I talk to Brian Ebersole, a veteran of over 70 MMA fights, including a memorable run in the UFC. We discuss his early beginnings in the American scholastic wrestling system and the competitive mindset that helped to produce. The start of his fight career which includes training with American Kickboxing Academy, Frank Shamrock and leading all the way to the UFC and finally, how chaos theory, math and abstract thinking, including fish that getaway, has helped to inform his training and coaching methods
Podcast Transcript – Episode 014
Sonny Brown: Welcome to Episode 14 of the Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host, Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Brian Ebersole. Brian is a veteran of over 70 MMA fights, including a memorable run in the UFC. We discuss his early beginnings in the American scholastic wrestling system and the competitive mindset that it helped produce. Also starting his career training with American Kickboxing Academy and Frank Shamrock, all the way to the UFC, and how abstract thinking, including fish that getaway, has helped to inform his training and coaching methods. Now let’s go to the podcast. Good morning, Brian. How are you today, man?
Brian Ebersole: Hey, not too bad. I just got a bit of a workout done. Onto the easy part of my day now.
Sonny: Beautiful. That’s what we like, kick back, have a chat, reminisce with some good martial arts tales, and make plans for the martial arts future. Beautiful. [laughs] Now, I’ve been aware of you for-
Brian: You have a visitor.
Sonny: Nice. nothing wrong with a nice cat on-screen.
Brian: He just climbed the back of my chair, I couldn’t help it.
Sonny: The Internet loves cats, so we’re all good.
Brian: [laughs] I’ve noticed.
Sonny: The internet and ancient Egyptians. We’re on to something. [laughter]
Sonny: Now, I’ve been aware of you since you came to Australia and started fighting with the CFC, which, at the time, it was the biggest promotion in Australia, for sure.
Sonny: That was probably maybe your 50 fights, 60 fights deep into your career at that stage, I would have guessed.
Brian: Yes, the 50s.
Sonny: In the 50s. You were well-experienced and established veteran. It was interesting to have someone like that come on into the Australian scene because there was really no one else like that around. I know you’d grown-up wrestling and got into fighting through that. I wonder if we can start just exactly how you got into wrestling over into America. What’s the story behind that?
Brian: There’s a big difference in sport in America and in Australia. Everything in Australia is through the club, like club sports, where everything in America is scholastic, it’s through the school itself. Schools actually fund most of the athletic endeavors for kids. They do all the scheduling, they take care of the buses and uniforms. Everything’s covered, and there’s minimal expense. It’s a lot easier, like is a barrier of entry. There’s no big financial barrier of entry. Logistically, you’re done with school, you just go to the gym. You just have another PE class at the end of the day, where, here you’ve got to get picked up and brought maybe even to another town, to an oval or a certain aquatic center or whatever the case may be. Well, all of our schools have those aquatic centers built-in. What do you call them, leisure centers here?
Brian: All those separate pieces of a leisure center would be in our high school. My high school, for example, had three gymnasiums, a main gymnasium, a women’s, and a boy’s. The varsity teams always played in the main gym most of the time. It was the big, nice one with all the bleachers. A lot of the JV and freshman squads could play their games in a smaller gym if sports were booked over the top of each other. It was very interesting being able to go through that process and have it very organized. Our schedule, from the time I was five until the time I was in eighth grade, looked very much the same. We were wrestling the same schools, we had very much the same dates on the calendar and things like that. When I got to high school, those four years were almost exactly the same in high school. Freshmen, sophomore, and varsity would have the same schedule. We’d go play one school and all three teams would drop, which is very regimented and very easy, or I find here it’s very different. My grandfather started the wrestling club in my hometown. I co-founded it because there was a gap. All the people in my town, they never got to wrestle until they were in grade nine, which we call high school, secondary education. We had some athletic, tough kids, and they were always getting beat because they always ran into more experienced guys. They founded the youth program, which is just coping and pasting what other communities have done, but all these other communities that kids wrestling since they were six, seven, eight, nine years old. What’s happening at the high school, they were seasoned veterans as far as competition and skill and things like that. It just made for a bit of a lopsided affair sometimes. My dad asked me to wrestle. I remember one night when I was five, and I told him no. I remember the first day told him no. The next day, or a couple of days later, I can’t remember, but soon after, he asked me again, and I said yes. The next day I went, and then I just never stopped going. I hated the offseason. I was like, “I’m bored now. Can I go wrestle?” [laughs]
Sonny: It was a family tradition. The grandfather, your father wrestled as well.
Brian: No, I don’t think my dad wrestled. I know I saw my uncle wrestle in high school, my youngest uncle, but my dad’s one of the older– Sorry, dad. He’s one of the older brothers and sisters out of the 10.
Brian: I’ve got nine aunts and uncles, and I only saw my youngest uncle wrestle live. Now, I know my second-youngest uncle wrestled because his name is on a plaque in my high school, hanging up as well, next to my youngest uncle. Those two had won MVP, like the team captain-type awards in the late ’70s, early ’80s. When I grew up and I got to school, I knew those names are on the plaque, but I’d already started wrestling. I was five years old, I was already well and truly hooked. It wasn’t one of these things I looked back and went, “Oh, I’ve got to do what they’ve done.”
Sonny: You just started doing it, I guess, from a young age.
Brian: Yes, and it was social. My coaches made it fun. Could it have been more regimented and more [mimic] ? Yes, it could have been, but then we’d had lost a lot of kids. I had coaches when I was really young, that did a great job of keeping a large group together through all the bad grades and getting in trouble and being a ratbag little poor kids from a socioeconomically depressed part of town. Dealing with all that. Going as far as coming to pick us up to go to practice, or coming to pick us up to go to a tournament at 4:30 in the morning. We’re all supposed to meet at the school at 4:30 and drive an hour and a half. Well, we’d all meet at the school at 4:30 and half of the caravan would go and one or two of the coaches would swing by houses and just knock on the door and say, “Hey.” With the best of intentions, there were just parents that didn’t get up that early and get their kid there. Not that they didn’t want them to go, the permission was there and the $10 to enter the tournament was there, it’s just they can’t be bothered to get up at 4:00 AM and drive across town. They did a really good job keeping the whole group involved. When I got to high school, it got a bit more serious. I had a really, really full-on coach, but he did it with love. He was a really, really good guy. A Catholic guy, eight or nine kids himself. He’s actually just retired this year. COVID came and he just went all out, “I retire, I’m done.” [chuckles]
Sonny: Good play.
Brian: Now he retired, he had that decision well and truly made well before. No, wrestling back in the US, it’s just part of the school thing. A small, small percentage of boys wrestle, but still, that small percentage lends to a fairly large raw number. Because it’s built like a pyramid, you’ve got to win to get to the finals, we really do find who is the best of the best, at least in the statewide region.
Sonny: That is such a different culture from here in Australia. Just to be able to have that martial arts format baked into just regular life in your schooling system, so different from what we have here. The importance, I guess, of being able to do it for lifelong pursuit and making it fun for those kids, it’s something that I’ve been talking about a bit lately, is just how fun really Trump’s being able to focus on techniques or anything like that. I went through a stage of, okay, I imagine every person in America wrestles.
Sonny: It’s actually been like, “Oh, no, not everyone actually wrestles.” It’s still people don’t like doing it. People will drop out of it.
Sonny: That’s been a bit of a learning curve. What do you think kept you keeping going? To keep going through into college, what was the driving force? Was it just that sheer enjoyment?
Brian: I was good at it.
Sonny: That helps.
Brian: When you start getting good, you start setting goals. I was taught to set goals early. Whether or not I was a great goal setter, I did things, I kept my schedule on my refrigerator for wrestling. Every time win, loss, two wins, one loss, whatever it was, first place, fourth place, I’d write that down. I’d just sit and look at it and I’d have a goal by the end of the year, and toward the end of the year. It’s got to be, but slightly out of reach. For me, it was always, “If I can beat someone that I’m not supposed to beat, if I’m like the fifth best wrestler in my weight class, I want to take third, hit that final tournament.” I’ve got to beat someone that I’m not supposed to. That has to be the goal. Not, “I’m the fifth best wrestler. As long as I beat everyone I’m supposed to beat I take fifth, I’ll be happy.” You’ve got to push yourself just a little higher. I’m not going to beat Robert Whittaker tomorrow, but if I go to a tournament, there’s going to be a couple of guys that are pretty good, and I’m going to say, “Well, I’m going to beat these guys.” I run into Rob and we give him a go, but I wouldn’t rest my whole happiness on beating him tomorrow. Things like that. Trying to keep it realistic, but also still pushing past what you know, or knowing that you’re going to run into a kid again. If it was a close match, I got to beat him this time. Split decisions in fighting are no fun. No one likes that. In wrestling, it instills– Because we have to wrestle that guy again, I tell myself, “I’m going to beat him. I’m going to pin him, I’m going to whoop him this time.” Or here you get guys that will win a pro-fight by split decision, and then they’ll act like they’re entitled to a title shot or, “I need a UFC contract.” or da da da. It’s almost offensive to offer him the same fight a year later. “Well, I’ve already beat the guy.” Well, one, did you really beat him, and two, what’s this, “I’m going to clear out the division kind of thing.”? Maybe go in and fight even a lesser guy just because he’s different, how does that make you a better martial artist, or how does that solidify your spot as the top whatever weight in the country? It breeds a different mentality. As a matchmaker over here, I’m finding it interesting. I don’t judge. I just find it very interesting that I’m putting kids through a system and helping a system with attitudes that are much different than what I came up with, because of the system, I guess. Over here it’s very free and open and everyone has an opinion, whereas in the US, your opinion doesn’t matter in sport. You just show up and play the game, and then results speak, and then you just show up and play the next game. I find it so awkward. AFL, they play the same team a couple of times in a year, you don’t get to choose.
Sonny: Yes, I’d be very interested, maybe we will get into it, just with your experience as a matchmaker and just your opinion on people seeking out maybe easier fights in an attempt to pad their record up to get a better win loss ratio, because clearly, that’s something that you haven’t done with 70 odd fights, isn’t it? You’ve–
Brian: Yes. I just didn’t pick and choose. Would it have been smart? Maybe, but in the end, we didn’t grow up looking to avoid people. We wanted the toughest match. Even in practice those days, you have to go in and go, “I’m going to go beat up on someone 15 pounds heavier than me today.” because that’s the challenge, or, “I’m going to try to wrestle with the lighter guys, but I’m going to wrestle like a lighter guy. I’m going to try to beat him with speed not just–” Like playing basketball, when your shooting with your brother, you can post him up and back him down and hit layups all day. “Can I put a few jumpers on, can I outrun him, can I do a few other things.” would be the challenge. You’ve got to make everything a challenge to get better.
Sonny: I’m with you on that. I don’t understand it as well where, yes, people will take the easier fight in a sport where especially they might present the image that they’re tough and hardcore and scary individuals, but yet, you know that they’re going easy on themselves by picking and choosing certain matchups. I don’t get it. It’s a sport where you can really test yourself, and you can really show legitimately you are a tough guy, no doubt about it. You can get out there and leave no mistakes, but yet there are people who will give that impression to people who don’t know any better. You can go back to work and say, “I smashed this person.” and everyone will believe you and think that’s pretty gnarly, and it’s really only the people who can look at two records and go, “Oh, hang on, something’s not right here. Why are you fighting this guy when you’re [crosstalk] “
Brian: This is a little bit in the US too. I found like, amateur sport-wise, people were willing just to go and try to beat the best guy. Then once you turn pro– Boxing is like this, once you go pro in boxing, you have to go 20 in a row to ever get a shot at anything, blah, blah, blah, blah blah. Our sport’s not really like that. If you really look at the guys that are, and have been in the UFC and have been successful, their early pro-career, there are plenty of losses for a lot of these guys, but they were against tough people. I don’t understand sometimes coming across people that just think, “Well, if I can get to 10, I’ll know I deserve to be in the UFC.” Sometimes they look to see if you beat someone, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they don’t care about you, they’re just going in there because they need a hole filled, but in the end as an individual or as a coach, you’ve got to trust that you’ve put yourself in enough situations where you can handle a tough spot under pressure. I’ve had guys tell me, that I’ve coached, “I want to be in the UFC, da da da. I should be in the UFC.” or, “I take a shot tomorrow. I’ve won this.” and I look at them and I say, “You don’t want to be in the UFC tomorrow. You don’t. You don’t.”
Sonny: It’s going to be tough.
Brian: Like, “Do you want me go sawn off 20 pounds real quick and then beat you up tomorrow? You don’t want to be in the UFC tomorrow. Can we give it a couple of years? Can we give it a couple of test runs against tougher people?” You don’t really want to go on national TV or Pay-per-view and get beat up that bad. There’s a lot of dudes on that roster that would beat up a lot of dudes that I know that bad.
Sonny: I look at the guys, especially from Australia, Volkanovski and Robert Whittaker, who, champions, done their best. From an early stage, you could tell their goal was to fight the best and be the best. You know what? I think that’s worked out better for them.
Brian: Yes, neither of them padded a record. Volkanovski fought some tough dudes, and Robert really fought some of the best to the best as well. Even taking on international challenges, I think that was Robert’s first loss, but he learned a lot. He wrestled a [inaudible 00:16:36] wrestler in CFC.
Sonny: Yes, Jesse Martinez, I think maybe it was.
Brian: Jesse Juarez.
Sonny: Juarez. That’s it. Yes. I’m sure he grew and improved from that.
Sonny: I look at them as our models for– If people want to be good in the sport, those are the guys in this local area that you should look to. They would have had that goal and been able to follow through with it, embedded to find out here, what you have to work on then probably get, as you say, get into the big show, the tomorrow and maybe it doesn’t go so well.
Brian: You don’t always get a second chance. You might go lose a fight or two in the UFC and get booted out, and then that springboards you athletically. You get that brain-body connection, you put a few things together, you come win a few fights, and you feel like you’re unstoppable now. You might be, but you might not get back in.
Sonny: Yes. I know that there’s some people I can think of that’s happened.
Brian: Then you get relegated to protecting your record domestically, and you get into that weird middle ground like, “Well, then what?”
Sonny: Yes, I’ve always felt like some of the local guys who have been in the UFC and come out, kind of owe it to some of the other local guys to put that on the line, to be like, “Okay, you had your chance. Now you’ve got that Rep. Can you help take on some of the other local guys here so they can have the opportunity? Prove yourself.”
Brian: That’s it. Be a gatekeeper, at least. Go be the national champion. If that’s the next best thing, go do it. Go clear out the division. I don’t know. Just competition has a different flavor coming from that system. The two guys you mentioned were very happy to go out of their comfort zone and do boxing exhibitions or kickboxing, and Robert Whittaker is a national champion wrestler. He was going to wrestle in the Commonwealth Games a year or two ago. Alex had wrestled, done a few other things. Go jump into grappling industries. I think Robert got healed up by Tito Carlo. Not all that long ago. Just for the challenge.
Sonny: After his fight with Israel Adesanya, nearly every grappling– Probably less than a month afterwards. If you can’t be inspired by that and take something away from that looking at the guy who’s just been in tens of thousands of people in front of Melbourne and now just he was at the local gym taking on the local, grappling-
Brian: Just that want to compete, just put yourself in that– It’s not always like, “I need to win, win, win, win.” everything is just, “I want to have a good go.” You can’t always do it in the gym with your mates. It’s not always an honest, fair fight with your mates.
Sonny: There is that extra level of competition that just breeds that little bit of extra intensity.
Brian: It’s the unknown.
Sonny: The unknown.
Brian: The unknown. The uncertainly. I’ve seen some really unassuming looking people in all different avenues, whether it’s an ESCO or a Waco, or a wrestling tournament or Jiu Jitsu cup, that don’t look like they should even be in the room, and then they go out whip people. Imagine a chubby old guy grabbing Robert, you’re having his way with him, Dean Listering him or something. Can you imagine? Just that unknown, you just never know if someone’s got a good game here, a good game there and a nice trick move that works every now and again. Maybe someone is just super fit and you can’t wear him down, things like that. There’s all sorts of challenges in those tournaments and those uncertain matches where in your room you know, you can go and pick and choose your opponents and your teammates and everyone knows each other’s game and everyone has that little brotherly, well, that’s our agreed intensity.
Sonny: Which you need as well for training, but–
Sonny: Longevity, you need that. Speaking of the unknown and uncertainty, when you would have started competing yourself and would have set that goal, I guess at some stage, you said you’re big on goal, I’m sure you would have set that goal to compete and there would have been no way that you could have known where the sport was going or what you were maybe getting yourself into for the long run. What first prompted you to take that first fight, maybe, and how did you go about dealing with those unknowns of competition in those early days for you?
Brian: When I was 12, 13, my parents actually ordered the first UFC, and we watched it. It wasn’t something that was all that interesting to me, it was cool to watch for martial arts, I didn’t even consider wrestling martial art until way later, but it was me just watching it and having a go. Then a couple of years later, I started playing basketball with a group of guys through the summer, and they were kenpo and Taekwondo and did some point fighting tournaments. One of the other ones was really into the whole, “This wrestling thing is really cool.” We’d always wrestle and play and try to figure out how to do some of the moves, kind of like what the guys do now with YouTube, the blue belt YouTube thing. We were doing very much the same thing, but as subpar white belts back then. Eventually, that morphed into, could you, because I’d wrestle, I was only one that wrestled in the group. Well, you couldn’t take me down to submit me because I did okay on the ground with them and some of the guys weren’t very good and didn’t get it, so I was always on their back, pinning them, and even if I couldn’t sub them, just wearing them out and sitting in mount. That whole ego thing turned into, well, you couldn’t take me down before, so we could get out on the grass and put some gloves on and take them down and da da da da da. Then it turned into, I’ll teach you to wrestle, you teach you me how to strike. Then they tried to take me down while I was boxing. We just mixed up all these games, and some of that’s still with my coaching style now, just mixing up games, you play one character, you play the other character, you got to be this way, he’s got to be that way. I went off to college, wrestled my first year. Matt Hughes had fought earlier in that year. I actually went with one of my teammates to watch him up in Chicago. That was the promoter I first ended up fighting for, funny enough, in that same gym. A year or so later, after my second wrestling season, I had four fights that summer, then I came back from my third season, gotten a scuffle with a college kid from another school that was down visiting, and got arrested for it, charged, set through most of the wrestling season awaiting trial and going through court procedures so I couldn’t play sport. The charges got dropped toward the end of the year, I’d missed most of my school year, definitely missed all the wrestling season and wasn’t invited to come back to the team the next year. During that time, while I couldn’t go on campus, I couldn’t do this, I couldn’t do that, had a few more fights. Once I knew I couldn’t wrestle, that was going to be my only way to stay active, so I ended up getting a key to a local dojo to be able to train after they were done training in a matted area, and had a couple guys that were interested. One of them, big heavyweight fella, ended up fighting two or three UFC guys; fought Tim Sylvia, fought Jason Riley and did okay, considering where we’re coming from. Had Tim Sylvia at a bit of trouble, to be honest, and then Tim went on to be a UFC champion less than two years later. It was a bit of an interesting one. Had another kid that got into Bellator and did a few good things, young fella. Funny enough, my school, the wrestling team itself, produced about nine or eight UFC guys, and then some of just the offside, random kids that I trained with ended up getting into, like I said, Bellator, some other big fights. The whole goal thing, I think, started after my wrestling was gone because wrestling was always primary, that was first. Then I decided, well, I’m going to make a go with this. I ended up moving to California to go train at AKA in 2003. I was out there until 2006, ’07 because 2006 I visited Australia the first time for a couple of months. I went back for four months and left in April of 2007 to come back, and I’ve stayed most of those 12 years in Australia since.
Sonny: Did you move to California then with the intention of, I’m going to make this my career, my profession?
Brian: Yes, I went to AKA. Jon Fitch and I had taken a Thanksgiving break, we met through the local Midwest meet grinding fight every weekend kind of scene, and we took a couple of trips together. We ended up going out to AKA and staying with Crazy Bob Cook and Josh Thompson, sleeping on their couch and floor for a little while. Then we moved back separately not too far apart from each other, but after that school year was over. He got his degree and moved on out, I just stopped mine. I was 20 credits short, I should have stayed for another year and finished, but I just went, I’m going to go do this. I just followed it. I went out there, and by the time we’re out there, you’ve invested a lot to move to California. I think both of us looked at it like, this is what we’re going to do. In different ways, it work out for both of us.
Sonny: Yes, that burned the boats mentality, I guess.
Brian: I know. I definitely did, but he didn’t tell his parents he was fighting for a long time. His parents didn’t know until he was in the UFC. He went a long time without mom knowing that he was punching on for a living.
Sonny: That’s funny.
Brian: ‘Jon, does your mom know that you just spent a weekend in Mexico drinking Corona and punching people?” “No, Brian, she doesn’t.” “Well, I won’t tell her, Jon.” [laughs]
Sonny: That’s good.
Brian: I moved out there and trained at AKA for a good two years, and then Frank Shamrock left to open his own academy and I went with him. In my first fight out of his own academy was a [unintelligible 00:27:05] against Cung Le. I’d never kickboxed in my life, and I went and fought Cung Le in his sport.
Sonny: Correct me if I’m wrong, but that seemed to be what Cung Le was doing with his Sanshou. No one in that area actually did Sanshou, so he was getting some people who he could– His highlight really looks amazing. I’ll just say that.
Brian: Oh, it does, but it’s a couple of rungs up from Steven Seagal highlight. The guy could throw some punches and kicks, but he’s scissor takedowning people that can barely stand on their own two feet in the stiff wind anyway.
Sonny: It seems like that. I love what Cung Le’s done, I love enjoying watching his fights ….
Brian: He’s amazing.
Sonny: But those Sanshou fights he had in California just looks like–
Brian: He was not on the grind in those fights.
Sonny: [laughs] Just things like that, but there wasn’t much Sanshou background in his opponents, but that’s a big step in to keep going into your first fight.
Brian: Definitely into the deep end, but it ramped up my training, I was really excited for that fight. That was the one reason I went with Frank instead of staying at AKA because I thought Frank would get me into those kind of fights. I looked at the situation at AKA, which was still very fledgling. When I left with Frank and signed this fight, the other boys just got on to the Ultimate Fighter. Four of my teammates, Jon Fitch was the fifth and he got pulled off the plane with his luggage at the last minute. Four of the teammates went off to Ultimate Fighter, and then soon after, I was fighting Cung. I ended up getting one opportunity while they got another, but that’s the one that really set AKA’s MMA team off, and it turned into a big recruiting machine and sinking entertainment as far as the management started to get big and they recruited a Josh Koscheck as a couple of time national champion wrestler and the Daniel Comier’s of the world and Cain Velasquez’s followed soon after. I went off looking for those fights, and was super excited to get it. I had a feeling that he wouldn’t try to wrestle much, and in the end, he didn’t. I took a fair few leg kicks to my lead leg, and it turned nice and purple over the next few days as I rested and hung out, but it was a fairly close fight, and I was pretty excited to get in there and actually not get beat up against someone dangerous, because that, again, just showed me I was on the right path. That fight, and probably the M-1 fight where it was USA versus Russia, Chael Sonnen was on the card, Justin Eilers was on the card. We had a pretty good group of American guys fighting a stack of Russians. I fought a Russian whose record ended up being, it was 27 and 3, coming out of that red double team. It was at 93 kilos, and I usually fought 84, and later on I fought 77 and 70. He was a very large gentleman, so to be able to TKO him in round three, after trying to stand with him, because I was, “Hey, I’m trying to get American Kickboxing Academy. I’m going to show off my striking.” I stood with this guy for two rounds, and didn’t get beat up too bad. To be able to go do that again, with no choice really. If I wrestled with Cung, they just stood us back up anyway. To be able to get through that next bottle saying okay, I don’t want to fight Wanderlei Silva yet, but I’m on the right path.
Sonny: In part of that early formation of your style then, when you’re training at AKA, leaving to go with Frank. Frank is one of the all-time legends of the sport, no doubt, with his early mix of styles. How much did his influence translate on to your eventual fighting style? What was training under him like?
Brian: Training with him was– I wasn’t starstruck. I had met the Tito Ortiz’s and all these people, and I realized, Tito wrestled in a division in college that wasn’t as competitive as the one I was in. That said, he had some accolades. He won some medals. Had I went to that division, I don’t know if I had won those same metals, but I was wrestling the best of the best in competition in my room for the two years I wrestled. I didn’t look at it like it was out of reach. Matt Hughes, who was my wrestling coach used to pound me and pick on me and beat me up, so I looked at him like he was on another level. He was a three, four-time all American, and then you get to a Matt Hughes, and I looked at Matt very much– Oh sorry. You get out to Frank and I looked at Frank the same way. Complete physical specimen, you might be in a good position, but you still feel like you’re in danger with him. He was a pretty generous guy. It just took me to get over that hump to actually ask him for some help, because he ran like his own programs. He wasn’t part of the fight team, really at the time. He was just doing his own thing. He wasn’t really actively seeking fights at the time for himself. There was just that little bit of when I ran into him asking him for some of his time, like, “Hey, can I come in before one of your classes or stay after one of your classes?” First thing I remember asking him was about leg locks, because I didn’t know a thing about them.
Brian: He spent some time with me there. Then when I decided to leave with him, he was very much in that early 30s, trying to make the most of his brand, because he’d already done all the hard yards and the fighting and didn’t make all that much money doing it. By all that much money, I’m not even going to throw a ballpark figure out, I have no idea how well off he was from it, but he’s not making what they’re making today, and that’s for sure. You could see he wanted to make the most of the Shamrock name. He’s trying to set up a gym and set up other corporate stuff. He got in the gym a fair bit, but he wasn’t always on the mat, on the mat, on the mat. He was definitely more like a coach or a team manager at that stage. Which was okay because he did leave us with a pretty good knowledge base and he brought in some pretty good people to teach them the classes and play. It wasn’t like every day it was I got to wrestle with Frank, which would have been a dream. Getting over there and have him kind of lead the ship, like I said, was a bit of an interesting look into the other side. Maybe a bit late for me and maybe not my style, but he was putting us in front of cameras, and having us do mock interviews and all that stuff and said, if you’re ever going to make money in this game, it’s going to be as much doing this as it would be fighting. With the group of guys he had, he was giving us amazing knowledge. I’m the only one that got out to the UFC out of that group that trained there. It wasn’t my style to kind of be like a McGregor, but he very much gave us those tools and that insight if we wanted to. That would be the path to travel to try to increase your social media footprint. Social media wasn’t really a thing back then. He knew it was in the pipeline and coming, obviously knowing people in the Silicon Valley and the tech world. He had that insight and knowledge that it was all coming. Very interesting. Had he had a group of UFC based athletes 6, 7, 8, 10 guys, and did what he did with the group that I had, which was just a rough and tumble group, like a ragtag group of guys, I think he’d created a few superstars, to be honest.
Sonny: Yes, that’s fascinating that he got you guys in front of the camera to do mock interviews, because that’s the first time I’ve ever heard of anyone in MMA doing that. My understanding is that they do that in pro wrestling as like a form to get their interview skills better, but it certainly makes sense if you’re going to do it professionally to practice that for MMA. Very interesting. I remember him, his fight versus Phil Baroni actually. He did the full video packages beforehand that he produced himself and put on YouTube. Maybe he was one of the first person to do something like that. I remember at the time that seemed like a pretty big deal.
Brian: It’s one of the ones, he’s a bit of a visionary in that regard. Unfortunately, at every step of the way, it’s like he was just born too early. He was doing the stuff before, but it didn’t pay off until a couple of years later for other kids that were coming up. He did a great job for Strikeforce, and I know they had good buy rates and things like that. Again, to be able to leverage his name, his resume, and things like that, to be able to do that maybe five years later, would have been a whole different story. Could you imagine how many Instagram followers Frank Shamrock would have if he was 31 right now, 32 years old?
Sonny: For sure. That Phil Baroni fight would be gone viral. Making that hand gesture of him being on the pillow and things like that, in the middle of the fight, that would be a viral clip. 100% that will get around–
Brian: He’s not shy. He does the 10 second clips and does the really good hard sound bites that are going to get attention. That’s what he was telling us. It doesn’t matter how much you talk, it’s kind of how hard you hit with your words in those short bursts. When I got to the UFC and they wanted to do all these interviews backstage, there were times, I remember doing one in a dark room and they’re asking me these questions. I’m kind of going very long form with it, and finally one of the guys goes, “We’re just really looking for short, sharp clips.” He basically told me what they were going to do with it. You know when you come out and they’re doing the announcement of the fight and they put, for example, they put Chris Lytle up talking for sevens seconds and then they switch over to me for like seven or eight seconds, and then back to Chris. He goes, “That’s what we’re doing this for.” I’m like, “Why didn’t you say that? I thought you were interviewing me.” I was treating it like a podcast. As soon as he told me that, and that was my first fight, it got a lot easier to just go through those interviews and just say what they sort of needed. If I hit him with my left hand, he’s going to fall down. He’s going to go to sleep. If I get his back, I will choke him. That’s all they want to hear. They don’t want to hear about, how do you think your styles match up? Well, that’s what they ask you, but it’s not what they want to hear. [laughs] It was very interesting. I look at someone like Frank, I think he would have definitely thrived in a different era because he understood it, and he understood it early, and it didn’t have to be forced or pressed upon him. It was a very, very interesting time with Frank, and I left Frank’s and came to Australia and fought for Justin Lawrence twice before going back for a couple of months having one more fight, and then I moved back to Australia, and ended with a coaching job in Perth. I had a short-timer on Frank, and his influence besides being in the gym then, like all the stuff he taught me, most of it didn’t come out and come to fruition for me until I was coaching in Perth, leading another group of young men like 18, 19, 20, 21 year olds, and having a lot of time to do solo training and bag work and kettlebells and mat drills and just getting better at my own movement. That’s really where a lot of the lessons he gave me sunk in, and probably because I have that quiet time to reflect with no distractions as well. Frank’s knowledge has kind of been the gift that keeps on giving for me.
Sonny: Taking that knowledge and building on it, how did you manage to actually get through your fights until you get to Australia with, I believe, never knocked out, never knocked down? How does a wrestler manage to strike with people, even getting a cartwheel kick knock out, which I think there was some controversy about? Maybe you can explain that. Take those risks over and over again and then managed to come out relatively unscathed. Do you think that’s fair to say?
Brian: Yes, I came out pretty unscathed. There’s a little bit there. I don’t try to create train crashes very often. Even my striking style, not really trying to strike to kill people most of the time. Even the big stuff I throw, I’m expecting you to cover and I can take you down off of that or clinch you off for that. I expect to get that high hardcover, and I use that high hardcover to my advantage as well. Most people, and I never ran into like a body shot master or anything like that, most people have very big toes before they swing with something powerful. I learned to read people through wrestling. You could see when people are loading up to wrestle, and the same thing came with striking. I never really came across like a Vasyl Lomachenko that could faint and make you really jump and then slick out to one side or the other or change levels so well. I never really got hit with a big body shop, which I always thought it was just because someone’s going to hit me in the liver, someone’s going to slick me and make me scared one place and get me somewhere else. Fighting Hector Lombard is pretty straightforward. He’s going to swing with his left and then his right and then his left and then his right, then his left, then his right until he doesn’t want to swing anymore, or until I break distance or make him clench, or hit him back and make him think. Super easy for me just to use a high guard. Sometimes I look a bit silly doing it, but nothing really got past my forearms. It was a bit of pattern recognition, and then just a little bit of smarts. I don’t need to try to beat people to a punch. I didn’t have that pride where you throw 10 punches, I had to throw a couple back. I would let you throw a 10 and I’d throw a zero and that’d be fine, and I will just go to the next engagement. It was all about competing and winning. If you want to take 10 bad shots with a basketball, that’s fine, but I’m not going to rush into mine.
Sonny: That makes sense. Now you say you didn’t take too much of the showmanship stuff from Frank Shamrock, but then you did have the arrow. I believe, the arrow shaved into your chest pointing at the chin, goading people to come and try and knock you out. Was that just a part of gamesmanship?
