Everyone has a calling they are destined to pursue in life. Far from an overnight completion, the process carries many lessons that keep us alive, adventurous, and unique in that quest of turning our dreams into a reality. Fabricio Machado is no stranger to this process. Since day one he has always dreamed BIG, always pushing to achieve his goals. These goals have taken him on a uphill journey to where he is today. Fabricio Machado has been an active Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner for over eleven years. Introduced to the grappling arts at the age of sixteen, it would only take one eye-opening introductory class to make BJJ a primary part of Machado's life.
"I knew since the first day that BJJ was making an impact on my life, "he said. "I started training BJJ when I was 16 years old. I used to train Muay Thai and Taekwondo and I had a friend who used to train Jiu-jitsu. At first I didn’t believe in grappling until I finally took a class and got tapped like 50 times. It made me feel uncomfortable and I knew then that I needed to learn more. I got addicted quickly and trained at least twice a day since the beginning."
Training, competing, and teaching living the BJJ Lifestyle was serving this enthusiastic practitioner quite well. However Machado desired more opportunities in evolving his Jiu-jitsu and creating a better life for himself outside of grappling. Following his heart's content Machado moved from his homeland of Pelotas, Brazil to the United States currently residing in Brea, California. Life in Southern California couldn't be more fitting for the Brazilian migrant as some features in this new land are reminiscent of life in Brazil.
[At the moment the economy in] "Brazil is really bad in comparison to the United States. Second, the Brazilian culture in California reminds me of back home and makes me feel comfortable. Economically, there are more opportunities for Jiu-jitsu in the United States so the move is what made the most sense for me since Jiu-jitsu is my life."
Machado’s migration to California also gave the Brazilian a new training home to continue his BJJ development. Now training out of Brea Jiu-jitsu under Dan Lukehart Machado has attained many personal and athletic benefits at his new training home. Fabricio couldn’t have asked for a better place to train.
"I met Dan Lukehart, owner of Brea Jiu-jitsu and quickly studied his analysis videos that are available on the internet. These videos intrigued me and I took an interest in the way he looks at Jiu-jitsu because he is very detailed and unique in the way he can breakdown a technique or sequence. I then visited the academy and asked Dan if I could stay here for a few weeks to which he said yes. I quickly made friends at the gym and fell in love with the environment both in the gym and the surroundingarea."
Growing in a positive training environment, surrounded by beautiful beaches, and meeting new friends it has been an amazing experience for Machado thus far living in the states. Yet the infatuation of his new found home hasn’t halted Machado in chasing his BJJ dreams. Making a strong presence on the competition circuit in the states Fabricio Machado has had great success thus far which accolades include becoming a NABJJF North American champion and IBJJF American National Champion at the brown belt level.
"I'm very happy of my achievements here in the U.S. I'm sure that I will achieve all my goals in America. I have the best support group- coach Dan Lukehart is an amazing mentor and friend, and all the guys at Brea BJJ have become my closest friends. I am fortunate to have made strong connections in the short time that I have lived here."
Dreaming big is all about having a purpose in life and becoming fulfilled in the process. The BJJ journey of Fabricio Machado showcases the possibilities of what happens when one follows their dreams. Far from his ultimate goal expect to see a lot more from this ambitious Brazilian prospect as he looks to continue to build for ultimate success on and off the mat.
“I hope to become one of the best in the world not just as a competitor but as a leader as well. I also wish to help Dan Lukehart and Brea Jiu-jitsu in any way possible. In the future I wish to open my own academy and help build world champions who are not only successful in competition but in life as well.”
Fabricio Machado Accomplishment
Brown Belt- 2016 NABJJ North American Champion
Brown Belt – 2016 NABJJ North American 2nd Place (Absolute)
Brown Belt - 2016 IBJJF 2016 American National Champion
Brown Belt – 2016 IBJJF American National 2nd Place (Absolute)
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu's obsessive appeal springs from the lessons and rewards given toward the goal of self-development. Life on and off the mat, work, and family, and BJJ are all a part of the game that life gives to us. It is an on-going challenge of prioritizing all of our duties to create a balance. Luckily some have found a way to handle the weight grappling with so many tasks. Father, husband, and head instructor of Elite Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Andrew Solheim has a creative solution in merging the joys and responsibilities of his multiple roles providing him with a well-balanced life both personally and professionally.
BJJ Legends got the opportunity to speak with Professor Solheim. He touches on his journey and the balance of family and life as a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor.
You started BJJ over 15 years ago. What got you into BJJ? Solheim: My interest was at its peak when Royce Gracie fought in and won the very first UFC back in 93'. At the time my whole family was involved in Karate, I of course wanted to learn this new martial art however at the time there wasn't any academies in WA. With nowhere to turn for traditional instruction my father ordered the Gracie VHS tapes and the two of us started supplementing our Karate training with what we could learn from those tapes. We didn't have much to work with but I remember we would push the couch aside and grapple in our living room, we'd also try to find floor space after our karate class and train. As a teenager I took a break from training in the martial arts. Thankfully my father and mother continued to train because in the late 90's a blue belt named Mike Simpson started a BJJ class two nights a week at the dojo they trained at. My father told me about the class and that officially ended my break. In 2001 I started commuting an hour south to train under Gracie Barra Black Belt Marcio "Mamazinho" Laudier Vilamor. The rest as they say in history.
Seeing how the sport evolved, what was it like coming up to where you are now as an instructor? Solhiem: Jiu-Jitsu was in its infancy here in Washington when I started training. At the time Marcelo Alonzo and Mamazinho were the only Black Belts in the state. Tournaments usually took place out of academies and of course the field of competition was small. Today there are so many great academies in WA and the level of competition is higher than ever. A big contributor to this is the Revolution BJJ tournament. I believe they held their first event in 2006 and since then grown to be the biggest tournament in the NW.
You have been building a career in BJJ while also raising a family. How have you been able to stay the course juggling such great responsibilities? Solheim: Balance. My wife Amy and I were high school sweet hearts and we started our family early becoming teen parents to our son Riley at the ages of 16 and 17. My son was born right around the time I started training, I think Jiu-Jitsu provided the outlet and guidance I needed at the time. My wife and I married out of high school and now have three sons Riley (15), Owen (12) and Eli (6). Jiu-Jitsu has been a lifestyle for me ever since I started, it’s not something I do, it’s who I am. I want my children to follow their dreams; I want them to do what makes them happy. Actions speak louder than words so I'll follow my dreams in hopes that they'll learn to follow theirs.
Somewherealong the line your wife got a touch of the BJJ bug, after seeing you do it for so many years, what promote her to want to participate?
Solheim : Amy is a very shy person and was never into sports growing up so she was an unlikely candidate to all the sudden decide to start training, but that's pretty much what happened. One of my female students kept bugging her to try it out and one day she just decided to go for it. She was hooked and she started training regularly. Last May she competed in the world championships and did great winning her first two matches making it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated. I think it’s a testament to Jiu-Jitsu that a mother of three with no athletic experience can get on the mats and make the kind of transformation that she has.
Do any of your children participate in BJJ or other related sports? Solheim: Since I teach it was only natural to have them in my classes from an early age. All three of my boys have or actively train BJJ. Amy and I take a laid back approach to it though, although we require some form of physical activity we don't push real hard. We tell them to do their best and fight with heart because that's all they can control. If they give their heart in everything they do than I will be proud regardless of the outcome. In addition to BJJ, Riley and Owen also wrestle. Riley is just finishing up with his first season of high school wrestling and Owen is just getting started with his first middle school season.
