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Grounded Roots: Our Second Visit With Evan Stuart

Grounded Roots, tracking the Jiu Jitsu journey of Evan Stuart

This is the second visit in our Grounded Roots series with Evan Stuart, tracking his path from white to black belt. We touch on balance, progress, and what's next on the mats. We appreciate Evan sharing his story, and letting us peak into his journey.


Ben Van Doren: To get us started, you talked a little bit in our first conversation about your training load why you got started, etc… has anything changed since then as far as your training schedule, we talked a little bit about trying to find the balance with your training, and your work life, and your family life.

Evan Stuart: No, it stayed pretty consistent. I'm training two days a week minimum. When time allows, I'll get a third, like this week. I took a bunch of time off of work for some vacation at the end of the year and I got two weeks in where I got to go four days a week. It’s definitely noticeable when you get that third day in.

Ben Van Doren: Yeah, how did your body hold up.

Evan Stuart: I'm really sore right now. I'm not gonna lie.

Ben Van Doren: Yeah, it takes a while to adjust to the higher training load.

Evan Stuart: The last couple days have been tougher than normal, just less downtime. It was more one minute positional drills, ring of fire type stuff, grab a quick drink. Okay. Now we're into live rolls.  We just picked up the intensity in the last couple of classes.

Ben Van Doren: Between the last time we talked and now, how do you feel about the progress that you've made and how you're feeling in your roles?

Evan Stuart: It depends on the day. You know, like you said, in the day-to-day it's really hard to notice the things you're picking up. If it weren't for my training partners telling me they're noticing me getting better, I don't know that I would see it the same way. Today I had a conversation with one of the purple belts who commented, that instead of the initial move, getting trapped in it every time like I was two, three months ago, my defense has definitely improved and it's the third or the fourth maneuver that he has to transition to, to try to get me caught in something. So I get good feedback from people which helps me believe that I'm growing.

Ben Van Doren: Early on that's really hard to assess, and the fact that you have partners that are doing that is a good reflection of the room that you're in. Good training partners, higher level belts, are giving you feedback. It’s a gauge of your training partner's intentions. Are they going to tell you how to beat them or are they gonna tell you what makes rolling hard for them? If they do, that means their intentions are good. They're trying to improve you. So, it's good culturally.

In our first discussion, you talked a little bit about learning how to move, and your flexibility.  The movements in Jiu Jitsu are different than other sports. How are you feeling as far as you're progression on getting comfortable moving, moving in different positions, and making the transitions?

Evan Stuart: That I can definitely see progress in. Inverting, I'm still not there yet, but we're starting in turtle, and yesterday Mike was like, you get into turtle and then you're gonna kind of Granby roll out, and that has become a lot more natural and that's easy for me. That's something I probably couldn't have done very well four or five months ago. I'm still not super flexible, but I'm noticing that like my hip movement is definitely better. Understanding the positions a little better, the mechanics of where my hands need to go for the grips or for the frames. So definite progress in that area.

Ben Van Doren: That's good. Cardio is hard to assess sometimes when you start, it’s exhausting in general and your cardio improves, but sometimes it's not your cardio improving. Your Jiu Jitsu is improving. You're not tense, you're loose and so you're moving better, you notice that in your training, where you can go longer and go harder.

Evan Stuart: Definitely the more you learn to play it smart the less energy you're really using and you know a year in now, I’m not freaking out like you are in the first couple of months and you realize that whatever position you're in, you're not going to die. You're gonna be fine. There's a way out. Think your way through the problem. Just relax. And that seems to pay off a lot with longer rolling sessions, or being able to pick up the intensity, being more intelligent with your movements. So definite progress there.

Ben Van Doren: There are so many positions it takes a while to learn what your basic goals are. As a coach, that's what I’ve really focused on. Jiu Jitsu can be so detailed and technical, it's easy to get lost in all that.  For the last year one of my biggest goals as a coach was to just simplify everything as much as possible for people, like no matter where they are give them one primary goal. If I can do that in a way that improves people, that should be the easiest way to teach people to learn to move quickly. That's hard to do though. You almost have to know a lot to make it simple. 

We talked a little bit in our first conversation about the balance in life. You know, you're working, you’re a police officer, you have a family and kids. Do you feel like you have fallen into a good routine, or do you feel like that balance is a struggle right now?

