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We were excited to see a torrent of nominations come in from students around the world. Nominations were heartfelt and full of passion as students shared their stories of how their instructors impacted their lives through jiu-jitsu. We truly believe that instructors are the lifeblood of the jiu-jitsu community, and we are happy to play a part in honoring their dedication and their hard work. We believe that they are all deserving of recognition, so we’ve added a list of honorable mentions to the end of this post so that you can see what instructors you should visit as you travel.
On to our finalists. Per our contest rules, five instructors advanced to the finals based on the number of nominations that they received, and five advanced to the finals based on the selection of our panel of judges from Artechoke Media, Open Mat Radio, and r/BJJ. More detailed profiles for these instructors are available below.
Finalists by judge selection:
- Pat Watterson, Two Sword Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Middletown, Rhode Island. (Marshal from Artechoke Media).
- Emily Kwok, Princeton Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Princeton, New Jersey. (Patrick from r/BJJ).
- Ostap Manastyrski, Open Mat MMA. Toronto, Canada. (Scott from r/BJJ)
- Alan “Gumby” Marques, Heroes Martial Arts. San Jose, California. (Paul from Open Mat Radio).
- Paul Schreiner, Marcelo Garcia Academy. New York, New York. (Matt from Artechoke Media)
Finalists by number of nominations:
- Bruno Tostes, Renzo Gracie Academy Latham. Latham, New York.
- Robert Biernacki, Island Top Team. Nanaimo (Vancouver Island), Canada.
- Paul Creighton, Creighton MMA & Fitness Academy. Suwanee, Georgia.
- Seth Shamp, Triangle Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Durham, North Carolina.
- Danny Savery, South Coast Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Fall River, Massachusetts.
Middletown, Rhode Island.
Selected by Marshal from Artechoke Media.
What first struck me about Watterson’s nominations was that his students nominated him over their head instructor, Abmar Barbosa, a high profile competitor. I don’t say that to suggest that his students are picking favorite, but I think it says a lot about an instructor if he shines just as brightly as a high-profile competitor.
Beyond that, I was struck by Watterson’s willingness to admit his shortcomings in order to demonstrate to others the value of dedication and personal growth (in one of his videos, he discusses his SEAL preparations and admits to being woefully out of shape and unprepared). It’s clear that Watterson uses his own life experiences and life lessons to inform his teaching and to inspire his students. Based on the nominations we received, it seems as though he his making an impact on many lives via his jiu-jitsu instruction.
From Pat’s Students:
Pat is one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met, giving his time and helping people realize that BJJ is a tool to push oneself and make them a better person off the mat. He does this and runs the school while still working full time for the department of homeland security and with a family and young child. -Sean Rooney
Our club is a combination of people who live permanently in the Newport, RI area and military personnel who are stationed at the Naval Base and War College here for only one to two years at a time. So there is a lot of built in turn over here, but Pat has managed to keep our club thriving, while at the same time creating an important community for all involved. -John Greco
Princeton, New Jersey
Selected by Patrick from r/BJJ.
BJJ and grappling in general have been the solely in the domain of men for centuries. Only recently has it become accepted that women may train along-side men, and now also teach them. Ms. Kwok is an excellent example that within the BJJ community we follow those who are best suited to lead, who has the technical knowledge and who can execute what they teach, to great success.
Through her competition success, instructional videos and growing academy Ms. Kwok is growing our sport laterally, and making it clear that solid technique can conquer untrained size and strength.
From Emily’s students:
From the first time I contacted Emily about joining PBJJ, I knew it would be the best place for me to train. I had trained at other schools and missed the family feeling I had gotten at my first school. From the first month I signed up, I had gotten a nasty eye injury (off the mats) Emily emailed and texted to check up on me. This was the first time I have had an instructor see why I had not been on the mats. Flash forward to training at PBJJ for a year and during competition training I tore my ACL. The concern that Emily/Art showed as well as the rest of the coaches and my team mates is why she is instructor of the year.
The family bond and close knit community feeling you receive while getting world class instruction is awesome. Also, Art Keintz is really one of the best kept secrets in BJJ he just has a wealth of knowledge and is just an all around awesome person, but totally not as cool as me :). I am now wishing I didn’t write this because the urge t o go to the gym is so strong and I am still rehabbing my ACL. I have avoided the gym because I know it will be painful to not train while I am there, but the pull of these strong bonds I have made there, tell me I should stop in. -Damien Castagne
Selected by Scott from r/BJJ.
This one may be a bit of a “dark horse” since Ostap is a brown belt, but his dedication to creating high-quality break-down videos shows that his passion for teaching doesn’t end at the door to his school. Even though there are many instructional videos being produced by big names around the globe, he stands out in the crowd by creating play-by-play analysis of high-level matches. The result is a library of techniques and game plans that are broken down in easy to digest tidbits which is the goal of every instructor.
