Back in 2012, I wrote a story for BJJ Legends magazine about promoting Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Moldova. (Brazilian Jiu-Jitus in Burlacu Moldova) At the time I was trying to drum up support both in and outside of the country: creating awareness among foreigners that the country even existed, while trying to convince Moldovans that training and teaching BJJ could potentially help to open an innumerable amount of doors for them. By now, I have completely worked myself out of a job… and I couldn’t be happier!
You see, the whole idea of non-profit work is to eventually work yourself out of a job. Think about it; if you run a non-profit aiming to defeat poverty, and poverty is defeated, why go to the office anymore? Even if you run a non-profit that is a labor union or something, you would hypothetically not need to be employed anymore if everyone was getting their fair share at their jobs. Of course, we can all think of exceptions to this idea, but it is otherwise a good rule of thumb when seeking to work with or donate to non-profit organizations.
A lot has happened since 2012. In addition to no longer having much work in regards to “the Moldova Project”, my wife and I have also moved back to the US, bought some property and opened a new gym with a new goal in mind. More on that later, but first let me tell you how BJJ has evolved over the years in Moldova into what it has become today.
In 2011 we were blessed to have received some international attention to our program via Christian Graugart, the original BJJ Globetrotter, and his around-the-world BJJ adventure. Shortly after his visit, some traditional martial artists decided to open their own BJJ gym in the capital of Chisinau. This was a very important step in the process as time itself stops and starts in Chisinau for most Moldovans. I knew that once this happened, the spread of Jiu-Jitsu throughout the country would be inevitable.
Around the same time, a team from a mid-sized town in the south of Moldova decided to take up the Brazilian variety of Jiu-Jitsu in addition to their own version of martial arts. Led by the charismatic former member of Soviet special forces, Sergiu Dobrea, team Se-An-Do continues to have one of the largest youth programs in the country. They’re a considerable force to be reckoned with in a myriad of fighting sports in Moldova.
So now, with these three core teams in place, one of my former students and I decided to host a tournament. We decided to try a new tournament format loosely based on a classic collegiate-style wrestling competition: the dual. Basically, there are around 10 weight classes, and each team chooses their best fighter for each weight class. With three existing teams in Moldova now, the “Burlacu Tri-Duals” was born.
I had some really high hopes for this new idea of mine. Unfortunately, the annual tournament was plagued from the beginning. The first year the Chisinau team bailed at the last minute, so we just had 2 teams competing against each other. The second-year Se-An-Do wasn’t able to participate but luckily a newly-formed team also from the southern region was able to take their place. The third year the format was scrapped and a more traditional (and from my point of view, boring) format was adopted. Thus, the “Burlacu Tri-Duals” became the “Burlacu Open” tournament. By this time, I was just a supporting figure; my former student, Alexandru Birlea, took over the reins almost completely, and I’m happy to say that he did a really great job!
Over time, other teams threw their hats into the promotional ring and a whole slew of other BJJ competitions were held in the south of the country as well as the capital. There was the Moldova Cup, the Moldovan BJJ Championships as well as ADCC Moldova, just to name a few. By the time I left the area in 2014, there were no less than eight teams training Jiu-Jitsu across the country. I have no idea how many are training now, but Jiu-Jitsu is thankfully becoming more common in Moldova, and more importantly, it is completely sustainable! Moldovans are running their own gyms, their own tournaments and are buying and selling their own equipment. I’ll occasionally get a box or two of used gis together for kids who otherwise can’t afford a new one, but this has proven to be more of a hassle than what it’s worth for both parties involved. So, really, this is a great thing!
From 2006 when I started the first BJJ program in the country, to 2014 when I left Eastern Europe, presumably for good, I definitely missed out on a good deal of training opportunities, tournaments, promotions and all the other cool stuff you get along with taking the more traditional route of training with one team. On the other hand, I’m proud to say that one of my first students, Alexandru Birlea, is ranked higher than me in BJJ, he can beat my ass, and he’s also the head BJJ coach for a UFC fighter. Not bad for a poor kid from a tiny village in the middle of nowhere in a country that nobody has heard of! I’m obviously super proud of him, his accomplishments as well as the accomplishments of so many others like him. But, of course, I’ve checked my ego at the beginning of this article, so enough bragging from me for now ;).
