Tuesday, January 19, 2010

THE TRUE PATH by Alan Zborovsky (Z-Force BJJ)

Hey, grapplers. DSTRYRsg is excited to bring you some great words of wisdom from a truly great grappler and veteran in our sport - my teammate and buddy, Alan Zborovsky, head coach and proprietor of Z-Force BJJ in Woodland Hills, CA. I started training with Alan, at Street Sports, back in 2000 - he was a newly ordained purple belt and I was a scrappy white belt with a year of NHB training. Alan is an innovative grappler and a tough, fierce comeptitor (and I'm speaking from my own experience having battled with him countless times over the years).



Alan Zborovsky

Starting Out in the Sport.
I started training Brazilian jiu-jitsu in 1996. Like most people back in the day, I got my first taste of BJJ watching Royce Gracie win UFC 1, 2 and 4 by defeating fighters that outweighed him by as much as 100 lbs. I was I was amazed at how effective it was.

From day one of my training, I was in hooked on and in totally in love with the sport. The effortless ability of the more advanced white belts and blue belts to roll me up like a pretzel and make me tap out made me realize BJJ's awesome power. As for the purple Belts and above - they were just untouchable in my eyes. From that point on I began training every day, aspiring to one day receive my blue belt. When I received my blue belt, about a year after I began training, there was no formal belt test. My coach and mentor, Renato Magno, just lined everybody up against the wall, gave a little speech and handed me my belt (as he'd done with many before me). In my 14 years of training, I received all my belts in the same informal manner (with the exception of the more formal ceremony held 6 years ago during which, Renato promoted me and two other [including Kenny Bond] to black belt). There was never a belt test.

No Substitute for Hard Training in Determining Level. My peers and I were never required to test for our belts because, in jiu-jitsu, there is no test that can properly determine ones level. Merely demonstrating (or, really, regurgitating) jiu-jitsu techniques that a person could learn in a magazine or a video is insufficient.

Instead, a true jiu-jitsu practitioner is tested every day - when he pours his blood, sweat and tears on the mat, rolls with people of different levels, and tries to harness and apply the techniques that he (or she) has learned in real time situations. The true test in BJJ is consistency, commitment, and rolling through the tough times that jiu-jitsu dishes out (e.g., injury, plateaus). In other words, there are no short cuts working up through the ranks.

When I started BJJ, not many people knew what it was. If I told a person I did BJJ, it wasn't uncommon to get a response like “My 10 year old son is a black belt in Tae Kwon Do." Now, with the popularity of the UFC and MMA in general, BJJ has become mainstream, which is both good and bad for BJJ as a sport. It is positive because it's brought a lot of well-deserved attention and respect to BJJ as a martial art, but also negative because certain individuals use the new found popularity of the sport to water down the ranking system in order to make extra money. For example, it's now possible to receive your BJJ belts online and some schools require students to pay for belt test in order to receive their next rank. Learning techniques online or through videos is a great supplement or training aid, but it's in no way a replacement for good, old fashioned hard training at a serious BJJ school. As for ranking up via online belt testing - it's simply impossible to gage the level of a student by just watching a video of his (or her)techniques and training. The only way to truly gage a person’s level is to consistently see how they train with multiple opponents of different levels.

Remaining True. As a BJJ black belt and owner of Z-Force BJJ Academy, and despite the current tough economics times, I promised myself that I would never do anything I believed would water down and do injustice to the sport I love in order to make an extra buck. Practices like online belt testing and requiring students to pay for belt testing should always be frowned upon. Instead, give the mat gods their due sacrifice - your blood, sweat and tears.


  1. Well said.

    Still, while I agree with the article, the problem with that approach is a lack of standardisation: rank is entirely down to the subjective opinion of a particular instructor, meaning that it varies from school to school.

    Do you think there is any way of solving that issue, or that it all evens out eventually anyway (e.g., through competition)?

  2. That's a good, counter-point, Can. But, I think the assumption is that instructors are legit and qualified to evaluate students.

    Further - the philosphy I (and many others)adhere to is that competition really is the great equalizer in the sport. And, not just tournament competition, but regular, day-to-day rolling with different players - that's how one level is measured. You really can't fool anyone in BJJ (for too long at least).

    That being said, I do think there is room for some kind of curriculum or minimum knowledge base that a student should have for each level. I wonder if I'd still be a black belt under such a system ...

  3. church. it all evens out. my thinking is throw yourself 2 the wolves at the tournaments if you have any most old school professors are cognizant of the different levels and what standard a bjj practioner should be able to rise 2...a even scarrier (spelling?) thought is even if you happen to be a top level competiting tourney guy it is guaranteed that you will have at least 20-50 dudes in the stands that if the put on a wouldn't probably even qualify for the event....anyhoo my default button is set to master renato magno...i would bet my life that he would never have promoted me to any belt if he thought that my ability couldnt rise to the occassion instantly. get on the mat and have some fun...hee haw kibble and bits...


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