Jennifer Perez returned home last week after a year traveling the world and training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She visited 10 countries and 45 academies. Fresh off her travels Kostas Fantaousakis asks her about her year abroad.
Kostas: Jenifer, how long have you been training in BJJ.
Jennifer: I have been training since February 2012. I started Training BJJ as a way to rebuild my self-esteem and strength that had been drained from a bad relationship of 9 years.
Kostas: What is your belt rank and who is your instructor(s) in BJJ? Do you train in other sports too or just BJJ?
Jennifer: I was promoted to blue belt in June of 2013 under Amal Easton. I trained kickboxing and Muay Thai 2 years prior to starting BJJ. I had a 1 year break between the time I stopped MT and started BJJ
Kostas: How did you get this idea to travel around the world and visit so many academies?
Jennifer: Japan was always a place I wanted to visit so after my breakup I took some savings and booked my trip to Japan. Fast-forward, on my flight back I couldn’t help but be sad knowing that the high from my trip would soon subside. There was a Fidelity commercial that came on and at the end of it it said "Save Today to Live Tomorrow"...that was the moment I realized I had to quit what was making me unhappy and dedicate at least one year to myself. To try and discover my intended purpose. I read BJJ globetrotter by Christian Graugart and immediately knew I had to do that.
Kostas: Can you name some of the countries you visited? How long did it take to visit 45 academies?
Jennifer: I’ve visited about 50 academies in total this year and visited some amazing places like South Korea, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, Portugal, Singapore, Panamá, Puerto Rico and a few more. I started Jan 15th of 2014 & in Jan 2015 I visited my 50th academy AlleyCat Fitness Foundation in Casco Viejo Panama.
Kostas: Did you travel all by yourself or did you have other athletes with you?
Jennifer: For the most part I was alone but our Jiu-Jitsu community is so amazing that once I connected with at least one person from the academy I was treated like family instantly!
I met up with many friends along the way that stayed and globetrotted with me for weeks at a time. Like Vivian Velez from Puerto Rico and Talita Alencar from Rio. It was great to have full time partners who also enjoyed visiting other academies as much as I did.
Kostas: How do you decide which school to visit? Do you use the internet to get information first and then contact the school or do you ask friends and fellow athletes where to go?
Jennifer: I primarily relied on referrals from my professor teammates and other members of the globetrotting community that made suggestions on where to train. I did google a few places out on a remote island in Lombok but that’s because I was itching to train & no one there seemed to know what Jiu-Jitsu was.
Kostas: There seems to be a recent trend in BJJ to combine traveling and training. After visiting so many countries could you give travelers a few tips on what to look for and what to avoid when visiting schools abroad?
Jennifer: I can’t say I've had a bad experience because I truly haven’t. Everyone was always so welcoming. What I do recommend is if you are traveling on a budget make sure to call ahead and confirm the cost of the drop in fee. Also, as a female I was nervous at first meeting so many new people and telling people my story and the fact that I was traveling alone, it was scary but the complete opposite happened. It’s like I had big brothers in every country I visited!
Tip: Train with respect and you will always be welcomed back! It’s that simple. Our community may seem big but it’s quite small and if you are a good person with good intention the door to any academy will always be open but being disrespectful and rude will spread like wild fire and soon the doors will start to shut on you. Stay positive and happy always.
Also, I always had gear from my sponsor Newaza Apparel or from Easton BJJ and I gave them out to the professors as thank you gifts for allowing me to train there. Nice gestures are always appreciated.
Kostas: Every BJJ school is different. Some focus more on self-defense, others in MMA and others on sport Jiu-Jitsu. Did you notice any other differences? How do schools vary from one country to the other?
Jennifer: Yes there were many different styles of BJJ. I remember showing up to No-gi class with Prof. Nico Han at Synergy MMA there were about 10 guys on the mat and I was one of 3 women. I was excited to train, except for the fact that I was getting punched in the ribs when I locked down the guard and in transition to a triangle I was getting tapped in the head by punches from by partner. It was very annoying and I kept losing focus but I believe that was the point and lesson of Prof. Nico -- self-defense first.
