Come, read about Tanner Rice of Rice Brothers BJJ the youngest American to acheive his blackbelt from Rubens "Cobrinha" Charles at 19.
Success is determined not by whether or not you face obstacles, but by your reaction to them. And if you look at these obstacles as a containing fence, they become your excuse for failure. If you look at them as a hurdle, each one strengthens you for the next. - Ben Carson
At 15 years old Tanner Rice had a huge responsibility. He was running the kids program at is family’s gym. Shakespeare recaptured the words of Henry the IV with the quote, “Deny it to a king? Then happy low, lie down!/Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Some are born to be great and others have it thrust upon them. At the age of 19 Tanner Rice became the youngest and first American born black belt promoted by Charles “Cobrinha” Maciel (Alliance). At such a young age, when things are thrust upon him, Rice seems to handle them with aplomb. BJJ Legends talks to Professor Tanner Rice about some of his greatest matchups, the effectiveness of performance enhancement testing, and his thoughts on well-rounded practitioners.
BJJL: You are very young, have accomplished a great deal, and have a prestigious lineage. From the day you started training at 6 until now, what led you down this path?
TR: At a younger age my father (Rod Rice) started training me and my brothers, it was hard to begin with because it wasn't like it is now where we had a lot of training partners. All I had was my older brothers and my dad at the time and having older brothers to train with there is never any mercy when it comes to rolling so I got smashed on a lot. Getting smashed also became discouraging and I didn’t believe that Jiu-Jitsu was for me, but my dad kept telling me to proceed and push through the hard times so I owe it to him for who I am today.
BJJL: Tanquinho Mendes and Megaton Dias, two monumental wins for you at 19. Both seasoned, highly regarded, what were your thoughts pre and post match-ups?
TR: I had just got my black belt when I was about to fight Augusto Mendes and I had just watched him fight 2 months prior at the U.S Open and he won his division and open weight and before that I was always fond of his amazing base on top so when I found out I was fighting Tanquinho Mendes I'm not going to lie, I was freaking out! He had just beaten my past professor Cobrinha and at the time Cobrinha was still murdering me in training, so that added to the nerves a little bit but once I got out there and started fighting the nerves went away and I fought pretty well. Afterwards I was in disbelief that I did as well as I did.
BJJL: Because of your father (Rod Rice) is BJJ the family business?
TR: When I turned 15 my father opened a gym and I began teaching kids and he taught the adults.
BJJL: You spent 1yr in Brazil when you were 16, what was that experience like?
TR: I went to Brazil with a friend Carlos Diego Ferreira and stayed at his house and began training at the school he trained at his whole life Club Pina, the experience was amazing. I had to grow up quickly! I had never been away from my dad more then a week so it was hard but I enjoyed the hard training and the culture.
BJJL: What do you think constitutes a well-rounded practitioner to be and do you exhibit those characteristics?
TR: I envy Leandro Lo’s game the most out of everyone, but I think Rodolfo Vieira and Lucas Lepri have the all around best Jiu-Jitsu in the world. I think to be great in Jiu-jitsu you have to be able to understand the game and make your own game whether it be on top or bottom. I think I have a lot to learn and figure out still and always will.
BJJL: What rank was the most challenging for you?
TR: Black Belt will always be the most challenging rank for anyone that has reached the black belt level and competed.
BJJL: Would you like BJJ to go back to it’s origins no time limit, submission only?
TR: I like both styles of competition submission only and points/submission.
BJJL: How does all the traveling impact you mentally/physically? How do you stay focused when you can’t be with your family during those important life events and vice versa? They can’t follow you around the world?
TR: Traveling to compete takes its toll if you aren't used to it but the more you do it the more you create a sleep/eating regimen for yourself that doesn't make it as bad. I actually like competing on my own without my team or family around I feel like I stay more focused and more relaxed. Sometimes having my team/family around gives me anxiety it's gotten better over the years but sometimes I feel like it still alters my performance.
