Vesuvius with youngest son, Joel.
Many of you have probably already met Mark since he's quite the mat-rat in Southeast Asia. As one of the active members of the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Association of Thailand, we took a few moments to ask him about his background in jiu-jitsu and the improvements he's helped implement to make this coming tournament in Bangkok such a unique one. -Luke

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us on BJJ-ASIA. While I may already know you, could you share a bit about yourself to those reading that may not?

I am a scientist, an infectious disease epidemiologist to be precise. I conduct research and do outbreak investigations when I am not on the mat training. I have two sons, 19 and 17, who are both now bigger and stronger than I am. They make me proud like only a Dad can be. Twenty plus years ago, I was a wrestler in High School. It was like magic for me stepping back onto the mat. I just love the camaraderie of training and competing against other guys who are really dedicated to the sport and science of Jiu-jitsu. And I love the high levels of fitness that BJJ helps me attain.

And how long have you been training BJJ?

I am 42 and started training when I was 37. Like most of us, especially the older guys, I have had more than my share of injuries which sometimes kept me from training for weeks. I also spent one year in Vietnam where I was not able to train BJJ. I did some Judo and stayed fit, and could not wait to move back to Bangkok to resume training BJJ. I travel a lot for work and I always bring my gi. BJJ makes every trip better because I always find a great academy to train at no matter where I travel. BJJ people are almost always welcoming. I then get to experience more of the city I am visiting because those guys are always willing to go out and party a little after training.

You took gold in the blue-belt seniors division at the last Pan Ams. What was the training like in preparation and could you share with us some details from your matches?

I went to the Pan-Ams in early 2007 for the first time. It was pretty intimidating for me since I was there basically by myself and it is a huge tournament, noisy and crowded. I was fairly shocked at the level of fitness and skills demonstrated by guys who are considered to be "old men" by the "20 somethings" who dominate competitive BJJ. I was a ball of nerves but managed to take home a Bronze medal in my weight and age. More importantly, I took home a different perspective on BJJ after watching dozens of very high level matches close-up. It was awesome. I came back to Bangkok and went back to the drawing board so to speak, focusing on improving my technique, improving my flexibility by yoga practice, calming my nerves on the competition mat, and greatly improving my fitness levels.

I wanted to go back to the Pan-Ams in 2008 and win the Gold.

During the rest of 2007 I competed in every regional tournament I could and had good success. I learned a lot about how to win at competition, where the best BJJ player is not always the winner. And I began a core strength training program that focuses on hundreds of body weight exercises and short-interval high-intensity training, plus yoga in the "off" days or when I am injured. Check out www.crossfit.com to see what I am talking about. In the process without any change in my diet, I dropped about 5-6 kilos and now usually walk around at 77-78kgs.

This year the PanAms were even larger but I was much better prepared and had the support of Roberto Traven and his crew. I train at Roberto's academy in Atlanta when I am in the US and Roberto's presence made a big difference. Still, it was pretty crazy as the announcers called my name way too early, then sent me back to the bleachers, then called me back to wait another 30 minutes in the waiting area. My first opponent was a no-show, so I waited some more. Then the official had some problem with my gi patches on my knees and sent me to find new gi pants at the last minute. I was stressed out something terrible. Anyway, I managed to get through to the finals and scored a nice single-leg to forward trip takedown (thanks Adam Kayoom) on my opponent that secured me the win and the medal that I wanted.

So with this experience, how do you see competition as a component to an individual's growth in sport jiu-jitsu?

I think competition is important but I also think in some cases it is given too much emphasis, especially as it relates to higher belt promotions (purple and up). A lot of people just are not mentally or physically prepared for competition, or are just plain not interested in that aspect of the sport. In my travels and training in different places, I have met many, many guys who have spent 6+ years as blue or purple belts and cant seem to get promoted mainly because they choose not to compete. You also have to consider that there are many older people, women and people with certain physical limitations (previous surgeries, certain handicaps, etc) who are training BJJ these days. These people show a huge amount of self-discipline, commitment and focus, often while juggling careers and families, yet often get relatively ignored in the academy compared to the 24 year old aspiring MMA athlete who is training in the same gym.

