Thoughts on belt ranking

Recently there has been some debate online regarding belt ranking, specifically the coral belt that is awarded to 7th degree black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

It started with a BJJ black belt who was awarded his coral belt by his students.

It escalated into the leaders of two pretty big associations publicly squabbling over the requirements to achieve coral belt.

Last night I discovered that a legend in the BJJ community was awarded his coral belt by his son, from the sounds of it due to relations with his senior family members, and the recent passing of his father, meaning no one else would have been able to award him that belt. I’ll be honest in that I’m not too sure of this myself.

What I do know is that after all of this, I feel like burning my belt.

I’ve worked hard to achieve the rank I wear today. In the grand scheme of things, the belt means nothing more than time and experience on the mat. But I’ve put that time in and, I believe, earned the rank I wear. It’s taken me 10 years what some would do in 6 or 8, but its my journey and I’ll walk it as slow as I want to.

That being said, my lineage is one of many, there are many groups and associations within BJJ, each with its own rules and guidelines. One such group is the IBJJF, which has certain guidelines regarding belt promotion. There are others, like Gracie Academy/Gracie University, from which my rank originates, that have their own guidelines. Some choose to follow the IBJJF, some don’t. Each one has it’s own specific requirement for achieving and awarding rank.

What has bothered me about all of this is that when this kind of mud slinging starts happening online, all it does is break down the BJJ community, not build it up. If there are no strict guidelines on how to award rank that everyone who does BJJ must follow, then how can anyone comment on anyone else being awarded a rank? If we don’t all have to follow one set of guidelines, how can we comment on what constitutes a black belt, or any other belt, from another school or association?

Some time ago I made a pact with myself that unless a situation effects me specifically I will not comment on it online. This week I broke that pact because all of it annoyed me. I won’t be doing that again.

Some days I wish everyone (and I mean f***ing EVERYONE) in the BJJ community would just stop commenting on everyone else’s rank, way of doing things, whether someone deserves a rank or not and just focus on the thing I try to focus on every time I get onto the mats, working hard to be a small degree better than I was the last time.


Personal Evolution of Jiu Jitsu

One often finds that with jiu jitsu (as with most things in life) being able to determine personal progress is difficult. Mostly this is because you are living through that progress. So you can’t really compare yourself today from where you were say a year (or more) ago. This is made even more difficult when you have the same training partners, as you are improving each day along with them.

One way that you can compare yourself is to look at old competition footage and examine the differences. I recently competed in a local no gi competition and, thanks to one of my regular training partners who always records these things, I now have the ability to compare myself this year to myself when I competed in the same event two years ago.

(Note, due to illness I didn’t compete last year which is a pity as I would have like to seen the year on year progress.)

Here is the video from 2015

Here is the video from this year

Some things that I notice almost immediately

  1. I’ve developed a bit more of an ‘aggressive’ game. I don’t know if aggressive is the right word, but I definitely take a more active approach to both defence and attack now than what I used to. While I still train a patient approach during my training I’d like to think that in competition I am more focused on Keeping it Real vs Keeping in Playful.
  2. I react better and with more focus. Watching the 2015 video there are some places where I know now I would do things differently. Early on in the 2015 match I allow my opponent to take side mount, something that I would definitely not do today.
  3. My movement now has more purpose. Also, during the stand up phase of the fight I am more focused on keeping good posture.

There are also still areas where I can improve.

  1. I need to work my take downs. I still rely on my opponent to shoot for a take down and then defend and control from there.
  2. I need to improve my open guard foot lock defence. I’m mostly sure that the only reason I didn’t get foot locked is because I was able to use my size to my advantage in defence. I’m not 100% sure that if my opponent was bigger or stronger I’d have defended as well.

It’s quite fun to be able to visually compare yourself to your past self. My current motto for jiu jitsu is that I don’t want  to be better than anyone else, I just want to continue to be better than what I was yesterday. Being able to review my jiu jitsu from 2 years ago and today at least gives me hope that there is progress.


An open invitation to my training partners, past, present and future.

