The G.S.W Story…
G.S.W (Grappling Specialists Wellington) is owned and operated by Geoff Grant. Many people have asked about the clubs history, how did it get started, how did Geoff get into BJJ etc, so due to popular demand we have decided to write it down, we hope you enjoy the story!.
Geoff began his martial arts training in Zen Do Kai, a freestyle martial arts system developed by Australian martial artist Bob Jones, like everyone he started as a white belt and today holds a fifth degree black belt in the system. In the early to mid 90’s the world was starting to become aware of the grappling revolution, and Bob Jones being the martial arts entrepreneur that he is recognised the merits of grappling and incorporated some basic principles into a shootwrestling system. Also in the late 80’s and early 90’s our head coach John Will was traveling the world training with the Gracie’s and Machado brothers.
The Grappling transition
In the early 90’s a major turning point was reached with the arrival of a Zen Do Kai sixth degree black from Australia, Steve Nedelkos. Steve was the chief instructor within the Bob Jones Corporation and essentially traveled around Australia and New Zealand updating everyone on the latest techniques that were taught within the system. In hindsight Steve was a very important influence on us, he had 23 years training experience under his belt and he introduced us to the basic concepts of grappling, restraint and control, as he ran seminars up and down the north island. Geoff saw the benefits of this type of training and along with Bernie, Even and Ko followed Steve around the traps lapping up as much information as possible.
The Shootwrestling Club
Based on the seminar info we picked up from Steve Nedelkos, Geoff opened a BJC Shootwrestling club, a lot of people that train in the striking arts are not really interested in the wrestling side of things so it was a small club that was made up of Zen Do Kai students who had an interest in learning the basics of grappling. At the same time as the shootwrestling club was operating the grappling craze was hitting the world, popularised by Royce Gracie’s victories in the early UFC’s, Renzo Gracie’s victories in the WCC and the best of them all Rickson Gracie, who was winning Vale Tudo tournaments in Japan. Down under, John Will was also publishing articles about BJJ in Blitz magazine, so the awareness was growing.
Our early exposure to BJJ
Our first exposure to BJJ occurred in the mid 90’s, we all headed off to Melbourne Australia to join in the celebrations for Zen Do Kai’s 25th Anniversary, and Geoff organised for us (Geoff, Bernie, Even and Ko) to do a private with John Will at his academy in Geelong. This was a lesson that the four of us will never forget. John wrestled us all and tapped us all out with very little effort. John also taught us the “Guts” of the BJJ system, and that lesson today remains the core of what is taught at G.S.W.
So we returned to NZ, and continued to train in isolation, the four of us would train twice a week behind a curtain on the stage of the Raroa intermediate school hall, as the main karate class used the floor area.
Late in 1995, by pure chance and good luck Geoff met a guy in the local Martial Arts shop called Steve Silva, Steve was a Gracie blue belt at the time, he had trained with the Gracie brothers in California USA, and was on holiday in New Zealand visiting his mother. For whatever reason Steve took a liking to us and taught us as much BJJ as he could when he was here, often we would train to midnight and it built on the basics that John had shown us earlier in the year. Steve today is a Nova Unio Black belt in BJJ, he has won many international BJJ tournaments and trains with the likes of John Lewis and BJ Penn in the United States.
During 1996 Steve Nedelkos returned to NZ and was impressed with the skills that Geoff and the crew had picked up, Steve then asked Geoff to teach at the ZDK national camp and later at the Victoria national camp in Australia, so Geoff whether he liked it not became a ground fighting specialist within ZDK circles. From memory he even featured in Blitz magazine at one point.
JJ Machado in Geelong
In 1997 John Will organised for Jean Jacques Machado to come to Australia to run a series of BJJ seminars, this was an amazing opportunity to be taught by the one of the worlds best grapplers, so Geoff and Ko decided to head across the Tasman to get some more info. The trip was an unforgettable experience, upon arriving in Aussie we both contracted some type of Aussie flu virus, which stayed with us both as we drove around and trained in a delirious state. We headed to Geelong again in our shiny shootwrestling uniforms and completed the basic and advanced seminar. The advanced seminar was totally over our heads. We were also subjected to our first experience of walking into a BJJ club with our shootwrestling gear on !….every white belt on the mat wanted a piece of us and they got it !!…. So we headed back to NZ still in a delirious state, ego’s bruised and continued to train behind the curtain on the stage of the Raroa intermediate training hall!
