Oliver Geddes begins taking the back of his turtled opponent, under the watchful eye of BJJ world champion Roger Gracie.
OLIVER GEDDES INTERVIEW – 13TH April 2009
By Seymour Yang
Oliver Geddes is one of the UK’s most prolific competitors. The purple belt instructor at the Roger Gracie Academy (RGA) in London, UK, is one of the few Brits who could genuinely challenge for a gold medal at the Mundials and is hoping to upset a few established favourites when he competes at the forthcoming World Pro BJJ tournament in Abu Dhabi.
Seemingly present at every grappling tournament in the UK and abroad, commentators have suggested his game is too reliant on one position. Seymour Yang caught up with him at the recent Grab and Pull tournament in Brighton to ask if this criticism was unfair and what his future plans are:
Seymour Yang: Hey Oli, well done on your medals today and also a belated congratulations on your European gold and Pan Ams bronze – isn’t your trophy cabinet getting a bit full now?
Oliver Geddes: My trophy cabinet is actually a small wooden box under a bookshelf at the moment. It is getting a bit full at the moment, but I live in the hope that one day I’ll have a big glass cabinet to actually display this stuff in its, uh, varying qualities. For now, it’s all about the most recent one.
SY: You’re known by many as the half-guard wizard, as you seem to almost exclusively rely on this position, what do you say to that?
OG: Well…I know a whole lot of people who are better than me in half-guard, but since it’s pretty much my whole game, I suppose it makes me stand out a little bit more than others on the scene. At the same time, it’s nice to know that there’s at least one part of the whole jiu-jitsu spectrum out there that you’re actually good at. SY: You post the videos to all your fights online for everyone to see. Are you not worried about competitors learning too much about you?
OG: Not really. Honestly I don’t think my potential opponents really care enough to watch forty or fifty videos of one potential opponent. That said, there’s a big difference in knowing what to expect from someone and actually stopping them from doing it. Look at Paul Sass – he’s won every fight by triangle, people know that he’s going to try and do it but he somehow manages to make it work anyway.
SY: Your website lists all your fights, which total over 40 (BJJ and grappling) tournaments and comprise over 200 matches (150 wins with 98 by submission) in a little over 2 years. That’s a phenomenal number of competitions, why do you compete so much, are you attempting some sort of record?
OG: It gives me something to do on Sundays! No, seriously…it has a couple of purposes. On a basic level, I figure that the more I compete, the more likely I am to win things. Everyone has good days and bad days in jiu-jitsu, whether in the academy or on the mat in competition, and when you have a bad day, if the opposition is good, then you’re going to lose. So by competing more, you reduce the good day/bad day effect and you get to win things you might not normally if you only competed once. Secondly, the more people you fight in competition, the more times you have people ask questions of your
competition game, the more ready you are when you step up to the big IBJJF competitions and have to fight guys who seem like they have all the answers to your game. Plus, uh, winning a lot of stuff can only help with sponsorships, right?
SY: What was your toughest fight and who is your toughest opponent?
OG: Toughest fight…jeez. I’ve had my fair share of embarrassingly quick losses, but that’s not really a tough fight, it’s just me getting whipped. My fight in the Bristol Open Absolute final against Ryan from Mario Reis London was just an example of giving my all and getting beaten at every stage, while the toughest fight I ended up winning…probably was the final of the Abu Dhabi Pro European Trials against Helio Perdigao from Gracie Barra Lisbon. Pulled it out with two seconds to go, but made me work for it every step of the way.
SY: You teach and train BJJ fulltime, that must be an awesome job, what’s a typical day?
OG: Well, I have the privilege of working at the academy, so…I get in to work at about 12pm, take care of any jobs about the academy that need doing. If I’m training that day, I’ll jump in for the afternoon session, usually staying afterwards for an extra twenty minutes or half an hour of sparring. Then back to work again, maybe help out a little with a beginners’ class before training again in the evening, again staying for the extra sparring if my body’s up for it. I might teach a private class or two or maybe do some extra competition-specific training in the afternoon if there’s a group getting together for it. Then close up the academy and home to rest, ready to do it all over again.
SY: Are there any downsides to the job?
OG: I suppose the biggest downside is just how much of a time-sink it is, and how little flexibility you can have in your schedule. You never have enough free time, there’s always another session to do and…since it is your life, I guess you lose a bit of appreciation for what you do. A lot of guys have BJJ as their escape time, but when it’s your living, it’s not quite as compelling as it might otherwise be. Of course, it’s still compelling enough for me to choose to spend all my time doing it, so it can’t be that bad!
SY: So what’s the best thing about it then?
OG: The people you meet. Nearly everyone I’ve ever met in the BJJ community has been friendly, interesting and happy to chat to a random guy they’ve never met and likely never will again. I’ve had total strangers give me lifts to airports, sat down for coffee with guys I’ve fought hours earlier, and even shared a hotel room with a guy I’d seen fight my division earlier that day but never spoken to. I mean, who else can say that about what they do?
