Dave Camarillo might just be one of the best coaches in MMA at the moment. His BJJ skills and coaching techniques are widely accepted as some of the best in the business and he’s one of the main men behind Cain Velaquez’s victory against Brock Lesnar to become the new UFC Heavyweight Champion.
The AKA gym that Camarillo works at is known for producing top quality fighters, who are known for their cardio and fantastic wrestling skills. MMA UK interviewed Camarillo about his Judo background, the Velasquez gameplan and Guerilla Jiu Jitsu
How did you get into Martial Arts and what inspired you to start training it for yourself?
My Father was my Judo Sensei growing up. He started me in Judo at the age of five. It was a part of everyday life. I feel he is the major reason I am talking to you now. The confidence and hard work ethic I learned from my father in a Martial Arts setting is priceless.
My biggest inspiration outside of my father was the Judo trips to Japan I took as a child. It opened my eyes to an elite level of training. It was something on a totally different level than I was used to. This is the main reason I was never impressed, on a physical level, with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Because of my hard Judo training I came to think of BJJ as the lazy man’s grappling art.
You were trained by your father until you turned 18. Obviously, there’s a special relationship between a coach and their student, and between a father and their son. Do you ever feel almost fatherly to younger students or a student whose just started to learn BJJ
I do. In many cases it is a strong bond. And a reciprocal one. For this to happen the student must feel a sense of connection with the instructor and vice versa. If that connection is lost, so is the bond. I use this understanding as a guide when I choose my assistant instructors. If they have an issue with this bond, then they will have difficulty in reaching a great status and influence as an instructor.
Later on in your career, you started training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Who were some of your idols when it came to BJJ?
Nino was the biggest influence in my game when I was getting my BJJ start. I remember rolling with him for the first time. He slowly destroyed me. I had no resistance. And I think that was one of my first real introductions with BJJ.
Obviously, there are different styles of BJJ. For example, Jake Shields created a style which he calls “American Jiu-Jitsu”. You’ve created your own style called Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu, a style which Jon Fitch is a black belt in. Where did the idea of Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu come from and what makes it difference from Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
The difference is much like the difference between American Kickboxing and Muay Thai. To an onlooker they may seem the same, but to practitioners they are very different. WIth Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu I teach my students to calculate the risk of losing position as they would in a self-defense situation and not a tournament one. This includes a focus in wrestling as well as Judo. My style is rich in takedowns. With takedowns you can control where the fight takes place. From there we use the mentality from wrestling and BJJ to control top position and stay on top. On bottom we use a wrestling and BJJ mentality to primarily get off bottom. We also understand the importance of a well balanced guard, including submissions and reversals.
I never understood how so many BJJ’ers could learn an art, gain a high level in that art, but still have an almost total inability to take someone down. A Martial Art’s primary goal is to prepare students for real life situations. That is what I focus on.
One of the best things about MMA and its dfferent aspects are the fact that the styles are continuously evolving. How do you feel Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu will evolve in the next couple of years.
Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu will continue to bridge the gap between Wrestling, Judo and BJJ. At first the student needs to switch from one art mentality to another. Through its growth, students of Guerrilla JJ, will be able to think more in a one mentality sense, not having to switch from a BJJ to a wrestling mentality if the situation calls for it.
In 2003, you took over the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu program at AKA. Was that a daunting prospect for you to undertake?
There were two major tasks ahead of me when I first came to AKA. Number one: I had to learn how to be a fighter. My JJ was very aggressive, but it was still haunted with pit falls that many BJJ’ers fall into when first entering MMA competition. I had to learn how to strike on my feet, wrestle and avoid strike from the bottom position.
The second: Get the fighters to understand the importance of what I was teaching them. Remember, MMA was still a baby back in 2003. The fighters at AKA were scarce. Fitch was just getting his start and his accomplishments did not exist until years later. He was a big influence in our gym. Because of this it was not easy to get them to understand my point of view.
But these two issues coincide. As I started to train with the team, and because of the rate of my development, the fighters started to understand pretty quickly. I was proving, not only my place as a trainer, but also what I was bringing to the gym had great value.
What was it like teaching your first class at AKA. Did you take any tips from the way your father trained you?
The first class at AKA had 18 students. From there it grew beyond my expectations. My father is and will always be my most influential part of my Martial Arts career. The second would have to be Ralph Gracie. I learned a lot of how I wanted and how I didnt want the atmosphere in my academy to be.
One of the most important aspects as a coach is the mental side. How do you deal with so many different personalities in the gym?
At times not well. I have learned over the years that it is not possible to always get students to reach their full potential. You can only lead a horse to water. It is up to the open mindedness of the fighter to willingly reach their potential. I have learned how to be in my position from Javier Mendez and Bob Cook. They are true masters, while I am just getting my start.
Different fighters react to different ways of being psyched up. What type of different methods do you use with fighters? For example, many would presume that the way you’d deal with Josh Koscheck is different to way you’d deal with Cain Velasquez.
When we are in the back warming up our fighter right before they take their walk we give simple commands. These commands might be as simple as “stay on your movement” or “set up your takedowns”. These are things we have been working on in training camp but needs to be the last thing in the fighters mind right before the fight. And because of this it is generally the same for Koscheck as it is for Velasquez. The major differences are more in terms of who they are fighting then who they are.
Many fighters have voiced their concern regarding “lay and pray”. However, I don’t see anyone asking the coaches. How do you feel about the debate?
A win is a win. This is a cut throat sport. And rightly so. It is also a brutal sport. A lose may not only mean unemployment, it could also mean a hospital visit and damage to the brain. I think the fighters who complain about an opponent’s ability to control a fight or wrestling neutralizing their game should stop crying about it and start working on how to defend/counter it. It seems ridiculous to blame an opponent for your own weakness. MMA is an ever evolving sport. And when one chooses to not evolve they start directing their frustrations at others, pointing their fingers at anyone but themselves.
As the BJJ coach for Cain during his fight with Brock, was it your idea to get Daniel Cormier in so Cain could learn to get back to his feet instantly after being taken down. If not, what were area’s of Cain’s BJJ game were you trying to strengthen for the fight?
It was all the coaches idea to have Daniel in the corner. But it was an easy choice. He is not only a great wrestling and a good fighter, he is also one of the best wrestling coaches I have ever worked with.
For Cain’s Jiu-Jitsu against Brock I knew we may be taken down. The best way to handle that is to get up. For the top position it was to pick his shots and control his opponent. I wanted him to keep it simple. In certain areas avoid engagement on the ground, in others it was to smother. The strategy against Brock was a great one. But Cain’s ability to stay relaxed was the beautiful thing. Very impressive!
Many people have said that the togetherness between the group of fighters at AKA is incredibly strong. How did you and the other coaches manage to get it this way?
There is no such thing as perfection, but AKA is without a doubt a special place. The reason we are a family is in large part due to the way Javier Mendez runs our fight team. He is a very relaxed coach. Whereas I am at times very emotional. When I get frustrated, Javier calms me and teaches me how to handle so many different personalities. Over the years I have learned a lot. And it is Javier that leads all of us. We are all honored to have him.
Before I came to AKA I never knew how great a team could be. It was very different than where I came from. Javier believes in those who work hard. And that’s it. The hard workers have a place at AKA. And their quirks do too. Its a place where I give praise to my personal growth because.
Many people have heard the story of how yourself and the other coaches spotted Cain, you all knew you had something special on our hands due to his physical attributes and mental strength. What qualities do you think a person needs to be a fighter?
They need to control their ego. They need to work smart and work hard. There really is nothing secret about success. The issue with people is that changing their programing is a very difficult task. Some are just not meant to be champions.
Are there any fighters coming from AKA that we should keep an eye and an ear out for?
It is tough enough getting some of our guys fights as it is, I do not want to make it any harder for them by adding light to their name.
Thankyou very much for your time Mr Camarillo. The entire team wish you and the guys at AKA continued success in the future. Is there anyone you’d like to thank?
I want to thank Roscoe Roatch and Matt Darcy for their excellent dedication as Head Assistant Instructors of Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu.