I sat down with Darren Clark who earned his black belt under Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu legend Braulio Estima. As well as being a head coach at his clubs Gracie Barra Fife and Gracie Barra Dundee, Clark is also a seasoned competitor and has one of the top competition teams in Scotland. You will soon see that his positive outlook regarding BJJ and life, in general, is infectious.
Kieran – How are you Darren, hope you are well?
Darren – It’s good to meet you, Kieran.
Kieran – Let’s start from the beginning. When did your BJJ journey start, and what got you into it?
Darren – My jiu-jitsu journey began when my mum and dad started me in the traditional art of Japanese jiu-jitsu at the age of five-years-old. From 2005 to 2009 I only focused on MMA and no-gi grappling. It was only from 2009 that I put on a BJJ gi and fully focused on the perfection of the gentle art. I first competed in 2010 in the gi, and I’ve loved it from then on.
Kieran – Was you surprised at how different it was when you put on the Gi since you had only focused on no Gi for a couple of years?
Darren – I like the slower technical pace of the gi. I enjoy the discipline and ethos behind wearing the uniform and finding out not only different ways to move your body but also use the tools you have within your reach. The kimono is an amazing tool to help control your opponent.
Kieran – I remember my first session in the gi, I didn’t realise how much it can be your enemy, but also your friend as well. Can you explain the difference between the traditional Japanese jiu-jitsu and Brazilian jiu-jitsu?
Darren – Traditional jiu-jitsu for me was more focused around patterns and set katas, but what I like about BJJ is every single session, and every roll, is different. A famous saying is – “the mat does not lie” – which means you will be shown up fairly easy if your skillset isn’t up to par. I like the hand to hand realistic training.
Kieran – You mentioned katas? I believe there are 26 of them. Did you need to learn each individual kata when you began Japanese jiu-jitsu, or did that not happen as you were only five?
Darren – No, I had to learn every single kata until the age of sixteen-years-old. It got very boring.
Kieran – It sounds like a lot of work. You received your black belt under Braulio Estima. Can you recall the first time you rolled with him and what that experience was like?
Darren – I first had an active roll with him as a blue belt. We met in the jersey islands where professor Rob Staples hosted Gracie Barra camps every year. It was an amazing experience getting the opportunity to share the mats with such talented practitioners, but I was just completely gobsmacked at how easy work he made of me, and everyone who attended the camp. In the most humbling way, he was just a million steps ahead of me and I just wanted to seek that type of knowledge. We became very close a few years later after continuing to train together every year, and the growth of Gracie Barra Fife became natural.
Kieran – That sounds like an incredible experience and it’s great to see how much you respect him. You mentioned Gracie Barra Fife, but there is also Gracie Barra Dundee. Was it always a goal of yours to open a club? Or two, should I say.
Darren – No I never had the vision of expanding at all, but I’m a great believer of going where your value is appreciated. I was asked to teach BJJ in Dundee as a brown belt for a guy who owned a boxing club. There was nothing in the area apart from one club, so the city was deserving of some quality jiu-jitsu. I was looking to make a go of Gracie Barra Fife on a full-time basis and gave up my company in the construction industry. I had a great student and dedicated athlete in Valentine Duke. So it made perfect sense to offer him the opportunity to expand and grow the vision of Gracie Barra Jiu-Jitsu. I couldn’t ask for a better partner. He’s passionate, devoted to his students, and I love making trips to Dundee weekly to see the entire team grow.
Kieran – I think your value would be appreciated anywhere with your knowledge and skills. So with the success of both clubs is there a chance of further expansion in the future? Whether that be in or outside of Scotland.
Darren – I would like to focus on growing Gracie Barra in my home country of Scotland. I think the opportunity for people to learn this sport has become far more manageable than it was ten years ago. The desire for people to grow confidence, improve their mental health, and physical well-being is essential, and I feel a properly run BJJ academy can provide this service. With regards to growing outside of Scotland, I wouldn’t rule this out, but I like to have a very hands-on approach when it comes to something so serious. It takes a lot to grow a solid team and I take pride in assisting my team very closely. This comes from the support I receive from my professor and the Gracie Barra network. I try my best to always keep this aligned.
