Rolling with the Machados
A Mid-Western Man’s Road to a Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt
Ryan Fiorenzi has accomplished a lot in a short time. The first Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt in Michigan, he has the drive and initiative to train from across the country with the Gracies and Machados to become an instructor affiliated with the Machado School. Ryan’s story and observations are a good example to us of the Jiu-Jitsu experience and challenge outside California. In addition he provides unique observations while rolling and training with the infamous Machado brothers.
BJJ Legends: Ryan, Thanks for meeting with us.Tell us a little bit about yourself:
Ryan: I am a black belt under Rigan and Roger Machado and I started training jiu-jitsu in 1994, just after the UFCs began. Before that I had been training Kung Fu for 7 years, earning a black sash. I opened my school, East West Martial Arts, in 1997. I have been running the school full time for over 10 years now.
BJJ Legends: How did you get started in jiu-jitsu?
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Ryan: I was practicing some stand up with a friend of mine at one of the workout rooms at the University of Michigan, where I was a student. There were a few guys on the other side of the room wearing different colored gis on the ground repping techniques. They invited me over, asking me if I wanted to learn some Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I have always been an open minded guy, so I was willing to try it out.
I remembered reading a few articles about the Gracies- that they wouldn’t let their kids eat candy and sugar, and
that they had a $100,000 challenge where if you came to their school and beat one of them, they would give you the cash. I asked them what it who they learned from, and they said they had bought some tapes from the Gracies. I thought to myself “Tapes! I practice with real people! Wait til we spar.”
All the martial arts at that point were saying they were the best. If you opened any magazine like Black Belt or Inside Karate there were always articles like “Tae Kwon Do vs. Shotokan Karate: Who Would Win?” When you
open the magazine there would be a series of photos where the Shotokan guy would land a punch and win, then a series where the Tae Kwon Do guy would land a kick and win. I was a little tired of everyone talking but there was no way of knowing which style was the best.
We repped techniques from the guard for a little while, then we started rolling. My first match was against a lawyer named Scott. I had experience in Aikido, Arnis, and Chin Na, so I figured it wouldn’t be long before I would put him in a wrist lock, shoulder lock, or arm lock.Nothing worked. We went for about 15 minutes and by the end my forearms were so tired I couldn’t make a fist, so we stopped.
For my second match I started with a Judo black belt. Within a minute he mounted me and put me in an Ezekiel.
I remember slapping the mat thinking, “That would have been it. It’s not like landing a punch. I would have been passed out.” That made a big impression on me.
I asked the first guy I rolled with, Scott, how long he had been training. He said “three weeks.” I couldn’t believe it. I had been training with real people for 7 years, and he had learned from a video tape for 3 weeks, and I couldn’t do anything to him! I thought to myself, “What is this stuff?”
I started training regularly. After a few months I was able to start catching some of the Judo black belts that would train with us. I went to one of my first seminars with Relson Gracie. He gave us the impression that everyone in Brazil trained Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I was freaked out. I thought, “I have a black sash in Kung Fu and everybody in Brazil can beat me up!” So I started training even harder.
BJJ Legends:: When did you decide to join the Machados?
Ryan: I went to a Royce Gracie seminar that had over 100 people attending. He gave me and 17 other guys our blue belt that day.I had recently opened my school and I knew I had to formally affiliate with a teacher and an organization. I had seen an article about the Machados called “Leave Your Ego at the Door.” I got a real good vibe from them as they seemed to have greatattitudes and they lived a healthy lifestyle. I decided to go to Cali and check them out.
When I arrived, John Machado took me in the office and grilled me. He told me that not just anyone can affiliate with them. He said that people assume that because he is a Machado that Jiu-Jitsu came easily to him. He said that he used to take a bus for 2 hours to get to training and would be so tired, and that he worked extremely hard. Maybe someone else would have been discouraged, but I was happy. I thought, “These guys have standards.”
John later told me that one of their affilates was telling students that he was a black belt, and he wasn’t, and he was selling drugs out of his school.
I was thinking that it would be a huge benefit to belong to the Machados because I would have the benefit of training with all five brothers. And by the time I left the school where both John and Rigan were teaching at the time, I felt like family.
Check out the continuation of our interview with Ryan Fiorenzi- Part 2 of 2.