The BJJ Ronin: A Fool Wandering Among Masters

In the past month I have had the privilege of taking a class with some of the world’s finest Jiu-Jitsu teachers. Despite being simple white belt, I have sought out every opportunity that came my way to attend seminars and kneel in the shadows of men who have phenomenal talent and teach my skills. In that time the five black belts who as marquee instructors were Andre Galvao, Eddie Bravo, John Danaher, Ricardo Almeida and Robert Drysdale. Each was brilliant in his own way, each had much to teach even if I could only grasp a pinch to add to my own knowledge.

The number one question most practitioners ask is whether a seminar is really worth the $80-120 of their hard earned cash? It is a good, honest question. In the day of online videos with actual masters and YouTube wannabes, it seems difficult to spend money for what might end up being a “meet and greet” along with two basic moves (or two impossible moves) over a three hour class. Most monthly tuition costs equal the price of one seminar. I believe that the answer depends on what you hope to get from the seminar, how tight money is for you at the time, and whether you care about the larger community or just about your personal training.

Personally, I have a steady income, I likemeeting new people at new gyms, my life schedule does not always allow me to squeeze in my two classes a week but a seminar keeps me in a routine of going to a class somewhere with someone, and I am curious to meet the athletes that I read about and appreciate for their skills and knowledge.

Can a white belt, or even a blue belt, come away with much from a seminar? If you go in believing that you will suddenly understand Eddie Bravo’s rubberguard and twister sequences from a theee hour session with 70 people squished into 3×3 squares, then you will be disappointed. However, if you find 10th Planet interesting, want to hear about flat earth conspiracy theories, and learn one part of The Truck sequence well enough to be able to drill back at your home gym, then you would be happy.

Will you kill all of your partners when you go back to the mats at your home gym? Doubt it. While you were dancing with the stars, they were putting in a class with heavy rolling. They learned another technique, but it may have been closer to their skill level. That being said, I have always taken at least one piece away from every seminar that I can use on the mats to improve my skills set. With Eddie Bravo I learned a calf-slicer and The Truck, Danaher taught me to get my limbs inside before seek an escape, Galvao taught me a deep Quarter guard sweep when I did not even know there was such a thing, Ricardo Almeida taught me the importance of knee placement, and Robert Drysdale showed a killer choke called The Chiropractor that I think will work well for me for years to come. Little fragments eventually become whole sequences with the right glue.

What is it like meeting the stars of BJJ? Do you get photos or your belt signed or roll with them? It depends. Every person is different, time constraints and moods are tough to gauge; they do not have to do anything more than teach a class. The more famous instructors probably know that some participants would like a photo and others might ask for an autograph. I think that it would be a little naive to expect a roll unless you are the instructor hosting the seminar at your school…even then, I doubt that Rorion Gracie is doing that very often these days. So, it all depends.

For my own part, I try to gauge the situation and see what the mood is. I have my iPhone, a black sharpie, my white belt and an understanding to not be upset if I simply enjoy the instruction. Professor Almeida was pressed for time, so I did not press him at all. Professor Danaher was doing photos, but I felt that a belt signing would be awkward, Professor Galvao did both for me, and Professor Drysdale did photos with my teammates that I shot, but I opted to ask for a belt signing as it was more important to me since he is the head of my gym’s Team Zenith. Eddie Bravo may have done anything I asked for, but I had to leave before the final moments. Plus, it was packed to the rafters and I was simply content having him tell me that my leg placement was horrible and nowhere near where it had to be.  Smile. Be polite. Be prepared. Thank people with humility.

I say go when you can. Learn from new people. Experience a rare opportunity to be next to the greats of our sport and art. Few other sports allow the chance for an average person to train with its Wayne Gretzkys, Michael Jordans or Babe Ruth’s; as our art grows these opportunities may disappear or become only available in the form of high cost “vacation” camps in exotic locations (which I would still love to do when I have the time).

For now I will be the white belt ronin, and take my wandering samurai ways as a blessed part of my personal journey. Each person I learn from becomes a part of me and my experiences. Now…I just need to get back to the gym and work on improving my freaking closed guard escapes, because with all of the sweeps I am doing this is where my short-legged body keeps ending up.


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