Interview with Darren Ferguson, BJJ Blue Belt at Ryan Gracie Academy

Interview with Darren Ferguson, BJJ Blue Belt at Ryan Gracie Academy

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Darren Ferguson. He is a Blue Belt in BJJ and trains at Ryan Gracie Academy in Dundee. He’s had an incredible journey in BJJ picking up such accolades as becoming the British champion in 2018 amongst others and still has so much to do. Darren’s story is an amazing one. He is confident, motivated, and is an incredible individual. I hope you enjoy the article.

Kieran – Hi Darren, nice to meet you. How have you been?

Darren – Hi Kieran, nice to meet you champ. I have been doing good, thank you.

Kieran – That’s good, I’m happy you’re in good health.

Darren – Likewise champ.

Kieran – As always, let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell everyone where your BJJ journey began, and what got you into the art?

Darren – I got into BJJ to add something new into my life that would take me on daily adventures after sadly losing my mother, and one of my best friends inside four months of each other. I needed something new in my life to help me fight the demons. BJJ helped save my life in more than one way. I began my BJJ journey at Gracie Barra Fife/Dundee under professor Darren Clark. I spent my white belt journey under Darren and also my first year at blue belt under Darren. I will always be grateful to Darren for my journey with him in jiu-jitsu.

Kieran – That must have been a difficult time for you, losing two important people in your life four months apart. I had the pleasure of chatting with Darren Clark and his outlook on BJJ and life is incredible. How was it training under Darren and being surrounded by that positive energy?

Darren – Yes it was a very difficult time, a very confusing time, as there were actually more deaths around that time. About six close family and friends sadly. So I knew I had to start fighting to save myself mentally before the demons took over. I knew if I fought back to survive, then I would survive at all costs mentally & physically. I’m still fighting to survive to this day, I always will, and will never give up. Yes, Darren is an interesting character and he is full of positive vibes and puts good energy out into the world for sure. I can only speak good things about Darren. I absolutely loved my white belt journey under Darren, we had some great times and adventures, and I won a lot of competitions and a few big ones under Darren too. We became really good mates, and I’m saddened not to be his student anymore, but chapters end all the time. I learned my most effective game plan for competitions under Darren which wins me most of my matches. I basically rolled my style on his style in the early days just with my own style added to it too. So without a doubt, I’ll always be thankful and grateful to Darren for his time spent with me during my white belt days and the first year at blue. We had some great times and I’ll never forget them. Darren is a top-class coach and guy.

Kieran – That’s some amazing words and I’m sure he will appreciate every one of them. It’s incredible to see how much BJJ has helped in your life. What would you say to someone who may be going through a similar situation as you did, and they feel like there is no way out?

Darren – It certainly is nothing short of incredible what BJJ has done for my life on the mats and off the mats one-hundred per cent. The advice I would give to anyone struggling with any type of demons is to counter-attack them. Add new things into your life. Take yourself on new journeys. meet new people and do things that you have never done before. Keeping busy and positive is the key to defeating demons. It’s all about the chemical balance in our minds, we need to keep releasing the correct ones for us to feel happy. By doing things you love and keeping active with them, this helps to keep the mind positive for most of the day and night. Also, talk to someone, anyone, never fight these battles alone. This is one fight that you should always ask for help and with no shame at all. Warriors fight demons every day, men and women. They are not weak, they are champions for surviving the days, and overcoming their daily struggles. I admire each and everyone worldwide!

Kieran – What you have just said mate, would inspire anyone and everyone. Honestly, I haven’t been through half as what you have and that just inspired me to thrive for more and be more. So you had your white belt journey and the first year of your blue belt with Darren. You are now with Ryan Gracie Academy. Can you talk about that transition and what your time has been like there?

Darren – Thank you, Kieran, I’m glad you feel inspired to achieve more in life. It’s all about a mindset and a way of thinking. Make sure you read, watch, and listen to inspiring things and watch your life change dramatically for the better, in all aspects, my friend. Yes, that’s correct, I am now representing Ryan Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Team, Scotland, under my new professor Thiago Vella. Thiago and his brother Gabriel are both hugely respected names within BJJ and made a big name for themselves in their younger days coming through the ranks in Brazil with the Gracie family as their mentors. Especially Ryan Gracie, who was Thiago’s professor, both winning everything there is to win. I don’t really want to say too much on why I left or had to leave Gracie Barra out of respect for Darren, but I can talk about my transaction over to Ryan Gracie team. It’s an exciting time with my professor moving to Dundee, Scotland, to live with me and open his own academy, where he wants me to be his business partner, and assistant coach. Learning under my professor, we plan to build a really strong competition team and help spread jiu-jitsu within my city and country. Having Thiago with me every day just rockets my chances of becoming the best jits athlete I can possibly be. I’m very excited about my city and country to have a man of Thiago’s status within BJJ staying in my city. It’s great for our jits scene in this country too. Thiago is a gentleman and an outstanding human who is full of positive vibes. He eats, sleeps, and breathes jiu-jitsu. It’s his whole life. He plans to bring old school jiu-jitsu to the new generation of jiu-jitsu. I’m excited for our competition team having Thiago with us daily putting the work in.

