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Exclusive Interview: Roy Dean

Posted by Mark Figula on September 1, 2010 at 2:03 AM


By Mark Figula, The Mouth of MMA Senior Editor


“For the thousands in attendance and the millions watching around the world…”  Buffer’s words ring out through the arena and get converted to bits and bytes to be sent across the globe.  For myself, as one of the people silly enough to actually take up the practice of training in the skills I’m about to see on display, I often wonder how many of those “millions around the world” are doing the same.  In an economy that is causing shrinkage faster than an ice cold pool, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and MMA schools are still popping up at a fairly stunning rate.  Students both new to martial arts and coming from more traditional martial arts, flock to academies teaching the styles that were proven most effective in the events Michael Buffer announced to those millions.

 

That explosive growth for MMA and, in particular Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, has also had another effect…  Unlike old school martial arts, the palette of techniques that drive BJJ/MMA are still rapidly evolving.  To look at a match from say, UFC 40 and compare it to what you see today is like night and day.  The same holds true for BJJ grappling tournaments where new techniques and approaches combine with solid basics to create new champions every year.  Where does one go to learn all these novel techniques though?  Of course, at a good academy with a good teacher new ideas will be introduced but, also, there is an entire market of technique DVDs out there to be explored.  One such DVD, BJJ Blue Belt Requirements by Roy Dean, was something that I found particularly useful in developing my own skills.  Roy has a unique approach, a very good way of explaining details and his diverse martial arts background gives him a perspective rarely found in the modern milieu.  

 

I reached out to Roy to ask him a few questions about his school, his style and his distinctive approach.

 

 

Mark: I notice you call your school a "progressive Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy."  Can you elaborate on the use of the term "progressive" there?

 

Roy Dean: I use the term “progressive” to imply that we encourage evolution on and off the mat.  Technically, BJJ is a very open system, and I am continually learning more as the art moves forward.  I feel that we are forward thinking in the way we present BJJ, as an art and as a “budo”, or martial way.  It is a discipline that is as intellectually engaging as chess, and as physically demanding as yoga, but is still largely looked on as a method for delivering a blue collar beatdown.   Too thuggish.  Even skilled martial artists from other realms would look at BJJ and not recognize the finesse.  This is changing, however, and I’m trying to be a part of that change.

 

Mark: Your training before Jiu Jitsu was rather extensive with a black belt in both Judo and Seibukan Jujutsu as well as extensive work in the art of Aikikai Aikido.  Is it that background that influences the very traditional feel of your academy?

 

Roy Dean: Definitely.  After spending so many years in traditional arts, with the etiquette, foreign terms, and cultural affectations that go along with them, BJJ was a refreshing change.  One bow at the beginning and end of class, coupled with a warm and generally unstructured atmosphere and curriculum.  Training with Mr. Harris took it one step further, with the majority of the classes being no-gi and no bowing.  Just a handshake and a lot of sweat on the mats.

 

But when it came time to launch my own Academy, I had a very specific vision.  Bring a bit of the etiquette back, but just enough.  Excessive formality can be a trap, and I wanted to avoid that.

 

Another significant influence on the way I present BJJ is the use of belt demonstrations.  Traditionally in BJJ, the belt is awarded when the teacher feels the student is ready.  I give the student the option receive their belt in class, or do a demonstration of skill.  Most elect to do the demonstration, even though it’s technically, physically, and emotionally challenging.  

 

This is a direct reflection of my time in Seibukan Jujutsu.  The most powerful moments I’ve had in training were watching people perform these demonstrations, and pushing themselves into a transpersonal experience.  It was during these demos that I realized martial arts can be used as a technology to go beyond yourself.

 

BJJ is perfectly suited for demonstrations because the practitioner can get into the zone by performing clean techniques with a non-resistant partner, then flow into the live portion with several rounds of sparring.  You can also let people into the game in BJJ, so if they’re exhausted in the demo, you can give them the opportunity capitalize on an opening and submit you.  It they still have juice, then you can put it to them and make them battle back in a more competitive fashion.  It’s a cat and mouse game.  These demonstrations aren’t as intense as a competition, but they’re also more prolonged, and cover a much larger knowledge base.

 

Mark: As a competitor yourself, how much do you feel the other arts you trained in helped your Brazilian Jiu Jitsu game and how much of these other philosophies and techniques do you put into your curriculum for your students?

 

Roy Dean: Each art taught me something unique in regards to application of technique.  Judo taught me the power of speed, and just how many repetitions are necessary to pull off a technique when the pressure is on.  Aikido showed me how to blend with forces that are larger than I am, and to realize there are many just as many forces off the mat that you need to blend with as there are on the mat.  Seibukan Jujutsu really honed in my awareness of balance points and improved my ability to improvise and keep going when things aren’t going according to plan!

 

I bring some of the philosophical aspects from the other Japanese Budo into my presentation of BJJ rather than bringing the techniques into the curriculum.  I do rely on my Judo experience to supplement takedowns for BJJ, although newaza is still the main focus of the Academy.

 

 

Mark: As you point out on your website, there is perhaps nothing better for a woman's self defense than Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Do you have a decent amount of female enrollment at your school?

 

Roy Dean: I have a few female students, but it’s a rare woman who can get over the elimination of personal space to practice BJJ.  I’ve created an environment that is well suited for females to participate in the art, but because BJJ is able to provide realistic self defense skills, it’s a difficult art.  Men and women are prone to quit the difficult things in life, but it’s in those difficult tasks that true satisfaction is earned.  

 

Mark: How many black belts have come out of your school since you began?

 

Roy Dean: None!  We are approaching our third year in existence, so it’s a little early for bringing people to that level.  Jimmy DaSilva is the student that has been with me the longest, earning his blue belt back when I was in still San Diego, and he just received his brown.  I was also able to take Donald Bowerman to purple, as he is a very dedicated and talented student, with several others on the cusp.  My students are progressive faster than I did, which is really the way it should be as access to information is better than ever and the essentials for each level are more clearly defined.  

 

 

Mark: You recently competed in the 2009 World Championship in Long Beach. How much do you feel your ability to compete at that level is affected by not having other grapplers to train with who compete at that very top level?

 

Roy Dean: I think it’s significant.  I was told early on by Garth Taylor (who had just won the silver medal at the Mundials) that to win at the World level, you have to be training with guys at that level.  I feel it’s true.  You can have great jiu jitsu, but to expect to win the Worlds just training with your students isn’t realistic.  

 

There are aspects of the game I saw this year that I personally don’t spend a lot of time on or know that well, and your match at the Worlds is not the time to figure it out!  More specifically, the deep half guard and the 50/50 positions are examples of strategies that make BJJ more of a game than ever before, and distance itself from its self defense roots.  Deep half guard is not a good spot in the street, and the 50/50 position is very dangerous when inverted heel hooks are allowed.  It’s a game, and I was happy just to participate in the game and learn something, which always happens when you compete.  It’s another aspect of the art of jiu jitsu, not the art itself.  Competition should be another part of training, never the entire focus.  Jiu jitsu is much larger than that.  It is a way of life, and to navigate this life intelligently and efficiently is the real competition.

 

To see more on Roy Dean and his academy: visit his website.

 

**********************

Mark "The Ezequiel" Figula is the biggest wuss to ever enter a cage... the most spindly chickenass dude to ever tap out at NAGA... the boy who was told that the pen is mightier than the sword... and thus he writes. Check out his home page of scribblings at www.markfigula.com.


Categories: Interviews, Features

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