Bjoern Friedrich

My martial arts journey


Bjoern Friedrich

Me being a 10 year old overweight martial arts fan;-)

Martial Arts in my childhood
I will never forget the day that influenced my live forever. I was a kid with my parents in a big shopping mall. I was walking around a corner and suddenly there was this bookshelf in front of me with all these different martial arts books. Karate, Kung Fu, Hap-Ki-Do. This was in the early eighties and martial arts still had this mysterious exotic flavor. I was stunned by all the books and my first thought was: I want to learn all of this. I remember this day till today because I literally had no idea about martial arts until I found this bookshelf in this shopping center.

The weeks after this incident I was talking everyday to my mum telling here that I want one of these books. Finally after days of asking my mum bought me a Hap-Ki-Do and Karate Self Defense book. This was the beginning of my journey and 35 years later I am still here to grow, excel and learn it all.;-) My real training began when I was starting Judo around 8 and Karate when I was 12. Even so I liked the training I was still looking for more and so I started Wing Chun when I was 14. Like for many of us Bruce Lee was my hero and doing Wing Chun would be quite a help to achieve the same skills.;-) At least that was in my 14 year old mind.;-)

The beginnings of BJJ – The day that changed everything
A few years later I was around 17 years old I found an ad in a German martial arts magazine that was selling “Gracie in Action 2” video cassettes. I heard about the Gracies but I never saw pictures or let alone videos of them so I was really curious and ordered the cassette. I will never forget this day. It was a grey, cold and rainy November day and my mum had to go to the post office to get the package. I couldn´t wait and when I started watching it I only had one tought in my mind: That is exactly what I want to do. It was like I found what was missing from my training and I instantly fall in love with Jiu Jitsu.

I was still doing Wing Chun but in my young heart it was over. BJJ was my love and it was just a matter of time until I would quit Wing Chun to completely focus on Jiu Jitsu. Today I am thankful for my Wing Chun experiences and I learned a lot for my later training but at that time, BJJ was the thing I wanted to learn even so we didn´t had teachers here in Germany. I was one of the few guys training BJJ in Germany in these days and most of my

Training in 1999 or 2000 with BJJ Blackbelt Richard Braga

information came from instructional cassettes and magazines in these pre-internet days. I trained with my friends, we rolled a lot and in the late nineties this become really professional We trained 5 days a week 2 hours BJJ and one hour either Running or Calisthenics. Also I loved BJJ I never trained in the Gi because Sport BJJ wasn´t something we care about. I remember the first time I heard about Sport BJJ was when Royce fought Wallid Ismael which was 1998. Before that we never heard much about it.

In 1999 I met Richard Braga who was a young Blackbelt from Sao Paulo who was working in Germany for about 2 years. We started training together and became friends and it was a real good time. In 2002 I organized the biggest BJJ Seminar ever in Germany with Royce Gracie and at the end I had to fight for my Blue belt against others guys and Royce was counting the taps;-) Doing that in front of a legend was really a good experience that influenced my ideas about belts and belt testing forever. Training with Royce was awsome but it was not something I could do on a regular base and Royce even stated that he is always traveling and that it is not possible to train with him frequently.  After Royce left I was on fire. I was a 25 year old Bluebelt and I wanted to learn more. I wanted to live Jiu Jitsu and so I was looking for a teacher that will guide me on that journey.

Getting my brownbelt from Roy Harris in 2007

My journey with Roy Harris
I got in contact with Roy Harris and brought him to Germany and when his seminar started I was in for another awakening. The seminar was great and I really enjoyed myself and while we had a little break Roy asked me if I wanted to roll. Like I said I was 25, healthy, 210 pounds in shape of course I wanted to roll. Roy was 42 at this time but with 25 I had no idea what 42 feels like and how different it is from 25.;-) Anyway we started rolling and was happened next was unreal. I wanted to play guard and all I felt was this insane pressure, I got my guard passed, ended up in Side Control bottom and getting crushed, finally tapping to a bent armlock or Arm Triangle choke. I don´t remember;-) This happens 3 or 4 times and even so I tried hard to do something Roy was just playing with me without even loosing his breath. When it was over I had a big smile in my face and knew I found my teacher.:-) Today I am around the same age Roy was at that time and I feel even more admiration for what h was doing back then

I trained with Roy 3-4 times a year in Germany. I was putting in all the money I had to get better in BJJ and luckily my career as a Fitness Coach doing DVDs and TV appearances went well in these days so I had the money to live my BJJ dream.;-) In 2004 I was tested to purple belt and in 2007 to brownbelt. Testing with Roy is always an event. You have to earn your belt and it feels like a torture when he gave you his extreme pressure.

In 2003 I was able to win the Open European Submission Wrestling Championship and in 2006 I became the “Submissao” champion which was a big tournament here in Germany. Even so I was quite successful when I fought I never liked competing I was able to give it all on the mat but my mind was a mess in the weeks before the fights. I could only think about fighting and my wife who was my girlfriend at that time was going crazy. It was a good experience and I learned a lot but like I said it wasn´t just my favorite part of Jiu Jitsu.

2008 was a strange year. I was 31 years old and at the peak of my physical level I would say and suddenly at my 31th birthday I was rupturing my biceps tendon while training stand up striking. When an injury happens live will slow down. I really think the easiness of the youth ended at this day however I learned a lot and made 3 big decisions. My first decision was I will merry my wife which I did a year later.:-) My second decision was to start with the russian martial art Systema which I did in October 2008 and my last decision was to leave my teacher Roy Harris for various reasons.

