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Our Instructors

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Eric Burdo, Head Instructor

Eric Burdo started his Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training at the beginning of 1998, training in Burlington, Vermont with his instructor and mentor, Julio “Foca” Fernandez. On October 13th, 2007, Eric was awarded his BJJ Black Belt from Mr. Fernandez, after almost ten years of consistent training. Mr. Fernandez awarded Eric with his 2nd degree in October 2013. Mr. Fernandez is a 6th Degree Black Belt under the legendary Carlson Gracie, Sr. During his ten years of active competition for the Carlson Gracie Competition Team, Mr. Fernandez went undefeated in over two hundred BJJ matches. For more information on Julio, please go to:

Eric has competed at the highest levels of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, including the 2002, 2003 and 2009 Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Championships, as well as the 2004 BJJ World Championship Mundials held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, the 2008 International Masters in Rio, and the 2009 US Nationals of BJJ where he placed 2nd in his Black Belt division. As a Black Belt, Eric won his invitational Superfight match in March of 2008, competed in Brazil in the summer of 2008, took 2nd place at the 2009 US Nationals in Los Angeles, as well as 2nd place in a Submission-Only Black Belt invitational division at the end of 2009. Mr. Fernandez has honored Eric with the opportunity to teach the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in the Richmond area, under the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu United States Association (BJJUSA), of which Mr. Fernandez is president. The Richmond BJJ Academy is also an official school of the BJJ Revolution Team, who are the 2005 and 2006 Brazilian National Champions of BJJ, as well as the 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2010 US National Champions of BJJ. Please visit

As well as his passionate love for Jiu-Jitsu, Eric has also been formally training in Muay Thai Kickboxing (the national sport of Thailand) since April of 2002 under Jarrett Church, who helped found Richmond BJJ Academy’s Muay Thai program. To further his Muay Thai skills, Eric traveled to Thailand in November 2012.  Eric trained in both Bangkok at the world famous Fairtex Gym and in Phuket at Tiger Muay Thai, where he trained privately with legendary Muay Thai Champion Kru Yod (who was recently flown into Montreal to prepare Georges St. Pierre for his UFC title fights at UFC 154 & 158).  Eric also taught BJJ seminars and classes at Bangkok BJJ Academy as well as at Tiger Muay Thai.  The highlight of Eric’s trip was going to Lumphini Stadium in Bangkok, the most famous Thai boxing stadium in the world, to watch live Muay Thai fights! He returned to Thailand in 2017 and trained for 2 weeks at Hongthong Muay Thai in Chiang Mai with Kru Joe & Kru Gen.

Eric’s teaching style is one of the stressing technique through detail, and drilling until the techniques become muscle memory. Eric works hard to foster an open and positive learning environment through encouragement and support, not criticism. Eric is a very experienced and accomplished Instructor, honing his teaching style and methods since January of 2002. You will always find Eric on the mat, working hard with his students, and drilling side by side with them.

Liz Sussan, Instructor

Liz Sussan is the first and only female Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt in the Richmond, VA area. She received her Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Eric Burdo in October 2016. Liz is a 2015 IBJJF Pan Ams Brown Belt Silver medalist, and a 2014 IBJJF International Masters Brown Belt Bronze medalist. She has trained BJJ in Brazil, Thailand, and all over the US.

In addition to teaching on the co-ed schedule at Richmond BJJ Academy, she teaches a women’s BJJ class at Richmond BJJ Academy and has taught self-defense to women around the Richmond area. Liz is also a 200-hr certified yoga instructor under Rolf Gates.  Her skill in yoga instruction is an asset to the programs and students at the Academy. Liz’s understanding of body movement and her ability to apply it to kinesthetic learning lends heavily to her teaching style. She enjoys watching beginners develop a love of BJJ and assisting more experienced students with details or positions that deepen their understanding of Jiu-Jitsu.

Liz has been training striking in the Muay Thai program on and off for 11 years, and has trained in Thailand. She appreciates the relationship between Muay Thai and BJJ for self-defense, but also enjoys the strategy and sport of Muay Thai itself.  Liz is also the Academy Manager at Richmond BJJ Academy. 

