Michael Jen Interview

Kaizen BJJ Interviewed Smash Gyms Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Michael Jen. Below is the interview.

Direct Link: http://www.kaizenbjj.com/interview-michael-jen-bjj-wizard/

Interview with Michael Jen, BJJ Wizard

Written by Ryan Fiorenzi on . Posted in Adult BJJ In Plymouth, Mi.


Michael Jen, center (facing kids)

Ryan’s note: Michael Jen is a 4th degree black belt who started training back in 1991.  He is the Head Instructor at Smash Gyms in Sunnywale, California.

He recently taught at the BJJ Club of Michigan, and shared not only some amazing techniques, but he has a different perspective on Jiu-Jitsu.  He has a wealth of experience in BJJ (and Judo), and he’ll share concepts with you that you won’t hear anywhere else.   He is a teacher of teachers!

How did you get started in BJJ?

I started back in 1991 in a self-defense class in college. The BJJ was mixed in with other martial arts, but of all the arts, I was the most drawn to the BJJ.

When I began BJJ, it was for self-defense streetfighting. I had no idea that sport BJJ competitions existed and I thought BJJ was all about the old school challenge matches we saw in the Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Action videos where the Gracies fought practitioners of other styles.

I actually really disliked training in the gi and did very little of it in my early years of BJJ because I felt that sportive techniques didn’t relate to self-defense. What’s funny is that when no gi submission grappling started to grow in the US, I would hear people talk about how it was a new and different sport. I felt it was very odd to hear this since I was training no gi BJJ the first day I ever learned BJJ. Now I teach and train in the gi all the time and focus is more along the lines of the enjoyment of the art and science of BJJ rather than self defense.

How did you become such a technical practitioner and teacher?

When I first started training martial arts in my late teens, I was 5”11 and 135 lbs (now I’m 6”1 and 175 lbs). Being that I was as light as the average woman, I had to rely on technique as I sure didn’t have strength to rely on.

Plus, there was always a strong emphasis technique rather than strength with all the instructors I trained with back then. If you look at all the Brazilians who first came to the US back then, they were all pretty small guys. Any sort of supplemental training done by the Brazilian black belts at that time were all body weight exercises. None of them lifted weights or did any of the strength and conditioning that is so commonly seen nowadays. When we would see big huge Americans getting tapped out by these small Brazilians, we knew that the answer was in the technique.

As far as being technical as a teacher, I was heavily influenced by my first BJJ instructor, Roy Harris. He was an extremely technical instructor. In addition, there are two aspects of my personality that contribute to my teaching ability. The first is that if I decide to do something, I don’t like to take half measures. I want to be really good at it. So when I decided that I was going to teach BJJ for a living, I felt that I had to be the best instructor I could possibly be. I had many bad experiences where I paid instructors good money and did not not feel fully satisfied with what I got. I never wanted any student to feel like that with me.

The second aspect of my personality is the belief that anything I learned, I could teach it better than how it was taught to me. While some may think this sounds arrogant, I see it as nothing more than a desire to constantly improve. But this idea also applies to myself in that if I teach a certain topic one day and have to teach the same topic again the next day, the second time will never be the same as the first as I constantly try to improve what I am doing.

Can you tell us a little about your relationship with your teacher, Joe Moriera?

My relationship with Joe is different, especially from the generation of his students that came to train with him long after I did. I see many people refer to Joe as “Master Moreira”. While I respect Joe as my instructor, I never have and never will refer to him as “Master”. Such formalities never existed in BJJ back in the 90’s. That’s a recent thing. I’ve always referred to him simply as Joe and he doesn’t care that I don’t use any formalities with him.

Joe and I also play around in way that I don’t think many of his other students are comfortable with doing. When I would roll with Joe and he would tap me out, I would jokingly cry out, “You bastard!” When we have done seminars together and he is demonstrating a technique on me, he will mess with me and do a little “extra”. When he does it to me, I’ll softly curse, “Motherf*$&%ker!” and we both chuckle about it.

I recently did a private lesson with you, and I was blown away by some of the techniques, strategies, and principles that you taught. In fact there was a concept that I have never heard in my 20 years of BJJ – bilateral alignment. Can you explain briefly what MBF is and how it’s affected your Jiu-Jitsu and or students?

