Sam Sheriff MBE is the head of Royal Marines Unarmed Combat, the founder of REORG Jiu Jitsu and the first Royal Marine Commando to achieve the rank of black belt in BJJ. We managed to get some time with him to discuss his life, achievements, and his views and goals within the sport:
So maybe we could start off with just a rundown of who you are in the event anyone reading this doesn’t know who you are or what Reorg is?
Sam Sheriff: Yeah of course. So I am a former Royal Marine Commando, I joined in ‘99 and discovered Jiu Jitsu in 2004 in a close combat instructors course while serving. Like most of your readers likely, I’ve dabbled in many different combat sports growing up. I did Boxing, Judo, Kung-Fu even but never really stuck with one thing. The minute I discovered grappling though it was just like magic. I was really like “What is this?” I was totally hooked straightaway. So for the rest of my military career whenever I had the opportunity to show the limited knowledge I had gained from this close combat instructors course I would. Eventually, I would become the first Royal Marines Commando to achieve a black belt in BJJ.
As I progressed in my career I had the opportunity to further that as I became a physical training instructor. That allowed me the opportunity to train other Royal Marines and Royal Marine Recruits in close combat. And with that, I just dove deeper and deeper into Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I started training at a civilian club – and I suppose at that time because I was senior in my Royal Marine years but junior in Jiu Jitsu years I set about the challenge of making Jiu Jitsu part of Royal Marine culture.
We just had our traditional sports of rugby, boxing, and football. So I set about the challenge of making it an official sport. The first people I talked to were like “Don’t bother – it’ll never happen, the officers will think it’s cage fighting. You won’t ever get this as a sport”. So for me personally, that was just a challenge. I set about knocking on all the right doors, sometimes kicking in all the right doors to get people to listen to me that we NEEDED this as Royal Marine Commandos. We absolutely needed this, it’s the backbone of what we need to do.
Eventually, the right people listened and we got it as a Corps sport, which meant that Royal Marines could train on duty – they’d get all the cover needed and could compete and represent the Royal Marines. We had in-house tournaments and the different commando units would compete against each other. It grew to the point that it’s now the biggest participated sport in the Royal Marines. We have more Royal Marines training Jiu Jitsu than we had in rugby, boxing, and football which is just fantastic.
Wow, that’s amazing. So would you say as a result of that, BJJ is a large part of the culture within the Royal Marines?
Sam Sheriff: Yeah absolutely. Anyone that wants to join the Royal Marines will do eight months of training. At the end of that, they’ll take their commando tests and if they pass those they get their green beret and become a Royal Marines Commando. Part of that course is a Royal Marines combat course where they will learn from clean fatigues (t-shirt, trousers, boots) all the way up to full kit (helmet, body armor, weapon) and they’ll go into a room and take down an adversary using the correct techniques. The backbone of that is grappling.
The way we look at this is: the operational side of using grappling for tactical reasons and the sport element (gi and nogi). But the two cross over perfectly, a Royal Marine that is confident on the mat, is a Royal Marine that is confident on the battlefield. Because you know – weapon fires/weapon stops – you got your hands and that’s it. So by making it a part of the culture, a part of what they do, you make a more confident Royal Marine.
Historically, we do what’s called a troop face where we go for a long run, like 10 miles as a troop. But now as part of that, we might stop and do pick-up drills, technical stand-ups, or positional sparring as part of the run. Doing that, it just becomes part of culture rather than a secret fight club. It becomes what Royal Marines just do, you know what I mean? Like, we’ll go on the range to do marksmanship, do map reading, hand-to-hand combat, grappling. It’s just moved along a lot into the culture thankfully.
That’s really cool. With it being so integrated into Royal Marine culture – is that where you found the need for an organization like Reorg?
Sam Sheriff: Absolutely. So once we got it established as a Corps sport it was ingrained and wasn’t just personality led. When it was just what Royal Marines do, I was able to then switch-fire to how we could help veterans and the veteran community by introducing them to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
Because, I know how great I felt when I was on the mat and how great I felt after coming off. So it’s like, when you find something that’s so powerful. Such a great value. You just want to give it to others don’t you? So we started looking into how we could do that.
That was around the similar time that my path crossed with a man named Alan Shebaro who heads up We Defy Foundation.
Oh yeah – excellent. They’re fantastic.
Sam Sheriff: I invited him to come visit us at the Royal Marines and he came over with Chris Haueter and we hosted them. We had a great few days and in that time he gave me the opportunity to head up “We Defy UK” but it was really really important to me – even though that was such a huge honor and meant a lot to me – that we, the Royal Marines, had our own identity. He completely got that, and we talked. He gave me advice on it and really encouraged me to think about the name and the logo.
So with that, I spent a little bit of time just on my own with a sketch pad and some crayons. At this point I’m deep in my Jiu Jitsu journey and I’m thinking “Reversal”, “Switch”. Bad positions to good positions. Dark to Light. Obviously though, we are trying to appeal to military guys and girls who don’t know what Jiu Jitsu is so they aren’t going to get that. So I was trying to think of a military term, something to pull them in.
