- Imagine if you're a sensei
with your very own traditional dojo.
Until one day you decide to just shut it down,
close it, leave your students,
and fly to another country, to become an MMA fighter.
(whimsical marching band music)
That's exactly what my friend Roccas did,
and today he's gonna share his story, and more importantly,
what you can learn from his amazing journey.
(percussive hype music)
( hands clapping)
What's up, I'm Jesse from karatebyjesse.com,
AKA The Karate Nerd,
and today I'm joined by my very good friend Roccas.
Thank you so much, for being here in my dojo,
and I think we should take it from the beginning.
Why did you start with a traditional martial art
but then decided to just leave it all behind
and become an MMA fighter?
Like, take us back there.
Well, it's quite a big story.
Obviously, there were many twists and turns,
but basically, to put it simply,
it began with me growing up in a troubled city.
- Okay. - Where there was,
a lot of crime.
I was a peaceful kid all the time,
and my friends got beaten up around me
because we were all a bunch of peaceful kids,
- But I never wanted to hurt anyone,
back in the day (laughing),
and I mean, I wasn't a fighter,
- But I wanted to defend, I wanted to defend my friends,
and then that's when I learned about Aikido.
- And so at what age did you start Aikido?
- So actually I just turned 14.
- So my birthday just passed,
and maybe a few weeks later,
I was invited into an Aikido training,
and I loved it from the day one.
I always loved the samurai,
I always loved the samurai sword,
- The culture and stuff? - The Japanese culture,
exactly, exactly, and when I saw this,
Aikido's a lot about that, you know the hakama,
and there is sword work,
and it's just so aesthetic, I just like,
I felt like, this is what I need to do.
And that's where I devoted to it, and I spent.
- [Jesse] So you completely fell for it.
- [Roccas] Absolutely.
- [Jesse] You became passionate or obsessed,
depending on who you ask?
- Absolutely, I could say both,
and I like to make this joke
that I was still going to school,
at that time, and initially there was school and I did
Aikido as the side thing.
it became I did Aikido and the school became the side thing.
- Oh, that's exactly like me with my karate.
- And eventually when I turned 18
or I was close to 19, school was ending,
and I needed to choose what to do.
And I realized, I loved Aikido so much,
- And it was a risky turn,
I mean a risky decision.
But I thought, you know what instead of studying,
I'll become a live in student,
Uchi-deshi, - Yeah.
- And go for my dream, try become a full time
Aikido sensei. - Yeah
- And that was the next stage.
- So, if you don't mind me asking,
what did your parents think when you said,
" I'm going to be a full time Aikido sensei"?
- It was terrible (laughing),
It was a disaster in their eyes.
I came up with this idea,
I think one day I came down to my parents, I said,
" You know what, I won't study,
I'll will go to Japan and be a live in student".
- Did you go to Japan?
- Actually I never did, I never ended up.
The reason was, because it was hard to get there for me,
obviously financially and everything, but at the same time.
You needed a recommendation,
and the dojo's in Lithuania didn't have that at the moment.
But initially that was my idea,
and I told it to my mom, and I remember to this day
the look on her face.
She was washing dishes and she just stared at me, I think.
Yeah I just terrified her,
and then we began what I call the long war.
- The long war?
- Yeah, for two years,
I was trying to convince my parents
that this is a good idea.
They were trying to convince me that it's a bad idea.
- Eventually they agreed,
I have an older brother so they decided
they said, " You know what".
My brother Arness, his names Arness.
"Arness is a normal kid he did the right thing,
let's leave Roccas as this experimental child
and let's see what happens, it's like.
They thought I will fail miserably,
I would, I'd say I didn't,
eventually they became happy with the result.
But back then they thought I'm making a huge mistake.
- So, you ended up trying to become a professional teacher,
and that's what you became.
You had your own dojo,
you had students, it was your full time job,
- [ Roccas] It was absolutely.
- [ Jesse] And tell us about that time,
what would a normal day look like?
- [Roccas] In a way it was very intense,
it was not only like a job
it was also like a role.
