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‘Slick’ Rick Marshall is a badass Fil-Am jiu-jitsu instructor slash engineer slash MBA grad: 'I feel much more violent when I eat the right food'

By Karl R. De Mesa Published Mar 12, 2022 10:54 am

One might call “Slick” Rick Marshall an overachiever.

A jiu-jitsu black belt under the 10th Planet system, the Filipino-American isn’t just a badass martial artist but he also has a Bachelors and Masters in Computer Science, plus an MBA from Duke University. At the moment, Marshall is learning Mandarin, “mostly because it’s one of the two hardest languages to learn.”  

As indoor contact sports are now allowed following the effectivity of Alert Level 1,Marshall taught a seminar at Brawlers Lab in Valenzuela City last March 6. Attended by grapplers from all over the metro, the event focused on the Rubber Guard, a position with one leg on the back of the neck made famous by the 10th Planet Jiu-jitsu school, the ground fighting system founded by grappling innovator Eddie Bravo. 

Marshall grew up in Southern California, his American father a US Marine and his mother a Filipina who worked odd jobs. While he had tried many sports in his youth—including breakdancing, BMX biking, and skateboarding—his fitness journey through the martial arts was ignited when his father enrolled him and his siblings in karate class.

Years later, sedentary and chubby as a full-time technologist, he’d pass by a Brazilian jiu-jitsu school and remember that initial spark, starting him on a trajectory that would see him transfer to a 10th Planet school in 2009. From there he would go on to become the first 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu instructor in Southeast Asia, based at Evolve MMA in Singapore. 

Marshall teaches jiu-jitsu students at a seminar in Valenzuela

When his stint in Asia was over, he would return to California and start his own academy, 10th Planet Redlands. Then Marshall’s MBA and all those years working at big tech companies and defense contractors would pay off as he built his own enterprise. All the while his love for travel and adventure brought him to seminars all over the region, spreading the gospel of the 10th Planet system to India, Thailand, and of course to the Philippines.  

“I am also learning Balintawak arnis and I am a few months into Tagalog lessons,” said Marshall. “I do understand things way faster now, because a lot of it is like Spanish. I’m also talking a little bit more with my mother since I’m learning the mother tongue. I’d go ‘Mom, how do I say this?’ This stuff is fun to me.” 

About diet and jiu jitsu, I feel much more violent when I eat the right food and don’t drink.

We sat down with Marshall to talk about his fitness journey through jiu-jitsu and the 10th Planet system, and why grappling is one of the best ways to keep trim and learn at the same time.  

How’d you get interested in jiu-jitsu? 

After work I didn't have anything to do. I was like, let me find something to occupy my time because I was gaining a lot of weight. Being in front of the computer you get chubby. I had the triple chin from just being sedentary. I got to exercise, I told myself. I was always passing by an odd business when I’d go to work at Panasonic in Irvine. This place said Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I was like: what is that? But then I remembered that when I started watching UFC’s The Ultimate Fighter, they were always talking about that, including muay thai.

How heavy were you and how fast did you lose that weight and get fit when you started training? 

I’d ballooned up to 175lbs. That was the heaviest I’d ever been. But that’s both as a jiu jitsu practitioner and non-practitioner. See, there’s a difference between 175lbs software engineer, and 175lbs guy that trains. My 175lbs “techie self” was always sitting in the chair writing code, or developing documents as a product manager. I ate the same amount of food but nothing was ever burned off. 

So you could be heavy and overweight while still training, it’s not just an activity thing? 

Marshall in 2014

I reached up to 175 even when training jiu jitsu because of bad diet. I got into this routine after training: Monday, pizza and pitchers of beer; Tuesday taco night and pitchers of beer; Wednesday wing night and pitchers of beer; Thursday pizza and beer again; then Friday Korean BBQ or Thai food and mixed drinks. Saturday possibly pizza and beer or possible BBQ to watch UFC at my house or someone else’s—and of course beer. Then on Sunday I’d go to my parents’ house where my mom would cook everything from Filipino food to steak and we’d probably have some wine together. 

Smart training and the diet really go hand in hand for a better, more fit grappler.

In 2014, it was December when I got my black belt. Then I got laid off at Samsung. I was still teaching BJJ but I would supplement my income by driving Uber and Lyft all over Southern California. It wasn’t until I started preparing for the ADCC West Coast trials competition that I started to eat “right.” No more pizza, no more beer. Of course, I had to taper off this eating and drinking habit. Recently I got down to 158 lbs.

