Notes From a Disenfranchised 10th Planet Black Belt

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by Elia Yuriditsky

Here’s the real story, as promised I can’t say it’s an interesting story, but it is as close to the whole truth as I can bring myself to write. For those not aware, I am responding here to this thread:

I’m the subject of this article. Does anyone want my tell-all? from bjj

I’ll keep things organized and chronological, and will try to keep the sources and biases as illustrated as possible.

THE SYNOPSIS

My decision/announcement to leave the school from which I got my black belt resulted in a backlash in which Denny Prokopos (head instructor of 10th Planet SF and my now former teacher), at the endorsement of Eddie Bravo, ‘no longer honor [my] black belt under [their] 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu system and Family.’ This came after a long series of unpleasantries including, but not limited to, Denny restricting me from training with a person he did not care for. I’ll get into the unpleasantries more below.

Ultimately, Denny justified his actions by stating that I betrayed the 10th planet system in helping my friend (Travis Magalit) prepare for a match against another 10th planet black belt (Marvin Casteele). Marvin is from the LA school; I’ve met him twice. I’ve never had a real conversation with Eddie Bravo. Prior to my revocation, he didn’t know me from Adam.

My friend Travis left 10th planet as a brown belt six years ago. We have been training together total since 2008. If I have a friend, he is one.

I will admit that there were periods of time when I was not upfront about where I was training. However, Denny was well aware of my recent trainings with Travis, and he explicitly consented to my training with him just a few months ago. (I have the screenshot of that text convo, if someone knows how to upload photos from a phone). I was never told not to train with Travis. More on this below too.

I didn’t corner Travis; I only trained with him. Had he asked, I would have cornered him, but he didn’t. Marvin is, for all intents and purposes, a stranger. We shared a franchise, sure, but if you have to ask where my loyalties lie when, on the other side, stood a man who has been there for me without question for nearly a decade… Well then maybe the rest of this story isn’t for you.

To paint a fair picture, I’ll have to tell you who Travis is in relation to Denny, some details of how things parted, the degradation of the school over the past years, Denny’s overall behavior, and, finally, how I fit into this whole thing.

AS FOR MY THOUGHTS/FEELINGS:

My ten years of hard study at 10thP SF should have bought me a quiet exit. I have a life outside of BJJ, a professional career, and I didn’t deserve to have my character questioned so publicly without any explanation.

The response from my local community has been overwhelmingly positive. Years of trying to be there for people the way you want them to be there for you does not go unnoticed: the messages I’ve received have reinforced that for me. I’m really touched.

Some 10th planet people from other schools have told me that their doors remain open. It takes a lot to go against the request of your ‘master’ and his first-born. I appreciate that the people I’ve met do not all blindly follow commands.

Denny is unreasonable. I asked that he simply take everything down and allow me my privacy; he insisted that he must tell the world that I am not his black belt so that I do not go around saying so. I’ve been offered black belts from many people now.

If anyone needs to hear it, I am not Denny’s Black Belt. As for the black belt itself, he can’t take it back from me any more than some unfortunate girl can give him back his virginity (just one jab, sorry).

As for Eddie Bravo . . . I don’t know what Denny told him. I asked that he pull his endorsement. I told him I have at least earned my right to leave without a public spectacle. I’ve heard great things about Eddie; I have never witnessed them, unfortunately, and I never will. I wish his franchise success.

All the people I’ve met and developed genuine connections with remain in my heart. If a person’s sole criteria for determining their loyalty to you is where you pay your monthly fee, then that person is probably not someone worth concerning yourself with.

OLD HISTORY

The main part – who is Travis and why is there an issue with him and Denny? I started training with Denny in 2008, when he taught out of a room no bigger than a small studio apartment. Travis was one of the first students. When I joined, I had nearly three years of BJJ under my belt. Travis had 6 months. I never tapped him.

Travis’ dedication and innate talent for BJJ made him an important part of the school. It also made him, at that time, one of Denny’s closest (and possibly only) friends. He eventually became the assistant instructor. In those days, Denny taught almost all the classes, but when he didn’t, Travis filled in.

Eventually a riff brewed. Travis and Denny were both stubborn individuals at the time, and each wronged the other. I’ve heard stories from many people on both sides, and there is no clear answer as to who was right and wrong. From the best I can tell, neither had clean hands once the dust finally settled.

I had no role in their falling out. I was in law school for most of it, and trained only lightly, when my schedule permitted. I also don’t involve myself where I don’t need to be.

Travis eventually got his brown belt and left the school, as did two of his closest friends and main training partners. Denny never recovered from this blow. It resulted in serious trust issues, a regular demand for ‘loyalty’, and general suspicion of dissent.

Travis eventually found a new home in Bay Jiu Jitsu, helping that school grow tremendously. Today, it is a successful Checkmate affiliate, and is as competitive as any school in the Bay.

Over the years, Travis has made a lot of efforts to mend things. It has been 6 years, and Denny still doesn’t want people training with Travis.

This is evidence that Denny still hasn’t recovered from that hit. If he isn’t brought to reason, he probably never will.

POST-TRAVIS DEVELOPMENT

Things didn’t go too bad at first. Travis’ presence was missed but we had a strong team back then. Although the school was young, we were making good moves with upcoming competitors like Ben Eddy, Alex Canders, Mike Hillebrand, and Adam Sachnoff.

Denny has was always a handful, but we all loved him for it anyway. As many people pointed out, he would go on directionless rants with nonsensical pontification. It was fine; he knew his BJJ, and knew how to communicate it.

Things eventually started to turn bad. Without getting too much into Denny’s personal life, he was in a long, difficult relationship. He eventually got engaged, and then broke up. This is important to note for a lot of reasons. First of all, he no longer had anyone to keep him grounded. He grew more obsessed with illustrating a lifestyle, and less interested in his school.

