I feel very lucky that my entire life has revolved around the great sport of martial arts. I grew up in a home that was located directly above my father Rick’s martial arts school, Joslin’s Mixed Martial Arts, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. We moved into that house around the same time that my father won the Canadian Karate Championship for the third time. If I remember correctly I was around five years old at the time.
It was awesome having a huge gym for a basement as my friends and I would play games down there all the time. Whether we had an intense game of mini-stick hockey, a soccer contest, some hide & seek or tag, or some wild sparring matches with my dad’s old school boxing gloves, we always had a fun time.
Join me on a video tour of Joslin’s Mixed Martial Arts and my childhood home above it…
My martial arts training began when I was around five but there are pictures of me earlier than that in a gi so I’m not quite sure if that was the exact time I started. From what I can recall, I really didn’t like training that much back then but kept it up for around five or six years. I do remember constantly asking my dad if I could stop training martial arts so that I could start playing hockey (I’m the kid in the center). After what felt like many years of begging and pleading, he allowed me do so. I think making that choice, as difficult I imagine it was for him at the time, is the reason I’m still an active martial artist today. Thanks Dad!
A few years later I started training again. In my mind I always knew that I would one day get back into martial arts but my return was sped up by the pressure of knowing that I would soon be in a street fight with a student from my high school. The guy, who was a few years older than me kept bugging me on a daily basis, trying to physically intimidate me –and my friends — any time he had the chance. I knew the day was coming when we would go at it, so I began to prepare myself in my father’s gym aka my basement.
The fight day came and went. I held my own in the middle of the school cafeteria that afternoon and was proud of standing up for myself and my friends. From that day on, I was so motivated to train, and I really don’t remember missing a class for a long, long time.
I competed often and did well in Karate tournaments all over North America. I had a lot of fun times with my teammates and met many great people along the way. In the end I believe I won over 200 first place titles within a five year span.
It was about that time, when the year was 1993 if I remember correctly, that the UFC arrived on the scene. Lanky Brazilian fighter Royce Gracie was shocking the world with his unorthodox but highly effective ground fighting style. My Dad was smart although I didn’t realize it at the time.
“Jeff, you’re going to have to start learning some ju-jitsu” he said as he threw a small paperback book at me.
Looking down at the thing, I read its title…”Small Circle Ju-Jitsu”
I immediately tossed it back at him. “Get outta here Dad!, I’m a karate fighter.” I replied, not having one ounce of interest in learning that type of stuff, especially from a book
It wasn’t long before my attitude took a three hundred and sixty degree turn concerning jiu-jitsu. It wasn’t a Small Circle Ju-Jitsu book that caused the mental shift; it was a set of twelve VHS tapes entitled “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu”. I literally watched two minutes of Renzo Gracie demonstrating an arm lock and that was it. I was hooked!
We ordered the complete set of Gracie instructional videos and I studied them like a madman! We started a class twice a week where I would show our other karate black belt a few techniques that I had learned from the tape series. We would grapple and without a doubt we sucked pretty bad a first but I always knew a few more techniques than the other guys so it was fun to try and pull those moves off in action. Funny thing is that the first time I was tapped out it wasn’t to a submission hold; it was because three hundred pound man had gotten side control on me and I couldn’t breathe!
We started adding more classes as time went on but we were unknowingly making a lot of mistakes in our training. It wasn’t until I travelled to Carlson Gracie Jr.’s BJJ Academy in Chicago in 1994 that I was able to experience a real BJJ class firsthand. I learned a lot during the two weeks that I spent there, taking notes on every class and private lesson I participated in, knowing that when I returned home my progress would be once again back in my own hands.
When I got back to Joslin’s, I immediately restructured all of our grappling classes to match what we had been doing in Chicago. Everyone loved it but more importantly we all started to improve at a faster rate by drilling techniques more and sparring for longer periods of time.
Soon after, I had picked up a few more sets of VHS instructional tapes that some Brazilian instructors had recently released so I had plenty of material to practice. Without an instructor to guide me I had to watch the techniques, practice a few that interested me, watch the videos again to critique my own technique then repeat the process over and over again. Every afternoon I’d spend two hours drilling eight different techniques with a partner. I’d alternate between different partners every day so that I would not burn them out. I couldn’t train enough!
By 1996 I had earned my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under highly respected instructor Romero “Jacare” Cavalcanti. I had heard of Jacare’s Atlanta, Georgia based Alliance BJJ school from a guy that had trained at many different academies in North America due to the huge amount of travelling he did for his job. The guys was right, Jacare’s school was indeed “The best!”
That same year I was competing internationally as a black belt karate fighter. My busy schedule included one or two tournaments every month and I ended up taking home the second place title at the world championship finals which were held in Washington, D.C. That was the last karate competition I ever competed in. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was loudly begging for my full attention and I decided to listen to its call.
It was the perfect time to change things up because the two martial arts were beginning to mesh into one as I recall a time when I instinctively used my BJJ during a karate fight. I was up on points during a match that was beginning to look more like a street fight than anything very technical. My opponent was attempting to grab me, headlock me, and was really swinging for the fences with every single one of his punches. I decided to take him down during our next exchange. A moment later, he hit the floor with a loud crack. I ended up in the full mounted position.
“Get him off me!” he screamed to the referee, his voice filled with panic.
Realizing that this wasn’t the place or time to unleash some ground and pound, I jumped off of him quickly but learned the important lesson that BJJ mixed with striking was awesome! It was from that point that I focused solely on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and mixed martial arts training.
