Another from Norway, seriously what are they feeding these guys! I still am yet to believe they are willing to share the secret. That being said, having spoken with this young talented black-belt, I am pretty confident that it is pure hard work, innovation and lastly an athletic ability/skill-base to pivot on.
He has fought some of the largest names in the world, gaining a bronze at the 2018 IBJJF World’s, competing in what probably is one of the most saturated division in the men’s circuit, where body-types seem to be athletic, dynamic and flexible.
He has a DVD on BJJFanatics (see below), a wealth of matches available on YouTube, and is working with his Gym in ensuring anyone can gain access to amazing techniques. It is my great please to introduce Espen Mathiesen!
Firstly tell us your name, age and where you’re from, what part of town?
My name is Espen Mathiesen and I´m 25 years old(1995). I am from Egersund, which is a small town at the west coast of Norway.
Where do you currently train and under who?
I train in Haugesund with the Wulfing crew. The majority of our trainings are much like open mats, and there is no instructor leading them. All of us are taking responsibility of our own training and we all try to help each other as much as we can.
Were you a good kid at school?
My plan from a young age was to become engineer, so I always put good effort into school and got good grades.
When and how did you first get into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu? Was there anything before?
I got into jiu-jitsu in the end of 2010 after watching a martial art movie with my friend. Grappling have always fascinated me, so I liked it right away. However, I played both football and skied at the time, so I didn´t train too much in the beginning. I decided to quite football after my first jiu-jitsu competition in 2011, and I started to put more time and effort into it after that.
What has been your most memorable moment in jiujitsu so far?
The most memorable moment has to be winning gold at European as a brown belt in 2017. My girlfriend, family and friends travelled with me all the way to Lisbon to watch me compete. I ended up submitting all my five opponents, with a total fighting time of seven minutes. Everything clicked that day, and it was so fun to share the victory with the people I care the most for.
How is it training with Tommy Langaker and Vegard Randeberg?
Both Tommyand Vegard are extremely good, and training with them have helped me tremendously. We are always pushing each other, and that has helped us all to improve a lot. We all had very different styles when we first started to train together in 2016, but we have integrated the best part of each other’s games.
What’s one of the things you find most frustrating with BJJ, can be anything?
The thing is find most frustrating with jiu-jtsu is the injuries. I love to train, and it is always annoying when I have to stay away from practice to rehab an injury.
Who would you say are your top 3 in the world of jiu-jitsu, can be past and present? And why?
I think they are best due to their way of fighting. All of them are constantly looking for submissions, which I believe is the essence of the sport. They are also very technical and have a huge variety in their attacks.
Has there been anyone who has helped you tremendously throughout your progress, can also be outside of your club, for example could be friends or family supporting you?
There are many people that have helped me a lot in my career, but one of the most important people is Sindre Boge Thu. He has been one of my best friends since childhood. He decided to try out jiu-jitsu at the time I got my blue belt in 2012. We trained as much as we could, but the where limited classes at our gym. This led us to buy mats which we had at my home. He lived right across the street, so he would come over almost every day. Training at home, gave us the opportunity to practice what we wanted, which led to fast progression. We did this for many years, and I would for not reach to level I am at without him.
How do you find competition? Do you get nervous?
I have always liked to compete, but it took my some time to truly enjoy it. I have tried to lower my expectations and not focus too much on results. Doing so has made it more fun and I have been able to be more free on the mats. I do get nervous, but not to the same degree as I did before. I would think and visualize a lot before competitions back in the days. That made me anxious because I was depending on a plan instead of just flowing. There are extremely many variables in jiu-jitsu, so it is very hard to predict or plan anything.
How do you compete with those nerves? And what advice would you give other competitors to calming those nerves?
I try to observe my nerves as they arise. Thoughts and emotions comes, and It is hard to control them, and trying to will just make it worse. So my goal is to accept them fully, and I find nerves less problematic when I´m not resisting them.
What age did you start competing, and do you remember your first competition and first match?
My first competition was in Stavanger in 2011 when I was 16 years old. I fought in the juvenile division, where they mixed white and blue belts. I won my first match by points against a blue belt. It was cool to see that I had reached a high level within few months of training, and this win motivated me a lot. I ended up in the final with Vegard, where I got smashed.
Did you always do really well in competition? If not, then when did it start working for you?
I did ok as a white belt, but I started to do really well at blue belt. All the training Sindre and I did gave results, and I developed a pretty technical game, which gave me good results at competitions.
