Jiu-Jitsu Times Exclusive: Shaun Wilson Explains His ‘Promotion’ of Two Students To BJJ Black Belt

One of the most controversial subjects in the BJJ world is belts: fake black belts, sand bagging, self promotions, kid’s black belts – the all generate heavy amounts of controversy in the tightly-knit Brazilian jiu-jitsu community.

Recently, Shaun Wilson of Gunn Martial Arts in Maryland found himself in this type of controversy when he promoted two young student to BJJ black belt.  The BJJ media has already heard from Shaun’s detractors. Now it is Shaun’s turn to talk.

Here is what he had to say.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Shaun can you tell us about the school that you teach at and your own training background?

Shaun Wilson: Gunn Academy of Mixed Martial Arts was created by the students. When Keith and myself finished teaching at the last school we taught at, I was going to retire. The parents of some of kids I taught took me out to dinner and asked that we start our own school. They named the school after my Scottish roots, as they knew how much pride I have in it. I have been training in martial arts for over 30 years and in the course of this training and dedication have received multiple black belts from various forms of the Arts (not all of them, as I have been turned off of receiving belts for myself). I have training in styles of Modern Kung Fu, BJJ, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Nin-jitsu, and boxing, as well as becoming proficient in teaching MMA and conditioning classes.

Teaching consistently for over 20 years I have helped grow many programs at multiple schools and instructed and mentored countless students. Keith Jackson has been training in the martial arts since age 11. He began training Kung Fu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1999. Since then he has achieved a black belt in Kung Fu and a black belt in BJJ as well as becoming very proficient in Boxing, Muay Thai, Judo and Wrestling. He began teaching in 2001 and has coached and instructed several MMA fighters with successful careers and titles to their name. He began teaching in 2001 and has coached and instructed several MMA fighters with successful careers and titles to their name. He has completed his black belt journey under Black Belt Noel Smith and Master Renato Tavares (American Top Team)

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Can you give the readers a brief summary of what the junior black belt controversy is about?

Shaun Wilson: When Keith Jackson and I started teaching kids classes together was in 2001 at the Baltimore Martial Arts Academy in Maryland. The Head of the program was Gary Berger. In the style that he taught and the style that Keith and I taught was considered a Modern Kung Fu that incorporated multiple styles of martial arts. The two kids in question started training with us when they were four years old in this very style. Twelve years later and times have changed. BJJ has become a center for up-and-coming martial artists. Even at the Gunn Academy, the only belt program now will be the BJJ program.  Given this fact, yet for the time that these children put in under the other program, we allowed them to receive their junior black belt.

Unfortunately, when we ordered their belts, BJJ belts showed up. These belts were a quick turn around with the students’ names embroidered on them.  We gave the belts out with the knowledge and understanding with them that they were for the old style of martial arts and their adult belts will follow BJJ and they were beginners again in the BJJ program. Again, of course looking back I could have done something different.  Easy to look back now and see that. But at the moment I didn’t think about it. People just like to throw stones in glass houses.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Is this simply a matter of misunderstanding? Can you clear up the situation?

Shaun Wilson: Yes it is and yes I can. We have nothing to hide about it. Even in the picture I am wearing the belt that was given to me in our Modern Kung Fu style. If you look at my bio on my website, I don’t say I hold a black belt in BJJ but that I study BJJ. Therefore, I would not be in place to offer a black belt in BJJ. Keith Jackson holds a black belt in BJJ under Renato Tavares and he is the head instructor for our program.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Although the BJJ community self-polices itself to a certain degree, do you think some people go too far with online comments?

Shaun Wilson: I definitely feel that some individuals and schools go too far. This is martial art, and we who teach should lead by example. They claim to teach anti-bullying then turn around and bully in this way. I truly don’t understand the anger and need for the defamation.

After this was explained to Mike Stewart Jr., he should have been able to accept it. But he felt the need to continue to demean and encourage others to do the same. They even attacked the kids that received the belts. Very unprofessional. You would think that his instructors would want him to keep a more respectable approach. I reached out to my students to make sure they would not interject and if they were confronted to keep a professional and courteous response. Again, we owned up to the mistake and apologized for it multiple times. That was the right thing to do and that is how I operate. I do, however, appreciate Renato Tavares, Noel Smith, Chris Bengson, and the others that have defended me and Keith and who we are. With leaders like them there is a lot of hope in the BJJ community and I am still proud to be a part of it.

Jiu-Jitsu Times: Let’s close this by talking about the positive influence of martial arts training for young people. Despite the minor controversy, how has your school positively affected the two junior black belts?

Shaun Wilson: I have spoken with each of the parents and here is what they had to say:

My son, Luke Browne, now 16, has been working with Shaun Wilson and Keith Jackson since he was four and a half years old.  In addition to the specific skills related to martial arts he has acquired over the years, given his severe ADHD, his work at Gunn Academy has increased his ability to focus elsewhere.  He has also learned how to deal with conflict constructively and channel negative feelings.  In addition, as a junior black belt, he has had the opportunity to increase his leadership skills as he has worked with younger students at the school.” And “ Our 16 year old son, Pat, began lessons with Shaun Wilson and Keith Jackson 12 years ago and in addition to the skills taught in class, our son has developed a strong sense of discipline and self-control. Throughout the years, we have proudly watched Pat mature from a shy child who wasn’t always confident in his skills or abilities to a confident young man with strong self-esteem and morals.  With continuing support from his instructors, Pat has learned the value of hard work and the benefits of strong team work.  As a parent, we are very grateful for the relationship Pat has built with both Shaun and Keith.  He has adult confidants that know him well and will continue to provide guidance as he becomes a young adult.

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  1. “Even at the Gunn Academy, the only belt program now will be the BJJ program. Given this fact, yet for the time that these children put in under the other program, we allowed them to receive their junior black belt.” Confusing or Contradicting?

    • No, I understand that they decided to adopt the BJJ black belt, opening an exception for students that were with them for a long time! This looks like a witch hunt! I do not know either instructors here but feel they may be right!!! Seems like emotions took over and it went downhill from there!!!

    • Neither. They are not BJJ junior black belts. They are beginners in their bjj journey. Please read the whole response. Don’t pick a sentence or 2 and try to spin it. Unless you work for CNN.


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