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.
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!
December is when we look back at the year and congratulate or curse ourselves based on the work we’ve done! Depending on our assessment of the year we then proceed to either reward ourselves with lots of holiday food and drink, or we punish ourselves with lots of holiday food and drink.
Regardless, the annual tradition of evaluation and introspection is sacred. You’ll (probably) thank us for forcing you to confront your jiu-jitsu progress or lack of progress with today’s poll. There are just two options:
I feel good about my BJJ progress in 2012
I feel like my BJJ didn’t improve enough in 2012
Please also share your thoughts about your jiu-jitsu in 2012 in this post’s comment section, as well as your plans for being awesome in 2013!
Lloyd Irvin wins at the IBJJF 2012 No Gi World Championships.
Maryland-based Team Lloyd Irvin came in second place at the 2012 IBJJF No Gi World Championship, a strong outcome by any measure. The team’s founder Lloyd Irvin Junior was able to take a few moments from his very busy schedule to answer some questions we had about his team’s performance at the event.
The FightWorks Podcast: Your team has successful jiu-jitsu athletes across belts and genders. Talk about some of your standouts this time around.
Lloyd Irvin Jr.: It’s hard to go into standouts because overall everyone did well. We had lots of gold medals, lots of medals. There’s no one person who stood out. If you forced me, I’d say DJ because he became our first Black Belt no gi world champion.
The FightWorks Podcast: After a long time away from competition, you also stepped on the mats and won your weight division, black belt I senior heavy. What was that like?
Lloyd Irvin Jr.: It was great! I did it more so as a way to motivate the team. We had a lot of high energy and expectations going into no gi worlds and I thought throwing my hat in there and telling the guys I’m going to battle with them, getting back in shape, training to compete all that would be a great motivation and it was. It felt great!
The FightWorks Podcast: There was some controversy around the outcome of the black belt lightweight finals match between Team Lloyd Irvin competitor JT Torres and Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes (Soul Fighters International). JT was winning by a narrow margin until the closing moments of the match, when Tanquinho was awarded an advantage that gave him the victory. The evening of the finals, you wrote on your twitter account @lloydirvin, “What happened to JT in the finals is a disgrace! It’s deeper than anyone knows”. What did you mean?
Lloyd Irvin Jr.: I meant that some people think that this is a game, that this is all fun and game but this stuff affects people lives. People dedicate their lives to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and you have a situation where people are blatantly cheating. This is way bigger than just the JT match. There’s a serious problem going on and it’s affecting peoples lives.
The FightWorks Podcast: At the conclusion of that match between JT and Tanquinho it looked as if you might have been angry with JT. Were the comments you were making then directed at him or at the referees?
Lloyd Irvin Jr.: I have no idea how anyone would think anything was directed at JT. It was clearly directed at the refs and the people in the stands that were cheering after that travesty. Tanquinho pulled with no grips, JT backed up because there was no grips, the ref gave JT a negative point with no warning, which totally changed the landscape of the match. I mean there are several times during the match where Tanquinho doesn’t engage and runs away during the take down battles and he was not penalized or even given a warning. As soon as JT was given the penalty I knew what they were doing. If you watch the video I tell JT “you know what’s up, you know what they’re doing!” In pro sports it’s called point shaving, and it’s a crime.
A controversial outcome: Tanquinho defeats JT Torres at the 2012 No Gi Jiu-Jitsu World Championships.
The FightWorks Podcast: All said and done, how do you feel about the outcome of the event as you look at your team’s work?
Lloyd Irvin Jr.: I’m happy with my team’s performance. There are a few people who I expected to medal and did not, but we’ll fix those errors going into the next competition.
The FightWorks Podcast: Which Team Lloyd Irvin athletes might we see competing on December 8th for a shot at $5,000 in the first-ever IBJJF Pro League event? It looks like JT Torres will have a bid, but will others be competing earlier that day at the Long Beach Fall Open in hopes of earning a spot to compete later that evening?
Lloyd Irvin Jr.: DJ Jackson is the only one competing on December 8.
We received a great question this week by email from one of the Mighty 600,000:
I am a purple belt and I was rolling with one of my instructors at my school last night, a black belt. As we were rolling I got in a great position and felt as tho I could have tapped my instructor. Out of respect I slowly loosened the choke and let him out, as tho I lost the position. I guess a topic conversation or poll idea could be:
Should you tap your instructor if the opportunity presents itself or out of respect let it go?
My instructor is Brazilian and does have a bit of an ego so I’m sure it would have been bad news had I finished the choke. Personally I feel as though he doesn’t hold back when he has a submission so why should I, but out of future ramifications I decided to let it go.
Whoa! Heavy question! What do you think? Should you tap your instructor if the opportunity is there or should you resist out of respect for him or her?
Let us know what you think by voting and adding a comment here on the site (and let us know if you are an instructor!).
Roberto “Tussa” Alencar (left) faces Rafael Lovato Jr. at the 2012 No Gi World Championship last weekend.
Halley’s comet predictably visits earth every seventy-five years. In the same way certain celestial bodies will regularly meet, the world of black belt jiu-jitsu has two stars whose paths also appear to eternally tangle. Another epic encounter between Oklahoma native and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt Rafael Lovato Jr (Ribeiro Jiu-Jitsu) and Brazilian Roberto “Tussa” Alencar (Gracie Barra) formed the finale of the 2012 No Gi World Championship on Sunday at the Long Beach Pyramid. This time Tussa earned the gold by referee decision after time expired.
The FightWorks Podcast: Rafael, you have medaled again at the highest level in another IBJJF event. The event was nearly perfect for you and even included a submission of CheckMat’s very dangerous Nivaldo de Oliveira. How do you feel about your performance at the 2012 No Gi World Championship?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I’m not happy with it, because I failed to do what I was there to do, become a 3x Champion. I was feeling great en route to the final, but I wasn’t able to complete my mission.
