Andy Roberts a purple belt under Roger Gracie and veteran of the UK Grappling scene (distinct from Ande Roberts, a purple belt under Braulio Estima and veteran of the UK Grappling scene yes, confusing I know), took some time out from his busy Omoplata schedule, to chat about how he found his way to BJJ.Andy Roberts a purple belt under Roger Gracie and veteran of the UK Grappling scene (distinct from Ande Roberts, a purple belt under Braulio Estima and veteran of the UK Grappling scene yes, confusing I know), took some time out from his busy Omoplata schedule, to chat about how he found his way to BJJ.
Jon Shotter: What was your Martial Arts background prior to starting BJJ, had you done any grappling prior to this?
Andy Roberts: I started Judo at 8yrs old and I remember not fully under the grading system so I let my best mate throw me, he got 1 more stripe that day and I couldn’t understand why. I trained Judo for a couple of years then my instructor retired so I tried a few other clubs but never really liked them so stopped. I always was nagging my mum to let me do kick boxing but she’d never let me, eventually when I was 12 I found a Jiu Jitsu club in the same place as my old judo club and began training there.
During this time me and my mate went to the video store and convinced his mum to rent us UFC 1, (I think I was around 13 so it had just been released). I cant really remember much just that I knew a Jiu Jitsu guy from brazil had won, I was studying Jiu Jitsu so I was happy (the innocence of youth, I didn’t know there were multiple styles). Around 1998 I met up with an old training partner who had been training/teaching at another club, I visited a few times and was also asked to help out, I did on and off and then the owner of the club told me about a Gracie who was coming to Sheffield to do a seminar, Gracie, that was the guy who won that UFC thing, I was stoked, did a little research and discovered Carley Gracie was Royce’s cousin and I attended the seminar. I was hooked I think I still actually have the seminar notes,
Jon Shotter: What made you start BJJ and in particular why did you affiliate to Royce Gracie’s Network.
Andy Roberts: The seminar with Carley made me train BJJ properly. I trained with Carley on seminars a few times In 98 and 99 and after I finished my A-levels I took a year out. I had the intention of going to the states and doing the instructor training programme at the Gracie Academy in Torrance so I decided to have a trip out there. I got offered the chance to teach traditional JJ full time which I jumped at; although I had a guaranteed place at imperial college I hated studying and loved martial arts. In May 2000 I went for 10 days intensive training in Torrance. It wasn’t the best planned trip in the world, I think it took me 23 hrs in total to get to Torrance and on the way I missed out o n £500 cash to get a later flight because I just wanted to get there. I also arrived on a sat so couldn’t train on the sun and had no idea what else to do, I must apologize to my mum as I never called her to tell her I’d arrived, only when I returned! I trained 5 hrs a day and spent my time not training either sleeping on the beach or sleeping in my hotel, I took 2 trips out of Torrance, once on my last day as everyone realized I was from England and decided to take me out and then another trip in the middle of the week with a crazy Italian dude who wanted to get a tattoo at Venice beach. Not knowing a single word of Italian everyone expected me to be this guy’s translator, though it turned out later he knew Spanish along with 90% of the academy.
I mostly trained with Ryron, Renner and Caique, I had read in the training schedule that I could only do beginners classes but after my first class Ryron sent me to the int/adv to train with Caique and get bashed. I didn’t train with Royce because he was doing his first seminar tour in the UK (doh!), I loved the training and lack of attitudes, friendly atmosphere at the academy, I didn’t like the fact Caique nick named me ‘hooligan’ just because I was English. I came back and the same weekend traveled to Manchester and trained with Royce. A year later I returned to LA with Ross Pettifer, we walked through the door and met Royce (Ross almost wet himself) we arranged a seminar with him back in Sheffield before we’d even set foot on the mats. After a few days Royce nagged us to sign up for the annual Gracie academy and training associations tournament, after 3 days of hounding we decided to do it even though we were flying out the sat evening. The Friday before the tournament Royce promoted us both to blue belt; I was pleased and annoyed that I’d have to fight as blue!! I got on very well with Royce and not really knowing much about GB I affiliated myself and my club with him.
Jon Shotter: Did you see any of the famous closed door matches?
Andy Roberts: No, but I do remember Jon Marsh doing some MMA training and walking out the small private lesson rooms with blood on him and then his training partners following with broken noses.
Jon Shotter: Royce has attracted attention in the past for the way he seemingly hands out blue belts at his seminars, but do you think it is fair to say that the guys in his actual association are generally solid Jitsuka?
Andy Roberts: Yes. When i got my belt I didn’t feel I deserved it, even though I was hanging with and submitting the other blues in Torrance. I only felt I deserved it when I rolled with the guys in Birmingham and London.
Jon Shotter: Do you think the notion of ‘fighting as a family’ and loyalty to a particular club is outmoded in these days of cross training?
Andy Roberts: Definitely not, I think loyalty is very important you build strong relationships and bonds with guys who can help you in many ways. You can still cross train and be loyal to your club. For instance I represent RGA, I can go to Tokei to learn to wrestle better, I can go to a Thai club or boxing club to learn striking but I wouldn’t go to an MMA club or another Jiu Jitsu club. It the end of the day I’m a Jiu Jitsu guy who represents Jiu Jitsu and RGA, the wrestling and striking help me defend myself and be a more complete fighter but I don’t intend to win the fight with them.
Jon Shotter: Why did you move away from Sheffield and leave the RG Network?
Andy Roberts: My leaving the Network and Sheffield are completely separate. Why I left the network: Basically I was training more with GB than Royce as Royce could only come to the UK once or twice a year and I felt bad training with GB and representing Royce. I also left the academy where I was teaching full time as I disagreed with what it was turning into and how it was being run. So at that time I made the break from RGJJN and set up GB Sheffield, Royce still came to do a couple of seminars until I left Sheffield, GB Sheffield still runs and they have regular visits from Lagarto, Vitor Estima, Otavio Souza etc.
Jon Shotter: As someone who has trained at the famous Gracie Academy in Torrance, how do you view their approach to the art of GJJ in contrast to the BJJ you study today?
Andy Roberts: I think it’s pretty much the same, the have a very structured programme though, so beginners just do the basics. People see that as keeping techniques secret but you learn them in the other classes. They are very focused on getting the basics absolutely perfect and if you can do that a lot of the fancy sweeps etc don’t work.
Jon Shotter: Did you get to spar with any of the brothers or anyone else from Helio Gracie’s family?
Andy Roberts: I sparred with Ryron, Renner, Ralek and Robin Gracie.
Jon Shotter: Do you feel that their style as in from Helio’s side of the family is different to the sports focused BJJ of the Carlos Senior lineage?
Andy Roberts: I don’t think it a style thing as such as everyone’s style of sparring is different depending on body type; I think it’s more what they see the goal of JJ as. They focus on a self defense system and if they were to focus on sports competition then their ‘style’ would be different.
Jon Shotter: GJJ and BJJ players are often disparaging about one another, do you feel this is a general inability to grasp that people doing the same martial art can have widely different goals and aims, none of which is right or wrong per se?
Andy Roberts: Definitely, I have taught people with very different goals, MMA< Sports BJJ, Self Defense or even just fitness. The people who argue on the internet about whose style is better need to get on the mats more.
Jon Shotter: The wide fan base that Royce attracted through the early days of the UFCs was predominantly based on his image of ‘the skinny little Brazilian who taps out giants’. Do you think his decision not to contest the recent failed drugs test will impact his fan base or marketability?
Andy Roberts: I don’t think its going to affect him or his association, he already has a lot of haters, this will fuel them but his friends and association will keep going.
Jon Shotter: Do you agree with Rorian’s rationale for preventing his sons doing CBJJ events (because in his estimation they have too much of a point scoring focus rather than the no time limit fight until submission focus he is trying to promote via the IGJJF)?
