After two over doses, the last one landing him in a coma Devin Chasten started BJJ in earnest. After a broken neck and spine surgery in 2011 Devin received his brown belt this October from Dustin “Clean” Dense. Read the rest of the interview.
Success through hard work is the merit that defines a champion both on and off the mat. Yet being a champion doesn’t come easy as it takes struggle and the will to work to reach one’s goals. October 1st 2015 marked a monumental day for grappling practitioner Devin “Pirata” Chasten of Kansas City, Mo with his promotion to BJJ brown belt under world renowned Dustin “Clean” Dense. This pivotal achievement wasn’t accomplished overnight as Chasten’s rollercoaster nine year journey showcases the results of never giving up and always striving to become better. Devin openly touches on in this exclusive interview with us at BJJ Legends.
Your instructor Dustin “Clean” Denes visited your gym Bodyfit KC to do a seminar on October 1st. In addition he surprised you with a well-deserved promotion to BJJ brown belt. Would you care to touch on your thoughts and feelings about getting promoted that night?
Devin Chasten: It was an incredible feeling with a lot of emotion behind it for sure. He gave a long speech before the promotion at the end of the seminar, touching on a lot of things about our relationship, the beginning of our training together, so on and so forth. It was an incredible speech that left me almost tearing up to hear how he felt about me and about this promotion, a moment I will never forget.
Achieving this feat was by no means an easy task. Reflecting on your journey when you think of the word “struggle” why is it a good thing?
DC: Struggle is a great thing in hindsight; it is an opportunity to grow. Without a struggle to overcome, you can’t get better. That’s how I looked at it, and believe me I had my fair share of struggles, just as many have. Some people could look at it as a road block and shy away, I tried to stay positive and take it head on. Without my struggles and adversities, I wouldn’t be who I am today or have the knowledge I have. It made me change the way I train, look at Jiu-Jitsu, and my approach to the way I do it. At the end of the day makes you so much better, because you have to try different things and you have to get out of your comfort zone, which is somewhat the essence of Jiu-Jitsu. Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Talk to us about some of the hurdles that transformed you to the man you are today?
DC: I’ve had many, but a few really stand out, I started Jiu-Jitsu not because it looked fun to me, but I needed a way to channel my energy in a positive way. I started training seriously after my second overdose, one I barely survived. I was in a sort of a coma for about a week, when I finally came out and realized my situation and how bad I was getting, I called my friend at the time and told him I need to do this seriously, I need to have direction in my life because if I didn’t I knew I wouldn’t last long once I got out. So in a serious way, Jiu-Jitsu saved my life for real. Another serious hurdle was when I had broken my neck in January of 2009, without really knowing it. I trained that way for six months before I Finally went to the doctor’s office about it, after my right pec, triceps, and forearm had completely atrophied. I had nerve damage from my shoulder to my finger and couldn’t feel my right index finger. The whole time Clean made me push through, sometimes training 8 hour days for days straight pushing through the injury because we thought it was just my arm, not my neck. For the next 6 months after I did physical therapy, cortisone shots, everything we could fix it to no avail, leading to Surgery December 2009. All the while, I never stopped training. I took 3 months off after surgery, came back to train 3 months and competed in the IBJJF world championships my first tournament back. I’m now dealing with spine issues in my lower back, which at one point about a year ago I was having troubles walking or even getting out of bed, but with the knowledge from the years of dealing with these situations and with the help of a fantastic physical therapist I have managed to recover, train hard and work around it without it affecting me too much.
Everyone’s journey has reason it began leading to you experiencing your share of ups and downs. Tell us a little about how you got started in BJJ?
DC: I was living a very hostile life before I started Jiu-Jitsu, and I always watched the UFC and always thought I could do it. Growing up, if I wasn’t skipping school I was getting in fights to get kicked out, I had lot of anger so before I even put on a gi, I fought MMA on a few shows on a local circuit. I was 18, fresh out of high school and fresh out of the hospital. I got released out of the hospital in October 2006 and took my first fight a month later with only a month of \"MMA\" training and a few years of high school wrestling experience. I got the W by TKO in 1:33 of the first. I had two more fights, the latter one where I had a pretty serious eye injury to my good eye, I say good eye because I am actually blind in my right eye already and have been since I was a year old. I made a full recovery from the injury in that fight and realized MMA was not a smart choice, and that was right around when I met Clean and immerse myself full time Jiu-Jitsu with him. The rest is history.
Dustin Dense is known in the BJJ Community as a respected and intense individual. Tell us about of your experience training under him and most importantly what you learned from him that’s helped shape your life on and off the mat?
DC: Intensity was an understatement; it was downright insane training from the beginning. We met Clean when he lived in Missouri for a short period of time but when he moved back to Florida he would come back once sometimes twice a month and we would drill and train for 6-7 days straight, 8-10 hours a day. He would try to kill us. I remember guys getting vertigo from the sessions, most would come once and we would never see them again. At some points I would have to peel my gi off my skin, leaving what looked like bed sores from training so much without any breaks. The old Clean, he wanted us to be killing machines. My friend David Vava and I used to wake up at 4 am and drive 2 hours to a gym he would teach at when he lived here, to train for 2 hours then I would come back home and go to community college (which I eventually dropped out of so I could train with Clean more). Those two hours were nothing but us getting smashed as bad as we could by guys who Clean had waiting for us, it wouldn’t stop until Clean was satisfied. He was crazy, and we didn’t know anything different.
