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 marching band and his beard.

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

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

Sort of, both directly and indirectly. I’ve directly used BJJ a couple of times to break up fights. I’ve never been assaulted and had to defend myself, but twice I’ve picked up someone who was causing trouble in a bar.

The first time a group of friends and I were watching a bar fight and a guy started getting rowdy. I was coming out of the bathroom and I saw this guy pushing a friend of mine and he started making out. I was right behind him, so I took a rear naked choke and waited for the bouncers to hear him out. It froze as soon as I picked it up. The goalies saw it all and thanked me after I threw it.

Another time I had to pick up a guy and carry him outside when he took a swing at my friend. Once outside, the gatekeepers 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 argue 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 jiu-jitsu. It all depends on how you use it. For many people I have to say “leave the ego at the door”, but I also think it’s important to recognize that what keeps us coming back day after day from kicking ass is our ego. Ego simply means “I” and since BJJ is an individual sport, it’s 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 others, then you have a problem. The fight should be against yourself, not your teammates or even the other guy you’re racing against.

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

A variety of 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 a chore or a win-or-quit type of thing. enjoy it Enjoy the exercise, enjoy the friends you make and the art. Beyond that, it also depends on how you define “excel”. If you mean competition, it comes 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, you need enjoyment, patience, consistency and respect for art. Many students receive purple belts and think they no longer need to drill or learn technique. This is a big mistake. As you level up, you should still treat art like a beginner and be happy to render 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 term, through thick and thin. It will be trying at times, but as long as you remember to have fun, it will be worth it.

How were you first exposed to jiu jitsu?

Via Royce Gracie. When I was in high school I was wasting my time on traditional martial arts (no offense to traditional martial artists). Then I started renting fights on video. I decided to join my high school wrestling team (Clearwater High in Clearwater, Florida) my senior year. Fortunately for me, I was able to beat out another kid for the vacant 171-pound spot. I’ve been doing pretty well this past year, I placed at districts, but lost both games at regionals. Even though a high school wrestling season is only about 3 months long, I felt like I knew more about wrestling after one wrestling season 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 see a catch wrestling class taught by Matt Furey in Tampa, which I would have been more interested in at the time because I was more of a Ken Shamrock fan than a Royce Gracie fan (BJJiC: Me too!!) ​​but in the end the journey was too far. 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 lucky to meet Eduardo and be one of his first students in America. It changed my life completely.

Do you get nervous?

I get a little nervous before a competition; I’m just trying 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 try to have a good time.

What do you tell potential students?

Honestly, not much. Jiu-jitsu pretty much sells itself. I am friendly and calm, I try to provide a non-intimidating atmosphere and when I notice a new student is nervous, I make sure to talk to them and put them at ease. I explain that no one will hurt them and that they just need to relax. A newer student is more likely to hurt themselves than to be hurt by someone else.

If you could go back in time, what would you call yourself a white belt?

Be patient and compete as much as possible. Plus, 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 someone was passing me by. If I could go back now I would tell myself that most people will quit smoking before they are a purple belt and that not getting hurt is the most important thing for longevity.

Jay says slow it down dude.

How do you know when a student is promoting?

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

On the other end, there are some guys who are virtual encyclopedias of BJJ theory, but have a harder time 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 person who is fifty and has never trained before and a person who is 25 and has been fighting all their life.

Who is the best person you’ve ever shot with?

When I was a blue belt I rolled with an old school Carlson black belt named Cassio Cardoso. It made me feel completely helpless on the mat. I was almost a purple belt and had a pretty good guard that a lot of black belts had trouble getting past. I remember he went through my guard like butter. It’s hard to know how this match would go now that I’m a black belt, so I have to say, being a black belt, the best guy I’ve ever rolled with is probably Damien Maia. I felt pretty good about him, and it was just a friendly match, but once he got into the dominant position I was in big trouble.

Who is the best person you have ever raced 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 to Chris Moriarty 2-0. It was a very competitive match but in the end he was able to sweep me. The next year, Matt Jubera kicked my ass in the final, I don’t know the final score, but it was something like 15-2. It was the worst I was beaten in the competition. So those are probably the two best guys I’ve ever raced against. I’ve beaten some pretty good guys too, when I was a blue belt I beat Ralek Gracie at the 1st American Jiu-Jitsu National Tournament in 2002. I think I was only 17 or something at the time. I’ve also beaten pro wrestler Brock Larsen twice in NAGA and handed Eric “Red” Schafer his only fight loss of 2010, but to be fair, it was on the gi, which isn’t his strong suit.

When was Jay Valko last played and with what move?

In competition the last time I was submitted was in May 2006 at the NAGA Advanced Division Finals by a guy named Ariel Medina. He grabbed me by the bare back choke. I remember going into the game I had a bit of confidence because I had won it at Arnold’s that year or the year before. It caught on to me pretty quickly. I was annoyed, so when I saw him enter the absolute division I signed up too (there’s that best friend/worst enemy ego thing again). Fortunately, I was able to beat him on the restart. I’m not sure the last time I was touched in training, but it happens quite often. I think it was Allen Causevic who got me last time, with a weird triangle.

Jay and Allen

How many times a week should you train?

I train 5-7 days a week and I’m on the mat 7 days a week unless I’m on vacation, but it’s also my job. I say the 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 is important. I think it’s better to be twice a week, every week, than 5 days a week for a week a month.

What kinds of activities do you do outside of jiu-jitsu?

I lift pretty hard twice a week; I also train in judo, wrestling, boxing and mma. Apart from training, I read a lot. I am an economics enthusiast and try to study it as much as possible. I would rank blue belt in econ, but improving. I like economics, politics, philosophy and debating these things. I also trade futures with the Chicago Board of Trade. I’ve been collecting comics most of my life. I used to play drums, but not since I moved to Chicago. Every now and then I think about starting a 80’s and 90’s BJJ cover band. I love road trips, my girlfriend and I have driven a couple of times and so far this 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 a 10 out of 10, be sure to attend our Friday night no gi class. Our non-gi instructor is a brown belt named Mike Cornille and has the most epic beard of them all.

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

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