Andy Roberts: No, Ryron and Renner could do well in CBJJ, they have competed in the past and done well but I think Rorian needs to realize that it’s a sport not a real fight and Ryron or Renner losing will not take away from their skill or his academy. He doesn’t like the rules but I don’t see why not. If you are good enough to win under his rules you should be good enough to win under CBJJ rules, it’s all Jiu Jitsu.
Jon Shotter: You were part of the UK team who went out to the CBJJ Pan Ams in 2003, along with stalwarts such as Dave Coles, Simon Small and of course, Jude Samuels. What did you make of this tournament, presumably much bigger in scale than your previous experience?
Andy Roberts: Experience was great, tournament needed a few tweaks such as using all 8 mats not just 3 at a time, weighing in before your fight not the day before but I think these have all been addressed now. Jude was robbed by the ref. but overall it was a fantastic tournament and reaffirmed that our level of JJ in this country isn’t that far behind. Its just we don’t have that many people training full time etc to be a dominant force.
Jon Shotter: Why does Jude shudder if he hears the phrase “One Love”?
Andy Roberts: Lol, You’ll have to ask him (or anyone who was in the Starbucks on Hermosa Beach in 2003).
Jon Shotter: Do you think there are still elements of the TMA community in the UK who don’t understand BJJ and see it as a threat to their own little empires?
Andy Roberts: Yes, the BJJA view is that it is a thug sport and most just associate BJJ with MMA and see it as something that isn’t dignified or have any honour; they are misguided to say the least.
Jon Shotter: The step from Blue Belt to Purple Belt is a very marked and for some people, very difficult and lengthy transition in BJJ. What are the different attributes do you think needed to make the leap, having a rounded game (being able to fight from the top and the bottom)/being more proficient at submissions for example?
Andy Roberts: I think you need a sound knowledge of the basics in every position and be able to perform them when sparring; you need to be starting to develop your own game but be able to fight from every position. I was at blue for around 5 _ years so I think the main thing you need is perseverance, the learning curve in BJJ is a strange one it’s full of plateaus and ups and downs, you just need to keep at it.
Jon Shotter: Some UK based players compete very regularly, but there are plenty of guys in BJJ who have no interest in competing. Do you think it is harder for those guys to progress in BJJ without the experience of competition, especially from White to Blue and Blue to Purple?
Andy Roberts: No, I sometimes think it’s easier for guys who say they aren’t going to compete and don’t to get promoted, those that do compete have the added pressure of the comps and trying to medal at them. It is easier to bash people in training than it is in a comp.
Jon Shotter: The majority of the UK brown and black belts have competed and placed in the major tournaments, do you think that a senior grade with no competition experience is missing out/will lack credibility?
Andy Roberts: Ask Cobrinha (Alliance Black Belt Ruben Charles), he got to black belt without competing and then decided he should and won the CBJJO Copa Do Mundo twice and the CBJJ Mundials.
Jon Shotter: You yourself have a pretty extensive competition record (see tournament resume below), what is your proudest moment?
Andy Roberts: I should say organising and winning the Gracie invitational in 2005 but I think probably my best and toughest comp was the ADCC trials in Spain.
Jon Shotter: Who are the Top BJJ players in your opinion?
Andy Roberts: In the world? Roger, Garcia, Braulio, Xande.
Jon Shotter: Some people can’t help mentioning the size difference when talking about Roger and Jacare’s bouts in the past. Although ‘Pound for Pound’ hasn’t got quite the same meaning as boxing (where it is used on the basis different weights can’t fight each other), who in your eyes is the best BJJ fighter ‘Pound for Pound’ today?
Andy Roberts: I think Roger has the best Jiu Jitsu and that doesn’t matter what weight you are, obviously his size helps him against smaller opponents but in terms of skill his Jiu Jitsu is the best.