A 24, I would say it's a 24/7 job.
- Right, a lifestyle.
- Right absolutely, and the the people,
I had a very close relationship with my students,
it was not just I come teach and I go home, and that's it.
But I was always there for them,
we'd have meetings before,
after we'd have special community events,
it was really like a tight community and obviously,
I was in the leading role of it.
- And so, you successfully became a sensei,
what did your parents say now?
- It, there was the.
- Did they still not really believe you would last, or?
- Actually, the turning point was when they came down,
I was a live-in student in Switzerland,
an Aikido live in student.
And they came down for my black belt exam,
and that's actually the first time they really
saw me do Aikido,
although I was like, I don't know,
six or seven years into it.
But then when they saw me doing Aikido,
they saw the community, they met my sensei.
They really felt the passion for it
and that's the moment when they started believing in me.
And so when I came back to my country Lithuania,
and I started opening the dojo,
they were completely supportive.
They helped me build it,
they helped me with the rent,
they helped me with everything.
And to this day,
they have quite a strong belief in what I do,
and that really means a lot to me.
- Yeah of course.
So, you kept up this whole Aikido thing,
you had your students,
you were a sensei, but then something must have turned,
there must have been some point where you said like.
" I'm not sure this is the right path for me".
Because right now you're an MMA fighter,
and you don't have your dojo.
So what happened?
- Well, it was a slow gradual transition,
I knew already that Aikido, or the way I perceive it,
that it's not a powerful practice for self defense.
And initially, I did start Aikido for self defense,
but I never had the confidence
that I could deal with a physical altercation.
And I had ideas,
that maybe in extreme situations it would work,
but it never gave me that strong confidence of,
" I know exactly how to deal with a physical attack".
And that realization was with me,
and I realized that most of the.
- So you always had a little bit of a doubt
in your mind about the street effectiveness of Aikido?
- Yeah, even when I was attacked,
and I was attacked a bunch of times,
especially in my teens. - Oh shit.
- The city I lived in was pretty bad,
and I never knew what to do.
I trained Aikido for three to four years.
- You never managed to use your Aikido skills?
- Not really, like I would freeze up in that situation,
I wouldn't know what to do and eventually
I would just punch or go for a kind of a random,
instinctual attack rather than, you know, grab me.
- So, would you say that Aikido itself
wasn't the right thing for you,
or that you were using Aikido in the wrong way?
What do you think, is kind of the idea here?
- It really depends on who you would ask,
some people would argue more for one side than the other.
But, in my opinion,
I'd say Aikido is not designed to do that.
Maybe it can work in a certain way, in certain situations.
But Aikido is very, you could say it's very clean,
the way you train on the mats even the attacks,
And this is even a common criticism,
that even Aikido people talk about.
That the attack are, it's like a Shomen Uchi, Yokomen Uchi,
or the punches.
They're not, really replicating the real attacks
that you would be attacked with in everyday life.
Some of the grabs maybe, but just,
the attacks and the way you train,
there's not much pressure.
There's a lot of co-operation.
- Exactly, isn't that one of the points of Aikido,
to like harmonize with the opponent?
- Yeah, it absolutely is, but the was I see it now,
it's just the initial stage
that you would need to grow through.
it's important to feel how you blend with the partner,
which is co-operating but then,
nobody will co-operate with you,
if they attack you, in reality .
So you need to,
and the idea behind it, is that you will be able to,
do it instinctually,
but I believe that you have to experience that,
in safe environment.
And that's why, pressure testing,
sparring, and that's what,
part of what MMA and Brazilian Jujitsu
inspired me, later on.
Because you have the pressure testing,
which is I think lacking in Aikido.
- So, there was this kind of,
lack of fulfillment from Aikido?
It had some parts that resonated with you,
but also some stuff you felt was missing,
from what you initially wanted from martial arts.
Which was essentially to defend yourself
and be confident, right?
- Very true.
- So what happened then, how did this transition happen?
- So, I noticed,
so I had an understanding
that it's not exactly what I though it is.
I knew it's not making me into a good fighter,
a good self defense expert.
