Hey Zaf, Can you please introduce yourself to our readers.
My name is Zaf Niaz aka Two Times Photography UK. I am a blue belt in BJJ under Spencer Hewitt at Checkmat Essex. I am based in a town called Harlow, Essex just outside London in the UK.
How did you find out about Jiu Jitsu?
When I was a teenager, I use to grapple with a few of my friends just messing around with “self-defense” but not knowing what I was doing at the time – we thought it was just grappling. My best friend was into martial arts, mainly wing chun. He then found BJJ and tried to introduce it to me but I resisted as I found it strange how men would be so close to each other – it looked strange to me and I mocked it at first.
I used to play basketball at a high level but couldn’t progress due to getting shin splints. I was forced to stop playing at a competitive level and had to find another sport which did not involve running. I started going to gym in my mid 20s and put on some muscle, thinking strength and size mattered.
Finally I gave in and tried my first BJJ class in 2015 with my friend’s coach, Arlans Siqueira, and got tapped out left, right, and center by people half my size and instantly loved it and wanted to learn. I never looked back ever since.
Has Jiu Jitsu taught you anything over the years?
Jiu Jitsu has taught me many things; it might be quite hard to list them all but the obvious and main thing it has taught me is to be consistent. No matter how I felt, if I was in a good mood, bad mood, if I was tired, had a tough day, etc., I would turn up to training and never miss an opportunity on the days I can train. The beauty of Jiu Jitsu is regardless of your age, gender, or size you can still train but be conservative and not train at 100% every time if you are recovering from an injury or aren’t feeling your best. It’s a marathon not a sprint!
Jiu Jitsu has taught me to be more patient on and off the mat. You have to learn that sometimes things won’t happen at the pace or time you want it to and it will happen at the right time. But you have to be there to capitalize on it when the time is right like a submission or a sweep or escape. I have seen people come in who used to get very angry all the time who then have learned to become very calm and chilled.
You must be open minded and let your ego go otherwise you won’t last long. It does not matter what belt you are, how old you are, how much money you have, or your social status – everyone is equal in Jiu Jitsu and there is always something to learn and there always is going to be someone who can kick your ass. There always will be someone looking up to you without you being aware and you must set a good example at all times on and off the mat.
Jiu Jitsu always fixes things, if you have anything bad going on in your life, if you have lots of problems, if you have lots of stress or health problems Jiu Jitsu will teach you how to solve problems step by step bit by bit. You learn a lot about yourself and how to deal with things under pressure. I have seen many people walk though the door on the first day who aren’t able to interact or talk to anyone – very shy quite and looking at the floor – but they keep turning up and 6 months to 12 months later they transform and are very confident, sociable and not shy anymore.
You can’t have a bad lifestyle in Jiu Jitsu; if you are out of shape it will be quickly apparent on the mats as there is no place to hide. It has massive health benefits but it forces you to keep yourself in check and have a good diet and a balance for everything.
You are a photographer and videographer. Can you tell us how you got started with that?
So it all started in June 2019, it was my best friend’s wedding and my wife’s sister brought a new Cannon 200d. My wife told me to take some pictures with the camera at the wedding, it was an entry level DSLR which at the time I had no idea how it worked and the pictures I took were terrible lol.
The professional photographer who my friend hired for his wedding saw me with the camera in my hand and asked me if I was a photographer to which I laughed and told him I had no idea what I was doing. He then told me I can learn everything on YouTube and it was not difficult.
That was the light bulb moment and I then went away and become obsessed about learning this art and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I spent the next 6 months experimenting and learning all the new techniques from just watching online videos. Every moment I got, the camera was with me – from family gatherings to sporting events. Everywhere I went I took pictures trying different forms of photography in my spare time.
