Although I had been messing about with some Brazilian jiu-jitsu concepts in 1995 after seeing Royce Gracie on a VHS tape dominating at the early UFC’s, I began taking my BJJ training seriously in 1996 (luckily as a teenager I had trained in judo for a few years which helped). Outside of seeing Royce Gracie winning at the UFC, I was introduced first hand to BJJ in 1995 by my good friend Steve Boyd from the USA (who was then a blue belt under Rickson Gracie). Steve was the first person to teach me about the guard, and how to open it – he also annihilated me on the ground. I knew then and there, I had to find a way to learn BJJ properly.
I met BJJ black belt Chris Haueter in Reunion Island around 1996 where I had the opportunity to train with him (this was the year he received his black belt, Chris is also noted as one of the original “Dirty Dozen” the first American’s to earn BJJ black belts). This was my first experience rolling with a black belt, and through his help I was able to learn the core foundations that was missing in my understanding of the BJJ game. Looking back, those couple of weeks with Chris, are some of my favorite memories of learning jiu-jitsu.
In 1997 I hosted Professor Rigan Machado in South Africa at my academy in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. This was the first time a black belt had ever taught in South Africa (not to mention that no one even knew back then what BJJ was). Ricco Rodriguez also came with Rigan on that trip. Rico was a blue belt at that stage, but would go on to become UFC Heavyweight, Mundials World and ADCC World Champion. I was awarded my blue belt on that trip by Rigan.
In 1998 I traveled to the USA, where I spent time training with Rigan, and the Machado Brothers. It was on that trip I met Royce Gracie, and thanks to Steve, the living legend of BJJ, Rickson Gracie. In 1999, I traveled to Brazil where I had the opportunity to train with Alexandre “Gigi” Paiva, Marcos da Matta and many others. Meeting Carlson Gracie in person was definitely a highlight of that trip. It took a lot of work to train and keep up with BJJ back then, and some belts may have taken me longer to achieve than other people, simply because at that time outside of myself in Johannesburg, and Ludwig Strydom who lived in Cape Town (who by then was a purple belt under Rickson Gracie) – there were no other BJJ schools in South Africa. I started officially representing and teaching BJJ in South Africa, under the RCJ Machado Association in 1998.
In the subsequent years I ended up training with Haueter and Matt Thornton more, mostly because of my association with SBGi and were I landed up in the States coaching stand-up striking seminars (what I am mostly known for). I hosted Haueter (and Thornton) on several occasions in South Africa at my academy. I received my purple, brown and black belt (in 2006) from Professor Haueter. I parted ways with Haueter soon after.
In 2007 on my invitation, I taught my Annual Training Camp in Singapore alongside Master Rigan Machado (who over the years I had seen in the USA numerous times, and kept in regular contact with). My friend, Steve Boyd, the person responsible for introducing me to BJJ came along too. On that trip I spoke at length with Rigan about my goals and how I wanted to pursue BJJ going forward. It was at that time that Rigan brought me under his association, and recognized my black belt within that association and under his name. Master Rigan Machado has subsequently awarded me my 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th degree black belts.
I owe thanks to many people for inspiring my BJJ journey. To Tom Oberhue, Mike Chapman, Matt Thornton I owe you all a lot of thanks. Thank you especially to Steve Boyd, who if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have met some important key people in my development (thank you for twisting Rigan’s arm to come to Deepest Darkest Africa back in 1997). For the rolls with Forrest Griffin, Rory Singer, Adam Singer, Robert Follis (R.I.P) and so many others – thanks for helping me level up my game. I am truly grateful to all of you!