As an instructor how do you separate being their instructor on the mat as you are the husband/father? Solheim: When we're on the mats I am the instructor and they are the students, it’s really not that hard, I treat them the same as any of the other students. The difficulty lies at the tournaments, as a coach you are always nervous for you students to compete; when that student is your child or wife this feeling is multiplied.
How has this pastime helped bring your family together? Solheim: Anytime you enjoy an activity or shared interest it helps build strength within the family unit. Jiu-Jitsu just happens to be one of the things that we enjoy together however we also enjoy other interests as well.
Looking back at your journey how has it overall helped you? Solheim: Jiu-Jitsu has been a passion of mine ever since I stepped foot on the mat. It’s important to have something that you find meaningful in life, something that occupies your mind and that you look forward to. The physical and mental benefits are obviously amazing as well, we are meant to move, to exercise and often times as we grow older we get away from that. I find Jiu-Jitsu to be a therapeutic and fun way to stay in shape both physically and mentally.
Any final thoughts before we wrap up time interview? Solheim: Jiu-Jitsu is different for everybody. Some guys are out to win world titles, some are looking for self-defense and others are just looking to live the lifestyle and gain the benefits that come from that. Whatever your reasons are focus on you and try your best not to measure yourself to others. Jiu-Jitsu can be full of frustration at times, understand that this is normal, part of the process, and required for growth. The hardest part of training is often times coming through the door; once you commit to that the rest is easy.
Andrew Solheim Special Thanks: I want to thank my training partners past and present who have bleed with me. I want to thank my instructors who helped me along the way; I hope I can honor you by passing your knowledge onto my students. Huge thanks to all my students for all their hard work, dedication, and tough rolls. Most importantly I want to thank my family for their love and support.
With the aiming of taking MMA and Jiu-jitsu fashion appeal to a higher standard in comes Veni Vidi Vici (VVV Fight Co). VVV Fight CO was established in 2010.They started six years ago with a vision of creating a brand that represented their passion for the sport. They try to better our fight community and have become a globally-recognized company.
Continuing to push their movement VVV Fight Co brings to you their latest kimono the Black Paladin Gi. The Paladin Gi was inspired by what and who we are as modern day warriors training on the mats.
Our review of the VVV Fight Co. Paladin Kimmo; here are all the details on the evaluation we conducted.
The Paladin GI
The VVV Paladin Kimono Jacket has a simple stunning appearance. Made out of 450 GSM pearl weave material the uniform jacket is light. It is cut slim, has a tough to grip lapel and reinforced seams cover all areas making the jacket capable of withstanding the toughest training and competing conditions.
There is a vintage logo on left side of the lapel jacket and the right side of the sleeve. Flipping over to the back side you will find VVV's inspiring motto "TRUST THE PROCESS EMBRACE THE JOURNEY" located at the bottom of the jacket. Aside from the bottom message imprint and the small Spartan insignia on the top, the back of the gi is left blank for pasting academy and sponsor logos.
The Paladin jacket has a mesh liner back piece. Wearing a gi with a mesh liner it is similar to wearing a rash guard; it provides even more comfort and absorbs sweat during training sessions.
The Paladin GI Pants are made out of a very light weight durable 12oz twill oz. cotton material. The paints are reinforced from the groin to the ankle with a pearl weave gusset. The knees are also reinforced. These reinforced stress zones keeping the gi in perfect working condition for endless mat time.
The Paladin is equipped with four thick belt loops offering extra tightening from the left to the right side of the waistline and decreasing the chance of your pants falling off while training.
Size & Shrinkage
With sizes ranging from A0 to A5 the Paladin size chart accommodates most height and weight measurements. We found the gi sleeves a little long aligning slightly passed the wrist line while the pants will be right at the ankle line.
Washing instructions: when placing it in the washer it is recommended to wash the uniform alone in cold water and hang drying it afterwards. Most kimono purchasers such as myself have had our share of issues washing black gis as the color fades turning a once solid black into a fading grayish black appearance. This is will not be a concern with VVV's Paladin gi as it maintains it same appearance after washing.
After a thorough examination of this uniform, it is safe to say that VVV's Paladin is a good buy most Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner’s collection. It is perfect for training, IBJJF approved, and affordable at the price of $145. The gi is a bargain buy for anyone hoping to save money while enjoying the benefits of owning a top quality gi.
The Paladin is VVV Fight Co.’s second kimono release.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community outreach attempts to bring value and dignity to the children of international refugees.
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina Project 658 is an organization that works with the international refugee community. Project 658 mission aims in helping get migrants established into their new home country and provide them with the basic necessities and skills required to thrive. The Holistic Care ministry helps them with proper housing, job training, clothing, and academic/education services. Project 658 continues to expand its programs, adding new classes and giving their refugee recipients more opportunities to learn and grow.
Known for his artwork in the MMA community and other charitable contributions in the Queen City JM Smith (Founder of Disciple Dojo) has joined forces with Project 658 offering a free weekly BJJ/self-defense class for refugee kids in the Charlotte community. It’s only the second month into the program and the enthusiastic participants have already caught the love bug for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
BJJ Legends got the opportunity to talk with JM Smith about this philanthropic program and the building of Refugee-Jitsu.
You are known for your charitable contributions in the MMA community and in your home region of Charlotte. How did the collaboration with Project 658 come about and what got you motivated to do it?
JM: Honestly, man, it came about through frustration. As I watched the international refugee crisis unfold over the past year, I found my heart breaking for the millions of families—many of them children—who were simply trying to get away from hellish war zones over which they had absolutely no control or influence. I was also frustrated by the seeming lack of concern that many of my fellow Christians were showing and the stereotypes they were helping to reinforce about refugees through the comparisons to things like poison or an infestation or any other number of dehumanizing labels I was seeing shared on social media. The more I started to push back against such stereotypes and the more I started encouraging Christians in particular to reach out in love and service to refugees, no matter where they come from, the more I was met with the “What are YOU doing about it then? How are YOU helping?” type responses. I resolved that while I don’t have financial or material resources (being a starving-artist/Bible-teacher!), I should at least do something here in the city in which I live…which just so happens to have a large refugee population.
So I reached out to my friend Rob, who works with various refugee ministries here in Charlotte, and asked him who I could talk with about offering a free weekly Jiu-jitsu class to refugee families. He put me in touch with Project 658 and I sent them an email proposal for such a program. My friend Laura, meanwhile, had also met a member of their staff and shared with her about my desire to offer such a class as well as women’s self-defense seminars for the members of the refugee community. So when I reached out to them, they were very receptive. We met at their facility the following week in early December and they were very enthusiastic about the idea, as they were looking for something to offer the kids in addition to traditional sports like soccer. We decided to offer an initial one-time class and see who showed up in order to gage the level of interest.
So I spent all of December praying about it and trying to raise the needed funds to purchase mats and some basic equipment needed to get the class going. While I received some criticism from a few people who simply—and ignorantly—equate “refugee” with “terrorist”, the overwhelming majority of responses have been very supportive. From fellow church members to local businesses to BJJ friends from all over the country, people donated the needed funds and thanks to their generosity and support, the program is now in its second month!
How was the overall reception of idea bringing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to the Project 658?
