The Master and the Apprentice: Nino Schembri Interview

Dec 22nd, 2011 by dane

As threatened, I present Nino Schembri’s interview from our recent trip to his new academy. Check out the interview with Ben Kim, his new black belt.

Editor’s note: English is Nino’s second language and this transcription has been edited for clarity. I’ve tried to indicate with brackets where I’ve substituted words. Other minor substitutions were made for the sake of clarity, but I’ve done my best to assure that the integrity of the interview remained intact.

BJ: So, tell me a little about your first black belt.

NS: My first black belt was Shogun, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. I taught him for about two years and after he won’t the tournament in Pride I gave him a black belt because I thought he was at a really high level. My second black belt is Ben Kim, he’s a really nice guy. He works with me, he helps me teach kids’ classes and he’s at a high level. He’s at such a high level because I don’t like to [easily] give out a belts, especially a black belt. I’ve been teaching Jiu Jitsu a long, long time and I only have two black belts [under me], and I felt so proud to [have graduated] him because he’s trained with me for almost three years … it’s different when someone trains with you for two years but [only] two times a week or three times a week or five times a week. But to train every day, sometimes two times a day, three times a day. He’s really different than just a normal guy who trains only three times a week. But I think he learns fast. He’s so flexible, so strong … I think he’s [at a] strong level for black belt.

BJ: You have a very distinctive style with your flexibility and your omoplatas, do you think Ben has those same qualities?

NS: [He has] the same qualities … he’s so flexible, he’s so fast too. It’s easy to teach someone like him because his body is perfect for Jiu Jitsu. The guys who have flexibility are one step ahead of guys who don’t have it, and [he learns quickly]. I like to teach [people who are] like [this].

BJ: A Nino Schembri black belt, what qualities do you look for in a black belt?

NS: Especially, respect. I think I like them [to have] respect, honor. But of course, their level. I think someone that’s a black belt [should not be at] purple belt or brown belt. It’s a different level. Many guys have a black belt but don’t in my mind feel like a black belt – some guys. Because I got my black belt under Carlinhos Gracie … when I was with him I trained a lot to get my black belt under him. I like to teach the same style that Carlinhos taught to me. I try to do the same things for the guys that got a black belt [under him], it’s not easy. It’s another level. You have to prove a lot. But at the same time, [whether or not they] competes or not … it’s the same to me. I think, you have to have technique to be a black belt. Oh, if you do tournament or an MMA tournament [to get promoted], you prove nothing. I think the technique has to be strong internally, you don’t have to prove anything in the tournaments.

BJ: You talked a little about Carlos Gracie Jr., do you think he has the same qualities that you look for in a black belt?

NS: Yes, yes because black belt is different. I remember I trained a lot for my black belt – especially black belt. The guys have to train a lot and you have to be quality to be a black belt. You have to have good Judo, you have to have self defense. In my mind, a guy with a black belt [has] to be able to play on the bottom, to be able to play on the top, you have to have a good mount and escape from the mount. Jiu Jitsu is not all attacking. Attacking is easy, you have to know how to protect and resist. I learned a lot after I got my black belt, especially in defense. Up until I got my black belt I used to always attack, attack and attack! But as I get older I don’t have the same physical ability as when I was 20 years old, but I think I have more skill especially in defense situations – protecting the neck, when somebody mounts. And for black belt, knowing how to attack and how to defend, how to protect myself is very important to me. Attacking is easy, but when guy is attacking you and you have to protect [yourself] and you’re in a I defense situation, you have to relearn techniques, step-by-step. When you attack and you don’t get the submission, that’s Ok. But if you’re defending and you make a mistake, the guy will submit you. You have to [know defenses] step-by-step. I learned this from Carlinhos Gracie and Renzo Gracie.

BJ: Some people talk about a black belt being a beginner. Some people talk about a black belt being a master. Which one do you think it is?

NS: Every day I learn. I learned a new position from [Budo Jake] in the Omoplata, my best area, for when someone does not tap. I think everybody has to learn for their whole life. Master, professor, or black belt, grand master, I think – what should I call this? – you should have a respect for learning. If somebody says, “Oh, I know everything!” – they’re wrong. I don’t like these kinds of people. You know some guys say, “Oh, I only teach! I never learn.” No, you guys have to learn everyday with every [type] of person. Every day I learn with my students, with Ben, with white belts. I think you have to be open minded and keep learning. After I started to teach, I learned more and I {still] have an open mind to keep learning. I want to keep learning my whole life.

BJ: Are you having as much fun with Jiu Jitsu now as you were 20 years ago? Ten years ago? How long have you been training?

NS: I’ve been training 25 years.

BJ: So, are you having as much fun now as 20 years ago?

NS: I think so, I think so. Especially because of all my fans. When I say all my fans, I [include] all the Elvis Presley fans and then nobody has as many fans as me, nobody has as many fans as Elvis, nobody is better than the King. I believe this. Next year, I’ll try to come back to competition, but really I want to focus [on preparation] for a whole year because this is my life. I don’t want to do any more MMA but I can do Jiu Jitsu gi or nogi and I think it’s fun, I think it’s really, really fun and I’ll try to enjoy it.

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