5 Star Martial Arts with Shawn Williams

April 4, 2016

If you don’t know Shawn Williams you likely aren’t very involved in the competition scene of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  He was one of Renzo Gracie’s earliest American Black belts and has been a long standing commentator for the biggest IBJJF competitions for several years.  He is superbly analytical with a passion for details and an excellent teaching style.

I officially met Shawn because I kept him from eating dinner.  In 2014 I was fighting in the open weight at Masters Worlds in Long Beach and there were all of 10 people left in the Long Beach Pyramid.  Shawn and Budo Jake were stuck waiting and commentating on my final fight for the brown belt open weight.  I won the match against a very tough opponent and received major praise from Shawn, which may have just been happiness about being able to leave to go eat!

His gym was on my list of places to visit but I actually went there unexpectedly.  I thought I was invited to a private high level training session at a different gym that day but the person who invited me didn’t communicate it with the gym owner and I got un-invited.  I was offered the opportunity to wait 2 hours until the next training session where I could pay over $50 to train.  Fortunately, 5 Star Martial Arts was within driving distance and I was given a much warmer welcome when I arrived.

Seal Team 6 Flag and Shawn Williams

The Gym

I absolutely love the layout of the gym and it’s much larger than it appears when you first walk in.  There’s a nice front desk and lounge area with leather seating and a TV as well as all the latest BJJ magazines to keep you entertained.  The main mat is lined with benches and there is a second room with pads for muay thai and a full blown crossfit-style gym in the back.  There are also a couple hidden office spaces and a hidden mat area for private lessons.  Each time you open a door there’s something cool on the other side.  The changing areas are spacious and have showers.  The only downside of the gym is that the bathroom is shared with the building but they have keys available at the front desk and it’s literally around the corner from the gym door.  I also want to mention one of the most touching items in the gym.  The American flag on the wall is from Seal Team 6 and hangs as a tribute to a fallen warrior.

Watching class

First Impressions

As I mentioned, I arrived off hours and unexpectedly.  The gym was between training sessions and John, who teaches Muay Thai, greeted me warmly.  I explained my connection with Shawn and that I was a visiting black belt interested in training.  Class was supposed to start at noon and after giving me a guided tour he asked me to come back to attend.

When I came back Dane Molina, one of Shawn’s black belts and an accomplished competitor and teacher, was leading class and welcomed me to train.  Shawn was nursing a knee injury and came in a little after class started and immediately came over to say hello.  I explained my situation and his simple 4 word response of “this is your home” put me at ease and is the reason, along with the awesome training and instruction, that I’ve gone back several times to visit.(I’m also happy to report that Shawn is recovering well and is back to teaching.)

Dane Molina and Shawn Williams

Teaching Style

Shawn is a very disciplined individual.  He has a plan for how he studies BJJ video, a plan for his approach to his injury and recovery, and he most definitely has a curriculum and structure to his classes.  Because the curriculum is so well mapped out it is virtually identical attending a class taught by Shawn, Dane, or any other instructor.  The only way you would know the difference is that Shawn might add a little more detail and conversation(he jokes about his ability to talk) and Dane certainly has the hipper hair cut.(Sorry Shawn)  Either way, you’ll have fun and get a well thought out approach that builds technique over the course of a week, facilitates retention, and allows repetition without boring students.  Both are very hands on and give wonderful reinforcement and corrections throughout the class.

Shawn Williams Kuzushi


Dane’s style

While I couldn’t roll with Shawn due to injury, Dane was quick to train with me when I visited.  As is often the case, he gives up about 70lbs to me so I pulled guard.  His style was very sharp and active.  He wasn’t afraid of acrobatic guard passing and was constantly looking to knee cut through my guard.  I focused on technique and flow and hit a modified shin to shin sweep.  He played smart and kept my weight off him as he also did shin to shin guard and then transitioned to butterfly.  We continued the match sweeping back and forth, neither of us worried about submitting the other and both laughing as we tried increasingly intricate techniques that sometimes worked and sometimes flopped.(That’s code for me trying to berimbolo…)

Dane Molina maintaining the back

It’s worth noting that I wasn’t able to have these types of rolls until well into purple belt.  At the black belt level, in particular, I find I can have some truly cool experiences where you learn a lot and get a great workout without having to kill or sub your opponent.  I really appreciated the respect and openness Dane extended to me.

Dane Molina on the back

What to Expect

The mat is longer than it is wide, so the warm-ups start with jogging and quickly evolve in to rolls, hip escapes, etc that work down the center of the mat and circle back around the outside in uniform fashion.  I really like that every class starts with takedowns.  If you can’t get the opponent to the ground in the first place, you’re going to have a hard time using your BJJ on them!  The take down usually flows into a guard pass as the week progresses.  As I mentioned before, the week will have a theme.  I attended a week with butterfly that had 3 techniques that worked in succession.  The class taught by Shawn a few weeks later focused on the over underpass and transitioned into the stack pass.  After timed drilling there is often position specific training to practice the technique on a resisting opponent and then there is time for a few rounds of sparring often followed by open mat for more rolling.

Shawn Williams Smash Pass

Closing Thoughts

Shawn has an awesome team at the gym, excellent jiu jitsu, and tons of options for supplemental classes.  Perhaps because I was coming off a really bad gym experience, I was particularly moved by the warm welcome extended to me.  Being a good person is good business and Shawn, John, and Dane truly are caring individuals.  If all the awesome things I’ve mentioned weren’t enough, the icing on the cake is that Shawn is a BJJ encyclopedia.  I picked up some key details that really helped my stack pass.(yes, the same one we all learned as white belts and I’m just fixing it today)  He’s up on the latest trends as well.  I was having an awful time hitting the fishnet to the truck(yes, I’ll write about my Eddie Bravo visit soon) and he showed me a key detail that immediately fixed my technique.  I’ve actually been hitting it on everyone!  Thanks Shawn!  If you’re near Beverly Hills, this is a great gym and a place you should train!  This would also be a great choice if you’re struggling with an element of your game that you need a private lesson to clean up.  And if California is too far for you to visit, I know Shawn is currently putting together an online BJJ tool that I’m excited to check out and will undoubtedly help your Jiu Jitsu.

Additional Pictures  

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