What does Damian Maia have to do with Ventura County Brazilian Jiu Jitsu?

UFC 214 Woodley vs. MaiaMany people watched the much-awaited fight between Tyrone Woodley and Demian Maia last Saturday night.  What we were all hoping for was a great battle between two of the best fighters in the world.  Could BJJ-specialist and world champ Damian Maia get knock-out king Woodley to the ground and choke him out? Or would Woodley stuff his take downs and knock the over-matched Maia into next week?

Well, what we got was an underwhelming and to be honest kind of boring fight.  Title holder Woodley fought to avoid losing, while challenger Maia just couldn’t impose his Jiu Jitsu game.  Woodley hit and ran, which to be honest I just don’t like while, Maia just had nothing for Woodley and his NCAA caliber wrestling. 

So, what does this have to do with Ventura County and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Or to be more specific, what does it have to do with Ojai Valley MMA?

I came into the studio at 5:30 am for our early morning “Fight Camp” class (cardio and strength-building workout based on martial-arts competition physical conditioning) and spoke to Carl Fronhofer our wrestling coach. “Hey Coach, did you watch the fights?”
“Could you have taken Woodley down?”
“I did!” he answered matter of factly, “every time we wrestled”.  The fact is you start MMA fights on your feet, you start BJJ matches on your feet, you start judo, wrestling and sambo matches on your feet.  You never get in a fight and say, “ok jackass I bet you won’t come down here and say that”. 
If you aren’t training takedowns you just aren’t fully training Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

And at Ojai Valley MMA we have the best wrestling instructor in Ventura County, maybe even the state.  Coach Carl not only was on the US wrestling team, but was head coach at Columbia University.  And if that is not enough, Renan Vital, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt Pan Am champ, and also Judo Black belt gives us the gi side of taking people down.  At this wonderful school in the heart of the Ojai Valley we have the instructors that can teach you how you can get the fight to the ground.  And then, the instructors to teach you how to finish once you are there.

Women’s Self Defense

Cheyenne - INstructor at Ojai Valley MMASelf Defense is a topic that has been on my mind since a young age. I grew up in rough neighborhoods and always had a healthy understanding of danger. In my adult life I’ve made a conscious effort to carry myself with confidence and make smart decisions in regards to safety.

I started Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at the young age of ten. We started in our garage, (as a lot of people did at that time) and it began as a fun way of roughhousing with my family. I started learning the techniques more seriously when my Dad opened an MMA and BJJ gym. My parents always encouraged my sister and I to take BJJ as a means of Self Defense and they eventually deemed it our ‘PE’ class. I quickly learned that my size and flexibility as a small girl could actually work to my benefit. When I sparred with the boys, they often had a hard time keeping me trapped because I could wiggle out of bad positions, and i could slip into good ones. (Turns out little arms fit really well around necks.)

I wasn’t very competitive, so I only participated in tournaments a couple of times. One of the few times that I did, I won a match against a wrestler boy. Jiu Jitsu seemed to be the great equalizer of the sexes.

I found things to be a bit different when I returned to the sport as an adult. My size and flexibility had changed dramatically and I felt I had to learn a whole new approach. As things came back to me, I realized that despite being bigger and less flexible, I was generally still smaller and more flexible than the men I was rolling with. Every high-ranked female BJJ player that I’ve spoken with has said a similar thing. We have to use our strengths against men (or any bigger, stronger person). We will never win if we try to fight the same way as a man. Generally men are going to be bigger and stronger, so we need to utilize leverage and movement. We have to be smarter. We have to predict their reactions and plan accordingly. There’s a very good reason why BJJ is said to be like a game of chess. If you’re doing right, it is.

My recent certification as a ‘Girls On Guard’ Instructor highlighted these same points. Women’s Self Defense is not an arm wrestling match, it’s about utilizing our strengths and being mindful of men’s weaknesses, in order to get out of bad situations. The techniques I learnt in my certification class came very naturally to me, and I have to thank my BJJ background for that. If you practice something enough, the instincts stay with you. Because of this, I would recommend BJJ to any woman looking to learn self defense.

The other key element to Women’s Self Defense is, simply put- street smarts. I have the neighborhoods I grew up in to thank for this. How you carry yourself, how you assert yourself, your awareness of your surroundings. Women are socialized to be apologetic, to shrink themselves and be submissive. Predators of  women count on these things. They choose women who are distracted (on their phones, headphones in, etc) and/or women who look unsure or lost. Generally speaking, men aren’t going to target women who are aware of their surroundings, confident, and look like they’ll put up a fight. I joke that ‘resting bitch face’ is actually blessing, and I’m only half kidding.

BJJ built my confidence up in a way that helped me walk around feeling less scared. Feminism helped me to find my voice and challenge myself to be more assertive. I began to notice all the times that I chosen someone else’s comfort over my own, and I made a conscious decision to stop doing that. It’s something I still need to work on, and girls/women of all ages have said the same thing to me. We need to start trusting our intuition and to stop second guessing ourselves when something feels off.
Ventura County feels like a reasonably safe place compared to others, but the reality of being a woman in this world is realizing that we need to be aware and prepared for anything. I don’t walk around scared of what could happen, actually it’s the opposite- I walk around knowing that if something did happen, I am prepared to deal with it to the best of my ability. So when some creep does decide to approach me, I have no problem telling him to back off. And if there’s a creep that decides not to listen, I have the training to make him regret that.

Cheyenne is currently a Kickboxing and Self Defense Instructor at Ojai Valley MMA in Oak View, (located 10min away from Ventura). Come by if you are interested in gaining the skills and confidence to feel safe in the way that she does.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as self defense

Right now there is a battle going on for the heart of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu From Ventura to Rio de Janeiro, from Japan to Ojai, opinions are being thrown at each other with spit and vinegar.  As in most cases of philosophical disagreement there are two camps, entrenched in their belief, pointing fingers at the other and desperate to prove their point, rather than trying to hear and understand the other.  But the vast majority of people are not purists.  They will decide which side they are on, but hold their opinion with less strength, and with a bit more acceptance of shades of grey.

I would like to say right from the start that I am not a purist.  But I do have a preference.  I also believe firmly that the two philosophies are not mutually exclusive. 

The issue I am talking about is Jiu Jitsu as sport vs jiu jitsu as self defense.  My belief is that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu should first and foremost be addressed as a martial art.  That at the very heart and soul of BJJ's history and technical fundamentals is the idea that any student of Jiu Jitsu should know how to defend oneself in a violent encounter.  I believe that not only is this the most important aspect of the art, but that the rules and scoring of tournament jiu jitsu is meant to reflect these self defense skills.

When Brazilian Jiu Jitsu first gained its foothold into modern pop culture it did so with the focus firmly on the idea that the art could serve as protection against not only street thugs, but even against trained martial artists.  The proof of BJJ's superiority was its ability in no rules challenge matches to avoid damage, and overcome their opponent.  The truth is Brazilian Jiu Jitsu advocates even specifically critiqued other martial arts as becoming irrelevant because of their lack of realistic training, and the sportification of the art in question.  In other words, if it doesn't work when applied in the ultimate test, a bigger, stronger opponent trying to hurt you in real life then it doesn't work and how do you know if you never put it on the line?

The litigious nature of modern American life, demanded that challenge matches became a thing of the past.  And with the growing popularity of the art, people wanted avenues with which to test their progress.  This resulted in the creation of more and more tournaments.  By their very nature these organized sporting events had rules to increase safety, and to measure performance.  With sport comes the desire to win.  This desire to win will always seek to make the most out of the rules.  Manipulating the rules to insure victory, rather than to grow more and more proficient in self defense.

Many years on Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has become what it criticized other arts for becoming.  A sport that does not allow its adherents to confront the very real and scary challenge of defending yourself against a bigger stronger opponent who will not follow any rules, compromises its self defense technique.  That it has been watered down with competition techniques that would result in serious injury in a real life situation.

At Ojai Valley MMA we believe that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is first and foremost a martial art, and as such its designed to enable us to defend ourselves.  With that in mind I try as much as I am able to point out how and why the techniques are used in a self defense situation.  But also, loving the sport, and encouraging people to compete, I teach competition techniques as well.  But I always differentiate between the two.  There is nothing at all wrong with enjoying competition, and learning the newest techniques designed for it.  I find berimbolos and worm guards to be fun and beautiful, and I encourage my students to experiment and enjoy them.  But do not ever forget that they are not self defense moves. 

We do not have to draw a line and accuse those on the other sign from us of destroying the art.  What we should do is embrace both, just be very clear which is which.  BJJ is a beautiful sport, and its a very effective self defense system, and there is plenty of overlap.  But for me, I would feel dishonest, and unsuccessful if my students didn't know how to most effectively keep themselves from getting hurt, while moving to subdue someone that means them harm.

