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Combat Base UK is a group of like-minded gyms, clubs and academies whose primary aim is to provide a friendly yet professional environment in which to correctly learn authentic Brazilian Jiu Jiu.

The instructors and coaches are all well trained in the sport, self defence and art of BJJ, all of them having trained a number of years with outstanding instructors and all have competed in a variety of formats to test the efficiency of this exceptional martial art.

As the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu continues to evolve and grow so does Combat Base UK"

Or how my coach, Chris Haueter, sums it up;
"Combat Base is a loose collection of practitioners of the martial arts who decline to participate in the common regimented structures found in "affliliations"  


The History Of Combat Base UK

It was 20 years ago this very month that I first saw the UFC. I had read about UFC 1 in an American martial arts magazine but it wasn’t released on video to start with over here so when I got the video for UFC 2 I couldn’t wait to see it.

At the time I was running a successful Taekwondo school and personally I was also training a little Hapkido, kickboxing and dabbling in a very little known Korean martial art that looked like JKD and had some weapon work in there too.

Basically I had my own all round fighting style; strikes, takedowns, joint locks and sticks too.

So UFC 2, enter Pat Smith the Taekwondoing, Hapkidoing, kickboxing guy, I obviously wanted him to win so it would validate my choice of martial arts and prove I was on the right track. He started really well, 2 guillotines and elbowing a ninja to death put him into the finals against this Gracie guy. This is what I really wanted to see. We all know how that turned out!

So now, of course, I had to learn grappling. I started Judo and Traditional Jiu Jitsu for a start then managed to acquire some back up video tapes [1] of actual fights and instructionals coming out of Brazil and so it began.

At this point the internet [2] was not yet in full effect, so videos and snail mail was all we had.

Used to love the postman turning up with my videos, I had a load of footage of vale tudo fights in Brazil, loads of gi matches and the Renzo/Kukuk instructionals that had actual fight footage on showing how the techniques being taught really worked. I got some Kazeka Muniz tapes too and even though he was regarded as a fraud I thought his techniques were pretty good.

A bunch of us would stay behind after class and just beat the crap out of each other, we didn’t really know how to train but was a lot of fun.

So we muddled along trying to piece everything together in the constantly changing jigsaw that was Jiu Jitsu, at the time a lot of the stuff we were doing was a vale tudo [3] nature and involved striking, takedowns and nasty submissions. Professors Trial and Error were always there to offer their thoughts.

It had to be noted as well at this point that we had no mats. We were renting a church hall and after going through their cupboards we found an old carpet that we thought would be great for training on. All takedowns were done onto a crappy old carpet laid on a solid wood floor. For one of my fights I had one of my students throwing leg kicks at me so I could practice takedowns against kicking. Every time he kicked my thigh I clinched and took him down onto the carpet, this was a live drill so by the end of it we were both battered.

To add to the confusion I then got a copy of the inaugural Mundials in 1996, I couldn’t wait to see all the top competitors fight. Didn’t realise at the time that I was watching Sperry, Gurgel, Liborio and Roleta. I remember being totally confused when I saw Royler (I think) hold side control then just stand up and start celebrating like crazy. I rewound the tape and couldn’t see how he had won. I watched it 10 times and saw no submission so what the hell happened?

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce to you “points”. This was to be my introduction to ‘sport’ Jiu Jitsu, time limits and points. Wow, a whole other side of Jiu Jitsu just opened up to me.

Fast forward to October 1997 that we first got to train with real Brazilians and they were real Gracies too! They were Carley and Carlion, 2 of the 21 children from Carlos Gracie Snr, these 2 guys were really close to the actual source of pure Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. First session was ok but a little fussy and totally was not what I thought it would be.

Late 1997, I got a phone call out of the blue from a guy called Andy Norman, I had never met him before but he got my phone number from the local library [4] as I had a poster there advertising my Taekwondo classes. I had a good long conversation with Andy who seemed like a really cool guy. He had just been training in LA at the Machado Academy and met a guy called Chris Haueter who was now coming to UK to do a seminar. I had never heard of a ‘Chris Haueter’ before and as this was pre-general internet days I couldn’t just google him [5]

We went to the first seminar with Chris and boom, totally blown away, the guy was awesome. His Jiu Jitsu was nothing like the Gracie stuff we had done and so I was hooked. Chris iron-manned
[6] everyone that was there no matter how big they were, no matter what style they were or what grade.

