American Trailblazer Garth Taylor from Kaijin Jiu Jitsu in Santa Cruz


Garth Taylor is co-owner and head Jiu-Jitsu instructor at Kaijin MIxed Martial Arts & Jiu Jistu in Santa Cruz, California. 

Garth began his martial arts career as a wrestler at Santa Cruz High School and, subsequently, at West Valley College. He went on to coach wrestling at Santa Cruz High School. Garth was introduced to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at a seminar held by Jiu-Jitsu master Rickson Gracie and began his formal Jiu-Jitsu training with Master Claudio Franca. After only six years of training, Master Franca awarded Garth his black belt in 2000.

There is no other school for training Jiu Jitsu in Santa Cruz that we recomend more. 

Voted the Santa Cruz County Martial Arts Instructor of the Year in 2010 and 2011 (Good Times weekly magazine), Garth has been teaching and competing in Jiu-Jitsu for 18 years. One of the most decorated Americans in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he has won or medaled in many national and international competitions, medaled at every belt level at the World (Mundial) Championship, and competed in the invitation-only Abu Dhabi Combat Club World Championships (4th Place 1999).

Some of Garth’s accomplishments as a Black Belt include: Silver Medalist – 2001 World BJJ Championships, Silver Medalist 2001 Pan American BJJ Championships, Gold Medalist 2004 European Open Jiu-Jitsu Championships, Bronze Medalist 2002 & 2006 Pan American BJJ Championships, Gold Medalist 2009 Master & Seniors World BJJ Championship, and Gold Medalist 2012 Pan American BJJ Championships.

Kaijin MIxed Martial Arts is located on the beautiful West Side of Santa Cruz at 2100 Delaware Ave, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

For more information on how you can train with the Kaijin team and Coach Garth please visit: or call (831) 427-2560 You can also find Kaijin on facebook:

Quick interview with Garth from Kaijin MMA & Jiu Jitsu in Santa Cruz

OTM: When were you first exposed to Jiu-Jitsu?

GT: I started in 1994. I was first introduced to the art of Jiu-Jitsu at a seminar with Master Rickson Gracie in Watsonville, CA. It was a 2-day seminar for $75. Maybe 30 or 40 people attended. Rickson traine with everyone there — it was awesome. I was so impressed with his abilities. It was my first experience training with a true master, someone who had perfected their art at its highest level. Being a former college wrestler, I had trained with National champions, really good guys — but what I experienced with Rickson was on another level. It was truly a life-changing experience for me. I decided from that point on that I wanted to start taking Jiu-Jitsu lessons.

OTM: Where did start your formal training?

GT: I first started training with Marcos Jara (R.I.P) for about a year, then I started training with Claudio Franca when he moved to town (Santa Cruz) in 1995. I started competing right away. At the time, there were no tournaments in Northern California. I fought in various tournaments that Joe Moreira hosted in Southern California — those were the big BJJ tournaments of that time in the USA. Back then, it was kind of like the "Wild West" of Jiu-Jitsu as far as the tournament scene went. There wasn’t really a set of rules like there is today. Match rulings and scores would sometimes differ from referee to referee. Even some sambo guys and some judo guys would enter the tournaments. The Jiu-Jitsu tournament scene was just really “raw” in the beginning.

OTM: You were one of the original CrossFitters from back in the day. How long have you been doing CrossFit?

GT: About 12 + years now. I was so fortunate because I was introduced to Greg Glassman in 1998 at a local gym. I had the creator of CrossFit as my personal coach for 4 years. I was part of a revolutionary level of fitness and nutrition. I placed in the Worlds once prior to starting CrossFit — and 3 years after meeting Greg and continuing with my Strength & Conditioning, I would continue to go on placing each of the following years at Worlds.

I had good coaching from Claudio at the tournaments, was training with Greg regularly, and I also had access to better technique. It was the combination of those things that instantly translated into success. Through CrossFit, I became a dramatically better athlete.I gained explosion, strength, endurance, power and overall just became more athletic.

OTM: How did it feel to become a champion?