Actually my training and approach to BJJ was a mess. Even so I was not competing in these days I was obsessed. I was not training for fun or doing the stuff that feels good. I was only focusing on performance. I was doing what I have to do. Drilling, etc. pumping iron with Kettlebells like crazy (that’s why I hurt my biceps I think) all with the idea to become a better fighter. After my injury I was done with that. I didn´t even want to do BJJ anymore. I did not want to learn techniques and strategies, rules, etc. I wanted to become free. I wanted to free my body and mind, be like water, just able to adapt and without resistance. That´s why I started systema and that´s also a part of why I left my teacher Roy Harris.

Systema – My search for freedom
In October 2008 I met Alex Kostic martial arts master form Serbia who lived for a long time in Canada and trained with Vladimir Vasiliev. Kostic introduced me to a new world. It was all about improvisation, breathing, relaxing and playfulness and I loved every bit of it.
Later that year I met Torsten Kanzmeier who was a master of internal boxing a Kung Fu style that was pretty interesting as well and worked perfectly together with my Systema training. I was mostly training these too styles and reduced my BJJ training to rolling. Usually I was training for 90 minutes and followed this with a 30 minutes rolling session. Often flow rolling with lots of movement and no pressure at all.

Training with Alex Kostic in Belgium 2008

For me this was perfect I learned a lot as a human being and an athlete but honestly I wasn´t able to apply this stuff in real sparring in these days. Also I was teaching a lot of this stuff to my students most of them didn´t understand what I was talking about and I lost quite a few students because of my new approach. Today I would say it was all perfect and it helped me a lot I had to go through this radical approach only to find more balance later in life. Besides my BJJ training I was focusing a lot on Ashtanga Yoga and in 2010 I was nearly not doing any strength training but mostly Ashtanga Yoga. Both Yoga and Systema put heavy emphasis on breathing and since I was always obsessed with breathing techniques this combination helped me a lot to understand my body and mind.

I continued my BJJ training even so my mind wasn´t 100% in it and I trained from 2009 till 2013 with Grandmaster Joe Moreira who is also Roy Harris teacher. Joe awarded me my Blackbelt in 2010 which was a big honor for me, after doing BJJ for more than 15 years at that time.In these days I was also training with BJJ Blackbelt and Fitness Coach Steve Maxwell. He taught me his Kettlebell, Bodyweight and Mobility System and I learned a lot about how to train in your older days. Even I was just 30 that time this stuff helped me to understand more about intelligent training that will built you up and not destroy your body. Steve is an awesome role model who is now nearly 70 years old and in great shape.

In 2011 I ruptured my biceps tendon on my other arm and this time I decided to have surgery which meant to be out of martial arts training for about 6-9 month. This was a hard time. Even so I was doing training with one arm and some conditioning it took me 7 month to do my first pull up and 9 month to roll without all the time thinking about my biceps. But like so often bad things are not only bad they bring chances and new ideas and 2012 was pretty amazing. I got the chance to learn from Vladimir Vasiliev and feel his very unusual and amazing skills and later that year I got to see Royce again and learn from Rickson which was a pretty amazing experience because with Rickson it is not what you see but what you feel that makes him so special.

Back to BJJ but with a different approach
The interesting thing so was that after my injury it seems that my worlds come together again. My BJJ approach and my “Flow Approach” came together and my Jiu Jitsu and my stand up striking game become relaxed and intuitive but also technically and with a lot of pressure. Things become more realistic again but I was able to be more effortless because of all my other training I had for the last 4 years.

One of the most amazing martial artists I have ever felt. Minoru Akuzawa

In 2013 I made the decision to go back to my old teacher Roy Harris. Joe was an awsome guy and his skills on the mat are insane but we met at a time where my “cup was already full”. I wasn´t the young guy looking for a teacher anymore and for me it was clear that either I will have no real teacher anymore or go back to Roy Harris because his game has influenced my BJJ like no one else. I always say he is my BJJ father because he changed me from a beginning bluebelt to and experienced brownbelt.

In the same year I met Minoru Akuzawa a master of the internal japanese martial art Aunkai. Akuzawa is a true master. The way he conditioned or should I say changed his body gives him extreme connection, power and quality of movement. Very difficult to explain but easy to recognize when you feel it. Also it is very difficult to understand how he is doing all the stuff it was a great inspiration for me to dig even deeper into the internal martial arts. For me my Systema, internal Boxing and Aunkai Training have the same purpose. It is all about changing the body and the nervous system to create some very unusual effects and a better quality of movement.

If you want to compare it with a computer. My internal training is giving me a better hardware while my BJJ training gives me the newest software. After realizing this I was splitting my time more even again between my BJJ and my internal training. From 2015 I focused a lot on bridging the gap between “oldschool” and modern BJJ. I don´t like the terms but I wanted to come up to speed with all the new no-gi developments, especially the leglocks, back takes, etc. This was a pretty good decision that helped me as a teacher and as an practitioner because you can only create your personal style of BJJ if you know what´s out there and what can happen to you. I taught some of my students to be very good modern leg lockers and that gave me the chance to study and experience it first hand.

My own game today is either old school or modern it is my personal style of BJJ with the focus of being as efficient and effortless I can be. I use my internal training together with the attributes of timing, awareness, pressure, positioning, etc. to get better with less effort and I am planning to become better with this focus for the rest of my BJJ career.;-)  I feel being effortless can give you a completely new perspective in your Jiu Jitsu and that´s why I am sharing my approach with you so you can not only stay a few years or even decades longer in the game but also you will be able to grow and excel as a practitioner.