BJJL: Steroids/performance enhancement abuse and the repercussions are discussed more in traditional sports to include wrestling. What are your thoughts on how it is handled in the BJJ realm or the IBJJF’s policies and procedures on the subject matter?
TR: I think IBJJF testing for steroids is great but I think they should test the athletes at more events instead of just worlds. There are too many ways to cycle on and off without getting caught. Year round testing would be great for the athletes and for Jiu-Jitsu itself to grow as more of a known sport around the world.
BJJL: What’s your training regimen like? How does it differ day to day from when you’re getting ready for a tournament?
TR: I train/ workout for 3 hours in the morning and 2 hours at night. When a competition is coming up I just bring up the intensity of my training and try to push harder then the day before no matter what.
BJJL: Would you and your brothers consider starting a career in MMA fighter?
TR: MMA has never been my thing nor my brothers so you'll see us on the BJJ scene for years to come.
BJJL: What has been your proudest moment since you started BJJ?
TR: My proudest thing I've taken from Jiu-Jitsu is our kids program. We have a lot of great kids that work their butts off everyday and they win a lot of competitions. You will soon see them start to shake up the juvenile divisions very soon.
BJJL: Any BJJ match you would like that hasn’t happened and why?
TR: I think either Leandro Lo vs Rafael Mendes or Rafael Mendes vs Lucas Lepri would be amazing to watch because of the clash of styles.
BJJL: Any rematches you would like and why?
TR: Anyone I've lost to has been the most challenging fight. I would love a rematch with anyone I've lost to.
BJJL: Kid’s Pans is less than a month away, does your gym have any contenders?
TR: I have 10 kids competing at Pans.
BJJL: What are your plans/goals for 2016 (camps…super fights…seminars)?
TR: My plan for this year is to win as much as I can. I'm really focused on training and competing right now. I'm always down for seminars but I need to focus on my goals mainly.
Professor Tanner Rice made history as an American practitioner at the tender age of 19. A chain of events began many years ago that set him on his current path. Rice still has plenty left to show us but one can’t help but wonder after all that Rice has done (and he hasn’t even reached his prime), who will Rice Brothers BJJ unleash on the scene next?
Your friends will believe in your potential, your enemies will make you live up to it.-Tim Fargo
BJJ is the one sport one regularly sees people of vast age ranges on the mats actively engaged with one another. Many other competitive sports have an unwritten rule around age; when it's best to start the sport and when it's best for someone to walk away. In BJJ the rules are not so definite.
All photos courtesy of Skylar Ransom
Case in point: If one attends the Monday/Wednesday 8 pm advanced class at Cobrinha BJJ and Fitness, one will witness the unlikely pairing of a 14 year old and a 62 year old. The two BJJ players mentioned are Tyler Ransom (14) and Levon Alexanian (62). They have been training partners going on two years.
The lessons they have learned despite the age difference, or probably as a result of, have opened a pathway to a deeper understanding and value for what they individually bring to the table.
What were your thoughts when you found out one another's age?
Tyler: I was use to seeing a lot younger people on the mats, so it took me by surprise. He is very open and friendly with everyone, and he acts like he’s much younger, not sure if that makes sense.
Levon: He looks so tall I actually thought he was like 16 or older. When I found out I thought it was cool that someone so young could be training with adults.
What did you think when it was time to drill?
Tyler: The first thing I thought was I’m gonna have to go slow, because I figured he would not have good cardio. I also thought I would have to be careful, because I did not want to injure him.
Levon: My main focus was to not discourage him, or intimidate him. I wanted to let him get good positions, encourage him, give him praise and make him excited to train.
After your first time sparring what did you think of the other’s skills?
Tyler: It was live positional training, we were doing the spider guard and I started on the bottom. Right away I noticed how strong his grips were on my gi pants, then he threw my legs to the side and moved to knee on belly in one motion before I had time to react. It was at that point I realized he was fast, strong, and he was technical.
Levon: I have to admit he caught me with a sweep that was unexpected, that being said he had good technique and he understands the game of BJJ very well. What he lacks is physical maturity, which will come when he gets older and then he will be able to combine strength with his technique.
