Interview with Jared Espina

Special thanks to Jared Espina and Powerhouse Jiu-Jitsu in Kapaa, HI. I had the chance to drop in and train and speak with Jared while I was in Kauai and it was a pleasure. I’ve interviewed quite a few Brazilain Jiu-Jitsu athletes and Jared Espina is one of the most humble, honest, and hard-working people I’ve met in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu community. He’s a true ambassador for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.


Jared Espina

INSIDE BJJ
How did you get started in Jiu-Jitsu? What brought you to Jiu-Jitsu?

Jared Espina
I started Jiu-Jitsu at seventeen. I’m thirty-three now so that’s about sixteen years ago. As soon as I started doing Jiu-JItsu, was the days of Rorion and Royce and` the UFC. Of course, it blew up. We had the opportunity to have Bruno Ewald on the Island who trained under Royler. His technique is phenomenal. Not only does he have good technique, he’s a 6’6″ black belt. I got to study Jiu-Jitsu under him. I’ve been under him from white belt to black belt. Within that time, I graduated from high school. After high school, I moved to Oahu. I had four years there with Relson Gracie. I studied a lot of my Jiu-Jitsu under Relson. After, I came back to Kauai and received my brown belt from Bruno and my black belt. When I received my black belt, Relson and Bruno were there to give it to me.

INSIDE BJJ
One of the themes about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is that it takes on a large meaning to people who train. It becomes more than a hobby. It different than a guy who plays softball on the weekend. Jiu-Jitsu is a lifestyle and a passion. Can you share what Jiu-Jitsu means to you?

Jared Espina
For one, Jiu-Jitsu is my lifestyle. A lot of people do Jiu-Jitsu and work another job. I have come to the point where I’m so blessed I can call this my main job.  My passion has become my career.  When you are seventeen years old, you’re looking for direction. You don’t know what you’re going to do. You’re not sure if you’re going to college. If you’re going to do this or that. You just graduated from high school. I really did not know which way I was going to go.  When I got a hold of Jiu-Jitsu, it grabbed me one hundred percent. It centered me, humbled me, and focused me. I was able to find myself. I found myself in Jiu-Jitsu. It was a one hundred percent life change at seventeen years old. I went to school and I continued Jiu-Jitsu. I came back and continued Jiu-Jitsu. When I first met my wife, she could see how much Jiu-Jitsu has done for my life. She supports it. She believes in it so much she supported me to try and make a lifestyle from it. Jiu-Jitsu has been the biggest change in my life. It’s my life.

INSIDE BJJ
Jiu-Jitu is a long journey. When you’re a white belt you think, “If I could just get my blue belt.” The purples, browns, and black seem so good and out of reach. Then when guys get their black belt you hear them say, “I still don’t know Jiu-Jitsu.” What are some the personal challenges you face as you grow and learn Jiu-Jitsu through the belt levels.

Jared Espina
My initial take on Jiu-Jitsu was I just wanted to get my blue belt. There were a few blue belts on the Island and they were looked at like they were black belts. Nobody at that time even thought they could be a black belt. Everybody’s goal was to just reach blue belt. I think blue belt level is the hardest belt. From white to blue, you’re excited. You’re learning and getting in shape. When you get to blue,  you have to decide, “Am I going to make this a lifestyle.” It’s the hardest hill to climb because within that climb there are a lot of valleys. You think you’re regressing. White belts are nipping at your ankles and the upper belts are smashing you. You have to put your head down and get to work. Until you make your mind up that you’re going to put your head down and get through it, the blue belt is a struggle. That was a major challenge for me. For me, the purple belt is the best belt and the most fun. You’re starting to really know Jiu-Jitsu. The competition is fun. Win or lose you leave it all on the mat. I loved the purple belt. It was a great time for me. At brown belt, you start to get more picky about who you train with and when you compete. It becomes a bit of a curse. At purple, you don’t care. You’ll go against he heaviest black belt. At brown belt, you have a reputation and you worry about it. It’s a drawback a little bit. You reach the black belt and you think that you’re at the top.

You realize, there are black belts. And then there are black belts. When you become a black belt, you become a white belt all over again.

At black belt you don’t change color any more but you still get better. Purple belts only get so good until they turn brown belt. Brown belts only get so good until they become black. The level as a black belt is ridiculous. When you get your black belt, you’re still really a brown belt in your mind. You think, “I don’t deserve this. There’s Andre Galvao. He’s a black belt.”

INSIDE BJJ
What are some of the challenges you face training in Kauai. You’re on an island with a limited about of people and training opportunities. In California, I can train with some of the best black belts in the world in a days drive. In you’re in a rut, you can find the absolute best to train with to get a jumpstart. What is it like here?

Jared Espina
Many people don’t realize that once you’re on the island, there’s not a lot to do. You’re either surfing, running a mountain, or training Jiu-Jitsu. There are some really great Jiu-JItsu guys here. We don’t take it for granted. When we get a visitor here, we really soak it in. We get everything from them. We get so excited when we get guys like Royler, Relson, or Carlson, Jr. Many people visit the island because it’s so remote. When they get here and see how much we love Jiu-Jitsu, they give a little more here because they see how much we care. I think we’re almost at an advantage here. They want to keep coming back. They think in Hawaii I have a place I can train. They get connected to us. The technique that we get here doesn’t change. When we learn new techniques, we drill and drill and drill. We hang on to everything we learn. It’s an advantage for us. I don’t ever think we’re at a disadvantage. You have to look at it that way.

INSIDE BJJ
Would you say your training partners here are of even more importance than normal? A lot of school have a high turnover. People come and go. Are your training partners even more important here because it’s so isolated and they’re the people you’re always working with.

