Black Belt Sophia Drysdale Back in Action, Hosts BJJ Camp for Australian Women

Sophia McDermott
Photo courtesy Sophia Drysdale

Sophia Drysdale (nee McDermott) will be leaving Drysdale Jiu Jitsu academy in Las Vegas to return to her native Australia to host a Brazilian jiu-jitsu training camp for women February 15th and 16th. Sophia is considered a trailblazer by female grapplers down under so we had her answer a few questions prior to her departure.

The FightWorks Podcast: How has the Australian Girls in Gi experience changed since its first camp a few years ago?

Sophia Drysdale: The organization has grown rapidly over the past few years. Jess Fraser, the founder is extremely pro active about making sure AGIG reaches every female who trains jiu jitsu. It has grown from being a women’s internet forum to an organization that runs camps, work shops, women’s only tournaments and sponsorships to enable girls to be able to attend international training camps and competitions. It is an incredibly supportive group that makes any women in the sport feel like they belong regardless of rank or affiliation.

The FightWorks Podcast: What’s on the agenda at this year’s Australian Girls in Gi?

Sophia Drysdale: This year is their biggest year yet, starting off with the largest all women’s BJJ camp in the world. Throughout the year there are women only tournaments scheduled and sponsorships offers. Additionally just like last year, AGIG will be bringing across a crew to train at the Zenith camps in preparation for the largest tournaments such as the Pan Ams and Worlds etc.

The FightWorks Podcast: In 2010 you received your black belt from Robert Drysdale. Has your idea of jiu-jitsu changed since that promotion?

Sophia Drysdale: I have been training as consistently as possible since receiving my black belt even though I have given birth to two babies. It has been a very difficult journey trying to juggle motherhood and training. Not being able to train has made me realize how much I love it and how important it is for me. I make sure no matter what that there is time for me to get on the mat, no matter how exhausted of busy I am.

The FightWorks Podcast: From a teacher’s perspective, how does teaching jiu-jitsu to a room full of women differ from teaching a mixed gender class?

Sophia Drysdale: To be honest I feel a lot more empowered teaching to a women’s only audience since I can relate exactly to their issues that they may be experiencing on the mat. The issues that come up for women are very different from a man’s.. and understandably men often don’t have an answer. Additionally women don’t often have the courage to ask these questions with a male teacher especially in a male dominated environment. Having another woman to teach enables other women to become more confident as individuals and as athletes which is why I find it more empowering.

The FightWorks Podcast: From a student’s perspective, how does learning jiu-jitsu in a room full of women differ from learning in a mixed gender class?

Sophia Drysdale: I personally have not done much learning in women’s only classes since all my training is done mostly with men only because I started at a time when very few women were training. However, I have done a lot more teaching in women’s only classes and I can say that the students are happier and more relaxed and less tentative. I have observed that when they are rolling together they don’t hold back but often they hold back when they are rolling with men. The piece of advice I give to other women during training over and over is to be more aggressive and to lead the fight.

The FightWorks Podcast: Tell us about the female jiu-jitsu scene in Australia. What are the hotspots and are there any names we should be on the lookout for?

Sophia Drysdale: Jiu JItsu in general in Australia is growing and growing. I would suggest that it is the 3rd most popular country in the world with Brazil 1st and USA 2nd. Since the launch of AGIG the amount of women training in Australia is close to the number of men. Additionally nowhere else in the world, even in Brazil will you find so many women participating in the all women events such as tournaments and camps. This has really allowed some up and coming athletes to shine on an international level. Jess Fraser is blue belt World Champion, Livia Gluchowska is blue and purple belt World Champion, Fiona is purple belt Pan Am and No Gi Worlds Champion and Maryanne Mullahy is a brown belt no Gi World Champion in weight division and in the Absolute. These girls have a really promising future in BJJ.

The FightWorks Podcast: Will we see you in action at any IBJJF events like the Pans in March or the Worlds in June?

Sophia Drysdale: Yes I plan to compete in both! Now that my youngest baby just turned 1 things are a little easier for me. I am rusty on the competition circuit but I will do my best. :)

The FightWorks Podcast: Anything else we should know Sophia?

Sophia Drysdale: I am launching a website soon about fitness and health and training and pregnancy. Throughout my journey with the babies I have been asked so many questions about training and ways to keep in shape while pregnant etc… This website has diet advice and training videos and blogs. I am very excited to be able to give back and to share my knowledge and help motivate and inspire other women, athletes and mothers.