The breakup hurt the school in many ways. His fiancé’s father was initially doing the construction for the new location and it was never completed. Our entire downstairs is just concrete and supplies; Denny just said ‘**** it’, and uses it as a smoke spot before, during, and after class. The walls mats are screwed in with rusty nails, we have one poorly constructed shower, the ‘front desk’ is a half-constructed ikea furniture accompanied by a broken chair.

The physical state of the school was representative of the school’s spirit.

Denny started becoming absent, both physically (travelling the world) and mentally
(inattentive when present). If you follow his instragram, you will see that he is never in SF for more than a few days or so at a time and, even when he is, he will spend most classes cross-training at other schools. He stopped teaching innovative or helpful moves; instead he goes over the 10th planet ‘warm-ups’ repeatedly, illustrating way more times than he allows us to drill on our own, and yelling at people who don’t know them. He is often on his phone when people roll. Few of his students ever get to roll with him. He stopped teaching Friday and Saturday all together. The best case scenario has him teaching 4 days a week, though he’s rarely that present.

Where we should have competent teachers in place, Denny just took to texting people to take over classes. I helped at first, but eventually got fed up with it. I paid tuition and had my own schedule, but I couldn’t stay commited to teaching every week. As other people took my same perspective, he started going further down the chain. Most classes are now taught by purple belts; some are taught blue. Recently, people like Matt and Oscar were given their black and brown belts respectfully, I haven’t rolled with either in years but the general consensus is that it was more of a move to illustrate credibility and wasn’t earned.

All our prior talent has left. Some train elsewhere, some run their own schools, some have moved away. Several can still train with us but it’s not an atmosphere anyone would enjoy.

MY RELATION

I became pretty disheartened as well in the recent years. In addition to the poor atmosphere, Denny took to yelling randomly. I’ve heard suggestions of contributing substances, but I won’t speculate. He’s chewed me out in front of the class for several minutes on multiple occasions for whispering to a friend or other innocuous behavior, ranting about sacrifice, and just overall showing a complete disregard for anyone else’s experience besides his own.

This is how I felt, and I needed to get away. I was one of his most dedicated students. I trained every single day… sometimes twice a day. There were some instances when I was chewed out and threatened with violence (mild suggestions but still) because he thought I was talking (I wasn’t). I needed some space. I took a couple weeks away from the school and was welcomed without question by Darren Uyenoyama from FTCC and Travis (the subject of this issue).

I would go back and forth about training with Travis but, as things deteriorated at 10th Planet, it was the only other place I could call home. Travis made it feel that way.

After Denny found out, a few years back, that I was training with Travis, he threw a fit. I spoke to him about it, but we never came to an understanding. He told me he wouldn’t accept it; I told him I wouldn’t accept his command. We didn’t discuss it further, and I continued to train as I chose while keeping it out of the spotlight; it was the most known secret in our community.

Years go by and, as Denny’s travels increase, so did the frequency with which I trained with Travis. Denny raised the issue again, and I let him know that I needed instruction from a teacher. He again voiced his objection, but I never told him I would stop, never hid my cross training from him.

THE FINAL CHAPTER

About six months, I took a picture with a group of very talented black belts, one of which was Travis. Predictably, Denny threw another fit. I again told him where I stood, however this time, I took some weeks off to determine if I saw any future with this school given all the above info and the authoritarian style of governance.

Before I resigned, Denny sent me a message saying that he was alight with me training with Travis (IF SOMENE KNOWS HOW TO UPLOAD PHOTOS, I’LL ATTACH THE SCREEN SHOT). This was good news for me.

Marvin vs Travis was announced shortly thereafter, and training camp began. I train at several schools, so I could only see Travis once or twice a week, but we made sure to stack the training partners. I helped brainstorm strengths and weaknesses, but I didn’t then and don’t now have any insight into Marvin’s game. I rolled with him one time, for one round. Marvin actually trained at Travis’ school with Reilly Bodycomb for a week in October. We don’t exist in some secret world, and I don’t posses some secret 10th Planet info.

The match went on. Denny wasn’t at the event. Despite him promising to train and corner two of his own black belts, he instead decided to extend his 10th vacation in the last 12 months.

Travis won and he thanked me (and a few others) in his victory social media post. I knew he was going to do this and was fine with it. I don’t want secrets. I own up to my actions these days.

Denny returned and, without a word about the classes I’ve covered (while still paying tuition), immediately started questioning me angrily. “Did you help Travis?!”, he demanded. “I did,” I responded. “We train together, you and I discussed it. Honestly, I don’t want to discuss the merits of either of our positions if you’re against that still. I’d appreciate if we can stop my membership. There are a lot of things going on and I feel like I need time away from this environment. I hope you understand.”

That was it. I finally left. Half a day later, I get a text that I’m no longer recognized as a black belt. I let it pass; I’m done with the school anyway. The next morning, I start seeing posts on social media which I again ignored and instead answered questions privately. I had no interest in a spectacle.

The morning after, everything is viral. I asked Denny to retract his statement as I have a professional life and don’t need this coming up when people search my name. I asked the same of Eddie Bravo. Both give me some sort of tribal response. I told them, without a public retraction, I would need to clarify what happened.

So there it is. Petty, boring, and out in the open. This is a story of one man’s increasing need for control while losing it by his own hand, and another man who just wants to train jiu jitsu and live his life.

Thank you for reading.

The article is the property of Elia Yuriditsky for use by the Jiu-Jitsu Times. All others besides Elia Yuriditsky who wish to use this article must cite the Jiu-Jitsu Times if they wish to repost. 

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