Why This Sensei Closed His Dojo To Become a MMA Fighter 🤯


– Imagine if you’re a sensei with your very own traditional dojo. (bright music) Until one day you decide
to just shut it down, close it, leave your students, and fly to another country,
to become an MMA fighter. (whimsical marching band music) That’s exactly what my friend Roccas did, and today he’s gonna share his
story, and more importantly, what you can learn from
his amazing journey. Stay tuned. (percussive hype music) ( hands clapping) What’s up, I’m Jesse
from karatebyjesse.com, AKA The Karate Nerd, and today I’m joined by my
very good friend Roccas. Thank you so much, for
being here in my dojo, and I think we should take
it from the beginning. Why did you start with a
traditional martial art but then decided to
just leave it all behind and become an MMA fighter? Like, take us back there. – Okay. Well, it’s quite a big story. Obviously, there were
many twists and turns, but basically, to put it simply, it began with me growing
up in a troubled city. – Okay.
– Where there was, a lot of crime. I was a peaceful kid all the time, and my friends got beaten up around me because we were all a
bunch of peaceful kids, – Okay. – But I never wanted to hurt anyone, back in the day (laughing), and I mean, I wasn’t a fighter, – No. – But I wanted to defend, I
wanted to defend my friends, and then that’s when I
learned about Aikido. – And so at what age did you start Aikido? – So actually I just turned 14. – Okay. – So my birthday just passed, and maybe a few weeks later, I was invited into an Aikido training, and I loved it from the day one. I always loved the samurai, I always loved the samurai sword, – The culture and stuff?
– The Japanese culture, exactly, exactly, and when I saw this, Aikido’s a lot about
that, you know the hakama, and there is sword work, and it’s just so aesthetic, I just like, I felt like, this is what I need to do. And that’s where I devoted
to it, and I spent. – [Jesse] So you completely fell for it. – [Roccas] Absolutely. – [Jesse] You became
passionate or obsessed, depending on who you ask? – Absolutely, I could say both, and I like to make this joke that I was still going to school, at that time, and initially
there was school and I did Aikido as the side thing. But eventually, it became I did Aikido and the
school became the side thing. – Oh, that’s exactly
like me with my karate. – And eventually when I turned 18 or I was close to 19, school was ending, and I needed to choose what to do. And I realized, I loved Aikido so much, – Yeah. – And it was a risky turn, I mean a risky decision. But I thought, you know
what instead of studying, I’ll become a live in student, Uchi-deshi,
– Yeah. – And go for my dream,
try become a full time Aikido sensei.
– Yeah – And that was the next stage. – So, if you don’t mind me asking, what did your parents think when you said, ” I’m going to be a full
time Aikido sensei”? – It was terrible (laughing), It was a disaster in their eyes. I came up with this idea, I think one day I came
down to my parents, I said, ” You know what, I won’t study, I’ll will go to Japan and
be a live in student”. – Did you go to Japan? – Actually I never did, I never ended up. The reason was, because it
was hard to get there for me, obviously financially and
everything, but at the same time. You needed a recommendation, and the dojo’s in Lithuania
didn’t have that at the moment. But initially that was my idea, and I told it to my mom,
and I remember to this day the look on her face. She was washing dishes and she
just stared at me, I think. Yeah I just terrified her, and then we began what
I call the long war. – The long war? – Yeah, for two years, I was trying to convince my parents that this is a good idea. They were trying to convince
me that it’s a bad idea. – Eventually they agreed, I have an older brother so they decided they said, ” You know what”. My brother Arness, his names Arness. “Arness is a normal kid
he did the right thing, let’s leave Roccas as
this experimental child and let’s see what happens, it’s like. They thought I will fail miserably, I would, I’d say I didn’t, eventually they became
happy with the result. But back then they thought
I’m making a huge mistake. – So, you ended up trying to
become a professional teacher, and that’s what you became. You had your own dojo, you had students, it
was your full time job, basically right? – [ Roccas] It was absolutely. – [ Jesse] And tell us about that time, what would a normal day look like? – [Roccas] In a way it was very intense, it was not only like a job it was also like a role. A 24, I would say it’s a 24/7 job. – Right, a lifestyle. – Right absolutely, and the the people, I had a very close
relationship with my students, it was not just I come teach
and I go home, and that’s it. But I was always there for them, we’d have meetings before, after we’d have special community events, it was really like a tight