JM: They have been totally supportive. Not only does it give the kids a positive place to come and hang out for 2 hours on a Thursday night, it also teaches them skills that could save their lives one day while at the same time instilling the values of the martial arts into them at a very formative stage in their lives. Unlike other sports which require different practice times, expensive equipment, and weekend games, this simply requires the kids to show up once a week with a readiness to learn and have fun! They’ve asked us to do a BJJ Summer camp for a week in July and we will also be offering periodic weekend Women’s Self-Defense seminars to the community.
Talk to us about some of the students and also your experience teaching them thus far?
JM: I’m just getting to know the kids myself, but they are simply awesome! I tell people our class is like the United Nations of BJJ. We have kids from West Africa, Latin America, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Southeast Asia! Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu… all developing genuine friendships that inevitably result from doing BJJ together! That’s the beauty of the martial arts — it brings people together from the most varied backgrounds and shatters the dividers that the outside world frequently encourages us to maintain.
Many of them are coming from conditions that most of us could hardly imagine growing up in. They are coming from vastly different cultures all over the world… yet they are like any other middle school or high school kids you’d meet in your own community. They laugh, they cut up, they rag on each other, they joke around, they watch TV, they go to school, they have homework, they deal with all the normal experiences kids deal with at that age… but given their unique backgrounds and experiences, they show a level of gratitude and a craving for love and affirmation that is simply unbelievable. They practically fight each week over who gets to mop the mat, who gets to pull up the tape, who gets to roll them up, etc. They know that they have been given this equipment and they are intent on taking care of it! They are so grateful that they have this class and it is absolutely heartwarming to see.
For example, two of our students are a teenage brother and sister from Afghanistan whose father fought alongside the Marines against the Taliban. In addition to translating for U.S. forces, he was also a trained boxer and kickboxer who taught the Afghani police hand-to-hand combat. Now, he works in a factory here in the city and is studying to get his commercial truck license in hopes of building a business here where he can employ others and provide jobs for the community. But with his busy schedule, he is not able to train his son and daughter in self-defense at home like he wants to. So when he found out we were staring this class, he was ecstatic! He and I have become friends and he’s made sure his kids are there every week… and every week they are so eager to show me that they remember what we did the previous week and how excited they are to be there again. It’s every instructor’s dream to have students and parents so dedicated!
So I take it they are enjoying their lessons in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?
JM: Man, they are loving it! Every time I show a new technique their eyes get wide and you hear verbal “ooh”s and “ahh”s…it’s great! The only thing they know about martial arts is what they’ve seen in movies. The only thing they know about grappling is what they’ve seen watching WWE. They always ask me if I’ll show them various pro-wrestlers’ signature moves. Haha, I find myself frequently bursting some bubbles about what martial arts and grappling actually consist of in reality, and what is fantasy. But we have a lot of fun, even while maintaining an overall sense of discipline and respect.
Various instructors have different goals for their students what is your goal with the refugee students?
JM: My goals for them are simple: 1) to equip the kids with a basic working knowledge of Jiu-jitsu primarily for self-defense 2) to give them a place each week where they are encouraged, loved, and treated as normal kids rather than “foreigners” 3) to foster genuine deep friendships among them as well as within the larger martial arts community here in Charlotte 4) to help us as a city — and perhaps one day a nation — see those who have come to us from all over the world as fellow human beings, bearers of God’s Image; to break down the walls of suspicion and hostility that many in our society thrive on keeping in place. And lastly, 5) to reflect the love of God that I’ve been shown my whole life into the lives of these kids and their families regardless of their beliefs, background, or ethnicity.
Project 658 is always open to volunteers coming to help with various sectors in their organization. Is the option open for BJJ practitioners coming to assist with the program?
JM: Absolutely! As I post each week on Facebook and Instagram, ANYONE in the area is invited to come help on Thursdays! Any grappler from any academy or gym with a good attitude who wants to meet some amazing kids and help encourage them in their training is invited to come help us whenever they are able, especially female grapplers! We are trying to encourage more women in particular to get involved so that the girls who come to class will have other girls to drill and roll with. There is still a bit of hesitancy, perhaps due to cultural backgrounds, when it comes to the girls and having such close contact with boys who aren’t a family member—contact which is a necessary part of BJJ, obviously. So to help overcome this hesitancy it’s always helpful to have women there who can not only train with them, but also show them that it’s ultimately possible to train with the boys in ways that do not compromise any ethical integrity.
But male or female, grappler or novice, anyone who’d like to help is invited to come see what we do and meet some incredible kids each week. In fact, we’ve had BJJ students from at least four different local academies helping us in classes so far! It’s been great seeing so many different team patches and GIs on the mats with the kids, all under the single banner of “Jiu-jitsu”!
What are some other resources you are using to expand the program?
JM: The goal all along has been to make the class entirely free for any member of the refugee community. These families come here with almost nothing sometimes, and Project 658 is a huge help in getting them basic necessities so that the kids can live normal lives like any other kids in the city. So Disciple Dojo wants to make sure that this class and everything involved remains free to the families. From mats to train on, to striking pads/mitts, to GIs and rashguards, we want to make everything available to the kids. That doesn’t mean they don’t EARN the equipment though! Far from it! From day one we’ve stressed to the kids that while we do not require them to pay financially for the class and equipment, they DO have to pay for it… in dedicated attendance, focused training, and cleaning up and storing it all each week! The only way we can do this is through the support of the wider community, particularly the BJJ community. And the response has been encouraging so far. Deus Fight Co. has stepped up to support us by providing gis for the kids. As an artist, I’ve worked with Deus before on the Fight for the Forgotten gi when they found out about this program the owner, Geoff, sent me a text that simply said “how many gis do you need?”! Deus has a line of gis based on various cities’ NFL teams that they use to help raise funds for different charitable causes , so I said that given the Panthers Superbowl run this year, it was time to have a “Carolina” gi in the lineup! They loved the idea and the gis are in production as we speak! In order to get their gis and white belts, the kids have to have perfect attendance for over a month, show that they are dedicated in class and paying attention, and help with cleanup and teardown of the mats each week. They are so excited, and I’m truly grateful for the awesome work that Deus Fight Co. is doing not just for our program, but for some incredible causes all over the world.
I also use any proceeds from sales of my artwork and the gear I design to help fund Disciple Dojo as much as I can. I’m one of only a handful of artists I know of who focus on MMA/BJJ portraits, so any help in getting word out about my artwork is always appreciated and I love seeing my stuff hanging in various academies all over the world… because I know what it goes to help support!
Eventually, I’m hoping that the program will continue to grow and as the kids move from basic self-defense BJJ into the more competitive aspects of the art, I would love to connect with a tournament that would consider providing sponsorships for some of the kids to compete. But that is still a ways off, I believe. Right now the focus is on building community and laying the foundation for the dozen or so kids we currently have in the class, while continuing to encourage others to join in as well.
Finally 10 years from now what do you see for Disciple Dojo’s Refugee-Jiu-jitsu program?
JM: Honestly, I don’t even know what it will look like 10 MONTHS from now! I’m just along for the ride! But my hope is that in 10 years there will be dozens of young 20- and 30-something adults in this city from all over the world who know that they are valued. Who know that they have come to a city where they are seen not as “foreign” or “different”, but rather as fellow citizens and members of the community. Who know the joys that come from dedicated training in the Gentle Art and who have a sense of self-confidence, humility, kindness, and integrity that come from the crucible of Jiu-jitsu classes. And most of all, who know that they are, loved as young men and women created in God’s Image and possessing intrinsic value and dignity. If even a handful of these kids end up experiencing this over the next 10 years, it will have all been worth it.