Evan Stuart: I think the routines are pretty solid. We made some changes with the change in the seasons, for sports we have wrestling going now. My boys are wrestling for their first seasons and that's three days a week for practice and then one to two tournaments on the weekends.  Thankfully our gym has enough availability, and enough classes that are offered that I can pretty consistently train Monday and Friday, for sure Sundays. Usually, I can get in if I need a third day or if I can't get in on the other day. So I've got my typical classes that I go to that fit with the schedule and then anything else is just kind of a bonus.

Ben Van Doren: You got your kids in wrestling, do you see them doing Jiu Jitsu with you down the road?

Evan Stuart: I hope so. They come with me to class quite a bit. All of my kids like to come hang out and goof around well while I'm training.  So yeah, I'd love to see them get into it and kind of put the two things together.

Ben Van Doren: Sometimes I think it's the gi, wrestlers are hesitant to do Jiu Jitsu. I don't know if it's the guard, they don't want to get into the habit of going to their back, or they're just not interested in the gi. I don't know what it is, but there's some sort of hurdle there for a lot of wrestlers. I've tried to tap into our local wrestling teams out here in Caledonia, to see if I can stir up any interest to cross train.

Evan Stuart: At the ages my kids are at I don't know if they would grasp what they can and can't do from wrestling vs Jiu Jtsu. A lot of the guys that we train with at the gym, they're former wrestlers and you can definitely tell they have wrestled because they understand how those movements work, but we'll see. I mean I try not to pressure them too much, to do anything if they don’t feel interest. I like to give them the opportunity, and practice. You finish the season, if you didn't like it cool, then you don't have to do it again, but I'm optimistic.

Ben Van Doren: That's a hard balance as a parent. You want your kids to be involved in something, anything, just take interest and do well, and when they're not it's like do you push them? Do you let them find something else? It's a hard balance to walk as a parent, especially when it's something that you love to do.

Evan Stuart: One thing I like about it though is they see I made a commitment to do this. I'm showing up.  I'm putting in the work and they can apply that to whatever they're interested in. If it's baseball season you show up you put in the work, you work hard. Sometimes you get your butt kicked, absolutely, but you still keep showing up.

Ben Van Doren: We talked about training in the context of demands on the body and the balance from a skill and learning standpoint. One thing you mentioned the last time we talked was sometimes it feels like drinking from a fire hose; just so much information coming at you. Do you feel like that's starting to change for you? As you get more grappling experience, that tends to start to get easier. 

Evan Stuart:  I mean it's still a lot to take in, but after this amount of time I'm starting to recognize how many things intermingle. It's not the same exact technique but pieces and parts of it are. The concepts kind of start to flow into one another, so it's not as foreign to you. It's okay. I already know how to do this. So now I just need to figure out the other half of it instead of getting the whole technique all at once.

Ben Van Doren: I've been doing this for 11 to 12 years or something, and that's still happening for me. I'm still finding those common concepts, so that never ends. You'll keep finding that, and you get to the point where you know so much technique that learning more techniques isn't going to make you that much better. It's finding more and more of those common concepts. They're gonna make you better and everything flows together more smoothly. It’s an important phase of the learning process, getting to where you are, and starting to make those connections conceptually. That's where you can start thinking at a higher level, and noot just trying to remember mechanically - what do I do right here, what I do right there. 

In our first conversation you talked a little bit about the upper level belts, and appreciating the people in the room. They're patient with you, helping you, and then you also talked about new students coming in and wanting to make them feel welcome. That is interesting because there's multiple angles to this relationship between experience and skill. We have people that are ahead of you that are taking the time to teach you, be patient with you, and bring you up. Then at some point you get to the position where you become that person, and then you're paying it forward. Do you feel that relationship shifting in the gym in terms of the new guy showing up and you're more of an authority, so to speak, about giving people feedback. 

Evan Stuart: A little bit, I haven't crossed paths with too many new people still. In the class I'm going to it's pretty much the same groups of people. Not to say that on occasion we don't have the new person showing up. But honestly, I feel like I reap most of the benefits in that type of relationship we're talking about. On Friday there was a pretty deep conversation with one of the upper belts about how he feels differently. He feels that he sees us guys, us newer guys, showing up getting after it, learning more, and getting better in the times that he's not there. And so when he shows up he's being pushed more. He's being challenged more and he feels like he's getting the benefits so I'm seeing that. So at least in our gym, it's not so much about the color belt that you're wearing, but who's showing up, who's putting in work, who's getting better? And pushing the people above them, pushing the people below them, just the environment of let's make everyone better.

