I recently wrote about Alliance MN, check out the article HERE, and my struggle finding a home after my gym in California shut down and I had to move. When I first visited the gym I was in town for 2 weeks training for a new job. I didn’t follow my checklist of items to bring when traveling, article HERE, and didn’t pack my brown belt. Sadly, I’ve forgotten my belt on several occasions. Not willing to miss training for 2 weeks I went to the gym anyways and offered to wear a white, pink, or whatever color belt they had if they wouldn’t sell me a brown belt. Damian, the head instructor, politely allowed me to train without a belt because at the time there weren’t any brown belts at the school. Tim Blackstone was running the class and the second I stepped on the mat he looked at me and said, “Really dude? This is how you show everyone you’re a world champion and top competitor? By forgetting your belt?!!” Those few statements told me a lot about the gym and were a large part of my feeling at home the first day despite being a knuckle head and forgetting my belt.
Tim Blackstone, or “Chim” as we like to call him, is a jiu jitsu geek with an affinity for joking and making others laugh. He is a veteran who served in the military until 2007. He is a black belt under Damian Hirtz and also a cross fit coach. He met his wife, Jolynn, on a blind date in 2008 and is a proud father of 2, Oliver and Duncan. It’s not just the world champions who can teach and inspire you. Tim has great jiu jitsu and inspired me by overcoming injury, balancing life and family, and always training. I’m proud to be his teammate and friend and I hope my interview with him motivates you to keep grinding!
RABJJ: When did you start training jiu jitsu and how did you get into the sport?
Chim: The first time I was exposed to Brazilian jiu jitsu I was 17. Like many others, I watched the early UFCs and thought that “how is this guy in the pajamas beating all these guys”. It wasn’t until I was stationed in Korea 10 years later, that I actually took a class. A Lt. Colonel, who was a purple belt, ran a BJJ club and I would go two times a week. Once I was out of the Army and back in Minnesota, I immediately started looking for a place to train. I tried several schools before finding the right one for me and I’ve been there ever since.
RABJJ: Early on there wasn’t much jiu jitsu in Minnesota, how has the gym grown and changed over the years and what’s the bjj scene like now compared to when you started?
Chim: 10 years ago there was only a handful of black belts in Minnesota. Now we have 6 at our gym alone, and dozen or more across the state. That in its self shows you that the BJJ community is growing and getting better and better. I believe most of the major BJJ teams are represented one way or another in the state.
RABJJ: I know alliance MN teaches a balanced curriculum that includes self defense and sport BJJ. Especially from the lens of your military background, how important is it to have self defense in a jiu jitsu program?
Chim: Yes at Alliance we teach a balanced curriculum that includes self defense. I personally think learning self defense and the basics are the most important aspect, for every student. Many of the concepts and movements of the basic self defense techniques are the foundation for what would be considered a “sport” BJJ move. I really think it is paramount to learn the basics and lay a good foundation for your jiu jitsu. I know the whole “Sport vs Self Defense” argument is an ongoing debate within the BJJ community. Why not be good at both. Good Jiu Jitsu is good jiu jitsu in my eyes. It’s the instructor’s job to make sure the student is as well rounded as possible.
RABJJ: You love to compete, what are a few of your proudest competition moments?
Chim: Competing is one of my favorite things to do, athough I didn’t always enjoy it as much as I do now. At purple belt I couldn’t even win a match in the bigger tournaments. My first win wasn’t until I was a Brown belt in 2014 at the Chicago Open which ranks up there. Last year I was able to compete a lot and several moments stick out. I was able to bring my 3 year old son, Ollie, to the San Francisco Open with and where I took gold.
It was also my goal last year to win an Open weight division. I had placed 3rd after several attempts and even placed 2nd at the New York Open after fighting 2 guys from the Ultra Heavy division and heavy weight only to lose to in the finals. But during the last Open of the year at Irvine I managed to win the Open Weight division for Brown belt Masters 2, submitted all my opponents. I was stoked to accomplish the goal I wrote down at the beginning of the year!
The proudest moment, on a personal level, was winning my first tournament at black belt (Chicago Open 2016). Also I was able to bring Ollie with me and that was a special moment for me.
RABJJ: All of us experience injuries during our career and you had a nasty knee injury that took you out for over a year. You were able to come back from it and win gold. How did you work through the injury and what advice would you give others struggling with something similar?
Chim: Nasty knee injury might be putting it lightly. At NoGi world’s (my first tournament at brown belt) in 2012 I blew my knee out in the semis finals. I dislocated my knee which tore my PCL and my PLC. I had surgery and struggled to get strength back to the leg. What was worse, I couldn’t get the range of motion back in my knee. So I had a second manipulation to break up the scar tissue. Which still didn’t get my range of motion back and to this day I don’t have full range of motion in my knee.
Coming back was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, I didn’t think I was going to compete ever again. I changed the way I trained and my ego completely left. Prior to my injury I focused on just not getting caught in training. I really didn’t focus on what I should be doing and refining details of positions and techniques. So when I started coming back I was getting caught all the time by everyone. But failing and working through those difficulties has helped me grow as both a competitor and an instructor.
RABJJ: You recently received your black belt. How has your approach to training and competing changed?
CHIM: I graduated to black belt in December of 2015. I’ve always heard from those I look up to say “I’m a black belt now, I better start learning jiu jitsu”. I had a hard time believing world champions or some of the best of all time when they would say those things! Well that statement is so true. I find myself looking at the little details of techniques and really focusing on those. As far as training I’m having way more fun training now than ever. I’m always trying in new things. I have a lot of fun trying to play others guys in the gyms game against them. I like trying to Berimbolo the guys that like to play that game. If I fail I simply try again.
RABJJ: You have always been very active in the gi-buying community. How many gis do you own and how did you get into collecting?
Chim: (He laughs) How did I know this question was coming?! I currently have 85+ gis. Only Shoyoroll, AP and our Allinace Academy gis. I bought my first Shoyoroll in 2007 and it was my favorite gi so when they made their next batch I bought that one too, and the next one, and the next one… I’ve parted ways with some of the more limited ones I owned, raffled them off for various charity’s and causes but I definitely love my gi collection.
RABJJ: Your love/obsession with gis lead to you being sponsored by your favorite brand, Shoyoroll. Many people struggle to get sponsored. How did you get sponsored and what advice would you give someone looking for a sponsor?
CHIM: Yes being sponsored by Shoyoroll was literally a dream come true. I don’t think there is a big secret to getting sponsored. Stay true to who you want to be sponsored by and do things to get your name out there like competing and supported good causes. Don’t just take free things from companies that aren’t going to support you as well. I followed and supported the brand long before they knew who I was. I actually got officially sponsored at 2015 World’s.
*Tim was caught by the infamous Edwin Najmi in competition and is working through his feelings on the subject. He and I are both big fans of Edwin, who just released a DVD. We also have weird senses of humor.*
RABJJ: Whats next for you?
CHIM: I’m not sure. It would be fun to do some seminars and superfights. I’ll get back to competing towards the end of the year and plan on being on the podium more.
Thanks to Tim for taking the time out to do an interview. I look forward to seeing his continued success and hope his story will help you with your BJJ journey. Please like and share!