What are some positive things you gain from being partners?
Tyler: When we are doing drills he is really nit picky, he pays attention to every detail. If I miss any step he points it out and has me start over. He also gives me like a backstory on each move. He’ll tell me how someone used it on him, or he tried the move and someone was able to get out, and how you have to be aware of the steps, so he is like a teacher and a partner.
Levon: There are a lot of benefits to being partners with Tyler. One thing is I am able to try different things with him, I discover ways to refine my moves, make them more efficient. He is tall, but he is thin, with long limbs, so I have to alter my moves and positions, which is good.
What have you learned about age differences?
Tyler: That many times, age may not really matter. I don’t view Levon as an older person, I have serious nervous energy every time before sparing, because I know how good he is.
Levon: Well you have to understand that I feel like I am 25 years old when I get on the mat, so I never really take any age differences into consideration. That said, of course there are differences, but I don’t really think it has to do with age, it has to do with the amount of experience.
Do you two have anything in common in addition to BJJ?
Tyler: Yes, we both love jazz, and we both play instruments, he plays the alto saxophone and I play the alto, tenor and baritone saxophone along with the guitar. We spend time talking about old school jazz musicians and music in general a lot of the time.
Levon: What we have in common was a shock to me I mean how many kids his age like jazz? We both enjoy, no, I’d say love jazz, and the fact that he plays all the different saxophones is very impressive. I know you said in addition to BJJ, but it is very important that people know we share the BJJ lifestyle, which means we use the principles we learn on the mat in life to improve our health, gain patience and be humble.
What would you say to those who question whether to train with someone older or younger?
Tyler: Well to me older means wiser, so I see it as an opportunity to gain even more knowledge and get twice as good. I also have to say that I felt bad about how I judged him at first, because I have been judged for many years when people see me, a kid in the adult class or when they find out about my kidney illness. I’m just glad that I got over the judgment after that initial class and realized that he has more to offer than a lot of the others on the mat.
Levon: it doesn’t matter age wise or size wise, its like a dancer who has different dance partners, so he has to adapt to that person’s strengths and weaknesses. I benefits from training with Tyler, because I learn when I am showing him moves. It also helps me to get his perspective on moves and techniques, a fresh pair of eyes.
Side bar: Levon: My goal is to get my black belt by the time I am 75, this BJJ is age proof, I am extending my life and I’m maintaining the full capacity of being a man.
Levon Combat Sports Bio: Boxed for a 8 years, Taekwondo 2 years, at 45 started grappling mixed with combat sambo for 14 years, started with a gi at Cobrinha’s when it opened to present day.
Tyler: I have been doing BJJ for a little over 8 years, and whenever I have stress from my illness, school or anything, I use what I’ve learned on the mats. I cannot imagine not having it as a part of my life. Please go and check out my site www.healingtyler.com thanks.
Tyler’s Combat Sports Bio: Karate for 3 years, Muay Thai for 1 year, BJJ for 8 years to present day.
BJJ Daughter drops the challenge and dad picks it up and runs with it. Cobrinha, Fabbio and David are there along the way.
"Have fun and do your best" has been the mantra for our family pertaining to BJJ tournaments ever since my daughter, Skylar (Sky), started competing. It was after her 4th or 5th tournament we had a heart to heart about her not living up to the aforementioned mantra, never mind that her placing's were not what she desired. She told me she was scared of being submitted, so she just rolled defensively. I gave her some wisdom I had over heard from black belts, 'if you are playing defense you are losing.'
She looked me in the eyes and said, "Dad, the Pans is coming up, why don't you show me?"
I had to think fast, and to be specific I had to figure out how to not accept what was clearly a challenge, but make it seem like I was open to it. I quickly reminded her that I only roll twice a week, I have never competed and I'm old enough to be the father of the vast majority of the students at Cobrinha's academy. Her expression showed me she wasn't buying it, so I went to my contingency plan and told her that if she medaled at the Pan Kids (2014) tournament I would do it. We shook hands and I felt pretty safe, not because I thought she wouldn't do well, in all honesty I just didn't think she would medal.
