Off the Mat with a BJJ Black Belt: Burak Deger Biçer

“It makes you face your fears and it taught me that I was only afraid of things I didn’t know and because of JJ I stopped lying to myself.”
– Burak Deger Biçer

Brazilian jiu-jitsu is spreading to the farthest corners of the globe, including the city of Istanbul, Turkey.

Burak Deger Biçer is Turkey’s first BJJ Black Belt, an MMA coach, and founder and Head Coach of Corvos Academy “Educating Head-Hand-Heart”

We spoke with Burak about Turkey’s development of BJJ and MMA, his training advice, and his background.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Burak, can you tell us how and why you got started in Brazilian jiu-jitsu? Who were your main professors and how did each of them influence your jiu-jitsu? What got you addicted to BJJ?

Burak Deger Biçer: I was living in La Jolla, California and training Muay Thai in 1993 when I first saw Royce dominating the UFC.

We were renting VHS tapes of UFC at Blockbuster at the time. Like many people who were practicing martial arts, I was shocked when I first watched it.

I was dying to train BJJ, but even though jiu-jitsu was becoming popular, there weren’t any academies close to my house at the time – which was La Jolla, California – as was still pretty much limited in the States. I stayed in the States until 2001 and had the chance to train with some sub-wrestlers but was nothing serious. My main focus was on Muay Thai.

When I moved back to Turkey, I continued to teach Muay Thai in Istanbul.

In 2005, I started to train gi with Ersin AlpaslanIan, a Valente purple belt, for about a month. Ersin was not a professional and wasn’t teaching regularly.

I spent a year or so on the mat with Cenk Biber and Hakan Erarslan who were Turkish blue belts and trained in the States during their studies. This was a time for me to get crushed regularly. Some hate this. I loved it. It was amazing because they were “just” blue belts.

At one point I got burned out because I was over training Muay Thai and BJJ at the same time. This was a time of questioning for me. Understanding that BJJ was a much deeper art, I got hooked.

Even though I had a great network of students in Muay Thai, I decided to make a radical decision and stop teaching Muay Thai altogether and put all my energy into BJJ.

In 2006, I invited Helio Soneca to Istanbul for a seminar. This was Turkey’s first BJJ black belt seminar and my first time training with a black belt.

I knew the art was deep, but after training with Helio and feeling that level of game, I realised that I was never going to be able to learn this art fully and I was never going to stop trying to learn as much as I can until I die.

In 2007, I already had a small team in Istanbul and started to look for an organisation to get affiliated with. I did some quick research and everywhere I looked, one team kept coming up: Brasa.

Brasa was full of killers at the time and they were known for their technical style of jiu-jitsu. The only contact I could find online was Felipe Costa. Felipe was my main instructor until we parted in 2010.

For little more than a decade, I’ve been training every day. I traveled all around the world to learn, teach, coach, and fight and I met some amazing people.

I was lucky to train with the best fighters and legendary masters around the globe like Felipe Costa, Robert Drysdale, Gabriel and Rafael Marangoni, Demian Maia, Murilo Bustamante, the Mendes Bros, Royler Gracie, Rico and Leo Vieira, and many more.

I must say that I never met a shallow BJJ black belt. They all in some shape or form profoundly affected my jiu-jitsu and my mindset.

I am forever grateful for their teaching, friendship, and support.

Jiu-jitsu Times: You are Turkey’s first BJJ black belt and therefore have an important role in the growth and education of BJJ in Turkey.

Turkey has a strong history and tradition of wrestling. Can you talk a little about your work to develop the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu in Turkey? How much does the average Turkish person know about this thing called BJJ?

Burak Deger Biçer: When I first started, no one knew anything about BJJ except a few people. I was the only professional involved in BJJ.

I actually had to start teaching when I was a white belt, which was very difficult at the beginning. I needed training partners and a good source for information. I always knew I had a huge responsibility and acknowledging this gave me strength.

I always felt like my enthusiasm for jiu-jitsu needed to be shared, so instead of just teaching moves I talked about jiu-jitsu a lot because I wanted the people to get the sense of our culture also.

I visited many cities in Turkey for demos and offered free seminars to anyone who was interested. In the past years, we have sponsored many young fighters internally.

I had many difficulties as I was growing up in this game and for the past 11 years I worked so hard so that future generations have a better chance at jiu-jitsu than I ever did when I started.

It’s very satisfying to see that we came a long way from me teaching guys so that I could have a training partner, to picking up the gold cup at the Abu Dhabi National Pro as a team.

Jiu-jitsu Times: What is the place of jiu-jitsu in your life? Are you a full time instructor, active competito, academy owner,  coach, or something else?

Burak Deger Biçer: Jiu-jitsu is my life. I live off it mentally and physically. There isn’t a moment where I don’t think about a position.

I founded Corvos (Turkey’s & Azerbaijan’s first BJJ and MMA team) in 2010. I am a full time instructor and I compete every chance I get.

At Corvos we currently have 15 affiliates, some in Turkey and some international. We are growing as a team and an organisation as well.

My life consists of travels and teaching every day. We also have strong MMA fighters in our team. I am currently coaching Saygid “Dagi” Arslanaliev, coming from our juvenile team and now 21 years old, fighting in One Championship and is considered one of the top lightweight prospects in the world with 3-0-0 and has less than a minute average cage time.

Burak Deger Biçer Stand-Up Guard Pass Teknigi

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