Brazilian Jiu-jitsu continually serves as a unique outlet in transforming lives. The BJJ Effect is exhibited through many compelling stories ranging from an individual reaching their athletic goals to one’s aim of conquering the battle against themselves. In 2018 at the IBJJF Dallas Spring Open, 44-year-old, blue belt Dustin Shelhamer captured double gold – with a torn bicep. The audaciousness of facing insuperable challenges is nothing new to Shelhamer. In fact, it has been an ongoing occurrence, as Shelhamer has had to overcome many battles to experience the life-altering benefits BJJ has to offer.
Before Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Dustin Shelhamer was a full-time firefighter paramedic, police officer, and Federal disaster team member. 25 years in the practice field, Shelhamer was one of the onsite responders to some of the horrific events in U.S history. His philanthropy work for his community grievously came with a price. The experience of these events triggered Shelhamer in developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The disorder became a deleterious plague in the serviceman’s life.
“I spent 25 years in public service as a Fire Fighter paramedic, Police officer, as well a member of the Federal Disaster Team, “Shelhamer said. “I have traveled the world and seen horrific things. I was at Oklahoma City Bombing, World Trade Center, and other horrific events. Those experiences are where I developed PTSD and even didn’t realize it. I destroyed my marriage and was pissing my life away.”
The downward spiral wouldn’t last forever, as a saving grace would bring positive reinforcement in uplifting Shelhamer. Founded by Chad Robichaux, The Mighty Oaks Warrior Program is an organization that assists individuals that struggle with Post-Traumatic Stress, as the focus centers on rebuilding the broken lives of its participants. Like many Mighty Oaks alumnus, Shelhamer involvement allowed him to reap the program’s benefits, growing mentally and spiritually. Shelhamer’s time at Might Oaks is also where he was introduced to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. Shelhamer instantly fell in love with the grappling Martial Art practice.
“A good friend reached out to Chad Robichaux, and he got me into the Might Oaks Warriors program. I was hesitant to go at first because the program was originally designed for military personnel, and I had never served. However, Chad convinced me to go, and I was the first civilian to go through the program. They taught me two important lessons that changed my life; be the man God created me to be and to find a healthy outlet.”
God and Jiu-jitsu are the two of the greatest gifts that have given the retired servicemen a new life to live for. Inspired to continue his studies of the grappling arts, after Mighty Oaks Shelhamer's journey would take him to Midland BJJ in Midland Texas, where he has been training and mentored under the leadership of BJJ World Champion, Bruno Bastos. The 2.5 years at Midland BJJ finds the enthusiast training four to eight times a week, engulfed in the BJJ lifestyle. Shelhamer is grateful for his professor and teammates aiding him in his BJJ journey.
“I love this sport and the friendships it brings. My Professor is a great motivator although he is considerably younger than me he has my greatest respect,” Shelhamer told BJJ Legends. “He is still a very active competitor and leads from the front. We also have some great black belts in our gym that drive us and lift us up. Brad Barnes is my solid when I’m trying to figure it all out! He’s no BS and tells it straight. Joe Castillo “Joe-Jitsu” might be the most respected man in our gym. 60 years old multiple belt level world champion and genuine gentleman. Gabe Hernandez everyone’s friend and savage, and Matt “little one” McCormick is a monster and smiles while he crushes you.”
All of Shelhamer’s training would eventually prompt a desire to test his skills in a tournament setting. The desire of challenging himself drives Shelhamer's motivation to compete. No injury, opponent, or mental demon has yet to break the Midland BJJ representative thus far, as he has accomplished much success as a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu competitor. Dustin Shelhamer’s competitor aspirations are to win the Master Worlds and become a positive role model for his teammates.
“My biggest competition is me. I can’t quit, no easy way out. I’m fortunate in my walk with PTSD that I have never considered suicide. But I did give up on life. So now that I’m walking a different path, I made a promise to never quit to myself, to God and my corner man. Even in a loss, I succeeded in beating myself when giving up was easier.”
What would life be without BJJ for Dustin Shelhamer? There would be no healing, no fulfillment, no blessings, and no rehabilitation. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has given Shelhamer all of these rewards, as life couldn't be any more gratifying on and off the mat.
Professional grappling shows have taken the sport of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Submission Grappling to a new plateau, opening profitable doors to its athletes and aspiring event promoters. The grappling fight series trend has seemingly made its way to Kansas City, Missouri with the inauguration of the city's first professional grappling event "Ultimate Absolute 2018."
The Ultimate Absolute is a grappling fighting series created by the brilliant minds of Blue Corner Production and UNGD.tv. Ultimate Absolute 2018 program consisted of a three-part event featuring round-robin kids and adult tournament, and an action-packed pro show of eighteen super fights, with the winner receiving a cash prize.
The event's buzz-worthy promotion drew massive numbers; competitors from 35 grappling teams from 11 states took part in the event. From start to finish the “2018 Ultimate Absolute” was a star-studded compilation featuring some of the best grappling talents from across the country.
The show kicked off with two spectacular teen matches that featured Billie Merreighn of Bloomington JJ battling NLD's Paulie Hernandez, and Brazil Academy's Trevor Cameron going against Frankie Hoggard of Easton Castle Rock JJ. The skill, hunger, and drive to emerge victorious was put on display by each young athlete, as the platform may have revealed some future stars in our sport.
Another highlight of the night was a purple belt no-gi match between Jordan Peitzman and Justin Fabric, whose back-and-forth leg lock battle had spectators on the edge of their seats wondering who would come out on top. In addition to the many grappling talents gracing the stage, the event also caught the attention of famous faces in the MMA world looking to put their grappling skills to the test. In what many are calling the controversial contest of the night saw a barnburner match between UFC veteran Josh Neer taking on grappling ace Devin Chasten. Josh Neer doesn’t back down, neither does his opponent Devin Chasten. The match fell quickly into a stalemate, with Neer inside Chasten's guard unable to generate any pass attempts and Chasten unable to create any real offense or sweeps. Words started to get exchanged between both men, as all can see it heating up. As the match progresses, Chasten seemed to have had enough, as he unlocks his guard and stands to his feet, which was followed by Neer running him clean off the mat hard into the crowd. The place went nuts with boos, and it becomes very hostile. This happened with only 3 seconds left in the match. They started the clock; the 3 seconds ran out as Chasten motions to the crowd with his arms. The center referee brings them to the middle of the stage, awaiting the decision of the three mat side judges. They all 3 raise the hand in favor of Neer, and once again both combatants have an exchange of words. Unhappy with the decision, Chasten pulls away and goes nuts with the verdict.
