Name: Nathan Rheinberger
Current Belt: Purple
Club: BJJ Yamba (Axis Gold Coast Affiliate)
Lineage: Rickson Gracie – Jason Roebig
How did you get into Jiu Jitsu?
I was playing rugby at the time and a workmate was telling me that I needed to come down and give it a try. Every time I saw him he told me to come down and try this jiu jitsu. I’d never even heard of it before.
Me and Keaton (cousin) went down one night, and we walked in and we were like “oh hey, is Tony here”, and he goes “no, Tony’s not here tonight”, and we were like “oh… this is awkward!”
Matt (coach), who was a blue belt at the time, began by showing us closed guard. And me and Keaton were like “what is this position?!” Cause you know, you’re so close, and you’re in somebody’s bubble, and for the first half of the class we were really awkward with having someone’s legs wrapped around and having that close contact. And then it came to rolling, and all of a sudden we weren’t so worried about close contact, we were worried about someone trying to choke us! I remember my first impression when Matt said “we’re going to roll now”, and I said “what’s rolling?” and he said “we’re just going to wrestle, and I want you to try getting on top and staying on top, and if you feel uncomfortable, tap.” I’d just been to Sydney for the state championships playing in a rep rugby team, so I was pretty fit, and I was playing in the centres so I was tackling and wrestling a lot in rugby. So I sort of sized him up, you know, 40-year-old guy, average size, not overweight, but he wasn’t fit. I thought, “this is going to be easy!” And I had that rude shock that everyone gets after they have their first roll with someone. I pretty much walked out of there going “well, I don’t want to have that happen to me again”. It still happens to me now! But I try to train as hard as I can to prevent it. So that was my first class!
It was a tiny little storage shed, there were maybe 12 mats laid down. I think at the max there was probably four or five of us coming to training. Matt wasn’t working at the time, and I was working nights, so I pretty much trained every day, just one on one. And Keaton was working through the day and training at night. I think there were maybe one or two nights of the week that I wasn’t working that I would train with Keaton, and we’d just go nuts trying to choke the shit out of each other. I think my first submission that I really delved into was a kimura, and Keaton’s was a triangle. So I’d be kimura-ing him, and he’d be triangling me! And that’s how it went for a long time.
How old were you when you started training?
I know I was 20, cause I had my first competition when I was 21, and Matt bought me a gi to compete in for my 21st birthday.
You bought BJJ Yamba when you were 22. What was it like owning an academy at blue belt and 22 years old?
What I was most worried about was doing the wrong thing. I’d never woken up in the morning and said “I want to buy a jiu jitsu academy today”, or “I want to run an academy”, but it was like “do I want to train or not?” I’d made the decision that I wanted to train, so I had to do it. And it just happened really quickly. Matt had to leave town. The gym had an established kids class, adults not so much, and we had our area at the gym in Uki St. So it wasn’t too hard, we just sort of kept it ticking on, kept looking after the kids, cause the kids were always consistent and we didn’t have to worry about the rent if we had kids training. I never looked at it as owning a business or as being a job, it’s just something that I want to do. I want to train. It’s been quite easy. When we moved here [to our new gym], people were sort of like, “congratulations on your new space!” and I‘m like, “don’t congratulate me, I just needed somewhere to put my mats down! I’ve got to pay more rent now!”
I’m glad I’ve done it, because I’ve learnt so much, and met a lot of good people. I’ve got my best friends here.
What lessons have you learnt through jiu jitsu?
Where do I start?! I’ve learnt lots of little lessons. It’s definitely shaped who I am right now.
Learning to be calm and process what’s going on. I guess any young guy can shoot off their mouth and make rash decisions, whether it’s right or wrong. But I think with consistently putting yourself under pressure and having to make decisions on the spot, and make them the right ones, I think that kind of helped my decision making in life. Not saying that I don’t make mistakes, cause everyone does. I think that you’re always going to make mistakes, and you’re never going to be perfect, but I think it’s given me a step up. I just don’t let stuff phase me anymore.
Another one is trying to acknowledge everyone, no matter who they are or how long you’ve known them for. I remember starting off as a white belt, you’d go into new gyms, you’re always timid, you don’t know where you stand. It’s always good if a higher ranked belt was to take the time to come over and have a chat, reach out and break the ice. So I always try to do that here. If someone’s new, whether they’re popping in for one lesson or travelling, or just starting up. Try to get to know them, have a chat. I’ve been on the opposite end when I’ve walked into a gym and no one’s spoken to me and I’m just sitting there with a white belt on feeling really awkward. So I’ll walk down the street and if I make eye contact with anyone I’ll say hello.
