10 Nov 2012

Interview: David Jacobs

David 'The Rock' Jacobs is a highly decorated BJJ black belt from the USA. He is an instructor at the Fairfax BJJ Academy in Virginia.

He will be here in the UK teaching a seminar on November 24th at Mill Hill BJJ Academy in London. I  figured it would be a nice opportunity for me to re-print the interview I did with him for Jiu Jitsu Style Magazine last year.

Q: Hi David, welcome to the UK! for the readers who may not have heard of you, please give a little introduction about you, your BJJ rank and your academy in the US?
As far as athletic background goes, I started wrestling when I was 11 years old and then wrestled in junior high school, high school, and at a Division 1 college.   After college, I lifted weights obsessively for about 12 years, did some rock climbing and, believe it or not, kickboxing until I finally and thankfully (I think I was the world’s worst kickboxer) discovered jiu jitsu.
Currently, I’m a 2nd degree black belt.  My academy is Fairfax Jiu Jitsu and it’s located in western Fairfax County, Virginia.  It’s in the suburbs of Washington DC.  I own it along with my 2 partners:  Mark Jones (a 1st degree black belt) and Sam Kim who also owns NHB Gear.  We have 3 black belts who teach jiu jitsu at the academy:  Mark Jones, Abmar Barbosa, and me.  In addition to the jiu jitsu program, we have three other successful programs with fantastic and experienced instructors:  MMA, Muay Thai, and Capoeira.  The website for our academy is:  www.FairfaxJJ.com.
Apart from running the academy, I also have a full time job as a lawyer.

Q: How and when did you first find BJJ?
I was invited to friend’s house in late 1997 to watch the UFC and I thought that the jiu jitsu reminded me of wrestling so I wanted to try it. In early February of 1998, I finally took my first class at the Yamasaki Academy after finding it on the internet.  I walked in to my first class thinking I was going to crush everyone because of my wrestling and weightlifting.  Well, not surprisingly, my expectations turned out to be not so realistic. I got tapped repeatedly mostly by guillotines that day by guys who were much weaker than I was.  That experience really lit a fire under me to learn jiu jitsu.  I received my black belt in April of 2005.

Q: As one of the first BJJ gyms in your area, tell me what it was like when you first started up? How easy or hard was it to teach and train jiu jitsu when the sport was less well known as it is now?
When I first started training, the Yamasaki Academy had only 2 locations: (1) the main location which was more or less in a garage-sized warehouse that had tatame mats and (2) the satellite location where I did most of my training.  It was in a fitness gym and we practiced on the aerobics floor.  Believe it or not, we didn’t even have mats!  We had a vinyl tarp that we stretched across the carpeted aerobics floor.  I never hesitate to tell my students how good they have it now with the luxuriant plush mats we have at Fairfax Jiu Jitsu and that, back in my day, you had to be REALLY tough to practice jiu jitsu… J
I opened my own location in early 2004.  I started teaching in the aerobics room at a Gold’s Gym a few times per week.  We had wrestling mats that we rolled out before class and then rolled back up after class.  At the time, there were only a couple of other academies in the area. As the number of my students increased, I wanted to add more classes and add an MMA program so I partnered up with Sam and Mark and, in 2007, we opened the gym where we’re currently located.
I don’t think there’s been any difference in the difficulty or ease of teaching.  Training was more difficult when I started in 1998 because of the distance you had to travel to find a location.  I think the number of people who train casually or as a leisure activity has increased and that a higher percentage of students wanted to compete back when I started.  

Q: We talked about the BJJ scene now, describe how BJJ has proliferated in your neighbourhood, and in the US in general? and what are the difficulties running a full time academy in such a competitive neighbourhood?

There is no question that the sport has grown dramatically in our area.  I joke that it’s like little Rio around here because of all the academies.  Potential students have many more options with respect to where they can train compared to when I started training and then teaching.   Not surprisingly, I like to think we present them with the best option and I encourage potential students to come visit us and check us out.  The best way to evaluate an academy is to visit it and participate in the classes. 

Q: Tell me more about the instructor under whom your team is affiliated to, Mario Yamasaki?

Mario was my first instructor and was the first in the DC metro area to teach BJJ.  Mario was a great instructor who emphasized the importance of the basics but also recognized that jiu jistu is constantly evolving.  Because of the Yamasaki family’s judo background, we did (and still do) a lot of throws and takedowns.  I think a lot of academies neglect this aspect of jiu jitsu.  From a competition perspective, the stand up game is extremely important.  Plenty of BJJ matches are won by 2 points or less.   Fernando Yamasaki ( 5th degree black belt in BJJ and 4th degree in judo), and Francisco Neto (3rd degree BJJ black belt and judo black belt) currently run the Yamasaki Academy in Rockville, Maryland, and have done so for  several years.  The Yamasaki Academy is about a 35 to 40 minute drive from Fairfax Jiu Jitsu’s location.   In addition to being a UFC referee, Mario now runs TRX Brasil.  That’s the company that sells the TRX throughout Brazil.    I still train with Mario when he visits.