Kieran – It sounds like big things are coming for your team. Now, some people who might be new to BJJ might ask “why switch between coaches, BJJ is BJJ.” can you explain some of the different styles of coaching somebody might come across, and also how would you like to coach in your assistant coach role?

Darren – Huge things ahead for our jiu-jitsu team. It’s a very exciting time to be lead by Thiago. Yes, unfortunately, life left me no choice but to switch coaches or I would never have switched, as I loved having Darren as my coach. We worked great together. Also, as I’m usually a one-man team for my whole life. As I have done and been, in all my other sports throughout my life, but sometimes life separates people due to whatever reasons I wish not to discuss. The respect is always there no matter what. There are certainly different styles in BJJ and all sports. I feel it’s great. Coaches who separate the difference between athletes. The things they say and at the correct moment in time. The knowledge they share with you. The style they apply to your game and all-around jits performance. How much they push you on the mats to be the best you can possibly be. It’s all about knowledge and it’s never-ending In jiu-jitsu. I don’t chase stripes and belts, I chase knowledge, jits knowledge. My professor is a 3rd-degree black belt who has unlimited experience on the mats and the competition scene. He is going to take my game to a whole new level. I’m also a huge fan of 10th planet jiu-jitsu and study that a lot. I use certain moves from their style and I plan to travel to Stirling for some 10th planet no-gi sessions with a guy I look up to a lot in Scotland. Craig ‘Mop’ Macintosh. Hopefully, I get some one-to-one sessions and learn as much of his style as I possibly can mostly for no-gi and MMA. So yes, always be open to all styles and learning from anyone willing to share their knowledge, one-hundred per cent. I am already a coach in football and have helped out coaching at boxing too. I’m also a PT instructor, so I’m used to coaching students for the last four to five years or so. I used to help coach the GB1 students at GB Dundee for around six months until I left. I really enjoyed helping to assist classes and share what knowledge I had gained with the new students. I loved helping coach and can’t wait to learn under Thiago and become a better athlete and assistant coach.

Kieran – That is a great way to put it. As the saying goes “knowledge is key” and you can consume a lot of it, especially in BJJ. So let’s talk about competitions. Firstly, you become the British champion in I believe 2018 or 2019. What was that like to achieve such an accolade, especially when you consider your journey?

Darren – Yes, knowledge is power. There are some outstanding moments for me on my jiu-jitsu journey so far. Winning my first British title in December 2018, in the No-Gi British Open. I travelled down with no coaches or teammates, just me and my confidence. I broadcasted on social media for anyone to see that I would come back with the gold one-hundred per cent, and true to my word, I took the gold home. I then fought at the Gi British Open a few months later in May 2019. Same again, I told everyone and the judges at my mats that I would triangle my way to gold and win all my matches in under one minute. Confidently not arrogantly. True to my word, I took out all three opponents by triangle submission within under 50 seconds each match. I also travelled alone to this British Open too. I had no coaches or teammates with me. I feel I had a psychological edge over my opponents as they knew I’d travelled down to England on my own. No coach or teammates with me, just a Scottish man kicking about on his own, all day, but full of confidence and ready to take his gold, and the final piece of the puzzle to become British champion – no-gi and gi. I also made every single final at every tournament in 2018 that I competed at. That was quite cool as it was 10+ competitions that year. It felt great becoming the champion at my weight class in the UK, as I had already won a lot up in Scotland and over the UK. So I expected nothing less from myself other than gold.

Kieran – A lot of highlights throughout your journey and I know there will definitely be more. You said that you did the triangle on three opponents. Would you say then that it is a particular favourite of yours or is that something you knew would happen?

