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! 


Summer Specials! Two Bay Area Locations! FREE WEEK!

Try a Free Week of Beginner Friendly Classes!

Smash Gyms Sunnyvale is located on Tasman & Lawrence near Great America and Levi Stadium. Smash Gyms San Jose is located across the street from Eastridge Mall in East San Jose and Evergreen. 

Classes Include Kickboxing, Boxing, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, Self-Defense, Yoga, UJAM, Zumba, Strength & Conditioning, Fitness Bootcamps, Judo and more!

We have classes for the entire family! Our classes are all taught by expert instructors to make sure you have fun and get a great workout!

 Visit www.smashgyms.com to register for a FREE WEEK!

Beginner Friendly Classes Taught By World Class Instructors






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!

New July Schedule

Sunnyvale, Santa Clara –  Try any class free for a week!

Starting in July we will have a new and improved class schedule. More Bootcamp, Krav Maga, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Kickboxing, & Crossfit style Strength & Conditioning options for all gym members. Our members have seen amazing results in their overall fitness and skill level this past year and they can’t get enough! If you want to lose weight, learn a skill, or be a competitive athlete Smash can help you reach your goals. Due to popular demand we have added additional time slots. This new schedule allows for…

Bootcamp Classes

– Four Morning Bootcamp Fitness Classes

– Co-ed fitness bootcamp classes

– Indoor and Outdoor workouts

– Two 6:00am Classes (more on the way!)

– Two 7:00am Classes

Strength and Conditioning

– Taught by Certified Crossfit Competitors and Instructors

– Convenient new 5:30pm time slot four times a week

– New 7:00am Morning Strength & Conditioning Classes

– Monday evening introduction class


– Two 6:30pm BJJ classes

– Four 7:30pm classes

– Saturday Competition Training Class!

– Noon Jiu-Jitsu Five days a week!

Krav Maga

– Four 5:30pm Krav Maga Classes

– Three 6:30pm classes

– Advanced Krav Maga on Fridays

– Saturday Morning Krav Maga

Mixed Martial Arts Class

– MMA classes Five Days a week

– MMA Advanced Sparring twice a week

– Includes Kickboxing and BJJ Classes


– Seven Kickboxing Classes a week!

– Convenient 6:30 and 7:30 time slots

– Weekend Classes available

– All levels welcomed

Kids Fitness and Martial Arts

– Summer Camps now Available

– Tutoring now Available

– After School Program five days a week

– Kids Classes also from 4:30pm-5:30pm


Secrets to Efficient Choke Holds

Santa Clara BJJ – Smash Gyms Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Instructor Michael Jen explains principles that he has identified on how to properly apply chokes. Many Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, and MMA practitioners would do well to understand the mechanics of a proper choke. Study the principles Michael speaks about in this video and play with them while training. Any martial arts practitioner will see a huge improvement in the effectiveness of their chokes.


Jiu-Jitsu – Sport vs Martial Arts

“Our BJJ competitors have been extremely successful in competition in the short time that Smash Gyms has been opened. We consistently have had numerous people win or medal at every competition we have entered. What have I learned from our competition success? It does not reflect one’s entire knowledge or skill in the art, but rather who can play this “game”. While winning is great, competition is only very small part of the entire art of BJJ. 

The rules of competition have changed over the years. This basically means a person or small group of people have begun to change the definition of what BJJ should look and be like. In my opinion, if one is true to the art and has integrity, they will stick to what they believe the art should be rather than change their views based on what a small committee decided.

My students will continue to go out on the competition floor and have fun. But for me, I judge my students by what I see on the mat every class they attend, year after year, not from 5 or 6 min. at some event.” – Michael Jen, 3rd Degree Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt 


Most people begin taking Brazilian Jiu-jitsu as a martial art. This was especially true in the past when Sport BJJ tournaments were much more rare in the US. Many people who began training with the Gracie family in the early 90’s did not even know that BJJ Sport tournaments existed in Brazil. As more Brazilians moved to the US and more people reached Black Belt level it was natural for the sport jiu-jitsu to grow in the US as well. Sport BJJ is fun and many BJJ practitioners are competitive.  Plus, the nature of the art is a that of a “show me” mentality. In BJJ you are able apply your skills with 100% live resistance and no one gets hurt. We do it in our training rooms together so it makes sense to have events where people from different schools can test their skills.

