I had the pleasure of sitting down with BJJ brown belt Majid Gilani. He is the head coach of Checkmat Edinburgh and trains under Yousef Nabi. Gilani is a fierce competitor and is well respected among the BJJ community.
Just a little warning. Majid is a great character and I like to keep these interviews unfiltered, so you, the readers, get 100% of these guys. Some profanity will ensue.
Kieran – How are you today mate?
Majid – I am good mate, how are you?
Kieran – I’m very well thank you. So as always Majid, how did your BJJ journey begin, and what got you into the art?
Majid – I initially trained Tae Kwon Do from 1999 onwards. then I met Ashe Muhammad and he absolutely changed things. I met him in September 2001, where he invited me to Thai boxing classes. After a few months, he gave me a UFC 2 DVD and said watch it. I did just that and was gobsmacked. I was like, what the fuck is wee Royce doing to these big scary hillbillies? well as it turned out, he was BJJing their asses. However, at that time there was no BJJ in Scotland outside of Rick Youngs. I trained some grappling with Colin Campbell and John Fleming in 2003, but I was very bad and I just stopped due to life getting in the way. Then in 2009, Ashe began Fighters Hive in Bathgate. I enrolled in August 2009, and I started doing BJJ in an MMA context. I did not put a gi on until late 2010. I was at Volcano MMA with Ashe where a man called Amro Boray was teaching. By that time I had a few MMA and Thai Boxing fights. So that’s my entry into gi BJJ.
Kieran – That’s very intriguing. It’s a long journey. Although you stopped training BJJ in 2003, did you still keep an interest in it?
Majid – There was nothing in those times in my locality. I just wasn’t hooked on training. I followed MMA on the Sherdog forums. I loved guys like Big Nog and as you know at his peak, Big Nog was an amazing MMA submission artist. Oh, I also loved Sakuraba.
Kieran – So after watching Royce for the first time, did you continue to watch him?
Majid – Royce did not excite me like guys like Sakuraba and Big Nog. Sakuraba and Nog kept me engaged with the submission game.
Kieran – Big Nog was a master. How long did you focus on MMA for before making the full commitment to BJJ?
Majid – Up until March 2012. I suffered an embarrassing loss, after which, I stopped MMA and started training at Gracie Barra Glasgow run by Professor Ricky Gillon.
Kieran – We won’t go into that loss then. Can you describe that moment when you first stepped on to the mats and had your first roll?
Majid – At Gracie Barra Glasgow I did a few classes in early 2011 and loved it, so I went back there in 2012. I loved the atmosphere in the gym where everyone was smiling and laughing all the time.
Kieran – Yeah, it seems the clubs are always filled with positivity. Which leads me to my next question. Have you ever had a bad experience in any BJJ clubs?
Majid – Yes and I never went back there until very recently as a brown belt. I like to be friendly and talkative with people I train with, but this particular place was just intimidating and everyone was reserved. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean they were bad people, but I did not enjoy my few times there. I went there multiple times to see if there was maybe a misunderstanding on my end, but it was just the norm. Everyone is different. Some people prefer that, but others don’t, and I appear to be in the latter. Another bad experience for me personally was with William Watson. He mistreated me when I took 10 points with him. The guy is an absolute genius when it comes to teaching BJJ, but he was very personal and disrespectful towards me while teaching me in the private sessions. And yes, I did improve at the end, but as a coach now I feel his behaviour was very inappropriate. By the way, William Watson was the head coach of the recently closed Cross Combat. They produced some killers like Professor Dan Reid and Hoss Corrigan. P.S. I won’t name the first place as I will get my ass kicked.
Kieran – No worries. It’s interesting to see that you’ve had some negative experiences. Of course, as you stated, not everyone is like that. When a new member walks into Checkmat, what can they expect?
Majid – Smiling, laughter and a friendly environment where most of the laughter is at my expense, where my supposed students gang up on me and take the continual piss.
Kieran – It sounds like they forget who is head coach and who could make them do a tremendous amount of burpees. For people who may not know you, on and off the mats, who is Majid Gilani?