You’re going to lose weight by training jiu jitsu, and your cardio will naturally get better the more you train.

About diet and jiu jitsu, I feel much more violent when I eat the right food and don’t drink as much—if any at all. I found I would sweat and huff and puff so much with a bad diet. Once I cleaned my diet act, I could go 10 rounds daily and not seem to break a sweat, literally. I’d feel I could go another 10 rounds if I wanted to and the only limiting factor was the next class had to jump on for kickboxing.

Since you’ve been teaching the art, I'm sure some students come in very skeptical about how it'll help their fitness goals versus a regular gym. Especially with weight loss. How do you as an instructor explain the process or idea of how training benefits overall healthy activity?

Some students or prospective clients know that jiu-jitsu will help their weight loss and cardio goals. But the interesting paradox comes when a potential student tells me they’re interested in starting to train with me BUT their weight or cardio is going to be bad, and they they’ll come back in about three to six months when they have lost weight, or their cardio is good enough to train jiu-jitsu. 

I tell them: you’re going to lose weight by training jiu jitsu, and your cardio will naturally get better the more you train. Some will start and even throw up after one minute of their first five-minute rolling round. Then the next time they train they may get a full round in, and then three rounds in, during the second week. And before you know it, they’ve lost 10lbs and they’re getting five rounds of grappling in.

From that kind of progress, the idea that “I will get fit first before learning jiu-jitsu” is essentially a myth.  

Based on countless accounts of seeing students get better cardio and meeting their weight loss goals, I tell prospective students or clients: “Now is the time to jump right in. You will thank me six months down the road when you’re the most confident person you will have been in a long time. You’re knowledgeable in martial arts and self defense-ground fighting, your weight is much lower, and body is much leaner.” Who wouldn’t want that? Who would rather want to lose weight or do cardio in something totally unrelated to the art itself?

I continually try to connect the puzzle and broaden my game. I also try to roll with everyone, never turn down a spar.

You were the first black belt to pioneer 10th Planet as the system’s head instructor at Evolve MMA, Singapore. Did you need to tweak your instruction style when you taught there from 2016 to 2018, since there’s more of a traditional BJJ presence in this region?  

At Evolve I felt like I was teaching people how to move their bodies. There were some guys that were already good and they're already probably blue belts and stuff like that but it started small. 

Mostly, it was a martial arts vacation for me. Monday through Friday I would work on all jiu-jitsu classes at Evolve. There's three branch locations around Singapore and I would drive on my scooter to all of them. Taking the subway was just too complicated for me—I didn’t like riding the trains. I had to hop on my little electric scooter from place to place and I had to get from this branch to that branch, sometimes within 30 minutes. So, I’d shower and zoom. 

You also trained at Chokchai Muay Thai Camp in Phuket, Thailand for a month and complemented your grappling with other martial arts. 

I was training four times a day in Muay Thai in Phuket. It was good but I mean, the humidity was very hot! At first, I was tired, tired, tired, but then I got used to it. But you could only get used to it. There was no choice. Eventually I realized I better start teaching jujitsu out here because I'm going to lose my jiu-jitsu. I offered them to teach Tuesday and Thursday. They're like, yes please! 

You mentioned that while in Thailand, when you’d add such intense training in those other arts, your body wasn't used to such frequency and level of activity. Having experienced that, how do you explain to a newbie the mind frame needed to push through the mental barriers that so often hinder fitness progress?

My biggest barrier was my mindset. I thought one session a week for jiu-jitsu and one for kickboxing was a lot because I had nothing to compare in to in my past experience. On learning my fellow practitioner at the gym I first started at was doing back-to-back jiu-jitsu then kickboxing, twice a week, I was able to realize something so intense was possible. 

My students, having a can-do mindset, and my being able to tell my students I would train 14 to 16 sessions a week, has opened their minds. It’s broken down their mental barriers, so that they too are able to get in five sessions a week with ease. And they can’t get enough of it!

As a martial artist who’s already achieved so much, how do you stay so inspired? 

There’s always something to learn. I look through things and say, wow that’s neat! I continually try to connect the puzzle and broaden my game. I also try to roll with everyone, never turn down a spar, because from day one I always want to be sure my jiu-jitsu works on everybody. It’s always wanting to get tapped.