Jiu-jitsu was originally designed to be effective in a fight. BJJ evolved from a Japanese prize fighting teaching Kano Jiu-Jitsu to Brazilians. The art continued to progress and evolve until the Gracie family showcased the art in the original UFC’s as the best martial in the world for a one-on-one fight. The UFC started as a infomercial to show the effectiveness of BJJ against other styles. Before the UFC: the Gracie family used “Gracie in Action” videos showing hundreds of victories in their bare-nuckle no rules challenge matches against other martial artists. This campaign from the Gracie family left little doubt that BJJ was an incredibly effective martial art.

Jiu-jitsu has split into two very different directions: Sport vs. Martial Art. Some of the most effective techniques commonly used in today’s sport BJJ would be ridiculous to try in a fight. Many very effective grappling techniques are no longer allowed in sport BJJ. Jiu-jitsu for fighting has changed to Jiu-jitsu for grappling.

High level sport BJJ has turned into a beautiful display of grappling that no one could have imagined. It has turned into a legitimate sport and is growing rapidly. The popularity is partly because it offers a unique option for anyone to compete against people who are the same age, same belt and same weight as themselves! This has turned hobbyist into competitors. People who like to compete in individual sports can continue to do so in a level playing field far passed high school or college. Sport BJJ has created communities , friendships and families within teams. This is a beautiful thing.

Other arts have followed this path and often the sport flourishes and the art dies. Many other martial arts have become great sports but lost much along the way. As more rules are introduced, the less effective the sport is as a martial art. Most top sport BJJ practitioners would still be very effective in a one on one fight against an untrained and unarmed attacker. New BJJ practitioners trying to mimic sport jiu-jitsu technique in a real fight could get hurt.

If you look at the evolution of BJJ vs Judo one can argue that same art changed radically under different conditions. The Gracie family learned the same art that was practiced in Japan in the early 1900’s. In Brazil very few rules were added and the environment supported creativity and innovation. Meanwhile in Japan traditions and rules took the sport in an entirely different direction. These rules helped the sport of Judo grow all the way to the Olympic games. But the rules obviously hurt the effectiveness as a martial art. Meanwhile in Brazil practitioners were not forced to stand straight up, they did not add time limits for ground work, or rounds. The absence of rules made the art much more effective in a fight and led to BJJ. The addition of rules made the art of Judo much less effective in a fight but lead to it becoming an Olympic Sport.

This of course is not to say Judo guys can’t fight. Top Judoks are some of the toughest guys to walk the Earth. Same thing with collegiate or olympic wrestlers, boxers and who ever else practices full force sparring. As a martial art though you would have to be terribly biased to think the sports of wrestling or judo match up with BJJ as a stand alone martial art for the average person.

At Smash we believe that it is important for students that attend our Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu classes to remember that Jiu-jitsu is a martial art first. Royce Gracie didn’t pull guard in the first UFC. Royce took people down, punched them then submitted his opponents. We give our students the ability to do this first.

At Smash we teach a very definitive system of Jiu-jitsu. Our core system consists of carefully chosen techniques and systems designed to be effective in MMA, Sport BJJ and a one-on-one self defense situations. Once our students are proficient in the core system then they will be taught supplemental techniques based on their goals.

Is the Sport BJJ good for the Jiu-jitsu as a martial art? Yes! The sport definitely helps raise awareness of BJJ. It helps teams and schools with retention and team camaraderie. In the end every practitioner needs to decide why they train and find a school and instructor that fits their goals.


Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Michael Jen Interview

We got our hands on an old unpublished interview of Smash Gyms Head BJJ Instructor, Michael Jen a few months before Smash Gyms – Fitness and Martial Arts opened in 2011.


Michael Jen Interview

Milpitas, California

August 2010











“Michael Jen began studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 1991 and holds the rank of Second Degree Black Belt which he received from 6th Degree Black Belt Joe Moreira. Michael is known for presenting his material in a systematic fashion designed to help students retain and apply new techniques quickly. Since receiving his black belt in 2001, he has become widely known for his seminars and DVD Instructional Series. Many people believe that Michael Jen’s DVD material arguably set the standard for beginner BJJ Instructionals.”