Jared Espina
Nelson Monteiro is one of the highest ranking black belts under Carlos Gracie, Jr.  just stayed with me for nine days. He was talking to me about the high turnover rate in Jiu-Jitsu and it blew me away. Here, the turnover rate is very small. You concentrate on the students so much because they have nowhere else to go. There’s not a lot to do. Most of my white belts stay as blue, purple, and brown. I think in other places like California, there are so many things to get involved in that Jiu-Jitsu loses importance for some people. It’s different here. Once I get you to come and train Jiu-Jitsu with me, the odds of you leaving are very small. Typically only injuries, family issues or finances cause people to quit. We don’t have a high turnover here.

There are people who just want to get a blue belt and that’s it. I can see it in their eyes.  Some people are happy with just receiving an Associates Degree. That’s okay but I like to address it with them before they leave. Everybody is different but I can usually see it. It’s nothing personal. Not everybody is going to reach black belt. I don’t hold it personal against those people as long as they don’t get their blue belt and then decide to open up a school!

INSIDE BJJ
What are some of the qualities you can see in people that are the most important qualities to achieve the black belt? For me personally, my focus has been to always be consistent. What are the qualities students should develop and focus on to achieve the black belt and make Jiu-Jitsu a lifestyle?

Jared Espina
To stick with Jiu-Jitsu, you have to change your ways. You can’t stay up all night drinking beer and eaten fast food. If you’re going to stick with it, eventually you realize that you need to sleep well, eat well, and cut down on the alcohol. Most people have a job during the day. After a hard day at work, the last thing you want to do is step on the mat – not when you can go hang out at the beach. If you let yourself go, you’ll find yourself relaxing drinking beer for six months. I can guarantee you that six months of being my mats will make you feel better than drinking beer. I tell everyone just show up and Jiu-Jitsu will take care of the rest. You will feel better every time you step off the mats. When you walk out of the school, you always feel better no matter what. Just come and focus. You may have the worst day on the mats but it’s a better day than laying on the couch, eating potato chips, and watching television.

INSIDE BJJ
Would you say that just showing up is half of the battle?

Jared Espina
I’ve seen super athletic guys who bounce in and out all the time and extremely out of shape guys with asthma, attention deficit disorder, and overweight who commit themselves. The out of shape guys who commit themselves end up running circles around the athletic guys. It’s rewarding to the committed student and humbling to the non committed athlete. It goes full circle. This is one of the true beauties of Jiu-Jitsu. Basically, it comes down to putting your head down and training every day. Consistency.

Powerhouse Jiu-Jitsu, Kapaa, HI

INSIDE BJJ
Changing gears just a little bit, what is it like with competition on the island? Do you get to compete much? Do you have to travel to compete?

Jared Espina
In the lower belts white, blue, purple and brown, there can be a lot of competition. At the black belt level, there’s not much competition. Worldwide, the best black belt competition is in Southern California. To really compete at the black belt level, you have to fly now. It’s hard as a black belt to do that. I don’t look at it as a disadvantage. I look at it as my time to give back. It’s time for me to focus on my students. I really enjoy the art of teaching. It’s different from competing.

INSIDE BJJ
Did Jiu-Jitsu change for you when you became dependent on it to feed your family.

Jared Espina
That’s a good question. First of all, when I’m at the school I do not touch money. I have someone working behind my desk. I separate Jiu-Jitsu and business. When I get home, I take care of the business. When I’m in the dojo, everything I do is about training Jiu-Jitsu. If someone tries to give me their dues or something, I step back and say no. When I’m here, it’s all about Jiu-Jitsu. I struggled with it at first where Jiu-Jitsu and the business meet each other.  When you’re on the mats and you’re thinking about collecting dues, inventory, rent, and curriculum, everything gets in the way of everything else. I hired someone to help with the business side of it so when I’m on the mats, I’m focused on Jiu-Jitsu. Just the thought of me working on another job is enough to keep me disciplined to keep business and Jiu-Jitsu separate while I’m in the dojo. I don’t weave the two together while I’m here.  If you’re not careful, the business side bleeds into teaching and it’s stressful and no longer enjoyable. Everything on the mat is Jiu-Jitsu. My focus here is to make everyone better at Jiu-Jitsu and that everyone wants to come back. Once students feel like you’re doing too much business, they stop wanting to be here. They want to be here for Jiu-Jitsu. At the end of the night when everyone is gone, I go to my desk and get my notes from the day. I take them home and handle the business at home. I still have to focus on the business. I feed my kids with this. I just focus on it at home.

I wake up every morning and thank God that I’m able to do Jiu-Jitsu as my life. It’s a dream for most people and it’s easy to forget. We take things for granted.

If you do anything in life repetitively, it becomes monotonous and you lose the real reason you got involved. I wake up each morning, take a deep breath and am grateful this is my life. It’s not a job. It’s my passion.

INSIDE BJJ
Is there anything else you’d like to promote or share?

Jared Espina
Jiu-Jitsu will be in my life as much as possible for the rest of my life. I’d like to learn more Jiu-Jitsu and grow. Of course, I still want to earn stripes on my black belt. My goal is that this gym is going strong ten years from now. Also, keep your eye on Bobby Castle. He’s a green belt right now and he’s entering the kid’s Worlds. Everyone should keep their eyes on him. I’m really proud of him. Right now he’s a state champion. At the last tournament, he not only won the green belt division, and the no go kid’s division. He stepped up and won the blue belt division and the novice adult division as a kid. He has a bright future and I want to recognize him.

Jared Espina and Bobby Castle


Visit Jared’s Jiu-Jitsu School in Kauai
Listen to Jared’s interview on the Fightwork’s Podcast

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