The FightWorks Podcast: You ended up losing in the finals to Roberto “Tussa” Alencar in the finals by referees’ decision. How many times have you faced Tussa in your career and what are your thoughts about how that match played out on Sunday?
Rafael Lovato Jr: I played the strategy I wanted to play with Tussa. I believed that I could sweep him and I had him in many of my sweeping positions, but he did a great job defending and staying heavy. More than half the match was spent with him defending my sweeps and attacks, but they gave the match to him. I knew it could go either way and I was just very angry with myself that I wasn’t able to complete one of my sweeps on him when I had so many opportunities. It really hurts to lose by referee’s decision in the final!
I have now faced Tussa six times, with four matches going in my favor. He is a warrior and we always have great matches that are really close. I respect him a lot and congratulate him on winning his fourth No-Gi title, I just wish it wasn’t over me
Rafael Lovato Jr. cinches a last-second victory over Tussa at the 2008 Pan Jiu-Jitsu Championship to win the gold medal. Photo credit: Aliciaphotos.com
The FightWorks Podcast: You’ve bounced around in weight divisions over the years at the IBJJF No Gi World Championships. In 2009 you were a super heavyweight and won silver, in 2010 you were heavyweight and won gold, in 2011 you were a medium heavyweight and won gold, and now in 2012 you were a heavyweight and won silver. That’s a lot of success. Do you think this means that there may not be an ideal weight for a jiu-jitsu athlete? Should BJJ competitors experiment over the years with different weight divisions or is there a “sweet spot” they should attempt to find?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Yes, I’ve competed at all four of the highest weight classes over the years, but I don’t know if that is something that every BJJ athlete should do. For me it is much easier, because I have a good guard and I’m flexible so I think my game works well with the bigger guys. Also, I am long and have the ability to put weight on or lean up and compete at a lighter division. Heavyweight is my natural weight and I feel best there, but I experimented cutting down to medium heavyweight this past year and it was a good experience. Earlier in my Black Belt career I was bigger and would compete in heavier divisions to stay out of my teammate, Xande Ribeiro‘s division. I’m happy that I’ve been able to show that my Jiu-Jitsu is effective against all different styles & sizes.
The FightWorks Podcast: You brought family members from Oklahoma to watch you compete. Who’d you bring? Do you get anxious knowing that they’re watching?
Rafael Lovato Jr: Yes, I always bring my wife to the World events. She was there and then I had the surprise of my father showing up at my hotel room the day before the event started. He had just returned from a long trip in Spain where he did the Camino de Santiago and he was gone for 6 weeks. He came home just in time to watch my victory at Metamoris over the internet and he didn’t want to miss me at the No-Gi Worlds. It was great to have him and my wife there. I really wanted to win for them! My father is the reason I do BJJ and my wife has given me incredible support during my whole career.
The FightWorks Podcast: How do you feel about the IBJJF’s new ranking system for black belts? As of this writing, you’re ranked number 50.
Rafael Lovato Jr: I think the ranking system still has some kinks to work out. I mean, guys like Xande Ribeiro and Roger Gracie aren’t even in the top 10 for their weight classes. Cobrinha and Marcelo Garcia aren’t even ranked in the top 7 of their divisions. Some of the veterans have a lot on their plates with their academies and business and are only able to compete at the Worlds or maybe the Worlds and one other event. There are some people who are eligible to compete at the Pro League who have never won or even medaled at the World Championship, but they do a lot of the Open events and medal at the smaller tournaments and they have a lot of points, I don’t think that is right. If you were on the podium at the Worlds this year, you should be able to compete at the Pro League without having to qualify at the regular tournament held that morning.
The FightWorks Podcast: Can we expect to see you in action again on December 8th at the Long Beach Fall International Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship, fighting for a chance to compete for $5,000 in the first ever IBJJF Pro League later that evening?
Rafael Lovato Jr: No, I feel I have done more than enough to earn my shot at the Pro League competition having won 6 World Black Belt medals from 2007-2012 and being the most accomplished American in BJJ. I will be back at the Gi & No-Gi Worlds next year. Now, I am going to get some rest and spend time with my family, focus on my academy and my team. Also, I will be releasing my online coaching program – www.ultimatepressurepassingsystem.com to new members this month and I’m very excited about it! I added a Kimura series to the program that shows exactly what I did at the Metamoris against Kayron Gracie. Everyone is going to love it!
Justin Rader’s hand is raised after he defeated Samir Chantre at the 2012 IBJJF No Gi World Championship last weekend.
The FightWorks Podcast: You have been successful in the IBJJF World No-Gi Championships for several years now. In 2009 you won gold medal as a brown belt, in 2010 you won the gold medal as a black belt, and in 2011 and 2012 you earned silver medals as a black belt. What comments do you have about your performance over the weekend?
Justin Rader: The No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu World Championships is a tournament I’ve had a lot of success at during my career, with 4 finals appearances in the past 4 years (3 as a black belt), two gold medals, and one gold medal as a black belt. This past weekend was just one more showing of how far I’ve come and where I stand on the World Championship stage. Obviously it was not the end result I wanted, and I’ll never be satisfied with 2nd place, but it just shows I’ve got more learning and work to do to come back even stronger. Overall though, I am proud of my performance at this year’s No-Gi World Championships. I had some great matches against Ed Ramos, Samir Chantre, and Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. I fought each match with the same intensity and heart I always expect of myself, giving it everything I had, and I have no regrets.