1) You’ve been in BJJ a long time, since 1991. What’s different about BJJ now and compared to when you started? How have you seen it change over the years?


I feel the biggest change has been the wealth of information that is available to students now in comparison to when I started.  Back then, the only thing on the market was “Gracie Jiu-jitsu in Action 1” on VHS.   There were extremely few schools which no one knew about unless you happened to walk by the location or knew someone who attended the school.  Having information held back used to be a huge problem, especially for American students, but now you have the best teachers and champions showing you their favorite techniques in person, on your TV, or on your computer.  With more information comes more business competition which means instructors are now teaching “secrets” that were once never taught to those outside their school or inner circle.  Remember, I started in time which black belts did not want us to film them training or competing because they didn’t want us to figure out what they were doing and it was a sin to teach jiu-jitsu to anyone who was not a commited jiu-jitsu student.


2) Who are some of the most skilled practitioners you’ve trained with? What did you learn from each them?


The opinion on the skill of someone is pretty relative depending on your skill level at a particular time.  For example, if you are a white belt, a good purple belt probably feels the same as a black belt.  With that being said, here’s an interesting story related to your question.  When I was a brown belt, I really began to work hard to get to black belt level.  I had grappled with several brown and black belts and did well enough that I felt like I was decent brown belt. I then met a champion black belt that had just moved to the Milpitas Area from Brazil. When I first grappled against him, I got handled very easily by him which made me feel like I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.  I trained with him regularly for 3 months and by the end of that time, he and I were pretty evenly matched when we grappled which gave me a good boost of confidence.

Then I met a black belt named Marco Nascimento.  Since hanging with the other black belt, I felt I ought to be able to do just as well against Marco.  Marco manhandled me. Obviously, I went from, “Hey, I’m getting good!” to “Dang, I really suck!”  Marco helped me a lot to get to black belt and it took me well over a year of training with him regular to have our grappling matches no longer being so one sided.  Knowing that Marco was so good and now being able to hang with him, really made me feel good about how much I had progressed.

One day, Marco introduced me to his instructor Adilson “Bitta” Lima.  Since I did well grappling against Marco, I thought I’d give Bitta a decent run for his money.  Man, Bitta totally crushed me like a beginner even though I was now a black belt.

I know in the original question when asking what I learned from each of them, the expected answer was something in regards to technique.  But what the real lesson learned was humility.  No matter how good you are or how much you have progressed, there is always someone higher up on the food chain.  Most experienced black belts tend to have more humility when it comes to their abilities than lower belts because we’ve been beaten down by someone higher up in the food chain a lot more.



3) You have a very systematic way of teaching BJJ. Can you talk a little about your system of teaching BJJ?


In my opinion, teaching a system of BJJ is no different than any other effective teaching system.  Look at any academic subject, skilled trade, or sport.  Good teachers have a systematic method that is logical and direct in progressing the student.  The art of effective teaching has been around for a long time, so there’s no need to re-invent it for BJJ.

I feel the problem is that some BJJ instructors, and even some students, feel that what applies for every other sport, academic subject, and skilled trade somehow doesn’t apply to BJJ.  Showing a bunch of random techniques and letting the student figure out what works best for them doesn’t work well in any other field, but somehow some believe it works well for BJJ.  It may work for a small minority, but a good instructor teaches to the majority and not just to a small talented minority.


4) Can you talk about how your game has changed over the last few years?


Several years ago, I started to do a posture therapy exercise system called Muscle Balance and Function (MBF) in order to fix numerous problems I had with my body.  I was so amazed at what I did for my body that I also got education in the system and became a practitioner.  Improving my body with MBF and becoming a practitioner ended up having an incredible influence on my BJJ.

Becoming educated in MBF allowed me to understand how the biomechanics of techniques worked on a deeper level.  Not did I see techniques in a completely different light, but it allowed me to see things I never noticed before.  It allowed me to understand the underlying principles and gave me the ability to apply those principles in other areas.  This took my ability to figure out techniques on my own and turbo charged it.  This understanding was more on a conscious intellectual level.

