The Jiu-Jitsu journey of Maximilian Alkofer
Maximilian Alkofer is a purple belt in BJJ and founder of Elements Jiu-jitsu in Regensburg, Germany. He is also the first athlete ever to be sponsored by Choke & Chill. Today we want to introduce you to his story. Enter Max:
How did it all start?
Like many other young kids, I was watching a lot of pro wrestling. WWE wasn't really accessible in Germany at that time so I was watching it on a streaming site. Back then there was also a season of the Ultimate Fighter. I noticed that a lot of people were watching, so I had to check it out myself. At that point, I stopped watching wrestling and got really into the training side of MMA. After I did some research and saw the first UFC events and Pride shows with Royce and Rickson Gracie submitting people easily, I got interested in training BJJ. At that time it was quite hard to find any BJJ schools, so I actually started training Muay-Thai first, which was quite popular in Germany, and it still is. Eventually, I moved to Regensburg, my birthplace, and I found a small BJJ gym there. I was hooked after the first class and that was it for me. I loved it.
Did you start with a Gi or No-gi?
It was both Gi and NOGI. I do no-gi and I like to have fun with all the 10th planet stuff, but to this day I prefer the Gi. And you know, it's hard to compare the two. I love both, but for my style of fighting no-gi is more taxing, I feel like I have to use more energy. With the Gi, I can slow stuff down so much that I can chill.
How would you describe yourself as a fighter?
I wouldn't say I'm a sloth. I prefer playing guard which is what I did for the first 5 years, then when I started doing MMA I changed it over completely and focused only on the top game. That MMA experience was really cool because I had to fix that hole in my game: the top game. Now I still prefer to play guard, but I'm not just chilling there and waiting for mistakes. I would say that I have quite an aggressive and offensive guard game. I feel that I'm as complete as I should be on the purple belt level. I don't enjoy fights that take too long, let's put it like that.
Does it feel like Christmas when someone passes your guard?
Not necessarily. You know, when I started my gym the only real challenge for me would come from visitors, not from my own students. Of course, by now, many of my own students already improved and some of them may already have surpassed me. But back then I actually focused on letting people pass, getting a better position on me and I would fight from there and focus only on defence. I think that's the best way to improve.
Could you tell me a bit about the beginning of your own gym?
Before I opened my gym I was training with another big gym in Regensburg. Without getting into too many details, the situation wasn't ideal and many of the higher-level people in the gym were really unhappy. So we left and started training on our own. I formed my own gym and the other people wanted me to train them. That was great proof of them believing in me because some of them were purple belts while I was still a blue belt. It still feels quite incredible when I think about it.
Slowly but surely we built it up. The beginning wasn't glorious. Imagine 70 square meters of mat space with 30 - 40 people training, ugly showers … it was a crazy start. Then after about a year, we moved to our current location which is beautiful and that's when things really took off.
It's not exactly typical to be a lower belt than some of your students. How did it happen that you gained so much respect from the higher belts?
I guess I was just the right person at the right place. I just love teaching, I love helping other people and I think that you can feel it in the class. I only teach stuff that I know is working.
Back at my old school when I realised that I'm on my own, that's when I started improving a lot, because I had to do the research on my own. I realized back then that belts don't really matter. I guess a lot of the first students came to the exact same conclusion.
How do you approach teaching in your gym? Let's say if a total beginner comes to your class. What does it look like?
From day one I implemented a concept to teach beginners. If a total beginner shows up they do the warm-up together with the rest of the class but when it comes to the technique section, they go through a beginner class which consists of 4 or 5 techniques. At first, I taught this myself but now I require my top students to teach the beginners. It looks like a private lesson. The beginner will learn how to do a double-leg, how to get directly to side control, how to get technically transition to knee on belly and mount, how to get angles, from there they get the s-mount arm-bar, and to show them a choke and a joint lock I show them Rear naked choke. After that, they are done with technique and trust me it's a lot for most people. Then they rejoin the class and they start rolling. I always explain it like this:
As a beginner, you're in total darkness and in the first class, I give you a big flashlight. You still won't know where the exit is or what's behind you but you can light through some of the darkness. And it happens quite often that people take that flashlight and find a door right away and they get their first submission right in the first class.
I'm trying to prevent the situations where a new guy gets stuck in a certain position for a whole round. Everyone in my gym went through this system and it's really cool because the advanced guys know what the new guys know, so they can let them play a bit. I mean, my guys and girls can still beat the new guys and girls but I always encourage them to do it with a smile on their faces. I want to create an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome and where people can see the beauty of the sport regardless of their fitness level or even gender. That's a big one because around 40% of my students are girls. I'm really proud of that. I think that what helped a lot is that my wife also trains Jiu-Jitsu so it never really happened in the beginning that there were only guys attending the classes
Is there a moment that stands out from your fighting career?
Man, there's quite a few. The whole leaving my old gym and starting my new gym part was very formative. Then my wife getting her blue belt was a really emotional moment for me. In the beginning, I told you about me being a wrestling fan and you know, in wrestling it's all about those championship belts. When I was little I wanted to have one of those big shiny belts. Since my blue belt years when I started coaching, I didn't compete that much. It has been a really long time since then but last year I went to fight in the DJJV German championship and I took second place. Then two weeks after that, there was the NAGA championship and quite a few of my students signed up so I thought I'll give it a shot. I have to say, I wasn't that fit and also a bit sick, but I was so happy to be back to competing that it somehow didn't matter. I was surprised by how easy it all came to me. I was super happy to win one of those big precious belts. Having that podium picture with that championship belt meant a lot to me. I was grateful that my students pushed me a bit to go for it. Actually, a week after that there was another tournament where I also competed and won which was the ISKA German Championships. So I closed the last year with three competitions, which is more than in the previous four years. Yeah, but the NAGA belt is definitely a moment that stands out.
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