Seph Smith - Head Instructor

Photo by  Jim Fred Hale

Photo by Jim Fred Hale

Photo by  Digitsu

Photo by Digitsu

Head instructor Seph Smith has been training martial arts since February 2001. Originally from Richmond, Seph moved away from the city in 2005 to pursue jiu jitsu at a higher level. In 2008, he joined his coach Ryan Hall at Hall’s new gym, Fifty/50, in Northern Virginia, where Seph worked as the assistant head instructor. Seph was the first person to receive a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from Ryan Hall. In 2015, Seph returned to his hometown to pursue his career-long dream of opening a gym in Richmond. An accomplished competitor at the local, regional, and national level with considerable tournament experience in jiu jitsu and submission grappling, Seph has also competed successfully in Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) where he held a regional title belt in the WKA organization. Seph is a 2011 IBJJF Pan American Silver Medalist (brown belt Masters 1 division) and a NAGA Superfight Champion in addition to many, many titles at the Advanced No-Gi level in regional tournaments. In the past few years, he has been highly successful in the local circuit.

More than just a competitor, Seph brings with him to Upstream BJJ Academy extensive experience and knowledge of coaching, personal training, and curriculum design. He has trained with some of the top practitioners in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, constantly seeking out new information and techniques to incorporate into his game and share with his students. Seph specializes in fostering a friendly environment based on positive reinforcement and promoting a strong work ethic that is welcoming to people of all athletic backgrounds. He is a passionate instructor who prides himself on being able to help his students build confidence in themselves and their skills as they reach their fitness and martial arts goals, whatever they may be.

Some of Seph’s Accomplishments Include:

•             2012 Montreal Fight for Charity Superfight Champion

•             2011 IBJJF Pan American Championship Masters Brown Belt Silver Medalist

•             2011 UFC Fan Expo Toronto Brown Belt Absolute Champion

•             2009 NAGA Superfight Champion

•             2009 The Good Fight: “Dogfight In Dover” Pro Lightweight Champion

•             Former WKA East Coast Regional Amateur Mixed Martial Arts Title Holder

•             Multiple time Beltsville Judo Champion

•             Referee For Multiple Grappling Tournament Circuits (Grapplers Quest, US Grappling, et al)

Nora Levy-Forsythe

Women's and Kids' Instructor


Nora was first introduced to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in December 2010 while living in Belgrade, Serbia. Since that time, Nora has trained and competed in the United States and Europe. She received her blue belt from Roger Gracie while attending university in London. Her first experience teaching jiu jitsu came in 2014 when she taught a women’s class for several months in Moscow, Russia; an experience she found both challenging and rewarding. Since moving to Richmond in 2015, Nora has been an extremely active competitor, further honing her jiu jitsu skills and building up Upstream’s women’s team. She is a multiple time IBJJF medalist, including gold medals from the British Nationals, Miami Open and Chicago Open at blue belt light feather weight and gold at the Washington D.C. Open at purple belt light feather weight. As an instructor she seeks to create a supportive atmosphere for her students to push themselves with confidence and authenticity. She received her purple belt from Seph Smith in 2017.

Andron Wright


Andron Profile Pic.jpg

Raised here in the Richmond Metro area, Andron Wright is a brown belt that has been training Jiu-Jitsu for over a decade. Andron is best known for his abilities as an instructor who focuses on  breaking down technique in a manner that makes it accessible to beginners and experts alike. He is also an active competitor and referee that competes and ref's in numerous world class Jiu-Jitsu tournaments nationwide. He is a multiple time IBJJF Medalist, which includes winning Gold in the NY Open Masters I Absolute division, Silver @ ATL Open Masters I Absolute division,  & Bronze @ DC Open Adult Absolute division.  He's also competed on the professional level at the F2W Pro 70 - Baltimore where he won by unanimous ref's decision.  You can find him on Tuesdays instructing the Basics class at 6:30 or on the mats nightly for his own training.







Brad Ackerman

Wrestling Instructor

In addition to Upstream’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu instruction, we offer wrestling classes to encourage students to become complete grapplers. Wrestling instructor Brad Ackerman wrestled for five years as a teenager and is a true no-gi enthusiast. Known in the gym for his creative approach to sparring and his intuitive movements, Brad has something to offer beginners as well as more advanced grapplers. He also has four years of competitive boxing experience. Presently Brad is a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has been training since 2012. Wrestling is every Wednesday at 6pm at Upstream BJJ. 


Elliott Smith

Assistant Kids' Instructor

Elliot Smith has been involved in martial arts for twenty years, since starting Tae Kwon Do at the age of five. He is taught Tae Kwon Do to children for three years and is a second degree black belt. Prior to starting at Upstream in 2016, Elliott trained Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Blacksburg, VA while obtaining a BA in Political Science from Virgina Tech. He is a calm and good-natured instructor, ready to offer support to our young grapplers as they experience the the joys and challenges of martial arts training. Elliott received his blue belt from Seph Smith in 2017.


Phillip Thai

Fundamentals I Instructor

Phillip Thai was born in LA but raised in the Richmond area. He began training martial arts as a teenager, exploring BJJ, boxing and Muay Thai. Phillip is a veteran of the Marine Corps and a graduate of ECPI University. Since joining Upstream BJJ in 2016, Phillip has been an avid and successful competitor with IBJJF gold medals from the Charlotte and Atlanta Open at white belt and blue belt respectively. He has also conquered numerous gold and silver medals from local tournaments in his weight and absolute divisions. Phillip received his purple belt in December 2018 from Seph Smith and has since gone on to win gold medals at the Copa Virginia, Grappling Industries and a super fight at Toro Cup 13 in Durham, North Carolina. Phillip is a dedicated student of grappling, always exploring new concepts and strategies with great attention to detail. Train with him on Wednesday’s at 7 in our Fundamentals I class.