Darren – Absolutely more to come, a lot more. This is just the beginning. I also start competing in MMA next year too under Stevie Ray at Braveheart MMA over in Fife. So between both, I’m very excited about what lays ahead. Yeah, the triangle is my favourite submission, It’s no secret on the jits scene that my triangles are my deadliest weapon when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I think my confidence comes from practising every type of triangle for hours a day and applying them in training and competitions. I think I win 80% of my matches by all types of triangles inverted or flying, any type, I just have the long legs which are perfect for them. I have a system I use a high percentage of time it takes me 40-50 seconds to apply this game plan and execute it on the mats. So that leaves me quite confident in how I’m going to win a match and how long it may take if everything goes to plan. Don’t get me wrong, triangles are not my only moves, of course. I’m a massive Berimbolo fan and I love rolling all over the mats. I have also added foot locks into my game since I got to blue and feel my game has gone up massively since I got to blue. I’m also a lapel player in the gi, I love choking or controlling people with their own gi. I would say I’m a far better gi fighter than no-gi. Although I’ve won Scottish and British titles in both styles, I absolutely love competing in the gi. I have different styles and game plans for both gi and no-gi matches.

Kieran – Forty to fifty seconds, that has to be some sort of record, surely?

Darren – Sorry that sounded arrogant saying it only takes forty to fifty seconds, as I have lost my fair share of matches too, respectfully. So I don’t mean to come across arrogant. I mean that confidently as I’ve tried the same system thousands of times and if applied correctly, and all goes to plan, then it should only take me 40-60 seconds to complete depending on opponents. As is proved in many matches all on video and also in training, but as I said triangles are not my only game. I study and practise all types of jiu-jitsu movements. Defence moves, sweeps, and submissions. There is nothing I don’t study. I’m always looking to learn and I’m a very focused and dedicated student. It’s just that triangles are my favourite submission and I practise them more than most. I feel I’m quite successful with them due to long hours studying and practising to become the best I can possibly become. I also have a personal goal to become one of the deadliest triangle specialists on the jits scene by the time I get to black belt. It’s just a personal goal of mine on top of all others I aim to achieve. It’s always good to set goals and targets as they inspire you to push yourself to the limits. Also, never doubt yourself, never. Confidence, not arrogance. Positive, not negative.

Kieran – Oh no, I can tell just by the conversation we are having that when you say 40-50 seconds, you do say that in confidence not in arrogance. You don’t strike me as an arrogant person, not at all.

Darren – Absolutely not arrogant in the slightest. I’m a very humble guy who shows everyone respect, but what I am, and what I think is the strongest aspect of my soul is my confidence within myself. My lack of fear in having nothing to lose. I lost both parents at a young age and I live every day as my last with no fear and full of confidence to do the best I can possibly do in life before my times up. losing both parents have hugely motivated me to become the best person I can possibly become in life, on all aspects, and keep making them both proud from above.

Kieran – You give respect and you get respect, and your journey is incredible.

Darren – I agree, one-hundred per cent.

Kieran – To go back to what you said earlier. It would seem that you need to take two different approaches when it comes to competing in gi and no-gi, would that be right?

Darren – Yes, you need different approaches for gi and no-gi due to there being nothing to hold on to during no-gi. As with in the gi, you have the gi to use against your opponent and you can choke and control your opponents with their own gi. Also in no-gi, it’s very slippy trying to get your grips due to sweat, so you have to choose your grips wisely and change your game plan due to this. I’m looser in no-gi. I like to spin and Berimbolo all over the place mostly looking for rear-naked chokes or inverted triangles that lead to other submissions like kimuras, Americanas, and wrist-locks. No-gi is lots of fun, really enjoyable, and full of MMA guys who like a good scrap on the mats. good competition pace.

Kieran – Now with Berimbolo for people who might not know, that is a technique where you essentially get an opponent from standing position down to the mat where you can expose their back and this is done in small movements whilst keeping the legs tied up in different positions. A lot of variations also.

Darren – That is correct Kieran. Berimbolo is a technique I use a lot and mostly at end of white and throughout blue so far. It’s such an enjoyable style to train and practise. I love rolling about the mats, berimbolo other students, then landing the back take and rear-naked choke. There is a lot of different ways to berimbolo depending what angle you are at, but it’s applied the same way with hooking the leg and using your shoulders to roll to whatever side you have hooked and spinning their body around for the back take. It’s such a cool move and I’ve been caught with it myself in competing from one the best blue belts I’ve ever laid eyes on. A kid named Calum Burke. This kid is insane. My favourite competitor from Scotland. I compete against him a lot. He’s a genius with it and I plan to train with this kid any chance I get and hopefully keep landing him in competitions as I only want to compete against the best.

Kieran – That’s brilliant. So, I’ve noticed you mostly compete in adult competitions. With your skillset and knowledge is there a possibility in the future that you make the full move to masters?