Any final thoughts before we wrap up this interview?
JM: I’ve been so encouraged by the response to our program. It shows that despite the geopolitical events surrounding us, there are people who have the courage to reach out with a hand of friendship rather than a fist of anger. I’m grateful for the support we’ve been shown by people from so many different backgrounds — from local academies, to members of the UG, to instructors from across the country, to church members, to companies like Deus Fight. Jiu-jitsu has a way of bringing people together who would otherwise likely not have much in common. This program is a testimony to that fact. I’m especially grateful to my instructor Derek “TC” Richardson for introducing me into the Renzo Gracie Jiu-jitsu family over nine years ago and modeled what it looks like to combine the martial arts with community outreach and self-sacrificial giving to those who may not be able to do anything in return. And I’m grateful for my training partners and friends at Renzo Gracie Charlotte/Leadership Martial Arts who have kicked, punched, twisted, cranked, smothered, smashed, and choked me silly for nearly a decade now. Outside of my biological and church families, they have been the biggest source of support and encouragement in my life.
I’m hoping and praying that what we’re doing here through Disciple Dojo and Project 658 may in some small way inspire the greater BJJ community all over the world to reach out to those on the margins and share with them the art we all love so deeply, so that they may be transformed by it as we have been. I would be absolutely thrilled to find out that other martial artists in other cities were starting similar programs among their own communities—whether refugees, immigrants, or any other subset of society who are often stereotyped and stigmatized. I may not be able to solve the world refugee crisis, but I can at least reach out to those who have been its victims and say “You are valued and you have dignity. Let me help you cultivate both through this thing called Jiu-jitsu.”
Hitting reset and training your training partners, Adam Stacey shares his story coming up outside of SoCal/Brazil Jiu-Jitsu motherland.
Growing through Martial Arts is beneficial to anyone’s journey in building character on and off the mat. A thirteen year practitioner in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Adam Stacey is a BJJ Black Belt under Nic Gregoriades and head instructor of Custom Jiu-Jitsu in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Competitor, truth-seeker, and instructor Stacey has a unique outlook on life through Brazilian Jiu-jitu reflected through his journey in the grappling arts. Conducting this interview with us at BJJ Legends hearing his story many will be intrigued and ponder of the hidden personal benefits Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has to offer its participants.
Everyone has a story as to what got them interested in this great art known as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. What got you involved in BJJ?
Adam Stacey: I’ve always been fascinated by the Martial Arts. I grew up on Ninja Turtles, Surf Ninjas, the Karate Kid, etc. I did a little Danzen Ryu Ju Jitsu, a little Judo, and Folkstyle Wrestling growing up. I was introduced to BJJ around the age of 21. I started when I was in the US Navy onboard the USS Chosin. A friend of mine asked me to roll. Being a wrestler I accepted the invite and after being arm barred 100’s of times I realized this art was for me.
At what point in your journey did you come to the conclusion that BJJ was fully apart of your life thus making you fully committed to it?
AS: From day one I’ve enjoyed the art. Jiu-Jitsu became my priority once I attended my first academy: Brazilian Freestyle Jiu-Jitsu under Romolo Barros. I was relatively strong in the Navy because until I encountered Jiu-Jitsu my definition of strength was my total bench press max. However, I rolled with my first instructor, Romolo Barros, he was a normal looking guy, and he submitted me quickly… over and over again. My definition of strength was way off. So, shortly after I started I realized I wanted this in my life forever.
Everyone has their own perception based on their journey of highs and lows. What is you philosophy on BJJ?
AS: Jiu-Jitsu is so much more than Jiu-Jitsu. It's hard to encapsulate in words. Jiu-Jitsu is my community. Jiu-Jitsu is my strength. I had a somewhat crappy early childhood so Jiu-Jitsu, has been a mentor and teacher that has helped me in so many ways. I have a shirt from Tatami Fightwear that says: “No matter what life throws at you there is always Jiu-Jitsu.” That’s pretty much how I see it.
Open minded to the art, part of your growth found you cross training with a lot of other grappling practitioners including your opponents. What inspired to do this and most importantly how can one benefit from this approach?
AS: If I want to be a shark on the mats I need to swim out past my fish bowl. If I only swim in my tank I may be the king of that bowl but my growth will be stunted. I’ll have a Jiu-Jitsu game bound to a small container. I feel it is important for Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to swim in other fish bowls, so to speak, so that they can see how other fish bite/swim. Analogy aside, tournaments, other academies, they are all part of the main goal: to grow the BJJ community and be the best ME in Jiu-Jitsu that I can be. I cannot be the best me if I do not train across academy lines. As for training with past opponents… I don’t really look at them as opponents. More as teachers. I am extremely grateful for all those I’ve competed ‘against’. Maybe if I treated them as opponents and not teachers I might have more gold medals. Ha!
Speaking of opponents one of the most challenging parts of someone’s journey is competing which bring out various emotions. What is your overall outlook on competing and through your wins/ losses what motivates you to compete?
AS: My Jiu-Jitsu journey has been different than most. Since I was a high blue belt I have always had a long distance relationship with my instructor due to my location. So it has been difficult for me to refine my game without the constant oversight of an instructor. In place of that oversight I’ve used competitions as my testing ground. I would study techniques, drill, visit other academies, and then take it to the competition. After every competition I would fill my journal with lessons learned (I still do). I’d then fix my errors and apply the lessons learned to my next tournament. If there were errors I couldn’t find the solution to I would seek help via email from my instructor. So, long answer short, GROWTH motivates me to compete. Every competition helps me grow. In turn, I pass my lessons learned on to my students so they avoid the pitfalls that I hit the hard way.
Switching topics becoming a Black belt how does your journey differ as oppose to your previous ranks white through brown?
AS: March 7th will be my one year anniversary as a Black Belt. Man, being a Black Belt is a weird paradox. It has changed everything but then again it feels like my journey has restarted. I like to use the Call of Duty analogy. Once you reach the highest level in the game Call of Duty you have the option to “Prestige”. To prestige basically means you trade in all your accolades and start from scratch. That’s what I feel has happened. I’m starting over but I now have a “Prestige” Belt around my waist. From White Belt to Black belt I pursued the path to the black belt. Now that I am a Black Belt my goal is to be an EFFECTIVE black belt. I still have a lot of work. But I’m growing every day.
Apart of being a black belt you have taken on the role as a leader of your own academy the Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Becoming an instructor what are some of the important things you learned from your journey that you pass on to your students?
AS: That’s just it. I instill the journey mindset into our students. Every class, every tournament, every win, every loss, every person (both good, and bad) are elements of the journey. Take them. Learn from them. Become better. If we only learn from the good times or the things we like that might only be 50% or 60%; even a perfect 50% is an “F”. Enjoy the journey and learn from everything!
Finally looking back what do you feel got you to where you are today after a long extension as a participant in BJJ?
AS: So many people have helped me. My wife’s love. All my Jiu-Jitsu teachers great and small roles alike; Nic Gregoriades, Dave Kama, Nick Laudenglaus, Alex Aftandilians, Heitor Abrahao, Romolo Barros, James Tanaka, David Hattori. My training partners; too many to list but my Brother-in-Law Seth Johnston has played a huge role in my journey. My students… all of them through the years (I've been showing people Jiu-Jitsu since I was a blue belt... not because I am such a good instructor but because I quite literally had to train my training partners. I was unaware of any 'REAL' BJJ community when I came to Klamath so we had to create one). …also, and in all honestly, John B. Will’s books on BJJ have been a great standard for the foundation of my Jiu-Jitsu.
