Allen Bolen is a well-known bow hunter and a coloured belt IBJJF Masters World Championship winner, we sat down with him to talk through his outlook on BJJ and life:
So to start us off, maybe you can give an intro for yourself for those that aren’t aware of you. You got into jiu jitsu as an adult right?
Allen Bolen: So I’m 47 and I’ve been a grappler a lot of my life. I’ve been training Jiu-Jitsu for about two and a half years now but I was a pretty high level wrestler in high school. I didn’t accomplish what I wanted to when I was wrestling back then though to be honest. I’d perform well and I would beat guys that placed or won State but I never did it myself. I knew I was there at that level but I could never make it happen in that moment. I went on to wrestle for a few years in college. I walked on, and beat out a two-time Oregon State Champ for a spot on the roster. I had a blast dude. I ended up only doing a few years on the team because life happened. I got married, had kids, and needed to work to support the family – I couldn’t make wrestling happen at that point.
My son, Jake, wrestled a bit when he was young, but he wasn’t in love with it and watching him compete frankly stressed me out, so we let it go. Thankfully, he got back into the game right before high school.
I coached him through all four years and we had a blast. Taking a break and then jumping back in really rekindled my love for grappling. A week after Jake’s senior year state tournament I walked into a Jiu-Jitsu gym. As soon as I did it I knew I needed it. Wrestling is a great sport but it’s not a sport you can really train and compete in when you are in your forties.
You mentioned it was hard for you to watch your son compete – I felt the same way when my brother wrestled. I’d get a big knot in my stomach and I’d be so invested every step of the way. Way more so than I should have looking back.
Allen Bolen: Yeah dude. It’s a hard sport to watch.
No joke, I’d be sweating and getting all jittery watching him head out onto the mat for a match. When I did my first tournament as a white belt I went against a guy that had previously done judo and wrestled for a few years and I got dumped on my head and kimura’d pretty fast. He echoed the same feelings watching that match.
Allen Bolen: Oh man that’s rough.
Yeah dude, got lat dropped and the dude straight up teleported to a kimura. Looking back, that dude was totally sandbagging.
Allen Bolen: Nah man, that dude should not have been competing as a white belt. Thankfully my coaches are really good about that stuff and I got a blue belt really fast.
Oh yeah, you almost have to when high level wrestlers start training.
Allen Bolen: Wrestlers just have a huge edge in utilizing pressure as a weapon. There aren’t strong grips in wrestling compared to Jiu-Jitsu with the gi. So all control is done through pressure. That’s where wrestlers get it. And by the way, the best way to stop new wrestlers is to be really good at gripfighting.
I totally agree. Usually when I roll with someone for the first time I can bet with a strong degree of confidence who’s going to win with how that initial grip fight goes. A bit of a segway but I saw that you just got your purple belt – that’s rad dude.
Allen Bolen: Yeah man, I’ve been training hard so it felt really good.
Did you compete at all at white belt?
Allen Bolen: No, not at all. The first tournament I did was the American Nationals in 2021. There were only like two guys in Master 4 but there were eight in Masters 3. I went to Master 3 and won my first two matches and lost in the finals 2-0.
This honestly gets into something that I really want to talk about which is how terrifying competition is. I had not competed prior to that tournament in twenty years or whatever. I was warming up and just thinking to myself “I could be at home right now, my ego would not be on the line, I don’t need to be here right now – what am I doing?”
Haha yeah, I’ve definitely had that thought process.
Allen Bolen: I could be home pretending that I’m awesome and be totally comfortable in that bubble. Instead I went back out there and entered into the possibility of just getting smashed and having my ego get bruised, and realize I suck.
So with you having said that, what made you want to try competing again?
Allen Bolen: I want to achieve and I want to measure. I don’t think anything else is as accurate in identifying where you are at. Competition measures you. Rolls at the gym don’t matter because you never know when someone is working on something or just taking it easy.
Oh yeah for sure. You never know when someone is not giving you their A-game until that roll where they decide to really turn it on.
Allen Bolen: So yeah, I’ve always been drawn to measuring myself and what I can do when it actually counts. And you know – bowhunting, we can talk about bow hunting too. Bowhunting is all about measurement. It’s about goals and achieving goals and for me it’s about breaking records. It means a lot to me. So when I compete I am scared to death because of how much it means.
