Hi, Lyubo. It is a pleasure to meet you here in BJJ Winter Week. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Hello, nice to meet you too. I am a wrestler from Bulgaria. I come from a small village south-west in Bulgaria, called Kochan. As it’s a Bulgarian tradition to start training from an early age, I started first with outdoor wrestling and that’s from where my passion for wrestling came. Also, one of my cousins, Alben Kumbarov, was a great wrestler and he won third place in the European championship in Ankara in 1988.

The way I started with wrestling is actually a very funny story. During one Funday, wrestling for children was organized and I was there with my parents. I heard an announcement that whoever wants to fight can go to the referee table and sign up. So, I sneaked from my parents and went to sign up for wrestling. However, at that time when a child got lost, the parents had no other way of finding it than going to the announcer who would help them look for the child. So, my parents couldn’t find me and decided to go to the announcer. But as my father was walking towards the announcer, he heard my name being called to come out and wrestle.

I also used to wrestle in our neighborhood and at school as we had to fight in order to survive. So, I used to fight with other kids and when I got home, I fought with my dad. Then, when I was about 12 years old, my dad saw that I was a bit of a troubled child and it was difficult to handle me, and asked me whether I wanted to apply to the best sports school in the capital. After the preliminary examinations, I ended up in second place and got accepted. I studied there for 6 years and I used to train twice a day. The schedule was very good as we used to wake up at 7, start with school at 7:30 and have 3 academic lessons. Then, from 10:30 until 12:30 we used to train, shower and continue with lessons from 1 o’clock to 4:30. Next, we had half an hour to get ready and get back to training until 7. Finally, we had dinner and went to bed. But that’s how you improve. For example, people from the UK now complain that they come from abroad and get smashed. You cannot compare as we had trained twice daily. When I got accepted into the Bulgarian national team, we used to train three to four times a day. That is the only way to enjoy success.

During my time at the sports school, I won a lot of competitions, including being 4 times Bulgarian National Champion and I’ve won some international competitions. Being part of the Bulgarian national team was a great experience and I still use the knowledge I have collected then. Then, I got accepted to the National Sports Academy, where I studied for two years, and I went to the States on the Work & Travel program.

While I was in America, I worked as a lifeguard, then in construction and building roads in Pennsylvania. Eventually, a friend of mine who used to be in the Bulgarian national team lived in New York for 17 years and knew the wrestling community there. So, she contacted a college, called Colby Community College, in Kansas which was looking for a wrestler of my weight. They said that I can go and if I beat the other guys, they would give me a full scholarship. This happened in the 2005/2006 academic year. So, I went there, smashed all three of my opponents, they offered me a full scholarship and an opportunity to change my status from Work and Travel visa to Student visa. There I learned a lot, especially about American style wrestling.

You are a wrestling coach. So, can you tell us how did you find out about wrestling and a bit about your development?

After I graduated from Colby Community College, my wife came and said that she wanted to study dentistry and I had to come back. I had other offers from other universities to continue wrestling for them. But it’s good because I had the chance to live there and experience education in the States since it is very expensive.

In 2009, I came back with my wife to Bulgaria. We lived in Varna for one year where I continued training with the Varna wrestling team. The Bulgarian national MMA team was based there. So, I decided to go there and try it. During my first time there I smashed all of the people since MMA was quite different than it is today.

Afterward, my wife and I started thinking about moving abroad and decided to go to the UK. The first thing I did when we moved there was to head to City, University of London. The first shock I received there was that I had to pay to fight because as I was a member of the Bulgarian national team I never paid for anything. My focus was only on wrestling until then, but the rule was to pay. So, I had only 50 pounds and decided to give them all in order to fight. After only two weeks they saw my skills and that I know different wrestling styles and asked me whether I could teach them. They saw the potential and recognized it immediately.

So, from there I competed in the British nationals and other tournaments and started making connections. For example, now in London, there is a private school called Marathon Science School, which has about 300 students which I coach wrestling and PE.

You are (were) Roger Gracie’s wrestling coach. Can you please tell us more about Roger Gracie HQ in London?

I had only heard about BJJ, but I didn’t know what it is until the time came to meet Roger Gracie. So, while I was teaching in the LDG Fitness Centre in East London, one of the guys there, Marcus Collinson, used to bring three of his children to the gym. He was friends with Roger Gracie’s father and they were both black belts. At the time, in 2013, Roger fought against Tim Kennedy int the UFC. So, they knew that Roger had to learn wrestling as his skills had to improve and they were looking for a wrestling coach. Marcus recommended to me and asked me whether I want to train a BJJ fighter without me knowing who I’m going to train. He told me his name but I didn’t know him. Then, one of my friends who is obsessed with BJJ told me who Roger is and who was I supposed to coach.

I taught Roger many techniques and he used these techniques to take Tim Kennedy down. After that, he invited me to start coaching at his academy in London, which is one of the best academies in the world. I accepted and it was the reason I became more known and my name has expanded more. I am very grateful for the opportunity he gave me. It is unbelievable when people feel the style and the technique in wrestling. So, if you want to be good at BJJ, you also have to know wrestling and mix it up.

How important is wrestling for BJJ?

A lot of people ask me which is better, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu or wrestling, but you cannot say which one is better. In my opinion, it’s best if you combine them. It’s best mixing them up. You can do wrestling on itself, but BJJ is better if you combine it with wrestling and you can benefit from it. My experience as a wrestling coach has shown me that people who started wrestling alongside BJJ become better in a short period of time. I definitely recommend wrestling for people who are doing BJJ and MMA. With my good friend, Stuart Tomlinson, the co-founder of Warrior Collective, we’ve done a project and filmed a lot of videos about wrestling for BJJ and MMA. You can check it out if you’re interested.

Do you have any special diet? How do you maintain your great condition? Do you have any simple food tips for our readers?

Whether you are physically active or not involved in sports, you have to always maintain a good diet. You have to try and maintain a healthy lifestyle. I don’t restrict myself from eating anything but I always try to keep it healthy. Everything is fine as long as it’s not pork and alcohol. Your diet will depend on whether you want to lose weight or maintain your condition. If you want to lose weight, besides restricting yourself from certain food you always have to have someone to support you. You can eat a great amount of food, but if you stay active you can maintain good condition. You should always find a place where there is someone better than you as that’s the challenge. So, when you have a challenge you always grow and improve. Where there is no challenge you will stay at the same level or drop.

Do you have a favorite submission/control? If yes, what is it?

The front headlock system is my favorite as it is an amazing combination and you have to know how to operate from that position. If you can master this technique, it’s great. Another favorite submission is a variation of a rear naked choke. The wrestling/grappling is vast and you can choose what you like. You have to enjoy something in order to do it. It might be the best submission in the world, but if you don’t enjoy it, you’ll never approach it.

What are your future goals?

Throughout the years I have established my name in the UK and in the London area where I’ve held many seminars and training. I coach at Roger Gracie’s academy and other BJJ academies, such as New BJJ School academy. I don’t try to keep everything under one umbrella because you got to share the knowledge. If you want to develop, you got to be involved in many places and try to spread the knowledge to as many people as possible. I have recently received an offer to become their wrestling and grappling coach in UFC Gym, they opened a gym in London and have their headquarters in Nottingham. Which is a huge opportunity as the UFC is one of the biggest organizations in the world. I am honored to become one of the coaches there. Another plan is to travel and spread the knowledge around the world and teach in different BJJ and MMA Camps.