Even with the contended battle between Neer and Chasten leaving everyone depleted, The Ultimate Absolute was far from over. The attention now shifted to the co-main event pitting Easton Castle Rock's Alex Huddleston against Axios JJ's John Hansen. A highly contested match both fighters left everything on the mat, as Hasen and Huddleston proved to be equally matched challengers. However, when the smoke cleared it would be Huddleston that would walk away with a split decision victory over the gamed John Hansen.
The night of action then went into the grand finale main event featuring Renato Tavares vs. Luis Flipo Ninja Pinto. The match would start off at a slow pace with each competitor being very cautious waiting for the other to make a mistake. However, as the fight progressed Tavares' half guard and bulldog top pressure proved to be the deciding factor in scoring a unanimous decision victory over the Brazil Academy instructor.
Surprising upsets, thrilling submission finishes and hyped controversy, The 2018 Ultimate Absolute was a major success drafting more than 500 in-door spectators and 78 online streaming viewers, as it was dubbed by many as "The Best Pro Grappling Show They Ever Seen." Show's fans already want more! Event promoters are currently making plans to push the "Ultimate Absolute" brand, as it aims to offer competitors and fans the unique and fun experience.
"This event was a HUGE success in terms of competitors and fans," said event Promoter Travis Conley. "'When is the next one?' That’s all I heard after the event. I want the Ultimate Absolute to continue to be something special and elite, an annual event you train and prepare for on the calendar. We want to improve it and make it better, of course. We want to increase the business and participation of local tournaments in KC so we'll be offering spots in the Ultimate Absolute to winners of those local tournaments throughout 2018. This will give competitors the incentive to compete locally, gain your position in the Ultimate Absolute 2019."
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu is an ever-growing Martial Arts discipline practiced and taught worldwide. Cruising through any big city or small town chances are you will find a BJJ academy, as its presence aims to make a positive difference in the community and on its dwelling citizens. In the Lake County area of Illinois one academy and instructor is doing just that.
Fit 2 Defend has become a booming Martial Arts academy. Offering classes in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Submission Wrestling, Hand to Hand Combat, and Kickboxing Fit 2 Defend provides the best service assisting students in self-defense, character development, and leadership training.
The owner and head instructor of "Fit 2 Defend" is Coach Scott Gave.
Who is Scott Gave?
For over two decades Scott Gave has dedicated his entire life to Martial Arts, transforming him into the man he is today. To assist with building confidence, Gave's Martial Arts journey began at the age of 12, training out of the Chicago Karate Academy in the practiced field of Taekwondo. Evolving in skill and character, it wouldn't be long before the now TKD black belt found himself in a leadership position as an assistant instructor at the age of 15, which later progressed to the position of head instructor two years later.
Eager to learn more his journey would take him to Northshore Academy (NSA), as he would continue his Martial Art studies and take on his newly hired role as the head instructor of their youth program. At NSA Gave would be exposed to a variety of Martial Art systems ranging from Jeet Kune Do, Kali, to Shooto Wrestling. It was also there where he would be introduced to Brazilian Jiu-jitsu by Scott Goddard in 2008, all while teaching and taking care of his family.
At this point in time Gave had gained vast expert knowledge in various Martial Art disciplines, helping businesses grow, trained with some of the best instructors in the Midwest, and made a positive influence in student’s lives. All of this experience would prove to be a great asset in his next life challenge. After a ten year venture at NSA, Gave was ready to make his next move, which found him fulfilling his lifelong dream of opening his own Martial Arts academy, "Fit 2 Defend” on June of 2015.
BJJ Legends: How did the making of "Fit 2 Defend" come about?
Scott Gave: After spending 10 years at Northshore Academy, it was time again for me to make a change. I found a “Core Martial Art & Fitness (TKD School) that offered me the opportunity to implement my business model and program into their studio. I took on this opportunity, while continuing to teach a few classes at Krav Maga studio and work a morning factory job. I worked 14-hour days for 2 years. After 2 years of this grind, I went to the Krav Maga studio owner and asked if I could implement a Youth self-defense program at their facility, which is where Fit 2 Defend Academy was born!! About a year later, the owners of the Core Martial Arts & Fitness sat me down and said “You have helped us grow our business; so we want to give you the opportunity to start your own business in our facility. This is where Fit 2 Defend Academy opened its second location focusing on Adult & Children Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. This was a very exciting and scary time in my life because I now got to focus solely on teaching and running my own academies.”
The biggest challenge many gym owners face operating an academy is building a rapport with each of its members, assisting them with their goals and providing great experience every time they walk through the door. Coach Gave and staff’s teaching enthusiasm is the reason behind the continual growth of the “Fit 2 Defend “and its satisfied students.
Building Future Life Champions
Fit 2 Defend has a unique youth program, instructing children ages 6 years old and up. For any child participating in Martial Arts they face many challenges in their early life development. However, they also have the opportunity to unlock their full potential thus raising self-esteem and confidence to excel in their journey as martial artist and in life outside the dojo. To assure both sectors are being accounted for Gave has constructed a program that not only requires youth students to learn techniques, but also work on character traits to be eligible to excel in stripe and belt rank. The development of the child at Fit 2 Defend, also include collaborations with the parents to ensure future success. This formula has seen the flourishing of many alumni students, as they have gone on to attended college, operate their own successful businesses, and even become leaders of Fortune 500 companies.
BJJ Legends: What is the strategy you use in assisting children build their confidence and self-esteem?
Gave: I think it is very important to guide your students to have confidence in the proper areas. To be successful in building ones’ confidence or self-esteem, we must first make them realize their current strengths. Once that is established we must figure out a short-term goal, and then figure out the necessary steps for them to take in achieving their goal. Once a student can see that they can achieve even a small task, they will be more willing to take on bigger challenges.
I believe that is why Martial Arts training can be great, because those several little improvements that students see each class, we can use our influence to encourage them on their improvements in achieving their goals.
The Adult Program
Just because there is a heavy focus on the children’s program, that doesn’t exempt potential adult students in reaping the benefits of training at Fit 2 Defend. At its Libertyville location Fit 2 Defend offers adult class in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and Self-Defense. In an effort to accommodate all its members Gave’s adult program supports everyone from the recreational grappling enthusiast , the individual wanting to get in shape, to the aspiring competitor looking to challenge themselves in tournaments. Now training under Jeff Serafin of Serafin Academy (Team Jackson McViker) Gave and his students have achieved great success medaling in local and international tournaments. In addition, the adult squad is an avid contributor to the Illinois community hosting various charity events, such as bowling functions supporting “Save a Pet” and food drives for “Feed My Starving Children”.
“The Adult program supports recreational and competitive students." Gave said. “We have found that as long as your academy atmosphere is built around helping each other reach their personal goals, we can easily weed out the prospects members that aren’t a good fit for the academy. We also host charity events to come together and work in our community to give back. This helps everyone feel that they are an important part our team.”
The burning desire to make a difference in student’s lives has made “Fit 2 Defend” what it is today. Using his years of knowledge and experience in Martial Arts there is a continual goal, a message that Gave works to instill in his students in taking on the daily challenges on and off the mat.
“I want my students and team members to know that they are important and they have the ability to achieve whatever they put their mind too”
Scott Gave is far from done, as he looks to accomplish more goals on an academic, personal, family, and business level all while continuing his selfless service to the Lake County area in Illinois.
"What inspires me to continue on this journey is to empower the masses of the benefits of Martial Arts, and to make people realize the potential they have within themselves. Not only do I want to empower the masses, but I also want to give my team members and surrounding academies owners the knowledge and tools to grow their academies so they can make enough income to live a healthy lifestyle and impact their members in a positive way.”
Confidence, Empowerment, Influence; the key components in creating future life champions. Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has served as an aid in the development of children's lives. Its influence is unparalleled, as young practitioners acquire life lessons, develop their own identity, and unlock personal strengths to tackle the many challenges they will face off the mats. Having a positive mentor makes this all possible, as it is the instructor's sworn duty to guide them through this life altering process.
Building life champions is a common custom at Brentwood BJJ. Academy head instructor, Jeremy Akin has assembled a team of his adult students as the instructors of the kids program. Each instructor brings their own unique style which not only has made the program a success, but also made the experience fun and educational for young students of all ages. "A Positive Sandwich of Knowledge", BJJ brown belt, Eron Johnsey has had a profound impact on many children's lives, which is showcased through his selfless work ethic building the program and passion for simply making a positive difference.
We here at BJJ Legends spoke with Johnsey as he gives us a crash course on developing a success kids program and change lives.
Through our journey as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioners, it takes us down different paths. Your journey took you to becoming a BJJ instructor for the youth. What inspired you to become a kids Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Instructor?
Johnsey: Competing was never huge on my priority list but I loved seeing the light bulb moment go off. Especially when it came to kids! I blame my mom for me teaching. She was a 1st grade teacher. I would always be with her in stores and hear, “Mrs. Johnsey Mrs. Johnsey! You were my favorite teacher ever!" Then they would proceed to tell her what a positive change she sparked with her kindness and for always pushing them. I thought if she could inspire them with only 1 semester I thought “What could I do with a few years of positivity?"
There is always a need for every concept in BJJ. Why do you feel the creation of a children’s BJJ program is needed?
Johnsey: Kids need BJJ for all kinds of reasons! The biggest reasons are self-defense, confidence, respect, and control. It's a great social group, positive role models, and BJJ teaches nothing beats hard work/dedication.
Creating a BJJ youth program is one thing, making it successful for both the school and the student is another. One of the biggest challenges instructors face is keeping children interested. As an instructor, how do you tackle this challenge?
Johnsey: The biggest challenge for kids BJJ are two things: creating an environment where kids want to be there every day and the parents pulling support. Problem one is when kids are pushed too hard too early or if they don't have friends within the class. BJJ is a journey not a race. Keep showing up and you will get better. I would rather have a kid enjoy BJJ and train forever over having a kid who is a rock star for six months then gets burned out. Secondly is getting the parents in a BJJ class or at least teach them about the sport. That is key to them staying involved.
This brings me to the topic of class structure. Children’s BJJ classes are very different from an adult class structure with its mixture of fun games and instilling values such as respect and discipline. Can you share with us the class structure you use for your students that make it a fun learning environment?
Johnsey: Class structure took a long time to figure out over the five years of teaching kids. With dozens of different formats while losing a lot of kids when we switched formats just do to change
Step 1. Be consistent.
Step 2. Know your audience.
Step 3. Set short term, midterm, and long term goals
Step 4. Don't be afraid to split classes.
Step 5. Always communicate
For me these are the five steps to success with kid programs. Make it a positive environment, a healthy one, and an environment that produces kids who want to do the right thing even when people aren't looking. Put games for the little ones and quizzes for the older ones to keep their memory sharp.
You obviously have had your share of lessons you’ve learned in your BJJ journey. What are some of the lessons you use and pass along assisting children with their journey?
Johnsey: I have learned so much from BJJ but some of the most important I have learned for life are putting time into systems that work. The faster you learn to take constructive criticism the faster you will develop as a person. Together you are stronger than as individuals.
As these young practitioners evolve, take for example a once timid child transforming into a confident individual. What is it like for you seeing this transformation and how do you think it happens?
Johnsey: Positive transitions are only made by hard work and pushing through tough times! This is where it is important to constantly communicate, set goals of all lengths, and surround them with positivity. Aka "positive sandwich of knowledge." For example learning a hip escape is tough at first. So instead of saying "no that's wrong do it again" trying it like this. "So Timmy on that hip escape you got on your side perfectly. Next time when you hip escape let's try to use your toes on the mat instead of the heel of your foot okay? Your elbow being close like that is awesome!"
How has the overall experience impacted you?
Johnsey: Jiu-Jitsu has help me be a better son, a better boyfriend, a better best friend, a better person. It has taught me to talk less and listen more. It has kept me humble on and off the mats. It has taught me to "take one and leave two". To never forget where you came from. To never give up. To always keep moving forward. It has taught me how to prioritize things with "what you need" and "what you want!" It has taught me that everyone has value. It has taught me how to be a better person.
