EPISODE 1 — Damian Smith Allegiance Academy
Feeling like you belong is one of the most powerful things you can experience. You’ll know it when you feel like you’ve found your tribe, people who are not only like you, but want the best for you and help you towards your goals. That’s what Damian created at his academy. It’s more than a place to hone jiu jitsu skills, it’s more than a mat to test your will against your opponent, it’s home. Damian nurtured a culture of belonging to one big family and that shines, particularly at the kids classes and is testament to how he got started.
What makes his achievement all the more impressive, is that he has his own family with Lenka Smith totalling four boys, including 14 year old Tyler Smith, a Jiu Jitsu champion in his own right, with a fifth child on the way! Hawke’s Bay is a wonderful place to bring up families, and he welcomes all his students like they’re part of his family and they display genuine heartfelt thanks for Allegiance Academy. It’s hard not to feel this invisible pull back to the floor.
Damian’s own switch into martial arts as a profession started as a rebellion to the ‘slave, save and retire’ rules that hadn’t delivered the promised outcome to his family and friends. “British philosopher Allen Watts said do what you do, love what you love and then one day if you do it for long enough, money will be a byproduct of doing a good job.
Live your dream, be passionate and find passion in life. Jiu Jitsu is a tool to find passion.” says Damian.
The actual moment of the switch he remembers clearly as he spent more and more time training jiu jitsu and became less and less invested in his 9–5 welding job. “I was finishing training at 11pm but there was more in me. I found you could push through barriers and boundaries. It nearly got me fired, my boss would be angry, but I had another dream.”
Hobbies don’t always make the best professions and Damian knew giving up a 9–5 job would have financial consequences and he was prepared to eat dirt to follow his dream. “We simplified life, moved into a single bedroom flat with my son in the bedroom, we slept in the lounge. We dug dirt and grew vegetables because we wanted organic vegetables and didn’t want to buy them. We did it backwards and invested our time instead of money. We swapped money for time and we figured how to get money on the way.”
While influence and respect comes to Damian, he owes much of his own personal growth to his own circle of mentors, and that’s something that struck me within minutes of our interview. Damian had surrounded himself with the best possible minds on the planet, even if that meant tuning out from what was happening in his direct vicinity, “Worst case scenario for me was I could go back and get a job as an engineer doing welding, drink Jack Daniels and smoke cigarettes.”
John Will was one of the first 12 people worldwide to receive a black belt as a non Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner that he says influenced his journey. Rigan Machado, an 8th degree red and black belt, is the second person. ‘The skinny guy in the pyjamas’ is often how Jiu Jitsu is referred to because of their GI’s training uniforms, but that does nothing to hint at the lethal fight until submit nature of competitive ‘jits’. Clark Gracie is another of the revered Jiu Jitsu lineage that visits Damian’s Academy, offers advice and helps train the next generation of fighters.
For the uninitiated it’s hard to fathom what’s been happening in the martial arts scene without understanding what happened in the mid 90’s when Royce Gracie destroying the credibility of every other martial art at the Ultimate Fighting Championship by delivering on the promise through through grappling and ground fighting, that body size truly does not matter. Damian makes the same promise he was promised, “You’re going to be the nail for some time, but if you stay, you WILL become the hammer. Jiu Jitsu changes peoples lives and that’s the true gift of what we do.”
Listen to the full interview: