|Photo: Mustafa Davis|
Hey, grapplers. By now, you may be familiar with our brother, Adisa Banjoko and his innovative and cleverly named techniques featured here many times. Adisa is a man of many talents and vocations: he's an author/journalist and activist and the founder of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, a non-profit organization promoting martial arts, chess and music. He's also a legit purple belt out of Heroes Martial Arts in San Jose, CA. He contributes to DSTRYR/SG yet again and we're again equally stoked:
Authors Note: This is actually an article that a little more than two years old. It was set to run a long time ago, and I lost it. Well guess what I just dug up? Just in time to, 'cause Denny killed it at the Gracie Nationals. If you are unfamiliar with Denny, he is on his way to being the Michael Jordan of the 10th Planet system. He is the first Black Belt under Eddie Bravo and when you see him fight and hear him speak, you'll know why.
At the age of 21, Denny "300" Prokopos is living his dream. He is the first Black belt under the controversial BJJ innovator Eddie Bravo. In competition, Denny carries the spirit of his Greek ancestors onto the mat, attacking endlessly until victory. The only thing deeper than his physical game, is his mind. His mind is constantly evolving on how to approach the "gentle art." Now he runs his own school www.10thplanetjiujitsuSF.com as he refines his game. In this interview we will talk about the evolution of his journey in jiu jitsu, his relentless work ethic and much more.
DSTRYRSG: I met you when you were a teenager, training under Charles Gracie. Talk to me about your path in jiu jitsu.
Denny Prokopos: So, I started training February 12, 2001 at Charles Gracies. I was in 7th grade when I first started doing jiu jitsu. My freshmen year in high school I started wrestling. When I was 16, I started training more no-gi. But when I was 15 I went to Eddie Bravos. Started taking private lessons with him.
DSTRYRSG: How did you learn about Eddie Bravo and how did that turn into training with him?
DP: I knew who Eddie Bravo was because he used to commentate KOTC. He also commentated a PRIDE FC that I watched. But I really took notice of him when he won the North American ADCC trials. Not just anybody can win those trials. I met him at the jiu jitsu nationals. A couple months after that I took a private with Eddie. I really liked him and I really liked his jiu jitsu. At the time I liked no-gi better.
People think because I'm a 10th Planet guy I hate the gi. Thats not the case, its a personal preference. If you like the gi, then do it. The gi defineately has its purposes. When I was 17, I officially became a part of his team. But at the time I was training with Darren Uyenoyama. He had just began his no-gi program. Obviously throughout the time I was training with Eddie. But I was also training with Jake Sheilds and Gilbert Melendez. I still train with those dudes. When I was 19, I won the Brown belt worlds. But actually I had a really bad knee injuries. I actually had two bad knee injuries and a bad lower back. The Dr.'s told me I'd never do jiu jitsu again. I met a Dr. name Peter Goldman. Basically in 5 days that dude made me healthy. You could call it a miracle. I had torn my LCL, MCL, miniscus and partially my ACL. That was just on the right knee. On the left knee I had torn my MCL and my LCL plus my lower back was wracked up.
DSTRYRSG: How did you sustain yourself mentally during the time of the injuries? Especially in a system that demands so much flexibility?
DP: I never stopped thinking about jiu jitsu. People say thoughts are things. Real talk, I'm always thinking about jiu jitsu.I'm always drilling in my head. I'm always running paths. As far as overcoming the injury I always had a lot of faith in myself. The universe brought me what I wanted and I wanted to be healthy.
DSTRYRSG: What was the lowest point and how did you overcome it?
DP: My lowest point was me in my bed. I could barely walk. I was hella depressed because I couldn't do jiu jitsu. On top of that my girlfriend had dumped me [chuckles].I was 18. I didn't know what the hell I was going to do. I was going to school at the time. But I always believed that I was going to be healthy. I always had a lot of faith in myself, in God...The universe. My family always supported me. That was the biggest thing. I had a lot of good people around me.
I believe everything happens for a reason. That injure happened so I could find myself. At the time it was like for a year an a half I was basically hurt. Before I got injured it was crazy. A couple weeks before that my great grandfather died. One of my best friends, died of cancer. Then I blew out my knee in my final league wrestling match of my junior year. I basically got jumped by my old trainer...But I love jiu jitsu. I never saw myself as anything else. My father has this saying in Greek, basically it means "Whatever you love you can achieve". I feel like my faith in jiu jitsu and all the love I got from all the people around me made me healthy. Thank God.
DSTRYRSG: In one of your matches in Krakow Poland, you were fighting a guy who put you in a kimura from the half guard. Rather than defend the submission, you passed his half guard!! Traditional minds say to defend the sub than go for the pass. What makes you think like that?!
DP: Number one, as a lot of people know, I'm really flexible. I'm not gonna say its impossible to submit me with a kimura- its possible. Its just difficult. I have very flexible shoulder. but here is the thing, if you look closely I was angled out in the right way. I had my hips out. And I hit that escape into a pass. I'm gonna give it to you in my terminology. I used a Capoeria type pass. Where I kick my left leg back. I realized that all I needed to do was get my hips out- then underhook. Also, I cut 30 lbs for that match. I walk around at 170. Another thing is that I'm not afraid of being submitted. I've been submitted like 7 times in competition. I'm not afraid of losing. Winning is a part of the process, but so is losing. When you lose, you learn from it. I dont' care if people thing that I suck. I don't care if people think that I'm good. I'm going to go out there and do my thing. If I get subbed, ok. It wasn't the first time. Probably won't be the last. Life goes on. I'll put it all on the line.
DSTRYRSG: What jiu jitsu guys inspire you right now? I mean you compete around the world, you got the new 10th Planet All Stars coming out- so who impresses you?
DP: Theres a ton of people! Off the top, aside from Eddie is Marcelo Garcia, Roger Gracie. Those two dudes are the best. Plus Jake Shields and Caio Terra. I think Jake is one of the best jiu jitsu/MMA fighters. He has an incredible mental game. Caio is one of the best technicians ever and pound for pound the best jiu jitsu dude I ever trained with. If he was a little heavier he'd be known as a Marcelo. Rafael Mendez, Jeff Glover, Braulio Estima- a lot of dudes impress me man.
DSTRYRSG: I don't understand how you became Eddies first Black belt NOT living in LA. He has a lot of other gifted students in LA who saw him more often.
DP: I think because I wasn't there, it made me focus and train harder than most people. My work ethic and my love for jiu jitsu. It may sound repetitive. I love fighting, I love jiu jitsu and I never stop training. Now I'm at a point where I dream and I train. My brain is never off jiu jitsu. Taking Eddies techniques really worked for me. Plus I really rep his system. I'm not talking one or two reps. I'm talking about thousands of reps. I know I can always get better. I can always improve and I always keep an open mind.
My jiu jitsu sucks compared to what its going to be five years from now. I know I can always get better. I can always improve and I always keep an open mind.
Side Note from DSTRYR/SG: Excellent work, Adisa. Thank you. Now, let's all watch some 10TH PLANET highlights from last week's Gracie Nationals, including plenty of good work from Denny: