Amal Easton began his martial arts journey over thirty years ago with the study of Muay Thai under the tutelage of Ajarn Chai Sirasuti and Kru Doug Pandorf. He has studied Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu extensively since 1992. After earning his Degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine Amal moved to Rio De Janeiro in 1995. One of few Americans living in Rio de Janeiro, Amal trained and competed out of the Gracie Barra Academy for three and a half years.
Amal was only the seventh person to receive their black belt from legendary competitor and instructor, Renzo Gracie. Renzo and Carlos Gracie Jr. have endorsed Amal’s ability and authorized him to teach the art. Amal was the first American Black Belt National Champion in 2002, is a multiple Pan American and Worlds Masters champion, and one of the original American pioneers of the art.
Amal Easton seen over the shoulder of UFC commentator Joe Rogan, was in the corner of Shane Corwin and also many other top MMA fighters.
Amal, you like a lot of BJJers, started out in other martial arts until finally settling into BJJ. Which styles/systems did you study and why did you finally settle into BJJ?
I trained Muay thai Boxing and JKD since about 1978 and discovered BJJ in 1992. I was training for my second Thai Boxing fight, my first one did not go as well as I imagined. I had trained really hard for a lot of years and my striking did not prove as lethal as I had hoped and I lost a split decision. I felt really beat up after my fight especially my shins and legs. I didn’t walk right for a few weeks. Around the same time we had a BJJ Blue belt under the Machados named Marco Gonzales come out and he absolutely tied me in knots. I felt less confident that I could knock someone out after my fight and training with him I felt certain that if we hit the ground it was over. Also it was just really fun, we went really hard and nobody got hurt at all.
In 1995, you made a dramatic and bold decision that would set you on a path in your life that brings you to where you are today. Tell us about it.
I actually graduated from acupuncture school and was not ready to be stuck working in an office. I had always loved traveling especially in other countries experiencing different cultures, so I worked hard through my last three years of school so I could get out and explore more of the world. I was torn between China to work in a hospital and Thailand to do more Thai boxing but by the time I graduated I was less enthused with Chinese culture and I was infatuated with BJJ. I had never lived on the ocean, and Rio looked so nice so it became a easy decision. Most of my belongings consisted of toys so I had a dream garage sale, Kayaks, bikes, a hang glider, moto, skis, snowboards, you name it and sold everything to hit the road.
Who have been the greatest influences in how you train, teach and view Jiu Jitsu?
There have been so many great influences starting with Doug Pandorf my first Martial arts teacher who taught me and introduced me to the martial arts is such a great way, then in BJJ Helio “Soneca” Moreira who really took the time to teach me when I was just starting out, Roberto “Gordo” Correa who always demonstrated persistence and dedication, Renzo Gracie an excellent example of how to be and how to treat people, Rillion Gracie who took me into his house and was an awesome example of how to live, and so many more like “Zebeleza”, Carlinhos Gracie, Matt Serra, Ricardo Almeida, Tom Clifford, Eliot Marshall to name a few!
You have been the BJJ coach and have trained with quite a few MMA fighters that we see today in the UFC and other organizations. Can you share some of their names with us? Which of those impressed you the most in regards to “getting your mind around” BJJ?
I have had the great fortune to train some top level fighters in MMA thanks to an awesome team of coaches here in Colorado including Leister Bowling (wrestling) Loren Landow (strength and conditioning), and Trevor Witman (boxing). Each of them has impressed me in their own way as these are all truly amazing individuals:
Jay Jack who is one of the toughest guys I know, my first Black Belt and taught me a lot.
Eliot Marshall who has won the pan ams in BJJ in blue, purple and brown belt as well as placing third in the Worlds at brown, then he got pulled away from BJJ competition by MMA and was on the Ultimate fighter Reality show and is currently a competitior in the UFC. Eliots BJJ is awesome and his balance in teaching fighting and coaching is noteworthy.
Shane Carwin never ceases to amaze me with his athletic ability. He can do moves the first time that little guys have a tough time with and with a 250 lb frame to boot. I’ve never seen someone that moves like him at anywhere near that size.
Brendan Schaub is another amazing heavy weight who represents the new breed of fighters who not only have the Martial arts skills and training ethic but genetics to back it up. He is constantly evolving and growing in every respect.