Closing this interview, for parents that are not aware, why should they get their children in Brazilian Jiu-jitu?
Johnsey: BJJ is my pick for Martial Arts for children. With kids, school is the first priority. It is a self-defense before it is a sport or competition. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu teaches you how to not only control yourself but your opponent. If all a kid know is how to kick or punch that's what will happen in a self-defense situation. It’s a big difference when you come up on a kid who is clearly in a dominant position and he is the one calling for "Help." It is a lot better than walking up on a situation, as a teacher, with a child's nose bleeding but "he was the bully." Getting suspended is not an option because you miss school. You are at school to learn! Our school is amazing because our teaching staff cares for our Jiu Jitsu community deeply. We would do anything to help them succeed on and off the mats. It is a safe place for kids to become the best version of themselves. Jiu Jitsu is just a vehicle to help them get there faster!
Everyone has a calling they are destined to pursue in life. Far from an overnight completion, the process carries many lessons that keep us alive, adventurous, and unique in that quest of turning our dreams into a reality. Fabricio Machado is no stranger to this process. Since day one he has always dreamed BIG, always pushing to achieve his goals. These goals have taken him on a uphill journey to where he is today. Fabricio Machado has been an active Brazilian Jiu-jitsu practitioner for over eleven years. Introduced to the grappling arts at the age of sixteen, it would only take one eye-opening introductory class to make BJJ a primary part of Machado's life.
"I knew since the first day that BJJ was making an impact on my life, "he said. "I started training BJJ when I was 16 years old. I used to train Muay Thai and Taekwondo and I had a friend who used to train Jiu-jitsu. At first I didn’t believe in grappling until I finally took a class and got tapped like 50 times. It made me feel uncomfortable and I knew then that I needed to learn more. I got addicted quickly and trained at least twice a day since the beginning."
Training, competing, and teaching living the BJJ Lifestyle was serving this enthusiastic practitioner quite well. However Machado desired more opportunities in evolving his Jiu-jitsu and creating a better life for himself outside of grappling. Following his heart's content Machado moved from his homeland of Pelotas, Brazil to the United States currently residing in Brea, California. Life in Southern California couldn't be more fitting for the Brazilian migrant as some features in this new land are reminiscent of life in Brazil.
[At the moment the economy in] "Brazil is really bad in comparison to the United States. Second, the Brazilian culture in California reminds me of back home and makes me feel comfortable. Economically, there are more opportunities for Jiu-jitsu in the United States so the move is what made the most sense for me since Jiu-jitsu is my life."
Machado’s migration to California also gave the Brazilian a new training home to continue his BJJ development. Now training out of Brea Jiu-jitsu under Dan Lukehart Machado has attained many personal and athletic benefits at his new training home. Fabricio couldn’t have asked for a better place to train.
"I met Dan Lukehart, owner of Brea Jiu-jitsu and quickly studied his analysis videos that are available on the internet. These videos intrigued me and I took an interest in the way he looks at Jiu-jitsu because he is very detailed and unique in the way he can breakdown a technique or sequence. I then visited the academy and asked Dan if I could stay here for a few weeks to which he said yes. I quickly made friends at the gym and fell in love with the environment both in the gym and the surroundingarea."
Growing in a positive training environment, surrounded by beautiful beaches, and meeting new friends it has been an amazing experience for Machado thus far living in the states. Yet the infatuation of his new found home hasn’t halted Machado in chasing his BJJ dreams. Making a strong presence on the competition circuit in the states Fabricio Machado has had great success thus far which accolades include becoming a NABJJF North American champion and IBJJF American National Champion at the brown belt level.
"I'm very happy of my achievements here in the U.S. I'm sure that I will achieve all my goals in America. I have the best support group- coach Dan Lukehart is an amazing mentor and friend, and all the guys at Brea BJJ have become my closest friends. I am fortunate to have made strong connections in the short time that I have lived here."
Dreaming big is all about having a purpose in life and becoming fulfilled in the process. The BJJ journey of Fabricio Machado showcases the possibilities of what happens when one follows their dreams. Far from his ultimate goal expect to see a lot more from this ambitious Brazilian prospect as he looks to continue to build for ultimate success on and off the mat.
“I hope to become one of the best in the world not just as a competitor but as a leader as well. I also wish to help Dan Lukehart and Brea Jiu-jitsu in any way possible. In the future I wish to open my own academy and help build world champions who are not only successful in competition but in life as well.”
Fabricio Machado Accomplishment
Brown Belt- 2016 NABJJ North American Champion
Brown Belt – 2016 NABJJ North American 2nd Place (Absolute)
Brown Belt - 2016 IBJJF 2016 American National Champion
Brown Belt – 2016 IBJJF American National 2nd Place (Absolute)
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu's obsessive appeal springs from the lessons and rewards given toward the goal of self-development. Life on and off the mat, work, and family, and BJJ are all a part of the game that life gives to us. It is an on-going challenge of prioritizing all of our duties to create a balance. Luckily some have found a way to handle the weight grappling with so many tasks. Father, husband, and head instructor of Elite Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Andrew Solheim has a creative solution in merging the joys and responsibilities of his multiple roles providing him with a well-balanced life both personally and professionally.
BJJ Legends got the opportunity to speak with Professor Solheim. He touches on his journey and the balance of family and life as a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu instructor.
You started BJJ over 15 years ago. What got you into BJJ? Solheim: My interest was at its peak when Royce Gracie fought in and won the very first UFC back in 93'. At the time my whole family was involved in Karate, I of course wanted to learn this new martial art however at the time there wasn't any academies in WA. With nowhere to turn for traditional instruction my father ordered the Gracie VHS tapes and the two of us started supplementing our Karate training with what we could learn from those tapes. We didn't have much to work with but I remember we would push the couch aside and grapple in our living room, we'd also try to find floor space after our karate class and train. As a teenager I took a break from training in the martial arts. Thankfully my father and mother continued to train because in the late 90's a blue belt named Mike Simpson started a BJJ class two nights a week at the dojo they trained at. My father told me about the class and that officially ended my break. In 2001 I started commuting an hour south to train under Gracie Barra Black Belt Marcio "Mamazinho" Laudier Vilamor. The rest as they say in history.