community and obviously, I was in the leading role of it. – And so, you successfully
became a sensei, what did your parents say now? – It, there was the. – Did they still not really
believe you would last, or? – Actually, the turning point
was when they came down, I was a live-in student in Switzerland, an Aikido live in student. And they came down for my black belt exam, and that’s actually the
first time they really saw me do Aikido, although I was like, I don’t know, six or seven years into it. But then when they saw me doing Aikido, they saw the community,
they met my sensei. They really felt the passion for it and that’s the moment when
they started believing in me. And so when I came back
to my country Lithuania, and I started opening the dojo, they were completely supportive. They helped me build it, they helped me with the rent, they helped me with everything. And to this day, they have quite a strong
belief in what I do, and that really means a lot to me. – Yeah of course. So, you kept up this whole Aikido thing, you had your students, you were a sensei, but then
something must have turned, there must have been some
point where you said like. ” I’m not sure this is
the right path for me”. Because right now you’re an MMA fighter, and you don’t have your dojo. So what happened? – Well, it was a slow gradual transition, I knew already that Aikido,
or the way I perceive it, that it’s not a powerful
practice for self defense. And initially, I did start
Aikido for self defense, but I never had the confidence that I could deal with
a physical altercation. And I had ideas, that maybe in extreme
situations it would work, but it never gave me that
strong confidence of, ” I know exactly how to deal
with a physical attack”. And that realization was with me, and I realized that most of the. – So you always had a
little bit of a doubt in your mind about the street
effectiveness of Aikido? – Yeah, even when I was attacked, and I was attacked a bunch of times, especially in my teens.
– Oh shit. – The city I lived in was pretty bad, and I never knew what to do. I trained Aikido for three to four years. – You never managed to
use your Aikido skills? – Not really, like I would
freeze up in that situation, I wouldn’t know what to do and eventually I would just punch or go
for a kind of a random, instinctual attack rather
than, you know, grab me. – So, would you say that Aikido itself wasn’t the right thing for you, or that you were using
Aikido in the wrong way? What do you think, is
kind of the idea here? – It really depends on who you would ask, some people would argue more
for one side than the other. But, in my opinion, I’d say Aikido is not designed to do that. Maybe it can work in a certain
way, in certain situations. But Aikido is very, you
could say it’s very clean, the way you train on the
mats even the attacks, And this is even a common criticism, that even Aikido people talk about. That the attack are, it’s like
a Shomen Uchi, Yokomen Uchi, or the punches. They’re not, really
replicating the real attacks that you would be attacked
with in everyday life. Some of the grabs maybe, but just, the attacks and the way you train, there’s not much pressure. There’s a lot of co-operation. – Exactly, isn’t that one
of the points of Aikido, to like harmonize with the opponent? – Yeah, it absolutely is,
but the was I see it now, it’s just the initial stage that you would need to grow through. Because initially, it’s important to feel how
you blend with the partner, which is co-operating but then, nobody will co-operate with you, if they attack you, in reality . So you need to, and the idea behind it, is
that you will be able to, do it instinctually, but I believe that you
have to experience that, in safe environment. And that’s why, pressure testing, sparring, and that’s what, part of what MMA and Brazilian Jujitsu inspired me, later on. Because you have the pressure testing, which is I think lacking in Aikido. – So, there was this kind of, lack of fulfillment from Aikido? It had some parts that resonated with you, but also some stuff you felt was missing, from what you initially
wanted from martial arts. Which was essentially to defend yourself and be confident, right? – Very true. – So what happened then, how
did this transition happen? – So, I noticed, so I had an understanding that it’s not exactly what I though it is. I knew it’s not making
me into a good fighter, a good self defense expert. – So at this point, let
me just interrupt you, there were two possible paths, because I think a lot of
traditional martial artists, have this kind of lingering
thought in their heads that, ” Mm mm, this might not be the best thing. But I’ve invested so much time, and energy and money
probably, into this training. So, I just out on my blinders
and I stick to it right?” Or, you do what you did. – That’s a good point.