In truth, this was probably one of the hardest training camps I’ve ever endured to get ready for this tournament as well. I’m not sure how many people know, but I’m still in school and work 40 hours per week as an intern for dietetics, and then I try to find time for strength and conditioning and training. I had many people tell me I would likely not be able to compete, and just as many tell me I shouldn’t even try. And there were plenty of times I questioned myself through training on whether I was making the right decision, and whether I could train like I need to for a tournament like this. Through this struggle though, I realized just how great a support group of coaches, mentors, and close friends I have around me, who inspire and push me, and convinced me to finish training camp and this tournament the right way, no matter the outcome.
I’m not entirely sure what next year is going to bring for me competition wise, and I’ve got some big plans and decisions to make, so be sure to stay tuned and follow me on facebook.com/DarthRader86 and on twitter @DarthRader86.
The FightWorks Podcast: A gentleman who goes by the name Cobrinha has prevented you from bringing home the gold at the No Gi Worlds for two years in a row. Did you expect him to stand in your path again this year, and if so did you make any special preparations for the encounter?
Justin Rader: Cobrinha is a great champion, who has now won 4 titles each in the gi worlds and no-gi worlds as a black belt, and a humble competitor. It was an honor to compete against him once again. I absolutely expected to see him back, and I had envisioned another finals match against him for a whole year. We’ve had some great matches against each other in the past, and this one was no different. I had worked on some different things leading up to this tournament, both from the take-down game and ground game, and Cobrinha was ready for it and did a great job. Again, I’m not satisfied with the end result, but I congratulate Cobrinha on another great performance and match, and I’m sure it won’t be the last time we compete against each other.
The FightWorks Podcast: What are your thoughts on the 2012 No Gi World Championships as a whole? Did you see anyone’s performance that particularly impressed you?
Justin Rader: I thought the tournament as a whole was a pretty good tournament. Of course it had its high points and low points, as with all tournaments, and I do hope that its lows are addressed and improved upon in years to come.
Xande Ribeiro’s performance was very impressive this past weekend. Xande came away with a double gold performance, winning both his division and the absolute division. Xande had many great matches, fighting all of the best guys at the tournament, and coming out on top each time. Xande was solid in all of his matches, and was very impressive to watch. Huge congrats to him.
I’d also like to comment on DJ Jackson’s impressive performance. DJ has not been a black belt for very long I don’t believe, and he walked into the tournament, had some great matches in the absolute division, and ended up winning his first black belt world title in his division. He stuck with what he did best, and had a great tournament. Congrats to him as well.
The FightWorks Podcast: Can we expect to see you in action again on December 8th at the Long Beach Fall International Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship, fighting for a chance to compete for $5,000 in the first ever IBJJF Pro League later that evening?
Justin Rader: I do not have any plans on competing in the Long Beach Open or IBJJF Pro later this year. I’m still in school (until January 2013), and I only have so many days I can get away, and I used them to train and compete at the No-Gi Worlds. I’ll once again have a lot more time to dedicate to training once next year rolls around, and I can’t wait to see what next year has in store.
The FightWorks Podcast: Your email address refers to “Darth Rader”. Are you a Star Wars fan and if so, what are your thoughts on the Star Wars franchise becoming property of the Disney Corporation?
Justin Rader: Haha, yes I am a Star Wars fan. That’s a nickname that has been thrown around quite a bit as I was growing up, and being a fan, it has kinda stuck. As a fan, my first reaction to Disney buying the Star Wars franchise was “NNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!”, haha. But I really don’t have many thoughts on Disney buying the franchise, and I haven’t heard exactly what they plan to do either. If they decide to make more Star Wars movies, I just hope they do a great job!
The FightWorks Podcast: Anything else, Justin?
Justin Rader: I’d like to thank my parents, Master Rafael Lovato Jr., my wrestling coach Andy Howington, my close friends and mentors, all my students and teammates at Lovato’s School of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA, and my sponsors OnTheMat, Lucky Gi, Tirey’s Training, 1914 BJJ Kimonos, and Novatek Laboratories for all their support and helping me get to where I am today. I’m also available for seminars. Be sure to message me if you’re interested.
Tanquinho applies the choke to JT Torres at the 2012 No Gi World Championship which earned him the victory and a gold medal.
The FightWorks Podcast: Tanquinho, this is your first gold medal as a black belt at the IBJJF No-Gi World Championship. How does it feel? How does this compare to other accomplishments in your career?
Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes: I have been trying for a while to get the World title at the black belt from IBJJF and the feeling of finally winning, especially after coming back from my neck surgery is incredible! I am really happy!! I think each title is important at the time that you win for many different reasons. This World title is not anymore or less important that my other titles throughout my career. But this title will be my memory of overcoming of everything that I have been through and being able to come back and compete at the high level!
The FightWorks Podcast: How did you prepare for the event? Was most of your preparation done in Arizona?
Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes: All of my preparation for the Worlds No Gi was in Arizona at Megaton’s Academy! All of my training for the tournament I did with the gi. The last week before the tournament I trained No Gi to adapt positions for no gi. I did this because I stayed a really long time without training, because of my surgery, and I needed to recover the timing of positions and my reaction timing, and I can only do that with the gi. I also was focused on my physical preparation! I know that No Gi uses a lot of cardio so I wanted to make sure that I would not get tired!
The FightWorks Podcast: The match against JT Torres (Lloyd Irvin) in the finals generated controversy. JT was winning until the closing moments when you applied a choke that is essentially a triangle with no arm inside. In those final seconds you were awarded an advantage point that gave you the victory. Can you talk about that? There seems to be a difference between what some people think the rules are and what the three referees that day think the rules are.
Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes: Yeah, unfortunately a lot of people are showing how they do not know or don’t completely understand the rules and are not very knowledgeable of positions. The choke I did is not a triangle, how I have seen a lot of people confusing it to be as. A triangle position with or without an arm inside is a blood choke, meaning it stops the blood from going to the brain. The choke I did, I learned it by the name as crab choke, is an air choke, so it blocks your esophagus. If you tried to do the crab choke but with your legs in a triangle position you would not get the position at all. I really don’t know what people are so confused about the rules. For every argument that I have heard, such as “JT was not warned before he was penalized”, or “he needed to defend the choke to get an advantage”, or even “the referees are corrupt and they have never made a bad call in favor of an American guy”, all have quick and easy answers. Plus, just for people to be thinking all of these things shows that they are not knowledgeable of the rules or the federation. I don’t want to address every argument to have to explain myself. I know the rules and I know how much I trained and fought my best to win and I am absolutely confident that I won.
The FightWorks Podcast: In 2010 and 2011 you almost won your division but in both of those years Lucas Lepri (Alliance) stopped you and you ended up with the silver medal. This year Lepri was not able to compete due to illness. Do you wish you had the opportunity to face him this time?
Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes: Lucas was better then me in 2010 and 2011 without a doubt! I did not go to fight this year thinking about just fighting him. I just trained and prepared myself to fight against who ever would be in the division, and I knew there would just be tough guys! I knew that there was a chance I could win or lose to Lucas just like there was a chance against JT and Leandro or anyone else in the lightweight division but I was confident in my game and preparation!
The FightWorks Podcast: There are some competitors who perform very well in the gi but sometimes their game is not as strong without the gi. Which do you think is stronger for you, gi or no gi?
Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes: I don’t think that I am stronger in one or the other! I am really good at adapting my game to gi or no gi! There are a lot of things in my game that are easier to do with the gi, but then on the other hand, there are a lot of different things that I have adapted to my game that work better with no gi. But I have to say that I like with the gi a little more than no gi!
The FightWorks Podcast: Can we expect to see you in action again on December 8th at the Long Beach Fall International Open Jiu-Jitsu Championship, fighting for a chance to compete for $5,000 in the first ever IBJJF Pro League later that evening?
Augusto “Tanquinho” Mendes: Yes! For sure! I am first waiting for the chance to maybe be qualified already in the Pro League because I am number 8 in the ranking, so if anyone before me can’t make it my spot will be moved up! But if all of the first six will be there, I will be at the Fall Open to try and get a spot to compete for the $5,000! I am really happy about this event and I think it will have a really good turn out! I will just train hard to be as prepared as possible because every fight will be a tough one!
Roger Gracie (white gi) fends off his aggressor Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida in the October 14 debut of Metamoris. Image courtesy Metamoris.
On Sunday the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world experienced the first-ever Metamoris jiu-jitsu event. Judging by feedback on social media and in the blogosphere, the event was a success. The format of pitting specially-invited renowned BJJ athletes against each other in submission only matches consisting of one twenty minute round was proven to entertain and fans are wondering when the next event will be. As The FightWorks Podcast spoke with Metamoris organizer Ralek Gracie prior to the event, we felt it only fitting to invite the event’s other promoter Robert Zeps to join us and talk about their evaluation of the evening and learn what’s next.
Metamoris organizers Robert Zeps (left) and Ralek Gracie. Image courtesy Metamoris.
Also in this episode we continue the FightWorks Podcast tradition of encouraging academic inquiry into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, our beloved addiction. We’ll round out the episode with a conversation with Chris Kavanagh, an Oxford University researcher and BJJ blue belt. Kavanagh needs our help, Mighty 600,000 in gathering data about BJJ belt ceremonies (also known as belt grading, also known as belt promotions, also known as graduação in Brazilian Portuguese). Please help further knowledge about BJJ by participating in his survey, which is found at BJJSurveys.com.
Are there any rituals that take place at your BJJ school when new belts are awarded? Image courtesy scottonthenet.
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TRANSCRIPTION OF INTERVIEW WITH ROBERT ZEPS
The FightWorks Podcast: Alright family, we are on the line with Robert Zeps, one of the promoters of Metamoris Pro which took place last Sunday. I don’t think too many people need an introduction to what Metamoris is but it was an invite only event with 12 competitors. There were six matches of submission only grappling – most of which were in the gi – and twenty minute time limits. I think most of us know that and have seen the results online. But suffice to say it was a big event in the jiu-jitsu community, and we’re very excited to speak with Robert about it. How are you Robert?
Robert Zeps: I’m very well Caleb, thank you for having me on.
The FightWorks Podcast: It’s out pleasure. I thought we have an obligation to introduce you a little bit more formally to the world out there of Brazilian jiu-jitsu because based on what we’ve seen so far you may have an impact on things and it’d be nice go get to know you a little bit. What I thought we would do is give you a chance to reintroduce yourself to our audience here so tell us about Robert Zeps.
Robert Zeps: Yeah no problem Caleb. Like I said at the press conference (I think it was placed online), I’m English and I came to America in 1995 and I started training jiu-jitsu just about 5 years ago. It was something that came to me later, and I wish it was something I’d started earlier like most people at my age. I started training with Nelson Monteiro in San Diego. As I was training with him I reached out to the Gracie Academy which is in Torrance, and not too far from my house, and I started meeting a lot of fun people and talking a lot about jiu-jitsu. And it became a real hobby of mine. It started taking up a lot of my time. And as I was doing that I started thinking about what [jiu-jitsu matches] I’d like to see. I managed to sit down with Ralek Gracie a few times and we discussed, “what is it that people really want to see in jiu-jitsu? Do we want to just go to high schools and watch some of the top professionals wander around looking for bottles of water, or do we want to do something that would treat these athletes like the stars that they are, and also treat the fans to something a little more exciting and interesting?” And with not a lot else more interesting on our plates to be honest with you Caleb I decided this could be a real fun event we could put together and if enough people got excited, we’d keep doing it. So that’s what happened.