Jon Shotter: You are also a very experienced Referee in BJJ and No Gi and were in action at the 10K Challenge last March, how do you enjoy the experience? Do you find it daunting refereeing World Champions in the sport like Jeff Monson and Braulio Estima?
Andy Roberts: To be honest, i hate it, much rather be competing or watching but I feel duty bound to help the sport grow in this country and so I have to do it as few other people in the UK do referee outside of the Black Belts.
Jon Shotter: As a test then, under CBJJ rules, when a competitor throws his opponent and he lands in his opponent’s guard and is swept, but at the exact time he is swept, Rickson throws a water bottle at the ref and Margarida and the Funk Ninja drive their Scooter over the mats, how many points do they each get?
Andy Roberts: Rickson by armbar.
Jon Shotter: You have fought Semi Pro and Pro MMA a couple of times, do you feel your guard-focused BJJ game translates well to the demands of MMA?
Andy Roberts: Hahaha, no, but you’ve got to try these things. I have never trained properly for an MMA fight not making excuses but if I were to ever fight MMA again I would do things differently. At the moment my lifestyle doesn’t allow me to train as hard as I would like so I am in the process of changing that.
Jon Shotter: Do you have an arch rival on the competition scene or in training?
Andy Roberts: In training, you!! A couple of years ago people would’ve said Hywel Teague, I like the bloke, he’s a good guy and we’ve had some good scraps in No Gi and MMA. They are all on youtube. Recently every light weight purple is my rival but my main rival now is Michael Russell, I have fought him twice once at Blue and once at purple, I beat him as a blue and he beat me as a purple, I missed almost a year of competing due to reffing/organising so much and he became competitor of the year, that title should be mine. *smiles*.
Jon Shotter: Can you give us an insight as to your Training regime for a recent comp?
Andy Roberts: I try to do BJJ 3x a week and then run once or twice mixed with sprints then do a couple of weights sessions, one Olympic lifting heavy stuff and the other conditioning stuff such as bar complexes. Deadlifts are key!
The BJJ lessons would consist of mainly sparring from set positions and trying to work the game I want to play in comp, when I compete and impose my game plan I win, when I let the other guy impose is and try to react, I lose. This is the main focus of my training at the moment.
Jon Shotter: Plans for the Mundials, other than getting Cobrinha’s autograph?
Andy Roberts: I’ve decided I’m not going this year as (Amy Whinehouse moment) I want to train hard but my body says no no no…but next year we are trying a 5 year reunion for the Pan Ams.
Jon Shotter: If you were subbed one final time in a career ending match, Rickson by Armbar or El Nino by Gogoplata?
Andy Roberts: Rickson because it would be way too embarrassing to be subbed by a Gogoplata in comp or in training isn’t it Jon?
Jon Shotter: Thanks Andy, good talking to you.
Andy Roberts: Cheers, I would just like to thank Kerri [Andy’s girlfriend] for letting me train so much although I don’t know why she wont take up BJJ, Jude for all the help and support and the opportunities he has given me; Mauricio and Roger for opening the academy; Felipe and all the guys at the academy, everyone I have ever trained with. The GAA and EFN they are the future.
2007Bristol Open – Purple u78kg – GoldGracie Invitational – Purple u76kg – SilverADCC Spain – u76kg – Silver
2005Gracie Invitational – Blue u76kg – GoldCopa Bitetti – Blue u76kg – SilverCopa Bitetti – Blue Absolute – Bronze
2004CBJJ European Championships – Blue u76kg – SilverNorth East BJJ Championships – Blue u76kg – GoldNorth East BJJ Championships – Blue Absolute – GoldGracie Invitational BJJ Championships – Blue u76kg – BronzeKSBO No-Gi Championships – u75kg – GoldKSBO No-Gi Championships – Absolute – GoldUK Storm No-Gi Championships – u75kg – SilverUK Storm No-Gi Championships – Absolute – Gold
2003Gracie Invitational – Blue u76kg – GoldSubmission League – u75kg – Gold
2002UK Open – Blue u76kg – Gold