(Oli Geddes, Roger Gracie brown belt and full-time BJJ competitor)
Oli Geddes is a name you cannot avoid on the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu circuit in the UK. Competing domestically and internationally, the full-time BJJ practitioner is devoted to fighting, and winning, in every arena possible. Geddes sports a fresh brown belt after his second gold medal at the European BJJ championships and to be awarded the distinction by world champion and RGA chief instructor Roger Gracie is not something he takes lightly. The journey to faixa marrom is not one that has been without its pitfalls and the customary blood, sweat and tears shed on the mat, however. Always optimistic, Oli credits the dedication to succeed as a key factor and intends to honour the grade bestowed upon him.
“It’s a heavy load to bear,” Oli mused of the recent promotion, but he isn’t afraid to admit that it does motivate him. “Basically, yes, grades inspire me. Always have. I always wanted to be a black belt in this, that and the other when I was younger. But, I would never want to get a grade that I didn’t deserve, which ties into the competitions, to an extent. I want to know that I’m fighting at the level of the belt above before I get it. So, it’s a target I reach for, but not one that I would want to receive without the hard work beforehand.”
This is a recurring theme in combat sports; hard work coming before the rewards and never the other way around. Geddes has certainly paid his dues though, and will head to brown belt competition well prepared.
“I think it’s going to be an eye-opening experience. Brown belt is the first real ‘professional-level’ belt, where a significant number of the fighters there have been training for years and will be putting in full-time hours to their training. And, most brown belt champions are already good level black belts in terms of skill level. So, it’s scary, but I believe I can fight at that level, although it’s going to be a serious system shock.”
He has never shirked a tough challenge though, citing the Abu Dhabi Pro Trials victory as one of his defining moments, and one that will cement in him the belief that his skills can be held up and attested for at the highest level.
“I was a two-stripe purple belt and I headed out there to try and scalp a brown belt and fight a black belt,” Oli told us. “That was all I went for really, to fight higher level guys on a big stage. And then I beat a black belt and a brown belt and I qualified for the Abu Dhabi Pro in Dubai which was just crazy. I mean, I ended up in the same division as Michael Langhi, Marcelo Garcia, all those guys, and I was just a guy from the UK who’d been doing BJJ for a bit under four years. It was insane really. And yes, I lost, but just to stand on the mat with those guys was an honour and an experience I hope to have many more times in the future.”
His ethos surrounding competition is to be admired. When he can be seen competing from the sunny climes of Portugal to the drizzly North West of England and everywhere in between, you know he does it for a reason and there’d have to be a motivation to drag yourself out of bed on a Sunday morning with, quite often, a country-length road trip.
“The winning? Is it wrong to say that?” Oli jokes. “Basically, all I’m trying to achieve by competing is to stand out, to push myself forward to the next level and, basically, to make myself ‘legitimate’. Five to ten years down the line there are going to be black belts all over the UK and the only thing that there is to distinguish one from the other on paper is what they’ve achieved. So right now, I’m building my CV.
“Plus, frankly, there’s no excuse for me not to compete. It’s not like I do anything else. It definitely doesn’t hurt that most of the days out are good fun, with a lot of familiar faces and friendly unfamiliar ones, plus a chance to better get to know other students from the academy and just generally have a good experience.”
Going back to the beginning, having the vehemence to persevere when the situation wasn’t exactly favourable was a pivotal part of what landed Oli where he is today although he won’t accept that the hardships he faced for the sake of Jiu Jitsu were so bad:
“I wish I could say it’s been hard and I had to spend months eating cat food but, honestly, I’ve been exceptionally lucky,” he admitted.
Counting having friends in the right places that were willing to give up corridor space for him to sleep on for six months as being lucky shows the die-hard attitude Geddes has and promotes towards his Jiu Jitsu.
“I walked into probably the only academy in London that could support a junior assistant, at a time when they had no-one else, and I just stuck with it,” he added, describing how he found a role within the Roger Gracie Academy through perseverance.
Uprooting from a safe and secure home without knowing how you’re going to pay the bills is a scary thought. Well, a scary thought to most but, when your heart is set on chasing your dreams and trying to avoid the rat race, it doesn’t seem like such a big price to pay.
“It just worked out,” Oli states, almost frivolously, not afraid to throw caution to the wind whilst the opportunity is there. “If it didn’t work out, it didn’t work out, and I would have to get a ‘proper’ job. Luckily, it never came to that!”
Now he gets by training and competing full-time though, is the BJJ lifestyle all about wearing flip-flops, throwing ‘hang loose’ signs and eating Acai?
“[It’s] probably not as impressive as one would expect! Basically, I’ll train afternoon and evening Monday through Friday, with only a single class on the Saturday. I may also do some one-to-one sessions or help out with the beginners classes in that time, but it’s not as if I’m a UFC fighter who’s doing conditioning and drills and everything else for six hours a day.”
“I doubt my body could take that,” Oli continued. “So right now I’m just training as hard as I can to get better at Jiu Jitsu. When being an athlete holds me back then maybe I’ll work on that.”
Although his athleticism has never been brought into question, Oli admits he wasn’t the prodigy in the class, as most people aren’t, and his steadfast nature and doggedness helped him along; something everyone will have to rely upon at some point or another.
“I was never really a natural, to be honest,” came the answer. “Everyone else at the gym was leagues ahead of me and although I trained hard to catch up, I didn’t show some huge rate of improvement straight away.”
In terms of advice for the up-and-coming grapplers and new guys that never think they’ll reach the upper echelons and belt levels, the advice is simple.
“Relax. Seriously. I know it sounds obvious, but there are so many fighters who are so tense at the beginning and honestly I think you lose a significant percentage of new students just because they don’t know how to relax and end up hurting themselves, sometimes quite seriously,” Oli said.
As you can expect, Geddes is showing no signs of slowing down, as often ultimately happens the further people progress up the grading scale. He has a busy year set with amateur MMA competition (and professional in the future although not, as he admits “not until I’m ready, I’m not that stupid”) and continuing to build on his BJJ resume, it’s “more of the same.”
“My focus for the year is on starting to work my way up to being a real threat at brown belt international level, as well as getting some more Amateur MMA in to fill in the rest of the time since competitions will be a little less available at Brown,” Oli states.
“So I’ll be starting a run for the Grapple and Strike and Combat Sports Open belts, for now. In terms of big BJJ comps? For now; the UK BJJ Premier Championships Elite division at the end of this month will be my first brown/black belt competition, European Open in Paris the week before, plus the Abu Dhabi Pro qualifiers and the Abu Dhabi Pro itself. Pan-ams and the Worlds sort of complete my next few months. So, it’s pretty packed. After all that…we’ll see where we are!”
Acclaim and respect has been earned through graft and commitment for Oli Geddes. Just because he’s taken a step further up the ladder, it doesn’t mean his priorities are going to change. You’ll still see him, the most prolific grappler around, doing his thing and hitting the competition mats as often as humanly possible.
Without certain people the opportunity wouldn’t be available though and Oli concludes with some thanks:
“A big thank you to Roger, for giving me the opportunity to get to where I am today, as well as Black Eagle (my gi sponsors, who have been extremely helpful with supporting me in my international competition career, and without whom I wouldn’t have achieved half as much as I have up to now), and to all my training partners who have helped push me to the next level on the mat every single day. You guys are great, and I owe all this to you. Thanks! Finally, a massive thank you to my girlfriend Chun-yee, who puts up with all the training, the competing, and all the drawbacks of my lifestyle with hardly a complaint.”
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