Riddum Exclusive : Interview with AKA's Dave Camarillo


A few days after the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix semi-finals, French MMA website Riddum.com had the honor of being able to ask Dave Camarillo a few questions about his team at the American Kickboxing Academy and of course, about Jiu-Jitsu as a whole.

Arthur de Lustrac for Riddum.com: For the fans who don’t necessarily know the people behind the scenes in MMA. Could you give us a small presentation of yourself?

Dave Camarillo: I started Judo at the age of 5. I received my black belt in Judo by 17. I was heavily involved for many years competing in the Judo circuit. At the age of 19 I took up Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Ralph Gracie. I was promoted to black belt in Jiu-Jitsu in 2003. From there I started teaching at The American Kickboxing Academy. I started training fighters and 7 years later trained and cornered Cain Velasquez to a UFC Heavy Weight title against Brock Lesnar.

I am currently the head grappling coach at AKA and also run my own school, Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu Martial Arts in Pleasanton, CA, USA.


Riddum.com: I'd like to start by asking you a few questions about AKA. You currently have a fantastic pool of athletes under your supervision. Cain Velasquez is the current heavyweight champion. Jon Fitch looks unbeatable by anyone not named GSP. Josh Thomson and Josh Koscheck are arguably both top ten fighters in their division, and finally Luke Rockhold has won the Strikeforce title against Jacaré. Now, How do you prepare someone for such an uncanny athlete like Ronaldo Jacaré Souza?

Dave Camarillo: Preparing Luke Rockhold for Jacare was not easy. Luke had to find great grapplers that could really push him and put him in danger. As far as the wrestling, we are the best wrestling MMA gyms in the world. So working on his takedown defense really came down to him just training with ours guys. He did everything we could ask of him in that fight.

It is pretty remarkable, Luke has never been out of the 1st round and he pushed Jacare for 5. He had an outstanding performance.

Riddum.com: Jon Fitch is one of the most well-known fighter in your team, and he seems like a constant source of debate in the MMA circles. He’s been heavily criticized for not finishing fights, and he has admitted that he does not like to take risks as one does in looking for submissions. Is your training and building up of strategies taking these kind of criticism into account? Or is the overall team content to just get wins?

Dave Camarillo: Winning is the most important thing on our minds. How you win is a far second. Jon is a great fighter. He represents how hard work beats talent. He is not fast or flashy, he doesn’t take steroids, he doesn’t cheat, he just works hard. Those who criticize [Jon Fitch] for the most part are fans who do not understand MMA. So I ignore it.

Riddum.com: There’s a couple of videos on Youtube where we can see Jon Fitch rolling in Jiu Jitsu and he seems very crafty with or without the gi. How come we haven’t seen him looking for submissions in the octagon lately?

Dave Camarillo: Jon is training more intensely to finish. We are working on techniques that we see in other fights and trying to drill systems that fit with his style. We will see a much improved Jon Fitch in his next fight.

Riddum.com: What has it been like to train Cain Velasquez?

Dave Camarillo: Training Cain is easy. I tell him to do something, he does it. And he learns incredible fast. I have worked with many fighters, including BJ Penn, and Cain is something out of the ordinary. He is amazing. I expect him to beat Dos Santos. But I know it will be the fight of his life!


Riddum.com: One athlete that has been particularly disappointing for the fans was Josh Koscheck. He seemed unable to pull the trigger in his last fight against Georges Saint Pierre. What do you think happened in this fight?

Dave Camarillo: Koscheck had trouble in his camp. That came out in the fight. If Kos executes properly, few can beat him. That night he didn’t put it out there. The early injury didn’t help either. GSP is a guy that is good at taking the initiative and keeping it. He is very tough to beat.

