Category Archives: Interview

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

Interview: Fabio Santos On The Early Years of US BJJ

Back in June 2013, Can flew out to California for the first time. That gave him the opportunity to finally meet some online friends, like Caleb from the Fightworks Podcast, along with a few big names from BJJ. Along with Rener Gracie and Saulo Ribeiro, Can had the great pleasure of speaking with a pioneer of BJJ in the US: Fabio Santos, a 7th degree red-and-black belt (also known as the ‘coral belt’).

This is the first part of the interview, where Fabio spoke about his memories of the beginnings of BJJ in the USA, something in which he played a central role. That will be followed by a second part next week, with the last part appearing on Groundwork BJJ. For a cool introduction to Fabio’s history, from his time in Brazil onwards, have a listen to his recent chat with Saulo here (from Can’s favourite instructional site, BJJ Library).

ARTEMIS BJJ: In your old Fightworks interview from 2006, you mentioned you started teaching in New York, with small classes of just 12 guys. Do you remember when that was and how it came about?

FABIO SANTOS: That was right in 1983, just after I got my black belt. I was offered a job in New York: I graduated in Physical Education, so I have a specialisation in bodybuilding and weight training. So, I went to New York to teach weights, at a very famous academy with lots of movie stars and stuff. At the end of the class, I would put down some mats in a corner, maybe nine o’clock at night and bring a couple of guys. We would start training then.

Some people would start to get interested in it, but we could never get it off the ground. I had to work so much, I was working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. I simply couldn’t fit it in. Time passed, then I met Sherry in Utah, my wife, and we moved to Oregon to get married. I’m in Oregon – this is around 1989, 1990 – and I’m looking at Black Belt Magazine. I see Rorion, Royce and Royler, doing seminars in California. I contact them, and they were like “Oh man, you’re here! I didn’t know you were here! You’ve got to come down and work with us!” They said they were building a school, which was the Torrance Academy.

That’s how it all started here, in the United States. Then the UFC came and everybody knew about jiu jitsu. It was like we had to put barricades at the front door of the Gracie Academy, there was a stampede to learn jiu jitsu. It was incredible. Then I came down to San Diego, as a Gracie Jiu Jitsu affiliate from Rorion Gracie. But business didn’t work out very good – we’re still good friends – but today I’m with Relson. He’s been my friend for thirty years.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Do you know if any of those guys you taught in New York are still training, or are you not in contact with any of them?

FABIO SANTOS: I know one of them moved to Florida, Sergio. He’s a Brazilian guy and still trains here and there. The other guys I pretty much lost contact.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You told Caleb your next move was to Utah, where you trained with Pedro Sauer. Although he now has a huge association, you mentioned that back then he was just teaching from his house, so only had a handful of students. What was it like training in that atmosphere?

FABIO SANTOS: Yeah, Pedro and I used to train together before, in Brazil. It was very strange to be in the United States training, just me and him! There was nobody else out there [laughs]. But almost immediately, he moved, I can’t remember where. I stayed in Park City for a couple of years, before moving to Oregon like I said. It was only a short time with Pedro Sauer. It would have been around 1986, 1987.

ARTEMIS BJJ: You also said you were at the Gracie Academy in the early 1990s, teaching a lot of the classes while Royce was preparing for the first UFC: what are you memories of the Academy at that time?

FABIO SANTOS: I taught all the classes, pretty much. That time was really tough, because we used to get a lot of challenge matches. Every single day there would be wrestlers coming in, punchers and kickers, kickboxers, all wanting to test that out against us. We had five or six guys that were always “Can I go? Can I do it? Let me do it!” We had a few brown belts out there. Also Royce himself, it was good for his training because it was one hundred percent real. The only thing you couldn’t do was eye gouge and bite.

Nowadays, it is not really vale tudo, it is entertainment. The guy only has to fight one time, it is completely different. I believe in tournaments, I don’t believe that someone can be a world champion after just fighting one time! [laughs] Like Brock Lesnar, comes through the window and fights two guys, then he is world champion in that division. That’s very strange to me. To have to go up the ranks, then you become a world champion. But here, they want everything in a microwave, so they do whatever is good for them financially.

That is probably the main reason Rorion and I got away from all this UFC thing. The guys were champions before, now the guys are drunks, drug addicts, you know what I mean? They do crap, they get arrested. It is a different breed of people from before. All the guys that fought before had trophies in their houses, they were real martial artists, proud of what they did their entire life.

Now, the guys take drugs, they take a bunch of steroids and get in there. Then they get caught, they come back again, get caught a second time: it’s like the shame is zero! [laughs] It’s not like a martial art any more, it is a different thing. I don’t think we belong there anymore, it is completely against jiu jitsu. As soon as they go to the ground, they get stood up. They don’t give the time necessary for the jiu jitsu guy to get going. Then you have a submission on and the bell rings. This is a fight. There is no bell.

ARTEMIS BJJ: Getting back to your personal history, you were going to move to Philadelphia, but were put off by a snowstorm, so came to San Diego in 1998 instead. You also said Nelson Monteiro was the only other guy around in San Diego at the time. What do you remember about setting up your school back then?