Saturday 15 April 2017

2017 marks my 10th year training in the art of Gracie/Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve never been a ‘full time’ practitioner, training 5 days (or more) a week. With work, family and various other responsibilities I’ve managed on average over the last 9 years to train for 2 – 3 days a week. A rough calculation puts me at around 900 hours of mat time.

As I move closed to 1000 hours, I’ve started to realise two things. Firstly, that I still rely too much on my size and weight. Secondly, that my status as the ‘most senior’ (whatever that means) rank at my current training facility (my own Gracie Garage), means that I do not get pushed past my comfort zones enough.

This needs to change.

Therefore, as of this week, if I am rolling at my Gracie Garage, I invite you to roll me with in what I like to call ‘Purple Belt Shark Tank’. The rules are quite simple

  1. I must never be allowed to rest. No breaks between rolls, no time to put my gi in place or retie my belt. If a submission happens (either yours or mine) start over straight away from where ever we are. If the timer goes off, do not stop. Keep going until someone comes to take over from you. I want to be smashed.
  2. If you want to roll with me, just do it. If I am rolling with someone and you want in, take over from them, in whatever form that takes. If it means that I am on top of someone and you want take my back, take it. If you want a specific position. Stop me, put me there, take it and go.
  3. Whenever we start a roll, you get to choose where we start. If back mount is your favourite, take it. If you are a side mount person, it is yours.
  4. You are allowed to be a little impolite. During a jiu jisu sparring session it is a common courtesy to ‘slap & bump’ as a handshake. However this will give me time to rest. I will not take offence if you just start attacking me with no handshake.
  5. My safe phrase ‘I’m broken’. This is the phrase I will use to indicate that I need a short break.  Please respect it.

I look forward to seeing you on the mat!


2017 Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town Schedule

In 2017 Infinitus Jiu Jitsu plans to visit our local Headquarters, Gracie Jiu Jitsu Cape Town at least once a month. Thanks to the administration and scheduling skills of Leon Visser, we have a calendar mapped out for the year ahead.

(Last Monday of the month) – 30 Jan @ 19:15 [Master Cycle]

(Middle of the month) – 18 Feb @ 10:00 [Gracie Combatives] & @ 11:00 [Open Mat]

(First Thursday of the month) – 2 Mar @18:15 [90 minute roll]

(Last Monday of the month) – 24 Apr @ 19:15 [Master Cycle]

(Middle of the month) – 20 May @ 10:00 [Gracie Combatives] & 11:00 [Open Mat]

(First Thursday of the month) – 1 Jun @ 18:15 [90 minute roll]

(Last Monday of the month) – 31 Jul @ 19:15 [Master Cycle]

(Middle of the month) – 19 Aug @ 10:00 [Gracie Combatives] & @ 11:00 [Open Mat]

(First Thursday of the month) – 7 Sep @18:15 [90 minute roll]

(Last Monday of the month) – 30 Oct @ 19:15 [Master Cycle]

(Middle of the month) – 18 Nov @ 10:00 [Gracie Combatives] & 11:00[Open Mat]

(First Thursday of the month) – 7 Dec @18:15 [90 minute roll]

The Infinitus Jiu Jitsu Creed – the philosophies we train by.

I will never stop learning.

I won’t just learn the techniques that are taught to me, I will actively seek out useful techniques to share with the group.

I know there’s no such thing as being the best, there is always someone better than me.

I will build a solid understanding of jiu jitsu through my training partners, for they are my most important teachers.

I will never pass up an opportunity to help someone learn a technique, and I’ll remember the days before I knew everything.

I am more motivated by self improvement than my next rank, and I know that jiu jitsu is one of the most powerful martial arts of our generation.

I will share my knowledge as much as possible.

Jiu jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint, and no matter how far away the goal is, the only way to get there is by putting in my time on the mats.

Given time, there is no technique that I can’t learn.

The recent changes to Gracie University’s belt system.

