Black belt Ross Nicholls spoke to Roll Models ahead of his appearance in the 16 man No-Gi submission only tournament ‘Submitting Things’ scheduled for December 17th in Stoke-on-Trent
Roll Models: Going back to the start for those that don’t know you. Where did it begin, where are you now and what is your main background in grappling?
Nicholls: I’m getting my first stripe at the end of this year so I’ve been 3 years at blackbelt. I’ve kind of done Gi and No-Gi all the way through so a little bit of both. I started in south Wales with my friends Kevin Cox and Robert Cox and their all black belts now, so whenever I go back home I visit them and train with them so its all good. It was a lot different back then, Kev was a purple he was the highest grade in the club and there were a couple blues and a couple whites. It’s funny seeing how quick the guys here (Roger Gracie, Cesar Lima, Farringdon) are developing now just because of the people they are surrounded with. We’ve got 12 black belts at the academy here now and possibly a lot more at Christmas as there are a bunch of brown belts that are ready to move on. Cesar is the head instructor and I’m one of the instructors there. We’ve got 270 students it’s really exploding.
Roll Models: wow 270 students, that’s amazing! I haven’t heard much from the club to be honest in terms of the size on social media etc?
Nicholls: Yeah I’m not crazy on social media. We’re all there, we do this every day, why would we take a picture of it? Maybe I should start doing picture a bit more and doing the “look how busy the class is” but I just want to go. I’ve been on the mat like 8 hours at that point. This is all I do. I’m a little bit of a grumpy old man with regards to that.
Roll Models: so you are competing on the ‘Submitting Things’ openweight No-Gi tournament on December 17th. You’re certainly no stranger to the sub-only format having had some memorable matches with the likes of Oliver Taza on Tuff and Polaris. Firstly how did you first get into the format and start looking at inevitable areas that come with it such as the leg lock and heel hook game?
Nicholls: My friend Chris who’s a blue belt at my academy is a proper jiu-jitsu nerd. He started to do them a little bit before me and we kind of researched them together. We studied all the entries and pieced together their game plan as best as we could. Considering the resources we had I think we did pretty well for the first Taza fight, it was good fun. It was only a few months in the first time I fought him and I was pretty nervous with him especially around going after his legs. What It’s done for me more than anything now I’m fighting in these sub-only tournaments is that I’m not worried about it, so I’m expressing my passing a lot more. I still like passing, I like side control, I like making it uncomfortable. But I’m still trying to get my head around to expressing myself with leg locks in these tournaments, because I’m still a little bit paranoid of getting into a pummeling match with somebody that’s really good, but I know my passing and other areas of my game are stronger so I’m still playing it safe like that. I think against these big guys (on Roll Models) I’m going to have to really commit to these leg locks.
Roll Models: What’s your opinion on the recent surge in leg locks and heel hooks in general?
Nicholls: My opinion on heel hooks before training with them and after, is totally different. Beforehand I could kind of see where the IBJJF was coming from, but I think they’ve created this kind of culture where people mention heel hooks and its “oh my god they are so dangerous”. Yeah there are potential things to go wrong if you don’t understand them that are big. But in my academy now I’m trying to teach people that ignorance to them isn’t safety. Not doing them is just making you more at risk, so I’m teaching them a lot more.
Roll Models: You mention your own academy, many academies still believe in not teaching leg locks until certain points, how do you feel about that?
Nichols: Yeah there’s a school of thought for sheltering students from them. I think white belts you probably avoid teaching them that stuff early on, because even if you say you can’t do this, they fucking do it anyway! But there is a group of guys I trust and I’m slowly corrupting them if you know what I mean. I’m getting them trying this stuff.
Roll Models: You mentioned earlier that you are on the mats 8 hours a day. How does the average week look for you in terms of training, strength and conditioning etc?
Nicholls: I’m terrible with strength and conditioning! I don’t do any strength and conditioning, I just roll a lot. I’m in that camp. I do what I enjoy, I get bored as hell lifting weights. If I go through my life not having won major tournaments because of it, yeah I’m not really fussed. If it means I can’t do a training session because I’ve got to lift weights, I just won’t do it. I’d rather roll. I teach a lot of classes and private classes, I’m on the mat for over 40 hours a week now teaching and training myself. I’d say that teaching has been the biggest improvement in my game over the last 3 years. It helps you to understand yourself a lot better and what you do. I didn’t think Id enjoy it as much, obviously I’m still a competitor so that selfish mindset creeps into it, but I’ve found quite a nice balance I think. I get a lot of pleasure out of seeing my students doing well and hopefully I motivate them when they see me competing as well. I spar twice a day for about an hour each. Two hours hard sparring a day and I listen to my body. Some days I might be physically done so I won’t spar for one and ill just do one sparring session. I’ve still got this mindset where I think I’m superhuman which is bad.
Roll Models: You’ve competed in a few sub-only tournaments recently is that your focus at the moment? If so why?
Nicholls: I kind of resent paying the IBJJF £150 to get a fight. Fighting on these sub-only shows I’m often getting full divisions and there’s a chance of prize money to. I’m really enjoying being out of the Gi at the moment and I’m just going for as many of these submission only tournaments as I can. After I had a bit of success on the welsh open the other day, coming back on the train that’s when I messaged you. I thought open-weight, stuff it I’ll give it a go! Hopefully the bracket will be kind, there’s some big guys out there, I might go out first round you never know.
Roll Models: With the No-Gi tournaments there’s often a mix of belt levels, does this bother you at all being a black belt?
Nichols: In a Gi I think I’d have a problem with it because I can see it. The way my minds gone lately with the No-Gi is, I don’t see a belt so it doesn’t really twig in my mind that someone’s only a brown belt or whatever. Oliver Taza is technically a brown belt you know?
Roll Models: How is specific preparation for the submitting things tournament going?
Nicholls: I’m so lucky with my academy, I never go in there and it’s not worth my time rolling. There are plenty of tough black belts and tough brown belts that I’m rolling with so I’m always getting good rounds. What I’ve done lately because I’ve done so many submission only tournaments, I’ve been going down to tenth planet a lot on a Saturday. The tenth planet guys have added a lot to my game. It’s a great time going down there. One of my favourite pastimes in jiu-jitsu is, I go there in civis. There are no belts so you can’t see what levels people are. I get mma guys or other grapplers asking for round and they don’t know my background or experience so its quite funny seeing them twig half way through the round, its great. One thing that never gets old! (laughs)
Roll Models: What would you say is your best achievement in grappling competition wise?
Nicholls: I can’t remember, I get asked questions like send me a bio of your biggest achievements. I’m always like, I can’t remember… All my medals are in a drawer somewhere. I find them in a socks drawer or clothes drawer, they are out the way. I don’t dwell on those, I enjoy them for a day or two then it’s on to the next one. I’m doing what I love and I’m very luck to get to do that.
Roll Models: Any sponsors you want to thank?
Nicholls: Tatami fighter have been helping me loads. I’ve been with them for 8 years now I think. I was one of their first sponsors after I won the euros at blue back in 2010 so thanks to them!
Limited tickets for Roll Models ‘submitting things’ 16 man No-Gi submission only tournament, December 17th, Stoke-on-Trent are available now priced at just £20 via this link.