I think a lot of people that don’t train have a hard time picturing it. I’ve talked about this with some guys at my gym and in other interviews that this really is such an abnormal hobby. Guys get really invested and the horse blinders kind of come on.
Objectively you have a bunch of guys and gal’s that work their normal day job and then 3-5 days a week they show up to a padded room in a strip mall and choke Bob from accounting out in his special pyjamas.
Then, when class or a tournament doesn’t go your way you are just replaying it over and over in your head on the drive home. No music, driving the speed limit, just replaying how you had shitty grips and still went for that armbar.
What results specifically do you measure in bowhunting? What are your goals there?
Allen Bolen: Mainly to kill big record book animals. They are the oldest and wisest critter in the woods, also the most rare due to the age-class required to get really big. I guess right now one of the things I’m most stoked about is that I have more top 5 bow-killed record book animals than any other person.
Oh wow that’s crazy. I didn’t know that.
Allen Bolen: Yeah – I’ve worked extremely hard on it. I pass up a lot of shooting opportunities that most other people would totally try to capitalize on. I come home empty handed a lot. Well over half the time. I do that because I am very methodical with my approach. For me it’s more about hunting than killing. I don’t need to kill something every time I go hunting.
I’m the same way with Jiu-Jitsu. I just try to hold a really high standard with whatever I do. In everything, there are these “purists” that point at “competition” and say it’s ruining the sport, or that they do it for some higher cause than “competition”. Or in bowhunting they say “it’s about harvesting clean meat, and it shouldn’t be about shooting big animals’. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I eat everything I kill, but I’m not going to lie and say that’s the only reason I do it. It’s easier and cheaper to grab a ribeye at Costco. But I’m a little suspicious of people that say they don’t try to take home bigger antlers, because I know how hard it is to actually accomplish. I know how hard it is to break a record, just like I know how hard it is to go out and win major tournaments. Maybe it’s easier to say that you’re not into that?
Yeah like maybe they lack the ability in the first place and they say that to save face.
Allen Bolen: Exactly, And another thing, most of the meat-hunters I know want to shoot everything in sight. In my view that’s less about the hunt and more about the kill – the opposite of trophy hunting. I know this point of view may not have occurred to a lot of folks, but just take a minute and think about it.
Like they are technically less proficient? Like comparing a hobbyist to a pro in BJJ?
Allen Bolen: The fact is that competition is just hard to do. And those that are anti-competition or anti-measurement – with that sort of “purist” mentality – I just question the root of the mentality.
Yeah, I can see what you are saying. In the same vein I think it’s really hard but really rewarding to start completely new practices as an adult. I love trying to “collect” hobbies and activities to try and get better at. The process of being absolute garbage at something and then a year or two later being able to see the improvement is genuinely rewarding. Stuff like yoga, fly fishing, fly tying etc.
Allen Bolen: Yeah I’m the same way. Surfing for example. I live in Utah and a couple of years ago I got absolutely obsessed with surfing. I took trips out to California, Hawaii, and El Salvador whenever I could and just randomly started all of that in the middle of my life. That process is incredible.
Absolutely, I think Jiu-Jitsu is a great example of that. It takes so long to get good at it and it’s one of the few sports that’s niche enough that you can train with some guy that got on the podium at black belt worlds and they’ll label their Jiu-Jitsu as trash. Jiu-Jitsu is a community that establishes the quality standard to be synonymous with the absolute apex performers. It’s kind of funny, but it’s good in a weird way too. With the standard being so high we effectively have no achievable pinnacle of proficiency.
Speaking of that high level of performance – did you watch ADCC? What did you think?
Allen Bolen: Yeah so, I believe one of the keys to progress is having a big variety of tough training partners and one of the biggest things that jumped out at me from ADCC was Amy Campo. She trains here in Utah and her home gym is very small with no big names. It’s really the epitome of the argument against that statement. It’s just amazing and inspiring.
When I coached wrestling, in Utah you can send a JV and a Varsity guy to State. And many times I’ve seen the JV and the Varsity guy of the same school end up in the finals of the state tournament together.
