James Wilkins is a 185lb blue belt training out of Mongrel BJJ in Richmond, Virginia under Jon "JB" Burnley. He wrestled in high school but really only did so to ‘be cool’ and wasn’t ever any good at it. In late 2016, that mindset changed drastically when he stepped on the mats once again only this time, it was for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
. It wasn’t long before training went from being a two to three day a week hobby to a five to seven day a week passion. Once James began competing, his hunger for success and achievements in the sport grew rapidly and his deepened focus in training quickly lead to his first double gold in Men’s No-Gi and Men’s No-Gi Absolute in a local US Grappling tournament. His goal is to continue competing heavily, hitting tournaments from the local level to the Pans and Worlds as he preps his stand-up game to combine with his No-Gi abilities for MMA.
“This sport is extremely difficult. It’s taxing on your body and every time I am drenched in sweat laying there on the mat barely able to breathe and sore from head to toe, I always say to myself that it would be so much easier to just lay in bed watching Netflix enjoying an ice-cold coke and eating pizza lol but then I think of my team and my gym and my family and how much it means to me to win for them so I wipe off the sweat, take a big gasp of air, forget the pain, and continue training.”- James
Q&A Session Between James Wilkins and Elite Sports
Question: What will you suggest to the newcomers?
Answer: Don’t overload yourself. If you are anything like me when I started where you watch tons of videos and are that ‘what if’ person in class; don’t be that person haha. Stick to the absolute basics and drill them until they become habits. Focus on being fluid in all positions and be able to not only attain position but know how to escape from bad positions. Once you are habitually attaining position start working a sub or two and become very efficient with those submissions. Once you have your combination of positions to submissions those are your tools. Focus heavily on sharpening those tools becoming more and more lethal with them. Turn it into habit before adding more to the toolbox. Oh, and be super patient. Jiu Jitsu is really hard lol
Question: What does it mean for you to be a fighter?
Answer: To me, being a fighter means I have crossed a line where what I do is no longer just a hobby. I have reached a point where I have to train and have to get better because not only do I want to compete for fun and for my teammates, but I really want to win. All of the time and energy put into the sport has purpose and that is to beat my opponents.
Question: What are the essential things for the training?
Answer: Frequency and consistency. I like to win my matches and I know that in order to win, I have to train regularly and be consistent. Do not skip training days because every day you skip is another day your opponent is on the mats training to beat you.
Question: What separates you from every other fighter in your division?
Answer: Pure passion. While working two jobs and trying to get a business off the ground, I never made excuses or skipped training. I sacrificed sleep to be on the mats. I would go up to 48 hours without sleeping and still got at least two training sessions in during those 48 hours. People would call me crazy and scratch their heads wondering how I am still standing and my only response can be, passion.
Question: What is the meaning of success in your mind?
Answer: My idea of success in this sport comes from three things. One, when you see your hard work paying off in competition, two, when your accomplishments motivate others to work harder and become better, and three, being extremely happy during all of it.
Question: With whom you would like to fight, and why?
Answer: I was beat by Nathan Plummer at a tournament several months back and it motivated me even more to train harder and to compete more. I had a chance at redemption recently but unfortunately, he caught me again this time around. We should be seeing each other again here soon at an upcoming tournament for some more action and I hope to catch him this time around. This of course is all out of brotherly Jiu-Jitsu love but I think he knows I am continuing to work harder and harder to catch him!
Question: Is there any difference b/w your common days’ diet and during competition training diet?
Answer: I know my body really well and know how my body is going to react depending on what I put into it. I stay pretty consistent regardless of common days or leading up to competition. I believe you should go into competition feeling normal, comfortable, and like yourself. If I change my diet up for competition, that takes me out of my norm. One of my coaches once told me I should rely on the weight of my Jiu-Jitsu and not my physical weight and I took that to heart. My diet could be considered pretty average for a 26-year-old. I love Qdoba and I love pizza but I know my body and I know how much is too much and what will or will not impact my training. I always keep that in mind and sometimes I have to work harder in the gym because I had a little too much pizza but to me it’s a win win because A. I get to enjoy delicious pizza and B. I already love busting my butt in the gym so I maintain not only my physique but strength and endurance as well.
