Interview with Halldór Logi Valsson: Iceland’s top brown belt and president of the Icelandic BJJ Federation

Iceland is famous for its volcanoes, beautiful nature and it is also home to UFC fighter Gunnar Nelson. Iceland has also a small yet vibrant Jiu Jitsu community, which is relatively unknown. BJJ Scandinavia met with Icelandic BJJ brown competitor belt, Halldór Logi Valsson, who gave us a heartfelt interview where he shares his struggle with depression as a teenager and how Jiu Jitsu helped him over come those great difficulties. Today, Halldór is one of the top competitors in Europe, he is also the president of the Icelandic BJJ federation and a real travel aficionado. Thanks Halldór, we really enjoyed doing this interview, so we hope you guys will like it too.

1) Hi, Please introduce yourself to the BJJ Scandinavia community
Hi, My name is Halldór Logi Valsson and I´m a Jiu jitsu competitor out of a small town called Akureyri, Iceland. I’m 21 years old and have now been training Jiu Jitsu for 6 years. I have been training and teaching in a local club called Fenrir MMA, which is a small school with a friendly environment school under Checkmat. I was very lucky back in 2010/11 to stumble upon the club and meet a great guy called Ingþór Örn Valdimarsson, who I am privileged to call my coach. Ingþór is our head coach and a Checkmat affiliated Black Belt under Bruno Matias and Robson Barbosa, he has pushed me onward this whole time and I’m very lucky to get to call him coach and training partner.

I started my competition career early as a white belt, 16 years old of age. Being a jiu jitsu competitor in Iceland is a tough job, not many opportunities for competition, and you will have to travel abroad most of the time for competition, which (when there is only 2 airlines in your country) can be both difficult and expensive.

Soon after starting my Jiu Jitsu journey, I had already decided that this is what I wanted to do and started travelling and competing as soon as I possibly could. One of my most memorial competitions was in Denmark, back in 2012 when I decided to enrol in the Danish open and be the first ever competitor out of my school to travel abroad for competition. I ended up taking double gold in the tournament, winning both my category and the open weight. After this there was no turning back. Since then I try to travel and train as much as I possibly can, get a competition or a super fight in the books wherever I get my hands on one. I have now completed in multiple IBJJF tournaments, medaling at every one I have participated in, winning NAGA, Icelandic Nationals multiple times and No-Gi nationals.

2) What is your BJJ story?
Like so many of my fellow countryman I was struggling with depression from early age. Growing up was not the easiest thing and day to day life was somewhat a struggle. I was having a hard time in school, social life and my life was not headed in the right direction. My low point came when on multiple occasions I tried to take my own life, only at the age of 15.

I was training football at the time with the local team and every Wednesday we went to the gym for strength and conditioning. On the top floor of that gym there was a small MMA class being ran every Wednesday and one day after training I decided to join in. Things were rough and brutal and it wasn’t something I was used to, but damn, did I enjoy it. You came to the gym and every time it was something new, something not planned, we put on small gloves and from there it was survival mode. In hindsight it was not the smartest thing, but those were the times. Luckily we have evolved from this barbaric state of training and now have a very new comer friendly program. I decided even though taking the punches every night, that this was something I wanted to stick to. Through the MMA training, I was introduced to Jiu Jitsu and immidiately fell in love with the sport.

It wasn’t long until I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life and I was going to put my heart and soul in to it. I quit school and started working to save up some money for travelling, even though I had tons of negativity coming at me, for the first time I knew, I was doing something I was meant to do.

I trained restlessly every day and even slept at the gym from time to time, only to catch the morning classes before work. I signed up for my first competition and on that trip was introduced to a great guy who was going to shape my life for the next years. Christian Graugart was the head coach of CSA in Copenhagen Denmark and the owner of The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Globetrotters, he told me about his camps, his ideas and travelling and I was caught. This was the thing, the thing I wanted to do !

I have travelled to countless countries since, slept on infinite Sofa’s/floors, been to the shadiest neighbourhoods, the nicest beaches and all thanks to Jiu Jitsu. Everywhere I go I feel welcome, and I welcome everyone to our gym and hospitality, Jiu Jitsu community is the greatest thing. I know one thing is for sure, I have never been happier.

