As I mentioned in my previous post, I began my formal journey in Gracie Jiu Jitsu on November 4, 2006. I should back up, though, and mentioned that a week prior to this introduction, I walked into the Academy while Professor David Adiv, one of Royler Gracie’s U.S. Representatives was conducting a seminar for Team Evolution under team Royler Gracie-David Adiv (RGDA), the team with whom I train. I remember walking in while David was in the middle of meticulously explaining something, and I felt pretty sheepish walking in, so I quickly turned to leave. Before I could turn around I felt a hand on my shoulder, and this young man, who I at first thought was a kid, stopped me and pulled me over to the side. “So what’s going on, bro?” he asks, and I tell him why I’m there. This was my first encounter with Darren Branch, a purple belt under RGDA. Darren’s about 5 foot 6 and weighs about 140 pounds, fully clothed, and is a prime example of how affective Gracie Jiu Jitsu can be. For those readers who are unaware of the Gracie Family and its founding of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you can read more about its origins by visiting for I don’t want to waste blog space giving a historical run-down of this Art and how it came to be. Nevertheless, the philosophy which undergirds GJJ is that through leverage and technique, a smaller individual can affectively defend himself against a much larger and stronger opponent/assailant.
Darren encouraged me to hang out and listen to the seminar, but I felt a little out of place. I did promise him that I’d come back, though, and he gave me his word that he’d be there ready to help me. I asked him if he thought that my blindness would present any problems for me learning GJJ, and his response was: “Nah, bro—it’ll be easy!” This guy, who I had never met, then hugged me and told me that he was “really happy that I came by”! I was a little wigged out about this at first never having met the guy before—is he coming onto me, or does he really love GJJ that much???? I was relieved to have quickly discovered that it was indeed the latter. Darren lives and breathes Gracie Jiu Jitsu.
I arrived at Team Evolution’s Academy wearing a pair of sweats and a T-shirt. I'm about 6 feet tall, and at the time, I was weighing in at about 225 lbs. I’ve since shed approximately 30 pounds as a result of the Jiu Jitsu workouts, some diet modifications, and changing up my strength training program a bit. My first class was an amazing experience. We didn’t work on anything too difficult—just some basic drills working arm bars from the guard as well as a little bit of pummeling and takedown defense from the feet. The two concepts I came away with from that class were “posture” and “base”. What struck me about the class was how helpful everyone was, and how much everyone enjoyed being there. I was, and still am, always impressed with Darren’s attention to describing moves and techniques in such great detail, that even if you can’t see him perform a given technique, his teaching style lends itself to understanding what he is showing. And, he was so great about coming over to me after each technique and personally showing me what he was doing. I’ve taken classes from some black belts who don’t pay attention to a fraction of the detail that Darren shows.
As if the formal learning part of the class wasn’t enough of a work-out, the “rolling” portion was even more invigorating, and somewhat painful. So, you need to understand that at this point, I’m still not quite a believer in this Gracie Jiu Jitsu thing. Darren must of sensed this because he walked over to me and asked me if I wanted to roll (spar) a bit. At this point I’m thinking to myself: “I’m really gonna smash this little shit.” Well, it didn’t exactly go down that way. We both lock up on the feet and Darren lets me take him down. He immediately wraps his legs around me in the “full guard” position and chokes me out—it was either “tap out” (submit) or fall asleep in this small man’s lap! We engage a 2nd time. This time, Darren took me down rather unceremoniously, quickly gained a dominant position in “side control” and arm barred me. What I lack in technique, I do make up for in persistence, so I come back for a third time. This time, Darren was quite a bit more forceful with the takedown, got a full mount, and arm barred me again. At this point, I’m both amazed and a little bit dejected that this guy who I outweighed by over 70 pounds was owning me on the mat. He walks up to me afterward and puts his arm across my shoulder and I say: “That didn’t go so well.” What Darren said next totally made me feel better and set the tone for my participation in future classes. “It’s not that it didn’t go so well. You’re just a big, tough guy who doesn’t know anything!” This really made me laugh, and drove home what Gracie Jiu Jitsu means to me. Leverage, technique, and focusing on the principles of Jiu Jitsu vs. just learning individual moves makes this Art the most affective fighting system to which I have ever been exposed. It was a great day, and one that will be forever etched into my memory. The greatest thing about it was, when I stepped onto the mat for the first time, my blindness didn’t matter. All that mattered was that I was there to learn, and had a great group of guys to help me learn. I work very hard now to make any new guy who comes to the Academy feel like I felt that first day, and do whatever I can to make them comfortable and help them learn. That’s what Royler Gracie-David Adiv Jiu Jitsu is all about. To learn more about RGDA on the web, visit To visit Team Evolution on the web, go to
Larry, The LTrain