Maria Arena, B.Sc
13 min readMay 10, 2022

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An Interview With Roy Dean About His New Documentary Film, Money on the Mat, Featuring BJJ Legend Jeff Glover. An Electrifying and Reflective Gift to the Masses.

Money on the Mat chronicles a week in the life of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu virtuoso Jeff Glover. It is screening at film festivals around the country.

Roy Dean. Scores of people around the globe are familiar with his varied work, admire him, follow him, respect him, and consider him a unique soul, an enigmatic artist, a practitioner who conjures the concept of bushido, a certain noble path. A man of many titles who simply calls himself a Student of the Way, he is indeed, legitimately, and with laundry lists of credentials, a Renaissance man of our day. However you may or may not be aware of him — Jiu Jitsu expert, Aikido expert, martial arts phenom, video producer, musician, author, sometimes a complete mystery, other times an entirely open book…once you view or witness his work, you are changed. I speak from experience.

I discovered Roy a few years ago, shortly after earning my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I had fallen madly in love with the practice and at the tail end of one of my late nights consisting of searching the internet for new and intriguing BJJ technique videos, I stumbled upon Roy’s, Jiu Jitsu: The Great Physical Debate video trailer for his Blue Belt Requirements 2.0 instructional. While watching it, a hunger was satiated and after finishing it, something shifted — I needed to learn more about this individual, because, finally, the voice of an expert that felt…safe, comforting, patient, free of ego, and quietly confident, almost zen-inducing was introduced into my reality. The juxtapositioning of curated footage featuring physical techniques, overlaid by philosophical narrative, was speaking my exact language. It was refined, paced, just enough. My image of the “typical” BJJ instructor was (in a good way), knocked off its often-intimidating pedestal.

Watching Roy, there was no machismo-driven aggression, no need for beating a chest or focusing only on smashing the opponent (which so many BJJ videos and proponents are made of online — those of you who know, know). Instead, as a minority within the Jiu Jitsu realm — a woman, and one who started training at the age of forty — I cannot tell you what an invigorating, thrilling, and ease-affirming discovery this was. I had found an online teacher of sorts, who, I discovered, was pretty much famous, had decades of experience, was a third degree black belt in BJJ (as of writing this article, he is a 4th degree black belt), the first Aikido black belt to earn a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, a black belt in Kodokan Judo, a former competitor who shared the mats with some of the toughest athletes such as Victor Estima and Nick Diaz, author of the books, Becoming the Black Belt and The Martial Apprentice, and the producer of an unbelievably huge library of martial arts instructional videos. So yeah — after learning of Roy, I pretty much started devouring his videos, solo-trained at home along to many of those instructionals, watched podcasts he was on, and rather considered him my second BJJ instructor. I think it may be safe to say that I’m not the only one; I’m pretty sure that there are many people around the world who can state almost everything that I have here.

Roy Dean

Then, life being what it is — entirely unpredictable sometimes — I met Roy Dean. Not in person but virtually, our paths had crossed in a unique way, tied to our mutual interest in and passion of martial arts. Our first conversation was about Jiu Jitsu and literature and I had mentioned that one of my favorite books is Love in the Time of Cholera, and about a month later, the pandemic emerged. Just an interesting memory; I digress. Over these couple of years my conversations with Roy have been cerebral, enlightening, engaging and evocative of two artistic athletes meshing ideas and experiences in order to reach some kind of meaningful collaboration. Much of our discussion revolves around our love of movement — both he and I believe so much in interdisciplinary knowledge, cross-training, and creative partnership. He has become a friend, a colleague of sorts, and has always been the consummate gentleman.

So! Let’s get to it. Here I am writing this in almost-mid-2022. We’ve all collectively been pressed through two years of difficulty and unchosen change: Covid, economic/political shifts, insane elections, a new presidency, world events that have us questioning so very much, even just about our basic humanity. And recently, it dawned on me that it would be a real shame to not shine a new light on one of the most important individuals who I know, to share with the world another side of Roy, because as he turns the corner into another chapter of his life these days, and steps into a new arena as a film director and producer, and as we all seem to be morphing a bit as we crawl out of the pandemic into some kind of new normal, I think that it is fascinating to learn about such broad-minded and cutting-edge artists like him, who fearlessly forge on, creating their own unique paths, pushing boundaries of creativity and therefore, generosity. It’s inspirational and motivational. We can all use some more of that these days.

Enter Money on the Mat, a feature film-length documentary produced, shot, and edited by Roy Dean himself. It’s engrossing, raw, direct, with no pretense. Just like Jiu Jitsu, you could say. The film is a departure for Roy, filming in a new format, playing with the craft of storytelling, delivering a cinematic piece of work that tells the story of one man, on his particular martial journey, as he shifts through thought and practice as he becomes older. Viewers watch as this main character creates his own practical application of legacy — his competitive Jiu Jitsu tournament called, yep, Money on the Mat. The protagonist I’m writing about here is Jeff Glover. Another Jiu Jitsu savant. Another Jiu Jitsu black belt known around the world for his unique grappling style and his countless achievements (Pan American Champion, IBJJF Champion, Eddie Bravo Invitational medalist, creator of the Donkey Guard, to name just a few). In short, the film is a countdown, following Glover during the week leading up to the 2021 Money on the Mat competition in California, the competition which Glover created in order to create a forum for the next generations to progress.

