A Heath Pedigo interview, Founder of Pedigo Submission fighting, aka Daisy Fresh. We discuss the culture and mindset used to build Daisy Fresh from Mt. Vernon to win the Pan Ams and the work ethic he looks to instil in his team and build camaraderie. Also, his thoughts on breaking down techniques from competition footage, and the evolution of training and teaching Jiu-Jitsu and the role coaches play in the process and his belief that Jiu-Jitsu can be used as a vehicle for bettering people and saving lives.
Heath Pedigo: Good brother. Thanks for having me on Sonny Brown Breakdown. I’m humbled.
Sonny: I’m humbled. My pleasures. Pleasure is all mine. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak to me because Daisy Fresh Pedigo is really on the rise at the moment. Obviously, I’m sure everyone’s now familiar with the FloGrappling series and what you guys have been doing on the competition scene over there. I just want to start off with just getting into the recent team victory you had at the Pan-Ams and just what was, I guess, a completion of a 22-year goal which is the martial arts dream.
Heath: Originally the goal at first it was the Pan Ams. Obviously, 20 years ago that was the GI Pans. I just wanted to be able to compete with these major organizations. You have dreams like– all of them basically. Checkmat, Towson, Gracie Barra. It’s not anything that they’re doing wrong specifically. No hate towards them. It’s just some of these, there’s 200, 300 schools and these guys are from different countries. They’ve never met each other and they combine their points together. For us, we have two, three small gyms in Southern Illinois to be able to compete with these mega organizations. It’s just such a huge accomplishment for us.
That’s the thing I’m most proud of. Just to be able to show people you don’t have to have anything fancy. I like to call it a duct tape gym. Like the Russian style. there’s duct tape on everything. Everyone always says, “Man, I get these guys some mat.” The funny thing is we don’t even really think about that. We’re just all happy to just be there doing what we love to do. I think people put so much emphasis on what’s around them and what they don’t have rather than just what they have. We’re just all happy to be doing what we love. Fuck the mats and what the gym looks like, results, and how many lives you’re saving. That’s all that matters in the end anyway. Sorry, I got off.
Sonny: That’s all right.
Heath: It was a huge thing to be able to win that. It’s been a lifelong goal to win a major tournament and the goals don’t stop there. Now we’re going to the world and then winning the GI. We’re still building as a team. We’ve only been a black belt for a few years so it’s just really exciting. Like I said the boys’ hard work and the dedication that the men and the women that train at the gym. They’ve given up a lot of things in their life, their families. Guys like Spatch came from Australia.
He hasn’t seen his family, especially with the COVID. He can’t even come back right now. They’ve given up so much. They all believed in me and my vision and to get to pay them back so they could be a part of that it’s in the legacy of jiu-jitsu forever. We can always look back on that and say, “Hey, we did this and we were able to win and not only compete with these major teams but beat them.” It was a really incredible feeling. I’m really proud of that and really proud of the boys and the girls for, like I said, believing in the vision.
Sonny: Getting people to believe in that vision is such a key component of coaching and leadership in general. You mentioned that obviously the mats where I’m sure people have probably reached out offering mats and such now. One thing I’ve considered is it’s better to be in a place that’s perhaps smaller with used mats than to be in a room full of people all there together than a gym with the latest new facilities that doesn’t have many people there.
Sonny: How do you consider that that plays into account when you’ve literally got people leaving their lives and moving to the other side of the world to come join in that environment?
Heath: The ultimate goal is obviously we’re going to get a bigger place. The Daisy Fresh episode, I don’t know if you’ve seen that yet, it came out two days ago.
Sonny: I haven’t.
Heath: There’s something new that’s really neat. The Midwest is a hard-working place. Like I said the people that are here they’re just a little hard. There’s a lot of poverty and they didn’t really know how. It was like being in Australia and being over in the suburbs of Perth. The people are just a little harder. Pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, that doesn’t always work for everybody. Some people just don’t know how to do that. The ultimate goal was obviously to get a bigger gym because the bigger the facility we have the more people we can help.
We actually have had a couple of people reach out about the mats but I’ve been trying to wait because like I said I’m really trying to get a new facility right now and I don’t look at it more like soldiers and more students to make money. I just look at it like it’s more and more lives that are being able to be saved. A bigger gym means more people. It’s just simple.
It’s funny the people, they’re from all over right now. We have about 20 people that are just sleeping in a parking lot right now.
That are just coming to train from all over. They’re all from places which is like maybe that they’re– No disrespect to anyone’s team or their coaches, but maybe they’re just not interested in competition or they don’t see what it takes to be a champion in some of these mega-events. These blue belt kids, the juvenile blue belts, they’re so good, man. Some of them are as good as the black belts were 10 years ago. Like I said, that’s not a knock on any black belts. It’s just the sport evolves and everyone’s just so amazing and incredible and you have to stay out on everything to keep being able to compete.
The ultimate goal is to get a bigger place. I’m actually going to keep the Daisy Fresh though. It’s almost like a jiu-jitsu landmark now so I’m going to try to use that as the living barracks and then try to get a bigger open space. We’re going to take over the high school wrestling program I think too. That’ll be really nice so we can really crack into the local youth. If you Google, what is the most dangerous city in Illinois, Mount Vernon actually comes up. It’s a small place. There’s only about 14,000, 15,000 people here. In the Daisy Fresh when they’re going by there’s a thing called the corner tavern. It shows it on there. A guy got shot and killed two nights ago there. Like I said, it’s just a rough place.
People ask me all the time, “Why don’t you go to California especially with the show now. You can go to Australia. Go anywhere. Open up a gym.” I just feel this place, my roots are here and I feel it needs us. I want to pull as many people out as I can before we move along. People run out into the world looking for this or that when sometimes home is where it’s at in the first place. I want to fix everything up there and then try to move on and get out into the world and help as many people as possible.
Sonny: The benefits of the culture first attitude of really the goal being to help people before anything else can certainly be seen as, and as I was Googling to work out the time zone differences actually, one of the automated Google Search things is, how safe is Mount Vernon. It’s certainly one of the dangerous places in America.
Heath: Like I said, not to scare anyone if you have kids in Houston , “Hey Heath can I come with the kids” it would be 100% totally fine. It’s just all in a small area. Essentially the neighborhood that I grew up in and went to school and, like I said, it’s just poor. That’s basically the way to put it. It’s not that it’s White or it’s Black. It’s just a poor area. When you’re 14 and the guy down the road ask a kid to take this box down the road and he gives him $400 when he wants to work a job it’s tough for these kids to work for $7 an hour and no one bust their ass. They see the easy way so young.
It’s easy to get caught up in that, and like I said to take in an easy way and that’s where the respect is handed out in the streets. It’s like the guys who are gang banging, then seeing them selling the dope and they have the fancy shit. It’s not the kid who left home, worked two jobs, and barely made it by the skin of his teeth, it’s not what’s appreciated in our society.
It’s just something that’s got to change but that all goes into the gym culture too. Me thinking about that it’s like I try to make sure that the youth see that jiu-jitsu is on the rise everywhere in every country and the guys not only are they making more money but they’re getting a lot more just platforms to be seen on and it’s really cool for them. These podcasts and stuff like this, sometimes it’s all kids need. They just need somebody to love them. They’re ready to be loyal to anything whether it be a gang or this or that, they’re just looking for love.
A lot of the kids that come in just have never belonged to anything. When they know and they feel that I truly believe and that the passion of what I’m showing, and what I’m doing they’re just able to give that love right back but you have to be careful. It’s important as a leader, or a coach or an instructor, a professor whatever, all these lives are in your hand so opening up a gym for some people it’s just to be the king of their kingdom and then they like that. Everyone knows someone, everyone knows a gym that’s like that and you have to be careful not to fall into that trap.
You got to remember you’re in a position where people look up to you and 15 years down the road some of these kids are going to have their own gym so the things that they learn from you they’re going to share with the world so it can spread out. When someone leaves, goes to California, opens up a gym, goes to Australia, they can take your attitude from the last 15 years with them. You spread that all over the world. I think it’s important to make sure that the environment of your gym is good. You got to remember people are always watching. I think it’s important.
When people see that you’re doing the right thing and they believe in you and they know that you believe in them, it’s easy and that’s just what we’ve built here. These guys, they’re my friends. I had a guy tell me one time, “Don’t make friends with the students.” I’ve never looked at it like that. I’ve probably spent more time doing psychology for the guys or trying to anyway to help them out rather than jiu-jitsu stuff. The jiu-jitsu just becomes a part of their life and it’s tough. When one of them leaves or something happens, it is like losing a best friend. It’s just important to give back without expecting anything. I think that’s the way to deal with that as a leader. If you’re willing to give everything you have and you expect nothing in return, I think that it’s a win-win.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. That idea of giving yourself to the service of others is an idea or a mindset that drives a lot of good working in helping people all around the world. Is that then something that you started off with or is that something that you’ve developed over time and was it a learning process?
Heath: It’s always been like that. Before I went and got my belt in jiu-jitsu, and we had just done like a No-Gi grappling. My brother and I, we learned from VCR tapes in the grass, we trained and we would basically just take absolutely anyone who is willing to roll with. Then actually, we did Valley Judo stuff at the time so my brother would just basically just beat the shit out of us and head butt us. This is even pre-Elvis Sinosic submitting Jeremy Horn. This is even before that. See I know. I got-
Sonny: I share that, I like it.
Heath: Now, he was one of my favorites but we really didn’t know anything and then we would save up money and we would buy these Japanese VCR tapes but they’re all in Japanese. We would get them, and then I would just study them for hours. I still actually have all my original notebooks, I have about 200 of them. They’re like upside-down graphs, even if someone opened them up, I don’t even know if you’d be able to tell what it is but the first few years we just did that and we just tried to teach to anyone who would listen.
When you’re young you have those big dreams you want to be the UFC champion, everyone wants to be a world champion or whatever.
I did some MMA fights and stuff, my brother did that but I never really like that. When he was done it was easy for me to be done with that too. I just really had a passion for just learning jiu-jitsu and helping other people learn it. In the beginning, I just wanted to make people better so I could have someone good to roll with. Then it just turned into being able to help people succeed and then we started doing local tournaments. Actually, I took a bus out for 30 hours into the North American Grappling Championships. At the time it was like, I’m not even sure if the Pan Ams had gotten– I think it was the first year that it had gotten to the United States ‘98 or ’99.
There were like 700 people at these little tournaments back then. It was outside of our town, we’d just never seen. The closest black belt was two hours and I actually got linked up with him later at Rodrigo Vaghi, that’s where I got all my belts from. He’s wonderful and he’s really an amazing man to let me do my own thing, he’s always offered a helping hand and he’s never asked me for anything actually so I’m forever grateful for him for that and just allowing people to grow. I restarted the gym in the GI as a blue belt in 2010, I think.
It’s just always been a process to hope others, even if it was for selfish reasons in the beginning I’ve just always wanted to help other people. My mom was a teacher for over 40 years, her and my dad just always gave back to the community that we lived in and she’s a wonderful woman and maybe some of that just rubbed off.
Sonny: Yes. I think for sure, actually. Both my parents are teachers also so I can relate in that regard and respect to the shout-out for Elvis Sinosic. My coach was coaching Elvis at the time and was in his corner over Jeremy Horn. One thing I do want to bring up that you mentioned there is the fascination with the Shooto fighting and Shooto wrestling and I’ve heard you were even watching the Japanese combat wrestling which I’ve gone down a couple of YouTube rabbit holes on that.
It’s a very interesting rule set, different points going system, they’re wearing shoes, leg locks or fair game. I actually think that it’s more similar to how the modern No-Gi game looks than perhaps jiu-jitsu did at the time and it’s headed more towards that. Is that something that you’ve kept that fascination in with that side like that Japanese Shooto side or?
Heath: I believe that the Japanese were the first complete estimation athletes or like Valley Judo practitioners, they are such good wrestlers, they all had good striking, all those little 155 pound guys like Rumina Sato and Hayato Sakurai, all those names like Genki Sudo, they were really complete wrestlers and they had amazing striking. They were like the first wrestlers and strikers. They were jiu-jitsu black belts they could leg locks so for me I was like, “Man, they’re the most complete fighters.”
That’s always who I wanted to try to evolve the game towards learning plus their fans are just so complete when it comes to understanding submissions. Their culture, I just always really enjoyed it and I think that they understood the passion for the submission in a fight and stuff like that a little bit more than everybody else. I really love that, just that Japanese style of– That’s why it’s a submission fighting actually because of those old Shooto wrestling matches. You can look those up like I said Rumina Sato is ankle picking the guys and heel hooking them. Actually the footage of Genki Sudo that’s on the internet at the west side, that’s actually my camera.
Sonny: Oh, I’ve watched it about a thousand times at Chris Brennans place.
Heath: That’s actually my footage. Scott Profeta, a friend of mine and that was from California, he used my camera, we recorded that and we were out there. I was just traveling around the world, I was like 16 or 17 just trying to get all over the world and then I’m not sure how he got a hold of that but it got on there so it’s actually Scott Profeta he was the one recording. Like I said, a good guy. Him and I loved those guys, I still think we caught up to them in a way. With jiu-jitsu, Brazil obviously has had the most influence on jiu-jitsu.
That goes without saying I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that thinks any different than that because certain people have put, like with us, listen, no one from our gym gives a shit about calling it American jiu-jitsu. Man, no one cares about that dude. Spatch is from Australia, George is from Nicaragua, Alejandro is Uruguayan. His parents– nobody cares, man. We just want to be the best in jiu-jitsu and in general, and no one wants to take anything away from, especially, Brazilians. You know what I mean? It’s not like that at all. I think people look sometimes for a rouge because you’re competing and it keeps things exciting, but at the end of the day, there’s no hate at all at our gym for anybody who manage it, anyone who’s sharing the dream and the art, that’s all we really care about and it doesn’t mean anything.
I think we evolved and caught up to the Japanese guys when it comes to the leg lock systems. I know you guys over there, you guys just have two of the best leg lockers in the world, arguably one of the best leg lockers in the world. I just think a lot of it from a lot of Japanese influenced and I was really lucky that I just stumbled on those. There’s just something about them and it was really drawing to me.
I was like 13 or 14, but it was a long time ago, 23 years ago, I bought my first tape. I actually still have that full VCR collection that I have, a whole trash bag full of them, I still have all those tapes. I actually go back and watch some of them some time, and some of the best stuff just still applies. Today, there is an old Imanari heel hook video, man. This guy has been ahead of the game for years on the grips and all this stuff. They’re just really incredible, man. It just evolved so much, man. We’re lucky to be a part of it.
Sonny: For sure. Speaking of that evolution there, obviously is it seems to be a bit of a cultural change going on now that, of course, you are a part of now in a big way building up dominant teams in America and also changing how things have been taught in a way in terms of– nowadays, it’s far more team-orientated with you guys than perhaps everything being based around the sole source of information being from the instructor. How have you seen that develop over time and where do you see that going?
Heath: I think everything always started– I think there were the instructors that came to America, and I think that their rules, their word, that was just a rule and the way things were, you know what I mean? Whoever had taught them, that’s just the way things were. If the instructor was good at cross-collar chokes, all the students would be good at cross-collar chokes. Now, you can go into a gym and it’s like the instructor can be a guard passing machine and have no bottom.
He can have 10 students that are the Cicero Costha kids that are bare on bowling. With all the things that we have available to us now like YouTube channels and the BJJ Fanatics videos or podcast, I just– It’s 2021, I don’t really think that there’s not really a reason for too many people to be behind. If they’re truly passionately, their life is jiu-jitsu, but that being said, I think it’s just important. Like I said, as an instructor and a leader, you don’t have to be a black belt to be a leader, a white belt could open up a gym and he could create killing machines that were amazing. There’s more to it than that. You have to make sure these are good people and they’re going to give back to life.