Brian: Yes, eventually, like I said, Frank’s lesson started to sink in a little bit. I realized I’ve got to go out and show. It can’t just be head down, hoodie up, EarPods in, warm-up, compete, leave. I started to have a little bit more fun at the way so that whole arrow thing was a weigh-in thing. I told the guy at the weigh-in that he’s going to have to hit me to beat me. You’re not cow wrestling, you better bring your hands tomorrow. Then when I showed up, I left a goatee and an arrow on the chin. It was a longer story than just shaving the arrow. That was a bit set up, a bit of verbal sparring at the way in. Then I kept it from there because people loved it and had a laugh and I was like, “Well, even getting out of UFC–” While I was in the UFC I said, “Nobody knows my name, and that’s okay. They just know the guy with the arrow. Even after, I still get people who are like, “Oh, you’re the arrow guy.” Nobody knows my name. I had a few more fights without a change maybe, but in the end, I left an impression, and like I said, it started to sink in that you got to do something different. I wanted to get out of Australia into the UFC. I’m like, “Listen, I’ve got that many fights. I can compare myself to these many guys that have fought similar opponents or some of the guys I had beaten, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I’ve got to get in.” When I came over here, I decided if I’m going to go and be the best guy, it might not be enough just to be the best guy. I’ve got to have a bit of fun with it and show that I can play the entertainment side of the sport a little bit.
Sonny: The first time I think I saw you fight was with the CFC. The first fight was with Dylan Andrews, I think.
Sonny: My recollection was you’re walking out to the cage on your mobile phone, and [chuckles] you went and sat down in the corner having a chat with someone.
Brian: Yes, I told everyone I was talking to my mom.
Sonny: Were you really? What was going on there?
Brian: I may or may not have been, but that’s what I told everyone.
Sonny: We’ll leave that to a bit of [crosstalk] secret.
Brian: Because I’ve done it a few times. I walked out with my phone at Strikeforce in the US. I don’t remember how many of those were real phone calls and how many of them weren’t, but I’ve done it a few times.
Sonny: The most important thing is that you left an impression that when I think about it, I can’t probably tell you what happened in the fight. I remember that walk out very vividly. There’s that to take away.
Brian: I didn’t realize, but they gave me the nickname bad boy without me knowing. I just showed up on the poster. It was Brian the bad boy. That was all. I was like, “Well, okay, I’m the American guy. I’m from out of town. That’s fair.” Then it stuck.
Sonny: Then speaking of the weigh-ins then that led to the arrow, I’ve got to ask you about what happened at the Hector Lombard weigh-in. What was it like fighting him? Because at the time, I guess he was kind of unknown, or he wasn’t what he came to be known as. I remember there was this scuffle at the weigh-in. You were wearing, it was like a Buddhist flag around your neck or something like that. What was that flag? What were you wearing? Then what actually went down there?
Brian: When I fought Hector, he was at 84 kilos, and I was already weighing 76 waking up on a day, and I knew I was going to 70, but I couldn’t get a fight at 70. Without naming names, there were just people in that division that wouldn’t sign to fight me at 70. I looked at Hector and I went, “Well, okay, I wasn’t that weight class. I’m not really weighing in that weight class now, but that’s something only I know. Everyone else thinks I’m a middleweight.” I couldn’t exactly duck him after beating a couple of guys at middleweight and then going on the lightweight or on the welterweight now. Everyone’s going to say, “Well, you’re ducking Hector.” Even though I’d went vegetarian, I’d leaned out a ton for the first time in my life properly without doing weight cutting. I actually had a glass of wine and a liter of water at the weigh-in just to get up to 77.5. Hector would have weighed in 83.9. I had a scroll around my neck, obviously, that got me up to maybe 78 kilos, but it said something about power doesn’t come from something, it comes from an indomitable spirit. Hector is walking around. Obviously we all theorize he’s used some substances in his day. He doesn’t pass the sniff test on that.
Sonny: Didn’t he get positive for a test?
Brian: Yes, there’s that. We made that up.
Brian: You never know. It’s like you can do it when you’re 18 but those gains stay with you. It’s not–
Sonny: That’s not big things with that.
Brian: That’s what people don’t get. Is you don’t need to be on it all the time. It’s just when you make gains like that, your body holds that knowledge and that gain. I’ve talked to some people that know a bit about it on other podcasts, and they’ve given me the science behind all that and very interesting, the way the body lays down muscle and it lays down neural pathways and things like that. I was given a bit of a hard time in that regard, but not so subtle. I asked for drug tests for that fight, and CFC said, “Okay.” My drug test came out of my purse. I don’t know if they actually properly drug tested Hector or not. I remember peeing in a cup and that was really it and I don’t know who read it, who tested that. There wasn’t much said other than I lost 500 marks and I got to pee in a cup later that day. In the end, I was– Because I wasn’t given privy to the process, but I was asking Hector, “Are you going to be able to pee anytime soon? Because I don’t want to wait around for two and a half, three hours while you rehydrate to pee.” He didn’t probably even know what I said, and he just flew off the handle. I looked over at Luke, I said, “Hey, do we have to wait around? You know he’s 83.9 right now. He’s cut six kilos. How long do I got to wait tonight? I just want to go home and rest or go back to the hotel,” whatever it was. Just have a laugh. Hector flew off the handle. He came up to me and threw a combo, and then I stood behind my shortest coach so my Chin’s resting over top of his head and I’m still talking to Hector having a laugh. I’m like, ” Hold me back, Taff . Hold me back.” [laughs] He wasn’t really holding me back, obviously, but just having a big laugh. Well, Hector tried to pick up a barstool and chase me with it after that. I got to block my first four punches from Hector at the weigh-in, and then the barstool stuff and then the, “I’ll kill you in the streets,” and all sorts of crazy stuff coming out of his mouth. It seemed like a Scarface kind of speech that he gave me. The Cuban accent and everything. That left a little bit of a fun start to the whole charade and fight weekend. Then obviously we get in the fight and I cut him with an elbow in round one. I ended up getting cut myself in round three, and I blew my knee out a bit in round four. While in full guard, I just case gave the ref a bit of a wave and said, “Hey, that’s me for the day. I’m not going to go and ruin my knee on this guy.” Subsequent to the fight, Hector’s freaking out saying I headbutted him, [laughs] and that’s how I cut him. I had someone slow the video down and send it off on Twitter or something like that. He’s telling me he bet me $5,000 that it was a headbutt. I’m like, “Well, give me your $5,000 because here’s a video. There’s my elbow.” Having a laugh and flew off the handle. We had a few funny run-ins over the years since then. Obviously, he and I were in the UFC at the same time. He’s always been an interesting one for me.
Sonny: Yes, he’s definitely, definitely a character, who will say that. Then going from those fights, those local fights in the CFC, getting the call-up, finally, to get into the UFC while you’ve been training out here. I think the first one it was a replacement fight.
Brian: It was, yes. I replaced Carlos Condit against Chris Lytle. They were going to fight to see who was going to fight at GSP. The winner was going to get the title shot.
Sonny: Wow. At the time, Condit and Chris Lytle, it certainly wasn’t an easy fight to go into the UFC on. How prepared were you for that? Was that the moment you’d always been waiting for? How did that go down?
Brian: I had fought the June before, like six, seven months before I’d fought Carlos Newton in Brisbane. I practiced a few nasty movements and a few things that are just mean. He was one of the first guys I knew when I got in there that I could do a few things with, and I had to hold back the tiniest bit. I would hate to rip the leg off of a legend. I’m not the meanest guy. Then, I go fight Chris Lytle and it was the same thing. It’s like, “I need to beat him up, but I can’t heel hook him and I can’t do this and I can’t do that.” I could choke him and maybe hit him a few times [chuckles] . I beat Carlos Newton, and after round two, I knew I was up two rounds to zero, so round three, just played the same game, clinch, strike, throw a few kicks, and mostly coast. I didn’t go to the ground with him at all because I didn’t really want to give him any comfort and any shot. Then, the same thing, calling UFC like I want to get into UFC 127, it’s six, seven months away, da, da, da, da, da. “Well, we don’t need an American with 12 losses. You didn’t beat Carlos all that impressively,” when I said, “I’ve just been a UFC champ.” “It wasn’t that impressive. You didn’t finish him.” I’m like, “I have to go kill people to get a shot in UFC?” It was frustrating. Then, obviously, two weeks out or 10 days out, 11 days out, there’s an injury, so I do get a call-up. Luckily, I was training for a fight on the Gold Coast that was going to happen a week before the UFC. They pulled me out of a fight like five days before I was going to fight, maybe seven. Luckily, I was in training, but I was at a point where after the Carlos Newton fight, I was ready to be done. I was ready to just coach and be done. Then, I took a fight in Tasmania that was against someone I know, and I knew he wasn’t going to be able to beat me. That was one of those safe record padding fights but wasn’t really for the record, it was just for a couple of dollars so I could continue feeding myself. Then, I got the call for the UFC. Super happy to get in there, compete really well, get a Fight of the Night bonus which really saved everything because, without those bonuses, my pay would have been so paltry. It would have been tough to continue. I had a really bad injury pop up right after that fight. Two weeks later, I was in Melbourne doing a seminar and I was talking on one knee while holding onto a single leg not bearing any weight or anything from that single leg. I was just about to transition through a double. Before I even went into the move while I was talking, my back seized up. It was a slow little process, but over the course of 10 minutes, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do anything with myself for the rest of the day. I talked to a couple of students that I was familiar with through the rest of the seminar and they did all the demos. That night, I couldn’t even get out of the bed. I couldn’t get up to go to the toilet. I was crawling, excruciating pain. It was a bit of a tough one. Had I not got that bonus, I probably wouldn’t even have fought the next fight. I probably would have called it right there, but because they had that bonus money, I was able to really spend some money on myself and go chiro, osteo, physio, PT, pilates, and get myself core strength and strong to where I was confident enough not to rip my back again. The second fight was Dennis Hallman, I got another bonus. I was able to spend that money again.
Sonny: That’s got to be a good story.
Brian: Oh, that was amazing.
Sonny: Maybe that you were just on the receiving end of–
Brian: He made my day [laughs] .
Sonny: Yes, I guess the story was pretty much, “He’s won.” It’s definitely the most unique bonus probably given in UFC history, which is basically for beating Dennis Hallman after you came out wearing a pair of speedos for the fight.
Brian: I mean, go figure, I let the guy on my back to start.
Brian: The last place you want a guy in speedos, but also the last place you want Dennis Hallman. Shocking, shocking start to the fight but it worked out.
Sonny: Did you flinch at all when he came out in the speedos? Because it was seen as such an egregious act at then.
Brian: I’ve wrestled my whole life, that’s normal stuff. That’s normal.
Sonny: At one stage in the sport, that was par for the course.
Brian: The pro wrestling, just wrestling.
Sonny: Yes, but he certainly coped at that night [laughs] .
Brian: You have Sakuraba. Even Frank Shamrock wore a pair of tights in one of his fights. Dan Severn. Ken Shamrock. It didn’t throw me off. It was so different than what you see in that era because everyone was wearing boardshorts, or maybe the Bad Boy spats closer to your knee. No, because, again, I’m old. As far as data goes, it’s like, yes, that data was collected a while ago seeing all those tiny, tiny, tiny shorts. Hulk Hogan even, Ultimate Warrior, all that stuff. Pro wrestling ravishing Rick Rude. That was all normal to me just because the recent data has drifted away and towards boardshorts and all that, it didn’t quite get me. Had I not had 50 fights and been a pro wrestling fan, then it might have been different. Everyone else freaked out. I had a good chuckle to myself. The only time I flinched in that whole fight was when he threw a head kick a bit unexpected. I caught it off my form and I turned and I went to square back up but he followed me on a path I didn’t expect, and he was jumped on my back pretty early. I was watching the video. I was so upset with myself. I said, “What am I doing?” I acted like he was a Cro Cop. I acted like he was Cro Cop kicking me in the head.
Sonny: That’s classic.
Brian: Yes. It made for good fun. Those bonuses really helped. In one way, I’ve got a lot of knowledge now that I wouldn’t have had I not hurt myself, so that’s cool, but not cool because I had to hurt myself to get that knowledge. Just about core strength and mobility and just different modes of exercise. It’s just not all about just bench, squat, deadlift, pick people up, throw them down if you want to be a real martial artist. Interesting days.
Sonny: You had some more fights in the UFC, but now, you’ve moved on now into a coaching role. I’m wondering, you mentioned there being a real martial artist, what do you expect from the guys that you’re coaching now with getting that– You even mentioned getting the old data and the new data from life experience. Taking that part of being a real martial artist that way that you’re collecting data, how do you translate that onto the guys that you’re coaching now? What do you expect them to grow into?
Brian: More of an expectation of an individual, for me, it’s like once people show me that they actually want to compete because, again, half the people I’m in contact with don’t want to compete, and I love that. I love the fact that MMA and whatnot is a sport where average Joes get to come in and help push competitive athletes a bit. It almost renders that at least team environment that’s missing from this individual type of sport where you get dads and whatnot that come in and can wrestle with Alex Volkanovski, three or four dads or trading rounds with them and giving them a push. When someone tells me they want to compete, it’s my job to find out what their normal life looks like, and then for us both to figure out what their best effort toward becoming a competitive martial artist would look like. All my guys will have a different schedule, and that’s not predicated on like, “To be a fighter, you have to do this, this, this, and this, and spend this much time,” it’s, “This is what your life looks like, so to be the best martial artist you can be, this has got to be what we do,” if that makes sense. If I get someone working four 12-hour shifts, their training routine has to look different than someone that works five eight-hour shifts. It has to be different. The rest, recovery, the time expectancy, all that has to be different. I get guys that– some guys are bucket listers, want to have one or two. It’s like, “Let’s be smart about the one or two we do and when we do them, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow, or do you want to have one now and then take a year to ruminate on those lessons and get good and then have the other one? How do you want to do it?” Some guys want to go back to back to back to back to back. It’s my job more to manage people because if just left to their own devices, some people would just try to run through the brick wall over and over and over and over and over, and that’s not always the best way to get a result. It’s very interesting because it’s not a sport environment. I don’t have people all coming from eight hours of sitting in desks and walking hallways and then training for two hours. I don’t have it to where I can call them in at 6:00 AM to do a run and a conditioned session before classes or go to school all day and then train after. Everyone’s coming from different areas. Some of my best athletes don’t even train together because they have different work schedules. One guy is in my 5:30 class, one guy is in my 7:30 every day. The only day they get together is on a Saturday. It’s such a different story dealing with the amateur guys. Everyone has a different end goal or outlook. Some guys know that they’re going to have four or five amateur fights, and that’s probably going to be it. Then, you get other guys that have that little bit of, “If I catch–” That’s what I did. if I threw mud at the wall and it stuck, and that’s why I kept going. I’m like, “I’m pretty good at this. I’m going to keep going. I’m going to move to California. I’m still winning most of my fights, I’m going to keep going.” At any point, one fighter, one incident could have changed everything. Trying to look at people and stay sustainable and that little bit of longevity and let them fall in love with the sport is one aspect. Then, the other aspect is, “How do we get you as well prepared as possible?” but again, knowing that you have a life outside of the gym. Because, again, we’re not in school all day.
Sonny: With maybe not as many people doing it for the competitive side and it’s not being as regimented for sport, then what would you say the main benefit of training martial arts, of being a martial artist can be for people to apply outside of that sporting context? What life lessons can they take from that training that you think are possible?
Brian: Martial arts is a really, really good– I don’t know if platform is the right word, but in the sense that you can start as a complete beginner and not know anything and feel uncoordinated, and you can truly see your progression with the same effort like weightlifting. If you can lift 10, then 20, then 30, then 40, then 50, you can see it go up, but this is more of a feeling of coordination of whole-body awareness. It’s very interesting for someone to be able to come in knowing nothing, and then the power of, “I can defend myself, I can move people at will, I can sustain being attacked and defend, defend, defend and still turn the tide to where, eventually, I become the attacker in a grappling situation or a striking situation.” Being able to set goals and see progress, again, inside the gym, is very easy where sometimes, in your work environment, you don’t really have a tangible plateau to get to and a hill to climb. For me, with my students, it’s very, very important for them to realize where they were two months ago and give themselves the credit for the work they’ve done to get there, and then to look at themselves in other avenues and go, “Yes, I can get better at everything in my life. I don’t have to stay stagnant.” You can get better as a parent. You can get better as a husband. You can get better as a friend. You can get better just with different bits of awareness in different modes.
Sonny: When you’re talking about getting as a better friend, sometimes, it’s hard to get the tangible feedback on what that actually would involve that you can get with something like martial arts, which I guess makes it more like an art. You can probably tell if you’re getting better at painting, if you’re getting better at playing an instrument, and that puts it into that art field. Would you think that’s reasonable to say?
Brian: Yes. With any drawing, you could draw anything, like a bowl of fruit and do it 20, 30, 40 times, you’re going to notice a difference. That same thing, if you’re going to get on a pads or a mitt routine, you’re going to notice the difference. You can get on a wrestling set of drills from touch to take down, to guard pass, to submission, you’re going to notice that you’re smoother and it’s flowing better and you’re not freezing up or thinking or getting in your own way. It’s interesting that it’s not just one training modality that’s going to get you the big picture of improvement. Sometimes, you hit the bag, trying to be light as a feather and retract really well. Other times, you’re trying to punch all the way through the bag. Sometimes, you’re trying to be as fast as you can. Sometimes, you have to slow it all the way down and try to draw the perfect pathway. With those even just four or five little modalities there, think about going into any other avenue of your life to get a response from a friend or to get a response from your child or your pet, to train my cat how to shake hands. I had to try a few different ways to get my daughter to want to dress her self [laughs] . You’ve got to try a few different ways and a few different things. Yes, it does translate very, very well if people are willing to be a bit abstract with their thinking.
Sonny: Okay. Talk about abstract thinking, in my mind, teaching your cat to shake hands is pretty abstract. Am I wrong? I don’t own a cat, but that doesn’t seem like everyone’s thought that one.
Brian: The first time trying to get him to shake hands was like I’d touch his paw to try to make him give it to me, and he didn’t quite get it. He was just looking at me like I’m trying to start a fight so he bites me, which he’s doing right now. Obviously, trying to get food involved, but then you’ve got to make sure he’s properly hungry. It’s like, “Do I do it during the day? Do I do it at night? Do I do it in the middle of the day?” Funny enough, the one that got it with our cat was my daughter. My daughter actually taught him how to shake hands. I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to figure it out how to get through to him, and then I just handed the treats to my daughter and say, “You try,” and then she does it [chuckles] .
Brian: Very interesting.
Sonny: Would you say a little bit of abstract thinking has influenced your martial arts career or was it the martial arts that maybe made you see the benefit of abstract thinking?
Brian: I think I was always like that. When I wrestled, I had different ticks and different internal processes than my teammates, and because I had teammates, the same teammates, a couple of them from the time I was 8-years-old all the way until 18, we would actually talk about how we trained, not just, “Oh, I took you down today,” and, “Oh, you got me a good one.” It was like, “When you’re hitting 20 double A’s, what are you thinking about?” We all had a little bit of a different answer to that question, so it made me realize there’s different ways to skin a cat kind of thing. Getting our brain and body to connect is different for everyone, but it has to be done for everyone if they’re going to get efficient and proficient at things.
Sonny: Okay. It was your way of just chatting to people about what happened in training and noticing that everyone took away something a little different or saw things a little differently that opened you up to the idea that that’s occurring and there’s maybe a way to use that to your advantage?
Brian: Yes, and that’s why I look at everyone as unique. I don’t train everyone exactly the same. I don’t speak to everyone exactly the same, which is the one nice thing. In the scholastic sports, it’s a lot of teams speeches or team talks, which is good in one way because you can say something that might only be about one or two players but you’re saying it to the whole team, and it’s up to the individual to figure out whether that’s a general speech, whether it’s actually talking about you in particular [chuckles] or your mindset in particular because there’s some speech where you’re like, “He’s not talking about me. The coach is razzing on someone, I don’t know who it is, but this isn’t about me, but I’ll just sit here and suffer anyway.” Whereas, the martial arts thing, I get a lot more one-on-one time with my athletes. I do have to take into account how they’re motivated, what view they take because you can really push someone the wrong way and get a completely different result and put them off. Like I said about my early, early wrestling coaches, they made everything fun. Even the challenges have to have some semblance of the dangling carrot or a bit of fun to get people to respond.
Sonny: Okay, that makes sense. I hear that. Is there anything that you would say outside of your martial arts experience that has given you different perspectives that you found useful when going back into martial arts, things that you’ve taken outside? Maybe a different form of art that hasn’t been able to translate over for you?
Brian: Can you rephrase that one time, sorry?
Sonny: Sure. There’s the benefit of seeing different perspectives within martial arts training and knowing that each individual needs to be treated as an individual, and you’ve taken that from abstract thinking. Is there anything abstracting from that? Is there anything outside of martial arts practice that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with martial arts that maybe has helped inform your journey in martial arts? Maybe, maybe not.
Brian: I was a history major in college. Not that I got all deep and I didn’t have a major specialty, I just wanted to be a history teacher in high school. I basically just had to know– I didn’t have to specialize in English history or this or that, I just had to know how historians operate, how they do their research. All the reading and all the stuff, you come across history repeating itself over and over and over, but it always has different little wrinkles. Wars were waged for the same reasons over and over and over, but it always seemed like it was a different emotional trigger that would get a leader or a warlord to decide they wanted to take someone over. Whether it was a slight or whether it was they have that resource that I really like, the shiny sparkly thing over there, I’m going to go attack them and take that from them. I always find that very interesting. Then, having a bit of a mathematical mind and taking finite math was probably one of the weirdest, most interesting classes I ever took. It talked about like chaos theory and we used to do stuff like drops of ink and how they splatter, and how somehow mathematically, it makes sense, and trying to get my mind around stuff like that. I found it very odd, but statistics and order have always resonated an interesting way with me. Everyone thinks they’re unique, but if you take a bigger sampling, they’re not, but then again, you can’t– If I try to judge what you’re going to do next, I couldn’t. You’d be unpredictable. On a larger set of a million, it would be predictable. There’s going to be a certain percentage that this, this, this, and this. I know I’m getting a bit out there with it.
Sonny: I know but keep going.
Brian: It’s hard to explain exactly.
Sonny: It’s funny, actually, you say you’re getting out of it, but it’s one thing that keeps coming up in different avenues with conversations with different martial artists is the idea of chaos and order and informing different training practices. It’s like a little test tube where, obviously, things we know for sure can get very chaotic in the training room.
Brian: I see it all the time. Yes, it gets a bit ugly, it gets a bit chaotic. We try to make things look pretty on the mitts all the time. We try to make things look pretty with a grappling drill, and you see some of these flow drills that people do that are amazing. The mitts one is easy for me. I’ll get guys on the mitts that look good when I stand still, and then as soon as they throw their jab, I back up half a step and then their cross and their hook fall short, and they don’t know why and I’m like, “Because I moved and you didn’t.” Then, they start moving and they follow me, they follow me, and then I stand still after three or four reps, and they run into me and they’re too close. They’re like, “How do I fix that?” I’m like, “What do you mean? It’s just up to you to fix it.” If you’re trying to maintain a certain distance, it doesn’t matter what I do, you got to maintain that distance or you just got to call it quits. The first thing I’ll start doing is drifting back, then I’ll start drifting left and I’ll start drifting right and make them finish their combo. It’s very interesting how some guys can shift their stance without thinking about it and how other people have to break it down, the way each individual process that problem. For me, as a coach, it’s just introducing a bit of order, get them on 10, 15 good reps, and then do something slightly different where they need to make an adjustment, and then problem solved like, “How are we going to do that? Are you going to stop and think about it? Are you going to be hard on yourself or are you just going to get on with it, see if it works and go?” Then, there’s times I’ll have someone on the same combo for a while, and I’ll throw a different strike at him in the middle just to see if they pause or hesitate or play. You’re going to throw a jab-cross-hook, I’m going to catch jab-cross, and I’m going to throw an inside leg kick while you throw the hook. Then, the next time, I’ll throw an outside leg kick, and then the next time, I’ll lift up a knee, and then the next time, I’ll try to keep you on your jab, things like that. It’s very interesting to see the different responses that they have, but in the end, they all start to realize that I’m just trying to put them off of their path, and it’s their job to find a way to stay on their path because when it comes to sparring, it’s going to get even worse. That’s one of the few ways I try to mix sparring-type pressure and just shaking things up into mitts. As we were talking about before, it’s just me introducing a little bit of chaos to what had been perfect order in the previous reps.
Sonny: Is that somewhat influenced then by your– you just mentioned that study of chaos theory, eavesdropping on the–?
Brian: Yes, a little bit. When we used to wrestle, we’d hit like 20, 30, 40 double legs. At the time, again, was when I was taking some of these interesting math classes and I had some really cool teachers. If no variable changes, then nothing should change but then nothing can improve. If you’re going to hit 20 double legs on me in 2 minutes and I just stand there, that’s easy, but then if I sprawl 100% all the way, that’s one response, fair enough, and it might be difficult, but it’s not the only response you’re going to see in a live match. If I can break down my sprawl into like a quarter and a half, three quarter and full, and then I can add a bit of left and right, and then even instead of sprawling, sometimes, actually hitting in and walking into you, now, I’ve got six responses I can give you over your 20 reps. Now, you don’t know which one’s coming, but you have to shoot on as double legs every single time.
Sonny: Wow. I really like that.
Brian: If I just stood there you, don’t even to shoot on double legs at me. I’ve stood there for 10 reps and on rep number 11, I’ve taken one tiny step back and I’ve completely thrown people off and they were like, “What are you doing?” “Look at what are you doing? You’re shooting the double leg, and now you’re up here talking to me. I’m supposed to be laying on the mat underneath you right now.” “Yes, but you moved.” “Isn’t your opponent going to move?” “Yes, that makes sense.” Then, they understand what I’m doing, but then to get someone else to do that as a partner is actually hard because they might not have the same outlook as you. I find it super frustrating when I’m with a partner and I get no other feedback other than the one thing, and sometimes, that one thing is true stillness. Sometimes, it’s, “I’m going to stop you at all cost from shooting this shot,” and it’s like we’re drilling. I’m supposed to be hitting 15 or 20 of these before we do the next thing, but you’re just trying to spar right now. There’s got to be a lot of stuff in the middle that we can play with that’s not completely taking away your opportunity to finish your drill, but it’s also making your drill a unique journey to the finish. Imagine, you go for a [unintelligible 01:14:01] from north-south and you sit me up on my side, and I just shake the arm that you’re trying to [unintelligible 01:14:06] , that’s going to be a bit more difficult than if I just hold my hand with my other hand and wait for you to separate my hands.
Sonny: That added benefit then of just each drill giving people some defensive feedback, not just being– but a different kind of defensive feedback every time.
Brian: Yes. Even if you’re going to go mount armbar, if I just bump and shake and play consistent, not hard, not intense, but just consistently just move my torso, have fun. You got to find your spot to hit that arm marks. It’s going to be a lot different than from stillness. Imagine picking up a fish that doesn’t really want to be in your boat. Some of them go really hard, really consistent. Other ones are really smart and they play possum. They go still in your hands and they hang out, and they hang out, and as soon as they feel you’re relaxed, bop, bop, bop, bop, and they’re going. I have lost a lot of fish like that where they play still and then they go. That’s influenced some of my game as well, especially submission escapes. I’m dead to rights, you’ve got me, you’ve got me, I’m in a bad spot, but I’m going to surprise you with my one last ditch attempt as best as I can to make it hard for you to hold though.
Sonny: Right. Your submission escapes which you’re notoriously hard to submit, even saying that guillotine chokes are a miss-
Brian: They are.
Sonny: -your submission escapes were actually influenced by fish. Did I hear that right?
Brian: True story, absolutely.
Sonny: That’s fascinating.
Brian: Absolutely. When you hold onto a wet fish that doesn’t want to be in your arms, it’s not easy.
Sonny: When you’re escaping submissions, you’re trying to emulate that. I understand it. It makes sense.
Brian: Look how hard they change directions too. They’re not going to one direction and running from you. They don’t have feet. It’s just small direction changes. They undulate and they play and it’s just short, sharp movement, and it creates space. Like a jackhammer, you can’t really play tug-of-war with a jackhammer, ta, ta, ta, ta, ta. You can’t even keep the grip, which changes directions too fast. All these little odd things out in the world definitely can be related back to human movement and a methodology.
Sonny: Okay, I like it. It’s surprising, it’s not even the only time we’ve talked about fish and grappling this week. [laughter]
Sonny: I’m always surprised by how the things do always interconnect and relate to each other. It’s fascinating. I have to ask about the guillotine is a myth thing because I put it to you, Mr. Ebersole, the guillotine is not a myth. How about that? [chuckles] Convince me.
Brian: Here’s where it comes from. I know it works sometimes, but it was so frustrating going back and listening to commentators of my flights or even friends or whoever say, “He had you in a guillotine, he had you in a guillotine.” Listen, and not to use a curse word, but I want to like, “Listen, butthead, I double legged him and I took him down to side control. Where was this guillotine at? The guy was holding my head, it doesn’t mean it was a guillotine. I picked him up, I slammed him on the mat. He held my head so I didn’t get up and punch him.” That’s not a guillotine. There’s a big difference between someone controlling a front headlock and slipping in for an attempt to choke you versus some guy putting his armpit on the back of your neck while you lift him up over your head or drive him to the cage or take him down to side guard half control or half guard. It was just more of a frustration of most of the time my head’s ever been under someone’s arm, it’s because I put it there.
Sonny: I got you.
Brian: He wasn’t guillotining me, he was grabbing my head on his way down to his back. I was taking him down. Now, every now and again, were they able to regain guard? Yes, they were, but most of the time, I would tripod, straighten my neck, and they couldn’t apply much pressure. It came out of a frustration of listening to people like, “Oh, he’s in a guillotine.” I’m like, “I’m in a deep double leg. What are you talking about? I don’t care if you’re Joe Rogan or not, that’s not a guillotine, Joe.” Yes, we had a bit of a laugh with it.
Sonny: Okay, I get you. That makes sense. I’ve started doing a bit of commentary myself, and I’ll give him some empathy because I’ve found that I’m constantly now worried about doing something that I’m pissing off some dangerous fighter and he’ll come back and say, “You said what?” I’ll go easy on him.
Sonny: It’s been a great conversation, Brian. I’ll just finish with just one last question. I’ve had you for a while and it’s been really good getting into some of those topics. Just one last question would be if there was any advice you could give yourself back when you first got into martial arts. Let’s say when you first started fighting professionally, you go back to your first professional fight, you’re the ghost of professional fighting past. What’s the advice you would give yourself?
Brian: Probably to diversify my training a little bit in the sense that I was obviously very wrestler-centric. I would have loved to have had more time around a black belt at a younger age and learn some of those skills, but also diversifying out of the blokey bloke tough guy thing. Not that that was my personality, but that’s what the culture was like, so that’s what I was given. I didn’t have social media to look up like kettlebell, core, pilates, yoga stuff, and that would have been cool. I wish I would have drifted more to those diverse avenues of training because I did meet some really good people along the way, I just didn’t gravitate toward them because I didn’t think that that was an assist to my martial arts endeavor. I’m a guy that I can barely get into a parallel squat, let alone put my butt to the floor, and I would love to be able to go to China or India and have a cup of tea on my own two feet but being a foot and a half tall. I would love to be able to squat and hang out like that. I would love to be able to open up my hips. I would love to be able to bend over and put my socks on every day with no struggle. Yes, diversifying my training and not just looking at it like, “If I do all the hard stuff, the hard stuff will be easier.” Well, sometimes, doing the soft stuff makes the hard stuff easier.
Sonny: I hear you. Probably, I’ll say the same thing. That’s something that I’m focusing on now more especially, just trying to get flexible for the longevity side of things because it seems like in early days, you can get away with so much more.
Brian: Yes, you can get out of bed without being sore every day, but even then, I knew my hips were tight and I knew I wasn’t flexible back then. I just didn’t know what to do about them. I just didn’t see that pathway of like, “Oh, if I just embrace knowledge from hippies, I’ll be all right.” [chuckles] I’m like, “What are hippies going to teach me that is going to help me with fighting?”
Sonny: Surprisingly, it may be a little bit, I think.
Brian: A little bit a lot, I think. Look at Jonathan Brookings, he went all the way to India for a couple of years, didn’t he?
Sonny: He’s a fascinating guy.
Brian: He’d be an interesting podcast, hey.
Sonny: I would love to talk to him, yes. [laughter]
Sonny: Hey, this has been a great show. I’d love to do it again. Maybe next time, we can just go straight into hippie talk and get down to that. [laughter]
Sonny: Thank you so much for your time, Brian. I appreciate it so much.
Brian: It was a pleasure.
Sonny: Absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it. If people want to get in touch with you, they want to look you up, what’s the best way that they can go about doing that?
Brian: I’m on Facebook at Brian Ebersole. That’s just a big sports page I’ve had for quite a while. Direct messages through there will come to me. I don’t have a secretary going through all that at this stage, and Instagram, same, @bryanebersole.