We were young, stubborn, and wanted his respect. I remember after of those sessions I went to shake Clean’s hand and he looked me dead in the eyes and said \"Your Jiu-Jitsu it shit. You are shit. Don’t come down here and train unless you’re going to bring something better\". He shrugged my handshake off and I left. He was hazing us, seeing if we were worthy of his time. We kept going back until we earned his trust, and we eventually did. After training for a few years I moved to South Florida for 3 months to live with him and train at his academy he opened, there I got my purple belt that was in 2011. As always, every day was war and you had to be the last man standing or suffer the consequences. I look back, after going through all of that I knew that nothing else in life could be that hard, which made me more successful in everything else I did. He showed me how to work hard, how to push past any point of wanting to quit, how there was a way through any situation no matter how intense. I owe almost everything in my life to that man, for all the hard times he was always there for me, always believed in me and never let me give up. I am forever grateful to Dustin Denes.
Are there any other individuals that have helped in your growth in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu?
DC: I also cross train at KCBJJ. Owner Jason Bircher, Travis Conley, Taylor Kettler and Carlos Dallis are my main training partners there. Although Clean is my master, Jason Bircher and Travis Conley have been mentors of mine as well. Travis is my go to guy, one of my best friends who keeps it real and says to me what I need to hear, and pushes me beyond my limits in the training sessions. We have a tight knit community here in KC; they all want the best for me as I do for them.
Switching positions in your current as an instructor at Bodyfit KC how do you use your experience to inspire and help your students?
DC: I feel like I’ve been down a special and unique path, whether it’s been what I’ve been through with Clean, what I’ve been through with injuries and life in general that I feel I can relate with just about anyone on some level which helps as an instructor. Due to severe injuries I’ve had to change my game so much that I’ve learned a diverse style, so it’s easy to show people something in all aspects of the game. I don’t think I’m great at any one thing, just a jack of all trades because I’ve had to learn and switch my style with each injury, which is a great thing because it made me open my mind to so much more and not be stubborn on something and closed minded to the rest, which translates so well to teaching. I love teaching and interacting, training with students. It makes you stay on top of your game and relevant, I’m always reviewing things I worked on for years, it’s awesome.
Finally with some much accomplished in your life what does the future hold for Devin Chasten?
DC: As long as I’m able to train, I know whatever is in store in the future will be great. Of course I want to go and win big championships, but the journey along the way is what I live for. Now as a new brown belt, I’m ready to come out of the gate strong, compete as much as possible but also learn and enjoy the road. With age, development and experience comes wisdom, and I’m ready for more and whatever the future holds!
Devin Chasten Shout Outs: David Vava at Bodyfit Kansas City, Jason Bircher and Travis Conley at KCBJJ, Anyone and everyone who has ever had a positive impact in my life in Jiu-Jitsu and off the mat, I owe it all to you. Finally Last and not least, Dustin \"Clean\" Denes. I owe him more than I can ever explain.
Dream Champion Series Competitor -Travis Conley- The Hunger For Success
Life always seems to be the most challenging when an individual wants something. For many athletes in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu challenges aren't hard to find as it definitely has its share of highs and lows one must encounter in hopes of achieving their goals. Nevertheless the risk is worth the reward because it makes one's purpose that more meaningful when that mission is accomplished.
Renato Tavares Brown Belt, Travis Conley, is one competitor instilled with a burning desire for success. Opportunities have become fully available for this grappling practitioner from Kansas City, Missouri as he has uncovered remarkable talents within himself and achieve great feats in his nine year stint in the sport.
Conley's next challenge will find him as a participant in the submission only Dream Jiu-jitsu Brown Belt Championship Series as he will be going head to head against some of the world's top competitors with a $ 1000 cash prize on the line. But the threat of 31 tough opponents doesn't seem to faze Conley has he looks to put on a Slobberknocker performance showcasing his standing as the Best Brown Belt in the world.
Why So Determined? What Make His Purpose So Significant? Why Even Fear Flees In his Presence?
Conley wasn't hesitant to tell us why here at BJJ Legends as we get an in-depth look at what makes this competitor bound for success.
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in BJJ? Travis Conley: My start in BJJ came when I was rehabbing a very severed shoulder reconstruction surgery I suffered from years of professional wrestling. It took me almost a year, all of 2005, working to get back in the ring but one of my college buddies Mike Beyer (I was a junior at CMSU at the time) said, "Hey come roll with us and do some submissions" and I did, never looked back. During high school wrestling I was always getting unnecessary roughness and illegal hold calls and penalty points, so BJJ was a perfect fit haha. I only trained 1-3x a week and didn't train in the gi for probably the first 3yrs, being a wrestler it took me a long while to grasp the concept and adhere to the jiu-jitsu lifestyle.