It really doesn’t matter to some people but for me, that’s important. I just think there’s a big hierarchy in jiu-jitsu, and I think that that has a lot to do for a long time. It kept the jiu-jitsu from evolving, and I think that that’s gone now. I got guys like Gordon Ryan, and Craig, not only have they cracked into the scene, these are arguably not just the best grapplers currently, but these guys could be some of the best grapplers ever to have ever lived in the arena. They’re always going to be remembered no matter what because right now– The UFC was huge. I think UFC 40 or 41 when Ken Shamrock fought Tito Ortiz, that was the big change.
The Fertitta brothers came in and they purchased it, and I think that was the big thing that– There was a little bit more WWF, WWE-type marketing, now, hell, there’s one of these things every weekend. Like you said, back in the day, when Elvis fought, there was a UFC once every three months and there were six fights, and the guys were making $5,000 when they had several fights. I just think the world constantly evolves and sports evolve, and it goes back to like you said, the instructing thing, I think it’s important that you just don’t get caught in that, “My way is the only way.” I have students that constantly showing me new things or bring things to the table.
I think it’s just incredibly important to have that open mind in your gym, and I think it breeds that a lot more of a team. Every situation needs a leader no matter what, even if it’s a one-person show, there has to be a leader. I think when you have that open-door policy, I think it’s incredibly important to cross-train too. I could care less where the guys from the gym go and train, it doesn’t matter to me at all. If they would want to leave the team and go somewhere else, then I wish them the best of luck.
I think a lot of instructors have a little bit insecurity and they try to lockdown. They use different excuses to sell that to the students, and it goes back to their king of the kingdom type thing. I don’t know. I just think you have to have to keep an open mind and never stop learning, never stop being a student, and breaking things down, Sonny Brown style, it’s incredibly important, man.
Sonny: [chuckles] That’s actually something I wanted to touch on is I have heard you say that you do prefer breaking down competition footage to analyze techniques over instructionals, which is obviously there’s still a lot of value in instructionals but it’s something that I’ve always been interested in because it’s really– they’re showing the techniques that are 100% work in competition bring it on display. It’s also something that when I was doing it, some people would tell me “You can do that but you’re not going to really– there’s still the secret stuff that you’re not going to be able to tell from just looking at the footage.” What’s been your experiences with that?
Heath: I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. You could show me five times something and then your friend could show me, and the time that he shows me, that might be the time that I get it, and then you’re like, “Shit, I showed you that five years ago.” You know how it is with just learning curves and stuff like that, but as for the video itself, I watch instructionals now because I think they’re neat, I think it’s important to– Especially if the guys are going to go up against–
If Andrew was going to go against Sonny Brown, Andrew Wiltse, I would watch your instructionals because I know it’s your opportunity to make money, you’re going to show what you’re good at and what you can do. I would watch your instructional just so I could see the small things in your setups, the grips that you’re going to grab, where you’re going to grab, where your feet are, how they’re positioned, all that stuff. That’s more why would you use an instructional. The actual competition footage, you nailed it when you said it.
This is what they’re doing, this is how they’re winning, and this is why they are who they are because of competition, not because of what they’re showing inside that gym. I think breaking that down, and I’m like the old school like pause, back up, pause, back up, pause, back up. The grip is one of the most important things like the Gi such a small adjustment on a grip can be the difference between so many different things. There’s so many small things like that, I just think you have to take the time to really dig in and you want to learn rather than just say, “Hey, man, I’m just going to watch the footage.” Like I said, I think you have to really dig in and to break this stuff down.
I think you also need goals with what you’re breaking down, am I breaking it down just so I know Sonny’s game, or am I breaking it down so I can give Sonny a beating? Am I breaking it down because I want to get his knowledge and be good at what he’s good at? I think having an end goal with what you’re doing is very important too, and the book doesn’t stay wide open like that, it’s like there’s an end game for exactly why you’re doing it.
I try to write it all out in my mind first and then break it down and say, “Okay, here it is, this is what we’re going to do with it now.” No one really has any excuses any more, man, you can get on Flo and you can literally watch anybody’s matches, not just in YouTube in general, there can be a small– I watched a small jiu-jitsu tournament from Australia a couple of years back with Spatchy and there were 80 people there but break that all down just the same. You find an instructor if you are going to go against a guy say a blue belt or purple belt.
You’re going to go against a guy and you’ve looked up the names like everybody does. You get on there and say, “Okay, man I’m hoping I don’t have this guy the first round,” and then you can’t find anything. Then you looked on Facebook, you looked on Instagram. One of the things that you can do is you can find the people that train with them and then you can start to notice visibly the similarities that the people have. Like I said, grabbing, pulling guard, taking down, resting even like breaking points. You can see in Jiu-Jitsu players when they really break, man. A lot of the teams, man believe it or not they all break and gas out on that same level.
I just think there’s a whole lot, and I think it’s extremely underappreciated and underestimated thing that lot of coaches don’t do. Part of the reason is, what are you going to get for it? It’s your time, it’s time with your kids. As an instructor, I do look at it as work. The whole, if you love your job it’s never work, that’s bullshit I think because it is work. I look at it like this, there’s a factory in our town, it employs about a third of our 15,000 residents, about 5000 people work there. These guys put in 10 hours a day, they bust their ass, man.
I have a lot of these guys at the gym. I don’t think it’s fair for me to run the jiu-jitsu gym and not be putting in the same amount of work as them. Instead of saying, “Yes, I’m a coach and I coach for two hours in the morning and two at night.” What about the other six hours? We’re lucky, we can go and pick the kids up from school and we can spend time with your girl and that stuff but those extra hours I think it’s extremely important to not get lost and then get lazy and I use that time.
Just think about those guys that are working, and always trying to compare yourself to that, and ask yourself are you putting in the extra time to build and learn. It’s important not to waste it, time is the most valuable thing of all. I always try to look at it like that, make sure that I’m always using all of it as much as I can and not having to work a lot, not using it as a tap-out. You know what I mean? Something to that as a beneficial, I’m not saying other people don’t do it but I just think a lot more people could probably do that and benefit from it.
Sonny: That’s a really solid way of taking maybe a blue-collar work ethic and then applying it to the coaching profession which is obviously what you’ve done and what you’re doing successfully. I think part of that work ethic is that what you’ve built in the gym is the ability to, it seems like anyway as I’m watching it, is push people to their breaking points and everyone going at hard rounds all the time in the gym. One thing I wanted to bring up which I heard you mention, how it relates to culture as well is I heard you say that when a new white belt comes into the gym and maybe their energy is maybe a bit frantic or that they’re a bit wild, you don’t try and curtail that or slow them down.
You try and keep that fire inside them and mold that which is a bit in terms if culture, it would be maybe counterintuitive or maybe not so common because part of the culture that I see more often is, “No, make sure all the white belts are able to roll as safe as possible, try and calm them down,” but it seems like you take the opposite approach.
Heath: Within reason of course. It’s like I said that on the show your real thing and then I actually don’t look at any internet stuff at all so I don’t have any idea so if someone said, “Fuck his mama,” I would only know that if boys showed me. I’m extremely lucky, I don’t care. That being said, within reason. Obviously, if some fucking nut comes in and he’s slamming people down, you’re to going tell him not to do that, but I think it’s important to control their elbows and knees of course, so they don’t bust everybody’s heads open. Obviously but why take that fire away from somebody because they want to go hard?
I have several masters guys, we have a 70-year-old guy, not everybody at the gym is– we train hard, you know what I mean, it’s hard. It’s 100 degrees in there right now but there are groups in our gym where the guys, they have to work on Monday, they’re not interested in winning the world. It’s not just a team of people who are going to rip each other’s heads off. We actually have an incredible, incredibly high non-injury rate. You would think that the guys get hurt all the time. Sometimes people get hurt because they’re like holding back or they are trying not to. It’s like when you go into a match and say, ” I can’t get leg locked.”
That’s all you’ve thought about for a week is your opponent being a leg locker. Then the first thing that happens is you get leg locked because that’s all you thought about instead of going out and enjoying your game and smashing the person the way that you do, you fell into that trap of basically them being inside your head. I think in that manner, I let the guys bang when the new white belts come in. I don’t always put them with the other white belts until they are ready I put them over with the guys and let them go hard.
You almost got to break them that’s how I look at it. You can see in the first couple of weeks how tough somebody’s going to be and he’s just a competition guy. Everyone who comes in now, of course, with the show and Flo, they want to be a world champion. It’s like, “Hey, Sonny, man, what’s your goal, and you say I want to be a world champion.” I already probably knew that, if you moved halfway across the world to live in the parking lot, obviously you want to be a world champion but what else?
The other stuff is just as important. I do think it’s important to not take that away and just guide them towards being able to push the pace and learning the techniques and the way the guys drill in the gym they drill hard. Some of them do, like George Valadares. He’s the one who does all the YouTube stuff for anyone who’s seen that? He usually just started doing that stuff three months ago I don’t know if you’ve got a chance to watch any of it but-
Sonny: I have.
Heath: – he’s amazing, man. He picked up a book for dummies and Alejandro’s brother works in Hollywood and gave him some advice and man, he’s just incredible. He’s so amazing and we’re so lucky to have him to get to share all that. The information and what’s going on with just everybody in the world. George and Thatcher, sometimes they’ll spend 10 or 12 hours a day, not everybody has the availability to be able to do that. Sometimes guys got to get it in when they come in. I think it counters a lot of stuff we say think a lot of stuff we say. I think a lot of instructors might tell people to slow down because maybe they don’t go with that rate.
It’s one thing if like I said the guys– It’s your job to control the room as the leader. When people say that’s when I say, “Hey a new white belt comes in,” there’s not seven white belts out there throwing each other down. It’s not like that. You know how it is. Anybody who’s making these comments most probably isn’t a black belt. They probably never ran a gym. I think you got to put them in. I think you got to see what they are made of, how hard they’re going to be able to push, if they’re going to come back. Once they’re broken and then you knock them down, you got to build them back up. I think immediately stripping them of their physical attributes the second they came in, I don’t really agree with that.
Technically, things are important obviously but– Listen, at a certain level everyone’s amazing, man. At the adult Purple Belt worlds. These guys are fucking incredible, man. They’re so good, the guys who lose in the first round now could have been the champion. Something for everybody out there to always remember nothing that means anything comes easily. 50% of people at every single tournament lose the first round. Let’s always remember that. Half of everyone loses their first match that signs up. If 2000 people sign up a 1000 people will lose their first match so that’s half of everyone, no matter what, every time.
I think it’s important not to get down about losses. I think you learn that from the beginning, from the instructor when that’s stripped away from you and they’re saying, “Hey, this is my way, this is the way that you’re going to do it. You’re going too hard or you want to slow these guys down.” Listen, you can talk all this shit you want but I’m on the show right now because we just won the biggest No-Gi team tournament title in the last two years probably because of COVID but it was the biggest one. We showed up. I just think that there’s something to be said to not strip everything away from something. If a kid comes in, he’s had a rough life and goes hard, I try to build off of that.
Like I said, of course, you have to make things safe. That shit goes without being said. It’s like someone saying, “Oh, love my kids they come first.” No shit, you don’t have to say that, that goes without saying. Of course, I make it safe but I just don’t think it’s unnecessary to, like I said, strip all the attributes and I’ll say now jiu-jitsu is for the meek and the little guys. I don’t even know who said that in the first place but size does matter.
Everybody’s got a little animalistic instinct, everybody’s a little wild and to compete and win I think for a lot of people it has a lot to do with it when you get out there and you’re both the same technically being mean and being tough it does go a long way sometimes. Watching a college wrestling match, these guys are tough. They’re banging on each other and if you’ve ever wrestled in college you’d see the rooms are brutal.
These jiu-jitsu guys that are commenting on how rough things are, they’d pass out if they saw college wrestling these guys are basically fighting and they’re slapping each other’s heads and getting it in. Like those guys that are Australian top team you guys got. Those guys are all buff, man there’s 50 Guys that look like supermodels in there. I’m sure when they’re training they’re banging over there. If you want to do it as a hobby than a self-defense thing then that’s cool.
I don’t look down on anybody who supports jiu-jitsu and I don’t think you have to compete, to give back or be a part of it or be amazing. For the ones that do it, you got to let them do what they do, and if you don’t like rowing hard go with the new guys because you’re afraid that you’re going to get tapped on in front of everybody there’s a corner, a gym down the road then you can go to and that’s just how I’ve always looked at it. Every day I show up I get my guard passed by white belts, maybe it’s because I suck.
Spatchy: I try it’s tough, actually. [laughs]
Heath: Again, there’s nothing to lose every time we step in there as humans for a couple of hours a day you get to leave everything like the wife and the kids and the stress of work and you get to leave that behind for a couple of hours. I think it’s important not to limit yourself when you have that opportunity for that time. That’s why it’s important to me. I don’t try to take anybody down, I try to build them from what they have.
Their backgrounds come into play on that. A lot of these kids that I have winning now I feel like if I would have stripped them down and had them doing things technically which– We actually do a lot of technical stuff. You can watch Andrew Wilson any of his passing DVDs and you can see the guy’s a technical genius. I think a lot of people, unfortunately, use it as an excuse, and once you put the black belt on, like I said, it’s important to remember other people aren’t there yet, so if you’ve checked out the physical part, that’s okay but don’t hold anybody else back because you’ve checked out yourself.
I don’t even think that an instructor has the role to be effective– You could be in a sweatsuit with a whistle. More than half of these guys they’re old, they can’t get on the mats like Mike Tyson’s boxing coach couldn’t beat him up in boxing, but he can show him everything. I could care less about people who do and don’t roll with their guys I don’t think that means they’re a pussy or anything like that. I just think it’s important though to not strip away their natural, hunger and like I said animalistic instinct. I don’t even know if that’s a word but it sounds cool so-
Sonny: It does sound cool. [laughs]
Heath: I just think it’s a little bit of like barbarian and all of that shit. Everybody’s got a little bit of savage in them. I think that’s– One of the reasons I think people love the Daisy Fresh thing is because it’s a little rough, man and everyone can relate. A big named guy who’s won the world, he might not be approachable, man and it’s like when you see Jacob Couch or Alejandro, or any of these boys from the show. It’s Spatch, Georgie, they’re approachable. When you see them and you think, “Holy shit, these guys did this I can do this too, they’re just like me.” I think that alone makes the show incredible and I think that’s why everybody loves it. It’s unapologetic.
One of the other funny things to me is people love telling stories about their instructors doing fights in the 90s and the old Valley judo, jiu-jitsu was built off violence and for that generation. It’s funny because the way that we train or the way Gracies came over when they did these Gracies in action and they were going hard and it’s funny that everyone loves to tell that story at the dinner table, but when it comes to us doing that we’re playing the cards we were dealt instead of crying around about it, we just built something from nothing. It’s just funny I think it’s the pot calling the kettle black, a little bit.
Like I said, at this point, it doesn’t even matter, man. The 2020 No-Gi Pans, we got second, and all the other stuff that we had won as a team was– We won the novice pans, novice worlds, and then we won at Chicago, which was a huge deal to us but once you get up on a major, it’s like maybe it was an accident and then the following year winning that’s like, “Okay, man, obviously these guys are doing something. We’re still such a little group. I don’t remember how many people we signed up. I think we had 15 people maybe signed up for the No-Gi Pans or something like that for those adult points and I think only one or two guys didn’t medal.
Our system is a bullshit word but it’s the way we do things I can’t tell you that it’s the right way or the wrong way but it’s just the way we do them it seems to be working. Especially in other countries like Europe, Australia, all these places. I know those are continents and not countries but there’s now black belts everywhere and you don’t need that to be successful, you can build something and be a part of the revolution. I consider myself an activist in the jiu-jitsu revolution. The best way to support a revolution is to build your own. Start your own and I think that you can do that.
If a question is how can I do this, how can I start up a gym on my own and in a town 100 miles from Perth there’s, going to be no one around out there. You can do it though, if you believe in your product you truly believe in what you’re giving away, people will believe in you. If you support them with everything you have, they’ll support you and I think that’s the way that everything that’s special is built. Carlson Gracie, he’s passed away he’s been gone for years and people still– They wear the shirts, we fight for Carlson. They loved this guy.