Some schools that I enjoyed very much this year were Atos BJJ in San Diego & Mendes Bros in Costa Mesa. Both were very competitive academies with amazing training and tough competitors. Alvarez BJJ in Dallas TX has incorporated wrestling into their training and after being there for a week. I can definitely say there is no question why they have such high level performing athletes. I trained with Lucas Leite and Pati Fontes at Checkmat La Habra and their machine drills are amazing. I still use a lot of them today. I also spent two weeks training Ft. Lee Combatives with Prof Matt Smith, whoa, what a monster of an instructor. Trained with military men every morning at 5:30 am, def no berimbolos were being used here! Prof. Edison Takohara at OverLimit teaches Judo every night as a part of the BJJ curriculum, it was very fun and I learned some pretty cool throws. Every academy was different. I started at Easton BJJ where we had a curriculum and learned step by step, move by move, fundamental, intermediate and advanced. Some academies didn’t offer this. There is one class and that is it, sink or swim. You have to pay attention and learn quickly.
BJJ is a very artistic martial art and each country is painting with the same colors except every painting in the end looks very different from the other.
Kostas: Did you meet any famous instructors/athletes during your travels?
Jennifer: Yes, many amazing talented athletes. From Fernando Terere in Lisboa, to Prof. Rickson Gracie in Torrence, Lucas Leite in la Habra, Miyao Bros In Japan, Mendes Bros in Costa, Nico Han in Bali, Master Cyborg in Miami, Michelle Nicolini, MacKenzie Dern and the list goes on and on... Truly a blessed year.
Kostas: Do you have a favorite quote or piece of advice that was given to you during so many training sessions around the world?
Jennifer: I was in Miami prepping for the worlds and Master Cyborg was running a class and after 3 hours of intense training he said, "I don't care if you win, there will always be more opportunities. The only thing I care about is that you never quit."
Another great moment was in Lisboa, after training, Prof. Terere overhears me talk about my roll with my partner and says to me the best way to win is to believe you've already won!!
Ian Lieberman of Easton BJJ said to me after a really tough roll, Jen you are 5'ft 127 lbs. blue belt he's 6'4 200lb black belt. You did great! Hahaha, I know BJJ isn’t about the size of the person, it is about the size of patience you have with yourself.
Kostas: Did anything surprise you when visiting other countries?
Jennifer: Yes, I was surprised and impressed with the determination of my Brazilian brothers and sisters in Japan that worked 12 sometimes 14 hour shifts. Afterwards go straight to the academy to train at 9:30pm train until midnight, go home only to sleep 4 hours max and be up and doing it again the next day. Now any excuse I hear people make to not train seems petty and inconsiderate!
Kostas: To finish this interview would you say that the BJJ lifestyle is unique in bringing people of different ethnicity and backgrounds together?
Jennifer: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn’t just a martial art or a sport it is much more special than that. It unites and brings people from all walks of life to one center point. The mat is full of not just one type but many and that is why it is so beautiful. There is no discrimination, no racism, no politics, no religion... It’s all about the flow of the roll! That's why I love this so much.
Thank you viewers, fans and long time supporters of BJJ Legends. Thank you to Mafu Kobus and Shannon Edmonds. Thank you to the many the writers, editors, content providers and companies that make BJJ Legends happen. Most of all thank you to JJGF, Tony Pacenski and Professor Rickson Gracie.
BJJ Legends: Well, essential to our culture is loyalty. My instructor Wander Braga and his instructor, Jorge Pereira always say, every time I see them, "It's always important that family and loyalty is the most important thing."
Rickson Gracie: Yes. They are dear brothers for mine.
BJJ Legends: Thank you. In Jiu-Jitsu and in life... My first instructor was Jason Krikorian. He always used to say the same thing. Always very important that loyalty was ever-present in the Jiu-Jitsu player because who knows what's going to happen in life, but it's very important to be able to rely on those around you. So I'd like to say to you thank you for your loyalty to the art...
Rickson Gracie: My pleasure.
BJJ Legends:... and to the Jiu-Jitsu community...
Rickson Gracie: My pleasure.
BJJ Legends:... for circling back around here and educating us and helping to guide us back towards some of the more traditional ways of dealing with this art, so that we can all benefit from it.
Rickson Gracie: Thank you, my friend.