– So tell us about that? – That’s a very good point, obviously that thought
came into my mind as well. That I’m taking a big risk, by becoming vocal about the issues, and the way it happened is, I was already running, as a side thing. A YouTube channel for just
like Aikido tutorials, I explain it in a simple way, and people liked it, so
I kept publishing them. But, I would get comments
from my Kidoka that, “Oh you’re doing this technique wrong, and you’re doing this technique wrong”. And not to say they were,
I was doing it right, and they were wrong. But I would say to them eventually it doesn’t really matter that much. Because it’s not like, we’re really going to use that technique, if somebody attacks. And they were upset about it, they didn’t see the point that I’m making. And so I got upset about that, so much, I thought, I need to make
a video where I show that, Aikido is not exactly
what people think it is. And so I organized, what I called the Aikido
versus MMA sparring. – So, I found a professional MMA fighter, who was kind enough to spar
with me in a light manner, and where I literally
did my best to try to, do something against him, like wrist block or any other technique. And I have it on record, nothing worked, I knew that I will fail, but it was even worse than I thought, I could do nothing against him. Hello everyone, my name is Roccas, and today I’m in an MMA dojo. (soft techno music) – And, before publishing that
I realized, it’s a big risk, because it will expose , I was aware, that I’m
not that type of person that could deal with an MMA fighter. But, some of my students maybe had that illusion, some of my viewers
maybe had that illusion. So I realized, that I’m
completely exposing myself and the other way as you mentioned would be to pretend that nothing happened, and to not publish that video, But for me truth is very important. I feel like, if I would
have lied to myself, I wouldn’t be happy, and
happiness is important as well. I thought, “You know
what, this is a big risk, I might take some damage
from it, but it’s worth it”. – Now your on this path,
your video is out there, you’ve exposed yourself. There’s no turning back. So why not try to make your Aikido effective instead
of just abandoning it? And just you know, – So, that’s a great
question, and I did try, I did try for about almost a year, I tried cross training, and asking I used the online platform to find people who would know what they’re doing and help me out. In reinventing my Aikido, but after a years effort, I
looked at it and I realized. – This is shit.
– Yeah it’s like, first of all I’m not the right
type of person to do that. – You didn’t have the knowledge to. – Exactly, it’s like, if I would want to make Aikido efficient. I would have to be efficient at something which is already efficient. – How did your students
react when you said, “Hey guys, I’m done with the Aikido stuff, I’m going to be an MMA fighter”. – It was. – Did they feel kind of betrayed, or did they kind of see this coming? – It was such a big
part of their lifestyle, and I came out of nowhere, because I didn’t talk about, “I’m thinking about closing the dojo”. I made the decision in one
day, the next day I meet them, my core group and I say, ” Well you know what, I’m
planning to close the dojo”, and. – Did they start crying. – I think there were some tears, I mean there wasn’t like pure on crying, I saw the tears, especially
in some of the lady students. And actually that hit me
harder than I thought, I thought they would
be like, at that moment I was becoming dispassionate about Aikido. And I almost expected
them to be dispassionate as well and but it turned out they were more passionate than I thought. And so when I said, ”
I’m closing the dojo”. I hurt them more than I expected, so. So that was, that was a big
challenge, to later think, how can I deal with this to, to leave the community
in the best way I can. So that was not easy. – So let’s fast forward, you left Aikido, shut down your dojo, left your home country, and what was your first experience like, when it came to MMA. Did you get just grounded
and pounded into oblivion, or did you manage to use some of your
Aikido training to, cope? What was your experience? – So, right after closing
the school, the dojo. I went to the States, Portland where I did a six
months intensive training. – Like a crash course. – Yeah exactly, and that
was, the good thing, it was for regular people, it was kind of an intelligent
decision by myself, to not throw myself in the den of wolves. But just to start with everyone from zero, and so, the gym that I trained there, it’s very welcoming, very friendly. So actually, I wasn’t