Recently, Rickson Gracie, Rener and Ryron Gracie and Pedro Sauer took part in a video to discuss their respective paths in the furtherance of jiu jitsu around the world. They also discuss a change to the Gracie University belt system, introducing a new ‘Gracie Combatives’ blue/white belt and the removal of the online promotion process for any other belt. (scroll to the bottom of this article for the video)

Now I’m sure many of you will know who Rickson Gracie is. However you may not know that he started the Jiu Jitsu Global Federation (JJGF) a few years ago, in an attempt to move away from some of the modern sport jiu jitsu practices (things like double guard pulls and 50/50 guard) that are becoming more prevalent. The JJGF is more or less in direct competition with the biggest jiu jitsu federation worldwide, the IBJJF. However in the first few years, for whatever reason, it didn’t really gain any traction. This is a pity because some prominent members of the jiu jitsu community where on the JJGF masters council and I was keen to see what they accomplished. What is important to note is during the first year of it’s inception the JJGF introduced a new belt between white and blue, the white belt with a blue stripe. As you can see from the link, all content related to that belt is no longer available on the JJGF website.

One of the reasons for this belt was to help keep students motivated to train jiu jitsu.

On average, in most BJJ schools, it takes about about two years to get your blue belt. It’s generally accepted that you need to have a good overall understanding of a range of techniques and a level of comfort in sparring. Some schools require you to pass a test of your techniques to get your blue belt, while others require you to compete and place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in your division. (The next time you see James Smart, ask him how long he was a white belt and what the requirement for blue belt was, the answer may surprise you).

It is common knowledge that the highest drop out rate for jiu jitsu practitioners happens from white to blue belt. In my own experiences this typically happens within the first 6 months to a year. It also usually happens for one of two reasons. Either student gets discouraged at how long at takes to get their blue belt or, during the journey to blue, they are injured or otherwise negatively affected by being expected to roll too early. Some people are not ready to roll from day one and the negative effect of loosing all the time can cause the large majority to give up, feeling they will never be good at jiu jitsu.

So (I believe) the idea behind the white/blue belt was to give new students something to work towards in the shorter term while also not expecting them to concern themselves with rolling until they achieve the white/blue belt, in an attempt to prevent the high drop out rate of new students.

Now, on the other hand, Ryron and Rener’s plan by implementing the Gracie Combatives programme as the beginner programme at Gracie Academy and online through Gracie University took a slightly different approach. Instead of introducing a new belt, they implemented the requirement that a student need only know and pass an assessment of the Gracie Combatives programme to achieve blue belt. By taking the requirement of rolling out of the equation they effectively created a programme that can, given a focused training regime, be completed in a year. This change also gives the new student something to work towards in the shorter term, hopefully also preventing the high drop out of white belts.

The downside to this was the overall backlash from the greater jiu jitsu community. Gracie University was accused of commercialising jiu jitsu and selling belts online, including members of their own family. Even Rickson himself was opposed to the online blue belt, a fact was was reported on many popular BJJ websites. This caused Ryron and Rener to introduce the ‘technical blue belt’, to be given to those who pass the Gracie University online belt assessment for Gracie Combatives. A student would then be required to be tested for their official blue belt at a Gracie Academy Certified Training Center (CTC).

Some also argued that rolling is part of jiu jitsu and if you can’t take a beating on the mat and overcome your losses, you will never get better. By not expecting a new student to roll (for at least the first year) Gracie Academy and Gracie University were accused of watering down jiu jitsu. I’ve often posted my own thoughts on the topic online, but there is a small amount of truth to these arguments. However there are always those students who are just looking for a self defence programme and those students shouldn’t be required to roll to early on, unless they want to.

Effectively the Gracie Combatives belt is an amalgamation of the JJGF white/blue belt and the Gracie University technical blue belt. To achieve it requires the student to pass the usual Gracie Combatives assessment. Once that happens the student should then start learning the Master Cycle techniques from BBS1, as well as start gaining experience in sparring, for at least 6 to 12 months. Only then, by being tested at a CTC by an official Gracie Academy representative, can a student achieve the rank of blue belt.

In implementing this Gracie University is aligning itself with a more traditional approach to blue belt, while still giving the student a shorter term goal to work towards. It also ensures that the act of live sparring is part of the requirement to get a blue belt, but only when the student has gained a certain level of comfort in the Gracie Combatives techniques. It also (hopefully) provides the student a clear goal and therefore the motivation to keep on training. It also gives the new student a good fundamental base in self defense, before they tackle the rigors of rolling. Personally I think its a great idea and it brings balance to the Gracie University belt system.