Sonny: Beautiful. I’ll make sure to put those links in the show notes for people who want to look it up. Thank you so much, Brian. I’ll be in touch, and hopefully, we can talk again in the future.
Brian: Hopefully, we can get on the damn mats in the future.
Sonny: I hear that mate. I hear that.
Brian: That would be a pleasure. We could just do this off of one device.
Sonny: Let’s do that. Let’s do that. Hopefully, in the next six months.
I talk to Bruce Hoyer. He coaches out of a small town in Dakota that has produced 7 UFC fighters and uses innovative teaching strategies including the flipped classroom model of instruction. The flipped classroom is an instructional strategy that has the students study the techniques at home on YouTube and then come into class ready to drill. We discuss his use of this teaching model in-depth, using language learning software and spaced repetition and other innovative uses of technology for teaching BJJ.
Episode 013 – Podcast Transcript
Sonny Brown: Welcome to episode number 13 of The Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host, Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Bruce Hoyer from Next Edge Academy. He coaches out of a small town in Dakota that has produced seven UFC fighters and uses a variety of innovative teaching strategies, including the flipped classroom model of instruction. The flipped classroom model works as an instructional strategy that has the students study the techniques at home on YouTube and then come into class, ready to drill. We discuss his use of this teaching model in depth and also using language-learning software and spaced repetition to help with information retention and other technological changes in teaching Jiu-Jitsu. Now, let’s go to the podcast. G’day, Bruce. How are you? Thanks very much for joining me today.
Bruce Hoyer: Hey, not too bad. It’s not very often that I get to talk to somebody that’s on a completely different time zone from me. I think it’s your late night and my early morning.
Sonny: That’s it. I appreciate us coming together, opposite sides of the world to share some knowledge. It’s going to be good. I really appreciate it. What got me onto you is I was listening to a podcast. I think it was the Combat Learning Podcast, and you were discussing your use of the flipped classroom model of learning in your Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Academy and I think MMA Academy as well. I’m familiar with the flipped model of classroom learning myself just from my work as a PE teacher, but it’s something that I haven’t really heard of being used in a martial arts context until I was listening to your podcast. I wonder if we can just start off, maybe you can explain to the people who haven’t heard of what that is, just exactly what the flipped classroom model of learning actually is.
Bruce: For us, the flipped classroom model is that we take the instruction portion out, now that videos have gotten much better, we take that instruction portion out of the classroom. We actually have them watch that beforehand. Then when they come in to train at the gym, pretty much 95% to 100% of that time is done drilling and then us watching that done. For me it’s tough, because if I sit there and I show something for 10 minutes and I’ve lost 10 minutes where that person loses that valuable time. Now, I think with everybody being at home so much that they see that as a real valuable time. For me, that was the big thing. The other big thing is the fact that all of us are coming in at different levels. Maybe you have somebody that’s brand-new and then you have somebody that’s training, getting ready for a fight in the UFC. All those guys are at different levels. Just being able to tailor a class to that, for us providing all that information in a curriculum to watch it at home before you come in. That was the big change for us.
Sonny: Instead of then people come in, you spend 20 minutes showing them the techniques, pretty standard style of running a Jiu-Jitsu class, you’ve actually filmed the videos beforehand and made them available online for everyone to look at before they come into class, yes?
Bruce: Yes, exactly. For the most part, it’s been a really good experience. I like it a lot. I think I lose a little bit of that connection of when I teach, trying to be more of an entertainer, but it definitely you get to keep a lot of the coaching and instruction in there.
Sonny: That’s interesting you mentioned that about losing that part of being an entertainer, maybe.
Bruce: It’s big. When people come in it’s tough, because you have to really come around and teach in a flipped classroom style and feel like you still have to be an entertainer a little bit. I think any Jiu-Jitsu coach, any coach has to be a little bit of that to keep them engaged and keep them learning.
Sonny: Yes, right. You find that when you’ll be coming round and it’ll be the smaller groups, you feel that there’s something missing there?
Bruce: Yes, you have to replace it with, as you come around with those smaller groups that are doing it, you have to maybe say, “Okay, you can also do this. Add this, or put this in there.” Also, be a little bit of a– Whatever your teaching style is, funny guy, or whatever it is in order to keep those students engaged.
Sonny: Interesting. That makes sense, but it’s a big departure from the traditional style of teaching Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, where we’ve got the coach at the front and he knows he’s the dictator or such, or he’s the know-all of all the techniques and we have to go to him. You’ve really flipped it on it’s head. [chuckles] What actually made you decide to look into this avenue of teaching, or what drew you towards it?
Bruce: We live in South Dakota. South Dakota, for everybody that’s not familiar is really a rural area. We have about 200,000 in this metric area, but predominantly, when I started, the closest Jiu-Jitsu black belt was– There was one four hours away and then the next one after that was probably 10 hours away. A lot of our learning– We had a purple belt that was teaching us that was from Pedro Sauers Gym. Back then it was in Salt Lake City. He moved here for a while, but for the most part, it was a lot of us just trying to piecemeal things together. I think that’s what started– A lot of it is that, “Okay, I’m already doing a lot of this for myself,” and turning this almost into a little bit more of a system. Then the second end, when I became a coach, every time I was driving into the gym– I think a lot of coaches used to be this way. I think they’re getting a lot better with it now, but they used to be driving in the car and they were like, “Oh man, what am I going to show today? I’m going to do a half guard series today.” They figured that out about five minutes before they come into the class, or when they come into the class. They come into the class and because they’re a black belt and they know a good series from half guard, that’s what they’re doing today. Maybe that’s not the best thing for the students today, but it’s what I decided I wanted to show today. That used to always make me feel like crap. I think there’s the other avenue of, “Okay, we’re going to show this series for a week, or we’re going to show this series for a month, or this position.” Which I think is really good as well. We did that for a little bit, then just slowly, as I saw students that were in the beginner levels that were brand-new, and then the students that were advanced, I had to teach two or three different techniques depending on what their levels were. Then finally, I decided I’m going to start doing it this way. I had seen it done before on some other sports. I know that it had been done in football. There was actually a couple of Australian folks that I think, same thing, the PE teachers that were a big influence.
Sonny: I’ll have to look into that and see if I could find out who they were. I might be able to get in touch with them. It started then for you, you mapped out your whole curriculum and then you realized, “Hey, I’ve got this all planned out in front of me what I’m going to teach.” Was it a case of, “Why don’t I film these techniques now and give it to the students beforehand so they know.” Was it a natural evolution?
Bruce: Yes. It’s been constantly evolving. I think, now, it’s to the point where we’re tinkering with the idea of, “Okay, how are we going to present this information?” When we first started doing it, it was on Evernote. The nice part about it is that I would send them– It took a little bit longer to do, but essentially, I would film four techniques, and after each class, send that student another class and then they could make notes on their Evernote and everything. That actually worked pretty well. It just took a while because I had to email or add in Evernote that lesson to every person’s notebook, if you will, that did the class.
Sonny: Was everyone had an individual Evernote that you would then update for all them individually?
Sonny: Okay. That sounds pretty labor-intensive. Did you stick with that or did you move onto something else?
Bruce: No, we switched. The second iteration was us doing a learning website that everybody could follow the track. That worked really well. Then the latest one now is we have an app, basically where they can do the same thing. You had to learn programming languages on top of that now, because I wanted to build it myself. That’s where it’s gone. It needs to be efficient as well. If we have 40, 50 people on class and two or three classes a day, that gets to be an hour and a half of my time that I’m eating out that doesn’t necessarily have to be there.
Sonny: From the perspectives of the students then, say I’ve been there a couple of months or something, what does my week look like? I know I want to do some classes. How would I go about preparing for those classes or what type of perspective do I have as a student on this?
Bruce: Sure. This is one of the things we’re switching back to. For the longest time, we had it as a scaffolding system, if you’re familiar with that, instead of teaching the Americana, Kimura, straight armbar kind of thing.
Sonny: Sure, classic.
Bruce: Exactly. We’re going to do this. If they move their arm this way, we’re going to do this. We’re going to move it straight. You’re going to do this. From everything that I’ve read, as far as coaching and teaching, that’s due to interference. If I teach you all three, you muddle through all three of them. Say you were to start, we have basically one technique from every position, or I should say one offensive and one defensive technique from every position. Then you get through all those, and then you would basically move. Then you add a second thing after that. You’re adding one thing to each position. Maybe you would do maybe a pass from half guard, a pass from close guard. Basically there’s a list, but you get the idea. One thing from each position, each standard position, and then one offensive thing where you do that. Then the next time you come through, maybe you’d learn another pass or a different way of doing that or a different submission. We’ve started building on that. Then we went back to that same model where it’s like, “I’m going to give you a position and I want you to work on this position, maybe for a week or two.” I think we’re going to get back to the scaffolding side of things where it’s back to one thing at a time and rotating through several different positions. There’s roughly 25-30 positions rotating through learning one thing each time. Feel good with that, move on to the next position.
Sonny: Okay. So your classes are set up in the way that there’s going to be a position going in and then the students look up the videos of those positions and then they can pick what they want to do from there? Is that–?
Bruce: Right. That’s the way that it has been for a little bit, that we switched back to just because it seems so weird for a Jiu-Jitsu side to stray away from, “This is your positional game plan,” kind of thing. I think that’s probably the best one there. Once they’re past blue belt, in the purple belt, I think that’s good, where they can look through that list. Anyways, they would go through that scaffolding system first, and then once you’re blue or purple belt level, I want you going through those positional things.
Sonny: That makes sense. They’re working through their positions. How do you divide the class up in terms of belt level or skill level then or–?
Bruce: We don’t. Everybody in this is in the same class. We don’t have a beginners or an intermediate class. The way that the class works is one person drills from their series for 10 minutes and the other person drills for 10 minutes. We do like the, either no warm-up or the slightest of warm-ups. Then we’re going to drilling. One person will drill strictly for 10 minutes, the other person drills for 10 minutes. Then what I want that person to do, we’ll possibly do a little bit of a warm-up after that. Then we’re going to go into live positional rounds for three minutes from their position. You would do your position for three minutes top and bottom, and then that person does their position for three minutes top and bottom. Then we’re coming back to that drilling portion. You drill for 10 minutes, I will drill for 10 minutes. We find somebody new to go with for another three-minute round of positional rounds from there. Then you’re coming back, so that you’re just– So you end up doing that series three times, because what I want is, “Let’s try to learn this technique in rote. This is how you grab the arm. We’re going to do this. We’re going to put the leg over and that’s how the technique’s done.” Then I want them to try that. The nice part about this is that you get a real test on whether or not this is going to work. If the setup is going to work, because that person, that other person that you’re going live with doesn’t know what you drilled that day, or most likely doesn’t know what they drilled that day. Compared to the other side of things where, if you’re teaching armbar at the gym, everybody knows that, “Okay, you’re going to be trying to go for this technique.” At least you should be, because that’s what you’re learning that day. Everybody has a heightened sense of what they’re doing. Going back and forth with that, I like that person to– Whatever moves you’re learning that day, don’t just try to do your A-game from half guard. I want you learning these new techniques that you’re working on from half guard. Try to implement those. Where do they go wrong? Then when I come back, rather than me spending more time coaching, I’m tinkering with them, saying, “What was your mainproblem?” They had their weight too far back. Let’s try to get their weight loaded up or let’s try to get a hook underneath or something there. So then, that third time when they come around, each time it should look a little cleaner, a little better, and then it’s nice to just be able to sit the students, say, “What’s the real problems that you’re having with this technique?”
Sonny: I really like that because I’ve had the problem in the past where, of course you show a technique and it’s one of those moves that, if the people can see it coming a mile away or they just they know, everyone’s just been shown and it and the students don’t get that success with it. Then we know that a little bit of success will give them encouragement to keep learning and keep trying with the technique. I really like that as a way to increase the chances of early success while they’re learning. Makes a lot of sense. I think that’s huge though. Students are coming in and this seems to be the big benefit of this style. They’re starting to drill straight away, right? Is that–?
Bruce: Yes. For me, it’s always been weird was that, I enjoyed doing the warm-ups before the rolling portion. For me it’s tough. You’re going to warm up. Then for me maybe you’re going to sit down like in a regular classroom. You’re gonna sit down for 5-10 minutes, watch the coach explain something, and then kind of get into it. I’m not doing a whole lot of physical activity before any other rolling stuff and so splitting that up. The more time that I can get with that student actually trying the technique than me explaining it, the better I feel. Just because that’s valuable time for them means they’re not going to be in the gym all the time.
Sonny: That makes sense. We might spend roughly 15-20 minutes at the start of a lesson instructing. That’s a third of the lesson. If they can get that time to instead be drilling from stuff that they’ve already picked up while they’re watching on the way to the gym, that’s huge. You multiply that out over weeks and months and years. That’s a lot more time that they can spend actually working techniques instead of listening to the coach at the front which may grab their attention that day, maybe they don’t.
Bruce: For me, it’s about having them try it and practice and actually try to implement it and see where the problems are, because it makes me a little bit better coach. Like, “Okay, if I can see that 10 people right now are struggling with this particular way of doing this technique, then maybe I can switch the way that I teach it a little bit.”
Sonny: That brings up the change of role of yourself there as a coach. It seems like a pretty big change. One that will probably cause a lot of traditional coaches to be hesitant to make it because it really reshapes your position in there. How have you found that?
Bruce: For me, it was weird because I never really accepted the role initially. I feel like– When our coach left, I was left as a purple belt in this area. Well before I wanted to be able to teach. I was still competing quite a bit and traveling all the time. I always felt like I was just with them rather than being that coach. For me, I don’t feel like that mentality ever was there. That didn’t have to change as much. I felt like whether– Because we had a couple of guys that were getting ready for the ultimate fighter, then a couple of guys that were competing in Jiu-Jitsu pretty heavily. I didn’t feel like I was that good, so I was always trying to help those guys out for the longest time. Then ended up started competing a bunch myself. I’ve never felt like I was the coach. I always felt like I was also just the same level, if you will.
Sonny: Then you’ve got that all set up. Have you run into any problems with students then, they come into class and they’re like “I haven’t watched the technique.” They just, “I haven’t done the homework.” It’s just the best-laid plans go to waste and you back to teaching it in front of everyone?
Bruce: Oh, for sure, and I’ve wanted to. I definitely think that it makes me pull my hair out. The more effort that I put into these lesson plans and the more effort that I put into making this as easy as possible, the more– Not the more, but the times that it fails me. It just actually just tears my heart. It just kills. [chuckles] That’s the tough part. I do think that there’s a certain student that is best for. I’ve said it before to you. I think this isn’t for everybody. I think there’s a lot of students, myself included, that would much rather just have me show the technique and then being able to copy that technique and feel good. They don’t want to have to think as much inside the class. The nice part is is that if they didn’t do their homework before and they want to come in and take their 15 minutes I would normally spend coaching them and watching the technique, they can. It’s really in the hindsight of things and not losing out any more time than they would have if the coach was showing it anyways. We have a separate room where they
Bruce: can go in, put their headphones on, watch the stuff and then come out and do it.
Bruce: For sure, I think it isn’t for everyone and I think there’s a large group of students that would rather have me teach the traditional way.
Sonny: Yes. Yes. No, that is a interesting point about, probably is just less thinking, less effort for students to put in ahead of, to take some extra time out of their day, obviously. Which brings up, I guess, how you’ve actually been presenting the information in the videos. My tendency, I would think is if I, okay, I’m going to give it to them ahead of time. I’m going to pack in every little detail I possibly can into this video and they can sit there and watch it or make it the encyclopedia, but then obviously that’s probably the longer you make it, the less people are actually going to watch it. How have you actually found the best way to package that information up?
Bruce: For us, the videos are super short, maybe like a minute and a half long, and then we have gifs for every single one, and that should really be, for us, a reference. Looking at that, that’s another weird thing too. On all of our classes, their lesson plan’s on their phone. Everybody has their cell phones out on the mats. It looks ridiculous. They’ll look real quick, and they should have already watched the video so that little gif should just be like, “Yep. Okay. The hand needs to be there. I’m doing this.” The videos are about a minute long and then we go into further explanation either through audio or through longer videos that they can watch at home as to the finer details. For me, I would rather teach it in like a kind of a group where it’s “Okay, this is the general idea.” Okay. Then the second series through, okay, this is detail number two, because we don’t want to do this. Maybe we’re doing like a rear naked choke and we want to try to hide that hand or we want to try to get this behind the head faster kind of thing. Just adding into those little details. It’s funny stuff. I think Stephan Kesting actually just had a video on that same kind of idea not too long ago with Bernardo Faria.
Sonny: Yes. Okay. Nice, super-short videos, to the point. No, “Huge honor for me guys,” at the start to drag things out, it’s just–
Bruce: Yes. That’s part of the showmanship that you lose in this style and there’s definitely something to that. I think people, when they come to the Jiu-Jitsu class, yes they want to roll, but they also want to be entertained a little bit. So part of the tough side of this is that I lose out on a little bit of that unless I can make that connection with the students one-on-one while I’m sitting down with them going through their stuff.
Sonny: Yes, okay. What other then troubles had you run into in the implementation of this when you’ve brought it in or is there any other speed bumps you’ve hit?
Bruce: I think the technology side is tough. Be it through Evernote, I think that was one of the easier ones. The website one was really tough just because it seemed like for some reason everybody had, “Hey, I need to have my password reset.” or “I need to do this.” That was time when it would go into the gym and either I was having to reset a password or help them out with that. Maybe it’s just lack of computer knowledge, which is always surprising to me now because it’s in 2020, it seems like everybody can do stuff on their phone and everything. I think a little bit of that, just the struggle with technology was a little rough as well, but other than that, it’s been good. Trying to find out that, but I think this is with all jujitsu coaches, trying to find out that best balance to have, Students learn at the best rate as far as, like I talked about before, “Okay, do I show one technique and then we go to another position? I show another one or do I show this whole series? Then now maybe show them four series.” This has been six months and I haven’t shown another position for a long time.
Sonny: Yes, okay. Then how far out ahead have you got the curriculum mapped out for your students?
Bruce: We’ve got probably like 1400 videos on there. Realistically, that’s supposed to be the– Once they get past the scaffolding part where they’re learning one thing at a time and then going into the positions, the positions really are just, they just continually rotate through, and so I’ll continue to add stuff onto that as we see it happen in competition and things like that. That’s all laid out as far as, “Okay. I want you go into this position so you’re doing half guard. Once you feel comfortable with all the material in there, then you move onto the next one and then the next one, and the next one.” The nice part about that is, is that if you miss a class or two or three, you haven’t really missed anything from that series. You can just jump back into that series and go there. Compared to some of the other classes where, if you miss two or three days, maybe a coach taught another series that you didn’t get to learn, and so that can be tough at times too.
Sonny: Yes, I know that, where you teach something and someday you weren’t here for the counter, so you’re going to be getting caught with that one for a while.
Bruce: It’s weird. I want to get super nerdy into it now. I’ve started it, but I’ll probably never release it, where like– Have you ever heard of Anki before? The spaced repetition software?
Sonny: I’ve heard spaced repetition but I’m not sure of the software.
Bruce: Okay. Think of the software as like a really– It’s free software and it’s sweet. I use this for language learning. The nice part is that–
Sonny: Is it flashcards?
Bruce: Yes, it’s flashcards.
Sonny: Got you.
Bruce: This sounds completely hokey, and so go with me for a second, but I love it where in jujitsu, if I show not necessarily techniques or concepts, maybe we’re doing like leg drag or something. For me leg drag as a concept is you’re doing that from a lot of different, even though it’s a technique, it’s, for me, more of a concept. Taking a lot of these concepts and putting them in this flashcard system and then having that system on the bottom, basically it has, “I don’t know this at all. I kind of know this, I know this pretty well. I really know this.” Then that, depending on what you answer, it throws it in that mix way more. The next iteration I would love to do is basically you’re doing a ton of different techniques or a ton of different concepts, but based on your level of how well you feel, how comfortable you feel with this is how much it’s actually showing up that day. You might be doing something from every position and say, “Okay, I don’t know that one at all.” Then you have to review it again before the end of the class. Or, “I know that one pretty well.” So then maybe in a day or two, that’s showing up again in there. It seems all over the place, but I think that would be really cool just in the fact that if you were to ever– Maybe your armbar or whatever, and then like the second version of that, that I think would be really cool is to have either a coach or, you know, your training partners also assess that one through four scale of how well they feel like you did that technique and see if there’s a big difference between that.
Sonny: Wow, that’s a really cool idea. Yes, there’s a couple of things I want to talk about there. Maybe if you can explain spaced repetition of learning just for people who are unfamiliar.
Bruce: Sure. Spaced repetition in that realm, it’s like, there’s a certain amount of repetitions that you have to get in till you feel like you learn that. For, say, language learning like me, you’ll learn a word and then what this software does is essentially, right when you think that you’re going to just about forget the word, it brings it up again and says, “Okay, remember this word.” And if you have to think about it for a little bit, then boom, we’re putting it on again later. Then once you really begin to remember that word, it only brings it up a couple times every month or every year or whatever, just so you can still have that in the back of your mind.
Sonny: Yes. I think everyone could probably understand that for martial arts curriculum. I don’t know if you know, some people they might do a move in a curriculum once for the grading and then it goes a bit stale, but this would actually be kind of keeping it, at least in their memory enough till it’s locked in.
Bruce: Yes. That’s always kind of intrigued me on that side. I don’t know anybody that’s done it that way yet, but it’s, and I don’t want it to be just rote technique learning of like, “Okay. Yes. I know I’ve built up this 700-technique list that I can do.” I think it’s really interesting to do concepts well, but I’m sure that you training as well there’s stuff I look at, and I’m like, “Man, I haven’t done that technique for two years.” It’s really interesting to me that that happens like that where it’s just, hasn’t a part of your game yet so you haven’t even done that technique for years.
Sonny: Yes, no, for sure. There’s ones I can think that, yeah, those moves that, “Yes. I know that. I just haven’t done it in a while.” Like “Yes, give me a second. It’ll come back to me.”
Bruce: Then you’re trying to hit it live and it just never works for some reason.
Sonny: [laughs] There’s fascinating ideas that, I’ve been speaking to a lot of other people about your teaching concepts and everything, but what is it that’s actually driven you to look into these areas, because– Have you been taking inspiration from anyone else or is this just you venturing down these paths off your own accord?
Bruce: I definitely kind of looked around at some of the other learning styles for a while and then I hit upon that flipped classroom style and that was huge for me. There was a couple of videos, like I said, in the other athletic side that seemed a couple of wide receiver coaches that were doing it, and then a couple of PE coaches that were doing it, that was really influential. I decided to try it and I feel bad, because we did this probably three or four years ago. We started tinkering with that idea so my poor students, every time I came to class it was some new like, “Okay guys, we’re going to do this. It’s going to be perfect. It’s going to be great.” I felt bad for him during that time, but just trying to learn how best to do that when we really didn’t have any other model out there to look at it with.
Sonny: I think it takes a lot of courage to actually do that, because it’s so easy to just resort back into just teaching it how you’ve been taught. It’s no surprises for anyone. Probably people aren’t going to complain that you’re doing it like everyone else, so there’s less risk. There’s a bit of comfort and ease in that. There was that. Was it just your ideas of what it could be that made you take those chances?
Bruce: Yes. A little bit, I think and then just the urge of like– We’re from a small area here in South Dakota, but we’ve luckily had some decent success. We’ve had 70 people go off to the UFC, Australia got Ben Nguyen. Ben used to train with us for a long time. He was with us for eight years [crosstalk]
Sonny: Nice. Everyone knows him here.
Bruce: Your dang Australian women stole him from us. Actually, truth be told he went to Tiger Muay Thai for a year, and then after that he moved to Australia. He started here in Sioux Falls, and so I think it’s a little bit of a little man syndrome in the fact that we’re a little area, that we want to have big results. I think that we needed to figure out some leg up on that group, just because we don’t have the big-name coaches, like I said. Still the closest coach, black belts probably three hours away. That was probably the biggest part of just constantly …
Sonny: No, that makes sense. Just that need and to be able to do it has prompted you. Because it is funny when you’re looking at other sports where, I don’t know, I’m just guessing that they probably have a bit more room to experiment with instruction styles. Whereas Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that you could name certain places that even attempting what you’re attempting would just not be able to happen at all, right?
Bruce: Yes. Even my coach, my coache is Rodrigo “Comprido” Medeiros he’s just like, “It works for you, but it’s crazy.” It’s something that I don’t think he would probably ever do. I’m fortunate in the fact that he allows me to do that stuff, because we’ve had a good relationship for a long time. I think when most people see it, they probably see it as like, “This is terrible. This is going the way of Taekwondo.” Where this is like, “I’m going to show a video, and then this is how you’re going to do it or YouTube, Jiu-Jitsu.” Which, honestly let’s be honest, eight years ago, nine years ago if you were training and you watched YouTube videos there was probably some guy on the grass rolling around trying to show a really terrible Kimora. Now you’ve got the best instructors in the world showing really good techniques on YouTube, because that’s their mainstay of income now. That’s evolved completely. For me now if a student wants to watch a video from YouTube to add to that, then great. We’ll watch it and we’ll say, “This is something that we want to add to the curriculum because this is now becoming a big portion of the sport.” I’m a little bit different than that too where I’m all for that if a student wants to do that. As long as it doesn’t deviate too far from the lesson plan that we want to implement.
Sonny: It’s definitely, like YouTube has changed. Like you said, the last 8 or 10 years, it’s huge. whereas all those old videos are still up there. Now if you’re looking for something you might, you’re just as likely to find something by Caio Terra or Danaher] or some other world champ that’s up there. Just the idea of people using YouTube as a core part of their teaching, even if it is your videos that you’re putting up there. So far is not being used. I really think with the recent lockdowns, quarantines going around the world, every man and their dog’s out there filming videos now. All of a sudden, it’s 100% fine learning over the internet now in the last couple of months. It’s completely acceptable. I do wonder when things start opening up again if that’s going to open up these new opportunities.
Bruce: For sure. I think the technology side should be huge in Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve told several people, I’m like, “Hey, create an app, or create a website where people can go to,” because even if it’s just, “I’m a guy that’s interested in class and I want to watch these videos so I feel more comfortable before I come in and train.” Even that, or the beginner level, boom. We have all these videos with you. Even if you’re still doing the regular class the regular way, access to all these additional videos, I think that’s a huge resource that students should have.
Sonny: I think there is that special touch of it actually being a video from your coach as well, that you can still make it, personalize it and put enough value into it. It still makes it worthwhile that they go to that. How then do you actually grade your students then, is there still standard gradings or?
Bruce: For us, it’s an amount of time. Then when we roll, how they feel rolling. There’s some days in the class where instead of me showing, I’ll leave it up to maybe another higher belt to walk around and help with techniques. I’m taking a minute or two to roll with each student and saying, “This feels pretty good.” Or fix this, or do that. That’s how the grading goes through. It’s definitely not a, “You’ve done 175 classes underneath this system. Here’s your stripe.” I understand that. I think that’s one of the hardest things in this sport to do is grading. Especially grading that’s not on a perfect scale, if you will of like, “I do 125 classes, I get this.” I think we’ve had to do it to where, certainly, people have ideas when they’re going to get their promotion based on where they’re at in the curriculum. Because I’ve definitely heard from students that that’s a complaint that they have is, “I need some sort of goal, or I need a map to be able to get to this. If I’m not competing–” For a black belt it should be– We always just think, “It’s just the journey, just keep going.” I think lower belts at times definitely need that carrot in order to keep training for their goal.
Sonny: You’re right. I think a lot of people who are black belt now, probably, would have got it no matter what. Whereas, [unintelligible 00:37:09] the motivation helps, it’s great. Everyone needs it, needs to have that feeling of progress. That makes sense that then you’re not just relying on the technology to grade, it’s still the prove yourself on the mats, not with the videos, right?
Bruce: Yes, for sure. That’s the biggest thing. I think when they hear about this they think that it’s just going to be, “Yes, this, you did Kimora today. You watched the Kimora videos. So we move on” That’s not the case at all, the only thing that I’m doing is trying to take that like you said, that 15 or 20 minutes out of the class. So we can get more of the drilling in, so we can have more time with that.
Sonny: When you explain it to people like that with the, “Hey, 15, 20 minutes per class.” That seems like an easy sell to me to get people on board with. What other pieces of technology then, other uses of videos. It seems you’ve got a good handle on at all, what other ways have you found to be able to implement them?
Bruce: We film every practice. We have a couple of webcams and a couple of other cameras that are up. Those are available to our students as well. Say you roll in your training, and you want to watch that later and say, “Man, how did that guy get me in that sweep? Or how did that guy get me in that choke?” If you watch any of your competition footage, or any of the rolling sessions. Your roll in your mind is completely different from the roll that you have on video. It’s nice to be able to go back through that. What we’ll do too, is if I have some more time I’ll go on. Watch those videos and then we’ll do a voiceover or little annotations and things like that. I’m slowly been building those as well. We’ve done that for years. It’s only recently that I’m like, I’ve explained this in a video 185 times. We’re slowly building up a little database of problem areas where I can present to people and say, “See how you did this?” That we need to be doing this or that, or and so slowly adding those in as well. Which is labor-intensive. For me, I’m still rolling during the rolling time, probably 90% of the time. I don’t get to watch my students as much as I would like to, I like to roll with them. This video is a good way for me to both get my own rolling in, and then watch the students later on. So I don’t feel I’m short-changing them on that portion as well. That definitely goes in waves. I feel I watch a ton of that and then I’m like, “This is just too much.” Then I take a month off and then I’m watching a ton of it. I think those are good, helpful things. On the other technology side, we do quite a few. It’s a hard sell, but hopefully, it’s not going to be after this, of the online seminars that we’ll do. Maybe, you know Jeff Glover did one here like, right before everything hit I found it was at the beginning of March or end of February. Then Bill Cooper’s done a bunch, we’ve had Bradley Oshima. We’ve had just a bunch of people do seminars and things like that via the web. Our gym is really set up really nice. Fuji came through and made a really nice facility. Adidas helped out with that too, to where we have camera setup and we have TV setup. If you were to do, and then nice mics and everything too. If you were to do, say a seminar and you taught, you’d be able to speak to this person just like a Zoom Meeting, essentially. They can show the technique, and then you sit there and watch everybody do it. For us, we have only two people on that section of mat that has a camera on it. That particular student, or that particular coach can then just watch those two guys. Person A do it, person B do it, switch this, do this. Great and then two more people come in. Then once everybody’s done that technique in front of that guest instructor, or that seminar instructor. Then we can move on to the next technique. That for me is really cool too, which I think is a huge market for people where for Jiu-Jitsu athletes that haven’t really been fully tapped yet. Because for us we’re in a small area. We have about 185 students, but the airport here is tiny. Anytime you’re going to come in here, you’re going to pay, 6, 7, 800 bucks just for the flight. Then I’ve got to pay maybe a couple of 1,000 for the seminar, things like that. It gets very expensive, and then that person has to be gone from their family for two days. This way you sit down with a webcam and a laptop, which everybody’s been good with now. They show the techniques for two hours, because we try to limit the online seminars for two or three hours. Do that for two or three hours, boom. They go home and they make maybe half what they would have made in the regular seminar. It’s way less work and maybe if you wanted to be a glutton for punishment, you slam two or three of those together in a weekend and you’ve made a decent amount of money.
Sonny: Again, after what we’ve gone through now–
Bruce: Yes. That everybody’s now got the videos on point, and they’ve got the technology ready to go. Honestly, it’s been a super hard sell, other than people that I know doing those seminars. Where they’re like, “Man, I don’t think this is going to work.” Then every person that I’ve talked to, they’re like, “Oh, this is actually really personal.” You’ll see a lot of people doing that after this as well. If I can be on the mats, and you’re on the mats at the same time, rather than that person just sitting at home or whatever. I think it works very well.
Sonny: Yes. I think so. The thing I’m wondering is if after this, gyms will start putting in projector screens and things like that. Make that a bit more standard-issue, because if every gym had a projector and then it just boom, it just opens it up, wide open. Just go back a little bit. You’re actually filming all the rolling sessions each night, and then you’ll take that video and upload it to YouTube or something like that?
Bruce: Yes. Up onto YouTube as an unlisted video. Then we have a nice– It’s a basically a bot that will then go once that video uploads, then it’s just basically sent. Now it goes through the app. There’ll be able to watch that. As long as I take that video, upload it and then I shut the doors. 10, 15, 20 minutes later once it’s uploaded it’s available to the students to watch that night if they want.