You’ve competed against the likes of Renato Canuto, who we know has a highly dynamic game, how do you manage someone with such an explosive and dynamic game, what’s you advice?
Canuto is very explosive, but he is depending on not letting his opponents get a grip to do most of his moves. He often frustrates people by constantly breaking their grips and then waiting for them to get impatient and overreach. He uses those moment to get armbars, passes etc. I knew this, so I made sure to stay composed and take my time. My goal was to put him into lasso guard. Getting the sleeve grip is less risky than going for collar grip, and once the lasso is secured is it extremely hard for him to do anything.
So my advice is to try to find a guard that locks them up and slows down the pace, I favor lasso guard against people with highly dynamic game.
Can you talk about one or two of your toughest matches to-date and why it/they were so tough?
One of my toughest matches was against Lucas Lepri at Worlds 2018. It was tough for various of reasons, he is one of the best lightweights ever and he is very experienced. It was also my first worlds as a blackbelt and it was the semifinal, so it was an important match. I had to be aware all the time throughout the match because you can´t make mistakes against such a good competitor.
Top game or guard?
I prefer top game when I train, but I have done mostly guard at competitions. My plan is to do more top game in the future and show some of my passing.
Takedown or pull-guard?
I have been doing a lot of wrestling lately, so I´m really starting to enjoy takedowns, but I mostly pull guard at competitions.
How do you prepare for the larger competitions, do you get together with all the guys from Norway who are going to compete, do you go to a training camp, or what else?
It depends on the size of the competition and where it is. We have done camps in the states before world many times, and it is always nice to train with a lot of new people. But I normally just train with the guys at the gym. However, we did make a European camp this year for the first time, which was a great success and something we plan to continue doing.
What is your favorite submission and why?
My favorite submission is the armbar, because you can get it from anywhere and it works well both in gi and nogi.
Have you ever had a serious injury, if so what and how did you recover from that?
I have never had a very serious injury, but I have had some minor ones, which have kept me away for a while. Resting and then rehab has always helped and I’m always back to training as fast as I can. I might not be able to go 100 %, but I can work around the injury and there is always something you can do. Injuries has often helped my game, since it has forced me to do other techniques.
Have you ever had to overcome any other adversities in your life, can be non-jiu-jitsu related? How did you overcome them?
By working hard and smart. Refusing to give up, and putting in enough energy will make you overcome adversities. It might not happen overnight, but you can do anything through consistency.
Do you have a strength and conditioning programs in place? If so can you talk us briefly through what a training session would look like?
I mostly train jiu-jitsu, but I do some bodyweight training every now and then. There is no program and I just do what I feel like doing, there is always something I want to improve on my jiu-jitsu, so most of my energy goes there. I might starting doing a lot more strength training in the future, but I have too much to learn in jiujitsu at the moment.
What about nutrition? Do you have a structured diet in or around competitions and do you monitor this?
I don´t have a diet, and I mostly eat what I want. But I´m eating quite healthy in general and I try to get enough protein and vitamins through my diets, since I’m not taking those through supplements.
Is there any advice you want to give to athletes/practitioners wanting to get that extra edge, perhaps something you’ve discovered has been a great attribute to your success?
Take responsibility of your own progress. To many are depend on their teacher giving them techniques and telling them what to do. I have always enjoyed training on what I feel I need and that has also made it more fun. So you can for example go 1 hour before or stay 1 hour after class practicing what you want.
What is your favorite food?
Homemade pizza and chocolate has to be my two favorites.
What is your least favorite food?
I like most food, but pork is what I like the least.
What are your next plans for jiujitsu?
My plan is to compete as much as possible whenever we are allowed to, and keep training hard.
Can you talk about BJJ.Fanatics and also any other projects you have going?
Tommy and I filmed two DVD´s with them, one where we cover guard and one where we showed our passing. The feedback has been very positive and it is cool to see that people are enjoying our techniques.
Any particular mentions or shout-outs to sponsors?
I would like to thanks Kingz Europe for being a great sponsor, and I would recommend to check out www.kingzeurope.com. You can use the code “ESPEN” to get discount on everything!
Thank you so much for that interview Espen, really has encouraged me and I am sure it will resonate through many others, at any stage in their journey in jiu-jitsu, but also other athletes.
We are exciting what plans you have after lock-down, as we are sure you have been cooking up some exciting new technique recipes – we cannot wait to see them on display.
Stay tuned for more interviews to come!
Thank you to MaggieLeft.com for some of the great images!