GT: It was my dream. From Day One, I always wanted to be a World Champion. I accomplished that as a Purple Belt, but my real dream was to be Black Belt World Champion. In 2001, I came close to winning the Worlds as a Black Belt. I had 4 matches but wound up losing to Marcio Corletta in the finals. I took 2nd Place.

OTM: Each year, the total number of possible podium spots in the Black Belt divisions at the World Championships is 40. From 1994 to present there have been 700 + total medalists, and only a handful of them have been American. At the time, you were only the second American Black Belt to medal at Worlds. Correct?

GT: Correct. BJ Penn became the first American Black Belt to place at Worlds in 2000 when he won the Gold Medal. I took a Silver Medal the following year.

OTM: You have also fought in ADCC before, right?

GT: Yes, that is correct. I fought in ADCC as a Purple Belt.

OTM: How would you describe your ADCC experience ?

GT: Terrifying! (Garth pauses to laugh). I was there all by myself. I was an alternate and I had no idea I was competing, basically till the the last moment. Because it was so last-minute, I had no coaches, no corner during that tournament. It was tough. I didn’t even have anyone to yell out how much time was left in any of my matches.

OTM: How did you do at ADCC?

GT: I took 4th place in the Open Division. If I’d had a coach, it may have been a different outcome. I lost the 1st match in my weight class to Sean Alvarez, he beat me 2-0. Sean blasted me with a really good Double Leg in that match.

In the Open Division, I beat Baret Yoshida, Josh Barnett, and then I lost to Roberto Traven by Sweep in my third match. Then Rico Rodriguez and I fought for 3rd and 4th place. I lost to Rico. Overall, it was a really cool experience. Everyone in Dubai was really friendly and nice toward me. I liked the people, and it was just really neat to visit somewhere so foreighn, so different. It was a crazy experience. I am glad that I did it.

OTM: What were some of the obstacles you have had to overcome so far during your grappling career ?

GT: Um, I would say money more than anything else. I chose to dedicate myself to BJJ from early on. I had to sacrifice a lot to so that I could train and compete in BJJ full-time. I had a good city job in Santa Cruz, but I quit that job when I was a Blue Belt so that I could focus all of my attention on training. I had to persevere, and scrape by, so that I could follow my dream. I funded a lot of my own training costs and tournament fees. It was tough, but I believed in myself. I believed in Jiu-Jitsu.

OTM: What are some of your most memorable achievements?

GT: For me, the best thing was medaling at every belt level and doing it in Brazil. Back then, it was a whole lot of a different thing than it is now. The Worlds were different when they were held in Brazil. Much different from the Worlds today, held in Long Beach. I think it’s great that the Worlds are now held in the USA — but when you competed in Brazil, you really felt the pressure, as well as the passion of the people. Every time I fought in Brazil, you could feel the passion and the high level of energy in the Tijuca Tênis Clube. There was always a huge number of fighters competing. Really talented and athletic guys you hadn’t heard of.

OTM: Do you have any interesting stories from competing in the Tijuaca Clube?

GT: Yeah, A terrible thing happened one year at the Tijuca Clube when I was a Brown Belt. One of Ricardo Loborio’s students had passed away on the mat, right before my match in the semi-finals. The crowd was so compressed in the Tijuca Clube that they could not clear an area to get medics in. There was no access to the floor. They picked the guy up on a back board and passed him through the crowd up to the second level so that he could get proper medical attention. It was insane, so many people crammed into that venue. Here was this guy who needed serious medical attention — and due to the large crowd, they couldn’t even get him to the medics right away. I found out after my match that the guy had a heart attack. It was so intense during the weekends when they had tournaments.

OTM: What was the best advice you were ever given?

GT: You have to have a blue collar work ethic. If I have anything to give in terms of advice, it’s that hard work prevails. Take pride in your Jiu-Jitsu, and work hard toward perfecting your craft. Also, showing up is not enough. Sure, you will improve if you show up regularly, but it’s most important to get the most out of it while you are there. You need to be present in the here and now at every practice, as well as every time you step into the gym.

OTM: As a top level competitor and coach, how do you keep up-to-date on all the latest techniques?

GT: I do my very best. I try to watch the top guys in the game right now. Honestly, I really work with my guys… my students. They always bring new things into the gym. I use my experience, and with all my years of Jiu-Jitsu — I have an eye for how the body is supposed to move in most situations. If you have solid fundamentals you can learn the new stuff. You can learn anything with a strong foundation.

