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Interview With Jay Valko (Valko BJJ)
Jay Valko is a gentleman and a scholar.
Jay Valko gives us some insight into the importance of injury prevention, starting a cover band, and beards.
I think he also talks a little bit about jiu-jitsu.
Have you ever used jiu jitsu in a self defense situation?
Directly and indirectly. Honestly, I’ve used BJJ a few times to break up fights. I’ve never been attacked and defended myself, but twice caught a troublemaker in a bar.
For the first time, I was watching a fight in a bar with many friends and a guy started a fight. I was walking out of the bathroom when I saw this guy push one of our friends and start to gag. I was right behind him so I just grabbed the bare rear throttle and waited for him to take me along. As soon as I caught him, he froze. The bouncers saw everything and thanked me after kicking him out.
I grabbed another guy, took him outside and took a swing at his friend. Once outside, the raiders made sure he wasn’t allowed back inside. Indirectly, my belief in my own ability to cope allowed me to defuse a number of potentially volatile situations. I’d say self-confidence is more important than actual physical ability for self-defense.
What role does ego play in jiu jitsu?
Ego is your best friend and worst enemy in jiu-jitsu. It just depends on how you use it. For a lot of people, I would have to say, “Leave your ego at the door,” but I think it’s important to kick our ass every day and acknowledge that our ego is what brings us back. Ego simply means “self” and since BJJ is such an individual sport, it’s important to always work on your ego.
It’s not wrong to beat yourself up and feel a little down, it’s natural. We are all competitive people or we wouldn’t be in this sport. However, if your ego or arrogance causes you to hurt yourself or others, you have a problem. The fight should be against yourself, not your teammates, or even the guy you’re competing against.
How are high achievers different from low achievers?
Various things. The main thing is to remember to have fun. Somewhere along the line, BJJ goes from being a fun way to develop yourself to a chore or a must win or I must quit. Good night. Enjoy the exercise, hang out with friends, and enjoy the art. It also depends on how you define “excel”. If you mean competition, it depends on work ethic, patience, ability to take a loss (or several), how you handle your nerves, and natural physical ability.
However, you can excel in BJJ without competing. Above all, art requires enjoyment, patience, persistence and respect. A lot of students feel they don’t need to get a purple belt and learn drills and techniques. This is a big mistake. As you progress through the ranks, you should treat yourself like a beginner and be happy to redo everything. It’s also important to remember that BJJ is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to be better, you have to decide to be in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. It will take effort at times, but it will be worth it if you remember to have fun.
How did you first get involved in Jiu Jitsu?
via Royce Gracie. In high school I wasted my time in traditional martial arts (no offense to traditional fighters). Then the fight started to be rented on video. I decided to join my high school wrestling team (Clearwater High in Clearwater, Florida) my senior year. Fortunately, I was able to beat out another kid at 171 pounds for the vacant varsity spot. I did pretty well my senior year and placed at districts, but lost twice at regionals. Even though a high school wrestling season is only 3 months long, I felt like I knew more about wrestling after one season of wrestling than I did over the years.
When I graduated high school in 1999, there was no BJJ in the area. I was able to take a catch class in Tampa taught by Matt Fury. At the time I was more of a Ken Shamrock fan than Royce Gracie (BJJiC: Me too!!) , but in the end the guide was too far. Fortunately, Eduardo DeLima opened a Gracie Barra school about 45 minutes from our house, so I started training there. I was very lucky to meet Eduardo and become one of his first students in America. It completely changed my life.
Are you nervous?
I get a little nervous before a competition; I just try to remember that anxiety and excitement are very similar emotions. So I channel anxiety into excitement, use the adrenaline to my advantage, and do my best to have a good time.
What would you say to potential students?
Honestly, not much. Jiu-jitsu more or less sells itself. I just try to create a friendly, easy, non-intimidating atmosphere, and if I sense a new student is nervous, I try to talk to them and calm them down. I explain that no one is hurting them, they just need to relax. A freshman is more likely to hurt himself than someone else.
If you could go back in time, what would you say to yourself as a white belt?
Be patient and compete as much as you can. And enjoy the time you’re not training. I remember when I was a white/blue belt I always felt like I needed to train or someone would pass me. If I could go back now, I would tell myself that most people would have quit smoking before they got their purple belt and that staying injury-free is the most important thing in longevity.