He was a god in the favela, he was a god in the rich community. Everyone just loved him because all these guys lived with him, he just constantly gave back and they’re still fighting for the guy 15 years later and I think that anyone can build that man, even on a small scale I think that you can build something amazing. If you can’t do huge, giant big things in life that change the world, do a lot of small ones. I think Napoleon Hill had a quote like that, his was way better though you’ll you have to look it up but anyway it’s-
Sonny: I like it. I think from then, what you were saying with the black belts and the fight is really you obviously take care of the safety set side of things but when you say you don’t want to take the fire out of them. You’re not talking about frenetic movement, you’re talking about more, the fire of belief and passion that they have in themselves, you don’t want to ever temper that down, or put any doubt in their mind and build that belief in them because there is an understanding that, sometimes, the power of belief can overcome technique, right?
Heath: I just should have said that, what you just said. I wish I said that. Now that was way better than what I said. No doubt for sure.
Sonny: Sorry I was going to say, but I look at what’s going on over there and I look at it and I think, man, you guys are the ones you’re doing it. You guys are still doing it. It does have that vibe of wow, these guys are out there just going for it, and you do have that belief built in the culture there.
Heath: Like I said going back to that culture thing I just think it all starts from the top you can go into a gym basketball team– What’s that sport you guys made up?
Heath: AFL. You can go into an AFL team.
Heath: You guys made it up so you give it the best.
Spatchy: One of the hardest sports in the world.
Heath: Oh, anyway-
Heath: -just kidding there. No, I’m just saying you can go into a jiu-jitsu gym and you can almost feel like– I think the leader kind of, he sets the tone a little bit, and you can tell him if this guy’s an asshole. Sometimes the guys are going to be assholes. People will get– That was a big thing a few years ago. It’s chilled out a lot now because now people blast your ass on the internet. Now, if you’re a jerk to your students, or you treat people like shit, that kind of behavior was something that people could do before and get away with.
I just think it always kind of starts– You got to build the foundation and the leader, he’s the most important part of the foundation. Like I said, if the guys I asked, sometimes the people will be asked if they’re coming to you then the rest of them will be contagious to it. But if you’re amazing and you’re constantly trying to build everyone around you, it should be successful. It’s like the iron sharpens iron type of thing. I just think that people can feel that.
I think when they come into the gym, I have no idea about any other gyms because I’m only at our gym, but anyone who’s associated with us and in our place, it’s important to me that you have to build yourself. You can’t get confused about putting other people before you, because you have to be selfish a little bit to– Sonny has to take care of Sonny, to be a better father, and a husband, or a boyfriend, a teammate.
If Sonny isn’t happy with himself, he can’t give the things that he needs to other people. I think it’s important that you have your own mind right, then you’re able to give back. Second, I think that’s really important to build off of, but you can always just fill it, man in the culture of a GM’s in Jiu-Jitsu. I’m really proud of our guys because it’s no one– You’ve never got to see Sonny, but hopefully one day we’ll get over it. No one from our team competes without at least 10 people on the barricades. It doesn’t matter if they’re white belts or black belts, or if they’re not allowed to be down there’ll be in the stands, they’re just so supportive of the guys.
When they lose, the team takes a major loss, you know what I mean? But as Spatch actually said in the Daisy Fresh one or two, it’s one of my favorite quotes, he said, “Andrew, just one, what difference does it make? What happened with everyone else?” He won and he got his black belt and that was a moment for us as a team that was just amazing enough. Later on, people said, “Oh, Wiltse is the only one that wins from the team.” That’s been settled now though that is what it is, but I just think it’s when you really believe in everyone around you and you truly wish success for them, I think that you just can’t get and be let down man.
If you’re constantly giving and making every round, you’re sharp, it’s just going to sharpen you up and not, not holding anything back. When you build that culture, people feel more– They feel obligated to keep themselves sharp, I think. They’re able to talk about mental illness a little bit more, and be open and share that stuff because they truly trust these people. It’s not just about jiu-jitsu. If it is just about jiu-jitsu to you, then you probably have a huge gym, and a nice car, and great things, but I don’t actually have any of that stuff, that’s a choice though, the platform that Flo‘s given us could have 500 students move to the city. Like I said, fuck a million dollars when you can leave a legacy.
It’s about being able to change lives and help people. You never know how much time you got, you can wake up tomorrow and they tell you, “Hey, you got the stage four cancer, that’s that, you’ve got 30 days.” It’s important that every day that you build something that’ll keep going when you’re gone. Just to know that you’re a part of something that’s bigger than you. I think all that’s an incredibly important when you create that culture in your gym. There’s so much more than winning in jiu-jitsu when it comes to that.
I think when everyone starts to do that, that’s when you’re really going to see a change in the evolution of jiu-jitsu. I think when teams aren’t about just one person, one great person and everyone’s just giving and everyone thinks that they do this. It’s hard to look in the mirror and believe that you’re not that type of person, everyone thinks that. When that culture it’s built, you can really do incredible thing. It’s like possessing superhuman powers to help other people. When you walk into the room and you feel uplifted so much that you can– You just feel amazing.
It just spreads, it’s like cancer, negative things spread and positive things spread. I just think it’s really important to keep that mindset when you’re building your culture, or if you want to change it, you know what I mean? Everyone’s welcome to do what they want. These are the things that I’ve done, it’s the only way I’ve ever known how to do things. I’ve had a lot of success, a lot of failure on the way too.
Sonny: Yes. You touched on the idea of taking care of yourself first is, and I think of the airplane, if the oxygen masks drop down, you always got to put the oxygen mask on for yourself first before you can help other people. Then from the sounds of that, it’s like you build that belief in yourself first, then look to instill it into people’s their own belief in themselves around you, and then creates a kind of feedback or self perpetual thing that you’re looking to build that will last for a long time and spread out. Is that kind of?
Heath: Exactly. I’m actually going to steal the airplane thing and pretend that you didn’t say that, and that I said that.
Sonny: Go for it. [laughs]. [crosstalk] Sure, I got it somewhere else as well.
Heath: That’s exactly it though. Everybody kind of gets– They get lost in wanting to help other people and people like to tell people that they’re helping other people, or I always put everyone before myself. People brag about that and kind of get, but at the end of the day, it’s important that you’re healthy and mentally, because like I said, at a certain point, you might do that now but what about in two years? Things are a lot more important than today and tomorrow, you got to think about the future and it’s just so important to work on yourself to get to where you can help everyone else.
If you can combine those two things, be healthy, be able to help everyone, and expect nothing back. It’s funny, you get the most when you expect the least. It’s like when you’re chasing after a significant other, and they’re just kind of not interested in, then you’re like, ugh, fuck it, then the next thing, not only a hurry, you got four more call on you too, you know what I mean? It’s like when you stop chasing and you just start living. I think that’s just the way to create the culture, I think it’s a really positive one. I’m really proud of ours too. When people come and visit, they always say like, “Hey, the gym’s just like on the show and everybody’s so tough, and everyone’s so helpful and everyone’s so cool.”
I know it’s a little intimidating to come in and we have so many visitors sending people from other countries. The one that’s really gotten me lately is people are stopping by in the nighttime and they’re taking pictures with the sign, but they don’t come in and train. Then like I said, we’re really lucky, we’re at a crossroads, two main interstates cross in our town. Everything’s so cheap here, you can rent a house here for $600.
Sonny: That sounds better than Sydney. You’re tempting me to [laughs].
Heath: Listen in.
Sonny: Make a challenge.
Heath: [crosstalk] If you can ever come over, if you ever get to where you can come over, you come over and do a little thing on the gym, you stay with us. It’ll be great. But yes, that’s part of the reason, like I said earlier, why I like being from a small place. It gives me the availability to help more people. It’s a little cheaper and we gotta do it the hard way. Sometimes we got to put 15 people in a suburban that holds only eight people and drive down. Things are getting better, we’re just able to get a van and people ask, “Do we get anything from the Flo series?” It’s a two-part answer, but we don’t get any money from them directly.
However, they gave us the platform to share our story and that is worth everything. We’re forever grateful to them and Michael Sears and Simone Khan, who does the show, just to keep believing in the boys and keep sharing the story. I just think it’s touched so many people, we’ve gotten literally thousands of messages about just positive messages. The only negative message we get is “Fuck American jiu-jitsu,” which we collect those and we’re going to make a video on those, it’s going to be fun, but [laughs] it’s really funny too, because like I said, we don’t even give a shit about that, but-
Spatchy: I get the most messages about it.
Heath: Yes, actually Spatch gets the most messages about him, he’s Australian. It’s like indirectly, they go to him and that– We’re going to make a cross out American and part Australian jiu-jitsu, we’re going to make that a shirt actually. I think that I’ve actually never made a shirt before, ever. People always ask about apparel and merchandise. Will you kids call it Merch?
Sonny: Yes, Merch. We’re actually working on a first shirt right now. Like that, but we’ve never had one actually. If there’s any out there, like someone else has made them or something like that. It’s really humbling to have all the people, especially from the other countries and I keep saying that, but I just feel like in parts of Australia, Europe and I think a lot of these places, a lot of the South American countries, I think they’re where I was 20 years ago. It’s like you’re limited and sometimes you just can’t get over to the black belts or maybe you’re not in the position with family or whatever it is. I don’t know. I mean, fuck, you guys did the same thing. You’re a black belt and you made this happen. Peter– What’s the Peter guy’s name over there? He’s like the godfather, Peter Deben?
Sonny: Peter Deben.
Heath: He’s probably the first black belt over that way. Right? [crosstalk]-
Spatchy: John Will.
Sonny: There’s, yes, John Will, they said the dirty dozen but there’s a–
Heath: Yes. You know what I mean? That’s even a new Romina. Are there 100 black belts in Australia?
Sonny: I’d say so, yes. I’m just guessing.
Heath: You know what, 10 years ago, I think in America, that’s when it just first started coming. If you were a purple belt back in the day you were like a super bad-ass. If you were an American dude you had one of those, it’s like you knew somebody. You know what I mean? It’s growing in all the places and I just love to be able to talk with people and help them like I said, these small gyms and these garage gyms and some people have been paying these giant association fees and business is businesses. It is what it is. It’s just so nice to be able to feel like you’re helping people and get those messages and then say that you made them get back into Jiu-jitsu or whatever it may be, it’s really amazing and it’s because guys like you that have these shows, when you share everything with everybody, so that’s incredibly important.
Sonny: Thank you. I’m sure the merch will be a big seller. No doubt. I think it will be that you could bring people wearing a Daisy Fresh shirt and at other gyms and there’ll be asking them, why are you wearing that Daisy Fresh shirt guys?
Heath: I’ve really tried out. I see them sometimes when, like I said, I just think it’s a relatable thing. I think everyone kind of relates to it in a way that, man, these guys are approachable. They’re just normal hardworking dudes from wherever, and anyone can do it and that’s what’s Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be about anyway. It’s not supposed to be about hierarchy or it’s not supposed to be about one certain set or group of people being the best or monopolizing anything. That’s why like I said, the Jiu-jitsu revolution is important to make everyone see and understand that anyone can do anything and that everyone has that capability just with passionate love and teamwork, you can build anything. I think, like I said, that’s what that revolution is about.
Sonny: Like a big part that I’m really picking up in that revolution that you’re mentioning is certainly that team aspect. Even when you mentioned how like college wrestling coaches are on the sideline with the tracksuit and the whistle, which is heresy in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and perhaps there’s good benefits to that or there’s reasons in that. It keeps the art not being falsified or, but now it is at the stage where that could certainly be part of the next revolution, where you have that team atmosphere, you have specialist coaches, perhaps. You have that kind of a model that’s used in other sports. Is that part of what you’re heading towards?
Heath: I think it’s important– Let me share, I think it’s important for someone who has– Maybe we’ll get to the point when someone who’s like never done Jiu-jitsu would be able to teach Jiu-jitsu. Maybe, I don’t know, probably not in my lifetime, but when I say that, I just mean, you get a guy that’s in his late thirties, late forties, people don’t realize some of these– I’ve been training for almost 30 years already. You know what I mean? It just takes toll on you after a while and I get into a group with Andrew Gotzis and his brother and George and Jacob Coach and I mean, at the end of that, about that time next month, I’d be ready to go again physically.
What I mean by being over the coach on the side is, obviously– I’m just thinking, I don’t think you have to be out there rolling every single time to get that respect from the guys. I think that if you’re able to build something with them– like my guys could tap me all the time and they wouldn’t lose any respect for me because they could tap me out. I mean, that doesn’t mean shit. I’ve actually never even thought, it’s never even crossed my mind that they would think any less of a– There’s times that I busted my knee open a couple of months ago. I wasn’t able to train for two months and I got big and fat one time. I never felt like the guys had any less respect because I wasn’t training because I’m still there. I’m grinding it out with them. I’m sleeping on the match with these guys and what you know doesn’t go away. You know what I mean?
I think as long as your team isn’t getting watered down and– With our belts that we give out, we’ve kept it pretty simple. I have the guys when they pans the worlds and they get the next belt. Some people obviously can’t do that. There’s hobbyist and some people say, “Hey, man. That’s sandbagging.” Anyone who says that probably doesn’t compete or hasn’t competed in real competitions. When the guys lose, it’s not a big deal, but when their guys lose, oh man, this guy’s been sandbagged.
I don’t think anyone would accuse us of watering anything down. I think it’s important to just be connected with the students and that’s what I mean by that. If you have that respect and you’re able to do that off to the side and they’ll let you– Go in any, like I said, any Division One wrestling, most of these guys are 50, 60 years old. I mean, they’re not turned out, they’re wrestling with the guys. I mean, does that make them a shitty instructor? You know what I mean? I think that things will evolve into that, especially as us guys that are black belts, are the leaders now get a little bit older because it’s like Andrew.
There’s things that Andrew could show you that I couldn’t. I show him a move and I show him the entire passing system. He shows me back the entire passing system plus everything that he’s done to it just from me showing it to him. I think that him and Gordon and these guys, I think that they are very special mentally, the way that they see things and break things down. I think that their brains just work a little bit different than mine anyway. He’s not interested in really teaching. He’s still competing actively and he’s doing the instructionals and seminars and stuff, but he’s not really ready to take those reigns as the coach.
I just think there are captains on the team that you have to have and know these guys got your back. Like I said, as long as you have the respect from the students, there’s a big difference between respect and like, dominative like I said, the king of the kingdom. Some of these guys, they haven’t rolled with the students in 10 years, and then they get mad when the students leave and they show shit, and then–
Results are all the matter in the end anyway. Right? If a team’s pumping out constant champions, I mean, who am I to be judgmental towards their system? I would actually want to know everything about it. I think that’s a big difference between winners and people that don’t win, is they have an open mind to that. Is there any really set way to do anything in life in sports? You have all these coaches– I read every sporting thing that I can, and I’m really big to dig in into other sports. Not any Australian football stuff. I’ve never read any of this stuff. Is there a coach stash?
Spatchy: From where?
Heath: Australian football?
Spatchy: Like a famous coach ?
Spatchy: There’s a couple of decent ones but not like [crosstalk]-
Heath: You don’t know nothing.
Sonny: Ron Barassi.
Heath: Ron Barassi?
Spatchy: Hes good as…
Heath: The American guys think you said Ronda Rousey, but anyway–
Heath: I’m just kidding.
Spatchy: Shes a badass bitch.
Heath: Anyway, I just think things are constantly evolving, man. I think when you put your time in and you get the respect and the students trust you, that’s why it’s so important not to be a piece of shit and take advantage of your situation. I do think that time’s coming though. Like I said, the older the guys get, these young guys want to keep competing. We have a pretty young team, and guys that’ll be getting black belts here real soon and they’re definitely not ready to open up anytime soon. You know what? I’m slowing down, man. I’m getting old and you know how it goes, getting out there and mixing it up every time. I just don’t think that that’s as important as everyone thinks it is, just you can’t use it. There’s a fine line. You can’t use it as an excuse to not train and not get it in and I don’t know. You get it.
Sonny: Yes. It is that fine line that you mentioned of being able to keep it real and just the reality of eventually, the young guys are going to overtake you and that actually should be the goal of a good coach, it’s you want people to get better than you.
