Travis Stevens on Rio 2016, Judo and BJJ in the Olympics


OG – What was going through your mind as you were warming up for the final?

Travis – When we fight the final block in judo it’s made up of the Semi Final, Repechage Semi final and actual medal contest. So going into the warm up I knew that I was going to be one of the last matches just based on the order. So I sat back told stories with training partners and staff who were in the back with me. We just joked around and stayed loose while everyone else was doing judo and warming up. I remember my training partner walking up in his gi pants and workout shirt from early and I asked “What are you doing working out?” His response was “No I’m just ready if you need me.”  I laughed and told him “I’m good, I’m a F**king professional I got this,” we both laughed. I just looked around the room and laughed as I said “I’m an Olympic Champion.”13906689_10154917864150329_8330121684149285118_n

OG – For those of our readers that aren’t so familiar with your story would you mind sharing a little bit about yourself and how you got started in Judo and then how you came to be involved in BJJ and earn your Black belt under John Danaher?

Travis –  I got started in Judo just a few weeks before my seventh birthday. My mother had taken be down to the local youth center to sign me up for sports and I accidentally signed up for the wrong sport. I fell in love with it after the first session I actually participated in. I got involved in BJJ for the first tideway back in 2005 with Dave Camarillo. I was doing judo full time at  San Jose State but I was looking for extra workouts and someone had mentioned AKA had BJJ in the mornings. So I showed up one day and spoke to Dave and he let me join in on the class. Dave treated me a lot different then his other students. He knew that I had no desire to ever do BJJ or learn anything about the sport. I was solely there to workout and he did a great job of giving me an atmosphere where I could do that. I don’t really remember ever being taught there as much as I remember learning from the local guys who were beating me catching on to what they were doing and mimicking it almost. I remember I would show up early to sessions sometimes and I was able to watch Dave teach private lessons to people and I would just steal information by just listening and watching intently. In 2006 when I left California I left jiu jitsu. I never even though about it almost forgot that it had ever existed until 2012. In April of 2012 I had broken my foot and I needed to train for the Olympic Games. I had a meeting with Jimmy Pedro my coached and asked him if I could do Jiu Jitsu. I told him “if I cant stand on my feet and fight I can at least sit on my a** and fight.” He called Renzo up and Renzo being Renzo said “no problem my man send him down and we will take care of him.” I drove down the next morning to New York City. I remember being scared shitless for my first class walking into Renzo’s. My first class was one of John Danaher’s afternoon classes, and I was like a NYC tourist I felt like I was just in the way trying to make anyone mad. I had no idea what was going on there was no bow in he didn’t introduce me, there were 50 people on the mat in a circle watching him teach, when it was time to work I just went with the guy john had paired me up with. My only thought was “oh f**K don’t screw up.” After class John had called me over and slapped the mat next to him and he asked me why my foot was taped, I told him and and said “I have to train for the games, but I’m not here to learn Jiu Jitsu for Judo I want to learn Jiu Jitsu.” About a week after having walked in for my first class John gave me my Purple belt, then a few month later I got my brown. I believe it was shortly after coming back from the games. I had never really had aspirations of becoming a black belt for me Jiu Jitsu was more about not losing then the color of the belt I was wearing. I remember the day I was tested by John like it was yesterday, when it came time for live rounds John proceeded to select a partner for me which was not uncommon. Then he took it a step further and started selecting starting positions which were never favorable to me. It felt like every time I gained any type of ground John took it away and restarted us. By the end of the 5 rounds I was shot I had nothing left I was so happy the session was over then John called everyone in and he started talking. My first thought was “are you f**King kidding me, I just wanted to leave or go lay down and just recover. I had another session in a few hours. John had started talking about training and mindsets and how this person was progressing. Then he said some thing about how I showed up to training in NYC the day I had gotten back from the Games and trained and I realized he was talking about me. A min later he promoted me and it caught me completely off guard. 

OG – Over your years training and competing in tournaments around the world what is one thing the art/sport has taught you, and what would you say the most valuable lesson you have learned along the way? 

Travis – Don’t sweat the small stuff. Over the years I have realized that winning/being successful isn’t decided by the small things that happen in your life. Your not going to win or lose an event because a flight ran on time or was delayed, or because you don’t have the right type of food to fit your diet. You have to let some things go, and focus on the task at hand and what your actual goal is. I see some people freak out because their head phones broke and now they cant listen to music before a match or the air line lost their luggage and they go into a panic. I’ve learn to just relax and accept what the world is going to throw at me wither it’s positive or negative when it comes time to preform I’m going to but my best foot forward and IT will be good enough. 

OG – More and more we are seeing athletes cross training in various disciplines, how has your training in Judo helped your BJJ game and vice versa?

Travis – It’s helped in ways I didn’t think. Cross training doesn’t really help in the way most people would think. I don’t translate techniques from one sport to the other (I try not to some times it just happens). But what it does do is it give me a tremendous amount of confidence that no matter where a fight goes I I can handle the situation. The other way it helps is for judo players the fear me on the ground because of BJJ which gives me an edge and for BJJ players the fear me standing which also gives me an edge. 

OG – Was there anything you found difficult when you made the transition to BJJ or was it a natural progression of sorts? 

