This week’s interview is with my jiu-jitsu coach and owner of Gracie Farmington Valley, Jay Bell. He has been training in “the gentle art” for over eleven years and is a black belt under Rob Khan. Jay is a talented and generous teacher, and, as you’ll read in this interview, he has some great insight into the martial arts. Also take a look at his You Tube channel to see what I mean!
What made you want to start training? What was your inspiration?
When I was a little kid, it was all of those kung fu and Chuck Norris movies. That, and my dad was a cop and took some form of Tae Kwon Do which I thought was cool. As an adult, I watched Royce Gracie fight in the UFC and then saw my friend compete in vale tudo–where all the BJJ guys won. I signed up for BJJ less than a week later.
What do you think of the unique experience of growing up as a martial artist. How was your life different than your peers?
More self confidence and more self discipline (particularly when it comes to goal setting).
How has it influenced your body, mind, spirit?
It helped me get in far better shape than I would be without. It helps keep me sharp and improves my mental agility and ability to deal with change. Martial arts is my religion; it is everything to me outside of my family.
How have martial arts affected your personal life? Your relationships
with family, friends, significant others?
Good and bad. Good in that I’ve made some of the best friends of my life. Bad as it can put a stain on marital relations when you are frequently away from home or traveling to support your business.
What was your relationship like with your master(s)? With other
students? How has it grown and changed over the years?
I speak specifically of BJJ here and will say this: many people start training in martial arts due to some personal insecurities which could be caused by a whole host of different things. The problem is that many never truly get past these. That being said, my original BJJ instructor and I parted ways after nearly nine years together, and, although no one is ever truly without blame in these scenarios, from my perspective it was one of those situations where the old lion begins to distrust the younger male lions as they mature and he begins to perceive them as threats. Let’s just say that I was neither the first nor the last to part ways in this fashion.
With other students the relationships have only grown stronger. In most cases and many are some of my closest friends.
In what ways do you preserve tradition? In what ways do you change it?
I try and stay true to the basics of the art in that it is always about self defense first rather than sport. As far as change goes, no one ever truly invents a new move, but I continue to look for new ways of doing things and try to incorporate what works while discarding what doesn’t.
What are your views on teaching and learning?
Teaching is the greatest privilege and honor one can have thrust upon them, and it comes with a hefty amount of responsibility. I love doing it, and I enjoy watching my students grow and progress in the art that I love so much. Learning is a never-ending process, and some people seem to be in such a rush to reach the black belt which they somehow envision as the end goal. If we truly look at the martial arts as a life-long journey, than each of us will be black belts for far longer than we are at the earlier belts, and, as a result, we will learn far more at this stage than we ever did before.
What are your views on competition?
I think it is worthwhile, and it definitely will improve your abilities and confidence in applying those abilities. But, with that said, it’s not for everyone.
Did you ever want to quit? What kept you with it?
I took some lay offs here and there when I was much younger, but I always missed it. I haven’t ever considered quitting once I started in BJJ.
Do you have any regrets?
I wish the situation with my former instructor had gone better, though I also wish I had found a more competent instructor early on.
What challenges has martial arts helped you overcome?
Adapting to change in life both professionally and personally.
What advice would you give to a kid just starting out? What would you say to their parents?
Just do it for the fun, and don’t take it too seriously. Having your child do martial arts is one of the best things you can do, hands down.
What are your thoughts on martial arts and their relationship with violence?
Martial arts aren’t about violence, they are about providing people with the tools necessary to prevent or avoid violence when it is thrust upon them. For example, a few years ago I recently subdued a car thief in my neighborhood without injuring him in the least. If he had encountered one of my neighbors, and they were able to subdue him I would guess that one or both of them would likely have suffered pretty extensive injuries.
How do you think martial arts are portrayed in the media, and how are they perceived by our culture?
Movies have portrayed them unrealistically for years as some sort of magic hocus pocus and thus many people train in arts that, although valuable, are not truly designed to help them protect themselves in realistic applications. On the flip side, you have the UFC and other MMA organizations which promote a beautiful sport. Though, sadly, it is primarily viewed by untrained, beer-swilling, violence junkies that may not appreciate the art they are witnessing.
I guess it’s a toss up.