Part II of MMA Philippines’ Exclusive Interview with 6th Dan Judoka and BJJ Black Belt John Baylon
I was a nervous wreck this particular Saturday afternoon. I had done interviews before, but this was different: John Baylon is arguably the greatest Filipino judoka ever. Already in his 50’s, physically he still looks like the man who dominated judo over 20 years ago.
Walking with him around the premises of that afternoon’s Pan Asians, people – some his students, more competitors from other schools – kept bowing and greeting him. Obviously, the reputation of this simple, quiet man preceded him. But it is his attitude that makes him relatable, respectable, remarkable.
We started our conversation with the 1991 SEA Games in Manila. Sensei John considers it his most memorable triumph. “I’ll always remember the four fights I won which lasted less than 93 seconds each, and what made it even sweeter was the fact that it was in front of Filipino fans who always cheered for me.” This would be the first of nine gold medals won by Baylon in the biennial meet – a SEA Games record for an individual athlete.
We proceeded to conversing about Sensei John’s decision to pursue BJJ after judo in 2002. He received his black belt six years later in 2008 under Toshiyuki Wado, who got his black belt from two-time ADCC Champion Leonardo Vieira.”I really preferred grappling ever since because size gets nullified on the ground when having to deal with a quicker, faster opponent. So transitioning to BJJ was a natural one after judo, and I just love the aspect of grappling and the concept of self-improvement. Even in my early days as a judoka, I favored the grappling aspect of it because I knew I had an advantage.”
Of course, the talk gravitated towards MMA and how a judoka can compete in it.”If you have a judo background, it’s easier to take your opponent down without having to shoot, which opens you up to a knee, kick, or punch, and end up getting KO’d,” Sensei John spoke of judo’s key advantage in MMA. “But you still have to train in all aspects of the fight and not be one-dimensional. It’s one thing to get close and lock arms to execute throws. But before doing that you have to utilize strikes to get inside your opponent’s range, which is easier said than done. Look at what happened to Rousey vs. Nunes. Ronda could not adjust when Amanda kept her distance and relied on her striking. Same with wrestlers who have a tendency to go back to their instincts without any defense.
“In MMA, you have to train in every aspect of the fight so you don’t get caught. If you’re a striker, then you need to work on defending submissions and takedowns even if you’re not proficient at it, because there’s always somebody better. Same thing if you’re a grappler, you need to practice your striking so your opponent does not always wait to hit you on the counter when you shoot or come close to initiate a takedown. The sport has evolved so much to the point where an MMA fighter needs all the tools to compete and win in a fight. Training and repetition are important especially when it comes to improving on the skills you lack.”
He got very excited talking about Clube de Jiu-Jitsu. “We moved to Libertad in Pasay in 2012 and slowly but surely our students have increased. That is where patience gets you to improve yourself as a teacher because you will get different people with different backgrounds and skill levels,” Sensei John reflects on his experiences in coaching. “I’ve had types of students ranging from zero knowledge to people who can perform a berimbolo or a gogoplata because of what they have watched on YouTube, although the technique is not that smooth and that is expected, so I’ve had to treat each student differently based on what their capacity is physically and mentally. We never force our students to compete in tournaments, but we encourage them to do so because competing is part of the learning process and gives something normal training cannot give.
“[Competitions provide an] environment which breeds confidence and self-worth, apart from respecting your opponent and the drive to always improve yourself, because there’s always someone better than you and that should be incentive for you to always move forward,” elaborates Sensei John. “As much as possible, I encourage my students to keep competing locally and even abroad if given the chance. Some students start off training for fitness but eventually the itch to compete overtakes them, and they decide to join. I always tell them to take each loss as a learning experience so you can be better.”
Baylon also finds the challenges in coaching to be very different from those of an athlete. “Whether in a club or the national team, it’s hard to be a coach because you have to adjust, be patient, and manage everyone in the gym, while you only take care of yourself as an athlete. But this is how we evolve as people, and I am more than happy to always help my students. This means I have to be strict with them sometimes so they can learn properly, but there is always a time for everything. Even something as simple as the proper grip can be missed by students but you have to be patient with them because they have different skill levels.” He said this with a wry smile, which begged the question: Has he ever walked out on a class out of frustration? “Never. I have never walked out on a class, although we had an instructor in Japan who would walk out and go home if you were late!
“There is a big difference culturally between Japan and the Philippines. Sometimes, it can be a disadvantage because, even though I learned martial arts in Japan, I can never fully implement their practices to Filipinos because I will lose students if I decide to do that!” Sensei John adds while laughing. “I learned judo in Kodokan, the strictest dojo in the world, and in there you will be sent out if you do not sit properly, your belt is loose or untied, or your gi is hanging out. I maintain a level of discipline with my students, but to fully implement the rules in Japan here would be difficult to do. In Japan, once you decide to learn a martial art, you follow it, no exceptions and no gray areas. Here you need to adjust because of the people. In Japan, it’s okay to shout and, batukan mo yung student, but here you cannot do that.”
Would leniency be a disadvantage for Filipinos, especially in competition? “It’s a disadvantage because in an actual match, when you experience adversity your training will determine how you react and ultimately win or lose the contest. If you have been training under the most rigid of conditions and your mind and heart have been conditioned to perform under that kind of stress compared to your opponent who has not, you have a bigger chance of winning. In those few minutes where the stress is highest is where it comes out and your training will help you a lot. That is something we Filipinos need to realize when we compete, especially in combat sports. That’s why in Japan and Korea, they take losing a match similar to losing a loved one, and that fuels them to train even harder. Some would go straight back to the gym to practice and review what went wrong and how they can correct that mistake. It all boils down to discipline.”
As a 6th dan red and white belt in Kodokan Judo, Sensei John believes that with the right motivation, judo in the Philippines would continue to move forward. “The future of the sport is in good hands especially with (Filipino-Japanese) Kiyomi Watanabe leading the charge. It’s very important that our national team members get to train at the highest level in Japan, where they will be pushed to the limit as our local level here needs to catch up with the other countries. Another way to improve and get better is by competing in big tournaments like the one in Paris recently. This will help us in the long run, not only in the SEA Games but in the Asian Games and the Olympics as well, to have judokas who are willing to give their all for the country and for their personal pride as well.”
Sensei John believes that we can emulate Japan’s systemic approach to developing world-class judokas and martial artists. “In Japan, they are taught martial arts as early as elementary school, and they carry that all the way through junior and senior high school and college, which results in world champions as early as 18 years of age. We do have tournaments in the UAAP, but what we lack are competitions at an earlier age. Another aspect is that training in Japan is year-round, tournament or not and that is another thing missing from our program. There should be training the whole year regardless of the competition schedule.
“There should also be a plan in place to have juniors replace the seniors when they retire. When I retired, nobody replaced me at my weight class, and recently (three-time SEA Games gold medalist) Gilbert Ramirez retired and nobody was there to replace him. In Japan and Korea, they always have someone in the pipeline once their current champions either retire or get injured, and that is something all our national sports associations really need to look into. I was blessed to have competed for 24 years and set a record by winning nine golds, but we can’t expect this to happen to any athlete all the time.”
That begs the question: Would Baylon be interested in coaching the national team? “I can see myself eventually handling the national team. But first, I want our judo kata (forms) team to win gold before I handle the national team, and we are looking at the 2019 SEA Games here in Manila where kata will be entered in the judo competition.”
Finally, Sensei John’s message to the martial arts community: “We are moving towards a great period because I see BJJ becoming one of the best sports in this country and producing world class athletes. Let us all stay healthy, maintain discipline, and show respect not just in martial arts but in our way of life as well, as this is an extension of who we are. A lack of discipline also shows our character and this is something we need to always work on whatever sport we participate in. Always show sportsmanship by respecting your opponent when you compete and stay safe.”
For those interested to attend classes, check out Academia John Baylon – Clube De Jiu Jitsu Filipinas on the following social media platforms:
You can also contact them @ 0998 8614266 or 0949 8947791 or visit www.johnbaylonbjj.com/
Gary Navida fell in love with the sport since the first UFC in 1993 and has never stopped supporting MMA since. He’ll tell you he’s a nice guy…but you already know that.
P.S. This article is dedicated to my first martial arts coach who did not just teach me fighting skills but also taught me the values of self-discipline and responsibility. I miss you, Papa. I’ll never forget what you taught me because this is what stays even if you’ve already gone ahead. I love you.
Powered by Facebook Comments