Joe Scarola is interviewed by KT Marie
KT Marie: how did you get into jiu jitsu and martial arts?
Joe Scarola: “I started martial arts when I was probably about 5 years old. I did Tae kwon do to start. I Actually competed in tae kwon do tournaments and did pretty well. After that I did Kenpo karate for a long time. From there I started some kickboxing and boxing. I came into jiu-jitsu is basically from doing jeet kune do when I was 16 or 17. The instructor got a blue belt certification or whatever and was teaching the basics. So I did the class and after one class I was hooked. That’s all I wanted to do. I went to just the jiu jitsu classes after that, but I knew the guy’s knowledge was limited, and I wanted to learn more. After that I searched around for jiu jitsu schools and I called up Renzo Gracie’s academy. Funny thing is Matt Serra answered the phone. He was teaching there at the time. He answered the phone and we talked about prices and training. At the time for me, it was expensive and too far. So Matt (Matt Serra) told me he was doing private lessons out of his house. So I started doing privates with him and his brother(Nick Serra). From there they started teaching jiu-jitsu out of a tae kwon do school here on Long Island. Renzo started it with them and then Matt and his brother Nick took it over with Rodrigo Gracie. Then everything just kinda snowballed from there.
KT: You are a three stripe black belt, how long have you been training jiu-jitsu and who did you get your black belt from?
Joe: So I started training jujitsu when I was 18. And I got my black belt in 2005 from Matt Serra and Nick Serra. It was a pretty cool because Renzo and Roger Gracie were there along with all of the guys I trained with.
KT: how has martial arts influenced your life and you as a person?
Joe: Martial arts influenced everything in my life. From my composier and how I deal with everything in life: my personality, how I problem solve, how I carry myself, my confidence, my business sense. Everything comes from doing martial arts. I have no idea what type of person I would be if I didn’t have martial arts. It defiantly had a huge positive influence on my life for sure.
KT: How do you think jiu jitsu and MMA have change since the time you started to now?
Joe: Huge, in both aspects. When I first started fighting, it was so small. I remember talking to everybody and we used to say ‘MMA is for us. Its never going to blow up here into a huge sport’ but because we loved it and we loved to fight and we were crazy about it, it didn’t matter if it was going to be big or not at the time. It was something that we loved to do. My first fight was actually in this club called the Vanderbuilt on long island. They had kickboxing matches and then they would mix in exhibition grappling matches, really MMA fights. So I used to fight on those cards. It was really cool to fight there because it was a small club so everyone was on top of each other and then the ring was right in the middle. You can see all of your friends right there as you were fighting. It was an awesome experience. And Now obviously, MMA is huge. The same thing happened with jiu-jitsu. At first there was Naga and grapplers quest. I competed in a lot of these tournaments coming up. They got a lot bigger as the years went by. And now the IBJJF really brought the sport up . The competition is so much more now. There are so many good guys out there and there are so many more opportunities for people, so its growing into a great sport. There wasn’t too many IBJJF tournaments when I was first competing. For the world championships you had to go to brazil. I actually had the experience to go over there and compete when they had the worlds so I’m happy for that. Definitely a cool experience. Brazil was awesome, competing there and just being there. I used to go every year like 6-7 years in a row. I would stay there for 10 days at a time, train at Gracie Barra, hang out with the guys. It was really cool experience.
KT: What made you decide to teach jiu jitsu and open up your own academy?
Joe: Ever since I was a little kid I remember I loved teaching. Everything I learned I would want to teach. Martial arts, fitness, stuff like that. I remember being in elementary school and this kid wanted to fight another kid so I was like training him for it. (laughs)
Kt: (Laughs) really?
Joe: Yup it was nuts! I remember always loving to teach. I was good at transferring information really well. I always loved seeing people do great. Having goals and being able to help them achieve their goals. I always loved fighting and competing but I get more out of seeing other people do well.
KT: Has becoming a professor and owning your own academy changed your jiu jitsu or how you view jiu jitsu?
Joe: Has it changed? For sure. I mean when you transfer from being a competitor to a professor its very different. As a competitor you have to be selfish, especially if you want to take it far, and as an instructor you have to be selfless. There’s a big difference. So you really need to get rid of your ego. Let your students beat you up (laughs). Really Analize their Jiu-jitsu on a daily basis and make sure it is the best it can be. Put your students before yourself on the mats when its their time, and everyone will reap the rewards.
KT: Why do you think someone should come into Grace Barra Long Island and give jiu jitsu a try?
