Off the Mat with a BJJ Black Belt: Jeremy Arel

This week Off the Mat with a BJJ Black Belt features Jeremy Arel who owns a successful jiu-jitsu school Graet Grappling Jiu-jitsu in Fort Mill, South Carolina.
Jeremy is a Gordo black belt and has trained extensively in Brazil.
Jeremey puts out – for THIS author’s money – the BEST YouTube bjj technique channel and you’ve got to check it out!

YouTube Channel: 

“We, as a people, are defined by our victories and not our losses.
You can fail, and will fail, a lot, but one victory in the right place can change your life.”
Jeremy Arel

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you tell us how and why you got started in bjj?

Jeremy Arel:
I’ve been a lifetime martial artist.
I started with Karate at 6 years old and made a transition into Tae Kwon Do.
When I turned 14 I started with Jeet Kune Do Concepts and did a fair bit of boxing and kick boxing.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) was starting to get popular and I entertained the idea of being an MMA fighter.
My instructor at the time suggested that I joind a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school to work on my ground game for MMA.

Jiu-jitsu Times: What got you addicted?

Jeremy Arel:
My favorite part of any martial art is the sparring portion of class.
This was true through my childhood and continued to be my favorite part of training BJJ.
With my previous training the sparring was rare and the intensity often either to high or to low.

When I attended my first Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class I was happy to learn that “rolling” was a staple of the class time.
I really enjoyed getting to try out the moves against someone who was resisting but with minimal injuries.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Who have been the biggest influences on your jiu-jitsu and what did you learn from each of your professors?
Jeremy Arel:

This is a tough question to answer as I’ve had a lot of really great people help me along the way.
I would say the two biggest influences that I’ve had were my first instructor Luis Togno and my current instructor Roberto Correa.

Luis ran Alliance of Charlotte during the times that I trained with him. He was a black belt in Charlotte NC at a time when there were very few BJJ teachers in the area.
He was an excellent instructor and he probably forgot more techniques than I currently know.
He really did a great job building my technical foundation.

Roberto Correa (also known as Gordo) was, and is, a fantastic coach.
I am lucky to have received my black belt from him as I am only one of two black belts that he has awarded to foreigners.

Gordo really took my strategy to the next level. Where Luis helped me with learning techniques, Gordo helped me with technique selection.
There is a distinct difference between a teacher and a coach and I’m lucky to have had two extremely talented instructors in both of these areas.

Jiu-jitsu Times: What is the place of jiu-jitsu in your life?

Jeremy Arel:
\Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is my life. I teach over 30 hours a week. All of my friends train (my students are my friends in many cases).
I pay for my home, my children clothes and my families food by teaching and running my academy.
Without Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I’m not sure what my life would look like.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Are you an active competitor? Own an academy and teach? Train recreationally?

Jeremy Arel:
What do you consider active? I don’t compete nearly as much as I used to.
I keep it real by competing a few times a year so that my students can see me win and lose.
I also want to stay current on trends and hold myself accountable for my training.

Jiu-jitsu Times: You moved to live and train in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for an extended period of time. Can you talk about what that experience was like? How long did you stay, where did you train, what was the training like? Etc

Jeremy Arel:
My First trip to Brazil was 6 and a half months.
I returned to America for a short time to sell all of my belongings and then I returned to Brazil for another 9 and a half months.
So in total I lived in Brazil for almost a year and a half.

My time in Brazil was a life changing event.
It forced me to look at my place inside the community and re-evaluate my relationship with my training.
I’ve always trained hard and often but Brazil was taking it to the next level.
For the first time in my life there was more training available than I could physically do.
This means that the deciding factor in how much training I received was based on how much my body could take.
Combine this with the fact that the training intensity was higher than I was accustomed to and it’s not surprising that I always had injuries.

Previous to moving to Brazil I thought I would be a world champion.
The laughable part of this statement is that I had never rolled with a black belt.
Yes, you read that correctly, I had never rolled with a black belt.

