Sam Burns holds the rank of Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Andy Sabens and the Nova Uniao Team Hawaii flag and is a Certified Personal Trainer. Sam brings together his real world experience in training and competing with book knowledge and theory to provide a unique training experience. He has a passion for fitness and martial arts that has kept him training over three decades, always seeking to better himself, his clients, and students by combining his experience in training and competition across the country and in various fitness and martial arts disciplines with the newest techniques and science in in the sport. Sam has been instructing self defense and various martial systems for the last fifteen years and has been a student of the martial arts since age seven. He has been involved in competitive powerlifting Strongman competitions, amateur boxing (with a record of 12-3), undefeated amateur mixed martial (with a record of 5-0) and competed in numerous Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournaments. Sam is also an Instructor for the S.P.E.A.R. System used by much of the Special Operations and S.W.A.T. community to effectively handle dangerous combatants and predators. Sam is proud to partner with the We Defy Foundation to support the veteran community and is a veteran himself of the United States Army (75th Ranger Regt-HHC, 82nd Airborne-3/504PIR, 1/508th ABCT-SETAF Vicenza, Italy). He is currently a Boot Camp Officer with the Illinois Department of Corrections.
Do you Serve or have you Served in the Military Law enforcement or as a First Responder? If so when and where?
I served in the United States Army from 1993-1997. I was in the 75 Ranger Regt HHC, 3/504 PIR, 1/508 ABCT. Currently I am a Sergeant in a Corrections BootCamp and have been on the job for almost 23 years.
How Did You Begin Your Jiu Jitsu Journey? Where are you now on your Journey? Where do you train now?
I started doing catch wrestling with Brian Madden right after the army in O’Fallon, Illinois. When I moved further south, I started rolling with some guys that just basically beat me up and used me as a dummy. It was a good time but it was not a huge learning experience. I then started training with an old-school guy that ran a school called DOJO USA. He was an asshole, but he was an old school karate guy that taught me how to hit hard and got me training BJJ in earnest. I then hooked up with another guy that would become my coach and who I would get my Black Belt from serval years later. We were a Nova Uniao Team Hawaii Affiliate under Charuto Verissimo and it was a great. But like all families there are splits and ruptures. I have had my own school now for almost 6years: Arsenal Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Benton, Illinois. It’s just about my favorite place to be and I am lucky to have some really amazing students.
What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
A: Pso-Rite and a foam roller.
How has a failure, or apparent failure, set you up for later success? Do you have a “favorite failure” of yours?
I have never been very good at much and never any good at anything the first time. I learned at a young age to laugh at myself and just keep trying. It’s all about sticking around long enough to get it. Failure is a necessity for us to understand and value success.
What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made? (Could be an investment of money, time, energy, etc.)
My best investment of time has been Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, of course. I only wish I’d found it before I was 28. My best investment money-wise was turning my garage into a commercial gym for myself and personal training clients.
What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?
I love skateboarding even though I suck at it, and skateboard art.
In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I started a charity in 2017 called St.Kicks of Southern Illinois. We give brand new name brand shoes to underprivileged kids in cooperation with school counselors. It’s been awesome and super rewarding. If you feel bad help someone else. If you hurt, help take someone else’s away. It works and it makes the doer and the receiver better for it. Beginning in August of this year, I will begin offering free classes to local law enforcement up to whenever they earn their blue belt. It’s another way to proactively help my community. With that said, the other thing is my growing school and students. There’s nothing better than watching someone “get it”. Watching that lady in the free self defense seminar blast a palm strike or a knee and look like a monster doing it. I love being a coach and it’s the next best thing to being a Non-Commissioned Officer in the Army, I started BJJ because I missed the closeness I had with my team, my squad, and my platoon. In my school my students are a very close approximation to that family and that love I miss.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven student new to Jiu Jitsu. What advice should they ignore?
Learn as much as you can but don’t rush it. There is a price that must be paid in sweat and blood on the mat, and that can’t be rushed. Take your time and enjoy the ride. Ignore those who speak in absolutes: “ALWAYS/NEVER” - that sort of thing. BJJ is an ocean that you will never see all of, don’t limit it further by buying too much into anyone’s dogma.
What are bad recommendations you hear in your profession or area of expertise?
There is a lot of apathy in my profession. I ignore it and it never wavers my commitment. So many are so timid and can’t stand on their own two feet. Sometimes you have to go it alone and let the slugs fall behind you.
When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, or have lost your focus temporarily, what do you do? (If helpful: What questions do you ask yourself?)
Whether it’s BJJ or training, I will take a week off and not do it at all. I’ll read more about whatever I’m into at that moment and I won’t think about the other. In a week’s time my body and my mind require that I train that I roll and that I get back into my routine, my habits.