Jeff Glover

When I asked Jeff to describe working with Roy on the project, he stated that as soon as Roy proposed the idea, he was completely on board, that working with Roy was something he could not pass up, and interfacing with him during the shooting of the film was easy. As he emphasized, “It is so easy to work with him, he’s really clear, he knows what he wants, there’s no wasted conversation”. It’s true, and that is easily notable just watching the film. As mentioned, it’s a boldly direct film, and we know that what Roy wants us to witness and experience is as simple as following his subject with an honest camera, no script, just the days as they come. Cinema verité. And a film that arcs and rolls like a really satisfying grapple.

When I asked Jeff what he hopes people may take away from the film, he paused and broadened the topic. “I think our last job on earth as human beings is to show the next generation how to die with dignity.” Then, it was my turn to pause. And it made perfect sense. When you watch the film, you’ll understand, too. Lineage, the passing on of knowledge and nuance, legacy, and truth. It’s the backbone of the narrative, it’s at the root of martial arts, and it comes through loud and clear with this film.

During one of the opening sequences of the film, the words, “Introducing the mind of a virtuoso” flash on screen. Certainly, Dean intended those words to describe Glover. I argue that they also reflect back to him, as well.

Here’s our conversation.

Maria Arena : Roy! It’s been an unprecedented, staggering (in all senses), and course-changing two-year period since you and I began conversing about life, ideas, and of course, martial arts. I was thrilled when in 2021 you disclosed to me that you were in the midst of filming your first feature documentary film, which is now already winning awards on the film festival circuit and eventually will be shared with the public. But before we get to that, hoping that we are truly in the final stages of this pandemic, and simultaneously given the state of everything reverberating around us locally and globally, where do you find yourself in this moment? What are your thoughts on what the last two years has meant to, or done, to, BJJ, Aikido, martial arts, and, to you?

Roy Dean: The last two years have been a whirlwind of emotions, political strife, economic shifts, and strangely enough, I have never been more centered, stable, or grounded as I am right now, both personally and professionally.

Everything is in motion, at all times, so when something like Covid kicks the hornets nest, and a chaotic element is introduced, I think martial artists are uniquely prepared to adapt to that change. We are accustomed to focusing our energies on the tasks that are manageable and within our grasp, making incremental improvements towards a more capable tomorrow.

The last two years encouraged many BJJ schools to have an online instructional element, and to reevaluate their physical locations. Quite a few Professors moved to new states and meccas for the sport, and unfortunately, many schools didn’t make it.

Since the start of the pandemic, the energy I was putting into traveling was redirected into my affiliates. It was a welcome break in many ways. I began doing weekly updates on Mondays, generating special projects just for them, and resolidified my drive to take Crew RDA to the next level.

Maria Arena: Thousands of your followers, fans, and students around the world know that you are multi-talented and value cross-training across arts, practices, and skill sets. They are familiar with not only your renowned achievements in BJJ, Aikido, and Judo, but also celebrate whenever a new, gorgeously-filmed video of yours is posted online, or when you announce immersive workshops in far-flung places around the world. They know that you are a musician and have written a couple of books. They know that you help people become black belts. And I am certain that throngs of folks are going to be jonesing for more details about Money on the Mat, as you begin talking about it. Please tell us about the documentary, what motivated you to create this film now, how you made it, what magnetized you so strongly to Jeff Glover’s story, and why you decided to unfold the narrative the way that you did, cinematically — a countdown of sorts.

Roy Dean: I was listening to an interview with David Bowie, where he said that an artist should always feel slightly out of their depth, like their feet aren’t quite touching the bottom of the pool. I’ve made plenty of instructional videos over the years, belt demonstration videos, and even personality profiles, but never a movie.

The idea both frightened and excited me, which is a good thing. Part of my creative process is discussion, and every time I would talk about the idea to a friend, they would note my enthusiasm. I would get more animated, often speaking louder and more quickly, which was a definite sign that my muse was working her magic. I was energized just talking about the idea, so eventually, I told myself, “It’s time, Roy. Be a doer, not a talker.”

So I did it. The idea was influenced by the classic martial arts movie, “Choke,” where a prime Rickson Gracie traveled to Japan to compete in their Vale Tudo competition. The film followed him in his preparation, training, and competition, in the US and Japan.

Jeff was in a different place in his athletic career. He was thirty eight years old, retired from competition, and plagued with an irritable back. But his knowledge and charisma were still overflowing, and I couldn’t think of anyone who provided a greater contrast from when he began competing as a fresh-faced teenager, to a tattooed BJJ legend. The visual contrast was there, plus at the root of Jeff’s evolution is the story of his teacher, his “Old Man”, his master, Ricardo “Franjinha” Miller.

Franjinha passed the torch of knowledge to Jeff, who is in turn passing it on to the next iteration of competitors through his competition. I follow Jeff in the five days leading up to the tournament, and take a non-linear approach in the final edit. The action from the Money on the Mat tournament is sprinkled throughout the film, one division at a time, and I think it allows the movie to crescendo in a cool and emotionally satisfying way.

