US Special Forces vets dedicated to supporting fellow veterans through grappling, community service
MCKINNEY, TX – Alan Shebaro has already lived more in his few years on this earth than most of us can hope to accomplish in one lifetime. If you have never met him, odds are you have seen him at a Jiu Jitsu tournament because he stands out due to his size alone standing over 6’ and 230lbs. He spent his teenage years being a rebellious skateboarder. Upon the realization that the life he was living would present few opportunities; he chose to join the US Army. While in the military; he served as a Mechanic, Drill Instructor, and was even a member of the Special Forces where he made bonds that still last to this day. Now you will find him teaching and training at his Tier 1 Training Facility in McKinney, Texas six days a week.
His day begins well before most would even consider it day time, 4:00 am. Alan arrives at the gym and has a Four Hour Energy shot chased by a Red Bull, he waste no time gearing up to begin his power lifting. He says he starts early so he can get in some strength and conditioning before he teaches his first class of the day at 6:00 am. He continues his workout with his 6:00 am class by pulling sleds, lifting Atlas Stones and hardly taking any breaks. One thing is for certain his work ethic sets him apart from others and proves why he is a born leader and multiple time Jiu Jitsu Champion. Later in the day he teaches and trains at noon followed by teaching privates to the likes of multiple members of his school including triple amputee Joey Bozik. Shebaro then teaches the kids class where they focus on chaining multiple moves together following up with some sparring at the end of class; he then teaches a fundamentals class followed by an advanced class to round out his 17 hour day of work. Alan Shebaro has a distinct style that has helped him carve his niche in the sport of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu since he opened his doors in 2011. He started with just 6 students and now has over 80 students and three affiliate gyms which include Ion Jiu Jitsu, Sasser BJJ and Grip Game. TXMMA recently had the privilege to spend a few days with Professor Shebaro to find out how he got his start, what he is passionate about and what his plans are with his new non-profit We Defy which he and Joey Bozik operate.
In his own Words: Alan Shebaro and the purpose behind the We Defy Foundation
I spent 15 years in the military, with a little over 10 years active and time in the National Guard and Reserves. The initial reason that I joined the military was to get direction in life; I really wasn’t getting anywhere. My grandfather, uncles and dad were all military, so some of it was to make my parents proud. When I enlisted, I was a mechanic. They had convinced me that once I got in; I could change jobs, which was not the case. I did my time there and came off and was reserves. After that, I was a Drill Instructor. That was right about the time that 9/11 happened. I dropped out of school and fought to get out of my contract with the Army. They wanted me to go to Fort Sill for two years to be a drill instructor, and all I could think was, “I want to get into a fight on this one”. I had to do time in National Guard in Mississippi, and I was driving eight and a half hours one way so I could make drill to go to selection; I did that for eight months. I finally got a date for selection. I made it thru selection, came home and packed up and left. I was stationed at Fort Bragg, NC. The first day I signed into Fort Bragg, the second day I signed into my Battalion and the third day I was on a flight. I finally go to meet my team once I was in Iraq, and the very first night there; we got into a fire fight. We didn’t waste any time. I still keep in touch with those guys to this day. They are very dear to my heart, and we call each other brothers for a reason. We had some bad times out there, but I would not change a thing about it.
When I was in the military, we did a hit on a house. We had to bring this guy in alive. After going thru two rooms, we finally found the guy. I was in there with one other person who is guarding the door, and we still had to clear the house. The rest of the guys are going thru and clearing the house, keep in mind at this time I’m abut 245lbs, been a black belt for about 3 years, and since I was a “Breacher” I had a kit on that weighed about 75lbs. Shots go off in one of the rooms and I could not see my partner that was in the room with me out of my peripheral so I turned over to look. As I did that they guy who I was holding down and was only about 150lbs bucked to get me off. I know how to hold someone down who even had his hands tied. For that instance I felt myself falling back and it felt like an eternity. I was fighting tooth and nail to bring myself back forward, in reality it was probably only a split second but in my mind it felt like an eternity. All I could think of after it was over is if I would have fallen on my back I have all of these flashbangs attached to my chest if he would have pulled the pin I would have been dead. That day changed my entire outlook on fighting in general. Now I ask one simple question, if you are smaller or bigger than your opponent do you want to be on top or on bottom? So whatever you do when you compete or you train never give up a position. The last thing I want to have on my conscience is to have one of my guys fighting for their life in a real situation and let go of a dominant position. Thinking that they could hit their head on a curb or some object because they pull guard because it is habit in training. So now we spend a week out of every month doing takedowns. We do still focus on the guard because if you end up in that position I want my students to be just as comfortable, but we are always looking to be back on top. I have a saying that I often repeat to my guys and even have it up on the board in the gym, Think Street Train Sport.
