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Gameness Elite Gi

Arya Esfandmaz and Natalia Cariello interview with JJS Mag

Brown belts and active competitors on the European stage, Arya Esfandmaz and Natalia Carriello eat, sleep and breathe BJJ. We caught up with the London based couple to discuss training around the clock, training together and, guess what, training even more.

For those who aren’t sure, Arya, can you briefly tell us how you got to where you are today?

ARYA: So when I was a kid, I was always different and I got bullied a lot. We’re talking reception class young. My dad was a wrestler, he tried to enrol me in wrestling but there wasn’t much in this country, so he signed me up to judo at the Budokwai and that’s pretty much where it started.

I stopped, but returned to it in my teenage years before moving to live in Korea for a while. I was trying a lot of different stuff before I started grappling a lot in late 2008. MMA was pretty big for me at the time but then I fell in love with jiu jitsu. I used to actually fight Japanese grapplers, they would come to my gym.

It’s a funny story, those grapplers used to paint their nails black so I started to do it as well. Now I still do it and everyone keeps asking why. That’s when I started training jiu jitsu more and more. Now I find myself eating, sleeping and breathing jiu jitsu.

My style is that I don’t like to be boring, I didn’t even know points until I got to late blue belt. In all my fights I like to finish stuff, try to avoid being boring. When I win on points I get pretty upset, I like to be flashy that’s why I’ll go five, six, seven fights in a row trying flashy submissions. In 2012, my first fight in the Pan Ams, I finished a fight in thirteen seconds with a flying armbar. Yeah, I like to study and I’m in love with this sh*t.

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Would you say that’s your motivation to train then? The Love?

ARYA: To be honest, I would say my motivation to train is to be one of the best in the world because, I guess, it’s a lot to do with the way I grew up. I was bullied a lot, but no, my motivation is to be strong. I’d rather lose than hold on to an advantage.

In the Worlds this year, I lost in the quarter final by a really bad advantage, I mean, I had spider guard, he went to the side, but I had my hooks in. Anyway, the ref gave the advantage no penalty to the other guy for just holding me for four minutes. So he won like that and I was like, ‘Man! I’m never going to be that guy!’ The guy was really strong, so I’ve been hitting the weights a lot. But yeah, my motivation is to be remembered for doing cool stuff and not being boring.

Well you’re definitely not boring Arya! Can you remember the first time you nailed a flying submission, the style you’re known for?

ARYA: [Laughs] Man, I was trying flying submissions even in my Judo days! I remember actually, we were doing newaza, which is ground work, and I’d been trying mini flying armbars from the floor and stuff. I was sixteen, one of the coaches there, who’s now a blue belt under Carlson Gracie, we laugh every time we see each other. Yeah, I’ve always tried it since then, I think I was high on Donnie Yen films, he was a purple belt in jiu jitsu and doing flying arm bars and stuff.

Maybe it even goes back to being bullied. My friends and me used to watch Japanese MMA, and these guys did crazy stuff. I used to do flips too, free running and stuff and we tried that stuff. I’ve got footage of me at sixteen doing it! I remember the final of the British Open 2011 – I had already had four fights. I was tired when my fifth match came - and I just went for it. I was very happy with that flying finish.

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It’s funny, when I got to brown belt, in every comp I’ve tried a flying/rolling kneebar and it hasn’t worked. I tried it on Nelson Pontes in the final of the British Open this year, I nearly got it, but it’s pretty cool. I’ll get it one day though.

Is that a ‘mark my words’ then?

ARYA: It is! On this day ... [laughs]

You spend a lot of time with Lagarto both on and off the mat, so what’s it like having him around?

ARYA: I’ve got to admit something; I spoke to you late just now because Lagarto said ‘let’s roll’. It’s so exciting and I don’t mean to be big headed but he’s the only guy who kicks my ass so badly. He’s so heavy! He’s cool man, he always shares his knowledge with us. You know what, Lagarto just text my girlfriend right now saying how he ‘kicked my ass today’. No, it’s awesome being under him, without sounding like a kiddy, but it’s like a dream come true. He’s a champion on and off the mat, he helps me a lot and he’s such a cool guy.

Natalia! The other half of this brown belt couple! Again, can you tell people your story?

NATALIA: Basically, I never grappled before trying jiu jitsu when my dad introduced me to it. At the beginning, I started very slow, as I was still adapting and didn’t speak English at all. I did two classes a week and took it really slow but then, I just loved it. One day it just clicked and I just starting to love it. All the classes, all the time.

ARYA: That only happened when I came to the gym!

NATALIA: Trust me it wasn’t! Anyway [laughs], I started helping out and learnt so many cool things from my dad. When I started beating up the guys that was an amazing feeling, oh my god! It made me feel happy about jiu jitsu, it showed me that it really worked. This wasn’t play fighting with my dad, this was beating up a boy!

I started loving teaching as well. I was seeing things differently; when you teach you learn a lot. I started teaching the white belts and new people.

A lot of people say that teaching regularly changes things.

NATALIA: It’s amazing, you open your mind to different things. When I’m showing a technique, I have to make sure I know the answers to everything. I had to open my mind to the position and I need to know how to apply it. It opened my mind to a whole new level of jiu jitsu.



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