Jarrett Church, Instructor

Jarrett Church started his formal Muay Thai Kickboxing and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training in late 1999. To further his Jiu-Jitsu training, he made the leap to the Richmond Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy in January 2002 to train with Eric Burdo. In April 2002, Jarrett began the Richmond BJJ Academy Muay Thai program, helping to develop many of our current Instructors and Fighters. His attention to detail is second to none, and his skills are incredibly sharp. He also has a Western-Style Boxing background, having trained the “sweet science” for many years before his Muay Thai training, and incorporates his boxing knowledge into our Muay Thai training here at the Academy. Jarrett earned his Purple (2003) and Brown (2005) Belts directly from Eric Burdo with the blessing of Julio “Foca” Fernandez. In 2007, he moved to Vermont to study Jiu-Jitsu directly with Eric’s Jiu-Jitsu Instructor, Mr. Fernandez. Staying in Vermont for two years, Jarrett taught Muay Thai at Mr. Fernandez’s Academy (Vermont BJJ Academy), and earned his BJJ Black Belt from Mr. Fernandez in 2009. Jarrett returned to Richmond in August of 2009 and resumed his role as a Muay Thai & Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu instructor at the Richmond BJJ Academy. As of 2018, Jarrett is a 3rd degree Black Belt. You will find Jarrett on the mats almost daily, training hard, and helping everyone around him flourish into better students, as well as better people! Jarrett has spent many years as an elementary school teacher, and has an educational background in educational leadership/administration.

Andrew Smith, Instructor

Andrew Smith is one of very few Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Black Belts in the Richmond area, and one of five BJJ Black Belts currently training at the Richmond BJJ Academy! Endorsed by National and World BJJ Champions, Andrew has distinguished himself from the pack by being a 3x Pan American BJJ Champion and a Judo Black Belt. Andrew is sought after for his instruction, and frequently travels to teach Jiu-Jitsu seminars. After wrestling for four years in high school, Andrew started training Judo at VCU Judo in January of 1997. Nine years later, Andrew earned his Black Belt in Judo. Andrew began his formal training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Eric Burdo at the Richmond BJJ Academy in January of 2002. In November of 2008, Andrew was awarded the rank of Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu by the legendary Julio ‘Foca’ Fernandez and Eric Burdo, from whom he has earned all of his belt ranks.  In November 2011, Andrew was awarded his first degree, and in January 2015 was awarded his second degree. Andrew has learned through “trials by fire” what works and what doesn’t in competition, with over 250 grappling competition wins: including three 2008 Pan American Jiu-Jitsu Championship Gold Medals (along with silver in 2003 and bronze in 2004) five Virginia State Judo Championship Gold Medals, as well as several superfight titles. Andrew remains an active BJJ competitor and has evolved into one of the most active Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and submission-grappling coaches in the country. Andrew has traveled to Brazil twice to train and compete in Jiu-Jitsu and has trained with dozens of instructors all over the country. Andrew has also been featured on’s 101 Submissions -Volume 3 DVD. Andrew continues to train at and teach as an Assistant Instructor at the Richmond BJJ Academy with his long-time Instructor and friend Eric Burdo. In 2006, Andrew opened an affiliate Academy of Richmond BJJ Academy in the west end of Richmond (

Brian Rule, Assistant Instructor

Brian Rule joined Richmond BJJ Academy in 2009 after moving back to Richmond from Los Angeles, where he trained at the legendary Wild Card Boxing Club. He began teaching Muay Thai at Richmond BJJ Academy in 2015. Brian strives to bring a unique energy to instruction, emphasizing not only technical mastery, intensity, and safety, but also camaraderie, self-discipline, and fun.

In 2013, Brian debuted at the World Kickboxing Association National Championships, placing 2nd of 16 fighters in his division. Most recently, Brian fought in October 2017 at the IKF East Coast Classic.

He holds a variety of certifications from the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM), including Certified Personal Trainer (CPT), Performance Enhancement Specialist (PES), and Corrective Exercise Specialist (CES).  Brian is also a Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Eric Burdo.

Brian has produced MMA and BJJ instructional videos & books with Anderson Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Randy Couture, Rodrigo Minotauro Nogueira, Andre Galvao, Lyoto Machida, and others.

Jonathan Kilmer, Assistant Instructor

Jonathan started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in 2007 with a small club in Virginia Beach, Virginia. After moving to Richmond to attend VCU, he started training Judo and continued his BJJ journey at Richmond BJJ Academy under Eric Burdo. Jonathan initially started teaching BJJ by assisting in the children’s BJJ program, and then began teaching adults in the Fundamentals classes. In October 2016 Jonathan earned the rank of Brown Belt under Eric Burdo.

Jonathan offers thorough instruction and it’s clear that he enjoys helping newer students find their way in the academy.  He is an active competitor in BJJ and a Referee for US Grappling.

James O’Brien, Assistant Instructor

James O’Brien began training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Eric Burdo in 2006 and currently holds the rank of Brown Belt.  James has been teaching BJJ Fundamentals classes at Richmond BJJ Academy since 2015 and is passionate about working with beginners.  He is very detail-oriented and takes pride in being patient with his students.

James embodies the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle and considers it to be ingrained in the fabric of his life.  He loves physical fitness and believes that the balance between exercising and proper diet is the key to staying young.

James competed in many local tournaments when he was first introduced to the sport.  Besides loving the sport of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, he also firmly believes in the self-defense aspect of BJJ.

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