Sonny: People can go back and watch and see if that sick Kimura trap roll was actually as [crosstalk]
Bruce: The nice part about that too is we’ve done that with a bunch of people as well. We’ll take those rolling videos and say, “Okay, let’s sit down for an hour at a time like this.” and have another instructor will say, “Okay, brutally be honest with us here. What are we doing wrong here? What could they be doing this way?” That’s been valuable too. Just like I said, we don’t have access to the high-level black belts that we would like in this area.
Sonny: That’s one of the most important things is just to be able to everyone to be teaching each other and giving feedback. Such an important thing to learn, and what you’re doing seems to really help and make that happen. You’d say you’d even go in and do like the individual breakdowns on those rolling sessions? That’s got to be labour-intensive, is that just when you have the time or–?
Bruce: When I have the time, the nice part about that is that nobody else needs to be on. For the longest time, and I want to get back to it we kept a database. Every time I had a comment, basically I would do the video. Just in a little database it would be, “Okay, Brian,” and then the note on there. Then we he got into practice rather than doing a curriculum, the five or six things that I saw on his rolling video, he’s working on those first. Saying, “Okay let’s get this fixed up, let’s get this better.” Then move onto that. I got away from that a while, just because it’s labor-intensive. If anybody knows how to make that better, that’d be great, just being able to add each one of those notes in there. I think the smaller other portion that I did was. I would watch the video, and I would talk over it and then have a transcription service. One of the cheaper ones to do that, and so that helped out a lot. Just trying to figure that out as well, when it’s definitely the students continue to have a database of things that they feel they’re messing upon. Then the same thing, if I see everybody’s doing the Berimbolo terribly. Obviously, I want to come in and maybe teach Berimbolo a little bit differently or better somehow.
Sonny: I really like that. It seems like you’ve got a lot of that feedback loop going on between you and the students in a way that seems like will actually end up with you giving them a lot more feedback. Even if it might not be while they’re rolling. What do you feel is the important benefits students are getting from that feedback?
Bruce: Definitely, I feel like almost all of the Jitsu side is, what can I make perform in live rolls and so. That’s the biggest thing, is that they’re getting that information under a real training situation. That’s probably the most, other than competing all the time, the truest tell of if you actually had that technique correctly or not. I’m sure if you show it to me while we’re just sitting there, great. Everything looks good, but can you pull it off during a roll? Or can you pull it off in competition? That’s probably the biggest thing. If we can help that person see where that mistake is being made, the frustrations of Jiu-Jitsu maybe go down just minusculey, but I’ll still take it.
Sonny: Now that makes sense. Then you also mentioned earlier with the side of feedback is considering maybe getting other students to rate the perceived ability of other students in their moves. That idea itself can seem a bit of heresy in some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu circles, right?
Bruce: Yes. For me, I feel getting that feedback is good, because maybe you feel like you really have that or the opposite. Maybe you’re a person that’s maybe a little bit of a Debbie Downer, and so maybe you feel like “Oh, I’m not very good at this technique,” and everybody else that’s gone with you rates this technique as a eight or a nine out of 10. You’re constantly doing it at a two. Maybe it is better than I thought or vice versa. Maybe you feel like you’re absolutely killing the technique, and everybody’s like, “No, we’re being kind to you.” I don’t know if that data would have to be– It’d be nice if it was completely anonymous, but– [laughter]
Sonny: Opens up a whole can of worms. [laughter]
Bruce: Exactly. What did you rate my Armbar at? Some just causing fights off of that.
Sonny: Yes, but mind you something, you often see on other online forums is like, “We’ve got this guy in our class who stinks,” or something like that. “How do we ever tell him?” You never know, maybe some way to say this guys going to rough all the time. Maybe a way to approach those social situations with some anonymous finesse might work. I don’t know.
Bruce: For sure, yes. Your Kimura is no good, and you stink. [laughter]
Sonny: Maybe a bit more delicate. Maybe a scale rating, one to five. It could work. Just to wrap things up. Have you ever had any problems that you’ve had to overcome, that you think might be good tips to give anyone else who might be listening to this and thinking about trying it? What advice would you give to someone who’s like this idea and might give it a go?
Bruce: I would definitely do it as a, two things, make sure that you have enough videos out there to support it to begin with. If you can start still doing the regular class and then start filming those for a while. Most of you guys already have, just because of the COVID thing. For a while just add the camera in there and start filming a lot of the classes, and then building up that structure. That’s probably been the toughest thing for me is trying to find that perfect blend of when do I put this information in. It’s great that I have that opportunity. Also, it’s terrible in the fact that it’s always on the back of my mind of like, “Oh, Where should this fit in the whole scheme of things as far as learning, compared to, “I’m going to show everybody this, and if that person picks up that little detail during this time, perfect.” That’s always a big thing, and then the second portion is I would just try it. When we first started it, one of the nicer things that was we had a little test group that we did and said, “Okay, during this class, Wednesdays at 6:30. We’re going to do just this flipped classroom style and see how people slowly adapt to it.” There’s been portions of me that wanted to, we’re going to have a regular class or regular style class on Fridays. Rather than that flipped classroom style, regular style class. Just so people kind of get both modalities, but that’s been the big thing is make sure we’ve had enough videos. When we started we definitely didn’t have enough videos. I always felt like I was chasing my tail creating content. Then the technology side, making sure that we have something up there that works really well. I think Evernote was really good, but it was labor-intensive. The website was really good, but be prepared for people to ask you all the time how this works or what to do. Then then the app has, it’s took a while for me to build it. If you’re going to have somebody build it, it’s going to be a little expensive. That’s been the best version for me so far, is just for somebody to be able to go on their phone and click. Then it just works.
Sonny: Yes, okay. I like the idea of just trialling one class a week to see how people take it. Especially if people already have a little of their curriculum filmed after this happens. Which I know is going to be the case. Did you feel like a point that you got to, where you were comfortable with the amount of videos you had filmed? If you’ve to give a rough guide, where would you think that people should get to?
Bruce: I would say, even 100 would be pretty good, of having a few series, depending on how you want to teach it. Just enough out there for them to be a little bit behind you, if you will, in the creating of that content.
Sonny: if anyone just wanted to try half way thing. They’re not certain that they could get their students fully on board yet. Is there any way you could think that not even just one class a week, just half the class or something like that to try it out. Because I still feel like there– Sounds like a good idea, but a lot of people are going to get pushed back to try and implement it and change like that.
Bruce: For me I think I would probably section it off into a group, and it would be the higher belt. I would say, “I’m going to put this information out there, especially the purples, browns, and guys that are already black belts.” Put that information out there and say, “Guys, who wants to be a part of this little group? We’re going to do this.” I think when you become that purple, brown, or black you’re kind of tinkering already. You know a vast majority of the techniques, you’re just trying to tinker. I think that would probably be my test group to go through that. Either that, or just absolute never done it before, beginning people. Those two groups, I feel like the folks that have already started. That’s probably been our biggest struggle is students that have come from another gym. Maybe they’re a white or blue belt that has come from another gym. They’re used to that way of teaching, and then we do this way. Now, when we’ve had higher belts, say purple belt moves to town, or a brown belt moves to town. They’re like, “Oh man, this is amazing. I love this.” Because this is already what I was formulating in my head. I’m just using it as a reference now, rather than learning from this as much. The struggle of that white belt to maybe beginner blue belt is the fact that they’re like, “No. This is how things are done.”
Sonny: Yes, that makes sense, because, yes. Purples, browns, generally they’re already starting to do their own self directed learning. You know, going off developing their own games. That makes sense that you could probably implement it with a group like that without too much pushback, I’d imagine.
Bruce: Honestly, for us we want them to be a part of that. You’ll see videos in there from purple, brown, and we have another black belt in the gym now. You’ll see other videos from them as well, and maybe they want to show something that they like or whatever. I want them to be a part of that as well as they start to learn how to teach. I think that’s a huge part of it as well. Is if they maybe want to open up a gym later. They need to learn how to have some of that as well. I don’t think you have to as much with this system, but I definitely think that it’s still a big factor.
Sonny: Yes, that’s interesting then, bringing those belts involved. How do you think has that helped the culture of your gym? Because it sounds like everyone’s in this team together. It’s obviously very different from what people are used to. What cultural changes do you think it’s had?
Bruce: I think the nice thing has been that a lot of the purple, brown, and black belts have really stepped up on the coaching side. Because maybe I’m working with this group, so somebody else is helping out over there. For the longest time in our system I think the peak situation would be having groups of three. Where it’s essentially an absolute beginner, maybe a blue belt, and then a higher, like a purple, brown, or black belt in each group. I still think that that’s a good way. I’ve thought about having almost like a management system for a while, of having like, “Okay, this purple belt, they get four blue belts to work with. Those are their four blue belts that they’re going to really try and improve. This blue belt gets five white belts that they’re really going to try and improve.” It’s funny, I was on Keenan and Josh’s podcast. We were talking about that for a little bit. Keenan said, “Really purple belt shouldn’t be showing people.” I said “I disagree. I think that if that person can get a little bit of information from that blue belt, and a little bit of information from that purple belt. Slowly work their way up the progression. I feel like that purple belt would have–” If they can say, “These five blue belts are my– I’m really trying to make those guys better.” I think that’s the mindset that I would like everybody to have. Is making everybody better through the team kind of deal. Just so it doesn’t sound weird. Keenan agreed based on the format that we have for class, i think this is the set up that we have that works really well for that.
Sonny: I think it is an ideal situation if everyone in the class is able to help out. At least someone in the class in some way on their progression. Everyone becomes their own teacher to a certain amount of people. That’s just going to help everyone grow quicker, because if there’s only the one headteacher in the class their time can only be spread amongst how many students.
Bruce: Right, then on the other hand, I really want to press that button of the blue belt, purple belt trying to teach this white belt. My hope is that they say, “Crap, I don’t want to seem wrong.” Then maybe before they speak, maybe they look at that information again, and what I’ve presented. They look at it somewhere else and then they present it. I really want to trigger that anxiety honestly of them being afraid of teaching anything until they feel like they know it. That in turn makes them learn it better.
Sonny: That’s good. I mean if they’re teaching people the information that you’ve given them to teach, or the feedback points that you’ve told them to give feedback on. Then that makes sense, rather than just I think everyone’s in agreement that they shouldn’t just teach some random move that who knows that they’re just some [crosstalk]
Bruce: [chuckles] They’re just some guy in the backyard from 2009. [laughter]
Sonny: That’s it. A Youtube video that was uploaded 2009, exactly. Those are the ones that I don’t, but if it’s like “You can teach this move. Give them the feedback on these certain points. Monitor someone else on these points,” then I think that that’s a way that it could possibly be very feasible to work. Awesome, Bruce. Thank you so much for your time, today mate. It’s been a great chat. If people want to get in touch with you, they want to fire away any questions to you. How should they go about to doing that?
Bruce: Probably Facebook would be the biggest one that we’re on or Instagram. The Facebook is just, Next Edge Academy. N-E-X-T-E-D-G-E-A-C-A-D-E-M-Y. The same thing with Instagram. They go on there. Either one of those two, I’ll try to get back to you fairly quickly. Otherwise, just go to our website, but our website if you have a login then there’s a tone of information in there. Otherwise, it’s just pretty basic. It’s definitely not something that I’m like, “I want this to flourish,” because I think it’ll be really interesting in the next few years to see if some of these does take off. What changes that I’m not seeing, that other instructors are going to make to make it even better. I don’t think that this is probably the best way of doing it. I’m sure that’s going to come years and years from now, but it’ll be interesting to see. Like you, said after this time, I think Jiu-Jitsu folks would become way more accustomed to technology now. I think you’ll start to see things like these. Maybe not the same thing, but these same idea a lot more.
Sonny: Yes, there’s going to be some changes no matter what. I think it could be very well the cutting edge of it. I’d love to maybe catch up again in a couple of months or something like that and just see where everything’s got to.
Bruce: See what’s happened.
Sonny: See if we’re allowed out by then. [laughs] Thanks, I really appreciate your time, mate. I know you’re busy there, so thank you very much. I’ve really enjoyed the chat. I think it’s great, and hopefully we can have some more in the future.
Bruce: Awesome. Hey, thank you very much for the interview and talk to you in a couple of months.
I talk to Dr Ian Dunican, a sleep researcher who has worked with elite combat sports athletes at the Australian Institute of Sport on strategies to help optimise sleep, recovery and performance and who is himself a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and Ultra-Marathon Runner. We discuss sleep cycles, optimising training load and dealing with night time jitters after a workout and sleep tracking gadgets like the oura ring and whoop device. Finally, why martial artists try and cheat the sleep system and how instead they can sleep in and win.
I talk to Matt Lindland, the head coach of the USA Greco Roman wrestling team, Olympic silver medalist & MMA Pioneer. We discuss his experience coaching wrestlers from a folkstyle background and how to alter their risk-taking intuitions to suit Greco roman. How coaches can simplify their coaching to help their athletes learn more and a lot faster How failure and questioning athletes can help them learn, his time coaching BJ Penn for his MMA fight against GSP and what BJJ can learn from wrestling.
Podcast Transcript – Episode 011
Sonny Brown: Welcome to episode number 11 of The Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I am your host Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Matt Lindland, the head coach of the USA Greco-Roman wrestling team and an MMA pioneer. We discuss his experience coaching wrestlers from a folkstyle background and how to alter their risk-taking intuitions to suit Greco-Roman, how failure and questioning athletes can help them learn, and his time coaching B.J. Penn for his MMA fight against GSP. Now let’s go to the podcast. Coach Matt Lindland. How are you today, Matt?
Matt Lindland: I’m doing great, Sonny. Good to have you on the call here.
Sonny: It’s excellent. I’m very excited to be talking to you. I’m actually a bit of a fan of your work. Let me just show here your dirty boxing book. I think is one of the best mixed martial arts book-
Matt: Oh, well, thank you.
Sonny: -out there. Maybe underrated, but I think it’s one of the most comprehensive books written on wrestling and especially wrestling for MMA. I just want to give you credit and props for that. It’s actually the first time I’ve got to speak to someone who I’ve done a video breakdown on as well.
Matt: Oh, that’s great. I found your video breakdown. I think it popped up in my recommended videos or something. I may have done it because I watched Randy’s dirty boxing one or something and then it suggested that. I don’t even know how I found your YouTube channel, but I love the breakdowns and I’ve definitely gone through and watch a few other ones and I’m sure there’s some more I need to watch. Very good editing. I really appreciated the editing. I’m starting to, especially with this COVID thing going on, trying to do more remote coaching. I’ve been doing some FaceTime coaching whereI”m like, “Set your camera. Okay, I could see you. Oh wait, you went out of screen. Get back off there.” Working on technique with some of my national team athletes, but definitely trying to– I had a bunch of video on my computer. I was like, “Oh, let’s film that. That’s really good.” I dumped all this video off my computer, put it on the hard drives and I started dragging them back and figuring out how to edit. What do they call it on the Max? The iMovie, that’s the basic one. I’m just a novice, so I’m doing what I can.
Sonny: That’s fine. You got to start somewhere. I tell you, video editing is one of those things that before I did it, I would definitely not have been able to appreciate how difficult it would be. It would be one of those things where I’d say, “Oh, it can’t take that long.” Then I actually get started, I’m like, “Oh, there’s a lot more to this.” Maybe we can get into some of those lessons in wrestling. Just before we do it, I just want to ask, how close did I get? Was I on the target? Was I in the ball range for what I was saying?
Matt: I thought you even picked up a few things I didn’t even recognize that I did with the footwork. There’s a lot of footwork involved. There’s some other stuff that’s just very intuitive from wrestling, from doing Greco-Roman wrestling and fighting. It is like I am southpaw in the sense that everything I do that’s gross motor is left. If I’m going to write or brush my teeth, that’s right-handed, but basically, that’s it. Everything else is left-handed. It was a little awkward transitioning from wrestling and everyone was trying to get me to throw right hands. It’s like, “You write with your right hand.” I’m like, “Yes, but I swing a bat left, I play hockey left.” I don’t play golf, but if I did, it would be left [chuckles] .
Sonny: Oh, I thank you, as well [chuckles] . Interesting that you mentioned that it was mainly intuition that a lot of things are picking up because as I am speaking to different coaches, the fact that a lot of this stuff does get tore into intuition or built into the people’s intuition, I think is a very interesting area to explore. I’m wondering your current role now, you’re the head coach of the Greco-Roman wrestling team for USA wrestling, working out of the Olympic Training Center. I’m wondering if there’s any lessons from that that you’ve taken or that informs how you’re coaching those guys or just, give us a general overview of your role and how you do coach there.
Matt: That’s a broad question. The first part, let’s take the general overview of my role. My role is to manage the Greco-Roman wrestling in the United States. In the United States, folkstyle wrestling are what you see at the NCAA, the colleges. It’s competed in high school, it’s competed in division one, division two, three, all that. If you wrestle in the United States, you’re probably a folkstyle wrestler. Greco Roman is a very small subset, but for the rest of the world, especially you go to Eastern Europe, it’s like, that’s it, you wrestle Greco. There’s many countries, they don’t even have freestyle. They have wrestling and it’s the classic style of Greco-Roman wrestling. It’s a very European sport. I noticed that even in Australia, you guys do a lot of folkstyle more than even freestyle. I thought that was a little peculiar to me, but yes, I manage age groups starting it at U15, U17, U20, U23, and senior, which is our Olympic athletes. Many of our U20 and U23 athletes are some of our best senior athletes as well because that’s right when you should be peaking in athletics and in their sporting career. It’s in mid to late 20s, but some guys are starting to do it early 20s. We saw Nazaryan’s son, just won Europeans at 18 this year, just won the European Championships in Greco-Roman at 55 kilos. The age keeps dropping for the world. We saw in London, I think the average age was about 27. In one quarter, it dropped to 23. I’m trying to attract a lot younger athletes. The traditional model has been like, let these guys go to wrestling college like the Penn States, Ohios, and our Oklahoma, all the college programs that people heard about and talk about throughout the sport of wrestling. What I’m starting to notice is guys are peaking a lot younger. Maybe they missed their peak and it already happened in college, which is really the amateur side of the sport, the college wrestling, but it’s very popular in the United States. Everybody’s looking to do that because it’s like, “Oh, you got to get a degree.” That’s a whole nother topic of conversation there but just trying to get athletes engaged at a lot younger stage, get them involved in Greco-Roman wrestling. That requires developing a lot more coaches because if you just try to pick one athlete at a time, you’re like, “Hey, you’re a great athlete, team wrestle Greco,” versus, “You’re a really good coach, maybe you could develop 30 guys.” A lot of it is investing into our coaches throughout the country, going to different regions of the country. I travel all over the United States and all over the world, but for the United States, going to a coach that already has a program, he’s already developing athletes in the Olympic styles, whether it’s freestyle or Greco-Roman, understands the philosophy of folkstyle wrestling and international style are completely different. They’re almost opposites to tell you the truth. International wrestling is all about risk. The greater the risk, the greater the reward. College wrestling in the United States is all about “don’t take risk” because you could give up a point. It’s like what we’re doing now with this whole COVID. We know that there’s a risk, there’s an inherent risk if I get in my car and jump on the freeway, somebody could be drinking and driving, slam into me, kill me, my family, and whatever, but I still am willing to take that risk to get on the freeway, to get to where I’m going. It’s the same thing with this COVID. It’s like, yes, there’s a great risk, but we know what the risk is. Either you’re willing to take it or you’re not. Risk is critical to success. If you don’t take risk, if you don’t attempt to fail, you’re never going to learn how to succeed. It’s taking that philosophy and trying to turn it upside down for the United States because it really is ingrained in our culture of “don’t take risk”. The whole sport of wrestling internationally is all about risk and reward. The more risk you take, the more the points you’re going to get against your opponent. That’s the short answer of what my role is. Obviously, within that is preparing our number ones or even our national team one, two, three, any weight categories. There’s 10 weight categories in wrestling for the world’s, there’s only six weight categories in the Olympics. We’ve got to pare that down, squish everybody into those six weight classes and get them peaked and timing and preparation and training. There seems to be a lot that goes into it for some reason. Does that answer the first question? I think you had a second part in there.
Sonny: That’s a good roundup. I think the second part was probably just getting more into the coaching specifics, which I definitely want to do. First thing is just with the wrestling in Australia. It is still mainly freestyle. Wrestling is still very small here, but it is still freestyle-dominated. I know you’re aware of the Wrestling Foundation who I coach for with my coach, Gary Jones. He’s friends with I think a mutual friend with you, Rica Dante. We’re really trying to get it going out here, just to try and get the folks to our wrestling programs happening and then trying to make it happen as much as we can. Maybe we can talk about that a bit more because you have actually founded a lot of kids’ wrestling programs, I believe.
Matt: I have. I’ve run quite a few kids’ wrestling programs. Throughout my career as an athlete, you’re trying to figure out, what can I do that fits into my training schedule? As you’re an athlete, you’re like, “I need to work because I’ve got to bring in income. Maybe I’m not at the level I want to be right now, but I’m taking that risk and I’m going to invest my time and my efforts and my energy into pursuing this goal of not just getting to the Olympics, but hopefully getting on the podium at the Olympics.” It takes a huge commitment and a lot of sacrifice and time and energy and efforts. To do that, you’ve got to travel all over the world to compete and train. I was always looking for opportunities to share my knowledge with other people. I have a different philosophy than others. As you’ve heard, I already feel like we need to focus on more international styles to become the best in the world. We’re the best in the world at folkstyle, but we’re the only country that does that [chuckles] . We’re also the best at NBA and major league baseball. We can just make up our own sports and become the best at it. That’s an American thing and the rest of the world doesn’t do that.
Sonny: We’re the best at Australian rules football. [laughter]
Matt: I guess you’re right, that is true [chuckles] . Touche.
Sonny: When you’re working with the athletes that you’ve got at the Olympic Training Center, they’ve come through folkstyle wrestling program and you have to change their mindset on risk, what’s the process there? How do you go through that?
Matt: That’s a very good question. We recently had an athlete that had some success, was a world silver medalist at the 100-kilo weight category in Budapest in 2018. The World Championships, Adam Coon. He was a very successful folkstyle wrestler. He was a national champion, three, four-time All-American for them. Not only that, he’s a rocket engineer. The guy graduated–
Sonny: Astrophysics or something like that, something crazy.
Matt: He’s insanely smart. Guys that are that smart, it’s so hard because it’s like, “Well, if I do this, this could happen and this could happen.” He’s analyzing every situation. You almost need dummies to wrestle sometimes. These guys that are super smart and can out-think everything, logically, this doesn’t make sense. What we do to our bodies doesn’t make sense. Adam, look at you. You’re going to land– Throw another man that’s 130-kilo and he could land on top of you. That’s a real risk, but to score and to win this fight, you have to take those kind of risks. It’s really just breaking it down trying to explain the differences in philosophies, putting athletes into the positions to where they can score points. How do I change that philosophy? It’s challenging, I’ll tell you. It really is. That’s why I would like to see more guys have experience. Adam did have a lot of experience as a youth wrestler in Greco-Roman and frestyle. He kind of did everything. He just loved to be on the mat, train, compete. I don’t think his goal at that time was to be an Olympic champion, I think it was to be an NCAA champion. Once he accomplished that and college was over, now he had to refocus and say, “Well, this is my new goal and this is how I’m going to approach this.” With that, you’re just trying to guide these guys into different situations, give them opportunities, create the right environments, bring in multiple training partners. Recently, we had a camp up in his wrestling room, in his hometown. I brought the Chilean heavyweight, I brought the Norwegian heavyweight, and then I brought him and Cohlton Schultz and Jacob Mitchell. We had a pretty good group of big, heavyweight men in the room and I was training with those guys. What I realized that it’s a different sport. Heavyweight’s a different sport and there’s no easy landings when you’re training with these big, big giant men that are 130-something kilos. Everything you do hurts when you do it with them. You’ve got a guy that’s around my size. I’m about 100 now, but when I was 85 kilos or something, it didn’t hurt as much when having a guy your weight land on you, even though you were the same weight. I look at these guys there and I’m like, “Well, you’re the same weight. It shouldn’t hurt as much,” but it does. That size matters. The techniques need to be a little crisper. They just have to execute and they have to fully commit to those risky positions. It’s about creating those environments. Bringing the right athletes together and putting them in those situations and letting them fail and then coming to you and going, “Why did that fail?” Then you ask a bunch of questions to them and see if they can figure it out. A smart as a guy like Adam Coon is, he asked a lot of questions. I think that’s why he’s probably such a smart guy, he just asked a lot of questions. I always try to flip it back to him and be like, “Well, what do you think? What is your reason?” He’ll come up with his thoughts or whatever. It’s like, “Okay, I’ll share whatever the situation is, how I could think you could adjust or make an adjustment in that area.” We’ll try it and if it works, then I start building that trust. I can believe him here because he showed me something. That allows me to show more and share more with these athletes. Coaching, as you know, you’re a coach, it all comes down to building that trust with these guys. It takes that back-and-forth communication, this dialogue of it’s not just, “Here’s what I do and here’s how I can pour this into you,” because you and I do not think alike, we don’t have the same body, we don’t react the same way. You’re 6’2, I’m 6-foot. I’m 100-kilo, you’re 130.” There’s just all these different– You see coaches that are like, “This is how I do it,” and they try to show what they do. “This is what I do.” Yes, but we’re on the opposite sides of the bookends here in weight categories. Maybe for me, I could try this. I’ve been coached like that and I’ve been coached the other way. I look at wrestling as a true art form. It’s a martial art. It’s an art form. You develop the guy’s basic fundamental decisions. It’s like if their mechanics are flawed, if their body positions are flawed, you want to fix that quick, you want to make that adjustment. Head up, hips in, butt down, lower your level, don’t hinge at the waist. That’s so much different than what we see in freestyle and folkstyle is there’s a lot of hinging and you’re getting the weight pushed onto your toes and you’re getting snapped down to your face and you’re falling. In Greco, it’s a much more upright posture where you’re getting your hips underneath you so you can drive your legs through your opponent. You’re not just pushing into him, you’re trying to drive through your opponent to attack that body. In Greco-Roman wrestling, I don’t know if we’re on video, but there’s only about six inches of space. There’s six inches here where you have to get to that body. If you’re up here underneath their chest and you’re trying to lock, the guys are loosey-goosey, but if you can get to those hips. I’ve taught a lot of freestyle and I’ve taught a lot of folkstyle. When I talk about attacking a single leg, I’d much rather be closer to the hip than closer to the knee. The closer I can get to the hip, I have more control. Even though it’s a single leg, we’re looking at a single-leg technique, it’s like I’d rather grab right next to your hip socket than closer to your knee. Somebody that’s rustled and put the time in there. You visualize that and you look at that and you’re like, yes, that makes more sense, but why are guys grabbing at the knee or below the knee? Low singles are a whole nother philosophy and technical area, but controlling that hip and– Greco-Roman wrestling really has two what I call control positions. The definition that I use for control position is I can score and my opponent can’t. Everyone’s like, “How is that possible?” Well, it’s only possible for a moment at the time, but you just got to add those moments up. The more times I’m in a control position is the last time that he can score on me and I’m creating an opportunity to where I can score on my opponent. Those two control positions are an under-hook and a 2-on-1. Those are the areas that I talked about a lot and how are we’re going to use those two areas to get to that body, to control the body, capture our opponents so we can score.
Sonny: Yes. Okay. That’s interesting the way you talked about that with having to make the athletes experience their own failure and come to the conclusion on their own so they can learn from that process as opposed to just telling them, “Hey, do this technique,” and expecting them to pick it up like that because that’s– A lot of the conversations I’ve been having lately is focused on that area, but it’s like how much easier just telling someone what to do is, but how much longer that would actually take them to learn the skill. With your experience then coaching coaches, as you were saying, you’re going out, how do you impress on them the way to take that view into coaching?
Matt: That’s interesting because– What I was thinking, the problem usually starts with the coaches. We’re talking about these coaches that are like– but it’s not all the coaches, it’s just the majority maybe, that this is how you do it. Put your hand here, put your foot here. Look, it’s that simple, but it’s not that simple because wrestling’s so dynamic. You’re going against somebody that doesn’t want you to do that to him. The fear of failure is so real to young athletes that you need to tell coaches, let these guys fail. Put them in those situations, encourage failure. It’s like, I clap. Yes, you failed. Okay, now what are you going to do differently? How are you going to make an adjustment? What is that going to look like? Show me. Don’t tell me, “Just go,” you failed again. Okay? Now you’ve figured out two ways not to do this. Well, let’s if we can get it right the third and the fifth or whatever it takes. To the coaches, it would be encouraging that experimentation and failure. Well, let’s use an arm drag for an example. I want to grab the guy’s arm, reach around his body, control his body and it’s like, here’s how you do it. Well, your opponent also has a saying in that, and as you’re attempting that technique, you’re taking that arm, you’re dragging to the guy’s body and he backs away or he squares up or he moves his feet, you got to start anticipating those reactions and build those reactions into the techniques because it’s not a static sport. It’s so dynamic that you’ve created these situations where this arm drag could be to the body. If he takes his hips back, well, now he’s leaving his head down. Now I’m going to attack his head because he took his hips away. Well, that means if he took his hips away, he has to bend over. That means is his head’s available. Well, if I attack his head, he pulls his head up, well great, that that opens up his body. You can’t get that tunnel vision where you’re like, “This is the move I want” and it’s like that’s the action that created the scoring opportunity. Whether I scored with that drag or he squared up and I hit him with an arm throw or he squared up, I ducked him to the body, you’ve just put yourself in this situation to where all kinds of great things can happen, but they only can happen because you made an action that created that situation. Maybe that drag didn’t work. Okay. I didn’t need the drag. I’ll take is his head. He puts his head down, I’ll snap him down and go mind or I’ll strangle them out if it was Jiu-Jitsu or whatever because there’s a lot of parallels with coaching Jiu-Jitsu and coaching wrestling. To me, wrestling with a Gi on, it really is. There are some intricacies like you can’t take locks against the arm in Greco-Roman, but you can in Jiu-Jitsu but it really comes down to getting to your controls and getting to an angle of attack position. When I talked about an angle of attack, do you know what I’m referring to?
Sonny: I think so but maybe it would be good to explain it to everyone.
Matt: I would say the simplest way to describe it would be my hips are facing my opponents and his hips are not facing me. They are facing away from me, so positive hip angles, we’re always fighting for that. In boxing and wrestling and in any combat sport, you’re fighting for this positive angle. I’d be in a southpaw and fighting a lot of orthodox fighters. It’s always getting outside that lead leg and then making a pivot so I’m in a positive hip position. Well, that’s only going to last until he squares up. From there, I’ve got to land out one or two strikes or make that arm drag attempt or hit that attack, whatever that attack is and whatever discipline we’re referring to. It’s about getting to a control position. When you’re in a control position, remember I said a control position has to have the part where I can score and he can’t. If I’m not on a positive hip angle and his hips are facing me, if he clears that control in a split second, he has an opportunity to score. If I’m constantly staying on angle and whether that’s right, left, moving my feet, but if I take a positive hip angle and my opponent takes that away from me, I just have to create a new one. Whether I go the opposite way or the same way, I increase, I doubled down on the direction I was going or he squared up so hard and it’s a shorter route to go the other direction. You’re looking for those different routes to get to those positive hip angles and owning an under-hook or owning a 2-on-1 allows you because there are two ways to get to a positive hip angle. Are you aware of those two ways? There’s only two. I teach a clinic sometimes, “There’s how many ways?” and they’re like, “There are a million ways.” I’m like, “No, you’re an idiot, there’s two.” [chuckles] I’m like, “If there are a million, name three,” Name three. You go to a clinic and you’re like, “There are so many ways to get to an angle.” It’s like, “Okay, if there are so many, name three.” I can only think of two, but I’m always eager to learn. If somebody’s got something to share, I want to learn what’s another way to get to a positive hip angle. In theory, there’s only two.
Sonny: That would be I guess you take a step or your opponent’s steps, right?
