My BJJ Black Belt Lineage

Kanō Jigorō → Tomita Tsunejirō → Mitsuyo “Count Koma” Maeda → Hélio Gracie → Rolls Gracie & Carlos “Carlinhos” Gracie Jr → Rigan Machado → Chris Haueter → Matt Thornton → Karl Tanswell → Chris Coltrane → Simon Kenny

My martial arts training began around 1980, when I was aged about 12. Back in those days Kung Fu was still a big thing due to the popularity of Bruce Lee and the kung fu movies of the 70’s and 80’s. Other traditional martial arts like Karate and Judo were still popular but not as much as Kung Fu. Thai Boxing started to become more well known around this time and then around 1984 there was a massive explosion of interest in Ninjitsu, after the popularity of films such as Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja starring Sho Kosugi and American Ninja starring Michael Dudikoff.

Simon Kenny, Steve Powell and Karl Tanswell circa 1993

With my instructors, Steve Powell and Karl Tanswell

I went through a phase in all of these martial arts but it wasn’t until around 1990 when I found a Jeet Kune Do class taught by Steve Powell that I really began to take my training a little more seriously. Through Steve, I met a man who would become my instructor and one of my closest friends, the great Karl Tanswell. I started taking private lessons in JKD with Karl around 1993 or 1994 which was also around the time we got to witness the very first UFC event.

Like with many people, witnessing Royce Gracie dominate bigger stronger opponents from all different disciplines using the then unheard of (certainly here in the UK) art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was a turning point in my martial arts journey.  I am sure a small number of people in the UK had heard of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but I hadn’t and neither had Karl or if he had heard of it, he certainly wasn’t getting access to anybody who was teaching it. 

Seeing Royce beat everybody made everyone question their training and want to find out and learn more about grappling based arts. Because we didn’t have access to a BJJ coach we started training in Ne Waza, the groundwork element of Judo. Karl started training with Steve Pullen and I started training with Mike Gregory, we also started doing a little wrestling and shoot wrestling.

I stopped training about 1995 for around five years whilst Karl continued to train and teach. He eventually got his blue belt from Royce Gracie during a seminar he did in England, and then around 1998 he started bringing SBGi founder Matt Thornton over from the USA for seminars. In 1999 Karl became the president of SBG UK and in 2007 was awarded his black belt from Matt Thornton.

I started back training with Karl around 2008 and was awarded my blue belt from him in June 2012 at the ripe old age of 43. It was at this time I started BJJ Over 40.

I received my purple belt from Karl in December 2014 and also took part in Karls first instructor training program, first becoming an assistant coach and then a certified SBG coach.

Blue Belt Promotion June 2012

Purple Belt Promotion December 2014

Karl sadly passed away in 2018. Before he passed, he expressed his desire that SBG UK be taken over and headed up by Matt Inman, one of Karls closest friends. Matt had a successful career in professional MMA and received his black belt in BJJ from Karl in 2014, so he was the natural successor.

In December 2019 Matt Inman awarded me my brown belt. Receiving this belt from Matt was such an honour but it also a very emotional moment and one that I will never forget.

At SBG purple belts and above are awarded belts after an ironman, which basically means that you have to roll to submission with every person in the gym, from white belt right through to black belt, this can be upwards of 40-50 rolls and can take a couple of hours. This is not how you earn your belt, this is just a right of passage after the coach has determined that you are ready for promotion. My brown belt ironman was the toughest one I did, tougher than my purple belt when I was younger and tougher than my black belt when I was a few years older. It was tough because I couldnt stop thinking about Karl and him not being there.

Brown Belt Promotion December 2019

In November 2022 I entered my first BJJ competition in over 4 years, the No Gi Euros in Rome. I entered the masters 5 middleweight division at brown belt and won gold in my diviosion and silver in the open weight.

No Gi Euros 2022 Silver and Gold

No Gi Euros 2022 Openweight Silver

In January 2023 I won silver medal in the Gi Euros and was awarded my black belt on the podium by my coach Chris Coltrane. I also particpated in a black belt ironman a few weeks later when two of my training partners and coaches were also awarded their black belts.

Black Belt Promotion January 29th 2023

Black Belt Iron Man February 20th 2023

Receiving my black belt in Brazilain Jiu Jitsu was not something I expected or something I felt like I deserved at the time. Even now, some 4 months later, I still have a hard time accepting it or feeling like I am ready, especially when I train with purple or brown belts who seem to be much better at jiu jitsu than I am. But it is common for recently promoted belts of all colours to feel that they are not worthy, we just have to trust our coaches on this. There are times that I roll and I feel like a black belt and there are times when I roll and I feel like a purple belt at best, there are even occasions when I feel like a complete novice and just want to put a white belt back on or give up BJJ altogether.