Through Darren I have met many good friends over the years and have many great memories of seminars and weekend training marathons with Darren’s students and guys from the now formed Yorkshire Alliance.
A warm welcome to you the reader, once again another interview from The Fighting Photographer! I have had the honour of interviewing some of the biggest names in the world of jiu jitsu, however in this current series of interviews I wish to present to you, alongside the big names from abroad, some of the UK’s home grown breed of instructors. These guys may not be as well known outside of the UK as the Gracies and the Machados, but they have been instrumental in establishing jiu jitsu roots in this country way back in the late 90’s, enabling the bigger names from the US and Brazil to come over and expand their hard work and dedication.
My friendship with Darren Currie extends way back to the start of my own training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in 1998, training with him for many years and competing in his very popular BJJ and MMA events and between the pair of us have boosted British Telecom’s profits no end, putting the BJJ world to rights. Through Darren I have met many good friends over the years and have many great memories of seminars and weekend training marathons with Darren’s students and guys from the now formed Yorkshire Alliance.
I hope you enjoy the interview as much as I enjoyed the interviewing!
It’s been a fair while since we had a good chat together and I believe your academy is in new premises? When did you move there?
New premises? We have been there 3 years, man, is it that long since you came over? We decided to have a seminar at the new place as a special opening night so arranged for SBGi’s Matt Thornton and Mike Chapman to come over as they were in the country anyway. As I went to meet them, my wife was putting the finishing touches to the gym. People turned up to train not realising that we had only finished doing the mat 30 minutes earlier.
Turned out to be a great session though, Matt always brings new stuff with him every time he visits and we had a bunch of guys promoted too.
What’s your current timetable at the club?
We have MMA classes for the kids so they get to work striking, takedowns and ground whereas the adults have BJJ classes only. On top of this we have an open mat session every week for people to train what they like. We give privates, do workshops and seminars too when time allows.
One of my training partners, ‘Ruthless’ Rob Lawlor, has just opened a new class too teaching BJJ, it’s always nice to have someone else teach because the students get training from a different perspective. Plus I’m lazy too so having someone else teach is great. Rob came to us from Carlson Gracie team, who I believe you know Carl, so you know he is a tough guy. Thank God for weight advantages!
I also think that is essential to have open mat sessions so people can experiment or work on what they specifically want to. People have their own ideas of what BJJ should be which are not always necessarily the views of the instructor so it’s good the students can experiment and be creative, Open mat means everyone teaches and coaches everyone else and really instils the team mentality.
Are you still teaching children?
Not personally. I outsourced that particular pleasure to my wife who is better with the kids than I am anyway. She has way more patience than I have and really communicates with them, being a mother too I guess she is used to that. The kids all train MMA and I only teach BJJ, if adults want to train MMA then we use the open sessions or they go to someone else in our group, e have guys who are actively coaching and participating in MMA.
The kids don’t have a choice they have to do it all. We put together our own CHAOS system for the kids. Check out our site www.combatsport.co.uk/articles.html titled Mixed Martial Arts For Kids
What areas of jiu jitsu interest you the most?
That’s a good question. I love the politics. I love how you are frowned upon if you train at different gyms. I love all the backbiting and infighting between members of the same group or between clubs from the same group. I really think this is helping to promote BJJ in a country where it is never going to be that popular anyway. Didn’t you get slated by people you know for being promoted to purple, Carl? You have promoted BJJ more than anyone else in the UK but people get upset because you get a different coloured belt. I love the politics, it makes it all worthwhile!
Who do you look up to in terms of good role models for BJJ?
I look up to anyone who is truly open and honest, not just in BJJ but in life too. I admire people who will train with anyone regardless of win, lose or draw. I admire the people that are out there not the ones who criticise but don’t do anything themselves. I like the people that Theodore Roosevelt’s "Citizenship in a Republic" speech was about, the Man In The Arena although it should really be the “Person In The Arena”
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. ….etc
I guess I have Chris Haueter to thank for my attitude towards BJJ, as well as being an exceptional guy I am lucky to call him my friend too. He has influenced my Jiu Jitsu so much.
I also really liked Eddie Bravo a lot when I trained at a couple of his seminars, don’t know if he is a good role model though (especially after his interview at Cagewarriors when he came to the UK), I like the fact that he has created a whole new side to BJJ that us little guys can use. His drill sergeant method of teaching is outstanding and really helpful at the Introduction/teaching phase of training.
