Off the Mat with a Bjj Black Belt: John Ouano

Jiu-jitsu Times is excited to announce a new feature: Off the Mat with a Bjj Black Belt where we feature a short interview with Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts from different academies around the planet.

Off the Mat with a Bjj Black Belt: John Ouano

This week we feature 3rd degree Black Belt John Ouano of both Tsunami Brazilian Jiu-jitsu in California and owner of Ouano International kimonos and fight gear.
John was Carlson Gracie Sr’s 1st Ammerican student back in the 1990’s and credited by UFC referee Big John McCarthy as being the originator of the gloves used in MMA.

“You can apply Jiu-Jitsu in life such as patience and dealing with different individual personalities.” John Ouano

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

John Ouano: Around 1993 my brother-in-law Ray Burgos was training under Royce Gracie 2-3 times a week. On weekends Ray and a group of his friends from the academy would train in the garage at his house where he laid out a few folding mats. I was studying Aikido back then and I would visit and watch them train for 2 -3 hours at a time on Saturdays and Sundays. This went on for many months. They kept inviting me to try it but wasn’t really interested. One day I was having a converstation with Ray and he convinced me to give it a try. I remember it was a Saturday evening when we went to the garage. We stretched and warmed up and he proceeded to show me basic moves like the hip escape, the upa, the Kimura and Americana. Later on we slowly eased into sparring where Ray made me work so hard (mind you he was at least 15-20 lighter then me). He pretty much manhandled me! I muscled my way out of a few things but I was spent while he was a non stop machine playing with me.
I then realized that I needed to learn more and see where it would take me. Ray would work with me Friday evenings when I got off work I would drive down to their house in Lakewood, Saturdays and SUndays was the same deal where I would go visit them in the afternoon and Ray would work with me for two hours. We would drill most of the time and do some light sparring. I’m very grateful that he persuaded me to give it a tray and he was very patient with me. All this went on for a few months until in late 1993 early 1994 I decided to take classes at Jean Jacque Machado’s Academy (John Machado was also teaching there) in Tarzana which was 3 miles from my work. There I met Eddie Bravo, Renato Magno and many of the guys that continued to train and earn their black belts.


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

John Ouano: First is my brother-in-law Ray Burgos who got me started. Even though he eventually stopped training as a blue belt due to back injuries.
Jean Jacque and John Machado who ran a wonderful program and taught me a good foundation. Back in the day it was sink or swim! Everyone had to work very hard or you got worked each class. Many quit but some stayed on.

Carlson Gracie Sr. together with the teenage Vitor Belfort who I was introduced to by my friend Marcelo Herz. I never heard of Carlson Gracie Jiu-Jitsu until I met Marcelo Herz. He spoke very highly of Carlson and how he build a highly respected and decorated competition team.
I learned the Carlson Gracie smash pass! Enough said! I was Carlson Gracie Sr.’s first student in the US and I spent many days hanging out with him on and off the mat. We watched countless MMA and Jiu-Jitsu videos at his apartment which was only a few blocks from my place. He spoke of his students that won many titles in MMA and Sport Jiu-Jitsu. This was the time when the likes of Murilo Bustamante, Mario Sperry, Ricardo Liborio and Bebeo Duarte the original founders of BTT would come to LA and train. Many of Carlson’s top students would visit LA and hang out at his apartment! Those where great times! Rodrigo Medeiros came to LA after the first Mundial and he took 3rd place. He and I hit it off and we became good friends. Vitor, Rodrigo and I would hang out and train together. We had a blast in the two years we were together in LA. Carlson was a great friend!

Jiu-jitsu Times: What is the place of jiu-jitsu in your life?
Are you an active competitor? Own an academy, train recreationally?

John Ouano: I’m not a competitor nor have I competed.
Carlson Sr. kept trying to get me to compete but I had no desire.

I love to train and teach!. That was my calling! I spent many hours teaching, training and learing from everyone from the team.
I would teach class and Carlson Sr. would be on the side watching me teach.
I was a blue belt when I started helping out in class and learned fast earning my purple belt within a year.
Carlson realized that and accepted my role!

We drilled a lot and trained a lot! Lots of smashing! Black eyes, popped elbow, fingers and joints!
Name a body part and most likely they have been injured at one point or multiple times.

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.)

John Ouano: In the begining you will tap many times!
It’s OK! Tapping is part of growth!
Practice the techniques you drill in class. Ask questions and see how others apply the techniques.
Everyone learns differently so don’t dwell on how fast your friends are excelling rather focus on yourself and how you can get better.
Some of the techniques may not be your favorite but they will come handy when your go to techniques don’t work for you.
It’s good to have a back-up plan.

Understand your body! Knowing your limitations is important!
I tell students that minimal movement with maximum effect!
There is a time to pass low and high but you need to learn them. You have your primary techniques, your secondary and your third!

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?

John Ouano: Jiu-Jitsu is a martial art and requires decipline! It’s a long term process and learing to pace yourself is very important.
Listen to your body! It’s OK to take a day or two off to rest and recover.

Set goals but be reasonable! When you set goals and accomplish them it feels good! You will get submitted and that’s OK.
Learn from them! You can apply Jiu-Jitsu in life such as patience and dealing with different individual personalities.
The longer you train Jiu-Jitsu you will notice how your awareness of your surrounding improves.
During training you will see 2-3 or even more steps ahead and your timing better in reacting to your oppoent or training partners moves.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Who is your favorite bjj fighter?

John Ouano: So many awesome competitors out there. Also, non competitors!
In no particular order. Everyone I have had the opportunity to train and learn from Carlson Gracie Team.
Liborio, Ze Mario, Murilo Bustamate, Rodrigo Medeiros, Vitor Belfort, Marcelo Alonso, Alan Goes and many more.

Marcelo Garcia – I love his style. His Jiu-Jitsu is unbelievable. One of my all time favorites!
Leo Vieira
The Mendes brothers
Marcel Louzado
Rodrigo Ranieri
Lucas Lepri

Those are just some of a long list.

Jiu-jitsu Times: Can you tell us something interesting about yourself that most Jiu-jitsu Times readers would not know?

John Ouano: Jiu-Jitsu is part of my lifestyle. I teach, go surf, skateboard occasionally and I run one of the first few American gi companies that specialized in Jiu-Jitsu uniform since 1999.

Together with my friend Howard Liu who was instrumental in me starting my own brand. There was Kikskin and Storm.

Right now my focus is building Tsunami BJJ together with my friend and partner Perry Hauck who is an accomplished professor. Together we teach at 3 facilities and have a few affiliate academies.
My everyday goal is making efforts to be a good person and have a good day. It’s not easy!

Video: Power mount from side control



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