Rebecca: I would like to start by congratulating you on your wins at the ISCF Submission Grappling Tournament on January 26, 2002 at Ray Thompson's Upstate Karate in SC. Can you tell us a little about some of your fights?
Blake: Thank you! There was some great competition there and I was very happy to be there. My fights went well overall. There are some things that I would change now, but hindsight is always 20/20 right? My first match was with Scott Estrada from Charleston, SC. He was a good bit shorter than me, but he was also very strong. He tried to judo style throw me a couple of times, but I think my height prevented that. We went down to the ground and I immediately took his back, sunk my hooks in, and went for the rear choke. He defended WELL and after 3 minutes we were still going at it. I was tired but I saw him lift his hand for the tap and I gave it one last hard pull. That did it for him. I did not have a break between fights and was back on the mat with Andrew Varney almost immediately. Morgan Washick told me if I was tired (which I was...big time) to go for a triangle choke. I pulled guard, faked an arm bar attempt, and he walked right into my triangle. It took about 3 seconds after that.
Rebecca: What was your overall impression of the event?
Blake: The event was awesome. Mr. Thompson did a great job. Also, the ISCF did a great job as well. The pace was fast which the crowd loved! I think the next 3 tournaments this year will be even better.
Rebecca: Having been a competitor and a spectator at various grappling style tournaments in this area, I can't help but notice the lack of spectators in comparison to the numbers that turn out for the NHB type events. So many of the 'submission' grappling events have adopted the "points" style of competition which slows the action of the fights. Mr. Thompson through IronSpirit Promotions is trying to increase the public following of this sport by implementing rules that are more like those of NAGA. These rules encourage more aggressive fights, rewarding fighters that go for submission as opposed to stalling for points. What are your feelings about "points" tournaments vs "submission" tournaments. Which do you prefer to compete in?
Blake: Point style should be done away with in my opinion. It's called submission grappling for a reason. I would compete in either just to gain experience but would much rather be in a submission tournament. Mr. Thompson has the right idea.
Rebecca: The aggressive rules that IronSpirit Promotions adopted for this tournament requires that the fighters be in very good physical shape in order to keep the matches so active for the full 5 minutes and not get warned for stalling. You look to be in very good physical shape, what do you do to maintain that degree of fitness? Without giving away all of your secrets, please comment on your training schedule as well as your diet.
Blake: To be honest with you, most of my fitness comes from my background. I did some time in the Army and I also graduated from The Citadel, The Military College in South Carolina. I was more or less forced to stay in shape over the past 5 years. Submission grappling endurance is so different from running endurance. Most people don't understand that. I think the only way to get in shape for submission grappling is, well....grappling. I work on my heavy bag every day which helps too. As far as diet goes, I am blessed with a super high metabolism so I don't have to worry about food as much as others may. I'll diet a week before a match. The night before, I'll quit eating and drinking after 6pm. After weigh-ins, I'll go eat and re-hydrate.
Rebecca: For me, I think the most difficult part of competing is the "mental" preparation more so than the physical. Some fighters don't get nervous at all, some do. You mentioned that you do get nervous, how do you prepare yourself mentally for a fight.
Blake: I think being nervous is good. There is a big difference between being nervous, and being scared. Vanderlei Silva probably still gets nervous, but I bet there is not an ounce of fear in his body. I feel the same way. (probably not to his extent, but I try) Before a fight, I simply relax and think about what I am going to do. This goes back to my boxing days as well. I don't pay too much attention to the other guy. Looks can be deceiving. My confidence is high so that will carry me through most situations. If I lose, I lose. Nothing to be worried about. Live and learn. I'll be back to fight another day.
Rebecca: How do you prepare yourself for a tournament style event where you go against multiple opponents that you may not know anything about, as opposed to a "matched" fight where you only have one fight and you are familiar with your opponent's style.
Blake: Like I said in the last question, I am not really concerned with the other guys in a tournament. I know what I have to do regardless of what they do. As far as a single match...I would want to watch tapes for sure.
Rebecca: What was the hardest technique that you have learned so far for you to learn well enough to actually make it effective in a match ?
Blake: Casey Oxendine teaches us really well so nothing is real "difficult". I like the triangle choke a lot and feel comfortable using that on almost anyone.