After two over doses, the last one landing him in a coma Devin Chasten started BJJ in earnest. After a broken neck and spine surgery in 2011 Devin received his brown belt this October from Dustin “Clean” Dense. Read the rest of the interview.
Success through hard work is the merit that defines a champion both on and off the mat. Yet being a champion doesn’t come easy as it takes struggle and the will to work to reach one’s goals. October 1st 2015 marked a monumental day for grappling practitioner Devin “Pirata” Chasten of Kansas City, Mo with his promotion to BJJ brown belt under world renowned Dustin “Clean” Dense. This pivotal achievement wasn’t accomplished overnight as Chasten’s rollercoaster nine year journey showcases the results of never giving up and always striving to become better. Devin openly touches on in this exclusive interview with us at BJJ Legends.
Your instructor Dustin “Clean” Denes visited your gym Bodyfit KC to do a seminar on October 1st. In addition he surprised you with a well-deserved promotion to BJJ brown belt. Would you care to touch on your thoughts and feelings about getting promoted that night?
Devin Chasten: It was an incredible feeling with a lot of emotion behind it for sure. He gave a long speech before the promotion at the end of the seminar, touching on a lot of things about our relationship, the beginning of our training together, so on and so forth. It was an incredible speech that left me almost tearing up to hear how he felt about me and about this promotion, a moment I will never forget.
Achieving this feat was by no means an easy task. Reflecting on your journey when you think of the word “struggle” why is it a good thing?
DC: Struggle is a great thing in hindsight; it is an opportunity to grow. Without a struggle to overcome, you can’t get better. That’s how I looked at it, and believe me I had my fair share of struggles, just as many have. Some people could look at it as a road block and shy away, I tried to stay positive and take it head on. Without my struggles and adversities, I wouldn’t be who I am today or have the knowledge I have. It made me change the way I train, look at Jiu-Jitsu, and my approach to the way I do it. At the end of the day makes you so much better, because you have to try different things and you have to get out of your comfort zone, which is somewhat the essence of Jiu-Jitsu. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Talk to us about some of the hurdles that transformed you to the man you are today?
DC: I’ve had many, but a few really stand out, I started Jiu-Jitsu not because it looked fun to me, but I needed a way to channel my energy in a positive way. I started training seriously after my second overdose, one I barely survived. I was in a sort of a coma for about a week, when I finally came out and realized my situation and how bad I was getting, I called my friend at the time and told him I need to do this seriously, I need to have direction in my life because if I didn’t I knew I wouldn’t last long once I got out. So in a serious way, Jiu-Jitsu saved my life for real. Another serious hurdle was when I had broken my neck in January of 2009, without really knowing it. I trained that way for six months before I Finally went to the doctor’s office about it, after my right pec, triceps, and forearm had completely atrophied. I had nerve damage from my shoulder to my finger and couldn’t feel my right index finger. The whole time Clean made me push through, sometimes training 8 hour days for days straight pushing through the injury because we thought it was just my arm, not my neck. For the next 6 months after I did physical therapy, cortisone shots, everything we could fix it to no avail, leading to Surgery December 2009. All the while, I never stopped training. I took 3 months off after surgery, came back to train 3 months and competed in the IBJJF world championships my first tournament back. I’m now dealing with spine issues in my lower back, which at one point about a year ago I was having troubles walking or even getting out of bed, but with the knowledge from the years of dealing with these situations and with the help of a fantastic physical therapist I have managed to recover, train hard and work around it without it affecting me too much.
Everyone’s journey has reason it began leading to you experiencing your share of ups and downs. Tell us a little about how you got started in BJJ?
DC: I was living a very hostile life before I started Jiu-Jitsu, and I always watched the UFC and always thought I could do it. Growing up, if I wasn’t skipping school I was getting in fights to get kicked out, I had lot of anger so before I even put on a gi, I fought MMA on a few shows on a local circuit. I was 18, fresh out of high school and fresh out of the hospital. I got released out of the hospital in October 2006 and took my first fight a month later with only a month of \"MMA\" training and a few years of high school wrestling experience. I got the W by TKO in 1:33 of the first. I had two more fights, the latter one where I had a pretty serious eye injury to my good eye, I say good eye because I am actually blind in my right eye already and have been since I was a year old. I made a full recovery from the injury in that fight and realized MMA was not a smart choice, and that was right around when I met Clean and immerse myself full time Jiu-Jitsu with him. The rest is history.
Dustin Dense is known in the BJJ Community as a respected and intense individual. Tell us about of your experience training under him and most importantly what you learned from him that’s helped shape your life on and off the mat?
DC: Intensity was an understatement; it was downright insane training from the beginning. We met Clean when he lived in Missouri for a short period of time but when he moved back to Florida he would come back once sometimes twice a month and we would drill and train for 6-7 days straight, 8-10 hours a day. He would try to kill us. I remember guys getting vertigo from the sessions, most would come once and we would never see them again. At some points I would have to peel my gi off my skin, leaving what looked like bed sores from training so much without any breaks. The old Clean, he wanted us to be killing machines. My friend David Vava and I used to wake up at 4 am and drive 2 hours to a gym he would teach at when he lived here, to train for 2 hours then I would come back home and go to community college (which I eventually dropped out of so I could train with Clean more). Those two hours were nothing but us getting smashed as bad as we could by guys who Clean had waiting for us, it wouldn’t stop until Clean was satisfied. He was crazy, and we didn’t know anything different.
We were young, stubborn, and wanted his respect. I remember after of those sessions I went to shake Clean’s hand and he looked me dead in the eyes and said \"Your Jiu-Jitsu it shit. You are shit. Don’t come down here and train unless you’re going to bring something better\". He shrugged my handshake off and I left. He was hazing us, seeing if we were worthy of his time. We kept going back until we earned his trust, and we eventually did. After training for a few years I moved to South Florida for 3 months to live with him and train at his academy he opened, there I got my purple belt that was in 2011. As always, every day was war and you had to be the last man standing or suffer the consequences. I look back, after going through all of that I knew that nothing else in life could be that hard, which made me more successful in everything else I did. He showed me how to work hard, how to push past any point of wanting to quit, how there was a way through any situation no matter how intense. I owe almost everything in my life to that man, for all the hard times he was always there for me, always believed in me and never let me give up. I am forever grateful to Dustin Denes.
Are there any other individuals that have helped in your growth in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
DC: I also cross train at KCBJJ. Owner Jason Bircher, Travis Conley, Taylor Kettler and Carlos Dallis are my main training partners there. Although Clean is my master, Jason Bircher and Travis Conley have been mentors of mine as well. Travis is my go to guy, one of my best friends who keeps it real and says to me what I need to hear, and pushes me beyond my limits in the training sessions. We have a tight knit community here in KC; they all want the best for me as I do for them.
Switching positions in your current as an instructor at Bodyfit KC how do you use your experience to inspire and help your students?
