Meet the Pandas: Guam’s First World Champion – Eric ‘Chambolo’ Sian
We want to introduce the world to our sponsored competition team and share the stories that inspired us to support these up and coming grapplers. Last time, we shared the story of Jose Mazariegos, a Princeton student balancing a full course load with a full-time commitment to training. In this installment, we talk to Eric Sian, Guam’s first world champion grappler.
Eric ‘Chambolo’ Sian (25) never expected to be any good at jiu-jitsu. As an obese, uncoordinated and insecure kid, he was bullied in school. But under the guidance of his professors Stephen Roberto and Terence Aflague of Purebred Guam, he became Guam’s first homegrown world champion – winning the gold medal in a stacked adult division, while competing as a juvenile. Now he’s a BJJ black belt medal chaser.
When did you start your jiu-jitsu journey?
Eric Sian: As a 13-year old kid I saw my first MMA event here on the island of Guam. I thought it was the coolest thing ever, and I fell in love with the art right away. At the time, I didn’t know who was who and what was what. I was just driven to learn. So I ended up at Purebred BJJ Guam, and I dedicated myself to pure jiu-jitsu. I’ve been there ever since.
What do you remember about your first class?
ES: I had no clue what I was doing. You’ve got to realize I was a pretty fat kid back then, so I thought I could overpower everybody in class. I came to realize that didn’t work. At that time, there were no kids classes or anything. I was the only one training jiu-jitsu with the adults, but it worked out because I was pretty big for my age. It was still really nerve-wrecking, rolling with the adults, stepping on the mat and getting beaten up almost every day. But I liked it. I’d never done any combat or contact sports before. I played baseball. That’s pretty much it. My first professor was Stephen Roberto and I’m still under him to this day. He promoted me to black belt in June of this year.
What was the hardest part about learning the art?
ES: Everything. All of it. Just being physically able to do anything. I was so uncoordinated I couldn’t even shrimp or push properly. Nothing. I was a softie boy, and everything I did hurt. But my training partners beat the techniques into me, and they encouraged me to keep trying. They told me: hang in there, you’re not doing to die, we won’t let you die, just don’t quit! And I trusted them. It made me a tougher person.
How did you become so obsessed with jiu-jitsu?
ES: Well, in school I was bullied a lot. So part of me wanted to get back at those kids who mistreated me. But I had good mentors, and I soon realized that wasn’t the right thing to do in the long run. I focused all those negative emotions on excelling in competition and developing myself along with the art. I stuck with it because I watched myself progress and grow, and I saw jiu-jitsu evolve over all these years. It’s a truly amazing thing. It’s been a constant factor in my life that I can always look forward to. There’s no end to jiu-jitsu.
You’re a fanatic competitor. Which medal are you most proud of?
ES: In 2009 I entered my first international tournament competition ever. It happened to be the Mundials and I won the gold medal in the blue belt division while I was still a juvenile. That made me Guam’s first homegrown world champion. Locally trained, with all the preparation done here on the island with my teammates. Prior to me leaving, I never thought I’d be doing something like that. I just really liked to train, so that gold medal is my most prized possession. After that I won gold at purple belt at the Asian Open 2010 and at brown belt at the Asian Open 2012. At the Asian Open 2014, I managed to win double bronze. I also competed at a few tournaments in the Philippines and medaled there. However, this year I didn’t do so well. But nothing can top that first world champion medal. I’ve been trying to do it again at the other belt levels, but that’s more of a challenge. Hopefully I’ll get there one day.
Can you describe your game?
ES: In high school I picked up wrestling, and I started to blend that with my BJJ. I’ve always had a tight top pressure guard passing game. Pretty much all my attacks come from the top position, and I specialize in the D’Arce choke. Once in a while I play guard in training. Michael Liera Jr. spent some time here with us in Guam, and I fell in love with his De La Riva and X-Guard set-ups. But when it’s competition time I stick to my bread and butter. Aggressive takedowns, heavy guard passing, staying in a dominant position, and finishing. No fancy stuff. It’s all pretty basic.
Did jiu-jitsu help you in other areas?
ES: Definitely. You’ve heard people say it before, but jiu-jitsu has really saved my life. When I look at problems or obstacles in life, I don’t see those as something unavoidable. There’s always a way out. Just like there’s always another way to get around a position or submission. There’s always a chance for a counter or an escape. And for sure, training jiu-jitsu has made me more courageous. I’m willing to do more than what’s expected of me, and I’ve become a lot more confident and comfortable with myself.
What’s your training regimen?
ES: I work as a fire technician, but I train every day. Sometimes twice. In the morning it’s a quick weight training or cardio work-out. Nothing crazy, I’m just hitting large muscle groups with basic exercises for strength, like squats, deadlifts and bench presses. And then there’s jiu-jitsu every night for five days a week. On Saturdays I train jiu-jitsu during lunchtime. On Sundays I go to the beach and do a workout there. No, I don’t get burned out. I’m still young. Sometimes I do feel like an old man because I’ve been doing this for a long time. But if you have the right mentality and you train smart, you can deal with it.
Can you explain your nickname, Chambolo?
ES: Cham stands for the Chamorro people and culture. That’s my heritage. And Bolo refers to the actor Bolo Yeung, remember him? That super buff kung fu guy? I guess my teammates thought I looked like Bolo in Enter the Dragon, crushing people like it’s nothing. We were joking around after training one night, giving each other nicknames. This one stuck.
Who are your idols in the sport?
ES: First of all, it’s always been my professor Stephen and his first black belt Terence Aflague. They’ve been there for me since day one. They smashed me and picked me back up, and that made me into a stronger person. I really appreciate how open and straightforward Stephen is. He may come off a little bit harsh at times, but often a no-nonsense answer is the most beneficial. He has a good teaching style of the whole game, top and bottom. But more importantly, he really stresses respect, honor, and loyalty in the academy. Those are traits that we all live by. I think that’s made him a great person and teacher. We’ve gone pretty far under his guidance. Of course I’ve always looked up to Enson Inoue, the founder of our gym and the one who promoted my professor to black belt (together with Mike Fowler). Also, I really liked watching Leo Viera’s jiu-jitsu back in the day. I used to study all his competition highlight videos. He was a real innovator. Very dynamic, relentless guard passing.
Considering how jiu-jitsu has helped you as a teenager, do you enjoy teaching kids?
ES: Definitely. At Purebred BJJ Guam we have an excellent kid’s program, and I help teach the teen classes sometimes. I really like rolling with those kids. I give them a little bit of tough love. I’ll say something like: Oh yeah, do you think you’re good? Then show me how good your jiu-jitsu is! And I’ll let them work for it. That builds a lot of confidence. I recognize myself in them, sometimes. When I was their age I was horrible at this stuff. But nowadays, the knowledge of jiu-jitsu is way more available. Just at our academy we have fourteen black belts, and there’s so much excellent information out there. So I tell those kids: Never doubt that you can become better than me. Just don’t quit.
Follow Eric Sian on Instagram: @chambolobjj
About the Author Daniël Bertina
Daniël Bertina is a journalist and writer based in the Netherlands. He holds a black belt in BJJ under Marcos Flexa of Carlson Gracie Amsterdam. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @joyofirony.