What Kind.Of.Chores.Can A 3.Year Old.Do.For Game Time Interview With Jay Valko (Valko BJJ)

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Interview With Jay Valko (Valko BJJ)

Jay Valko is a gentleman and a scholar.

Jay Valko gives us some insights on the importance of injury prevention, starting a cover band, and his beard.

And I think he also talks quite a bit about Jiu-Jitsu.

Have you ever used jiu jitsu in a self defense situation?

Sort of, both directly and indirectly. Straight up, I’ve used BJJ a few times to break up fights. I’ve never been attacked and had to defend myself, but twice I caught someone causing trouble in a bar.

The first time a bunch of friends and I were out watching fights at a bar and some guy started getting rowdy. I came out of the bathroom and I saw this guy pushing a friend of mine and started talking. I happened to be right behind him, so I just grabbed a backless choker and waited for the bouncers to escort him out. He froze as soon as I caught him. The bouncers saw the whole thing and thanked me after throwing him out.

Another time I had to grab a guy and take him outside when he waved at my friend. Once outside the bouncers made sure he wasn’t allowed back in. Indirectly, having the confidence to know that I can handle myself has allowed me to defuse several potentially volatile situations. I would say that confidence is just as, if not more important than actual physical ability when it comes to self defense.

What role does ego play in jiu jitsu?

Ego is both your best friend and your worst enemy in jiujitsu. It’s all about how you use it. For a lot of people I have to say, “leave the ego at the door,” but I also think it’s important to acknowledge that what brings us back day after day when we kick our ass is our ego. Ego simply means, “self” and since BJJ is an individual sport, it is important to always work on your ego.

There’s nothing wrong with getting beat up and being a little down on yourself, it’s natural. We are all competitive people or we probably wouldn’t be in this sport. However, if your ego or pride leads you to hurt yourself or other people, then you have a problem. The battle should be against yourself, not your teammates or even the other guy you’re competing against.

What separates those who excel from those who don’t?

Various things. The most important thing is to remember to have fun. For some people, somewhere along the line BJJ goes from being a fun avenue for self-improvement to being either a chore or a must-win-or-I-give-up type. Enjoy it. Enjoy the exercise, enjoy the friends you make and enjoy the art. Beyond that, it also depends on how you define “excel”. If you mean in competition, it boils down to 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 else, enjoyment, patience, consistency and respect for the art are required. So many students get purple belts and think they don’t have to drill or learn technique anymore. This is a big mistake. As you move up the ranks, you should still approach the art like you are a beginner and be happy to represent things. It’s also important to remember that BJJ is a marathon, not a sprint. If you want to stand out, you have to decide to be in it for the long haul, through thick and thin. It will be trying at times, but as long as you remember to have fun, it will be well worth it.

How were you first exposed to jiu jitsu?

Through Royce Gracie. When I was in high school, I wasted my time with traditional martial arts (no offense to traditional martial artists). Then I started renting the fights on video. I decided to join my high school wrestling team (Clearwater High in Clearwater, Florida) my senior year. Luckily for me I was able to beat out another kid for the vacant 171lbs varsity spot. I did pretty well for senior year walking, I placed at districts but lost both of my matches at regionals. Even though a high school wrestling season only lasts about 3 months, I felt like I knew more about fighting after one season of wrestling than I did after years of martial arts.

When I graduated high school in 1999, there was no BJJ in the area. I was able to check out a catch wrestling class taught by Matt Furey in Tampa, which I actually would have been more interested in at the time because I was more of a fan of Ken Shamrock than Royce Gracie (BJJiC: Me too!!), but in the end the drive was just too much far away Fortunately, Eduardo DeLima opened a Gracie Barra school about 45 minutes from my house, so as soon as I could I started training there. I was very fortunate to meet Eduardo and be one of his first students in America. It completely changed my life.

Do you get nervous?

I do get a little nervous before a competition; I just try to remember that anxiety and excitement are very similar emotions. So, I do my best to channel my anxiety into excitement, use the adrenaline to my advantage, and just try to have a good time.

What do you tell potential students?