Naturally as lock-down came into effect it all stopped but towards the end of the first lock-down my friend who is a DJ had an event which he asked me to come and take pictures for and he would pay me as he had seen my work. By this stage I had naturally put photography aside and kind of forgetting about it, but I thought why not I will go along as I got nothing better to do and I will get paid for it! Also, I have nothing to lose.
After the event, the DJs and people who attended loved my work, which surprised me as I didn’t have much confidence in my work. Up to that point the compliments I received from friends and family about my work I had dismissed, as I thought they were just saying it to be polite. This really motivated me and pushed me further to take this more seriously. I then thought about which niche to focus on in photography as there are many and I didn’t enjoy all of them.
Of course, naturally, I wanted to photograph Jiu Jitsu as that is my passion and my sport. Part of the reason why I also chose this is to help grow the sport further and show the sport to entice people to take it up. Photography and Jiu Jitsu are my main hobbies and passions and when I’m doing both of them together it’s a match made in heaven and can do it everyday for the rest of my life
Tell us more about your services and how people can book them.
I offer photography and videography for Jiu Jitsu and grappling sports, of course, but I also cover other gatherings and sporting events. I do product photography and have regular work for Amazon products. I enjoy producing headshots, portrait photography, as well as lifestyle photography. I love to do weddings also. I have done many promo videos for gyms, highlight videos for athletes, as well as instructional videos. The best way to book anything is just send me a message on my website or Instagram with what you’re looking for and I will be happy to help.
How did COVID-19 affect you? How did you keep your motivation?
I have been very lucky during the pandemic and very grateful to have everything and not been affected much during the time as I have another job and photography/videography is not my main source of income. I am very lucky to be surrounded by amazing family and friends who support me in my passion.
I stayed motivated by meeting the most amazing people through Jiu Jitsu visiting various gyms to capture photo and videos of high-level athletes, including working with the legend himself, Roger Gracie.
Tell us more about the BJJ scene in the UK, how popular is the sport there?
The level of UK BJJ is very high and definitely the highest in Europe and slowly catching up to America and Brazil. It is very popular in the UK and is growing year on year and there are many new students enrolling as the UK has many high-level athletes and coaches to aspire to. The UK also has some of the best grappling shows like Polaris and GrappleFest. Compared to other sports it is still relatively small and there is still a lot of work to be done for the general public to recognize Jiu Jitsu as a sport – as is likely the case in many other countries.
Where do you see BJJ going in the next 10 years?
BJJ has a bright future and I can see it going strength to strength. As the pandemic begins to ease and when things go back to normal, competitions and events can go back to showcasing the talent to inspire future generations to take on the sport as well as local competitions.
There are many coaches and athletes working away to develop and grow the sport who are the unsung heroes who don’t get noticed much but are making an impact in their local communities. An athlete can begin to make a living from Jiu Jitsu but there is still not enough money in the sport and I believe that is an aspect which needs improvement massively to make it more appealing – especially in the UK as we are still way behind America in this aspect for sure.
Lets not beat around the bush – Jiu Jitsu is not the most exciting sport to watch, even if you are a Jiu Jitsu nerd, as most fights can be boring due to stalling and the points system. This has always been the case with Jiu Jitsu and mostly the reason why its not become mainstream. There are events organisers who are aware of this issue who are trying to address it by putting on fights/tournaments with new ideas to make it more exciting for the fan to engage with.
Would you like to give any advice to our readers that would help them either on the mat or in their lives?
I think the most important thing is to have fun and be in an environment that you are happy with. If you are not happy then find something that will make you happy and do that as much as possible. Train as much as you can and be open to learning everything.
Everyone has their own journey and has their own responsibilities so don’t compare yourself to other people – everyone has their own path. Don’t be an asshole on the mat to lower belts, remember we were all once there, and try to help them out when you can as they are the future of the sport. Osss
We care about Jiu Jitsu so much that we decided to create this page for all the people like us – that eat, breath and live the Jiu Jitsu Lifestyle! We truly hope our content will make every one of your days better, on the mat and off the mat!