The Journey from Judo Championships to MMA Gold - An Interview with Christope Van Dijck
Christophe “The Hulk” Van Dijck started his martial arts career as a very successful Judoka. After becoming the Belgian national champion for the 8th time, he made the switch, in 2010, to MMA. Currently he fights out of Tiger Muay Thai, Phuket, Thailand.
At SalutemOfficial we take a look at the habits, training methods and diets of elite athletes in combat sports. What works and what doesn’t. To find out we meet with top competitors like Christophe Van Dijck.
Hi Christophe, first of all, thank you for taking the time to do the interview. To start right off, you have hopes of competing within the Grand Prix tournament of Brave CF in Bahrain on November the 15th.
Yes, that is correct. I signed up to participate, I'll know soon whether or not I'm selected, fingers crossed! It’ll be a tournament with 4 contenders and the whole tournament takes place in 1 day. So, if you win your first fight and proceed to the final, you fight two times in one day.
"I don't care about the weight, I'll fight anyone"
You’ve done most of your fights at 77kg (170 pounds), does it scare you that this tournament is Open Weight?
No, it doesn’t. It’s indeed possible that I fight a really big guy, but I don’t care. I just want to fight. I train to fight and fighters fight, so whatever. Most fighters nowadays try to select their opponents with the purpose of improving their record, so they can get in the UFC. I’m not like that, I'll fight anyone. For me, any fight can be good, even if you lose, because it will make you grow as a martial artist. I’ll fight anyone.
You won’t have to cut any weight for the tournament, at what weight do you expect to enter the ring?
I walk around at about 92kg (203 pounds), that’s why I went up a weight class. I used to fight at 77kg (170 pounds), now I fight at 84kg (185 pounds). The weight cut was too long and too hard. I was losing a lot of potential when I was fighting. I’ve always had good cardio, but when I was fighting at 77 kg, I did well in the first round, and then in the middle of the second round I started to lose my cardio. And once you get tired, you actually don’t fight against your opponent, but you fight against yourself. So, I talked with my coaches, friends and girlfriend and then I asked them “what do you think about that I go up a weight class?” And we agreed, with an improved cardio I can take my performance to the next level.
At how much did you used to walk around at when you fought at 77 kg?
I walked around at 90kg(198 pounds). It was really hard, l dieted for 6 weeks during training camp. I lost all the fat I could, until I weight 85kg(187 pounds)with only 4% body fat. From 85kg to 77kg I had to cut water. And most of the time I had to do that the day before the fight.
You started off your martial arts career as a successful judoka. Do you sometimes still practice Judo specifically?
No, I wish I could still do it, but here in Phuket there is no Judo club. When I arrived here, I tried to find a Judo club, because it’s my background and I want to keep practicing it, because it’s helped me a lot in my MMA game. But sadly, I can’t find a proper Judo gym here.
Being a judoka, you were already very familiar with the takedown game. Was it hard to make the judo throws work in MMA, since there is no gi to grab on to?
Because of the absence of the kimono, there are a few throws which are not possible. But with a few adjustments on how to hold onto your opponent, most Judo throws can be performed in MMA as well.
When I was competing in Judo, it was still allowed to grab the legs. So, for me, I was familiar with the typical wrestling takedowns, like the Single Leg and the Double Leg takedowns.
Since 2010 it is prohibited to grab the legs, which makes Judo less of a complete martial art. People who are schooled in the new Judo rules and transition to MMA, they have to work a lot on their wrestling. But even with the new rules, Judo will remain a very good base to transition to MMA from. Judokas are very strong.
"If they bring back the leg grabbing in Judo, it would really be the perfect base for MMA. "
Interesting that you bring up that point. It’s exactly what I experience when at BJJ practice when I roll with Judokas, they are so strong. They can often bully you around with sheer strength.
Yes, that is actually kind of my game in jiujitsu and MMA. I often get out of bad positions or keep people in bad positions with sheer strength. When I roll or spar, people often tell me that they are surprised with my strength. It’s true, in general Judo guys are really strong, I don’t know why, but I’ve noticed it as well.
If they bring back the leg grabbing it’s really a perfect base for MMA.
You settled in Phuket and train at Tiger Muay Thai nowadays. Could you walk us through your week?
