1. Hi Dickie can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ Community of Eastern Europe?
Hi guys, my name is Richard Martin, forty two years old and a first degree BJJ black belt. I’m born and bred in London and live in the area where I was born and work close to where I went to School. I’m an instructor at Carlson Gracie London www.bjjlondon.com and am very proud to have been one of the founding members of the team back in 2002. I’ve competed regularly since blue belt and I’ve won British or European titles at every belt. A couple of years after getting my black belt I started teaching and training full time and in 2011/12 I won British, European and World Masters titles with all wins coming by submission. In my spare time I am a Councillor (elected member of local government) and am fortunate enough to be the Member responsible for the promotion of sport in my Local area. I hope to be able to find a suitable legacy from the Olympics that will benefit all sports in our area by making it much easier for people to find a way to open sports clubs (BJJ academies included of course 🙂 )
I recently managed (with a lot of help) to introduce BJJ as a sports option at my old school as part of the curriculum (the first school in the UK to do so) and teach teen classes that are aimed at integrating kids from different social backgrounds through Jiu Jitsu (and creating a load of 20 year old black belts!)
2. How did you first get into BJJ? We want to hear stories about the boiler room!
I spent my teens and twenties partying and working hard as a derivatives trader on the futures exchange, I smoked for 15 years and stopped doing much exercise in my early 20’s and by 30 I was a mess. At 30 I took a sabbatical from work when my first child was born and went on a diet and gave up smoking. I still didn’t do much exercise (motor racing was my sport) but my best mate Simon Hayes kept hassling me to come and do BJJ.
It took about 4 months for me to agree and he took me to the Budokwai one night. The instructor was Chen Moraes, nearly all BJJ in the UK can trace its way back to him, he was the pioneer. It was a grading night, Chen graded adults by the kids system and this guy (Neil Lawlor) was fighting for his green belt. Simon had given me a Tae Kwondo gi and Chen called me out of the line as Rob had to win 3 matches for his belt. I was 90 kg and very aggressive and picked him up (70kg) and dumped him on the ground and everyone cheered. Within moments the inevitable choke from the back with the cheese wire grip that the tae kwondo collar had turned into came but I was hooked. It was a fight and I didn’t get hurt!! This was awesome!! I was sold, 3 times a week from then on without fail. Within a couple of months Chen moved on to Spain and the classes at the Budokwai stopped. The club moved to a new premises under the Albany Hotel in Earl’s Court and I remember standing outside the first time I went. Simon had stopped coming for a couple of weeks with work so I stood outside on my own. That was the day I had that moment when you look at the door of the Jiu Jitsu club and make your decision. My balls were big, I went in and there was Carlson Gracie London, started by Luca Mengacci and Wilson Junior. It was crazy down there, war every time, crazy roid head bodybuilders, bouncers, huge Eastern Europeans (nothing changes 🙂 ) and it was hard. The first thing that happened was Wilson took my recently awarded Yellow belt and handed me a white belt. “Now we do like in Brazil” he said. The training was indeed just like Brazil, Wilson and Sombra teaching (both from Rio) and a core of dedicated students fighting hard. I got my blue belt in about 11 months from Wilson at the Albany Hotel.
The new gym opened up at Torquay Street near Paddington. The Boiler Room was born. About 50 sq metres of mats under a Hostel in a rough area. You had to walk through the hostel with a load of crazies hanging around to the basement behind a big cage door. Many people must have turned back at that door but the hard core remained. Probably 30 or 40 students by then and a tough team. We went and won the first major tournament in London with our hit squad of crazy warriors. At blue belt I won a Gold in the first London Open and went on to win a gold in the absolute division of the British Open as well as a win in the first Dorset and Hants Open, run by Alex de Souza. I went to the first Europeans in 2004 with high hopes and subbed my first opponent (Swiss) and faced a Brazilian in the final. He was very good and very dangerous (despite looking like a pot bellied kid in glasses) and I whacked on the only option in the face of a superior opponent, the straight footlock. It was on, he was grimacing and pawing the floor when suddenly the referee pulled my foot from his hip and I looked at him in disbelief. I came up and fell into a triangle and suffered a disappointing loss. In fact I can remember many disappointing losses throughout, at the beginning of every belt I got smashed but that would always motivate me to come back stronger. I hate to lose and I love to win so I would always push on harder to try and come back and win again.
After a couple of years at purple belt I won the Gracie Invitational and shortly after was promoted to brown belt by Wilson shorty after he received his Black Belt from Nelson Solari.
This was 2006 and by now Luca was tired of running the club and had other commitments so Simon and I took over the running of Carlson Gracie London. We lost the use of the Hostel and I managed to lease the first floor of a warehouse in Glentham Road in Barnes. The mat space was huge and the club began to grow. I was still working full time as a trader and the club was a labour of love, I only started teaching in 2007 as a brown belt once Nelson had moved on.
