Interview With BJJ Legends Magazine: Machado Stories

BJJ Legends: Thanks for meeting with us. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Ryan: I am a black belt under Rigan and Roger Machado and I started training Jiu-Jitsu in 1994, just after the UFCs began. Before that I had been training Kung Fu for 7 years, earning a black sash. I opened my school, East West Martial Arts, in 1997. I have been running the school full time for over 10 years now.

BJJ Legends: How did you get started in Jiu-Jitsu?

Ryan: I was practicing some stand up with a friend of mine at one of the workout rooms at the University of Michigan, where I was a student. There were a few guys on the other side of the room wearing different colored gis on the ground repping techniques. They invited me over, asking me if I wanted to learn some Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I have always been an open minded guy, so I was willing to try it out. I remembered reading a few articles about the Gracies- that they wouldn’t let their kids eat candy and sugar, and that they had a $100,000 challenge where if you came to their school and beat one of them, they would give you the cash. I asked them what it who they learned from, and they said they had bought some tapes from the Gracies. I thought to myself “Tapes! I practice with real people! Wait til we spar.”

All the martial arts at that point were saying they were the best. If you opened any magazine like Black Belt or Inside Karate there were always articles like “Tae Kwon Do vs. Shotokan Karate: Who Would Win?” When you open the magazine there would be a series of photos where the Shotokan guy would land a punch and win, then a series where the Tae Kwon Do guy would land a kick and win. I was a little tired of everyone talking but there was no way of knowing which style was the best.

We repped techniques from the guard for a little while, then we started rolling. My first match was against a lawyer named Scott. I had experience in Aikido, Arnis, and Chin Na, so I figured it wouldn’t be long before I would put him in a wrist lock, shoulder lock, or arm lock. Nothing worked. We went for about 15 minutes and by the end my forearms were so tired I couldn’t make a fist, so we stopped.

For my second match I started with a Judo black belt. Within a minute he mounted me and put me in an Ezekiel. I remember slapping the mat thinking, “That would have been it. It’s not like landing a punch. I would have been passed out.” That made a big impression on me.

I asked the first guy I rolled with, Scott, how long he had been training. He said “three weeks.” I couldn’t believe it. I had been training with real people for 7 years, and he had learned from a video tape for 3 weeks, and I couldn’t do anything to him! I thought to myself, “What is this stuff?”

I started training regularly. After a few months I was able to start catching some of the Judo black belts that would train with us. I went to one of my first seminars with Relson Gracie. He gave us the impression that everyone in Brazil trained Gracie Jiu-Jitsu. I was freaked out. I thought, “I have a black sash in Kung Fu and everybody in Brazil can beat me up!” So I started training even harder.

DSC04389Back row: Kazer & Machados: Jean-Jacques, Rigan, Carlos, Roger, John

Front row: Several Machado black belts including Marcos Santos (2nd from left) & Ryan Fiorenzi

BJJ Legends: When did you decide to join the Machados?

Ryan: I went to a Royce Gracie seminar that had over 100 people attending. He gave me and 17 other guys our blue belt that day. I had recently opened my school and I knew I had to formally affiliate with a teacher and an organization. I had seen an article about the Machados called “Leave Your Ego at the Door.” I got a real good vibe from them as they seemed to have great attitudes and they lived a healthy lifestyle. I decided to go to Cali and check them out.

When I arrived, John Machado took me in the office and grilled me. He told me that not just anyone can affiliate with them. He said that people assume that because he is a Machado that Jiu-Jitsu came easily to him. He said that he used to take a bus for 2 hours to get to training and would be so tired, and that he worked extremely hard. Maybe someone else would have been discouraged, but I was happy. I thought, “These guys have standards.” John later told me that one of their affilates was telling students that he was a black belt, and he wasn’t, and he was selling drugs out of his school.

I was thinking that it would be a huge benefit to belong to the Machados because I would have the benefit of training with all five brothers. And by the time I left the school where both John and Rigan were teaching at the time, I felt like family.