MBF stands for Muscle Balance and Function. It is a posture therapy exercise system. By the time I was in my early 30’s my body was wrecked. I had horrible chronic pains that I had lived with for well over a decade. I my search for a solution to my problems, I came across the MBF system and it not only fixed all my problems, but improved my body beyond what believed was possible. I was so impressed with the system, I decided to get training in it and become a practitioner. As a practitioner, I have helped many people with issues that, had I not seen it with my own eyes, most people would think were impossible to resolve.

My training in MBF allowed me to look at BJJ in a completely different perspective. It also allowed me to see greater commonalities not only between BJJ, judo, and wrestling, but also between all techniques in general. I began to understand it through physics, biomechanics, and postural alignment. I began to understand every technique on a much deeper level. It allowed me to understand how and why everything worked. It began to allow me to translate “feel” into concrete scientific terms.

What role do you feel diet and lifestyle plays in BJJ, if any?

When you are child or teenager, you can probably eat extremely unhealthy and have poor lifestyle habits and you may not feel noticeable negative consequences in your BJJ performance. I believe that when you get older, you start to suffer the consequences of the choices you made when younger. I feel many people wrongly blame the aging process instead.

So, in my opinion, if you want to have greater longevity in BJJ, especially when you are older, diet and lifestyle is extremely important. The consequences of poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle is inescapable and inevitable. Unfortunately, most people won’t make dietary and lifestyle changes until they are in serious pain and their health is suffering a major problem.

What advice would you like to give the BJJ students reading this interview?
Don’t double guard pull. Every time you double guard pull, a kitten dies.

If you want to learn more about Michael Jen, visit www.SmashGyms.com.

If you’re ever in the San Jose (California) area, go train with him! 


Teaching Professionalism

One thing that stands out about the Smash Gyms instructors is the professionalism in which they conduct themselves.  Anyone who have been involved in martial arts for a long time and traveled around to different schools can attest that this is  a quality that is often lacking by many instructors.  Check out this short video where Smash Gyms Sunnyvale Head BJJ instructor Michael Jen talks about this subject.

Is competing necessary if you train Brazilian Jiu-jitsu?

The Brazilian Jiu-jitsu competitors of Smash Gyms have done extremely well in competition and we often share their great results and highlights on this blog.  Some may wonder if competing is a necessary part of training in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.  Here’s Smash Gyms Sunnyvale’s head BJJ instructor, 4th degree black belt, Michael Jen, sharing his thoughts on this subject.

Mario Rios – BJJ Black Belt – Smash Gyms Instructor

People who know Mario Rios know two things about him. He is super nice and he knows A LOT about grappling! Mario is a very caring and passionate instructor. He has been involved in wrestling, judo and BJJ for almost 20 years.  This incredible experience in grappling provides a wealth of information anyone interested in advancing his or her grappling knowledge. If you take Mario’s classes you can look forward to highly detailed technical instruction explained in a way that you can easily understand and implement right away. He has helped many people advance in the grappling arts with his organized and systematic approach to grappling.

Mario started his training with grappling in 1995 while he was a student at Fresno State College.   In Fresno, there were no Jiu-Jitsu studios, so he started working out his house with Jason Hannen, now a black belt at Pacific Martial Arts.  Most of the techniques were drills based on Renzo and Craig Kukuk videos, since youtube was nonexistent, and information was hard to come by. 

Mario Rios & Jason Hannen BJJ Black Belts

In those early days Mario sought out other Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu students who were commuting long distances to train at some of the Gracie Academies and began training regularly with them.  Some of these partners were wrestlers from Fresno Pacific and Fresno State.  During this time, Mario was also training at the Fresno Judo Club before moving from the area.

Mario Teaching Classes at Smash

After completing college, Mario was faced with the decision to relocate.  He had two requirements, finding a job, and finding his passion, Jiu Jitsu.  Mario found both and moved to the Bay Area in 1996.  In the beginning, he took classes with Claudio Franca. Although he enjoyed the classes because of such a long commute to Santa Cruz, he decided to train in Mountain View at Ralphs.  Training at Ralphs was a great experience.  Mario was able to train with some of the premier grapplers at the time and began to really understand the dedication necessary to excel at this art.

In 1999 began training with Michael Jen.  Michael’s unique approach and attention to detail was different from the Jiu-Jitsu he had experienced in his earlier training. Mario was impressed with Michael’s highly detailed instruction and his openness to share techniques.

BJJ Black Belts!

