Roy Harris is an accomplished American martial artist, known in the Brazilian jiu-jitsu world for being a black belt under Joe Moreira and is often (wrongly) mentioned as a part of the “BJJ Dirty Dozen“, the first group of 12 non-Brazilian men to have been distinguished with the rank of black belt in this grappling style. Roy Harris is also known as one of the first instructors to publicly publish a formal testing criteria for jiu-jitsu, formalizing his promotion tests from white belt to black belt.
Roy Harris Jiu-Jitsu
Full Name: Roy Harris
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Team/Association: Roy Harris
Roy Harris Biography
Roy Harris’ martial arts journey started in Minnesota during 1981, a journey propelled by a book named Bruce Lee’s Fighting Methods: Basic Training, which spawned Roy’s interest for combat. Harris trained extensively in different martial arts before deciding to make the move to California in 1986, where some of the best martial arts coaches in America resided.
In San Diego, Harris found Dan Inosanto’s academy, a former student of Bruce Lee himself and a master in Jeet Kune Do, Eskrima, and Silat. Inosanto’s academy was known for its open mind towards martial arts, and it was there that Harris found out about Brazilian jiu-jitsu, through a training partner who also practiced BJJ.
Intrigued about the Brazilian grappling style, Roy Harris decided to have his first jiu-jitsu class between December 1990 and January of 1991 at the Gracie Academy in Torrance. At the time the academy’s classes were run by Rickson, Royler, and Royce Gracie, Harris also had many one-on-one classes, with Royler who at the end of Roy’s 13th private class decided to award him his blue belt.
The experience with the three brothers was short-lived. Soon Royler returned to Brazil to take the helm of the Gracie Humaita Academy in Rio de Janeiro, and Rickson went on to open his own gym. Harris continued participating in the classes now solely given by Royce Gracie while having private lessons with Rorion Gracie.
While taking classes at the Gracie Academy, Roy Harris was offered a small part-time position teaching self-defense at the University of California. There he passed on to his students an amalgamation of the techniques he had learned from all the styles practiced over the years. On one of these classes, he was visited by Nikolay Baturin, a Russian Sambo and Judo expert. The two sparred and became friends. Harris often mentions of how Nikolay (or Nick) helped develop his leg locks, having learned directly from the Russian for over 1 year.
According to Roy Harris, his leg and footlock game grew leaps and bounds, and that showed when sparring at the Gracie Torrance academy, where he started tapping higher belts in training. This became a regular event, so much that he was called into Rorion Gracie’s office and asked to stop using foot locks as they were “causing hard feelings amongst the students” (source: Roy Harris on “My Journey”).
Eventually, on August 1992, Harris was asked to stop training at the Gracie academy altogether:
At that time an article had been written about me in the San Diego Union and Tribune newspaper. This article caused Rorion to re-evaluate my training there. Rorion told me that it was not fair that I made money off of him by teaching Jiu Jitsu. He said I would now have to pay him $100 per class if I was going to continue training at the Academy. I told Rorion the following:
I told you [Rorion] about the self-defense class I taught at the University on several occasions. I even asked you if it was alright if I taught the students a few Gracie Jiu Jitsu techniques. You said it was OK as long as I didn’t wear a Gracie Jiu Jitsu shirt while teaching.” (…) To this Rorion replied, ‘I am sorry my friend. But this is my final offer’. – Roy Harris on My Journey thread (August 2001)
Harris left the gym as he could not afford the fees and continued training with Rickson Gracie, Nelson Monteiro, and the Machado brothers, although he always found that jiu-jitsu politics stood on the way of his progression.
With Rickson, it was the fact that he was training at Monteiro’s academy simultaneously that led to the discord. Monteiro was a Gracie Barra affiliate and a team rival of Rickson’s school. These were times when school rivalry was well embedded in the Brazilian way of coaching, and for this reason, he was asked to leave.
As for the relationship between the Machado’s and Harris, there are two diverging stories. According to Harris, it was his aforementioned relationship with Nikolay Baturin that ultimately led to his gym eviction. Baturin had a grappling super fight with John Machado, a fight won by the Russian. The Machado’s believed that Roy had been coaching his friend Jiu-Jitsu techniques to overcome the Machado competitor, and for this reason, they asked Harris to leave, though Harris denied having taught Nikolay.
Joe Moreira, however, tells a different story on the Tatame magazine (issue 33) in 1998, where he stated:
Before Roy trained with me he was already versed in Sambo. He trained with the Machado’s before [me], one day when sparring he tapped Rigan with a footlock. Jean Jacques didn’t like that, he asked to roll with Harris next, tapping him 10 times. Roy felt that after that the environment wasn’t the best, so decided leave. It was Johnny Machado who contacted me and asked if I could take him in. – Joe Moreira, Tatame 1998.
Although Roy considered giving up jiu jitsu completely, he finally found in Joe Moreira the coach he was looking for. Moreira embraced the role of Harris’ instructor and remained with him through all belts, including the purple belt in 1994, brown belt in 1996, and first-degree black belt in 1998. For many years Roy was believed to be part of the first 12 non-Brazilian to receive a black belt in this grappling style, this was proved wrong in 2015 in a research performed by BJJ Heroes (here: BJJ Dirty Dozen).
After achieving the black belt status in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Roy Harris continued coaching martial arts all around the world, being also one of the first instructors to compile a curriculum for each belt, publishing a formal testing criteria, something that went against the norm of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, where the belt assessment has historically been attributed to sparring skill or competition prowess.