Chris Bright : Journey to the Black Belt
I recently caught up with Chris Bright who has just received his black belt grading in Jiu Jitsu. Chris is one of South Africa's icons when it comes to the art of combative sport. He is also the owner of Port Elizabeth Submission Fighting Academy (aka PESFA) and trains pro athletes such as Cameron Pritchard and Warren Allison who both participate in EFC World Wide.
So I wanted to know from Chris what his journey was like to getting the black belt, which I'm sure you all know is not an easy thing. Here's what he had to say.
Chris Bright : Journey to the Black Belt
I found BJJ purely by accident, it was never my intention to formalize what we did to conform with one style or another to be honest. Initially it was really only about utilizing techniques that worked for MMA and eventually the parallel lines drew closer to BJJ.
Although I now have a Black Belt in BJJ, the grappling I coach is really mainly self-taught and still mainly MMA focused. It’s largely Jiujitsu in format but also has elements from wrestling and catch wrestling.
I started quite late in life, in my mid 20's. Somewhere around 1997/8. Record keeping has never been a massive thing to me as you'll note by my Sherdog record compared to my actual.
I was looking for the most practical approach to the ground in mma and any full contact scenarios. I began with Judo and immediately picked up on a few habits that will be dangerous in situations that involve striking. Early on we just trained things that worked for us, many of which just through trial and error but eventually they really started drawing on Brazilian Jiujitsu.
I'm largely self taught but learned quite a bit from Ludwig Strydom early on. He is a pioneer in SA grappling and was ahead of his time in how he coached principles. Many of the things he showed me I still teach today. I've worked with many guys on a short term basis over the years but the best instructor is always experience.
He had a very cool Kung Fu coach kind of vibe and was a really intelligent guy, and he showed me early on that you don't need to be a meat head to succeed at MMA. In fact that wasn't the way. I respect the way he viewed the martial athlete and in some ways tried to follow suit through my career.
The belts I'm most proud of are my Purple who I received from Roger Gracie in the mid 2000's, and my Black obviously from Nic Gregoriades recently.
I've found that having a Family does cause somewhat of a time dilemma when it comes to training, I used to be more single minded when I was younger but now I really enjoy Family time. What I can suggest for guys coming into this position now is try involve your family and kids in Jiujitsu and instead of costing you time with them it can become additional bonding time as a Family unit. My students become my close friends and are an extension of my Family so spending time with them is always wonderful. I also find when I'm unable to train I become more irritable and must be far less fun to be with at home. When training or competition is good, I'm more balanced.
Its hard to quantify how much I enjoy training, BJJ has become my outlet. It provides balance in my life and if I'm unable to train I become very very irritable. I’m a very competitive person and don’t find motivation to do better hard to come by.
I think in its entirety my Journey to Black took me just over 15 years. Having said that a lot of my grappling time wasn't specifically BJJ and wasn’t in the gi.
A major obstacle to be getting by Black was the viability of affiliating with anyone that I didn't already know. I've met a lot of Black Belts over the years of various qualities and various personalities. But guys coaching in the US are generally very expensive to bring out and the guys who come cheap or in some cases frequent SA I didn't want my Black Belt from. I was also quite adamant that I wanted to work with someone currently relevant and progressive. My friendship with Nic has endured many years with no financial benefit to either of us and hes created an amazing thing in the Jiujitsu Brotherhood and provides amazing up to date coaching.
I've never been fixated on Belts whatsoever but it is a validation of all the years of commitment to grappling in general. Guys nowadays often seem to grade in BJJ under their coaches as either a marketing tool for their MMA careers or for their BJJ coach to claim market share in a particular country or town. I'm proud to be able to say no-one can ever say that of me. And the same for any students I grade. I've made a particular point of game bred grading and held back till I was comfortable moving forward with someone I have total respect for.
I won the Fight club SA title some years ago and I also won the LW belt for, I think Cage Rage where I beat a French Fighter. I didn't lose either of those belts, and I guess technically still hold both.
I was also lucky enough to compete in the K1 Ground Clash in London which was an open weight elimination tournament, I managed to reach the semis where I lost on points to a heavyweight UFC fighter (Mario “Sukata” Neto).
I also qualified for and participated in ADCC 2007 where I lost by submission to Andre Galvao in the first round. I'm looking forward to one or two more years of, as high a level of competition as possible before living vicariously through my students.
Article by Justin Smith
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