Franjinha and Glover

Maria Arena: Anticipation, intimacy, even preemptive nostalgia are all words that immediately come to mind when I think of the film. It’s really an homage to the love of meaning, or love of a practice, which we can extrapolate to any practice. We watch a singular man in Jeff, whose journey has brought him to a stepping stone in life when he knows it’s time to think about the next generation, passing the torch, and legacy, in his own way, via his tournament. To me, it’s an example of a hero’s journey. What lessons or greater ideas do you hope that people walk away with, after watching the film? And for non-practitioners of BJJ or martial arts, what does it offer to them?

Roy Dean: Exactly. All the elements of the hero’s journey are there. Using the lens of Joseph Campbell, there’s the call to adventure, the meeting of the mentor, the road of trials, atonement with the father, return over the threshold, becoming a master of both worlds, and finally, living in freedom.

Which Jeff clearly does, whether riding his beloved Colemans on the mountainside, backflipping off a stability ball, or linking techniques together on the mat, he is a man in the moment. Dynamic. Spontaneous. Jeff has clearly done that journey, and I wanted to showcase it for future generations.

I believe one of the reasons Jeff is so open, honest, and frank on camera, and in his life, is that early on, he learned the power of doing an objective analysis of his Jiu Jitsu. The ruthlessly honest approach to assessing your game and then closing those small holes, improving those specific areas, yields big benefits on the competitive stage.

To the non-practitioners, I want them to walk away with a positive impression of Jeff, the artist, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, the art, and the importance of the student/teacher dynamic. The matches are visceral, and should entertain everyone regardless of fighting exposure or martial arts familiarity.

For the practitioners, I want them to recognize the generations that paved the way for them in this continually expanding art, and to learn a little technique as well. Just watching Jeff move, and the creative angles he explores, is a technical extravaganza.

Maria Arena: The filmmaking process can be quite profound, with such committed adherence to honestly chronicling/illuminating/explaining by way of visual and auditory storytelling. What did this new adventure as a director and producer give back to you, what have you learned, what has the process gifted you with?

It’s definitely given me renewed confidence in taking chances. My motto was, “There are no mistakes”. I was using new equipment, and even if I didn’t think I got the shot I wanted, I kept moving forward. I also wasn’t sure I had enough footage, but once I took a look at what I had amassed through the various cameras, I realized that what I had was enough. Then I decided to have that footage serve as a beneficial limitation: Let’s get it done, and do it with just that tournament (MOTM X), with just the footage from the week, plus some archival footage, (thanks to Jake McKee of BudoVideos), which really brought it home.

I’m hoping that it will find an audience at film festivals, but there are no guarantees. It’s an adventure, in filming, in music selection, in the creative editing process. Getting to know Jeff was also a highlight. Social connections are a definite strength, and getting to know another black belt, from a different lineage, with a different style, gave me a fresh look at some positions, and options for leverage in my own game and approach to the art.

Jeff was onboard with the idea of the film early on, and really opened up his life, art, and home to me while I was out there in Santa Barbara. Some people shrink from the camera. Jeff shines. He is charismatic, funny, and unabashedly himself. People might consider us to be opposites, but we are veterans in the same art, and members of a larger tribe. The more we can illustrate that we are all members of overlapping tribes, the better off we are, as a whole.

Maria Arena: That was beautifully said. Those of us who know you are well aware that you don’t necessarily advertise your next moves. But, if I may — what’s next for you? What do you see or hope for as you look to the horizon?

Roy Dean: I have a few projects I’d like to introduce to the public, and I’m rediscovering music composition. I haven’t dabbled in music for some time, but I’m feeling a return to that form of expression. The tools these days are what we only dreamed of back in school, and I wouldn’t mind learning a few new tricks. A return to writing is also on the horizon, but I don’t want to give too much away.

Maria Arena: Thank you, Roy, for all that you give to those of us who are curious about so very many things. I look forward to meeting you on the mat soon, as well.

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Stay updated on Money on the Mat’s film festival screenings, awards, and breaking news at:

https://www.roydean.tv/moneyonthematfilm

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Roy Dean is a 4th degree Black Belt in BJJ under Professor Roy Harris, is the creator of ROYDEAN.TV, leads the internationally-renowned Roy Dean Academy (RDA) with twenty-two affiliates around the world, is the author of two books, and currently lives in Anchorage, Alaska. He is a graduate of the University of California at San Diego.

Maria Arena is a Blue Belt in BJJ under Sensei Ken Akiyama, a lifelong classical ballet practitioner, former ballet barre instructor and owner of Dance Arts Personal Fitness, LLC, active member of the National Dance Education Foundation and is an organizational and creative operations consultant with extensive experience within the biotechnology and healthcare communications industries. She is a graduate of Boston University and lives in New England.

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Maria Arena, B.Sc

Ops & Organizational Consultant. EA. Martial Artist. Dancer. Writer. Seeker. I shine the spotlight on unique humans who are creating change in the world.