To train at Tiger Muay Thai is a huge opportunity, because you have a lot of martial arts classes, if you want, you can be training all the time. On top of that, there are great athletes to train with. Athletes that are part of the Tiger Muay Thai team, but also top athletes that come train there for a while and then go back. I train 6 days a week. And Sunday is my only rest day, this day I really don’t do anything, just resting and getting ready for Monday.
I train two to three times a day, depending on the day and on how my body feels. My schedule is like three days focus on jiujitsu and three days focus on wrestling and striking. Those days, I do separate strength and conditioning sessions as well. For strength and conditioning I do some CrossFit, which is also good for explosive power.
It’s a full schedule, but we try to be smart, because overtraining happens quickly. I do three training sessions a day, but it’s not that I go all out during those three sessions. It’s more like one session I go 100 % and the other two I focus on learning new things, new techniques.
For example, the first training of the day I spar and I go all in and I’ll be very tired. Then the following session I would for, for example train jiujitsu, but I would not roll hard, rather take it easy and focus on technique. And after the jiu jitsu class I would do strength and conditioning, but not very long, maybe 45 minutes. I also make sure that this last training session isn’t too intensive. You can absolutely not be exhausted for the training sessions the next day.
"I use a lot of tools to make sure I recover optimally."
How do you make sure to recover well from training and competition as a fighter? Have you implemented any recovery techniques? If so, when do you use them?
I use a lot of tools to make sure I recover optimally. For example, the ice bath, I do it twice a week. At Tiger Muay Thai they prepare ice baths for their fighters every Monday and every Friday. These are the days we spar with the team. After the sparring sessions we all go in the ice and chill and be ready for the next day.
When I'm home watching tv, I like to use the compex machine. It consists of different electrodes that you apply to your skin. These electrodes stimulate the muscles and the bloodflow. It helps my body recover faster; I really feel the difference. Sometimes when I come back from the ice bath, I’m still really sore. In that case, I use the compex machine after the ice bath, immediately I’m more relaxed and feel less tired. I'm really happy with this gift of my sponsor ArmourUp Asia.
Another tool I like to use is a massage gun. Massaging myself with that releases muscle tension and soreness. I like to do as much as I can to be ready for the next day. I use the pneumatic compression and the massage gun almost every day.
How does Team Envisage MMA assist you in your training in Thailand and your life in general?
For me Envisage means more than just a sponsor. Kevin (Johnson, Founder&CEO) and the team Envisage are trying to build a solid MMA team, to achieve big things together. It’s a project where fighters are really helped to continue to pursue a dream. They really make it possible for me to train here in Thailand. On top of that, they give me the high-quality gear I need, so I don’t need to buy them.
But actually, it’s about so much more than just the financial aspect, it’s really kind of a family and support system. Sometimes I don’t feel good and I call him (Kev Johnson), he’s going to do everything possible to make you feel better and change your mind. Before you know, you are back on the mats, smashing people. That’s why I say, it’s more than just a sponsor.
Could you tell us how you go about your diet?
People who know me, know that I love food and I like to eat A LOT. I don’t count calories. If I want to eat something, I eat it. I train so much, all the calories I eat, I burn. I only follow a specific diet when I’m in training camp and I have to lose weight. Otherwise, when I want a chocolate, I eat the chocolate.
Do you take any supplements? If so, which ones and what are the reasons to take them?
I like to take some BCAA with some Creatine for training. It helps your body to recover well for all the training to come.
I like to take Glucosamine and omega 3 as well. These supplements I take for my joints. My joints have experienced 22 years of high-level force, they are starting to feel old. I need
some help in that regards.
Before a hard training session, I use a really good pre workout coffee, created by my sponsor Team Envisage MMA. It’s 100% natural and it’s enriched with B vitamins, Beta Alanine, MCTs and creatine. What I love most about this product is that it gives me sustained energy, without the crash that I get from other pre workout supplements.
Are there any other tools you use to maximize your performances/abilities? If so, could you tell us a bit more about it?
Yes, I work with a sports psychologist now, it really is a great help. He increases my mental strength, which is so important in MMA.
I think every high-level athlete should work with a sports psychologist, because in every career there are ups and downs. And to stay positive, you have to have someone, outside of your circle, who knows how to put you in the right mindset again.
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