Cavaca and Drysdale Hold First Training Camp for Zenith Jiu-Jitsu in Las Vegas for IBJJF Pans

Robert Drysdale
Robert Drysdale

In March Zenith Jiu-Jitsu head coaches Robert Drysdale and Rodrigo Cavaca will be preparing their young team for the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s Pan Championship with a BJJ training camp in Las Vegas. ZJJ was formed in the fall of 2013. We wanted to learn more about the new team and its camp and received these answers from Drysdale.

The FightWorks Podcast: Tell us how Zenith Jiu-Jitsu came to be.

Robert Drysdale: Me and Cavaca first spoke a few years ago about the possibility of working together. We have a lot in common and a similar vision of BJJ. It just made sense. Coming from the same school (Brasa) and having the same teaching/training methodology and ethics. We both have a great relationship with our previous team members from Brasa and Checkmat but we decided it was time to pursue our own paths and strategies.

The FightWorks Podcast: Alliance Jiu-Jitsu has a base in Atlanta under Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti and another in Sao Paulo, lead by Fabio Gurgel. Is this the same model Zenith Jiu-Jitsu is pursuing, with you in the United States and Cavaca in Brazil?

Robert Drysdale: Exactly. Cavaca holds the fort down there while I do the same here. We also have schools worldwide where we have blackbelts that do an amazing job representing ZJJ. I feel we have a great team and much will be accomplished in the upcoming years. We have a plethora of upcoming blue, purple and brown belts. That’s where our strength lies, in the future of BJJ.

The FightWorks Podcast: You’ve had years of experience in competition jiu-jitsu. Knowing what you know now and looking back at other BJJ camps you’ve participated in, what should the ultimate training camp for a big jiu-jitsu event would look like?

Robert Drysdale: I think it has been a refining process. A very thorough selection if you will. Not only has JJ itself been refined and evolved but the training methodologies have improved along with the techniques. An ideal camp goes year around in my opinion. I personally dislike the idea of getting ready for a tournament. It leads people to believe that they only have to train hard before a big competition. I prefer a mind set where hard training goes year around. The eve of a big competition is only for getting in peak shape, verging on over-training and sharpening what you have been developing the entire time.

The FightWorks Podcast: If memory serves, the last time you competed in the IBJJF’s events was in 2007. That ended in a silver medal in the Super Heavy division and Roger Gracie took the gold. Do you plan on competing any more in events like this?

Robert Drysdale: I do. I love JJ for what it is. The strategical battle, the complexities of the techniques the endless possibilities and combinations. JJ is infinite times infinite. I could never move away from it. However at the moment I have different goals set for myself. But I am still 32 years old. Plenty of time to win medals.

The FightWorks Podcast: Competition jiu-jitsu changes rapidly. What differences have you observed over the past several years?

Robert Drysdale: The same differences people in the mid 90’s observed or in the early 2000’s. JJ is constantly changing. To say that it is different now should go without saying. It’s always going to be a changing game. That’s the beauty of it. Some people fall into the fallacy of “new” or “modern” JJ or that “now” it’s different. These are only temporary labels until the next trend comes along and everyone realizes what was obvious from the beginning: It’s only JJ.

The FightWorks Podcast: Do you have any estimates of how many competitors Zenith might have at the Pans, and who some of the big names will be that we can expect? Any secret weapons who will surprise us?

Robert Drysdale: We definitely have some big surprises for the BJJ community this year. Those are a secret for now. As for the number of competitors, it’s hard to say. I can only say this though: We plan on competing against the big dogs this year.

The FightWorks Podcast: What have you been up to off the mats over the last couple of years?

Robert Drysdale: Training more than ever. Refining my JJ while learning other skills. These years training and fighting MMA made me understand JJ better. A complete different perspective of the art.

The FightWorks Podcast: Thanks for your time Robert. Best of luck to Zenith.

Robert Drysdale: Thank you. All the best.

Robert Drysdale on the podium at ADCC with Marcelo Garcia and Andre Galvao
Robert Drysdale on the podium at ADCC in New Jersey in 2007 after winning the absolute division.

$20,000 in Prizes Awarded in Second IBJJF Pro League

BJJ athlete Keenan Cornelius
Keenan Cornelius (blue gi) back in his days as a purple belt.

Walter Pyramid at CSU Long Beach Plays Host

The International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation’s second BJJ Pro League wrapped up today at Cal State University Long Beach, with four competitors walking home $5,000 richer. In order to qualify for the event, the cumulative scores of male competitors’ IBJJF tournament activity throughout 2013 were considered. While there are usually ten IBJJF male weight classes for adults, these were contracted into four in this second annual event and each of these four groups contained four competitors.