BJJ Legends: Thank you very much.
Rickson Gracie: Jiu-Jitsu for life.
BJJ Legends: Jiu-Jitsu for life. Thank you for sitting with BJJ Legends.
Today in the Rickson Interview: Rickson talks about how he intends to use the JJGF to change the future world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
BJJ Legends: The second newsletter I wanted to talk about was "The Smart Way to Practice," was the title of that newsletter. That was also from 1999, 2000, in which you articulate the importance of, as I believe you put it, putting on the shelf your natural attributes.
Taking out your natural attributes of speed, strength, agility, whatever they may be, and instead relying on the technique, the principles of leverage, timing, these sorts of things to accomplish your objective.
Along the way, since that time, many times we've also heard you talk about how important in particular, I believe, that the goal here with the JJGF is to create an opportunity and a way, a means, for people to make Jiu-Jitsu matter in their personal lives.
How do you intend on using what you've learned in life and the principles that you've attained to use a JJGF to communicate to the world and to get those who have been in a different mindset about how Jiu-Jitsu should be to change their thinking?
Rickson Gracie: I think all those topics are very interesting, and all those are relevant for the community, for the instructor, for the fighter. I think just the education, just to banging in a more complex way, the beauty of doing business in 2014 is today, we can click a button here and can be here and listen by the whole entire world.
So through this platform, I think the reach is much bigger. The results can be much more positive. So it's the same ideas of how this can fulfill people's needs, but in a more established different structure to be able to express this in the four corners of the Earth.
So I think that's pretty much it. Just keep banging and keep talking. Make people... Because my intention is not to feed and educate people who already have bad things in their heads and this. So no, I don't want to affiliate. No, this is end. No, this is not true Jiu-Jitsu. The guys who already have their opinions, those are maybe hard to convince. I don't care.
What I'm really into is to try to give a good reference for at least 85% of the Jiu-Jitsu competitive community today, who's the white belts and blue belts. Those guys may misled to a different direction, to being very effective and making [inaudible:00:30:49] and losing effectiveness in life.
So the efficiency has to be replaced by effectiveness. In that way, I feel like in any process, educational process, I cannot expect everybody to jump in my boat today or this year. But based on the information, based on the questions, those curious students who make for their own teachers, based on their evaluation, based on observing this kind of set of rules and this kind of set of rules, I want to be a champion here or here.
So this will progressively bring in the truth to our tradition, to our Jiu-Jitsu. That truth, once in view... People are going to start to say, "Okay. I want to be a full instructor. I don't want to just be an instructor who teaches berimbolo 50/50. I want to be capable to have many."
So as this becomes more on the table in a kind of daily basis, conversations and arguments, about rules, about effectiveness, about this and that, this will bring a revolution in terms of how people want to direct themselves and their kids. What's the kind of program you want to give your kid to learn in school, I mean the Jiu-Jitsu academy?
These who have a solid program... Eventually the parents are going to say, "Okay. I want to go in Jiu-Jitsu school, but let's look for a certified one," because I make sure the programs are there. The kid will learn everything from respect, discipline, techniques. So I want to make my kid go.
So eventually we try to stamp as a quality product. We don't want to create new academies. I want to use your academy, his academy, in order to promote our culture. So by validating those elements, we're creating a new culture, or not new, but we're bringing back to restore our essential culture.
Today in the Rickson Interview: We talk to Rickson about how his thinking has evolved over the past two decades.
BJJ Legends: I want to move this conversation a little bit, directed towards something a little bit from the past, but it speaks to where we are now, where you are now specifically, and where the Jiu-Jitsu Global Federation is.
Back in 1999, the Hicks and Gracie International Jiu-Jitsu Association, in the late '90s, you had some newsletters roughly every quarter or every half. There were two that were particularly interesting to me. One was entitled "The Two Common Paths of Jiu-Jitsu." Do you remember this at all? It was a long time.
Rickson Gracie: Not exactly.
BJJ Legends: Trust me. It's still the same things you're talking about today, which is encouraging. There's consistency there. The other one was "The Smart Way to Practice." I want to draw our attention to "The Two Common Paths of Jiu-Jitsu." The two common paths, fundamentally, were competition and non-competition.
