Mike Buckels: Spreading Gracie Barra Jiu Jitsu from California to Missouri

“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there”

Missouri Regional director Mike Buckels has been diligently studying in the Martial Arts for over 20 years and carries a high rank in multiple art forms. Having already made headlines once this year Mike has done it again by moving from sunny southern California back home to St. Louis Missouri to help spread Jiu Jitsu for everyone. Professor Buckels was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to share some insight into his life as a martial artist and what he has been doing to make our Gracie Barra family grow.

Tell us about your background?
I was born and raised in St. Louis Missouri. I spent my teens and twenties as a professional musician playing all over the country and world for that matter. Once I turned 30 (10 years ago) I decided it was time to get out of the music business to focus more on martial arts. Being a musician sounds great, but when you are a working back up musician, believe me when I say it is not all cookies and cream.   Even though I have always had a love for martial arts, I never saw myself as a martial arts instructor. It just happened. I took it upon myself to help out, be involved and teach wherever I happened to be. One of the greatest ways to learn is to teach. Many people asked me “why don’t you open a school?”, so I finally did. You have studied other Martial Arts.

When did you start and what inspired you to make martial arts life long journey?
I have always loved martial arts. Kung fu theater was my favorite show. However, my parents would not sign me up for classes. Martial arts was literally the only sport/physical activity I was interested in and I had no way to do it. You have to be 18 to enroll in classes without parental consent. The final straw came when I was 16 and a bunch of guys broke into my house and I got into a pretty crazy fight. It was 6 on 2. My friend and I did the best we could and fended them off. The next day while nursing my wounds I decided I would never be victimized again.

The day I turned 18 I enrolled myself in martial arts. Since that point I have never stopped training. I have studied Kuk Sul Hapkido (2nd Degree black belt), Muay Thai (Kru), Arnis and JKD (no significant rank), judo (ikkyu) and of course Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Black Belt 1 stripe).

Why did you choose Jiu Jitsu to be your main focus as an instructor instead of the other styles?
In 1995 when I moved to California and took my first real Jiu Jitsu class I was hooked. I did not stop training in other styles, but Jiu Jitsu became my focus. As an experienced martial artist I could see the effectiveness of the style. Jiu jitsu is the most practical form of self defense there is. All significant modern MMA fighters have a Jiu Jitsu coach. Can the same be said for any other martial art? Everyone knows that you need Jiu Jitsu to survive in the ring and this is due to the effectiveness of the style. Furthermore, Jiu Jitsu translates very well from the dojo or competition floor to a real self defense situation. There are so many reasons beyond the few that I have mentioned, but I will stop here.

When did you open your school in Costa Mesa and who have you left in charge of that school?
I opened the Costa Mesa school in 2004 and I have left it Professor Scott Carr in charge. He was my 1st Jiu Jitsu black belt. He is amazing, great energy, great competitor and most importantly a great person that always tries to do the right thing. Those of you in SoCal might have seen the news story of Scott chasing down an armed gunman that robbed an AT&T store a couple of months ago!

Why did you decide to move to Missouri and open up a school there?
Professor Marcio Feitosa and I have been discussing this move since 2008. Having grown up here, I knew the area and saw a need for our philosophy here. It seemed to be a good fit. Also, its nice to be around my family, although leaving my SoCal family was really hard.

How long has it been open and how many students do you have?
Our first school is going great. We opened up on November 7, 2011 and currently have 111 students. The response from our students has been very positive, the mats are constantly full of new people and the excitement of the students makes it a blast to show up and share some knowledge.

Who do you have helping you out at that school?
Actually, I am helping out at the school. Our head professor is Vanderson “Vandinho” Gomes. Vanderson has been amazing and the students are really loving his classes. I can’t say enough about him and what it is like to have a guy with that amount of skill and passion on our mats, not to mention that he is still actively competing at a very high level. He has done a fantastic job leading the school.

Who are the instructors that have influenced you the most and why?
Wow, that is a tough one, over 22 years of martial arts, quite a few people have had an impact on me. The biggest influences on me are Lance Kimberlin, Tim Cartmell, Juan Montenegro, and Marcio Feitosa. Lance taught me pretty much everything I know about teaching and being positive on the mats. Tim is one of the most amazing martial artist I have ever met, I met him a long time ago training Jiu Jitsu and was blown away by his skill and knowledge, we have been friends ever since. Juan Montenegro is my Judo sensei, he is 6th dan and was an olympic alternate. Some day I hope to be able to execute throws like him, he is simply amazing.

Marcio really changed the way I thought about Jiu Jitsu and how to train Jiu Jitsu. When I was a purple belt, I was looking for a new school when I heard that Marcio Feitosa opened a new school in Lake Forest. I stopped by his school to check it out, I did not have a gi and he literally gave me the gi off of his back and invited me in to train. Over the next few months he really impacted the way I thought about Jiu Jitsu as a whole and how I should approach my training sessions. I have been with GB ever since. We all know about Marcios’ accomplishments as a competitor, he is an equally great instructor and I am honored that I received my black belt from him.

What is your greatest memory as a student? As a teacher?
I try to live in the now, not reflecting too much on the past or worrying too much about the future. That being said, I have so many great memories that it is hard to put a finger on one or two moments. Being asked to serve as the first American technical director at the IBJJF was pretty cool. Winning tournaments and watching students win tournaments is always fun, but I have to say my time spent at the original Gracie Barra school in Barra De Tijuca was chalked full of great memories. Spending a summer in Brazil training and hanging out with guys like professor Jefferson Moura is something I will never forget. One night there were almost 90 people in class with over 20 black belts! I can’t wait to find time to go back, train with some friends, grab an acai’ at BiBi Sucos and go kick back at PePe’ point.

What are your goals as an instructor? Regional director?
As an instructor, I just look to constantly improve and stay on top of the latest techniques. As a regional director, I look forward to organizing a great team here in Missouri and to assure that any school opening in my area will be run with integrity by well qualified professional Jiu Jitsu instructors. We have the opportunity to change lives and our schools will positively impact the lives of our students as well as the communities in which we live.

What is the greatest lesson(s) you have learned as a martial artist?
You can learn something from everyone. In many cases, it might be what not to do. I have seen and been around some really great instructors and I have learned a tremendous amount. I have also been around some unscrupulous and ethically devoid instructors and have learned how not to act and treat people. Every time you step on the floor to train there is something to learn, you just have to be willing to look and accept what is there.

Do you have a favorite quote?
“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there” – Robert M. Pirsig from “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” great book, check it out!

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