The event marks the IBJJF’s second time in which its competitors were compensated for their efforts. The Federation’s maturation continues, as 2013 also saw the first testing for performance enhancing drugs among athletes, and a record-setting forty-six IBJJF events took place around the world, up from thirty-six in 2012.

Results

Rooster / Light Feather / Feather

  • Samir Chantre defeated Rafael “Barata” Freitas (Gracie Barra).
  • Gabriel Moraes defeated Laercio Fernandes (Alliance).
  • Gabriel Moraes defeated Samir Chantre on points and wins the gold medal and $5,000.

Light / Middle

  • Victor Estima (Gracie Barra) defeated Oswaldo “Quexinho” Moizinho.
  • Vitor Oliveira defeated Francisco Iturralde (Alliance).
  • Victor Estima defeated Vitor Oliveira by reverse triangle, wins the gold medal and $5,000.

Middle Heavy / Heavy

  • Jackson de Souza defeated Roberto “Tussa” Alencar.
  • Keenan Cornelius (Atos) defeated Diego Gamonal.
  • Keenan Cornelius defeated Jackson de Souza on points, wins the gold medal and $5,000.

Super Heavy / Ultra Heavy

  • Marcio “Pe de Pano” Cruz defeated Ricardo Evangelista.
  • Gustavo Pires defeated Eduardo Telles.
  • Marcio Cruz defeated Gustavo Pires by armlock, wins the gold medal and $5,000.

#264 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the Information Security Community with Jeremiah Grossman & Chris Hoff; Sitting Down with Slideyfoot!

RSA Conference Brazilian jiu-jitsu
Jeremiah Grossman (top row, third from left) and Chris Hoff (top row, fifth from left) at their annual BJJ Smackdown, held at the RSA Conference. The one and only Kurt Osiander is found between the two.

Who doesn’t dream of a day when golf is replaced by Brazilian jiu-jitsu as the default way to hobnob with business associates? Two of our guests today have been working hard in that direction for years in the information security community. Chris Hoff and Jeremiah Grossman are leaders in their field and make a point of setting up open mat training sessions at the important infosec conferences they attend. We’ll hear how these two security practitioners think about jiu-jitsu as a form of self defense versus a sport, and also ponder if Brazilian jiu-jitsu can be considered the ultimate hacking of martial arts.

Our second conversation is with the one and only Slideyfoot! Slidey’s been one of the premier Brazilian jiu-jitsu bloggers from the United Kingdom for some time. When we heard he’d be in San Diego, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to train together and talk jiu-jitsu. While his blog is popular perhaps his most enduring contribution is his work combining charity and – you guessed it – Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His efforts there can be found at grapplethon.org, and are highly recommended.

[iTunes] Subscribe to the Podcast directly in iTunes (recommended)
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2013 IBJJF Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship Thoughts


A star continues to shine: “Buchecha”, here in the blue gi gives Roger Gracie all he can handle at the first Metamoris in 2012. Buchecha won his weight division and the absolute at the 2013 Pans. Image courtesy Metamoris.

The International Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Federation’s 2013 Pan Championship has passed. Another blockbuster event in Irvine come and gone, with more than three thousand competitors! I was once again part of the commentary team with Budo Videos (thanks guys!) on their broadcast of the action on Saturday and Sunday. While I had one of the best seats in the house, the sheer volume of the action means that by the end of those days, if you ask any of us about the event, it’s difficult to remember much! You know how when you stare out of a moving car at the scenery as it goes by, and it’s just a blur of thousands of colors? It’s the same for us on those days except the colors are mostly limited to that of blue gis, white gis, brown belts and black belts. Faces all blend together.

Now that a few days have gone by, a few things about the event stand out to me (in no particular order)…

USADA Testing for Performance Enhancing Drugs

We cannot deny that PEDs have been present – and according to some, pervasive – at certain levels of BJJ competition in recent years (although some argue how much it matters). In late January of this year, the IBJJF announced that for the first time ever and to the tune of more than 1,000 “likes”, competitors at IBJJF events would be subject to testing for PEDs. The Pans of 2013 were the first event where that happened.

The black belt finals for male and female athletes took place just to the right of where we were seated. After being mat-side at so many IBJJF events, you tend to know most of the faces you see where we sit. If someone’s not with Budo Videos, they’re either from the BJJ media, Ethan Kreiswirth’s paramedic team, or IBJJF staff. However after these finals matches, the moment the athletes stepped off the mats they were immediately lead away by an unfamiliar man and woman in bleach-white collared shirts. Of course, they were the straight-laced USADA representatives escorting the competitors to provide urine samples for testing.