I don’t know if you are familiar with the term “Reorg” but we use that word when we’ve fought through, cleared that position and we come together after. That’s the command. We shout the word ‘Reorg!” and everyone shouts it back. We come together and check each other off. No matter what just happened, good or bad. We move on together with a positive mindset. To me when that came up I just thought to myself that it was exactly what we are trying to do. We want to get people in a bad place and put them in a good place using jiu jitsu as a vehicle.
I pushed the idea out to a few close friends and I got great feedback. That was the start of it really.
So as you transitioned from an active duty military lifestyle, what was it that made you realize this was needed for the veterans for the Royal Marines? What was the tipping point for that?
Sam Sheriff: We established Reorg under the umbrella of the Royal Marine Charity and initially it was just for Royal Marines and Royal Marine veterans. But we very quickly realized there was a much larger audience that could benefit from the Reorg mission. We opened it up to the wider British military – the British Army, the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy, and had a lot of success serving those communities.
Eventually though, we realized that the Emergency Services people could really use Reorg as well. I think you call them First Responders but here we call them Emergency Services, so fire fighters, paramedics, police officers. So we sort of outgrew the initial umbrella of the Royal Marine Charity and in order to help the other communities we wanted to serve we had to go out and do it on our own.
I had a chat with the small team that’s been helping me and we came to the conclusion this was something I could do full time. Retire from the Royal Marines and make Reorg my primary focus. So we made the decision to just go full tilt and put all our efforts towards it. We applied for charity status from the Charity Commission. We got that November 6, 2020 so from there on, we operated as a charity serving our communities with the Reorg mission.
What is the process to find those in need of Reorg’s support?
Sam Sheriff: There are multiple ways really. These guys and girls can self-refer to Reorg. They might have seen something online, or some sort of Reorg kit in a social media post and been like “What is this?” and then through searching they find us. And you know in that process hopefully the messaging of our mission and community gives them the courage to take that step towards getting in touch with us.
From there we get them in touch with the nearest supported Reorg academy to where they live. If they require financial assistance and training gear we supply it. What we are doing is breaking down barriers and breaking down walls. I think anyone, especially if they suffer from anxiety or depression, actually taking that courageous step to trying it out is actually quite a tall order. Your readers, who likely have been training Jiu Jitsu for years might have forgotten what it is like to step into a jiu jitsu academy for the first time. Because you don’t realize until you are in there that it’s probably the most welcoming, safe environment you could be in. The un-trained, uneducated person probably thinks that it’s a fight club. It’s just so far from the truth isn’t it?
Oh yeah absolutely.
Sam Sheriff: So what we do is break down those barriers, and coordinate the whole process for the prospective student. We send them Reorg kit so from their very first time walking into the academy they will identify straightaway with the Reorg family.
Or, what we’ve also had is that friends and family members will refer someone in their lives that needs Reorg. On our website we have an easy form people can fill in to get in touch with us. So there’s the emotional support of getting guys and girls on the mat and there is financial support as well. Especially for those that are really struggling. We assist with membership fees, mat fees. So I suppose what we really do is problem solving. We streamline the process for the veterans and emergency services guys and girls that need us.
Some of these people might recognize they need to make a positive change but not know what to do or might be discouraged by the challenges of getting started or paying for it. Just eliminating the barriers, sending the gi, the rashguard, the contact info of the coach directly, tuition. All they need is to go train. All the pressure has been removed. Just get on the mat and just train. Like you know I’m sure, when you are on the mat you go into that meditative state. Everything else just slips away and isn’t there when you are on the mat.
Yeah it’s like therapy of sorts. Just being forced to be present in the moment really does feel meditative. What is the transformation you see as these men and women are introduced to Jiu Jitsu through Reorg?
Sam Sheriff: The transformation is phenomenal. And you know, this sounds dramatic, but it’s true and it’s not just changing lives, it’s saving lives in some instances. These are people who have actually attempted to take their own life because they don’t like living any more. But with joining Reorg they have found a new community, new purpose, new fulfillment and we’ve had feedback that six weeks into training that these people enjoy living again.
To get messages like that, is just incredible. When you hear it, you wish you didn’t need to do this, you know what I mean?
Yeah for sure. I see what you mean.
Sam Sheriff: That’s the far right of the arc, we get these messages from the individuals themselves, their husbands or wives, and that they are a different person with Jiu Jitsu. But left of arc, if we can catch people early – almost like prehab. We get them into the lifestyle and they then hopefully never end up on the other end of the scale. That’s what we are seeing, we have blogs on the website showing many of our members sharing their own story which then of course inspires others to take that first step and start the cycle again.
What’s the area of operations for Reorg? Are you primarily focused on the United Kingdom?