I had to be able to do that, I wanted to be able to do iron-man like that all from a guy that I had never heard of up until that point. If someone had asked me about the ‘dirty dozen’ at that point I would have known Charles Bronson and James Coburn but would have struggled to name the rest.

I was always taught that if you sit back and wait for things to happen, they won’t. Not true, I got a phone call out of the blue from someone I never met to train with someone I never heard of that turned out to be life changing. Luck? Fate? Doesn’t matter, the fact it did happen is more important than how it happened!! Then got the opportunity to train with Royce Gracie, the man who inspired us to train; the guy with the brass balls performances in the early UFCs. Couldn’t wait.

Disappointed is not the word, actually it is the word. He was the opposite of Haueter; didn’t like his teaching style, was very stand offish and had zero personality. I told myself he was just having a bad day, jet lagged or something, I would give him another chance one day which I did and same result.

I would just continue to train with our own guys, Andy Norman and train with Chris Haueter when he was in UK. For now Professors Trial and Error would be my main teachers.

1999 brought my first meeting with Marco Ruas, a totally world class fighter who had won UFC 7 with great performances of striking and grappling and is considered one of the first guys to be that well rounded. I had also seen a grainy tape of Marco fighting the Gracies top fighter Pinduka. The fight was somehow scored a draw earning Marco and Luta Livre [7] a ton of respect. This became my introduction to no gi, proper leg locks and anti-Jiu Jitsu techniques. Marco is still one of my favourite guys that I met in martial arts; he gave us quite a bit of time and did some photos with him for Combat Magazine.

He once showed me a kimura/head scissors combo and I was so stuck all I could move was my eyelids, I tapped but not sure what to, everything below my eye line hurt.

I have always kept in mind his anti-Jiu Jitsu and practiced my leg locks diligently, some would say to the detriment of my guard passing but whatever. Anyway I would rather have 1 arm lock and 1 leg lock than 2 arm locks.

BJJ tourneys were not yet to hit the UK so we dived into competing in Ju Jutsu Kumite [8] that had been started by a group called NJJKC under the guidance of a guy called Ross Iannocarro. Ross was an exceptional martial artist and all round good guy; he really helped us a lot. IIRC he also turned down using the Gracie name, he wanted to strengthen his own reputation, not piggy back on someone else’s.

We had trained every chance we could, gone to countless seminars, competed in whatever had any kind of grappling in it and generally just dedicated so much time to Jiu Jitsu then at a seminar with Haueter we were rolling when he asked “has anyone promoted you before? Even one stripe” I said no, he was my coach now whether he liked it or not and I was waiting for him. So he promoted me to blue belt and to make things even better, Helen was promoted too.

We then threw ourselves more into training than ever; did loads of seminars, had guys come to our gym to put on classes and listen to their stories and yet they seemed bound. We were offered affiliation to the big franchises [9] but it just didn’t appeal joining someone else, the franchises were really controlling but Haueter’s Jiu Jitsu was free. I wasn’t bothered about success by association so we decided we would start our own team; especially as the opportunity to train with Andy was diminishing.

So, we had trained Traditional Ju Jutsu, Judo and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, we had been graded in all of them; we had done the NJJKC coaching courses and competed so now seemed a great time to start our own group.

So we founded Combat Base in early 2000; even though Combat Base was founded by Helen and myself, it gives a healthy shout out to Chris Haueter as he is credited with naming that particular position. It all seemed very apt as we about to move into our first real academy, a base from which to practice combat. 

Due to a miscommunication we missed the chance to train with Chris Haueter for a year or so but that gap was filled by Matt Thornton, the tallest guy ever, president of Straight Blast Gym and one of Haueter’s brown belts at the time, Matt insisted on us doing no gi too, loads of clinch work and wrestling, something I wasn't bothered about at the time but see the value of it now and thank him for that.

Matt was getting some recognition for questioning some of the more traditional martial arts, Jeet Kune Do especially, which the concept of Aliveness. I loved how he broke things down into very simple terms and taught concepts as well as techniques; he had a very straightforward approach that cut through a lot of the crap that some guys were still suffering.

Matt became a regular visitor to the UK bringing with him other talented martial artists too, John Frankl to name but one.
John showed me a couple of half guard things that revolutionised my half guard game that I still do to this day.

I also remember John arm dragging me to death before it was a part of everyone’s arsenal.

I then achieved some novelty value. I had 3 students promoted above me. I was the coach and a blue belt at the time when I had Helen, Pete and Varqa promoted to purple belt. I had people all over saying what a brilliant coach I was because I had taught some students to be a higher grade than me. The novelty value is I had never met these guys that knew I was such a good coach!!

