Come, read, first rate interview of Marcus "Buchecha" Almeida. Buchecha talks about growing up, moving to America, personal student pet peeves and the possibility of fighting MMA.
There are not many instances where bribery in any form denotes positivity. In the case of Marcus Almeida bribery is EXACTLY what led to his love of BJJ. Some say stay away from candy and chocolate cake (not good for training) but if it wasn't for those guilty pleasures the BJJ World may have never come to know who Bucheca was. 12 years in BJJ, is it time for a switch to MMA? BJJLegends talks with Marcus Almeida about where he has been and where he is going.
“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?” -Garth Nix
BJJL:Where did you grow up, any siblings?
MA: Santos, Brazil. I have one sister three years older than me. She got me and my dad into Jiu-Jitsu but doesn’t do it now. She started, then my father, then me.
BJJL: Did you have any other hobbies growing up?
MA: As every kid I tried to be a soccer player. But it didn’t work out really well for me, so then I tried to surf, but not so good as well. Then went into Jiu-Jitsu I end up doing better at that.
BJJL: Who inspired you while you were an up and coming practitioner, who was the biggest influence in helping you get to where you are?
MA: I wasn’t like this size when I started like back in 2003, 2004. So I grew up watching Marcelo Garcia, Hunter Reyes, Saulo Ribeiro, Jacare, Leo Vieira. So this was the guys that I always looked for, always liked to watch and learn from them back in the day, watching videos and stuff, you know.
BJJL: What was your first BJJ memory?
MA: I remember like when I was like twelve years old, my father always tried to push me to do it. But back in the day when I was a kid I wasn’t just like, I wasn’t quite enough and serious, and he always like walked me, he used to give me like buy me a chocolate cake and like coke just to go there to train, you know? Every time when I went to train I knew he would give me like chocolate cake, candy, and stuff. So that’s one of the reasons why I used to go. And it worked, you know? I can’t complain.
BJJL: Who or what is your support system here in the US?
MA: The first time I came to the U.S.A. was 2010. I remember the guy who gave my support was Rodrigo Cavaca. He gave me the opportunity to come to teach but the guy who taught me everything in the U.S., and the way of life here was Rafael Shad. The U.S. lifestyle is very different from Brazil.
BJJL: What is your biggest pet peeve as an instructor (students late for class, belt not tied properly….)?
MA: If a student hasn’t been respecting the class. I’m OK, but if the guys are not listening, I show them positions, I teach them one move, the guys’ doing another move. It kind of bothers me a little but not that bad.
BJJL: What do you consider a well-rounded practitioner to be?
MA: I think if you want to be good you have to know like a little bit of everything. Even if you know your best game, if you don’t like the other stuff, you still have to train everything. That’s how you learn, that’s how you grow up, and that’s how you do it. You develop more technique so you have to train a little bit of everything otherwise you never learn. I’m not saying you have to do it tournaments, but at least you will know how.
BJJL: When you see a student struggling, that is ready to quit, how do you help them adapt and overcome?
MA: If they have their reason, if the student just doesn’t like to train, that is part of the game. You have to train. I’m not going to force them to do stuff that they don’t want to do. It’s better you get lost in the gym than to get lost in the tournament. It’s better to work through your problems in a gym, in your gym with your friends, with the instructor, than to be stuck and not know why over and over against your opponent in a tournament.
BJJL: What rank was the most challenging for you?
MA: It was no doubt the blue. Because it was at the beginning when I started competing and that’s where I learned how to compete. It was the hardest I knew, not a lot of winning, mostly losing and learning all that came with the blue belt.
BJJL: Was there ever a time that you did not want to continue with your journey?
MA: Oh yeah. I remember too, one time in blue belt I lost like the first ten tournaments that I competed in. I lost the very first round, so I remember one time I tried to give up. I remember the instructor told me, it’s up to you, you can be the weak one and give up or you can show up in the gym tomorrow again to train. So I thought to myself, I don’t want to be the weak one. I came back, and my eleventh tournament I won, after that just winning, winning, winning. My first World’s I lost in the final. After that I got better but still lost a bunch of tournaments. It was not easy, I worked very hard and wanted to give up many times. I did not win World’s for the first time until 2012.
BJJL: Were you ever so upset over your loss that you threw your medal away after you placed 2nd or 3rd?
MA: No. I think that’s ridiculous, you know? I think that’s ridiculous, that’s the most ridiculous thing that I have ever seen, people throwing away medals. You know? I’m really proud to have all the medals, I won them. I have a bronze medal, I have a silver medal and I have like six gold world medals. So I’m really proud. I went there and I got first place, I got second place, I deserve it. The other guy was better than me, so no reason to be like keyed up and throw the medal away. I think that’s like stupid. That’s so ridiculous. I think if you don’t know how to lose you don’t deserve to win. I think people who do that they’re going to learn the hardest way. You know, you’re in the final, you did your best, you lose, alright. There’s no reason for you to be there complaining, crying, if someone is better. It’s part of the game. Show up the next tournament better. That’s how it works. You don’t need to be throwing medals away, show respect.
