“People sometimes ask me, ‘My first day of BJJ is tonight. What should I try to do?’ My response is normally, ‘Make a friend. That will make it easier to go back for day two.'”
Byron Jabara is a BJJ blackbelt who teaches out of Fox Fitness BJJ in Wichita, Kansas. He is also a full time firefighter.
Byron operates the excellent BjjBrick Podcast and has interviewed scores of luminaries in the jiu-jitsu world such as Shawn Williams, Rolles Gracie, Kurt Osiander, Roy Harris, and MANY others.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Byron, for those readers who don’t know you yet, can you tell us how and why you got started in Brazilian jiu-jitsu? What got you addicted to Bjj? Who were your main instructors and what did they teach you about jiu-jitsu?
Byron Jabara: It was the year 2002, and I was a scrawny college kid with a big nose and little muscles. I was not spending much time with the ladies so spending time with sweaty guys that choked me seemed to be a good idea at the time.
I found John Castillo teaching BJJ at the time and I have been training ever since.
I was hooked when I saw Jason Bircher (a purple belt about my size) dismantle a large teammate of mine that had been toying with me since I started.
Seeing such a beautiful display of BJJ at a time of frustration was important for me.
Jiu-jitsu Times: You started and currently operate the excellent BjjBrick Podcast. How did you decide to get involved in starting and running the podcast? What drives you to do these interviews and contribute to the BJJ world through the internet?
Byron Jabara: My co-host Gary Hull and I always got in fun discussions about BJJ.
I had been a listener of many podcasts and I told him we should record our conversations and put them online.
The show has changed over the years. Now a large part of it is interviewing a guest.
I really enjoy talking to the various people in the BJJ world: competitors, coaches, practitioners, or people who have a story to share.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Of all the black belt and high-level guests you have interviewed, what common philosophies have you noticed? What bits of wisdom or philosophy do you hear time and time again from these great jiu-jitsu guys?
Byron Jabara: Failing in BJJ is just part of the process, just like in life.
It seems like today, some sports want every kid to win. There are no losers. Telling people that it is okay to fail has been a theme that has popped up again and again.
Don’t get me wrong, everyone wants their students to do well. But if you do fail, get up, dust yourself off, and get past it.
I have also seen a theme of transparency. When I ask a question or get advice for the audience, people are happy to help. I have never heard a response like “I can’t tell you that. It is my secret”.
The guests that come on the show to share their best info with the listeners for no personal gain, it has shown me that most of the people in jiu-jitsu want to help others.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Are there any stories or guests that really stood out and impacted how you think about jiu-jitsu? A quote that changed the way you thought? A different perspective that influenced your thinking on jiu-jitsu?
Byron Jabara: That is one of the most fun parts about doing this show: most of the guests have helped to sculpt the way I think about jiu-jitsu.
Off the top of my head, John Kavanagh was talking about how important it was to enjoy the training. He said “If I see someone who is not enjoying it [training], I don’t want them to be part of the team because it can be detrimental to the mindset of everybody else. So I will advise them to take some time off and do a different sport or activity for a while and try to come back with a fresh mindset.”
Here was Kavanagh from SBGi, coach of Conor McGregor, telling me that enjoyment was a huge factor to success. I was happy to hear it from a person in his position.
Also talking to Bernardo Faria and hearing the joy in his voice, you could just tell how much he loved BJJ and his life.
He told the audience that he wanted to win the absolute title at worlds. He said that he did not know if he could win but he would try as hard as he could and be happy with the results. I was so happy for him a few months later when he won.
I have also gained much wisdom from people like Brian Freeman. Brian is a blue belt that competes with a T4 spinal cord injury. Brian is not a world class competitor or an amazing coach, but I am proud to call him my friend.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Who is your dream interview at BjjBrick? What topic in BJJ would you most like to have a conversation about?
Byron Jabara: I have a list of names that would be nice to get on the show, but none of them are a dream interview. I am most excited to talk to the next person on my calendar. Sometimes a big-name person will be a great guest and sometimes a person I have barely heard of will crush the interview and leave me super motivated. I always like to hear about people’s different ideas for training methods.
I enjoy when a person who is viewed as very successful shares stories of hard times or failure, things that we all can relate to. If someone on the show seems to be larger than life, I often have the goal of making them seem human.
Jiu-Jitsu Times: You are passionate about teaching first-year jiu-jitsu students and introducing them to the art. You have some audio programs about “Your First Year in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu“. What is the focus of what you are trying to share with 1st year students? What are the most common problems that first-year students encounter?
Byron Jabara: First-year students have a bumpy road to drive. My goal in the audio book is to get people through their first year of training.
Most of the wrong turns and potholes can be overcome if the student can find joy in the training process.
People sometimes ask me “My first day of BJJ is tonight. What should I try to do?”
My response is normally, “Make a friend. That will make it easier to go back for day two.”
A student’s first year on the mats is probably the hardest.
The audio book should help keep people from making many of the common mistakes and find enjoyment on the mats.
No one can take out all of the the problems a student can run into, but I hope to make the road a little smoother.
I think more people would stay in jiu-jitsu if they could just get past their first year, and I am happy to help.
Jiu-jitsu Times: Are there any exciting projects that you are currently working on / competitions or events that you are preparing for ?
Byron Jabara: The podcast is the bulk of my internet work. It is fun, I learn a lot, and I enjoy it.
I have started doing videos recently. I have a good face for podcasting, but video, not so much. But it is fun to try.
The videos I am doing are called BjjBrick Q&A. People send me questions and I do my best to give them a good answer.
Something interesting about me that most people don’t know – I had a miserable junior high school wrestling career. It is funny looking back. It lasted one season.
My Dad would drive an hour or more every weekend to watch me get pinned in the first round. The rides home with my Dad I remember more than the wrestling. He would try to give me tips and advice, but he had no real knowledge of wrestling nor did I. He was not hard on me, but I wondered what was going through his head on these long drives.
That year, I ended up winning one match toward the end of the season. The kid kept pushing my head and face. I felt like I was getting slapped around and that made me mad.
“That kid made you mad, I think that helped you to win your match,” my father told me.
“I am glad I won, but I just wanted to get to a position where he would stop slapping me around,” I replied.
Looking back, it is just like in BJJ. It is good to be in a position where you can’t get slapped around.
To the readers out there, I hope you realize the positive off-the-mat benefits that BJJ brings to you and those you train with. So, I will close by saying stay sweaty, my friend.