Rebecca: what is your favorite technique and why ?
Blake: Grappling..... , I like the figure four arm bar a lot. I feel like someone is going to have a hard time getting out of that one. Also, I like taking someone's back and getting my legs around them in a figure four. Overall, my favorite tool is a right hand. Straight or a hook. (from my boxing days) I have a feeling I am going to learn to love knees and shins as soon as I can get onto the NHB scene.
Rebecca: Who is the most challenging opponent that you have ever faced. Why was he a challenge and what did you learn from him?
Blake: In training, Casey Oxendine (left) without a doubt. What do I learn from him....? That size and strength don't matter as much as I perceive them to. I outweigh him by 35 lbs. probably and that goes out the window when we roll. In competition.... Andrew Varney because I was so, so, so tired. What did I learn from that? I can keep going when my body and mind says stop.
Rebecca: If you could have a matched fight set up with anyone of your choosing, who would you most like to fight and why ?
Blake: I hate to say this but it really doesn't matter to me as long as they are equal (or close to) to my skill level. I don't care to fight a pro fighter right now....and on the other hand I don't want to fight someone who has no experience.
Rebecca: You mentioned that your goal is to fight NHB, tell me a little about this.
Blake: NHB fighting has ALWAYS fascinated me. I guess it's my aggressive nature. Grappling is great...but I am anxious to be able to punch and kick. For example....if I am in a full mount, my brain tells me that it's time to start raining down punches. If someone shoots on me....sprawling is great....but I want to throw a right knee to their face to be honest with you.
Rebecca: What other goals do you have?
Blake: I'd love to say my goal is to fight professionally. Who knows though? I am the type of person who takes one day at a time.
Rebecca: You train in Vale Tudo and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu - right? How long have you trained in these arts, why did you start training, and why did you choose this style?
Blake: I have been training in this style since Oct of 2001. Not a long time, however, I have learned a lot. I am going to be able to incorporate boxing, judo, karate, and wrestling with this and hopefully have a good arsenal. Why did I choose this? I knew I would get back into martial arts after college and I visited a couple of schools. As soon as I got to Upstate Karate and saw that class I knew it was for me.
Rebecca: You mentioned that you previously trained in some "striking" arts , tell me about this.
Blake: I learned a lot from basic American Karate to be honest with you. Kicking more than anything. Boxing at The Citadel helped me tremendously obviously. Also, I feel as I am kind of a natural puncher. I got into a few fights growing up and punching with fast combinations always came naturally??!!!
Rebecca: Did you compete when you were training in this style -- if so, tell me a little about that experience.
Blake: I competed in several Karate Tournaments but they were point style. I didn't like it to be honest with you. Competing in boxing was awesome. My complaints there are that the gloves are too big and we wore headgear. It was hard to get a KO. I think NHB will alleviate those problems.
Rebecca: Do you feel that it is important to cross train in a "stand-up" striking art as well as a ground art such as Vale Tudo or BJJ?
Blake: ABSOLUTELY. Every NHB fighter cross trains. The days of Royce Gracie are over. Look at BJ Penn for example. He has a Black Belt in BJJ and punches like a boxer. That is what you need. If you don't cross train, don't bother competing. You need to be comfortable wherever the fight goes.
Rebecca: When you fight NHB, do you prefer to keep the fight standing up, or do you prefer to take it straight to the ground -- why?
Blake: Standing up. I want a knockout. Every time I would prefer a solid KO. Actually, I will attack on his weakness. If he is a former golden gloves boxer, we are hitting the mat. If he is a black belt in BJJ, I will stand up. That's why you have to cross train.
Rebecca: Tell me a little bit about your instructor.
Blake: Casey Oxendine is awesome. Bottom line. He is a great teacher and he has the experience to back it up. I have no complaints at all about him.
Rebecca: Who is your favorite fighter and why
Blake: I have a few favorites.... overall, it's gotta be Vanderlei Silva. He is the best fighter in the world I think. Nobody wants to fight this guy. I think it's the combination of his skill and his mental attitude. No fear. He is not scared of anyone. His stare down is absolutely brutal. It all starts there. Most guys won't even look in his eyes. I don't blame them! I like the way he goes for the soccer style kick to the head. He likes the heel stomp to the head as well. I read an interview with him not too long ago and he said something to the affect of "I hate the other fighter while we are in the ring". for some sick reason I think that is awesome. I love to watch Kazushi Sakuraba as well. He is a great fighter. His grappling is great and so are his strikes.
Rebecca: Have you trained with anyone famous, if so please comment on what you most remember about the experience?
Blake: No! I have been out of town for the seminars!
Rebecca: Who do you feel has had the greatest influence in the martial arts aspect of your life and why. Or who do you most look up to?
Blake: My wife plays a big part in it. She is very supportive. She sat right on the edge of the mat at this last tournament. Other than that, it's a lot of self motivation to be honest with you. This is something I feel like I can be good at so I chose to do it. Maybe I can influence someone one day.
Rebecca: What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome?
Blake: Freshman year (aka knob year) at The Citadel. It's a long 9 miserable months. I mean a LONG 9 months. Lack of food and sleep can make a day seem like a month. 9 months of pain...a lifetime of pride. I wouldn't trade it for anything.
Rebecca: Graduating from The Citadel -- that is very impressive. Hard to get into and harder still to STAY in. Why did you choose the Citadel over a non-military school?
Blake: The Citadel is the best decision I have ever made for myself. Actually, it's a close second to getting married to Laura. I chose to go there for 2 reasons. 1) To be honest with you, I needed the structure. I needed the mandatory study halls. I never missed one class throughout college and if I was at Carolina, I have a feeling that wouldn't have happened. 2) I also chose The Citadel because of the alumni networks. I'd do anything for any fellow Citadel grad regardless of whether I knew them or not. Other than the academies, no other school comes close to the alumni relationships that develop at The Citadel
Rebecca: Do you think the military mind-set of the Citadel makes a difference in building character in it's graduates as opposed to a non-military school's output?
Blake: Without a doubt. I mean, there is no question. Character building is a big part of The Citadel. It changed me a lot. (for the better) While we were in school, if we lied, cheated, or stole anything....we faced expulsion. No second chance.....that's it. I never dreamed of cheating on a test or telling a lie to someone. That carries over to the real world with most grads.
Rebecca: You mentioned that you competed in boxing while at the citadel. Tell me a little about this.
Blake: Yeah my roommate and I joined the boxing team as freshmen. I always enjoyed competition and thought boxing would be a good fit for me. It was hard though. Real hard. However, the coach was awesome and I learned a lot. The best thing about my entire boxing experience is this.... like I said, I was a freshman, and there was this upperclassman from my company on the team as well. He was really giving us a hard time. I had to sit at his lunch table that semester and if you know anything about The Citadel, you'll know that meals are the worst time for a freshman. Anyway, during practice, the coach put us in the ring together. He outweighed me by 30 lbs probably but he was slow. I ended up catching him with a right cross and it knocked a filling out of his tooth. He gave me a pretty bad bloody nose and the fight was stopped, but he also quit the team. What goes around...comes around. He was always cool to me after that.
Rebecca: No wonder you said you were fond of the "right hand" when I asked you what your favorite technique was ---- I should have KNOWN there was a reason for that. You mentioned earlier that you were in the Army. Was your dad in the army too?
Blake: I graduated from The Citadel but did not take a commission into the service. Instead, I enlisted and ended up serving 5 years in the Army Reserves. I actually did not enjoy the reserve time....however, I did enjoy the time I spent training on active duty. No my dad was not in the Army. He served in the Navy in the Vietnam era.
Rebecca: Tell me a little about your dad.
Blake: My dad lives in Columbia. He is remarried and I have 3 new half siblings. Brooke, Andrew, and Victoria. I also have a brother and a sister, Will and Elizabeth. My entire family lives in Columbia as a matter of fact.
Rebecca: Have you always lived in South Carolina?
Blake: I grew up in Columbia. I lived there for 19 years before I moved away. I have lived down at the beach (Pawleys Island) before and hopefully will get the chance to live there again one day down the road. My wife's family is from Anderson so now I am there. I have lived all over the state and have enjoyed each place. The beach is my favorite though.
Rebecca: Tell me about your profession.
