Demian Maia: Flying the Flag of Jiu-Jitsu

How Jiu-Jitsu changed and the man who champions the Gentle Art wherever he goes   

Interviewee: Demian Maia

Location: London, UK

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We had the opportunity to sit down and chat with UFC welterweight and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu legend Demian Maia. Demian flies the flag of Jiu-Jitsu wherever he goes, and with 11 UFC submissions to his name, he is considered one of the greatest grapplers in MMA history. We discussed what it means to represent Jiu-Jitsu in the cage, the importance of teaching Jiu-Jitsu in connection with self-defense, and his plans to share the incredible knowledge he’s picked up over his successful career spanning more than 20 years.

Demian arguably represents Jiu-Jitsu better than any other modern-day MMA fighter. Therefore, we were curious to find out if spreading the art of Jiu-Jitsu and proving Jiu-Jitsu is still effective in MMA was a conscious goal of his when stepping into the octagon.

Photo by: UFC

“I think it’s more than that. When I started Jiu-Jitsu, my goal was to fight MMA, so I started Jiu-Jitsu as a means to an end, now after many years, I have realized that Jiu-Jitsu for me was the end and MMA was just the way to show Jiu-Jitsu to the world. It’s not that I just want to show the effectiveness of the art, but also to influence people to train Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I have so many stories of people telling me they started training after watching my fights, fascinating and emotional stories, and I realized that the UFC gives you a big platform to do something good.

“When you talk about mission, at first my goal was just to win, but as I got older, I realized I can use it to influence people to do something that I’m sure will change their lives, I’m sure it’ll make their lives better. I know this because I see it every day in my academy. That’s why I step into the cage, and I go with this sense of community.”

Demian spoke more about the influx of people who began BJJ following one of his fights and how the effects are felt across the Jiu-jitsu community. “I remember one day, I was in New York and was talking to my dear friend Tatiana Garcia, she is the wife of Marcelo Garcia, we used to train together here in Brazil. I was at Marcelo’s academy, and she said, ‘Demian, every time you win a fight on a Saturday, then on Monday, lots of people come here to train. I’ve heard this from other people, especially in my first 5 fights in the UFC, which I won all by submission. People started to pay attention again to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and it was so nice to be able to influence those people and help the businesses of other people grow.”

Photo by: Fox Sports: UCF

Given that Demian’s Jiu-Jitsu style is very much focused around self-defense, we asked him whether he thought modern-day BJJ has moved too far away from the origins of the martial art. “I think we cannot watch the championships and think about self-defense, championships are sport-Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s okay, that’s good, that is very high-level Jiu-Jitsu, specific for sport. I think we must not confuse sport-Jiu-Jitsu with Jiu-Jitsu. When people come to my academy to train, they first have to do a program of pure Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense, even on the ground. You’re not just doing guard; you’re also worrying about punches, headbutts, how to stand up, or even how to avoid going to the ground if needed. For example, if there’s an aggression of three or four guys against one guy, you don’t want to go to the ground; you’ll maybe want to control or take the back standing up, or maybe take the guy down and run away.”

Demian shared where he thought many academies go wrong today when teaching beginners. “I think that all the academies should teach Jiu-Jitsu for self-defense, at least in the first year. Then if the student decides to be a competitor and focus on sport, there’s no problem, but they should know Jiu-Jitsu as a martial art, not just as a sport, and that’s a mistake I think some academies make. They start too soon with the sports side. If a student trains for a couple of years and for whatever reason has to leave the gym, and they’ve just learned how to sit, do some omoplatas, or 50/50 sweeps, that would be great, but not for the guys at the beginning. Then you compare that to a student at an academy that teaches the martial arts side of Jiu-jitsu – even if they leave, at least they know how to defend themselves. And that’s very important because we cannot forget that we’re teaching a very good sport, it’s good for your body and health, but at the end of the day, we’re teaching and empowering people to learn how to defend themselves.”

Photo by: Marcus Steinmeyer

Demain also spoke about a new project he is working on with regards to a course and a potential instructional on Jiu-jitsu specific for MMA. “I really believe I have a lot to teach about this stuff because there are a lot of things I’ve developed, for example, the cage game, standing up against the cage, on the ground, etc. It’s a new martial art because in sport Jiu-Jitsu you don’t have this, in wrestling you don’t have this, all of the takedowns, all the going to the back is different, it’s something that I’ve adapted, and even mixed punches with the sport of MMA. We have to understand that MMA isn’t pure self-defense because you can’t use headbutts, for example, so the course that I’ve set is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu within the rules of the sport of MMA.”

Demian wanted to create a course for MMA fighters whose martial arts background doesn’t lie in Jiu-Jitsu. A course for Thai boxers or boxers who compete or train in MMA who may know how to defend a takedown and survive on the ground without knowing any of the fundamentals of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. “I set up the class to begin, the fundamentals of Jiu-jitsu for MMA. It’s not MMA; it’s Jiu-Jitsu for MMA. I was surprised by how many guys that just train sport Jiu-Jitsu came to this class because they think it’s more modern, it’s not, just the basic self-defense, like hair grabbing and things like that. It’s more like how to jab and shoot, pretty basic stuff, but I organized a system to make it clearer in their head. That’s the first step in my academy right now, but I want to do a complete course because there’s so much more I want to add to this system”.

Demian Maia has had a hugely successful career in both MMA and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has many achievements to his name. I think the most significant of all of these is his contribution to the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community. His commitment to the sport serves as an inspiration to many across the world and will continue to do so in the years to come.

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