26 Jul 2010

Andy Roberts BJJ interview - Part Two

Continuing on from Part One of our talk with Roger Gracie brown belt instructor Andy Roberts, here Andy covers some of the more frequently discussed topics that UK BJJers like to discuss on the forums and about his BJJ goals for the future:

Meerkatsu: A lot of nerds on the forums like to bring up THAT video of you v Michael Russell at the Kent Open a few years back, it's a fight that gets talked about a lot and showcased as an example of very high level jiu-jitsu. Both you and Mike seem to have this huge on-going mat rivalry,what are your thoughts on that fight?

Andy Roberts: I prefer the word geek to nerd. Man I loved that fight and Mike is an awesome guy and competitor. The better man won the fight that day. I know where I went wrong and have worked on it, I'm sure we'll go again at a comp when I get my black belt.[Ed: Michael Russell was recently promoted to black belt this year.]

Meerkatsu: You’re a person who speak his mind - how do you feel about some of the japes and malarkey that go on in the BJJ forums - notably the EFN of which you are a moderator?

Andy Roberts: I think its full of self righteous, disrespectful, butter wouldn't melt, holier than thou keyboard warriors. To be honest I've pretty much given up on it, I'll read it from time to time but try not to get involved. people will argue for arguments sake and seem to get a weird kick out of it.

I actually think it puts a bad light on the BJJ community as a whole, EFN is a high ranking result if you google BJJ and if a newbie wanting to join stumbles upon some of those threads they'll be put off for life.

The BJJ police thing has a place, its good to 'out' frauds but instead of being a kangaroo court and sentencing them to death because some dude wear a BJJ 'branded' gi but wears his TMA black belt, (do you think Gameness or Koral vet there potential customers?? ) We should be trying to help these people learn BJJ properly. But instead we threaten them, put them off the BJJ community and all they end up doing is learn from Youtube and DVDs and continue to sell themselves as teaching BJJ when actually hey know very little.

I mean how many of the BJJ police supporters have actually confronted someone who they thnk is a 'fraud' face to face? How many have actually spoken to them one-to-one about what they are doing? I know I have... hell as a blue belt I even fought guys claiming to be BJJ black belts (but were not) - they subsequently came to train with me. Surely that's the best way to deal with it?

My main gripe though is probably the negativity of the whole thing, everyone is against everyone else and praise is rarely given. There are people in this country who have been in this game (BJJ) for well over a decade now and have given a lot of time and effort to raise it to the level it is. They were there helping to get guys started with academies (eg Roger, Braulio etc) and no one says thanks, they just criticise and say how they think it should've been done. Everyone should use the negative energy in a more constructive positive way, me included.

Meerkatsu: When did you start up the Andy Roberts Academy? And how does it feel to be an academy owner, rather than just an instructor?

Andy Roberts: Its awesome and daunting, the academy is now my main source of income so it has to be a success. I will not hide the fact that I run my academy as a business in order to turn a profit and support my family, but I am not a Mcdojo, I pride myself on delivering good quality classes and that is hopefully why my students train with me.

Meerkatsu: Ah, interesting point about the growing menace of McDojoism - what's your view on the idea of paying for belts/gradings? It's a subject that crops up, in the UK I think it's a very new thing and unheard of before the WBJJA clubs began to set up and again, the forum folk have kicked up a huge fuss about it, but in the US it's quite common I believe.

Andy Roberts: First things first I wont ever charge for gradings or belts.

Second, we in this country have a different mindset in terms of martial arts and business than the States do. In the States its big business and its kinda accepted in the culture that if you want to train martial arts you're gonna have to pay and sign a contract, at the end of the day its a luxury item.

In this country its completely different, although thats changing. When I started training 21 years ago my parents paid around £2 a lesson to a part time coach renting a sports hall. I have no idea how much that class fee of £2 would be now if it had gone up with inflation, but some people in this country think we should still charge only a few quid to train.

On the subject of gradings, if someone chooses to charge a fee to grade someone to the next level that is their choice. The only time I will ever have a problem with it is if the standard goes down. ie, because someone pays and the instructor feels obliged to give them the belt! Or the instructor is short of cash so promotes a few people.

I think the majority of clubs both here and in the states that charge for a grading have already decided who is ready for the belt and the 'grading' so to speak is more like a demo and awards ceremony, with other stuff going on, so whats the problem with charging?

As for running a martial arts club as a business, I could write an essay on this but in short what is wrong with your club turning a profit as long as you aren't ripping people off?

The Mcdojos out there have systems to make money, and everyone could learn a lot from them about what to do and what not to do. I have experienced the good and the bad and the ugly of Mcdojoism and its made me both a better instructor and business man.

My philosophy is this, if my product is good enough (ie my classes) and my charges are good value (notice 'value' and not 'cheap') then I will be a success and what do I mean by success well that depends on who you are, some judge it on money, some on comp wins, some on their status, some on what others think of them, me? well I'll let everyone make their own mind up.

Meerkatsu: You recently moved, tell me about your new location for the Andy Roberts BJJ Academy - why does it rock?

Andy Roberts: Well, we didnt move far. The new place is bang next door but its twice the size and we now have proper changing rooms, an awesome reception and 150+sqm of matted area.

