BJJ Black Belt Chris Westfall on Growing Jiu-Jitsu in Saigon, Vietnam

BJJ Black Belt Chris Westfall on Growing Jiu-Jitsu in Saigon, Vietnam



Chris Westfall grew up in Grapevine Texas and started training with UFC vet Travis Lutter in 1998. In 2008 he went to Brazil and was introduced to Bruno Bastos and Nova Uniao. 2009 was a big year for Chris, he met his wife Ashley Westfall, took 3rd at the Ibjjf worlds at Brown belt, and received his black belt from Travis Lutter. Shortly after that he went to Brazil and won the Copa do Mundo. From then on Ashley and Chris have been doing BJJ, running fitness boot camps, personal training, traveling around the states competing and reffing bjj tournaments. Last May they got an offer to come teach at Saigon Sports Club in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam, at a state of the art facility. BJJ Eastern Europe talked to Chris about his story and his life in Vietnam spreading Jiu-Jitsu:

Hi Chris, can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ community?

Hello my name is Chris Westfall, I am 33 years old. I grew up in Grapevine Texas and I am a black belt under Travis Lutter. I trained in Fort Worth Texas at Travis Lutter’s up until last August when my wife Ashley, our dog Marley, and I moved to Vietnam. My greatest titles to date are (light weight) brown belt, bronze medalist at 2009 IBJJF Worlds, and black belt 2009 Copa do Mundo champion.




Please tell us about how you started training and about Travis Lutter 

Growing up I loved martial arts movies but never tried any. One day I saw Royce Gracie fighting in the UFC and I knew this was the art for me. To be able to master myself and control others with out hurting them was it for me. Sometime later in 1998 I found Travis Lutter. I will never forget my first day. The gym was in an industrial area, it had no windows and a solid black metal door with no way to see inside…I was nervous. When I walked in Travis Lutter and Paul Halme ( Travis’ first black belt) were sitting there, shirts off, shaved heads and jacked. I was 17, 150 pounds, all bones. The intro process was a little different in those days. We got on the mat, I got my ass kicked, and then Travis asked if i wanted to sign up haha! I was instantly hooked. I later dropped out of college to do Jiu-Jitsu full time. Travis’ style on the mat is simple, he has run with what works for him. He grew up wrestling and has a tough top game, in general he is just hard to move. His bottom game is on par with his top game. He has one of the best hook flip set ups in the game. One of the things I admire most about him is his no nonsense approach to testing things on the mat. He is his own man and that might be the greatest thing he passed on to me. As an instructor Travis gets right to it, show up and train. One of his greatest strengths/accomplishments is the environment he continues to create for us to grow together. Since the beginning Travis has contacted his students motivating us to come to class, injury or not. As a coach during competition Travis speaks less than most, his presence is enough. Sometimes he will yell at us to get moving haha!

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You have medalled in the IBJJF and Copa do Mundo in Brazil. How was the experience and training leading up to that?

After just missing the medal rounds at brown belt 2008 I felt that I could not catch up to the best guys in the world. It was one of the lowest points of my BJJ journey. With the support of my team, friends, and family I realized that I can become as good as I want because I am doing what I love to do. I then hired Matt Parker, the Associate Director of Strength and Conditioning for Texas Christian University in Fort Worth Texas. He opened my eyes to a whole new level of body conditioning. At first I could barely train after working with him but after several months I could roll hard round after round. My training schedule was strength and conditioning with Matt 3 days a week and BJJ twice a day 5-6 days per week, Sundays off. When I went to the worlds in 2009 I was in the best shape of my life. After my second match my opponent asked what the hell do I do for cardio! I ended up having 4 matches that day losing in the semi final to the eventual winner. It was a disappointing loss for me because I had more to offer the guy. On the flip side I shared the podium with some great guys and had reached a new level. Shortly after on July 1st, 2009 I received my black belt and went to Rio to compete in the Copa do Mundo for my black belt debut. At the time I felt I could not lose. I went out there and took care business winning all my matches by submission. It was a surreal moment.




Please tell us about how you ended up with your wife moving to Saigon, Vietnam to teach BJJ. please tell us more about Saigon Sports Club.

Existence provides. My wife and I want to travel exchanging gifts with the world. We decided to start with Asia and few years back we started putting out that vibe. Last May Travis was contacted by Saigon Sports Club asking if he had anyone interested in teaching BJJ in Vietnam and of course Travis connected us. Ashley and I sold almost everything we owned and we were on a a plane in August. Saigon Sports Club is the most amazing facility I have ever trained at. It has a a huge mat area for grappling, regulation boxing ring, Muay Thai ring, MMA cage, full basketball court, open air and indoor workout facilties, steam rooms, and saunas. There is a nice pool area with a restaurant, a juice bar, and a lounge with a bunch of big flats screens to watch any major fights/sporting events. There is also a section with hammocks and palm trees to relax in that has a beach scene background and rocks that play sounds of the ocean. This place is a fighters oasis. It is also the cleanest gym I have ever been to. World class trainers and fighters are making Saigon Sports Club their home base.

What do you think of the BJJ scene in Vietnam and South East Asia?

The BJJ scene in Vietnam is young but growing. As for the rest I still have not explored too much. I went to a tournament in the Philippines which was fun. Looking forward to exploring more.

Saigon Sports club

Saigon Sports club

How would you describe your style of BJJ?

Observing things as they are in the present and acting on that moment to moment. Tuning into the energy, understanding what is actually going on first. With this insight we are free to use/manipulate the energy and move more harmoniously, the “fight” is removed. To observe fully we have to put aside our thoughts, this includes: belief systems, prejudices, desire, fear and so on. How can we see the Truth if we are blinded by our ideas of it? The more we drop these limiting factors of the mind, the more we experience intelligent action, on and off the mat. Creativity also explodes. It is very difficult if not impossible to have ready made answers for life. When we are in the middle of a match, if we do not stay completely in the present moment sooner or later we will pay the price.

Who are some BJJ players that you admire?

Bill Cooper, Leo Santos, Roleta, Roger Gracie, Marcelo Garcia, Telles ,Jacare. Anyone who inquires for themselves.

What are your plans for 2015?

Continuing to dive deeper and share.

If you want to thank somebody or sponsors, feel free.

Thank you mom and dad for always supporting me and suggesting I question everything.
Thank you to the rest of my family and friends for always being supportive. Thank you Travis Lutter and the rest my Team Lutter family, Bruno Bastos and Nova Uniao for making me feel like home in Brazil, Saigon Sports Club for the sponsorship and support. Thank you to everyone I have ever rolled with. Thank you Guts, Ichigo Kurosaki, Naruto Uzumaki, and Monkey D. Luffy. Thank you Marley. Thank you Ashley for walking with me.