Matt: Move him, move you. It’s that simple. Move my feet to get to my angle or move him, keep my feet static, move him. Now I could do those in combination. I can move him and move myself and maybe get to a more of an acute angle which is harder to recover from. I typically try to move my opponent as I move myself into a positive hip angle. That’s what I would encourage my athletes to do as well but to anticipate the reactions. If I’m moving into a positive hip angle, he knows. His hips are not facing me. He cannot score. He’s going to square up as soon as he can. He does not want to stay in that deficient situation where he can be attacked and he can’t counter attack or he can’t even create offense. They’re going to constantly be squaring up with you. You’ve got to constantly be making those adjustments. When you get to those angles of attack, you have to take risk. You can’t look at that and go, “That was, I got there.” You don’t score, angles don’t score, angles just lead to scores. Teaching coaches to simplify things more, it’s not like I don’t care how much you know, what matters is how much you can relay into your athlete, how much you can get him to understand. Maybe I know a million different moves, but just showing move after move and after move with no context and not understanding the position. I think the first thing to get coaches to understand is just how critical, fundamental positions are. I think we’ve gotten away from the basic skills of wrestling which stance, motion, elevation, penetration, lift, back step, back arch. I’ve always said there’s an eighth basic skill and it’s much more applicable in Jiu-Jitsu and folkstyle because there’s a lot more ground fighting, which is the hip heist, but all the other basic skills are more standing skills, stance, motion, elevation, penetration, lift. The two that get left out a lot and because I don’t know why, I think maybe it’s a lack of knowledge, probably more than anything but a back step and a back arch. Those are the two areas where you can create the most scores. A takedown is great. When I get on top, and then I can lock up my gut wrench and maybe turn the guy for two, or I could lift him for four. I’d rather lift a guy for four. Same thing with the takedown, I’d rather expose his back and get four points, which requires greater risk. Hence the back step and the back arch being the two skills that I feel are most efficient, at least in American wrestling system, not in the Asian system. You look at Koreans and the Japanese and back step, everything’s an arm throw, a headlock, a hip toss, a lot of rotational turning throws, which puts you for that split second, you’ve given your opponent a positive hip angle. When you are facing your opponent and you turn your body away from your opponent to execute that technique, you’ve given him an opportunity. Well, hopefully, he’s pushing in a little bit because you’ve created that. You take his feet off the mat and you score your four points. You look at that same scenario in a folkstyle situation. If that doesn’t score, it’s not rewarded as a risk because, in international styles, you slip, there’s no score because you made the attempt. Your opponent didn’t stop it. You didn’t execute but you made a risk, you took the attempt, so you’re going to get rewarded for that. In college wrestling, you get penalized for that. It’s quite heavily penalized because not only do you end up on bottom, he scores points, now you’re underneath your opponent, and your lines of defense are facing the mat, they’re not facing your opponent. I think that in a nutshell is where I started out saying, guys don’t take risks because in folkstyle they’re punished for it and in international style, they’re rewarded for it. It’s like, “Okay, get back on your feet. No scores. Try it again. We want to see action. We want to see creativity. We want to see scores. We’re trying to entertain crowds.” I’m not entertained watching some guy lay on top of the other guy and try to hold him onto the mat and maybe turn them for two or writing time. That’s not fun.
Sonny: I hear you. I’ve liked a lot of what you said there really. I think maybe one of the takeaways I got from that is, let’s say you’ve created that hip angle with the athletes and the moment that they might have that angle of attack is so brief that they can’t think about it logically, it just has to be intuition that they’ll know how to respond in that moment. The folkstyle wrestlers that you’re getting, they’ve trained their intuition to be risk-averse. When you come to Greco, that’s the process where you’ve got to retrain that intuition to be more risk-taking. Is that a good summary?
Matt: I think you summarised that very well. Maybe I should just have had you share that because I was a little long-winded. [laughs]
Sonny: I learned that from you, so there you go. [laughs] I really like the way that’s looking at it because coming–
Matt: That goes back to my philosophy of coaching, is take a very complex problem and simplify it. That’s what you did. To me, that’s a sign of somebody that has spent a lot of time coaching in the coaching field, that says, “This is a very complex problem. All these different things are going on at the same time simultaneously. How do I simplify this and break it down to its just course situation?” That’s what I’m talking about 2-on-1 and under-hook, there’s two controls. There’s two ways to get to a positive hip angle. There’s not a million ways. There’s a million attacks, maybe from those angles, but let’s focus on just getting our guys in proper position and getting them to move their feet into those positive hip angles, and then the magic happens when they start taking risk. You got to put them in those scenarios over and over and over, whether it’s drilling, or sparring, or playing. However, what modality you’re using to coach that day, you got to encourage that. You’re going to have a lot more failures than you are successes. You’ve got to have a short memory with the failures and be like, “All right, that didn’t really happen. Let me try this again.” Just keep going over and over and over until it’s like that time you’re like, “Okay, that worked. How can I replicate that? What can I add when that doesn’t work? What’s the next piece I can add to?” It’s like that Andre, let’s go back to that Andre. I reached around and I didn’t get to his body, but he left that arm out here. Maybe I ducked and went to the hips on the second attack. Just continually to build on those attacks. We call that chain wrestling. Have you heard that term?
Sonny: I have actually. It’s interesting because I did have a conversation about that with– We talk about catch wrestling and pro wrestling. The chain wrestling came up and we’re talking about how that’s what a lot of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is now doing for Instagram and stuff like that. They film little videos where they put this flow rolling together. That’s really chain wrestling.
Matt: It’s all the same. I love the terminology, flow roll. Just that terminology makes me think of so many cool things. I’m in the flow state, I’m enjoying this, I don’t have ego. When I think about flow, I don’t think about, there’s a lot of ego and if I take this risk, oh, it might not work. It’s like, that’s ego, that’s all about hubris and saying, “Well, I don’t want to take this risk because I might fail.” Who cares if you fail. You’re training. That your partner going to go up to the cafeteria after practice and tell everybody how many times he countered your arm drag? Because that shit doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is competition. Are you getting better? Did you get better today? Did you grow? Did you improve? Did you learn something? Those are the lessons that matter. I’d always try to be the worst guy in the room. Whenever I got to that level, where I was one of the best guys in that room, it’s like, I need to go find a new training environment or I need to bring guys into my training environment that can challenge me. Maybe I could still beat that guy in this area, but I know I can’t– When I was doing MMA and I just started, I think a lot of guys were like, “Well, I don’t want Matt to get ahold of me because he clenches me up, he gets me in an under-hook, or he puts me in a 2-on-1 situation. He knows what to do there. I don’t want to stay there. I want to just box.” They would naturally assume I didn’t want to box with them, I would just want to clench them. It would almost frustrated guys to the point where they were so ready for that clinch game that they had their mind set. It was like, “No, you’re a better boxer than me. I’m going to box with you today because I know what I can do when I get my under-hook and my positive hip angle. I already know what I could do there. Let’s focus on an area where I’m weak.” That’s gap. That’s not the close gap. There’s those ranges of fighting. The first range I would say is where I could push kick or maybe I could throw around house, but I can’t connect with you with my strikes. That second range is that where I can punch you or I can clinch you and then there’s ultimately that clinch range where the striking really doesn’t work because you can’t get a whole lot of hip rotation and power, you’re tapping guys, but- maybe that was just to open something up. Understanding those ranges of fighting is important too. That’s not necessarily in wrestling, because in Greco, it’s all this range. It’s all that fight range. If you’re not willing to put yourself in that range, we’ll penalize you. If you don’t want to get in that range, where you have to take risk, it’s called passivity. It’s penalized, in my opinion very harshly. Not only do you just lose a point, the opponent gets a point. Now you go face down on the mat and you have your lines of defenses on the ground and your opponent starts on top of you. Wouldn’t every martial artist like to start with the back? For the guys that are jujitsu and maybe not Greco-Roman, they don’t know a lot about Greco-Roman, this would be the equivalent to you’re watching a grappling match and somebody is not taking risk, which happens all the time in grappling matches. It’s like the risk happens on the ground, but on the feet, nobody wants to get the takedown some guys, even pull guard and jump on their back just to get the fight to the ground. Imagine you’re not being active enough, you’re not taking enough risk. You’re passive.The penalty for being passive is the guy gets to start with both hooks in from the back. That’s the equivalent to what you’re giving a guy that is an expert in Greco-Roman wrestling in the park position. You’re giving them a huge advantage. That’s an opportunity where you see a lot of matches ended. You see Roman get on top of a guy, two side lifts it’s over, or EVEl oofer– There’s so many guys that just have that ability to put a match away as soon as they get a chance on top.
Sonny: Yes. I get exactly what you’re saying. For me, that’s why I’ve enjoyed training folkstyle wrestling more is just with the lack of that party position, just being forced to stand up, I’ve found more applicable to MMA, and even Brazilian jujitsu. I’m wondering with your transition into MMA, one of the things that I’ve picked up on is that you’re talking about coaching the end of the sequence first, you know, just, hey, we’re getting to an underhook letting the athletes fail their way into getting that position to learn the learner intuitively. But it seems like with Brazilian jujitsu, it’s very much the opposite where the instructor’s going to tell you, this is the start of the technique work their way through. This is a very special technique that was used by this person to win this match. Maybe because of the ranking structure, it’s held up in a higher regard. To bring that together, I’m thinking when you’ve transitioned over to MMA, have you probably used your wrestling style of coaching to inform classes. Whereas some people I notice, especially I’ve seen up there, it can also be a Brazilian jujitsu style of teaching of MMA as well without doing it, showing the whole technique first. Have you noticed that or is there anything you’d like to comment on between those two?
Matt: No. I’ve noticed that. That’s what a lot of coaches that maybe they’re young in their careers, maybe they have a black belt because they’ve studied the sport really well. Maybe that’s how they were taught, that type of a system. They understand all the holds and they can do an Arm bar and a triangle and a double wrist lock from every position. But when I coach MMA or I coach jujitsu, and when I coach MMA I coach MMA, I coach the whole sport. I don’t break it down. For example, I’ll give you a really funny story. It was when B.J. Penn was fighting Matt Hughes, and called me up. He was like, “man, I’d really like you to be my wrestling coach for this fight.” I was just like, there’s not a chance. I do not want to be a wrestling coach for this fight. B.J. I said, right now I’m in between fights and I would be more than willing to train you and prepare you for this fight, but I’m going to be the head coach. What you see in a lot of MMA fighters is they want the boxing coach, the kickboxing coach, the wrestling coach, the jujitsu coach, and they all have their different philosophies. They all have their different theories. Of course, the wrestling coach wants you to take the fight to the ground. The submission coach wants you to bar on the guy or strangle them, and the kickboxer wants you to kick him in the head, and the boxing wants you to knock them out with a straight right. It’s like, I want to put together a whole package for you B.J. If you’re interested in doing this here’s what it’s going to look like, and I would be open. You think about that and then call me back. He called me back and said,”okay, well, how long is my camp?” I said, well, it’s going to be eight weeks. “I’ve never done an eight-week training camp.”I said, I understand you’ve probably never done an eight-week training camp. That’s fine, but we’re going to do an eight-week training camp. I’m going to lay it out for you. But first week is you’re going to come out to Oregon. I’m going to evaluate you. We’re just going to train. I’m going to see where your fitness level is. Then I’m going to send you to the Olympic Training Center. This was before I was a national coach. One of my assistant coach was a mole, who was a Olympic champion, gold medalist for Yugoslavia. He was coaching here in Colorado. He retired last year and has moved on. Now he’s training jujitsu in Kentucky and he’s 65 years old, and he just took up jujitsu. He’s pretty damn good at it. [laughs] I always told him, because we worked together from 14 through 18, we worked together. For four years I was like, coach, you need to do jujitsu. You need to put on gear, you’re 63 now, you don’t have to wrestle every day, and just go have fun. Now he’s in Kentucky for the last two years, he’s loving. He’s calling me, telling me he’s doing jujitsu, but I said, I want you to go wrestle Greco Roman for two weeks. I just want you to get in that Greco-Roman shape. I want you to feel the positions that guys are in. Just go get coached in Greco. I don’t need to coach you. I’ve got an Olympic champion there that can coach you. You know what I mean? I know a lot of the stuff he does, but maybe he knows something that I don’t too, but go get coached from really good people in Greco-Roman wrestling. Then come back here. Actually I said, go back to Hawaii for four days and then come here, take a break, come back. Then we’re going to have our training camp, but now you see we’re down to five weeks. I have five weeks. One week is a taper week. One week is fight week. What do I really have is three weeks. I evaluate him in one week, I sent him to Colorado Springs to wrestle Greco for two hopeful weeks just wrestle Greco, get these positions. I don’t know if you remember that fight, but couple strikes, double under hooks, little unbalanced, grackle on balance, but he also used a little foot hop with it, which was a little judo sweep and took his back, I think it was like 30 seconds or something. It was a great fight. I had an opportunity to coach him the first time he fought Georgia NPR as well. I thought we won that fight, but it was lost a split decision. One of the areas that we talked about, and I don’t know if you– You’re a fight nerd. You’d probably do remember these. B.J likes to put his back against the cage. He uses that knee between the body to create space. He takes away space to slow the guy down and control him. He pushes him away with that knee uses the strikes in the clinch very effectively with his back against the cage. Well, if I was in a room fighting and I’ve learned. I’ve learned this, it’s like, the best position is to push a guy against the cage for support. But if I was in a real combat situation, I’d want my back against the wall, against the cage so I can see everything that’s going on around me. That’s more real life combat and real martial arts, not just sport, but I explained to B.J., I said, if you have your back against the cage, it looks like he’s controlling. He has the octagon control. That’s one of the main criterias that the judges– These guys aren’t real martial artists, they don’t understand the sport at your level. They’re just looking at it and going look at Georgia, he’s pushing B.J up against the cage. Yes, B.J is doing well in defending himself in there. But that’s not what was happening. He was actually dominating the position with his back against the cage, doing way more damage. But to the judges, they couldn’t recognize that. What they can recognize is who’s on top? That guy’s winning. Who’s got their back against the cage? If I’m forcing that guy to get his back against the cage, well, I’m controlling where the action is. I didn’t agree with that tactic and tried to push back against it a lot. But it was one of those areas where he’s like, I’m really effective in here. I see that. But do the judges see that? In fighting, unless you’ve tapped the guy out or knocked him out, it’s going to go to the scorecards and you’re going to have judges that are going to determine who they thought won that fight. You got to give them more evidence to say, I won the slide, I control these positions, and so I just wish he would have swung them around a few more times, pushed his opponent up against the cage, and done more damage that way. You learn.
Sonny: I think you’ve probably touched on there the same thing with about changing people’s instincts maybe how hard it could be to change a fighter’s instincts in only a short amount of time of the fight camp. I think we see it often that people can game plan for a fight, but it’s very difficult to make someone fight a completely different style than they have been in the past. Is that something that when you’re game-planning for fights or is that something that you would think is relevant as well?
Matt: I think that’s very important as an athlete to be open-minded and be flexible. I’m not at all saying B.J wasn’t open-minded. We had good conversations. He just philosophically disagree with me on that one situation and I didn’t have the ego to say, “Well, this is the way you’re going to do this.” It was like I could see how that’s effective, too. I could see both sides. Again, I haven’t more trained higher than you do and I’ve sported with you. I’ve pushed you against the cage because that’s one of my strengths and I see how difficult you are to deal with that. You’re almost impossible to take down. When you get your back against the cage or BJ does. Not everybody do. When B.J had his back against the cage, he was damn near impossible to take down. I could see why you like that position. You’re much more stable. You’ve got a barrier to your back. I can see the damage you’re doing because I’ve sported with you and I’ve been in those situations. All I’m saying is from one perspective, we’re looking at this from the judges perspective. How do they see it? That was only that situation, particularly. Like I said earlier that I still felt like he won the fight and it was a split decision. That’s one example. It is hard habits die hard man. The habits they die really hard with athletes it’s like I’ve had success with this. It’s like, Yes, but you’re at another level. There’s levels. There’s so many levels in wrestling it’s like, you start out in this kid’s club in the Pee Wee League. Then maybe you wrestled at the state tournament. That’s a new level. God forbid you went to the national tournament at your age group but then you got out of that age group. Now you’re in high school. Now it’s a whole new level. We see attrition at every level. I think the attrition comes from us as coaches not teaching the enjoyment and the joy of the sport and the love of learning and failing and just the whole experience. I think what we do is we say, “You want to win,” and we just keep putting more pressure and more pressure. Like winning is so important. Winning happens when you enjoy what you’re doing so much to the point that you’re obsessed with getting better. Getting better requires you to put yourself in situations to where I’m at a disadvantage. Like I said, for me sometimes especially early in my MMA career, it was like, the stand-up thing, this getting punches and kicks thrown at me, I’m going to spend as much time there as I can because I already know if this was a fight, I wouldn’t probably stand in front of you. I’m going to close that distance and get to my control positions, my positive hip angles, and put you on the ground. I’m going to control you and I’m going to do damage until I can find a way to submit you. It’s like, how many guys when they’re just rolling in Jiu-Jitsu, or don’t give up their back. There’s especially if you have maybe a partner that you can beat in your guard all day long. If he’s in my guard, I’m going to triangle him. I’m going to hit a drag. I’m going to take his back. I’m going to triangle armbar whatever. I know if this guy gets to my back, he’s really good there. What am I going to do with this guy? I’m going to let him get to my back as many times as he can in that training session, because that’s where he’s really strong, and he’s really good. If I keep him in my guard, well, my ego is going to win. I’m going to have a really good practice today. What’s the definition of a good practice? Did I grow? Did I improve? Did I learn or did I kick somebody’s ass in the gym? It doesn’t really matter. That’s why we see that attrition. I think it could come from coaches just teaching more. It’s okay to fail. I expect you to fail. What we are attempting to do here is really difficult. Wrestling at a high level or martial arts at any high level is a very tough task to take on. Somebody’s trying to kick the shit out of you. They’re trying to choke you, pin you, punch you, or whatever that is, in whatever artwork we’re practicing that day. You got to redefine what enjoyment is of the sport and it shouldn’t all be about did I win every situation today because if you did, you probably didn’t get much better, because you weren’t going with good enough guys or even if you have guys that aren’t at the same level of you well, give me your back every time. Start with a triangle choke. Let them walk it up. Then Figure out how to get out of that. Put yourself in the worst positions possible sometimes and then start the drill from there.
Sonny: I hear that and I think about in the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu side of things how much more difficult that is made potentially by having the ranking system. If you’ve got someone just one rank below you who you’re supposed to– That puts you above them how much extra pressure that might put on someone to be risk-averse in that situation which wrestling doesn’t have. Do you think that could be a contributing factor?
Matt: You know what, I still don’t have a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Not because I haven’t been offered a black belt just because I’ve chosen not to be a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. I’m okay. My wife’s like, “Why haven’t you ever gotten a black belt?” I was like because I still study Jiu-Jitsu. I love to go to other places and learn and study. It’s like, it doesn’t matter because that’s just somebody’s opinion that says, “You’re good enough to have a black belt.” I don’t know. I think you just got to take the ego out of that and say it doesn’t matter. We’re all white belts. Shouldn’t we have a white belt mentality as we go into the gym? We hear that ad nauseam, like, “Oh, I have that.” As you as soon as you go on against the guy that’s a belt color above you, you’re going to go harder. You just see those guys are [unintelligible 00:57:36] and they’re breathing and it’s like, “Dude, I’m not going to hurt you.” You know what I mean? It’s like I’m just here to train and get a little flat. Roll around and have fun but it’s serious. I call them the head squeezers or they’ll squeeze anything. Anything they get a hold of, they’ll just squeeze, squeeze it. You’re like, “Okay. Go ahead and squeeze that and then you’ll be done here in three, two, okay. Now I can roll with you because you’ve depleted all your energy systems.” A big thing about martial arts and coaching is how to control that energy management too. Energy, there’s only a certain amount of it that you have. Whether the bout is six minutes or 25 of it in a title fight or whatever, you got to think about how you’re using those energies. Putting yourself in positive hip angles and control positions allows you as the guy that has that position, allows you to almost recover in those positions. We’re still in the fight. The fight is happening but I’m not tense. I’m relaxed in those positions, and he’s tense. How many more times can I put my opponent under threat where he’s using that energy, that nervous energy, like I can’t be here much longer, because something bad’s going to happen because you start to realize, “Okay. He’s controlling me. I can’t score until I free this arm. Now he’s got a positive hip angle.” Now that guy is going to start using way more energy when you’re letting off the power and you’re waiting for that moment to explode and use that energy. I’ve always tried to use an acronym for MMA. I said, minimize the amount of energy you expend, maximize the amount of energy you’re imposing on your opponent, and attack effectively as possible. It’s all about when do I exert and when do I not exert? The head squeezers, they’re just going to burn energy till it’s done and then you just see a *crack* because they don’t understand that how to use that energy throughout whatever the given timeframe is.
Sonny: I think that’s really good, solid advice about utilizing energy and making sure the way that you’re using it is putting your opponent into a deficit and you’re getting the advantage over them by that. I think that’s really strong advice. Speaking of then of some of the pressures of MMA and dealing with maybe athletes in MMA who are more confident in themselves and maybe sure of their own way. Then the additional pressures that could put on someone, coaching and just experience of coaching in general. I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind just maybe finishing off with your thoughts on Robert Follis, who was coach at Team Quest and just, he tragically passed away by taking his own life. Just your thoughts on some of that or just even a valuable lesson you learned from him.
Matt: I can tell you, I learned a lot of lessons from Robert Follis. It was very surprising that such a positive influence on so many individuals. You would have never thought Robert was depressed. Apparently he struggled with this for a long time but didn’t share that with anybody. If there’s anybody out there that is dealing with that depression, you need to talk to somebody. Recently this week I actually talked to somebody, I’m not going to tell you who but this guy was a world champion in two combat sports, literally a world champion. He’s transitioning out of the competitiveness and trying to figure out what’s next. What’s next in his mid-40s and it’s like, “I’ve been an athlete. I’ve been a combat athlete my whole life. I’ve been a world champion my whole life. Now I got to figure out what I’m going to do.” A lot of guys go into coaching or whatever. There’s only so many of those jobs out there. There’s only one Greco-Roman national team coach in the United States. There’s one in Sweden and one in Finland and Norway and Russia. Those jobs they’re just not there and you got to create those things. If somebody’s dealing with that, first of all, I think they probably should find Jesus because I think that gives a lot of people a lot of peace and knowing that there’s something greater than this life. There’s an eternal life. I think that’s an important lesson there. I think one of the things Robert, he didn’t have Jesus in his life but I think he was always looking. He was looking for what the next thing like that. He loved to go to Tony Robbins and listen to him and he loved to be inspired by people. I can be inspired by history and reading a good book and find out what others have done. Robert treated everybody very well. He was a very good coach as far as open-minded about bringing new skills in. I think that was probably one of the greatest things that he did is he always would help us like Randy or me or we would invite different people in whether I fought them or trained with them or against them, even if I could have fought that guy in the future. It’s like, “Come into our gym. We’re going to both compete. It doesn’t matter if we’ve trained together a year ago or six months ago. We’re going to bring our fight to the game.” Robert did a good job of bringing in a lot of different ideas and outside influences, different instructors that maybe– You wouldn’t believe the names of guys that have been in our room and coaches and athletes that I’ve got to learn from. I’ve talked to you about I’ve spent a lot of time with BJ and spent a lot of time with Marcel Garcia and John Hackleman was one of my great mentors and Matt Hume and Maurice Smith and I love Maurice. What a great boxer. His coaching style for me was more of that, “No, you need to do it like this. You need to do it like this.” It’s like, “Yes. This was working. Maybe this one is okay.” Because I’m not trying to knock the guy out. I’m just trying to land this punch to get to the clinch. I get it, but if I land that punch and then I got a slip and I got to duck or move my head, he might punch me back. I might get knocked out. That isn’t my strength. What if I just land that punch and I close the distance. You’ll find people that are saying, “That’s okay,” versus guys that are like, “No, you need to do it this way.” Being exposed to everybody gives you such a wealth of knowledge. Then I can even tell you Dennis Hallman was one of the guys that I’ve learned so much from. Jeff Monson, those guys are our neighbors. They’re just up the street from us. I am forgetting names after names of all the great people that have come through our gym and I’ve been able to be coached by or been able to share things with and just that brainstorming of like, “Well, this is how I do it.” There’s something simple like taking a double wrist lock and going above the elbow or below the elbow and having these philosophical discussions on leverage and pressure and strength. It’s like, “If I go against this, that part of my arm is a lot stronger than this part. This part here, I’ve got more leverage points.” You’re like, “Yes, but this coach showed it this way.” It’s like, “We’ll try it this way,” and being open-minded and willing to say, “All right. I’m going to try it and see if it works.” Also you’re like, “Wait a minute, that’s better. I’ve been doing it this way all along.” You know what, I’m going to start doing it this way because I feel like that’s going to be more effective. I could take that for a million situations. I used to do this technique on the front choke, where a lot of guys they love this Gable. They call it the Gable grip. Dan Gable gets a lot of credit in our country as the master. I call it a butterfly grip because it looks like a butterfly. I was using this grip here. I don’t know if you can see it but it’s a really awkward grip. I can only pull a Gable grip that tight. I can push that thing all the way through the back of his throat and changing the leverage points. I called it a chokeslam because I started when I let a guy shoot a single and when he’d start to drive I’d get out the way and let it head slam into the mat, give him a concussion as I was slapping a choke on to him. Everyone’s like, “Ozzie guillotine or you’re not doing it right.” It’s like, “I’m not doing that move. I’m doing something totally different that I just stole this little piece for Marcello. I took that piece for BJ and I figured out how to do this lock because that’s what I did when I was wrestling Greco was– I know I can push it more than I can pull it in and just taking bits and pieces. Like all great artists, you got to steal and take what works and call it your own. I just think Robert was really good at saying, “Show me. I want to learn that. All right. Let’s do it your way,” or “You know what I think this way is going to be better. Why don’t you try it? If it doesn’t work, let’s unmarry it, let’s get rid of it. For a month let’s just work on it this way.” Being open-minded not saying that my way is the only way, but saying, “I think this will work or I think this won’t work. Why don’t we experiment? Why don’t we try it and try it on next time. You got that on Shale. Try it on Randy. See if it works on him.” Which nothing ever worked on Randy. I tapped Randy one time in the room one time in my whole career. You know what I tapped him with, guess the move.
Sonny: I don’t know. Peruvian necktie.
Matt: It was the toehold.
Sonny: The toehold. [laughs]
Matt: That was because he was standing on top of me beating me down. I swung around got his leg and I was like, “This is working. Wait, wait, wait. It’s going to work.” All of a sudden he tapped. I was like, “That’s it. I’m done for the day.” It’s the only time I’ve ever tapped the natural out but now it’s just taking those and trying on the next level guy and seeing, “Does this work here? Okay. It works at this level, but will it work at the highest levels against the best guys?”
Sonny: I like that. It’s really beautiful. Some of the things that you’ve gone through there and it’s very important. What you said to reach out and speak to people if you’re going through something like that and to have those conversations. Of course I’m loving this conversation on technique and coaching that we’re having too. The conversations of reaching out to people for help if you need it that’s also very important and even something that I myself should be doing more often. I’m sure it’s probably something everyone should be doing a bit more than they normally are. To make things a bit more personal, I guess if we’re going that route and keeping it in wrestling, and the last question would be, well, we’re trying to grow wrestling out here in Australia, me and Gary Jones the wrestling foundation, wondering what tips, with Brazilian jujitsu it does seem that the ranking system is very good for student retention in getting [crosstalk] provided?
Matt: Oh, it’s great for gym owners and it’s great for retention and I think there’s a lot of positives in both sides of that like you said, I think we lose a lot of athletes to wrestling because maybe we don’t have that system to where they can see if I do these things, I can get to that next level. There’s always a next level for them. It’s like you’re either winning or you’re not winning with wrestling and that’s hard. Like I said, are you growing? Are you improving? Are also important. I don’t need somebody that’s maybe got a higher belt rank than me to tell me if I’m at the next level, I have to feel it and I have to know it because I’ve done it and it’s not just because somebody else’s their opinion and that’s really all it is, isn’t it? Am I wrong? Is there more to it than I’m missing out?
Sonny: On any given day, it’s the same with anything else. You could say there’s more to it and people could have that debate for ages, but on any given day, anything can happen and you might be caught sleeping, and then what does as the old saying goes, the belt only covers two inches of your ass.
Matt: That is true. Now that’s good and I think if we as coaches instill the love of the sport into our athletes and stop putting so much pressure on doing things perfect or doing things this way and just saying, show me how that works, you’re having success. I want to know what you’re doing, it makes it work and maybe I can learn from you and I could coach you better because I don’t want to change anybody that wrestles far as obviously they’ve gotten to this level because they’re doing something right. When I get to a guy that’s making a world or Olympic team, I’m not trying to make these gross adjustments. I’m just trying to make micro-adjustments maybe work on their training prioritization plans, or their mental skills or some small technical adjustments and just everything is an add. How can I add to what you’re already doing? It’s not how can I change you or how can I mold you? It’s like, how can I just add on to what you’ve already built because you built something pretty damn good to get to this level, and what are your strengths, and what techniques should we try to work into your strength areas. I think that’s important.
Sonny: Yes, I like that and that is something that I think Gary Jones has done by implementing a level system within the coaching of wrestling to give the students level one, level two, level three system to work through with techniques to try and encourage that side of things so I think that’s a good place to take things for sure. Look, Matt, it’s been a wonderful conversation.
Matt: Thank you.
Sonny: I’ve really enjoyed it. I hope you have–
Matt: I developed a belt ranking system for Team Quest and it was for retention. It was from my students that were young. It wasn’t for guys that are competing like your belt is what are you fighting in Strikeforce, UFC or that’s your belt, but for the young athletes and in 20 years I’ve promoted four black belts and two of them are still training at my gym and see one of them, she was the only female out of the four. She’s 25 years old and she’s also my daughter and the other one who just turned 16. He started with us when he was five and he got his black belt just a year ago. He got his black belt and then Isaiah and Kaitlin, they’re still doing martial arts. Kaitlin took up some stick fighting, but he blew his knee out doing football, American style football, and Isaiah, he’s 19 now and he’s just trying to figure out what he wants to do in life. I think that martial arts definitely gave all of these young people, good base a foundation. They’re all having success in other areas and like I said, two of them are still really heavily involved in martial arts. Robert is a 16, he’s trying to make the U-17 world team. My daughter, she’s not a competitive martial artist, but she’s in the gym daily training and staying fit and running our fitness side of our programs at Team Quest and she’s a very good martial artist too. I’ve gone back and forth on women in martial arts and whatever the opinions are and I think it’s really a great thing for all young people, whether it’s a young girl, it builds just that confidence and self-esteem and for men, I think it’s critical. I think all men should be required to do martial arts of some sort or some kind just to develop that resiliency that somehow we’ve lost as a society because right now we’re locked up in our houses and not even going out because we’re so riddled with fear that we might get a bug. I understand that coronavirus is real and it makes certain people sick and if you feel like you’re compromised and you’re unhealthy, well you should not go out in outdoors, but you should not try to mandate what somebody else should do and how much risk they should be able to take with their own lives. Where does it stop with taking risks, I think we all know that risky behavior and we still do them, we still get in our car and get on the highway and more people die every year from car accidents than have this year from coronavirus, and we’re still driving.
Sonny: Yes, I think that being able to evaluate risks and learning sometimes the hard way sometimes the easy way I guess if you’ve got a coach there to help guide you with those risky decisions is such an important thing that can be taken from the training room and then used hopefully lifelong in a lifelong practice of martial arts is probably the best and ideal goal for the young guys. You mentioned stick fighting, I think that one could become huge in with the social distancing going on. The stick fighting might come in handy and could be the one that could be the next big thing I tell you. [laughs]
Matt: I tell you what, and if I had the time and there’s a couple of martial arts I wouldn’t mind trying, that’s one of them and then what’s that other one that’s like really meditative and like the ones that old people do, I’m 50 now-
Sonny: Tai Chi.
Matt: -so I might have to do Tai Chi. That one looks very interesting to me.
Sonny: Do you know Tai Chi is pretty much, they have a competitive side of it?
Matt: Oh, I’ve read that book.
Sonny: The Art of Learning, have you seen his matches?
Sonny: They’re pretty much Greco-Roman. I think you’d be pretty good at it, Matt.
Matt: I think you’re right and I’ve also trained in Thailand and Muay Thai like the Thai do it is very close to Greco-Roman as well. Head up, hips in. The only difference is you’re slamming knees and elbows into the guy’s body instead of shoulders like Greco and Thai fighting are so similar. Well Sonny, thank you for having me on your show and keep up the great videos and appreciate that one you did on me and stay safe dude.
Sonny: Thank you very much for your time, Matt. I’d love to have you back on some other time to talk about your career and all the technical sides and maybe that time that Fedo held the ropes when you were fighting against him.
