GK: Let’s start with something simple. Could you tell me about your beginnings in Ji-Jitsu? How did you start training BJJ? Tom DeBlass Interview
TD: Yeah, I was 20 years old and I was actually involved with track and field. I was much smaller, and I tore the ligaments in my ankle. And I remember watching the UFC and thinking that it was pretty interesting. So, I found a Ricardo Almeida black belt, well actually, first I found this local school by me because I wanted to get involved in training.
I started training there for like six months and then I heard about Ricardo Almeida. One of his black belts happened to be in the town over from me. So, I started training with him like six months in, and then from him, I made the transition to be full time with Ricardo. So, I was with Ricardo from white belt to black belt. I was always an aggressive kid but I never wanted to fight for no reason, so I always wanted a purpose. I found that Jiu-JItsu satisfied those needs for me, you know? I’ve been hooked ever since.
GK: There’s a rumor going around about you, that you’re pretty much un-submittable. I know it’s more than a rumor so could you tell us if there’s any basic concept or principle you use to avoid getting submitted, both rolling and in competition?
TD: Nah, I can get tapped man. I say with leg locks, I don’t get tapped, my feet are pretty flexible and they’re pretty big. I’ve been submitted two times in competition over a 17-year span, so it is very hard to submit me. My basics are very good, and, the thing is that I recognize danger immediately. The thing that I tell everybody is that most people get submitted because they don’t address the situation immediately. So, if someone gets a grip on me, they’re looking for something, I’m immediately addressing that grip and I’m never thinking it’s OK. Except for leg locks. I’ll let people get to the leg lock position and try because then it gives me the opportunity to work my own offensive leg locks.
I wouldn’t say thatI’mm un-tappable, you know, everybody could get tapped for sure. But, I have pretty sound basics, my foundation is very very strong and it is very hard to do anything to me. Like, the matches that I’ve lost have been from people kind of just holding me, winning a decision, they haven’t done much as far as passing my guard. I think that in 17 years competing I’ve given up less than 12 points. I credit that to solid basics, my foundation and my framing ability is pretty good.
GK: Speaking of concepts, conceptional Jiu-JItsu seems to be all the jazz lately? Do you prefer going the conceptual way or do you like to rely more on specific techniques?
TD: I like concepts because when I teach a seminar, I may teach 50 techniques and you might only get four, but you remember the concepts forever. The last time I was at ADCC Finland I talked to a bunch of ADCC referees and we spoke a different language. But they were able to understand my concept, they were able to understand what I was trying to get across. So, I believe in concepts. What I do when I’m telling someone to go do a technique but ask why are you going to do it? Why is it working? What is behind the technique that is making it special? So, I do believe in concepts much more than I believe in just showing a technique and telling people to go and drill it. Tom DeBlass Interview
GK: Let’s talk about your latest DVD. It is all about the butterfly half guard. I got the DVD and I really like it because I enjoy working from the position. Why do you prefer this guard over other half guard variations? Tom DeBlass Interview
TD: The thing is I’ve always competed in the heavier weight class. Even though I am a fairly big guy, like 225/220 lbs, the guys I compete against are much heavier. SO, the half guard, I felt, was a position where I could fend off bigger, stronger opponents. It was a very good defensive position where I could mount some offense. But, what’s been happening lately is guys have been just not trying to pass. They’ve been kind of just like keeping posture up, pushing me away and not letting me get underneath them. So, I had to develop another strategy. That (strategy) was the butterfly hook in. I could stop all the same half guard attacks, but when I have the butterfly hook it gives me a little bit more offensive Jiu-Jitsu than just using the half guard. Tom DeBlass Interview
I feel there is a little bit more attacks I could have from there, I have a better chance of elevating my opponent, I can hip heist a little easier which I went over in the DVD. There are a few different things that I can do from the butterfly half guard rather than just the half guard. When you get a really big strong guy it is hard to use the knee shield across, when they collapse all their weight on it. With the butterfly half guard, the more square up your knee is, you can hold more weight. Because when the knee is across the body, they can collapse it. When it is pointing up, it’s very hard to collapse.