The FightWorks Podcast: You mentioned that you’ve been a martial artist for a long time. What got you into martial arts way back in the day?
Robert Zeps: [laughs] It’s a funny story. I think I was about fifteen years old and the fourteen year old sister of a friend of mine at school wanted to go and start some full contact karate in the area, in England. She wouldn’t do it without somebody going with her. I was the guy who decided I’d be the good guy and go along with her. I kept on doing it, and she quit after about two weeks. I kept going and I think I got my first black belt in 1986, if that doesn’t age me too much! That was in full contact karate. It started out there. I met some other people training and I got involved in aikido, Japanese jiu-jitsu, some goju-ryu karate, and I was doing that in England. I continued to do [martial arts] when I came to America. I continued training aikido, goju-ryu karate. Of course like everybody else, I watched the UFC in 1993 and was blown away. It just took me far too long to get involved in jiu-jitsu. I was still teaching in the U.S. some aikido as well just for fun and training down there in San Diego with real top level guys. It was just a joy. But the jiu-jitsu really grabbed me. And it grabbed me for one reason and I’ll tell you while we’re talking about it briefly. What took me with jiu-jitsu was how cerebral the whole thing was. It wasn’t just about force. It wasn’t just about who is the toughest guy. It really was something you could think on, in tough, tough situations. I think most people, particularly guys like me over forty, know what that feels like. You know what it feels like to be in a fight and you can actually genuinely think through what you’re going to do and who’s next. That honestly doesn’t happen too often in a lot of the older Japanese-style martial arts.
The FightWorks Podcast: I think a lot of our audience would agree with you on that. There are a bunch of great reasons to be in jiu-jitsu but that is one of them. Some of us have this superiority complex about Brazilian jiu-jitsu sometimes, myself included. It’s not necessarily legitimate, but we have this, I have this conception that a lot of people who did other martial arts when they come to Brazilian jiu-jitsu they stop doing the others. Is that what happened with you? Talk about that.
Robert Zeps: Yes I think the funny part for me was there’s generally a misunderstanding about the traditional martial arts, particularly arts like aikido and judo even, and traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu. I think people understood the history and where these things came from. I’m not talking about Brazilian jiu-jitsu guys. I’m talking about guys who were actually studying Japanese martial arts. A lot of these arts were formed around training with weapons, training with armor, and I think a lot of that is lost on people training today. There are instructors like Kazuo Chiba in San Diego, who was my aikido instructor who taught a very realistic form of aikido that was taken directly from training under Jigoro Kano. These guys were animals in all sorts of Japanese martial arts. They weren’t practicing them for the self-defense in any way, shape, or form. They really were just moving meditation. And too many people training in it because it was physical that somehow they were doing something that was self-defense oriented. We all convinced ourselves up until UFC 1 that somehow these arts were actually legitimate. I think what happened in UFC 1 was that we demonstrated that frankly in a modern era a lot of the things that were practiced and done were simply not practical. I don’t know if it’s just a personal feeling of mine but I really do believe that Brazilian jiu-jitsu had to come from somewhere like Brazil, a place where there is significantly less attention paid to the respect that goes on between elders and juniors in the Japanese culture. And the idea that somebody walking on the beach and kicking sand in someone’s face in a speedo and ended up rolling around the beach is not something that happens, or could conceivable happen in a Japanese culture. I think it’s interesting to note that though the Japanese have clearly their training and continue to train, it really takes a cultural difference to modify martial arts sometimes and I think that’s what happened with Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
The FightWorks Podcast: So you’re saying it’s an American phenomenon – not North American, but a “new world” phenomenon where some of those vestiges of the past were not present and allowed people to just make something new up along the way.
Robert Zeps: Absolutely, I think you evolve your martial arts to the context and the culture that you’re in. If you’re fighting and rolling around in speedos, that’s quite distinct from rolling around in full samurai garb. Clearly you can’t fight both ways the same. Equally you couldn’t do well in the dark ages using Brazilian jiu-jitsu against a guy on a horse with a mace. It simply wouldn’t have been practical. So it had to be modified, you have to evolve. I think Brazilian jiu-jitsu is a modern evolution of martial arts.
The FightWorks Podcast: Let’s come back to the present a little bit. Tell us a little bit more about yourself then I want to jump into Metamoris. You said you’ve been training with Nelson Monteiro and Ralek. Three rapid fire questions for you: what belt are you, what’s your favorite submission, and do you prefer gi or no-gi?
Robert Zeps: [laughs] This may get confusing. I have a purple belt with three stripes from Nelson. I have a blue belt with one stripe from the Gracie Academy. But I think that guys understand that they have a very different program up there right now where their stripes are now being tested on an entirely different curriculum. I think that’s something people should explore at the Gracie University if you have an interest. I actually enjoy gi and no-gi. I train a couple of times a week with a friend of mine Steve Gable. He’s a professional MMA fighter and a Gracie Barra black belt. We go through some basic no-gi training with punches just for fun and I enjoy it very much. But I can’t say I have a preference. I do enjoy them both. What was the third question?
The FightWorks Podcast: Which is your favorite submission?
Robert Zeps: [laughs] My favorite submission? You know I don’t know if I even have one right now. I think one of my favorite submission right now and only because it gets done to me: Nelson has this way of submitting me without choking me or arm-barring me where he just squeezes me tight from the top mount, and I tap.
The FightWorks Podcast: [laughs]
Robert Zeps: And I say it’s my favorite because it’s so unbelievably tight, and it’s not painful, it genuinely squeezes the life out of you and you want to give in. I find that very few people can do that, I’m sure. Nelson is amazing at that. I can’t do that to anybody. But I say it’s my favorite submission because when he does it to me I’m laughing aloud.