Kieran – It’s amazing to see how dedicated and passionate you are with BJJ and the Gracie Barra network. BJJ offers so many benefits aside from being a new skill you can learn. You said that it is far more manageable than it was ten years ago. Can you speak about the growth of BJJ and the need to learn it, particularly in the UK? Do you think it can be bigger than it is now?
Darren – I feel that we are at a place now in the world, with all the craziness that’s going on, our sport can play a major role in actually helping rescue our nation from manic depression, and mental health stability. So many people contact me on Instagram weekly admiring my positive attitude to life and my dedication to bettering myself. Not only in BJJ but also my life. Whether it be business, family, or my team. I’m a very self-accountable person and I thank Brazilian jiu-jitsu for installing this ethos into me.
Kieran – I agree, I believe the sport can do a lot to help people. Training teaches you discipline, respect, and can be a great outlet, but something you will love also. So BJJ has really helped you a lot? Can we chat a bit about competition? You’re a competitor yourself and you also coach one of the top teams in Scotland. You are obviously a very positive person. Do you approach coaching in the same way and if so, what is it like seeing students grow from your methods and training?
Darren – Competition for me is a completely different way to express yourself. I like to test things to their maximum potential. Under serious pressure is where the precious diamonds are made, so I feel the competition mats are a very good way to test you in a different manner. Although I’m a very positive person, I’m also very real with my students and I make them aware if they haven’t applied the correct time into our training mats, the chance of success is slim. We need to train harder in the gym than we ever need to perform on the mats. This is imperative. Finding out about yourself during a BJJ competition can only be a positive outcome for your life. Even if you quit BJJ afterwards, the feeling will stay with you forever.
Kieran – That is a brilliant answer. So, given your answer, do you think everyone should have a go at competition, even if it’s only one time?
Darren – Yes one-hundred per cent. Regardless of what you think it is, it will be different.
Kieran – That’s great. So as I said you’re a competitor yourself. Obviously with the lockdown competitions haven’t been taken place. With lockdowns now easing, when would you like to compete again?
Darren – I was planning on going to Worlds 2020, in Vegas. These have been majorly put out of target zone. The only reason that I was heading to Worlds is the synergy in my team was perfect, and the training structure for myself to be tested from my students was on point. I will put my one-hundred per cent focus back into my team, and get that train back on track before I put any focus back in my own competitions. This I feel, is super important to our overall team’s success.
Kieran – That’s great to know and I believe your team with be thankful to receive all of your focus. Back in 2018, you were presented your black belt by Braulio Estima in front of more than fifty of your students. Can you tell me what that experience was like? Gaining the belt, but also receiving it in front of your students.
Darren – It was a complete honour. To receive a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu is not something many people achieve, but to be presented this belt by my professor, was a very proud moment. He is one of the greatest in my honest opinion, and if I can pass on 10% of what he has, I will feel grateful. This man gives so much value to people for nothing in return. A true ambassador for what jiu-jitsu should be.
Kieran – Again, it’s incredible to see how highly you praise and respect him. I can only imagine the number of people that have benefited from his knowledge like yourself. Lastly, if people are interested in joining your clubs, how can they find you to arrange this?
Darren – Usually people find us through general word of mouth. A lot of our members are made up of families and friends, but people also seek us through the website and social media accounts. We try to stay active to show an up-to-date version of what exactly we do on a daily basis. Anyone is welcome to join our team. Thanks for your time and your questions. I hope you got some kind of value from this.
Kieran – Absolutely mate, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. Keep that positive outlook because it is infectious. Thanks, Darren.
If you are interested in joining Darren and his team then check out the website: http://graciebarrafife.co.uk/
For Grace Barra Dundee, check out the Facebook page for more information: https://facebook.com/Gracie-Barra-Dundee-114984826575207/