I talk to Brandon McCaghren or B-MAC from 10th Planet Decatur, Alabama. We discuss his start travelling from his home town to train with Eddie Bravo in LA and the value of constraints vs operating in the wild. How the innovative 10th Planet “Hot Box” system and the warm-up routines and patterns have helped it grow and establish itself. Also, building positive club culture and the martial value of tai chi and finally, how to stay inspired as a white belt and the importance of self-discovery.
Podcast Transcript – Episode 010
Sonny: Welcome to episode number 10 of the Sonny Brown Breakdown. A podcast where I discuss the training, teaching, health and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Brandon Mccaghren or BMAC from 10th Planet Decatur in Alabama. We discuss his start travelling from his home to training with Eddie Bravo in LA, the value of constraints versus being in the wild, 10th Planet warm-ups, building positive club culture, and the importance of self-discovery. Now, let’s go to the podcast. Okay. Here today with Brandon Mccaghren, BMAC. Here we go.
Brandon: Hey. That was pretty good.
Sonny: Did I get close on the last name?. How are you today, mate?
Brandon: I’m good, man.
Sonny: Good. I got in touch with you, I’ve seen all your stuff online. You’re very active with your website, Instagram. You got a great YouTube page as well. When I started looking into you and finding out how you got your black belt from Eddie Bravo. It was interesting to find that when you were learning in Alabama, that you were having to travel to LA in those early days. There was no one there locally for you to learn off. Yes. I was just wondering if you could give us an idea of what those early days were like? What drew you to 10th Planet as well?
Brandon: I just started martial arts, because I needed a way to get in shape, and I was not interested in running or lifting weights. I already established in my life I wasn’t going to do those things. [laughs] I got into martial arts really as just- for health reasons. I didn’t really have any aspirations of beating anybody up or anything like that. I didn’t think I had that inside. Yes, I just got introduced to martial arts, and then I slow– Not slowly. I quickly learned that Jiu-Jitsu was the martial art that interested me the most. But if there wasn’t any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu within a driving distance — Not in a way that I could ever make it to class and train and run. I got to get there once a week or something like that. I was just trying to learn out of books wherever I could. I was learning there from the guy I was training with at the time. His name was Jamie Webster. He’s a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu guy. Tang Soo Do, Moo Duk Kwan , lot of MMA classes, and stuff like that. I was learning from him at the time and he was always teaching us Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stuff. I just fell in love with that. Then I got hooked up with Eddie, because one of the guys I was training with– I was still a white belt. He goes, “Hey, man. I’m going to a Eddie Bravo seminar. Do you want to go?” I was like, “Yes. Who’s Eddie Bravo?” That’s how I met Eddie initially, and I loved what he was about. He was just super passionate. You know what I’m saying?
Brandon: I had been to a couple of seminars already by that time. Man, he was just so into what he was doing. At the time, he was booked to do like three hours. He ended up doing like six with us. Then he made himself available after the fact to answer some questions. I just like the spirit, the passion honestly, that he approached it with. That made a huge difference to me. I played guitar too. I didn’t like the idea of ripping my hands up.
Sonny: Playing with the Gi. You decided just go straight no Gi off the bat?
Brandon: Yes. We were training in the Gi at the time, but again, it wasn’t at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school. I didn’t get the same education on gripping and breaking grips or using the Gi for or against me. I didn’t get the same kind of education, but I did play with the Gi. You know what I’m saying? I watch them, but I didn’t get that deep Gi education that I probably would’ve needed to fall in love with it early, but I was learning and . I just thought that fighting and the Gi, at that time in my mind, I couldn’t understand any correlation. I could see correlation now, but at that time, that was- no way you could’ve convinced me of that.
Sonny: What kind of things do you think now that the Gi has that value for fighting? What are those things?
Brandon: It has value for fighting the same way boxing has value for fighting. But boxing is not a complete fighting style by any stretch of the imagination. Every time you clinch somebody, they call it cheating. That’s not fighting. They break them up and they put the big pillows on their hands. If you want to learn the best way to use your hands to strike a man in a fight and the best way to defend yourself against hands in a fight, there is no other art, but bo– Boxing is the premier art to do that. But the way that they became so elite was that it was separated and were restrictve. The rules became very restrictive. You’re not allowed to kick him in the legs, you got to wear the big pillows. If you clinch him, that’s cheating. We’re only going to give you three minutes, 12 different times to work it out. Okay. That’s a really limited rule set. Don’t hit him in the back of the head either. All right. Got you. Because they limit the rule set so strictly, you have to learn how to use your hands the right way, but it’s not a complete fighting system. With the Gi, even though it’s not a complete fighting system anymore. It has things that maybe don’t translate that well when the Gi comes off or maybe it don’t translate that well when you’re getting hit. But because you’re not getting hit, because you do have handles and more friction work with, maybe you can learn some things in there that you wouldn’t be able to learn if somebody was cracking you in the mouth the whole time. You’ll take risk you wouldn’t take if somebody could hit you. Just like in boxing, you’ll use your hands and you’ll open up in ways that you wouldn’t if he was allowed to shoot a double leg on you. I think each of the different styles of fighting have their place. Even some of the more like artsy styles. There’s things that you can only learn by limiting the rules deeply, and that allows us to spring up specialists. Those specialists in turn can change the general fighting style dramatically.
Sonny: Yes, I hear that. It’s something that’s been coming up a lot recently. The power of those limitations that you can put on certain styles of training will actually allow them to develop more. It’s like that little counter-intuitive thing.
Brandon: Yes, it’s interesting. It is counter-intuitive, but it makes sense, man. It makes sense. That’s how you grow in your life. You give yourself a resistance that isn’t– An artificial resistance perhaps. Like, lifting weights is an artificial resistance, and that’s what forces the muscle to grow and adapt, and become stronger.
Sonny: Yes, that’s a good point. It does seem to be just this constant thing that people want to just– Yes, internal growth should just mean we let anything happen possible, but those power of those limitations and restrictions can’t be overlooked. It’s funny.
Brandon: Unlimited growth could be possible with no restrictions, but it’s not controllable. It’s wild. It just grows, because it’s wild.
Sonny: Going into chaos.
Brandon: That’s good too. You got to learn how to operate in the wild. No question. But by limiting our– By training ourselves. Not just coming to class and rolling or just watching technique or just inactively participating in the class. By training, we make those wild scenarios a repeat occurrence. It’s something that, “I’ve seen this before.” It’s appearing in the different context now, but I’ve seen it a thousand times.
Sonny: I hear that. Let’s say you’re in Alabama, maybe in the wild of the Jiu-Jitsu, because there was no one there. You have that seminar with Eddie Bravo. He’s given you that– This is the guy who’s got the knowledge. He can give you some control over this Jiu-Jitsu beast, shall we say. How long since you did that seminar until you decided to travel out there, and was that scary going out there the first time?
Brandon: Yes, man. Especially for an old country boy. I’d never been to California before. I thought I was walking to a different world. [laughs] The first couple of times I went out there, I just got my, butt handed to me of course. Just trashed. Yes, it was an interesting experience. I started going out pretty quickly though. I’ve been going out every year. At least once every year since then. Sometimes I stay two weeks, sometimes I just stay a week, sometimes longer. Then I’ve been flying him out here for seminars and stuff like that the whole time. Then until I got my black belt, this was my rule. If Eddie’s doing a seminar to within a 10-hour drive, then I’ll make the drive. He was everywhere through the States for the last– Especially at that time from– Really, all the time with Eddie. It seemed like once a weekend or once a week- once a month, sorry. I could get out and see him on the weekends. I got actually quite a bit more contact with him than you would think, just because of who he was and the nature of his travel schedule.
Sonny: When you were travelling, did you know about his history with Royler Gracie? Was that something that drew you towards him?
Brandon: I learned about it after the first seminar, but not the first time that I went. I really didn’t know much about him at all. I heard his name, but I didn’t really know who he was.
Sonny: That’s fair enough. Fair enough. Let’s be fair, it is a cool name. It does–
Brandon: Dude, Eddie Bravo is a cool name.
Sonny: Does have a good ring to it.
Brandon: Sounds so much cooler than Mccaghren. [laughter]
Sonny: You’re doing the training up there, and what was happening when you were coming back to Alabama?
Brandon: We were still at the karate school that we started out called Webster’s Karate. Great martial arts place, just wasn’t Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But we did have grappling and we had MMA, so I was getting beat up. I had people to spar with. I shouldn’t have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training partners, but I was getting to use my Jiu-Jitsu that I was learning all the time. We had grappling classes. Usually, it was just– They weren’t full classes, but we’d have like 15 minutes of grappling twice a week is what we would do. Then on the weekends, we would have open mat and I would just– Then I was trying to- I was going- traveling on the weekends to compete or train with somebody. I was a matted at out my garage and I was– Anybody that wanted to. I was just training all the time. I was very directionless, but I was training all the time.
Sonny: A bit of the punk, do-it-yourself ethic going on.
Brandon: Yes. I was doing it. I was trying to reach out to resources as much as I could, because I definitely didn’t think I knew anything. It wasn’t that. It was just lack of training partners. I was just building– I was having to find people that could stay with it. People that would stay with it. Eventually, we had a couple of blue belts floating around, and eventually– It just grew and grew. Until now we got three black belts in every class. It’s crazy.
Sonny: That– You obviously, run your own school now. Seems rather successful. That started from those- the mat up in your garage?
Brandon: The school started as a blue belt- when I was a blue belt was when 10th Planet Decatur started. We did it at that school that I was at at Webster’s. We had the back room. He gave us the back room. I think he even bought the mats. These old puzzle mats and put them down. Just a step forward after six months, and a step forward after two years. Just eventually it becomes– It snowballs. I think– Right now, I think we have 108. Well, I don’t know about right now, actually. [laughter]
Sonny: I hear you.
Brandon: But I think we have right around 200 members on the roll.
Brandon: Just at the Decatur location.
Sonny: When that started, was that– Eddie had a system that he was doing back in the day I remember, called 10th Planet hotboxes or something like that. Where he would allow people to use his brand.
Brandon: I was never a hotbox. But what a hotbox was– There was no official coach, but there was like an official spot you could go. They weren’t allowed to charge for training, but the guy who was in charge of the hotbox was trying to learn from Eddie himself. Make sense?
Sonny: That makes sense.
Brandon: It wasn’t really a place. It wasn’t really like an official spot, but it’s like, “Yo, 10th Planet friendlies are here.” The people would go, “I’m trying to figure it out. I don’t have a coach. You too?” We would meet, because of the forums and stuff like that. We would hook up when we could.
Sonny: That’s pretty cool idea.
Brandon: A couple of good schools popped out of that system. Mobil, Alabama, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Beaumont, Texas. I think JM and Zach with Grace Gundrum and Thor, where they trained. I think they were a hotbox too.
Sonny: That’s pretty cool.
Brandon: The hotbox system was cool. It got a little big to be able to monitor it properly. That’s why it died out, but the idea was awesome. I love that idea.
Sonny: Pretty groundbreaking pioneering idea, to try to and allow people to do that. Whereas, a lot of other parts of Jiu-Jitsu is so locked down to–
Brandon: That’s Eddie though, man. That’s what he does. He likes Jiu-Jitsu. Even the way he runs his association. It’s not like a money grab for him. He doesn’t- I don’t– I’m not required to bring him for a seminar. I’m not required to buy gear. I’m not required to have my gear be a certain color or certain– Dude, I just pay a small affiliation fee each month. Small. Smaller than– Very small compared to most organizations, and fly the 10th Planet flag like a boss. As hard as you can. Those are the rules. Eddie’s like, “Yo, do you love 10th Planet? Are you one of my black belts? Then let’s do this.” Then he gives you like, “Fly, little bird. Fly.” Like, “Find the best way. I’ll be here if you need me.” I like that. I love that.
Sonny: That’s very cool, and very different from how other places do things very. Heresy, to some other places to do things like that. It really is.
Brandon: What have you got to be afraid of? If you’re going to lose people or not have a successful- not make as much money, but you’re going to be passionate about what you’re doing every day. Eddie’s pumped about 10th Planet. Probably more pumped about it than he’s ever been.
Sonny: It’s generous of him to be able to do that, because he’s– The 10th Planet brand now has grown so huge, especially from his involvement with Joe Rogan. It’s just always getting that exposure, right. That for a lot of people coming into it, there is that attraction to 10th Planet, of being that little bit different, that little bit on the outside, but yet everyone seems to have heard of it. It’s probably a common thing. You find white belts on the mat going like, “I want to try this Rubber Guard. I want to learn this twist. What’s going on with those guys over there? What’s this Lockdown?” It seems to be that that’s probably a common experience with everyone teaching at every Jiu-Jitsu school. There’s always a few guys who are like, “What are these 10th Planet guys doing over there on. I want find out.”
Brandon: A couple of 10th Planet dorks over in the corner. [laughs]
Sonny: It is. There’s that attraction to it, which is funny, but it’s situated in that in that space, it seems.
Brandon: My understanding is that causes tension in some places, which I don’t really understand. For the most part, I think everybody’s cool with it. It seems to be. It’s a little different than it used to be. 10th Planet definitely used to carry a different- it used to carry the Scarlet Letter. Like, “Oh, god. It’s 10th Planet. Run. You’re going to get high just seeing him.”
Sonny: I was always lucky that my coach is a Machado blackbelt. We had–
Brandon: You moved?
Sonny: Yes. We always had Rubber Guard and Twisters has been in our syllabus as things to learn, and there was never any pushback if I want to experiment with 10th Planet or really with anything. A very– Anthony Lang, shout out. A very open-minded and– Was very cool like that, but there was definitely that time where it was seen as you just going to– One you’re probably going to injure yourself or two, you’re gone off the deep end. Like, “That stuff don’t work.”
Brandon: You probably think 9-11 was an inside job now. You know what I mean?
Sonny: [laughs] Exactly.
Brandon: Them chemtrails is everywhere.
Sonny: Well, that’s just something Eddie’s it is known for now. For sure as the other part, right?
Brandon: Man, he may be more– Right now, at this point in his life, he might be more popular as a conspiracy theorist than as a Jiu-Jitsu guy. Really, he might be.
Sonny: [laughs] There’s got to be a lot of conspiracy theorists people happy that he’s flying their flag, the same way he’s happy you’re flying the 10th Planet flag.
Brandon: Man, he loves the conspiracy theory, boy. I like to listen to him. I don’t know. I’m too dumb to really make my mind up one way or the other usually. I just listen. I’d be like, “That is– He’s crazy.” I like it.
Sonny: That’s something with– 10th Planet, the schools I know are called Moons. I’m not sure. Like, the Planet. The moons on the Planet. That’s probably–
Brandon: I don’t know. Whatever.
Sonny: [laughs] That’s probably it, . But as an instructor then, there’s no, “If you’re going to become a Moon, you’ve got to believe that something’s crazy about the world.” There’s no– [laughs]
Brandon: No. No, nothing like that. Really– Honestly, man. Eddie doesn’t really care what even kind of Jiu-Jitsu you did. You don’t have to do the Lockdown and Rubber Guard and all that stuff to be a 10th Planet guy. Something one of his black belts told me one time that I really love. Samir Olam told me that the Lockdown is not the 10th Planet gospel. An open mind is the 10th Planet gospel. It doesn’t make much difference to Eddie or to me either. If you’re a Lockdown or Rubber– I don’t care what kind of guards you play, but you better play some guard. But you better build your guard on these principles, otherwise it’s not going to be a real guard. Sometimes that manifests itself as Rubber Guard based on you and your experiences, your attributes, the moment. Sometimes that may manifest itself is a No Gi Spider Guard in some situations. That’s okay, too. Don’t hate. Just let it come to you. As long as you build your game around good solid principles, then who cares what techniques you use, dude. I couldn’t care less.
Sonny: That’s interesting. I’m in a 10th Planet school and I’m like, “You know what? I don’t like Rubber Guard. I’m not going to play it.” No one’s going to be there going–
Brandon: No. So Matt Skaff, I have a couple of black belts under me now, but the first two I gave, I gave on the same day. Shawn Applegate, Matt Scaff. Scaff has been with me since he was a white belt. He’s still there everyday now. He doesn’t play any Rubber Guard and he never did. Never did, but he’s a destructive black belt. You don’t have to play Rubber Guard to be an awesome guard player. You have to play Rubber Guard to do certain things with your guard or to get certain submissions that you’re interested in. But the thing that I believe Jiu-Jitsu is, I can’t want the Rubber Guard in the first place or I can’t want the Lockdown or the Half-guard or the Z or whatever. Any kind of desire I have to chase those things puts me behind. It makes me late. I believe in a real reactionary style of play. Almost like, “I’m going to stick to you and then you decide what happens next, but I’ll win.” if that make sense . Theoretically, at least. It doesn’t always play out that way. [laughter]
Sonny: I hear that. You’re saying it’s that idea of you react to what the opponent gives you, and you won’t fight to force them into a certain position like the Rubber Guard. If it’s not there, it’s not there. It’s the same way with the personality of someone that you’re coaching. If it’s there for them and they want to follow that path, that’s fine. But you’re not going to ever force that onto them. Is that roughly right?
Brandon: Yes. I don’t want to say never. Some guys need to be forced. Some guys need to be corralled down a little tighter. Like, “Okay. You’re not going to be a top player at 109-Pound” or “You’re not going to be a mount guy, probably.” You know what I mean?
Sonny: Yes. I get you.
Brandon: Maybe let’s work on leg locks for you for a little while or something.
Sonny: I hear that. That takes us back to talking about those limitations, that we do need to put them on there. As much as we like to talk about the open mind and everything, those limitations are [crosstalk] .
Brandon: The open mind, to me, that’s what gives you the choice of what to work on. That’s how you can stay passionate everyday, because you’re training. You’re working, but you’re working on something that interests you. Like a white belt says, “Brandon, I really love Jiu-Jitsu, but I’m not growing too fast. What should I be working on?” What makes you want to train really well tomorrow? That’s what you should be working on. You’re a white belt. The game is so big. You can’t possibly pick something that you’re good at. Because you’re a white belt. That means you suck. Just grab something that excites you, makes you want to train, and dive as deep as you know how. When your interest shifts, that’s okay. You’ll have built a base level set there. You’ll probably pick up new things enrolling now with that new base level set, but when your interest shifts, move your interest. I was interested in mount, now I’m interested in leg locks. Go. Fly, little bird. If you build your game on principles instead of just memorizing moves, then every time that you’re learning something, you’re learning everything. Does that make sense?
Brandon: I know that makes sense to you. People that are listening, “Nobody knows what he’s talking about. Obviously, it makes sense to him.” Say I build my mount escapes on the principles of balance and weight distribution and leverage and timing. The mount escape is built on that. Not on, “Where do I put my hand? Where do I put my feet? When do I bump it?” Those are all important, but the principles are what make the technique work. Well, those principles– When you learn weight distribution in situation A, if you’re really learning weight distribution, not just memorizing a movement. Then you also improve your weight distribution on other situations, because you’ve improved your general understanding of what it means to distribute weight. Even though I might be learning it from the mount over here, it’s going to work on my leg lock escapes over here, because the principle never changes. It’s always true. Does that make sense? If you have somebody who can guide your learning well in the beginning, which is hard to find. If you have somebody that can guide your learning well, I’ll give you as much rope as you want. Go learn whatever thing it is you want to learn, but you’re going to learn Jiu-Jitsu during the course of learning through the filter of mount escapes, let’s say.
Sonny: You’re saying as a coach, you can let your students explore with whatever techniques really they want. Whatever techniques they’re interest them, that draw them, that keep them passionate, that keep them making wanting to show up on the mats day after day to try out this new move. Whatever it is. As long as they’re doing it in a way that they can learn and understand the principles that can translate to something else when they get bored of that technique.
Brandon: Yes. That’s a much smarter way than all the words that I said.
Sonny: No. You’re putting it up there, mate. [laughter]
Sonny: It’s a softball for me- to me. Don’t worry. [laughs] It is interesting though, because one of the things I’ve been talking about with a few other people, which I think is a great innovation by 10th Planet, is the warm-up system. Which no one else is doing. Certainly, the first people that I– The first affiliation I heard of doing it and he probably still is. Especially the way he’s doing it.
Brandon: I think so.
Sonny: Everyone’s got warm-ups, of course. If I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s not going to make sense. Maybe you could give us a rundown of what 10th Planet is doing with their warm-ups.
Brandon: What Eddie does– If you try to come to Eddie’s class at HQ and you don’t know the warm-up, he’s going to be like, “Go to the beginner class.” Eddie’s theory is the same as hitting the heavy bag in boxing or hitting the speed bag in boxing or just hitting mitts. We’re going to memorize this combo. Until this combo is stuck into your DNA, you’re going to hit the mitts just like this. You know what? Once you do know the combo, you’re going to come back and you’re going to hit the mitts again. There’s only a couple of punches in boxing. The potential combinations of techniques are much, much smaller than say, in Jiu-Jitsu. That’s a limited rule set. Why do guys who are really, really great like a Floyd Mayweather. Why does Floyd Mayweather still hit mitts? Why is he still running those basic combinations everyday? Because he’s still finding improvement. He’s making sure that they’re stuck in his DNA, and that when it’s time to throw the punch, he doesn’t throw it. The punch throws itself. That’s Eddie’s theory with the warm-ups. He took what in his opinion are the most important techniques to him or even if it’s not the most important technique, it’s a technique that teaches a thing that he wants taught, puts them into a flow. He did 32 of them. I think there’s eight sets of four. There’s 32 total. You run one set of four each time you come to class, and that’s the first 15 minutes of class. It’s a memorized flow. It’s hitting mitts. Instead of just, whatever push-ups or running and whatever torture that the coach might have in mind to start class. Let’s just get going with some Jiu-Jitsu mitt work.
Sonny: I like the sounds of that. Because even when I’m getting people to warm-up– “We’ve got to do hip escapes. We go to shrimp, prawning. We’ve got to do it.”
Brandon: Prawns. Is what y’all call it? No way.
Sonny: No, just me. [laughter]
Sonny: I thought I’d throw that in there. For being an American, I thought you’d enjoy it. That’s not widely used.
Brandon: Well, I’m going to take it and I’m going to start doing it.
Sonny: We do that. We’re trying to get to a Million or something. Once everyone gets that– Everyone has to know that movement. Everyone has to have that down. They’ve got to know what it is. Really after a point, like, “Okay. We really are just warming up. You guys probably all know how to do this, because we’ve done at least 100,000 by now.” We just throw it in. The warm-up system that Eddie’s put in, it does seem to be a lot like a Kata. A Jiu-Jitsu Kata. Especially now when people aren’t allowed to train or who knows where they are, but a lot of people having difficulty getting into the gym right now. Having a Kata to workout on or something like that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, if you’ve got the ability to do it. He’s got all these high-percentage moves that he’s worked into a flow. If you go to the advanced class, first 15 minutes, you’re just warming up using that. Is the beginner class just each one of those moves broken down? How does that beginner’s class then work for people?
Brandon: I think everybody does it a little different. We don’t do it exactly- at our school- exactly the way that Eddie does it. The way that it works at HQ is you want to come to Eddie’s class, you have to know the warm-up, so that you can do the warm-up, but in the beginner’s class, it’s just about teaching those 32 patterns. There’s a ton of Jiu-Jitsu included. They’re long patterns. It’s just about teaching those 32 patterns in the beginner’s class.
Sonny: Because if anyone is interested, it’s definitely worthwhile going to have a look at some of those patterns. They’re great for Instagram videos as well, I noticed.
Brandon: No doubt. [laughter]
Brandon: In my opinion, they shouldn’t be looked at as, “Do these moves. These moves are the 10th Planet system.” It should be looked at as hitting the mitts. When you see somebody hit the mitts, you don’t go, “Well, it’s not a real fight. That wouldn’t work in real life.” Of course not, bro. He’s hitting the mitts. He’s running through his pattern. That’s really the way it should be thought of. It’s done with just proper resistance. Not much resistance, but not no resistance, the proper resistance so that both partners understand where this is going. Once you get to a high level, you’re throwing three, five-movement combinations. Your body’s producing combinations that you didn’t even know were there sometimes. Having the guys working combinations like that I think is really smart.
Sonny: They’ve got those combinations to piece together. I’m having trouble thinking of something that’s in there now, but say a common backtake or a leg drag. Sure, there’s probably a leg drag in there somewhere. Guys will come to the beginner’s class. How will it be broken down? Would you say, “Okay, we’re learning a leg drag today and this is in this combination,” but it’s just a leg drag?
Brandon: Let’s say I was going to teach one of the warm-ups and there was a leg drag in the warm-up. Say the flow was we drag the leg pass, we drop into the leg drag. He’s going to turn and we’re going to take the back from there. That’s a three-move combination. The point of that exercise though is not the backtake, it’s the leg drag. That’s the part we’re trying to emphasize, let’s say. We’re going to spend time talking about the leg drag, the purpose of the leg drag, when the leg drag might come up, here’s where you need your hands to be, your head to be, your body positioning. SBG would define it like, “Here’s the posture, the pressure and the possibilities from this position.” Then, we’ll explore it from there. “Today, beginners, what’s going to happen is he’s going to turn and we’re going to jump on the back. It’s a position you’re going to see a lot. In fact, you’re going to need to know how to do it just like this. It’s not the only time the leg drag is used, it’s just the only time the leg drag is used tonight. All right, everybody ready? One, two, three,” then we’ll break on it.
Sonny: Got you. I like the sound of that. I’m going to try to fit it into a music metaphor because you like guitar. [chuckles] See how we go. Is it like the individual moves then become notes or chords that the students can play, the warm-ups then become a scale that they can go through, and then when you let them into free-rolling, they’re doing solos?
Brandon: I love it. That’s great. Actually, that’s a great analogy. The scales analogy is really a great analogy. Like me and you are going to play guitar together and we’ve never played before. It’s my turn to solo, I don’t just start playing scales, but if I want to be good at soloing, then I’d better be good at scales. Yes, the warm-ups can be thought of as scales and maybe the individual moves are chords or they’re licks. They’re riffs maybe.
Sonny: That would probably make more sense. A little bit more to them than just the single note.
Brandon: Dude, that’s a great analogy. I don’t know if that analogy works for people who don’t play guitar, but it works for me, bro. That makes perfect sense to me.
Sonny: I grew up in a musical family.
Brandon: What instruments do you play?
Sonny: Well, I’ve stopped playing when I got into martial arts though, but my dad is a guitarist and I grew up playing guitar, piano. I did a bit of saxophone.
Brandon: Oh man. I don’t play any wind instruments. I love to hear a good saxophone player though.
Sonny: Me, too. [crosstalk]
Sonny: Sonny Rollins is the namesake inspiration that was always– It helped later on in the day.
Brandon: You’ve got to channel some of that energy.
Sonny: [laughs] I think that’s a good thing too then to just have that structure for beginners. That’s one thing I’ve been chatting about with a lot of people. Everyone has a little different take on how beginners are boarding to the club, but everyone understands that it’s the most important thing because nearly everyone teaching back in the day, it was kind of sink or swim with everyone.
Brandon: No doubt.
Sonny: There wasn’t this structure to try and keep people around. It was turn up on the mats. If you can hang, if you can stick around, then great. We’ll take you on. Now, everyone understands the benefit of having something in place to keep people wanting to turn up to do this sport that is tough. Let’s face it. A big thing that can contribute to that is just that club culture and getting people onboard and building an environment that’s friendly and not so, I guess intimidating, is a common word that people have coming into any type of gym. You seem to be pretty passionate about doing that and I’ve heard you talk about that being an important thing to you. How do you think that plays into Jiu-JItsu? Not the technique, not the moves, but just the environment that you can actually build to get people to keep doing Jiu-JItsu.
Brandon: I think it’s everything, man. Again, I didn’t start Jiu-Jitsu because I wanted to be a world champion or even because I thought that I might be able to get good. I didn’t even consider that that might be a possibility. You know what I mean? I just needed a thing to go do to help me get healthy that I would keep doing. Because that was the problem, I could start at the gym. Everyone of us could start at the gym and we could start a good diet and start eating well, but it’s keeping something going is the most important part. For me in the beginning, I was lucky that my wife started training with me on day one. She was actually the one that was like, “You’ve got to do something, you’re getting fat.” I was like, “Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out.” That’s a true story. [laughs] She’s a black belt. She stayed with it everyday, too. She’s a black belt, too. It’s been awesom through quarantine. It’s been great for quarantine. I was lucky to be able to start training with her because I wanted to be there every night. We were doing it together. We were starting at the same time so we bought were unskilled. It was a new thing together. It wasn’t a situation where she was teaching me or I was more advanced than her. We were both ignorant together at the same time so it was fun. It was a fun environment. Plus, I can’t praise Jamie Webster enough for the way that he ran his karate. He still runs and it’s still a great school, it’s just different than what we do. He really instilled in us the idea that martial arts were going to benefit us. We were going to benefit from learning martial arts. Come to class even when you don’t feel good. Come to class. We’ll make it an environment and he made it an environment that we wanted to come to. It was an opportunity for me and Lindsey to get away from the kids for just a little bit, spend some time together. That’s a huge part of the culture at our gym is I train, my wife trains, and we’re on the mat everyday. Both of our kids train and they’re on the mat. We have a ton of husband and wife and kids combos that come in and train. We have a very family atmosphere at our place because it starts at the top. We know now what we didn’t know in the beginning, which is that hours are really the only thing that matters. Hours on the mat is the only way to get good. Where if I run you off, you will never accumulate the hours if I rough you up and send you out here. Even if it’s rough, if you feel like your soul benefited from being there tonight, you’ll come back tomorrow. Even if it’s rough. Even if it was hard. It is. It’s rough, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s weird, it’s gross, but if you feel like your person benefited from it, you’ll come back tomorrow. If it was fine, you’ll come back tomorrow. To me, again, I’m not trying to raise up a competition gym. We’ve got good competitors, but our good competitors are good because they love it so much and they spend so much time on the mats, not because I pushed that atmosphere. I pushed the, “This is going to be good for you. If you could just stomach it and come and try it out, you’re going to really like it.” Right now, not that many, but we’ll put 60 people on the mats every night with that spirit right there. The training is high level when it is but it’s fun most of the time. The average student doesn’t care anything about getting good, they’re just looking for something. It could be self-defense, it could be health, it could be a community, but they’re looking for something, and it’s almost certainly not to be the UFC champ.
Sonny: That seems to be an overall factor that just overrides everything is people got to have fun. People got to have fun.
Brandon: I’ve got to have fun.
Sonny: Everyone’s got to have fun.
Brandon: If I’m training to be the best person in my gym, if I’m trying to be the best person that I train with, well, I did it. I’m the best person that I train with. So then, why keep training if that was the objective? There has to be some other thing that brings be back. I do want to keep getting better, I am very passionate about it, but honestly, it benefits me tremendously to be there. It benefits me physically. Right now, especially during all this craziness, I think all of us see more than ever that it benefits us mentally. More than we even realize, most of us. Especially those of us that train everyday and just take it for granted. it benefits us mentally more than we even knew. There’s just something about physical touch and adding a skill. It’s a potion that just can’t be messed with. It’s a winning potion.
Sonny: I hear that. Sometimes I feel like I wish I enjoyed just doing Tai Chi in the park a bit more and my shoulder wouldn’t hurt as much.
Brandon: I feel that. [chuckles]
Sonny: It’s not as fun.
Brandon: I like some of that stuff. I like some of that stuff.
Sonny: It’s okay.
Brandon: There’s been some things, I went on a kick for a little while where I was reading a lot of essays from Tai chi. I went on a kick for a little while where I was really learning a lot about the touch that I wanted my Jujutsu to have. Just from reading some of the theories and trying to practice some of the– I don’t have a Tai chi coach or anything, but just like listening to their martial theories and our martial philosophy. I would have to say that Tai chi is much, much more art than martial, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value in it.
Sonny: I should say it he wasn’t bragging on Tai chi. I don’t know if you’ve read the book The Art of Learning? You know Josh-
Brandon: Yes, Josh Waitzkin. Sonny: -Waitzkin, the Margelo Garcia black belt now, but his book, The Art of Learning, he goes into the World Tai chi Championships. Before I read that book, I had no idea that it could actually be a competitive side. When you actually look at his matches and his matches actually seemed to be some of the only ones online. The competitive side is definitely not promoted by Tai chi I think.
Sonny: They really look like [crosstalk]
Brandon: Nodi, Judo, or sort of.