The FightWorks Podcast: While we’re on the topic of Nelson Monteiro, we’ve talked with him before on our show. He’s proven to be a character who appears once in a while in the big, big, big stage of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He had a relationship with Sheikh Tahnoon, who brought us the ADCCs, and now he’s connected with you, who are an integral part in bringing us Metamoris. What’s the likelihood of that happening twice? It’s pretty unlikely.
Robert Zeps: It is unlikely and Nelson’s told me the full story of Sheikh Tahnoon and that story is quite unbelievable, every step of it. It’s an amazing story. I don’t think people have respect for or understand where ADCC came from and some of the sacrifices that Nelson had to make to make that happen. You know, taking his wife and his daughter to Abu Dhabi without really understanding what on earth it was this guy wanted. So he really did build something quite amazing out of that. The chances of that happening twice? He is quite an individual. I think he’s one of the early architects of American jiu-jitsu. He’s one of the first people out here, way back, pre-Gracie Barra.
The FightWorks Podcast: Let’s talk about Metamoris. I know you’ve been very busy since the event on Sunday. What is the most common question you’ve been asked by the media since the event ended?
Robert Zeps: It has to be, “is there going to be another one?” And the answer is yes, there’s absolutely going to be another one. No question about it. We obviously want to do our homework and make sure we learn from everything on that last event and make sure that we can improve it in every way possible. We understood that some people had issues with the live stream. We’re trying to figure out whether that was [due to] local issues or something on our end. We had people in Afghanistan who were streaming it no problem, people in Australia with no problem, and people in London with no problem. And then again we had people in Southern California who had issues. I don’t know what technical issues they were having, We would love to make sure that those issues go away and never happen again. As for the event itself, I couldn’t have been happier. The fights went off every which way I wanted them to. I was absolutely ecstatic after every single fight. I enjoyed every single one. I didn’t see one that bothered me in any shape or form. It really couldn’t have gone better for me. I was over the moon with what happened that evening with regard to the fights. And indeed I thought the camera work was terrific. I thought Rener Gracie and Sean Peake were amazing on the commentary. I thought that really added to it. I went home that night Caleb and I watched the entire stream. I think I started at about 1 o’clock in the morning and I watched the whole thing. I was really pleased with what happened. So yes, I want to do another one.
The FightWorks Podcast: I do remember during the event after each match I would look over from the press gallery where we were and see your reaction and you had a very big smile on your face every time. I noticed you looking over at Ralek and you looked very pleased.
Robert Zeps: Very much so. My wife hasn’t seen me that happy in a long, long time. She really enjoyed watching how much fun I was getting out of it too. It was a real enjoyable night for me.
The FightWorks Podcast: What was your favorite match of the night? I know it’s hard to chose but I’m going to ask you to try.
Robert Zeps: [laughs] I have thought about that because somebody’s asked me that before. I really enjoyed what Caio [Terra] and Jeff [Glover] did. I thought what they put on was a display of jiu-jitsu. Not just technical jiu-jitsu but the playfulness they had. Showing people that you could get playful but at the same time when it got real, it was very real. I thought that match was absolutely beautiful to watch. It really was. I can’t say enough about Rafael Lovato [Jr.] too. I thought his submission was the purest, most absolutely beautiful jiu-jitsu I’ve ever seen. In an environment like this I thought that was incredible. Dean [Lister] and Xande [Ribeiro] had my heart pumping from the moment they walked on the stage. I did not know where that was going to go. To see Dean with his arm fully extended was out of control. And of course Roger [Gracie] versus Buchecha was amazing to me. I understand that a few weeks before the fight that Roger was suffering a bit. The week before he showed me he had a real bad infection and he really shouldn’t have probably taken the fight to be quite honest with you. But that’s the kind of guy that he is. He took it. And taking nothing away from Buchecha, he really put on the performance of the night. So if I had to say who I enjoyed the most, it was probably Buchecha because I really think he’s amazing. He really is. To come up and fight someone like Roger Gracie, who is your hero as a child, and do as well as he did, I was delighted to watch him.
The FightWorks Podcast: A lot of the attention after the event has been focused on the match between Ryron [Gracie] and Andre Galvao. Do you have any thoughts on that? It sounds like if there was controversy that night, it was in that match.
Robert Zeps: That’s a funny thing. I did read all the blogs about it, and obviously I was present during the comments both on the mat and at the press conference. I would definitely say that neither of them when they were speaking about what happened were particularly articulate about what their position really was. My opinion was, and I knew this going into the fight, and it was why we picked this fight, that we really wanted to take two very distinct styles of jiu-jitsu. Andre Galvao, everybody knows what he’s like. He’s aggressive, attack attack attack individual, and I knew going in that Ryron was very much the opposite style. And we discussed the idea of “let’s create a blank canvas for the fighters and let them express themselves however they want, and maybe one will come out on top and one won’t come out on top”. In many ways, it’s like comparing different types of art. You can try and compare cubism and impressionism and you can’t come up with a conclusion about which one is better. Nobody would ever suggest that one’s better than the other, and I think that night we demonstrated that Andre was very much on the attack, and Ryron was very much on the defensive but I think that was his choice. That was his style. I enjoyed every minute of it and actually Saulo [Ribeiro] came up to me after the fight and said that was his favorite fight of the night. I think people need to take a step back from the comments being made and say, “look, you watched some really good jiu-jitsu between both Ryron and Andre, who obviously we all have the utmost respect for. I thought it was a terrific fight and I thought we learned a lot from it. Obviously everybody would love to see a submission and we didn’t see a submission but you know what? Sometimes there are no submissions in jiu-jitsu. And that’s okay! I think people need to learn that that’s okay.