You encouraged the community, at that time, to be mindful that there were elements of our community that had preferred to compete and elements that weren't there to compete at all, but were interested in some of the things we talked to today.
I understand that you don't recall writing down or talking about that at the time. But how much has your thinking evolved from just that time? Let's call it 1999, 2000. How much has your thinking evolved about this subject, the two ways to practice? I'm sorry, the smart way to practice and the two common paths of Jiu-Jitsu. Let's start with the two common paths of Jiu-Jitsu.
Rickson Gracie: The ideas are the same. The concepts are exactly the same, but the evolutionary process made me feel like instead be in my own association with my own representatives, which was very good for a while, but then becomes somehow a little weakening a little bit. Then I decided to stop.
From that concept, I kind of see the whole problem in a much global spectrum. So now, I try to do almost the same thing, but trying to cover not only the guys who are directly connected to me as representatives, my own students, people who I kind of know, but trying to spread that voice around the globe because so many passionate about Jiu-Jitsu who deserve that kind of support, who deserve that kind of guidance.
They're not directly connected to me for any reason. So the Federation will be able to access them without having my flag, my name or my brand or my flag to represent. So they're not commit to represent Hicks and Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. They commit to represent whatever the brand are, plus with the knowledge, with the backbone of our culture.
Tomorrow: Rickson describes how they will use the JJGF platform to change the world.
Today in the Rickson Interview: We talk to Rickson about Ronda Rousey's comment that she thinks she could beat any BJJ woman under any set of rules. Rickson - "So I hope she has a great, brilliant future."
On the GreatMMADebate June 23 2014 Ronda Rousey stated:
"One thing I couldn’t stand when I was only watching MMA coming from Judo, is all these people saying that that all of these Jiu-Jitsu people would beat any judo fighter on the ground. It was such a stereotype. I still think that I can beat any BJJ girl in the world, any weight division, gi or no gi, black belt all the way, in any rule set that they want.
To be able to pull off being someone in Judo that can submit on the ground, it takes so much more skill because we have so little time to do it. Like Flavio Canto, Olympic bronze medalist from Brazil, who was known to have one of the best ground fighters in Judo... He could definitely win a world championship in Jiu-Jitsu. I really feel that the Judoka who excel with their ground work, have never really gotten enough respect.
This fight against Alexis, who is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, the kind of person that should be the type to tap me on the ground with no problems, it would be nice to prove a point."
BJJ Legends: Recently Ronda Rousey was noted for saying that she could beat anybody, any female Jiu-Jitsu athlete in a Jiu-Jitsu competition. I have two questions. One is: What are your thoughts on that? Do you think it's true of not?
Rickson Gracie: In Jiu-Jitsu competition?
BJJ Legends: Yeah. And two, either way, whether you think it's true or not, do you think it says something about what the perception is of Jiu-Jitsu, outside of our community?
Rickson Gracie: No. First, she's saying something based on her momentum. She may talking... Because she never competed in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament. If she competes in one and win easily, I will maybe respect what she's saying, believing what she's saying, but she never proved.
She's been demonstrating a lot of good positive elements on the cage. I don't know if those opponents are weaker. I don't know if she's really super.
BJJ Legends: Well, she has that medal in the Olympics as well.
Rickson Gracie: Yeah.
BJJ Legends: Do you feel that plays a role at all?
BJJ Legends: So as in judo... Judo is a very tough sport. In order for you to become an Olympian, you have to really commit and be exceptional. In order for any Jiu-Jitsu competitor to be facing, it has to be a world champion. It has to be somebody in that level.
Even though I cannot confirm if she can really win or lose, I think she should be more focused on what she's doing right now, which is a great job in the MMA, and leave Jiu-Jitsu aside. I know she's been training some Jiu-Jitsu with my cousins and stuff. So I hope she has a great, brilliant future.
For fans of the Magazine we did a quick YouTube search and found these two old videos of Ronda competing in what looks like a BJJ no-gi tournament. In one she indeed kills it and the second she has to work a little harder. Neither opponents appear to be black belts or world champions.
Today in the Rickson Interview: Rickson on women in MMA, "Maybe one out of 100 [women] that makes a very special desire to confront, to go, and feels like, 'Okay. I'm born to do this.' I have to respect that."