What effect this will have on real Gracie Academy CTC’s is another thing. My guess is that the Gracie Combatives belt is exclusive to Gracie University. I am assuming that it will just mean that to pass your blue belt assessment at a CTC will require completing and passing the regular Gracie Combatives drills as well as a live sparring assessment, both gi, no gi and fight sim. If this is the case, I’m actually pretty excited about it. It will mean that Gracie Academy blue belts will be on a similar technical and rolling level as students from non Gracie Academy schools.

What is great about all this is what can be learned about both parties as well as what it means for jiu jitsu as a whole.

  1. Rener and Ryron are willing to listen to the wisdom of their uncle in understanding their grandfathers jiu jitsu better.
  2. Rickson is willing to work with Ryron and Rener in preserving the traditions of jiu jitsu while also focusing on the future.
  3. Having someone like Rickson help guide the path of Gracie University brings trust in the system from the greater jiu jitsu community. Rickson is well respected by most BJJ schools and his guidance and support of Gracie University will not be missed.
  4. Ryron and Rener are now part of something that could unify the larger jiu jitsu community.
  5. The positive effects of this change have already been felt.
  6. This may also have a positive effect on the rift between members of the Gracie Family. Seeing Rickson and Rener and Ryron together like this was amazing.

In short, I am very excited about this turn of events. I hope to see more members of the Gracie Family and the larger jiu jitsu community working together like this, keeping the legacy of Grandmaster Helio Gracie and his jiu jitsu alive, while looking to the future of the art and how it can be spread to become a positive force in the world.


Interview with Gary King

Gary King has been a presenter/instructor for many years, in corporate as well as martial arts environments. He is a qualified Mixed Martial Arts judge and referee, and has worked as a commentator for a Mixed Martial Arts event. His career as a martial arts & self defense instructor began in the 1990’s when he first started teaching in the UK.

Recently Gary was awarded his black belt by Rio Grappling club head, Roberto Atalla. We sat down with Gary and chatted about his jiu jitsu story.

Hi Gary, thank you for taking some time off to talk to us.


For our readers who don’t know you, tell us about yourself and how you got involved in BJJ.

I guess I’d always been into one sport or another. There was judo when I was a youngster, then in my teens it was weight training,  roller-hockey and slalom canoeing (which is why my front tooth is mostly false). I was rubbish at football, but enjoyed a bit of rugby.

I had been training Japanese Ju Jutsu with James and his wife Karen for a few years in the 90’s when we entered a local tournament. It was with utter dismay that I realised that this skinny guy with a white belt and four stripes took me to pieces. So I asked him what martial art he does, and it was BJJ. From that point I was hooked.

We did our research into the Gracie family and first went out to LA in 2000 to train at the Gracie Academy. It was back in the days when Rorion and even Helio would be in and out. We asked Rorion if we could come into the academy before class and drill – one day we were working a guard reposition drill and didn’t see Helio quietly come in and stand in the corner watching us drill. I still wonder what was going through his mind at that point. I know what was going through mine… ‘Holy crap, where should I put my left foot again?’.

Before coming to Cape Town, you had the opportunity to train with various BJJ teams (Gracie Academy, Gracie Barra etc). What was your favourite and why?

They all have their merits. The Gracie Academy has great structure, and attention to detail. I lived in Barra, Rio for 6 months and there they had a more sportive mindset. The competition standard of the guys was amazing – you could sometimes count 3 or 4 world champs on the mat. But their ‘pyramid’ of belts is upside down, so there’d be 2 whites, 3 blues, 6 purples, 8 browns and 12 black belts. The black belts would line up at point at you to roll. It was a different type of learning – less technical, more about trial & error, and more rolling to win.
Roylers was somewhere between the two. He’s a nice guy, but was keen to demonstrate the standard of his black belts. I was asked to roll with one guy before the class and was put to sleep a couple of times. Point made, he was as nice as pie!