And with your experience, you're also one of the leading members in the production of the FBT Thailand BJJ/Grappling Open. Could you tell us what brought you to this point in wanting to organize your own tournament?

Having competed twice in the PanAms, I knew the components of a really well-organized tournament and what a difference that can make in terms of the overall experience for the competitor. The PanAms were challenging but also very fun- the IBJJF knows how to run a competition in a professional way. Solid officiating, real first aid stations, clearly organized brackets. I wanted to make our annual BJJ and submission grappling competition as much like that as possible. You know- a really first class international tournament where people would come from all over for the chance to compete. It has proven to be a tremendous amount of work already, and we are still several weeks away from the competition weekend. We have secured some great corporate partners, a super new website, and now the entry forms are pouring in. Guys from as far away as India, Bahrain and Cairo are signing up. It's going to be great.

What makes this tournament different? What will you offer?

This year, thanks to our corporate partners, we were able to actually lower the entry fees compared to the previous year. At the same time, the first 100 entries will receive a custom designed competition rash guard free. This year's event will be held a shopping mall where we will have a very large, air-conditioned area to hold our competition. It is very easy to find the venue because it is located next to a subway station. We will have a huge competition mat space, clean bathrooms, and a first aid station staffed by nurses sponsored by a major international hospital in Bangkok.

I completed the IBJJF Referee certification course in Los Angeles last spring and will do all I can to assure competent and fair officiating that protects the safety of our athletes in every situation. On Saturday evening we will have a Thai dinner for competitors at a local restaurant which is sure to be a great time. People need to sign up early to make sure they have a seat. On Sunday after the grappling competition, we will hold 4 amateur MMA matches with fighters from several countries. It is going to be very exciting.

Any last comments to the readers out there?

It Yeah, bring your "A" game and a positive, sportsman-like attitude to Bangkok on September 27 and 28. We are going to have a great time. See you there!


Anonymous said...

Have been cursing my bad luck since the moment the date of the FBT Thailand BJJ/Grappling Open was announced : I'll arrive 10 days too late in Thailand...

BTW, nice to read the experiences of blue belts also : I'm always interested in motivations, viewpoints, "how-I-started-BJJ" stories of others, regardless of belt-ranking.

Nick - 2 more months until EMAC/BKK

Anonymous said...

Mark is a super nice guy and a credit to the sport. I met him last April when I was in BKK with wife & kids for our semi-annual family trip, and stopped by EMACS for the Sunday open mat (as a spectator). As I watched him I thought, he's darn good. Then I thought, no way are my blue belt skills close to his. WTF. They are doing REAL bjj in BKK (one always assumes that BJJ outside America, Japan, and Brazil is going to be watered down. But it's not.)

It was comforting (or not) to learn that Mark has a few years under his belt in BJJ, was a wrestler, and is a competitor (a Gold at the Pan Ams rocks).

In comparison, I've had 8 tournaments and won exactly ONE match. Not division, one MATCH. But I keep plugging away at it. At least I can relate to the stress and head trips that competitions put competitors through. I've also learned that I'd rather drop 1, 2, or even 3 age categories down, than move even one weight category up.

I have something to look forward to when I retire. People like Luke and Mark are bringing technical, clean, solid jiu jitsu to the Kingdom. That's super encouraging.

Did I mention Mark was a real gentleman?

Ok. Now I'm really interested in coming back to BKK a little early to see how this Sept. tournament turns out. Clean, good sportsmanship? Or spazzy and aggro? The Mundials No Gi last week was very clean and technical, for the most part. I was going to be in BKK in November anyway to start scouting out housing and school for the kids, maybe I can tweak my schedule to be there early for the tournament.

Anonymous said...

Yay! I booked a flight. Hope to meet some of you guys out there. I don't think I'm ready to compete in a foreign venue after a 20 hour transit, but I will be there to watch!

andy mobbs said...

Congrats on your Pan Am gold mark when's the purple belt coming??

Wish I was back for the competition next month, looks like it willbe fantastic