As a improved my body with MBF, I developed an awareness that I never had in the past.  I began to feel very subtle things when I did techniques or when technique were done on me.  This also gave me a much deeper understanding techniques and how they worked, but it wasn’t along the lines of conscious thought but rather like an instinctive feel.


5) How do you “test” the new changes in your system?


That’s pretty simple.  Get on the mat and try it on people of different skill levels and sizes with full resistance.  Having a system means that the same core moves are done repeatedly.  This allows my students and I constant opportunities to find the weaknesses in new techniques and theories.  My students and I will also visit other schools or invite students from other school to train with us in order to test things out on people with a completely different game.

Evolution in my BJJ system is just like evolution in nature.  Some evolutionary changes survive and some do not.  There have been many times in which I figure something out, but then I end up changing it weeks or months later because we end up figuring out the flaw or something better.  I don’t hold anything sacred and my ego has no problem with lower ranking players finding the flaws something I figure out because it’s all about improving.


6) Traditionally, BJJ instructors teach a wide range of techniques and let the students develop their own game. You’ve been very clear that you only teach your system or your “A” game. Can you talk about why you chose to teach that way instead of the more traditional teaching method?


My goal as an instructor is to provide the student the tools to progress their skills from point A to point B as quickly as possible.  By teaching my “A” game, I am teaching my students what I do and know the best and what I do against people of all skill levels.  The problem I found with the traditional teaching method of teaching a wide range of techniques is that, if, from the very start, the student chooses a path is different from the instructor’s game, the instructor will be limited in how far he will be able to help that student.  Despite how great one may think their instructor is, the fact is that no one is an expert at everything.  Basically, I prefer to teach my students things that I am really good at and I refrain from teaching them things that I am not good at.  Let me give you an example.  I pass guard with tight pressure.  I don’t play a fast loose guard passing game.  So if a student of mine wanted to ask me how to pass the guard on a higher level skilled player with a loose fast method, I wouldn’t be able to give him the knowledge to do so because I don’t have a high level of expertise in that area.


7) Do you have any students that actively compete? How have they done?


A majority of my students are business professionals who train for fun and exercise. However, many of them have competed at least once or twice just to see what it was like and they have done very well.  I do have a few students who are very active in competition though.

One of my brand new black belts, Seo Perales, was very active in competing as a purple and brown belt.  He did very well in and medalled repeatedly in major competitions such as the Pan Ams, Worlds, and the US Open.  He’s a young guy full of fire and I laughed when he told me that one of his main reasons for competing was to prove to people the effectiveness of our system.

One of my brown belts, Lee Livingstone, is in the UK.  Though he has competed in sport BJJ before, he has been pretty active in MMA competition over the years. Lee competing in MMA was a complete surprise to me.  During the time we spent training together, he had never mentioned an interest in doing that.  He has been very successful in the local MMA scene over there and is now training a crop of upcoming people for MMA.

Several of my students are also instructors and many of their students actively compete.  My purple belt in Indonesia, Martin Hartono, has a small club, but he has many students who actively compete.  Because BJJ is in it’s infancy over there, competitions tend to no gi in order to attract more participants such as wrestlers and judoka.  In addition, people of all rank tend to matched up against each other, so I am often proud to hear when Martin’s students not only win, but do so against opponent’s of higher rank.

One thing to keep in mind is that that I never encourage or discourage my students to compete.  So when they choose to do so, it is totally through their own choice and self-motivation.  Preparing and training for competition is a big commitment, so I don’t feel any student should do it because of pressure by the instructor or their peers.  First and foremost I want my students to enjoy training and to truly enjoy something, the motivation must be intrinsic.


8 ) For years your BJJ Instructional Series has been among the best reviewed in martial arts. Why do you think they’ve done so well?


Though I am an instructor, I forever will be a student of the art.  I also remember what it was like to be a beginner.  So when I made my instructional videos, I made the videos in a way that I would have wanted to be taught when I was starting off in BJJ.  I guess the “Golden Rule” of “treat others as you would like to be treated” seemed to guide me in producing a product with information that many people liked. Plus, I think it helped that I was never one to follow every short term trends and stood my ground on what I believed was important, especially for beginning students.