According to Pans female black belt heavyweight and absolute champion Gabi Garcia on March 27 on twitter, the following athletes were tested:

  • Gabi Garcia (Alliance)
  • Andre Galvao (Atos)
  • Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida (CheckMat)
  • Roberto “Tussa” Alencar (Gracie Barra)
  • Vanessa Oliveira do Nascimento (GF Team)
  • Luiza Monteiro (Cicero Costha)
  • Rafa Mendes (Atos)
  • Gui Mendes (Atos)
  • Caio Terra (Brasa)

So what happens now? When will we know the results? What happens to an athlete if they are found to be in violation of the USADA guidelines for PEDs?

The IBJJF is directing all interested parties to USADA for information. According to the USADA website:

Athletes tested by USADA will receive their results by mail within 2-6 weeks from the date of their test. Tests administered by USADA on behalf of other sport organizations or federations will be subject to that organization’s results management process and Athletes will not receive results for those tests from USADA.

Things we all hope to learn soon:

  • If Gabi’s list of tested athletes is complete
  • What the penalties or sanctions are for an athlete who fails their test
  • If we can expect the testing to extend beyond black belt champions and if so, how soon

Alliance Continues to Dominate… or Do They?

The results of the three top-placing athletes shall count for points in the overall inter-academy contest for each division of the competition.

The following points are awarded for each of the top three placements:

Champion – 9 points
Runner up – 3 points
Third place – 1 point

– General Competition Guidelines, Section 3 of the IBJJF Rule Book

Each In the early days of IBJJF competition, it seemed that Gracie Barra predictably earned the highest total in team results at IBJJF events. However for the past several years, Alliance Jiu-Jitsu has dominated. In fact, Alliance has earned first place in every Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship since 2010, and every World Championship since 2008!

Look at the point margins between Alliance and its opponents over the past few years. (The IBJJF only began publishing point totals along with rankings in 2011, so it’s unknown how easily Alliance may have won in earlier years.)

Alliance barely won the 2013 Pans.

Atos Jiu-Jitsu, lead by Andre Galvao and Ramon Lemos earned just two points less than Alliance.

We reached out to Alliance’s leader Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti in Atlanta, who had this to say about the narrow margin of points:

Jacare: The other teams are getting more organized in order to win the competition because we have been winning the last editions of all the tournaments and all the other guys want to find a way to stop us. Why was it so close? Atos has a very organized team, and they got some pretty good reinforcements. They got 18 points with Keenan (Cornelius). And that made a lot of difference. Plus we lost four or five finals which made the difference of those 2 points. But it’s good for us. It raises our awareness that the next time we have to do better.

The FightWorks Podcast: Do you plan to change any strategy or tactics at the Worlds in June?

Jacare: No. We don’t plan to change anything. A lot of athletes that were supposed to compete from Brazil didn’t come for one reason or another. Atos now has their headquarters in California, so they have a big school with Andre Galvao in San Diego, and another school with the Mendes Brothers, and so they were able to have a really good camp with all their guys ready to go. Our plan will be the same: to try to get the best athletes to compete, to bring the ones who couldn’t come this time because they were hurt… and try to get everybody together. The plan is the same. We keep everyone organized and training hard. But it’s good to have teams like Atos and the other teams are getting better. It’s a good challenge for us!

Womens Finals

In recent years watching the finals in the upper divisions of female competitors has really been a joy because the athletes put on a show in every match. One could expect furious back-and-forth action for the length of the match, whether the outcome came quickly by submission or if the match lasted into the latter moments of regulation time.

This year at the Pans – if memory serves – no female finals match ended in submission. All of the seven divisions’ matches went the distance and most had very low differences in points. While this may be the result of very talented opponents with equal skills, it could also reflect a greater emphasis on going out there with a mission of playing it conservative to win by points. The strategy is understandable but nonetheless it leaves something to be desired for fans.

