I’ve been living large for almost two weeks at Uncle Mark’s house. He and his family have been spoiling the hell out of me and I’m grateful.
I found a school to visit near Mark’s called Great Grappling that I’ve been training at for 6 days, usually twice per day.
The head instructor is a guy named Jeremy Arel. Jeremy has gained some notoriety through a blog he published on sherdog.com about training in Brazil at the famous Gordo BJJ, and through his expansive Youtube channel.
Jeremy has his shit together to say the least. He got a degree in physical education from Winthrop and uses that knowledge to operate his program. Class starts exactly on time and is planned out to the minute. The curriculum is on a one year cycle.
Over four years, Jeremy has grown his school to around 200 students. He has one black belt, about 7 brown belts, 10 or so purples, and dozens of whites and blues. He has a good crew of women too, maybe 15.
I’ve been getting a lot of good sparring. Each practice I do at least four 8 minute rounds. The quality of opponent is always good and Jeremy always rolls me at least once.
I’ve gone out to eat a few times with some of the guys after class and have pieced together an interview with Jeremy through conversation. Here are some of his thoughts, heavily paraphrased.
Who are some of your favorite teachers or coaches?
‘A teacher is different than a coach. A teacher is one who shows you the mechanics of techniques. A coach helps you with strategy. Not all good teachers are good coaches and vice versa. Now, some great teachers I have known are Draculino, Gordinho, Gustavo Machado, and Eduardo de Lima.
Great coaches? Gordo. Incredible coach, incredible outlook on jiu jitsu.’
Do you think Rickson lives up to his legend?
‘I’ve never rolled with him, but I think he does. I went to a Rickson seminar in Brazil. There were 80 attendees and 74 of them were black belts. I still remember everything he showed that day- it was mind blowing. The technique was so simple and effective that it made me wonder if I really knew bjj. Listen to what the Gracie family says about him. They all say that he’s the greatest, hands down. That may be the one thing they all agree on. I think Rickson is probly even better than most of us realize.’
Okay, what about some other old school guys? Would the black belt world champions of the 90’s in their physical primes do well at this year’s Worlds?
‘Oh yeah. Those old school guys were tough as nails and had good reaction speed and “feel” for a match. Also, look at the techniques they favored. Double underhooks passing, stack passing, amazing closed guard games. Those are all hard counters to today’s common guards. They stayed low and didn’t take any risks, that’s a tough style to use open guard/dlr/spider games against. Wallid, Pe de Pano, Mario Sperry– those guys would do fine today.
Mario Sperry wrecked me one time.’
Which is more important- a good coach or good training partners?
‘Coach. It’s difficult to teach or analyze yourself. But it’s actually not that hard to take a new student and make them into a useful training partner. You can drill and spar for hours, but it’s crucial to have someone who can identify and correct your mistakes.’
What’s a common misconception about jiu jitsu in Brazil?
‘Well, bjj has been going on for a lot longer down there and some gyms have been around for decades. In the US, you know almost everyone at your school but in Brazil, the student body can go back for years. At Gordo’s for example, I kept meeting new black belts of his. They didn’t train as frequently as they used to but they would still come in randomly from time to time. I swear- one Saturday 26 black belts decided to show up to the same class.’
I think I might like to run a school someday. Can you give me some advice about that?
‘When you have your school, bjj is not the real product- you are. People can get good training at a lot of gyms, but they choose the instructor they like most.
You have to be a professional. Always be upbeat and outgoing. Give equal attention to everyone. And try keep your personal beliefs to yourself so as not to alienate people. Be mindful of what you say, especially on social media.’
Jerermy gave me a lot one on one attention. He watched me roll a lot and gave me a lot of specific coaching. He told me about how to be a good instructor and operate a gym like true business.
I saw that it takes a lot of work but it look like a good life.
I’ve been here a while and need to get on the road, but I could see myself coming back. Great Grappling has a lot of high belts and some serious competitors and an accessible coach with a vision for his team.