In 2008 I managed to win the Masters Brown belt division at the Europeans and in April that year Simon got his black belt. I knew mine was coming as Simon and I had always been graded within a month or two of each other (or the same day) but I had already entered the Gracie Invitational and decided to fight one last time at Brown. I had won the British Title at blue and purple and I wanted to win it at brown. Unfortunately there was no-one in my division so I fought the absolute and in my first fight was matched with the 19 year old phenom from Gracie Barra, literally half my age and renowned for his amazing ability. I heard people in the crowd talking about the odds being stacked against me and faced one of my toughest tests, a couple of weeks before my black belt in front of hundreds of people at the biggest tournament in the country. I scored two points early on but as I completed the sweep got caught in an armbar and had to defend hard. I had good position and defended for a couple of minutes. It was horrible in there, face getting mashed and the blade of his wrist digging into my arm but I held on and finally broke free and managed a few moments of smashing before he locked in an armlock on the other arm. It was tight and my defence wasn’t so good and it was my weaker arm, I knew I couldn’t withstand the attack for long so I deadlifted my arm out and took the crunch on the way. My arm was bust but his will finally broke with it and I knew I’d won. The referee repositioned us and I couldn’t see properly, I was utterly exhausted but I stalled out the last minute for the win.
My second match was against a brazilian opponent and was very close, two points each and one advantage for him and for the last 3 minutes I attacked constantly and closed several triangles but no advantage came my way. However I fought well and did some nice jiu jitsu and was delighted when a few weeks later Wilson promoted me to Black Belt.
3. When I trained with you a few years back, it was interesting that your style was really different from the smashing style of your team mates. You had more of a technical style with less emphasis on pressure but more on movement. Why did you develop this style as opposed to the others?
It’s an interesting question and I’m glad you mentioned it. In my opinion the difference in individuals is greater than the difference you might find between academies. Carlson Gracie London turns out amazing guard players, incredible guard smashing top game players, submission specialists, takedown monsters…everything!
Let me give you an example that you have experienced first hand and mention in your question. My friend Simon Hayes introduced me to Jiu Jitsu and we trained at the same academy, same instructor, same classes, same seminars, same competitions. Our jiu jitsu is completely different and always has been. It’s because if you have a good instructor he will get the best out of you as an individual, he won’t try and impose a specific style.
However you will find that both of us train in the Carlson Gracie style, what that means is you are going up against someone who is very polite and friendly but once you clap hands he is going to try and make you tap. No dirty techniques or anything, you behave like a gentleman but my fren, for sure I gonna try and make you tap. This is what Carlson Gracie Jiu Jitsu is about, it’s competitive and it’s about getting the submission. Of course there are elements of our jiu jitsu that are ingrained, fight for the top position, don’t lose the dominant position, dominate your opponent and submit him. The roots of BJJ lie in vale tudo and we shouldn’t forget that we’re teaching people how to fight.
4. You are a frequent competitor. What is it about competition that you like so much?
I like winning, I love it. I hate losing so much but I love that sweet taste of victory just a little more. As a competitor I understand that losing is a necessity, it’s happened to me at every belt and I always came back stronger and won in the end. One of my toughest defeats was my third Europeans as a black belt. I always wanted to win the Masters division at black belt at the Europeans as I’d already won senior 1 and although my preparation wasn’t ideal due to illness I was confident. I won two tough matches that both went to points and sat down waiting for the final. Here it was, the defining moment of my jiu jitsu competition career, we were doing well in the team points and we were in line for a win. I had dreamt of lifting the trophy after winning my division and ended up in a position to do so. When I stood up to go to the mats my legs felt like lead, I had been sitting on the cold floor and I hadn’t eaten any carbs, I considered going to my bag for food and to walk off the aches but decided against it, a huge mistake. My opponent was waiting for me and quickly ended my dreams, he smashed me. For the first time ever I gave up, I didn’t want it any more and gave no resistance to the armbar that he mercifully dealt me. All my friends and students watched me blow it and we took second place in the team trophy. When I got home my instructor Wilson Junior showed me an article on Graciemag detailing my destruction with a vivid picture of the moment of my defeat. (funny how those guys never publish a good pic of me submitting someone) I immediately got up and walked to the rowing machine and punished myself for 7 minutes. Never again. I trained like a maniac and the only one of the next 11 black belts I faced in competition who I didn’t tap was Victor Estima (who made sure I kept my feet on the ground). I won the British Championship, then the Masters and Seniors and then the Europeans over the next year. The moral of the story is that when you lose in a jiu jitsu match you learn a lot, from tiny details about how you sit and what you eat to big things like not neglecting your Judo or technical errors. The way you respond to that defeat is what defines your character. I will be back for that masters gold medal and I will lift the team trophy many times in the fututre.