John Jensen
Owner and Head Instructor
Ojai Valley MMA and Braziian Jiu Jitsu

Ojai Valley MMA has hit the ground running

It’s a new year and Ojai Valley MMA has hit the ground running with two fantastic new additions to our coaching staff.

Professor Renan Vital is a World and Pan Am BJJ champion many times over, is a Judo Black Belt, and a third degree black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  With 23 years of experience Professor Renan will be teaching every Tuesday night.

We have also added a wresting program to OVMMA, led by Coach Carl Fronhofer.  Coach Carl was a multiple national champion at Freestyle and Greco Roman wrestling, was a finalist in the NCAA wrestling tourney and has many years of NCAA coaching experience, including the last five years as head coach of the Columbia University wrestling team.  Every Wednesday night at 6:30 coach teaches our adult wrestling class. Our youth wrestling classes are Saturday morning at 9am.

Our kids program keeps on growing and Coach James Saulsberry engages our kids at all levels - teaching them techniques to protect themselves, moves to win a tournament, or having a heart to heart about responsibilities at home, school or at the academy.

Together with head coach and owner John ‘Rev” Jensen, renowned leg-lock specialist and presenter at national and international seminars (most recently in Seattle and later this year in Georgia and New Zealand), our coaching staff is now the most experienced in Ventura County

Why Ojai Valley MMA not only allows, but encourages cross training

Tonight my good friend Jeff Yurk, (Renato Tavares Black belt and Army combatives trainer), is in the Ventura area, and is joining us at Ojai Valley MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for a night of teaching, and training together. Jeff is not part of our Association, nor are we a part of his. Yet tonight he will share some of his secrets with my team. But horror of horrors what if my team mate has to match up with one of Jeff’s in the Pan Ams? Well I hope they have a very competitive, exciting and most of all fun match. The truth is both Jeff and I believe that Jiu Jitsu, and our love for it transcends all the stupid fear and paranoia that permeates much of our sport.

The truth is I am living out my own history, and my lineage in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Carlson Gracie stood against his own family and taught not just the self defense moves, but the entirety of the art to anyone who would come in and study with him. This same attitude continued to progress as Carlsons team trained with wrestlers, judo players and even kick boxers. When I was training for fights I trained with the Mount SAC wrestling team, Chris Brennan’s team, even had a few training sessions with Bas Rutten and Duane Ludwig. Our training room was regularly visited by people including Dan Henderson with Team Quest, Renato Babalu with team Ruas and even the crazy man Jason Miller who was at the time with Tito Ortiz team. We welcomed Tim “Obake” Catalfo for a seminar where we learned a number of lethal Catch Wrestling moves.

The truth was we welcomed everyone to our training. And by keeping our training open, we kept our minds open, and our jiu jitsu flourished. Right now there is a battle between those that say, cross training is betrayal, and those like us that welcome students and even teachers from other places. Even here in Ventura County you run into this fight. Some schools close their doors, and more than that threaten their students with expulsion if they train somewhere else. Where does this attitude come from? Sometimes fear is the answer. Owners are afraid if the students find a better jiu jitsu place they may switch. But often it isn’t fear, its arrogance. How? They believe their superior Jiu Jitsu will be shown through their students to other teams and help them. In the end it’s a selfish motivation either way, their eyes are on themselves and their own school, and not on the art.

For Ojai Valley MMA and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu we will continue to both welcome others, and encourage our students to train other places. And with a very sincere heart I say if in the process any of our family find they fit better somewhere else, or they could have better opportunities somewhere else… well I will send them on their way with my blessing. I will miss them, but I want what is best for all of my students, my friends and family.


The UFC, Wrestling and MMA

One of the most intriguing match ups of the last few years happened at the UFC Saturday night past.  Seemingly unbeatable Jon Jones matched up against undefeated Olympian Daniel Cormier.  The big questions were how will Cormier deal with such a ridiculous reach disadvantage, and how is Jon Jones going to fight off his back.

The first question was answered right away.  Not very well was the resounding answer.  Jones was able to use his length to continue to punish Cormier.  He even used his length inside with vicious elbows and the biggest shock of all, by taking Cormier down.  This has not happened.

The answer to the second question, well we really didn't learn the answer to in this fight.  Cormier was simply unable to put Jon on his back til late in the fifth round and Jones just stood right back up against a tired beaten opponent.

