Denny "300" Prokopos will be a part of Jiu Jitsu history for a long time. He is the first person awarded a Black belt by Eddie Bravo. When Eddie first started teaching the Rubber Guard people were writing it off. They said it was not very effective or practical. Nevertheless Eddie Bravo won over a lot of students across the planet. Many are highly skilled. Many medal in various tournaments. Yet one proud Greek student, Denny "300" Prokopos soaked up the game at an insane pace. He moved ahead with a work ethic thats hard to match. At the end of the day, Eddie Bravo could only award ONE man the first Black Belt in his system. This is his story.
OTM: So how does it feel to be the first Black belt under Eddie Bravo? Are there any new pressures?
DP: It’s an honor to become Eddie’s first black. It’s an honor not just because he is such a great teacher and innovator in Jiu Jitsu, but also because I respect him so much as a person. It was a goal of mine to become his first black belt and thankfully I did. I see my black belt as me graduating from college with a PHD since it took me eight and a half years to get my black belt. As far as pressure goes a lot of people have asked me this question and the answer is yes and no. As far as competition there is no pressure. I am going to do what I have been doing which is training everyday really hard and focusing on improving my Jiu Jitsu and making it the best that it can be. And when I go compete I will try and win everything and give it all that I have. If I win great if I lose I know I have something to work on, which will make me train even harder. Jiu Jitsu is a process that takes time. Plus Eddie and a lot of other people support me. He always tells me to do my best and regardless of what happens I know he loves me. The yes part is that aside from competing I have other duties such as teaching, running my school, teaching seminars, and some other projects. And that stuff does add some pressure but I think it’s good for me.
OTM: Lets talk about your history for a minute. You started under Charles Gracie and then left while you were still in high school. Why did you choose to leave the gi and how did you meet Eddie Bravo?
DP: That is correct I started training at the Charles Gracie academy on February 12th, 2001, I was twelve. I meet Eddie in June of 2003 at the Machado National Jiu Jitsu championships. I saw Eddie, Marc Laimon, Bill Cooper, Jeff Glover, and Devan (some kid that I competed against at Yellow and Orange belt) discussing technique. So I went over there to see what they were showing. I really liked what Eddie showed. I videotaped it studied it and started using it and started catching guys in class with it. Then a couple months later I went down to Eddie’s took a private and learned a lot more then my game got a lot better. A year later went to him again took another private and my game sky rocketed. I then went through some weird political stuff in San Francisco. And then I called Eddie told him my situation and I told him that I wanted him to be my master and from now on I wanted to represent 10th Planet and I did. Then in San Francisco I began training with my boy Darren Uyenoyama when I was sixteen and it was all no gi training. And at the time I was teaching kids Jiu Jitsu and I would save up all the money that I made and make a trip to LA once every six weeks to two months I would cut classes in school and spend a couple days to a week training with Eddie. And would video tape and study what he showed me. And he would motivate me and tell me good things that would make me train even harder.
As far as why I chose to leave the gi? I liked No gi better because about two years after I started training in Jiu Jitsu I started to wrestle. And I like mixing the two together; I believe it make a more complete “grappling art”. Plus I was always thinking about fighting mma and it made more sense also I liked the speed of it more. But I was not against the gi and I am not still against it. I just prefer no gi for my goals and me. Jiu Jitsu is a personal thing when you like something that’s what you do.
OTM: Exactly how did you get so good, living so far away from LA?
DP: I come from a very hard working family. My father and mother have worked seven days a week since the day I was born. The only days they had off were thanksgiving, Christmas, and Greaster(Greek Easter) . They taught me how to work and my father always told me to always try and be the best at what I do and that whatever I love I can achieve. When I wasn’t training in LA with Eddie I was training with Darren. And we would train together ever day except for Sunday’s super hard. We traveled together and competed a good amount. I learned a lot from Darren and still do when we train together. Then When I was eighteen I started training with Jake Sheilds and Gilbert Melendez at least twice a week. I learned and still learn a lot from Jake. In my opinion he is one of the best Grapplers and MMA fighters in the world. He has helped me tremendously. Also having the opportunity to roll with Eddie, Jake, Darren, and Gilbert is huge because I roll with some of the best guys in the world and I do well, so I knew I would do good in any competition.
I wrestled in high school and did well. And two years ago when I was nineteen I opened my own Jiu Jitsu academy 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu SF and I train and teach at least twice a day Monday through Saturday. Owning my own school has helped me a lot in the last two years. Because I am on the mat a lot. When I teach I show all the best parts of my game and show them everything so when we go to roll that helps them push me more. I recently stated working with Caio Terra he has helped me too. He is one of my favorite Jiu Jitsu competitors he is amazing. Also competing at all the big events that I think that helped. I think you just got to go out there and compete and not be afraid to lose and you will reap the benefits of your sacrifices. There are a lot of things that have helped me get to where I am and I am Grateful to everyone and everything. I think on a personal level what got me good is my Love for Jiu Jitsu, my work ethic, and my faith in myself. I have basically dedicated the last nine years of my Life to the art of Jiu Jitsu and have been willing to sacrifice almost everything for it.
OTM: I know you had some knee injuries as you moved forward in your evolution. How hard was it to overcome those injuries. What specifically did you do (mentally and physically) to not only heal, but take your game to the next level?