Allen Bolen: And the reason is both dudes were killers. One of them was probably a lot tougher initially but he made the other one a monster. And they were so good that they beat out everyone else in the state. That’s one of the keys to my success, is my coach Suyan Queiroz.
So how easy is it for me to win the blue belt Master 4 lightweight world title when I roll with the black belt Master 4 lightweight world champ all the time? It’s not hard.
Haha yeah man. That adds up. He has all the tools to give you.
Allen Bolen: Last fall I won World Masters at blue, and I just won Europeans at purple. But we have a plan and I stick to it. Professor Suyan and I have built out this game plan and it’s very similar to his. I think the people that try to wing-it instead of sticking to a plan are crazy. You have to impose your game.
Does that carry over to bowhunting? Are there skill sets and subspecialties within that world that you excel at and apply to whatever scenario you are faced with on a hunt?
Allen Bolen: Absolutely. For sure. There are certain distances that I like to shoot at for example. I like to shoot at fifty yards. I get to fifty yards and I stop. I’m not going to try and get to twenty. I don’t like it. There’s too many- the animal reacts far more explosively at twenty than fifty where they pause more and let you impose your game. So yeah, there are definite similarities but bowhunting has so many species that all act very differently. LIke antelope use vision and distance, whitetail deer use their nose and cover, mountain goats use cliffs and they just hang out there. They know you can’t get to them and they aren’t bothered that you can see them. Every animal has wildly different defense mechanisms and they live on a wide spectrum of terrain. Not to mention they are individuals and can make their own calls in each situation – there aren’t any rules in that game.
Like in Jiu-Jitsu, you have to have escapes, top game, guard, sweeps and takedowns. But ultimately you need to take your opponent into your game where you feel the most comfortable with the most experience. If you can do that, chances are that you’ve been there more than he has and you’ll have the advantage.
How do you structure your week? You have a pretty crazy schedule from what I’ve seen on social media but it somehow seems balanced.
Allen Bolen: So one thing I do is I take Sundays off completely. I spend the whole day with my family – resting. It lets me hit the rest of the week extremely hard because I have that one day where I know I don’t have to do literally anything. Monday and Tuesday I do nine, five minute rounds of competition intensity rolls. Wednesday, I usually train but go easier than Monday and Tuesday by a significant amount. Thursday, I do a private lesson in the morning with Professor Suyan and that’s technique and live rolls. Friday, I do class and have it pretty laid back. Saturday I hit it hard knowing I have the next day off.
Thats a pretty hardcore schedule. Is there an overarching thought process on how you organize your life?
Allen Bolen: I work a demanding job and bow hunting is demanding and my family is really important to me. There’s this old saying that “If you want something done, give it to someone that is busy”. People that have a lot of spare time and empty space in their days are going to have a hard time to do anything that is asked of them. Whereas if you ask some super busy executive to do a task, they either find a time to do it or just stop and do it right then. Being busy all the time lets you live in a headspace of productivity. If that is your normal, it continues to be easy to get more stuff done.
I always say that you have enough time in your life for anything that you want to do – but not everything you want to do. You can prioritize a few things and go all in. And it makes it look like I do a lot because the few things that I put my time into are pretty high profile, visible things. Business, bow hunting, and Jiu-Jitsu are the three things for now.
It switches up when I have to travel for work or if I am hunting then I don’t typically train on that schedule but I usually find a gym wherever I am visiting.
I never have heard it phrased that way but it totally makes sense that you have time for what you want to do – just not the volume of what you could do. That’s really interesting.
In terms of travel, I do the same thing. I try to bring a gi wherever I go when I visit somewhere else. I missed a really good opportunity to train with Gustavo Galvao in Barcelona and vowed to myself to not be in that same position again.
It’s pretty fun just to randomly drop into new gyms because I think, as a whole, the Jiu-Jitsu community is a pretty positive one. I haven’t met a lot of purple/brown/black belts that were jerks. I think the people that are shitty end up getting weeded out and as a result the guys that make it to higher belts tend to be pretty cool.