Heath: In martial arts in general, the perfect sensei treats the student that can defeat him, and show others how. That’s the oldest thing.
Sonny: Everyone can say that as well. It’s easy to put the poster on the wall that can espouse that value, but then actually being able to do that, and having a culture where people still don’t look at that as a bad thing and still have that support from each other is the key really, and the most difficult part about it. That takes the work and that takes potentially a toll in being able to put that into place. Was there any significant challenges or times, things that you had to overcome while building that kind of culture?
Heath: Yes, for sure. There was a time when we had won a team trophy, and they wouldn’t allow me to accept– We got second at a No-Gi Pans one time, with two guys, that’s a true story. Marcella Garcia’s team had won everything and the other 17 divisions were won by like individuals, so from different teams. It just worked out perfectly. Actually, I wasn’t allowed to get the trophy yet, and it happened again, in Atlanta. Finally, they let me on the podium. Actually one of the Gracie Barra guys said, “Man, let the dude on there.” You know what I mean? Next week though, there were two kids, eight-year-olds that were up there, and they were holding it, and I had guys competing and rules are rules. I get it, I understand it, and I’m okay with that.
If everyone’s following the rules, I’m cool with that, but it was tough to be in the stands yelling from 40 feet away, when I have students that are in the finals of the open worlds, you know what I mean? In the Gi, and in blue and purple, and just things like that. I could see people, girlfriends, and just people down and you want to make the coaching only black belts, I’m all for that, I get it, and I can appreciate that, but I wish the rules were all applied the same to everyone. That’s been a long time ago. Now, I think things have really shaped up, and I think they’ve fixed a lot, and it’s gotten much better, but there’s been a lot of shit talk about our team over the years, you know what I mean? Especially before the Daisy Fresh thing came out, we were on the scene, and we’ve always been a little bit rowdy.
You know that they’re boys, they’re from 17 or even younger than that, to 25. Like I said, they’re just young, and they’re full of it and they’re ready to go. We started making some statements, we just didn’t really have the numbers to win anything. We would take 10 guys and win 12 gold medals, we just didn’t have the numbers, but now, I think things have grown. There’s always a push back in anything, you know what I mean? In the last year, everyone has been extremely kind. When we won the No-Gi Pans, I actually really felt like that almost every coach from even the major teams, some of them wouldn’t get on the podium with me. They had other people get up there, because they didn’t want to be up there, but it is what it is.
We take our Ls like champs. If we’re in third, I get up there. If we don’t get a medal, it is what it is, but for the most part they were really supportive man, and they really went out of their way. I think they’re starting to see, it’s not about American or Australian, or Brazilian. It’s not about that. It’s just about Jiu-Jitsu man and saving people and growing our sport. In 100 years from now, can you imagine how big this is going to be, and looking back on things and seeing, man what a — It’s important for me for Pedigo Submission Fighting to not turn into one of these giant organizations, not that there’s anything wrong with these things. It’s just, I see some of these coaches sometimes and I always have a list. You can catch me any tournament, I’ll have the big giant list and coach every every person we got and running around the entire time.
Some of these guys, they’ll go and coach guys in the finals and they’ve never met these guys before. You know what I mean? It’s like they close out in divisions with people that they’ve never met. Dante Leone, when we were in his finals, that was in one of the Daisy Fresh, this is the No-Gi Black Belt World Championships, so that this kid’s dream and they wanted him to step down and give the title to this guy that he doesn’t even know. I don’t even know if they’d ever trained together before. Maybe but, I just don’t understand that. I don’t get that. They’ll say, it’s just about points but you know what? If Sonny and Heath are going into finals, and we already got the points, why ask one of us to step down? There’s little more to it I think, and I think these things are all changing.
We won the No-Gi Pans, the blue belt open. We got first and second, and one of our lightweights, Jacob Bornemann and Tristan Overvig, they had the match, man. We won first and second in the lightweight division. They tagged Cravens and Jacob Bornemann, they had the match. I think it’s important for the person who deserves to win to win. I think it hurts, if one of the two are weaker or something, I think it hurts them even more to just give them the title and secretly, deep down inside, you might always wonder who won and I just think it’s important for the best person to win. The guys are so happy anyway to be up there. They got nothing to lose, but when they get out there man and go against each other, they banging. These guys live together.
This isn’t like Jacob and some kid from Brazil that he’s never met before. This is like his roommate that he lives with. I just think keeping it pure, and I think that’s part of watering it down here. The same guys who bitch about watering it down. The same guys wanting to close out the divisions and asking people to step down, and it just is what it is, man. For us, we’re always going to get it in, we’re always going to have the matches, and I think until everybody else does too, it hurts the sport a little bit. American wrestlers, you can’t imagine the disgust that they have, knowing that these guys close divisions out. There already pissed off because there’s two third places. Me explaining that to them almost ends up in a fight every time.
The fact that these two guys that don’t know each other are closing out for points, or that sometimes guys will close and say, “Hey, this is my friend from so and so, we closed the division.” They wouldn’t even be on the same fucking team. I don’t know how it is in Australia, because that’s even a smaller community over there, but I just think it all plays into that bitch ass-ness, and it just breeds a weak competition mentality. People think that they’re building the team and the organization a little bit more, but really, I think it’s just a weakening, and I think that’s a part of the reasons that a lot of these guys leave.
One of my old training partners, he moved away. Jonathan Thomas, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him? Redhead John. John and I actually got all our belts together. A lot of people don’t know that he’s blue and white, we went up white, blue, purple, brown, and then when he moved away, we did a lot of training together. We happened to be Rodrigo’s at the exact same time, and we were the same size, so we got it in a lot. His brother is actually a coach at one of our association gyms that we have now in Tennessee, but when he got to Alliance, they asked him two or three years in a row to step down to one of the guys, like Mario Reis or Cobrinha. These guys had multiple world championships, and they would close out in the in the semis, so they didn’t have to have a match, and they could do the finals.
I don’t know, man, and it just so rubbed me the wrong way. I just always thought at that point in my life, man if we ever get to where we’re able to win at this level, I think it’s so important for the sport to do these matches. Like I said, we’re a baby team still. Hopefully, we’re able to change some things, and some people appreciate and understand that and that. I’d rather give up the team trophy than the boys wonder who the best person was. I think, if it’s that important to you– It’s about them, and they’re going to carry this around for the rest of their lives. You know what I mean? Like I said for Dante, that was his opportunity since– He was 20-years-old or something, he’s a fucking kid. His lifelong dream, and he’s Canadian on top of that. He is the first ever Canadian black belt world champion.
Not even giving him that the chance to do that, and we were ready. You know what I mean? He had trained at the training camp, and damn was good, he was ready to go and I just hated that. Actually hearing that and being there, that was my first time that I had been in the black belt world champion box, trying to get one coach in the box down there. I don’t know man. It was tough to hear. Talk about watered down and stuff like that. Like I said, people from two separate countries that don’t know each other.
Sonny: I hear you on that. I’m not a fan of closeouts myself. In fact, one of the most memorable matches I ever had was when I went against my good friend and teammate in the finals. I’ll regularly bring it up with him at every opportunity.
Heath: Who won?
Sonny: Me. That’s why I still bring it up.
Heath: Oh, that’s right. So memorable.
Sonny: Don’t worry. Apparently, I just ran and stole the whole time.
Heath: That’s why it’s important. Because maybe it’s a minimal fraction of anything but like I said, the best guy won that day. Maybe next time he would win, but this time you won and you know. Sometimes you fight harder against your friends. I’ve had two brothers that have went against each other before. It was a bloodbath, man. It was like, they killed each other going out there. If you don’t mind me asking, how’s the ju-jitsu scene in Australia right now with all the stuff?
Sonny: Man, it’s been going well. There’s certainly been a lot more changes, again, from maybe 10 years ago, where there was a lot more distance between schools. There was only a certain few that you could get to, and now it’s really popping up on. There’s 10 gyms in a three-kilometer radius of where I’m at now, with new ones still opening, which is–
Heath: You got to kick those guys arse man!
Sonny: Well, you got to have a little bit of that, “Let’s go guys.” You got to have a little bit, at the same time, it’s also getting to the point where it’s like, “Well, there’s just so many now that–” It’s easier if it’s the one rival or something like that. Now, it’s so many, it’s like, “We’re still going to go hard,” but I might not have even heard of one place that we’re going against yet.
Even with cross-training and such like that, it certainly seems like it’s become a lot more acceptable, and relaxed a bit more. I think everyone, the core group of competitors, and top-level guys out here seem to be like that. They’re all training together regardless of affiliation. They are all getting together and doing working.
Heath: That’s how you know. I think that’s the way to really gauge things, is that what you just said. At the end of the day, the top guys, the big competitors there regardless of affiliation, they’re getting an NC. That’s what’s important. That’s the example that needs to be set. A competitor know he’s good, it’s sucks. If you have a gym and a guy opens up the gym next door. If you were cooking hamburgers, that would suck for a hamburger place to come there.
It’s a little personal, but at the end of the day it’s like when if St Browns getting it in and showing the right shit, those guys from the other gym are going to come over anyway. That’s always how I look at it. It’s like, if someone needs to go, c’est la vie, it is what it is. I think, even when guys come you’re like– I helped a couple of guys for years, and they actually won World Championships for other teams. I always, of course, hoped that they would switch over, but that didn’t make it any less, me happy for them when they won.
Does it suck to see their coach get on there and talk about how he’s training them and did this? Of course, but, at the end of the day, it goes back to, “What was this about? Me or helping them? I think, if you keep that mindset, I think the more people that do it, the better. The more places that pop up sometimes the better. It sucks to the business owner, but for ju-jitsu and the longevity of it, I think it’s important to have the more the better.
Sonny: I think one of the core messages that you’ve mentioned is the use of ju-jitsu as a vehicle to change people’s lives for the better. If there’s more people doing ju-jitsu, then there’s more possibility of changing people’s lives for the better. Maybe just to finish up is, what do you think is it that makes ju-jitsu special or gives it the ability as a sport to be a vehicle for change and bettering people, or is it something that you think you could do through anything? Is it just a belief in yourself?
Heath: Of course, no matter what you’re doing, you have to believe in yourself. I can’t speak on too much stuff because ju-jitsu is really all that I’ve ever done. The reason that I think ju-jitsu is an amazing gift for that is because it doesn’t lie. You have to be honest with yourself because you know deep down inside if you’re fibbing, or if you haven’t been working hard or you’re cheating on your diet, or you’re not taking your time to get better or make people around you better, it tells the truth always.
For mental health, ju-jitsu, it doesn’t fix mental health. Obviously, if you have the mental health issues, you need to talk to someone that does mental health. I think it’s just saved a lot of lives out there, man. My favorite line ever in the Daisy Fresh was when Michael Sears asked Jorge Valladares, he asked him and Spatchy and Alejandro and Andrew and they almost had the same answer. Like, “If you weren’t here at that Pedigo submission fighting, what would you be doing?” I said, “I probably would just kill myself.” I got a message two nights ago, a guy had sent me and just said, “I have a disease. I drink and I’m killing myself. Can you help me?” It’s just a local guy. When you take these things on, it’s deciding and it’s a, “Hey, I want to save as many lives as I can.” Then you don’t get to hang the phone up though at eight o’clock when you hang the Gi up and leave from working. You get two o’clock phone calls in the morning, and are you willing to do all that? Because that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to really build something special.
It’s funny, people, they always ask me about the ju-jitsu like there’s some secret ju-jitsu moves. You’re one of the first ones actually that’s asked me like, “Is the success because of the ju-jitsu or is it because of the environment and the culture?” I actually believe it’s the second one. I actually believe it’s the environment that makes the champions. Like I said, it’s 2021, man, you want to do spider guard, watch Michael Lang, that was 15 years ago.
You can learn anything from watching stuff, but you can’t build an environment, you have to do that and the people around you have to do that. I think that a lot goes into it and I think that everyone wants to talk about feeling like they do that. Remember the king of the kingdom thing and if you’re a black belt that’s out there, not judging you, or anyone that’s listening, but ask yourself that, is this so you can be the boss or is it because you truly want to save lives? Are you willing to miss your son and daughter’s AFL Junior meets or basketball games?
Are you willing to get up at two in the morning to bail someone out of jail? If you’re not, that’s cool, that’s fine. I think it takes these things. When a guy’s wife leaves him, and he has nothing, he has ju-jitsu and the people that are there, that’s what makes this so special, man. Our gym is just made up of so many of those that. We have more non-competitors than we have competitors. It’s like a surprise to people. In that little Daisy Fresh room, we have about 50 to 60 people every single night in there plus the visitors that come and probably half are competitors and the other half, they’re competing, but not for metals, they’re competing for their life. Which, to me is even way more delicate and important than winning 100 World Championships. The medals and trophies are just that, at the end of the day, they’re just possessions.
If you have the opportunity to save these people’s lives, and everyone out there that’s a leader and that runs a gym, even if you’re just a student, you can step up, man and you can really help people. It is a full-time job. While I was talking you, I have about 500 unanswered text messages. Man, they just build up, and sometimes you fall behind and that starts to put a lot of stress on you too. That goes back into, you have to make sure that you’re all right too. I think you can get lost when you’re really trying to build something.
I got off subject on it there. It’s so important, I think to really be doing everything that’s necessary. If you want results, I just think that it takes that. The ju-jitsu is just a minimal part of winning the environment as everything. If you’re an Australian Football League player that you play on the shittiest team, and you do that for five years. I think if you go and play on the best teams for five years, no matter what anyone says, your game is going to be elevated up by the people around you, the coaches. It might not be just a skill. It might be the coaching. It might be your environment. It might be like a positive impact that they have, but it’s not secret strength conditioning, a deep De La Riva sweep that nobody knows.
It’s not that, it’s just so many things that factor into that. I think people could spend a little bit more time, building that environment for the students than just the ju-jitsu itself, what I mean? Hats off to anyone who does that, like I said. It’s totally cool for anyone to do anything they want. It’s not a knock on anyone. It’s just it’s the only way I know how to do things. Like I said, it’s a full-time job, man. At the end of the day, ju-jitsu was all I knew and this is the way that I cannot leave something behind and feel like I truly tried to change and better the world.
Maybe in another life it can be something else, but it’s ju-jitsu now, and that’s all I’ve done since I was 12 years old. My brother opened up the gym and then I did in 1997, so I was 13, 14, and we immediately started. We were able to rent our first place and he moved into it and it was right uptown on the square. We had two students for one year. One of them is a black belt now. He runs a gym for us out in Los Angeles area, Derek Featherston, but it just it takes time.
Like I said, anything worth anything, it takes incredible feats and a failure and just the time to put into it. That’s what I’ve done because I don’t know– If I didn’t do this, I don’t know what else I would do. I guess work at the factory or whatever. That just wasn’t enough for me, man. I just wanted to reach as many people as possible. Ju-jitsu’s given me the opportunity to– Especially now I feel like actually, I change the world, even if it’s just one of these boys. If they were truly going to kill themselves or hurt someone else, just being being there for them.
The price is, it’s 50 bucks a month right now to train at our gym, 50 bucks. You can live there for 50 bucks. That’s American dollars, not AUD, but it’s definitely not about making money and like are you able to pay the bills and stuff like that. I could raise the prices and I’ll make more money, but you’re not able to help as many people. When we get a bigger gym let’s charge more money obviously, but it’s still just going to be about helping people. I think that winning is just a by-product of that in the environment, that change the question.
I think the environment is so important and the mental aspect of this is– when you watch especially the lower belts, man, like the purples and the blue, purple, brown. Sometimes it just comes down to who’s tougher. It’s who’s got the most heart and who wants to win the most. They’re all so good, and you can see this. I think that so much mental like when you– The AOJ guys are incredible at building confident ju-jitsu guys. Byrd Satya, he had just went against a Cole from AOJ, the young kid, he was incredible. Cole actually won the match. Man, even at that age, he’s like 15 or 16. He was so confident. Their ju-jitsu is wonderful, but their confidence level, like the Mendez brothers are doing a wonderful job at building those guys confidence, they believe that they’re going to win. I really think that that goes a long way. I think it’s a big part of competing in that.