3) You work on the Icelandic BJJ federation, tell us about the BJJ scene in Iceland
I was elected the president of the Icelandic BJJ federation in 2016 and was before that a board member. I have always tried to involve my self as much as possible in the Jiu Jitsu scene in Iceland and done everything in my power to help it grow. The scene here is growing fast, we currently have nine Jiu Jitsu schools all around the country and new people coming in daily. Just recently the biggest MMA gym in the world was opened up in Reykjavik and for a country with such a small population, these numbers are amazing. Iceland currently has 9 black belts, who all have gained good reputition and proven there worth in competitions nationally and internationally. Gunnar Nelson is one of our biggest superstars, and every time he fights the whole nation gets behind him. You could say that he played a massive role in getting the sport to where it is.

4) What are the main BJJ tournaments in Iceland?
The number of competition in the country are unfortunately very few. We have around 4 big tournaments and then few smaller ones. The number of competitors in such a small country is unfortunately not high enough to have belt divisions so we just fight in weight classes, except for the Belt division tournaments held by VBC (a club in kopovogur) both for White and Blue Belts, and have they been a huge success. Other then that, we have The nationals, which is our big Gi competition, Mjölnir open, which is the biggest No-Gi tournament and has been looked at, as the No-Gi nationals, Fenrir Open, a small, friendly Gi tournament held up north and last but not least is Grettismótið, which is another tournament held by Mjölnir, this time in the Gi.

5) Tell us about your academy
Fenrir is my academy, we are located in the north in a small town called Akureyri, often called “the capital of the north” , friendly enviroment and chill atmosphere characterizes the club. We try to make everyone feel welcome and at home. We are a MMA gym and run box, Jiu Jitsu, Strenght and conditioning, Kick Boxing and Muay Thai classes. Ingþór Örn is our Jiu Jitsu head coach and owner of the gym. If you ever find your self traveling to the north of Iceland, know that your are always welcome and our mats always open.

6) What is your training routine
I try to get at least 5 Jiu Jitsu classes done every week, 2 weightlifting sessions and then 2 boxing sessions. This however depends a lot on my work schedule and sometimes i’m lucky to fit few more sessions in or unfortunately have to lower my training. I also teach 2 times a week during the evenings.

7) What would you say to someone who wants to visit Iceland and train BJJ?
I would always recommend Iceland as a place to come and travel, especially if your purpose is Jiu Jitsu. Not only is the country beautiful with a lot of exotic nature and good sightseeing to be done, the level of Jiu Jitsu here is also extremely high. I’m always shocked every time I go abroad, how high the level of Jiu Jitsu is in our small country compared to some of the bigger countries with the bigger schools and world famous instructors. My first and foremost tip would be to explore. Don’t only stick with the capital and think that to be enough, we have a jiu jitsu academy in every corner of the country and if time allows you, try your best to explore them all. Get in contact with BJJ (Icelandic BJJ Federation), via either Facebook or mail, we will happily assist you in your travels and help you get in touch with good people, we also have a lot of tips to offer. Lastly I would recomend you to take it slow and enjoy the ride !

8) What is next for you in 2017
2017 is going to be dedicated to travelling and competing and I made my self a promise that I would try to do as much of both as I humanly can. I aim to get my 10th BJJ Globetrotters camp in the books this year, as I´ve already done 7 and got 1 booked already.. 2 more to go !
I have also booked my self to the Europeans and Rome Open in April, which is going to be my first big competition this year and hopefully not the last. The main goal for 2017 will defenetly be improving each day and enjoying every moment of the ride.

9) Favourite technique
As a fairly big guy, I have always been fascinated by the small guys Jiu Jitsu. I decided that I did not only want to be dominant on top, but I wanted to make the bottom, my home turf. Even though in competition I prefer top, I will have to say that my favourite technique is everything that has to do with deep half guard. Deep half guard is hands down, my favourite posistion and I love to explore and try out new stuff from there. Everything that has to do with the lapel also interests me, things that are not normal, weird wrap around and chokes from all different positions and angles.

10) Thanks and feel free to send a message to the BJJ Scandinavia community
Thank you a lot for having me, lastly I would just like to thank all my training partners, family, girlfriend and of course my sponsor Dojo Chimp for everything. If you wish to follow me through the year 2017, competition preperation, training, technique etc, follow me on Instagram at HalldorlogiBJJ.