Sonny: Yes. It like okay, they have the, what was it? Fixed feet and free open feet or something. One where they have to keep their feet planted, then that’s just total reaction where they try and push people over like Sumo wrestling. But if they Sumo– I always pronounce that wrong people don’t understand what I say.
Brandon: I like the way you pronounced it. I thought it was great.
Sonny: Sumo? They have to stay their feet planted and they can push each other over three feet or whatever it’s called.
Brandon: I can’t remember how it’s called. It might be open. They have fixed style and open style. I get a lot of value. If you ever have a student come in, those students that come into their life and no matter what move you teach them they’re like this. They are balled up a rock. I’ll teach them how to do that fixed style, Tai chi. Foot to foot, and then running the circle and feel how when you push me that makes you stiff and I can move you and feel how you relax, I can’t move you so easily anymore. Oh, okay, and that can start to help open up their learning there.
Sonny: That’s a good way. Actually, one way I’ve actually used it as well is just for like a fun game with people. I’d Get them to stand on kickbags. One foot each on kickbags and just hand your hand here. Go. You guys would just try to push each other off, just to keep things– It’s a fun little game.
Brandon: Again, it’s fine.
Sonny: I got it from looking at Tai chi.
Brandon: Like you, I never would’ve thought that there was any value to Tai chi had I not read Art of Learning. I think at the time he was a Brown belt under Marcella that I read the book. I remember when he got his black belt, it was a big deal. It was Marcella’s first black belt. I knew that he was a really good Jujutsu practitioner and that he was not just saying, I used to do Tai Chi, but no, no, no there’s martial value here, look into it. Okay. I’ll try. I’ve found that for my own style, at least I’ve found that to be definitely true.
Sonny: Interesting. I didn’t expect to [crosstalk] out of Tai chi.
Brandon: Again, I should be real clear. I don’t know anything about Tai Chi, but I’m not like a study practitioner anyway. I just was trying to glean. Knowing what I did know about martial arts, trying to glean, where is the martial value here? It’s in the training style, it’s in the philosophy. It’s not in the martial technique because there’s not any, but the art has a lot to teach about how to make my martial more martial.
Sonny: The other big takeaway is obviously when you see older elderly people doing it in the park and they’re out there at an old age still moving well. Maybe that’s something to consider. Bringing it back to fun and keeping things fun. Let’s say, I’m a white belt coming into your class. I’ll be gone a couple of weeks. Maybe I’ve had a rough night. Some guys sweat it on us, something’s a bit sore. Didn’t get any taps. What do you actually do to make things fun, to make that person want to keep coming back? What’s some tangible ways that can be done?
Brandon: Well, I think mainly just checking on them and making sure that they understand that that’s the process that you signed up for. That feeling you have right there that’s what you were looking for. That I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish. Good. That means your goals were high enough to know. “I didn’t get what I needed to get this guy beat me up”. Good, good. You need those things. The fire refines the gold. You don’t understand what I mean. It burns away the impurities. There’s no way to find the gold without putting it through the fire. Good job. The fire is going to last longer than you think I’ll see you tomorrow, right? Yes, yes. When’s your next class you’re coming to? I don’t know, I got to check my schedule. No, no, no. When are you coming next? You’d be here Tuesday at six. Yes, yes I’ll be here Tuesday at six. I’ll see you then don’t miss. You know what I mean?
Brandon: That’s a little trick there. Just getting them to commit, to saying a time and a day on the way out the door is actually a huge thing.
Sonny: You’re creating that personal connection then with you how I’m holding you accountable for turning up, but you’re turning up because it’s going to be fun. This is tough, but we know that there’s benefit from it. We know that there’s value from it. People probably intuitively know that, “Hey, I’m working hard at something. This is going to pay off eventually”. But you got to give them the reason to put themselves through that, through the fire to actually get that.
Brandon: We ease everybody in man. If you’re just a random dude coming in and you’ve never trained before, you’re pretty out of shape. You know that you’re walking into something hard. You’re like, “dude, I just got to do something”. We’re going to ease you in. I don’t let people roll on their first night. Like, stop you are not going to roll tonight unless you’ve got a background already, that’s a little different. Like you wrestled in college. Well, okay, come on over here. I got a got a little things for you. Little things like that when they do start, I’ll make the matches generally in the beginner’s class. Me or one of the coaches we make the matches that we feel are appropriate as much as we can. We’ve got a ton of people in there these days it’s not as easy as that used to be. You just got 20 people in class, “All right everybody on the wall. You two guys, come on out here. Y’all go” you know what I mean, making those matches. Otherwise, you’ll have black belt hunters roaming the room looking for who they can beat up and get there. Then those people generally will duck hard matches too. They’ll just run around and look for white belts to beat up on to make sure that they don’t get beat up. We also limit the beginners to three rounds in the beginner class. They go to class, they drill, and then they’re only allowed to roll three rounds at the end of that. Then we break in the advanced days and then we keep going after that. We turn them, “get out to here, three rounds that’s all you’re getting tonight”.
Sonny: Leave them one more right?
Brandon: Leave them one more and for smoke, a lot of the guys only wanted two. A lot of the new people only wanted one or they didn’t want to get out there at all. Hitting that mark, hitting three is a big deal to them. Rather than going “All right, we’re going to roll for the rest of the night, and then you go in”, “Oh, I can’t take anymore. I can’t, I don’t know if I can get a fourth-round in.” Then getting that beginner feeling like everybody’s watching me quit and walk off the mat. You don’t get the opportunity to have that feeling. We cut you off at three. When we think you’re ready to start bumping up, then we start- we don’t hold everybody there forever by any means, but some people need to be held there for a while.
Sonny: No, that’s a good way of looking at it because obviously, I’m thinking my first reaction is leave them wanting more because that’s just my mindset thinking that everyone wants to keep doing it. I wasn’t considering that. There might be people they’re scared of getting in that one round. I’m just okay, I’m happy with it.
Brandon: There might be they definitely were. I was. Man, there were times when I first started training and we had that MMA class, I didn’t know anything. I literally I was 230 pounds at that time, five feet, eight inches tall, 230 pounds. Now I’m 170, well probably a little more like 180 right now. If I’m being honest, I’ve been eating a little quarantine healthy, but when I was a big boy, I was at least 50 pounds overweight and I didn’t know anything. The first class I went to, I got the food beat out of me. They beat me to death. The next, I don’t know, man, for the next several months, it was just that it was just basically like being the new guy, just getting hammered, just crushed. Man, I would sit in my car sometimes and just be so nervous about going back inside. If I wasn’t the kind of person that I am, I liked things like that it’s not so bad, but that is weird. You gotta be flicked in the head to stay with that and most people will not get out of the car after the third or fourth time. They’ll just be like, “this is [crosstalk] I’m going to the house.”
Sonny: What I’ve certainly found is that most or a lot of the people who have been doing this for a long time or started or a bit longer ago, everyone has that mindset that they were probably going to get to black belt and keep doing it probably no matter what happened in those first classes, but yet now people are coming in and hey, they just want to work out. They just want to get fit. They’ve heard about this sport that’s getting a bit more coverage. People are talking about it. They especially heard about on Joe Rogan. That’s a big-
Brandon: Honestly, that’s helped out a lot, not just for exposure but for letting people know what they’re walking into. He goes, “Hey listen, it’s going to be hard. This little nerd is going to kick your butt and you’re going to want to quit and he’s going to break your arm and it’s a death game or death video.” Crazy but it lets people know what they’re walking into a little bit. I also find like having so much content, so much video content out on our school. It’s like people know, they kind of know us when they get there, if they’ve been a little nervous and I’ve been investigating, watching all dude, there’s so much video and so much audio of me that you can almost like know everything about my life before you even walk in. Not only that but people have seen the mat room that’s familiar to them. They know that there’s a little tiki hut over in the corner. They know there’s bleachers right there. They know that big bay door opens. They know you got to walk. You know what I’m saying? They know it’s not unfamiliar when they get there. It makes it much easier too and then they say, look, I’m not a big tattooed scary looking guy. I’m a little dorky redneck fella and I smile a lot and he’s the guy in charge, this will be okay. Then what I actually have is I have people take it not seriously enough sometimes because they’re comfortable when they come in as well. I hold on this idea, it’s not going to be as easy as you thought. I’m going to mess you up.
Sonny: It’s funny you mentioned people being like, coming in a bit out of shape. Do you have the excuse over there? The same that I hear a lot here. I’m going to come to training once I get fit enough.
Brandon: Yes, that’s ridiculous.
Sonny: That seems to be a common one.
Brandon: It’s understandable though because like for most sports, if you can like for basketball or let’s say football, if I can get in great shape to play basketball, a lot of that’s going to translate to football because we’re running or jumping and we’re exploding and we’re cutting back and forth and just light body contacts. There’s no grappling, there’s no striking, anything like that. There’s no up and down, up and down off the floor. Most sports translate to each other at least a little bit, but nothing translates to grappling and grappling don’t really translate to anything else either. Just because I can roll for like– I could roll for four hours before I had to stop, but I bet if you asked me if you asked me to run a mile, I would fall over dead.
Sonny: Yes. I hear you. I’ve been doing running during this time just to keep something up.
Brandon: I tell everybody I learned how to fight so I wouldn’t have to run no more.
Sonny: Fair-play to that.
Brandon: Fight or flight, it’s always going to be fight.
Sonny: Fairplay.What would you tell someone if they’re thinking, “I’m not going to come into class because I do want to get fit first.” What would you tell that person if they’re listening to this now? That’s what they’re thinking. “I want to try to jiu jitsu, but I’m going to get fit”. What would you say to them?
Brandon: I always encourage you to get as in shape as you can. You’re going to need every bit of it. Then when you get out of shape, you’re going to find out that it was wasted time. You should have just listened to me in the first place and sign up for class on day one. I don’t want to say it’s wasted because getting in good shape is never wasted. Right. Obviously the better shape you’re in, the more athletic potential you’re going to have when you do start getting your butt kicked but rest assured you don’t know how to use your body, you’re going to get tired. It doesn’t matter what kind of shape you’re in, if you’re in shape for running, you’re in shape for efficiency and running, but you don’t know anything about how to squeeze efficiently or how to rest and when to rest and how to breathe, get in class. That’s the only way to get in shape for grappling is to grapple.
Sonny: Nice. I like that. I hear that very loud and clear. Just one last question, I guess about keeping things fun is do you play music while you roll? Being a musician, what music do you like to listen to if you do it?
Brandon: I am a Pearl Jam man. I love Pearl Jam.
Sonny: There we go. There we go.
Brandon: I play Pearl Jam. They get sick of it. They get sick of Pearl Jam but I play Pearl Jam albums pretty much every session. I like that kind of music. I like rock. I don’t mind hip hop, but a lot of times we will have kids in our theroom and stuff and I don’t want to blast that too loud. I’m not against it but it just depends on who’s in the room. You know what I’m saying?
Sonny: I hear you, sometimes. One, I feel sorry for sometimes the students having to listen to the music I’, playing and two sometimes I will listen to lyrics and think, “Ooh, sounds a bit different when it’s just in my headphones.”
Brandon: I don’t like anything too hard though. I don’t like real hard music when I train. I like just chill stuff, man. Nothing too wild because I don’t play like a real aggressive style.
Sonny: You think that does help create that vibe in the room?
Brandon: Yes. The music definitely. Run this experiment, any of you, I dare you try to play, just play a Jackson five and music from the fifties and the sixties and your next class and watch what happens. Just watch and you tell me.
Sonny: Alright, interesting. I can’t wait to get back and give that a shot. We’ll report back and see how that goes.
Brandon: Make sure you play stuff like that everybody knows the words to and it feels like bebop-y like this and watch what happens in class. Even try with like eighties pop music or something like that and watch what happens to the class.
Sonny: Okay. I like it. I’m starting to groove out now just running that through my head.
Brandon: I know,
Sonny: [laughs] Last question would be just a bit of advice to that you could tell your white belt self back in the day if we could go back in the time machine, ghost of jiu jitsu past. What would be the one thing that you could say that you think your white belt self would benefit the most from hearing?
Brandon: Well, the thing that I would want to tell myself, I already heard when I was a white belt. You just don’t listen, but it’s like “Tap earlier or you don’t have to win at all”. That would be something that I would say I would really emphasize to myself. “You don’t have to win at all. You can’t win, and you’re not impressing anybody by how tough you’re acting. You’re not tough either. Settle down, take your L and learn what you’re supposed to learn. It’s a longer process. You don’t have to be good tomorrow.”
Sonny: I hear that. That’s good advice for sure for people to take on board.
Brandon: Well I heard all that as a white belt. I just didn’t hear it.
Sonny: That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about too is the problem of then trying to get people just to learn solely from the own mistakes that you’ve made without letting them make their own mistakes. It seems to be a hard thing. If we could just listen to every bit of advice people give us, the world would be a different place, but people have to make their own mistakes and finding out a way to allow them to do that and so they can actually take that advice because they have to make the mistake themselves to learn it which is weird.
Brandon: There’s great value in self discovery. When you come up with the answer to a problem yourself, it sticks differently. Right? It doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand it when you gave me the advice, I understood what you said, but it didn’t stick to my DNA the same way because when I had no choice but to do it this way, when this way solved the problem for me, “Look at this thing I came up with.” “Brandon, I told you that three years ago”, “well I came up with this just now”.
Sonny: Exactly. That’s something, look, maybe we can come back do this again another time. We can do it a bit more because I really enjoyed this chat and I think there’s a lot of valuable things to take away from it and thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.
Brandon: It’s a pleasure for real. Thank you so much.
Sonny: B.Mac. Can I call you B.Mac now?
Brandon: Yes we’re pretty much best friends now.
Sonny: Beautiful, B.Mac. If people want to get in touch with you, I know you’ve got a great website, you’ve got some courses on there. You also got stuff with BJJ fanatics on the rubber guard that people can buy and check out. You got a bunch of courses online, people want to do those, get in touch with you. What should they do?
Brandon: Just go to Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Brandon MC.Ninja. That’s me. Just look it up. There’ll be something free right there for you and some variety on any of those channels you go to. There’s tons of free content. If you’re looking for something a little more in depth. I got four courses that are free as well and then I got paid products as well. Just start with the free stuff.
Sonny: Beautiful. I hear you got a free one on the triangle choke at the moment is that-
Brandon: I do man if you want, I’ll send you a link to where everybody- and a code to where everybody can get it and [crosstalk] I’ll put it out to them after that.
Sonny: Yes, we’ll put that in the show notes and a little link section and everyone can get on board with that. B.Mac thanks so much for your time, sir. Really appreciate it and stay safe and let’s chat again in the future.
Brandon: Sounds good, man. Thank you so much, sir.
I talk to Rory from RVV BJJ, who takes a methodical approach to explain the science behind your jiu-jitsu. He explains the critical principle of alignment which breaks down into posture, structure and base. An innovative drilling method known as “FYJJ”. He also discussed various ways to maximise training time and why beginners should NOT train closed guard. Finally, he explains how low percentage moves and false positives can hinder your training and development and how to solve this problem.
Episode 009 – Podcast Transcript
Sonny: -or low percentage moves. Now, let’s go to the podcast. Great to have you here today, Matt. How are you?
Rory: I’m doing great. Thank you for having me here. We’ve been trying to get this together for a little bit now.
Sonny: We have. This gap in everyone’s work schedule has been good to try and catch up on some of these plans I had laid out. Yes, I’ve been a fan of your work for a while. You’ve got a great YouTube channel RVV BJJ.
Rory: Thank you.
Sonny: Yes, yes, it’s a great resource. I reckon everyone should check it out. The videos that turned me on to you were the Gordon Ryan Floating Pass.
Rory: I think that’s the only reason why I have any notoriety or success on YouTube right now. It’s because of that series.
Sonny: I found that really helpful. It’s a great series, and I’d even done a seminar with Matthew Tesla, one of the Danaher Death Squad brown belts. He came out to Australia and did a seminar on floating pass, and I picked up things from that, but actually, going to your videos really made a lot of the stuff he was showing click for me. I think there’s that benefit of seeing it in competition and how you were explaining it was a great addition to how, actually, Matthew Tesla himself was explaining it. I think that’s a good compliment to your work.
Rory: Excellent. Yes, that was a fun one, where I hadn’t done something like that before where I’ve done a deep dive really going through hours and hours of competition footage that I could do, even having to pay for FloGrappling, which I hated doing, but just so I could see some more matches. I originally only had a plan for four parts, but as I kept on going through more and more footage– As I’m sure you know, we have a plan. We’re making a video kind of, and then, as we keep on taking in more information, all of a sudden, it’s like, “Oh, man, I have to change this, I have to add this. That part is so cool here.” It became like 17 parts and completely overblown.
Sonny: Yes, 17 parts of quality, quality content. Yes, thank you for putting that together. One thing that comes through in your videos, and think I noticed in those videos, was your approach to thinking about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. You had a very analytical approach. Then, when I realized your instructor was Rob Biernacki, that made sense to me, because I was somewhat familiar with his work. I’m just wondering, your history with Rob, how you got into Jiu-Jitsu, and how that has influenced and shaped your thinking towards the sport.
Rory: Yes, it’s not hard to tell that I am a student under Rob Biernacki if you know his work, and then you listen to me speak. I originally started martial arts at 19 years old, which is 11 years ago now. I started in German Jiu-Jitsu, which was Japanese Jiu-Jitsu with kickboxing, essentially, if I was to just break it down basically. We trained it, but we were also doing a no-gi submission grappling for fun. I found that I was naturally getting more drawn to that stuff, because just doing the live sparring in Jiu-Jitsu, as we all know, it’s just a blast, and to get to actually pressure test this stuff starts to cut out the fat of things that don’t work. What started happening for me is I was getting into the security workforce where I was doing bouncing; I was doing uniform work; I was doing loss prevention, where I caught people stealing in stores by just pretending to shop all day; and when I was getting into physical altercations trying to arrest people and apprehend them, I kept on resorting to grappling. I found that all the– not all, but a lot of the Japanese Jiu-Jitsu Aikido stuff that I was working on at the time for three to four years at that point, was just stuff that I wasn’t able to replicate in a adrenaline-filled high-intensity situation, like actually having to use it in a street defense situation. I kept on just moving further and further away from that stuff and focusing on the grappling. Unfortunately, that school ended up shutting down, just because there wasn’t enough students. I was training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in just some random places, because we didn’t have a very good level of Jiu-Jitsu for Vancouver Island, which is the far western side of British Columbia, Canada. Then, Rob opened up shop, and he moved in. We heard that there was a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts in the area that just opened up a shop. The great thing about Jiu-Jitsu is that we get to roll and we get to test and we get to see if people are actually legit, because the mats don’t lie. I went at Rob with everything I had, and he absolutely mopped the floor with me, crushed me. At that point, I was just like, “Man, this guy can absolutely mess me up. I know that I can learn from him.” Then, the seven-and-a-half years that I’ve been training with Rob now, he’s obviously opened my eyes up to a conceptual approach to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which is what I try to emphasize for myself when I’m teaching, especially on the YouTube channel to try and have something that differentiates from the rest of the many, many YouTube videos out there, especially on Jiu-Jitsu. I’ve gotten to see how good of an instructor he actually is, which is not something that– I knew he was good and that he was way better than me when I was obviously a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and he can mop the floor with me, but all the way up to now, where I’m now a black belt under him, I can now see why he is regarded as a high-level instructor across the world, and why he actually has some notoriety now across the world, and why guys like Yuri Simoes now has got Rob to come out three times now to help him with ADCC camps, which is absolutely insane, as Rob’s developed relationships with Caio Terra and Yuri Simoes, that he’s the real thing. I’ve been very fortunate to learn from him.
Sonny: Yes, I knew he had that relationship with Caio Terra and Yuri Simoes, and he seems like a very switched on individual, I will say, and knows what he’s talking about, has a good way of expressing it. One of the things that I see you talk about a lot and Rob talk about is this concept of alignment, which I believe you have broken down into base, posture, and structure, and you say that this is the most important concept in Jiu-Jitsu. I think everyone, if you’ve been doing Jiu-Jitsu, you would probably have an intrinsic understanding of this in one way or another, but you’ve really laid it out well for everyone. I wonder if you could go over that for people who maybe haven’t heard those terms thrown around yet?
Rory: Yes. Alignment is the overarching concept of everything that we do when there’s physical performance involved. Alignment is our body’s ability to generate and absorb force maximally and relative to our goals. The relative to the goals part is the really important part, because Jiu-Jitsu is so complicated with all the different positions that we have, that what is considered good alignment isn’t the easiest thing to recognize at first, but alignment is comprised of three things: we have posture, the integrity of our spinal column. For the most part, being able to keep our spine straight obviously allows our body to act as a kinetic chain connecting our lower body to our upper body, so that we can work efficiently. We all know, and we’ve all been taught from a younger age, don’t lift things with a curved back, and do not try to explode in positions with your spine twisted. If you can keep your spine relatively straight, even a little bit of a rounding to it is usually quite natural in certain positions, you’re going to be able to be more effective. Then, we have structure, which is the efficient, effective positioning of our limbs and relative to our goals. This is talking about our arms and our legs, and what our goals are, and how we need to have our limbs’ position. Frames is a concept that we hear getting used a lot more now in Jiu-Jitsu, where we’re talking about using rigid supports, rigid structures to be able to support weight and to generate some force or to keep distance between us and our opponent, which we’re using our bones to be aligned in a certain way to be able to achieve that. Locking my arm out would give me structure as a frame that now I’m able to support a heck of a lot of weight, versus, say, if somebody is trying to armbar me, then obviously, I don’t want my arm to be fully extended in this circumstance, because my goal is to keep my arm from being extended. I want to get my arm in super close to my body. I want to cover it with my other arm on top, and even if I can start bringing my knees up to my elbows and starting to shell up as much as I can, I’m going to become more efficient, and I’m going to be able to resist a higher output of force to keep my arm from being pulled away from me. Structure is usually the hardest one to understand when it comes to Jiu-Jitsu, because it is the one that changes most often. Base is a platform from which to apply and absorb force maximally relative to your goals. For us, base is almost always drive from the ground, obviously, but sometimes, it can also be generated off of our opponent. For example, if I was just using a recumbent guard, supine guard, off of my back, and I have my feet on my opponent’s hips, I’m going to be able to mobilize my hips and lift off by creating a bridging motion by having my feet pushing into my opponent’s hips, and because I drive into my opponent’s hips, and my opponent’s feet are then connected to the ground, I’m still generating force in a way off of the ground, but it’s through my opponent. Base is one that is extremely important, because obviously, if you can’t generate force, then you’re not going to be able to make any of these techniques work. Something as simple as live toes in which you have your toes actually curled, engaged into the mat, rather than dead toes, as we call it, where you have just the flats, the tops of your feet, just sitting on top of the mat, is going to allow you to be able to generate a lot more force. Alignment, like the example that I usually use when I’m trying to explain this to someone on their first day, is think of weightlifting. There, we’re very used to that you have to have a specific alignment for each different exercise that you’re trying to perform. The alignment that you need for benchpress is obviously very different than the alignment that you need for a squat or a deadlift, but there is a very specific way that you need to have your structure, as in your limbs, aligned, a very specific way you need your posture aligned, and a very specific way that you need your baseline, so that you’re going to be able to generate the maximum amount of force to be able to perform the movements safely, as well as being able to optimize the efficiency and the effectiveness of how much weight that you can actually move. It’s a big, broad thing that I try and wrap into every technique that I teach. Where is the alignment? Because for us, the goal in Jiu-Jitsu is to keep yourself in alignment at all times and to break your opponent’s alignment to create vulnerability. Then, you move forward, whether that’s just moving a forward in passes, in dominant positions, in sweep attempts, or especially, when we’re looking at submitting somebody. I don’t think that you can submit somebody unless they’re just not moving at all if you don’t break their alignment. If I can stay in proper alignment, and I can make somebody a fraction as effective as they normally would be by breaking their posture, structure, and base, it doesn’t matter how good they are at Jiu-Jitsu, because they’re not going to be optimized to fight back.
Sonny: That’s a good understanding of those concepts that we can give to students. You mentioned that you will explain it to students while your teaching techniques, so I’m wondering how in-depth you go on those ideas when you’re teaching techniques. Then, how do you actually get them to internalize those concepts?
Rory: For us, at Island Top Team, Rob’s academy here in British Columbia, we do a half hour or 20-minute introductory class for everybody, in that where we meet up with the students right before class happens and we go through those concepts specifically and show it with the example of the technical stand up. This is where I will spend 20 minutes to half an hour talking just about alignment frames and levers with somebody on their first day to help them understand what’s going on. Typically, to first help them internalize what’s going on, I’ll show them the movement. I’ll teach them how the concepts are taking place. Then, I’ll also have certain ways that I will rest weight onto them or have them try and complete the movement. I screw them up by just grabbing their leg and pulling it out or pushing them over, so that then they can see through a process of success and failure why, all of a sudden, a movement, all of a sudden, at the end of the 20 minutes, it’s become much easier for them to hold or perform versus when they were first trying to do it at the beginning of class. That’s where I will really go on tangents talking about that stuff longer. Otherwise, in class, depending on what our movements are for us, when we first are teaching our 101 fundamentals curriculum at Island Top Team, the emphasis isn’t on submissions, it’s on learning how to control your own body, and then learning how to control your opponent’s body, first and foremost, as I was talking about. Learn how to keep yourself in alignment, and then learn how to positionally control and break your opponent’s alignment. There is going to be a lot of overlap, and we will be talking about that stuff. Whenever I’m teaching that technique, I’m usually going to first be talking about how we’re starting in the position or how we’re going to move into that position, keeping ourselves in alignment, and then what our goals are, depending on if we’re looking at taking them back or just moving in a mount, near right, guard passing, sweeps, what we’re going to be doing to affect our opponents alignment with specific movements. Instead of me just saying, “Place your foot here, and then push on the hips with the tripod sweep to knock them over,” I’m telling them that we’re placing our frame against our opponent’s hips. We have both legs controlled, so that we’re limiting how much they can base, so that they’re unable to actively post and recorrect for the force that we’re going to be generating into them. Then, we’re tipping their center of gravity outside of their platform of support, which is going to now cause them to fall down. It’s going to be something that’s always explained through each one of these techniques. I’m never going to just tell somebody to do a certain move, regardless of how small it is. Every grip, every placement on our opponent, every placement on the ground has to be able to be explained as logic and with the concepts behind it, because Jiu-Jitsu is governed by these concepts of physics. Stuff like gravity, it’s always there. We can’t ignore it. I’m not going to tell somebody that they have to grab somewhere on the Gi for just no reason. I want to tell them where they have to grip it. It doesn’t have to be as exact, like, oh, it has to be exactly three inches down from the collar or three inches around on the sleeve or this exact spot. It has to be able to be related to a concept, whether it has to do with alignment or a frame or a lever, a wedge, a center of gravity, momentum, stuff explains that these students understand the purpose behind the movements that they’re doing and why it’s important to do it right.
Sonny: Okay, that makes sense, giving them that real meaning behind everything they’re doing from a scientific perspective. You definitely have that science-based approach to Jiu-Jitsu. I wonder, how do you look at the way you approach things? Do you consider yourself working in a science lab compared to how other people might do it? Would you say that other people might be more looking at it like an art and you guys are taking the science approach, or do you feel that science is the approach to take with Jiu-Jitsu?
Rory: I think that good Jiu-Jitsu that we’re seeing is going through a scientific approach. Competition is what sets Jiu-Jitsu apart from everything else in the life sparring aspect. For us, we get to see a filtration process of guys at the highest level, and that’s where we try and draw our techniques from and what we try and use as this threshold for what we think is effective. We want to see high-level black belts competing on the world’s biggest stages and seeing what they’re doing or what works, because what we try and save always at the very beginning is we’re teaching our students to beat black belts and the world’s best black belts. It doesn’t matter if someone’s a hobbyist or if they’re only looking to come in a couple of times a week or if they have no aspirations of ever competing or ever even trying to be that good at Jiu-Jitsu. I want to teach somebody how to beat somebody that’s really good at Jiu-Jitsu. Then, that way, they’re covered for everything underneath that. What I’m not interested in teaching somebody– This is where I have a problem with stuff like the self-defense stuff and how it’s taught, is we’re going to talk about the big drunken haymaker that somebody throws at you. We’re going to work on only that. Well, the problem is, is that then when you go up against somebody who’s really skilled, you’re not covered for that, and you’re going to get lit up. If you know how to defend against a proper jab and cross and hook that a trained boxer would be throwing at you, then when a drunk person tries to slap you across the face, it’s extremely easy, or at least easier, to deal with, depending on, obviously, all the variables in that given situation. For us, we want to observe stuff working at the highest level. We’re constantly observing, which is a big part of the scientific method. Then, for us, the conceptual framework allows us to see whether it’s us trying to come up with our own little variations of techniques or we’re trying to break down and explain why somebody is doing something. For me, with the Gordon Ryan series, I’m looking at this, I’m seeing Gordon use these techniques at the highest level. Something that Gordon is doing here is working very well. Now, I’m going to try and explain through these concepts of posture, structure, and base, frames, levers, and wedges, and the center of gravity and momentum, et cetera, to is this holding up? Does this make sense? Which, obviously, it is holding up, because he’s making it work at the highest level. This is where we see stuff where, whether we want to consider it the artistic approach– There’s a lot of crap on YouTube and Instagram, as I’m sure you can agree, that we see, where somebody just shows something super flashy and cool. Everyone’s just loving it on the Instagram feed. I’m personally looking at it going, “That is absolute garbage. It’s never going to work on anybody good.” It starts to rival on Kata levels of just– You’re almost doing it like a dance, where you’re doing this against a cooperative opponent. If somebody actually knew what they’re doing and wants to shut it down, while the move looks cool, it’s fundamentally incorrect, because the person is doing it with broken alignment. They’re bending their leg up in some super flexible way that externally rotates their hips, that one, a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do, but let alone, it puts you in this compromised position that makes you more prone to injury and will not allow you to generate as much force as you would if you kept yourself in a better alignment with a leg press motion. That scientific approach, we observe stuff work at the highest level, we can then start to break down why it’s working at a fundamental level, the conceptual level, and then attempt to replicate it. When we’re doing our own replication is through an experimentation process, where we are obviously working with usually lower-level people at first. Then, as we start to gain success with that, the goals are to consistently keep increasing the resistance and the skill level. When we first start drilling something, we work something with a white belt, and we just keep on playing around with our white belt students and just doing the move to them over and over again, or even a couple of times in a round. Then, you start testing on the blue belt students, the purple belts, the brown belts, the black belts. Then, you start cross-training potentially, and you’re training with other black belts. Then, you’re trying to make this stuff work in competition, which is obviously the highest level that we’re looking to achieve. Then, if you can make it work in competition, aside from the fact that we have to account for the variables of– Obviously, there’s no rules in the street and yada, yada, multiple opponents. If you can make stuff work in competition under stress, then you’re also going to be able to have a higher chance of being able to make the stuff work in a self-defense situation. That’s where sport and self-defense becomes very combined in their effectiveness, but that scientific approach, it has to be tested, and that’s how we know where a technique is valid or not.
Sonny: Yes, that makes a lot of sense to me, especially that, as long as someone’s doing well in competition, then you have to imagine that they’re going to be good in a self-defense scenario as well. I know there’s some people think that sports Jiu-Jitsu takes away from that self defense side, but I do feel that if someone’s good in the sport context, then they’re probably going to be able to translate that to an untrained attacker. It’s funny you mentioned the Instagram stuff. You called it a dancing off, settled on thinking of it as a pro wrestling demonstration now, which people are putting on their best moves that they can possible for the camera. I think it’s certainly an interesting aspect of the sport that’s taken over a lot of people’s time, it seems. When you go into then mentioning how you drill, one concept that I know you guys do, or one method, is something called F Your Jiu-Jitsu, and I thought that was really interesting. You mentioned about being able to work your skills up along from white to blue to purple, but you have this interesting way of drilling that– Well, I’ll let you explain it. It gives people some resistance, but it gives them the opportunity to work as well. I wonder if you can explain that a bit more.