OTM: You have done quite a bit of training with BJ Penn over the years. Where did you guys meet?

GT: We met when we were both Purple Belts, I think. We met at AKA while training with Bobby Soutworth. We instantly became friends. The year BJ won the Mundials ,we trained a lot together leading up to that event. We trained everyday in the mornings at Claudio’s, and then we would do CrossFit afterwards. Sometimes BJ’s brothers, JD and Regan, would train with us too. It was great training. BJ was preparing for the Worlds, thinking he would compete as a Brown Belt. About a month before the tournament, he left for Brazil to train with Nova Uniao during his final weeks of preparation. And it turns out André Pederneiras promoted BJ to Black Belt right before Mundials! Then, of course he went on to win the whole thing. It was amazing. To this day, BJ has been one of the biggest influences with my Jiu-Jitsu.

OTM: What Jiu-Jitsu guys inspire you right now?

GT: Buchecha! — that big dude can move. His Jiu-Jitsu is incredible. I always wanted to be a big guy with a little guy’s game, but turns out I have more of a big guy’s game (Garth chuckles).

OTM: Do you offer a childrens program at your school?

GT: Yes, we have a strong kids Jiu-Jitsu program here in Santa Cruz. I consider having a successful kids program as one of my biggest achievements in life. It makes me happy to share my passion with my friends’ kids, with the kids in my neighborhood. I am stoked that I get to make my community a better place.

OTM: What forms of martial arts are offered at Kaijin MMA ?

GT: We offer Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing, Submission Grappling, Boxing, and Judo.

OTM: Recently, many of your students have had some success at the higher level BJJ competitions such as the Pans oF BJJ, US Open of BJJ and others. Would you say your team is still growing? And what can we expect from Kaijin in the future?

GT: The Kaijin Jiu Jistu team is just starting! We’ve only just stuck our fingers in the water. The school has great potential. I think a lot of that is attributed to the sense of community we have. It makes us strong. The guys on the comp team all work so hard.

OTM: A lot of top guys in MMA and Sport BJJ have visited and/or regularly stop by Kaijin for training. Which guys have trained there with your team so far?

GT: Jake Shields, Luke Rockhold, Gray Maynard, Todd Duffey, Nick Diaz, Marcelo Garcia, Dave Camarillo, Joel Tudor, and Ryan Hall… so many guys!

OTM: So what makes Kaijin different from other Jiu Jistu school in Santa Cruz?

GT: One of the things we take pride in is that we are open and accessible. Anyone can come by and train with us. We don’t charge visitors a “drop-in” fee. I enjoy having visitors from other schools come and train with us on the mats here at Kaijin. I come from a background in wrestling and athletics. Good athletes need to train with other athletes so that they can gain different perspectives on training, and develop insights that will help them grow. It’s important to have to have a gym to call home, and have a coach — but it’s also important to train with other people so that you can grow and evolve both as a martial artist and athlete.

OTM: What is next for Garth Taylor?

GT: I have been dealing with a lot of injuries recently. In 2012, I fought in the Pan American BJJ Championships and took 1st place. I had hoped to continue competing after that, but I had some more problems with injuries. I am feeling pretty good right now — my knees seem to be holding up, so I am setting my sights on the upcoming Master & Seniors World Championships in October. Like I said, I have been limited somewhat by injury, with knee issues recently, but I am also looking forward to competing in the upcoming US Open Championships. The tournament will be back in Santa Cruz this year, and I really want to compete in my hometown again. It just depends on how I am feeling, and if I can stay healthy.

OTM: If people want more info on Kaijin, where can they find out more?

GT:, and also Like us on Facebook.

OTM: Any sponsors you would like to thank?

GT: I want to thank OnTheMat for supporting my whole career through the thick and the thin. They have always taken good care of me. Scotty is the most loyal dude you will ever know.

OTM: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, Garth.

GT: No problem. Thank you, guys. It’s my pleasure!

For MMA or BJJ In Santa Cruz, CA Make Sure You Check Out Garth & His Team At Kaijin. 



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