Jay told his friend to slow down.
How do you know when to promote a student?
It’s a combination of knowing the moves and being able to use them. Competition certainly helps, but it is not the deciding factor. Has a student who has wrestled for life and become a beast on the stage. I gave him my blue belt after only a month or two of training, and he competed in his first competition at the Chicago Open, where he won silver in his event and gold in the all-around. He regularly hits a good pink belt in the gym. That being said, he has only been training for a very short time, so he doesn’t know some basic moves, and he doesn’t know many advanced moves. Although I think he will be successful in the purple belt competition, I can’t give him a purple belt until his BJJ vocabulary expands a lot. It should be a mix of technical and practical application.
On the other hand, there are guys who have a virtual encyclopedia of BJJ theory, but are more difficult to translate into live situations. You need to find the right balance between the two. I adjust for other factors such as age and physical ability. I don’t expect that from a fifty-year-old who has never trained before, or a 25-year-old who has wrestled all his life.
Who is the best person you’ve ever been with?
When I was a blue belt I rolled with an old school Carlson black belt named Cassio Cardoso. He made me feel completely helpless on the mat. I was almost a purple belt and had a very good guard that many black belts had trouble passing. I remember he went through my guard like butter. Now that I’m a black belt, it’s hard to predict how that match will go, so I’d have to say the best guy I’ve played against since I’ve been a black belt is Damien Maia. I had a great time with him and it was just a friendly game, but after he got into a dominant position, I had a lot of problems.
Who is the best person you have ever competed against?
When I was a purple belt, I won a silver medal at the Arnold Classic/Gracie Worlds two years in a row. The first year I lost 2-0 to Chris Moriarty in the final. It was a very competitive match but in the end he managed to sweep me. The next year I kicked Matt Jubera’s ass in the finals, I don’t know the final score but it was 15-2. It was the worst I’ve ever lost in a tournament. So those are probably the best two guys I’ve ever competed against. I beat nice guys too. When I was a blue belt I defeated Ralek Gracie in 2002 at the 1st American Jiu-Jitsu Nationals. He was only 17 years old at that time. I also beat NAGA fighter Brock Larsen twice and had my only loss of 2010 to Eric “Red” Schafer, but to be fair, that was in GI, not his strong suit.
When and what was the last move Jay Valko made?
The last time the tournament was held was in May 2006 when a guy named Ariel Medina was in the finals of the NAGA Advanced Division. He grabbed me by the bare throat from behind. I remember beating him at the Arnolds that year or the year before, so I was a little bit more confident. He got me very quickly. I was disappointed when I saw him enter the absolute division, so I signed up too (he’s the best friend/worst enemy ego thing again). Fortunately, I was able to defeat him in a rematch. I’m not sure when was the last time I trained, but it happens often. I think the last time I was choked with a triangle was Allen Kauszewicz.
Jay and Allen
How many times a week should you train?
I train 5-7 days a week, unless I have a day off I’m on the mat 7 days a week, but that’s my job too. I’d say at least twice a week for the average person, and up to five days a week if your body can handle it. Persistence is important. I think twice a week and every week is better than one week a month and 5 days a week.
Besides jiu-jitsu, what other sports do you do?
I lift pretty heavy twice a week; He also practices sports such as judo, wrestling, boxing, and mma. Apart from preparatory school, I read a lot. I like economics and try to study as much as possible. I used to rank myself as a blue belt in eco, but I’m getting better. I love economics, politics, philosophy, and debate on this topic. I also trade futures from the Chicago Board of Trade. I’ve been a comic book collector my whole life. I used to play drums, but haven’t since I moved to Chicago. I often think about starting an 80’s and 90’s BJJ cover band. I love road trips, my girlfriend and I have crossed several times and this is by far my favorite.
Why is your beard so amazing?
I would give my beard a 7 out of 10. Plus, my girlfriend forbids me to shave. If you want a 10 out of 10, be sure to attend the GI class on Friday night. Our no gi instructor is Mike Cornil, a brown belt with the most amazing beard among us.
Big thanks to Jade for taking the time to do the interview!
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