The Open Source Project
As we gradually became more and more hands-off with the Moldova program, my wife and I had been looking for the next step in our lives. When we moved back from Eastern Europe in 2014, our goal was to learn a bit of the hospitality business and then eventually go into business for ourselves. Over the years we really had a lot of fun both hosting guests at our little apartment in Bucharest, as well as being hosted by a multitude of people, mostly in Moldova and Romania. If there’s one thing that Romanians and Moldovans typically do very well, it’s hospitality, so we took our ideas with us and moved to Texas.
We lived in Pharr, Texas for about a year and a half, and while we were there, we worked at an RV resort in part to get back into the swing of things in the US as well as test the waters to see if we really wanted to go into hospitality. The job paid horribly, but luckily I was able to teach fundamental BJJ at Carlos Diego Ferreira’s gym in Pharr, in exchange for training time with the team. I credit Team Ferreira with helping me to love training Jiu-Jitsu again and to finally make the transition from just being a wrestler who happened to do Jiu-Jitsu, to a full-fledged BJJ fighter.
Our next move was to Gunnison, Colorado. We worked at a motel cleaning rooms part-time during the day, and I would train and/or teach at Gunnison BJJ in the evenings. Cleaning rooms and doing yard work at the motel was surprisingly a very positive experience; I was finally able to work with my hands, which I found to be very personally fulfilling, and then I would train BJJ on my off time. There wasn’t a lot of consistent structure at the gym, so I was able to teach myself most of the new-school moves and concepts that I had missed out on while I was out in the middle of nowhere. While I’ll probably never berimbolo anybody, I have grown to have an affinity for the leg lasso and I’m even able to invert when appropriate.
Unfortunately, I have a bad hip and had to undergo hip surgery in November of 2016. I was on crutches for a good 3 months, which gave my other joints, ribs and back a good amount of time to heal as well. My wife and I spent 2 of these months traveling east from Gunnison, and all the way down the coast to Key West. Our new mission was to find an affordable piece of property with which to start our business. The business would include both Jiu-Jitsu and hospitality, all wrapped up in one somehow.
On our way out to the coast we decided to stop through Asheville, NC just to see what was there. We found the perfect property for sale that was in our price range, and after wandering the coast for a couple months, not really finding anything that compared to this property in Asheville, we returned to Appalachia and put a bid on the property. The bid was eventually accepted and now we have a gym as well as over two acres of future campground!
Now, here’s how I came up with the concept of Open Source Jiu-Jitsu. During my time away from BJJ and from work, I decided to formalize the fundamental Jiu-Jitsu that I had been teaching all of these years by writing a curriculum. The curriculum is 10-weeks long and is designed to continuously rotate through every 10 weeks. This way, if you show up and start training in the middle of the curriculum, you will see the same technique again in ten weeks. Furthermore, as most of us know, drilling and tightening up our fundamentals is never a bad idea, so we encourage our students to go through the curriculum more than once.
All of our fundamentals classes, which utilize the curriculum, are “pay-what-you-want”. This way, even the poorest of BJJ students can train Jiu-Jitsu and save their dignity. It’s just one more heavily-utilized excuse not to train Jiu-Jitsu, that has been taken off the table completely. I’ve never even made $30,000 in a year in my whole entire life, and the last time I even came close was 2009. I’ve frequently been in the position where I had to ask an instructor if I could clean mats or teach in exchange for training time, and that can really wear on your morale over time.
We have a contributions box in our gym where our students are welcome to give a suggested donation of between $10 and $20 per lesson… or not! The box is usually behind me while I’m teaching and interacting with students, so I have no idea who’s paying and who isn’t. This way it prevents me from holding grudges against non-payers or favoring paying students.
