A MMA & BJJ Culture
The everyday person often associates Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) as being a man’s barbaric sport with well-known UFC fighters like Connor McGregor, but everyday women, men and children all over the world are part of the culture of MMA. Mixed Martial Arts combines different forms of training including Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ), kickboxing, grappling, boxing and wrestling. It has become a community where people immerse themselves in mixed martial arts and train like fighters. They not only reach their fitness goals, but also learn sportsmanship, humility, respect and bravery while gaining confidence.
HealthLife had the opportunity to speak with Kam Naville, the owner of American Top Team (ATT), a popular MMA gym in Valdosta, as well as some of his members. Kam grew up involved in traditional martial arts and was on the wrestling team in high school, but found his love for MMA at sixteen years old when he visited his first MMA fight. He and his friend wanted to begin fighting immediately, but were soon informed they had to be eighteen. Kam and his friends began training themselves as best they could. With no official training he fought his first fight two weeks after turning eighteen. After the first fight people encouraged him and his friends to find a gym for training. They found an unofficial gym and ended up competing in over ten fights within that year.
“I wanted it more than the other guy. We came from different places. He came from where his dad and sponsors paid for him to be there. I came from a place where I was working for $7.50 an hour to get the money to be there. He wasn’t as hungry, physically and metaphorically, as I was. I was a starving nineteen-year kid chasing a dream.”Kam Naville
He accomplished his dreams and is continuing to succeed. He is now a black belt and coach where he coaches his team to chase their dreams. He and his team have collected forty plus titles over the years. He takes his team to fights all over the country. Their adventure to Long Island, New York on December 11th with fight promotion Flex Fight Series yielded impressive results. All three of his fighters brought home a title that weekend. Kalik Battle won the 125 lb Flyweight Championship. C.J. Brant won the Flex Fight Series Championship at 170 lb weight class, and Gabby “G-baby” Jerret won her first fight at 115 lb weight class. It is also a family affair. His little cousin, Anthony Saeger recently fought his first pro fight on pay per view in October 2021.
HealthLife also had the opportunity to observe the culture up close and personal. When you enter Kam’s American Top Team facility you feel an immense vibe of respect. Respect for Kam and other coaches. Respect for the mat and respect for each other. Shoes are removed before stepping onto the mat and the fighter must bow toward Grandmaster Carlson Gracie’s picture hanging on the wall. Carlson Gracie is part of the Gracie family who paved the journey for BJJ. Carlson Gracie’s son is now Kam’s official coach.
Part of this respect is holding specific days for Gi BJJ. This is where students wear their Gis during designated classes to ensure they qualify for belt ranking. Belt rankings are white, blue, purple, brown and black where black is comprised of different degrees from first degree to the tenth degree. Once a practitioner reaches the seventh degree, they can be awarded the alternating black/red belt known as the coral belt. At the ninth to tenth degree a practitioner can be awarded the red belt, which is reserved for the influential practitioners titling them Grandmasters. According to the International BJJ, if one were to receive their black belt at 19 years old, they would be eligible for the red belt at 67 years old. Kam’s goal is to receive a coral belt and Kam holds belt ceremonies when his students graduate to the next belt ranking or earn a stripe on their belts.
Additionally, he prides himself on creating an inclusive culture where everyone is welcomed. Parents enroll their children in kid’s BJJ and kickboxing to instill great qualities such as discipline and confidence. Kam not only offers evening kids’ classes, but also holds a Kids’ Summer Camp (pre-COVID) where the kids practice BJJ and kickboxing and provides fieldtrips as well as an hour of Spanish lessons each day. “I want to be the type of coach my coaches were for me. I had a lot of turmoil in my childhood and my karate and wrestling coaches saved my life,” Kam said with a twinkle of a tear in his eye. He plans to restart the summer camp this coming summer.
Children are not the only demographic Kam wants to feel welcomed. He encourages women to join the family. Females often join Kam’s ATT not only for the benefits of exercise, but to learn self-defense as well. Women gain the knowledge they need to feel empowered and confident they can protect themselves should a dangerous situation arise. They become part of a family and gain brothers who would protect them as if they were their biological brothers.
Some of the women members expressed their love for ATT to HealthLife. Lauren Guerrant, ATT member and military, sums up her experience, as “Kam’s gym has become her other family.”
Marlana Richardson, a blue belt, stated, “As a small female, fitness always intimidated me, and I wasn’t sure I could defend myself in real life. BJJ at ATT Valdosta taught me that with proper training, I could not only learn to defend myself in the real world, but I could gain confidence in my body and its abilities. Being a small female, I was taught to depend on my speed, technique, and most of all – heart. The lessons you learn stay with you forever, no matter what your path is in life. ATT is a place for everyone.”
Crystal Lang, a purple belt, stated “I’ve trained about 6.5 years with Kam and the men and women of ATT Valdosta. Not many women train in the sport as a whole but some of the ones I do know are some of the fiercest women I’ve ever met. I could say the self-defense aspect of it was a big draw for me because for a lot of women that is the reason they come. But for me, it was the challenge. The challenge to my mind, body, ego, and soul. That’s what Jiu Jitsu does for me and why I train. And why train with American Top Team Valdosta for as long as I have? Simply put, at the end of the day it feels like home. Even after I moved away, we all still stay in touch like family. There’s a lot of blood, sweat and tears that go into training. But there’s also a whole lot of love on those mats. You can’t find better than that.” Crystal was the first female in Valdosta to earn a purple belt.
ATT is not just a MMA gym with sweaty dudes; it is a culture full of history, love, discipline, education and family. Kam is not just any coach. He is a coach with heart. If you would like to learn more about Kam and American Top Team visit their website https://att229.com or call 229-356-7871
Writer: Erica Thrift / Photography: Erica Thrift, Courtesy of Flex Fight Series and Crystal Lang