Trainers and coaches make for the best interviews in combat sports. They have no personal battle to cut weight, usually have far less interviews to get bored and irritated with and the nature of their job makes communication skills a higher priority and more practiced than for a fighter. Add in the generally high level of analytic ability and the love of technique and we have walking encyclopedias ready to give mini-lectures on almost any topic in their realm of experience. Besides being a two time Victory Belt grappling manual author, Dave Camarillo is one of the best of this generation of MMA trainers and grappling coaches and his students have been wildly successful at the highest levels of combat sports.
On the evening before he would appear at UFC 143 as a cornerman for Josh Koscheck, Dave Camarillo appeared on the radio show I host alongside MMA Mania's Brian Hemminger and Gerry Rodriguez. We were expecting a quick promo appearance for his new Victory Belt book, Submit Everyone: The Classified Field Manual For Becoming A Submission-focused Fighter, but Dave spent a full hour with us answering questions with aplomb about his approach to grappling and teaching.
In the first post in this three-parter, we saw Dan and Dave Camarillo face off as purple belts in a friendly, but high-spirited competition. Now I give you the definitive rematch:
Hit the jump for the second of three parts.
Brian sends it over to Ben Thapa
BT: Hi Dave, I wanted to ask about one of your earlier matches that's up on YouTube - specifically, the match with a six year old named Kyle.
BT: It's one of my favorite matches. How long were you working with Kyle before he was ready to make that demonstration?
DC: Kyle is one of my students, yes. This was early in his career. I'll be honest. He at first was super shy and didn't want to be doing this, he didn't want to come in and we encouraged him over time. Now you can't get him off the mats. We kinda just went at it and he adapted, learned his positions. We worked on the basic positioning and he's now excited about it. Also, when you're excited, the body takes over, the techniques take over and we got a great match out of it.
BT: Now, Kyle is one of many students amongst your academy. You directly teach at two schools and have at least five schools associated with you. Is that right?
DC: Yes, there are the two main schools in Pleasanton and San Jose, California and I have more than five schools both within California and outside California.
BT: Who are the youngsters that are worth watching as we have some big tournaments coming up soon? Who should we be paying attention to from your schools?
DC: I've got a lot of good guys. We've got guys from One World, it's one of the affiliates, Bukki, Kyle Lehane, those guys are really good. My black belt who's the main instructor in San Jose, Matt Darcy, he's gonna be competing here soon in the San Francisco tournament, he's phenomenal. Very good instructor as well. We got a lotta good guys, lotta young guys. I don't wanna mention too many names so the competition has someone to look out for but I've got a kid, he's 18 years old, good wrestling, good jiu-jitsu, good guard, the guy's getting good everywhere and he doesn't miss practice and that's the key to anything. Anyone who is that dedicated is gonna be good. We've got some guys in the woodwork that are coming out and winning tournaments.
BT: Alright, I ask that question because you're probably more famous for students who have come to you a bit later in their lives after having had wrestling careers or fighting careers like Fitch, Koscheck and Swick. I was wondering - not necessarily that one is better than another - but is there a difference between teaching these guys and teaching these grapplers that you're building from the ground up?
DC: I've been teaching for a long time, but it's true that my academies are kind of new and more famous for the MMA guys. My Pleasanton school is only two years old. There are schools out there that have been around for 15 or 20 years now and it takes a long time to establish a place where the competition level training is really high. In the two years we've been doing this, the response has been amazing. These kids are so malleable and learning even faster. It's definitely an adjustment [from teaching MMA mostly to teaching mostly at these schools]. In the end, the most important things in my life are my wife, my family and my students. I'm a passionate instructor and I'm putting everything into these kids, training them from 3 years old and up about armlocks, trips and wrestling and that's why I have so much energy for this.
BT: You mentioned that it takes time to build a high level competition school. Why does it take so much time to build a high level gym? Isn't it as simple as whipping these kids into great shape?
DC: Mmmm, no. If you look at 1995 - I've been in jiu jitsu since 1997 - the level of a blue belt back then is much lower than it is now and the reason is that there's been so much experience learned, the technique is tighter, there's more bodies and there's more people coming out with jiu jitsu systems. There's all kinds of reasons why the level has jumped. It takes time to have 30 blue belts, 20 purple belts, 10 brown belts and 10 black belts at each school. That takes time. It takes seven to ten years to get a black belt. My school is only two years old. My white belts are the best white belts I've ever seen in my career. I'm not saying that I have the best white belts out there, but the level is higher now. The constant drilling and training has an effect.
I'm very analytical when training and the message that I'm putting out there is slowly being instilled in them. I'm grappling all the time. That's not enough. It's getting experienced people around me that can question what I do and why I do it that makes things better. My black belt instructor, Matt Darcy, is constantly coming up with all kinds of things and getting people excited. If you put all that together, you'll see a higher level and a quicker learning atmosphere, which leads into the competition level.
BT: Interesting that you say this as you came from a different background. I don't mean your judo background, but that when you started your jiu jitsu career, you came up amongst a Golden Generation of sorts over at Ralph Gracie's with Kurt Osiander, Luke Stewart, B.J. Penn and the others. I'm wondering if that was a fluke or can that happen in the right situation again and again where a ton of people all turn out to be fantastic grapplers?
A photo of a few of the famous grapplers from Ralph's via Darren Uyenoyama's blog at darrenbcu.files.wordpress.com
DC: I see what you're saying. I gotta give props to Ralph Gracie. There's a lotta good teams out there, but he had the best team out there. It's so hard to have the best team. You have Checkmat, Alliance and all the other teams and so on. Back then, I would say that we were the best team in the United States. We had so much talent and it was a combination of two things. It was not a fluke, but how do you find B.J. Penn and everyone else out there? I'm not trying to be cocky, but I got my blue belt in like ten practices and my judo really carried me in my competitions. B.J. was so good, he is one of the best armlock guys I've ever seen, as is my brother. We had Cameron Earle, Mikyo Riggs, Luke is incredible and Kurt Osiander too. How do you have that many people at one time? I don't quite know. We were all out there smashing each other and learning on those crazy nights.