Ben Van Doren: Jiu Jitsu is a metaphor. You see that concept and understand that translates to life in a lot of ways, and you have to have faith in it. Just help the people around you, build up the people around you and when they are built up you are too.  Jiu Jitsu shows that and teaches that in a way that's much clearer than other avenues in life. That's where we can take those concepts and translate them into life lessons. Those are the valuable lessons I think that we can learn. You have an upper level belt in there who is saying these new guys are coming in and they're testing him because they're getting good so fast. There's no ego there. That’s such a mature place to be, and I think that’s a place Jiu Jitsu can take you, so these are sort of the benefits to life outside of technique that I think make Jiu Jitsu so great.

Evan Stuart: For sure. Keeps me coming back.

Ben Van Doren: Yeah for sure. So you came to Jiu Jitsu, not entirely, but a significant motivating factor was through work initially. You’re helping with some of the tactical training at the police department. Now that you're getting better, you have a little over a year on the mat now, do you feel that you're seeing a difference in your line of work as far as your ability to coach the students there and teach the technical stuff?

Evan Stuart: Yeah, absolutely. And when you're doing it on a regular basis, and in more intense situations, you know live roles or positional drills, it’s a lot easier to explain it. A lot of the times early on it was, okay watch what the guys are instructing and just kind of be there to have them demonstrate the drills, but not to a point where you know what we’re working on, you know, we're working to side control and we're gonna put somebody in an Americana. I think I know how to do that so I can look at people and say okay, hey, you need to unloop your elbow from their head. And get your hands in this position or grab your wrist this way. So yeah, I feel like I'm able to add more value to that group of instructors.

Ben Van Doren: That's great. I know you had mentioned that you hoped that you could get more people involved in training on the mats, like coming to the gym. Have you seen any shift there as far as people interested in more regular training?

Evan Stuart: We definitely get more people expressing interest.  However, I think this goes for a lot of people, they express interest, and you point them in the right direction. It's the old saying, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink. When we are training it, nobody is arguing that they think all of this is a lot of BS, they're buying into the system. I'll get people reaching out to me asking how much the gym costs, and how often you can you go. I do my best to lead them there and if they want to pull the trigger great, if not, we’ll keep working on them.

Ben Van Doren: Did you get some of that at first? You made the comment that they don’t think it is BS. Was that maybe an initial impression when you first started teaching the stuff?

Evan Stuart: I don't think it's so much of that within our department. We've been doing this for longer than I've been there. They adopted the GST stuff, but I work a lot with new hires that come from other agencies that didn’t train in Jiu Jitsu-based subject control, so they're used to the pressure points and the strikes.  And while they do have a place, we really only touch on those and then we really hammer on the grappling aspect, and people really seem to enjoy it. They ask a lot of really good questions, they see the value in it and it's usually with those groups that we field the questions of hey, what are some good gyms? Where should I go if I’m gonna be living in this area? I live in this area what's going to be the closest reputable gym?  So if they go and check it out, I don't always know just because you know, our gym is our gym, and if I don't cross paths with them nearly as much once they leave the new higher process.

Ben Van Doren: I went to one of the annual tactical trainings at the Hastings Police Department once. One of the Seargents in the department trained with me at the time, and she wanted me to come to see it and then give her some feedback about it.  She also wanted to see if we could get some more people into the gym to do more regular training.  There are certainly some things that I saw in the tactical training that were solid, like the escort position, or the two on one position. Things like that are common sense grappling, but then some of the stuff was more along the lines of, if someone was being compliant, it's going to work. If someone was really fighting you, it's not gonna work. So I feel like that regular training that you guys are doing is definitely necessary.

Evan Stuart: It's been quite the change in the law enforcement community, going from the PPCT procedures where a lot of it's just theoretically based, and like you said if somebody is non-compliant, or there's a big disparity in size difference of the person you're doing it on. It may work great, but I think some of the basic foundational principles of Just having control over someone getting them to the ground, being able to hold someone in a position, applying pressure make them struggle, makes them work their butts off to try to get away from you and exhaust themselves out. Even if you forget any of the techniques those principles still apply if you can move from position to position and apply pressure, it doesn't matter if you can do an Americana, it doesn't matter if you can do a gift wrap, and roll them over into handcuffing as long as you can exhaust them out until you get help there. It's amazing how far that will get you.

Ben Van Doren: There is confidence in that too. If you're scared, and I'm thinking this through the lens of a coach, how can we help law enforcement, help these interactions to be as safe as possible for the police officers and the suspects, if you feel like your life is in danger you're more likely to pull versus if you feel like you're in control. You're more likely to just hold them there until help comes, so getting people to that level of confidence is hard and takes a while, but hopefully people will continue.