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interview with Fabio Santos June 2013 class

FABIO SANTOS: Oh yeah: my school was right there, down the block about halfway. We started with pretty much nothing. Rorion gave me those mats that I have on the wall now. He gave me as a present and said, “Never give the fish, give the fishing pole.” I started there, we put them on the ground and I had rent money for three months. That was it, paid in advance. I told the guy, “Hey, if this doesn’t work, I don’t know dude, I’ll have to wash your car or whatever.”

Luckily it was successful. In the first month, we had a hundred students, right off the bat. I was busier then than I am now, because today we have fifty schools in San Diego. There are not that many people that like jiu jitsu. I think it is a dumb move to come to San Diego and open a school, at the moment. But people don’t care: they just opened another school recently. It is saturated. I think if you open one more here, it is going to go under.

It is impossible that you can have that many schools in a place that has a million inhabitants. I’m sure half of that is not interested in jiu jitsu! [laughs]

Photos by kind permission of Dagney. For more interviews, go here.

Interview: Jamie Hussein from Future Champions

The third and final interview we want to share with you (click the links for the first and second in this series) from the research behind the Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine ‘BJJ in Schools’ article is from Jamie Hussein, who heads up the Future Champions project in London (visit their Facebook page here). To read the article for which this interview  was a source, pick up JJS #19.

Artemis BJJ interview with Future Champions - St Lukes Group

How would you summarise your program in a sentence?

An organisation dedicated to inspiring and supporting young people in their dreams and goals.

How did you (or the founder, if it wasn’t you) go about setting up that program?

Three of us together in the UK, built on the ideas and work of Leao Teixeira in Rio, Brazil. We began by setting up a pilot project in partnership with the Met Police and a local authority primary school.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting the program underway?

In one word, Money.

What would you say has been the program’s biggest achievement to date?

Taking a 13 year old, who had been with us from the very first session here in the UK, to Abu Dhabi to compete at the World Pro Cup.  He met with world champions, trained at the ADCC and on the mats at the Officers Club hotel (where the many top level competitors are based for the week): it was an invaluable trip for his BJJ journey. But more than that, it made it all worthwhile seeing the smile on his face when he swam in the sea for the first time!

Artemis BJJ interview with Future Champions - ADCC pic

We’re also supporting another remarkable young man, in his application to Cambridge University for 2014, fingers crossed.

What has been the biggest ongoing challenge?

Again, money. We began in 2008, just at the beginning of the financial collapse, which has been hard to contend with, but this also positively shows what we can achieve on pure goodwill alone. Another major challenge was trying to get the continuing and ongoing support from the Met Police in the pilot project we started together.

What are the main benefits you feel the children get out of your program?

Respect for themselves, the discipline to succeed in anything they choose to do and a sense of responsibility for their actions. We hope that they not only succeed in their chosen field, but they remember their duty to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves and become a champion in the truest sense of the word.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your program?

Our project is just one of many out there around the country trying to do what is right in relation to children and young people. We hope that the government wakes up and realises, before it is too late, that schooling is not just about passing a test. Sports and martial arts in particular are an important tool in providing a much needed balance in the education of our young people.

Artemis BJJ interview with Future Champions - Students

Pictures courtesy of Jamie Hussein

Interview: Beth Thrasher from Vector Jiu Jitsu

The second interview we want to share with you from the research behind the Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine ‘BJJ in Schools’ article is from Beth Thrasher, who heads up the Vector Jiu Jitsu project over in the USA (visit their Facebook page here). To read the article for which this interview was a source, pick up JJS #19.

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interviews Beth Thrasher from Vector Jiu Jitsu 1

How would you summarise your project in a sentence?

A comprehensive youth development program serving “at-risk” youth using the vehicle of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to instill 3 core values:  Know Yourself, Better Yourself and Help Others.

How did you (or the founder, if it wasn’t you) go about setting up that project?

 I am a public school teacher in Mississippi at one of the lowest performing schools in America.  Our student population is plagued by generational poverty, violence, crime, gang activity and academic malaise.  I had worked for several after school tutoring programs funded by the government that were completely ineffective.  Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu had been the vehicle that brought both my husband, and I out of deeply depressive periods in our lives (before we’d even met, and 1,000 miles apart), it was what had also brought us together.  We concluded that, if Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu could be that powerful of a force for positive change in our lives, it could be the same for my students.   

After doing a research literature review to support our claim that a martial arts program for urban youth would have positive outcomes, I approached the principal at my school and asked if we could start Vector Jiu-Jitsu as an after-school club at Wingfield.  Without batting an eye she said “Sure, go ahead.  Just find your own money to fund it.”   I made sure to follow up with the school district’s legal counsel and executive director who both gave their stamps of approval as well.

So, in the summer of 2012 my husband and I began to solicit local politicians, church leaders and businesses for a $3,000 sponsorship to purchase mats and begin our program.  The response was non-existent… save for the earnest support of city councilman Tony Yarber.  Councilman Yarber, a martial artist himself, fully understood the power physical arts can wield in a young person’s life.  He worked to gain us audience with local business firms, and they were enthralled about our program but pledged no funds.

