The Community of BJJ – BJJ In My Eyes with William Vandry

BJJ in my eyes July 2009 article – Improve the community of BJJ!

March 2009 Vandry BJJ quarterly seminar from local and VBJJ association students

Ok, this month’s article is going to be a bit different.  Usually I like to talk about some type of training, the atmosphere of a tournament, the growth personally of a student in BJJ, or somewhere along those lines.  For Christmas, I enjoy discussing something with a light tone for humor and for a side of our BJJ community that expresses a lighter side, not just our enjoyment of MMA or grappling.

When BJJ started in the USA it was not a household name, and relatively unknown.  Then, the year was 1993, and it was the introduction of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.  The initial reaction was some shock, allegations of human cockfighting, blood and guts to declarations and statements from traditional style Martial artists that claimed it was just a sport, and not real fighting anyway.  Right.  Of course.

Ok, so the influx of Royce Gracie and the effective style of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu shot up in popularity for viewers.  In the 90’s, newer styles that broke from traditional styles such as Capoeira, JKD, Shootwrestling and a few others were gaining in its popularity.

What happened next?  Well, the first thing that happened was the illusions of not necessarily traditional Martial arts, but of traditional Martial arts thinking just blew up.  What do I mean?  Ok, to start off with, before the UFC started, traditional styles usually had a type of invincibility, or even to a point where we have simply pimped out the ‘art’.

After WWII, there were Japanese college students that taught Judo, and of course Judo became popular in the USA.  In the sixties, this deadly art called Karate came into the public.  Karate became a style many Americans eagerly trained in, and to this day each of us has a Father or an Uncle who trained in it.  In the 70’s the Kung Fu rage happened.  In the 80’s with a few good movies, the Ninjitsu craze began.  Back to the 90’s.  Then the UFC comes out, and we start seeing a few holes in styles we believed were pretty much invincible.  I note that this comment is not potshotting at Martial arts; this article will refer more to our American style of engulfing ourselves before we truly understand what we are learning.  All Martial arts have worth or value.  All have something to give.  However, more and more it is not the art or arts that are the problem, but rather the particular philosopher, coach or at times the snake oil salesman that are out there with selfish intent, and the good ones that balance this yin and yang conflict.

So now into our modern day.  I own an academy in Austin Texas, where I teach the art of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu gi and no gi.  I said BJJ, gi or no gi.  Where did people get this idea that they were going to bastardize BJJ, take off a gi and then call it submission grappling?  Funny, no one used the guard in pro wrestling or other forms of grappling with submissions before BJJ.  So now our next issue is what type of environment do we train in?  At my academy, there are three main draws for a potential student:

  1. Informational download of techniques that can be explained and absorbed easily
  2. A safe, training atmosphere that you can work bad positions, weak techniques and develop a well rounded game
  3. Camaraderie.  There is no better place to train than those that you can unwind with a training partner after class to discuss techniques, laugh, critique each other and exchange emails to discuss these issues.


These are areas my academy and Vandry associate academies in Texas (Austin (Prof. William Vandry), Luling (Vandry BJJ Brown belt King Webb), Harlingen (Vandry BJJ Purple belt Luis Armas), Brownsville (Vandry BJJ Brown belt Manny Galvan), Weslaco (Vandry BJJ Purple belt Luis Vega) and Buda (Vandry Brown belt Ted Osborn)) use to teach and commit to the growing classes, techniques, student development and mental absorption of BJJ.

Teaching in the marital arts pertains to the particular instructor or instructor’s program.

I have witnessed the beginning of teaching in the BJJ and MMA or no gi from the 90’s.  At first actual credible certified BJJ Black belts taught in the USA.  Most BJJ Black belts are easily traced to their particular lineage.  For example, if a BJJ Black belt states his name, the first question you would ask is whom did he train with?  Most of them can give an answer that is pretty recognized in BJJ.  Most guys in the USA in the 90’s either teaching or training BJJ came from one of the Gracie family instructors, or the Machados, or some other Black belts like Pedro Carvalho (Carlson Gracie) and others similar.