Luis was a fantastic black belt but over the time I trained at Alliance of Charlotte he never rolled with me.
It’s not that he didn’t have skills as I saw him roll with a lot of people, it’s just that I never got that opportunity.
I have a number of speculations as to why that happened, but regardless, I never had that honor.

Let’s just say that my first experience of rolling with a black belt was an eye opening event.
The result, after 3 months of training in Brazil, was that I would never be a black belt world champion in the 18-29 category.
It was like watching my dreams die in front of me. It was pretty traumatic.

Jiu-jitsu Times: We are seeing the evolution of jiu-jitsu (especially in the sport aspect) towards many sports only techniques (ex. berimbolo, lapel guards and emphasis on guard sweeps) and away from the old school Gracie Jiu-jitsu for fighting. What is your view on this? Is it a positive or a negative thing for the art?

Jeremy Arel:
I tell people when they walk into the door that Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is unique in the fact that it is both a Martial Art and a sport.

There have been a lot of evolutions of techniques over the last decade and I think it’s good for our art.
It’s funny to see these trends come and go as people develop new things and then figure out ways to deal with these “new” techniques.

As far as effectiveness on the “street” goes, I don’t really think it matters that much as long as your instructor is giving you a well rounded approach to your grappling.
If you’re only learning Berimbolos, or only learning Lapel Guard then you’re going to have problems with practical application, both on the mat and on the street.

Remember that at the beginning of this interview I said that I’ve been a lifetime martial artist. I would list myself as a competent boxer/kick boxer.
For over 5 years I worked as a bouncer/security guard and every time that I had to put my hands on someone it was BJJ that I fell back on.
Only one time, in 5 years, did I ever hit anyone. I did however foot trip a lot of people and arm drag a lot of people.
The effectiveness of BJJ is pretty crazy when you think about it.
Most adults go their whole lives without ever knowing what their body is capable of doing.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Your YouTube channel is this Jiu-jitsu Times author’s favorite technique channel! What drives you to produce these videos and share your knowledge with the bjj world? What goes into making a great technique video?

Jeremy Arel:
When I started my school I made a couple of mission statements. One of them is to give BJJ to as many people as I can.
The Youtube channel is part of the actualization of that mission statement.
Combine that with the fact that it is giving to a community that I love and improving everyone’s Jiu-Jitsu and it is easy to see why I would do it.

I think that a great technique video should have solid teaching. I believe that many students are used to learning in a linear fashion even though BJJ techniques are not linear.
So what I try to do is give clear teaching cues so that people can see the important aspects to the move and apply a “connect the dots” type of learning.
This is one way that we can make something more linear even though in reality it is not.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you give some advice for students of jiu-jitsu that worked for you in your training? (a principle or training practice, motivational quote, tips on passing the guard etc.)

Jeremy Arel:

1. Don’t quit. Just keep coming to class. It truly is a marathon and not a sprint.

2. Review often. This means you should be drilling things shortly after taking the class.
You should also keep a notebook and take notes, then a week later you should reread your notes.

3. Have an open mind. Not all techniques are for all people and some technqiues require a foundation of movement.
Although you may not have that foundation now, it may be developed in the future.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you talk about your philosophy of Brazilian jiu-jitsu – training and life?
What do you try to teach to your students about the role of jiu-jitsu in their lives? How does your jiu-jitsu influence your life off of the mat?

I believe training in BJJ can improve your life.
There are a lot of life lessons to be had through your training, but I think the most important lesson is how to deal with losing.

Throughout your life you are going to have wins and losses. We, as a people, are defined by our victories and not our losses.
You can fail, and will fail, a lot, but one victory in the right place can change your life.
Don’t give up, refine your process and improve your performance.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Are there any exciting projects that you are currently working on?

Jeremy Arel: Currently I’m trying to improve and grow my school.
I teach a lot and I’m trying to balance my school duties with my family duties (I have 3 babies under 2 years old).
It’s taking some juggling skills but I can say that it is extremely rewarding and productive!

Video: Jeremy Arel


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