James Puopolo has the honor of being the second person promoted to black belt by Rafael Lovato Jr. He is one of the Northwest’s most prolific competitors with dozens of Pan American and World Championship medals, including a gold in 2009 and a NO GI Championship in 2013.
Sit back and enjoy our latest “Private Session”, with James Puopolo.
(Photo courtesy of James Puopolo)
WBBJJ: What brought you to BJJ?
James: I always played sports growing up and was very competitive. I always wanted to play college football, but realized after high school, that I really didn’t love the sport. For a while I tried a lot of different sports and eventually I found BJJ in college.
WBBJJ: What should White Belts do more of? Less of?
James: When I see lower belts train I always advise more drilling and position sparring, and less full rounds. I think it depends on your goals though. If you just love to roll and have fun, then do that.
WBBJJ: If you could go back in time and give White Belt James guidance, what advice would you give?
James: Be more focused on escapes and survival positions. I also would have told myself to start training takedowns a lot sooner. A little focused energy on takedowns can go a long way.
(Photo used with permission of Kenny Jewel of GrappleTv)
WBBJJ: For you, what’s been the hardest part of the journey?
James: The transition from brown belt to black belt. I had a lot of success and the lower belts, but black belt is a whole different animal. The guidance of Rafael, Saulo, and Xande helped tremendously. I owe them a lot.
WBBJJ: In tough times what has helped you get through and allowed you to persevere?
James: For me, I think quitting was never an option, because of my love of Jiu-Jitsu. It always came down to the two options; keep going or quit. Really those are the only two things you can do when you are having difficulties in life. Sometimes changing course is the right thing to do. It’s really important to focus on small victories as well. Everyday focus on things you did better. I think a lot of frustration in BJJ is from expectations, not reality.
WBBJJ: If you weren’t doing this what would you do?
James: I’d be teaching middle school math. I just recently transitioned into BJJ full-time 6 months ago, before that I was teaching math the previous four years. Teaching is a very difficult, but rewarding job for sure. In the end, I knew that I only had a small window to pursue World titles.
WBBJJ: What do you tell someone who says they want to do BJJ and then gives the standard excuses, time, money, etc?
James: I run into this all of the time. We live in America and things are good, so sacrifice isn’t always on the top of the list. BJJ is a sacrifice, but of course the benefits outweigh the cost exponentially. In the end, we have to take responsibility for our own lives. I don’t think I’ve ever run into someone who has started BJJ that wished they hadn’t. Think about if there is anything on Earth you could say that about.
WBBJJ: Favorite activity besides BJJ?
James: Hanging out with my wife, family and friends. There isn’t a whole lot going on out here in Salem, which is good, because all I want to do is train and hang out with the people I love. Training Judo is another passion for sure. I also nerd out a lot on documentaries, podcasts and audiobooks.
WBBJJ: What’s on your IPOD?
James: I can listen to any kind of music really. My favorites are Lupe Fiasco, Jack Johnson, Incubus, The Doors and Jay-Z. The tournament mix is all Lupe Fiasco.
WBBJJ: What was the last movie you watched?
James: I watched a documentary last night called “Food Matters” on Netflix. Super interesting stuff about nutrition and the medical industry. I love documentaries.
WBBJJ: If you could train with someone living or dead who would that be?
James: I would train BJJ with Helio and then finish up with some Judo with Kimura.
(Photo used with permission of BJJpix.com)
WBBJJ: Any final thoughts?
James: Thanks for having me on WBBJJ. Shout out to my wife and family. Shout out to my coaches Rafael Lovato, Xande, Saulo, and Ben Baxter. Shout out to my sponsors Origin (best gis on the market) and Q5 (best supplements on the market). Check out my fan page and look for me on a mat near you real soon!
James Puopolo’s Athlete Page on Facebook
Interview by Todd Shaffer WBBJJ