Sam Sheriff: It is where we operate from but in terms of who we are inspiring I’d have to say it’s global. We get so much support from all over. People that see us and want to wear the Gi’s the rashguards that’s all over. The States, Australia, Chile – you name it. Last time I checked there were 27 countries where we’ve had supporters contribute from. One thing that’s really important that I want to get across is, because initially we met a lot of resistance because people thought we were a new jiu jitsu brand and were in competition.
It’s just so far from the truth. Reorg is all about inclusivity not exclusivity. We’ve done kit with Tatami, Hyperfly, Undefeated, and we have new kit coming out with Venum soon. It’s all about awareness. The more brands that support Reorg the more people that become aware of us. That’s the same with the individual Jiu Jitsu academies. There will never be a ”Reorg School”. It’s about Reorg supporting ALL Jiu Jitsu academies and all academies supporting Reorg. And yeah there is competition on the mat at a tournament between academies but Reorg hopefully is the glue that connects all of these academies together in sort of a global Jiu Jitsu/Reorg community.
With that said, what are your long term goals for Reorg?
Sam Sheriff: Hopefully one day every Jiu Jitsu academy on the planet will support Reorg and Reorg will support every Jiu Jitsu academy on the planet. It’s about unity through jiu jitsu to help others. And although our demographic we support financially is that kind of military veterans/emergency services community – what we’re actually finding is that we are inspiring a wider community to start Jiu Jitsu. It might be a friend or a loved one of someone who is in the military or is in the emergency services who does Jiu Jitsu and it makes them want to give it a go.
It doesn’t have to be that the desire to start comes from a traumatic experience, or special operations. It could be ill health, you’ve lost a loved one to cancer, you had a bad relationship. Everyday troubles that can be helped and dealt with by getting on the mat and being a part of this new community.
And we see this especially with the veterans. They had a career in the military and community – let’s say it’s four years, eight years, twenty-two years – it doesn’t matter. You’ve been a part of a brotherhood/sisterhood and all of a sudden it’s over. Years of eating together, sleeping together, training together and now one day you hand in your kit and ID card, walk out that gate and you are now Mr. or Mrs. Smith for example. That life you have known for all of those years is now gone.
You feel very alone, and it’s like you know – we aren’t talking about people here who sort of then on the road or have substance abuse just in a flat all on their own. That does happen, but they could have a good job, a loving family but there still is that missing puzzle piece of what they have known for years that’s just not there anymore.
We are filling that void, we are filling it with the Jiu Jitsu community because it’s so synonymous. You are a part of this new community, there is a rank structure with higher belts, coaches, the professor. You aspire to the next stripe and next belt. There’s an element of mentorship asking the upper belts how to solve an issue or figure out how to stop a pass. What you find is that in this, you advance through hard work, commitment, shared hardship and that whole experience breeds unity and develops strong relationships. You’ll spend two hours on the mats with each other and then go get a coffee or eat together. Before you know it you are part of this new community where you have belonging, fulfillment and identity. We just see how it’s just a fantastic tool for these guys and gals when they leave that behind.
What is the best way for people to help Reorg?
Sam Sheriff: So we’ve got a website, (https://reorgcharity.com/) and then they can donate if they wish, they could buy Reorg kit to spread awareness and that money will go to support the community as well. They can get in touch if they want to offer assistance if they are a gym owner and they’d like to support Reorg and have Reorg support them. If they know someone who could be helped by us they can email us and get us together. There are many ways to help us. If there is a brand or company that wants to help our community we have different packages for that as well too.
Excellent. Is there anything that I missed that you would like to touch on?
Sam Sheriff: One guy in our organization people may have seen is Mark Ormrod, he was injured in Afghanistan and is a triple amputee. He alone is inspiring a lot of people to start training, to start jiu jitsu. He’s always out there inspiring people and motivating people to get involved. His own reason for starting jiu jitsu was he sort of felt vulnerable. You’d never know it but being a triple amputee he was going through QBO’s (what we call Quick Battle Orders) of what he’d do if he had a home invasion, if something happened. He’s a husband, a father, and he wants to protect his family.
He reached out and we got on the mat in the combat room and just started to figure out what we could do. I’d never worked with a triple amputee before and we just spent a few hours on the mat and at the end of that session he was able to take me down, get on top, and apply a choke. It was amazing what he could do even with one arm and the confidence that gave him lit a fire in his belly. He’s a blue belt now and he’s a huge inspiration not only to me but to many.
Lots of people can draw inspiration from him.
100% agree. I’ll make sure to link in that episode of the Charlie-Charlie One podcast that the two of you did together for the readers interested in hearing more about Mark and his Jiu Jitsu journey. It was a phenomenal episode.
Mark is just an unbelievably positive person. I see him all the time on instagram and he’s just beaming with joy and happiness.
Sam Sheriff: Yeah he is absolutely.
I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with me today. It was such a pleasure to talk with you and I’m really happy we got to do this.
Thank you so much for getting in touch!