I did a couple of sessions at Ralph Gracies place in San Fransisco and, as you’d expect, his guys were just plain tough. Flat noses, big cauliflowers. Tough guys. With my UK instructor, Carlos Lemos I was lucky enough to go to Italy and help him with some seminars. There was one place in Rome – Tribe Jiu Jitsu that had this sweatbox of a gym rammed full with guys. The blackbelt who ran it (Federico Tisi) had a shaven head and tattoos on his neck, but then took me on a very cultural tour of Rome and eloquently explained its history. Never judge a book etc…

I guess the bottom line is they’re all different but it’s all good in their own way. The best gym is one that’s open minded to all of the influences in the art and that nurtures talent.

You and James Smart opened the first Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school directly affiliated to the Gracie Academy in Torrance, California. What was it like moving to a new country and opening the school.

It was really exciting – we’d prepared ourselves extensively for it and it was a huge life changing event. Unfortunately I had been having back pain on & off for a few years since I was slammed on my back and during building the academy it became permanent. It turned out to be spinal micro fractures and osteoarthritis. The doctor told me to give up BJJ. There was no way I was going to do that, but I had to stop rolling competitively from that point on. It wasn’t a good time. But that first academy was a special place, it had an intimate, friendly vibe and introduced a lot of guys to the art. I still live in the same house now and do privates on the mat.

For the past few years you have been focused on coaching MMA fighters. How does BJJ in MMA compare/differ to BJJ for self defense?

I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to teach at Panther for the last 6 years or so –Anthony and the crew are a great bunch. It’s a bit of a mindset change, especially coming from the Helio Gracie ‘relax/let him gas/wait for a mistake’ side of the family. In grappling for MMA you have to force your will, otherwise the decision will go against you. I’ve always broken BJJ into 3 categories:

  1. BJJ for self defense – assumes an unskilled opponent, considers striking
  2. BJJ for competition jiu jitsu – no striking, start rolling earlier, more open guard & gi
  3. BJJ for MMA – considers striking, but with a skilled opponent.

Obviously grappling for MMA makes you painfully aware of the striking distance, but it also changes the significance of the guard position. Don’t pull guard in MMA unless you have to, or you have a world class guard, as the strikes can wear you down, but the judges will often deem you to be losing simply because you’re on your back.

You are currently affiliated to Roberto Atalla and Rio Grappling Club. As one of the few people I know to have trained with the main Gracie family teams (Gracie Academy and Gracie Barra), what is the difference in the training/teaching at a Rio Grappling Club affiliate.

It’s an openness to different ideas. Roberto Atalla has been world champ and has trained with many legends, like Rickson, Renzo, JJ Machado etc. That brings a mixture of influences and recognition that there are things to be learnt from other arts such as judo and wrestling as well as the different styles of BJJ.

You received your black belt recently from Roberto Atalla. Do you feel any different?

I’m proud. It’s been a 15 year journey so far, but I think practitioners actually get less worried about the belts as they get more experienced as the art makes you more humble and gives you a more holistic viewpoint. I don’t feel any different though.

What is the most important lesson you have learned throughout your BJJ journey?

A perspective on what constitutes success. It’s not about what car you drive, or what grade you are at work, but jiu jitsu has helped me to understand people and gauge my personal success on the legacy I pass on to students. Of course I’m proud of the guys who have given everything to fight on mat or in cage, but there’s a letter from a 9 year old student on my kitchen wall that’s worth more to me than any trophy. That is my definition of success and it was jiu jitsu that gave me that opportunity.

During a televised interview (the last time Rener was in SA) you were quoted as saying that SA is still catching up to the rest of the world in terms of MMA. With guys like Garreth McLellan now fighting in the UFC, do you think the level of MMA in SA has reached the point where it is comparable in international levels?

Not yet, but the gap’s closing. I don’t know whether we’ll ever get to quite the same level though, as the US has many more guys to choose from, they do wrestling at school, they have a business-like mindset to the sport, and invest a heap of cash into it. Just look at some of the gyms in the US – they’re massive! We simply haven’t got the critical mass of students, or the financial backing to compete on that level. But there’s always going to be the odd guy who has a natural talent, and is with a strong team that may be able to compete at a UFC level.

You competed quite a bit while you were still in the UK, which tournament do you remember with the fondest memories and why?