BJJ Legends: How about Kyra? When she was on her path towards MMA... It's been temporarily set off for even better reasons now. Bless you and your family for that. What are your thoughts on her competing or women competing at large? I know I've heard you talk about Ronda a little bit. You seem very enthusiastic and encouraging about her, but there's some questions.
Dana White, himself, said you'd never see women in the UFC, which essentially meant you hardly ever see them in MMA. He changed his mind. Ronda Rousey made him change his mind. I've seen Kyra compete a number of times in Jiu-Jitsu competition. Lovely girl. I had the opportunity of interviewing her as well.
What are your thoughts on a member of your own family, who's a female, competing in MMA, as capable as she is? And how does that apply to other women as well, to the sport?
Rickson Gracie: If you pick generally 100 women, at the most, 10 will like to compete in something like that. I don't believe, based on my experience, women have this appealing desire to compete in such a violent and aggressive element.
Normally they don't belong to that kind of competitiveness. It's not common. It's not for everyone. Even for men, it's a kind of little fraction there who doesn't fit. Imagine for women, but that is maybe one out of 100 that makes a very special desire to confront, to go, and feels like, "Okay. I'm born to do this." I have to respect that.
For those very small percentage, Jiu-Jitsu competition, Vale Tudo or MMA will fit. But for the 99% who doesn't kind of have the appealing for that, they'll still be very motivated to learn self-defense, to learn how they can be able to deflect some aggressor, how to stand up from a guy who's trying to keep her and force her or something.
So the idea of deflection, the idea of empowerment, the idea of defense is appealing for any women or any children. The aggressiveness, the competitiveness, the toughness, and the willing to sacrifice every day and get punched, that's not appealing for every woman.
For these few who like it, I encourage and be positive about it, but that's not exactly... I don't believe every woman has to compete or even to have the pleasure to see a fight. Some don't even like it. They see the fight. They turn it off.
They put on something. So I'm favored to help those too. I think Jiu-Jitsu has a place to favor those general women, like soft art. That's why Jiu-Jitsu is also called soft art.
Tomorrow: We get Rickson's thoughts about Ronda Rousey stating she could beat any BJJ female in a BJJ competition.
Today in the Rickson Interview: Rickson, "I think the MMA today is a completely different sport than was developed Vale Tudo, because back then, there was no time limit and no weight division."
BJJ Legends: Let's switch tracks a little bit, not too far off, but we're still going to talk about Jiu-Jitsu here and the role that the JJGF provides. Now, we're going to talk about the athlete. For much of the conversation, we discussed some elements of amateur aspect of Jiu-Jitsu and how that helps individuals. But what about the professional?
We talk about professionals in terms of instructors. We can talk about professionals in terms of competitors on the Jiu-Jitsu scene. Of course, the other element of the art of Jiu-Jitsu is the Vale Tudo element, what we call now MMA, specifically, although I understand that you believe there's a difference between Vale Tudo and what we now call MMA.
For MMA, you have a son who's approaching MMA. Kyra was talking about MMA until very... Roger Gracie had an opportunity to make his foray into MMA. External to the Gracie family, but part of the Jiu-Jitsu community, we have Braulio Estima.
So there have been some contemporary Jiu-Jitsu competitors who have been making and are making their foray into MMA. What are your thoughts on making that transition nowadays, from Jiu-Jitsu into professional MMA?
Rickson Gracie: I think the MMA today is a completely different sport than was developed Vale Tudo, because back then, there was no time limit and no weight division. As you engage, you have to approach with a full capacity to adapt, sometimes by using techniques to defend yourself, to be resilient, to wait for the opportunity, and then come up with a submission, whatever.
Those days, the rules are very short, like five-minute tournaments, rounds. So that makes a much more explosive, much more physical, and much less time for you to approach strategy or techniques. So the MMA today translates more in the individual.
Of course, back then, everybody fights a style against a style. So Jiu-Jitsu has pretty much a comfortable way to deal with all those elements. Now, everybody training the same. Everybody train Jiu-Jitsu, box, wrestling, and so on. So they're cross-training.
