One of the things that makes Easton so special is the incredible wealth of resources available to students vis-a-vis its coaches and leadership. We’re fortunate to have a strong community to pull from when we’re looking for the most capable individuals to run each of our academies, not just because we want operations flowing as smoothly as possible but because we know that whoever runs the academy will inherently shape its culture.
Each of our academies has its own flavor due to more than its unique location. While the heart of all the locations is Easton, each academy’s body becomes a fusion of its students, coaches and leadership and all of the unique personalities, abilities and energy that everyone brings to the table.
Those who have been with Easton Longmont since the beginning know the amazing work the academy’s first GM, Jordan Shipman, put into opening the academy in 2020 just before the Pandemic hit and the effort it took to create a culture and build a member base amid new state-mandated restrictions. As Jordan shifts gears to run Easton’s Kids Program as our new Kids Department Head, we’re thrilled to welcome Professor Phil Lietz to the team as our newest General Manager at Easton Longmont!
Professor Phil will continue to lead our Longmont academy to excellence, both on the mats technically, bringing with him a portfolio of elevated Jiu Jitsu and plenty of comp experience, and off the mats as a voice in the community. As a professional artist and the owner of a rare-lizard business, Phil is the perfect addition to the creative and quirky community that makes up Easton Longmont!
From CO’s grappling scene to Longmont’s GM
Phil had been in the Colorado grappling scene for a while, and though he trained at another academy, nearly everyone he competed against always ended up being an Easton person. As the competition community in Colorado is a pretty focused group, Phil actually knew Professors Ian Lieberman, Mike Tousignant and Alex Huddleson for a long time before he joined Easton.
What began as a casual competition acquaintance gradually turned into a deluge of coaching, and snowballed into the opportunity to run Easton Longmont as its General Manager.
At the time, Phil was working at a small BJJ academy that, while made of a good group of people, was not very developed, and Phil craved more growth and development. After one of his competitions, Professor Ian came up to Phil at the end of a few matches where he’d beaten some Easton guys, and complemented his Jiu Jitsu.
“He said, ‘Hey, you’ve got great BJJ,’’ recalls Phil. “‘I love the way you play the game. I’d love to train with you sometime if you ever want to stop by the school.’ I was a purple belt at the time, and was struck by it. That takes some real lack of ego.”
Phil reached out to Ian and trained with him a handful of times, and continued to develop a professional Jiu Jitsu relationship with him and the other Easton black belts over the years. When he left his old academy, Easton reached out to see if Phil would be interested in coaching, and the rest is history.
From self-defense to total devotion
Despite what his black belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu might suggest, Phil didn’t have a particularly athletic upbringing beyond basic peewee sports as a kid. The pivotal point for him happened in high school during an encounter in the wild. Out with friends, the group came across a situation that could have easily escalated to a fight. While it didn’t, it was terrifying enough that it left Phil freaked out and feeling like he needed to do something.
His high school art teacher had a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and Phil decided to ask him for some lessons. For the first six months, he did it two to three days a week. However, after entering his first tournament and losing horribly, Phil started training almost every day.
“I had no idea what I was getting myself into or what it would look like,” says Phil. “I entered just because my instructor suggested it. I lost horribly and got my ass handed to me in a way that was really demoralizing. From that point on, I decided to take it more seriously.”
He went to every open mat, sometimes training twice a day, and had a solid year where the only days he took off were the days he was sick.
When it comes to what drives Professor Phil both on and off the mats, it’s typically the same thing – that thing just happens to change all the time.
“There’s that old saying: follow your passion,” says Phil. “Then there are the people that say your passion doesn’t matter because passion is fleeting. So you have to follow something more than passion – discipline.”
Sometimes the thing that motivates him to keep going comes down to a sense of purpose: this is what I do, what I was put here to do.
Other times, it’s a passion – a raw love for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Still, other times it’s something else – from the shame of not achieving his goals, to the fear of going back to the 245 pounds Phil weighed in his last year of high school.
On top of the physical safety that BJJ gave Phil, he fell in love with the honesty of the sport – regardless of whether you’re a billionaire, super strong, smart, small, none of it matters on the mat. It all comes down to what you have in that moment – raw. Even then, there’s a sliding scale when you’ve trained with world class competitors.
“There’s no limit to how far that ass beating can go,” says Phil. “I can beat all the kids at the academy, but then there are guys who toy with me while doing their taxes.”
Martial Arts steals Phil from the art world
While Phil may have always been destined for a career in the martial arts field, like many of us he started out in a completely different industry – that of concept art and illustration. (Remember that high school art teacher?)
For as long as Phil could remember, art had always been his purpose. After high school, he attended a concept art school in Texas which trained artists to create art for gaming, film and pre-production work and even held a position at a concept art studio in Berlin, Germany, where he lived for several months in his early twenties.
His boss, the gentleman who ran the studio, was an idol of his, and though by most post-art-grad standards, Phil could technically say he was living the dream, it turned out that his dream didn’t exactly look the way he pictured.
Phil’s boss turned out not to be who he’d hoped, and even though his job had him in Germany drawing and painting, at work he couldn’t stop watching BJJ videos and tournaments. He also found an academy as soon as he got to Berlin and spent all of his free time outside of work training.
“I was in denial about my true purpose for a very long time,” says Phil, who tells us that wherever he moved, he always knew that what he was doing would always be secondary to Jiu Jitsu. “Art was always my purpose. I still love art, and have a profound love for that world. But with the level of fulfillment that I got out of doing it, the juice was not worth the squeeze.”
While in Europe, Phil took a vacation and went to England where he stayed and trained with a friend, followed up by a three-week world champion-run training camp in Athens, Greece
From that point on, it became obvious that Phil would always choose Jiu Jitsu and training over most anything else.
“I’ll get to whatever else eventually, but I’m going to train,” says Phil.
He wanted to be completely immersed in the world of Jiu Jitsu, steeped in it – like those who had inspired him over the years had expressed.
However, while his role models had similar feelings, rarely did Phil encounter many people who actually lived it. That was going to be him. Phil began competing consistently as a white belt, including phases throughout his competition journey which had him competing every weekend.
Moral of the story? What you love will eventually show itself.
“I never thought about Jiu Jitsu getting in the way,” says Phil, “but it was getting in the way all the time. I never gave it a second thought. I was just always leaning into it.”
Embrace the wild
Along with running Easton Longmont, Phil also has a business breeding and selling rare reptiles to everyone from everyday people to AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions.
This passion has grown alongside him since he started finding and catching reptiles as a kid. In fact, much like Jiu Jitsu, there has never been a time when Phil wasn’t paying attention to the reptile world.
“I like everything about them!” Phil says. “They’re beautiful and they have so much variety. There’s something about them that intrigues me and connects me to the world around me in a way I don’t get with everything else. I get them.”
The craziest lizard he’s ever had was a two-foot long, 15-pound Egyptian Uromastyx named Porkchop! (Not unlike an angry territorial dog.) He keeps all of his lizards in a 2,000 square-foot flex warehouse from which he operates his business. Up until 2023, Phil worked solo but just at the beginning of this year he hired his first employee!
As Phil now moves into a different sort of wild, the new frontier of running a school, he looks forward to helping Easton Longmont grow to the level of the three larger Easton academies and add strength to the ranks of Easton’s BJJ competition team!
We love some healthy competition, and Easton academies are a great place for that, with everybody constantly supporting and encouraging each other to keep raising the bar.
We can’t wait to see how Easton Longmont thrives under Professor Phil’s leadership, and the way its culture of excellence, community and creativity will continue to flourish.