Meerkatsu: What’s your teaching philosophy? I mean is it to build up a strong comp team, or maybe to reach out to the wider community to show BJJ is not all about tournaments? etc?

Andy Roberts: To get as many people training BJJ as possible so everyone can reap the benefits that I have.

Whats more important? Having a strong comp team of half a dozen in the hope one day someone brings in a World Championship medal? Or to have someone extremely overweight come to you a few months after starting training with a receipt from a weighing machine that reads 3st less than when they started??

At the end of the day the sport is only a small part of what BJJ is and thats the way it needs to stay.

Meerkatsu: You are a UFC judge - can you tell us more about that?

Andy Roberts: Its the coolest job in the world! but its also nerve racking and stressful at the same time. You feel a lot of responsibilty sat cageside with the fate of the 2 fighters in your hands but its worth it.

And to all those who get on the net the minute a decision is made and slag the judges all I ask is this.
1. Sober up
2. Watch the fight again, no sound.
3. At the end of each round write down the score.
4. Then go back on the net and slate the judges.

Meerkatsu: What are your goals and plans for the next few years, surely the faixa preta can’t be too far off?

Andy Roberts: The day Roger or Mo decide to give me a black belt will be a great day, although thats all it is a day, a marker, the beginning of the journey proper! I will have to back it up, in the words of Royce "the belt only covers 2" of your ass, you have to cover the rest"

My plan for the next few years is to get back to really being a student of the game, my academy is doing good, I'm currently training for the London Triathlon (Olympic distance) once I have completed that my training is going to be 100% dedicated to jiu jitsu!! I want to realise what I feel is my full potential and enter tournaments coming away win or lose saying 'I couldnt have done anything else!'

Meerkatsu: As someone who has trained with Rorion, how do you see the way old style 'Gracie' jiu-jitsu has differentiated itself from the way most BJJ clubs operate now?

Andy Roberts: People need to understand that jiu jitsu is jiu jitsu, schools vary with teaching methodology and ideology etc etc buts its all jiu jitsu.

The Gracie Academy says it is following the teachings of Grandmaster Helio blah blah blah, if so, did his teachings change drastically over the last few years??

Now the academy teaches its Combatives course till blue belt, then its Master Cycle etc but when I was there in 2000 and 2001 the only way you could learn the self defence part of their syllabus was through private lessons - the regular classes resemble every other jiu jitsu class around.

You have to understand they are in a saturated market in southern california. When they first opened they were unique, now they have to stand out and need a USP.

But the jiu jitsu they teach is no different to anyone else, they just have an emphasis on self defence.

Meerkatsu: So the self defence bit is important...more so than sport BJJ and tournament wins?

Andy Roberts: The sporting aspect is one part of BJJ not all of it. I believe that every school needs to teach the self defence aspect as well as the sport application. We need to remember that a comp doesn't necessarily determine who has the best 'jiu-jitsu' it shows who was the best on that day, against those who turned up on that day. Just because I win a brown belt division doesnt mean I should be a black belt and just because a white beats a blue in training doesn't mean he should be a blue.

You need to have a level of understanding of the art as a whole not just be able to flying armbar everyone in a comp!!

Andy Roberts BJJ custom iPhone cover!

Meerkatsu: You obviously love a bit of BJJ bling, who designed your academy logo?

Andy Roberts: I designed the logo, originally it was over the top of the Barra 'G' but Roger changed his logo so I incorporated that. The silhouette is actually me fighting at the Pan Ams in 2003. I've had it tweaked a little by one of my students but the original design is mine.

Meerkatsu: Do you have any words about your sponsors Black Eagle?

Andy Roberts: I think the guys are Black Eagle are doing a great job, they are constantly moving forward with their product design, if you take one of their first BJJ gi's and now one of their single weaves which now come with ripstop trousers you will see how much R and D they put into the BJJ range. They get a little stick on the forums for not training BJJ or coming from a BJJ background but thats why they use martial artists and their other sponsored athletes.

Meerkatsu: What in your long BJJ career has been your most memorable highlight - either something you’ve achieved or someone you’ve met or a result etc?

Andy Roberts: There are far too many to mention, it has given me so much both as a student and as a person. I have made some truely great friendships along the way and they are all built on honesty, I have some awesome students and awesome instructors. I have been all over the world both with the UFC and BJJ, I wouldn't change it for anything.

Meerkatsu: Andy, thanks very much for your time, I think there's a lot of food for thought for all students of BJJ.

Andy Roberts: No problem Seymour, thanks for giving me a platform to talk about these things.

Here's a video of Andy in action at the 2010 BJJ British Open where he gets a knee bar in 20 seconds!

And here's Andy in 2008 getting a tap from a triangle in about 30 seconds!


About the Author


Author & Artist

Meerkatsu is the artist name for BJJ black belt Seymour Yang.


Tartovski said...

Great Interview! Cheers for that.

More Andy Interview/Academy highlights here:

Meerkatsu said...

*cough* blog hijacker *cough*

Tartovski said...

Not at all, I'm just adding a link that's relevent to the thread. You linked to his old highlight video in the article!

If I wanted to highjack I'd link to my own blog. :P

Meerkatsu said...

At least plug your blog then!

Anonymous said...

Great interview Andy. Good luck mate.

Barry Foley


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