Q: You received your black belt back in 2004/2005? Tell me how it felt and what it meant at the time?
I received my black belt in April of 2005.  What it meant to me at the time was that the level of competition I would face was going to become much more difficult. It also meant that I had more responsibility as a teacher and as a competitor.  I wanted to make sure I upheld a very high standard. Of course, there was no difference in my jiu jitsu between the day before I got my black belt and the day after.  The opponents I just fought against a few weeks before as a brown belt in the Pan Ams didn’t get any easier the day I received my black belt.   I received no black belt magic superpowers. I think for my instructors, when they award you a black belt, it means that they have a certain level of confidence in you for competition, teaching, and leadership.  I definitely did not feel that I had arrived at some destination.  On the contrary, I felt that it was just another of many steps upward.  

Q: You have a very impressive tournament record - how many BJJ and grappling matches have you fought in roughly? and what would you say are your competition highlights? What match or trophy meant the most to you?

I have no idea how many competitions I’ve fought in but I think I can say pretty confidently that there aren’t too many people on the east coast who have competed more than I have.  I will say that my competition record is impressive only if you ignore all of the losses I have which greatly outnumber the amount of victories.   As far as competition highlights are concerned, that’s changed over time.  I'd always wanted to medal at the Pan Ams in the adult division, so I was very happy when I got bronze in the brown belt division at the Pan Ams in 2005 at 38 years old.  Also in 2005, I got 2nd place in the 2005-2006 Grapplers Quest U.S. National No-Gi Submission Grappling Championship .  I beat some very tough guys in the prelims before losing to the eventual Abu Dhabi champion and UFC fighter, Rani Yahya, in the finals by guillotine.  Yes, that’s me on the cover of the DVD getting guillotined by Rani.  This past summer, I finally got gold in the International Masters & Seniors down in Rio.  In previous years, I’d won 2 bronzes and a silver at that tournament so it was nice to get the gold finally.

Q: At 45 years old, you still compete a lot. Why do you compete so much still?

Competition and especially victory is absolutely exhilarating to me. I’ll keep competing as long as I can and will still compete in the adult divisions as long as I can properly train for them. Hopefully, I also lead my students by example.  When I tell them about what competition is like and what is necessary for correct competition preparation, they’ll know I’m speaking from lots of experience.

Q: do you feel tournaments are important for a typical student in order to progress in their BJJ journey?

Competition is only 1 component of jiu jitsu, but it IS a component.  In other words, it’s not the only part of jiu jitsu, but is a part nonetheless.  You can certainly progress without competition but, in my opinion, your jiu jitsu wouldn’t be as well rounded as it could be.  Additionally, competition can be an extremely effective teacher.  Nothing can teach you not to do XYZ like a competition.  If you’re competing and you do XYZ and get hammered for it, you’ll learn your lesson and never do XYZ again.  It’s very difficult to recreate that kind of intense learning experience in a class or even in sparring when nothing is on the line.  We encourage our students to compete and all the Fairfax Jiu Jitsu instructors make sure our competitors are as prepared as possible.

Q: You regularly travel and teach seminars and one thing I noticed is that you often bring in a very personal touch to your instruction - how much of your jiu jitsu would you say are techniques you have discovered and formulated by yourself, and how much is classic by-the-book technique?

The idea to teach seminars with a “personal touch” is actually something I got from my training partner and friend, Abmar Barbosa.  At one of his seminars a few years ago, he made the point of explaining to the students that the moves he teaches are the moves that he actually uses.  I thought that was great.  Abmar’s style is very different from mine, but I knew the moves he liked to do in competition and in sparring and the things he was teaching in the seminar were absolutely the stuff he really did.  Lots of seminars are filled with instructors showing lots of fancy stuff that looks cool, but how much of it had they actually tried and tested in competition or in hard sparring? 
In response to Abmar’s comment, I decided to focus my seminars on stuff that I knew worked regardless of how cool it looked.  Additionally, I decided to teach techniques that I was intimately familiar with so that I could present all the fine (and essential) details.   As far as how much of it I invented, probably none of it, but I know that for a few of the techniques, I stumbled onto them through trial and error without having been taught them by anyone else.  As you may remember from the seminar, I’m waiting for someone to name those moves after me.  Only then will I have “arrived” in jiu jitsu.  J  So, I guess whether they’re moves I figured out myself or classic “by the book” techniques, the techniques I teach in seminars are those that I’ve found to have a high percentage of success.  I think that’s the correct seminar formula for me because I got the best seminar feedback I ever received in response to the recent seminars I did in Europe.  Several students (and instructors) who attended told me that, instead of a just the few helpful nuggets they’ve gotten at other seminars, the vast majority of techniques and details I showed were applicable and helpful to their jiu jitsu.  That’s probably the highest compliment I could have received.

Q: As a smaller, lighter, player what tips could you offer dealing with larger, stronger opponents?

I compete at the pena weight category. 
Although there are exceptions, I generally try to stay on top of bigger and heavier opponents.  When I am on top, I try to be very aware of and anticipate getting rolled or swept.  If I am on bottom, I try to keep my opponent’s weight off of me as much as possible.  Next time I’m in London, I’ll show you the specifics.  J

Q: Thank you for your time David, is there anyone you would like to give a shout-out to?
Thank you.  Shout outs to Nicholas Brooks and David Onuma for hosting me for my seminar and shout outs to the guys (including you) who attended.  I hope to be able to visit as much as possible in the future.  My trip to England was far too short.  When are you coming to visit me in the US?


(First published in Jiu Jitsu Style - Issue 6.)


About the Author


Author & Artist

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


Unknown said...

Good interview, you should do some more.

Elyse said...

Meerkatsu! I second Dave's closing question... when ARE you coming to visit us in the US?


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