- So at this point, let me just interrupt you,
there were two possible paths,
because I think a lot of traditional martial artists,
have this kind of lingering thought in their heads that,
" Mm mm, this might not be the best thing.
But I've invested so much time,
and energy and money probably, into this training.
So, I just out on my blinders and I stick to it right?"
Or, you do what you did.
- That's a good point. - So tell us about that?
- That's a very good point,
obviously that thought came into my mind as well.
That I'm taking a big risk,
by becoming vocal about the issues,
and the way it happened is,
I was already running, as a side thing.
A YouTube channel for just like Aikido tutorials,
I explain it in a simple way,
and people liked it, so I kept publishing them.
But, I would get comments from my Kidoka that,
"Oh you're doing this technique wrong,
and you're doing this technique wrong".
And not to say they were, I was doing it right,
and they were wrong.
But I would say to them eventually
it doesn't really matter that much.
Because it's not like,
we're really going to use that technique,
if somebody attacks.
And they were upset about it,
they didn't see the point that I'm making.
And so I got upset about that, so much,
I thought, I need to make a video where I show that,
Aikido is not exactly what people think it is.
And so I organized,
what I called the Aikido versus MMA sparring.
- So, I found a professional MMA fighter,
who was kind enough to spar with me in a light manner,
and where I literally did my best to try to,
do something against him,
like wrist block or any other technique.
And I have it on record, nothing worked,
I knew that I will fail,
but it was even worse than I thought,
I could do nothing against him.
Hello everyone, my name is Roccas,
and today I'm in an MMA dojo.
(soft techno music)
- And, before publishing that I realized, it's a big risk,
because it will expose ,
I was aware, that I'm not that type of person
that could deal with an MMA fighter.
But, some of my students
maybe had that illusion,
some of my viewers maybe had that illusion.
So I realized, that I'm completely exposing myself and
the other way as you mentioned
would be to pretend that nothing happened,
and to not publish that video,
But for me truth is very important.
I feel like, if I would have lied to myself,
I wouldn't be happy, and happiness is important as well.
I thought, "You know what, this is a big risk,
I might take some damage from it, but it's worth it".
- Now your on this path, your video is out there,
you've exposed yourself.
There's no turning back.
So why not try to make
your Aikido effective instead of just abandoning it?
And just you know,
- So, that's a great question, and I did try,
I did try for about almost a year,
I tried cross training,
and asking I used the online platform
to find people who would know
what they're doing and help me out.
In reinventing my Aikido,
but after a years effort, I looked at it and I realized.
- This is shit. - Yeah it's like,
first of all I'm not the right type of person to do that.
- You didn't have the knowledge to.
- Exactly, it's like,
if I would want to make Aikido efficient.
I would have to be efficient
at something which is already efficient.
- How did your students react when you said,
"Hey guys, I'm done with the Aikido stuff,
I'm going to be an MMA fighter".
- It was.
- Did they feel kind of betrayed,
or did they kind of see this coming?
- It was such a big part of their lifestyle,
and I came out of nowhere,
because I didn't talk about,
"I'm thinking about closing the dojo".
I made the decision in one day, the next day I meet them,
my core group and I say,
" Well you know what, I'm planning to close the dojo", and.
- Did they start crying.
- I think there were some tears, I mean
there wasn't like pure on crying,
I saw the tears, especially in some of the lady students.
And actually that hit me harder than I thought,
I thought they would be like, at that moment
I was becoming dispassionate about Aikido.
And I almost expected them to be dispassionate
as well and but it turned out
they were more passionate than I thought.
And so when I said, " I'm closing the dojo".
I hurt them more than I expected, so.
So that was, that was a big challenge, to later think,
how can I deal with this to,
to leave the community in the best way I can.
So that was not easy.
- So let's fast forward,
you left Aikido, shut down your dojo,
left your home country,
and what was your first experience like,
when it came to MMA.
Did you get just grounded and pounded into oblivion,
or did you manage
to use some of your Aikido training to, cope?
What was your experience?
- So, right after closing the school, the dojo.