Seeing how the sport evolved, what was it like coming up to where you are now as an instructor? Solhiem: Jiu-Jitsu was in its infancy here in Washington when I started training. At the time Marcelo Alonzo and Mamazinho were the only Black Belts in the state. Tournaments usually took place out of academies and of course the field of competition was small. Today there are so many great academies in WA and the level of competition is higher than ever. A big contributor to this is the Revolution BJJ tournament. I believe they held their first event in 2006 and since then grown to be the biggest tournament in the NW.
You have been building a career in BJJ while also raising a family. How have you been able to stay the course juggling such great responsibilities? Solheim: Balance. My wife Amy and I were high school sweet hearts and we started our family early becoming teen parents to our son Riley at the ages of 16 and 17. My son was born right around the time I started training, I think Jiu-Jitsu provided the outlet and guidance I needed at the time. My wife and I married out of high school and now have three sons Riley (15), Owen (12) and Eli (6). Jiu-Jitsu has been a lifestyle for me ever since I started, it’s not something I do, it’s who I am. I want my children to follow their dreams; I want them to do what makes them happy. Actions speak louder than words so I'll follow my dreams in hopes that they'll learn to follow theirs.
Somewherealong the line your wife got a touch of the BJJ bug, after seeing you do it for so many years, what promote her to want to participate?
Solheim : Amy is a very shy person and was never into sports growing up so she was an unlikely candidate to all the sudden decide to start training, but that's pretty much what happened. One of my female students kept bugging her to try it out and one day she just decided to go for it. She was hooked and she started training regularly. Last May she competed in the world championships and did great winning her first two matches making it to the quarterfinals before being eliminated. I think it’s a testament to Jiu-Jitsu that a mother of three with no athletic experience can get on the mats and make the kind of transformation that she has.
Do any of your children participate in BJJ or other related sports? Solheim: Since I teach it was only natural to have them in my classes from an early age. All three of my boys have or actively train BJJ. Amy and I take a laid back approach to it though, although we require some form of physical activity we don't push real hard. We tell them to do their best and fight with heart because that's all they can control. If they give their heart in everything they do than I will be proud regardless of the outcome. In addition to BJJ, Riley and Owen also wrestle. Riley is just finishing up with his first season of high school wrestling and Owen is just getting started with his first middle school season.
As an instructor how do you separate being their instructor on the mat as you are the husband/father? Solheim: When we're on the mats I am the instructor and they are the students, it’s really not that hard, I treat them the same as any of the other students. The difficulty lies at the tournaments, as a coach you are always nervous for you students to compete; when that student is your child or wife this feeling is multiplied.
How has this pastime helped bring your family together? Solheim: Anytime you enjoy an activity or shared interest it helps build strength within the family unit. Jiu-Jitsu just happens to be one of the things that we enjoy together however we also enjoy other interests as well.
Looking back at your journey how has it overall helped you? Solheim: Jiu-Jitsu has been a passion of mine ever since I stepped foot on the mat. It’s important to have something that you find meaningful in life, something that occupies your mind and that you look forward to. The physical and mental benefits are obviously amazing as well, we are meant to move, to exercise and often times as we grow older we get away from that. I find Jiu-Jitsu to be a therapeutic and fun way to stay in shape both physically and mentally.
Any final thoughts before we wrap up time interview? Solheim: Jiu-Jitsu is different for everybody. Some guys are out to win world titles, some are looking for self-defense and others are just looking to live the lifestyle and gain the benefits that come from that. Whatever your reasons are focus on you and try your best not to measure yourself to others. Jiu-Jitsu can be full of frustration at times, understand that this is normal, part of the process, and required for growth. The hardest part of training is often times coming through the door; once you commit to that the rest is easy.
Andrew Solheim Special Thanks: I want to thank my training partners past and present who have bleed with me. I want to thank my instructors who helped me along the way; I hope I can honor you by passing your knowledge onto my students. Huge thanks to all my students for all their hard work, dedication, and tough rolls. Most importantly I want to thank my family for their love and support.
With the aiming of taking MMA and Jiu-jitsu fashion appeal to a higher standard in comes Veni Vidi Vici (VVV Fight Co). VVV Fight CO was established in 2010.They started six years ago with a vision of creating a brand that represented their passion for the sport. They try to better our fight community and have become a globally-recognized company.
Continuing to push their movement VVV Fight Co brings to you their latest kimono the Black Paladin Gi. The Paladin Gi was inspired by what and who we are as modern day warriors training on the mats.
Our review of the VVV Fight Co. Paladin Kimmo; here are all the details on the evaluation we conducted.
The Paladin GI
The VVV Paladin Kimono Jacket has a simple stunning appearance. Made out of 450 GSM pearl weave material the uniform jacket is light. It is cut slim, has a tough to grip lapel and reinforced seams cover all areas making the jacket capable of withstanding the toughest training and competing conditions.
There is a vintage logo on left side of the lapel jacket and the right side of the sleeve. Flipping over to the back side you will find VVV's inspiring motto "TRUST THE PROCESS EMBRACE THE JOURNEY" located at the bottom of the jacket. Aside from the bottom message imprint and the small Spartan insignia on the top, the back of the gi is left blank for pasting academy and sponsor logos.
The Paladin jacket has a mesh liner back piece. Wearing a gi with a mesh liner it is similar to wearing a rash guard; it provides even more comfort and absorbs sweat during training sessions.
The Paladin GI Pants are made out of a very light weight durable 12oz twill oz. cotton material. The paints are reinforced from the groin to the ankle with a pearl weave gusset. The knees are also reinforced. These reinforced stress zones keeping the gi in perfect working condition for endless mat time.
The Paladin is equipped with four thick belt loops offering extra tightening from the left to the right side of the waistline and decreasing the chance of your pants falling off while training.
Size & Shrinkage
With sizes ranging from A0 to A5 the Paladin size chart accommodates most height and weight measurements. We found the gi sleeves a little long aligning slightly passed the wrist line while the pants will be right at the ankle line.
Washing instructions: when placing it in the washer it is recommended to wash the uniform alone in cold water and hang drying it afterwards. Most kimono purchasers such as myself have had our share of issues washing black gis as the color fades turning a once solid black into a fading grayish black appearance. This is will not be a concern with VVV's Paladin gi as it maintains it same appearance after washing.