This year I’ve been thinking about leading by example. I remember my first competition, and Dan Ronin, who’s now a black belt, was there. He was a purple belt at the time, and he won the open weight purple belt division. It was a submission only competition, with no time limit. I think his match went for 20 minutes. They did a 10 minute round, and then a five minute round, and then another five. And I think the last five minutes the guy was like, “alright, we’re just going to have to let you guys keep going until someone submits someone”. So we’re all sitting around, and I just remember sitting there as a white belt. It was my first competition, I had two matches, it was round robin. I lost my first match within a minute, and then I won my second match, and that was it. And I remember sitting there watching him and just thinking “how cool is this?” It was a very clean match, but it was a really hard match. I just thought that’s what I’d like to do. So now when I go to competition I’m in that position, so I sort of think I owe it to everyone to do my best, to try my best. And win, lose or draw; still be happy. Sort of set that example.
Another thing is that I don’t want people, especially the younger kids, to think that you have to live in the Gold Coast or Brisbane to be competitive. So that’s why at the start of the year I trained probably harder than I’ve ever trained, to compete in both jiu jitsu and boxing, to go away and compete against the bigger gyms that are the best guys, to show that you can do it from here if you put your mind to it.
How important is competition to you?
Not very. I enjoy it, I enjoy competitions, I enjoy challenges, but it doesn’t bother me if I lose. One thing I’ve seen, especially with new guys who are competing at white belt or blue belt, who really want to be graded, and really want to get better, they sort of put too much pressure on themselves and think that potentially if they get beat their first round they’re not going to get their next tip or their next belt. I think it’s pretty important not to let one roll or one competition define your jiu jitsu. You’ve had a bad day, or you make a mistake, it happens! So what? And I think since I’ve had that attitude my performances have been way better cause I’m not putting pressure on myself and I’m enjoying it. My mind’s clearer. And I’ve had a really good run of competitions.
Do you have any goals for yourself at the moment?
No, I don’t! Actually I’m starting to get worried about the chance of getting a brown belt!
I feel like once I get to brown belt I’m finished year 12 and I’ve got to go to university. But I’m really enjoying high school! So right now I’m in high school and I’m really enjoying it, I’m enjoying where I’m at. I guess even when I do get to brown and black belt, I’m still going to make mistakes and do stupid stuff and laugh it off. But just the whole thought of being a black belt, you sort of think that they’re this perfect animal that doesn’t make mistakes, that they’re really good, and they’re untouchable. And I’m getting through purple belt now and brown belt’s pretty close, and I don’t feel any of that yet. I don’t feel like I’m untouchable. I would have thought I was a lot better than what I feel. My perception of purple belt when I was a white belt, was someone who’s got a lot of really good skills, and now that I’m there at purple belt, I feel like the only difference is that I know more jiu jitsu than other people and I don’t make mistakes when I’m rolling. There’s not many secrets about it. So I know that everything’s moving along, and I miss high school, and once I finish high school it gets a bit serious.
And do you think that’s true, or do you think that’s your perception?
I think it’s perception. I think that once I get to brown belt and black belt I’m not going to change too much. I’m pretty happy with who I am. It’s just a mental thing. I’ve always thought that black belts are unbeatable, but they’re not! Some people six months into jiu jitsu put on a white belt and they say “I wish I was a blue belt, I wish I was a brown belt, I wish I was a black belt!” The way I look at it, if you’re doing that you’re wishing away your life. In the last four years I’ve had so much fun, meeting people and doing stuff. If you just fast-forward straight to black belt you’re going to miss so much stuff in between.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Stay consistent. Just keep turning up. I’ve come to the point now where I don’t think that having a bad day or having a big day at work is an excuse not to train. I think that when you are feeling down, sometimes it’s the best time to train. Just try to push through those hard times. ‘Cause there can be long lulls there where you feel like you’re not getting any improvement. But it might be the difference in that one or two days when it finally sinks in. Consistency. And don’t take yourself too seriously! Don’t take yourself too seriously and stay consistent and you’ll see a lot of improvement.