BJJL: How do you think BJJ has evolved since you received your black belt?
MA: I think I changed a lot, because you start getting mature and you start getting more experience. It changes a lot, not just your body but your mind, your vision. As BJJ evolves, so do you, you think differently, you tailor your training. I think I have improved a lot. I remember the first year as a black belt was really bad because I lost a lot. Then adjusted the way that I train. The following year, 2012, the guys I could not hang with in 2011, I could in 2012.
BJJL: You recently competed at Abu Dhabi and won, that is an experience of a life time, how do the rules at Abu Dhabi differ from IBJJF, CBJJE, or any of the other tournaments you have competed in?
MA: It is something unique. You’re fighting two in two years, you never know if you’re going to be invited or if you’re going to win a prize. That makes the tournament very different. There are people from different types of sports and styles of fighting. So it’s really something amazing, I fought just one time in 2013 and won. The rules were different. You’re always fighting a different location, somewhere that you’ve probably never been before and I love it.
BJJL: This year at World’s you gave it all you had against Keenan Cornelius, you could have conserved some of your energy but you went out there and put it all on the line, do you ever worry about running out of steam during your fights? Some like to play it safe and you did not do that at all.
MA: That probably is because I was in control the whole fight. I was up in the whole fight. In the end he was trying to hold one position and I was having a hard time getting behind him. That’s the thing about fighting. I couldn’t stay there and win by two points, I was ahead, so now I tried to improve the score and tried to like get the guard. So was like something of a fighter, you know? I remember I was told me it’s not what you win, people are going to remember how you fight. I don’t want to be the kind of guy that just wins. I want to go there and give my best, not win due to one advantage or one point, not go there and hold one position for ten minutes, that’s not me. I want to go there and give people Jiu-Jitsu to watch.
BJJL: What’s your training regimen like? How does it differ day to day from when you’re getting ready for a tournament?
MA: I always train twice a day. No matter what, if I’m training or not. In the morning I always train really hard with the pro training, all the black belts, and one day on and off I train Jiu-Jitsu twice and the other days are different just for conditioning. It’s Jiu-Jitsu, Jiu-Jitsu, and the other day, Jiu-Jitsu conditioning. I don’t train more than two, two sessions per day.
BJJL: Are there any female practitioners that you have enjoyed watching grow and evolve over the years?
MA: Oh yeah, there’s like a bunch of fighters I like to watch. Michelle Nicolini, McKenzie Dern. I used to watch Leticia Ribeiro a lot. I like Bia Mesquita. There are a lot of women I enjoy watching compete.
BJJL: If there is one thing (across the board) that you would like to be standardized when it comes to BJJ rules, what would it be?
MA: I think a lot of things. They stop the fights when you are right in the middle of fighting it breaks the momentum. They can change the rules in the middle of the fight. People just want to fight.
BJJL: You are in your prime, have you considered trying MMA and starting a career as an MMA fighter?
MA: Yeah, yeah. In one or two years I’m doing it.
BJJL: As a young practitioner were you always the biggest in the class?
MA: No. I was an average boy.
BJJL: Once you reached the heavy weight class did you have a sufficient amount of training partners your size?
MA: Yeah, I always had guys of my size.
BJJL: Who are some of your favorite ultra-heavyweight fighters to train with or fight?
MA: The guys I train with every day. They are my favorites. They are the ones that helped me to get where I am, you know. The guys from Check Mat California especially. They are my favorites.
BJJL: How do you handicap your game in training for smaller training partners?
MA: I use my technique and not my strength.
BJJL: Is there anything you would like to pass on to a person that is starting out in BJJ? Some sound advice you wish you had known that would have prevented injury, aggravation, etc?
MA: If you take the time, you learn how to stand, how to like use strength the right way, you will learn how to like play the game. It is the best way to stop getting hurt. Injuries happen in the beginning, it’s normal. Once you start learning how things work, it’s going to be more fun and you’re going to enjoy things more.
BJJL: What has been your proudest moment since you began the practice of BJJ?
MA: Oh, when I won my division, the open division of worlds and Abu Dhabi. All three titles. That was the proudest.
BJJL: What are your plans for the future? What goals do you still have left?
MA: I just keep training hard and whatever happens, whatever comes my way I look forward to it. I don’t think too much about it.
BJJL: Is there anyone you would like to thank that you have never had the opportunity to thank for helping you get to where you are today?
MA: I would like to thank ALL my sponsors. Also Mark and Muscle Pharm, Fighter’s Market, Hayabusa, Jiu Jitsu World League, of course my Team CheckMat and everybody who helped me a lot during my journey.
It's not always about when you start or how often you win in BJJ it seems to be ALL about the journey, each one unique, no two will ever be alike. Some say you get what you give but if that were true then practitioners like Buchacha would be the rule instead of the exception. Sometimes what you give won't be enough. Not everyone can be exceptional in spite of their efforts because the odds are against this however, the day that Marcus Almeida set out to be GREAT, EXCEPTIONAL, A REALITER MAGNUS PACISCOR (a really big deal) the odds were in his favor. Marcus Almeida was lured into a gym with the promise of some edible delicatables at the end of the session. The cake may have gotten him in the door but the Art of Jiu-Jitsu kept him there. 12 years later his journey has truly been a realiter magnus pacisor.
