1. For those who aren't familiar with you, could you share a bit on your introduction to BJJ? (where & when)
I was in college at the time, my last year at university. I came home from school for vacation and during that time, my brother played me a tape of this one skinny Brazilian guy fighting inside an octagonal cage. He was fighting guys much bigger than him and used all sorts of crazy holds to choke and lock up his opponent. I thought to myself, damn, this guy is really fighting. I'd never seen anything more "REAL" in my life. I knew right away that this style of martial art was extremely effective and I told myself that I had to learn this. I have never been a big guy and when I saw the Brazilian guy defeat guys way bigger than him, I knew that there was something really technical going on. When I got back to school in Southern California, I called 411 and asked for the Gracie Jiu-jitsu Academy in Torrance. I took an introductory class and fell in love with the martial art. This was in 1995. I've been training and teaching ever since. I have trained with a number of different instructors. I received my blue belt from Royce Gracie. I received my purple belt from Marcello Andrade. I received my 4-stripes from Ruy Menezes. I am currently training under Pedro Schmall, who has been the resident BJJ instructor at our academy since October 2007. Pedro Schmall has 20 years of BJJ experience and is a product of Gracie Humaita under Master Royler Gracie. We are very honored and happy to have him with us.
2. Many feel overwhelmed when they first begin training BJJ but after so many years, does that change? Do you feel the time pass and what would you say motivates you to persevere?
I would say that as long as you remember to maintain the mindset that you are ALWAYS a student of the martial arts, it doesn't matter how long you've been training... you always have something new to learn. Being overwhelmed when you first start is totally natural and will happen if you are learning any type of new skill... it could be cooking, a new language, or a new martial art. Gradually as you build experience, you start to see patterns in your education and in the simple hidden truths of your martial art and it makes it easier to learn and grow. You become more focused on your progress and you learn to see it as a journey. It is not quite so intimidating anymore. In order to help keep myself motivated, I try to train as much as I can with my students and fighters and with my current instructor, Pedro Schmall. He kicks my ass real good and that really motivates me to improve my skills. There is a saying in China that there is always a bigger mountain... beyond these heavens there are even greater skies. Basically saying, no matter how good you are, there is always somebody out there who's got your number! Even the best fighters will have to pass the torch one day. No matter how good you are, or how content you are with your own training, you should always remind yourself that there is room for improvement. So I try to hold this type of mentality with me... to help me with my training and motivate me to improve. You have to be mentally strong. It's not easy to get on the mats everyday and get your ass kicked, day in and day out. There are days when I don't wanna train because I'm tired, or too busy, or injured, or just plain lazy. But if you want to improve, you have to look at the positive side of training. You have to be able to take away something positive from every training session, no matter how many times you tapped. You have to REALLY WANT to improve. You always have the potential to grow. Having good training partners and a helpful instructor is a big bonus.
3. With Beijing Jiu-Jitsu Academy going 10 years strong now, what were the early days like when BJJ was non-existent in China? What was the impetus for it all and how has it changed over time?
I have been teaching BJJ in China since 1998. I don't know if I was the first person to start teaching BJJ in China, but our academy is 10 years strong and I haven't met anyone else in China who has told me that they started a BJJ curriculum before 1998. In the early days, training was extremely difficult and our little group bounced around a lot from location to location. At first, I was just teaching my friends because I needed training partners. In order to maintain my own training, I had to have training partners that knew what they were doing. So I did my best to make sure that they learned strong fundamentals in order to give me a hard time on the mats. The purpose was to teach my students to be able to kick my ass. My training partners started to bring friends and their friends started to bring more friends and gradually, the word started to spread throughout the local Beijing community. Chinese martial artists had not really seen or experienced Brazilian Jiu-jitsu at that time. Maybe some translated articles from the web or black belt magazines. But we managed to generate some interest in the local martial arts scene. That was 10 years ago.
Now we have become a full-fledged MMA training center with an emphasis on Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Chinese Sanshou. We have hosted many great names in BJJ: Bebeo Duarte who is a co-founder of BTT, Wanderlei Silva, Rickson Gracie, and Francisco Bueno. Today, we are the only academy in Mainland China that trains professional MMA fighters and maintains an active competition team. We have 10-12 fighters and they train 6 days a week, 4-5 hours per day. We focus on striking, kicking, wrestling and jiu-jitsu and our fighters are very well rounded. We have dedicated professionals to look after their diet and their strength and conditioning regiment. Some of China's best MMA fighters are training at the Beijing Jiu-jitsu Academy. Our fighters include Zhang Tie Quan, Dai Shuang Hai, He Peng, Bateer, Wang Guan, Liu Jing Wen, Wu Hao Tian and Yang Jian Ping. If your goal is to become a professional MMA fighter and you want to train with a dedicated group of athletes who are also training to become professional MMA fighters, then you need to come to the Beijing Jiu-jitsu Academy. If you are coming from overseas visiting China and want to find a quality training camp and professional training partners, then you need to come to the Beijing Jiu-jitsu Academy.
