Interview with European BJJ icon Alexander Trans

Alexander Trans is the most accomplished BJJ male athlete from Europe to date.
The Danish giant has won the IBJJF European Championship (3x), the Panamerican Championship, the Brasileiro (first and only european male ever) and many other titles as a black belt. He also won the “double gold” at the IBJJF Worlds as a brown belt.

Grappling-Italia has reached Alexander for an interview, probably one of the best we ever had on our website: it’s long and deep!

(Thanks very much to Alexander for his kindness and his availability!)

You are, in my opinion, the best European BJJ athlete of all time. You won a lot of important titles in a sport dominated by Brazilians (and recently by Americans also): what do you think of your own career so far? What are your goals for the future?

Thank you for the kind words! I never thought much about trying to be the best from Europe or Denmark, my goal was always to try to improve my Jiu-Jitsu, and I am happy to have had the chance to test it against some of the best athletes of our sport. I think I had some good results against some very good guys, but I don’t think I’m a good competitor. I think my Jiu-Jitsu is on a very high level because I’ve spent a lot of time training and studying the art, but to me competition is not the main focus, it’s just one part of Jiu-Jitsu, but I enjoy the other aspects just as much, teaching, learning, training, hanging out after training and talking about Jiu-Jitsu.

I don’t have any specific goals as a competitor that I feel like I need to achieve. I’m trying to get away from that mindset, and get back to how it was in the beginning, when I was just focused on improving, and testing my Jiu-Jitsu against others, not to prove anything to anyone else, but for my personal development, both technical, physical and mental, and to enjoy those moments.

You are going to open an academy in Texas. This is a great news! Why did you choose to open it in the USA and not in Europe? What is more difficult: teaching or competing?

I think it’s difficult for me to say which is more difficult, when I’m teaching I’m in my comfort zone. I don’t feel anxious or nervous and I don’t have adrenaline. I just enjoy it. For sure competing is a bigger challenge physically and mentally. You have to deal with very strong emotions and learn how to control them, which I think is very helpful in other aspects of life. I think that technically speaking, teaching is just as difficult or maybe even more difficult than competing. But I really enjoy it, I love studying different positions and trying to find the most effective way of achieving something, and I enjoy teaching people of all different skill-levels. When you are showing a beginner basic concepts about posture and leverage and you see how they start understanding them, or when you show a concept or technique to a more advanced student and you see them implementing them in training, I enjoy both things equally.

The main reason for me opening in the US and not in my home-country Denmark for example or in other places in Europe, is because I see more potential for myself as a Jiu-Jitsu instructor here in the US right now as far as my career. It was also important for me to choose a place that was comfortable for me and my family to live in, and Texas is a great place, but there are also many great places in Europe. We actually visit Italy almost every year, and we love everything about it, the culture, the nature, the food, the people. We are really sad to see what’s happening in Italy right now, and we’re praying that things will get better soon.

In November 2018 you had a knee surgery: how do you feel now? Are you planning to compete when the Coronavirus pandemic will be over?

Actually I ended up having surgery again after that because the doctors made some mistakes, the last surgery was in September 2019. My knee is starting to feel better now, I spent about 1,5 year where I was having difficulties just walking normally. Right now I’m hoping to start training again slowly in July, but I mighthave to wait a little longer depending on how the current situations evolves. I will compete again if my knee feels strong and I’m confident, I won’t do it if I have to worry about being careful and protecting it. But right now it looks like it will be good, I think I could potentially compete in some minor tournaments some time in 2021, and then maybe be able to do some of the big tournaments in 2022.

My main priority going forward is my family and my academy, competing is something I do for myself personally. I definitely want to compete again, and if I compete it will be to test my Jiu-Jitsu against the best in the world, but without putting pressure on myself or creating any expectations.

What’s your favorite rule-set and why?

I think my favourite rule-set is IBJJF rules, it’s the rule-set that makes the most sense to me. The biggest problem with the rules are that not all the referees are competent and honest, I think there needs to be created a system where the referees, especially the ones that referee high-level matches, are being evaluated on their performances, and if a referee is showing that he or she either doesn’t fully understand the rules or that he is not following them, they need to be removed from their position. Also, it’s not enough just knowing the rules, the referees need to understand what’s going on. A referee has be to able to analyze a situation, especially when giving negative points for stalling. I’ve had referees give me negatives while I was stuck on top in 50/50 or in closed guard with the guy on bottom just keeping his legs closed, that’s either because they don’t have a clue about what’s going on, or because they’re dishonest.

And then they need to stop changing the rules every year, and have some clear rules about out-of-bounds situations as well. When someone sweeps or does a takedown and they land outside of the mat area, ot’s like a lottery whether it will be an advantage, 2 points, a negative and 2 points, or nothing, sometimes even the same referee isn’t consistent in those situations. I think that other than that the rule-set is pretty good, I also think we need a universal rule-set that’s used in the different events, imagine if each football-league had different rules. I think submission-only rules where there is a decision if there is no submission can work as well, as long as the judges are competent, and transparent and consistent about the criteria they use to determine the winner.

What’s your advice for young European guys who want to pursue a successful career in Jiu Jitsu?

When I was younger I said that it was almost impossible to prepare yourself to compete at the highest level, but I don’t think that anymore. Both because the level of Jiu-Jitsu in Europe is improving a lot, but alo bevause I got a different perspective. You don’t need to train at an academy full of full-time competitors to become succesful. I think you need to have training partners that like to train hard and have a good level of Jiu-Jitsu, and I would also say it helps a lot to have a good instructor. That’s why the Brazilians are dominating the sport, it’s not because of their genetics or culture or anything like that, they have many more people that train, and they generally have easier access to knowledge than most Europeans do because the sport has been there for much longer.

But the level of Jiu-Jitsu in Europe is improving a lot, and nowadays people are able to seek out knowledge themselves, through seminars, instructionals, if possible maybe some training trips to high-level academies. The good thing about having a good instructor is that he is with you every day and is able to correct mistakes that you don’t see yourself. But I think that you can come very far more or less on your own, if you are dedicated and constantly seeking out knowledge, and then practicing what you learn with your training partners.

Another thing that I think is important to consider, is whether you are really sure that you want Jiu-Jitsu to be your job. As with all other jobs, it comes along with a lot of other problems that people maybe don’t see from the outside. Especially being an athlete is very tough both physically and mentally, and most people will enjoy Jiu-Jitsu much more if it’s not their professional career.

That doesn’t mean that they can’t try to become the best version of themselves as competitors as well, I was working around 40 hours a week as a school teacher in Abu Dhabi while training and competing at the highest level, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that to others, but don’t put limitations for yourself. Be honest with yourself about how you want to use the tool of Jiu-Jitsu in your life, whether it is to train a couple of times a week but to still really study and enjoy the art and evolve both technically as well as on a personal level. Do you want to try to do some competitions, maybe even some of the big international ones, or do you want to make it your job through competing and later teaching?

You can live the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle without having to make it your job, as I mentioned, most people will probably enjoy it even more that way. However, if you do decide that you want to make Jiu-Jitsu your career, put all your energy and passion into that, analyze what you need to do in order to constantly improve and learn, and believe in yourself and your work, don’t be discouraged by people that don’t believe in your dream, you’re the only representative of your dream.

Interview with European BJJ icon Alexander Trans 1

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