DC: I feel like I’ve been down a special and unique path, whether it’s been what I’ve been through with Clean, what I’ve been through with injuries and life in general that I feel I can relate with just about anyone on some level which helps as an instructor. Due to severe injuries I’ve had to change my game so much that I’ve learned a diverse style, so it’s easy to show people something in all aspects of the game. I don’t think I’m great at any one thing, just a jack of all trades because I’ve had to learn and switch my style with each injury, which is a great thing because it made me open my mind to so much more and not be stubborn on something and closed minded to the rest, which translates so well to teaching. I love teaching and interacting, training with students. It makes you stay on top of your game and relevant, I’m always reviewing things I worked on for years, it’s awesome.
Finally with some much accomplished in your life what does the future hold for Devin Chasten?
DC: As long as I’m able to train, I know whatever is in store in the future will be great. Of course I want to go and win big championships, but the journey along the way is what I live for. Now as a new brown belt, I’m ready to come out of the gate strong, compete as much as possible but also learn and enjoy the road. With age, development and experience comes wisdom, and I’m ready for more and whatever the future holds!
Devin Chasten Shout Outs: David Vava at Bodyfit Kansas City, Jason Bircher and Travis Conley at KCBJJ, Anyone and everyone who has ever had a positive impact in my life in Jiu-Jitsu and off the mat, I owe it all to you. Finally Last and not least, Dustin \"Clean\" Denes. I owe him more than I can ever explain.
For every Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner there is a kimono. From blood and sweat absorbed after a training session to the patches we decorate that gives our fight wear a distinguishable appearance, each individual’s kimono tells a story which reveals their purpose in the art.
Equipped in his trusted kimono for two years, BJJ blue belt, Ren Costantini’s life changing journey carried with it many challenges centered on the love/hate relationship he has with his kimono. In this reflective narration Costantini uncovers the truth of what his kimono means to him in his thoughtful biography “Killer Kimono.”
Ren Costantini: Have you ever been told “keep your friends close and your enemies closer?" Seemingly most of us have heard the expression uttered at some point in time. Till recently, however, the expression did not fully resonate. Friends have always had their way of staying close due to the mutual affinity for one another in a mutually beneficial relationship - they are, after all, friends... but keep your enemies closer? This seemed oxymoronic. Why would I keep my enemies closer than my own friends? Then, one day after a grueling training session at Evolution Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I found myself exhausted. Slowly removing my Gi, and tossing it on the mat, I promptly fell next to it. It was here I had my revelation.
After every class I lie on the mat and try to the best of my ability to recollect what events transpired during the session. That evening I recall being particularly frustrated with my kimono. My opponent utilized grips that prevented me from a particular pass and, being the hard headed blue belt that I am, I continued to bang my head against the wall, expecting it to crumble. The wall did not crumble, and my pass ended in me being choked with my Gi.
Staring at my Kimono, I was astonished. My companion, my favorite clothing if you will, had turned against me - it had betrayed me. I felt a feeling of minor grief overcame me. Maybe… just maybe this friend was never really a friend. Absorbed in thought, time passed and the owner of the school began mopping the mats, and it was then that my thought process was paused.
At my next training session I found myself in New Hampshire at Port City Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. College had begun and reluctantly, with severe remorse, I was faced with the unavoidable truth that Jiu-Jitsu cannot be my major. However, it was after another gruesome training session I stripped off my gi and threw it to the mat reluctantly, my limp body following in a less serene fashion. Here the initial process of contemplation was revisited. That night I executed a few techniques that required me to use my opponent's gi against him, and vice versa. Admiring my kimono, the same feeling of aforementioned grief reappeared. “How can you do this to me? I thought we were close!”
Then it hit me, almost as hard as the lack of oxygen due to a bow and arrow choke. My gi is my enemy's friend. At first I felt cheated. “How could you choose to help him/her over me? I wash you! I occasionally dry you! I put nice patches on you! What did I do wrong? Tell me - I can change! I’ll be better, I swear!” Needless to say there was no response or remorse. That night my gi chose to leave with me if it's any consolation.
While getting my gi to leave with me was a subtle victory I began to reminisce about all the good times before my recent epiphany. This article of clothing felt as if it were armor and provided me with a sense of protection. The Kimono represents a part of me. All the sweat, blood, and tears that have been shed in these wonderful pieces of armor make it impossible for me not to be attached. So much time spent together - we have a relationship. One built on mutual respect and an absurd amount of hard work. Looking across my rotation I chuckled. How funny. The gis we wear are our enemies.
What could be closer to our hearts than our gis? We spend enormous amounts of time with them, wash them, care for them, buy an obscene amount of them, and become rather intimate with them. Part of our being is quite literally being absorbed by these beautiful creations. While their aesthetics are usually the initial enticing factor, regardless of brand or look, they show no shame in their betrayal. This armor we dress ourselves in for battle is as great of an enemy as our adversary when rolling. Our Kimonos are undoubtedly classified as our enemies.
The main revelation was not simply that our kimonos are our enemies. No. It can never be that transparent and simple. The true pinnacle of this thought process is that I truly love my enemy. Maybe it's the way it challenges me, chokes me, and stops me. Could it be the times we have shared? The battles won and lost? It could have something to do with a large amount of blood and sweat now permanently ingrained in the fabric. Above all I realized my enemies have always been my greatest teachers. Wearing my gis I have experienced a world most will never experience. I have traveled through battlegrounds undiminished and emerged a new man. This particular enemy has inspired me to reach beyond disdain or even frustration to view the nature of the thing itself. An enemy is simply a form of adversity, and adversity is prosperity of the great. In order to become great my enemies remain close, in fact they're hanging right next to me.
Bio: Ren Costantini is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt Training out of: Evolution Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Port City Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and Nostos MMA. Jiu-Jitsu has had such a profound impact on his life. He couldn't even imagine not being a part of such a wonderful community that practices a beautiful art form.
Follow Ren Costantini on Instagram- @essencejiujitsu
BJJ Legends interview, we get an inside look at Lachlan Giles and his journey which has led him to the ADCC.
A tournament that comes around every two years, the ADCC Championship is considered the Olympics in submission grappling competition. Established in 1998 this event features a collection of elite grapplers from across the globe. Emitting live from Sao Paulo, Brazil the 2015 edition of ADCC will feature a diverse pool of seasoned veterans, rising stars, and unknown talents all competing to be recognized as the best. For some participants it’s just another day battling to claim a prize. Yet for some entrants being a part of this event has a deeper in fulfilling a lifelong dream just to compete.
Thirteen years of blood, sweat, and tears have finally culminated for Australia's own Lachlan Giles. Winner of ADCC's Asian Trials, this will be Giles ADCC debut as he looks to not only to fulfill his dream but also showcase the talent of the submission fighters from down under.
Talk to us a little bit about your journey and how you got started?
Lachlan Giles:I initially started martial arts when I was 14 years old; I watched a kung fu movie and thought it would be cool to learn kung fu. At some point my instructor showed me a VHS of UFC 1. I watched Royce Gracie dismantle everyone, including a kung fu expert, but I refused to believe BJJ was better.
After about 6 months of denying that BJJ was better than kung fu, I finally gave in and decided to try a class. I think I was almost 16 years old at that time, after that I was hooked!
I have had a large array of coaches and influences throughout my BJJ career. Until purple belt I was under Tyrone Crosse, he left the gym I was training at so I then had George Sotiropoulous as a coach for a brief period. George left to pursue his MMA career and John Simon came in to replace George. I received my black belt from John Simon/John Will in 2012. However John was unable to train due to injury since I received my brown belt, so I had a heap of help from some of the best grapplers in Melbourne (Dave Marinakis, Lee Ting, Cam Rowe, Dave Hart, Kit Dale, Michael Hourigan, Jamie Murray, Ninos). It was a great experience to receive my black belt in the presence of all these people who had a profound impact on my BJJ.