SY: You’ve stated quite openly that you want to be the first Brit to win the Worlds at black belt, how realistic do you think this is?
OG: I did? Um…I think I may have been kidding! My target in BJJ from close to day one has just been to go and fight the Mundials at Black Belt Adult and win a fight. But first of all, I’d just like to medal in the Worlds at any belt at all. When I eventually get to the black Belt division – I didn’t start when I was seven years old, I didn’t get my Black Belt in three and a half years…but just for one day, I’d like to be able to be up there with the guys who did.
SY: You also dabble in MMA (8-0-0), is this something you want to do more of in future and how much of a difference do you find it?
OG: Well, I’ve been keeping myself busy with Amateur MMA, which is basically grappling with slams and body shots allowed. It’s not exactly as ‘real’ as full Pro MMA, and the rules are kinda stacked in my favour as a grappler, but it does take you out of your comfort zone somewhat. When I feel ready I’ll step up to Semi-Professional and then eventually to full Professional rules. I don’t think I’ll ever make a career out of it, but I’d like to try it just once. If for no other reason than to say that I did.
SY: Who are your influences in BJJ and who do you admire?
OG: Phew. Influences could take a long time. I suppose the obvious ones are Roger, his father Maurição, all of the instructors at RGA and Eddie Bravo. But every one of the techniques I use regularly can be traced back to something I saw somewhere or tried out, with nearly every one coming from a different source completely.
SY: Yes, you have a lot of admiration for Eddie Bravo, spending time at his academy and even cheekily dubbing yourself ‘Teddy Bravo’ in MMA.
OG: That was never my choice! Blame a couple of my training partners for that one! Technically speaking though, my whole base came from Eddie Bravo – even though I was taught a lot of techniques, I ended up using his old Jiu-jitsu Unleashed material from somewhere around six months into my training. I’ve added a whole lot onto it from a whole lot of sources, but that’s where it all started, however much it might annoy some members of the BJJ community.
SY: Yes, why do you think Eddie Bravo causes such controversy in the BJJ community?
OG: I think partially because he isn’t Brazilian, partially because he only beat Royler and no one else ‘high level’ (or so people say, anyway) and partially because most people who use his stuff limit themselves to his stuff. They end up sticking to one or two techniques that just shut people down but don’t really create opportunities or help anyone advance their jiu-jitsu, which annoys training partners no end. Finally, he is very vocal about his opinions and some people find that rubs them the wrong way. Which is understandable, really.
SY: How did you find the training at Eddie’s academy?
OG: Strange, but really great too. Not just because I got to train a fair amount with the man, but it’s just the weirdest melting pot of an academy. Not only does it have a very small percentage of long-term students (when I was there, there was a huge number of visiting students, jiu-jitsu tourists, mundial competitors, whatever), but you never know what you’re getting into when you start a roll. There’s no belt, no preconceptions, you just have to start and then figure out where the roll is going to go. Also, where else can you train where you have a whole load of guys from different backgrounds: gi guys, wrestlers, MMA fighters, all doing no-gi? It’s just so different to RGA that it just seems like the most sensible place to go when I’m in town and looking for something a little out of the ordinary.
SY: You seem to enjoy teaching, are you planning on opening your own academy one day? OG: I think I’d like to hold off on opening my own academy until my top-flight competition days are done. You don’t have that much time to spend on it, so might as well spend it wisely. Six or seven years down the line, I’d definitely be thinking about it. I like teaching, and I wish I had more time to invest into students even now. There’s no greater experience in jiu-jitsu than teaching someone something and then watching them pull it off in sparring five minutes later. Puts competition success totally in the shade. Plus it takes a lot less pain and effort, which is always a plus.
SY: What else, apart from BJJ do you like to do to unwind?
OG: Sleep! Seriously though, the same old things most other people do. Watch TV, surf the net, normal things. Since I’m at the academy most hours, when I get home it’s late at night and there isn’t a lot going on, so I just chill. And surf the net hunting for other events to compete in, obviously!
SY: What’s your one tip for the average BJJ student who just wants to raise his/her game?
OG: Spar more. I know it sounds obvious, but in my humble opinion, if you’re not rolling every round of sparring, you’re not fit enough or you’re not relaxed enough in how you roll. And once you’ve done every round of sparring, stay after the class, find someone you know will give you a good roll, and do another twenty minutes or so straight. Mat time is basically the secret to success in my opinion, so the more of it, the better.
SY: Finally anyone else you want to thank?
OG: I owe a lot to my gi sponsors, Black Eagle Martial Arts, as well as to everyone in jiu-jitsu who has ever helped me get to a competition, offered to help me out with anything, or done anything for me without asking anything in return. You guys rock!
SY: Cheers Oli, good luck at the forthcoming tournaments, especially the World Pro Cup, see you at the next comp.
Seymour Yang writes the blog: meerkat69.blogspot.com and is a blue belt at the Mill Hill RGA, London.