“It is not we who seek the Way, but the Way which seeks us. That is why you are faithful to it, even while you stand waiting, so long as you are prepared, and act the moment you are confronted by its demands.”-Dag Hammarksjold
“You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.” -Stephen King
Professor Emily Kwok has a career in BJJ that is beyond enviable for multiple reasons. What sets her apart are the goals she set in the beginning because she didn't set any. She came to class simply to be better than she was the day before. So many want to be number one, so many expect to be nothing but the best, so many strive to always win nothing less than gold., And while Professor Kwok honed her technique, it is her attitude that garnered her win after win, gold medal after gold medal, title after title. This is why Professor Emily Kwok is a not just a hero but a legend. Heroes do get remembered but legends never die. BJJLegends talks with Professor Kwok about her very prestigious background, her take on proper technique, and maintaining a healthy balance in the BJJ world.
BJJL: Where did you grow up, what was your childhood like?
EK: I was born in Japan, but immigrated to Canada when I was a baby. I spent my formative years growing up in Vancouver, BC. I suppose I had a pretty pleasant and quiet childhood. My parents were immigrants so I was raised speaking Japanese, and had to learn English as I assimilated into Canadian culture. I made friends pretty easily, we moved around a lot but I learned how to adapt to my environment very quickly.
My teenage years were pretty wonderful and terrible at the same time. I had an idyllic high school experience, great friends, lots of sports, extracurricular activities, good grades etc. but a difficult time at home. My father and I butted heads a lot, I think, around my westernized sense of independence and his old school Asian ways.
BJJL: Why BJJ?
EK: Why not? Lol. Well, actually, it was supposed to be boxing but I sucked at it. Then it was sambo, but the instructor wasn’t into teaching chicks…so, BJJ was there for me.
BJJL: When you began, did you have any idea what impact you would have by becoming the First Female Black Belt in Canada?
EK: I had no idea what I was doing. Haha. Like, no expectations, no dreams, no visions, no nothing. It was after my first competition as a white belt (6 months in) that my best friend Roy Duquette (who introduced me to BJJ and helped coach me) told me, ‘You’re going to be a World Champion one day!’ and I think I told him something along the lines of ‘Yeah right, whatever.’
I honestly just always loved training, I loved the challenge and went along for the ride. Any medals or accomplishments were gravy.
BJJL: Pet peeve as an instructor?
EK: You mean something that bothers me when I instruct?
1. - Know-it-alls, arrogant beginner students who just think they know better because they have a blown up ego and don’t know how to humble themselves, or occasionally a douchebag male student that doesn’t respect what I’m saying because I’m a woman.
2. - I don’t enjoy watching or training with people who don’t want to tap when they should because they refuse to believe you caught them.
3. - Students who go really hard with you after they’ve just gone on for 5 min about this injury and that injury and wanting to roll light.
4. - Stinky students, students with bad hygiene. Wash your damn clothes! Cut your toe nails!!
BJJL: You are excellent at teaching proper technique. You emphasize the importance of skill over brute force. What event ultimately led you to fine tune your own skills against extremely large opponents?
EK: Getting my ass beat! Lol. Having access to great instructors! I didn’t train smart when I was coming up in BJJ. At the time I think it was also just a little more barbaric and people didn’t know how bad it was for your body to just let big people beat the crap out of you. The way I used to subject myself to horrible training conditions – I did it because if I didn’t I had no one to train with…you simply just didn’t have enough bodies in the room to train with people closer to your size. My training partners were all nice guys, but that’s just it, they were nice 185-250lb guys.
Since pulling back on the competition, I’ve been really feeling the abuse I put my body through all those years. I don’t want my students or future practitioners to feel the same way. Training BJJ your whole life is just not a possibility if we abuse our bodies senselessly – so I started thinking there has to be a better way.
BJJL: Smackgirl, how did you get involved with MMA and will you go back to it?
EK: I still giggle every time I hear SMACKGIRL! I always say I’ll try almost anything once. I was living for a year in Tokyo, and after winning a lot of BJJ competitions there, I was offered the opportunity to do an amateur women’s MMA fight. I was always curious to see what it would be like, so I did it. I won my first amateur fight, then they turned me pro and sent me to Korea for my first pro fight. It was an intense experience!
I don’t think I’d go back to MMA at this point. Actually I didn’t continue on with it because when I moved to the Northeast in 2006, I had started training MMA again to see if I could pick it up in the states. This was pre Gina Carano days and man, the ladies fighting out here were super tough!! I had been lined up a few times for fights, but a lot of the women who initially agreed to fight me were 1-2 years in training MMA, then they would find out I had been training BJJ 7 years and won the world championships, and back out. Even if our MMA records were similar, they didn’t want to take a fight against an experienced grappler. It was very difficult to find a fair fight. By the time they gave me an opponent that wouldn’t back out, it was Michele Tavares, who is a BJJ black belt champion in her own right with a 10-1 record at the time…so that wasn’t a good fight for me – hence – I said goodbye to MMA.