Ko in USA, John Will in NZ
In late 97, Ko ventured across to Las Vegas and spent a week training once again with Steve Dasilva, upon returning we had some more BJJ info to work with. In 1998 we attended a few BJJ seminars that were run by Lindolfo Collar, a Rickson Gracie black belt residing in NZ. In 1999 John Will was contacted by Michael Gent to teach his Ninjitsu organization BJJ, John then contacted Geoff to see if he was interested in hosting a seminar, Geoff jumped at the chance and also organised for John to contact Geoff Aitken in Christchurch who followed suit, and the beginning of Will-Machado New Zealand was born.
Since his first seminar in 1999 John has made a huge impact on our development both as people and martial artists, the seminars have grown from a handful of people in the early days to the current seminars, which as eagerly awaited by all G.S.W students.
One of Johns influences was to get us to come out from behind the curtain on the stage of the Raroa intermediate school hall and Geoff opened the first G.S.W training mat in Kenmore St Newlands, the club was small and we were quickly forced to expand during a difficult time when Geoff was battling some personal family losses. This was a difficult and emotional time for everyone, but with the support of his friends and his brother (Matt) he returned and opened a bigger grappling studio a few doors down from the original club.
A lot of time and effort went into building the first permanent grappling studio and today the only surviving members of that mat are Geoff, Ko and Nick. (I think Dion and Melissa, who were based in Palmerston at the time also visited a few times, some of the palmy crew also visited for Johns seminars or the Sunday class). Sadly the club came to an end after three years as the lease expired and the landlord had new tenants to fill the space.
After dealing with the disappointment of closing the first G.S.W mat, Geoff answered an advertisement by Jill and Chris Gower, an agreement was struck and we moved into Chris and Jill’s Hania St dojo. G.S.W has never looked back, the move was one of the best things that could have happened to G.S.W, with a central Wellington location the numbers have quickly grown and the development has been phenomenal.
GSW International Friends
After spending so much time in the early days behind a curtain its ironic that GSW now has such a strong global presence, this is all Geoff’s fault given his passion for web design and the internet. Geoff spends countless hours working on his GSW websites and as a result many BJJ visitors to our shores often drop in and do some training. Our recent visitors have included Doug Meijer, a kiwi who trains Will-Machado in Melbourne Australia, Elvis Sinosic, our guest for the recent Nationals, Tahi Burns, a brown belt from the Beverly Hills BJJ club who trained with Melissa in the USA. Our good friend Ichi, who trained with us whilst touring New Zealand, and finally Rodrigo Schunck, one of the nicest Brazilians we have had on the mat!
As the club has grown and numbers have built up, the next step was to organise a GSW BJJ competition, in late 04 Geoff organised a small in-house comp for the NZ Will-Machado clubs. The event was based on the same format that John Will has used many times over in Australia, the comp was a total success and well supported by Shane Cox’s crew from the Hawkes Bay. In early 05 GSW hosted the first NZ Will-Machado nationals, the event was once again well supported by the Hawkes Bay crew and also Geoff Aitken’s club from Christchurch. Another great highlight of this event was our guest Elvis Sinosic. Elvis also finished off the weekend by presenting a BJJ seminar.
As a number of GSW fighters now have some comp experience under their belts people have started to venture out, with a number of GSW fighters now actively training to compete in MMA events. Also Jonny Bares, has now competed in the USA recently winning his division in the New York Grapplers Quest. Ichi, another GSW fighter who trained with us whilst visiting from Japan also recently won his division in a Japanese grappling tournament. Alex Richardson has had success in the ring in several MMA bouts and continues to gain skills and experience in the MMA arena.
The BJJ Black Belt
In November 2007 after another fantastic seminar with our coach John Will, Geoff was awarded his BJJ Black Belt. The belt represents over 12 years of BJJ influenced training. Geoff received his first Black Belt in the art of Zen Do Kai, after only 15 months training, and was a 5th Dan Black Belt in the system after only 11 Years. What does that mean? Well the BJJ Black Belt is something special, that’s what!
A new club
In march 2009, with the Wellington club struggling to cope with increasing number on the mat, (Sometimes up to 60 students at once) Geoff made the decision to open GSW in a second location. GSW Lower Hutt was officially opened in March 2009. It’s GSW’s own full time facility and is slowing growing day by day session by session. With over 30 coloured belts on the GSW mat in Wellington, more and more classes are being assisted by Purple and Blue belts, freeing Geoff to run the “Fundamental” sessions at both locations. Giving GSW students the opportunity to train more classes per-week than ever before.
So there you go, a brief account of how G.S.W got started, the ups and downs and where we are today!
Koshick Ranchhod & Geoff Grant