Interviewer: What was it like training with the Machados back then?

Ryan: Humbling! I had John Machado come out to my school to teach a 2 day seminar and at the end seminar he rolled with all of the students. He had just given me 3 stripes on my blue belt. He told me “Ryan, you have a minute.” He let me attack him and he just defended from the turtle bottom position. Then he said “Ten seconds!” and he started counting down 10. When he hit zero I was tapping!

Later me and a few other students drove almost 10 hours to Ottawa for a Rigan seminar. Ricco Rodriguez was there with him and was then a purple belt. Rigan rolled with all 38 people in the seminar non stop for over an hour. People were calling out techniques for him to do and he would do them on the guy he was rolling with. One guy said that he missed one of the techniques that he wanted to take a picture of, so Rigan did it again on the resisting student! I remember Rigan doing a handstand on one student as he was passing the students guard, and he decided to stop with his legs in mid air for people to take pictures. He was kicking his legs like a synchronized swimmer.

When he rolled with me I was a little freaked out because I could swear he was reading my mind! Each time I started to think of a move, he would counter it. This happened four or five times and finally though “Whats the point?! Its like rolling with Yoda and having jedi mind tricks played on me.” So I raised my arm up so he could just finish me.

One time I was in Rigan’s class and out of nowhere he walked up to me and said “I’m going to get cross side position and not use my hands. Do whatever you want to escape.” I figured that I had to be able to get out if I could do whatever I wanted, and he couldn’t even his hands. I struggled and tried everything I knew and nothing worked. He just twisted and shifted and when I got tired he stood up and said “That’s the kind of control I want you to develop.” He didn’t tell me how, but he planted a seed in me that I wanted to be even a fraction as good as him.

I have had the impression many times that I am training with martial arts masters when I train with the Machados. I had been reading stories about legendary Asian masters for years, and you don’t think that those kinds of stories happen today. But they do, if you train with the right people. And as my friend and Kung Fu instructor Sifu Rob Brown says, “We are the future modern masters.” That’s a sobering thought.

For those of you who haven’t rolled with the Machados, each brother is different. Rigan will squash the life out of you with so much pressure and control. Roger Machado is like water. He is poetry in motion. He gives you the illusion that you are doing something good, and then quickly puts you away. One time I was rolling with Roger when I was a brown belt and he had me in an armbar where his leg was on my shoulder, not over my face. The control on that armbar isn’t as good as the regular armbar, so it’s a little easier to counter. I tried the two counter that I knew, and they didn’t work, so I thought, “I am going to use strength. I am probably stronger than Roger, and I know that I have trained myself to use technique, but this one time I am going to try to power out and see what happens.” Nothing happened! I gave it everything I had and it was like I had run into a brick wall! I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t move even a half inch.

BJJ Legends: Do you have any advice for our readers?

Ryan: One of the best things is to not care so much about winning and losing. Focus on learning from each match you have, whether you win or lose. Don’t give in to the ego and be so proud of yourself when you beat someone, and get upset when you lose. It’s all an illusion anyway. If I roll with any of the Machados, I will tap. It doesn’t mean I’m bad. If I roll with my students, they will tap. That doesn’t mean I’m great. Just focus on what the Japanese call kaizen: constant improvement. It’s like putting money in an investment account. Every week you put more in the account, and you are earning compound interest, and over time you are shocked how much money is in the account. If you keep consistently training and getting better, after a while you will have a lot to show for it. Then you can do whatever you want with your jiu-jitsu- earn a living, compete, stay in shape, or just continue to enjoy to enjoy training and grow as a person.

Montise Black Belt best picture

Montise Peterson, Ryan Fiorenzi, Rigan Machado, Tyrone Gooden

One Response to “Interview With BJJ Legends Magazine: Machado Stories”

  1. Marcelo Freire says:

    Fantastic reading! Great article, thank you very much Sir.

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