They say “the journey itself is the biggest reward”. As avid BJJ practitioners and fans, we sometimes hear inspiring stories of famous BJJ players’ blood, sweat, and tears while rising to the top. While most of the stories discuss the journey toward world champion status, some journeys in the BJJ world are centered toward a quest for knowledge, experience, and love for the game. This statement best describes the journey of Kevin Howell.
As a brown belt under Leo Vieira, owner of Fight Zone USA, best-selling author of “Saulo Ribeiro – Jiu-Jitsu University” and Andre Galvao “Drill to Win”, & a good friend of Scotty Nelson of OTM, Kevin’s journey extends far beyond the mat which has opened up the door for him to experience and meet many great people along the way. Just recently I got the opportunity to stop by Fight Zone USA. Kevin Howell & Head Instructor BJJ Instructor Leandro Vieria welcomed me with open arms. Its was great atmosphere and great training. After the training I got the opportunity to sit down with Kevin to introduce him to the OTM audience and talk with him about his experiences in the BJJ world.
1. Monta: First of I want to start off by saying thank you for taking time out to have this interview.
Kevin Howell: Thank you Monta, I always have time to talk to OTM!!!
2. Monta: Let start of with the beginning of your journey so, how did you get involved in Brazilian Jujitsu?
Kevin Howell: Well back in the 90’s me and a couple of friends were taking Kung-Fu and one of them, Peter, had told me about how he was going to start Brazilian jujitsu because he heard it was an awesome workout. The catch was that he couldn’t start until he got his check in a month, so I decided to join on the spot and beat Peter to the punch. All of my friends were really competitive with each other and none wanted to have Peter kicking their asses, so we all joined before Peter so that we could make sure we could kick his butt! The reason I train now, is totally different. I’ve matured a lot and now I see BJJ as a big picture art. It isn’t a fast track to dominating people, but it is a great self defense, exercise, place for friendship and tight bonds, and total awareness of your own body and limitations. I love it and oddly enough, I am the only one of my friends that stuck with it from when I started at 19.
3. Monta: Being that you have Masters (MA) in Political Science, how did you get into the field of video editing & book publishing?
Kevin Howell: I got into video editing and book editing mostly through when I use to work for Scotty at OTM. I started as a camera man for the now defunct BJJ Tapes, shooting instructional of Leo Vieira, Demian Maia, and Margarida, and then moved to working a camera at the Pan Ams. From there, I met Scotty, and he really helped me out in terms of video editing and just being an all around great guy. Not to mention, I learned a lot watching how he and Gumby transformed a love for BJJ into something as cool as OTM. Later, I was able to use this experience to get work editing tournaments for Budo Videos and later directing videos like Cobrinha’s.
As for the books, I got hooked up through Dave Camarillo, who introduced me to Erich Krauss and essentially petitioned for me to get the job. He liked my background and experiences and he really went to bat for me. Definitely, all of my writing in graduate school helped me seal the deal and prepare me for technical writing on a large scale.
4. Monta: So did Scotty teach you the concepts of video editing or did you go to school for that also ?
Kevin Howell: Well when I used to work for OTM Scotty trained me how to do basic/rough video editing with Final Cut Pro and later I met great guys like Mike Lee, Jose Nunez, and Chris Bodily who further helped me understand the process. As for school, I have only studied – international relations, political theory, BJJ, and judo.
5. Monta: Just recently the academy is celebrating its one year anniversary. As an owner how do you feel about the success and progression the academy has undergone within a year?
Kevin Howell: Well right now we have over 100 students and to be honest, I am just very happy that after 1 year that our students are happy and believe in us and what we are trying to accomplish at Fight Zone USA. The best thing is that the camaraderie here is incredible. We have been fortunate with the personalities that have joined us. Our group is diverse, but they have all become best friends off the mats and that keeps them training. I’m even happier that they welcome in new guys as if they were welcoming old friends. We’ve also been fortunate enough to be the only school that all three Vieira Bros regularly visit, teach, and train out of. I am sure this hasn’t hurt!
6. Monta: Speaking of the academy, what gave you the idea of opening an academy and why did you choose Leandro Vieira as the instructor?
Kevin Howell: Everything is linked to my relationship with Leo Vieira. When Leo Vieira decided to move back to Sao Paulo (he had been living and teaching in LA for about a year), he left the teaching to his youngest brother, Leandro. Leandro and I had already spent a lot of time together when we shot Leo’s book and he knew me from my training with Leo, so we became friends really fast. In my opinion, that was the most important step. Of course, it didn’t hurt that his BJJ was ridiculously good and technical as well.
In addition, Leandro is just one ambassador of the academy. We also have regular visits by Ricardo Vieira, Leo Vieira, Chico Mendes, and all of the greats from Team Check-Mat as well as the guys that we do book projects with. I think this really makes the academy special. It really is like a revolving door of talent and you wouldn’t believe the guys that are on our mats during the major competitions.