smashed or destroyed. – [Jesse] No that’s good. – [Roccas] And so yeah,
so I gradually kind of, grew into the world of MMA, and I started loving it very much. – What did you discover about MMA, that you maybe did not expect? – It’s hard to say necessarily what, I didn’t expect from the MMA itself. Because I kind of had a
vision for what I want. But one thing which was
surprising for me to discover, kind of became this full circle from looking back to my childhood. Because I started off Aikido, wanting , as you actually said
wanting that self confidence, wanting to be a powerful fighter, but in the Aikido community, that’s kind of neglected,
that’s presented. In a way, again not
everyone would agree with me but often times it would be
presented as a bad desire. To want to be a fighter, it’s
seen as a negative thing. And I slowly dropped, wanting to be this peaceful warrior rather than just a fighter. But when trained MMA I started realizing, that
part was always in me. I actually always wanted
to be capable as a fighter, as a warrior, to able to defend
myself to be able to defend, protect others and training MMA, there’s so much pressure
there’s so much sense of danger, and you become used to it. That now, when I walk in the streets and I see a physical
altercation, becoming possible. There’s no sense of strong
fear that was there anymore, I feel like okay, there’s maybe there’s some sense of, there’s still some stress, but at the same time, I would
feel, I know what I would do. And if somebody gets attacked, I would step in with confidence. I would try to deal with that situation, while in the past. That ability was not
there with Aikido and so, I was, but mainly what surprised me was, the realization that actually
I always wanted that. But I suppressed it with Aikido, and then I rediscovered that desire and it’s very enjoyable actually. – So what has been your biggest challenge, when it comes to this transition from a traditional martial
art, to a more modern combat sports oriented martial art? – Again good question, it’s
almost hard to say, I think. – Like what do you struggle with the most? – I definitely am going through
a challenge right now, so, I guess that’s most on my mind. So the next step that I made after Portland, I moved to Dublin, to train at Straight Blast Gym, Ireland, which is one of the biggest
main gyms in Europe. With a lot of professional fighters, and I trained them and most of them have three to ten times
more experience than I do. – So they’re like black belts and you’re like a white or yellow belt. – Exactly, and I try to
deal with them toe to toe, and that means, 90% of the
time I quote on quote lose, which I think looking back. I never had too much trouble with that. But I think that when you
look at it a certain way. It is a big challenge to
anyone, including myself, is, in Aikido when you become good enough, you don’t get challenged much, anymore. Because, you know the techniques. – I’ve seen the videos,
people throw themselves, you just have to do this. – Yeah, you know exactly how to do it, they know how to fall, and. – There’s no real chaos involved, it is very pre-determined. – Exactly, and so you
learn how to look good and you’re the black belt, or the sensei, so nobody questions you, and you become comfortable at
being the winner all the time. And in MMA and Brazilian jujitsu, ‘I’m sure judo as well. There’s some martial arts
which have a lot of pressure, that some of them I never try. But them in that you are, forced to learn that you
will never be the best. That there’s always
someone better than you and that you’re forced to always
realize you’re limitations. Of how much you don’t know, and it’s a great, and very
healthy experience I find. – Yeah, humbling. – Humbling, yeah so,
it’s just, I feel like you always have to find a balance. You still have to win some, lose some, and sometimes when you keep on
losing and losing and losing. That’s a tough challenge, so. – The negative spiral. – Yeah and it’s, it just takes a lot of
mental fortitude as well to, say, “Okay, I’m learning,
I am developing”. You know if I get tapped, if I get chocked, arm barred, whatever then I’m still learning something. It’s not a loss, it’s
a win, but it’s tough, it’s not an easy process. And it’s something that you go through in Aikido for a year or two in the beginning, because you don’t know the techniques. You’re the newbie, But a few years down the
road you keep on climbing up and the challenge just