In 2010, when the first Smash Gyms opened Mario immediately became a leader in the gym and helped many people in different programs. The environment and resources that Smash provided motivated Mario to focus and push himself until he received his Black Belt in 2011 from Michael Jen. Mario believes Smash Gyms amazing instructors and members helped push him to reach his long-time goal of becoming a BJJ Black Belt. After seeing the incredible growth of Smash and the value that it has brought to our members, he decided he wanted to help open another Smash in San Jose. Mario is co-owner of San Jose Smash Gyms and will be working full-time and teaching BJJ classes along with fellow BJJ Black Belts Rudy Sanchez and Michael Jen. Mario’s goal is to bring as much value as possible to Smash members in Evergreen and East San Jose.   

Smash students medal in competitions week after week!!

On Aug. 24th, Javier Martinez competed in the Rising Sun Nationals BJJ Tournament in Daly City.  Putting on a very dominating performance, Javier placed 1st in his division.

Last weekend, a handful of Smash BJJ students competed in the Jiu-jitsu by the Bay BJJ Tournament.  Christine Apatow, Lou Noble, and Yane Penev placed 1st in their respective divisions.  Yane also placed 2nd in the open weight class division.  Jonathan Bialoglovski and Arturo Galano placed 3rd in their divisions.

Check out the highlights of the Smash students at Jiu-jitsu by the Bay 12!

Then this Sat., Louie Noble Jr., Derek Jen, Jovina David, and Jonah David represented the Smash Kids Martial Arts Program and competed in the San Mateo Boys & Girls Club Judo Developmental Tournament.  Derek and Jovina placed 1st , Louie placed 2nd, and Jonah placed 3rd in their respective divisions.

Check out the highlights of the Smash kids!

Congratulations to everyone on that great performances and representing Smash so well!

80% of Success is Just Showing Up

Self-Improvement at Smash is simple; you just have to show up. You’ve already decided that you needed to improve when you signed up, so what is there to think about? Don’t even think about it. If you consider going to the gym you can talk yourself out of it. There is always an excuse if you’re looking for one. 

Show up mad; show up tired; show up when there is traffic; show up when you don’t feel like it. Just show up and we will take care of the rest. Do it now or you’ll wish you did later. 

 If you show up consistently and do what the Instructors ask of you, you will be surprised what you can accomplish. 

Let’s be honest, if you don’t show up it won’t change our life. If you do show up it will make a big positive impact on your life. We’ve been told this and thanked over and over by the people that showed. At Smash you will relieve stress, get in shape, meet friends, gain knowledge and skill, and be inspired you to do what you never thought you were capable of doing.

Commit to making a change in your life. You deserve it and we’re here to help. 

43 year old Jess Ramos lost 51 lbs by participating in every class at Smash! He takes BJJ, Kickboxing, Yoga, Strength & Conditioning, Self-Defense, Bootcamp & Kettlebells. Jess won the Jiu Jitsu US Open just one year after joining Smash! When he started Smash he was 187lbs and competed at 136lb weight class! Most of our students choose not to compete but Jess had made such amazing progress that he decided to test himself at one of the toughest jiu jitsu competitions in the US and brought home a Gold Medal!

Postural Deviation to Help Your Guard Passing

Teaching postural alignment and principles of proper biomechanics helps our students practice martial arts safely and gives them a deeper understanding of technique. This deeper understanding also gives students the tools to problem solve on their own.

These principles were identified by Head Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Michael Jen after he studied biomechanics and earned a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt from Joe Moreira in 2001. Joe’s incredibly effective BJJ relied heavily on causing mis-alignment in his opponent while maintaining proper alignment in his own body.

Below is an article written by Michael Jen in 2008.

Pressure Guard Passing and Postural Deviation  

In order to understand this, we need to first examine the ideal posture that serves as the original blueprint for the design of the human body in the standing position. From the front view, this consists of the center of the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints being vertically aligned. In addition, the center of those 4 load joints on one side of the body should be horizontally aligned with the same joints on the other side of the body. Also, from the front view, the head and spine should be aligned with the center of the body. From side view, the center of the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joint, in addition to ear, should be vertically aligned. This alignment should be the same when viewing the left and right side of the body.

If you were to draw a line from one joint to the joint that is either vertically above or below it and also the joint that is horizontally on the other side of it, those lines would form a 90-degree angle. If you examine the vertical alignment of the joints from the front and side view, in addition to the alignment of the spine from the front or back view, you will see that it is at a 90-degree angle to the earth. So, if you look at the structural blue print for human posture, you will notice that it is all based upon 90-degree angles.