You’re affiliated under Chris Hauteur from LA; when did you train with him last in the UK and have you been out to LA yet?
What do you mean “under?” Don’t you mean “we are affiliated to each other?”
Chris came out here last year and is due back in May. I first trained with him way back in the late 1990’s on his first trip to the UK and I was blown away. Since then I have trained with him as much as I can.
Yeah we have been over to house in LA, we also trained at the Machado Academy while we were there. I must admit that driving over to the Machados I expected a big training facility based on the success that the Machados and their students have, something like a sports centre. I was amazed to see it wasn’t much bigger than our gym, although a lot warmer. Got to train with some quality people there.
The kind of guy Chris is was highlighted when we were just hanging out at my brother-in-law’s house. My club is called Combat Base which was a phrase I actually stole from Chris but he told me he wanted to use that name for his group in the US and did I actually mind.
How many times is Chris over in the UK?
We try to get him over a couple of times per year but it is difficult to achieve sometimes with his wife, Melissa’s schedule and my wife’s schedule too. When he is here though he gives so much information that I have everything put onto DVD that Chris teaches and still have 6 DVDs I haven’t watched yet from his last visit.
Although still a purple belt, you have a higher graded member at your club, your wife Helen. Can you tell us how she got the brown belt and from whom? Was she the first woman to get a brown belt in the UK?
Yes you’re correct, my wife is my sensei. Helen got her brown belt from Haueter whilst we were at the Machado Academy. She rolled with 2 very tough lady black belts first, Cindy Omatsu and Felicia Oh, then went on to face the purple belts then rolled with Chris after that. She rolled for over an hour straight with people of her own grade or higher, with people that outweighed her considerably and gave a very good account of herself. She so deserved to get promoted and I am very proud of her achievement. I think she was the first female brown belt in Europe, but she was definitely the first in the UK and perhaps still the only one.
I have my novelty status back as being a coach who can take someone higher than I am, this happened before when I coached 3 guys to purple whilst still a blue. Hmmmm reflected glory, is there any better kind?
So it’s safe to say she has the last say when it’s time for the washing up then?
Listen, I am the boss in my house, what I say……….(hold on a minute she’s come into the room. She’s gone again now) where was I? Oh yes, what I say goes, period.
You had purple belts when you were still a blue belt; does this bother you that your students were getting the belts before you?
Too right it does!! Just kidding, it’s not Taekwondo, it doesn’t matter. I think it shows that I am doing my job well enough. If I teach and coach correctly then there is no reason why they can’t all overtake me. I am extremely proud of the ones that did; they are all excellent in their own right and fully deserved to be promoted before me. My wife who I previously mentioned is outstanding, Pete Guest who was my first purple has a ridiculous guard, one of the best I have trained against and Varqa Abyaneh who has a great all round game.
These guys have proved themselves in a variety of tournament formats and are good friends too.
How is your current training going; are your injuries giving you any hassle?
Training is a bit stop start at the moment. I have a neck/shoulder problem that is not helping. It is sometimes difficult training yourself when you are teaching so much and not able to travel around as much as I would like. I have a friend over in Florida named Leo Kirby who has become my E-sensei sending me all sorts of training info, techniques, strategies and such. He is training with Edson Diniz regularly as well as training with Marcelo Garcia every chance he gets so the stuff he sends is gold. If I am stuck with something I email Leo and he usually points me in the right direction.
I have just added ‘Leo’s Page’ to my website so he can post everything there to share with everyone else and hope they benefit as much as I have. I also count him as a very good friend too.
I would email Chris too but he is not as good with emails as Leo, LOL.
What are your views on what makes a good BJJ instructor/coach?
As I see things an instructor is someone who teaches you something specific and a coach is someone who helps you to integrate it into your overall game and make it work. An instructor can be a coach and a coach can be an instructor but being able to do one doesn’t necessarily mean you can do the other.
With that distinction made, a good instructor is someone who knows the specifics, the mechanics, the little details. In other words they should know “how to”. One of my old BJJ coaches was an excellent teacher, he taught me loads of techniques but we didn’t drill them under pressure and didn’t spar very often. I started Judo to test the techniques under fire against people I didn’t know, as most Judo matches even in practice were real wars.
A good coach should be able to help you develop your overall game by breaking it down, helping with specific areas, strategies etc. A good coach should have some competitive experience; they can then answer anything then from experience and not from theory only. If you have been there it is easier to advise people who want to do what you have done.
I like the SBGi “I Method” of instruction/coaching. That is Introduction, Isolation, Integration. The Introduction stage is the teaching of the technique, the Isolation is the drilling part to make it work against progressive resistance and Integration is putting it into your overall game. This is a mixture of 1 part teaching and 2 parts coaching which works well, in my opinion.
Both the instructor and the coach should be approachable, be open to suggestion and be honest.
How do you keep your students motivated and more importantly yourself?
There are 2 types of students; the ones that are self-motivated and the ones that are not.
The self-motivated guys just need quality training/coaching, provision of a good atmosphere in which to train and people to train with. Easy.
The guys that need extrinsic motivation may need a goal or a whole series of goals to keep them motivated; competition, fights, seminars etc all provide a target to aim for. We may give them a topic to work on for a couple of months, again something specific to aim for, something you can write down and measure your progress towards.
In John Whitmore’s book ‘Coaching For Performance’ he says the coaches‘ ultimate aim is to make the athlete being coached take responsibility for their own actions. Make them aware that their performance is ultimately down to themselves but this doesn’t work for everyone either I have found.
Unfortunately one solution doesn’t fit all.
As for myself, I have limited time to train so getting motivated to train is fairly easy however getting motivated to teach is not. I have a real love/hate relationship with teaching. I often think I would quit teaching altogether if someone decent moved into my area to open a class.
Coaching is still cool but teaching can be a pain.
How did you get into BJJ?
I got into BJJ the same way as everyone else, from watching the early UFCs. I first saw UFC2 and saw some Brazilian guy whipping everyone’s butts which was unfortunate because I didn’t want him to win.
At the time I was training Taekwondo, Hapkido and some kickboxing so I obviously wanted Pat Smith to win as this was his background too. I guess I was looking for validation that I had picked the right things to train in. Pat Smith tapped and the rest is history.
If Pat Smith had won I would still be running my mega successful Taekwondo schools and wouldn’t be rolling around on the floor with sweaty men. Thanks Pat.
I participated in many of your BJJ/MMA interclubs since back in 2000 and they have always been well attended and I have forged many good friendships since those days; do you still keep in touch with any of the ‘Old Guard’?
I try to keep in touch with all my old friends, yeah. I see the old Keysi guys when Haueter comes over and they come to train with him. Guys like Jim Burman, Jimmy Wong and Andy Pyle. Andy got his purple from Chris last year, which was excellent, because is a very talented grappler (not saying that the others aren’t but you know what I mean).
I still see Spenna and Neil Hall regularly as they continue to support me in everything as well as being founder members of the Yorkshire Alliance group, two more great friends I have made through combat sports.
Any plans to arrange any more events or do you feel like they’re more trouble than they are worth?
We wanted competitions to participate in but there were very few, even fewer fair and impartial ones so we decided to do our own.
“You either find a way or make one” Hannibal
They were no trouble at all as I only invited people that were on the same page as me when it came to training. We simply organise matches for fighters to gain experience in the ring or on the mats, simple as that. If people like what we are doing and enjoy our shows that's great, if we never attracted another spectator again I wouldn't care. It's all about experience. We are trying to promote fighters, not trying to be entertainers. We don't make money from our shows, we don't need to make money from our shows therefore we don't need to lower our standards to appeal to Joe Public. The bigger shows may have to incorporate things they don't particularly like but we certainly don't!!
I love doing smaller competitions, loads of like minded people crammed into someone's gym just doing it for the sheer love of doing it. The last one we did at Kickers Academy, man what an atmosphere and what fights!!
The tourneys themselves provided an entry level on which people could build, some of them going to much bigger and better things, winning titles at all levels along the way.
Our grappling competitions were open, and I mean open. We had teams from all over, each representing different academies, clubs, gyms, whatever, representing different styles. No big deal now but back then it was a big thing. I got a lot of great feedback and made some good friends along the way.
We had over 120 competitors one time that made it way bigger than the Nationals.
We have replaced interclubs with training days, we have a few clubs train together under the banner “The Yorkshire Alliance” that is us, Team Fulinkazan, Combat Base North East, Fighting Chance, Combat Base Doncaster and Sprawl Academy. A day of exchanging ideas, rolling with different people and sparring in the ring if that is your thing.
Have any of your guys competed in MMA this year?
