [laughs] It’s like not knowing how to throw a jab. If you’re a boxer, that’s the most important thing, to have a good jab! So you’re going to train ten years to come out with one good jab. It’s the same thing, in jiu jitsu you’re going to try to get out of the bottom, from the mount, from the guard.

You’ve got to know sweeps, elbow escape, upa. Those are the most important things, because you can be a good puncher, a good thrower, but if you don’t know how to get out of the bottom when somebody is holding you down, then all that training is useless.

Artemis BJJ Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Bristol Fabio Santos Interview2 with Kyle Maynard

ARTEMIS BJJ: Does any of that methodology and class format come from your university degree in Physical Education?

FABIO SANTOS: Pretty much judo and jiu jitsu, it’s very specific. But I use a lot of physiological aspects, like interval training, you know. I’ll do very short rounds, like a minute and a half, where the guy has to explode the whole time, they cannot just sit back. Sometimes this is more tiring than the long training. So I try to cover all aspects to improve my students. All they have to do is come to class, they will improve. Their only job is just to get here. [laughs]

Photos courtesy of Can’s Instagram and Dagney. For more interviews, go here