May 03

Interview with Julius Park on inspiring excellence within your gym

Julius Park is the owner of Crazy 88 in Maryland, and he has built an extraordinary program. The proof of that lies in his students. Too many to count have become forces to be reckoned with and among their ranks are several World Champions.

I’ve also personally spent many hours training at his gym, and I have a lot of respect for the focus and vision he brings to Jiu-jitsu instruction. That’s why this interview is focused on gym leadership.

How do you inspire excellence with your gym? This interview approaches that question from a captain’s point of view but philosophy isn’t something that always must come from the top. That’s why this is an important topic. What we tell ourselves and what we tell others matters, and it can affect the culture and the growth of a gym.

When one of your students loses a match, what’s the most important thing that must be communicated to them and what must never be said?

There should be an honest assessment of the match. Sometimes this occurs right after the match and other times when the athlete is in a better state of mind and more receptive. The athlete can only get better with feedback and its up to the coach to provide feedback beyond WIN = GOOD and LOSS = BAD.

I think its very dangerous for coaches to put the locus of control outside of the athlete or allow excuses. Sometimes the excuses are real, like the referee really could have made a bad call. But because you don’t have any control over that, you want your athletes focusing on what they can control, rather than what they can’t.

The one thing you never do and that is NEVER put the opponent on a pedestal. I often hear athletes say stuff like “Oh, he’s been a Blue Belt for a long time” or “He won the World Championship” or even worse “He trains at XYZ”. You should never put the opponent on some sort of fundamentally superior position to your athlete. After all, you’ll eventually have to fight them again and hopefully win!

What ideas and philosophies should be reinforced over and over again to build an environment that inspires excellence within a gym?

World class effort. Give recognition to individuals who are working hard towards their goals.

Actions > Words. Self-explanatory.

Be a person others can depend on and look up to. Character of the student base will play a larger role in the long term development of the school than technique or skill.

Pick a lofty goal and hold people accountable to it. I’ve noticed this a lot recently where schools will purposely choose goals that are easily attainable or not quantifiable. Once this goal has been set, its important to make sure people are all working towards it. For example, if you say you want to have a competitive school, but everyone is only training 2x a week – there is obviously a disconnect between reality and the goal.

What do you consider the best methodologies for drilling and practice?

This is a very broad question so I’m not sure how to answer it.

I would say that the purpose of practice is to make people better. Sometimes, the student needs to work on technique. Other times, strategy. Maybe the students need more conditioning. And sometimes the students even need to work on their mental toughness. A practice emphasizing mental toughness is much different than one focusing on technique. So the best methodology is always changing based on what the student base needs. This requires the instructor to always keep an eye on whats occurring on the mats.

I think there should be emphasis on particular systems and these systems should be developed in the right order. For example, I have a White Belt student right now who is focusing on Worm Guard. It actually works pretty well on the other White Belts who are dumbfounded by this. But as soon as he faces non-White Belts, he gets passed easily because his De La Riva and Spider Guard aren’t there.

There should always be an emphasis on Fundamentals (Fundamentals meaning Fundamentals… not Fundamentals meaning everything that was taught before 1996).

I know that you’ve often recommended that your students read specific books, so what are your five best books for inspiring excellence?

Talent Is Overrated, Outliers (I personally found this boring but other people really like it and its a great introduction to the idea of dedicated practice), Mindset, Turning Pro, and The Inner Game of Tennis

I’d also recommend the first 2 chapters of The First 20 Hours

Have you noticed any specific benefits when your students have read those books and others that you’ve recommended?

The benefit of the books for the people who have read them is that it helps students realize that a lot of the patterns and frustrations that they face are commonplace across different fields. It also helps that put their goals and training into context. For example, if you read Outliers, you should understand that you won’t be UFC champion or a BJJ Black Belt in 4 years if you’re training 2x a week.

From a coaching perspective its good too b/c it allows the coach to identify students who are willing to listen to the coach’s advice.

Is there anything that you would like to add on the topic?

I think that everyone should try to pursue excellence. Of course, not everyone is going to become a world champion but everyone can reach the next level of their own development – whether its becoming more fit, more technical, more perceptive, etc. Its the active pursuit of self-improvement that is the most important. It will keep you motivated even though it will take time and be uncomfortable. Its worth it.