Rory: Yes, Rob’s really good at naming stuff, and so he calls it F Your Jiu-Jitsu. For the kids’ class, we just call it Frames and Levers, or if I’m going to be teaching seminars on this stuff, Frames and Levers is a great way of just explaining it when we’re trying not to just swear in front of people, or keep it at more professional context. F Your Jiu-Jitsu is really just like positional sparring. It’s just going to be in the bigger areas of– Usually, guard passing and guard sweeping would be the two main areas that we emphasize this kind of training. What we’re doing, because those areas become so broad, and there’s so many different ways that these scenarios can play out, is that we’ve placed restrictions on the individuals while they’re doing it, so if we’re going to talk about, say, F Your Jiu-Jitsu sweeping, this is for the person on bottom to develop their sweeps. The person on bottom is not allowed to go for submissions. They can play any guard they want, and their job is to sweep their opponent. The person on top is not allowed to try any guard passing, is not allowed to pass their training partner’s guard at any point, and they’re not allowed to go for submissions. Their job is to purely just prevent the sweeps from occurring, and how deep they let their training partner get into certain sweeping positions and guards is up to them and their comfortability as they’re getting used to it. For me, if you and I were to do a F Your Jiu-Jitsu sweeping round, I would just walk over top of you, and my goal is to allow you to establish any kind of guard you want, which is probably going to be your best guard, especially if I’m not shutting you down, which is a great way of training with people when you first meet them, whether it’s just in a sparring aspect. You get the sparring and the drilling out of the way first, and then you’re going to get subsequent training sessions in. I want to see what people from other gyms are going to do that’s going to be different than what I’m used to, because obviously, every gym is going to have a different set of techniques that they’re usually very developed at. I am going to stop you from sweeping me. This is the playful part that’s hard for people at first, is that they’re not comfortable controlling their center of gravity and their base or just their alignment, in general. If somebody puts me in X guard, now, I can be very comfortable balancing on one foot, and then accessing the legs as levers, grabbing up with the toes or grabbing the gi and unwinding control to get myself back to– whether it’s just off of my opponent, where we’d be creating that distance that we’d be able to start initiating guard passing within a regular sparring instance, or just staying on top as long as I can, and just seeing how long I can stop my opponent from being able to sweep me. Now, the great part about it is that if they sweep me, we just reset, because what we do is, we do a six-minute rounds, three minutes each for a turn, so as soon as my training partner has swept me and has actually consolidated the sweep, which is a big part of what I think people really suck at at lower levels when it comes to sweeping, is that they can knock their opponent’s butt to the ground, but if they’re not effectively controlling the legs, denying their opponent’s ability to generate base and get back up or just run away, then the sweep doesn’t actually matter. You have to knock the person down. You have to then keep them down and then get up yourself, so that part, there is a fight. I’m not just going to let the person come up on top. They have to knock me down, and then I’m going to try and get back on top of them. If they do seal the sweep and put me down, then we just reset. That’s the part that I think is extremely important with these ideas when we’re going to be drilling, sweeping, or guard passing, et cetera, where I’m able to be playful and the consequences are minimum, in the sense that I just get to experience that there was failure, and hopefully, I can start to pick up why there was failure on my part, so I can correct it, but I get to go right back to it and experiment and play with it again. If I get into your X guard and you sweep me, then great, that’s fantastic. I’m going to now try and get back into that X guard, that same position, because now, I want you to try it again, and I want to see if I can correct it. We get to be playful with it and we get to increase our exposure in these certain areas without that punishment where, say, F Your Jiu-Jitsu guard passing, the person on bottom now is only allowed guard retention movements. They’re not allowed to establish any kind of guards or grips or hooks or clamps on your opponent that would slow you down. Essentially, you just stay on a ball in your back with knee-elbow connection. You’re not going to let your opponent pass your guard by any means, and you can certainly grip the gi or grip their opponent’s wrists or head if it’s needed to for a specific guard retention movement, but you’re letting go immediately. The person on top is now unobstructed and able to throw as many passes at you as they want, because you’re not holding them down. They get to work on their passing and their combinations. If we were playing like that in a regular round and you pass my guard, I’m now going to have the experience of the cross face and just dominant pressure from somebody, where it’s like, “Oh, man, I want to work on my guard retention, but if I fail, I’m now going to get crushed for the next five minutes until the rounds over, so that sucks. I didn’t get to really maximize my efficiency training in this one area.” As soon as the person has passed my guard within this drill that we’re doing, they just immediately go back to passing my guard again. They give up the position, they go back, so I get to work and maximize my time in areas, and that’s what we’re trying to do with those, where it’s just about maximizing the efficiency in certain areas through exposure. Just like any positional sparring, when someone’s working on side control or mount or back control, it’s the same thing, it’s just, for us, we’re doing it within those areas of guard sweeping and denying sweeps, as well as guard passing and guard retention, which is an extremely important area that’s hard to develop for new people. Then, we also deal with top control in the sense that, instead of doing it like side control, like the traditional sparring, where I’m going to just try and hold side control as hard as I can, and if I can use heavy pressure and cross-face and underhook, I can hold you there. There’s a place for that, absolutely. It’s very important to practice that, but we like to also emphasize movement. It’s going to be top control sparring, but I am not allowed to establish chest-to-chest connection with my opponent on bottom. When I’m controlling side control, I can go knee ride, I can use my arms to pin their arms or to control their gi, to try and break their posture, but I’m not ever allowed to actually drop myself down, establish chest connection and use that for direct rotational control of their body, because that’s, in our mind, the lowest form of control, in the sense where I can stop my opponent from moving, but it doesn’t take a lot of finesse or work to be able to necessarily do it. We want to encourage our students to experiment and play with different ways that they can use levers to execute rotational control over them, and through that, they will fail, but through that failure, they will learn how to correct that, because then it just becomes through a process of elimination, plus also just adaptive learning, where they’re going to be seeing failure and success on the fly while they’re sparring.
Sonny: Yes, I really love that idea and love that concept that you’ve got there of just being able to get people to maximize their training time, giving students that opportunity to fail and fail quickly, and then they can have the opportunity to correct those in the same round or the same allotment of time. I can’t wait to get back on the mat and play around with that a bit. One of the things you touched on there is the maximizing of training time. I know you put out a video that said that one way to do that was to have white belts not actually training their closed guard or not use closed guard. I think it had a bit of a controversial title or something, but you still mentioned then the importance of guard retention, so I wonder if you can explain that, how you can justify, with the importance of guard retention, not having beginners train their closed guard.
Rory: Okay. There’s a idea in traditional Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu that closed guard is the ultimate weapon, and it is very powerful, but the problem with closed guard is that it’s extremely effective at the beginning, and then closed guard, you don’t see it as much at the higher levels, and that’s not to say that it’s not effective, because Sean J. Ribeiro is arm-barring people from closed guard at ADCC. It’s an extremely effective guard, but it is very hard to master. It becomes a safety net for beginners, and people will always take the path of least resistance. When we’re talking about egos on the line, especially for beginners, like when we’re tired and people need to survive a round or try to stop their guard from getting past or to delay a tap, being able to wrap your legs around somebody and just clamp really tight, it really shuts people down. If you took a 300-pound white belt and just told him to wrap his legs around me and squeeze and just hold it for as long as you can and not try anything else, even as a black belt at 180 pounds, it’s going to be quite difficult for me to get out of that. They’re not going to be effective, they’re not going to threaten me in any kind of way. Certainly, if there was a rule set like MMA or self-defense, where I’m able to strike that person, then closed guards not actually going to necessarily be the dominant position there. In Jiu-Jitsu, without strikes, we can hold closed guard with no consequence. This is what we see too often, when I was training Jiu-Jitsu with my friend, Jimmy, before Robin opened up shop in then IMO, our rounds were either a lot of great Jiu-Jitsu, because Jimmy could not establish his closed guard on me, or he caught me in closed guard, and we spent the entire round there. I’m sure you’ve– Whether it was just someone who’s really good or especially when you’re first learning, you’ve probably had this, where you were stuck in somebody’s closed guard for an entire round. Now, it’s important to develop closed guard and our defenses against closed guard and have those kinds of rounds. For us, we do not allow anyone under blue belt to use closed guard while sparring in the gym at Island Top Team , and that’s because we want to allow people to continually move and be exposed to more Jiu-Jitsu. When someone is forced to develop their guard retention, or even just more open guards like De La Riva, which is a great option for someone who’s looking to first pick a guard to develop. De La Riva, you still have less control over your opponent, less control in the sense that you can just spam a move and just hold somebody like a cheat code. You have to know how to cause good Kuzushis, off balances to affect your opponent’s alignment. You need to be able to quickly change sweeps, because if you just get a De La Riva hook and grab your opponent’s ankle, you can’t just hold them there for as long as you can with closed guard. With that, they’re going to develop more dynamic sweeps, and their partner is going to have more ability to actually try and change passes, so they get to get better and they get to shut down De La Riva as well. Then, with that, because the person on top will have an easier time shedding the control, especially at lower levels who don’t know how to control these guards, they’re going to be able to throw those passes, which then will force the person on bottom to have to use more guard retention movements. That’s the key part is instead of focusing on this one area, like closed guard, because I know some people are very traditional, and they’re like, “No. Closed guard is absolutely where you need to start. It is the fundamental basis of Jiu-Jitsu,” which I don’t agree with, people will develop that closed guard. Yes, if I get stuck in that person’s closed guard, it’s going to be a nightmare. If that person can’t wrap their legs around me, which is not a very hard range to stay away from at first, especially when we’re standing, because closed guard isn’t really the appropriate range they’re trying to gauge, then I find way too often people all the way up to brown belt that I’ve trained with, where they’re so good at closed guard, but as soon as they’re unable to establish that range and play that game, their guards become very easy to pass. For us, it’s just about, as you’re saying, what’s the way to maximize exposure to all the different kinds of Jiu-Jitsu areas that we need to develop, rather than giving somebody this one power move that they can hold on to, and it allows them to survive or even win a round? Jiu-Jitsu, when we’re learning in the gym, it’s not about winning. That should not be how we’re trying to measure success. It’s about how much we’re getting exposed to different movements and overall development of our game.
Sonny: Well, that seemed like a controversial statement at the start, but I think you’ve explained that quite logically, as well as a way that–
Rory: I’m going to Reddit it, too. Actually, it was the first time- the threads still up there as evidence- where people would disagree with me at the beginning, and then, as I make those logical points, which are all the points I’m just parroting from my instructor, Rob Biernacki– He’s a brilliant practitioner and instructor. Once we make those points, then people look at it and go, “You know what, actually, I think I agree with you,” and it’s like, “Holy shit, did we just have a internet discussion that was civil where I actually changed somebody’s opinion? Mind-blowing.
Sonny: That’s rare. That’s very rare, especially in this day and age. That’s a good testament to the foundation of your idea, I think, that that’s even possible.
Rory: Obviously, if we’re practicing a competition, then we have to have our white belts and blue belts start to spar with the closed guard. We’ll do that within positional sparring rounds, or the higher belts, we’ll use closed guard on them, because, like I said, white belts aren’t allowed to use closed guard, but a blue belt could use closed guard against the white belts if they wanted to. It’s one of those, one’s allowed to use it, but not the other, because obviously, we can’t have these stipulations in place and then send one of our white belts into a competition, where they’re most likely– Most white belts at other gyms, closed guard is the first guard they work on. If we have that informational asymmetry in place, then we’re just setting wipeouts up to go out, and it’s like, “They’re super good at passing, and they’re super good at staying on top, but if they get stuck in closed guard, they’re absolutely screwed in the situation.” We never want that, so we do try and set them up for success the best we can by still making sure we’re developing it. We’re never avoiding something entirely, because ignorance is never the right response for anything.
Sonny: Open and closed guard for white belts just, in general, seems to be one of the biggest sticking points, especially in competitions where people do just lock down on it like life or death, which I think even gives more credence to what you’re saying before about it just being maybe too powerful of a position for people to be able to hold. You mentioned at the end that ignorance of things isn’t good, which, of course, I’m in agreement with. Then, we also do mention about training only the high percentage moves. I’m wondering where you would fit low percentage moves into teaching students, just so that they’re actually aware of things? Is that something that you have to balance? Will you show a low percentage move just so that they have at least seen it, or will you teach it legitimately, or will you put a caveat on something when you show it? How do you tackle that?
Rory: Whether it’s where we had first talked about this stuff in the past when we were talking about calf slicers– I have a video where I shit on calf slicers and I think that they lack effectiveness at the highest levels. In Jiu-Jitsu, almost anything can be dangerous if somebody does not know how to react to it, whether it’s because the move itself does have a certain degree of effectiveness, whether we’re talking about just the mechanical strength of the move, or because somebody just doesn’t know what to do, and they end up twisting or yanking the wrong way, and then they can certainly just hurt themselves. Anything could be potentially dangerous, and so for us say something like the Americana– Here’s an example of a move that is mechanically strong, as in it will absolutely devastate your shoulder through external rotation, but it is not tactically plausible. It’s very hard to actually establish the figure four for an Americana regardless of where you are, but especially if we’re looking at it from Americana keylock from side control, topside control. I will show the students how the move is done, so that they can understand it, and they can understand the risk of it. The person can one, learn how to do the move, because I want to teach every student as if they’re going to become an instructor one day. They need to know how to teach these things, even if it’s something that they don’t. Then, the person on bottom also then gets to experience this, and this Americana being taken to an extent that they feel that they need to tackle drilling within a gentle, safe environment where we’re just passively repping back and forth on each other. It’s very important for them to know that and to experience that, and then we’ll show them how to shut it down. Now, I don’t care if somebody ever– For me, I can’t tell you the last time I drilled in Americana. It’s one of those moves that it’s very simple to do if you actually have it. I’ve definitely spent a couple full days probably training this thing over the years when I was lower belts, so it’s like I know how to perform the move effectively, but it’s quite simple once you get it. It’s just a matter of actually setting that thing up. Some of those moves, I don’t think much time needs to be spent on it, but certainly we need to still show them how it works, so that one, they know what the move is. I don’t have a purple belt where if someone’s like, “Hey, can you show me a keylock?” “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” That wouldn’t look good, as well as then, I can’t know that they’re going to know how to defend that. If we look at calf slicers, calf slicers is a move that does still work up to an even higher level, where typically, when you’re seeing this stuff happen– When I was doing the little bit of research I was on calf slicers in just grappling events, not MMA, typically, they ended up topping out around brown belt. You’d see brown belt fight to win events or Jiu-Jitsu competitions where the calf slicer’s starting to happen, but they’re no longer happening at brown belt. Now, there’s a whole bunch of reasons why I think that’s happening, but it can absolutely still hurt people. Even for myself, I’m a black ball, but my knee, I have a hard time compressing my heels to my butt through a bunch of flexibility of workouts and stretching. I can now do it much more comfortably when I’m warmed up, but I would be one of those people that is more susceptible to actually getting damaged by a calf slicer. It’s one of those like it will work. It is dependent on certain variables in a situation, which is typically someone’s flexibility, which at the highest level, most people are very flexible, more so than the average person. We have to go over the calf slicer. I have to show people how to do a calf slicer if they want to try a calf slicer. It’s one of those moves that it’s a stopping point along the way of taking the back anyway. If we’re looking at it from say that basic truck position, then I don’t have a problem with somebody doing a low risk, low percentage move. They’re not trying to go for something where if they shit the bed with it, they end up on bottom or even possibly getting their guard pass. That would be unacceptable in my eyes. Suddenly the calf slicer, they can be in the truck position, they can check the leg out, they can test it. If it doesn’t work, no big deal. Go back to controlling the offset of their opposed body and just keep migrating towards the back and then try and finish them from there. Under that from its tactical possibility, I’m fine with it in the sense that it can be done safely and from different ways and we don’t have to give up position. It’s just not mechanically strong enough in my eyes to be something where if somebody wants to spend time developing a system around it and their whole game, it’s like, okay, you’re going to have success at all these different levels. If their goal is not to compete at the higher the world’s elite stage, then that’s fine. I still think that it’s worthwhile to be training at moves that are always effective no matter what. It’s always about just introducing somebody to the move and then making sure that they know the defenses to it. That’s where we’ll spend, we’ll make sure that they know how to train how to apply a calf slicer the best that they can set. Then now we can start working on the defenses for that. Then that way hopefully if we’re working on defenses to a move that these people also know how to, we’re starting to mitigate the false positives that would be in play in the sense that if I teach somebody how to do a calf slicer poorly or only allow them to spend five minutes on it and then I start working for the rest of the week on defensive defense to the calf slicer, then these students are going to develop defenses against a really crappy calf slicer and then they’re going to think that they’re really good at their calf slicer defense when in reality the person that is trying to apply the calf slicer just really sucks at it. Even these low percentage moves, I still need them to be effective at them so that they can at least help the development of the defensive movements, which is ultimately the more important thing that the goal that I’m trying to reach when I’m teaching students.
Sonny: I like that, to focus on just giving them that introduction, but making sure they know the defense as a way to teach those low percentage moves, that really clicks for me makes a lot of sense.
Rory: Because any move will be potentially dangerous.
Sonny: Yes, as you mentioned, any move being potentially dangerous, you brought up the idea of a false positive and I think that’s a really good concept from science that can translate into Jiu-Jitsu because it’s something that when you explained it, it’s something I know that I’ve fell for myself in the past with a move that I’ve hit a couple of times in training and then I’ve spent way too long trying to replicate it again and not being able to get the same effect that I got those couple of times. I wonder, can you explain, what that idea is to you or false positives in Jiu-Jitsu and how that can hinder people’s development?
Rory: Absolutely. A false positive, basically look at it as a cause and effect fallacy where B happens, so therefore A caused B. What typically happens is that you apply submission on somebody and so we think that submission is awesome, but what we don’t know is that there’s a bunch of other variables at play. When we’re looking at something say the calf slicer, I apply a calf slicer to somebody and they tap to it, I think therefore calf slicers are amazing and that they work. We might be negating the idea that maybe this person has just never trained leg locks before and they don’t know it. I think this was why the calf slicer is more prevalent at brown belt and then they start to fade out at black belt is that because of the bullshit IBGGF rules on leg locks, people aren’t allowed to look at toeholds and knee bars and calf slicers until they get up to the Brown belt level. Therefore people don’t need to actually really work on stuff until they start getting closer to that point. If they’re looking at that rule set, I still think that all leg locks, including heel hooks should be trained even at white belt for people because it can be done safe. People will try and play the game and the rules in the competitions that they’re looking to compete at and IBGGF is at the forefront of that. All of a sudden people are coming out and getting calf sliced and they’re not as developed against it. Then we got to look at people that aren’t as flexible. Calf slicer is done with the idea that the person is not flexible enough to be able to eat a calf slicer because calf slicer is a compression based lock. Basically, all we’re doing is we’re creating a wedge where we’re shoving our shin in behind our opponent’s knee. Then, we’re looking to compress our opponent’s heel towards their butt as far as we can with access on the leg as a lever. Hopefully, that person is not flexible enough to be able to bend their leg all the way down to their hips while there is this wedge in place. Unfortunately, a lot of people at higher levels are able to do that. When you apply it, because this is where some people really argue with me on my video is they’re like, “Oh well, my own knee exploded from a calf slicer. There’s a break where I got actually hurt. How dare you tell me that calf slicers aren’t effective?” Well, I don’t care that you’re a blue belt who’s 45 years old who has a job and a family, you’re not the person that I’m trying to aim to achieve at to try and submit here. It’s, yes, you have to respect a calf slicer in the same way that I myself have to respect a calf slicer because of my own functional limitations of movement. If you put Gordon Ryan or Caio Terra or Vinny Magalhães in a calf slicer, you’re never going to be able to do anything that causes actual damage to the person or let alone catastrophic damage where we can actually take that limb out of working use because that’s like our goal. We want to be able to with submissions against the limbs when we’re looking at joint locks, not just like a light pop of something or a tweak of the knee. We need to actually be able to cause catastrophic damage that impedes the person from being able to fight any longer. Even that, we still see like varying limits of success with other submissions as well. As long as we’re trying to focus it on the highest, the cream of the crop on the most flexible and the strongest individuals, then as I’ve been saying, then we’re covered for everything underneath that. We’re always trying to look at documented breaks at the highest level and consistent taps. That’s where heel hooks, we see people’s knees get absolutely just devastated where they can’t go on. Then we still see even the heel hook where we look at Craig Jones versus Vinny Magalhães just recently. While he did significantly hurt Vinny, it was at least so far it looks like a different part of Vinny’s ankle that was injured instead of his knee. They still talked about it for a while throughout the match before Vinny actually came to agreement to just stop there. Vinny was able to stand up and keep fighting. Here’s someone who is extremely flexible and strong and a talented black belt and he was able to eat this thing and it still hurt him devastatingly, but he was still able to stand on it afterwards. You’re always going to have certain limited success once we get to the highest level like that, but something a calf slicer, we never see it at the higher levels. When we even see it in MMA, then we have to now take into context the grappling experience between the individuals there because we will have that asymmetrical information between the two where one person is nowhere near the same grappling level. Maybe it’s a striker versus grappler, maybe it’s too low level grapplers. Maybe it’s a high level grappler versus a low level grappler. There’s all these variables we have to take in the place of why this submission works. We want to see the submissions work, but we also want to see them work consistently because even calf slicers, there are a few instances of them working at the highest level at black belt. It’s there. It’s just something that when we’re talking about efficient use of our time, most of us aren’t training 40 hours a week and looking to become world champions and doing steroids to be able to keep that training up for years and years. When I have people that are only training as hobbyists even, and they’re training two times a week, maybe two hours a session, they don’t have time to develop all the different areas of Jiu-Jitsu or spend time developing an area just to have to throw it away, essentially, once they get to a certain point, like, “Oh, calf slicers did me really good up until brown belt, but now that I’m black belt, I’m going to have to redo the stuff.” No, I want them to learn something, a technique like say a heel hook effectively at white belt. Then that way they’re able to take it with them all the way to black belt and all they’ve had to do is continue refining that technique just they would their guard passes or the guard retention movements and they’re going to be that much more effective at it and it’s going to be something that they can tap anybody with and they’d never have to get rid of that. That’s where I think Rob’s done such a good job with the after to Jiu-Jitsu approach, the ways we drill and the techniques that he will specifically show and what he wants us to spend more time on than others, allow some of our students to be very effective grapplers within a much shorter time frame. When I think of the grappler I was at about five years of training. I’m just disgusted when I see some of these guys at three months demonstrating stuff and they’re passing in their guard retention in ways that I just was unable to because I didn’t have that kind of training because it was before I trained with Rob.
Sonny: Okay yes that makes a lot of sense. I think it’s interesting you bring up the Vinny Magalhães knee break or ankle break there in regards to false positives. Because I was thinking about it and Vinny mentioned that he had really flexible feet obviously beforehand and he made leg walks don’t work his mantra or his brand. I was thinking like okay if he does have these really flexible feet he’s obviously been getting away with it in training a lot where people would have been putting him into heel hooks and taking his heel to an awkward angle and Vinny wasn’t having to tap to that. Because we can see that the angle that Craig did have to take to actually get the break.
Sonny: Ruthless right? In training people would have been taking it to weird angles and probably thinking, “Whoa,” backing off and Vinny is not tapping and he would have been getting that feedback that leg locks don’t work but obviously they do.
Rory: Yes, and I think even a mindset of leg locks don’t necessarily work as well on me would have been a more honest way of– It doesn’t sell as well obviously and you don’t want to make it into assured. But it’s like okay he could understand and he always explained that for him he is extremely flexible and he is very strong and he’s obviously a very technical black belt. Leg locking Vinny is why he’d never got submitted for so many years. Most people could look at that and go, “No, that is such an outlier of the situation. Where like that’s rare, that we can’t even really consider that.” Vinny has his own little pocket over there or something like calf slicers we can look at. I’m not the only one that says it. Even Ryan Hall in his most recent Modern 50 50 instructional said that nobody taps the calf slicer. So it’s like if Ryan says it then it’s more okay obviously. He’s much more renowned and respected because of his competition experience and what he’s done like in the UFC and grappling as a whole with instruction.
Sonny: Yes, no, I agree with that. You did mention that I put out a video on calf slices and I think it just happened to be the same week I put out a video on calf slices in MMA. You happen to put out a video why calf slices are terrible and you should never use them. I thought that was a complete coincidence but it was a funny coincidence nonetheless.
Rory: Then someone could still look at what you had talked about and be like okay if I’m competing MMA and that’s my goal we are seeing the success of calf slicers in MMA. So if the person isn’t as competent as a grappler then absolutely calf slicers can be effectively used.
Sonny: But I still think there is that the benefit of just looking at the high percentage ones in the first goal of anyone in MMA should be take the back, choke them out. Take them down past guard, get in the back, choke them out with a rear-naked choke. .
Rory: Especially in MMA where you have so many different things to learn. Because you have to now become a jack of all trades with your striking, with your clench and with your grappling. Absolutely, any of those guys that got calf sliced in that– It was great compilation and breakdown that you did that I bet any one of them could also have been heel hooks. And by practicing heel hooks you would have gotten all those guys and then you would have then also created a failsafe system that now you’re going to be able to take it to the higher level so that when they’re competing in a higher level MMA events and going up potentially a good leg lock they’re going to be able to have a higher chance to finish them as well.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. I’d agree with that. One thing I’ve also thought about with that idea of false positives is that classic Bruce Lee saying roughly is take what’s useful to you, discard what’s useless and add uniquely your own. I feel like now that that can be overused for people to justify low percentage moves or things that they’re getting false positives. They can just turn around and go it’s what Bruce Lee says, it works for me so I’m going to keep it in my game. But the way you’re approaching it I think makes a lot more sense. Not that I’m saying Bruce Lee is wrong. I just think that that phrase’s been repurposed for a lot of people to just train stuff that doesn’t have that high percentage utility. One thing we’ve talked about, the F your Jiu-Jitsu, the concepts and ways to drill techniques. When people are just doing the traditional drilling in your class what would be– Is it like we’ve seen most people would drill in their school or is there something just about your traditional drilling when you guys are getting in reps that you do differently or that you think most people should be doing that they aren’t?
Rory: It’s not too much different. Obviously, when we’re teaching we teach systems of anything. So it’s always interconnected techniques. We have modules that go through the fundamentals every week or sometimes two weeks and then for a more advanced it’s one month modules. Where if we’re going to be talking about Kimura control we’re doing only Kimuras for the entire month so that people are going to be able to keep stacking upon techniques. When we get people to drill, they’re first shown a technique and we really emphasize the idea that it’s not just one person drilling at a time. Like the usual where you have the person perform a move in the uke. You have both people getting better together. So we need to have the training partner. Whether it’s just knowing the proper– Like if say we’re doing closed guard, I’m going to teach them closed guard stuff I need the person on top to also know how to properly put themselves in alignment in closed guard and be able to create little bit of resistance and know how to effectively respond so that the person who’s drilling close guard is going to be able to do it against somebody who’s a better training partner rather than somebody who’s like– You see it sometimes like the person who lays on the back like a dead fish because no longer they’re trying to do the guard passing and so they’re given just the crappiest feedback or no feedback at all. Just star fished out while their partner is doing toreando passes and stuff like that which isn’t very good. We want to make sure that both people are engaged and trying to learn something at the same time. Then we like to have at least a minimum of five to 10 reps each that the students do before they switch. I think that’s probably the biggest change. Not that it’s like the monumental difference. I really dislike classes where people only do one move each or two moves each and then they switch turns. Like if you’re doing a sweep where it’s like you sweep me and then because I’m on my back I’ll now sweep you back and let’s just go back and forth like that. I think the brain needs to switch into like a learning mode as it’s doing it. So for me, speaking from my own experience, sometimes the first or second rep of your set can just suck. Even if you’re midway in the class it’s just not technically the best that it could be. So by taking the time to do five reps before switching with your partner or upwards of 10 reps before switching just allows you to keep dialing in and more and more. It just becomes too disconnected, disjointed when you’re just doing one rep or two reps and then handing it back to your partner and allowing them to do it. Certainly I can’t watch some people do it because it keeps the two people actively jumping in. But it doesn’t take that long to just do five reps consistently or 10 reps consistently provided you’re not talking the whole time. Like some people aren’t the best when it comes to drilling but just dedicated five 10 reps bang them out. Can be slower, can be faster and then switch and that part is huge there. Then just same thing where it’s drilling, we will drill one technique or two techniques for an entire class. If you came into my class and I’m going to be teaching you like the tripod sweep. I’m going to teach you the tripod sweep and you’re going to spend probably about 20 minutes doing just that. Then we’re going to clean up the actual technical stand up part of finishing the sweep once your partner has fallen to the ground. Then maybe a slight variation on that. But typically, it’ll be just the tripod sweep and then more emphasis spent on also finishing the sweep coming up and possibly putting yourself into a great position to start passing immediately off of it. I don’t like classes that also then show you 20 different techniques or some of that seminars who are notorious for where you go to a seminar and you just get bombarded with like 20 techniques within a three hour class and at the end of it it’s like, “Holy crap, I have no idea what I’m supposed to take away from that anymore. I’ve forgotten everything.”
Sonny: For me definitely the best seminars I’ve been to are ones that just focus on just one move, one position and you just end up spending an hour or two just focusing on that and that’s really noticeable now that I’ve done a fair few seminars over the years that the stuff I can remember is going to be from those seminars that are structured like that. The best that I can remember from seminars that just show a lot of different moves is just little dribs and drabs of stuff there. I agree with you on that one. It’s been a good chat, Rory, and I just want to– Finishing up just some advice you can give to people on– If you were to go back and meet yourself when you first started training martial arts or training as a white belt, what would be a piece of advice that you could give yourself back then that you think would help you learn faster or just would be good advisor role?
Rory: Oh, man that could be a whole bunch of different things. All the mistakes I’ve made in my life. Focusing on the parts that I think has been most important to me now. Especially even as a black belt but what’s really helping and I had Rob there fortunately to guide me was what we’ve been talking about of making sure that we’re practicing legit techniques that are proven. Try and stay away from chasing the YouTube rabbit hole, instructionals necessarily, or especially Instagram videos. Now, there are good channels like obviously if you want to check out Sonny’s channel or my channel, there’s going to be some good stuff there. Just at least be hesitant on where you’re trying to get the information from because there’s a lot of crap out there. Obviously, learning a conceptual approach will give you a framework for being able to have the ability to identify bullshit that’s out there. Watch competition and see what these guys are doing at the highest levels. If you have some amazing moves that you’ve never seen at the highest level, the reality is it’s that is probably crap what you’re doing. It can be defeating because I find a lot of people get really attached to their techniques. Then they get offended when we tell them that those techniques aren’t valid at the highest level. Like you were saying where it’s like people– You just have that technique that you’re working on at the gym and you have success with it. Some people really grab onto that stuff and they become resistant to change. They’re just techniques. They’re just tools that we can use. Watch the stuff that’s being used at the highest level and use that as the filtration of knowing what works. If it’s going to work on and if Gordon Ryan submitted with something, then absolutely it’s going to work on everybody underneath him including that drunk guy that you run into at the bar if you’re able to make that work. Just make sure to try and not go down these rabbit holes of practicing all these wacky and crazy techniques. We have a filtration process in Jiu-Jitsu and it’s quite easy to see what actually works out there.
Sonny: That’s beautiful. Beautiful advice that everyone can benefit from that. Even I know that I’ve spent time working on techniques that for sure the time’s better spent in other areas. Maybe next time I can get you to come back on and we can discuss submissions 101 and the pentagram trick a little bit.
Rory: Yes. I’ve got lots to say about submissions 101. [laughter]
Sonny: During this whole COVID-19 thing, we certainly have the time to do another one of these or more. I think that’d be a funny discussion also to go over that. We’ll save that for another day because I’m sure you’ve got a lot to say on that. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to do it? Obviously your YouTube channel which I highly recommend everyone goes and checks out. I also know you’ve got a few instructionals on sale or just to buy if people are looking for those.
Rory: Yes, my YouTube channel RVV BJJ is where I do most of my work that’s got me I guess any little bit of notoriety around in the small part of the Jiu-Jitsu community. I work with my instructor Rob Biernacki on bjjconcepts.net in which he does amazing stuff that I’ve been talking about in a very well set up way with curriculums for you to be able to learn from. I have a guard retention formula with Stephan Kesting. I have some instructionals that I’ve been doing. About 14 or 15 instructionals at this point with Gold BJJ which is a excellent company. They have an online training academy. I also have to really recommend their products. They’re some of my favorite products I’ve ever got to use for gears and backpacks and stuff like that. The best way to reach me just for messages is Instagram or Facebook. Whether it’s my personal Facebook accounts or my RVV BJJ Facebook account. Especially right now a lot of downtime, I’m always on there. If you guys have any questions about anything, I am happy to chat about really anything at this point.
Sonny: Beautiful. Thanks, I’ll put all the links to those in the show notes if people want to check them out. Thanks so much for your time Rory. Hopefully, we can do it again in the future.
Rory: That sounds perfect, Sonny, let’s do it again.