Majid – A guy who talks before he thinks. Over the years I have mellowed down because of my colleague, David Bain, who is a purple belt and coach at Checkmat Edinburgh. Professor Muhammed Yousuf has improved me as well. I like to talk a lot and joke around as Stuart can tell you. Life is too short so there is no point acting like a stiff because you are going to end up like one eventually. As in death. On the mats I am lazy and I am a master taller, but it has got me to this point.
Kieran – Good fella Dav, he gives me my first opportunity to do these interviews as well as Stuart, of course.
Majid – Dav is the man.
Kieran – You call yourself a master staller, but you always come home with the medals. Would you say you’re being hard on yourself or is that just a hint of how humble you are?
Majid – I think its a mix of both, but that is something I want to overcome. I am looking to become more dynamic in my game if Krankie allows us to train again.
Kieran – Who is Krankie?
Majid – A TV character that Nicola Sturgeon played before dooming us all in politics
Kieran – At least now we all know who Krankie is.
Majid – You’re a bit young to know. just Google it and Nicola’s picture will pop up in the role.
Kieran – Based on what you just said in regards to overcoming being hard on yourself. I would say don’t be hard on yourself unless it’s in a positive way to improve you as a human being. Some too many people will be hard on you and sometimes for no reason.
Majid – To counter such things, just don’t take yourself seriously, but also know your worth.
Kieran – I agree. Can I ask what is it like training under Yousuf Nabi?
Majid – Yeah great. Yousuf is an awesome guy. He is so open-minded. A chilled out and patient guy represents Yousuf. He actually suggested for me to train at the Griphouse. That was awesome advice. He is actually based in Brighton. So he wanted me to grow and improve. Therefore he suggested the Griphouse.
Kieran – How much did that advice help you? Can you discuss that transition?
Majid – I became a bit more aggressive in my game. I was able to roll with very high-level guys with different body types, levels, and age groups. It was totally different from what I expected. I went in 30 minutes late on a Wednesday and Professor Mcveigh is like “hey just jump in.” I felt very comfortable.
Kieran – That sounds like some incredible growth. how much did that help your confidence when it comes to competitions?
Majid – Well in 2017, I faced Shaiz Khan at the Blackpool Open and he did a number on me as if I was a jobber. As you know, Shaiz is a serial medal chaser from the Grip. As he is a similar age and size to me (obviously he is much more handsome) I sort of compared my growth in terms of how much I was able to survive against him in rolling. When I improved in surviving, I was like fuck it let’s compete again and I saw improvement. At the same time, Dav was helping me develop and grow my game as well. At the Grip, I love the good cop bad cop dynamic between Garry and Paul (by the way, this may be my illusion) and it made the classes there a really engaging environment.
Kieran – Who plays which role and do they try to switch?
Majid – I am still figuring out which is which.
Kieran – That’s incredible and it’s great when you see your growth. So you’ve won a lot of accolades, but what moments stand out most to you?
Majid – I think the best one for me was my performance at the Liverpool Submission Only Open where I won 3 Golds and 1 silver at Blue belt. On that day, I won the adult and master divisions. Another moment for me is a loss against Craig Guthrie. I was expecting that scary bastard to smash the shit out of me, but I surprised myself.
Kieran – That’s an amazing feat. And I think it is great that you see one of your best moments in a loss. Do you think people should try and do this more often? In BJJ and outside of it also.
Majid – Yeah I do. I think you learn more about yourself in a loss than a win. However, my mole-faced student Jamie Harvey disagrees with this point who, by the way, does not like to mention the name of his coaches in interviews. Unfortunately, that’s his name due to his eyes. I sometimes suspect that there are no eyeballs in there.
Kieran – Mole-faced? I love the banter. Do you sometimes find yourself staring? Is Jamie the one who initiates the rest of the club ganging up on you?
Majid – No the problem students are guys like Dave Adam, Scott Duncan, and a thieving posh tax man Kenny ‘Donald’ Logan. They always take the piss no matter what. Kenny may be the worst.
