Resident Instructor

The training never stops at Grappler’s Retreat! Elite visiting instructors with world-class qualifications are hosted for Retreats throughout the year. In between these events, our resident instructor keeps the mats active by training a small competition team based on the Mendocino Coast.

Alex Aftandilians, FOUNDER & Owner of GRAPPLER’S RETREAT

with gokor and gene
Alex with Gokor and Gene LeBell after winning at a local tournament in Los Angeles, 2008.

I was introduced to the art of Grappling in 2003 on the mats of the University of Southern California self-defense program. After several months of training at USC, George Toney (the USC chief self-defense instructor and my first true grappling coach) took me to the Hayastan Grappling Academy, where he introduced me to his own teacher and long-time friend, Gokor Chivichyan.

Living in Los Angeles, I spent 8 years at the Hayastan Academy, learning directly under Gokor and Gene LeBell, and having countless hard training sessions with Gokor’s black-belts in addition to scores of high-level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioners frequenting the academy. Moreover, I had the privilege of taking dozens of private lessons with Gokor, and was  awarded with rank of Senior Instructor directly by Gokor himself.

Alex at NAGA 2017 West Coast Championship in Las Vegas. Expert middle-weight division Champion.

While living in Los Angeles and forging my passion for Grappling at the Hayastan Academy, I  also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Masters Degree in Sustainable Land Use Planning from the University of Southern California.

Between my studies, I moved abroad to Cape Town, South Africa for a year. There, I befriended an exceptional group of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practioners while living and training in one of the world’s most beautiful and culturally rich cities.

Somehow these pursuits brought me to the Mendocino Coast in Northern California, and since then i’ve been living the dream by training, competing, and growing with some of the finest people i’ve ever known.


Read the 2011 BJJLegends Interview with Grappler’s Retreat Founder Alex Aftandilians!


“Alex is an excellent grappler, and more importantly, an honorable man. His teaching style is clear and effective, and unlike many other martial arts instructors, Alex teaches from the heart. I’m proud to be his training partner and friend.”

-Nicolas Gregoriades
Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Roger Gracie’s 1st awarded Black Belt)

“Training with Alex Aftandilians has taken my grappling to a whole new level. His insight to detail is unparalleled. Not only that, but his ability to implement his detailed technique in live scenarios is top notch. I highly recommend him. Anyone looking to really grow as a grappler seek out Alex.”

-Randy Stacey
Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Owner and head BJJ instructor at Custom Jiu Jitsu, Klamath Falls, OR

“I have had the honor of participating in two seminars taught by Alex and every time i’m blown away with how much I learned. If you have the chance to train with him do it, you won’t regret it!”

-Cody Nutter
Purple Belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

“Alex Aftandilians began training with us at USC back in 2003. Within a short period of time he became addicted to grappling and began attending our 7:30am intermediate trainings a few days a week.  While training he volunteered to teach beginners at USC in his free time. His natural love of knowledge drove him to attend more and more trainings and eventually he began attending private lessons with me at the Hayastan Academy.

Private lessons with Gokor really fed Alex’s hunger for knowledge and skill at grappling. Training with the group classes at night at the Academy along with small group privates with some of Gokor’s advanced grapplers, Alex progressed quickly.  He left Southern California for a fellowship in South Africa and took his love of grappling with him. There he met and began his training with Jason and Nic Gregoriades, two very accomplished Gracie Barra instructors. Their friendship led to more learning and exchange and made Alex have an even greater appreciation for the diversity of grappling.

In the past two years, Alex has made forays into competitions taking two gold and two bronze medals that I know of… wonderful accomplishments.  I judge Alex differently. Gokor called me one day to discuss how impressed he was at Alex’s abilities.  Gokor said in addition to being a very skilled fighter (some professionals at Gokor’s were now having difficulties and wrestled to stalemates with Alex) what a good person Alex was. As his friend and training partner for many years, I would say he is one of the most genuine bright men I have trained with. He loves grappling and cares for his training partners.

Humble and dedicated, Alex makes us all proud that he is a part of the Hayastan family. I would encourage anyone who wants a good coach in Northern California to contact Alex.”

-George Toney
Hayastan Grappling Black-Belt
Chief Instructor, Self-Defense, University of Southern California
North American Grappling Champion