Fast-forward to the Pan Kids and there she was on the podium with a silver medal, smile from ear to ear. I had forgotten about our agreement (on purpose), Sky did not! Soon after she left the podium, she looked me in the eyes and said, "Next month is going to be your turn dad." What she didn't know was I had an ace in the hole, a sure-fire way to not have to compete and not take the blame.
I talked to my instructor, David de Souza, with the goal being to get confirmation on my inability to be tournament ready by Pans. Thankfully he agreed with me and before he could tell me why, I adroitly led him to where multi-time world champion and head instructor Rubens 'Cobrinha' Charles was standing by the mat. I asked David to tell him his thoughts on whether I was prepared to do the Pans, he said, "No, you don't have enough mat time, you have to start coming in to drill, just doing Monday and Wed. morning class is not enough time on the mat." I looked at Cobrinha to get verbal or visual agreement and he had a poker player expression, didn't show his thoughts either way. I chose to believe he was on board with what he heard.
After Sky's Friday class, I took her into the office where Cobrinha and his wife, Daniela were sitting, I pointed and said, "Sky, go ahead and ask him about whether I can do the Pans. I want to do it. But I have to get approval. And well... you'll see."
Before she could ask, Cobrinha smiled and told her, "Yes, I think your dad can do Pans. He will get a chance to see how you feel when you compete. It will be great. What do you think?" She looked at me, and then him and with the biggest smile nodded her approval. I quickly rushed her out of the office, did a U-turn back in prepared to confront him and was met with both of them cheerfully telling me, "Have fun Marlon!"
Later that evening I went to the IBJJF site and a couple things stood out, it only went as high as Master 2 for white belts and the weight division for me, at 234lbs, placed me with the heaviest of the heavyweights. I signed up for the 222lb (super heavyweight) division, without giving full thought to the fact that I had not been below 230lbs in over a decade. As a laid in bed it started to sink in, there was approximately 13 days till show time, and the last thing I wanted to do was let my daughter down. Not long after, I'm talking 1:00am, the physical reaction commenced. I woke up ran to the washroom and found myself with stomach trouble for the next hour, no further description needed. Just to get it out of the way, I will say that this 'stomach trouble' was an ongoing theme up until the tournament. I spent the rest of the early morning wide-awake and nervous as hell, what to do? Turned on the computer and researched all of the names in my division, Google, Facebook and YouTube. I had been transformed into a BJJ stalker or something weird like that.
Understand that I had two goals going into this, make weight and win one match and you better believe every minute I spent at the academy I bombarded Cobrinha and every higher belt with questions, some stupid some stupider.
My mind was in overdrive as my thoughts centered on not wanting to embarrass myself and it started with losing weight and fast. First things first I had to take a hard look at what my diet consisted of and figure out what needed to change, pretty easy, everything. So as not to talk extensively about food and put people to sleep I am going to show a sample of what my average eating was before and after.
Eating Habits prior to Challenge Accepted:
Breakfast: Sugar with Coffee: My motto was if the spoon does not stand straight up, then there is not enough sugar, two banana nut muffins, bagel with cream cheese.
Lunch: Coffee (with sugar), Chipotle burrito and chips.
Dinner: Pasta, turkey meatballs.
Snacks: Kettle chips: Salt and Pepper, Club crackers,
Eating Habits After Challenge Accepted:
Breakfast: Two scrambled eggs with black beans, water
Lunch: Salad (tomato, lettuce, almonds, carrots), water
Dinner: Salad with chicken breast, water
Snacks: Strawberries, watermelon, grapes
Yes, this was a drastic change and as the date drew closer, I found myself dreaming about food, everything from In-and-Out Burger, to most all other fast food places, many I have never even been to.