Kieran – There you go, you guys know who you are. Let’s behave or suffer from burpees.
Majid – Kenny has always had it in for me after I bestowed the name Donald on him at a grading. I was giving him a tab, but forgot his name and called him Donald. Everyone was howling.
Kieran – If he keeps acting up, I don’t think the name will go away any time soon. For the readers and listeners, can you give us a funny story of when you used to travel to some of these competitions with MMA UK BJJ Show host Stoomboy?
Majid – Yes, one of the funniest moments was when I competed at the Scottish open where I was wearing a Fighters Hive hoodie, Marcelo Garcia shorts, and a Gracie Barra rashguard. Stuart Stoomboy observed this and took the absolute piss, and he still hasn’t let go despite this being over 4 years ago.
Kieran – Hey, you were representing. And sometimes moments like that stick. Have you ever found Stoomboy in a predicament like that?
Majid – No Stuart always wore the correct team attire. He used to bam people up before matches which is hilarious and he beat most guys like that. He was the smallest guy in his category, but he gave the bigger guys hell. The funniest image was big Martin Smith throwing Stuart around. It resembled a father playing with their boy. I was like how the fuck is this the same weight category.
Kieran – We should use that in the article. So I’m curious, we have been seeing new submissions in MMA. For example, we have seen a scorpion crunch pulled off in Bellator. Being experienced in MMA and BJJ, why do you think we don’t see these unusual submissions as often?
Majid – Um, I think the level of teaching and awareness has shot up which minimises the occurrence of such crazy shit. You have to remember in MMA, the guy probably slapped the victim around before applying the wacky move. In a pure grappling setting the chances would be further minimised. Well, that’s my theory.
Kieran – That’s a good theory. You said you loved to watch Big Nog. In your opinion, is he the best BJJ practitioner or do you believe someone else is?
Majid – It’s a close one between Big Nog, Werdum, and Mir at Heavyweight. Paul Craig is up there at light-heavy. Maia is up there at Welterweight and Sakuraba as well. Overall, I think Sakuraba as he fought all comers and all sizes. He was tapping black belts in MMA nearly 20 years ago. In fact over 20 years ago. Yes, Sakuraba is an all-time great in terms of submissions.
Kieran – You’ve mentioned some big names there and most of them have been doing it for years. My next question, do you like to watch videos of BJJ and if so, how much do these help compared to being on the mat and learning?
Majid – I am not a visual learner. I prefer going through the motions with a partner while being supervised by a coach. But I do have some YouTube black belts in my gym.
Kieran – Oh, that’s interesting, I guess that just shows different ways of learning. When would you like to get back to competing? Given how everything is, would you like to wait for some time?
Majid – I really want to get back ASAP. My circumstances have totally changed now, mentally and financially, so I really want to compete. I appreciate BJJ right now. Eight months makes you appreciate many good things in life. For me, travelling and BJJ. I want to try the IBJJF competitions. If not IBJJF, I want to do the Grappling Industries ones. Obviously in terms of local ones I want to compete in the Scottish Grappling ones as they are always top-notch. I hear Meat will adopt more round, Robin, in the events. I also want to do more SGI matches. I can only aim if I achieve 50 per cent of my aspirations, then I have won indeed.
Kieran – You’re a head coach now, you compete often, but what would you like to have done in the next five years?
Majid – I want to be on 2 tabs on my brown belt after 5 years. I want to win over Giles Garcia by then. I want to catch Yousuf once. I want to catch Dav multiple times in a week. I want Jamie to refer to me in terms of the name as his coach. I want to try MMA again. I want to maybe hit many more countries like my travelling hero Coggsy(Shaiz’s little brother) does and makes me envious with his photos of destinations and beer.
Kieran – It sounds like a hell of a plan and I would love to see you achieve every one of them. It has been an absolute pleasure. Thank you for your time, Majid.
Majid – The pleasure is all mine. Thank you for tolerating my constant jabbering. May the force be with you home.