Phill Schwartz – Shugyo invitational interview

10th planet back belt, co-founder and head instructor of 10th planet Portland, and now creator of the new promotion Shugyo, we caught up with Phill Schwartz to see what made him tick.

GI: So tell us a bit about yourself
Phill:

I was part of 10th planet before 10th planet was cool.

I’ve been training for 12 years now, I started in 2007 with Eddie Bravo and Scott Epstein, never really found anything in my life that felt as natural and made as much sense. As soon as I found Jiu-Jitsu I fell in love with it and wanted to keep going. 10th planet spoke to me, just being a bit more non-traditional… and being really open and scientific. 

I was part of 10th planet before 10th planet was cool. I used to train at other gyms, and there was a lot of hatred and animosity. I would put people in rubber guard and lock down and people are like “what is this? It doesn’t work, it’s bullshit.”

I’ll never forget the second Eddie Bravo / Royler Gracie match at Metamoris, after Eddie dominated him, I think the world saw something that day. It changed the feeling of being 10th planet forever. We’ve probably tripled or quadrupled since that day. We know the match was a draw, but we also know who won, so I think that was a huge turning point for us. By the numbers we’re still pretty small but we’re a tight community and we all know each other and stay close, and that’s something that makes us a bit different. I’ve got 10th planet friends I train with in Australia, in Asia, in the UK. I don’t know if every other gym is like that. 

GI: Tell us a bit about 10P Portland. How did you become head instructor etc
Phill:

There was a 10th planet gym in Portland before, but the instructor that ran it just couldn’t deal with Oregon – I think he didn’t like the rain – and I guess one day he decided to take off. He sold the gym to another affiliation, but he had some really dedicated students and then they didn’t have a home.  I was over LA, I lived there for 20 years of my life and I just couldn’t do it anymore, so I moved up to Oregon and found out the gym didn’t exist. There were a couple of blue belts from the gym, so I hit them up, turns out they’re just training out the back of this crossfit gym, so I started teaching them stuff and ended up getting another local gym to give us some space. The only time they would give us was 9PM to 10:30PM. Nate moved up, then there were 2 of us, and we figured we could start a little 10th planet program. 

It was hard – I wouldn’t recommend it at all. We were purple belts at the time. Now the rule is that you can’t open a gym unless you’re a black belt, but back in the day we were undergoing rapid expansion. The dream was never to open a huge gym, we just wanted to train 10th planet BJJ with some other like-minded people. We had this one little time slot, inside this other gym, and they would give us shit for our weird 10th planet stuff. I’ll never forget though, they had this in-house tournament with 8 divisions, and we ended up winning 7, and that was proof to us and proof to everybody else that we were the best grapplers around.

We moved around a lot, we had 6 places in 4 years, but now we have our own spot. We have a huge matt, over 2500 feet of space – we’re a big gym now, but to us it’s less about the number of students. We don’t want just 300 of any students; we want the coolest 300 students. That’s always been our goal, to have a good community. 

GI: You’re good friends and regular training partners with Nathan Orchard. Can you tell us a bit about that relationship?

Phill:

Just last year Nathan got married to a woman in Seattle, so he moved up there and opened 10th planet Seattle. He’s just had a baby, and that shit takes up a lot of your time, but we see each other all the time still. That’s awesome. I was actually the one who performed his wedding ceremony, so that’s really cool. 

I cornered him last weekend, and I thought he had an outstanding performance. I think he had the best performance of the night, and the rules are the rules, but I think Nathan’s mentality – that he’s going to attack and look for the finish – if you want to meet him there that’s going to be a good match. If you want to run away and use overtime that’s going to be less exciting, but that’s a strategy too. 

GI: So, finally tell us about Shugyo. What makes it different to other formats?