I believe there is a time and a place for both, half guard is still my main thing for sure. I love half guard, I love deep half guard, I’m most comfortable there. But that is a problem, just be comfortable. I find myself sometimes getting lazy, not looking for a reversal, kind of just keeping the person in my guard. You have to make things happen, you know?
GK: It is an awesome DVD, it’s doing wonders for my game since I’m a smaller guy. It is really working for me. You run Ocean County BJJ as we all know. You are a very successful academy owner. Any tips on your personal philosophy of running an academy?
TD: Yeah, you have to really care about your students, you can’t do it for the money, you have to do it for the love. I always wanted to be financially comfortable but I didn’t go to Jiu-Jitsu to be rich. I went into Jiu-Jitsu to help change lives and to share a passion I truly love and believe in. So, I think if you care about your students the sky is the limit. Of course, thigs have to be run professionally, you have to make sure the business aspect is in line. For me, I don’t really look at myself like running a business, rather than running like a culture. Tom DeBlass Interview
I let a lot of things slide that maybe other academy owners won’t but I understand that life isn’t easy for people. So, it’s hard for me to turn somebody away if they want to train, but they can’t afford my price. If they can afford something lower it’s hard for me to say “no, you can’t train”. As long as people are honest with me, and they have a good heart, I do my best to accommodate them. I’d say the first thing to running a school is to truly care about people, to truly care about the students that walk through the door.
GK: Speaking of which, I coach kids classes in our Academy. I know you were a teacher, and I know you also have a kids’ programme, so, any tips there?
TD: So, the kids’ programme for me, I want it to be all positive. Of, course we have to keep them in line, we have to make sure they’re learning, but I want it to be a positive experience. I don’t put too much pressure on my kids. My daughter just started training yesterday, she’s 7. She trained three years ago and then she didn’t want to train and I didn’t push her, because Jiu-Jitsu is going to be a part of her life forever. So I waited until she asked to train and now she’s back training. Tom DeBlass Interview
I think it is just important that parents keep it fun for the kids, I think sometimes parents and instructors get a little bit too intense and they demand too much. They’re just kids, man. At the end of the day, they want to please us. They’re not going to be perfect, they’re going to act up, sometimes we’re going to have bad days. And, it is ok to correct them, but they need to know that you care about them. Any game I implement is directly persuaded by Jiu-Jitsu movements. It is not just like a random game that doesn’t make any sense. I mix it up with technique and some games, I try to keep it fun.
At the end of the day, kids feed off your energy, so if you’re positive, and you let them know they’re messing up, like, it hurts your feelings. You know, they don’t want to hurt your feelings. I find I have a better chance of getting through to a child, rather than yelling at him, like letting him know he’s upsetting me, you’re making me feel bad. And when you talk to kids rather than like little kids you have a much better chance of getting through to them. Because they’re people man, they’re just little people. We were all kids, and i remember what it feels like. I remember specific things as a kid, that happened to me, good and bad. I don’t want to be that bad memory in a child’s brain.
GK: You’re currently 36 and you’re physique is impressive. You also have a DVD out on nutrition and strength and conditioning. A word or two on your S&C routine? It is short but intense one as far as I understand? Tom DeBlass Interview
TD: I’m kind of switching things up. I did a lot of work with just a 45 lbs plate, like get-ups and stuff like that. Lately, I’m doing a lot of isometric work which wasn’t on my DVD. I’m pushing on walls for extended periods of time, I’m pushing against my hands, I’m pulling against my hands. Everything in Jiu-JItsu is very isometric. I fast daily so my first meal generally isn’t until 12 PM daily, or sometimes 1 PM. I stop eating around 11 PM. It helps me a lot to stay fairly lean, I’m in pretty good shape. Tom DeBlass Interview
I try to do compound movements, I try to get every body part, every time I exercise. I’m probably doing something like 4 days a week. If I have dumbbells I put them all the way to the ground and pressing them all the way up, just exercises for JIu-Jitsu that I think are helpful. Deadlifts, cleans, squats I haven’t done them in a while like I said I’ve been doing more isometric exercises. Plate lifts, if anyone likes to Google “Tom DeBlass plate lifts” or “tom DeBlass Jiu-JItsu conditioning”, you’ll see some of the things I do with that and I feel like that was very very helpful for me.