We break down technique and we break down takedowns but do you break down breaking people in general? I do. I try to look and see, like I said earlier when someone breaks physically and when they slow down, if they grab the grip and you break the grip, maybe on the eighth one, the ninth one, it’s all especially look after the 10th one the guy’s not going to reach anymore, he’s going to reach down. I think these are things that kind of go unnoticed. There really is. There’s just so much mental into it. At a certain level, everyone, for the most part– there’s obviously stand outs.
There there’s the Buchachers and the Gordon Ryan’s the statute Brooks’s. There’s these guys, out there, but for the most part, normal, normal, guys you know. The semis and the finals, these guys are going to be pretty equal in technique. What’s it going to come down to? Is it going to come down to ju-jitsu, or is it going to come down to mental toughness and that awareness and preparation? I think these are things that are all vital to becoming a champion. If you’re one of those guys up, if you like say, “Brown, you can just maul the fucking guys.” That’s great, but I’m not, you know what I mean? I have to look into actually more things than that. I think the boys have really benefited from that. I think that hopefully when they open their own gyms and they’re able to pass that down and they’re willing to do that work and build the environment, you know what I mean? When you build the environment, it’s like the field of dreams.
I had a Brazilian guy that kept telling me these IBJJF tournaments, if you build it, they will come. I didn’t know, that’s what he was saying in Portuguese. Then a girl that was walking by told me, “Do you know what he’s saying?” I said, no. That’s what he was saying from the movie. He was being supportive of the show, which is really cool. I actually bought the DVD next time I seen them and give it to him, keep it in my bag. I do believe that. I think it’s really about the environment as much as the ju-jitsu itself.
I think that if you’re not as good at jujitsu as a lot of people, that you can make up for that in a lot of different ways. Sometimes guys just aren’t technicians. You know what I mean? It’s look, you, Sonny Brown has the physical attributes that he has. That’s the way it is. Even if you get juiced up out of your mouth–
Sonny: Not much.
Heath: Me neither, I hear you, but you have hair at least that’s , You have what you have. Some people have more. I have a kid, a Jacob Ornament kid, he just walked on a college wrestling team. He’s never wrestled. They give him a full ride. It’s like one of the greatest accomplishments as a teammate and coach he was able to a full ride on that team and a college to wrestle. He’s never wrestled. He just learned how to wrestle in the gym, doing ju-jitsu. Now that he’s able to be on that team. That was really incredible. The kid’s physically just a monster man.
I have other guys that just aren’t that way. They have to take the mental route and do that. Andrew Wiltse is a lot like that. Anyone who knows now, you know that guy’s a giant dork, you know what I mean? He’s into this weird, like wizard Lord of the Rings type stuff. I don’t even know what the hell he likes, but he reads books and he is physically an animal, but he takes the time to learn the things like a hand placement, feet placement, a hip positioning, and all these stuff. You’re like, “Where is his knee on the knee slice? Is it slicing out is it slicing down, what’s the angle? What’s the percentage of misses the first try?” He knows all this stuff. It’s all completely broken down. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, this shit does matter. I mean, there’s a level that it doesn’t matter at.
Like I said, some people can slide by and keep doing it, but I think at some point it’s like the NBA, the basketball in America in the 1960s, a 6’10 guy was the best guy. Now the shooting guards are six foot 10. Now they weigh 280 pounds. They have muscles, they have conditioning coaches. There’s more to it than just the basics of playing basketball. There’s a lot more to it that goes into it. I think that you’ll kind of see that slowly turn up as ju-jitsu gets more popular and other places I think places like Australia and Europe and small places, like South America, Mexico, all these places. I think they’re going to make up for what they miss in technique by these things, and being able to replace a technique that they haven’t been able to get with. Like I said, toughness, or just the physics of a winning a match, basically.
Sonny: I hear you on that. I think that kind of wraps things together, where it is that change in ju-jitsu of perhaps shifting to that team culture, team sport, more atmosphere than requiring that belief and team leadership that instills the belief in those, everyone around you, not just in the leader, but in themselves as well. Then that belief potentially having the ability to overcome techniques. Then also recognizing that it’s not just putting that comradery in a mission statement or value statement that’s on the wall. There is a big sacrifice that comes along with going down that route.
Heath: For sure and like I said don’t let me– I’m not saying that ever– You can always learn technical, you know what I mean? I’m not saying be a meathead and go out there. You should constantly be learning. Even when you’re a black belt and 100 years old. If you’re still a student of the game, and love ju-jitsu, you should always be trying to learn. Some people aren’t capable of picking things up the way other people are. Some people just have that knack for just being able to see something.
We talked earlier about Jordan and Andrew, that sometimes John Danaher, these guys. Sometimes they just get things and they understand things a little differently. Maybe in other areas of life, this would’ve been considered a negative thing but for us in ju-jitsu, it’s a great thing. These things don’t replace learning the techniques but I think people have to keep in mind sometimes that capabilities of certain people are limited sometimes and they have to use their attributes in different ways and you can’t ever count anyone out, you know what I mean?
Mikey Musumeci, He’s a perfect example of this. Look at the guy, he’s just technically– I think he might be a little bit more athletic than he lets on. The guy is incredible. He just told Spatchy “Look you’re a little too small for this weight class you’re doing. You need to be drilling 12 hours a day if you’re going to be doing this.” He drilled that heel hook that he did on Lucas. He did it to him. He did it to Spatchy for hours before.
Spatchy: Same thing.
Heath: The exact same one, “Hey this is what I’m going to do,” and then he went out there and he just applied that perfectly. I just think he’s on that side of the spectrum of ju-jitsu. I think he’s that technical genius. I think Rodolfo Viera is on the other side of him. Not that he’s not an insanely technically amazing guy. I’m just saying he has physical attributes that allowed him to roll through– He was that king and then when Buchecha came, he was even more of a physical specimen and then he just rolled right through him. I just think that you have to constantly be a student of everything. That pretty much sums it up.
Sonny: I love it, Heath. You’ve been very generous to me with your time today and I really want to just say thank you for taking the time out of your day. I really appreciate it because it’s been a fascinating discussion for me just to get those insights. Especially on the culture side of things that we’ve gone over. It’s such an important part that’s often just given the lip service treatment or just that surface level stuff.
It’s been really great to get into that and I’d love to actually if– I know Spatchy has been in the background there. I’d love to have– Probably I’ll speak to him to get a full chat with him some time as well if any of the guys there because each one there is a cast of characters, right? They’ve all got great stories to tell.
Heath: Definitely all those guys, they all love to, I’m so happy for them that, like I said, that floor gave the platform to show them and for them to get the time to speak to guys like you. Helping them be seen and I think it just helps everybody realize, like I said, that, “Hey man I can do this,” and that’ll really take you far in life. Just believing in yourself a little bit and that can carry over to job interviews and talking to girls or whatever. That confidence carries and I think the show does that for so many more people than people realize, you know?
All of us weren’t lucky enough to be born in a place where there’s a lot. I think that’s really what this has done. People see it. If you can’t be a part of it, build it yourself. It’s not always the route that’s the easiest one but it was the correct one for me. Even if you’re part of something now, you can still build and you can change and you can make things happen and for everybody out there, it’s important. If you’re a leader, just remember you’re responsible for not just the students that you have but there’s students and people down the line, their kids and these people really look up to you. I think it’s important to always remember that and really believe in whatever it is that you’re trying to sell.
If you do and you’re passionate about that, I think that results are– They’re endless, that capabilities of what you’re able to do are. All these boys, man, anyone that they’re all down and they’d love to have them on, they’d love to be on there. You just let them know and we’ll hammer it out brother.
Sonny: Amazing. Yes, definitely want to make that happen. It really is the power of belief that’s kicking ass as well. It’s good to see.
Heath: Yes no doubt. Jorge just started with the Pedigo Submission Fighting YouTube thing and a lot of the videos he put on there, the reason that we put those out there, it’s actually for that. The comments on there are so good from the Daisy Fresh thing. We wanted to just keep sharing the story. Everyone’s able to talk to the boys, see that it’s possible. It really makes me excited just thinking about it. Checking those videos out on there. That’s not like a plug either. They’re really motivational and they can really give hope to, like I said, small places and the countries that are just behind because of where you are.
It’s like Australia, ju-jitsu’s not behind, it’s limited because of that. Everything catches up though. Some of the best guys in the world are Australian guys and I think that everything comes around and it just takes time. It’s like you said, there’s more than 100 blackbelts there. 10 years ago, there were like probably 6. Everything grows and over time, it’s really exciting to think about what all this will be like in 50 years when I’m long gone. It’s really neat to think about. I’m really happy that even if I had the tiniest part in being a part of the foundation for that, like I said, in that revolution. That makes me really happy. All this is worth it just for that.
Sonny: I love it. No doubt you will and the story is still being written as we speak, so I’m sure there’s plenty more chapters to add onto what’s going to come in the years ahead.
Heath: No doubt.
Sonny: Heath, thanks so much for your time mate. I really appreciate it again. You guys are inspiring, watching from over here. Yes, just want to say thanks a lot and hopefully, I’ll talk to the other guys and we could do it again in the future.
Heath: You’re the best, Sonny. Thanks for having me on and like everything you do. I know it’s your free time that you just do it. A lot of people always look at it like guys are trying to self promote themselves and make things but they don’t realize that– I’ve watched a lot of your stuff and I get a lot of people that ask to do these things and I do one every few months usually, but I just try to pick the ones where I know that people are passionately just– They want to make people in ju-jitsu better. I know that you do that, and thank you for that.
I’m humbled to be on your show with all the great people you’ve had. I really look forward to coming over to Australia, me and the guys. Like I said, I don’t really do seminars like just me. I want to have all the boys too. They’re a part of everything that’s been built. We would like to come over so maybe here in the next year, we’ll get over and maybe we’ll get to cruise by your spot and check it out. [crosstalk] They’re really wild, man, just fair warning.
Sonny: [laughs] I’m humbled to hear that and yes that’d be amazing. We got to wait for everything to open up but that would be just– Going to be good times.
Heath: Thanks brother. Well, thanks so much for having me on and I’ll have Alejandro give you a shout and we’ll schedule some times for the boys and you can have some twos or ones or whatever you want, you’re the boss.
Sonny: Thanks so much. It’s just a treat to be able to do that.
Heath: All right thanks again, Sonny, I appreciate you brother.
Sonny: Thanks so much, Heath. Have a great day mate.
I talk to Erik Uresk, a Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt who coaches at Alliance MMA. We discuss his martial arts career and how he advocates for embracing vulnerability in his training to help conquer adversity. He explains his coaching philosophy and the hurdles he has faced while working with high-level athletes, including gaining trust from the athletes, mainly while working with Dominic Cruz. An athlete who has such an extensive knowledge of MMA that instructing him has its own set of challenges.
I talk to Tum “Energia” Voorn who is a Jiu Jitsu Practitioner with a Capoeria background and who also trained as a teacher. We discuss an inquiry-based instructional strategy that he describes as “Teaching Without Telling” and how he applies it in a grappling context, what obstacles it may have in its implementation, how to overcome them and the benefits of its use. We also relate this to forming a positive club culture by encouraging student feedback and, finally how leg locks can play into this pedagogy.
I talk to Chris Brennan who is an MMA Hall of Famer, fighting in Pride, UFC, Shooto, Cage Rage and King Of The Cage veteran, and a 3-time No-Gi world champion and ADCC veteran. But perhaps it might not be well known that he started the first No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu school in America back in 1998 after leaving the Gracie Academy. We discuss what the Gracie Academy and the change to No-Gi were like and how he learned to train his students while competing in MMA. We also discuss how he has taken those lessons and passed them on to his sons to help their MMA & grappling careers. Also, he shares some stories of backstage shenanigans with the Pride referees and the time that Genki Sudo came to town and competed in the Westside Submission Grappling tournament, one of the most viewed Jiu-Jitsu highlight videos around.
Sonny Brown: Chris, how are you doing there, mate?
Chris Brennan: Awesome, man. Thank you very much. How are you?
Sonny: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for joining me, and it is an honor to have such a veteran of both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA to be able to talk to.
Chris: Thank you.
Sonny: I mean, competing in all the top organizations, UFC, PRIDE, Shooto, Cage Rage, King of the Cage where you were the championship, and fighting the best guys in those organizations as well. Along with competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the No-Gi Black Belt World Championships, then what I really want to get into is the creation of your own gym, which was the first No-Gi Grappling School in America.
I actually didn’t know that initially. I might assume that many others, when they think No-Gi Grappling in America, they go to Eddie Bravo. We have a mutual friend in Dennis Kelly who lived and trained with you. He let me know, and I was fascinated to learn that. I just want to go back to the start with you, with you’re obviously watching UFC 1 while you are bouncing, I do believe, with Kimo and Todd Medina, earlier with Siver as well. That would, I guess, led you to the Gracie School. What was it like that first day going in there? How did that experience unfold?
Chris: It was cool. I actually went to another guy first, trained with Ken Gabrielson in his garage. Then I found Royce. I didn’t know Royce was in the area. I just watched the first UFC and didn’t know he was in the area. Find out he was in the area and I went directly there, kind of wanted to go to the stores at the time. I train there for a little bit. I actually sold my car, packed for double bags and flew to Brazil. I had 10,000, I expected to stay for a month, month and half, whatever, take as many privates as I could and train I need.
Well, one US dollar was seven riyal at the time. I basically had 70,000. I stayed for a year and took lots and lots of privates, trained everyday, multiple times a day. I got good, but when I came home, it’s when I really got to the following year kind of everything I learned over that year, I’d learn so much, and it was kind of overloaded and took notes and videos and lots of stuff. Then I brought a friend back with me who came back just short time after I did and stayed and I trained with him in my garage in California for a year, year and a half. That was kind of the real growth spot for me. I went back to the Gracie Academy and trained.
I was a blue belt at the Gracie Academy. They taught at a very– you want me to jump in to the Gracie Academy thing already or not yet?
Sonny: Yes, sure.
Chris: There’s a lot to talk about.
Sonny: When you went to Brazil, you hadn’t gone to the Gracie Academy yet?
Chris: I had gone there for a short time, and I really wanted to fight. My goal was to fight. I already got the vibe from Rorian and at the time that Royce was the going to be the only fighter in the building. I liked Royce. Me and him vibed really well from the very beginning. I was one of the guys with balls in the class that will be like, “Who hit you the hardest? Who has the toughest fight?” I had all the questions that no one wanted to asked him. It was cool.
I was there for a short time, and then I went to Brazil. I trained at Alliance, which was master jiu-jitsu at the time, Jacare, Romero Cavalcanti. I train at his gym. Man, Leo Vieira was a brown belt, Comprido was a purple belt, Ricardo Vieira was a yellow belt. Fabio Gurgel was there still in Rio. I hadn’t gone to Sao Paulo yet, which is where Marcelo started with him. It was way before everything. I just had an awesome, awesome experience. Me and Leo Vieira were like everyday trained together. My buddy, Roger Brooke, who is the guy that I brought back with, and he was a brown belt. I just had a lot of really cool experiences down there.
Sonny: Going back from spending that you’re in the Brazil, heading back to the USA, then I guess going back to the Gracie Academy, what were the differences in how jiu-jitsu was being taught to the students at the time?
Chris: Oh, so super different. The Gracie’s taught– they would teach you one way for a certain amount of time. For example, they would teach you how to pass the guard by putting your hand on the bicep on one side and reaching your hand between the legs on the other, and then stacking them and passing. There was no such thing as a triangle yet because they hadn’t taught you that. You’re doing that for months, and then you move on to the intermediate class and you don’t want to pass that way anymore because the triangle, you did do it like this.
Basically just created six months of bad habits, now I have to break. I love teaching anything. I used to teach my brothers how to tie their shoes, how to ride a bike. I enjoyed teaching. As someone who enjoyed teaching, right off the bat I’m like, “This is wrong. You shouldn’t have to teach anything and then unteach it to teach it a different way.” That’s what they did. It was just some money-making long process thing. After a little bit, it got exposed. I left the Gracie Academy, to go back just a little bit. I’m training there. I’m going through the instructor program. Me and Marc Laimon lived in a hotel room together. We lived in the days in, and we took all the furniture out, mat at the living room and just trained there everyday, but we were also in the instructor program at the academy. We’re paying 600 bucks a month to be in this program where we have to be there basically 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM with a break in the middle, and clean the toilet, clean the showers, clean the mats, assisting all the classes.
It was good. It was good for me because I have been coming from a kind of a very undisciplined background. I was a jackass as a kid. It was good for me discipline-wise, for sure. The problem was we weren’t getting the reciprocation. They weren’t teaching us the way we should have been getting taught.
My goal from day one was to fight. I saw the UFC, I want to fight. I went to learn jiu-jitsu to fight. I end up getting a fight with Pat Miletich. I had a couple of small fights in between, but I end up getting booked to fight Pat Miletich in Battlecade Extreme Fighting. That was a John Freddy’s baby. That end up folding, and the fight didn’t happen, and then Monte Cox, his past manager, hit me up and said, “Hey, would you like to fight Pat in our event, extreme challenge.” I said, “Yes. Absolutely.” I get booked to fight with Pat, and Rorian calls me in his office one day and says, “Hey, I heard you have a fight coming up,” and I said, “Yes.” He goes, “Yes, you can’t fight and be out of here,” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, is our name on anything? Is our name on? Are they advertising you as a fighter out of here? ” I was like, “No.” He said, “Do they know you train here?” I said, “I’m pretty sure they do. I mean, I’m really the only person that fights or that wants to fight, and out of the gym, so I’m sure they know where I train, but that’s all.” He says, “I need to see a copy of the contract.” I was like, “Man, I don’t even have a contract.” Back then, it was a small organization. He may have sent me a paper one day to sign, but at that point, I hadn’t had it yet.
He’s concerned that they’re building me up as a Gracie Jiu Jitsu fighter. Well, long story short, I come back to him and I was like, “Listen, I don’t have this. They’re not building me as this, but I’m going to fight. That’s my goal in the first place. We can do challenge matches here in the gym for you, but I can’t make money fighting out there for myself,” and his answer was basically no. Me, Mark Layman, Lola Anderson, Ethan Milliyes, and I believe my friend, Richard Bressler also came, and then a guy, Abvi. Abvi is a Jewish guy, who’s got a shitload of money, and he was training at the Gracie Academy. He said, “Let’s go open a gym together,” and I was like,” Seriously?”
We literally left the Gracie Academy and drove to Beverly Hills, and he found a building and we opened Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu. Where my motivation came is on the way out the door, I’m having a conversation with a guy named Sam Ranch, who was the manager of the Gracie Academy, and he said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, at some point, I’m going to open up a gym.” He goes, ” [laughs] Chris Brennan Jiu Jitsu, fuck Me. Who’s going to come?” I said, “Well, we’ll find out.”
When I left there, man, that was all I ever needed. I needed somebody to tell me I couldn’t do it, so that I could. That was the end of it for me. I didn’t put a Gi on, from blue belt on. I only trained at Beverly Hills for a little while, and then I bounced around Hicks and had a guy down the Regal where my parents lived, named Mark Ecker and Dave Comma. They were both phenomenal, and I trained with them off and on. Then finally I started teaching out of my garage because at the time, I was a good blue belt, and I was teaching No-Gi, which is what I wanted to do, and I really studied the last few months that I was at the Gracie Academy. I really studied how they taught, and they taught really well. They taught their techniques, their details very well. They just didn’t teach you a lot.
It was hard, but I got a lot of it– how the attention to detail down really well. Rorian was a good teacher. He’s an attorney, so he speaks really well. [chuckles]. I ended up teaching out of my garage, and I grew to 30 or 40 students. I opened a gym, and I got my first fight in UFC. I fought in UFC– actually, sorry. I got my first fight in UFC, training out of my garage.
Chris: Then I fought in the UFC. I took the money that I got and came home and opened my gym. That gym lasted about eight or nine months, and it closed because I was way ahead of the time. I didn’t have Joe Rogan on TV talking about me [laughs] and my jiu-jistsu. I went back to my garage, built up to about 60 students, moved into another building, and from that point, it’s just been phenomenal since beginning of ’98.
Sonny: Yes, an amazing time around that time with so much going on. When you have started teaching the students coming through the door at your new place, obviously you said the attention to detail as a way of– at Gracie Academy, that they were very good at. Was there any other things that you could see the benefit in, or just things that they were doing that you really liked in terms of potentially student retention, business-wise, things like that, of how they were running things?
Chris: I mean, they obviously killed it business-wise. They had a ton of students at the time. Royce was fighting in UFC. Everyone wanted to be the skinny guy that was beating all the big guys in the UFC. That was basically their business card. That’s why they used Royce in the first place. As far as student retention goes, in my opinion, it worked for a little while, just having it– it was the most effective style, but then you have guys like Machado right down the road who are teaching and producing better guys.
Then Rorian brought in Kaiki, and Kaiki was an awesome teacher, and he was showing all the good stuff, and Rorian would literally come in and tell him he couldn’t show that, and he would get basically lectured for showing that. Shortly after the time, we all left. He left and started doing his own thing. They ended up– and I don’t know how the Gracies got talked into this because they had to have known how they were teaching, but they did Machado versus Gracie school tournament, and the Gracies got their asses kicked, the students of the Gracie Academy got their kicked.
There were a handful of good guys. You’re going to get good at jiu-jitsu if you train jiu-jitsu, but there were much higher percentage of high-level grappler at the Machado gym at that time. Then Kaiki did the same thing. When Kaiki left, a lot of the high level students left with him.
Sonny: Do you think it was then the drip fading of techniques that they were doing to potentially keep people interested or keep them always wanting to see what the next one might be, as opposed to-
Sonny: -I assume then the Machados, were just showing all the latest stuff, maybe, for lack of a better term, or just showing more things? Do you think that that’s what was causing the difference there?
Chris: Yes, I mean, at the time, I don’t know what there was, it was the latest or the whatever. There wasn’t a lot of evolution for a handful of years, to be honest, and there really didn’t need to be evolution to us because they’ve been doing it so long, there was already so much to show us. They were just doing it at such a slow pace that it really started to hinder people, and people wanted to compete. They didn’t even like you to compete outside the gym. You could only do in-house tournaments, and I can tell you why, [laughs] because they weren’t going to do very good.
Yes, I mean, teaching slow is one thing that are holding back techniques and giving it one way and then having to change it to another way and things like that, that’s not good, and I don’t think it’s good for business either. I don’t know that they’ve changed that ever. Hopefully they did. I opened my gym and I was– I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t watch instructionals. I knew I didn’t want to put the Gi on, and I knew no one else was training Jiu jitsu without the Gi full time. Teaching the full-time. I literally got my students, Jeremy Williams, Tracy [unintelligible 00:18:14], Eric Victor, and I trained these guys as good and as fast as I possibly could to create training partners for myself, and to get them– I showed everything at the highest level that I knew at the time, and this continued to evolve that way and evolve that way and evolve that way, and continued to get better and better.
My style, in my opinion, got to be so good because it was basically trial by error. Trial by fire. I would train it, I would fight, and what worked, I would keep and develop more, and what didn’t, I wouldn’t. I ended up with some losses because of it, but I also ended up with some really high quality– really good wins and with really cool submissions and in, I think in 21 wins, I got 19 submissions, and 18 of them in the first round.
Sonny: Pretty good.
Chris: Yes. It showed my style. That’s what I wanted to do. I found out what worked, what didn’t by actually trying it in the cage.
Sonny: Well, that’s it. There’s no substitute for getting that real experience and putting it all on the line. I imagine, though, there must have been a lot of push back when you said you were going to do No Gi and do a No Gi only school. The common one that we still hear today is that training in the Gi makes you know Gi better, but that’s– I mean, I say we still hear it today, but it’s pretty much been disproven now over time with the No Gi guys.
Sonny: What was that like, the scrutiny on you from the community for taking the Gi off?
Chris: I was blackballed for a long time. No one wanted to promote me. No one wanted to let me train there unless I train the Gi. I wasn’t doing jiu-jitsu, but I’m beating guys. I’m like, “Okay. I am sure you would like to take the credit for my win by submission using jiu-jitsu even though you don’t want to call it jiu-jitsu.” I was a blue belt for four years, but I was hitting helicopter armbars on Fabiano Iha in Marc Ruas’s garage as a blue belt, but no one was going to be the guy to promote me unless I put the Gi on. That’s where Franjinha came in and helped me out. He was somebody that I met in Brazil who ended up being back in the United States with Paragon. From that point on, he’s promoted me. He’s put all the stripes and stuff on my black belt and everything.
For the longest time, I couldn’t get anything promotion-wise. Literally maybe four years ago, three years ago, my kids are competing in a tournament, and they’re destroying other kids. This dude, Alex Martin, who has a gym here in Dallas says, “Man, they’re so technical. Who teaches them jiu-jitsu?” I looked at him and I was like, “What?” He goes, “Who teaches jiu-jitsu at your gym?” I said, “I do.” He goes, “You train Gi?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Yes, who trains the Gi?” I said, “They’ve never put a Gi on before.” He said, “How did they get so technical?” I said, “Because it’s a myth, bro. You don’t have to put the Gi on to get good at jiu-jitsu.” He was just like, “Huh.” I think he was just trying to pump me by saying it. I knew he knew I didn’t train Gi. I knew he knew I was the coach.
I never, never got the credit for anything. My third World’s, I’m in the finals of World’s a third year. I got a guy, Paulo Guillobel, who’s a fifth-degree from Saulo, and he’s in the finals. I had won the first two years, and he shows up to finals day and he says, “Hey, man, thanks for showing up.” I go, “What?” He goes, “Thanks for showing up.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here.” I was like, “Why wouldn’t I be here? I won the last two years in a row?” [chuckles] He goes, “You know. Yes. I don’t know. Thanks.” I beat him, and he’s standing there at the podium. He goes, “Man, I really underestimated you. I didn’t think you’re that good.” I said, “I didn’t underestimate you. I knew you were good. That’s why I was prepared.”
Three years in a row, won every match but one by submission. It doesn’t matter. 21 subs or 19 subs in MMA just never got the credit for– I didn’t blow it up. I didn’t try to promote it too crazy. I just wanted to promote my gym and train and build good guys. That’s what I did. I wasn’t butt hurt about it. I do speak up sometimes when they talk about Eddie being the first. He definitely wasn’t that. I tried to get a match with him, to be honest, right after his last match with Royler. It was declined, but I think I approached it too aggressively.
Eddie’s good. He’s very good. He’s very good at his stuff. Stylistically, I am a terrible matchup for him. The way I pass. His go-to position from the bottom, is my go-to position to kill people from the top. I just wanted it, so I message Ralek who was matchmaking for Metamoris. I said, “Hey. Set up a match with me and Eddie.” I said, “Promote it as the original no-Gi guy versus the guy that gets credit for being the original no-Gi guy.” I said, “If I don’t tap him in five minutes, he can have whatever it is you’re going to pay me. You don’t even have to tell me what that is, but whatever my purse is, he can have it if I don’t catch in five minutes.” He was so excited. He goes, “I’ll get back to you.” He comes back to me, he goes, “Yes. He’s not going to compete anymore, he said.” I was like, “Man, I probably shouldn’t have approached it like that.”
I don’t dislike Eddie. He’s a nice guy. He’s respectful to me. He talks, at least as far as I know, highly of me. He commentated on a lot of my fights and talked highly of me. He’s got my name on his board in his gym that has submissions and positions and stuff. He’s got something on there called the Brennan mount, which is a tricky little mount that I do. It’s nothing against him. Also, now in the position we’re in, he has way more to lose than I do. If we compete, he beats me, everyone’s like, “Okay. Cool. Whatever.” If I beat him, what I’ve been saying is true. I get it. It is what it is.
Sonny: He obviously went through a lot of the same criticisms that you went through for doing no-Gi. Particularly the idea of the myth that you have to train in the Gi if you want to get technical. I was wondering if maybe you could expand on that just a little bit, of why you think that is a myth, and how, if someone’s thinking it still is the case, how they can look at it technically to dispel it.
Chris: I think it started, obviously with, jiu-jitsu in Brazil was all Gi. Then there was the Luta Livre guys. They were doing some sort of jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling without the Gi on, but they were more strikers with some submissions. They had such a rivalry going that jiu-jitsu was the winner. Every time they fought those guys, they took the Gi off to fight them.
In my opinion, whatever you’re training in, you’re creating habits. Every single time you do something, you’re creating habits. If 50% even, and the Gi guys train more than 50% Gi, but even at 50% of the time you’re holding my sleeve and my lapel and my pants, and then you go to train with me without it, that stuff’s not there anymore. There you are, basically like the passing the guard with the hand on the bicep thing. You now have to switch over to something else.
Right away, in my opinion, when I first took it off was, how can you get to the 10,000-hour rule if you’re doing the three different ways, two different ways. I wanted all no-Gi. I wanted to drill, and drill, and drill, and drill, and drill one way. If I could be tight, if I can find handles and be tight without the Gi on, how much tighter would it be if I put the Gi on? Then it would be tighter. If you train in the Gi all the time, and you have the handles, and you have the sleeves, and you have all those things that made it tight, and now we took the Gi off, you just lost everything that was creating your friction and your tightness. That’s why when you saw Eddie’s guys trying to fight in the UFC and stuff, they were trying to wear leggings and knee sleeves and all of that to create that tension.
My goal, always, was to create all that tension, and that weight, and that friction without that. With my grips, and with my handles, and with my positioning. That’s what I created and developed over that time. I think because that was what they came up doing forever, that was their moneymaker when they came here. The stripes cost now, the belt cost now. The Gi is their money-maker. You take off the Gi, it’s a different ballgame.
Renzo was at my grand opening. I’ve been friends with Renzo for probably, I guess almost 20 years, 20-something years. He says something about my Gi classes. I said, “I don’t have Gi classes.” He goes, “What?” I was like, “Yes, I don’t have Gi classes.” He goes, “None? Zero?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Man, I do $9,000 a month in laundry for Gi’s.” I said, “Look, I get it. I get that there’s another market for money there, but my market from day one has been no-Gi. I haven’t put a Gi on since blue belt. For a couple of pictures, I have, but that’s all. I get that I could make more money, but for me, it’s not about that. It’s about the principle of what I’m teaching, why I’m teaching it.”
If you want to compete in a Gi, for sure you need to train in a Gi. We’re not competing in a Gi. We’re competing in no-Gi, we’re fighting. We’re doing jiu-jitsu now at a level where now, had I spent my whole career competing in no-Gi jiu-jitsu matches only and not fighting, I’d probably been a huge name in jiu-jitsu, but I spent my time fighting instead because that’s what I really wanted to do.
I retired in 2013, and everyone’s like, “You’re going to start doing jiu-jitsu now?” I was like, “I don’t know. We’ll see.” My kids were competing at a tournament in Houston, and I was like, “Yes, I will do it with you.” I went down there and I did it. Then two months later, I did another one. Everyone’s like, ” You should do the Worlds in November,” or December, whatever it was. I was like, “Oh, my God. Well, okay.” I went down there.
I hadn’t trained, until that year, with a lot of high-level guys, but I traveled around Texas at training and some gyms before I started competing. I was handling everyone with my go-to stuff that I knew in my gym. I was having a harder time catching my blue belts with it than black belts at other places because they knew it. They knew what I was doing, but I got to the new people that I hadn’t trained with before. Not just catch it, catch it, catch them, catch them, and then I went to the new breed tournament, I won.
I went to the Austin open and I won, tapped everyone. Went to World’s my first-year, tap, tap, tap through to the finals and won, I was like, “Whoa.” The next year I went to Pan Ams in New York. Tapped everybody there and won. Came back a week later, went to California, did Worlds again, won all the way through there again with submissions. The following year, Pan Ams again, then I went back to California again and tapped everybody except for the last guy, who was very good, but beat him, and saw just how can you critique it and it’s not like I’m doing fancy rubber guard stuff. It’s not like I was tapping everyone with leg locks. I was beating them straight up with guard passing conversion, guillotines.
That was my bread and butter, and it kind of shot a few people up. The highlight was my first year at Worlds. In the finals, I won with the flying armbar, and like a jumping flying armbar. As soon as I stood up, Eddie, and like seven other dudes that were pretty good name guys, were literally standing right there watching. That could have been more satisfying. I didn’t ever have to repeat again after that.
Sonny: Got to be happy with that. Got to be happy.
Chris: Yes, I was happy. I was happy.
Sonny: Then one thing you did mention, there was the power of creating habits, and how intentionally or unintentionally you end up creating habits no matter what you’re doing. I guess then you talked about creating your own training partners to train with out of your students, and building up their habits. Just want to just ask them, how do you or how were you approaching that to train up those training partners, and then maybe has that changed over time?
Chris: The first year, I was doing it because, number one, no one was letting me come to their gym, because of my rebel to the No-Gi, or to the Gi. I had a handful of guys who were my very good friends, and I just started teaching them. My gym was small at the time, my garage was small at the time, and just started giving the good stuff, man, and rolling nonstop. I have a video of me and Jeremy Williams, who was my first black belt, and there’s a clock in the background. It starts at midnight, and at 2:30 AM, we end rolling. We roll for two and a half hours, starting at midnight at my gym. We’re just there rolling.
We just trained so much, and to start out, I was way better than them, and it just helped them elevate a lot faster. It pushed me a little bit, but that’s also where, in my career, it hindered me. I didn’t go away to other camps with higher level guys to train with. I was always the best guy in my camp. Unless, like, I had Pete Spratt as a striking coach, and that was awesome, but as far as jiu-jitsu and everything went, I was the best guy. It would take two or three times, four times through a round-robin of all my guys before I started getting beat, before I started getting dead. It wasn’t as effective as it should have been, but at the same time, I couldn’t afford to go away. I had a gym, had a wife of kids. It just didn’t work out that way, but that is also why I bring people in for Lucas, and I take him to train with people, so he’s not that that best guy in the room.
It’s not comfortable. We didn’t do it for a while, so when I first started doing it, he didn’t want to do it. I was like, “Why?” “Well, I can tell you why. Being the best guy in here, you’re going to come across a guy who starts to put it on you in the cage, and you’ll never been there before, and that’s not good.” I’ve got him trained with some really good guys, and I can tell you this, he’s on the highest level right now, with the best guys.
Sonny: Yes, and he’s doing quite well in Bella tour at the moment. That’s something I want to ask you about now, is how, especially with creating habits, and especially with jiu-jitsu habits translating over into MMA. It seems like a lot has changed in the last 10, 15 years, at least, of just with even submissions from people in the guard. Just not happening very often.
Chris: Of course.
Sonny: How do you then look at training kiu-jitsu for MMA in this day and age?
Chris: Fortunately, I didn’t wrestle. I started wrestling throughout my career when I had a couple of losses to Pat Miletich by decision because y’all wrestle me. My kids started wrestling in the beginning of high school. They both have very good wrestling. That is, in my opinion, the key to MMA, whether you want to be a striker or a jiu-jitsu guy, you need to know how to wrestle, and they both can wrestle.
If they’re put on their back, like if Lucas gets put on his back, he’ll get, depending on, let’s say, it happens in a fight, we got a plan, but let’s say it happens in a fight and there is two or three minutes left in the round, he’s got 30 seconds to try and submit him that he can’t, it’s time to get up, time to get on top.
He’s super dangerous on his back, he gives me so many problems from his back, but I know it’s MMA, I know it’s very difficult. Sleeping or getting up, get in the back, whatever, is important. If there’s 30 seconds left, let’s get up. If there’s a minute left, let’s get up. If there’s two, two and a half minutes left, I’m going to give him 30 seconds to try and set up a submission. Otherwise, after that, it’s time to get up, because in MMA, if you’re on your back, you’re losing, unless you’re throwing up multiple close subs and being very active, and he’s not, then he could probably win a little bit, but otherwise you’re losing in the judges eyes being on bottom. As good as his jiu-jitsu is on his back, the goal will be to get up if he ends up there.
There’s lots of ways to get up. However, he would get up to get back on top, not really to get back to the feet, unless he just end up on the ground with a monster that was a surprise to us or something. If you watch MMA now, MMA is the same fight. Every single fight is the same fight, and it’s two guys striking really well. Some guys strike really well, some guys don’t. Somebody gets a takedown, the other guy gets back up. No one’s really working to submit anybody. That’s why you’re not seeing a lot of submissions. At the same time, there’s only a handful of high-level jiu-jitsu guys in MMA, in my opinion.
If you watch the jiu-jitsu in general, I’m not pointing anybody out because they’re Jacaré, Demian Maia, Joe Lauzon, there’s a handful of– Jim Miller. There’s some really good guys. Cerrone is even underestimated on the ground. For the most part, their jiu-jitsu sucks in MMA. People don’t train it. I think you have to have a specialty, and then get everything else as good as you can. If wrestling is your specialty, or jiu-jitsu is your specialty, that is going to shine because as a striker, as a grappler, for example, you got three or four feet to worry about, close that distance. Then if you’re light-years ahead of him on the ground, that’s it for him. You see guys that cannot get up, and they cannot get up when they have a good guy on top of them. They have everything to worry about after that.
My goal with him is to change the game back a little bit to how it was, but at a much, much higher level. I can’t even explain to you his jiu-jtsu in MMA. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of his fights, but his jiu-jitsu and wrestling combo in MMA is now making his striking better, because people worry about the take-downs, so he’s landing good strikes, then get to take-down. He is just a grinder, tons of strikes, tons of elbows, nonstop passing, knee-riding passing, hovering, and it’s just really hard to put him in a bad position. We train it like that. We train it.
If he’s going to lose a position, it’s going to be to the next best position, is going to be right back to the other one again. Putting him on his back is going to be really, really difficult. Keeping him there would be even more difficult. I want to continue to see him use a lot of jiu-jitsu, and maybe get some more people that ended up falling back that route. Otherwise, MMA is for sure its own style. It is guys training Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and boxing, and wrestling all at the same time and mastering nothing. They’re good everywhere but they’re not great anywhere. If someone is great somewhere and you’re able to take them there, you’re going to beat them there.
He is a good, good wrestle. He’s great at Jiu-Jitsu. His striking is– I don’t like to keep talking about striking because I want to surprise somebody. He is going to get a knockout. I just don’t want them to fall in love with the knockout when he gets it. When he gets a knockout, we’re going to go backstage and shoot doubles.
Sonny: I hear you.
Chris: Just because, man, you know guys like Jorge Gurgel, even Demian Maia for a while. Those guys fall in love with their striking, and wrestlers fall in love with their strikings. They have power, but that’s where you end up getting losses. The goal with him, man, is to run to 10 and 0, and then start challenging for the top five guys, for the belt in Bellator and get there without losses.
That’s obviously the goal for everybody, but this is a realistic goal about how we’re approaching it, not rushing it and just fighting smart. For a while, you’re listening to the commentators say, “Oh, I want to see him do this. I want to see that.” We don’t give a shit what you want to see. We want to win the fight.
Chris: The goal is to win. He’s very mentally strong and stays very patient. He’s dedicated like literally nobody I’ve ever seen. He has a whiteboard in his bedroom the size of a sixty-five-inch TV that looks like the algorithm and goodwill hunting, but it’s the breakdown of his fight camp. He does it every camp. He was a really smart kid before he started fighting. He wasn’t a fighter, never been in a fight before, just taking a different approach to it. It’s difficult to beat. It’s going to be difficult to beat.
Sonny: When you started teaching him Jiu-Jitsu, had you already started wrestling, or where did that fall in line? Did you always teach Jiu-Jitsu in the mind of it, it’s going to be MMA applicable?
Chris: Yes. I always thought Jiu-Jitsu was fairly MMA. My passing is perfect for it. Anytime on the bottom, there’s not a lot of reaching under the leg. There’s not a lot of stuff that leave you open to getting hit. There was always that MMA in the background, but legit Jiu-Jitsu is not what you would now call MMA Jiu-Jitsu, for sure. It was definitely more you could compete with it or fight with it. That’s how mine was, my whole career, too.
My kids, Luke, for example, was just a quiet nerdy book, animals, art kid. Tyler was racing motocross. He was real athletic. They were about to go into 7th and 8th grade. I said, “I’m going to have you guys start training.” I had just opened my gym in Texas. I said, “I’m going to have you guys start training just for self-defense reasons”, because both of them are super sweet kids, and had anybody ever picked on them, they would have never fought back, for sure would not have fought back.
I started training them. Maybe a month, two months in, there was a tournament coming up, a NAGA tournament. Tyler wanted to do it, and Lucas was not interested at all. We went and Tyler won. On the way home, Luke said, “When’s the next tournament?” I said, “I’m not sure. Why? “Because I’ll do it.” I was like, “Okay, cool”.
He had what would be probably a fifty-fifty first year of winning and losing. He was bigger than Tyler. He was competing against good kids. He’s competing against kids that are training way longer. Tyler took to it. Tyler has nine Jiu-Jitsu losses out of 290 something wins. He’s redeemed, I think, all but two of them because we never saw those guys again. He was just a savage.
Luke had a good amount in his first year. Then, by the second year, he just worked so hard and was an athletic and worked himself into being athletic. By the third year, he won the kids’ world championships in California, and so did Tyler. He just got better and better and better. Luke didn’t start wrestling until his freshman year in high school. Tyler, as an eighth-grader, got to show up to the high school practices sometimes and train with them, but he didn’t get to actually wrestle till his freshman year.
That was it. They didn’t start till freshman year in high school. Their work ethic was second to none. The wrestling coach also– we walked in to the orientation and the rest of the coach made eye contact with me and saw them and he goes, “Man, I heard you guys moved to Frisco, but we weren’t sure what school you were going to go to. We’re so excited.” Again, they are the hardest-working guys in the room. Now, Tyler’s wrestling Division I. His coach tells me he’s the hardest working guy in the room. It’s just the work ethic we created while training Jiu-Jitsu and started them in wrestling.
Sonny: Sounds like a pretty good combination and a good way of looking at things you’ve got there. I guess when you are training them and training guys at your own gym, I wonder what the role then of creativity is in your teaching process and training process because I’m thinking, for a guy to go out on their own, go against the grain, you probably would be more open to new ideas and experimentation, and trying things like that in the training room. Would that be a fair assumption to make?
Chris: Yes. I’m open to anything, but I also have a passing system, a guillotine system. I love leg locks as well. I learned my leg locks from the Sambo guy. One of my students took a handful of privates from Gordon and from, I believe, Gary when they were here and showed me something. When he showed me that, I was like, “Oh, awesome.” At that night, I hit it three times on people. From that point on, I use it, Lucas uses it, and stuff like that.
I’m definitely open to learning anything and love to learn, but I’ve mastered what I do. I’m a one side– I don’t even drill both sides. I drill one side and I’m 99% on every side. I’m on the left-arm Kimura and armbar guy. I’m a right leg outside hook, left leg inside hook. I pass to both sides. I guillotine on my left arm. Everything’s one side, and the other side is probably fucking 40%.
The side I’m good, I’ve put in so many hours and so many drills, doing it live as well so many times that, like I said, when I went to Worlds, I tapped everybody in all three tournaments with the same submission, give or take one guillotine, but all from the same position, my home base position. It’s just something that I’ve drilled so much that’s real hard to stop. If I get to it, then typically, I get to it.
Both of my kids were even more open than me. I don’t know if it’s because Luke’s super artsy, but he’s like mind completely open and does some crazy stuff. Watching him and Tyler roll together hurts my brain because the different positions and stuff that they get into and stuff that they try, and are able to recover from if it doesn’t work. It’s pretty awesome. Everyone’s pretty open.
Sonny: Yes. I guess even just being able to learn those things from other people and students and having them work on things as well, go back to what you’re describing at the Gracie Academy, is possibly the exact opposite, right?
Chris: Yes, for sure, the opposite. If I try to walk in the gym and say, “Hey, boys, I saw this. Check this. Let me show you.” Probably laugh at me.
Sonny: Also, you mentioned the benefit of competition in being able to go out and test yourself against other people, and using that as the testing ground to get new ideas and bring new things back in to change habits. There’s a particular competition that I have to ask you about, which is the 2001 Westside Submission Grappling Tournament when Genki Sudo came to town. There’s a video online that I must have watched about 1,000 or more times of Genki Sudo-
Chris: The highlight?
Sonny: Yes, the highlight video. I’ve got the whole thing. I’d love to see it. It has to be one of my favorites of all time. It’s one of those ones that I’d show people, “Hey, this is this is how cool this can be.” You were the referee in that tournament. In the video, obviously, it was at your place. Can you describe what’s the back story there? What happened? What went down that day?
Chris: I used to hold a tournament in my gym, Westside Submission Tournament. I’ll hold it every few months. We give away either free pizza and drinks or I’d get like a ten-foot subway sandwich and cut it and give away free food to the competitors. We had Roy Nelson, we had Herb Dean, we had Dean Lister. A lot of really good guys, Romie Aram, Javi Vazquez. Really good guys, come in and do the tournament. Unfortunately, a lot of times they weren’t there at the same time. They weren’t there at the same tournament.
That day Genki walked in and I didn’t know who he was at the time. He had a couple of guys with him, I think some sort of publicity guy or journalist guy or something, I don’t know. I don’t even know why he was in the US and why he’s at my gym or how he found out about it, I don’t know. But he doesn’t walk in my gym in Lake Forest, California. I was like, “Oh, this guy looks like he’s going to be good in flying triangle.” He went with my guy first and he flying triangles the next three guys, and he flying triangle the next three guys in a row.
I was like, “Shit, man, if we just saw those first three, you probably wouldn’t get flying triangle.” You might’ve got beat by something else, but probably wouldn’t get flight triangle. He hits those. Then he’s dancing around one kid’s guard and hops over his guard to a mounted triangle, and then hits that rolling cap pressure. As you can see me in the video, I was just laughing when he hits that cap. I was like, “Oh my God, that was crazy”.
He had seven matches and just ran through seven guys. Then he’s tired, sits down, Javi Vazquez walks in the door and he was going to do the absolute. I was like, “Oh, man.” I offered 500 bucks to the winner of both of them, back then that was a lot of money in the Jiu-Jitsu bet. I said to Genki and he goes, “No”, he was tired. He was exhausted. He didn’t want to go and Javi was fresh. I got it and I was like, “Okay, hopefully, you come back another time”.
That match didn’t get to happen. It would have been pretty exciting because Javi was very good, and would have definitely been the highest level guy that day that Genki would have gone against. How cool just to have that video of him showing up a super nice guy, smoked everybody, and then just grabbed his piece of pizza and left [laughs]. That was mind-blowing.
Sonny: That is incredible. It matches what I picked up, what I thought it was going on, which is, “Yes, why is Genki Sudo here?”
Chris: Yes, I was thinking the same that you are.
Sonny: “What is going on?” Because he’s such a creative grappler himself. That it’s just incredible to watch. It just didn’t seem like it was like “What is going on?” [laughs] Did you ever see him again after that day in America?
Chris: I saw him in Japan but I never saw him in America again. I don’t know what he was doing there.
Chris: The cool thing about it was not only is he creative, he wasn’t afraid to go for it. I’m creative but all my stuff has like a 99% exit strategy where I’m right back to a good spot. He would just throw with things. It was amazing to watch that day. Pretty cool.
Sonny: I definitely jumped on a few training partners going for that flying triangle over the seated guard a few times after watching that video, and failing spectacularly. That’s incredible. I guess, also with speaking over in Japan, taking your note brand of Nogi Jiu-Jitsu going over into pride shooter and things over there, was there any considerations for your Jiu-Jitsu, like any of those criticisms of Nogi? Did you experience that over there or was it just all forgotten and left behind in America?