Individual Stand-Outs

There were performances at the Pans that were arguably career-defining moments. A few that come to mind:

  • Clark Gracie’s come-from-behind victory in the middle weight mens’ finals over Marcelo “Lapela” Mafra (video). Clark was losing for the majority of this match and it looked like he was destined for a silver medal against Lapela, who looked unstoppable that weekend. Clark’s competition record in 2013 included a big bump in the road: he had recently been choked unconscious in a very short match by newly-promoted Gracie Barra black belt Magid Hage. Not only did Clark defeat Lapela… in the closing moments… after being down on points most of the match… he wins by submission… and chokes Lapela unconscious! Victories happen in every match by definition but few pack the dramatic value that this match did. The renewed attention on Clark online after the event and his good looks even lead to a visit to Good Morning America.
  • Guto Campos’s defeat of Gracie Barra’s Romulo Barral. Those in the know have been aware of Gustavo Campos and the danger he brings. But for the most part this fearsome foe’s results have been limited to finishes just on the brink of earning a medal. However this time around along his ride to a silver medal in the medium heavy division, he was able to defeat one of jiu-jitsu’s most successful and charismatic competitors in Romulo Barral. The encounter was close until about halfway, when some combination of Campos’ turning on the afterburners and Romulo’s concentration lapsing lead to a victory with a score of 10-4. Remembering a margin of victory that large over “Rominho” is not easy. It must have been a very satisfying victory for Campos.
  • Buchecha. Of course, Buchecha. Many would call CheckMat BJJ’s Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida the most exciting competitor today. While the question was always, “Who can beat Roger Gracie?” (we still lack an answer) with Roger often diverted by mixed martial arts, the void he’s left has thankfully been filled by a much younger Buchecha.

    At the Pans Buchecha steamrolled all his opponents with the exception of Andre Galvao, whom he met in the finals of the absolute division and defeated by a score of four to two. While Buchecha did enjoy a size advantage over Galvao, the scrambles and constant activity kept the audience enthralled. Large, strong, and hungry for submission victories, Buchecha is not only bringing excitement to the heavy divisions and absolute division matches he competes in but he brings “star power” to the sport itself.

Also of Interest:

BJJ Poll: Would You Buy a Used Gi?


We know there are lots of choices when you buy a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gi. There are so many options out there that very elaborate rating systems have emerged for ranking gi choices, most notably by Aesopian.

Recently a good friend of the FightWorks Podcast recounted his recent success selling some very expensive BJJ gis on ebay. Even after wearing these gis for a while in training, he was still able to make a profit over the original price he paid for them!

So this week’s question is about your comfort level in buying someone else’s gi from them. Let’s face it: gis can get funky, sometimes they might attract an occasional bloodstain (hopefully your own blood, but gross nonetheless). But as my buddy’s story shows, there are definitely people out there who will buy used gis without hesitation.

What about you? Do you feel alright taking someone’s old gi off their hands in exchange for a few bucks? Why or why not? Let us know your opinion by voting in this week’s poll, and leave us your reasoning here in the comment section!

Related Polls…

The FightWorks Podcast is Not Dead

Here at The FightWorks Podcast headquarters, we’ve been receiving messages like this tweet recently:

..and email like this:

When will you release a new podcast. The latest I have is Dec 2012. Thnx
– Bill in Maryland

Perhaps most touching is this week-old forum post over on the Underground passed along to us by good friend and FightWorks Podcast contributor Bruce Hoyer. I’ll let you go check it out (it’s not long) but suffice to say that the comments are very appreciated. As I’ve said in the past, the only fuel in the FightWorks Podcast engine over the years has been you guys’ positive feedback that we put out content you liked.

As for the future, I can’t say exactly when there will be another episode. What I do know is that I’m not ready to hang up the gi and I’m not ready to shut down the FightWorks Podcast, so there will be more from us. We’re just hibernating right now.

In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to us over email or twitter. You can also send me a message live during BudoVideos’ broadcasts of IBJJF events using the chat rooms available on the Budo site. Who knows, there may even be one of our classic Breakfasts with the Family before the upcoming IBJJF World Championship in June! Let me know if you’re interested!

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Moldova

Brazilian jiu-jitsu children in Moldova
Moldovan children who train Brazilian jiu-jitsu. All images courtesy Bobby McMasters.

In 2011 we heard Christian Graugart’s tales of global Brazilian jiu-jitsu travel. One of the exotic destinations he visited was the small country of Moldova (population: less 4 million). Since then Georgette has been keeping in contact with Bobby McMasters, an American who’s been instrumental in spreading jiu-jitsu in Moldova.

We reached out to McMasters for more information on the story of jiu-jitsu in Moldova.

The FightWorks Podcast: Tell us how it is that you now find yourself in Moldova, deep in Eastern Europe.