But the second thing is Ralph Gracie. He was one of the toughest, best coaches you could have. He was hard on us. He pushed us and he was hardcore and it was the perfect environment coming from a judo background, it fit for me and I pushed myself. I couldn't have been happier at the time and it made sense. Those practices were battles. We'd go to other gyms and we'd smash them. That was a fact, and I remember blue belts tapping black belts as we were mixing judo with the Ralph Gracie go-go-go mentality and it was crazy. You know, going back to my book, that's what I'm trying to bring back, the finish everyone mentality and aggressiveness.
BT: You've mentioned the judo and your brother's comparable skill also. Where did the interest in the military and the systematic approach develop? Did it start back then or is that a more recent development?
DC: You know, in judo, I was always an aggressive kid. I didn't have great technique. It took me several trips to Japan and living there to develop proper technique and more effective judo. My father was a great instructor, but I was a scrappy kid already. When you have a 19 year old scrappy kid who's been in a million battles in Japan getting thrown a million times and getting back up. When I came to Ralph Gracie's, he noticed that and combining the two approaches, I ended up being a crazy, angry submissions guy. It was a combination of the two and I'm a better submission grappler because of it.
BT: What changed from the hungry, high-flying submissions kid to the man presenting this book?
DC: Yeah, I have to laugh. It took me time. I had to mature. I had to be a better person. I had to check my ego. I had to realize that not everybody in my schools or that I'm teaching has that background. Not everybody has a father that pushes them that far. I didn't realize that not everyone had that. I was teaching like this or like that and it wasn't clicking. You gotta learn these things and that takes time. It took me years to mature and at the same time that high flying approach was there for a while and I always will have that, but I had to grow up and develop a better approach.
BT: You've mentioned again and again that it takes time to change, to mature and to push these kids get good. I'm wondering how much time does it take? All these five, six, seven year olds at your schools, are they going to be high level BJJ or MMA guys in ten years? Or will that take more or less time?
DC: I have some kids that have been training with us for a long time and are orange belts. They're going to be way better than me. That's the bottom line. They're in the right place for the philosophy and the physicality of grappling. They're phenomenal. They do wrestling and the local judo tournaments. One of my instructors, Dave Williams, helps me coordinate and coach these kids. He's training them and I'm training them and they're competing in multiple sports and winning. That's the process that you want. You don't want just a wrestler or just a judoka. You want kids competing in all these sports and they're going to be monsters. They're getting to be really driven and it's amazing to see the kids come up.
BT: Your father pushed you and your whole family was supportive and established a great support system. Collectively they motivated you and your brother to do better and better. Is there something that jiu jitsu here need to change in order to be less of the soccer-mom/rambling around mentality or is that a good atmosphere for developing talented grapplers?
DC: I think there is a spectrum. You can push kids too much or not enough. My opinion is that for the most part, we as a society is getting lazier in pushing the kids and letting them do whatever they want, which isn't good. A lot of is the parents. I'm speaking from my experience living in a home where my father is an instructor. That's a rare privilege and that's the environment I grew up in. That's the house I grew up in. That's sort of a life crapshoot right there and not a decision that I made, but my parents were tough and they pushed us. My brother and I grew up competing against each other and learning from my family. My father was hardcore and tough on us. I responded well to that and it worked for me.
At times, I did want a normal household, but a normal household generally speaking doesn't make martial artists that are confident and that can prepare themselves and can deal with any situation and can become champions. It doesn't push kids into competition well. The competitions are what gives kids confidence and the drive to improve. That's what my father pushed for and that's what we did. There was fighting, but every family goes through that. I call my dad and tell him "I love you" and I can't thank him enough for what he did and the environment. Not every family has that and that's where I come in. I have to encourage these kids in the right ways and a good instructor has been through it all and a good instructor knows which kids to put pressure on and which kids to back off on. I'm the kind of instructor that wants kids to reach their full potential and put a smile on their face at the same time and that's the tough balance there that I'm navigating.
BT: In grappling, there's an interesting goal of being a champion. In MMA, we've recently had Ronda Rousey make a big splash after being in the judo competitive scene for years and being unable to make a full time living there; on the flip side, we have the rare few like John Danaher, who have never competed or won championships, but can make a living. Where do you fall in the debate between competing versus not competing and what do you think of Danaher himself?
DC: Like I've said before, I think Danaher is the best jiu jitsu instructor on the planet. He's been on the scene at Renzo Gracie's in New York and he's been exposed to a great group of black belts from various places that are like a family and traveled all over and shared techniques. He's in an amazing place to grow and grapple and on top of that he's extremely intelligent. I consider him one of my mentors, even if I only see him twice a year, it's always great because I value everything that comes from him.
I think when you become an instructor, you have be a different person. A good instructor doesn't mean having big titles or spend all his time fighting. If you're fighting all the time, you're probably not a good instructor because you're spending all your time fighting and vice versa. Danaher is the best instructor because he doesn't have to compete. He spends all his time analyzing and he doesn't have to compete. I don't think you need to be a high level competitor to have a good gym. You need to make sure you have a strong, smart message and to get it out. That and being a passionate instructor is more important.
End of Part 2
Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for Part Three, which dig into Dave's philosophy of teaching, discussions of speed versus tactics, the key to Anderson Silva's success and the mentality he brings as a cornerman to the fighters he trains.