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Many people will know little about Jiu Jitsu, yet it is an up and coming sport. Can you give us a little introduction?
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) originates from Judo and Japanese Jiu Jitsu. Unlike Judo, which concentrates on throws from standing, BJJ concentrates on ground work and submissions including arm locks and chokes. It was initially developed in Brazil by the Gracie brothers Carlos and Helio along with Luiz Franca. They were taught judo by Mitsuyo Maeda a famous judoka and developed the techniques they learnt which came to be known as Gracie Jiu Jitsu/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. The Gracie family went on to create the Ultimate Fighting Championships, to show their style of fighting as being superior to others. At the first tournament, Royce Gracie, son of Helio Gracie, fought and won the tournament, forcing fighters from other martial art backgrounds who were much bigger than him into submission, in a no holds barred fight.
As an incredibly physical sport by nature, are there any particular skills or strengths required?
No real skills or strengths are needed, you just need to be determined and turn up to training regularly. BJJ promotes the concept that a smaller, weaker person can successfully defend against a bigger, stronger person by using proper technique, leverage, and taking the fight to the ground, using joint-locks and chokeholds to defeat the opponent. In competition though you want every advantage you can, working on your strength and conditioning is essential. Of course not everyone who trains in Jiu Jitsu competes. It is basically for everyone, at competition you can compete at your own weight class and age group, and for those who don’t compete, you train to just be healthier and learn some real self-defence.
So how did you first become involved in the sport?
I got into the sport from watching mixed martial arts, events such as the Ultimate Fighting Championships interested me. Being a huge fan of boxing, I was attracted to Mixed Martial Arts as it’s another combat sport. When watching the Ultimate Fighting Championships, fights would usually go to the ground and I’d have no idea what was going on – with the little transitions and how someone would then choke out the other guy. One thing I noticed was many of these guys were BJJ black belts, and I wanted to know what it was like so I googled places near to me, found a place and went to try it out!
What is your favourite aspect of the sport?
My favourite part of the sport would have to be competing and training for a competition, nothing compares to it. As BJJ is one on one, you are on your own when you step on to the mats to compete. Training for a competition gives me a focus and by training at one of the best gyms, Factory BJJ in Reddish, Stockport, the training is a really high level.
As a serious competitor at international level, what’s your training regime like?
It depends, when I am at university I cut my training down a lot. I would typically train BJJ three times a week. I also go to the gym twice a week for strength and conditioning. If I have a lot of reading or coursework to do, I usually skip the gym and train BJJ two times a week, but would make sure to give those sessions 100%. When I am not at university, such as the summer holidays, I train BJJ around 8 times a week and go to the gym twice.
What are your personal highlights from your BJJ career so far?
Personal highlights for me include training with one of my idols in BJJ Fernando Terere. I travelled to Rio De Janeiro for a month last summer to train and I got to train with multiple time world champions including Terere. I also won a competition out in Rio. Other highlights include winning the International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) Madrid International Open and then six days later competing in another competition in Manchester and winning gold there as well.
What was it like competing in Spain?
Competing in Madrid was a great experience. It was my friend’s birthday that weekend so we decided to go to Madrid as I could compete and then celebrate my friend’s birthday . At the competition I had three fights winning them all and winning a gold medal. Double celebrations all round!
You’ve just returned from the European Championships in Lisbon, Portugal. It didn’t go quite as planned, what happened?
Not what I wanted that’s what! I was supposed to compete at 10.30, I got there at 9.30 and went to check in at 10, I was told I was too early. They called my name a couple of minutes before my match. I heard it and it was my time to fight, so I went to the front of the queue saying it’s my time to fight. Then the official who previously told me I was too early told me to go the back of the queue and not to cut in, despite it being my time to compete. I went to the back of the queue and when I got to the front they had disqualified me for being late! However, you can learn from every competition, and this time I learnt to be more forceful when checking in to prevent a disqualification happening and to explain more thoroughly that I am up next to compete. It was especially disappointing after seeing guys I have beaten in previous competitions medalling! However there will be future competitions.
You got to experience a large international competition though, what was the atmosphere like?
I have been to three international competitions now, and competed at two: London and Madrid. They are totally different to local competitions, you definitely feel the bigger atmosphere but it is still the same deal as you are going to compete on a mat and the aim is still the same. You also get bigger names at the competition along with people from around the world coming to compete, which is great. International competitions also count towards your IBJJF world ranking – and the medals are a lot nicer!
You are currently ranked 17th in the world for your weight class, which must be great to be able to say!
Medalling at IBJJF international competitions give you points depending on where you place, which then go towards your ranking. I placed third at the London International Open and first in Madrid, getting me to 17th. However, when I get promoted belt levels, I start all over again!
So what’s next for you and what are your goals for the near future in your BJJ career?
Well for me my goals are to finish my dissertation and get ready for my exams! My BJJ goals? Well if I get a lot of work done over the next couple of weeks I will probably compete at the IBJJF London Winter International Open in February. After that however, I will not compete until the summer as all my focus will be on university work. Although I will still train and try to improve my skills so that when I compete again I will be ready.
You’re a member of the BJJ Society at Lancaster, as a relatively new club, what’s it like?
The society here was started by the President Philip Katt, he pushed the idea for the university to allow a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu society, and without him it wouldn’t have taken off. The club is pretty successful, we have had guys promoted to blue belt. Unlike other martial arts, it takes a long time to move up belt levels in BJJ, they say it takes around 7 – 10 years to get a black belt depending on the individual and how much he trains. With there being no BJJ Clubs in Lancaster, the closest one being in Preston, the society gets interest from outside the university. It is still a growing club, but we have successful competitors, Tatami Fightwear provide our society with quality BJJ Gear and we are taught by brown belt Thomas Hanlon, the coach of Team Sukata Preston, who we are grateful to for opening his academy to those in the society.
The club has many great competitors and coaches, any recent particular highlights?
Club highlights include Ze Macedo getting his blue belt, and also Jeffin Shoji who started BJJ at the university medalling at every competition he has entered! We also had the pleasure of the former European Champion and my coach from home, Adam Adshead to teach a seminar, he’s done this twice for us and this has helped bring our level up and improved our training. We also had Black Belt Gary Savage teach at the university for us last year as well.
Is it easy for people to get into the sport, especially for complete beginners?
Yes, anyone can do it! If you’re interested in our Lancaster society, you can look us up on Facebook. Everyone who gets into the sport are total beginners, as many people haven’t been exposed to BJJ. While it is initially tricky, you soon get the hang of it! Anyone can get into it, men or women, big people, small people, tall or short. BJJ is for everyone.