Allen Bolen: Oh yeah here’s why man – because wrestling is the same way. It’s because in individual sports everyone has been beat up, so everyone has more of a humble attitude because they’ve been that guy before. Team sports let you come up with excuses for losses and failures in a way that individual sports don’t. You can be a cocky jerk on a team sport because you don’t have to put your ego on the line in such a personal manner the way you have to in an individual sport.
Yeah I agree with that. The only wrestlers I’ve met that were jerks were mid-level guys that were satisfied being big fish in small ponds. I’ve never really gotten that vibe from guys that had really impressive college careers or beyond college careers.
Allen Bolen: I believe you wouldn’t see in the UFC what you see there if they weren’t incentivized to act like that. Like Conor (McGregor) for example.
Yeah I have a friend that worked with Conor for a bit and he’s only ever spoken positively on the experience. He definitely has a curated personality and it clearly has worked for him. I definitely prefer the quieter guys that let their performance do the talking – guys like Marcelo Garcia.
What do you do to recover from everything that you do?
Allen Bolen: I love the sauna. When I get in there I crank it up and watch BJJ videos. I put my phone on the floor to try and keep it a bit cooler and watch instructionals. Or I listen to a podcast. I can’t just do one thing, I always have to be doing something.
One thing that I have done that has been huge for me personally, for my marriage, has been to turn everything off and just focus solely on whatever I am doing with my wife when we spend time together. You have to be smart and not be calloused about it because you can make mistakes when you don’t slow down to spend quality time.
I definitely can relate to that. I just got married myself earlier this year. I am a person that tends to solely focus on things that I am extremely interested in and give every bit of energy I can to it and if it doesn’t interest me it almost never gets done when I initially planned for it. I have had to work very hard the last few years to work on that… flaw? I don’t necessarily want to call it a flaw because it definitely lets me get really good at stuff that interests me at an accelerated rate, it just has some side effects I’ve needed to learn to manage better.
I really just need to get better on scheduling and cut out the wasted time in my week. I can prioritize and work my way through the list – I just need to be more efficient with what I allow to be on my calendar.
Allen Bolen: Well, let me give you a bit of advice on that. I find it extremely important to write down in the morning the things you want to accomplish that day. Like actually writing them down. Pen on paper or something. I don’t like task lists on a phone because you’ll look at it and be like “Oh yeah, that’s basically the same for today” and then you let yourself off easy. The odds of actually getting those things done go up like 10x. Trust me.
It’s funny you say that, I used to use the notes app on my phone and it was exactly as you said. I just started this week using post-it notes and I’ve already seen a difference. What you are saying totally holds water.
Allen Bolen: Oh yeah man it goes back to the Stephen Covey, Franklin Covey weekly planner.
I don’t think I know what that is.
Allen Bolen: It might have been before your time, but it was huge in the early 2000’s. It had this daily prioritized task list with corresponding symbols for what happened with each task. So when you didn’t get stuff done, you’d have to add it to the next page and repeat. Its powerful.
I like that idea. I feel like I try to do a lot, and get involved in a variety of things but hearing your schedule and how you approach it I probably need to be more ruthless with my time and cut out the stuff that doesn’t hold as much weight as other activities do. I’ll have to go over my notes on this interview a few times and really hammer this home if I want to get closer to your level on this.
Allen Bolen: Ahh I’m definitely not perfect. I still have times where I find myself wasting time watching Instagram reels or something like that. And it’s normal, everyone needs a bit of a mental break but getting good at checking off the important stuff is critical.
Speaking of critical, how much of your success can you attribute to Suyan?
Allen Bolen: Professor Suyan is an absolutely instrumental factor to my success, and not just in the physical aspects of the game. I need to talk about this. In wrestling, when it mattered, I choked. I got performance anxiety and wouldn’t perform at the level that I could on a technical level. What I have found is that it’s nerves and mindfulness and it’s actually something I have been able to work on a lot with ice baths.
But back to Professor Suyan, he’s been able to make me believe that I am going to win when I go out to compete. And he totally believes it, and his opinion holds a lot of weight. Having him instil that confidence in me lets me go out there and have that same level of certainty that it’s my day, and that I am going to go out there and get gold.