BJJ was a rage in the 90’s.  Everyone and their brother wanted to train due to the popularity of the UFC and Royce Gracie.  Later when Royce mentioned his brother Rickson in a Karate/Kung Fu magazine, he mentioned Rickson as being “ten times better than I am”.  This fueled everyone to find out who this Rickson guy was.  He popularized his name by fighting in Vale Tudo and Pride in Japan.  Rickson still to this day reached the highest payday officially of any fighter by allegedly making 1.5 million dollars a fight in his two wins over Japanese Shootwrestler Nobohiko Takada.  It was also rumored that he was offered 3 million dollars to fight Sakuraba.

But look what happened.  We out of the blue started seeing BJJ, MMA, No gi, whateverjitsu…. and so on.  All of a sudden BJJ guys weren’t Black belts, or even qualified to teach.  You can at times be someone who can roll or spar well, but cannot teach a lick or even convey a simple arm bar for the audience of students.  On the other hand, there are people who study techniques, videos, books, etc., and can demo or display a technique, but cannot spar a lick or avoid that in their career.  A good instructor needs depth in both areas.  When I teach at my academy, I study newer tournaments, fighters, strategies and champion the way they win.  I also spar a lot at my academy with my students, and work quick attacks, defense, bad positions and at times will handicap myself to just try one type of move to see how I can develop it.  I was sparring recently with two of my top students.  One is probably the strongest at my academy (Big Rob Furlano), and I understand his strength, top game and passing.  When sparring, I dropped to the guard, and swept him to be pinned.  After sparring, I showed him what he did wrong, and what developments he needed to angle.  Being a Brown belt, no one needs to babysit him, and he is a champion in his own right.  However, I am his instructor.  I have a duty to constantly monitor students.  If I cannot break down the game of a student then I am just passing time demonstrating techniques.  While sparring, my whole chore is to shut down attacks of his and then go back to the books after sparring and tweak his game.  Another top student (Our academy Doctor, Doc Jeff Snow) has a very good guard.  Doc Snow is 6’ 7” about 295lbs…. ok just kidding, really he is about 6’ 4”, about 240 or so, and has a good sword guard with the arm.  Sparring Jeff, the whole mode was to again shut down his game, and exploit a flaw.  There were two kneebars that Jeff did not catch, but it was because I let him help me set it up.  Afterward, we talked, and I showed him how to defend against those kneebars, and to go back to the books to improve his defense.

This is what instructors should do in classes, corrections and explanation.  Another example of this type of developmental attention had to do with my assistant instructors.  I have been teaching for almost 14 years, and when I had my first three official certified assistants (Assistant Instructors Ted Osborne, Jeremy Carbone and Jay Hume), the goal was to constantly monitor them and develop their particular game and corrections on details teaching.

My Brown belts Jeremy Carbone, Jay Hume and Ted Osborne teach at my academy.  Ted has Monday Day classes, Jay assists me Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and will cover if I am out of town and Jeremy assists Monday, teaches his own class Wednesday night and along with Ted and Jay, assist me on Saturday no gi classes.

These three in particular have very good skills, and have developed a very good breakdown on techniques.  When I train with them each week, my goal is to develop or tweak positions and strategies when I train with them, and to show them a small detail they may have overseen.  This type of detailed teaching is something I learned through many variables in life and through many wise people.  I learned a very interesting lesson from Proverbs in the bible recently.  For those that are not familiar, Proverbs in the bible is a chapter called the chapter of wisdom.  It has some very interesting details on learning, etc..  There is a very good point on intelligence and wisdom.  Intelligence is a mentality where a simple person can look at a sign that says:

“Do not enter this cave, dynamite will blow your head off”.  Of course, he has to see for himself and get his head blown off.  That’s a way many people learn through just intelligence.  Wisdom is the guy watching him, and thinking to himself: “I aint stepping into that cave”.