7. Monta: You have had the opportunity to train with many great grapplers and fighters. What has been you favorite experience?
Kevin Howell: Well I don’t have a one particular favorite, but I could probably narrow it down to a top 3…
Leo Vieira easily makes that list because out of everyone, he can let me into the game and still make the most amazing techniques work. We joke around with him, because sometimes his mind wanders when you are talking with him and I guarantee that he is always thinking about BJJ. Also, when you are around Leo, you can see new techniques being created and tested all the time. He constantly changes his game and I can never come close to figuring out how to approach his BJJ in training.
Andre Galvao has been special because he is like an open book. He has showed me EVERYTHING and never holds back. I like training with Andre because he is such a great athlete and he has great jiu-jitsu in every position. He shows me to try to be more well rounded.
Marcelo Garcia was a great experience when I trained with him once in private. He made me work my butt off and told me that his secret was constant hard work in training.
8. Monta: You have been the author of many successful books such as Saulo Ribeiro – "Jiu-Jitsu University” and Andre Galvao “Drill to Win” are there any upcoming books or projects you would like to let viewers in on?
Kevin Howell: I have a book by Dave Camarillo coming out and it focuses on Dave’s Guerrilla jiu-jitsu system. His attacks are relentless and this book systematically captures his aggressive and thoughtful style. So far, this book is incredible. Dave attacks even when he is defending and the mindset on becoming a finisher (though not a reckless one) is worth the price of the book alone. At about the same time, we (Kevin and his wife Haley) are also finishing No-Gi Guard Passing book with Leo Vieira. This book focuses on the strategies of passing the no-gi guard based on approach, opponent attributes, and game plans. Basically, this is the road map for passing a really really good submission wrestler’s guard and you will see why Leo has become so well known for this part of his game.
Next up, we have a verbal agreement with Fernando "Terere" Augusto and this book is going to be epic. I will provide many more details as soon as I can. Also, we are in the final stages of finishing a Williams Guard DVD with Shawn Williams that was delayed over some academy issues and a Double Seminar DVD with Leo Vieira and Ricardo Vieira. You all have to see how these guys train! Its like creativity to the second degree.
9. Monta: Just recently you had your first child. What has that experience been like for you?
Kevin Howell: –l- Ollie (Oliver Howell) is definitely a game changer. Until you have a kid you just don’t understand the amount of love and care that you can focus into something. Since me and Haley (Kevin’s wife and book designer) decided to have a son everything else is secondary… everything! Needless to say, the experience is amazing and tiring as most parents know. Fortunately enough, we need to make some money to pay for diapers, so it actually has encouraged me to finish my projects.
10. Monta: Any chance of him becoming a future BJJ superstar?
Kevin Howell: Although he will be around a lot of great jujitsu players, it doesn’t matter to me if he becomes a bjj superstar. A lot of our students and the guys from Check-Mat ask me this often. My answer is always the same, I chose to do BJJ and I have a passion for it, but that does not mean Ollie has to as well. I want him to find his passion and go for that 100%. Regardless of what he decides to do, I will be happy and supportive. Honestly, we love him so much, it doesn’t really matter to us what he does. With that said, I am sure he will grow up around the mats (we are at the academy constantly working on books, DVDs, and the academy) and have a solid level of BJJ just through osmosis.
11. Monta: With so much going on right now in your life how are you able to balance being an owner of an academy, father, school teacher, and everything else you do in your life?
Kevin Howell: Well I prioritize everything – First is family, Second is the academy and making sure the students, staff, and instructors are happy – though Haley has taken on a huge role so I can train a lot, next I focus on the books and DVDs take up all of my remaining private time and down time at the academy – so I really end up doing these more than most other things, and fourth is teaching college – I teach online so that my schedule is flexible enough to support, family, work, and training. I would have to say I married the best girl in Haley and she helps with the workflow by organizing my life and helping in areas of her expertise like customer service, design, and creativity.
12. Monta: Finally, last question what is the greatest lesson this bjj journey has taught you?
Kevin Howell: Humility- because no matter how good you think you are there is always someone out there that is so much better. I take this along with the need to constantly improve with me everywhere I go and into all of my endeavors. When I look at my books, I always find things that can be done better. My relationship with my wife and friends is the same. I could always be a better worker, jiu-jitsu practitioner, friend, and husband, and I pull this from BJJ.
13. Monta: Any special thanks or shout-outs?
Kevin Howell: I would like to give a shout-out to all of our friends and students here at Fight Zone USA – you guys are the best; Victory Belt publishing, and Scotty Nelson at OTM for giving me my start. Also, a HUGE thanks to Saulo Riberio, Andre Galvao, and Leo Vieira for giving me my start and believing in me.
14. Monta: Well that raps things up. Thanks for taking the time out to do this interview with your busy schedule.
Kevin Howell:Thanks Monta! I appreciate your time.