Then I also got a phone call from someone asking who would be taking the classes now I wasn't the highest grade!! Seriously.

One of my proudest days came after training one Saturday when Steve Muckle (who had travelled from Northumberland every weekend for 3 years to train, compete and attend seminars) told me he was officially going to open his own club and wanted to use the Combat Base name. Wow, I was kind of taken aback but very flattered too that he wanted to use our name. I agreed of course so he let me out of his side control, at one point I had my emails routed there

Many years later and feeling very emotional I was so proud to present him with a black belt after he had been promoted by Helen/Haueter, Steve really deserved this belt, he is the guy who really didn’t know when to quit.

What was seemingly becoming a trait, we kind of lost touch with SBG but not before I met
Leo Kirby, we kind of hit it off right away, I guess being the same age group we had that old man cynicism. Leo had started training with Marcelo after he had persuaded Marcelo to move to Florida. At one point there was just Marcelo, Leo and 2 other guys training in his garage and Leo was getting a lot of information. He would email me daily with new techniques, ideas and Marcelo's philosophy on everything. I learned so much from that correspondence, most of the emails I have kept to this day. I even added "Leo's Page" to the old website, I don't know if anyone saw it but he laid out Marcelo's game totally complete with links to matches to fortify what was being taught.

That in itself was a great resource, I wonder how many people actually saw it?

I have since had the pleasure of going to Florida to stay at Leo's, teach a couple of classes and train a little. This is another one of those occasions where I have made a friend for life through Jiu Jitsu.

Up to this point, this had been a very satisfying period for me and yet one that can never be repeated. There is so much BJJ now in the UK that no one will have to go what we went through and because of that I am sad for you. These days it is easy to get access to great coaches, the group is full of them, YouTube and torrent sites [10] fill in any knowledge gaps but when there were just guys like Helen, Muckle, Spenna, Danny and Ryan [11] with us trying to work things out, that was real fun.

I don’t understand some people’s rush to get through belts because they really are missing the point.

Life was really good; we had more and more guys getting graded, competing and winning. We had guys competing in BJJ, submission wrestling, all levels of MMA, Judo and Sombo; just about anything you could compete in. We were having a great time; we had more and more guys wanting to affiliate so we continued to grow to what we have now.

So here we stand, 8 black belts so far with plenty more on the way including the 1st female in the UK, something the big G can never take from us. We have the structure to keep providing opportunities for our students. We have mma, gi and no gi champions with guys that have competed from every level from local interclub to Mundials and everything in between. All this has been achieved without having to sell our soul to a franchise, this has been hard work from everyone involved and for that I am very proud. Knowing that I also have Haueter there to call on too if I need any advice, which I often do. He has helped me a lot with the various problems you encounter along the way.

I have been fortunate to travel, train and teach in a bunch of different places, home and abroad, have met some truly wonderful people and had some great experiences through Jiu Jitsu. So this gives me the inspiration to try to help others.
I am so proud that as a group we have raised thousands of pounds for charities, really giving back to the community that so many just take from. For ourselves, our legacy is we are providing a friendly yet competitive environment for anyone to improve their lives through improved fitness, confidence, social skills and of course defensive skills.

Forget medals and titles, anyone who enhances their real life through Jiu Jitsu is a champion.

The future? Will report on that after the next 20 years or in a separate blog post.

Darren Currie
March 2014


[1] Video tapes were kind of a black tape thing on which to record images
[2] Yes children, there was life before the internet
[3] Vale tudo, sometimes called no holds barred, was the fore runner to mma and allowed just about anything 
[4] Before Facebook and internet advertising, we had to put up posters to advertise. Posters were like paper things with photos and writing on.
[5] Remember it was before internet time, instead of reading other people’s opinions about something you would have to try something yourself or meet someone yourself and make up your own mind.
[6] Iron man is not just Robert Downey Jr but a term used in Jiu JItsu when someone grapples a whole bunch of people one after the other with no rest inbetween.

[7] Luta Livre was the nemesis of BJJ
[8] A competitive format that allowed controlled striking, takedowns and submissions, competitors wore gis
[9] Franchises, like Subway but for BJJ, the big associations that kindly allow you to use their name and all they ask in return is a pile of £s every year.
[10] Neither Combat Base nor its representatives advocate the use of any illegally downloaded material regardless of how useful it may be, even if the originals are really expensive.
[11] Helen Currie, Steve Muckle, Mark Spencer, Danny Mitchell and Ryan Hunter