Now I’m about to turn 35 with a little one to look after and another on the way. I co-own a school, travel for seminars and camps, and work full time in consulting…I don’t have time to get punched in the face like that! Also, I have to give it to MMA fighters. MMA training sucks. It’s not fun. lol
BJJL: You are a BJJ Legend. A first. Sexual Harassment is something women have dealt with since the dawn of time and as a first you have fought on vastly different playing fields. Do you have any advice you can offer on dealing with such a sensitive issue in these not so sensitive sports?
EK: I’ve had some female students tell me that they want to learn BJJ as a form of self-defense because they’ve either been assaulted or want to know how to protect themselves against it. One thing that I impart to them is that a single session/a seminar/learning without really doing…isn’t going to save you from anything. Even if you train for a long time – really hard – you may still find yourself in a terrible position. But, I believe strongly in empowering women to assert themselves, to teach them to exude the type of confidence from within that wards off predators. I also warn them that you can’t learn to defend yourself from an attack if you aren’t willing to be attacked – in class…so though we may ease into the process of sparring/rolling, I try to make them understand that they have to be willing to confront and handle their fears of being attacked if you ever expect to be able to do something about it if it ever happens. I guess it’s really about teaching women/people to be comfortable with being uncomfortable…to reach the other side, where you may feel in control of a bad situation.
BJJL: You are a pioneer. You did MMA and BJJ when no one else was really giving women the credit they deserved for either sport. You truly have paved the way, what was going through your mind when you started each of your unique journeys?
EK: I was just a stubborn chick who loved to challenge myself in different ways. It was thrilling, alive, present. I never competed or did anything for recognition, and in many ways, had no idea that it was a big deal that not a lot of women were doing these sorts of sports. Maybe it was all for the best – there was no pressure, no precedent, no history for me to look up. I just did it. Those were some of the most liberating years of my life, formative too…in my early-mid-twenties. The scene is really different now!!
BJJL: The idiot sweep, I absolutely love it, where does it come from and that name, who coined it?
EK: Marcelo had taught it to me early on. I think one of the most brilliant things I’ve learned from him is simplicity and efficiency. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been taught or witness techniques where me and my peers would giggle and say, ‘what? That’s it? That’s actually a technique?’
One of the benefits of being able to have trained with him and just witness his movement is that he’s trimmed the fat off the game…he’s practiced and embodied effective movement that isn’t complicated or overly flowery…it just works. And at the end of the day that’s what we all want right? BJJ that works.
BJJL: You have made what appears to be a seamless transition from constant competitor to business owner, wife, mother, and mentor of up and coming talent. How do you maintain a healthy balance?
EK: I just do as I do. I don’t act based on what I think I should be doing or what people expect of me. This is pretty much how I’ve been since I was a teenager. I know life will hand you bumps from time to time, but those bumps and flaws are what makes life beautiful and worth living. So I don’t worry about how to handle any potential problems, and I just live through them. I try to be transparent and honest with myself. I’ve always tried my best to trust my gut, trust my life…and it’s never steered me wrong. Ugly or pretty as it may be, I just let it all hang. Lol. It’s the only way I know how to be, and to be frank, a lot of people around me don’t know how to handle my honesty. But I don’t want a brain or a life full of baggage and weird shit, so I roll with the punches every day, and hope that I come out the other side ok.
BJJL: Would you like to see BJJ return to submission only?
EK: I think I’d like to see BJJ be a sport where athletes fight to win, not fight to not lose…not sure what that entails for rules, but I think the best matches are the ones where the athletes leave all their hard work and artistry on the mat.
BJJL: If you could change anything the IBJJF mandates (including the fees) what would it be?
EK: I think there should be more cash prizes awarded to the competitors, and I’d like to see something like, black belt champions receiving free entry into competition and perhaps round trip airfare for the following year – to defend their title. They’ve given up their lives to showcase the sport, if they achieve a gold medal at the highest level, I believe they deserve to be recognized for that. How many professional sports exist where the best athletes have to pay to compete in?
BJJL: I’ve seen a few unofficial polls around asking if integrated (male/female) categories should be allowed in tournaments. I can’t think of a better individual to ask for thoughts on the subject.
EK: NO. Lol. Men and women are different species, size and strength do matter, and we are NOT physically equal. I’ve fought men in tournaments before, I know a few other women have, but I don’t think it’s progressive for the sport.
BJJL: Any Non-profits that you support?
EK: Not specifically in BJJ. I get asked to do benefit seminars etc. from time to time, or to donate something else to their cause, and I always try to help out – but nothing with a long standing relationship.
BJJL: Do you have any camps in 2016 we should be on the lookout for?
EK: We will undoubtedly have women’s only and co-ed GGC events in 2016, so stay tuned!!
BJJL: Women’s Equality Day was 26 August, what are your thoughts on the Equal Pay issue in BJJ?
EK: Needs to happen…like, yesterday! Women’s BJJ has grown a lot, and women’s competitive fights are as exciting and dynamic as they’ve ever been. These elite ladies deserve to earn as much as their male counterparts. They’ve put just as much work in, and defied the odds of surviving in a pretty hostile, male dominated sport.
BJJL: Proudest Moment?
EK: Each moment is pretty great. Some life highlights…Losing my first match at ADCC 2007 in overtime. I had not been able to train well for the event with a compound fracture on my middle finger, took the cast off 2 weeks before the tournament…over trained in my first week and gave myself a 102 degree fever for 3 days the week I was supposed to fight. I fought the 2005 runner up in my first round on sheer will and determination. I was incredibly proud of that fight even though I lost. I don’t know that I’ve ever believed in myself more than I had to in those 15 min.
Getting married and the birth of my daughter – signified a new chapter in my life. I always wanted a family and wanted to settle down but I always put myself first. I was very happy to settle down.
Opening Princeton BJJ and promoting our first black belts. We have a really wonderful culture in our school, I’m incredibly proud of our students and the community we’ve created.
BJJL: Long term goals?
EK: Stay healthy and continue to follow my heart. It’s never been wrong yet! I’d like to eventually get back to painting, I'm educated in the arts and originally came to the east coast to become an ‘artist’.
Travel the world, grow old with my husband, teach my children about the world and watch them grow and thrive. I’d love to see them follow their dreams and stay true to themselves – I think that’s incredibly hard to do these days.
BJJL: Any regrets?
EK: No. Every positive and negative experience has led me to where I am today and I wouldn’t trade my life for anything.
BJJL: Is there anyone you would like to thank that you never had the opportunity to who helped you during your journey?
EK: My husband – Gerry Hurtado, My best friend – Roy Duquette, My business partners – Art Keintz, Val Worthington, Hannette Staack, My coaches/teachers – Marcelo Garcia, Tatiana Garcia, Josh Waitzkin, My students and fans!! – I would not have a career without their support.
She came, she saw, and she continues to do everything exactly on her own terms. Professor Emily Kwok began her BJJ journey never considering what impact she would have on the entire community. She came to class one day and hasn't looked back. She is a woman that is willing to put it all on the line for the sport she loves, it makes her so much more than a legend. She trained BJJ before it was mainstream for women and became the first female black belt in Canada. She was a success in MMA before it was mainstream for women and was a success internationally. Professor Kwok is a pioneer, a go-getter. What she has done since she began her journey has been PURELY for her love of BJJ. She put her heart and soul into what she loved and because of that she has been unstoppable.
"Just seize every opportunity you have, embrace every experience. Make a mark for all the right reasons."-Chrissie Wellington
In this interview we learn more about twenty-year-old, world champion, female black belt Dominyka Oblenyte and her fight for equal pay for women in Jiu-Jitsu competitions.
“We are sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution.” ―Subcomandante Marcos
What do you stand for? What cause is worth fighting for? A 20 year old Lithuanian took her place at the top of the podium at Worlds as a Champion this year. Now she is challenging the BJJ community as a whole to take a stand with her on the issue of Equal Pay. That podium she stood on represented much more than the culmination of all the years of her hard work, she is using it as a stepping stone to promote worthwhile change.
Sometimes what you don't say on the isssue of equal pay is just as POWERFUL as what you do say. Not taking a stand speaks volumes however, it is clear EXACTLY where Black Belt Domynika Obelentye stands. At such a young age (20) she is already making her presence known in the BJJ community both on and off the mat using her position to push for progressive changes. It's inspiring. It doesn't matter which side of the Mason Dixon you stand on in this particular issue. Everyone has an opinion and is entitled to it but this young lady has started a movement. This is about much more than how she feels, it is about what she believes is right. Much like a Civil War, her Equal Pay Movement is something that many agree is the right thing, but they don't want to rock the boat over it, and they CERTAINLY are not going to put their two cents in on the issue. Regardless of what others don't say, Domynika has plenty to say.
BJJL: You are from Lithuania, is BJJ popular there?
DO: No. I definitely don’t think it makes it into the top three categories haha. Even though it is a small country, BJJ is surprisingly gaining traction over there. I know that there are at least three gyms currently operating there and I went to visit one of them run by my friend, Donatas Uktveris, when I went abroad this summer. There were almost thirty students present and all were super enthusiastic to train and learn. I think the one thing that makes me really proud of the small but determined Lithuanian BJJ scene is that the people involved have an unconditional love for the sport and a real thirst to learn more about it. Although these men and women don’t have a surplus of legendary coaches like Marcelo Garcia and world champion training partners their enthusiasm for the sport surpasses that of many BJJ die-hards I’ve gotten a chance to meet over my lifetime.
BJJL: Why did you began training?
DO: I first began training Japanese style Jiu-Jitsu, because the first elementary school I went to had a bit of a bullying problem and my parents wanted me to learn how to defend and stand up for myself. Then, when my family and I moved to New Jersey, my dad went on a hunt for gyms that were similar to the one I trained in prior to the move. He found an ad for a BJJ gym about twenty minutes from our house and after my first lesson there I was hooked.
BJJL: What’s your Lineage?
DO: So it’s a little complicated. The first gym I started out at was Performance BJJ, which at the time was a Gracie Humaita affiliate. I got my white, yellow, and orange belts there. I first met JT Torres and Jay Hayes at that school and I consistently took privates from both. They were almost like my main instructors. When they decided to leave and join Team Lloyd Irvin I followed suit. Unfortunately, while they had the freedom to make it down to Maryland I was still in school so I could only get down to train there a few weekends. Because of this, I trained in other schools around New Jersey and took privates with JT whenever he was home. It was JT that promoted me to green belt. I made my final transition to Marcelo Garcia’s Academy thanks to my friend Emily Kwok. Because I wasn’t able to go train at TLI very often and because JT was preoccupied with his own training I sought out other highly skilled BJJ practitioners in the area, and stumbled upon Emily Kwok. I took privates with her for a while and she facilitated my ultimate transition to Marcelo’s. Marcelo has promoted me to blue, purple, brown, and black belt.
BJJL: What is your first memory of BJJ?
DO: My first memory of BJJ is probably my first ever class at my first ever BJJ gym. I had no idea what I was doing, and I remember wearing sweatpants and a track jacket when everyone around me was wearing gis. I felt out of place and awkward, especially during the warm ups! The roll outs were tough, but the shrimping was even harder!
BJJL: What was your first competition like?
DO: I’m not going to sugarcoat it, my first competition was awful. I was a nervous wreck, and I sought out comfort from my teammates at the time. One of the guys was pretty confident in himself and he told me he won his first competition, the other told me he lost, and the third told me he threw up. Needless to say my nerves remained. I believe my first competition was a NAGA and I had two fights total. I lost both of them and was pretty upset with myself as I basically did no Jiu Jitsu when I was actually on the mat. I wanted to get out of the venue so bad that I didn’t even pick up the third place medal I had won for participating haha.
BJJL: You are a VERY tall young lady, as you ascended the ranks was it difficult for you to find comparable training partners that were your gender (skill wise)?
DO: I don’t know if I ever sought out specific training partners throughout my BJJ career. I never really had that luxury. Since I started so young, most of my training partners were boys who were my age or older. When I started progressing, I joined in with the adult classes. Those were rough. I was a really young kid, maybe ten years old, and there were adult male blue belts that tried to kill me with no remorse haha. I think my main training partners for a long time were the people I was taking privates from, namely JT, Jay Hayes, and then Emily Kwok. Although they were adults, they didn’t have a whole lot of ego, and knew how to really train with me without crushing me or my spirit. When I joined Marcelo’s there was a plethora of training partners of all shapes and sizes available, but not a whole lot of women. I was around twelve when I joined so I mostly trained with blue belt men, and with Emily, and Marcelo’s wife, Tatiana, who was training at the time. Nowadays, I really train with everyone. I don’t try to train with only people I can beat, and I don’t exclusively train with black belts or anything. I have a few female training partners that I roll with, the majority remain to be guys.
BJJL: You are a young and gifted black belt, you are also very sharp. You attend Columbia University. KUDOS!!! Ivy League is not easy to get into. Now I will say that your peers probably can’t say that they were able to train, obtain their black belt at 20, and attend an Ivy League University. How in the world do you keep up with your studies and your training?
DO: It’s really difficult to do well in one thing without sacrificing the other. I am managing now, but this coming semester I will cut down on my training a little since I am taking a pretty full course load. It’s a hard balance to maintain, but what motivates me is my fellow female competitors that also hold careers, are mothers, and still manage to fit in time for training. They should be receiving medals for their efforts haha.
BJJL: The men and women of BJJ are not offered equal prize money and this irks you, when did it really begin to be something that you could no longer stand by and be silent about?
DO: I guess I really decided to break the silence after I won double gold at worlds. Without sounding arrogant, the spotlight was on me for a bit, since a lot of people didn’t know who I was/didn’t understand how someone that’s not necessarily a brand name could win, and I thought this was the right time to speak out. I also thought that the IBJJF would have improved the Pro prizes this year, since last year was the introductory year for those competitions. When I noticed that nothing had changed, I decided that somebody had to stir things up about the lack of fairness in the BJJ community regarding women.
BJJL: You are using your voice and position as a black belt in a proactive manner. You are a professor, and you are speaking out on something you are very passionate about. Are you hoping that you will be heard?
DO: Haha well of course I am hoping to be heard. I have gotten a lot of support as well as a lot of criticism from the BJJ community. I take it as a sign that I am still making people aware of the issues at hand and if the movement gains enough speed maybe we can facilitate the change that so many want but are afraid to fight for.
BJJL: I read an article where you mentioned some of your colleagues agree yet not many (if any) female black belts have been so vocal on the issue of equal prize money. Do you hope that if you keep speaking about this more of them will begin to do the same?