Which leads me to my post today.  How can one of the best wrestlers on the planet and arguably the most dominant wrestler in MMA today be beaten, not only in an MMA match, but beaten in the wrestling category of an MMA match?  The answer may be obvious to most people, but I figure why not tell you that you are right.  Wrestling in MMA is not wrestling, it is something more, and something less.  George St. Pierre was another great MMA wrestler, but had no real amateur wrestling background.  MMA wrestling is a different beast.  Because of the addition of strikes, a cage, and the threat of submission all of the rules change.

Now I don't want anyone to hear me saying Jon Jones was not a great amateur wrestler, he was.  And with all of the training GSP did, I am sure he would win a few tourneys as a wrestler as well.  But the truth is they consistently beat wrestlers who are far better than they are.  At Ojai Valley MMA we will be learning wrestling.  We will learn it as a grappling art.  We will seek to make it relevant in our submission wrestling and our Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition.  But we will also focus on our MMA wrestling. How do you take someone down when they are punching you.  How do you defend a takedown up against a wall or cage?  What is a proper MMA stance that allows you to both strike and wrestle?  This past UFC we learned once again, that a well rounded martial artist will often beat a singularly talented one.


Ojai Valley MMA news

Ojai Valley Mixed Martial Arts is still running classes at Ojai Valley Community church.

Our classes run Monday from 6-7:30 pm Submission Grappling, Tuesday and Thursday 6-7:30 pm Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and 7:30-8:45 pm Basic Kickboxing, and Saturday morning open mat from 9am til 10:30am.

Classes are growing every week.  It looks like our new, permanent location will be set to open at the end of January or early February.  This has taken a while but I am very excited about our new home.  This wonderful space in the heart of the Oak View will allow us to have more classes including a few zumba and yoga classes.  Our goal is to be a community oriented facility where people from all over the Ojai Valley can come and be challenged, enjoy deep camaraderie and hopefully get fit!  But... prices will go up when we move so JOIN NOW and enjoy a sizable DISCOUNT.


Has Brazilian Jiu Jitsu jumped the shark?

There was a time when rightly or wrongly this art seemed invincible.  This mysterious Gracie family and their undefeated record of fights against all comers.  Royce Gracie destroying all of his foes in the first UFCs.  But now?  Where are the jiu jitsu champions?  What has happened?  Has Brazilian Jiu Jitsu jumped the shark?

Let me start by saying no.  Emphatically no, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is still and will continue to be an important part of mixed martial arts and real life self-defense.  However... there are some very disturbing things happening within the sport that will continue to weaken its effectiveness. 

There are some very simple explanations for why we don't see the dominance of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu that we once saw.  First and probably most importantly is the fact that everybody knows at least a little Jiu Jitsu now.  It is one thing to tap out a world class wrestler who outweighs you by a hundred pounds when he doesn't know what a triangle choke is.  But its something completely different when he not only knows, but knows how to defend it properly.  Jiu Jitsu in this case has been a victim of its own success.

But then we have some other issues.  Time limits and stand ups have really made jiu jitsu less effective.  In addition we also have rounds now.  The whole stage is set up to avoid a long protracted ground war.  Add to that the seemingly insignificant fact that you cannot even wear gi pants anymore.  The rules have shifted mostly against the BJJ player.

These are things that we really can't change.  But the thing that worries me, is that there is much that has changed within Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and it looks like it’s not changing back.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, which arrogantly derided other arts as being tournament specific arts not practical for real life situations has become what it despised.  We have people jumping on their backs, working for a point or an advantage and then stalling out an entire fight in order to win a match.  We have more and more complex maneuvers all designed for tournament success with no thought to actual fight relevance.  We have forgotten what the late great Carlson Gracie told us, “you punch a black belt in the face and he turns into a brown belt, punch him again and he is a purple belt”.

At Ojai Valley Mixed Martial Arts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is alive and well.  We are learning this beautiful art with joy and determination.  But our goal is to work very hard towards hearkening back to the old era, where position and submission are the goal.  Where practicality is the foremost goal.  And we are thankful for people like Kron Gracie that are leading the way.


OJAI Valley MMA launches new website!

Ojai Valley is proud to annouce the new website on


Follow on Instagram

Sign up & get 7 days free gym access

Sign Up to get 7 days FREE unlimited access to OjaiValleyMMA gym. No strings attached.