Darren – Yes, I compete in the adults even though I’m 34-years-old due to that being a more competitive division. You get more respect for winning the adults division, but I do also compete in M1 division sometimes. Mostly only the open weight class which I’ve won quite a few times. I also think that when I start competing on the IBJJF circuit around Europe and at the euros, I might enter the M1 division. And maybe any ADCC competitions, but all local competitions in the UK I’ll mostly compete in the adults due to me feeling fitter now than I was when I was 24. I’m a plant-based athlete and feel years younger, plus I train insane too so I’m very healthy and in great shape. My blue belt division in Scotland, in my opinion, is by far the hardest and best division to compete in at blue. Every single athlete is a champion in some sort of organisation and they’re all savages ready to take gold, but Calum Burke is the main man for now so we need to take his throne. I aim to do that, but I am still his biggest fan even though he’s my rival on the mats.

Kieran – That is another amazing thing about BJJ and MMA, you can have rivalries, but you can have crazy respect for that person. Even after the competition you can shake the guy’s hand, hug them even, and say great fight.

Darren – Absolutely, one-hundred per cent. That is the great thing about combat sports, the respect you see between competitors is brilliant. In Scotland, the competitors all get along great and help each other out when needed. Many times I’ve asked Calum to teach me a move he landed on me and he does. Asking other purple or brown belts for advice at competitions and they go on the warm-up mats with you and help you out even though you’re not from their team. They are always willing to help you out. You always have to show respect, especially to higher belt grades, and most of the time they will always lend a hand to share knowledge. I have a lot of friends around the jiu-jitsu community and I admire and look up to a lot of athletes on the competition scene in Scotland.

Kieran – It is a very friendly community. There is a hand gesture that is recognised in BJJ. It basically looks like when someone is pretending to make a phone call with their hand and have the thumb and pinky finger sticking out. Can you explain the origin of this?

Darren – Yes, the Shaka Sing. This hand sign is always followed by “OSs”. I’m asked this by every person outside jiu-jitsu who looks at one of my photos on social media, “what is that you’re doing with your hands and why do you always say OSs and what does OSs mean?“. It means a lot of things as far as I’m aware. It means yes and is a Japanese term, but I’m sure it’s also said for well done, to a good job, to hello, and to goodbye from jits guys. I also think the hand sign is a Hawaiian or surfer thing but in my opinion, it’s mostly a Brazilian thing as you see all the Brazilians in all sports doing it. So, for me, it’s a jiu-jitsu sign which is always followed by OSs my brother. It’s quite addictive too. Loads of people go about doing phone signs(Shaka) shouting OSs which only the jiu-jitsu community is aware of. So I suppose everyone else thinks we have all lost the plot.

Kieran – Thank you for that history lesson mate. Everyone else thinks we have lost the plot, I love it. The last question, you said you are going to be competing in MMA next year, with that, where would you like to be in five years time with your career and your life I guess?

Darren – Yes, MMA is the main goal along with my BJJ. With MMA I’ll probably compete for the next seven to ten years if my body allows me to which I know it will. Truth be told, I never compete unless I’m aiming for the top, so without any shadow of a doubt, I’ll be aiming to have roughly seven to ten amateur fights within 12 to 18 months. Then hopefully turn pro and get signed to one of the bigger promotions so I can represent my family, my community, and my team. Some may say age is not on his side, I say age is just a number. If you have taken care of your body and train hard enough, and have the skillset and correct coaches in place then nothing will stop you. I come from a boxing background and jiu-jitsu. I  also train at Skyaxe Kickboxing and Braveheart MMA gym too, so I feel I’m well-rounded and ready to learn more under my MMA coach, and my other coaches within my respected martial arts. I have hired myself the best strength and conditioning coach in Scotland, Adam Lumsby, so I’m doing it all correct all over the board. I feel I have the best coaches around me to help take me to whatever levels my skill set will take me. One thing is for sure, I made a promise in my mind to my mother after she passed away and I can’t see me falling on that promise. To get our family name in bright lights so I can honour her life. So it’s going to take a very strong-minded opponent to stop me. When I step in that cage it’s kill or be killed, with all due respect. Also in five years, I hope to be running a successful academy with my professor Thiago and competing all over the world In BJJ. I plan to go to Brazil and the USA. I hope to have some great experiences in MMA, so nothing but hard work and dedication now as always.

Kieran – That is incredible and I can’t wait to see you on that journey. I know with your mindset and how tough you are as a fighter and a human being I have no don’t you will do just that. It has been an absolute pleasure to talk with you and I have the utmost respect for you. Thank you, Darren.

Darren – Nice one champ. Thank you very much for your time and questions. I have truly enjoyed speaking with you and I wish you all the best with your articles. I look forward to reading your stories with other athletes too. Much respect, keep up the good work.

Kieran – I appreciate those kind words, thank you.


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