An interview with Callum Medcraft, the founder of Jiu Jitsu Style.
by Can Sönmez
A quick note from the author…
A training partner of mine here in the UK has recently embarked on producing his own BJJ magazine, which will be called Jiu Jitsu Style. I caught up with Callum about the project, where he told me how he developed the idea and his plans for the future. In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I will probably be involved in the magazine myself at some point.
The FightWorks Podcast: I thought I’d start by asking what is your background in BJJ?
Callum Medcraft: I first got introduced to BJJ when I was doing my degree in Brighton, and I had – I guess like many people – heard about the Gracie family through the UFC, and was just gobsmacked by this martial art, this discipline that seemed so applicable to self defence.
My first real contact, I was living in Brighton and I was very lucky, because there was a Gracie Barra black belt called Marcio Gomes who also lived in Brighton. He had an academy down there, so that was essentially Gracie Barra Brighton. Marcio was a black belt under Gordo – the guy who invented the half guard, I think I’m right in saying?
So, I went down there, and it was quite a lucky position, because Marcio was a very high level black belt, and he also taught at Roger’s a few days in the week. He was a really good instructor, and he was pretty much about the same weight as me. It was a really friendly academy, we didn’t have massive numbers. That was the start for me. I got hooked pretty quickly, and as a student, I probably spent more time grappling on the mats, when maybe I should have been studying [laughs]. Worked out ideal for me!
Then through moving – I’d just finished university – back home to Buckinghamshire, I was a bit in between academies. So I had a couple of months where I had nothing really, then a place popped up in Windsor but it quickly shut down again. Luckily I found Kev, where we train now, and that was it, really.
That’s how I started and yeah, instantly hooked as soon as I started, just got a real buzz for it.
The FightWorks Podcast: Ok – and you’re a blue belt at the moment, aren’t you?
Callum Medcraft: Yeah, I’m a blue belt. It was weird actually, because I got my blue belt just as I left Marcio’s. I don’t know how long I’d been training, but I felt like it was coming, the blue belt was coming. I was a four stripe white and then literally at that point I moved away.
When I started training in Windsor, it was with some guys that also trained with Roger in London, so obviously they also spoke to Marcio as well. I went down to Brighton for a weekend to visit my brother, who still lived down there. I dropped in to train, and I’ve never forgotten my belt, but it was the one day I remember I’d forgotten to bring my belt.
So I was like, “Marcio, can I borrow a belt?”
He was really annoyed. I was thinking, what’s the problem? Then he pulled out a blue belt from his bag and said, “I was going to give you this at the end.” [laughs].
So yeah, I got it then. I’m a blue belt now with four stripes, and I definitely don’t feel ready for purple. [laughs]
The FightWorks Podcast: Why did you want to start your own BJJ mag?
Callum Medcraft: To be honest, the main reason I wanted to start it, I like magazines and I like reading print media, and in honesty it was almost the lack of anything that really covered the UK and European scene. I read Graciemag and I really like it, and I still think there is a lot left in print media. I think there is something nice about seeing these nice features spread across a magazine.
I just think the sport is growing so much in the UK, and I think the thing we’ve got with BJJ – which I don’t think you have with other martial arts and sports so much – is the people who are involved in it get so passionate about it that I really believe there is an audience.
I love jiu jitsu, but even when I talk to other people, there is so much you don’t know about, the history of it and certain characters within the sport. God knows how many times a new competitor’s name gets bandied about and I’ve no idea who he is. I’m hopeful that is the sort of thing you’ll pick up from reading a magazine.
That was it really. Jiu jitsu is such a great sport, and we’ve got karate magazines, thai boxing magazines and boxing magazines, so I thought it would be great if we had some sort of glossy magazine for us. I mean, and you’ll obviously know this as well, there is a great community of bloggers out there who are really talented writers and there is such interesting content always flying around, and I just think it is a real shame that maybe there isn’t the exposure that perhaps they deserve. Hopefully it’s an idea that people will embrace.
The FightWorks Podcast: Related to that, you mention that there’s already a few other BJJ mags around, like Graciemag, BJJ Legends, Tatame etc. So, do you think you can bring something new to that?
Callum Medcraft: Yeah, I hope so. The thing I was saying, they’re publications that are based out in America. The first thing, the way that we want to be different is that we want to address the European jiu jitsu scene first and foremost. We plan to have a lot more interviews with UK based competitors.
The thing that I think Graciemag especially does really well is that they’ll do a nice feature on a big competition with nice picture spreads, and it looks great. I think it would be great if we had that sort of coverage for UK competitions as well, and European competitions, so we plan on doing that.
I just think there is room: I think we’ll do things slightly differently, we’ll try and be a little bit more edgy and slightly more out of the box with how we lay things out. I definitely think there is room for a UK based publication. We’re going to be covering different things: obviously we might cross-over a few times throughout the year, when we both want to cover the Worlds or have an interview with someone, but I think there is plenty of scope for us to do things differently.
We want to really have something in the magazine that will appeal to everyone, be it that you like reading a feature with a world champion, or even, closer to home, we’re planning to have features with European competitors who maybe aren’t on the global radar but that people in the UK are more aware of, like Oli Geddes, Michael Russell and people like that. Competitors that people might not know about, but then when you read about them, it’s like, God, you really should do.
Then in the same respect, we’re looking to do some pretty cool reviews on products and things like that, which maybe the other magazines don’t touch on so much. Yeah, I think there is plenty of room for us to bring something slightly different to the table.
The FightWorks Podcast: So, will the magazine only be focused on the UK, or take in big BJJ centres like Brazil, the US and Japan as well?
Callum Medcraft: Yeah, definitely it will. We’ve said from the outset that we want it to have a UK slant, because it is based in the UK, but we’re not just going to cover the UK. What we’ve planned on doing is having an interview with a UK based competitor in the first issue, but we’re hopeful that will stretch further afield to an interview with a European based competitor.
We’re going to cover the UK and European scene, but we will also address world events as well. But the main emphasis, when we do our tournament reviews and things like that, we’ll cover UK tournaments and European tournaments, if we can get to them [laughs].
Yeah, the scope for them, like I said, we’re hopeful to get high profile competitors in there, but we definitely won’t be covering, I don’t know, the Texas Open or something, because we won’t be there. I think that’s covered already, so we won’t be doing that sort of thing.
The FightWorks Podcast: A lot of BJJ news, reviews and discussion at the moment is online and free: why did you decide to go for print, with all the extra costs that involves?
Callum Medcraft: Well, the big thing, like I said before is that there is plenty of legs left in print. I’d like to see more print products out there for jiu jitsu, because it emphasises the prestige of the sport, I think. Obviously like you said there is plenty of reviews, news and things like that, but I think the way you have to tackle it is keep all the content fresh and try and add a new angle to everything.
Some things, it’s not a newspaper though there will be news in there, but hopefully the content which will be in the magazine will be as much as possible exclusive to the magazine, that will be important. I just think there is still plenty of life in having this physical magazine that you can take around with you, and read at your leisure. I’m hopeful that there are still plenty of people who still think like that.
I mean, a lot of what we intend to include will be covering these UK tournaments and European tournaments, hopefully there will be a lot of people who would love to see their name up in lights, so to speak, almost a memento. I just think as much as you see interviews bandied around on the internet I still think there are a lot of people who like seeing really nice photo-led interviews and features that you can keep forever. That’s what we’re hoping to deliver.
The FightWorks Podcast: On a more personal note, was it tough for you to make the decision to quit your job and dedicate yourself to this new venture full time, given how that seems like a big risk?
Callum Medcraft: Yeah, it was a tough decision, considering I’d just started a new job as well. My background is in media, I’ve always been interested in writing, but my background is really TV and broadcast, before I started my last job, and then I did a journalism diploma, and started getting published a bit, in football.
But yeah, it was a big risk: I’d just got a job at quite a big English football club, but the opportunity had come up, where I thought it’s time we had something, and I’m lucky enough to have been in the position where I met someone through my old job that enabled us to do this and make it financially feasible to actually make this product.
We didn’t want to compromise, we didn’t want to say, “right, we’re going to do this jiu jitsu magazine,” but we’ve got to compromise and produce a half-arsed product. I wouldn’t have done this unless I thought that we can deliver a really good product, which we are going to.
So it was a risk, but I don’t see it as a big risk now, because it’s trying to do something that you enjoy, and I really believe in it. It was a tough decision in that people might have raised a few eyebrows, but it’s not a tough decision in that I get to talk about jiu jitsu all day, so I’m happy. [laughs]
The FightWorks Podcast: [laughs] Cool. Just to finish off, anything you want to mention about the magazine, such as when it is coming out, that kind of thing?
Callum Medcraft: Yeah, we haven’t got a date nailed down as of yet, but we want to get the first issue out just after the European Championships, so towards the middle end of February. We’ve got some pretty exciting things in the pipeline with regards to the launch: there’s a few tournaments in the UK that we might look at launching it.
It’s going to be accessible to everyone, and like I say, we’re going to cover the UK and Europe and world events, but we’re going to make it accessible to everyone. Wherever you are in the world, you can get the magazine. It is going to be in print form to start, but we’ve got plans looking at digital and bits and pieces.
That’s about it, really: hopefully people will enjoy it, and we’ve got some good writers on board, so I think it will be good.
The FightWorks Podcast: Cool, I look forward to reading it. Thanks Callum.
Callum Medcraft: No worries, mate.
Can Sönmez is a blue belt training at Roger Gracie Buckinghamshire. He also runs a BJJ resources site and training blog at slideyfoot.com.