The FightWorks Podcast: Looking forward… I’m not sure Metamoris has a physical office anywhere, and not that it needs to, but let’s imagine that you guys were around the desk in the conference room Monday morning with some coffee and stuff, what conversation took place, if any after the dust had settled [from the event the day before]? What was that conversation like?
Robert Zeps: It’s funny because Ralek and I just met not three or four hours ago at the Gracie Academy on one of the mats in one of the private rooms. So we would roll for twenty minutes not full on, just on and off, practicing some things, we’d go after each other then we’d stop to chat about the event, then we’d fight again. So a little fun along the way. We talked about a lot of different things. We talked about all the different possibilities. Obviously we are still going to want to do a masters event. We need to get Nelson [Monteiro] and Jean Jacques [Machado] together. We were really disappointed that Nelson got injured but we’d love to see them get together and they want to. We’d love to see fights between two ladies too. I think everyone would like to see someone like a Rhonda Rousey come in and fight someone of her weight in the jiu-jitsu community, whether it’s Kyra Gracie or someone equally matched up with her. I think that could be a terrific fight. We talked about some of the other competitors that called and said they’d love to do the event. Obviously we have people like Marcelo Garcia, Rodolfo Vieira, Leo Nogueira. This list of top, top level jiu-jitsu is pretty good still. The question is “how do you put those guys together?” I think that for the fights we had in ours, the fights were well-matched and in the next event we’d like to get a lot of well-matched fights again that people would take an interest in and want to see, to step back and view them on the canvas to express their jiu-jitsu in an unconfined manner in the way that we saw it on Sunday. We sat and talked about those things and we’re going to go out tonight and we’re going to talk some more.
The FightWorks Podcast: There are a couple of things that I think would be good to express to the audience because not everybody was in the press conference or may have heard in the meantime but in terms of things you might do differently next time, I noticed in the press conference that you made an explicit point of saying “we did not intentionally schedule this event on the same day as the Abu Dhabi [submission grappling] qualifiers in San Diego”. I just wanted to make that explicit for you.
Robert Zeps: Yeah, and I think Caleb that that’s a problem we’re going to have no matter what. Whenever we try and put an event together I can almost guarantee there’s going to be another event on the same day or the same weekend. There’s so many jiu-jitsu events going on these days. When we originally picked the day, I think we originally had picked the week before that, and there was some scheduling issue that week so we moved it to the following Sunday and we weren’t even aware of the ADCC trials at that time. It’s not that we didn’t know they were happening, but we didn’t know they were on that date. Once [our] date was picked, once we’d signed with the university to get the San Diego State Arena it’s very difficult to start messing around with venues and production company availability. So we weren’t overjoyed about having it on the same day as ADCC but sometimes that’s just going to happen.
The FightWorks Podcast: I think there are those in the community who are guardedly ecstatic about Metamoris. I think there are folks who have been around a while and are familiar with things like Rickson Gracie’s Budo Challenge back in 2005, and the Professional Submission League put on an event or two in 2007 I believe. And they have a lot in common with Metamoris. The problem with those is that we don’t hear from them anymore. I think the concern is, “how excited should we get?” Are we going to be disappointed if in the end [Metamoris] was just a one or two time thing? I think people are concerned about sustainability. I guess that’s you guys’ challenge right, is to make sure that it works.
Robert Zeps: That’s absolutely right. We’re challenged to make sure there’s sponsors to support the event and to make sure that the fans support the event. They did a great job on the live stream. We had a lot of support there, which was terrific. Obviously I look to expand that. I think we’re in a slightly different time as well, Caleb. I really do believe that jiu-jitsu has evolved a fair amount and I think the world has evolved in terms of access to content. I think the availability to live stream is becoming easier, and simpler, and cheaper. I think that makes it more likely that people will put events on. I think that the television companies like the Fuels and MTV2s are looking for this kind of content too, which I don’t think they were five years ago. So I’m hoping that we can convert some of the excitement that we have in Metamors into legitimate commercial excitement as well and I actually do have some signals that that is indeed the case. It’s my job to make sure that I can manage that strategically and I will commit to the fans that that is what I will be doing in the next year and two years: making sure that we can really make this happen. I really want to see this happen. It’s not just about financials for me. This is something that I’m enjoying doing. It makes me feel really good to know that people are excited about it. I would implore the fans to look at the fights and say, “Enjoy it, educate yourselves on the fights, educate yourselves about jiu-jitsu”. The more education you have about jiu-jitsu the more you’re going to enjoy the fights, quite frankly. Move away from trying to look at the fights as trying to see a winner and a loser. At the end of the day for me it was all about, “can we see a beautiful exhibition of jiu-jitsu?”, and I think we did. I’m not too worried about who submitted who. I think we all enjoy that but that’s less of a consequence to me than making sure that we’re putting on a great show. As a promoter I want to make sure that people enjoy it. We want to expand the demographic to people who maybe don’t understand what’s going on in a jiu-jitsu match. [We’ll] hopefully educate them and expand this great, great sport in America.
The FightWorks Podcast: Any last words before we let you go?
Robert Zeps: No, but thank you Caleb for your support. It’s been terrific. I can honestly tell you, this is not all about money for me. This is about jiu-jitsu. I know people hear that from a lot of promoters, but I can promise you from the bath I took on the first event that this is about jiu-jitsu, not about money. So there will be a second one for sure.
It’s been a big year for Brazilian jiu-jitsu, no matter how you slice it. Heck, some would say that it contained one of the most exciting matches we have have ever seen when Rodolfo Vieira faced Buchecha!