Question: How does a beginner prepare for the competition? Any advice for beginners?
Answer: Though it may be impossible (it was for me at least) I advise a first-time competitor to try everything in their power to relax and literally just have fun. Your heart will be thumping through your chest, you will probably gas out in the first 30 seconds of your match, lose all grip strength, and your mouth will feel like you have been walking through the desert for a week without any water BUT you will ultimately have fun, you will learn from the experience, and after several matches or tournaments later, your heart will stop beating so hard, you will focus more on your technique and not gas out so fast or lose your grips, and you will keep your breathing more controlled so your mouth won’t be so dry.
Question: How is it helpful to have the information about your competitor?
Answer: People may disagree with me on this but I actually don’t ever want any information about my competitor. I totally prefer to stay fluid and push or react on the fly depending on how the match is going. I feel like if I have a “game plan” or I train a specific series based on what my opponent might do, it will cause me to be more ‘narrow minded.’ Plus, I want my opponent to get the absolute best fight from me naturally because in the end that will truly show who the better competitor is that day.
Question: Is the martial arts necessary for a common person? How?
Answer: I think any common person would greatly benefit from taking a martial art. I think that everyone should at least try it out. If it isn’t for them then it isn’t for them or maybe they discover it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them. I think everyone should have a very basic knowledge of what methods they would need to use in the event they were ever attacked by someone. Even just a month of training would drastically improve the common persons abilities to protect themselves. I think everyone should at least try it out.
Question: Which moment is memorable for you in your past competitions?
Answer: I often bring up the first time I competed in the absolute division. I’ll never forget that moment all of the absolute no-gi competitors were called to the mat table to check in and as I was looking around sort of sizing everyone up I saw this one guy that was massive. He was the biggest guy out of the group and so I walked up to him and jokingly asked, “hey, you’re not doing absolute are you?” and he replied, “yeah I am.” I immediately started laughing and joked “haha I hope I don’t have to go against you.” After several matches had passed my name is being called. I run up to the table and bend down to put my anklet on and as I look up I see the biggest guy in the division walk onto the mat. I immediately looked at my coach and started laughing and saying “really, really?” He was much bigger and though I was joking around a lot, I stayed relaxed and relied on my training which allowed me to win the match by armbar. I later took gold that day for the absolute division after four tough matches and it was the most excited I had been in competition yet.
Question: How do martial arts help to build a leader?
Answer: You hear a lot of words like patience, confidence, inspiration, commitment, and passion when it comes to martial arts. These are all key qualities of excellent leaders and these qualities are naturally picked up throughout your martial arts career.
Question: What would be your dream fight?
Answer: I have a tremendous amount of respect for every person that steps into the cage. Mixing the arts into an epic battle between two passionate fighters is the ultimate test of your abilities in this sport. You’re not only talking being physically fit, and have a solid grasp on multiple arts, you have to be extremely tough mentally. My dream fight will be my first fight that I am currently working towards.
Question: How is the road plan necessary for any competition?
Answer: As I mentioned before, I prefer not to plan ahead. I always like to go with the flow and compete completely natural and when I am competing I just feel like it’s another day at the gym.
Question: Do you have any advice for your competitors?
Answer: My advice to my competitors is to train hard, train smart, and be ready to have some serious competition.
Question: How much importance has the sports gear in any competition?
Answer: It’s important to me to look and feel good when I go to compete. I want to feel comfortable and not be annoyed with the way my gear fits or feels and it doesn’t help that I am super OCD when it comes to these things lol.
Question: What should we learn from the legends /or from the seniors? Who is your inspiration?
Answer: The biggest thing to learn from the legends /or seniors is what their idea of success is and what drove them to get there. Honestly, my team is my inspiration. At the end of the day, I want to see them happy and proud of the team they are a part of.
Question: To whom you would like to compliment for your success?
Answer: That’s easy, my team aka my Mongrel Family!
Question: Who is your favorite legendary fighter? Why?
Answer: Some or many may argue when I say that I don’t think Connor McGregor is a legendary fighter but I think he has the potential to be legendary. From what I can see into his life, I really like his style, his passion to win, and his confidence. There is a dash of crazy in there but I think that might just be necessary at that level haha.