Bobby McMasters: The short answer is Rocky IV. The long answer is that I started out here as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in 2005. As a potential volunteer, you pick the region you want to serve in, and then Peace Corps chooses your host country and everything else. I chose Eastern Europe/Central Asia (mostly because of my childhood fascination with Rocky IV) and I was eventually placed in Burlacu, a small, remote village in the Republic of Moldova. After my service ended in 2007 I moved back to the US. After a while, things got boring and my grandparents (who we were looking after) moved out of their home and closer to other family so we (myself and my then-girlfriend, now-wife) decided to go on another adventure in Eastern Europe. We left in January ’10. Since we both spoke Romanian we decided to try our hand at living in Romania. Initially we wanted to work in tourism but nobody wanted to hire us. We found teaching English to be a fairly lucrative profession for native speakers so that’s how I’ve been making my money for the past 3 years or so. We’re both living in Bucharest now, which is only a 5-6 hour trip from Moldova.

The FightWorks Podcast: What are the three most important things you think our audience should know about the country?

Bobby McMasters: Only 3? Hmm… I could really focus on negative things but I think I’ll look at the positives and tell your audience that Moldova has the absolute best hospitality, wine and the most beautiful girls in the world. What else could be important after that? :). When you go to a Moldovan’s house you will totally be taken care of. They will feed you more than you can stand and you will drink some of the best wine and strongest moonshine in the world. When you go to one of their gyms, you won’t be able to escape without even just a few pictures with at least half the team. I’m married now and of course I don’t even look at girls anymore but I hear they look nice. The guys don’t match up… also from what I hear from somebody (sorry, ladies).

The FightWorks Podcast: What is your background in BJJ?

Bobby McMasters: I’ve actually been practicing BJJ for a long time. My road to BJJ started with wrestling. I wrestled in high school and then 3 years in college, and after taking a year off I really wanted to get back into it. I looked around Detroit, where I had moved to after graduating college in 2003, and tried to find maybe a wrestling club or even a high school that maybe needed an assistant coach or something. I wasn’t able to find anything in the area. During my search, however, “submission wrestling” came up. I showed up for a practice and I really liked the idea of submissions. I wanted to compete, and the only tournaments they had were Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments so I bought like an A4 gi (I’m between an A2 and A3) I entered the tournament, took my guy down and ezekieled the dude in like 10 seconds because of course my sleeves were enormous on me. After this I was totally hooked. I went on to train with Saulo and Xande Ribeiro who were living in Toledo at the time but drove to Detroit every day to teach us BJJ after our first instructor, Dave Gomez left the gym. I trained with them for about a year before I had to make a tough decision: continue to train with some of the best guys in the business, or go see the world and maybe learn some judo or sambo in Eastern Europe. I was at the end of a relationship, sick of my job and Detroit, and since I had never been out of the US prior to this, I figured this would be my only chance and see where this road would take me. I’ll get to my BJJ-in-Moldova story shortly, but after my service I came back and trained in Virginia, got my blue belt, got a back injury and moved back to Eastern Europe where I’ve really only been training sporadically up until now.

The FightWorks Podcast: What made you decide to focus on Brazilian jiu-jitsu there? Was BJJ popular in your new home before you arrived?

Bobby McMasters: In the village, BJJ was absolutely non-existent and unheard of, and so was sambo and judo. My dreams of leg-locking the shit out of huge, Ivan Drago-looking dudes and drinking vodka with Igor Vovchanchyn in a crumbling former Soviet city were crushed when I was assigned to teach health education in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. The only thing they had that was close to a grappling sport was a yearly traditional wrestling competition (called “trinta”) where the winner of the single-elimination tournament wins a young ram. I entered in the competition in 2006 and subsequently won the smelly little ram. This is an epic story in and of itself but I’ve already written on it in this last issue of BJJ Legends Magazine so you can check it out there if you’re really curious. To answer your first question though, I focused on BJJ because otherwise I would have gone crazy. I was a grappler and grappling is how I have always chosen to spend my free time since I can remember. I wound up sending out just one email asking for help with my program, and within 30 minutes I got calls on my phone and emails in my dial-up-era inbox in the middle of nowhere from people wanting to pitch in. One guy in the Netherlands was closing his gym and wanted to send me all his extra stuff. One guy from England had a gi he really liked but never used and wanted to send it to us…. the list goes on and on. Eventually, (mostly through family) I was able to raise enough funds for the mats, which was our first step. I priced some mats in Chisinau (Moldova’s capital city), and it came out to being about $100 per mat. This was really my only option. We wound up buying 12 mats and the village of Burlacu chipped in 10% of the total cost as well as provide me with a driver who would drive me out to Chisinau (about a 4 hour drive) to pick up the mats. We were able to initiate a sustainable BJJ program that still exists today. They still use the same mats and two years ago they received a refreshment batch of gis (their old ones were all ripped to shreds). Although I’d really like to see them training more and with more drive, this is definitely a step in the right direction. In the end, Moldova’s rural programs definitely need the most support, even to this day.

food on table in Moldova
Traditional Moldovan hospitality: an overflowing table.

The FightWorks Podcast: Describe the average Moldovan BJJ practitioner. For example, what is his or her gender, belt level, age, size, etc…

Bobby McMasters: Hmm… The average Moldovan BJJ practitioner is pretty young. I would say on average he is a boy in his early teens and since Moldovans don’t tend to be huge people, he’s not that big either. He is definitely a white belt, but on the other hand he’s like a mini Matt Hughes; he’s thirsty, he’s a farm boy and he’s ripped as shit. As you can imagine there aren’t too many black belts who come out to rural Moldova in order to promote people so their belt colors tend to remain pretty white. All current BJJ practitioners in the country have, at most, a blue belt, and unless I’m mistaken there are presently only 3 or 4 of them. There’s a guy who is originally Moldovan but has emigrated to Canada. He has his purple belt but that’s as high as they go. Regardless of belt rank, the level of the average Moldovan fighter is definitely advancing. Up until a couple years ago I could have told you that beyond a shadow of a doubt there was nobody who could beat me. Now, I’m not so sure. I’ve been subbed during sparring sessions on more than one occasion, and I’ve been BJJ-ing for about 9 years now. In the end, the average Moldovan BJJ practitioner has rolled with 0.02% of people from other countries. How many people from other states (which are larger than your average European country) or countries has your audience rolled with? Consider coming out sometime.

The FightWorks Podcast: Tell us about the first ever nationwide BJJ tournament in Moldova.

Bobby McMasters: Sure. “The Moldova Cup”, is the first Moldovan-initiated, Moldovan-run, Moldovans-only BJJ tournament to date. We’ve had a few previous competitions including an organized sparring between the Chisinau and Burlacu teams, and two “tri-duals” tournaments which were structured after US wrestling dual and tri-dual, team-based competitions. In any case, the Moldova Cup kept to the IBJJF regulations in all regards with the exception of weight classes, weigh-in and gi regulation requirements (most competitors don’t have regulation BJJ gis, many competing in their karate gis that they grew out of two years ago). We were lucky to have help from three BJJ practitioners from Absoluto BJJ (based in Bucharest) come and help referee the tournament including Tudor Mihaita, Romania’s only resident black belt. The tournament almost didn’t happen. At the last minute, the Ministry of Sport said that we couldn’t hold the tournament because we weren’t sanctioned by some sort of official sports body or something. Luckily, we have some connections and were able to get it cleared up. Still, this is nothing you would see in amateur BJJ competitions in the US. This is just one of the many hurdles one has to get through in order to do something positive for people out here. Despite the bureaucratic haters, it was a really positive experience for all the participants. We had over 70 people participate including judo practitioners, and we even had 5 girls. It’s been our biggest turnout so far, so much props and love to everyone who showed up and who volunteered and helped organize the tournament. Another bragging point I have is that one of my first BJJ students, Alexandru Birlea actually set the ball rolling for this event and did most of the organizing/fending off of bureaucrats. Alex “Sandu” Birlea is a blue belt and an absolute future baller. He has won multiple national titles within Romania and remains unbeaten in any Moldovan competition.

Brazilian jiu-jitsu athletes in Moldova
A group of Moldovan Brazilian jiu-jitsu students.

The FightWorks Podcast: Was there any moment of the tournament that was particularly special for you, or most rewarding?

Bobby McMasters: Oh yeah, at this point in my life BJJ in Moldova is super rewarding in and of itself. I see kids now who I used to see being carried around the village by their parents because they weren’t even old enough to walk, winning their first BJJ match and getting their first medal, or kids who experienced their first triangle choke courtesy of myself all those years ago as young adults winning matches. After almost 10 years experience working professionally with disadvantaged youth this is by and far the most rewarding thing I’ve ever been involved with. As far as one moment in the tournament (and actually this happens on a regular basis at all BJJ events I attend out there), I would say it’s when I get introduced as Robert McMasters, the guy who brought BJJ to Moldova. That always makes me feel really good. The truth is, and I tell this to everyone, that BJJ is not a sport/discipline/art that you can do by yourself. The reality of the situation is that BJJ would not be in Moldova if it weren’t for the Moldovan people who practice it. Moldovans are very capable and talented people, and it makes me really proud of them when I see them actually training and enjoying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

The FightWorks Podcast: Anything else we should know Bobby?