Honestly, not much. Jiujitsu more or less sells itself. I’m just friendly and easy going, I try to provide a non-intimidating atmosphere and when I sense a new student is nervous, I just make sure to talk to them and put them at ease. I explain that no one is going to hurt them and that they just need to relax. A newer student is more likely to injure themselves than to be injured by 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 possible. Also, enjoy the time you’re not training. I remember when I was a white/blue belt I felt like I always needed to train or else someone would pass me. If I could go back now, I would tell myself that most people will quit before they are a purple belt and that not getting injured is the most important thing for longevity.

Jay says slow it down, buddy.

How do you know when to promote a student?

It’s a combination of knowing the moves and actually being able to use them. Competition certainly helps, but it is not the deciding factor. I have a student who has wrestled his whole life and is just a beast on the mat. I gave him his blue belt after only a month or two of training, he entered the Chicago Open as his first tournament and took silver in his division and gold in the absolute. He regularly hits good purple belts at the gym. That said, he’s been training for such a short time that he doesn’t know some basic moves and doesn’t know many advanced moves. Although I think he could successfully compete at a purple belt, I can’t give him a purple belt until his BJJ vocabulary expands greatly. It must be a mixture of the technique and the practical application.

At the other extreme are some guys who are virtual encyclopedias of BJJ theory, but have more difficulty pulling off the moves in a live situation. You have to find the right balance between the two. I also adjust for other factors, such as age and athletic ability. I don’t expect the same things from a man who is fifty years old and has never trained before, and from someone who is 25 years old and has been wrestling his whole life.

Who is the best person you’ve ever rolled 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 I had a good enough guard that a lot of black belts had trouble getting through. I remember he went through my watch like butter. It’s hard to know how that match is going to go now that I’m a black belt, so I have to say that since I’m a black belt, the best guy I’ve rolled with is probably Damien Maia. I felt pretty good with him, and it was just a friend list, but after he got the dominant position I had a big problem.

Who is the best person you have ever competed against?

When I was a purple belt I got a silver medal two years in a row at the Arnold Classic/Gracie Worlds. The first year I lost in the final against Chris Moriarty 2-0. It was a very competitive match but he was able to sweep me at the end. The next year I got my ass kicked in the final by Matt Jubera, I don’t know the final score but it was something like 15-2. That was the worst I’ve ever been beaten in competition. So, those are probably the two best guys I’ve competed against. I beat some pretty good guys too, when I was a blue belt I beat Ralek Gracie in the 1st USA National Jiu-jitsu Tournament in 2002. I think he was only 17 or something at the time. I also beat pro fighter Brock Larsen twice at NAGA and I handed Eric “Red” Schafer his only 2010 grappling loss, but to be fair it was in the gi, which is not his strong suit.

When was Jay Valko tapped last and with what move?

In competition the last time I was featured was in May 2006 in the NAGA advanced division finals by a guy named Ariel Medina. He caught me in a back naked choke. I remember going into the match I was a little overconfident because I beat him at the Arnold either that year or the year before. He caught me pretty quickly. I was bummed so when I saw him enter the absolute division I joined too (it’s that best friend/worst enemy ego thing again). Fortunately, I was able to beat him in the rematch. I’m not sure the last time I was tapped in training, but it happens quite often. I think it was Allen Causevic who got me last, with a triangle choke.

Jay and Allen

How many times a week should you train?

I train 5-7 days a week and am on the mat 7 days a week unless I’m on vacation, but it’s also my job. I say a minimum for the average person should be twice a week, up to five days a week if your body can handle it. Consistency is what matters. I think it’s better to be twice a week, every week, than to be 5 days a week for one week a month.

What activities do you do outside of jiujitsu?

I lift pretty hard twice a week; I also train in judo, wrestling, boxing and mma. Besides training, I read a lot. I am an economics enthusiast and try to study it as much as possible. I would rank myself at blue belt in econ, but will get better. I like nature, politics, philosophy and discussing these things. I also trade futures from the Chicago Board of Trade. I’ve been collecting comic books most of my life. I used to play drums but not since I moved to Chicago. Every now and then I consider starting an 80’s and 90’s BJJ cover band. I love road trips, my girlfriend and I have gone cross country a few times and so far that is my favorite form of travel.

Why is your beard so awesome?

I would give my beard a 7 out of 10. Also, my girlfriend forbids me to shave it. If you want to see 10 out of 10, be sure to attend our Friday evening no gi class. Our no-gi instructor is a brown belt named Mike Cornille and he has the most epic beard of us all.

Many thanks to Jay for taking the time to do this interview!

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