After a thorough examination of this uniform, it is safe to say that VVV's Paladin is a good buy most Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner’s collection. It is perfect for training, IBJJF approved, and affordable at the price of $145. The gi is a bargain buy for anyone hoping to save money while enjoying the benefits of owning a top quality gi.
The Paladin is VVV Fight Co.’s second kimono release.
Brazilian Jiu-jitsu community outreach attempts to bring value and dignity to the children of international refugees.
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina Project 658 is an organization that works with the international refugee community. Project 658 mission aims in helping get migrants established into their new home country and provide them with the basic necessities and skills required to thrive. The Holistic Care ministry helps them with proper housing, job training, clothing, and academic/education services. Project 658 continues to expand its programs, adding new classes and giving their refugee recipients more opportunities to learn and grow.
Known for his artwork in the MMA community and other charitable contributions in the Queen City JM Smith (Founder of Disciple Dojo) has joined forces with Project 658 offering a free weekly BJJ/self-defense class for refugee kids in the Charlotte community. It’s only the second month into the program and the enthusiastic participants have already caught the love bug for Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.
BJJ Legends got the opportunity to talk with JM Smith about this philanthropic program and the building of Refugee-Jitsu.
You are known for your charitable contributions in the MMA community and in your home region of Charlotte. How did the collaboration with Project 658 come about and what got you motivated to do it?
JM: Honestly, man, it came about through frustration. As I watched the international refugee crisis unfold over the past year, I found my heart breaking for the millions of families—many of them children—who were simply trying to get away from hellish war zones over which they had absolutely no control or influence. I was also frustrated by the seeming lack of concern that many of my fellow Christians were showing and the stereotypes they were helping to reinforce about refugees through the comparisons to things like poison or an infestation or any other number of dehumanizing labels I was seeing shared on social media. The more I started to push back against such stereotypes and the more I started encouraging Christians in particular to reach out in love and service to refugees, no matter where they come from, the more I was met with the “What are YOU doing about it then? How are YOU helping?” type responses. I resolved that while I don’t have financial or material resources (being a starving-artist/Bible-teacher!), I should at least do something here in the city in which I live…which just so happens to have a large refugee population.
So I reached out to my friend Rob, who works with various refugee ministries here in Charlotte, and asked him who I could talk with about offering a free weekly Jiu-jitsu class to refugee families. He put me in touch with Project 658 and I sent them an email proposal for such a program. My friend Laura, meanwhile, had also met a member of their staff and shared with her about my desire to offer such a class as well as women’s self-defense seminars for the members of the refugee community. So when I reached out to them, they were very receptive. We met at their facility the following week in early December and they were very enthusiastic about the idea, as they were looking for something to offer the kids in addition to traditional sports like soccer. We decided to offer an initial one-time class and see who showed up in order to gage the level of interest.
So I spent all of December praying about it and trying to raise the needed funds to purchase mats and some basic equipment needed to get the class going. While I received some criticism from a few people who simply—and ignorantly—equate “refugee” with “terrorist”, the overwhelming majority of responses have been very supportive. From fellow church members to local businesses to BJJ friends from all over the country, people donated the needed funds and thanks to their generosity and support, the program is now in its second month!
How was the overall reception of idea bringing Brazilian Jiu-jitsu to the Project 658?
JM: They have been totally supportive. Not only does it give the kids a positive place to come and hang out for 2 hours on a Thursday night, it also teaches them skills that could save their lives one day while at the same time instilling the values of the martial arts into them at a very formative stage in their lives. Unlike other sports which require different practice times, expensive equipment, and weekend games, this simply requires the kids to show up once a week with a readiness to learn and have fun! They’ve asked us to do a BJJ Summer camp for a week in July and we will also be offering periodic weekend Women’s Self-Defense seminars to the community.
Talk to us about some of the students and also your experience teaching them thus far?
JM: I’m just getting to know the kids myself, but they are simply awesome! I tell people our class is like the United Nations of BJJ. We have kids from West Africa, Latin America, Afghanistan, Nepal, Pakistan, Myanmar, and Southeast Asia! Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu… all developing genuine friendships that inevitably result from doing BJJ together! That’s the beauty of the martial arts — it brings people together from the most varied backgrounds and shatters the dividers that the outside world frequently encourages us to maintain.
Many of them are coming from conditions that most of us could hardly imagine growing up in. They are coming from vastly different cultures all over the world… yet they are like any other middle school or high school kids you’d meet in your own community. They laugh, they cut up, they rag on each other, they joke around, they watch TV, they go to school, they have homework, they deal with all the normal experiences kids deal with at that age… but given their unique backgrounds and experiences, they show a level of gratitude and a craving for love and affirmation that is simply unbelievable. They practically fight each week over who gets to mop the mat, who gets to pull up the tape, who gets to roll them up, etc. They know that they have been given this equipment and they are intent on taking care of it! They are so grateful that they have this class and it is absolutely heartwarming to see.
For example, two of our students are a teenage brother and sister from Afghanistan whose father fought alongside the Marines against the Taliban. In addition to translating for U.S. forces, he was also a trained boxer and kickboxer who taught the Afghani police hand-to-hand combat. Now, he works in a factory here in the city and is studying to get his commercial truck license in hopes of building a business here where he can employ others and provide jobs for the community. But with his busy schedule, he is not able to train his son and daughter in self-defense at home like he wants to. So when he found out we were staring this class, he was ecstatic! He and I have become friends and he’s made sure his kids are there every week… and every week they are so eager to show me that they remember what we did the previous week and how excited they are to be there again. It’s every instructor’s dream to have students and parents so dedicated!
So I take it they are enjoying their lessons in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?
JM: Man, they are loving it! Every time I show a new technique their eyes get wide and you hear verbal “ooh”s and “ahh”s…it’s great! The only thing they know about martial arts is what they’ve seen in movies. The only thing they know about grappling is what they’ve seen watching WWE. They always ask me if I’ll show them various pro-wrestlers’ signature moves. Haha, I find myself frequently bursting some bubbles about what martial arts and grappling actually consist of in reality, and what is fantasy. But we have a lot of fun, even while maintaining an overall sense of discipline and respect.
