Dave Camarillo: BJJ smarter, Judo tougher
This is number twenty-seven in Jack Brown’s series of interviews with MMA fighters and personalities, and for this particular interview, we’re pleased to feature the creator of Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu, Dave Camarillo. Please enjoy our conversation below.
Jack Brown: My understanding is that you were born into the martial arts. What did your training consist of when you were young and how did that part of your childhood compare with other children you went to school with?
Dave Camarillo: I started Judo when I was five years old, with my father as my sensei. There was no choice for me but to be a martial artist. My training throughout my youth was for six days a week, sometimes twice a day. And it generally picked up during training camps for competitions.
When I was in junior high, my father built a four-car garage in our back pasture. He filled it with mats for specialized training. We had a pretty strong team. I remember training hard with my brother and teammates, then going inside the house to clean my room or take out the trash. Training was my life.
The difference between other kids and me was profound. I was on a mission! While they played video games after school, I was on my way to the dojo. While they were hanging out at the Friday night football games, I was training my butt off to win the High School Nationals. And when I finally went to a game, I felt so out of place. For me, socialization took place in and around the dojo. And that continues to benefit me to this day.
JB: I would imagine that having your father as both a parent and a Judo instructor could be both a positive and a negative. How did it work out in your particular situation?
DC: It was both. But I only realized later in life how beneficial it really was. He was hard on me. He pushed my brother and me very hard. It toughened us and prepared us for life. It is now my career, and I have learned to find that balance to push our students and aid their individual personalities. Both our San Jose and Pleasanton schools are growing like crazy. The benefit of having my father as a sensei is now transcending through to our program.
JB: You traveled to Japan numerous times as a young man for Judo. What were the highlights of your visits and your early days as a judoka?
DC: I have been to Japan seventeen times in my life. Most of those were Judo related. I stayed there on one particular trip for three months. I was seventeen years old and full of fire. Training in Japan was on another level. There were multiple training partners that would smash me. And I couldn’t get enough. The more I got thrown, the more I would get up. I’ve always thought that the more battles you go through early in life, the more hardened you become. For me, it is a truism. If life is easy, you will not have an easy future because you will not be prepared for much.
I believe this was why I excelled at BJJ when I started. For me, Judo was a way tougher sport than BJJ. You really cannot compare the two in terms of how strenuous the practices are. Judo made BJJ easy for me. I was tapping black belts when I was a purple belt.
Judo is faster by nature. It is more aggressive. It gave me the situational awareness to be quick with precise movement. For me, BJJ is that cool, collected, intelligent brother, and Judo is the older, meaner, tougher brother who will bully the bullies.
JB: What led to your interest in Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and what have your years training with the Gracies done for you?
DC: Like many my age, I got into MMA when I saw Royce beat everyone up at UFC 1. After that, I immediately had to experience Jiu-Jitsu. I found out that Ralph and Cesar Gracie had a studio in Pleasant Hill, CA, 2½ hours away from where I lived. So I joined the academy and started training Judo six days a week and BJJ on my day off.
I remember Ralph tapping me without using his arms. I was hooked. Both Ralph and Cesar really took me under their wings. They taught me a lot. And I am thankful.
JB: You are currently very well known for your coaching, but you have been a competitor as well. What have been your most satisfying competitive achievements?
DC: As a competitor, most of my accomplishments came from Judo. I really didn’t like BJJ competitions at all. There was way too much stalling back then. Now you can’t get away with that as much.
My most memorable performance was in a tournament called the Italian Grand Prix of Judo. It is an A-level event. I took third. I had seven matches and won six by full points. I flying armlocked the guy in my final twice. He couldn’t use his arms for a while.
JB: Nearly a decade ago, you became a coach at the renowned American Kickboxing Academy (AKA). How did you first become involved with the team?
DC: They needed a BJJ coach and I needed a job. I started training fighters shortly after.
JB: You worked with so many talented MMA fighters at AKA. Who are a few of the fighters that you enjoyed working with and how did you impact their development?
DC: Jon Fitch is my favorite fighter I have ever worked with. He is the Team Captain at AKA for a reason. I have met many people who talk. Jon doesn’t talk. He just does.
We used to train together all the time. And I worked on his defense a lot. Eventually, he became very aware on the ground in his fights. He probably has the best ground submission defense in the world in MMA.
JB: Over the years, you have also cornered many of these fighters in some of the biggest moments in their careers. What is the most memorable fight that you coached cage-side?
DC: Cornering Cain against Brock was awesome. There was so much hype surrounding that fight. The fight lasted almost five minutes and Cain couldn’t hear us at all. It was so loud! But it didn’t matter.
JB: You have developed your own unique system of martial arts, Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu. What can you tell us about it?
DC: It is a mixture of BJJ, Judo, and Wrestling. I use those arts to better a student’s ability to finish. It’s also to make them more competent in grappling, not just in BJJ competition.
I have also added a combatives program in both of my schools. This is where our students (many of them law enforcement) learn how to be aware in a more chaotic context. Most martial arts today focus on the competitive aspects of one-on-one matching. With our combatives program, I really push our students to open their minds to multiple opponents and strategically placing themselves in a position of control if they ever find themselves in a self-defense scenario.
Our gyms are well-rounded in what we offer. Our affiliation is probably the second strongest BJJ competition team in northern California. Both locations have a strong kids’ team. And they are growing. Matt Darcy, a black belt in San Jose, has taken his new school from zero students to almost two hundred and fifty in less than a year and a half. This is in part due to his passion and work ethic as well as how structured we are as a team. It is amazing working with him. Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu is stronger than ever.
JB: Last question, Dave, and thank you for taking the time to do this. You have had a rich and varied life as a martial artist, but you are still a young man. What new challenges do you look forward to personally and professionally in the future?
DC: I have been more involved with the military than in any other point in my career. Combatives, for me, is a new and rewarding venture. It gives me the opportunity to work with highly skilled and motivated people who appreciate the training I am giving them. At the same time, I am learning so much about how to better those who put themselves in harm’s way.
What is my next challenge? It is the same as it was when I was a kid, when I became an MMA trainer at AKA, and when I opened my first school - Teach, create, and always be learning!