It was the Europeans one year. It was held in Birmingham – both James & I competed, and we both won our first two fights in under 2 minutes. I carried that confidence into the following year but ended meeting Roger Gracie’s cousin in the first round and… Well… that was that!

What is your opinion on the possible inclusion of BJJ into the Olympic Games?

Please no! When Judo became an Olympic sport the rules changed extensively to try and make it exciting for the spectator who doesn’t understand the ground work. The nett result was that Judo became very focused on throws and the history of great ground fighters coming out of Judo almost dried up. The IBJJF ruleset is already becoming more complicated every year without having oversight that’s only interested in stuff that ‘looks good’. I know Olympic recognition would bring more funds to the sport, but it could be at the cost of the sport itself.

What do you like the most about BJJ?

It’s fun, and there’s always something more to learn. It breaks down barriers and a rolling partner is an instant friend (apart from the smelly ones).

If you had to convince someone as to why they should train BJJ, what argument would you use?

It’s practical – what you learn really works.
You won’t get bored – there’s always something more to learn.
You don’t get your face broken.

What is your favourite BJJ technique?

I love the rotational stuff (particularly to setup kneebars etc), but there’s a turtle attack that I really like, it’s a combination of armtraps, one-handed chokes and a crucifix. Loads of fun. Thanks to the Mendes brothers, the Berimbolo has gained a lot of popularity – that’s an area I’m keen to explore more.

Finally, do you have any last words for our readers?

Keep rolling, and enjoy the journey – it’ll change your life!

Thank you


Gary will be holding a seminar at Infinitus Jiu Jitsu on Saturday 6 February at 11am. Don’t miss out.

Interview with James Smart

James Smart is the owner and head instructor of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town, the only certified Gracie Jiu-Jitsu school in South Africa, as well as the owner of STREETSMART, a provider of real world self protection /combative training to Civilians, Law Enforcement, Military and Security. James has been my Gracie Jiu-Jitsu instructor for 8 years and his experience and opinions on self defense and self protection are always insightful and thought provoking. I recently chatted to James about the realities of self defense training.

Hi James, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

My pleasure, always great to talk to you, you always throw some really good questions out there.

Thank you, I guess its because I had a good instructor who taught me the value of questioning what works and what doesn’t 😉

First off, for those who’ve never met you, could you give us the short history of your Gracie Jiu-Jitsu journey?

Well, its hard to give a short history of a very long journey, and as you well know, I’m not that good at keeping things short, I tend to get carried away. But here goes, I started Japanese Ju Jutsu way back, when Gary (my training partner) heard of these Gracie guys from Brazil, in particular Rickson. So we went on holiday to LA to train with them and see what it was all about. We got to the Gracie Academy and met Rorion, Ryron and Rener there. It blew us away not only how great they were at fighting but how cool and chilled they were as people. Coming from a TMA (traditional martial arts) background it was quite a shock to not have to bow. We traveled back and forth to LA for a few years then in 2000 I decided to leave my job with Philips Electronics and travel to LA and train full time. After LA I went to Brazil, in total training full time for 1 year. Actually, you could say I have been training / teaching full time ever since. I am now a Black belt under Ryron and Rener Gracie and still learning as much, if not more, today as I did as a blue belt.

There has been a lot of debate about the ‘street vs sport’ schools of jiu jitsu. Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Cape Town is probably more of a ‘street’ jiu jitsu school. What in your opinion are the advantages of training at a ‘street’ school vs training at a ‘sport’ school?

I’m not really sure there are any advantages, unless of course you count not getting beaten up as an advantage 😉 What do I mean, well I think BJJ (lets use BJJ to define the sport and GJJ to define the street) is a great sport, it has now evolved so far down that road and the guys and girls that are top of their game are no doubt athletes. Can they defend themselves in the street? Yes, more than likely. Is it possible because of the way they practise the sport that they’ll get punched out? Yes, it is. We have seen many times how BJJ guys have had to significantly change their game just to get into MMA, it’s all about punch protection. In GJJ we learn punch protection and dealing with the psychology punches being thrown at you first and then worry about the sport later. Does that handicap us when it comes to sport? Yes, I think it does in the short term but I believe it all evens out in the long run. If you’re a great grappler, you’re a great grappler! I guess my philosophy as an instructor and GJJ students is – why did I and most people walk in my door? To learn to defend themselves. If I teach them BJJ am I fulfilling that in the shortest time possible? No. If I teach them GJJ and get them into the fight sim class, am I fulfilling that? Yes, 100%.

Gracie Academy (and specifically Rener) have taken some heat recently in regard to Gracie Academy Blue Belt instructors misrepresenting their rank. As a certified Gracie Academy black belt and owner of a CTC how do you feel about what’s been going on?

First off, I think it was one instructor, I stand to be corrected though. With regards to Rener taking flack, I 100% support Rener and Ryron and what they do. The Gracie University is simply the best on-line learning available for Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I know some don’t like on-line learning and I get that, clearly its not preferable to learn a martial art or any fighting style for that matter on-line. And yet, there are 100,000’s of BJJ DVD’s out there. DVD’s that don’t give feedback, don’t cover all the angles, don’t even have instructors that can speak English and yet they don’t get slated. I can tell you right now, there is something in the pipeline with the Gracie Uni that will change most if not all of the complainers.

Now regarding the whole belt thing, I have to tell you I’m well and truly over it. There are people in all martial arts that have fake belts. We have seen many, many videos recently of people who have claimed to be BJJ black belts and been shown not to be. If something is worth having people will try and find a way to get it and not always honestly. There are instructors out there who give belts out like they are going out of fashion, in my opinion buying loyalty. I know why belts are there and I fully get the value of them, but getting my black belt didn’t change anything, I’m still learning, I’m still training. The day I got my black belt  I didn’t all of a sudden become better. Much more important is, who have I learned from? How long have I been training? What different experience do I have (BJJ tournament, Street, MMA) to offer to students? Come to a class and let me teach you, roll with me, then judge me. But even then always feel free to question me. Don’t listen to someone who has conviction and just believe them. As people we tend to be very very easily fooled by someone who “sounds” like they know what they are talking about.

I think I might have got off of subject a bit, sorry!

Not a problem at all.

You’re one of the few people I know who has actually worked the doors at bars/nightclubs in the UK. How did your martial arts experience help/hinder your ability to deal with the types of fights that go on in the nightclub scene?

Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was the single best thing i did for being able to work on the doors, actually that and conflict management. That said, I really didn’t need to know all of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, just the Rear Naked Choke. Interestingly I lost my faith in some of the other martial arts around then when I realised pain compliance (wrist locks) don’t work on guys that have been taking acid all night. I restrained someone once using a wrist lock, he stood up into it, felt no pain and shattered his wrist. I let go and put him to sleep. I realised then that mechanical compliance or choked unconscious was the way forwards.

A few years ago, you also started a company called STREETSMART. Tell us how that came about?

Having been involved in martial arts for nearly 30 years I am always evaluating different fighting styles. About 7 years ago I met a guy who is highly trained in Combatives, not Gracie Combatives but what’s known as Combatives/CQB/CQC etc. Anyway, we started training together and I started learning all about the world of solving problems quickly and based on concepts. As time progressed I was fortunate to train with some of the world’s legends like SouthNarc and Lee Morrison. I realised there was a place, in fact a very significant place, in my self protection universe that all of the martial arts I had done, including Gracie Jiu Jitsu, was not able to look after and Combatives could. Everything kind of grew organically from there, my knowledge and experience growing and demand for people to learn growing if not faster. In STREETSMART we now have a team of instructors who teach everyone from Armed Reaction Officers through to Anti-poaching units. We teach ALL new ADT recruits throughout South Africa, with our program only last week being described as “the most valuable part of the Reaction Officers training”. Our team is made up of me (obviously) doing all of the unarmed and extreme close quarter fighting, an Ex UK and SA special Op’s members and a highly trained medic and a risk assessment specialist. We have lots of big plans on the horizon.

What would you say is the core difference between what you teach as a Gracie Jiu Jitsu instructor vs a StreetSmart one?