I went to the States,
Portland where I did a six months intensive training.
- Like a crash course.
- Yeah exactly, and that was, the good thing,
it was for regular people,
it was kind of an intelligent decision by myself,
to not throw myself in the den of wolves.
But just to start with everyone from zero,
and so, the gym that I trained there,
it's very welcoming, very friendly.
So actually, I wasn't smashed or destroyed.
- [Jesse] No that's good.
- [Roccas] And so yeah, so I gradually kind of,
grew into the world of MMA,
and I started loving it very much.
- What did you discover about MMA,
that you maybe did not expect?
- It's hard to say necessarily
what, I didn't expect from the MMA itself.
Because I kind of had a vision for what I want.
But one thing which was surprising for me to discover,
kind of became this full circle
from looking back to my childhood.
Because I started off Aikido,
wanting , as you actually said wanting that self confidence,
wanting to be a powerful fighter,
but in the Aikido community,
that's kind of neglected, that's presented.
In a way, again not everyone would agree with me
but often times it would be presented as a bad desire.
To want to be a fighter, it's seen as a negative thing.
And I slowly dropped,
wanting to be this peaceful warrior
rather than just a fighter.
But when trained MMA
I started realizing, that part was always in me.
I actually always wanted to be capable as a fighter,
as a warrior, to able to defend myself to be able to defend,
protect others and training MMA,
there's so much pressure there's so much sense of danger,
and you become used to it.
That now, when I walk in the streets
and I see a physical altercation, becoming possible.
There's no sense of strong fear that was there anymore,
I feel like okay,
there's maybe there's some sense of,
there's still some stress,
but at the same time, I would feel, I know what I would do.
And if somebody gets attacked,
I would step in with confidence.
I would try to deal with that situation,
while in the past.
That ability was not there with Aikido and so,
I was, but mainly what surprised me was,
the realization that actually I always wanted that.
But I suppressed it with Aikido,
and then I rediscovered that desire
and it's very enjoyable actually.
- So what has been your biggest challenge,
when it comes to this transition
from a traditional martial art, to a more modern
combat sports oriented martial art?
- Again good question, it's almost hard to say, I think.
- Like what do you struggle with the most?
- I definitely am going through a challenge right now, so,
I guess that's most on my mind.
So the next step that I made
after Portland, I moved to Dublin,
to train at Straight Blast Gym, Ireland,
which is one of the biggest main gyms in Europe.
With a lot of professional fighters,
and I trained them and most of them
have three to ten times more experience than I do.
- So they're like black belts and
you're like a white or yellow belt.
- Exactly, and I try to deal with them toe to toe,
and that means, 90% of the time I quote on quote lose,
which I think looking back.
I never had too much trouble with that.
But I think that when you look at it a certain way.
It is a big challenge to anyone, including myself,
is, in Aikido when you become good enough,
you don't get challenged much, anymore.
Because, you know the techniques.
- I've seen the videos, people throw themselves,
you just have to do this.
- Yeah, you know exactly how to do it,
they know how to fall, and.
- There's no real chaos involved,
it is very pre-determined.
- Exactly, and so you learn how to look good
and you're the black belt, or the sensei,
so nobody questions you,
and you become comfortable at being the winner all the time.
And in MMA and Brazilian jujitsu,
'I'm sure judo as well.
There's some martial arts which have a lot of pressure,
that some of them I never try.
But them in that you are,
forced to learn that you will never be the best.
That there's always someone better than you
and that you're forced to always realize you're limitations.
Of how much you don't know,
and it's a great, and very healthy experience I find.
- Yeah, humbling.
- Humbling, yeah so, it's just, I feel like
you always have to find a balance.
You still have to win some, lose some,
and sometimes when you keep on losing and losing and losing.
That's a tough challenge, so.
- The negative spiral.
- Yeah and it's,
it just takes a lot of mental fortitude as well to,
say, "Okay, I'm learning, I am developing".
You know if I get tapped,
if I get chocked, arm barred, whatever
then I'm still learning something.
