Our Instructors

Alex Aftandilians, Co-Founder & Resident Instructor at the Grappler’s Retreat

IMG_0252headAlex was introduced to the art of submission grappling in 2003 on the mats of the University of Southern California (USC) self-defense program. After several months of training at USC, George Toney (the USC chief self-defense instructor) took Alex to the Hayastan Grappling Academy, where he introduced him to his own teacher and long-time friend, Gokor Chivichyan.

Alex spent 8 years at the Hayastan Academy, learning directly under Gokor and Gene LeBell, and having countless hard training sessions with Gokor’s blackbelts in addition to scores of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts frequenting the academy for cross training. Over the years, Alex has also taken dozens of private lessons with Gokor and has been awarded with rank of Senior Instructor directly by Gokor.

with gokor and geneTeaching and training is Alex’s passion, but he has also casually competed in a number of submission grappling circuits. His accomplishments include numerous medals in tournaments fought in California, Nevada, and the East Coast. Before moving to Mendocino, Alex took Gold in the Men’s Expert Division at the 9th Annual United BJJ California Classic International BJJ and Submission Grappling Championships.

While training in Los Angeles, Alex also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy and a Masters Degree in Sustainable Land Use Planning from the University of Southern California.

Since moving to Mendocino in 2010, Alex continues to train with his own group on this isolated stretch of the northern California coast, and makes regular visits to Los Angeles to train with Gokor and his team at the Hayastan Grappling Academy.


“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)
Abu Dhabi Pro Cup Vetertan and multiple European Grappling Champion

“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, Expert Division