I have had someone try to insult me by describing my style as “Frankenstein Jiu Jitsu” but to me that is a hell of a compliment. I have taken Judo from Sina Hadad at Ironside MMA, Wrestling from Yousef and Mohsen (Alirezaei) at Star and I try to mix it together to make my own style. I also focus on the “bastard child” of submissions the foot locks and leg locks because if I can break your leg how are you going to continue to fight?
The main way I would describe my teaching style is Unique, Different and Awkward. If you want someone to pet you on the head and tell you you’re doing a good job while you are sucking ass, this is not the place for you. One thing I hate is an instructor telling someone they are doing so good and in reality they are not. If they would fix the thing they are doing wrong then they could be such a better student, everything is self-correcting. I have a way of teaching that has been criticized but I’m not going to change. The people that stick with me like it and they have fun while training, at the end of the day if you’re not having fun what is the point?
I try to make training as fun as possible while also making them understand the steps that are required to do the technique correctly. For instance when I have a student do an arm bar from the closed guard I want them to understand every step that way when they make a mistake it is easily corrected. Also by breaking everything down they understand the counter to the move. This all comes from when I was in Jumpmaster school; they would have us go over the same technique for two day and it was the most boring thing in the world. However you would develop that muscle memory where it was second nature and at the end they would test us. We had done it so many times that finding 5 mistakes in something you were supposed to be inspecting was easy.
When I started training Jiu Jitsu it was the worst experience I ever had. The instructor would show five different moves and I would only be able to remember one. If you had questions about the technique he would tell me that is something for a private; it was the biggest scam ever. I did learn from that experience that I would never want my students to go thru that. The way I teach is in series, we start with a move and we build on it. I have 6 year olds that can do a 22 position series where adults get lost, but they have done it so many times that when I add another step into it not one of the kids gets lost.
Working with Joey Bozik has made me analyze position and with 17 years of training Jiu Jitsu I have never gone outside of my scope. When I stared working with him, it was an entirely different dynamic. Everything from working angles to leverage and angles and grips. For him it is the same sport but it has kind of reinvented itself in a sense. It has actually helped out my game because we have to come up with stuff that is not traditional but works great and I have implemented some of it in my game as well. With him I have to think of positions where I’m not moving my legs and focus more on moving my hips to maintain and advance positions. It has really opened my eyes on the vast amount of alternatives that the sport has to offer. Everyone is going to develop their own style or system off of past injuries, weight or flexibility; everything you can possibly imagine plays a part in your Jiu Jitsu game.
I believe that I have finally found my passion in life. Not with just Jiu Jitsu, but in working with Veterans in the non-profit We Defy; I didn’t open a school to become a millionaire. With the non-profit, it’s not about how many people are coming thru the door. It’s about how many lives I can change. The saying, “Jiu Jitsu saved my life” is true. I have had so many people come thru with all different forms of PTSD and heartbreaking stories. Once they are able to break thru that with Jiu Jitsu and the environment it provides, it allows them to be able to cope and live with what happened to them. Having someone like Joey Bozik here has influenced me in my own path, and also has changed so many lives of people around him. He is an inspiration just having him on the mat.
With We Defy, I want our organization to be 100% transparent. I don’t want to be like so many other organizations where 20% goes to help people and 80% goes to the corporation. We are working on a sponsorship program where the Soldier gets sponsored for a year, and they can re-up each year. On average, it costs about $10,000. This provides them with their uniform(s), two privates a week for six months (so they can feel comfortable with going in the group class), and the monthly tuition for classes. We also have satellite locations that work with us. People like Piet Wilhelm in Oklahoma and Mike Moses in DC; who are excited about working with veterans instead of just making money. The fishing and hunting trips that are provided to veterans are great. The problem though is the time in between those trips; When the guys have to sit around alone waiting for the next one. With We Defy, we are looking to get them involved with something that provides an outlet and keeps them busy all year long. A place where they can be in a family environment; like they had in the military.
To work with We Defy as an instructor, we require that the potential instructor must be a brown belt or above and must have the patience to work with the Veteran. In the future, we plan on creating a video library so that all the instructors involved can find out how another instructor made something work for a double amputee. That way we are not re-inventing the wheel every time. My ultimate goal for this program is to create a network of gyms throughout the US, and it doesn’t matter what affiliation the gym falls under. This ensures, that ultimately, the Veteran will be taken care of.