So, back to my three assistant instructors.  I went out of town for a vacation a few weeks ago, and before I left I trained with my top guys.  With these three in particular, I trained with Jeremy and when sparring used different shoulder locks and armlocks that threw his game off.  When sparring with Jay, I used a modified leglocking method that was more of instinct and development of a constant mental chessgame.  Same with Ted.

Afterward, even Brown belts can be very disappointed.  I sat each of them down and showed them what I was doing, and how to counter it.  It’s a phase of development.  When I used to train with my instructors each week, I took notes when I was a white belt of every round I ever sparred with them.  And I noted what happened and why.  Everyone goes through this, I did too when I trained with my instructors.  It’s a developmental stage.  If you get irritated or mad or make excuses when you lose or don’t do well, then you have an absolutely horrible attitude that needs to be thrown in the trash.  I remember a new student on his first day.  I let him try to get me in an armbar, which he didn’t really know how to do technically.  Anyway, I slowly pulled out and got him in a lock.  He asked me how close was he to getting me.  I think my whole class laughed.  Not in a rude way, or mocking, just amused by his naivety.  The next round I got him in about three seconds and he got the point.  You have to accept losing, but not accept being a loser.  At times there are people better athletically, or better strategy, but the developmental game depends on your attitude, not how tough you think you are.

At my academy and associate academies, attitude is a great key to developing community.  I think when most schools or classes in the USA training have a low student base, or inconsistent students or even revolving door students that come here today and are gone tomorrow, sometimes some people don’t want to train, maybe it wasn’t for them, maybe they are interested in other hobbies, but at times it is the environment.

If a new student is getting neck cranked or heel hooked, you probably wont see him very long.

At times you get different people in the BJJ/MMA field.  In a previous article I discussed my first three years getting every hothead coming to try out a class with the intent of hoping to tap me or beat me in my class.  I noticed of all these types, I tapped all of them or submitted them, but they never came back.  After three or so years, I realized I was doing something wrong.  I was appealing to the wrong student base.  I did a seminar on Ft. Hood (The largest military installation in the world near Killeen, Texas) and I taught a free seminar, as I was once an army brat and wanted to work with the military community.  About 100 people showed up, and I sparred with pretty much everyone there.  I offered everyone a free class at the community center.  Well, I remember this one guy, kind of a meathead who tried to wrestle really hard with me.  I tapped him out a few times and he quit.  I talked to him about the program, and asked him if he intended to join.  It was so funny later.  This guy tells me he can’t afford to pay any dues; he just wanted to try the free class.

Oh boy.

This is somewhat of a problem.  One of my students who opened his own class in his own town was telling me of similar instances with people coming by to ‘try’ a class.   You start to weed through those who are experts in their field and attempt to impress you with talk, or those who have trained a ton of BJJ, yet they cannot name their instructor.

These type of people are never interested in a class, learning or anything of the like.  They mainly focus on what they can get for free in life.  Now sometimes there are nervous students, or simply students that never heard of BJJ or have seen it before.  This happens, and you don’t want to hurt them or see them get injured, you want them to have fun and be inspired by the techniques.  This keeps them wanting to learn more.



Students want to learn.  They crave knowledge.  When I teach seminars each quarter, we get a pretty good turnout from local students and those of my associations across Texas.  Usually we get anywhere from 80-120 students that attend.  I usually let students ask questions at the end of the seminar.  One reason I do this is to give students a chance to know the answer to personal questions, and two, to give myself tests to problem solve questions.

Questions are important to students, and helping student questions when they cannot do an armbar correct in class or mistakes in technical review of classes are monitored by my assistants and myself each day at my academy and my seminars.

Now don’t get me wrong, when students start asking: “Hey show me this, or show me that, or how do you counter this or that”, welll….that is probably a naïve student or a student that doesn’t have much regard for respecting the instructor.  For example, I teach classes twice a day at my academy in Austin, Texas, and I probably am the most active Black belt in BJJ teaching that I know.  Most have assistants that teach or are out of town on business.  I made an oath to myself when I first started teaching to always be at my academy and to make sure I prioritize on students first.  I read a great article years ago that the great Royler Gracie wrote, and it discussed his top priority, teaching.  This is the place I am at, and I have committed to that for years.