Also, the fights are much shorter, much less explosive, and also the technology on the sport. That means a guy who walks around with 200 pounds, he competes at 185. If you have 185, and you go in the competition in the 185 pounds, you're in deep problem because the guys are much stronger in the weight division.
So in order for you to be comfortable with those new setups of rules and of engagement, you have, of course, to try to use the best technique you have, but you also have to do all the other protocols, like Chrome, for example.
He walks around with almost 180 pounds. He's going to compete 155. You know? His training is not only a Jiu-Jitsu comfortable training. He has to learn and develop the cage. So he has to breathe the environment. He has to train with the boys, and he has to be familiar with the rules and with the attention. The guy don't want to fight on the ground. He wants to... So he had to adapt to the new game and be very physical, be very explosive, like everybody else. Plus, if he had the edge of sharp techniques, I believe he can win.
Tomorrow: Rickson talks about his thoughts on women’s MMA.
Today in the Rickson Interview: BJJ and the family unit - I don't work for the family. I work for the individual. When they become a better individual then they become a better family.
BJJ Legends: Family is the umbrella under which all that falls, whether it's children or even a police officer who's a father, a mother, as you noted. That's a very important structure, unit structure, in American society and other parts of the world. What role do you feel, within the family unit, Jiu-Jitsu can offer?
Rickson Gracie: Man, you tell me how children can become better children, how the mother can become a better mother, how a father, executive, police officer. They will always have something to learn and to improve with Jiu-Jitsu, individually. So I don't see the function in Jiu-Jitsu work in their relationships or the family itself.
I make the children become more respectful to their parents, more capable to control emotions, and more capable to handle pressure. So I make the father more confident, more peaceful, more empowered than he normally is if he don't have that kind of self-confidence. I make the mother more...
Everything can be transformed positively. So I don't work for the family. I work for the individual, and they become a family, and they become a better family.
I think by doing a good job in Jiu-Jitsu, they completely will fulfill that need, from police officers to mothers to children to executives and competitors. I think a good Jiu-Jitsu school can really present itself as a community service academy. So I feel very confident. A good Jiu-Jitsu school can provide a great service for the community as a whole.
Tomorrow: Rickson talks about making the transition from Jiu-Jitsu to professional MMA.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: What kind of BJJ community do you envision?
BJJ Legends: So when we left off, you were talking about the under-represented, under-served portion of the community. A large portion of the community is served by the current structure, but there is an element out there that is not top competitors, but the general person that wants to come into Jiu-Jitsu or the blue belt or even white belt that's starting to compete in Jiu-Jitsu, as an element of the community.
I'm curious also about the community at large, the place in which the businesses actually reside, what you see, if anything, as a responsibility of the Jiu-Jitsu practitioners, in particular black belts and instructors and school owners, have to serve the community at large.
Rickson Gracie: I think by doing a good job in Jiu-Jitsu, they completely will fulfill that need, from police officers to mothers to children to executives and competitors. I think a good Jiu-Jitsu school can really present itself as a community service academy. So I feel very confident. A good Jiu-Jitsu school can provide a great service for the community as a whole.
Tomorrow: Rickson discusses what role Jiu-Jitsu plays in the family unit.
Today in the our Rickson Interview Series: What are the Master and Development Councils and what’s the difference between the two?
BJJ Legends: To further that and help facilitate that, my understanding is you have two councils. There's a Master's Council and a Development Council. Is that correct? Can you explain to us the difference between the two?
Rickson Gracie: The Master's Council is a roundtable with the guys who have been forever in this sport. They're all graduates. They're all guys who have a good understanding of the needs. They have a complete view about the sport, the evolutionary process, what is good, rules. They know everything. They've been around forever. So those guys are an important voice to be heard by the community and also to be part of our council to create some kind of voting system, to create a democratic system to resolve the problems which are still to come.
The Development Council is different. The guys don't have the senior aspect of being masters, but they have three, four schools. They've been around. They participate, very active in tournaments. They bring a lot of guys to compete. So their force is in the community, in terms of generating competitors and also understand the motion of Jiu-Jitsu, the growth of the students, the diminish of...
So they know everything about class programs, what has worked, what has not. So they can facilitate, and also they can speak to the community about what is really functional for the sport.
Tomorrow: Rickson explains his vision for the BJJ community.