Riddum.com: Now, let’s drift apart from MMA a little. Because of your judo background, you have a very uncanny approach to jiu jitsu compared to many practitioners of BJJ in the States or in Brazil. You and your brother, who is also a judo and jiu jitsu instructor with, of course a very similar style to yours, have been working on beautiful sequences of takedowns and submissions, and looking for takedowns rather than pulling guard or sit as Marcelo Garcia does. Your approach is particularly appealing, especially for French athletes where a significant portion of them turned to BJJ after training judo, and there seems to be a significant room for evolution in BJJ as a sport here takedown wise. Do you think in the future that we will see jiu jitsu competitors go more often for takedowns and work on their judo more as the sport continue to evolve, or do you think, on the contrary, that since the guard is such a strong position in BJJ, competitors will keep on focusing on pulling guard and work solely on their ground game?

Dave Camarillo: I don’t think we will see an evolved form of BJJ unless the rules change. The rules favor guard players. But that is what BJJ is. I would like to see a hybrid form of both made into a competition. I simulate this in my academy. For specific training sessions I do not allow guard pulling of any kind. My students are forced to play out the takedown/throwing game. From there the ground work starts. It really pushes my students to learn a more holistic approach to grappling. The way it is now, a world champion in BJJ never has to take anyone down. Many are terrible grip fighters and have very little Judo or wrestling. It is a shame, but again, that’s BJJ. I just happen to like Judo rules better.

Riddum.com: As I mentioned earlier, France has been a country with a very important number of judo practitioners, and we see more and more, some of these judokas turning to BJJ, grappling and eventually MMA. What kind of advice would you give for a judoka willing to get into MMA and grappling?

Dave Camarillo: A Judoka getting into MMA needs to be at a good school. If I were to get an elite level judoka at AKA we would turn him into an elite level MMA fighter. There is no doubt in my mind.

They need to learn MMA, not just focus on their strengths. Look at AKA fighter Daniel Cormier, he just shocked the world by beating Bigfoot Silva with his hands. He is becoming a complete Mixed Martial Artist. The fighters mind needs to be open, that’s what we do!

Riddum.com: Because of your work in AKA as a grappling coach, we hear very often about your MMA students. Now, do you currently train BJJ or judo competitors we should be hear about?

Dave Camarillo: One of my top instructors Matt Darcy is a very good BJJ competitor. He is a black belt both in BJJ and Judo. He is very versatile and has an incredible half guard game. He is a great influence for the Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu competition team.

Riddum.com: What kind of advice would you give for all the white belts in jiu jitsu who may be reading this interview?

Dave Camarillo: White belts need to learn a systematic approach to grappling. For every position you need a system. The time it takes for you to think about what to do is too long! You need to react, not think. And that starts day 1.

Riddum.com: As a student, you seemed to have been part of one of the most legendary team in BJJ, training under Cesar and Ralph Gracie alongside BJ Penn, and many other top level BJJ competitors. The story of the accomplishments of BJ are well known, and yourself, you were able to reach the brown belt level in only two years, which is unheard of to my knowledge. What has been this journey like in a few words?

Dave Camarillo: My journey has been amazing! I have trained with so many legends and champions. At one point in my career I was training 7 days a week. I put my life on hold to reach my full potential as a grappler. It is that experience that has really allowed me to be a high level instructor and MMA coach. I bring all that blood and sweat into my teachings. Because of this I have an insight into what it means to be on an elite level. I think my contribution couldn’t be what it is without my mother and father pushing me into Judo at such an early age.

Riddum.com: One last thing, you are still relatively young at 35 years old and as I said earlier, you have a very entertaining style to watch, is there any chance we will see you compete in jiu jitsu in the future?

Dave Camarillo: I am 35 and have no plans to ever compete again. My success comes only because I focus on my students, Team AKA and my academy. That is a full time focus. I have also learned to love the life of a teacher. You have to love your life, you have to love the life of a competitor to have success in competition.

Riddum.com: Thank you very much for your time. If there anything you’d like to add, feel free to do so!

Dave Camarillo: Thank you for the opportunity for the interview. I hope to travel to France one day. It is a place I have never been but would love to visit. Take care!

You will find the French translated version of this interview here.

Here are a few demos and a Guerrilla Jiu-Jitsu match found on Dave Camarillo's official website :

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