DP: Yes I have had some serious injuries. My junior year I blew out my knee in my final wrestling match and then I got it fixed and then the surgery failed. Then I got it fixed again and it failed. Then I hurt my other knee and my lower back. It sucked really bad. I was hurt seriously for almost two years, but I never stopped training, but I did have to take it light. All the doctors that I saw told me It would be difficult for my knee to be the same and to be able to compete on a high level. It was difficult to over come especially towards the end before I got healthy I remember walking to class when I was going to college and feeling every step I took, it was misery. I always reminded myself of my dream which was to become a Jiu Jitsu master, and open up my own Jiu Jitsu academy. Then I meet Dr Peter Goldman he changed my life. I got adjusted by him for a week straight when I went to LA and he got me healthy again. He told I am going to get you back to a hundred percent and even better and he did. Then six weeks later I competed, and have been ever since. I think everything in life happens for a reason and it’s to make you evolve and to become better or worse. All the “negative” experiences that I have had in Jiu Jitsu have ended up being some of my best lessons, however I will say it is difficult to see that when your going through the negative rhythm. I have learned a lot from Dr Pete he has helped me a lot with my mental game and he has taught me how to keep myself healthy, and how important it is to stay positive. That dude is the best doctor in the world. As far as I know he has saved some of the biggest names in the game careers. He is the doctor that fixed Bj Penn’s neck and the doctor that fixed Eddie back too, and he helped Jake Sheilds a lot. When all of them had career ending injuries, he is amazing.
Any ways going back to the question what did I do while I was hurt and what got me to the next level. I still trained and I didn’t stop. I studied a lot of tape on competition and all the footage that I had of Eddie. I also made all my moves into katas and I would drill them like that for at least 2 hours a day. I would also visualize a lot.
OTM: Over your career in BJJ, what do you consider your toughest loss and your greatest win? What did you learn from them?
DP: All my loses have been tough on me, there are very few thing that I hate in life and losing is probably what I hate the most. My toughest losses were probably when I was younger to Kron Gracie and this year when I lost to Tom Leceuyer in The final match at the Grappling worlds. When I was competing as a kid from Orange to Blue belt I lost to only one person but a few times and that was Kron Gracie. I learned a lot from those fights about myself and about Jiu Jitsu. That’s when I began to study the mental game and focus on it a lot. And this year when I lost to Tom Lececyer. I had that dude in a triangle and I didn’t finish him that was tough. I have had a few good victories and I have beaten a couple of good black belts that I respect. But I am not going to mention their names because I don’t want anyone to feel that I am talking trash about them. I think my three best performance was when I won the No gi Mundials at brown belt in 2007, When I took third in the 2009 No gi Mundials at Black belt, and taking second at the grappling worlds in 2009. 2009 was a good year for me I learned a lot from my win’s and my loses and I am looking forward to 2010.
OTM: Do you have any MMA aspirations?
DP: I do have MMA aspirations. But if I do it I will do it to be one of the best in the world. And I still haven’t accomplished what I want to accomplish in Jiu Jitsu . When I accomplish more then I will probably start fighting in MMA. Plus I think when you do something you should focus on that one thing. I also feel like my stand up and wrestling needs more work. I am having a great time training in Jiu Jitsu and teaching right now and I am very happy with everything.
OTM: Tell me about your school in SF and what folks can expect to learn there?
DP: Two years ago I opened my own Jiu Jitsu academy, which is 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu SF, located in San Francisco. I am there every night and I personally teach every class. The only time that I am not there is when I have to compete, teach a seminar, or when I go to Eddie’s to pick up new techniques and bring them back. It’s a great atmosphere, everyone is welcome to come train at my Jiu Jitsu academy, it’s a lot fun, and we train really hard. When I teach I show everything that I know and everything that I am good at there are no “secret techniques” at my school. I want to get everyone at my school on the highest level of Jiu Jitsu possible. That way I help everyone improve and they help me when I train with every one. I have come to realize that Jiu Jitsu is more of a team sport than any other sports, because it’s important to have high level training partners, people you trust, and people that aren’t trying to hurt you, and that everyone is trying to help each other get better. Also it brings people from all different backgrounds together such as doctors, lawyers, construction workers, teacher, students, and ect. I love teaching Jiu Jitsu that is one of my passions in life, every day that I get up I thank the universe for giving me the opportunity to teach and help people. I really believe in Jiu Jitsu as more than a sport I see it as a way of life. I believe that it helps a person develop a lot of positive characteristics and habits that are positive for one’s life and personal development.
OTM: I know you got to train and talk with Liborio recently while in Florida. Tell me about what you took from him.
DP: Yes when I was at the US World team camp in Florida I got to spend a week training with Liborio in preparation for the grappling worlds. Liborio is a great coach and a great guy, I learned a lot from him. I learned more about strategy and top game pressure.
OTM: Any final words?
DP: I would like to thank everyone that supports me my family, friends the masters (everyone mentioned above), my students, and everyone else. If anyone is interested in having me teach a seminar or sponsoring me you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org also my website 10thplanetjiujitsusf.com. Also check out 10thplanetjj.com that’s the new 10th planet website that has a ton of technique, funny stuff, and a cool forum. The best has yet to come I am excited for 2010 peace out J!
Adisa Banjoko is founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation: For more information visit: www.twitter.com/hiphopchess --
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