Various instructors have different goals for their students what is your goal with the refugee students?
JM: My goals for them are simple: 1) to equip the kids with a basic working knowledge of Jiu-jitsu primarily for self-defense 2) to give them a place each week where they are encouraged, loved, and treated as normal kids rather than “foreigners” 3) to foster genuine deep friendships among them as well as within the larger martial arts community here in Charlotte 4) to help us as a city — and perhaps one day a nation — see those who have come to us from all over the world as fellow human beings, bearers of God’s Image; to break down the walls of suspicion and hostility that many in our society thrive on keeping in place. And lastly, 5) to reflect the love of God that I’ve been shown my whole life into the lives of these kids and their families regardless of their beliefs, background, or ethnicity.
Project 658 is always open to volunteers coming to help with various sectors in their organization. Is the option open for BJJ practitioners coming to assist with the program?
JM: Absolutely! As I post each week on Facebook and Instagram, ANYONE in the area is invited to come help on Thursdays! Any grappler from any academy or gym with a good attitude who wants to meet some amazing kids and help encourage them in their training is invited to come help us whenever they are able, especially female grapplers! We are trying to encourage more women in particular to get involved so that the girls who come to class will have other girls to drill and roll with. There is still a bit of hesitancy, perhaps due to cultural backgrounds, when it comes to the girls and having such close contact with boys who aren’t a family member—contact which is a necessary part of BJJ, obviously. So to help overcome this hesitancy it’s always helpful to have women there who can not only train with them, but also show them that it’s ultimately possible to train with the boys in ways that do not compromise any ethical integrity.
But male or female, grappler or novice, anyone who’d like to help is invited to come see what we do and meet some incredible kids each week. In fact, we’ve had BJJ students from at least four different local academies helping us in classes so far! It’s been great seeing so many different team patches and GIs on the mats with the kids, all under the single banner of “Jiu-jitsu”!
What are some other resources you are using to expand the program?
JM: The goal all along has been to make the class entirely free for any member of the refugee community. These families come here with almost nothing sometimes, and Project 658 is a huge help in getting them basic necessities so that the kids can live normal lives like any other kids in the city. So Disciple Dojo wants to make sure that this class and everything involved remains free to the families. From mats to train on, to striking pads/mitts, to GIs and rashguards, we want to make everything available to the kids. That doesn’t mean they don’t EARN the equipment though! Far from it! From day one we’ve stressed to the kids that while we do not require them to pay financially for the class and equipment, they DO have to pay for it… in dedicated attendance, focused training, and cleaning up and storing it all each week! The only way we can do this is through the support of the wider community, particularly the BJJ community. And the response has been encouraging so far. Deus Fight Co. has stepped up to support us by providing gis for the kids. As an artist, I’ve worked with Deus before on the Fight for the Forgotten gi when they found out about this program the owner, Geoff, sent me a text that simply said “how many gis do you need?”! Deus has a line of gis based on various cities’ NFL teams that they use to help raise funds for different charitable causes , so I said that given the Panthers Superbowl run this year, it was time to have a “Carolina” gi in the lineup! They loved the idea and the gis are in production as we speak! In order to get their gis and white belts, the kids have to have perfect attendance for over a month, show that they are dedicated in class and paying attention, and help with cleanup and teardown of the mats each week. They are so excited, and I’m truly grateful for the awesome work that Deus Fight Co. is doing not just for our program, but for some incredible causes all over the world.
I also use any proceeds from sales of my artwork and the gear I design to help fund Disciple Dojo as much as I can. I’m one of only a handful of artists I know of who focus on MMA/BJJ portraits, so any help in getting word out about my artwork is always appreciated and I love seeing my stuff hanging in various academies all over the world… because I know what it goes to help support!
Eventually, I’m hoping that the program will continue to grow and as the kids move from basic self-defense BJJ into the more competitive aspects of the art, I would love to connect with a tournament that would consider providing sponsorships for some of the kids to compete. But that is still a ways off, I believe. Right now the focus is on building community and laying the foundation for the dozen or so kids we currently have in the class, while continuing to encourage others to join in as well.
Finally 10 years from now what do you see for Disciple Dojo’s Refugee-Jiu-jitsu program?
JM: Honestly, I don’t even know what it will look like 10 MONTHS from now! I’m just along for the ride! But my hope is that in 10 years there will be dozens of young 20- and 30-something adults in this city from all over the world who know that they are valued. Who know that they have come to a city where they are seen not as “foreign” or “different”, but rather as fellow citizens and members of the community. Who know the joys that come from dedicated training in the Gentle Art and who have a sense of self-confidence, humility, kindness, and integrity that come from the crucible of Jiu-jitsu classes. And most of all, who know that they are, loved as young men and women created in God’s Image and possessing intrinsic value and dignity. If even a handful of these kids end up experiencing this over the next 10 years, it will have all been worth it.
Any final thoughts before we wrap up this interview?
JM: I’ve been so encouraged by the response to our program. It shows that despite the geopolitical events surrounding us, there are people who have the courage to reach out with a hand of friendship rather than a fist of anger. I’m grateful for the support we’ve been shown by people from so many different backgrounds — from local academies, to members of the UG, to instructors from across the country, to church members, to companies like Deus Fight. Jiu-jitsu has a way of bringing people together who would otherwise likely not have much in common. This program is a testimony to that fact. I’m especially grateful to my instructor Derek “TC” Richardson for introducing me into the Renzo Gracie Jiu-jitsu family over nine years ago and modeled what it looks like to combine the martial arts with community outreach and self-sacrificial giving to those who may not be able to do anything in return. And I’m grateful for my training partners and friends at Renzo Gracie Charlotte/Leadership Martial Arts who have kicked, punched, twisted, cranked, smothered, smashed, and choked me silly for nearly a decade now. Outside of my biological and church families, they have been the biggest source of support and encouragement in my life.
I’m hoping and praying that what we’re doing here through Disciple Dojo and Project 658 may in some small way inspire the greater BJJ community all over the world to reach out to those on the margins and share with them the art we all love so deeply, so that they may be transformed by it as we have been. I would be absolutely thrilled to find out that other martial artists in other cities were starting similar programs among their own communities—whether refugees, immigrants, or any other subset of society who are often stereotyped and stigmatized. I may not be able to solve the world refugee crisis, but I can at least reach out to those who have been its victims and say “You are valued and you have dignity. Let me help you cultivate both through this thing called Jiu-jitsu.”