It's not a loss, it's a win, but it's tough,
it's not an easy process.
And it's something that you go through in
Aikido for a year or two in the beginning,
because you don't know the techniques.
You're the newbie,
But a few years down the road you keep on climbing up
and the challenge just almost disappears, so.
That's a big challenge.
- And then you decided to do a cage fight?
- Yes - Right?
- Yes, that was there.
- And how did that go?
- It was an extremely interesting experience.
Just going into the cage, they literally lock you there.
And it's just such and interesting realization,
because you're both standing there,
two individuals, realizing that,
and that realization hit me that,
the only reason we're there mainly is to hurt each other.
That person is there to only, to defeat me,
to hurt me bad, and my purpose.
Is for their, obviously there's more,
greater purposes, you know.
You're fighting against yourself,
your overcoming challenges.
But if you break it down, in the most simplistic way,
the reason you're there is to, beat each other up.
And that's just nuts. (Jesse's laughter drowns out Roccas)
Mental, and the funniest thing is,
you make that decision on your own,
nobody forces you to go there. You go on your own,
well to the cage to have that experience for three times,
three minutes, and it's very interesting to go there.
- But as somebody who started martial arts to,
Now you're forced to, also to attack somebody
and that's the opposite of defending yourself.
Because you're not just waiting for him to do stuff,
your actually actively trying to hurt somebody.
Is that mindset shift difficult or do you,
kind of enjoy that killer instinct feeling?
- You know there's a great phrase
that the coach I'm learning from right now,
John Kavanagh, he said, he was defining violence,
because many people consider MMA to be very violent,
but I liked his definition of violence,
that violence is when you're imposing,
when your hurting someone against their will.
And this is kind of an interesting twist,
it makes sense, that when you're stepping into the cage,
you're both there willingly.
Technically it's not violence - No
- You're not beating up the other person against his will.
He's there to to that,
- And there are rules,
referees of the sport.
- Right, so you're not trying, there's no,
I never had that,
even then I didn't have that killer intention,
or killer feeling, or the sense of I want to,
destroy him or anything.
But there, the sense that the other,
person was almost like a metaphor for me.
It was more of, I'm fighting,
this is a challenge,
that I need to overcome.
So it wasn't personal,
it wasn't like I hate you, or,
And, I think that, that helped,
so every punch I landed,
or any other technique that I did,
was, as strange as it sounds,
but I honestly felt like that was for the greater good.
To show, that it's possible to do that,
that anyone can step into the cage,
and you need to,
if you're facing challenge, you need to do your best,
no matter what happens,
so for me it was more of a metaphor, than an actual,
"I go hurt this person".
And I think that helped me,
still feel like, in a way that was,
as strange as it sounds,
in a way there was still some Aikido there.
The sense of perspective, it wasn't about my lens,
it wasn't about hurting the other person,
it was more about the challenge itself.
- Are there other, whether it's a mindset thing,
or a tactic, or technique or strategy.
Is there anything that you feel
like you're bring into your new MMA journey.
From Aikido that you feel is still useful.
Even though it's a completely different kind of martial art.
Except the break falling.
- Break falling is awesome, I think that's one of the best
things in Aikido.
I do recognize certain abilities from Aikido coming in.
So, like managing the distance, or feeling the distance,
Also the ability to understand,
to perceive the body, mechanics,
because in Aikido.
There's so many intricate, complicated techniques,
There's so many things you need to memorize,
and position your body in the most intricate ways.
In the relationship to another person,
that when I'm shown a Brazilian jujitsu technique or,
a boxing technique or anything,
my mind is able to see and to replicate that, my body,
so it's my personal opinion, and hopefully I'm not wrong.
But I feel like that make me a very good student,
because I'm able to take what I see,
and replicate it because I did it for such a long time,
So the sense of just body awareness,
understanding how my body works,
how the body of another person works,
and I think that becomes a huge advantage
the more and more that I train.
And that comes obviously from Aikido.
- Do you have any recommendations
for other traditionalists out there,
Who maybe are searching for something else?
- I think that the bursting of the bubble, which I know.