Reflecting on your journey thus far what do you feel has got you to where you are today? Travis Conley: I think many factors play into what has taken me to this point so far. First, my coaches and teammates, KCBJJ. I have the best any human being could possibly want or ask for. Jason Bircher and Ethan Day were brown belts at the time I started, I train with Jason every day and Ethan has become one of my best friends and motivators. I can't say enough about Renato Tavares, who is completely unselfish and giving, a beacon of a wholesome jiu-jitsu life.
Second and most prominent has to be tenacity. It's hard for me to explain fully, but I know in my heart I've been blessed with something special, something different. We all have gifts and talents, and this is mine. My entire life I've always had this drive, a desire to be World Champion, to be different and not to be mediocre and that fire remains strong, grows stronger each day. I stay hungry, invite and seek new challenges and goals each and every year. I am always the underdog, as long as I can remember, but that role I don't ever see changing and it's who I am. In every situation or obstacle, against odds and opinions I find a way, never give up, never give in...It's this in short that has taken me all over the world, training, competing, meeting all kinds of good people, and to where I am today.
You have made quite a name for yourself as a competitor in the Midwest and even the international circuit. How would you define yourself as a competitor? Travis Conley: I am a fearless competitor. I want the biggest, baddest, best opponents on the planet. The bigger the name or challenge, the more it fires me up, charges me, makes me feel alive. I live for that feeling, the anticipation, the rush, build-up and moments right before a match...nothing else in the world compares. Historically there hasn't been high-level BJJ in Kansas City or the Midwest, but definitely over past couple years it has emerged. People always say, "You can't win a World Title living and training in the Midwest". I don't believe that, and I feel as a trailblazer of sorts for Kansas City. I've realized a lot of the things I've accomplished and I'm doing no one else has, there is no blueprint for me or anyone, and to me that's exciting.
What has competing done for you? Travis Conley: Competing keeps me going. I am a very goal oriented person, that's never the problem but over the past couple years what I've realized above all is the inspiration and motivation what YOU do gives to others. I'm always taken back, in awe when people make comments to me, tell me they saw me at this tournament, or remember that fight, or follow me on social media and that what I'm doing motivates them. It truly is the most rewarding feeling, and I feel a deep sense of responsibility and duty that further motivates me! Competing is the ultimate test, physically, mentally; spiritually...you find out about yourself things you never would have. Step outside of your comfort zone. It's one of the most important things we can do in life to help us to grow and learn.
Speaking of competition your next major battle finds you in the Dream Jiu-jitsu Brown Belt Championship Series tournament. How does it feel to be a part of this prestigious event with some of the best brown belts in the world? Travis Conley: I feel fantastic. It's an honor to be invited and to be among 31 other killers and to have your hard work and dedication recognized. Thank-you to Dan for reaching out to me, and to Raf for going above and beyond, sponsoring and making the trip possible. It's amazing to be able to continue to represent Kansas City and KCBJJ. I feel every single time the whole city is with me, and that just empowers me beyond measure.
What do you feel separates you from the rest on the brown belt competitors? Travis Conley: I pour my heart out every single time I step on the mat, and people recognize that. You can't fake it. I can't speak for the other competitors. Will this be your first time in a no time limit Submission only event? Travis Conley: This will be. I love it, I've always wanted to test myself with one and feel my style fits the rules and format. I've wrestled for hours before, and done crazy matches in professional wrestling, my conditioning is never an issue so I feel great, just excited.
How has the training been going for you preparing for this event? Travis Conley: Training is always good. KCBJJ is building more and more monsters every month, it's insane. I'm there every day, sometimes twice a day. I train clients full-time at my place, Underground Gym as well as run the company and work with online clients. I make time to hit my strength and conditioning workouts, sprints, drills, and yoga. I was in Florida training with Renato last week. Ethan comes to town often, or I make trips to Denver. I'm always getting good training, expanding, reaching out and learning from all my connections, bad asses from all over that I've met over the years.
Hoping to come out on top what would winning this tournament mean to you? Travis Conley: MONEY IN THE BANK and another title to my name!
Finally as you journey continues what do see for yourself in the future? Travis Conley: "The future is not set, there is no fate but that which we make" - Terminator 2: Judgment Day. I plan on continuing to carve a great future for myself and others en route to a World Championship. This year specifically I have goals on qualifying for ADCC and entering into a big IJF tournament as well. I see myself as being a feared opponent, putting people on notice!
Is there anyone you would like to thank before we close this interview? Travis Conley: I have to thank my friends and family, brothers, my roots in Kansas. I love my city. My team KCBJJ and the RTBJJA. My sponsors Ground Control Fight Gear, iFlow, Elite Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine, Defense Soap, Zen Zone Yoga, Underground Gym. I would honestly be nowhere without any of them, they back me and believe in me, they make these dreams I'm chasing possible. Last but certainly not least, I have to thank my beautiful girlfriend Laura who strengthens, inspires, and makes me a better version of myself every day!