Winning Masters Worlds was a big deal for me because of all of that. It was very emotional. It was the first time in my athletic life that I won the top possible tournament for my division. Like I definitely have more accolades in bow hunting than I have in Jiu-Jitsu but I don’t consider it the same way athletics-wise as grappling tournaments.
Yeah I get that, but still dude. Bow hunting, especially mountain bow hunting, is definitely a high performance sport with a lot of challenges and physical demands.
Allen Bolen: Yeah haha I mean maybe you are right. It’s definitely hard. I’ve missed a lot of shots in my life because of nerves. Especially when you get too focused on results. To win in bow hunting and to win in Jiu-Jitsu you have to care a lot about winning but more about the process of how you win.
A singular focus on winning or losing, for me, starts to bring that element of choking into play. If you create too much of that artificial pressure on yourself you will choke. You need a silent care-free confidence. And Professor Suyan has helped me find that on the mats, at the biggest tournaments.
Is there a hunt that you had that you could compare in terms of significance to your experience at Masters Worlds?
Allen Bolen: Yeah absolutely. FE Journal issue 1. “Stone Sheep and Forgiveness”. Take whatever quotes you want out of it – it’s that exact story. I was feeling a lot of the same emotions and ended up killing the biggest ram that had been killed out of the Yukon in fifty years. I had to make the shot at 67 yards and had this pressure build up for three hours as I contemplated the shot because he was sleeping below where I was set up.
Allen Bolen: Yeah there was so much time to think about it. It felt really similar in the bullpen waiting for finals.
That’s definitely an element that can cause a lot of performance anxiety. I’m sure if you could strip the waiting element out of the game for both bow hunting and for jiu jitsu that the podium finishers would be very different compared to how it is now.
Allen Bolen: I think a huge asset for me is that I have spent so much of my life studying performance. I’ve learned and practiced countless performance enhancement concepts that focus on process over results. And the concepts were finally unlocked for me through a combination of my coach, cold plunge and breathwork.
Cold plunging puts you in a situation where your body says it’s in danger. And you have to master your emotions and stay calm. It’s a valuable skill to have that control.
I’ve never tried ice baths with any regularity but I am a huge fan of utilizing breathwork for performance enhancement. I interviewed Valentine Thomas a few months back and we talked about breathwork for BJJ.
I had never done any serious breathwork previous to our conversation but after our interview I did an experiment where I measured the effectiveness of the processes she teaches and it was a game changer. Massive improvement to my breath hold time from 1:32 to 4:03, significantly less tired after training, and noticeably more present when training. Not trying to sound like an ad, it just genuinely had a tremendous impact on my performance.
Allen Bolen: Oh yeah man. Co2 tolerance, holds, all of that are super important.
It’s great. I’ll text you the link to the article we did and her website. It’s a game changer dude.
So what is next for you in Jiu Jitsu? Are we going to see you competing soon? Do you think you’ll stick with the Gi?
Allen Bolen: Well I was honestly really considering no gi Worlds but I tore my knee and that didn’t happen obviously. I definitely like gi, I’m just over the crazy pace and scramble game that comes with no gi.
Do you buy into the theory that to get really technical you need to train in the gi primarily and then train NoGi later? A lot of guys stress the importance of becoming technical first in the Gi like Edwin Najmi, Michael Zenga, Bernardo Faria, etc.
Allen Bolen: So a hunting buddy of mine, Professor Peter Iacavazzi, helped me start BJJ and told me two things: don’t do no gi for 2 years (so I wouldn’t rely on wrestling) and to train with Suyan Queiroz even though it was 30 minutes further than the closest gym. I followed that advice, I trained hard for 2 years, and Professor Suyan helped me win gi worlds.
Haha that’s a pretty good answer to that. Let’s cap it at that. I really appreciate your time, it was great to finally sit down and talk about all of this. I really enjoyed it.
Allen Bolen: Haha yeah dude I gotta run so that works great. It’s fun to talk to someone that has so many similar interests and has gone down a lot of the same rabbit holes. I enjoyed the conversation so thanks again for reaching out!
You can follow Allen Bolen on Instagram, watch his matches we talked about on FloGrappling, or read some of his bow hunting articles at Field Ethos Journal.
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