My grappling technique arsenal continued to grow as I attended seminars –there weren’t too many–, watched more video tapes, read books, skimmed magazine articles and took notes on everything I came into contact with that was mixed martial arts oriented! It was the only way I could learn as there was nobody in Canada that could teach BJJ and I was only one of a handful of blue belts in the province. When I say that I took notes it doesn’t really tell the whole story. I’d sit in my bedroom for entire days, working on my computer, typing descriptions of every single technique that I had on video tape or written on paper. The product of all this madness was a 700 page manual that I had organized into attacks, defenses and counters neatly arranged into chapters that covered every area of BJJ training including takedowns, the mount position, the guard position and a number of others.
I had little time to build any solid relationships with the ladies, or my friends but I was getting better on the mats every single time I stepped on them. At that time, for some reason or another, that seemed to be the most important thing to me. I really loved to learn and had a fire inside me to become the best that I could be at anything that I did.
Here’s a video about my monster of a manual…
Four years later, when I was a purple belt, I brought a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt named “Esfiha” to my martial arts school to teach classes. Rolling with the 6’4, 280 lbs. blackbelt champion on a daily basis for nearly a years time taught me a lot. I won the Pan-American Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship that year and took home the gold medal at the Grappler’s Quest U.S Nationals a month later.
It really felt like it was time to set a goal to soon fight my first MMA Fight..
When the time is right, the people you need will appear in your life. I’ve heard that said before but it wasn’t until I met my boxing/kickboxing coach Vito Brancaccio that year, that I truly believed it. Vito worked with me nearly every day, one on one, for many years tweaking and improving my karate/kickboxing style by adding some insanely detailed boxing technique to it. Without Vito I wouldn’t have achieved my dream of making it to the UFC. A mastermind trainer, Vito helped me evolve to the point where I was doing great boxing and kickboxing with some of the country’s best. Striking with MMA’ers always seemed easy after what we’d go through together in the gym.
I’d take the daily lessons Vito would teach me and practice them at home –sometimes to the point where I couldn’t lift my arms from my sides because they were so sore—and at my martial arts school so that the next day I had gotten a grasp it all, and we’d be able to build on it. When I wasn’t practicing, I was constantly thinking about the techniques, visualizing myself pulling them off successfully in my next sparring session. I think it was this constant immersion that helped me improve my skill sets quickly.
I ended up having my first MMA fight near the end of 2002. I was pretty nervous but I ended up winning by knockout in the first round. The result was the same in my second, third and fourth fights.
By that point I had started practicing a lot of wrestling, learning from many different wrestlers that were training at my gym. Later on, I began travelling to Guelph University to train with their wrestling team on a regular basis. After some time I was mixing it up with many of Canada’s best on the mat. Guelph had and still has some incredible wrestlers. During the days I’d be at Vito’s All Canadian Martial Arts in Mississauga. At night, I’d be training at my martial arts school or back in Guelph for wrestling.
Aside from a few injuries that left me unable to fight for lengthy periods of time, my MMA career was going pretty well. I fought a great battle with Jon Fitch (Youtube: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3) at Freedom Fight in ’05, was awarded my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt in early 2006 and had won my first championship belt when I became the Apex Fighting World Welterweight Champion near the end of that same year (watch the fight). One week after winning the belt, Joe Silva from the UFC called my house (listen to the voice maill), to see if I would fight Josh Koscheck on an upcoming UFC card. I guess no one in the division wanted to fight him so I was next on the list. After realizing that it wasn’t one of my friends on phone joking around with me, I put Joe in touch with my manager, and my three fight contract was signed soon after.
Here’s a video with some highlights from my pro fights…
Four weeks after my UFC contract was signed, Josh Koscheck and I battled it out inside the octagon in front of 5,000 marines on Spike TV’s fight night. It was awesome! Unfortunately while training for my second UFC fight, one in which I was scheduled to fight exciting scrapper Chris Lytle, I sustained a concussion in training after I bumped my head while training on a slippery mat. Not that hard of a hit, I believe it was more of a lifetime accumulation of bumps, bell ringers and hits that had taken its toll. I couldn’t exercise for a year and a half and I felt like my entire world was thrown into a big hazy cloud.
Now recovered, I’ve been keeping busy teaching classes; working as a commentator for several different MMA events; co-hosting an MMA Radio show (listen to some highlights); and have been a featured guest on a number of television program including TSN’s Off the Record.. It’s all been a lot of fun but it’s still not as great as fighting in the octagon!
I’m back training and feeling stronger and better than ever before skill wise. That’s why I have to do my best to remember how bad I felt during that terrible time. At this point I truly feel that I could jump back into the octagon and carry on where I left off but who knows what another concussion would bring; A life time of that hung over, spaced out feeling? A lower quality of life? The inability to be a great husband to my wife or father to my two children?
Although I miss it all more than one could possibly imagine, it’s not worth that kind of risk…
My ultimate goal now is to help you make it to the top of the MMA game, if that’s one of your own personal goals like it was mine, as quickly as possible!
The plan? To share all of my techniques, strategies, tips, experience and unique training programs to keep you on the quickest, smoothest path towards your full MMA potential.
It will take some dedication and hard work but I promise you that living a martial arts lifestyle is incredibly fun and worth every black eye and fat lip along the way!
Let’s do this!
Jeff “The Inferno” Joslin