KnuckleUp standout BJJ competitor Parker Graham traveled recently to the home of the western hemisphere’s only indigenous martial art. He and KnuckeUp’s head instructor, Ricardo Murgel, went to Murgel’s hometown of Porte Alegre in Brazil. Parker tells us about what it was like to train with the members of Murgel’s Union Team and compete and win in Brazil.
Tell us how you got started with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
I started maybe eight or nine years ago and it was originally for general self-defense. I was probably about seven years old. I started training with a guy named Remonte for about a year in Atlanta and then Master Murgel came to the U.S. and I started training with him.
Ricardo Murgel is one of the most prominent Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) instructors in the world. What was it like going from your first instructor to training with Master Murgel?
I trained more self-defense with my first instructor. Once I got to work with Master Murgel, I was able to train a little bit of self-defense, but more so competitive BJJ techniques and instruction from the competitive side.
Have you always trained in the gi?
I actually started in no-gi Jiu Jitsu and then once Master Murgel came, I started to train in the gi. I prefer training in the gi now.
How many times a year do you compete in BJJ?
I compete about 10 to 12 times per year.
Why do you compete that frequently?
I compete to stay sharp, but also as another way to see where my weaknesses are and to see what other people do. I like to compete against others to see where I am compared to everyone else, and whether I am improving.
Tell me about the trip you recently took with Master Murgel.
We traveled to Porto Alegre, Brazil, and started training right away when we got down there. A couple of days later, we went to the BJJ seminar and that was really cool. It was the 30th anniversary of the Union Team. It was pretty big. I think there were more than 170 participants.
What techniques did you cover during the seminar?
We covered a lot, actually. We covered different variations of ankle lock attacks, guard passes and different back takes—a whole bunch of different moves.
Did you notice a difference between rolling with the guys in Brazil versus the talented guys you train with here in the United States?
There was a lot of really talented people down there and a lot more people down there to do Jiu Jitsu with.
And you participated in the competition there?
Yes, there was competition there. It was a lot like an IBJJF tournament in that you would weigh in right before your match in your gi, you would go with people with the same level belt as you, the same weight and age and you know exactly what time your matches are. It was run very well.
I understand you were the first American to compete in that tournament?
With Union, yes. I did well. I took first in my weight class (69 kilos and under) and second place in the Absolute division for juveniles.
What is it about Jiu-Jitsu that struck a chord with you at such a young age that you’ve been so devoted to it for so long?
I think it’s just something I’ve been doing since I was young and I just keep going with it. I’ve learned to really like Jiu Jitsu a lot. I think a lot of it is also because it’s for any type of person. It’s not like football where you have to have a certain kind of build to play a certain position. You can have any kind of body type and have a game for Jiu Jitsu.
If you had to analyze yourself, what would you say your style is?
A lot of people in lower weight classes are more guard players and the heavier classes are more guard and pressure players. I’m kind of in the middle area for weight, so I like both. I like being able to play guard as well as pass guard.
What’s your favorite guard pass?
My top three are the Knee Slide then the Leg Drag and Torreando/X-pass.
And your favorite submission?
Probably the Triangle Choke.
What is one of your most memorable competition stories from a BJJ Tournament?
Probably my most recent competition, because it’s the first time I’ve been able to do a true Absolute Division. My second or third match in, I had a really big guy, who was about 200 lbs. or so, and Master Murgel said I should be really quick with him because he was so much bigger. I pulled guard right off the bat and I just tried to keep moving so it would be harder for him to grab or control me with his weight. I kept trying to sweep him but I couldn’t. I was able to break his posture down. He left his arm hanging out and I grabbed the arm, threw my legs up and got the Oomplata on him and he tapped. It was really cool because he was so much bigger than me. Light Absolutes for juveniles is about 150 pounds and under. I’ve always done the lighter Absolutes, so this was true Absolutes for me.
Another interesting thing that happened was when my first opponent’s coach asked my opponent who he was going against he pointed to me and said, “gringo” and his coach said, “you’ve got this.” I defeated him handily and advanced.