Featured Black Belt- John Renken


For our featured Black belt this month, we do not only have a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, we have a man who has been training martial arts for a very long time with many degrees such as Level IV MACP, 2nd degree Judo black belt, a Sombo coach, a Kru in Muay Thai, and a Black Belt in Brazilain Jiu Jitsu… His name, is John Renken.

GP: Who are you? Where do you train ? Who is your professor? Introduce you to the Grapplers Planet community.

JR: My name is John Renken and I train at Ft. Campbell Combatives Club at Ft Campbell, KY. My professors are Greg Nelson from 1996-2000, Matt Larsen 2000-present, Helio Soneca 2003- present. I was introducted to the BJJ community through MMA and Greg Nelson in Minnesota. I trained Judo with Rafael Cruz and Sombo with Lance Campbell, Steve Koepfer with ASA.

GP: Why and when have you chosen to do this sport?

JR: I was always into martial arts as a kid, so in 1993 I decided to joined the US Army. While in the Army I was introduced to grappling and judo by my squad leader Chuck Littrell. He invited me over to his house to watch the 2nd UFC and I have been hooked ever since then.

GP: What are the things that attract you the most being on the ground?

JR: I am most attracted to the chess game that Jiu Jitsu offers. It is chess to the extreme. You pit your skills, athleticism, knowledge, and abilities in a match against your opponents. Often times it is one simple move that leads to victory or defeat.

GP: What is your favorite submission? Sweep? Guard pass? Throw? and why?

JR: I have two favorite submissions. Leg locks and Kimura. I favor them both for different reasons. I love the Kimura because when I am in the top position, if I attempt a Kimura and don’t get it, I don’t lose position, and from training the soldiers of the US Army that is one of the most important factors. Staying on top. Leg Locks are my first love. I used to watch old Pancrase and Shooto videos to learn them. My favorite sweep is a deep half guard sweep because I can make it work against wrestlers. My favorite Guard Pass is the Head Stand pass I do because even if I fail it is now in the head of my opponent that “dang this guy can move”. I have 3 main throws. Drop Seoi, Kani Basami, and Kazuri Yoko Wakari.

GP: What are you goals in bjj? Why do you do it? World champion? Hobby??

JR: My goals in BJJ is to be the best instructor I can be to pass on the ability to survive in real combat to my students who are soldiers in the US Army. Competitively I would like to win the No Gi World Championships. I train in BJJ because it is my passion.

GP: The most important and valuable thing you have learned while doing this sport?

JR: Man, there are so many things that I have learned and are so valuable. Honor, hard work, perseverance, and the ability to continually adopt.

GP: Martial Arts in 3 words?

JR: Warrior Ethos, Respect, Discipline

GP: How do you use your Sombo and judo while competing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and vise versa.

JR: I hate guard flopping. I believe guard fighting is for people who have lost the meaning of why Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was started and who started it. If we remember our history, BJJ was an outgrowth of Judo and was meant to be about realistic fighting abilities. Modern Day competitive BJJ has lost sight of that fact and now many scoot around on their butts. I wonder how many would do that on concrete or would flop to their butt in Afghanistan, Iraq, or NYC. I use Sombo and Judo to control the grips and start the fight on top. If I was able to throw anyone on concrete, the fight would be effectively finished before there was ever a need to grapple.

GP: What kind of music do you like to listen too before competition? Or training?

JR: My music selection really varies based on my particular goal. If I am trying to relax and focus on flowing then I listen to Celtic music. If I am training hard with a lot of intensity I listen to a variety of hard core. One of my favorite bands is POD.

GP: What do you tell a new person that comes in and tries BJJ but then feels like this sport might not be for him or her? How do you convince them?

JR: My students are soldiers. I talk to them about the realities of war. There are no lines of combat and any soldier at any time could be under attack and need the skills that develop the warrior ethos.

GP: Do you prefer the Gi or NoGi better?

JR: I came from MMA so I prefer No Gi.

GP: JIUJITSU a lifestyle for you or just a sport?

JR: Jiu Jitsu is both a life style and a sport, but more importantly to me it is a method to develop the Warrior Ethos with the men and women of the US Army I train.

GP: How did you start martial arts? How long have you been training for and why do you continue to train to this day?

JR: I started training in Martial Arts when I was a freshman in High School because I got my butt kicked and have been training for 27 years. I continue training because of my intense competitive drive and love for Combat in all aspects.

GP: How do you feel Grappling is developing in Tennessee? What do you wish to see improve in Tennessee when it comes to grappling?

JR: I think BJJ is developing very well in TN. When I opened my academy in Clarksville I think Nashville MMA was the only other BJJ academy even close. I think several things need to improve in TN and BJJ across the world. First standards for promotion instead of gym based promotions, background checks on all instructors especially in light of some of the sexual misconduct that has come to light recently. I think that there needs to be more loyalty to the sport than to your individual instructor and that would eliminate a lot of the politics.

GP: Out of all your martial arts degrees, which one took the most dedication and time to receiving the level you have today?

JR: I had to work very hard on all of them. I value my Judo and Sombo because I love throwing and it fits well with my Muay Thai Clinch. I love BJJ because of it strengths. What I love about all of them is they are all incomplete so they rely on each other to be a complete Martial Art.

GP: Explain to the bjj community the struggles you had to overcome to receiving your black belts in these sports.

JR: I had been training Judo since 1993 but because of the Army I moved around a lot and no one wanted to promote me. I fought in tournaments and won many tournaments as a white belt. I finally had to go to the Greatest Camp on Earth to get promoted because of all the politics involved even though I had won many tournaments as a white belt against black belts. Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was hard as well. I was constantly traveling for the Army and very busy training them. Luckily my instructors were dedicated to my development and guided me along the way.

GP: Thank you so much Mr. Renken for the time and opportunity to have this interview with you. Stay strong and keep up the great work.  See you on the mats very soon.

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