Bobby McMasters: Glad you asked! Although there are still a few bugs here and there, we’re officially launching our site which is dedicated to continuing the support of the development of BJJ in Moldova: www.pridemoldovabjj.webs.com. Here you can see our short documentary about BJJ in Moldova as well as look into more detail about our past, present and future projects. This way we look more official and I’m not just some dude asking people for money and gis whenever a need comes up. We’re also on facebook, so look us up and like us (Pride Moldova BJJ)! As I’ve said before and as you’ll see on our website, volunteering is super important not only to the development of skills but also to the overall encouragement of furthering development in the country, so, think about coming for a visit! One rather poignant story of a positive volunteer experience can be found on Christian Graugart’s BJJ Globetrotters blog here. Of course you can help from home as well. We’d love to be able to take donations for a patch-exchange campaign (details about this can be found on our website) but we don’t know much about non-profit law so anyone reading this who is a lawyer or knows a lawyer who knows about this stuff, feel free to contact me at pridemoldovabjj@gmail.com. We also need someone to design an awesome patch and someone who knows where/how to print patches and a whole slew of other things. OK, so in reality it doesn’t matter your background. We can almost definitely find a need for you if you really want to help out.

Thanks again for your interest in what we’re doing out here. We rely on folks like you to get the word out and spread the love and all that.

#263 “The Gracies and the Birth of Vale Tudo” Movie

gracie jiu-jitsu
A photo of the Gracies circa 1962 from the family archive, donated by Angela Gracie to the film.

All of us in the jiu-jitsu community know bits and snippets of the story of the family who brought us jiu-jitsu. That knowledge is likely related to how close one’s instructor is to the Gracie family. Due to the Gracie clan’s large size and understandable biases of our sources, it’s unlikely any of us have a very comprehensive picture of the family history. Most of the answers to our questions about the very large and complicated Gracie family and jiu-jitsu’s history are unclear.

Whenever content appears that might resolve some of those questions, the BJJ family around the world gets very excited. The last time we spoke with Victor Cesar Bota was in 2009 and the New York City-based film-maker was preparing to debut a film called “The Gracies and the Birth of Vale Tudo” at a film festival in Rio.

Since then much time has passed. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu community has continued to hope that the film would one day become available. We recently learned that work is finally nearing completion on Bota’s film and brought him on today’s episode of the FightWorks Podcast to give an update on a project that will unquestionably make a big impression on jiu-jitsu lovers everywhere.

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Jiu-Jitsu is Growing… But How Much?

One of the great things about Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that it encourages asking questions. It’s built for curious minds who want to understand the how’s and the why’s of self-defense and sport jiu-jitsu techniques because it fosters innovation and evolution of the art.

The innate drive to understand jiu-jitsu is not limited to what happens on the mat, and here on the FightWorks Podcast we’ve been asking questions for some time. We have been gathering data on jiu-jitsu beliefs, customs, and attitudes in polls since 2008.

December always brings reflection and when you pause for a moment to think about jiu-jitsu since the time you began training, you must notice that jiu-jitsu is gaining popularity. There are more jiu-jitsu schools, more jiu-jitsu videos on youtube, more local jiu-jitsu tournaments*. In sum, more jiu-jitsu.

We were wondering exactly how one might measure the growth of jiu-jitsu. Getting a tally of jiu-jitsu practitioners everywhere is hard, because it’s hard to know exactly how many jiu-jitsu schools there are out there. One imperfect measure might be to compare the number of tournaments out there took place this year compared to past years. While iCompete.org has a very large list of jiu-jitsu events out there, it does not capture every single event around the globe. In the end, the number of International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation events per year should be a relatively representative measure of the growth of jiu-jitsu around the world because it’s the organization that the vast majority of jiu-jitsu practitioners consider the sport’s authority.

IBJJF Jiu Jitsu Tournaments

In the image above you can see a dramatic increase in the number of IBJJF events per year. From 1996 through 2007 the Federation held ten or less events per year. Since 2007 the number of IBJJF tournaments per year has more than tripled! Would you have guessed that the Federation is that active?

If the metric used here is a valid reflection of jiu-jitsu’s future growth, BJJ practitioners around the world have a lot to look forward to because if there is one thing we crave, it’s even more jiu-jitsu.

Coincidentally, if it is any measure of the maturation of jiu-jitsu, today the inaugural IBJJ Pro League takes place. It’s the very first IBJJF event will be held where prizes are awarded. A free, live broadcast will be offered at ibjjftv.com.

*our sister site iCompete.org has published over 1,300 BJJ & submission grappling events since December 2008!