Today’s “Young Guns” features a very special interview with one of England’s newest and toughest young black belts, Oliver Geddes. Under Roger Gracie’s watchful eye, this twenty-seven year old obtained his black belt in a little over six years.
Oli is one of the most active competitors in all of Europe. His titles include 2 x Abu Dhabi Pro European Qualifier, 2 x CBJJ European Lightweight Champion, 2x CBJJE European Champion, 2x British Open Champion, No-Gi British Open Champion, No-Gi Pan-American Silver Medallist and Pan-American Bronze Medallist.
Enjoy the interview!
How did you first get interested in Jiu Jitsu?
I grew up as a big Bruce Lee fan, like a lot of people, and spent a few years training around various martial arts whilst I was at university. They didn’t have a Jiu Jitsu club then, so I mainly did striking based traditional martial arts. After I moved back home after university, I found a club near me that offered a number of martial arts at the same time, one of which was Jiu Jitsu. I started off training it once a week, then quickly moved to three times a week. It just felt more ‘real’ than anything else I’d been training up until that point.
How did you find your way to Roger Gracie from your neighborhood Martial Arts Club?
The main reason was that I wanted an academy that offered full time training, even if only for a short period of time. I didn’t know then that I was going to end up where I am today. But I figured doing three different martial arts three times a week was less constructive than doing one nine or ten times. Plus learning from a real Gracie seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I honestly didn’t know at the time just how good he was; just that he was a world-level competitor, and a real genuine black belt. Which was something I’d never seen before. I looked up the academy in London, worked out how to get there, and began commuting up there for a little while, before I found a group of university friends who were living within walking distance of the academy. So I moved in with them, sleeping on the hallway floor. Not ideal living conditions, but saved me a lot of time and money.
Through the course of your BJJ career, what is the one most important thing that Roger Gracie has taught you?
Hard to say. I think the one line he said that stuck in my head was ‘It’s very easy to have a good half-guard game at purple belt. But at brown and black belts, it’s very different. You have to start changing your game now because you can’t have a game like that at the higher levels.’ So I’ve been branching out, working a lot of different things, and my game has evolved as a result of it. I’m still predominantly a half-guard guy, but I like to think I have more strings to my bow.
Aside from Roger, who do you admire most in BJJ and why?
Hrm. Hard one. I think I might dodge the question a little and say…anyone who manages to train hard and compete at the highest level whilst remaining approachable, friendly and respectful. Competitive drive means a lot, but if it makes you less of a person I’m not sure if it’s worth it. Particular mentions to Braulio, Marcelo, Ryan Hall, Jimmy Harbison, JT Torres, Bernardo Faria, Rodolfo Vieira, but there are a lot of others out there too.
How would you describe your style?
Patient, I suppose? Slow? Simple? I don’t consider myself a ‘natural’ in BJJ at all, so I tend to pick up on techniques that don’t require any special attributes or talents to get good at. I think this comes as an advantage in teaching sometimes because if I can make it work, a lot of other people out there surely can! ^_^
You quit your job to commit yourself full time to BJJ. What influenced that decision?
Mainly my fear of working a proper job! Just to clarify, I finished university and was only working part-time before I abandoned that to give BJJ a try, so it’s not like I had a full-time position and long-term prospects that I was abandoning. It was just the feeling that I couldn’t face spending every day behind a desk. Also, my father told me a long time ago that the most important thing is to find a job that you enjoy, and that is flexible and gives you opportunities. I like to think that I managed to find that.
What advice would you give someone if they wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Make sure you have a fallback option. Whether it might be qualifications or simply knowing that your family have your back should it not work out. In my case, I had both, but my parents supported me in doing what I wanted to, at least until I knew whether it had a chance of working out. I still have a lot of debt from back in the day, but I’m slowly working it off. Also…don’t expect it to all work out. I will be the first to admit I got incredibly lucky with how things fell into place for me. Opportunities came along at just the right time all along, and that has enabled me to get where I am without too much stress. But not everyone can get lucky like that, so commit yourself to it fully, but have a fallback option. Oh, and if you want to compete a lot, make sure to get experience as a referee as early as possible. Not only will it help your competition game, it makes it practical to travel to a lot of different competitions because you usually break even at the very least.
In your first IBJJF tournament as a BB, you beat Asian open champion Marcos de Souza, how did that feel? Can you walk us through that match?
It felt amazing, to be honest. However, I’m not going to pretend that getting the tap in that fight puts me anywhere close to his level. I had about a minute of success in a nine minute match, and I was down a whole ton of points. To run through it: I started okay, hitting a first sweep that ended up taking Marcos out of bounds and scoring me an advantage. But after that, it all went downhill rather quickly. He passed my guard a lot and hit a couple of takedowns which ended up putting me down 12-0 with a couple of minutes left. I managed to get a good position in half-guard and use that to hit a clean sweep, but ended up in Marcos’ butterfly guard. I knew that in the time given, it was unlikely I was going to be able to pass his guard and finish him and his feet were too tight under me to go for a traditional foot-lock. So I started moving to half-guard, knowing that the only way I was going to beat him was to catch him with something he wasn’t expecting. After I hit half-guard, I got the grips I wanted, isolated his knee, and sprawled my hips through his leg for what I guess would be called an inverted kneebar. I call it a Dogbar, but hey. I’ve had a lot of success with it in competition as a brown belt, so I figured I didn’t have much option but to give it a go at black belt. Luckily, it worked out.