Joe: It will change your life! I think everybody should give jiu-jitsu a try. The fitness aspect, the mental aspect, the self-defense aspect, jiu-jitsu has everything. Kids doing jiu-jitsu growing up are going to stay out of trouble, make smarter decisions. They are going to have a healthier mind especially now a days with stress and depression. Jiu-jitsu is an outlet for everything.
KT: A topic I hear a lot of people talk about in jiu jtsu is jiu jitsu as a self defense and jiu jitsu as sport. What are your views on that?
Joe: Jiu jitsu is everything. If your going to say jiu-jitsu you are going to say self defense, you are going to say sport, you are going to say mixed martial arts. I feel like if there is a black belt who doesn’t know all aspects of it to me that’s not a true black belt. A true black belt should know the sport, should know the self defense and the way to translate it to mixed martial arts. That’s the way I came up. My instructors were really big on the self-defense and fighting aspects of bjj. Now obviously the sport has grown, so I feel like if your gonna be a black belt and an instructor you should know all aspects of the game.
KT: Now taking somebody who wants to come in and learn self-defense or do jiu jitsu as a hobby and then taking someone who comes in and wants to compete in jiu jitsu what do you think the difference would be in training if any?
Joe: Ok here’s the thing. To me jiu-jitsu is for everyone, so the way I run the school here, I feel like everybody can learn to train together: competitors, mixed martial arts fighters, doctors, lawyers etc. We all can help each other achieve our goals no matter what they are. We have everybody in the same class, which is pretty cool. Now talking about competing or fighting at a high level, I feel you need some specialized training for those people to push themselves just a little more.
KT: As a jiu jitsu student who just received her blue belt a lot of what I have been hearing from people is that joke ‘oh, now you received your blue belt you can quit jiu jitsu’ and since jiu jitsu can take many years to move up the ranks and received your black belt why do you think people who do jiu jitsu get to blue or purple belt and end up leaving jiu jitsu and what advice would you give somebody who is now going through the ranks.
Joe: My first word of advice is jiu-jitsu is a lifestyle. It’s a life long journey. There should be goals, like to get your blue belt, then your purple belt then your brown belt then eventually get your black belt. But it doesn’t stop at blue belt. It doesn’t stop at purple belt, it doesn’t stop at black belt. Even as a 3rd degree black belt it doesn’t stop. It never stops. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t keep learning which is awesome. I never get bored with jiu-jitsu. It also keeps you healthy mentally and physically, and very focused. So nothing is going to happen over night and it doesn’t need to. Enjoy the ride. You have your whole life to do it. It’s a Journey!
KT: For you going through your journey and going through the ranks what part of your martial arts journey was your favorite and what part did you find to be the most difficult.
Joe: It’s hard to say what my favorite part is and what’s the most difficult part. My favorite part was all of the benefits I gained from training. All of the cool people I got to meet. Also getting to share my knowledge. The hardest part I would say was the consistency and discipline. There’s always things that can happen on your way that can distract you from your training . That’s like in life in general. You set a goal and its not going to be easy to get there, but you can get there for sure. No matter what the goal is you can get there. There is two things I say 1) you have to figure out what you truly want and then 2) you have to do the work. Most people don’t get where they want to get to in life for two reasons. One they don’t truly Know what they want, and two they don’t do the work. If you do those two it doesn’t matter what the hardest part is. The hardest part makes you overcome adversity and makes you get to where you want to go.
KT: So as far as martial arts goes who do you look up to?
Joe: I would say growing up I looked up to Bruce lee. That was one of my favorite guys growing up for sure. I was also a big fan of Brandon Lee. Once I got into jiu jitsu I really looked up to Rickson Gracie. He was one of my favorite fighters in jiu jitsu. Not just how he fought but he’s mentality and his way of looking at life. And then my instructors Matt and Nick Serra I looked up to coming up for sure. Renzo Gracie, Rodrigo Gracie, Ricardo Almeida. All these guys had a great influence on me coming up.
KT: What else do you like to do outside of martial arts?
Joe: I like being with my family, my son. my girlfriend and my dogs just hanging out at my house and hanging out with them. Also surfing, huge into surfing I love it, and stand up paddle boarding, anything with the water. I try to get there twice or three times a week if I can.
KT: Is there anything else you would to share with everybody?
Joe: If anybody ever wants to come down to my school and train, talk or come hang out your more then welcome. Call or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out the website: gblongisland.com, check us out on facebook and definitely come through.