Gracie Jiu Jitsu is for solving social fights or what I would call ego driven fights. One guy cuts another off on the road. The one who got cut off gets annoyed and the two guys start to fight. It’s ego driven, these fights normally operate on a subconscious moral code of, “I won’t kill you, I just want to show you who is the man”. STREETSMART Street Survival (our civilian course) is for criminal interactions, the situation where there is desperation or a lack of moral compass rules and you stand a risk of dying. Another way of saying it is, imagine your fighting abilities are like a dimmer switch. You can’t go 100% all out every time, you’ll end up in jail. You want to be able to deal with a fight with necessary and reasonable force. A combination of Gracie Jiu Jitsu and STREETSMART give you this.

In your opinion, from a self defense perspective, what is the benefit for a regular individual in taking up Gracie Jiu Jitsu instead of other martial arts styles.

Gracie Jiu Jitsu will work, other martial arts might work if you train long enough. I guess that’s a bold statement but it’s been proven way too many times before to say anything different. I guess to clarify it I could say, with Gracie Jiu Jitsu, you have a plan of what to do when the fight starts (close the distance safely), you have an objective (get the fight to the ground), you have a goal (control and submit your opponent). All of this is done with relatively simple, easy to remember, forgiving if you don’t get it 100% correct, techniques. In most other martial arts, you wait and see how the fight is going to start and then react, there is no objective and no plan. And its usually with either hard to learn, requiring great body mechanics and conditioning strikes or hard to remember, complex and un-forgiving techniques.

I’m glad you said “in your opinion” in the question. I’d hate to be taken that I’m stating fact! 😉

20 plus years ago Gracie Jiu-Jitsu was heralded as the most effective form of self defense. Do you think this is still true today?

To go back to my previous answer, it’s the most effective form of self defence in a street, ego driven, one on one fight. Is it the most effective in a criminal attack? It’s sure better than nothing and a million times better than a lot of stuff that is taught. But, if there are multiple attackers or weapons involved, you must stay on your feet, do enough to create space and get out. And no, that is not Gracie Jiu Jitsu, that’s STREETSMART Combatives.

A topic that often comes up in self defense circles is the one of weapon defences and how they are taught across various styles of self defense. You’ve had some extensive training in this area, give us your thoughts on weapon defences.

Don’t unless you really, really have too. When do you really really have too, when you or someone else will lose their life if you don’t. I have to be honest here, I am not going to go into the how to of weapon defense. It’s just too big a topic and open to too much misunderstanding. What I will say though is, if you learn a weapon defence and for one second think “hmmmmmm this is super cool”, stop learning it and find one that isn’t super cool. The super cool ones are far to complex and far too likely to either not work, require far too much training or you just won’t remember it when someone is stabbing you or has a gun in your face. What ever you learn MUST be blindingly simple and uncool.

Finally, do you have any last words on self defence you would like to leave with our readers

Yes, I’d like to re iterate a post that I put on Facebook the other day –

Ask yourself – how many people do I know who have been involved with / victim of a criminal interaction?

Then ask yourself – how many people do I know who have been in a building fire.

I’m guessing the answer is far more in question one to question two.

My questions to you are –

Doesn’t it seem odd that we are most prepared for the least likely event and least prepared for the most likely event?

My next question is – do we learn simple, effective easy to remember, proven skills to deal with and escape fire?

If so why do we “try” to learn complicated, hard to remember, unrealistic, ineffective, stay there until it’s finished techniques to defend ourselves?

Thank you for your time James, it’s always interesting talking to you.

Infinitus Jiu Jitsu Instructor Programme

One of the biggest factors in the success of a jiu jitsu school/club lies heavily on the quality of its instructors. The availablity of classes is directly related to the availability of the instructor and if the instructor (like me) also has a family and work life that availability is limited.

The only real way to combat this is to have assistant instructors who can run the classes when I am not available.

I am therefore please to announce that I am in the process of putting a small group of dedicated individuals through the training process of becoming Infinitus Jiu Jitsu instructors.

Over the next few months they will be learning all the key aspects of teaching group classes as well as private classes. If they complete the course successfully and pass their final evalutation they will take their place as assistant instructors at Infinitus Jiu Jitsu.

I wish them all of the best and I cannot wait to see them become a greater part of the Infinitus Jiu Jitsu team.

Pictured above are trainee instructors Kean Johannes, Buks Saayman and Ryan Baatjes.