BJJ Legends got the opportunity to talk with Ruiz as he touches on his early beginnings and his long journey back to the competition scene.
Competition it certainly has a way of bringing out the best in everyone. For some this activity takes them to the greatest highest of world class grappling status. On the other hand for some individuals the motivation for participating in this pastime decreases only to one day return to what they once adored in challenging themselves in combat on the mat.
A grappling veteran for over ten years Dean Lister Black belt Chris Ruiz is no stranger to laying it all on the line showing what he is made of in competition. The experience has given him a driving purpose leading him to becoming one of the most respected grapplers in the So Cal area. However somewhere along the trail life priorities took over putting his grappling aspirations to a halt. Now back after a 5 year layoff Ruiz is back to his old habits blazing through the competition stronger than ever before.
Care to share with us a little bit about yourself and your BJJ background?
Chris Ruiz: I’m originally from Houston, TX and ended up in San Diego in 2002 by way of the Navy. I started training 10 years ago (in 2004) under Dean Lister and Brandon Vera at City Boxing in downtown San Diego. I also trained under Tyrone Glover at City Boxing Pacific Beach for a couple of years. I’ve followed Dean around since.
I was naturally drawn to Jiu-Jitsu because the only sport I had ever competed in was wrestling, which I didn’t’ even start till half way thru high school. I also did judo for a few months after I joined the navy. I started with no gi training, which was all that was offered at the time. Since I wrestled, I was more interested in no gi anyway, and it’s still what I prefer.
One of my motivations in Jiu-Jitsu (and life) has been my very fortunate situation – both of my parents have polio and can’t walk, so I’m grateful to have this opportunity to be a good athlete. Had they been lucky like me, I know my parents would have been great athletes. I have to give them some credit for the nickname “Soapfish,” because I’m slippery. I got that name from Morango (Fabricio Camoes) when he was teaching at Victory.
What are your thoughts about the overall purpose of competition and what it has done for you over the years?
Chris Ruiz: To win, of course. Just kidding, but that’s the icing on the cake. Competition is the most rewarding part of Jiu-Jitsu. It’s the ultimate motivator and learning experience. Some of the best learning is during competition because you get to see how your style works against guys from other gyms, where you need to improve, and what the other schools are doing. It is a very effective mechanism for rapid improvement.
What’s the point of training without competing? Even rolling in the gym is in a sense competing, except you become “the best you” for competition.
I also really enjoy the networking that I get to do at tournaments and meeting other competitors. The Jiu-Jitsu community is so great and it’s awesome to meet new people who I can train with later at their academies.
Why did you start competing and also share with us your early beginning coming up on the competition scene?
Chris Ruiz: My first tournament was two weeks after I started training, at an in house tournament. I started at intermediate level since I previously wrestled, plus I liked the added challenge. I knew I’d learn more against tougher opponents, even if I was a little out-matched. I think that tournament and Grapplers Quest just after are what lit my fire initially.
The highs I’ve experienced were the first few years when Jiu-Jitsu was so new to me and I was getting my ass kicked every day in practice. I had a lot of tough guys to look up to and learn from. Another big high of mine was 2013, when Dean awarded me my black belt. Last summer won Grapplers Quest absolute where I had Dean and Jeff (Glover) coaching me – it doesn’t get much better than that for any competitor.
Looking back my lows point would have to be the five or so years before 2013 when I rarely competed and my priority wasn’t Jiu-Jitsu. I continued to train consistently but I wasn’t focused on competition. For a few years I was concentrating on school or my full time job and put competitions on the back burner.
However, the greatest highs of all are the relationships I’ve made over the years with the most diverse people I would have never met outside of this sport. Where else would I be training the same discipline with people such as lawyers and doctors to bouncers, Navy SEALs, bartenders, psychiatrists, engineers, etc.? The Jiu-Jitsu community is the best part of the life-style (of the sport).
What made you stop competing?
Chris Ruiz: After the first few years of training hard and competing, I sort of just fell into a slump where I would train consistently but I didn’t compete. I was going to school for my bachelor’s and working at a bar at the same time. Once I finished school and got my full time professional job, I just wanted to chill out a little more and lost the drive to compete.
What made you come back?
Chris Ruiz: That’s actually kind of funny. I got really busy in 2013 going to grad school in the evenings while still working full time (ouch!). Once I got that busy and could not train as much, I realized how much I really need Jiu-Jitsu and wanted to train more. I realized how much I should have been competing when I wasn’t as busy. It’s sort of like the saying, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone.” But instead of being gone, I just didn’t have as much time to train. Plus, I developed my own style that I was very confident in and I wanted to see how effective I could be after such a long lapse in competition.
I also got a lot better from training with Akbarh Arreola, who has some serious world class leg locks and an overall tough, impressive style. He brought the best out in me and forced me to step up my game. Look him up if you don’t know who he is.
Discuss with us some of your highlights you made since your return to competition
Chris Ruiz: One would have to be becoming the Grapplers Quest Vegas (UFC Fan Expo) Absolute Champ. I hadn’t competed in over 4 years, so I was just happy to be there. The actual highlight for me though was being the unknown guy working my way up the absolute bracket. It was sort of a sneak attack because no one knew who the hell I was and probably didn’t expect me to get to the finals. The other competitors must have been scratching their heads, like “WTF?” For the absolute and my weight bracket I got seven heel hooks for the day.
Another great moment would have to be participating in the Dream no time limit, submission only tournament. There I got to compete with world-class competitors such as Sean Roberts and Garry Tonon. That tournament was totally my style – pretty much anything goes and no politics. Some of the traditional BJJ rules are absurd, so it was nice for Dream to do allow nearly any submission. I got three heel hooks that day.
Are there any nerves or doubt returning back to a new playing field of great competitors to fight against?
Chris Ruiz: Definitely nerves, but no doubts. I knew that competing again would be the key to getting my motivation back. My teammates are so supportive that I was confident in my return.
How does it feel overall to be back?
Chris Ruiz: It feels great, especially when I know that my Jiu-Jitsu style that I’ve developed works really well against other top competitors. That’s a testament to the quality of my teammates and coaches at Victory.
What do you feel the future holds in competition for Chris Ruiz?
Chris Ruiz: My plan is to focus on gi this year and also do whichever competitions I can fit in around my school and work schedule. Competitions will be sporadic over the next year and a half while I finish school, but that’s no worry to me because I’ll be able to focus much more on Jiu-Jitsu at that time. It’s a little painful to have this kind of momentum now and not be able to completely capitalize on it. I don’t want to be doing too many things at once, each ineffectively. In the big picture, focusing on school is paramount while I’m there so I can seriously compete afterward and you’ll see my best Jiu-Jitsu.