This philosophy the students develop as well.  Now back to my point on questions.  Many times I get new students from other states or clubs or whatever that join my academy, and they automatically start asking this or that, or whatever.  Class questions are always answered, but at times students need to consummate a relationship with the instructor before asking any detailed, lengthy questions that comes to mind.  What many newer students don’t understand is that any question does not get answered in five minutes.  No one retains those things.  The most popular of types of questions in BJJ some newer students ask me is how to counter a move.  The problem is most students that ask are usually white belts, and are ignoring overall defense and prevention to countering.  Counters are good defensive moves that are developed by purple belts and up.  Many whites and blues develop them too, but the upper level belts have more experience.

Its what makes this experience so vital.  For example, many newer students will ask : “How do you get out of a choke?”  The problem first is that a counter to a good submission is easy to break down, but not easy to learn.  It is a drill to go over and over, and to teach body reaction, timing and develop comfort even under pressure of a submission.  Sometimes students don’t understand that as well, so I have to tell them it takes a lot longer.

At times there may be a newer student that already has experience, and asks these types of questions.  That’s where consummating a relationship develops as well.  My assistant instructors train with me each week extensively, and I break down angles, flaws, mistakes or newer angles to help their particular game.  They have spent close to 7-8 years with me each, and have trained, paid their dues with school duties and worked with me on the school teaching and helping newer students develop.  This is something important too.  Students at times simply go to youtube to find some armlock or counter and try it in class.  Then it doesn’t work like they think.  Technical development takes time and patience.  I remember when BJJ Black belt and former world champion Fernando “Margarita” Pontes came out with a video, I heard a fair amount of criticism I believe from underground forum on the internet.  The techniques were sound, the explanations were sound and deliberate.  What was the criticism?  Well, everyone was complaining that they already knew or had seen the techniques on his video or similar techniques on videos or Internet.  Wow.  This is the unfortunate part of Internet or videos.  They degrade appreciation for good techniques.  If I trained a private lesson tomorrow with Rickson Gracie and he showed me a basic collar choke, I would do it, thank him and appreciate the time, because he had proven himself, and his ability that helped set a name for our martial art and style.  Not to mention there is probably something in his choke I may not have seen before, you never know.

What’s the point?  When you learn something, develop it and the many angles.  Some people think they know something because they saw it, but cannot repeat it to save their life.  I had one time listened to a student trying to show another how to do a triangle.  So he decided to change the triangle to some way he has never done, and absolutely did not work.  So he tells the other student to keep trying it, it will work sooner or later.  I corrected him and told him first, don’t teach something you have not reviewed and understand the physics of and the breakdown of the technique, and two don’t teach period if you’re not a certified instructor.

When I trained under my chief instructor Carlos Macho years ago at his academy in Dallas, Texas, I would do a morning class, a private in the afternoon and if I wasn’t too tired, I would maybe a half hour of his evening class and then drive back 3-4 hours back home.  This was a weekly training, and I always feared I didn’t have an opportunity to get enough training.  What I did was take notes, and I have three notebooks full of notes that I absolutely cherish as a good piece of information and documents a very important learning period of my initial training in BJJ.

I also learned that when you are learning, it does not make you an instant add water to be an instructor.  Details and breakdown are based upon years of experience, and correct experience and corrections, errors and reviews.  This is where important instruction comes in.  I had trained mainly with Carlos Machado, who mentored me for years, and any current suggestions I will always listen to.  His brother Rigan, John, Jean-Jacques and Roger also have given me so many different viewing aspects in the art of BJJ.  This is what we do lack at times in second or third generations.

This direct, detailed instruction helped me to develop that same way of instruction.  This helps students.  Students then help each other and newer students….and ultimately, you have a great community that you are taking care of.

Happy Independence day month!

Professor William Vandry

Head instructor VBJJ (Austin Headquarters)

Vandry BJJ Academy: Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) & Muay Thai Boxing, Austin, Texas.


Submitted by William Vandry on Mon, 07/13/2009 – 22:43