You have an extensive catalog of your matches on http://www.thejiujitsugame.com/. Do you find it helpful to film your matches? And do you review them with your coaches in order to improve your game?
I film them mainly so I can remember them, to be honest. It’s nice to have a record of what you’ve done and how it was done rather than talking about a match you had fifteen years ago that you can barely remember or start misremembering and changing details or whatever. I’m missing about ten or fifteen fights from my career, and I barely remember how they went, sadly. It’s also a good reference for me, and yeah, in certain situations I run through them with my coaches. Usually only very specific matches where something went wrong, though.
What is your daily training regimen like?
Probably not as busy as you might imagine! I teach pretty much every day, whether it’s one-to-ones or group classes, and I do somewhere between six or eight sessions a week which are just training for myself. I also have three days of strength and conditioning training, which has been a big element of my routine lately (and also responsible for my rather drastic weight gain).
In your opinion, where do you rank BJJ in the UK vs elsewhere in Europe?
I think it’s coming along well now. Although we had a number of black belts quite a while ago, there was a long time gap between them and all the guys who are coming through now. Aside from all the black belts promoted by Mauricio (Roger’s Father), Roger and Braulio, there are more being promoted practically every month. We also have a number of guys who’ve managed to be competitive on an international level at the higher belts and who will keep growing through the belts, I’m sure. A quick name check here: Luke Costello (European Brown Belt Weight and Absolute Champion), Stephen Martin (European Brown Belt Champion, Brazilian National Purple Belt Champion), Yasmine Wilson (World Purple Belt Silver Medallist), Daniel Strauss (European ADCC Qualifier) as well as a lot of others coming through at the lower belts. With the number of champions instructing here, it was only a matter of time before the level here went up, and it’s only going to get higher as time goes on.
Some competitors prefer not to teach because they think it interferes with training. You on the other hand teach all the time, how do you balance the training and teaching when you are getting ready for a big competition?
It would be nice to not have to worry about teaching, but then I wouldn’t have any money! In general, I try to avoid getting tied into any teaching job that will take away my flexibility. As an example, I teach three days a week at the main academy, once a week at an affiliate and everything else is one-to-one. So if I have a competition coming up, I can cancel or reschedule the private classes if I’m feeling a little down. I find teaching group classes significantly less tiring than one-to-ones so I really don’t mind doing them. I probably could teach a lot more and have a much greater income as a result, but then I’d end up being too tired for regular training and that would probably hurt my overall level. This is the best time I have to be a competitor, so why take away that opportunity for a bit of money in the short term?
What has been your proudest moment in BJJ thus far?
Getting my black belt from Roger, I suppose. When I started out, I never really imagined myself getting further than purple (my first instructor was a purple belt, and as far as I was concerned at the time, he was unbeatable). So to reach that level and to feel at least to an extent that I deserve it means a lot to me. Also, everyone’s reaction in the room when Roger called me up was…pretty intense, and it’s nice to know that there are that many people who have your back (no pun intended!) and are happy for your success.
How do you handle defeat?
It depends how I lose, really. If I lose a fight I could have won due to my own mistake, that will bug me for a long time. But if I’m up against someone who is just plain better than me, I just take it as a learning experience and resolve to improve my overall level. I’m still young in the sport, so I don’t set unrealistic expectations for myself, but I do have expectations, and I think you have to lose at least once to a high-level fighter to get a sense of where they are relative to you. And once you have, you can start working on closing the gap. It’s much easier to be the chaser than the chased.
What are your plans for 2012?
The four majors, mainly, and then we’ll see where we go from there. Euros was a good experience, but hoping to build on that a bit at the Pans, then the Abu Dhabi Pro (which I qualified for last year) and the Worlds. Then a short break for training and self-improvement before starting the campaign for qualifying for next year’s Abu Dhabi Pro. Not setting myself any crazy ambitions at this stage, just putting in time on the mat and trying not to lose momentum where possible. Stay healthy, stay happy. Pretty much it!
Any final thought?
Big thanks to everyone who got me where I am today. My family and my girlfriend for their support, physical, financial and emotional. My sponsors, Scramble (http://www.scramblestuff.com) and Made4Fighters (http://www.made4fighters.com). Roger, Mauricio, every other instructor I’ve ever had, and every training partner I’ve ever had. BJJ isn’t a sport that you can go places by yourself.
Thank you Oli for this great interview!
Oliver Geddes vs. Marcos de Souza
Oliver Geddes vs. Davide Garavaglia (MILANO CHALLENGE 2010)
Oli receiving his BB
Oli showing one of his great 1/2 Guard Techniques
Inverted Triangle from side control (my personal favorite)
Oliver Geddes vs. Marcos de Souza from another angle (2012 IBJJf Euros)