Blake: I am an Account Executive for a physician benchmarking service. We show doctors revenue opportunity through coding & utilization patterns. (among other things)
Rebecca: I hear that you are a real animal lover -- tell me about your dogs
Blake: Big part of my life. My wife jokes that we are dog farmers. I actually only have 3 dogs but they are all big. I have 2 Labrador Retrievers, Hank and Stella. I also have a husky/chow mix named Jake. My yellow lab ran away last year and I made signs that literally measured 20 feet x 15 feet. I had 2 of them in my front yard. It was pretty tacky but I got my dog back!
Rebecca: You said that you are a newly wed - how does your wife feel about watching you compete? How does she feel about you fighting NHB? Does she help you train when you are at home?
Blake: She likes it. She has said more than once that she is glad that I have this in my life. I am the type of person that needs to be active. I mean, I NEED to have something like this. I had an itch to be a Navy SEAL about 6 months ago...she is glad that I chose fighting over The Navy! Does she help me train? NO! She tells me I look good on the bag but that's about it. I think she is sick of me saying "Hey let me show you this new move".
Rebecca: You mentioned that your wife's profession requires that she go to the homes of her clients, this could be dangerous. Is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu / Vale Tudo something that you feel would benefit a woman as self defense? Why do you feel this way? Do you show your wife any techniques with this in mind?
Blake: Yeah she goes into homes and treats patients there. I think BJJ/Vale Tudo would GREATLY benefit a woman in this situation. I actually do show her a lot of techniques. Will she use them? Who knows....I got her a 300,000 volt stun gun though so I hope she'll use that! That may pack a bigger punch than her fist. I think she would like to take a class if it were all women. Also, we live in Anderson so the drive would probably bother her. It takes commitment to make a 50 minute drive to and from there you know?
Rebecca: You enjoy shooting and just got your concealed weapons permit. That is quite an accomplishment. What started your interest in guns?
Blake: My interest in guns has always been there. I learned a lot about them in the Army. I carry a Glock Model 30 which is a sub compact .45
Rebecca: Do you own your guns for protection, sport or a combination?
Blake: The Glock is for protection. I refuse to be a victim because some nut decides to rob a store or even worse break in my house. My rifle is for fun. My shotgun is for doves. My family has a farm here in town so I like to go target shoot as well.
Rebecca: What is your favorite color?
Blake: Navy Blue. Always has been....don't really know why.
Rebecca: I know that you just went on a skiing trip, that sounds like a lot of fun. How often do you ski --- what other hobbies do you have?
Blake: Yeah we just got back from Lake Tahoe, CA. It's a yearly trip and its awesome! My wife is not a fan of skiing so it has turned into a guys trip. Me, my dad, my brother, and a bunch of friends. After skiing out there for 4 or 5 days a year, I don't have an interest in skiing over here. That sounds so snobby and I apologize for that :) Other hobbies? Used to surf a lot but that can't happen too much in the upstate. I love watching NHB tapes. I also have a Playstation 2 addiction. (Madden and Basketball) My wife hates it. I also am into card tricks....sleight of hand stuff....close up street magic. Big fan of Ellusionist.com
Rebecca: Your interest in slight of hand, magic tricks... this is very interesting. Do you ever perform? say for kid's parties or anything like that?
Blake: No I don't perform for any organized parties or anything but I usually do them everyday for people. Most people in the office ask me to do one every day. I don't really know why I have an interest in that....I guess it sounds kinda silly???!! Actually, I like peoples reaction after it's over. The "Whoa how in the world did you do that?" really is funny to me. My wife probably thinks it is dumb because 1) she knows how I do it. 2) I make her watch me over and over and over. It's neat though......it gives me something to do.
Rebecca: You'll have to show me some of those tricks sometime. I have always been a fan of the mysterious. Is there anything else that you would like to share?
Blake: Yeah if anyone wants to train in the Anderson area, let me know. Reach me via email at email@example.com
Rebecca: Thank you so much for your time Blake. Watching you at the last tournament, I know you will go far. This year competing as a novice, you will not be going for a title belt at the end of the year, but I KNOW that the other grapplers will have to look out for you next year!!! See you on May 4th at the next ISCF tournament and best of luck with your goals in NHB.