Hitting reset and training your training partners, Adam Stacey shares his story coming up outside of SoCal/Brazil Jiu-Jitsu motherland.
Growing through Martial Arts is beneficial to anyone’s journey in building character on and off the mat. A thirteen year practitioner in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu Adam Stacey is a BJJ Black Belt under Nic Gregoriades and head instructor of Custom Jiu-Jitsu in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Competitor, truth-seeker, and instructor Stacey has a unique outlook on life through Brazilian Jiu-jitu reflected through his journey in the grappling arts. Conducting this interview with us at BJJ Legends hearing his story many will be intrigued and ponder of the hidden personal benefits Brazilian Jiu-jitsu has to offer its participants.
Everyone has a story as to what got them interested in this great art known as Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. What got you involved in BJJ?
Adam Stacey: I’ve always been fascinated by the Martial Arts. I grew up on Ninja Turtles, Surf Ninjas, the Karate Kid, etc. I did a little Danzen Ryu Ju Jitsu, a little Judo, and Folkstyle Wrestling growing up. I was introduced to BJJ around the age of 21. I started when I was in the US Navy onboard the USS Chosin. A friend of mine asked me to roll. Being a wrestler I accepted the invite and after being arm barred 100’s of times I realized this art was for me.
At what point in your journey did you come to the conclusion that BJJ was fully apart of your life thus making you fully committed to it?
AS: From day one I’ve enjoyed the art. Jiu-Jitsu became my priority once I attended my first academy: Brazilian Freestyle Jiu-Jitsu under Romolo Barros. I was relatively strong in the Navy because until I encountered Jiu-Jitsu my definition of strength was my total bench press max. However, I rolled with my first instructor, Romolo Barros, he was a normal looking guy, and he submitted me quickly… over and over again. My definition of strength was way off. So, shortly after I started I realized I wanted this in my life forever.
Everyone has their own perception based on their journey of highs and lows. What is you philosophy on BJJ?
AS: Jiu-Jitsu is so much more than Jiu-Jitsu. It's hard to encapsulate in words. Jiu-Jitsu is my community. Jiu-Jitsu is my strength. I had a somewhat crappy early childhood so Jiu-Jitsu, has been a mentor and teacher that has helped me in so many ways. I have a shirt from Tatami Fightwear that says: “No matter what life throws at you there is always Jiu-Jitsu.” That’s pretty much how I see it.
Open minded to the art, part of your growth found you cross training with a lot of other grappling practitioners including your opponents. What inspired to do this and most importantly how can one benefit from this approach?
AS: If I want to be a shark on the mats I need to swim out past my fish bowl. If I only swim in my tank I may be the king of that bowl but my growth will be stunted. I’ll have a Jiu-Jitsu game bound to a small container. I feel it is important for Jiu-Jitsu practitioners to swim in other fish bowls, so to speak, so that they can see how other fish bite/swim. Analogy aside, tournaments, other academies, they are all part of the main goal: to grow the BJJ community and be the best ME in Jiu-Jitsu that I can be. I cannot be the best me if I do not train across academy lines. As for training with past opponents… I don’t really look at them as opponents. More as teachers. I am extremely grateful for all those I’ve competed ‘against’. Maybe if I treated them as opponents and not teachers I might have more gold medals. Ha!
Speaking of opponents one of the most challenging parts of someone’s journey is competing which bring out various emotions. What is your overall outlook on competing and through your wins/ losses what motivates you to compete?
AS: My Jiu-Jitsu journey has been different than most. Since I was a high blue belt I have always had a long distance relationship with my instructor due to my location. So it has been difficult for me to refine my game without the constant oversight of an instructor. In place of that oversight I’ve used competitions as my testing ground. I would study techniques, drill, visit other academies, and then take it to the competition. After every competition I would fill my journal with lessons learned (I still do). I’d then fix my errors and apply the lessons learned to my next tournament. If there were errors I couldn’t find the solution to I would seek help via email from my instructor. So, long answer short, GROWTH motivates me to compete. Every competition helps me grow. In turn, I pass my lessons learned on to my students so they avoid the pitfalls that I hit the hard way.
Switching topics becoming a Black belt how does your journey differ as oppose to your previous ranks white through brown?
AS: March 7th will be my one year anniversary as a Black Belt. Man, being a Black Belt is a weird paradox. It has changed everything but then again it feels like my journey has restarted. I like to use the Call of Duty analogy. Once you reach the highest level in the game Call of Duty you have the option to “Prestige”. To prestige basically means you trade in all your accolades and start from scratch. That’s what I feel has happened. I’m starting over but I now have a “Prestige” Belt around my waist. From White Belt to Black belt I pursued the path to the black belt. Now that I am a Black Belt my goal is to be an EFFECTIVE black belt. I still have a lot of work. But I’m growing every day.
Apart of being a black belt you have taken on the role as a leader of your own academy the Jiu-Jitsu Brotherhood in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Becoming an instructor what are some of the important things you learned from your journey that you pass on to your students?
AS: That’s just it. I instill the journey mindset into our students. Every class, every tournament, every win, every loss, every person (both good, and bad) are elements of the journey. Take them. Learn from them. Become better. If we only learn from the good times or the things we like that might only be 50% or 60%; even a perfect 50% is an “F”. Enjoy the journey and learn from everything!
Finally looking back what do you feel got you to where you are today after a long extension as a participant in BJJ?
AS: So many people have helped me. My wife’s love. All my Jiu-Jitsu teachers great and small roles alike; Nic Gregoriades, Dave Kama, Nick Laudenglaus, Alex Aftandilians, Heitor Abrahao, Romolo Barros, James Tanaka, David Hattori. My training partners; too many to list but my Brother-in-Law Seth Johnston has played a huge role in my journey. My students… all of them through the years (I've been showing people Jiu-Jitsu since I was a blue belt... not because I am such a good instructor but because I quite literally had to train my training partners. I was unaware of any 'REAL' BJJ community when I came to Klamath so we had to create one). …also, and in all honestly, John B. Will’s books on BJJ have been a great standard for the foundation of my Jiu-Jitsu.
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.