Evan Stuart: You panic, you do something stupid. You're in control and your mind is clear. You can think through the problem and think rationally about what makes the most sense. I think it goes far beyond that, the initial control of someone.

Ben Van Doren: Do you know of any scenarios where someone that has been training has had to use Jiu Jitsu, and has been effective? They've learned it in the gym and it's been effective on the street?

Evan Stuart: Actually, somebody that doesn't train in Jiu Jitsu, but just finished up one of our block trainings where we covered a few things, did a real good job where the fight went to the ground and he managed to get into side control. Just maintain the pressure, maintain control and let that person struggle until people started showing up. I mean, it was an untrained person that took a few things they learned from our block in our training and demonstrated that it can work.

Ben Van Doren: Yeah, that's great.

Evan Stuart: Yeah,  I don't know specific circumstances of someone training outside of work using it on the road.  Lots of guys that are training, they're going out and they're using it when necessary, whether it's different take downs, or doing trips. Yeah, I mean you can tell the guys that train because they're the ones that are the most calm. That's the biggest thing.

Ben Van Doren: That's interesting.  As time goes on I want to keep asking you about that because I think it's important, and I think i's great that police officers are adopting this, so it's interesting to get that insight and perspective about how it's going.

What are your short-term goals right now? Let's say three, four, maybe five months from now we touch base again. What do you want to accomplish between now and then?

Evan Stuart: Oh, I'd say in about four months, I'm hoping to be at a point where I can start seriously considering the curriculum for what I need to start testing for blue belt. I'd like to promote by two years, and 16 months is a good time to really start focusing on that. Looking at the curriculum, hitting those things that I need to be able to demonstrate proficiency.  You know, adopt a cop is great and it's done wonders for me. It keeps me consistent, but the flip side of it is, sometimes it feels like an obligation and doesn't allow me flexibility in my life. So it’s a bit of a double edge, but that I'd say is probably one of my short-term goals.

Ben Van Doren: For the test is there a list of things to look at? Are they giving you a list of what you need to know for Blue Belt? So you have an idea of what you have to cover.

Evan Stuart: That's my understanding. Yeah, there's like a test book that shows you all the different techniques you need to be able to demonstrate.

Ben Van Doren: Okay, cool. Some gyms spell it out.  I have something I typed up to post and give to my students, so everyone knows what I expect and everyone is on the same page. I think that's helpful, especially from white to blue. Once you start getting into the higher ranks it gets to be a little bit harder to define.  There's so much to learn. You can't expect everyone to know every advanced position. How do you pick and choose what to include?  So I think requirements are loosened up, or are maybe more conceptual to some degree, but especially from white to blue all the fundamentals should be solid. So it's a little bit easier to make that fundamentals list, you know.

Evan Stuart: Another short-term goal is to get to a point where I’m equal as far as attacking as much as defending.  My offense definitely improved, but I still find myself playing defense for 90% of the roll where I'd like to balance out a bit more, you know instead of occasionally on a scramble being in a position of advantage. Using the techniques that I've learned more consciously. You and I talked about its not always that I don't know the technique, or I can't do it right but finding the timing on those. You know to do a sweep or get myself in a little more of an attack position. 

Other short-term goals haven’t really changed. It's show up and keep learning. Keep on putting in the work. I've accepted since the beginning that this takes a long time to start getting good at.

Ben Van Doren: I'm still trying.

Evan Stuart: I'm not concerned about stripes, you know. Yeah, I have a goal of within two years getting my blue belt, but at the end of the day it's not gonna change anything. It's what I'm wearing around my waist. I'm still gonna show up. I'm still gonna be learning the same things regardless of what's on my belt. So just keep after it as much as I can. Avoid injury is another short-term goal.

Ben Van Doren: I think those are really good goals for where you're at. Blue belts on the horizon. You need to start focusing on that list. Going from defensive to offensive cycles is really important. Early on you're only defensive because everybody is better than you.  You have to be defensive, and then make that shift to imposing your game on other people, and consciously recognizing that is important. That's not just an issue of technique. That's also your mindset during a role. So I think those are great short-term goals for where you are in your training. 

Evan Stuart: Awesome

Ben Van Doren: Is there anything else that you want to add about your Jiu Jitsu training?

Evan Stuart: Oh no, just whoever's reading this if they're not training they need to start. The benefits go far beyond the mats.

Ben Van Doren: Yeah, absolutely.

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