DO: I actually think many black belt females have been vocal, such as Gabi Garcia, Angelica Galvao, and Mackenzie Dern. I do believe that many more could be. I think at this point, there may be some people unwilling to get involved, not necessarily because they don’t agree with the cause, but because they may be afraid of the consequences attached to being so vocal against the IBJJF and other organizations. I do hope that more women and men get involved in vocally supporting the cause, though.
BJJL: Why do you think the prize money after all this time still isn’t equal?
DO: Well right now, I believe it has something to do with the concept of “waiting things out.” It seems like the IBJJF may just be waiting until things settle down so they can continue running tournaments as they please. At this point I am unwilling to settle down and I don’t think I’ll stop fighting for this even if I am alone in doing so haha. I do have to commend the IBJJF on introducing the equal rewards for top ranking male and female black belts. I think that was a move on their part to appease our cause, but the Pro prizes remain the same. I don’t want to stop until they have been changed as well.
BJJL: In BJJ, for the most part, those that hold the tournaments have the final say on how much they pay to who. Do you think it comes down to what they believe the athlete is or isn’t worth?
DO: I don’t know if the organizers are that devious haha. I think most tournament organizers are really self-interested, and they care a lot about the money their tournaments earn, so maybe they want to cut down on cash prizes so that it doesn’t hurt them as much. However, the IBJJF is an organization that has been around a long time, and the money they make from their tournaments is more than enough to finance equal prizes for men and women in their BJJ Pros. I don’t know if they conscientiously made the decision that women are inferior fighters and deserve less prize money, but I do think they maybe tried to cut costs by doing this, assuming that no one would make a big stink about it. I am in big support of the tournament organization Five Grappling, though. They are in support of the movement and offer equal prizes for both male and female competitors. In fact, they just had their Super League competition, with plenty of talented men and women, and it’s been commended by many of my friends and training partners. If you haven’t gotten the chance to check it out, you can order a 50% discounted replay here: fivegrappling.com/superleague.
BJJL: In the vast majority of professional sports the pay between men and women is not close. Why do you think BJJ should be different?
DO: Haha I don’t think BJJ is the only sport that should be different. Professional tennis commendably offers athletes equal prize money, and I don’t see why other sports should be different. Equal pay for equal work.
BJJL: I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. In some of the competitions women have no one in their division or only one fight whereas the men’s divisions have the decks stacked. Don’t you think that makes it more of a draw for the event organizers to pay the men more money? Don’t you think it is a bit unfair to pay someone who didn’t even have a fight a substantial amount of prize money or maybe one fight? To some degree it is about putting on a show.
DO: This is true in some respects but not all tournaments are like that. In fact, this year at worlds I had more fights to win absolute than the men’s black belt absolute winner. Last year, one of the Pro divisions had only two male black belts sign up and they ended up getting $5000 combined. It works both ways. I really believe though that by offering the opportunity for only one woman to win some prize money at the Pro the IBJJF is devaluing their female athletes, and is giving them no reason to book a plane ticket and a hotel, and exert time and energy into competing at these events. The prizes for the men are lucrative. Men from around the world may be interested in getting a shot at the money which will of course boost the amount of competitors willing to sign up. If you give women no reason to compete and spend money then why would they even sign up?
BJJL: In what way do you think change should be facilitated?
DO: I have talked about this before, but I think the best way the IBJJF can institute change is by putting a minimum requirement for competitors signed up to do a division before offering them prize money. The current minimum for men is four competitors. They should offer women competitors the exact same deal.
BJJL: It would probably help if someone that commands a great deal of respect in the BJJ World would come out and back the equal pay movement. Any thoughts on that?
DO: I wholeheartedly agree, but again, I think a lot of people are afraid to voice their opinions or show their support for the cause and somehow end up on the bad side of one of Jiu Jitsu’s largest tournament organizations. For example, if the entire Gracie family teamed up to support the movement, of course changes would occur. Unfortunately, that is not the case today, but I hope that it can be in the future.
BJJL: Someone told you to stop complaining, do something about it (regarding how you feel about the gap in pay). What all have you done so far since that moment?
DO: Haha absolutely everything I can to bring about awareness of the issue, and work for some sort of negotiation to give female athletes the equal prize money they rightfully deserve.
BJJL: Who in the BJJ World have been your major supporters of the movement?
DO: Definitely my female training partners, big names like Gabi Garcia, Angelica Galvao and Andre Galvao, my own instructor Marcelo Garcia and his wife Tatiana, my good friend Jay Hayes, a lot of the European black belts like Shanti Abelha and Ida Hansson, and even more women and men that aren’t huge standouts in the BJJ scene.
BJJL: Is there anyone that is fighting you every step of the way and thinks that equal pay is crazy?
DO: There are certain people and some of them are even people I am close to so it was even more heartbreaking when I found out they didn’t support the cause. I just try to tell myself that it is not a personal attack on me our ideologies just differ. I hope I can get these people to see the same way that I do in the future, though.
BJJL: If you could make an appeal regarding the equal pay movement to the BJJ Community, what would you say?