Travis – Yeah the rules! For the longest time I couldn’t understand an advantage. It’s how I lost to Tim Spriggs at the MMA Expo and to Miyao the Copa Podio, both times players were awards an advantage when the clock expired after a match and I didn’t understand why. At the expo in the middle of matches I was asking the people watching how to score points because i didn’t know how. My other big struggle was foot locks or leg attacks in general. They scared me and I didn’t understand how to do it or defend it. Now it’s a different story. 

OG – The sport aspect of Jiu Jitsu is becoming more and more popular now with the production of large invitational events taking place across the globe, with you competing primarily in Judo events at the moment, can we expect to see you back in competition BJJ or has that ship sailed?

Travis – I honestly don’t know right now, It’s to soon after the Games to make a game plan moving forward. I can tell you I would like to compete in both BJJ and Judo moving forward but with the ban I don’t know if I will be aloud to do both and Judo pays better, and I also have a passion for judo not so much for BJJ. Jiu Jitsu for me is just fun and I enjoy it. 

OG – Representing your country at the Olympics is no new thing for yourself now your are what some would call a veteran of the Sport, Can you recall the emotions the first time you got the call that you were going to be a part of the USA Judo team?

Travis – Making the US Judo team wasn’t emotional at all just about anyone can sign up  for an event and compete, It was making the first Olympic team that was emotional. That was a roller coaster of a ride that made it difficult to train for the first Games. Because it was a dream to make the team once I did it It felt like a job well done and a time to celebrate. But it wasn’t we should have been training. 

OG – With so many athletes from both disciplines making the cross over into the MMA arenas with some pretty good success, could we see the same from you in the future, possibly chasing a career in the cage?

Travis – I don’t see it happening. I have no problem doing it but I would need to get paid. I don’t believe any of the organizations would pay what I would be asking for someone who doesn’t have a proven winning record in a cage. And I completely understand that. But this is my life and I’m 30 I don’t have 5 years to build a career. So I would need to be paid as If I was a big name from the start. 

OG – The big question everyone is asking about BJJ can you see it getting into the Olympics? 

Travis – NOT A CHANCE! Its funny that the BJJ community keeps saying “BJJ in the Olympics.” It just goes to show you how little people pay attention to formatting or rules. They just see a sport in the Olympics and they think “wow that would be cool if what I did was there.” See BJJ has a few problems with it’s structure that prevent it from becoming an olympic Sport:

  • It doesn’t compete for a country – they compete for a club/association and yes you can argue that there is a flag next to peoples names which brings me to the next point
  • there is not national governing body that is put in place to grow the sport in it’s host country – that meaning that USA Judo grows just in the united states and each club grows it’s own program
  • Lets make the argument that each association could be in charge of 1 country like Alliance controls USA, Gracie Barra controls Brazil so on and so forth. Each NGB (national governing body) need to hold a completion circuit in it’s own country. This means that everyone in the states would have to compete against each other to figure out who was the best to compete against the rest of the world. This means the top players in each country regardless of association would have to come together to train and learn in order to compete against the rest of the world. 
  • Maybe I’m just clueless but right now I cant see alliance member competing against each other just because the flag is different. There would never again be a flip of a coin final in BJJ if they wanted an Olympic event
  • With all that being said I think it is possible to one day become an olympic event just not in my life time.    

OG – For the younger readers who may have their dreams of becoming an Olympian one day, what does you average day of training look like and what advice would you give them? 

Travis – I wake up and I strength and condition 7 days a week, I do judo 9 times a week, I do BJJ 9 times a week (some of which I’m teaching only), weekends are usually for myself to do as I wish after me strength work. 

OG – Constantly before tournaments we see competitors with headphones in blocking out the sounds of a tournament, are you a headphone type competitor or do you prefer to take in the atmosphere? 

Travis – It really depends on my mood and the environment that I’m in. Some times I use it but only during the very beginning of my warm up never right before a match. 

OG – If you are a music person what does your typical playlist look like heading onto the mats, or training for that matter?

Travis – It ranges from country to rap depending on my mood.

OG – What advice would you give the person sitting on the fence thinking about giving Jiu Jitsu or Judo a go for the first time and which would you suggest? 

Travis – I would have to ask questions like age, goals, and exceptions. For older people I would suggest BJJ for younger people I would suggest Judo. 

OG – Looking back over the last few years how would you evaluate your career is there anything you haven’t achieved that you may of wanted, is there anything you want to still fulfil in either arena?

Travis – I would mark it as disappointing. Even though I’m on a high right now after the Games and a silver medal, I should at least have two. I should have been in the final of the 2012 Games. I also have no world titles to speak of I have always shit the bed at that event. But with that being said I’m still proud of my career. I just feel like I should have accomplished so much more. 13921162_1200645059994755_4899708946016308705_n

OG – I am sure everyone who follows Jiu Jitsu has seen the various images depicting the quite “train hard enough that one day your idols become your rivals”. Who would your biggest idol and rival be in the Jiu Jitsu/Judo world?

Travis – I don’t really have Idol’s per say, as much as I have people I know I can trust. In judo I have always looked to Jimmy Pedro for advice so in a way he has always been a mentor and friend to me.  As far as rivals go I would have to say myself. That little voice in your head will always be your greatest competition, and if it’s not that it’s the scale he’s my biggest enemy.  

OG – If you were to pick your dream fight have you had it? If not who would it be with and why?

Travis – Who every wants to be there is the person I look forward to competing against the most is the one who ask for it. 

OG – Well thank you so much for your time today Travis it has been an absolute pleasure to catch up with you. Once again congratulations on your performance in RIO and we look forward to seeing you in action again soon.


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