Becoming a black belt what are some of the challenges you face at this rank and most importantly what keeps you motivated?
Lachlan Giles:The most challenging aspect of being a black belt in Australia is the difficulty in competing at an international standard. We have a lot of talented grapplers in Australia but it is rare to see them all on the same mat. Therefore the environment is different to that you would see at the headquarters for some of the bigger teams in the world. That said we are developing a great competition team at Absolute South Yarra and there are a bunch of people training full time. Two of our female athletes took silver medals at the worlds this year (Livia Gluchowska-purple, and Nikki Lg- White). Keep an eye out for guys such as Ben Hodgkinson who are sure to make some waves in the next few years. These guys push me every day!
My main motivation for training is that I enjoy it. I think people get bored of BJJ when they stop trying to learn. There is always something new to work on, and that’s why I want to keep training until I am 70.
What does being a competitor mean to you?
Lachlan Giles:Competing is always a good reality check and it keeps me motivated. It is a way of testing myself to see how well I can implement my game. I think it’s easy to not compete, especially as a black belt and a coach where there is a fear of having my students see me fail. The funny thing is that it’s my failures that have given me the most of my success. I think as a blue, purple and brown belt I probably lost as many matches as I won. Even at black belt I wouldn't say I am too far off. However, every time I lose I am back at the gym the next day, my motivation skyrockets.
The reality is that your students/training partners don't actually care when you lose. Sometimes I think you can do much more as a role model for your students by losing and fixing your mistakes, than you can by winning a match.
You recently achieved a major accomplishment by winning the ADCC Trials. From the traveling to another country to compete, advancing in the rounds, and winning the event. Talk to us about that memorable day?
Lachlan Giles:Winning the ADCC trials was always a dream of mine. I had 3 goals in BJJ, receive my BJJ black belt, open up a gym, and compete in ADCC. The event itself was a bit of a surreal experience.
The tournament was held in a large hall. This was in the middle of the Korean winter, which was below freezing temperature. They turned the heater on after everyone arrived and it wasn't until about 12pm that the venue was warm. I competed around 10 am so I was warming up with all my clothes on! There was a large mix of people from different nationalities. The majority of competitors were from Korea, although there was a reasonably large Kazakhstani and Australian contingent.
I won my first 2 matches by submission, which advanced me to the semifinal. I was told by an Irish-man living in Korea that the guy I was fighting in the Semifinal was the favorite. I managed to get an early heel hook in that match, which advanced me to the final. In the final I was facing Benjamin Aldridge, from New Zealand (now lives in Australia). Ben's aim was to run down the clock and force overtime, where he would implement his wrestling more effectively. I had a few submission attempts from guard but none of them stuck. With about 10 seconds to go the score was even and I managed to lock up a triangle. I knew there was very little chance of finishing the choke in that time so I switched to an omoplata and sat up for the sweep. I came on top with about 2-3 seconds to go, and then the buzzer went.
There was a long pause as the judges were discussing, and then I was awarded the 2 points, and the victory! Australians won 3 out of the 5 divisions that day. We celebrated that night with some Korean BBQ and Soju.
Your division in ADCC features stacked pool of talent Kron Gracie, Garry Tonnon just to name a few. How do you feel going up against them and what do you feel your chances are coming out with the victory?
Lachlan Giles:There are definitely a lot of big names in the division, which is very exciting for me. I have trained with people the same caliber as the people in my division (and even some of the people) so I know what to expect. I am not going into the event as the favorite but I think it’s possible to beat anyone, particularly in no gi where the pace is very high and a single mistake can cost the match.
Throughout my BJJ career I have fought the likes of JT Torres, Murilo Santana and Roberto Satoshi so it won’t be a huge shock to go up against a big name. However I think the crowd in Brazil will bring the event to another level!
Talk to us about your training for this event?
Lachlan Giles:The majority of my training is done at my gym Absolute MMA. We have a great amount of high level guys. I am training a lot of wrestling as I think this is a very key aspect to ADCC that is often under looked by the competitors. We have some great wrestling coaches in Australia and I am trying to get as much out of them as I can!
Closer to the event I think we will be getting all the Australian ADCC competitors training together on the same mat, which is going to lift the level considerably. I am continuing to try to evolve my game at this point and I will start trying to do some really intense rounds as of about 4 weeks out from the competition.
Finally what would winning ADCC mean to you?
Lachlan Giles:I honestly think I train just as hard as everyone else in the division so it would be great to see that hard work pay off. I am trying to think of an example where a male Australian has beaten a really high level black belt and nothing comes to mind at this moment. To win the event would be incredible but you have to take it one match at a time. A victory against a big name would be a huge thing for BJJ in Australia.
Any finals thoughts or people you would like to thank thanks?
Lachlan Giles:Thanks to all my training partners from Absolute MMA who are helping me to prepare for this event, and the guys that are going out of their way from other clubs to help me out (David Marinakis, Lee Ting, Michael Hourigan). Special thanks to Livia Gluchowska, this wouldn’t be possible without your help and support
The one thing that prevents individuals from achieving goals is their limitations and the unwillingness to break through them. Fear, doubt, physical deficiencies are amongst the mental vices that causes us to give up. While some have thrown in the towel there are others whom stay determined to overcome anything life throws at them. Furthermore with this positive attitude overcoming adversity is a simple task as the only thing that awaits is happiness, capturing the goal, and unlocking that full potential they never knew existed.
Whether its battles on or off the mat Sityodtong Los Angeles/Team Wander Braga BJJ Purple Belt Max Blum constantly continues to break barriers. To thinking being a one legged amputee grappler he could come up with any excuses of what he can't do. However he is doing the opposite pushing beyond his set limits to becoming a true champion in life which has also served as an inspiration to anyone that has had the pleasure of training and interacting with him.
What makes him so driven and positive you ask? We here at BJJ Legends got the opportunity to talk to Max Blum as we get an in-depth look at this ambitious grappler.
What is you physical condition and how did you end up with it? Max Blum: The condition I have is Streeter Syndrome. It is a condition where Amniotic bands get attached to the Fetus and Utero which cuts off the muscle and bone from growing into what a full body human being with two arms and two legs look like.
Before getting involved in BJJ how would you describe your life? Max Blum: Growing up at an early age knowing that you are different, I would always have some insecurities about my appearance in wanting to be whole and normal like everyone else. Coming from a family of successful athletes it was always encouraged to take part in sports which motivated me to compete. The reason for me wanting to compete was because I was given limits by doctors, social workers, and others individuals of what I can't do. This made me want to prove these doubters wrong. Unfortunately with all my focus on the physical realm, work, and traveling my academics took a backseat which resulted in me not finishing school thus lacking the confidence to be successful in that area.
How did you get involved in BJJ? Max Blum: In 2006 I had some life altering events that happened to me. I had a childhood friend that passed away from a drunk driving accident and my favorite cousin due to an automobile accident traveling in bad weather. I had already lost a lot of focus in my life. I was traveling, not involved in sports, and was out of shape. All of this made me very depressed.
The turning point was when I discovered a couple of friends were into grappling. I didn't know anything about it at the time but it seemed to be doing them a world of good. I imminently became interested and started training BJJ in 2009 under Team Wander Braga at Fight Forum in Montrose, California.
