French/Moroccan Black Belt El Mehdi Khalil, The BJJ Ronin, On His Unusual Jiu-Jitsu Journey & Positive Effects Of Religion In His BJJ


French/Morrocan BJJ black belt El Mehdi Khalil has a unusual Jiu-Jitsu story. He started training in the mid 90’s and never stopped. Along the way, he also trained Luta Livre. During all this time, he was never under any direct BJJ professor and was never promoted to any BJJ belts. His level was never under question within the French BJJ community. He was always a well respected BJJ teacher, good competitor and was a sort of BJJ Ronin. In this interview with BJJ Eastern Europe, El Mehdi talks about his BJJ journey, how he went straight from white belt to black belt, the role of religion in his Jiu-Jitsu, and his plans to spread BJJ in Morocco.

Hi El Mehdi, can you introduce yourself to the community BJJ of East Europe? 

Hi guys, my name is Khalil El Mehdi, 35 years, De La Riva Black Belt. In terms of competition results, I came 3 rd at the VIC  5 + 96kg in 2012. First place at Rennes Open Gracie Barra in 2011 (and other smaller competitions).

Can you tell us about your background and how you got started in BJJ and Luta Livre?

I wanted to do bjj since 1996 or the year that I first saw the ufc with Royce Gracie , but at the time there was not much internet and it was hard to find a BJJ club. I trained some wresttling, but didn’t stick to it.
Then my friend Ihssan Akil ( Chairman of the Z -Team Boulogne ) , told me that he would bring a teacher of bjj Azziz Chergui (One of the first BJJ black belts in Europe) . We started in 2002 with Aziz Cherigui for some months. He was busy so then one of his students trained us during the rest of the year. Sometimes he could not come but we all continued to train .


3rd place at the VIC grappling tournament in France

So, when did you start training Luta Livre?

In 2003 we found out that a Brazilian Luta Livre champion had arrived in France and was looking for a club, it was Flavio “Peroba” Santiago. We jumped at the chance . We stopped training in the gi and started Luta Livre.
In 2005/2006 I moved to the town of in Trappes (Paris suburb), there was a team called Vivacite 78 which didn’t have a coach, so they asked to coach them. It was my first teaching experience . In 2007 , a section was open in Trappes it was the birth of Team 78. During the year 2008 , Iattend some classes with Ait Hakim (De La Riva black belt) in the gi. Then I have decided to go back to BJJ because I realized that the best grapplers world practiced BJJ in the Gi.

When did you decide to move to Morocc and set up a BJJ academy there? How do you see BJJ developing in Morocco?

BJJ is slowly but surely growing in Morocco, there is already a Moroccan born BJJ black belt there: Hicham Hakam. He is my friend and is under David Vierra. Hicham is in Casablanca. There was also Essadek Bouzid aka “Dex” in Marrakech (he left Morocco for Tunisia this year). There is also Gracie Barra Morocco in Rabat and other clubs in Morocco. There is a great potential in Morocco, many fighters (judo, wrestling, full contact, taekwondo …) who have joined BJJ. There is a great lack of teachers and higher belts and especially organization and unfortunately it hinders the development of BJJ here.
For my part, I have not opened my academy yet, as I am still between France and Morocco. I teach in diffrent academies there at the moment and waiting to open my own academy.

You have an unusual background in BJJ. How you go directly from white belt to black?

As I said earlier, since 2007 to now, I was teaching grappling and BJJ and during this period I did not have a direct teacher. It wasn’t that I did not want to but it was dues to the lack of time and the far distance to go train with others, and especially I found that BJJ was a very sectarian world. The professors that we contacted for gradings, never really gave a straight answer about what was required. So , no teacher and no official belt ….
I continued to train hard in the gi with my students for 5 years in order to reach a good level though.
During these five years , I rolled and competed with all kinds of belt levels that allowed me to self evaluated myself . When I wanted BJJ belt , it became a mission impossible. I was either to pay incredible sums of money or they refused to answer me. So this year, I decided to go to Brazil for an evaluation from a great master . My choice was to turn to Master Ricardo De La Riva as he had a great reputation.
My friend Tony wrote me a letter in Portuguese that I showed Master Ricardo De La Riva . In fact, he speaks good French , so I didn’t have too much to explain my case . De la Riva told me “we will work for the black belt ” I stayed for a month in his academy and eventually got my black belt . For me it is the epitome of BJJ. Master Ricardo De La Riva didn’t ask for money , or affiliate or something else ….. The fact that such a master graduated me to black belt, is for me a priceless gift and a strong sign . He is an amazing man as in human terms and in terms of BJJ. Now I understand why his students perceive him as their father. I am proud to be one of his students and to have known him . His students are in his own image .

Rennes Open

Rennes Open

What is your style of BJJ?

Actually, I do not think that I have a style in particular. I am inspired by the best like everyone, I try to be as complete. Is the most effective in my opinion.

Tell us about your faith and the positive influence of religion in your Jiu-Jitsu and life everyday.

You know There are similarities between Islam and BJJ, we find the same values ​​such as respect, hard work, science, humility, discipline, ect …. For a Muslim, BJJ is a continuation of his faith. I recommend this martial art to my religious brothers.

Mehdi at the Mosque of Rio De Janeiro

Mehdi at the Mosque of Rio De Janeiro

If you want to thank sponsors and friends, you can

I want to thank first and foremost my Lord Allah, and all who have been a cause in my life.

El Mehdi thank you and all the best!

Thank you.