Nathan Marquardt, who is such a veteran and has a shocking arsenal of BJJ and really helps me to understand BJJ for MMA in a different way.
Chaun Sims – although he is a relative unknown at this time, we expect a break out year for him. We expect him to give anyone a run for their money.
From your perspective, who are the top MMA fighters today that impress you most with their BJJ skills in the cage?
There are so many like Jake Shields and Nick Diaz, these guys are absolute animals and always put on an amazing fight, also BJ Penn who due to his other skills often does not show it but it is there when and if he wants to use it. Demian Maia is amazing but has some work to do to be able to show it. Roger Gracie who with so little experience in MMA has shown ability in MMA that is hard to fathom.
You have been around the sport for a long time. What have you noticed about the BJJ game in the past few years in terms of positions and strategies?
The rapid evolution of BJJ blows my mind! The growth in numbers of practitioners is amazing! I believe the black belts of ten years ago would get schooled by the purple belt champions of today. The New Generation of BJJ is another level, the techniques are mostly similar but with tweaks and details that make a mountain of difference. With more wrestlers and better stand up being introduced the over all level of the fight is also effected. As far as strategy guys like “Nino” or “Roleta” used to destroy everyone with little or no stand up, today its almost imperative to be able to choose top or bottom with your takedown skills.
One of my old school friends “Pitoco” said to me “Amal, you really should have been here back in the day. We used to train three days per week, surf every day, and win all the tournaments!” those days are over, today to be a champion you have to dedicate 110%, so much it starts to feel like a job!
You have had the opportunity to fight many of the big BJJ names over the years, who are some of your most memorable matches and why?
My most memorable matches were with Macaco because he was someone I had seen beat or give hell to some of the best fighters. After the first fight I lost, it actually gave me confidence that I could beat him, which I did the following year in Rio.
I remember my match with Jacare because I got to feel the strength and ferocity of the new generation of fighters. Fabio Gurgel gave me pressure and a chance to fight a legend.
I also competed against Saulo Ribeiro, Cassio Werneck, Gabrielle Vella, and more, some I did well against, others I did not – but the amount of respect I have for these guys is huge because I know how hard all of us have worked and sacrificed for BJJ.
You own a very successful academy, can you tell us a bit about it?
I have owned and operated Easton Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu for over ten years, we have locations through out the Denver Boulder metro area. We pride ourselves in not only being the toughest academy around but being a very user friendly and family oriented academy with children starting at four years old. We have lots of professionals and people of all ages training along side UFC champions in a safe friendly environment.
What advice would you give to those just starting out in BJJ?
As with life, I believe balance is the most important thing. If you fall in love with Brazilian Jiu-jitsu like I did, you will never stop. Keep it fun and take as much pride in helping your partners up as you do in beating them up. Many of my greatest memories are from the mat.
What advice would you give to those upper level belts that are interested in competing at the highest levels?
You have to take it seriously. Its not a hobby to be a champion. If it is possible to train hearder – do it. If you really want it more than your competitors, than you better figure out a way to out work, out learn, out takedown, and out jiu-jitsu them, or they are going to get the gold and not you. Great sacrifice can lead to great reward – or not.
Amal, please also add anything else you would like to share with our audience…any pearls of wisdom from your experiences would be greatly appreciated!
In 1995 I sold everything I owned and bought a ticket to Rio to train with the Greatest BJJ family in the world, the Gracies. It was a wild ride, some days I was on top of the world and some days I wondered why I gave up the comforts of my North American lifestyle but when I think back upon the journey I call my life I wouldn’t change a thing. Some work hard at things they know will pay off monetarily so they can reap the rewards and really enjoy the rest of their time, I chose to make my life my play, to follow my passion and hope that although it did not feel like work it would provide a way of life and a living for me. I never could have imagined where I would end up and how quickly it would all come to pass, but here I am. Don’t think for a second that I didn’t put my heart and soul into everything I did, I always strive to be a champion in everything I do (you should see me change a diaper!). I chased after what I loved and did my absolute best. Now is the time to live – no ‘should have’, ‘could have’, or ‘would have’. Today is what you will be remembered by, and what you will remember. What are you doing to make the most out of today?
JiuJitsuMania would like to thank Amal Easton – he is always a class act!