When the alignment of the body begins to lose its 90-degree angles, what is created are known as postural deviations. The greater the number of deviations that occur and the farther the angles are from 90 degrees, the weaker and the more structurally unstable the body becomes.

One of the most destructive postural deviations on the body is counter-rotation. Counter-rotation is when one side of the hips is rotated forward while at the same time, the opposite side of the torso is rotated forward. The more the upper and lower body are twisting in opposite directions, the weaker the body becomes. To comprehend how destructive counter-rotation is to the body, imagine trying to do a squat using a barbell loaded up with a lot of weight with the upper and lower body severely twisted in opposite directions. It would be very clear that the greater the counter-rotation, the less weight it would take to make everything come crashing down.

For this exact reason, the application of counter-rotation is an essential component to passing the guard with pressure. When an opponent is playing guard, he has the ability to use all his limbs against you at once. Power comes from the shoulder and hips working in unison. By applying counter- rotation to your opponent’s body, you are essentially severing the connection between those two sources of power. Once this disconnect occurs, all aspects of your opponent’s body weakens and that makes it much easier to pass, and much more difficult to counter. Let’s look at some guard passes that use pressure and see how the application of counter-rotation is an absolutely essential component.

The Margarida Pass:

I am placing my right shin over my opponent’s right inner thigh, pinning his leg to the ground. (A) This forces my opponent’s hips to rotate towards his right. My left hand is pulling up on his right sleeve as my right forearm pushes against his left torso. (B) This causes the upper body to rotate towards his left — in the opposite direction of his hips. However, the rotation in my opponent’s upper body is not created solely by the push and pull of of my arms. My left leg is placed in a position where the driving force is directed towards my right forearm.


The Leg-on-Shoulder Pass

(A) I have the opponent stacked up on his left shoulder blade. His own body weight (as well mine) keep his shoulder pinned to the ground. (B) My hips, abs, chest, and body weight drive my opponent’s right hip in the direction of his left shoulder. My left hand grabs my opponent’s left lapel and the pulling action further enhances his counter rotation. The compression through counter-rotation is what prevents the opponent from applying the triangle or armbar.

The Arm-Between-the-Leg Pass

(A) My right arm threading between my opponent’s legs forces his hips to rotate to his right. My left hand holds onto his right sleeve. (B) I place my head between his left chest and shoulder. The driving force of my legs is transferred through the straight line of my spine and head, twisting my opponent’s upper body in the opposite direction of his hips.

These three guard passes demonstrate how the one principle of counter-rotation can be applied in three different ways. However, it is important to keep in mind that there are many other postural deviations besides counter-rotation, and many other techniques in which they can be used. For those who are interested in improving the tightness and pressure of their guard passing, the main point to understand is: it’s essential for pressure to be applied in a way that creates and amplifies postural deviations. Without the creation of postural deviations, the feeling of crushing pressure can only be accomplished through the use of excessive strength or body weight.



The human body contains the blueprint for it’s structure which provides maximum biomechanical strength,stability, and efficiency. This answer is contained in the body’s posture. From the front view, the center of the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joints should all be vertically aligned. In addition, the center of those 4 joints on one side of the body should be horizontally aligned with the same joints on the other side of the body. Also, from the front view, the head and spine should be aligned with the center of the body. From side view, the center of the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder joint, in addition to ear,should be vertically aligned. This alignment should be the same when viewing the left and right side of the body.

If you were to draw a line from one joint to the joint that is either vertically above or below it and also the joint which is horizontally on the other side of it, those lines form a 90 degree angle. If you examine the vertical alignment of the joints from the front and side view, in addition to the alignment of the spine from the front or back view, you will
see that it is at a 90 degree angle to the earth. So, if you look at this structural blue print for human posture, you will notice that it is all based upon 90 degree angles.

I often discuss placing your body in the strongest biomechanical position possible and your opponent’s body in the weakest biomechnical position possible. Most Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioners understand the term “posture” in the context of positioning the arms and body when in the guard, or on the bottom of a pin or the mount. What must be understood is that posture is the position of your body at all times, in a positions, in all situations. So based on the description of postural alignment described above, how to achieve this should be very clear- when grappling, you must achieve and/or maintain as many 90 degree angles with your load joints as the situation allows while you destroy as many of those 90 degree angles in your opponent’s body.

