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Romania’s Marius Varlan on his 8 years spent training & competing in BJJ in Japan


1. Hi Marcus can you please introduce yourself to the BJJ community of Eastern Europe? 

My name is Marius Varlan ( Mario ). Im 35 years old, 1.81cm and 93kg. I have been certified by Watanabe Takamasa (the head coach of AXIS JIU-JITSU ACADEMY-Japan) as a sensei in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, BJJ and Self-Defense. I am also a Black Belt in judo. I am the only Romanian citizen the has practiced and competed 8 years representing the most prestigious BJJ Academy in Japan, Having competed in over 50 BJJ and Grappling Tournaments.

2. How did you start training BJJ? Please tell us about your time training in Japan.

Ten years ago, without a background in Martial Arts, i started practicing BJJ in Japan. aftter living for two years in Japan, during which i used to watch MMA and Pride, and understood only the striking aspect of the fights. I was fascinated by the techniques used to takedown and submit and opponent. I couldn’t understand what was actually happening once the fighters were on the ground.

With Axis Japan Patron, Rickson Gracie

I then decided that I had to find out why, most of the ground fighters would win, over the strikers. I was desperate to find out details, so i was compelled to watch more and more tournaments. Then one day a japanese friend of mine sat me down and told me the story of the Gracie family and the beginings of UFC. I then purchased and watched the all the UFC Events. At that moment i was seeing these techniques produced by the champions of these MMA tournaments as unrealistic.
In 2002, i was living in Fukuoka (southern Japan) and decided it was time to practice the most eficent Martial Art in the world. My Japanese friends from Fukuoya would tell me that the Gracie Family, through their new style, have revolutionized the Martial Arts world. I then asked one of them to help me find the most aclaimed Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Dojo. Soon on, I was practicing in the most famous Gracie Jiu Jitsu academy in Japan: Axis Jiu Jitsu Academy.
Under the guidence of Kanda Takeshi (at that time a Brown Belt in BJJ), I was captivated by this art, so much, that 2 months later I asked to participate in a competition.
I remember feeling much stronger than my Japanese collegues who were part of the Axis competion team. My collegues had helped my evolution in GJJ very much in that period, and with this ocassion i would like to thank Mark(Canadian) and Mike (American).
So, after just 2 months of training in BJJ i obtained two gold medals, one of them from my weight class and the other one from the Open category.

Honestly I only knew a few techniques, and my strength was what truly helped me win at the begining.

Axis BJJ Academy

My sensei had a new goal to achieve, and a very important one, to get using force out of my head. His wished very much to teach me to stop using physical force during sparring and learn to apply the technics with a more delicate approach. I remember it being very hard, I was seen as a pitbull, always seeking to immobilize my adversery, due to the lack of experience in transitioning and and the ability to get out of my opponent’s controls.
Everytime my sensei would see me during sparring using force and not using the technical aspect, he would tell me: ” As long as you are not seeking to be technical, and just use force, I shall not watch over your sparring”.
This would make me feel left aside, and ashamed that i was not pleasing my Sensei. It was though, as i liked to call it “Constructive Indifference”. I will never forget how i felt and how he treated me. In the present day, i am teaching in Romania what i have learned and studied in Japan, and often i find myself sharing to my pupils different moments from my carrier. After ten months of practising, I obtained a Blue Belt in GJJ. I had amassed six Gold medals and making me very proud that i was already applying what my Sensei Kanda taught me.
Three years later, my Sensei pulled me aside after practice to recommend that I go to Tokyo if i wish to become a GJJ Instructor and to further expand my knowledge. Once i arrived in Tokyo, i was surprised
to find out that I was to join a Seminar held by Master Rickson Gracie. Rickson Gracie helped me understand how important the small details were when it came to applying GJJ technics, also how hard it is to fight simple.
I also understood through Rickson Gracie, that basic technics, breathing , posture and balance were the most important. Rickson Gracie is the one who supervises the activity in Axis Jiu Jitsu Academy. That was the first time that I met Master Rickson Gracie, who also decorated Sensei Watanabe Takamasa with a Black Belt in Gracie Jiu Jitsu, who soon became my BJJ Sensei.