4. What do you see as the next step in order for BJJ to grow in China? Do you see any trends that could keep this growth from being positive/constructive?
In order for BJJ to grow in China, more Chinese need to learn about the martial art and give it a try. This means that everyone who has opened an academy here in China needs to focus more on transmitting the martial art to locals. Sure it's easier to teach expats. Expats are easier to communicate with, have more money, and probably have already heard of BJJ. But most expats are here in China for 3-4 years tops and then move on to the next post. Teaching expats does not help spread the art to local Chinese martial artists. So unless these academies make an effort to attract more Chinese, they aren't really spreading much BJJ. Rather, they are taking advantage of the laws of supply and demand, and charge a lot of money for a service that is in short supply. It's smart business... but it's not spreading BJJ in China.
Also, students need to focus less on their belt color and focus more on training. Boxing doesn't have any belts... Wrestling doesn't have any belts either. There is a dangerous trend for a new martial art students to want to get their black belt in the shortest amount of time possible. Anything that is worthwhile is achieved through hard work and effort. If you don't put in the effort and hard work, the color of your belt is totally irrelevant. Likewise, if you do put in the effort and hard work, the color of your belt is ALSO TOTALLY IRRELEVANT.
In BJJ, your performance level is what dictates your belt color. Not the other way around...
5. For a time, you were on your own for training and direction. What is your advice for those who are just getting started and may not have the most ideal training situation?
Good question... You should find reliable training partners right away. These training partners have to be guys that you trust and are just as dedicated as you. In my opinion, this is just as important as finding a competent instructor, perhaps even more important. The reason I say that good training partners are more important is because you should always remember that your instructor cannot give you skill. He can only give you knowledge. But you have to be the one to put in the blood, sweat, and tears to turn knowledge into skill. For example, I can teach you how to perform an armbar. But you are not going to be able to armbar me afterwards. You have the technical knowledge to perform an armbar. But you have not had sufficient time to turn knowledge into skill. You're gonna have to put in a lot of mat time and hard work in order to really learn about the armbar, how it's used, when it's used. I can only show you HOW to do it. YOU have to get on the mat and MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU. I cannot give you mat time. You have to log mat time on your own. Your training partners are the ones who are in the trenches with you everyday, sweating and bleeding with you. You depend on your training partners to push you to your limits and they are relying on you to do the same. Your training partners are the guys who are going to help you turn that knowledge into skill. They are going to be the ones who work with you to help you perfect your armbar. Unless your instructor is in the trenches with you everyday, sparring with you, lifting weights with you, running with you, bleeding and sweating with you... Always remember, your instructor is just your guide. You still have to put in the work. I am not downplaying the role of a good teacher. I am a teacher myself. I am simply trying to illustrate that it's not just a simple matter of locating an instructor. You have to put in a lot of work as well.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that you have to LEARN HOW TO LEARN. The process of learning is very complex but a great instructor will be able to simplify things for you. He doesn't give you fish. He teaches you HOW TO CATCH FISH. Just because your instructor is a black belt doesn't mean he can teach. Just because he can armbar you doesn't mean that he can teach you to armbar somebody else. One is application. The other is communication. They are totally different subjects. Just because you have a degree in English doesn't mean that you can teach English. People need to get a Masters Degree in Education to be "certified" to teach. Receiving a black belt means that you have mastered the application of technique. It doesn't mean that you have mastered the communication of technique. I have been doing jiu-jitsu for 13 years now, and I have been lucky enough to train with many black belt instructors. Without mentioning names, I would just like to say that not all of my teachers were good teachers. There are plenty of bad black belt teachers floating around out there. We've all met them. Some of you have even trained with them. Some of you are training with one now. Anybody who tells you he is a good teacher because of his BELT COLOR is either deliberately misinforming you or has been misinformed himself.
A good teacher is much more than just a colored belt around the waist. A good teacher will help you progress and develop faster than you thought was possible. Not only is he a source of valuable information, he is also a mentor and a guide. He will help you to focus on your objectives and help you develop a realistic and quantifiable plan to achieve your goals. He won't just teach you jiu-jitsu. He will teach you HOW TO LEARN JIU-JITSU.
Finally, for those that don't have access to a competent instructor, you should spend as much time comparing and sharing your techniques amongst your training partners. Again, cooperative training is very important. If you find that you are the most skilled practitioner of the group and nobody can offer you any challenge, you will have to design drills which give yourself a handicap. Try defending the guard pass with only 1 hand... or better yet... no hands at all. You have to lower your technical level to that of your training partner. Sometimes, it helps to handicap yourself so much that your training partner has a tremendous advantage over you. These types of situations will help you increase your skill level. Also, keep in mind that you must train with all different types of training partners... big guys, little guys, strong guys, weak guys, advanced guys, beginner guys... in order to build a good feel for the game.
...to be continued