In the end, we were “loaned” $1,500 from the JROTC Booster Club at our school, courtesy of LTC Kenzie Wallace’s endorsement and we, the Thrashers, provided the other $1,500 (no small feat for our single income household with 2 toddlers).

Mats were delivered on December 18th, 2012 and the first official classes for Vector Jiu-Jitsu began on January 7th, 2013.

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interviews Beth Thrasher from Vector Jiu Jitsu 3

What was the biggest obstacle to getting the project underway?

 Money (funding)

What would you say has been the project’s biggest achievement to date?

There are two 19-year-old boys in our program who have looked us in the eye and said that they were going to drop out of high school before Vector came along.

What has been the biggest ongoing challenge?

The biggest challenge has been being limited in our access to the facilities and students at Wingfield High School exclusively.  We need to expand to serve more kids in the community and thus achieve a true paradigm shift out of the cycle of perpetual poverty and academic failure.

What are the main benefits you feel the children get out of your project?

The main benefit our children receive is personal accountability.  Most of our students have lived their entire lives with no one expecting much from them.  We expect, and in fact demand, that they do their best, with excellence in every endeavor.  Whether it’s not letting pants sag, refraining from cursing, lifting their voice to stop a bully or correcting a classroom assignment to move a “B” to an “A”, Vector Jiu-Jitsu mentors expect that students become a better version of themselves every day.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your project?

You can throw money at the declining academic performance in American children all you want, but if you don’t stoke the intrinsic fire within for those children to take advantage of resources already at their disposal than your money is wasted.  We truly feel that jiu-jitsu WILL stoke that fire in hundreds of thousands of American school-age children and thus, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu might just be what saves public education in America!

 Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interviews Beth Thrasher from Vector Jiu Jitsu 2


Interview: Ralph Presgrave from Submit 2 Success

Can recently wrote an article on kids programmes in BJJ for Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine, including various charitable projects. The article quotes from a number of short interviews, but as there were some great responses, we wanted to put those up in full on the Artemis BJJ website. So, interviews will be popping up over the next few weeks: to read the article in JJS #19, you can buy the magazine here.

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interviews Ralph Presgrave from Submit 2 Success - 1

How would you summarise your project in a sentence?

Submit 2 Success is a youth engagement programme which promotes healthy lifestyles and targets anti social behaviour using the sport of BJJ to young people ages 13-19 ( our early intervention programme Urban Gurillaz targets those aged 6-12

How did you (or the founder, if it wasn’t you) go about setting up that project?

I had worked as a local authority youth worker, at the time 2009, a few of the kids I worked with wanted to get into martial arts after playing Undisputed on xbox. I was training BJJ at the time under Shaun Matthews. I told the kids, “Look guys, you can apply for money from a youth activities fund and learn properly.”

We set up a seven week pilot project covering super basic stuff with Shaun’s guidance. It was a huge success (excuse the pun) with five students, who were not from the best background. They all gained an accredited certificate through ASDAN too. After that the council funded us for a year, I took redundancy and started to just run Submit 2 Success voluntary.

What was the biggest obstacle to getting the project underway?

The project just evolved…the council funded it, then Sported (the Olympic legacy charity). I made lots of links and got turned down from lots of places for funding, but after a while we had secured something long term. This allowed young people access without having to pay, as it was a really deprived area.

We currently have several funders, including the NHS as well as the Thornaby and Stockton councils. Shaun Matthews, Martin Ashton and Jamie Taylor from Middlesbrough Fight Academy are all great mentors to me and really equipped me with lots of great topics to cover with the guys.

What would you say has been the project’s biggest achievement to date?

Reaching over 100 young people over the past year. One of our guys took bronze at British Open juvenile: the young kids are looking really sharp on the mat too.

What has been the biggest ongoing challenge?

Funding is always an issue especially in these difficult times. It would be nice to achieve some more long term funding. The project was nearly forced to close in 2012 due to a conflict of interest with a local gym, but we stuck it out, secured some last minute funding and haven’t looked back.

What are the main benefits you feel the children get out of your project?

Confidence, respect, discipline and friendly brotherhood bonds.

BJJ kids are as cool as the adults. It’s great to see a kid with not much confidence develop over a couple of months from training BJJ. Then the usual stuff, like keeping fit and healthy, being a good person. BJJ guys are so much nicer to be around.

I have a young kid who has mild learning difficulties and it’s amazing how much he understands BJJ, his grappling is superb and he has a real passion for it.

Finally, is there anything else you’d like to add regarding your project?

Yes, thank you to all our funders, Sported, NHS Grants 4 Health, Community Development Fund and Stockton Council Sports Development. Also thanks to Shaun, Marty and Jamie and the guys over at MPT. Without you guys the project wouldn’t be what it is.

Our doors are always open to new guys. 13-19 year olds train for free. Friday, 6:30-7:45 at Victoria Park Community Hall, Thornaby, TS17 7HU.  You can find us on Facebook here, or ring us on 07581513841.

Artemis BJJ Bristol Brazilian Jiu Jitsu interviews Ralph Presgrave from Submit 2 Success 2