Dutchman Michel van Rijt on Teaching BJJ in Russia: ‘Fighting is in their DNA’

Dutchman Michel van Rijt on Teaching BJJ in Russia: ‘Fighting is in their DNA’



Michel van Rijt is a Dutch Judoka (former national team member in Judo and Japanese Ju Jitsu) who now lives in Russia and teaches BJJ at Rio Grappling Club in Voronezh. He holds a brown belt in BJJ under Roberto Atalla.

Since September 2014, he has moved to Russia and is teaching MMA, BJJ, Pankration and Judo there.

He told BJJEE about his take on the current situation of BJJ in Russia, what brought him there and his views on Russian mentality:


Please tell us more about what brought you to Russia and about your work there with the various martial arts you are involved in

It is a bit complicated, first of all my wife is Russian and her parents are very sick so she wantend to stay close to them for the time they were still here. Actualy her Father died last 21 february ( may God have his soul) and we were there. You understand that he was most important reason to go. Her mother also very sick but we hope she ll stay with us for a longer time. But also we had a talk in july 2014 with Fedor Emalianenko in Amsterdam and he invited me to come and work with their federation as a teacher/instructor in MMA. This probably will start later this year now as all my official documents are being approved and also my official working permit is given. So I’ll work with the federation of Fedor for MMA in Russia but I am also head coach of Rio Grappling Club Russia trying to spread BJJ here in Russia. Then I have connections with Fila Grappling part here in Russia and the Jiu Jitsu federation connected to THE JJIF. So enough to do.



How do you view the evolution of BJJ in Russia?

The Russians grow up with Sambo, Wrestling and Rucho Pashne Boi so to bring new sports to them is difficult. MMA is growing fast as Fedor is their hero but for grappling and BJJ there is a long Way to go. Not only because of people do not want to do the sports but also for political reasons. For example it is not allowed to have a BJJ federation in Russia because FILA federation will not allow that. It is in fact by law not allowed. You can only organize BJJ tournaments in your own dojo if it is not in a governmental sport hall.
The only two tournaments allowed in Russia from IBJJF are The Moscow Gi and No Gi international open. But the tournament for May is canceled and no new date is given. You understand That the politics between Fila and IBJJF or other BJJ federations are not helping to develop BJJ in Russia.
There is a great potential here so we will see how it goes in the next few years.

From other side it is also a little bit controversial because Fila made THE IBJJF Moscow Open (in October 2014) happen. They did not say that it was forbidden and actually made for IBJJF all legal documents to make it happen. They organized the great sport center in center of Moscow and hotel at walking distance. So Fila and IBJJF are working together but it is the beginning.

For now I just concentrate on getting clubs interested to join Rio Grappling Club and spread BJJ we will see what will come later.
What do you think about the fact that BJJ nowadays is so ‘ground-centric’? What needs to be done so that more people work to improve their takedowns?

First of all I think you should give more points for a good throw in that case people with more knowledge of throws can take already advantages from that. Also we must forbid (now only for white Belts ) guard jumping for all categories or give it higher penalty. It is not so interesting any more to jump guard if you are immediately 4 points down. I think that will make the fight more complete and will create more options for different kind of fighters.




What do you think about the toughness of Russian and Caucasus fighters? How do they compare with Western Europeans?

Russian and Caucasus fighters have a great mentality when they train hard and never complain. They can train everywhere and any time. In western Europe we are spoiled everything must be the best of the best and very modern, but is that really necessary to train hard?? I don’t think so..It is your will to succeed and your hunger to achieve something. Chances here in Russia are small, competition is big and normal jobs pay little money. When they succeed in sport they can have a better salary and some other advantages so they’ll do everything possible to get a better life. Why do the best boxers in the world came from the ghettos and not from the rich families near for example Hollywood? Exactly the same reason because of survival instinct, willing to fight for a better life, only here it also a part culture. It is in their DNA to fight. Every hour of the day they can train wrestling somewhere, that is different than for example in Holland where you mostly train in the evenings. The children in Russia train in the morning and evening wrestling, even tournaments are sometimes on a Tuesday or Wednesday. Things we could not imagine in Europe.

What’s next for you and your team in 2015?

My theam in Voronezh Russia is preparing for some grappling and MMA fights and then in August we go with 19 people of Rio Grappling Club Russia to BJJ trainings camp in Poland for a nice week of training with Roberto Atalla and Mauro Cheng and more.

After the summer I’ll continue building up BJJ here in Russia and teaching my fighters @ Ван Райт Top Team in Voronezh.
If my health stays good I might start to compete again in September and take part in THE IBJJF Worlds Masters in Las Vegas and then visit my friend Bas Rutten in Los Angeles on my way back to Russia.

I want to take also the opportunity to thank my family in Holland who support me to go to Russia, I know that it is difficult for them that I am so far  away in a country that they don’t really understand. Also I want to thank my wife for supporting and helping me here in Russia with the language problems, organizing and managing my agenda for seminars here in Russia.


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