almost disappears, so. That’s a big challenge. – And then you decided to do a cage fight? – Yes
– Right? – Yes, that was there. – And how did that go? – It was an extremely
interesting experience. Just going into the cage,
they literally lock you there. And it’s just such and
interesting realization, because you’re both standing there, two individuals, realizing that, and that realization hit me that, the only reason we’re there
mainly is to hurt each other. That person is there
to only, to defeat me, to hurt me bad, and my purpose. Is for their, obviously there’s more, greater purposes, you know. You’re fighting against yourself, your overcoming challenges. But if you break it down,
in the most simplistic way, the reason you’re there
is to, beat each other up. And that’s just nuts. (Jesse’s
laughter drowns out Roccas) Mental, and the funniest thing is, you make that decision on your own, nobody forces you to go
there. You go on your own, well to the cage to have that
experience for three times, three minutes, and it’s very
interesting to go there. – But as somebody who
started martial arts to, defend yourself. Now you’re forced to,
also to attack somebody and that’s the opposite
of defending yourself. Because you’re not just
waiting for him to do stuff, your actually actively
trying to hurt somebody. Is that mindset shift difficult or do you, kind of enjoy that
killer instinct feeling? – You know there’s a great phrase that the coach I’m
learning from right now, John Kavanagh, he said,
he was defining violence, because many people consider
MMA to be very violent, but I liked his definition of violence, that violence is when you’re imposing, when your hurting someone
against their will. And this is kind of an interesting twist, it makes sense, that when
you’re stepping into the cage, you’re both there willingly. Technically it’s not violence
– No – You’re not beating up the
other person against his will. He’s there to to that, – And there are rules, referees of the sport. – Right, so you’re not trying, there’s no, I never had that, even then I didn’t have
that killer intention, or killer feeling, or
the sense of I want to, destroy him or anything. But there, the sense that the other, person was almost like a metaphor for me. It was more of, I’m fighting, this is a challenge, that I need to overcome. So it wasn’t personal, it wasn’t like I hate you, or, And, I think that, that helped, so every punch I landed, or any other technique that I did, was, as strange as it sounds, but I honestly felt like that
was for the greater good. To show, that it’s possible to do that, that anyone can step into the cage, and you need to, if you’re facing challenge,
you need to do your best, no matter what happens, so for me it was more of a
metaphor, than an actual, “I go hurt this person”. And I think that helped me, still feel like, in a way that was, as strange as it sounds, in a way there was
still some Aikido there. The sense of perspective,
it wasn’t about my lens, it wasn’t about hurting the other person, it was more about the challenge itself. – Are there other, whether
it’s a mindset thing, or a tactic, or technique or strategy. Is there anything that you feel like you’re bring into
your new MMA journey. From Aikido that you feel is still useful. Even though it’s a completely
different kind of martial art. Except the break falling. – Break falling is awesome, I
think that’s one of the best things in Aikido. I do recognize certain
abilities from Aikido coming in. So, like managing the distance,
or feeling the distance, Also the ability to understand, to perceive the body, mechanics, because in Aikido. There’s so many intricate,
complicated techniques, There’s so many things
you need to memorize, and position your body in
the most intricate ways. In the relationship to another person, that when I’m shown a
Brazilian jujitsu technique or, a boxing technique or anything, my mind is able to see and
to replicate that, my body, so it’s my personal opinion,
and hopefully I’m not wrong. But I feel like that make
me a very good student, because I’m able to take what I see, and replicate it because I
did it for such a long time, with Aikido. So the sense of just body awareness, understanding how my body works, how the body of another person works, and I think that becomes a huge advantage the more and more that I train. And that comes obviously from Aikido. – Do you have any recommendations for other traditionalists out there, Who maybe are searching
for something else? – I think that the bursting
of the bubble, which I know.

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