Competing in Jiu Jitsu improves your technique and improves you as a person every time.
5. Coming from your judo background, what advice would you give to someone willing to improve their BJJ stand up but not necessarily willing to learn the classic judo which is more geared for judo rules (no grabbing of legs for ex)?
It’s a common misconception that I’m from a Judo background when the fact is I came to BJJ from sitting on my couch. I started Judo when I was a BJJ blue belt and it played a very important part of my development, not least sparring on the ground with Ray Stevens every week for 4 years. My rolling armlock is inherited from experiencing it first hand hundreds of times! Judo is part of BJJ, you should take up the study of Judo for its own sake. It’s a shame that the leg grabs has made it less relevant as a martial art but you will still be able to develop your stand up at a good judo club. Furthermore Judo is great for self defence. What are you going to do if someone attacks you? Pull half-guard?
6. How are you able to combine competing at a high level in BJJ (winning Europeans and World Masters), running an academy, working a high profile job, and being a good father and husband? What advice would you give those of use that are juggling these roles?
It’s difficult and I wouldn’t be able to do it if I still worked but I gave up my job a few years ago to run the academy. However it’s still difficult to combine competition training with anything else. When I’m preparing for a competition I’m pretty useless for everything else. What I would say is that balance is always important in life and it’s easy to get obsessed with jiu jitsu. You need to make sure you get your qualifications, you have to do good at your job and make sure your wife and kids are happy. Jiu jitsu is always going to be there and if you neglect the other things they may not be. Find the balance where everyone is happy and try to keep it.
7. Please tell us about your academy in London? What sets it apart from other BJJ academies?
Carlson Gracie London (www.bjjlondon.com) is a full time jiu jitsu academy. It’s been open for over ten years so it has a huge depth of students with 6 black belts who trained together since day one teaching and training at the club. There are 50 classes per week, BJJ, nogi, Thai Boxing, Judo, Wrestling, MMA, Yoga, Kettlebells. This is a club where you can train like a professional or just come along and train a few times a week in a really friendly place with lots of good training partners and instructors. As well as some of the best facilities in Europe there’s a great atmosphere and team spirit and anyone from a complete beginner to a high level black belt would find it a great place to train.
8. What are BJJ players that you admire, and why?
I have to be honest here Guillaume, I’m not much of a BJJ fan, I struggle to watch more than 30 seconds of any video and never followed who was winning what in the competitions. I admire Roger for beating everyone with simple direct jiu jitsu and if I had to choose someone to give me their jiu jitsu it would be Marcelo Garcia.
9. What can you tell us about the rivalry between the big UK academies: Carlson Gracie, Roger Gracie, London Fight Factory etc..? Is it a healthy rivalry, is there mutual respect and friendships between academies?
There’s a good relationship between most of the academies, there’s always going to be individuals who get too poderoso but generally we all get on fine. In fact Roger and Mauricio gave us a lot of advice when we took the gym full time and without their assistance we wouldn’t have been able to get my old school to introduce BJJ on the curriculum. So yeah, we’re all mates but when it’s on the mat, in the words of Nelson Solari, “Is a war my friend!”
10.What’s next for you and your team in 2012/2013?
I’m really enjoying teaching at the moment, we have so many promising students that my job is an absolute pleasure. I look forward to teaching lots of great students to the best of my ability and I look forward to dominating competitions as a team and as an individual, starting with the Europeans.
11. If you want to somebody or sponsors feel free
I’d like to thank my instructor Wilson Junior for showing me jiu jitsu and teaching me so much, I’m very proud to have received all my belts from him and feel very proud that he took me to black belt and I continue as his student and friend to this day. Thanks also to Carlson Gracie Junior who comes to visit regularly and always shows me so much and reminds me how much I have to learn. I’d like to thank all my training partners, all those who shared my journey and especially Simon for introducing me to BJJ and walking the path with me. I was on the mat with a load of great friends tonight, we sparred, we drunk acai, we laughed and I felt rejuvenated. Sharing the journey with great friends is a big part of jiu jitsu, never take yourself too seriously. Thanks also to all my students, I’ll always try to give my best and teach you the jiu jitsu that I was taught and get the best out of you.
Thanks to www.faixarua.co.uk for sponsoring me and putting something back into UK jiu jistu by sponsoring young fighters.
13. Thanks Dickie and all the best! OSSS
Thanks, keep up the good work and come and see us soon. Please tell all your readers to come and visit if they are in London (details at www.bjjlondon.com ). We have very reasonable traveller rates as we like to meet and train with new people.