Two recent developments have been and will continue to be on people’s minds:
the October 14 debut of Metamoris, an invite only event where some of jiu-jitsu’s biggest names competed in submission only (no points) matches with twenty minute time limits
the International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation announced they’ll hold their first (presumably of many) events where the athletes will be compensated for their performance.
Which do you see as having a bigger, lasting impact on the world of Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
As always, defend yourself by letting us know why you think the way you did by leaving a comment on this page!
Metamoris Pro athletes Rafael Lovato Jr. (left) and Kayron Gracie. Lovato submitted Gracie in under eleven minutes. After the match, Lovato explained, “I believed in my conditioning and my jiu-jitsu. I knew once I got my rhythm I knew it was a matter of time. The kimura’s been one of my best submissions since I was 15 years old.”
Time will tell, but last weekend’s debut event by Metamoris may have been a watershed moment in the professionalization of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. The promoters brought twelve of jiu-jitsu’s best athletes together for six submission only matches with twenty-minute time limits. The format differs from traditional jiu-jitsu competition, where points and advantages (“near points”) are counted in matches no longer than ten minutes.
Judging by the reactions of bloggers and message board comments since last Sunday, Metamoris’ 20 minute submission only format was a success. US Grappling has been organizing submission only events for several years now, and we were curious about their evaluation. We turned to US Grappling promoter Andrew Smith for his thoughts.
The FightWorks Podcast: US Grappling has put on over 24 submission only tournaments over the years and another is scheduled to happen in December. Indeed, you guys own the domain submissiononly.com. Can you give the readers a basic introduction to what US Grappling sub only events are like?
Andrew Smith: What can I say? This is the real deal. A few years ago, the three of us (my partners and I) were talking about what it would be like if we could run a tournament with no time limits. Imagine the possibilities: every single match would end in a submission, truly the most definitive outcome possible. I mean, if the other guy says you have won, there can’t really be any argument! Excitement started to build when we realized we really could make this happen. Fantasy and speculation became reality and planning.
These events don’t have any time limits whatsoever to matches, so you might have a really quick match, or you might have a really long match. Of course, we have data to show that the average match length is around 8 minutes, but the psychological aspect changes a lot when you know you have to finish the other person. I’m speaking as a guy who runs tournaments, but also as a guy who has competed in at least a dozen Submission Only events. The vibe is completely different at our Sub Only events. It’s so much more relaxed than at a points event, where everything is “hurry! hurry! don’t let the guy score! hold on! stay on top!” Submission Only allows you to be able to relax and truly enjoy the competition experience.
There’s some data up on our site right now from past events, and we’re adding to it all the time. One good event with a relatively large data pool was back in 2009 is posted here. In short: it’s SO much fun.
The FightWorks Podcast: What were your initial thoughts when you heard that Metamoris was going to put together a submission only event?
Andrew Smith: I was really excited! It’s a great concept, and I was especially excited for the excellent matchmaking. Of course, I would have loved it if there were no time limits, and whenever people talked about their predictions for the event, I was pretty sure half the matches would end in a draw. Nevertheless, I thought it represented a nice step forward for high level grappling.
The FightWorks Podcast: What were your impressions of the matches you saw during the event as a fan?
Andrew Smith: I definitely enjoyed them. It was really fun watching the guys go after the submission, and these matches would have been fantastic under any rule set.
The FightWorks Podcast: What were your impressions of the matches you saw as someone who puts on submission only tournaments?
Andrew Smith: The only thing that kept going through my mind as the matches were ticking down: there should be no time limits. The fans wanted to see submissions, and they did get three fantastic ones, and lots of close calls (and amazing grappling), but the resolution was the only thing missing. No time limits would fix that, just as we have seen come to fruition countless times.
The FightWorks Podcast: Of the six matches at Metamoris, three ended in submission and three lasted the full twenty minutes and were declared a draw. Caio Terra submited Jeff Glover in around 14 minutes, Rafael Lovato Jr submitted Kayron Gracie in under 11 minutes with a kimura, and Kron Gracie armlocked Otavio Sousa at the 17 minute mark. US Grappling has posted data that suggests that the average submission only match is over in eight minutes. If we agree that in a commercial setting where an audience’s attention span is not infinite and some time limit is necessary, do you think that these numbers show that at this skill level, 20 minutes is an appropriate length of time for a match? Or is there not enough data yet to know?
Andrew Smith: “If we can agree” is definitely putting the cart before the horse. I believe firmly that no time limits can work, even televised. I believe that with two matted areas, the action could pan back and forth between two matches, if necessary. The camera could easily focus on only one match for the first 20 minutes (if that’s what they decide works best), and then after that mark, just start the next match. Pan back and forth, just like with the ADCC live feed.
Honestly, though- the 20 minute time limit changes the dynamic of the contest. It changes it completely and utterly. With a time limit, even as long as 30 minutes, you’re definitely going to have guys hanging on in order to save face. I’m not saying this necessarily happened at this particular event, but I will definitely suggest that every match would have begun (and continued) differently if there was no time limit. This format can- and does- work in an extremely predictable manner when averaged out over the grand scheme.
Would 30 minutes be enough time, if there was a time limit? It’s impossible to say for the reasons I’ve cited above. Would 20 minutes, on average, be enough if there was no time limit? I think so.
The FightWorks Podcast: Any other thoughts Andrew?
Andrew Smith: It is refreshing to see a change in the perception about Submission Only events, but we have a long way to go before they are as widespread as points events. Support no time limits matches when you see them, and check out how laid back they are! And thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts. I am obviously passionate about this subject, but it’s only because I’ve personally seen it work (as a promoter, competitor, and coach) many times. I look forward to the future of grappling, and hope to play some small part in influencing it myself.