Like many present-day American BJJ black belts, I feel deeply, profoundly in love with MMA in the late 1990s. My first exposure to the UFC was in 1995, when I saw Tank Abbot’s notorious debut, when Tank knocked out John Matua in seconds, then loomed over him mockingly as Matua lied unconscious on the canvas, dramatically looking like a corpse, with his arms apparently affected by rigor mortis. This isn’t what made me love MMA, though- it was a year later when I watched Don Frye at UFC 8 use a combination of boxing and wrestling in order to dominate his opponents easily.
Here was something I could do! I wrestled in high school (I graduated in 1993), and I was looking for more wrestling to continue during my early 20s at college. Unfortunately, the school I picked didn’t have a wrestling team, and I was only sporadically involved in freestyle wrestling with the local club for the next year and a half. However, this all changed when I found the judo club at VCU.
This coincided with Don Frye beating the snot out of everyone with his superior (to the guys at UFC 8, anyway) wrestling and decent boxing. Right as I saw this, I was being exposed to judo. The university offered a class in judo, so I took it for credit (mainly for fun, though, as I had all my elective credits out of the way). From the class, I discovered the club, and a group of martial artists who were dedicated to grappling, and really good at what they did.
The judo club in 1997 was an interesting place, and unique to all my other martial arts experience since then. I was not only exposed to a whole new world of throws and takedowns, but I was also introduced to groundwork with submissions for the first time. The line between judo and BJJ was always a blurry one for me. For further reading on this subject, check out What is the Difference Between Judo and BJJ?
During this time at the judo club, several BJJ practitioners from various different gyms in the Richmond area came in to train with us. I was learning ground techniques from judo guys, then refining them with BJJ guys who came in to train. All the while, I was immersed in watching video, reading magazines and books, and driving to the occasional BJJ seminar in order to learn whatever I could.
Gradually, the ground game became more and more intriguing to me. By 1998, I was learning the throws, but I was thirsty for ne waza– grappling on the ground. The judo club was actually very strong on the ground relative to most other judo places I’ve seen, so I was lucky in that regard, but BJJ smoothed out the roughness of the techniques for me when it could.
For five years, I awaited a good place to train BJJ in Richmond, and Eric Burdo opened up his gym, Richmond BJJ. I was there for the first class, and I’ve been a part of the gym ever since, even after starting my own gym in February of 2006. I have Burdo to thank for sharing great, technical jiu jitsu with me for years; I have the judo club to thank for being my first martial arts home. But I have Don Frye to thank for falling in love with MMA, and ultimately, jiu jitsu!