From Ostap’s students:
Ostap is extremely technical and explains the techniques he teaches in an efficient manner. He is always willing to lend a hand to even the whitest of the white belts (me!) and also have enough details so higher level belts can learn a thing or two. On top of all this, he has a YouTube channel where he breaks down top level tournaments and gives the rest of us some insights on how their techniques work. -Kelvin Lau
Ostap has an incredible gift of analysis that he easily translates to practicality. His classes are fairly high-paced as well. -Marko
Alan “Gumby” Marques
San Jose, California.
Selected by Paul from Open Mat Radio.
So I’ll leave the east coast as it’s getting some good attention and make my nomination for Alan “Gumby” Marques. Gumby has a crazy amount of reasons why he could win. Old school Ralph Gracie team, founder of OTM, has supported more events/athletes/gyms than almost anyone, and does almost all of it behind the scenes.
From Gumby’s students:
There are alot of reasons why Gumby should be instructor of the year. First off I like his teaching style his instructions are clear and direct. He can vocally coach/instruct a wide range of students from kids to adults without all that added pressure about competing. -Eric McEwen
New York, New York.
Selected by Matt from Artechoke Media.
I’m going with Paul Schriener. He has shown himself to be an accomplished instructor as he stepped up at the NY academy during this very difficult year for Marcelo. Through his increased appearance on MGInAction.com, the rest of us have had a chance to experience his ability to communicate both concepts and specific details of fundamentals or advanced techniques.
I remember when Marcelo first opened his academy in NY, people questioned if he could produce top talent, since being a successful competitor doesn’t guarantee you’re a good teacher. After watching the last Mundials and seeing the monsters at purple and brown belt with MG patches on their backs, I think that question is being answered, and Paul’s efforts certainly have a lot to do with that.
From Paul’s students:
Paul’s understanding of the technical aspects of jiu jitsu, including physics, blends seamlessly with his understanding of the self-defense uses and the sport rules, to make for the best teaching experience out there. The jiu jitsu level at the school is universally accepted at the peak of the sport. And in a rough year for Marcelo, Paul picked up what little slack Marcelo may have left and didn’t miss a beat. -Andrew Leftt
Latham, New York.
Selected by number of nominations.
From Bruno’s Students:
I have known Bruno Tostes for approximately 8 years. He has instructed my daughter and son for that entire time. During that time he has taught my children many life lessons, developed their characters into being productive members of society, shown them how to earn respect and how to give it, and always had time to be there for them no matter what the situation is. -Pauly Szesnat
Bruno came to the States with nothing, just some money and a dream to succeed. He has always worked hard and is always the hardest worker on the mats. -Dave M.
Ultimately what I’m saying is that my professor deserves to be nominated for Instructor of the Year because he changes lives. Professor Bruno has started initiatives of donating clothing to homeless shelters, food drives, charity events, encouraging our members to find other ways to help out around our community, challenging the kids of our academy to come up with their own civil actions. -Veronica Gbur
He recently told me, “At this Academy we are a tribe, and together we are stronger.” He is the ultimate personification of BJJ: peaceful, strong (in mind and body), balanced, accepting, and compassionate. -Jennifer Gbur
Nanaimo (Vancouver Island), Canada.
Selected by number of nominations.
From Robert’s Students:
I am certain that Professor Robert Biernacki is one of the best Jiu-Jitsu instructors of our time. […] Robert has built a community that includes world class competitors, an environment that encourages positivity and learning, along with a genuine foundation set up to allow for the continual improvement of people’s lives through the art of Jiu Jitsu. -Cal McDonald
He supports his students. If a student is doing a fundraiser he attends and he encourages us to as well. We had a blindfolded bjj day for one of our guys who can’t see on his bday – it was a small thing but meaningful. He does free self defence workshops for women as a community service. -James Bowen
I feel Rob deserves the Instructor of the Year award for his dedication and passion to the art, and the way he humbly seeks to improve the lives of others by sharing his knowledge. -Marcel Scheier
Professor Rob also gives back to the local and BJJ/MMA communities in many ways. Professor Rob has a Visiting Students Program where he provides accommodations and transportation to students from out of town that are coming to seek world-class instruction. -Umesh Thillaivasan
Selected by number of nominations.