Principles of Alignment in BJJ

Note that I am not saying that all the 90 degree angles must be achieved in all techniques or situations(for example, it is obvious that spinning for an armbar from the guard will require that you round your back or when pinning an opponent or kneeling in the guard, it is more appropriate for your knees to be in a position that is much wider than the hip joints), but rather you must achieve as many 90 degree angles as is appropriate for the situation, especially between the shoulder and hips since that area is where power is generated for the limbs.

The human body is a system of levers and the your load joints are the fulcrums. Like any lever, the positioning of the fulcrum is essential in determining the amount of effort which will be needed to produce force. With the fulcrum in an optimal position, the lever can produce a great amount of force with a minimal amount of effort. So when your body’s
alignment contains as many 90 degree angles as possible, all the fulcrums are in their optimal positions. Similarly, when the fulcrum is not in an optimal position, it requires a much greater amount of effort to produce force.

Because the human body is a system of levers, nothing happens in isolation. The body works as a unit. This means that in the event that the 90 degree angles are destroyed in one specific area, it effects the entire body. For the BJJ practitioner, this means you do not need to deal with a problem site specific. For example, let’s say your opponent is
pushing you with his arms. Most people would assume that doing something directly to the arms would be the way to resolve the situation. However, another alternative would be to create a misalignment in your opponent’s body and destroy all the 90 degree angles between his hips and shoulders. The farther the angles between the hip and shoulders are deviated away from 90 degrees, the weaker his arms will become thus making his pushing ineffective.

Who is aligned and who is misaligned?

The effect of proper and improper alignment of the joints is a universal law of human biomechanics, therefore, there are no movements in grappling for which these principles do not apply. Understanding the application of these ideas will not only give you a greater understanding Jiu-Jitsu, but will also give you the key and be the starting point in having a greater ability to problem solve on your own.

–Written by Smash Gyms Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Michael Jen in 2005–

Congrats to newly promoted BJJ blue and purple belts!

A big congratulations to Chad Himeda, Juan Romo, Ben Hyatt, BJ Barrow, John Valdivia, Jack Lai, and Calvin Hawkes on earning their blue belts in BJJ.  These students have been dedicated to their training and have shown good improvement over the past years.

Patrick Kong and Brian Kuhn also earned their well deserved purple belts.  Brian and Patrick have consistently shown their skills by competing and medaling in virtually every major competition in the Bay Area since white belt.

Once again, congratulations to all who were promoted and the Smash BJJ instructors look forward to your continued progress.

More Pictures Here  !!!!

May 2013 Class Schedule

Class Schedule

Two brand new evening classes starting in May! Both classes are a great workout and fun!

Our Self-Defense & Combatives classes will provide members with top quality instruction in a wide variety of subjects. This beginner friendly & new class will feature our Women’s Personal Protection curriculum as well as Jiu-Jitsu Combatives (the base of US Army Combatives).  You will recieve  instruction from experts in a wide variety of subjects. The various classes that make up the Smash Gyms Self Defense System will not only develop a student’s skills, but also help them get into great shape.  Due to the fact that each class addresses a specific and different aspect of self-defense, the workouts are fun, interesting, and challenge the body. These classes will make anyone aware, ferocious, ready and in shape to defend themselves in any situation.

Due to popular demand we have also added evening Mixed Martial Arts Classes! This program is truly a mix of martial arts and does not necessarily refer to the sport of MMA. Each subject at Smash is covered by expert in his field so this class is an amazing compliment to our Self-Defense and Combatives class. The Smash Gyms MMA program includes a systematic blend of Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, Wrestling, Judo, Kickboxing & Self-Defense techniques into a comprehensive weekly training program that will safely progress beginners at an accelerated pace. Our classes are designed as a path for the average person to progress safely and quickly into a well-rounded and fit martial artist. Our programs have proven to be highly effective in Self-Defense, Kickboxing, MMA, and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu sport competition. These uniquely structured classes are presented in a format highly conducive to learning while maintaining a strong focus on safety.

If you really want to learn any subject you need to see an authority on the matter. No single fighting style has true expertise in every situation or subject matter. Anyone that has studied martial arts or fighting knows this is true. If you look at the best professional martial artist and fighters in the world they have sought out experts in each subject. They have separate expert coaches from each discipline.  We used this principle to create our Mixed Martial Arts and Self Defense & Combatives programs. Every class subject will be taught by an expert for the highest possible level of instruction. In both classes gaining actual fighting ability is of primary concern while maintaining a strong focus on fun, fitness and safety!