GK: You’re still very active on the competition scene. Last time around, you won the ADCC trials in North America. Thinking about competing in the trials again, and eventually the ADCC next year?
TD: I won the trials three times, I won’t be doing them this year I’ll just be running them, organizing them, being the promoter. I do plan on competing in ADCC again. I’m hoping that I get the invite since I won the trials a few times. I’ve got to give someone else the chance to win the trials, I won three times already. I want to commit fully to running them and really dedicate myself to focusing on a good show. I ran them last time and competed. Thank God I won, but that was a really, really stressful time. Running them and competing was a very very stressful thing.
I feel I’m better than I’ve ever been, but I’m not looking to compete as much as I used to. I like to compete once in a while, I have other things that I’m focusing on. The stress of competition, it can take it out of you a little bit. Of course, ADCC is always in my heart, I know it is the best competition in the world. I won the first trials in 2009, second 2014 and then 2016. So, I’ve been there close to a decade and I’ve seen a lot of changes. It’s great to be a part of it.
GK: Speaking of which, could you tell us about your mindset when you compete? I mean, it is the most important thing, after all when you step on those mats and you have another person standing against you. WHat’s going through your head, how do you approach that specific problem? Tom DeBlass Interview
TD: They need to implement wrestling, and use their submission awareness not to get caught, to pass the guard to advance position. Ultimately, they need to use their Jiu-Jitsu to put their opponents in compromising positions in order to strike and hurt them on the ground with their fists and elbows. We see certain people that are really great at using their body and their leverage, like Khabib (Nurmagomedov). He is a world class wrestler, but he’s got submission awareness. He is a grappler. It is important man, if you’re not sharp on the ground. It’s not going to be easy.
GK: Obviously, you’ve always had a Renzo Gracie relationship through Ricardo Almeida. Were you always training with them out there in the blue basement, as it’s often referred, or did it happen later on?
TD: Always with Renzo, I would always be at Renzo’s, I had a close relationship with Renzo. I would always train with him when he was getting ready to fight. I was his main training partner when he was fighting BJ Penn. Like, I didn’t hook up with Danaher until last year. I always knew him, we knew each other, we respected one another but I’d never train with him until a year ago. But Renzo has always been my guy since I’ve been a 19-year-old kid and now I’m 36.
GK: A couple of very quick often asked questions before we finish. Heel hooks for beginner, yes or no? Tom DeBlass Interview
TD: Defense yes, offensively no. You have to be able to defend, so you have to recognize danger and you have to be able to get out of those positions. Do I think you should work them offensively? Not so much, no. Not as a white belt.
GK: Do you prefer to train and/or compete in the Gi or without it?
TD: Without the GI man. Our team is more No-Gi. I stayed in the Gi until brown belt and then I took it off. I enjoy No-Gi much better. It’s just easier man, leaving with a sweaty Gi, it’s hot, traveling and bringing the GI. With No-Gi, you have a T-shirt and shorts and you’re good to go. That’s what I like the most about it, the convenience. But, I do think the Gi is very important.
GK: Tom, let’s wrap this up. If there’s anything you’d like to say to all the Jiu-Jitsu people out there in the Grappling Kingdom?
TD: First of all I appreciate all the support I get, and I hope to keep inspiring people the best way I can. I feel like the only thing special about me is I kept showing up and I just worked hard. I never go upset when I had a bad day. I’d get upset but I would never let it discourage me. Tom DeBlass Interview Tom DeBlass Interview
If you’re a competitor in North America ADCC trials North America coming up, make sure you do not miss it. I know it’s a very, very stressful thing and I do believe it is a very very tough tournament. Not believe, it IS a very tough tournament to win, but the experience you get is priceless. Overall, just have fun, enjoy the mats, be thankful. Try to find a reason to be thankful every day you’re training because life is tough. If we constantly beat ourselves up, we’re going to get discouraged. We have to be our own biggest fan, we have to believe in ourselves. And, have fun, enjoy life, God bless you guys and I appreciate you guys.