DO: I would say what I have always been saying. Women put in the same amount of blood, sweat and tears into training as men do. We pay the same fees for tournaments, plane tickets, hotels and gear. We work just as hard but we get rewarded less for it. It is time for change. Please sign the petition at: https://www.change.org/p/ibjjf-give-woman-athletes-equal-prize-money-2
Again, whatever your thoughts are on this issue or any issue you have to commend such a bright young burgeoning black belt just for taking a stand. She has stepped out and stepped up and that in itself takes just as much if not more courage than to set foot on that mat. When you decide to be a voice and a loud one on an issue that can be devisive, you can set yourself up for undue criticism and an overwhelming amount of grief. Your supporters will give you strength but those that are against you can make things unbelievably difficult. The August 18th, 1920 the 19th Amendment won women the right. On June 10th, 1963 the first Equal Pay Act was signed. Perhaps Obelente will receive her very own equal pay act for women's rights in BJJ and sooner rather than later.
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn't fit in with the core belief.” ―Frantz Fanon
bI was first introduced to 1-Leg X-Guard by Emily Kwok in her How To Defeat Bigger, Stronger Opponents DVD set. I played around with it and even though I pulled mount more often than not I didn’t give up. I kept working on it, asked questions and researched on my own. Fast forward almost a year and this is my go to attack when my opponents stands or posts his leg.
A few months ago we were approached by MGinACTION about collaborating and this article is the result. What you’ll find below is a downloadable PDF (and graphics file) that shows you my notes on all the instructional videos in MGinACTION that cover the 1-leg X-Guard. What you’ll also find is an interactive map that has links directly to the videos in MGinACTION so that you can watch the videos that were just mapped out.
Pablo Popovitch entered the 2012 NoGi Pan Ams as a favorite to win not only his weight class but also the open weight division. On Pablo's side of the bracket were Abmar Barbosa and first time Pan Ams competitor, Ezra Lenon. Pablo had a 1st round bye and popular opinion was that his first match would be against Abmar and then after the inevitable win Pablo would continue on to win the gold. In what was the biggest upset of the tournament Ezra Lenon defeated Popovitch 2 - 0 after beating Barbosa 10 minutes earlier.
BJJ Legends: Tell me a little about yourself and your training history:
Ezra Lenon: Started training in 2006 with Zack (Ezra’s older brother). He was a blue belt at time and taught me a lot of my fundamentals. After that I moved to Columbia, MO because American Top Team had the only black belts in the area. I trained under Kiko France and stayed there until they closed and I moved to St Louis a little over 2 years ago to teach at Finney’s MMA. In February of 2011 Zack and I both got our black belts from Kiko. At Finney’s I’m teaching classes 5 days a week to kids and adults. I’ve got 70 or so students between all the classes. My older brothers both train BJJ, Zack’s a black belt under Kiko and Levi is a purple belt under Scott Huston.
BJJ: How’d you manage to get your black belt so fast?
Ezra: I pretty much lived at Top Team. I was completely obsessed with training; I’d be there twice a day, six or seven days a week. I still train that much with conditioning a couple times a week, drilling two or three times a week and rolling daily with my students.
BJJ: When you saw the brackets and realized that you had two of the top guys in the world your bracket what were you thinking?
Ezra: Very excited. I couldn’t wait to test myself against this level of competition. I’m always looking to test myself and I’ve been following Pablo pretty much since I began training and knew that no matter what happened it’d be a good match up for me and would be a good match to watch. Also really excited about the absolute division but that didn’t work out because of my knee.
TrainFightWin.com is an online website that specializes in no-gi submission grappling and mixed martial arts instructional videos. The site is a great one stop destination that offers more than 10 hours of free instructional content, as well as a message forum, networking features, MMA news, and other exciting features to the user base of 5,000 members from more than 90 countries. Unlike a lot of online training websites TrainFightWin is geared toward helping YOU the user. With its high level of personal attention you will be assisted at developing a solid formula that will produce repeatable results in your martial arts growth.
“I make it a point to try to help out any of my users that ask me to- even going so far as to work the corner of one of my users that I never met before at a competition. I don't want people to memorize a bunch of random techniques that they throw out in a desperate attack; but rather I want people to learn a logical grappling system so that they can produce repeatable results on the mat.”
Created in 2008, the site started as a mechanism tool to assist an instructor’s students with some troubleshooting issues they were having with learning techniques taught during class. Hoping to help his students excel the instructor (Richard Whirley) would record countless hours of videos to assist his students with retaining the information that was taught in class. As time progressed, this simple tool to assist his students would eventually reach thousands of practitioners on Youtube thus turning it into the popular franchise it is today.
BJJ at 40.... Why?The IBJJF defines 36-40 year old competitors as senior. No other area of society, other than sports, are young men and women referred to as seniors. Most would agree that 40-year-olds are middle aged, but not senior. The 20’s are the new teens, the 30’s the new 20’s, and the 40’s the new 30’s. There have been many athletes to accomplish great things beyond 40-years-old. Former NFL player and current BJJ brown belt Jarrod Bunch has won gold medals in the 18-29 division of IBJJF tournaments.