You can be a boring fighter, but that’s not going to help you, because there’s nowhere to go

Phill:

We’ve tried to create a rules format to have the purest expression of Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve competed in a lot of formats, and every format is fine, but there are downsides to every format too. Nobody likes losing on points, but nobody likes winning on points either. If you win by submitting every one of your opponents, that’s a completely different story. We’re most interested in people who submit themselves all the way to the finish, and if you look around BJJ that’s what everybody wants. We’re trying to give athletes the experience of a match that doesn’t end until somebody taps out. That works for a certain type of fighter, and that’s the sort of guy we went after when formulating our invites for the event. We tried to find the guys who are going to attack-attack-attack.

You can be a boring fighter, but that’s not going to help you, because there’s nowhere to go. No time limit works different.  You pass, get on top, and look for the clock, but there is no clock. A lot of us are trained to do that, but that’s not how it works. One of the tag-lines is ‘face your daemons’. We all have mental weaknesses that we suffer with, getting distracted, giving up on ourselves, and those are the voices that could make you or break you. When we put those two guys into no time limit, one of them is going to get to that point and make a mistake. We want to bring out the purest martial arts and the purest BJJ. All we can do is make an opportunity for this to come out, which you don’t see in other grappling competitions  – there’s not enough time, or the rulesets let them win in other ways. 

We have prizes for first place, second place, and for fastest submission. The reason we did that is because for me, it’s not just the story about the person who wins, but about all the athletes. We’re really trying to tell the story about everyone, and by telling that story there’s gonna be winners, gonna be losers, gonna be emotions, and we’re gonna see the daemons. We look at these athletes like they’re kings – and they are – but they’re also very human. We didn’t want this to be another tournament where this guy one, and you forget about everybody else. No, we wanted this to be a story about the guy that wins as much as the guy who loses. We could have just dropped all the fights, but this is a story about the things they went through in this experience. After every single match we interview these guys again. We get their story, and we get their mentality, and we get to see the emotion and the process of the tournament play out. We’re trying to present it in a different way. 

All these guys came together and filmed it in secret. Everything is playing out, and we’re able to drop it in this exciting way. That does two things. It helps the athletes look good and lets us tell their story, and lets us make content that is exciting for the fans. If you watch an episode, only see a few minutes of an exciting match, you can go and watch the whole match later. A lot of the BJJ nerds are into this and have said that’s the bit they want to see. We’re trying to drop a lot of content in a lot of ways, and we want the fans to be happy, and the athletes to be happy, and for our sponsors to be happy.

We’re giving this out for free, and that was a big thing for us. We don’t want this to be on flow grappling or fightpass, it’s just on YouTube for free so more people can see it. So far it’s been a really positive response. We’re treating this like art, not a business venture; it’s something we’re putting 100% of our effort into. We treated this as if it might be the only one we do. Because we’re amateurs we have a different style, we don’t have an editing team, it’s all us, volunteers from the gym, and sponsors. We gave all the athletes travel money, money for housing, and then for the three guys. That’s a lot of pay-out – over $10,000 just to the athletes – so in terms of fundraising, we’re just fundraising for athletes and production and that’s it. Without the community we could never have done it so we’re super grateful. 

I definitely have ideas about future shows. I really want to do women’s 135 and men’s 145. If you watch the women at 135 in the ADCC trials, there are some real bad-asses at that weight class. I want to see them submission only and no time limit. And at 145 there are so many killers – Geo Martinez, Marvin Castelle, we want Ethan Crelinsten to come back, there are a lot of guys who want to come back lower. 

I want people to know, there are some exciting, crazy matches coming up. I can’t think of another event where you have 13 matches, with 13 submissions, and it’s an exciting event all the way to the finish.

Episodes one – three are already up on the YouTube channel and the next episode drops on Monday. Follow them on Instagram

Robbie Diserens

Training MMA out of Urban Warriors Academy, because I'm still not sensible enough to avoid getting punched in the face. One day I might be a good enough writer to make a living via combat sports without getting brain damage. You can follow my fighting stuff on instagram @diserensmma, and all my articles via twitter @DiserensRobert.

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