Yes we still have people competing; we just had a successful return to MMA for one of our guys recently, Pete Hill, who trains between Combat Base Doncaster and ourselves. Eddie Howarth from Fighting Chance also fought on the same card. James ‘Scraps’ Saville from Team Fulinkazan fought the night before and won the British Title. Head coaches Spenna from Team Fulinkazan and Danny Mitchell from Combat Base Doncaster have fights lined up at the next Ultimate Force show and so it continues.
All the clubs within Yorkshire Alliance have produced fighters for MMA competition, Fulinkazan and Fighting Chance have a non-stop conveyor belt of guys fighting or wanting to fight. It is just an ongoing process.
We are lucky to also have a major promotion, Paul Murphy’s Ultimate Force show as well as smaller feeder shows within a 30 minutes drive so the days of having to travel to London are over, thank God.
What do you think about SENI being in London this year? Are you going to enter any of your students?
London is as easy to get to as anywhere I guess. My students have attended before, some were impressed, some weren’t but they all did well. We usually win some medals from it. Whether anyone wants to enter or not is up to them, if not there are plenty of other tourneys to compete at.
You have always managed to steer away from fully joining up with the big name BJJ organisations that operate in the UK and maintain a fair degree of independence; has this decision impacted upon your club in any way?
Most of my guys and gals don’t have a clue that politics in BJJ exist and I’m proud of that. Only the internet surfers know how it is elsewhere and the crap some people put up with. I have told a few horror stories in class about certain groups and they are amazed that things like that happen. Refer back to your earlier question “What areas of jiu jitsu interest you the most”?
Because of my independence we have attended/hosted seminars and training sessions with Machados, Eddie Bravo, SBGi, Erik Paulson, Gracies, Alliance, Master Team, Gracie Barra, Royce Gracie Network amongst others. If I were with certain groups I would not have been ‘allowed’ to attend all these.
The downside is not having a regular instructor has slowed my progress and guys at our gym were seriously under promoted in some cases which has been remedied now.
The whole having an instructor thing would have improved my game twice as much in half the time. I have trained about 10 years now and am probably on par with people that have trained 5 years. I have had to try and put things together myself, with a little help from my friends, of course.
When I think about it, I don't know if I am complaining or boasting. On one hand I am moaning saying 'I have had to teach myself' on the other hand I am proud to say 'hey I taught myself'
I am in no rush to get anywhere, I don't have much competition left in me, I am sparring will all the young, competitive guys in the gym so that's my Pan Ams and ADCC qualifiers these days.
How has BJJ evolved since the old days back in 2000? Are there more clubs operating and what do you think of the standard in the UK as a whole?
Evolved? Not sure it has to be honest. There are more clubs for sure but I think quantity over quality. The “have blue belt, can coach” mentality is vague to say the least. Some blue belts are excellent, some are not. Some can teach, some are garbage. Some have 5 or 6 years training, some have trained a couple of months and have seminar belts. I know of guys who got belts after a few private lessons or went to a seminar or two and were encouraged to set up clubs.
I think it is difficult to gauge the standard in the UK to be honest but there are way more people at all belt levels that some are bound to be better than others. Some people are sandbagged too as we all know and shouldn’t be the grade they are but that’s politics again for you.
A good example, Gracie Barra in Birmingham was perhaps the best BJJ school in the UK at one point and was run by blue belts, awesome blue belts like Ande Roberts, Baz Foley, Rachael Wheatley and so on. If you met any GB Brum people in a tourney you were in for a hard time. Are there any blue belts that good now that aren’t sandbagged purples or browns? I don’t honestly know or care.
I definitely know of clubs that are being run by people who are not of a high standard shall we say.
But do you know what? Listen carefully, this is really important. It doesn’t matter because none of it is real. For most people it is a hobby where you roll around with your friends a few times per week. It’s all just good fun.
Finally a big shout out to who?
I’d like to thank my stylist, my hairdresser……
In no particular order;
Chris Haueter, you know why.
Leo, for imparting the gospel according to Marcelo
All my training partners for beating me up and keeping me honest
My sponsors Allsports International Limited for all their support over the last 10 years
Ross Iannocarro and the NJJKC for all their support over the last 10 years too
And finally Carl, you, because every time we stand side by side it makes me seem even better looking, if there could ever be such a thing
Very droll Darren, very droll indeed, how can you be so blinded by reality? Thanks for the interview, really good to catch up again after so long.
My pleasure mate
For more club and training details check out www.combatsport.co.uk