Another component of “the Open Source model”, is that I am not the only one giving instruction all the time. If I happen to be the best-qualified teacher on a given subject, then I’ll do the teaching in this circumstance. However, if we happen to have a high-level wrestler in the room, for example, it makes more sense to have that person teaching takedowns, assuming that they are good at communicating their knowledge to others.
Sustainability and the Future of Open Source Jiu-Jitsu
While Open Source Jiu-Jitsu is, in fact, a for-profit LLC, our goals haven’t changed much since the Moldova Project. We want people to feel empowered, and to improve their lives as well as the lives of others through Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. We want to produce high-quality teachers, athletes and overall high-quality people at our gym, and we don’t want money or a lack thereof to be an issue that gets in the way of training Jiu-Jitsu.
Furthermore, we aim to have the above-mentioned teachers and otherwise good people run the program in the future. As long as we are paying the bills and continue to maintain high-quality BJJ and other programs, we want others to be able to thrive in this environment and basically run the gym with minimal oversight in order to reach their goals.
We’re also hoping that this idea spreads and that other gyms see the value of adding a similar program to their existing structure. We’re convinced that after seeing how successful the program is here at Open Source Jiu-Jitsu, that other gyms will see that you are in fact able to run a profitable business and offer “pay-what-you-want” classes, or something similar, at the same time.
We also want to invite established, high-level grapplers to come not only to see Asheville but to be a part of what we have going on here. The campground and the gym being in the same location is like a match made in heaven. While we regularly take in wandering grapplers into our home, we’re only going to be adding more options around the property where folks can chill out, see the sights and get some rolls in. Our vision is that some folks will be able to stay a couple weeks or even months, turning this into a true open source project.
Special thanks to my wife and business partner, Amanda McMasters, and to the countless others who have helped me so far along the way during this epic jiu-jitsu journey of mine.
Until then, thank you, dear reader, for having read all of this. If you ever happen to be in Asheville and would like to see what we have going on here… perhaps even guest teach a class, please feel free to contact us at bobby at opensourcebjj.net. Hope to see you on the mats!
February 2010: The air is biting cold as we walk up the icy path to Lyceum “Nicholae Iorga”. My old friend Sandu, now 19, is sitting with a handful of teenage boys who are making jokes and hitting each other in the back of the head, Three Stooges style. They are all wearing bomber jackets and skull caps. This is Moldova’s uniform. Some have bags and some have athletic pants on and I comment on how much each of them has grown in the past two years. We call the 24-hour security guy (I use this term loosely) who sends his 5-year old down to the school to give Sandu the key so that we can get into the school.
There are no lights on in the school. Nor is there heat. It might actually be warmer outside but the walls of the school protect us from the wind although I can’t say the same for the windows which were supposed to have been replaced sometime 3 years ago. We walk down the dark hallway which has gone unchanged in my two-year absence. It is brutally cold in the hallway full of drafty windows and I’m glad that we’re moving because otherwise my hands and toes would be as numb as my face. And that’s obnoxious.
My “office” where I stored the gis looks virtually untouched with the exception of some new windows that were donated by some Baptists from England. These windows were sitting collecting dust and will probably continue to do so for the duration. An attendance list with my handwriting is in the same place by the window where I left it, and all of the donated gis appear to still be there. Sandu makes one of the bigger kids let me use his gi since I didn’t bring mine.
We go into the gym which has some new paint on the floors but otherwise looks just the same. The gym is lit by one jury-rigged street light and the walls sparkle with condensation. It’s like a giant refrigerator in there. We get the mats out and they look like they’re still in great shape. No new rips and with the exception of some extra dirt and a piece of gum on one of them, they look like I just left them yesterday. I can still see my breath as I get out of my nice warm clothes and I shiver as I put on the cold gi over my long underwear.
It reminds me of when I first introduced the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program 4 winters ago although then it was a bit warmer. Only by a bit though.