My normal training consisted of the Monday and Wednesday fundamentals class taught by David de Souza from 9:00am-10:30am. I knew that I needed to train more, so I asked Cobrinha and he suggested I come to the night class, I assumed it would be the 6:00pm or 7:00pm class, but he meant the 8:00pm advanced class. I went begrudgingly and with concern about getting injured, not so much physically, I am referring to my ego. I was fortunate that a few of my teammates (James, Roman, Evan and Mike) drilled with me during the week while Sky trained in the afternoons. I also invested in some private sessions with black belt extraordinaire Fabbio Passos, I was leaving nothing to chance.
Outside of the academy, I added something I have rarely if ever done in my lifetime... running. I dressed in layers; put the leash on my loving blue nose pitbull, Samurai, and we hit the sidewalks sprinting, which is jogging to most. One thing Samurai loves is going outside, but as the tournament got closer, he went from jumping up and down when I rattled the leash to running to his bed and refusing to go out. He was not a fan of running and he let it be known by refusing to move soon after we hit the sidewalk, which made for a lot of funny stares from drivers and walkers.
The day of the tournament my kids, Tyler and Skylar came to show support and make sure I got on the mat. They found front row seats in front of the mat where my fate would be determined, as Skylar had her Canon ready to shoot. I was scared to death about making weight, so I dressed in the layers mentioned earlier and I did not eat or drink anything up until I weighed in at 7:00pm at an astounding 215lbs with the Gi on. I had just accomplished one goal, but there was a problem, my energy level was on zero.
I recall walking with my opponent to mat 2 and I wasn't so much walking as I was floating, which may sound strange. The feeling I had when the referee waived us to come onto the mat was surreal, as I have seen that so many times at tournaments and never imagined I would be experiencing it. I wish I could explain with words how it felt shaking the ref's hand and then shaking my opponent's hand before the fight began, it was addictive and exhilarating.
I won my fist match and lost my second, but overall I learned a great deal.
My kids made it down from the stands and as I looked them in the eyes the first thing I did was apologize for not winning the gold. They both hugged me and said they were proud of me. I was overwhelmed with emotions and shed a few tears. I looked at Sky and I could finally grasp what she goes through, what determination and courage she displays every time she goes on the mat. I felt a flicker of her burning desire. I understood how difficult it is to learn from loss and to be humble in victory.
On the long drive home from Orange County, the kids slept as I reflected on my brief two-week stint living the BJJ lifestyle in preparation for my first tournament. Two very distinct thoughts were embedded in my mind. One of the most notable things to me was exactly how all consuming it was. I found it very difficult to do or think about anything else other then attending class, watching my diet and doing drills!
The second thought was a total about face on what my prior thoughts had been in regards to the topic of BJJ tournaments and those who devote so much time and effort to them. They are not shirking life but living a life devoted to an emotionally intense roller coaster and to being the physically best person they can be. These BJJ players I have seen at countless academy's training for hours upon hours, these men and women are ATHLETES. Their work ethic and sheer dedication to their craft is on par with and in some cases exceeds other professional athletes in my opinion. There should be a professional organization that pays these athletes to compete and allows them to make a living, just like other athletes. The ability to get sponsor money and conduct seminars should simply be additional perks to pad their salaries.
Well when I pulled into my parking garage and Sky was the first to wake up, she looked at me with a sly smile and said, "You can make up for not wining all your matches at the next tournament, and I know you will have fun and do your best." She is right, I will and with that there is an intriguing question, can a middle-aged man, manage to earn a living, be a great parent and find the time to train in order to become a BJJ champion?
SIDEBAR A Few Memorable Quotes from teammates and friends: *Be a lion stalking your prey (Stephanie) *Make sure you weigh your Gi with you belt (Monica) *Have fun (Cobrinha and Daniela) *Believe in yourself (Kennedy) *Just that you are doing this is all that will matter to your kids (Nyjah) *You are good you can win the gold (Fabbio) *If you jump guard tuck your chin to your chest (Mikey) *Take Imodium: (THANK YOU KRIS SHAW)