3. So how was life in Tokyo?

A few months later i moved to Tokyo, in search for a lodging in the close proximity of the Dojo. Without money and a job, i was still happy, i was finaly realizing my dream, I could practice Gracie Jiu Jitsu close to the source. I could compete in Japans most important prestigious tournaments.
I arrived at Axis Academy with a Blue belt in BJJ, which i recieved 2 years before from Kanda Sensei, who was the pupil of the most aclaimed and only Black Belt 3 th degree (received from Rickson Gracie)at Axis Academy, Takamasa Watanabe, the only Black belt on the Asian continent decorated by Rickson Gracie.

Taking 3rd place at the Rickson Gracie Cup

Once in Fukuoka , I started also practicing Judo, I also studied a few months of Muay Thai, together with Kevin McHugh, an experienced practicionare, of Canadian decent, with over 20years of studing Muay thai, and with a coaching degree.
In 2008 I passed my kata exam, and received Black Belt from the most faimous Judo Institue in the world, The Kodokan – Tokyo, At the beginning, before I decided to start Judo, I would often receive a takedown from my opponents, which made me realize, that if I want to be complete in my technique, it was necessary to learn Judo as well.
In march 2010, after 7 years of training, and amassing a certain number of medals in BJJ and Grappling, I soon receive the honor of receiving the purple belt in GJJ, and a certificate that attests that I can instruct Gracie Jiu Jitsu and BJJ.

4. Did you train and fight in MMA there?

I had the occasion in this period to also Compete in 3 MMA fights(1-1-1), I was helped directly by Cristiano Kaminishi, the most representative fighter in BJJ, Grappling and MMA, in the AXIS Academy, between, his large number of trophies, there also is a Heavyweight Champions Belt, recieved at the MMA-HEAT Tournament, who also is a wonderful person, and a solid coach.
About 5 years of training at Axis Tokyo, I had the pleasure of sparring with Philip Yeomans, another great champion produced by Axis Academy, I had much to learn much this great fighter, and would also like to thank him again for the knowledge passed down. Philip Yeomans is presently a Black Belt in BJJ and owns his own Academy in Cambridge, Axis UK.
Imidietly after the disaster at Fukushima, 200km from Tokyo, I decided to accept my parents calls to return home, so I bid farewell to this beautiful country.
Until 16months ago my CV looks like:
16 times BJJ and GRAPPLING GOLD MEDALIST in Japan,gold medalist at Asian Open BJJ Championship,gold medalist at BJJ European Championship 2010,gold medalist at Asian World Abu Dhabi Pro Jiu Jitsu Trial-Tokyo.

5. How was life for you in Japan?

During the period while residing in Japan, I made a lot of sacrifices, I would work at night and sleep during the days, and after I would wake up at night I would go to GJJ practices, all but saturdays and Sundays. I don’t even want to think about how much I spent on my seminars, taxes for competitions, and so on, but my love for BJJ is undescribable, I was present at every BJJ/MMA event in Tokyo… What an expensive city.. )
In Japan i have attended the folowing seminars :Rickson Gracie , Royce Gracie , Flavio Behring , Alvaro Romano , Ricardo De La Riva , Leo Vieira , Robson Moura , Xande Ribeiro ,Braulio Estima , Rafael Mendes , Guilherme Mendes , Andre Galvao , Eduardo Telles , Kron Gracie , Abmar Barboza ,Cristiano Kaminishi .

6. Please tell us about your school in Romania?

Marius taking the gold at the Europeans

Immediately after retruning in Romania, I started to teach MMA and BJJ. Honestly I never thought I would be making a living out of what i studied 8 years in Japan. I am very happy to make money with doing what I love. I am deeply in debt to the people that taught me what I know, and I would like to thank Grand Master, Helio Gracie, God rest his soul, for creating this wonderful way of life. Since my return in Romania, I have attained a Silver medal at the ADCC World Pro Bucuresti and Romanian Champion at Kempo Submission.
In Bucurest, I am training my own students for 5months, two of with have attained the Silver and Bronze medal, at their only tournament that they have participated, at ADCC Romania – Brasov. I would like to congradulate them. We train together, and we have the same philosophy, and the will to create a competitive team, we wish to astonish through results.

7. Thanks for the great story Marius, all the best!

I would like to thank you for this interview and I wish you all the best.

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