From Paul’s students:
No matter who you are, Paul treats everyone with the same welcoming smile and genuine concern for your development. He meets you where you are on your own journey and helps you accomplish the goals you set. -Alison Caldwell
Paul Creighton changes lives everyday. He is the guy you go to the gym to see. He is the coach and friend that shows you why he loves jiu-jitsu every time he steps on the mat. -Shaun Scruggs
He Wrestled his whole life, was a Junior Olympic Gold Medalist, Abu Dhabi Alternate, trained with Mike Tyson’s trainer Keven Rooney, Mauy Thai at Tiger Academy in Thailand and Black Belt under legendary Renzo Gracie. Also has Bachelors Degree in Health Science and passionate about health, nutrition and fitness. -David Smith
He has proven his selfless involvement in the sport by helping two other BJJ Blackbelts and training partners open up their own schools in the Atlanta area. (Buckhead BJJ and Helix BJJ). It is easy to create your own empire and build your affiliation but it is quite another to encourage students and training partners to go their own way and start schools just to spread the art. -Tom Crowley
Durham, North Carolina
Selected by number of nominations.
From Seth’s students:
Seth uses jiu-jitsu as a tool to improve himself, and as a tool for his students to become better people. When I first started training with Seth four years ago, he always talked about wanting to grow as a martial artist. I didn’t fully understand what he meant until perhaps a year ago. Seth takes the old martial virtues very seriously. He stresses attitude first, avoiding conflict and being a good person. […] I’ve seen him go the extra mile for a student on countless occasions, be that through encouragement, through making allowances during a student’s rough patch, or through mindful specifically-tailored instruction. -Jeff Shaw
He makes his gym a welcoming place for women, which is evidenced by TJJ’s incredibly strong representation in women’s divisions in the Southeast and around the world. He teaches honor, humility, balance, respect, and dedication. He supports his students in every step of their development, and is a warm, approachable coach. -Maria Ruatoo
Couple of month after receiving his black belt Seth Shamp competed in 2014 world championships battling and losing only on points against Maurilo Santana that ended up submitting everyone and going into finals!! -Andre Alexandrov
Fall River, Massachusetts
Selected by number of nominations.
From Danny’s Students:
He left a career as a police officer in the town of Tiverton, RI to pursue his passion of teaching Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. He is a first degree black belt in BJJ and a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. Danny is very dedicated and hands on. He teaches every class at his gym and pays close attention to all of his students. -Ben Piela
I have been Training BJJ for 10 years now, with Danny Savery being my head coach for the last 4. In that time under his instruction I have improved more than at any other point in my career. His commitment to go above and beyond for his students is quite apparent from the minute you walk in his door and observe a class. -Dave Parker
Danny continues to excel in the art of jiu jitsu and provides high quality instruction on a daily basis. He is a man who many individuals like myself look up to and can rely on not just for technique, but also for everyday life. He is very caring to each and every student and meets everyones individual needs. The continued dedication and hard work that instructor Danny displays is not matched by any individual I know. -Brian M.
Instructor Savery is very knowledgeable in the sport of Jiu-Jitsu. He is an amazing mentor, and makes it easy to learn most techniques with little difficulty. His way of teaching makes it hard to go to other instructor’s videos and learn from them. -Daniel Ares Savery Jr.
(In no particular order)
Dennis Sugure, Tai Kai Jiu-Jitsu. Liverpool, New York.
Derek Stewart, S.I.M.S. Martial Arts Academy, Omaha, Newbraska.
Damian Hirtz, Alliance MN. Edina, Minnesota.
Ulpiano Malachias, Gracie Barra West Chase. Houston, Texas.
Luigi Mondelli, American Top Team Connecticut. Rear Danbury, Connecticut.
Leticia Ribeiro, Leticia Ribeiro BJJ Team.
Kev Capel, Roger Gracie Academy Buckinghamshire. Aylesbury, United Kingdom.
Daniel O’Brien, Triad Martial Arts. Cullman, Alabama.
Liam Resnekov, VT1 Sydney. Chatswood, New South Wales.
Michael Simpson, North Sound BJJ. Lake Stevens, Washington.
Michael Casey, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu New York. Bronx, New York.
Roberto Traven, Roberto Traven BJJ.
Kurt Osiander, Ralph Gracie San Francisco. San Francisco, California.
Seph Smith, Fifty/50 BJJ. Falls Church, Virginia.
Ian Malone, Origin Jiu-Jitsu. New Castle upon Tyne, United Kingdom.
Josh Childress, Ultimate Performance of Pueblo. Pueblo, Colorado.
Roberto Maia, Boston Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Newton, Massachusetts.
Julio Felix Lang, Higher Ground Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Rowland Heights, California.
Clark Gracie, Gracie La Jolla Academy, La Jolla, California.
Jeff Mitchell, Elite Jiu-Jitsu. Newark, Delaware.
Marcelo Garcia, Marcelo Garcia Academy. New York, New York.
Romulo Barral, Gracie Barra Northridge. Northridge, California.
Kevin Watson, Kevin Watson Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Portsmouth, New Hampshire.