To describe Georgij Rogolev as driven is a bit of an understatement, Georgij sets himself a goal and lets nothing get in his way of achieving it.
He’s the current champion of Europe in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – he’d set himself the goal of winning that title before he was 30 and at the beginning of this year he did just that.
But just ten years ago Georgij was facing an uncertain future. A young father, he worked in the construction industry in his native Latvia. The worldwide financial crisis had hit his country hard and Georgij could not find work.
“I had my family to support and I needed to work to get the money to feed them,” he says. A friend suggested coming to England and that’s what Georgij did, first to London and then after a couple of months he travelled south to Hastings and decided to settle here.
Georgij had used what little money he had just to get here but despite being unable to speak any English he found work within days and not just one job but two. It was hard going, he describes working in a laundry near Bexhill by day and then walking the length of the seafront to get to his evening job in Hastings old town – his focus and determination had kicked in and Georgij was on his way.
At this stage in his life Georgij still hadn’t found Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or BJJ as it’s known. In Latvia he had played Volleyball and was a champion break dancer.
“I’d always wanted to be a gymnast,” he says, but explains that his parents could not afford to pay for the classes. Once in Hastings he wanted a competitive focus and heard about BJJ. He met Paul Bridges – who now runs the Gracie Barra club in the town centre – and started training with him.
Together they trained at Fighting Tigers gym on the Castleham Industrial Estate but after a while decided to go their separate ways, Georgij taking up a role as an instructor for the classes at Fighting Tigers.
Georgij had already established himself on the competitive circuit, he was an English Championship bronze medalist but he wanted more, he says: “I rarely mention bronze and silver medals as they don’t matter much to me,” he had his eyes firmly fixed on winning and he was prepared to put the effort in and do what was necessary to take him all the way to the top.
“The two passions in my life were Jiu Jitsu and computer games, there was one game I used to play a lot, I was almost addicted to it!” he says.
In Georgij’s way of dealing with things he decided that if he was going to be successful at Jiu Jitsu the gaming had to stop, and it did.
Working with a friend he then put himself under enormous pressure to start winning. He’d train for two hours in the morning before work, spend a day on a construction site and then be back in the gym from 6pm until 10pm and that was five days a week, every week! Sundays were usually spent travelling to competitions, he was totally dedicated to the cause and completely focussed on his goal of winning the English title.
“People laughed at me and told me I couldn’t do it but when people tell me I can’t do something it just makes me more determined to prove them wrong,” he says.
Determination paid off and he lifted the English Championship in 2015, the British title a year later and then this year his crowning glory, the European title. To get to the standard required to win the European title Georgij was lucky enough to find sponsorship from Elincom Electrical Solutions and Mr & Mrs B’s Sauces but he still had to hold down a full time job to support his precious family. Two local gyms, Stackz in Bexhill and Raw Instinct in Hastings gave him free access to train.
Georgij has a very particular way of training.
He competes regularly and he works on a strategy for his fights, he visualises the match and how it should go. When he comes back from a competition he analyses his performance and measures it against his plan, identifies the areas he needs to improve then goes to the next competition and goes through the same process all over again. He understands too how his mood can affect his performance and ensures his mental approach to training is as rigorous as the physical.
He says: “I understand why performance athletes use sports psychologists, I understand the benefits they can bring to your performance, the effect they can have in helping you overcome self doubt and raise your self-esteem,” he says.
Despite his experience Georgij remains fascinated by the mechanics of his sport, how technique and leverage can overcome size. He wasn’t impressed by the sport the first time he saw it, he says: “I spent some time watching Jiu Jitsu, initially I thought it looked like two men lying on the floor hugging and not doing very much. After a while I did a session and at the end did some sparring and a guy much smaller and lighter than me tied me up in knots, I couldn’t do a thing, I couldn’t move, I felt helpless.
“I though if he could do that to me without a size and strength advantage what could I achieve if I learned the techniques and trained properly?”
That attitude stood Georgij in good stead because the man he fought in the final of the European championships, the man who stood between him and his cherished goal, was 40kg heavier than Georgij but by employing good technique and using leverage he overcame that weight difference to win the title.
He has had tremendous support along the way: “I’d like to say thanks to First Generation Gym in Eastbourne and especially Tolly Plested, Alex Salisbury, Matt Langridge, River O’Calaghan and Jack Duffy for all the help they gave me with my preparation for the European Championship, all of them are British Champions in BJJ too.”
Now Georgij has returned to teaching running classes five days a week from his 1066 Grappling Guild gym in Bexhill Road, next door to the Coleman’s drinks depot. He’s working with a group of fighters training for a major tournament at the end of the year and between now and then he has two tournaments planned for them where they can devise their strategy try it our in competition, refine it and go again, giving them the best possible chance of victory come the big day.
Georgij’s story is a fascinating one, at one stage he decided he wanted to train with one of the top Brazilian Jiu Jitsu gyms in the world based in Sao Paulo in Brazil, being Georgij he bought himself a ticket and spent two months soaking in the atmosphere of a world class gym and learning the skills and techniques which he believes elevated his performance to a different level.
Throughout his journey he has had the complete support of his wife and now teenage daughter but now he has his European title he has promised them that the famous Georgij focus will be turned a little more towards them.