By Sally Arsenault
“Kyle Sandford, is one of the best kept secrets in the Canadian jiu jitsu scene. His base and pressure are top notch and he’s all round super tough guy. I’m really looking forward to seeing him compete in this event!” – Jake MacKenzie
Almost seven years ago, when I first started training Brazilian jiu jitsu, my club, Titans Fitness Academy, was like the boogey man of BJJ in Nova Scotia. I’ve heard people joke about the heel hook being the Titans hand shake (though I’ve never actually been heelhooked there). Some of the stories remind me of the Gracie challenge stories from the early days of BJJ: guys from other clubs would show up to teach those Titans guys what was what and slide right back out with their tails between their legs.
Renzo Gracie black belt Kyle Sandford was training at Titans back then and in our recent interview, he explained how our club has evolved over the years.
“Titans has changed a lot,” says Kyle. “I understand the rough reputation we had early on. We had a different core group of training partners… and probably too many egos. All of the people training here now are very competitive, but also very technical, knowledgeable, and supportive. I think that’s mostly due to the growth and popularity of the art. It has made it easier for people who are genuinely passionate about BJJ, and eager to learn, to seek out like minded individuals.”
Still, when members of that original core group show up to train, even after not being around for a while, times are tough for our technical and competitive team. I remember watching in amazement when guys I’d never seen before, like Kyle, would show up and toy with guys who were ragdolling everyone else in the club. I would wonder, “What the heck, where did this guy come from?” or, “How is he submitting that guy with knee on belly?” It turns out, Sandford has been training for almost twenty years.
“I started “training” submission grappling and BJJ in late 1995,” explains Kyle. “At the time, I had a good friend. Fortunately, this friend was very competitive. He joined Tae Kwon Do, which I had already been in for a couple of years. I wasn’t great at TKD, but would usually get the better of him in our sparring sessions due to my slight edge in experience. One day, after sparring, he thought it would even things up if we did something I had never done; something he had some experience in. He turned to me and said, “Let’s wrestle”. It was a life changing moment.
“I put training in quotes because like a lot of people who were interested in BJJ at that time, we really didn’t have access to it. Most of our techniques came from magazines and expensive video tapes. It wasn’t until we started visiting Renzo Gracie’s, learning some strong fundamentals, and correcting many mistakes we had been making that we really began to make progress. I received my blue belt from Renzo during a trip to New York in the summer of 1996, purple in 2003, and brown in 2007. It’s been quite the journey so far.”
As I wrote this article, I creeped Kyle’s Facebook photos to find that the majority of the earlier shots feature Kyle in tournaments or MMA fights: being held up by Matt and Nick Serra after fighting ten matches in the North American Grappling Championships, taking the podium with Georges St. Pierre and Rowan Cunningham at the Ontario Submission Wrestling Invitational and delivering some nasty looking ground and pound to various gentlemen in the cage. In one photo, the poor guy was getting punched in the face while Kyle pinned him to the mat with that knee on belly submission. What a horrible way to spend an evening. But over time, the theme changed. In 2004, Kyle married his beautiful wife, Joann, and a few years ago ultrasound photos were introduced. What comes next is a timeline of his two little girls navigating childhood.
In recent years, Kyle has returned to the mats more frequently and beginning in 2014, the competition photos are back as well. With an MMA record of seven wins, one loss with five of the seven wins via submission under three minutes of the very first round, it’s not surprising that he jumped at the chance to headline Canada’s first submission only Brazilian jiu jitsu event, Submission Series 902, in a fifteen minute, submission only nogi match against Marcelo Garcia brown belt and 2014 nogi world champion, Jonathan Satava.
Kyle’s MMA Record HERE
“I love the submission only concept,” states Kyle. “When I started grappling, the only goal was to finish. Sometimes it took twenty minutes. Sometimes an hour. Even when I roll now, I don’t usually keep track of points. I’m just thinking about getting in a better position to finish. When I started fighting MMA, I started wrestling more and maintaining top position. I didn’t want to lose decisions fighting off my back. Since I started training for this event, I’ve been working my guard more. I’m feeling confident from my back again.”
Jon Satava profile video HERE
In addition to Sandford vs Satava, Submission Series 902 offers a line-up full of exciting matches. Promoter and Renzo Gracie blue belt Cat Clark provided me with a breakdown in our recent interview for Breaking Muscle HERE
The card begins with what I like to call, The Purple Belt Battle. Facing off are two high-level blue belts from the local scene who I have rolled with and competed against a lot. In my opinion, Nate O’Brien out of Titans MMA and Bushido Kai’s Colin MacMichael are the best and most deserving of this opportunity.
“We also have three purple belt matches featuring very experienced competitors in several weight classes. Bushido Kai purple belt Jesse Allen will be taking on Kyle McDougall from Abhaya MMA in one of the key rematches from the 2013 Maritime circuit. Kent Peters from ZombieProof will take on highly touted MMA prospect Gavin Tucker in a no-gi war. Marmac Athletics athlete, brown belt Scott Nauss, will be facingClinch Martial Arts purple belt, Kevin Thibault.
“Following that battle is a secret match, and then Titans MMA purple belt Joel Jacquard welcomes Michael Tremblay into NS from BTT Ottawa in a rematch from last year’s Abu Dhabi trials. Next, Titans MMA brown belt Josh Presley meets Toronto BJJ brown belt Alessandro Roman Camargo in easily the best and biggest fight for the best brown belt in Canada.
When Kyle began training Brazilian jiu jitsu, no one was playing for points to win a fancy medal at an IBJJF tournament. He says he doesn’t think about the points, but it’s not clear whether he actually knows the point system. Our teammate brown belt Craig Ferguson says in the video below, Kyle just wants to “smash, put you in uncomfortable positions, move through and finish. That’s his thought process.
Kyle Sandford profile video HERE
After an extended period of time where he wasn’t able to train regularly, it was interesting to see him jump right back in with both feet and dominate. I asked Kyle if he had any advice for combat sports athletes who have found themselves in similar situations.
“I’m really excited to be back training hard again,” explains Kyle. “It’s been too long. Injuries, life, and other responsibilities have forced me to push BJJ to the side many times over the nearly twenty years I’ve been a practitioner. I don’t have any advice as I am still figuring things out myself… But it is possible. I have a two and a three year old, so free time does not exist. One huge piece of the puzzle for me is having such a great wife. Having a partner who is supportive, and not just tolerant, eliminates a lot of unnecessary stress. Training with a busy life means making sacrifices… but that’s not new information for anyone.”
Can Kyle re-enter the competition scene at the age of thirty seven and impose his game on the much younger world champion? I truly believe he can. Tune in to the free online stream on MMA Madhouse, Friday, January 23, 2015 at 7pm Atlantic time. You might just see someone you’d be interested in competing against! Promotors Cat Clarke and Jaret MacIntosh are accepting sponsors as well as competitor applications for future events and can be contacted via Facebook. Sponsors interested in supporting Kyle Sandford or the Titans Competition Team in this and future events can contact Kyle via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
For those of you at home or on mobile, join me, BJJ Scout and other BJJ enthusiasts for a live chat on #jack. So far, #jack has hosted very interesting chats for UFC 182 and Polaris with commentary by Firas Zahabi, Robin Black, Lawrence Kenshin, Jack Slack, Ben Thapa and Seymour Yang. Trumpet Dan was posting youtube videos showing relevant techniques so fast, BJJ Scout accused him of being a bot. Even Keenan Cornelius stopped in to say hello before his match with Dean Lister. Be sure to visit hashtagjack.com and enter your email to get your invitation. I hope to see you there!