Now when you started training did you initially start training with or without the false leg? Max Blum: I started training with the False Leg.
Why was that? Max Blum: I was so use to not doing anything without it. Looking back I believe it was also part insecurity and feeling scared I would hurt myself.
What was the turning point where you decided to train without it? Max Blum: My first instructor started noticing I would get stuck in certain positions especially the half guard so he recommended I train without it. It is when I started training without the false leg that my grappling game started to get better everything from my top to bottom game especially the guard which is very offensive.
As you progressed through your BJJ journey when did you started to notice a change within yourself not only as a grappler but also on a personal level? Max Blum: BJJ has helped take the fear of failure away from me. It has given me a lot of confidence that I have used to stay positive in my life with my current situation being an amputee. I went back school and finished it being on the dean's list every semester at CSU Northridge. Overall just being successful at anything I put my mind.
Who would you say has been your biggest influence in your BJJ Journey? Max Blum: I have had a lot of influences in BJJ but one major influence has to be my instructor Antonio Fernando Castillo. He would always give me a lot of encouraging, advice, and help me develop my game.
Looking toward the future do you have any goals for yourself as a grappler or even in general that you would like to accomplish? Max Blum: As I get older I would like to transition into a career that I find successful. I would also like to give back to others just as my BJJ coaches have given back to me.
Finally for anyone reading your story how would you like to be remembered in hopes of inspiring others to overcome the challenges life puts in front of them? Max Blum: I would like to be remembered as someone who loved the sport and tried to incorporate it into their way of life which made it into a life style. I would like to also be remembered as someone who was a good skillful practitioner who had respect for his training partners, past opponents, and future opponents.
For anyone reading this I would just like to say don't let anything hold you back in life. It all about taking the lessons you learn in all walks of life and applying them to the big picture. Anything is possible all you have to do is remain positive, be dedicated, set goals, and challenge yourself to become better.
Is there anyone you would like to thank before we close this interview? Max Blum: There are so many people I would like to thank. But first and foremost, I need to thank my coach and close friend, Fernando Castillo; words cannot express how valuable all the lessons he has taught me on and off the mat and I am forever grateful for all he has done for me. I also need to thank Master Wander Braga, Kru Walter Michalowiski, Jeff Obar, Ido Pariente, Orlando Sanchez, Pete Han, all of my Braga and SYT teammates, and every single individual I’ve ever had the opportunity to train with. In addition I want to thank my family, especially my brother, Sam Blum, who is a blue belt at Alliance NY. And last but not least my girlfriend, Tania Verafield; who loves and supports my addiction to Jiu Jitsu.
Everyone's journey in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is designed with a purpose. Grappling in search for an answer the pursuit is one of deep personal meaning. It absorbs us, free us, inspire us, and challenge us as there is truly a sense of joy and reason in our cause. Down the long road hard times are a dead given as the setbacks make our plans fall out of place. Luckily with faith and perseverance there is always a way of getting back on course. Hard times haven't broken Checkmat Brown Belt Johnny Morgan as those memories have become a reflection of a man built for a destined path as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. Hitting a stumbling block in his early 20's life seemed to have an unclear motive for Morgan. This uncertainly wouldn't last long as a developing passion for MMA and BJJ found its way into his life. Morgan instantly became immersed in the sport.
“I used to watch MMA all the time,” he said. “Naturally, my favorite fighters were always wrestlers and ground guys. When the opportunity arose to train at a gym, I took it. The second I stepped onto those mats I knew I found my place.”Now a full fledge fight practitioner Morgan's new found work illustrated a profound impact living through Martial Arts. With dedication success follows something Morgan became accustomed to showcased with an undefeated 3-0 MMA record and an unblemished winning streak in every grappling tournament he ever entered. There was no dream to big that he could achieve and challenge to great to overcome as the rising star began to make big moves in his career leading to a big break unto the UFC staple show The Ultimate Fighter. This blossoming career would later put an abrupt standstill as a sad tragedy would befall upon Morgan's life with the untimely death of his mother from cancer.
“While I was living in the fight house my mom called to tell me she was terminally ill from cancer and she didn’t have much time left to live. During that time my mom went from being unsupportive of my fighting, to becoming my biggest fan.”
“Eventually she slipped into a coma. I remember telling my mom I would be okay and that I was going to be successful and become a champion. She knew she didn’t have to worry about me anymore. 10 minutes after I talked to her, she passed away. I was only 24 years old at the time, and this was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. It was very overwhelming, and I lacked support and guidance having grown up with no father. I lost all sense of direction when I lost her.”
Pain in life hurts beyond measures. However like any bad situation we encounter, the best way out of a problem is to go through it. Many events would unfold which would not only reignite Morgan's passion for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu but also a new found life off the mat. “I finally started to get my life pieced-back together. I got a dog that showed me I had to live for something else. I also met my now fiancé, Maja, who is very hard working, and she motivated me to do more with my life. About a year into our relationship I looked at myself one day, being out of shape, and unfulfilled I knew I had to go back to doing what I loved.”
Finding stability in his personal life it was now time for Morgan to rededicate himself to his BJJ goals. Evolving as a person this disciplined athlete refused to waste any more time as he sought to make the best out of his life. Since his return in 2013 under Team CheckMat, Johnny Morgan has recaptured success competing and placing high level local and international tournaments while also gaining valuable lessons in his evolution as a fighter.
“All this comes with a lot of pain and suffering. I don’t make excuses, I work through injuries, I try to diet healthier, and most importantly I refuse to waste any more time than I already have, “ Morgan proclaimed. “Through the highs and lows I have medaled at Pan-Ams, lost at Dream, won at Grapplers Quest, won at NAGA, lost at EBI, become a No-Gi World Champion, and even proposed to my fiancé on the podium at American Nationals.”
Passionate and Skilled with a wealth of knowledge why not share it with other curious minds. Teaching classes at American Boxing Gym the Checkmate representative works endlessly fully dedicating himself to helping the students. Enlisted with this great responsibility you will find Morgan not only teaching world class grappling techniques but also aiding student to become better in life off the mat. Just as his focus as a competitor his endeavors as an instructor is no different as he is focused on becoming a great coach to anyone that trains under his wing.
“From personal experience, I have learned how much a coach can build you up, and I also know how badly a coach can break you down. I have realized through coaching that you’re not just teaching Jiu- Jitsu. Sometimes you are a therapist, a friend, a nutritionist, a father, or a mother. You take on many roles as a coach, so I approach this responsibility with a lot of love, humor, compassion and discipline.”
What good is a journey without something to challenge you? Bending but never breaking it was never an easy road for Johnny Morgan. His will to bulldoze through tough trials showcases the results of what happens when one believes in themselves and never give up. With all of the upcoming tournaments, MMA fights and people that need him he still has a lot to offer to the world of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. To no surprise this is one obligation Morgan will stay committed to because time can’t be wasted in this one life time for achieving greatness.
Johnny Morgan Special Thanks:Special thanks to my students who have always supported me and believed in me. I want to thank my CheckMat team and my Coach Robynho. Thanks to my sponsor, Conca Fight Gear. Big thanks to Jose De Jesus Gutierrez .Thanks also goes out to Scott Brengal, Brian Hood, Michael Harms and the Milosevic Family. I want to thank my fiancé for being my rock. I want to thank my mom Judy Geraci and grandfather Joe Geraci who were always there for me.