Chris: No criticism at all over there. They’re all very cool. My first– well, I’d say go to Pride first. I don’t know if I went to Pride– was it Rampage first when he fought Sakuraba or if I fought Gomi first? I forget. But my first trip for me fighting was Gomi. I hit some really nice submissions, really nice takedowns, really nice. He hadn’t been taken down in a fight yet, and I took him out four times, had a couple of Kimuras locked up. That was early on in my Kimura game attack system, whatever.
I had him in so many things. They loved it. It was a very high pace fight, close, close decision. Then my first fight in Pride, I hit two subs on the same guy. I armbar him.
Sonny: Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that.
Chris: The second half of that fight was so much more exciting. I was mad at the time but glad it happened now because it actually worked. I got to work my home base position, which I just started then, which is why I kill everyone from now. But that was a whole dramatic scene, but I got to show some fancy Jiu-Jitsu there as well. That was cool. Rolling Kimura from the single leg.
Sonny: That was Eiji- I’ll probably butcher the pronunciation.
Chris: Eiji Mitsuoka.
Sonny: You got it. Tapped him with an armbar, and then it was confusion where the ref hops up, says he didn’t tap. You guys, after the break, you guys have to go again. What was going on there? Is it one of those Japanese refereeing stories that you might hear?
Chris: It started long before that [laughs]. Let me go back to the short time before that. I was supposed to fight Joe Stevenson in the UFC right after he won The Ultimate Fighter. They asked me to fight him and I had wanted to fight him but they’d come to me offering me 3,000 to show, 3000 to win. I just, a couple of years earlier, beat him handily in less than two minutes. I was like, “Man, I’m not fighting three to three. It’s not worth it to me”.
Then I asked what he was getting, he was getting 10 to 10. I was like, “No. No way.” Like, “Oh, he’s the winner of the show. He wants you to be his first fight in UFC.” I’m like, “I’m not doing it for three to three.” At the time, I needed money but I didn’t need it like that, so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They came back and offered me four and four. Joe started talking trash, even the first time, and that’s what got him put to sleep the first time.
I ended up saying yes, and they said, “Okay, we’ll set a contract.” Well, 30 days later– actually, I didn’t hear from them. 30 days later, the Gracie hit me up to fight in the Gracie Fighting Championships and they were offered me 20,000 flat. It was 36 days before the UFC. I said, “Yes, I’ll take that fight.” I take that fight. Joe Silva calls me and says, “Hey, what are you doing? You can’t take that fight.” I said, “Why?” He goes, “Your contract-” “But what are you saying? I never got a contract.” He said, “You never got our contract back” I was like, “Because you never sent me a contract”.
We got a big argument. Long story short, they tell me, I can’t take the other fight. I said, “You’re going to have to pay me more than four and four if you don’t want me to take that fight. They’re paying me 20 grand. I need 20 grand.” I said no. The next day, Dana calls me and he says, “Chris, drop out of that fight. You can’t take that fight.” I said, “Listen, Dana, you guys are paying me shit money, and they’re paying me good money. I need to fight.” “We’ll put you on the poster, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “It doesn’t matter, whatever”.
Then he says, “Listen, drop out that fight or you’re banned from the UFC for life.” I was like, “What?” At that point, they had given me tickets to the UFC a couple of times when I was in town in Vegas and that weekend was my anniversary. My wife and I are in Vegas and I said, “I’ll tell you what. Give me tickets to the fights this weekend and I’ll do it.” He goes, I can’t really-” and I hung up the phone. That was the end of it. I leave to go big bear to get ready for the fight that Gracies had offered me. The next day on the underground forum, Dana White posts, “Chris Brennan is a fucking pussy.” By the time I got to it, it was 20 pages long but everyone was bashing Dana. “You’re the CEO of this company. How are you going to talk like this about one of your guys? Blah, blah, blah”.
For the most part, it was ripping him. A couple of people call me a pussy probably but whatever. I’m dying and I’m like, “Oh my God.” I get through my fight. I win. I go to the UFC, another UFC to watch. As I’m there, I’m walking through the pool area at Mandalay and I hear Chris, Chris Brennan. I looked back and it’s [unintelligible 00:59:49] from pride. Well, I ended up verbally agreeing to my pride contract after UFC. Couldn’t have gotten any better than that. I tell them yes, that I would like to fight for them, and they said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you”.
I go home and that is on Sunday. On Monday, they call me and said, “Hey, do you want to fight in our next show?” I said, “Yes, when is it?” “Like Monday?” Well, it was on a Monday, I don’t know why. I was like, “What?” I had two days of training and then I’m on a flight to Japan and not in shape, I wasn’t ready to fight and I show up in the weight class, was 183 pounds. That’s what the middleweight was at that time. There was no 161 weight class yet at pride. I show up, I make my cut, I get to 183. I weigh in and they come to me and they said, “Hey, he’s a little bit smaller. I’m going to need you to lose a couple more pounds.” I was like, “Oh, okay, what do you need?””It’s 181”.
I went and I cut two more pounds. I make 181, and they told me again that, “We need you to make 180 pounds, you lose another pound.” I’m like, “Man”, I wasn’t in shape. It’s already hard cutting this, so I go and I cut that pound. I come back again and the third time they’re like, “Hey, he’s 76, I need you to make 79, make 79, they’ll take the fight.” I’m like, “What do you mean they’ll take the fight? You guys offered me this fight because of him.” My brother says, “Listen, if you want him to lose that next pound, we’re going to need some compensation from you”, and they said, “Oh, okay. Do you want crystal with the fight?” Me and my brother looked at each other like, “What?” I was like, “No, no, we’ll take care of that”, and that’s how I ended up signing a four-five deal with Brian.
I walked away and I’m elbowing him like, “Dude, I knew that shit happened over here.” I was tripping out so hard and now I’m like, “Man, they’re just going to screw me and the others. I really got to get in and get out.” I got to get this done, can’t let it go to the judges. I go in and I armbar this guy, he screams, taps, and the ref grabs me all at the same time. I let go, I stand and walk away, I turn around and they’re saying they didn’t tap like, “Oh my God, this is it. This is how they’re going to do it.” I’m not in shape. I had fought for a minute and a half and I was already tired, and then fortunately they took like a five or six-minute break while all the referees were discussing it and they came back, “You’re going to fight again.” I was like, “Oh my God”.
Then I thought, for sure, I wasn’t going to win at that point, no matter what I do, they’re not going to let this happen, so I ended up breaking a shoulder on the same side. I hit him with the whole takedown single leg to the Kimura, to the roll. All of it was just so perfect and it was flashy, it was fancy. Didn’t even mean to be, but it just was and I hit him with a gray Kimura at the end, it literally towards to your shoulder and I lead into him and I said, “You should have admitted your tap the first time”, and I walked off.
Then I was irritated and I want to talk trash when they interviewed me but I calmed down by that time I was like, “No, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have let go, I should have waited for the referee.” Even though I did wait, the referee did break us up, and I just took the blame for it and moved on because I knew I wanted to come back and fight some more and whatnot. That was a crazy, crazy, crazy night man.
Sonny: Yes, that whole thing it’s like a scene from a movie or something, the backstage.
Chris: I wish I had that all on video. It was fantastic.
Sonny: It’s amazing. I guess just focusing then on your use of Kimuras, or at least the instructional, the king of the Kimuras. It’s obviously like it really got a bump in people’s minds, now people call it the Kimura trap and things like that. Danaher is obviously very heavy on the Kimuras. What’s your thoughts on that? Always you must be like, “I knew so all along”, right?
Chris: For sure. It’s a grip that you can submit people with. You can turn in armbars, you can take the back, you can sweep, you can do so much with it, and in a Nogi situation, it’s a good grip, fifth-round sweaty. It’s going to be your best go-to to control an arm. I have a grip when I grab it, it puts a bicep slicer feeling on your arm the entire time and I get guys tapping early to stuff that I’m doing just because the grip stays on so tight.
It’s always been all the way back in the end of 1999 to 2000. I was doing it all the time. 2001, I hit it. I don’t know what year I fought Gomi in, but at that point in time, I was hitting on everybody in training. I had on Domi, I didn’t finish it, but literally, my point of my career, was the development of my style, my game, and I got better training on the best guys and then trying in the gym and getting better and trial and error, what did I do wrong in the fight? I made a huge mistake in the Gomi fight that I pet [unintelligible 01:05:35] when I’m teaching now on this one sweep, but it ended up with him inside control on me on this role because my knee wasn’t on his belly. It was the tiniest thing that made a giant difference in the position, right at that point.
It’s something that I’ve spent. If a guy spent a couple of years getting good at something, it’s something I spent 15 years getting good at. I spent 15 years or more working the guillotine into the Kimura because they both play right next to each other. If I miss one, the other’s there and then adding Lakes. In the last five years, I’ve just been a passing, passing, passing, passing. I love my knees slides and low passes, and some of the stuff that Gordon’s doing now. But even the stuff that he does, if Gordon was under Gordon and he tried to pass that way, he’d leg lock him. My leg stable and everything, the way I do it is always been legs safe even before legs became a thing. I didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments in the last four or five years when legs became really big to my passing system to knock it leg locked.
Sonny: Then you mentioned in the Kimura as the grip, do you think that that was your early adoption of Nogi that led you down that path? Or was it already [crosstalk].
Chris: Yes, for sure.
Chris: What happened was, one day at the Gracie Academy, and I knew I already didn’t want to train GI, I didn’t want to compete GI, but one day in the Gracie Academy, there were a couple of guys that were in the GI that were better than me, a couple of purple belts and a couple of brown belts. At the time I was blue and had, I don’t know, two stripes. They could beat me in the GI, I could give everyone a hard match, but they could beat me in the GI.One day a hoist came down, said, “Everybody take off your GI off. We’re going to go open hand strikes and go live.” I just beat them out of everyone, but not just striking them, my Jiu-Jitsu was just naturally really good without the GI on. I had my sweeps, I had my take-downs, my guard passing, like all of it just naturally came to me that day. I went and sat back down, I was like, “Holy crap.” I’ve been doing Nogi on the side, me and Layman in the hotel room. We had guys like Lucio DeAngelis, Little H who’s in fights in Bellator and wasn’t LFA. A lot of really good guys from Brazil, Mauricio Zingano was like one of my best friends and he would train in our hotel room with us all the time, and we always train Nogi. When it came time to do with those guys, they had barely done any and that’s what I had been spending my time trying to do the most, and it just really showed. At that point I was like, “Yes, that’s the key for me. I’m done with this shit”.
Sonny: Then I guess just to wrap things up with hindsight now, looking back at that moment deciding to go Nogi, probably being outcast from the mainstream Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene at the time and then now Gordon Ryan just the other day saying on Joe Rogan Show that he thinks Nogi is obviously going to be the only thing that people are going to be watching people competing in the future. What advice would you give yourself or what lessons would you take back up from that whole journey?
Chris: Well, here’s an example of how serious I was about it. The Roger Brooklyn guy, my friend, who I brought from Brazil, he was a brown belt indeed, and he was going to open my gym with me. He was going to partner with me. He was going to be the Jiu-Jitsu coach to start with. As soon as I told him it was going to be Nogi, he didn’t want any part of it. Then I was like, “Man, this is what I want to do, come on.” I’m putting the money up, I’m doing all this and he just did not want to do it. For himself at the time, he was probably right, because he would have never gotten his black bells, not for a long time anyway. He would’ve got black bell too.
I get why he didn’t do it, he had trained all the way through brown belt as it was and whatever, but I was so early on that I just knew. Next-generation, it’s perfect now because of my kids, they’re obviously the next generation but my goal at the time was next generation was going to be the next generation of Jiu-Jitsu. They said that when I was fighting in the UFC that night against Pat Miletich . “He’s going to open up a school called The Next Generation. He wants to create the next generation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys”, and that’s what I wanted to do. I want to have the next generation of Jiu-Jitsu and that be Nogi. That was why I named my gym what I named it, It just so happens to be now that my kids actually are the next generation. It works again but originally I was going Nogi no matter what. As a blue belt, when he said he wasn’t going to be involved with like, “well, I guess I’m open to the gym as a blue belt”.
Sonny: I guess it was just that, that’s firm belief within yourself looking at what you wanted to do in fighting and just staying true to that path. Even as you mentioned earlier, Renzo saying he was doing $9,000 worth of gay laundry a month. Am I correct that you even went the route of starting the first Nogi brand with Nogi?
Chris: Yes. A buddy of mine, Jeremy, we started that clothing company, Dan, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Hitman Fight Gear, but Hitman Fight Gear used to sponsor me and I told him I wanted to start a clothing company but I wanted to be more sporty, not as black and skulls and everything as Hitman was. He had just gotten 300 pairs of blue shorts that were really cool but they were blue and it didn’t buy with his thing. I spent I think 1,200 bucks, bought those shorts and then just started Nogi. Then I got my buddy Jeremy who’s an artist and he started creating logos and we just grew it from there. Then later sold it to Budo videos, down the line.
Sonny: Incredible. So many really were starting that next-generation even ahead of the curve really in a lot of what you were doing in grappling and now passing that onto your kids.
Chris: Like I said earlier, I didn’t come– when I first started, I wasn’t coming from a really good place. I had nothing. I didn’t have money. I’m glad that I had to do it the way I did it and grind and work hard and fail and work hard and fail, because it helped develop me as a person. I dropped out of high school as a freshman in high school and didn’t go back. It really helped me develop into a person and into a businessman and then into a hard worker. The downs for me was always– I was never deterred. I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. No matter how many times it didn’t work, I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. Just help me stay determined to get to where I’m at.
Now my kids have it almost too easy. For sure, they’ve never done without, and that was a hard thing for me when Luke decided he was going to fight. It was like, okay, we’re going to turn everything up in training and see how that goes because he had never been in a fight before. He was a sweet kid, never been an argument before. He just is so good at the sport. His second opponent was a shit talker. He was a mad dog. Wouldn’t shake his hand at the press conference and was just being a dick. He had never dealt with that even in real life. I’m like, “Hey, just laugh”.
“Whatever he does, don’t even worry about it. Because tomorrow, he still has to fight you. Even though he’s acting stupid, he still has to fight you. It’s not going to help him fight you any better.” Now, he’s old. He’s 20, almost 21. He’s different. It’s definitely got a mean, mean way about him now in the cage, but I was curious. At the beginning, I was like, “Okay, you want to fight? You’re fighting from a very, very different place than I was fighting from, for sure”.
Sonny: I think I know what you’re talking about. Where I’m from we have a saying that someone’s got to get a bit of mongrel in them and they got to switch on, turn that in to have that little bit of fight in them.
Chris: It tells.
Sonny: Well, Chris, it has been an amazing interview for me to have the opportunity to have this conversation. Such a rich history that you’ve got in the sport that it has been a pleasure to chat with you about. I’m wondering if people want to get in touch with you, want to get in contact, anything like that. Why they should go about it or anything you’d like to plug?
Chris: I’m on Facebook. My Facebook is full but they can follow me or go to my athlete page and follow it. Instagram. It’s @Chris_Brennan_3x_champ. I’m super accessible. Someone wants to message me, question me, whatever, feel free to hit me up at any time. Otherwise, Next-Generation MMA is my gym. I’ve got two here in Texas. One in Colorado, one in California, two in Ireland, two in England, two in Norway, and one in Australia.
Sonny: That’s I guess from humble beginnings going worldwide.
Chris: Yes, sir. I’ve been lucky and fortunate.
Sonny: I’m fortunate to have had this chance to speak to you today, Chris. Really, really appreciate it.
Chris: Thank you very much. I appreciate the interview.
What’s more important in the battle between offense vs defense? Well In the seminal 1997 action film “Double Team” starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, the following exchange takes place…
JCVD: Offense gets the glory… RODMAN: …But defense wins the game
The debate over Offense and Defense has been raging ever since, and on the latest episode of “The Sonny Brown Breakdown,” I was joined by two guests who went into battle for the respective sides. With School of Grappling taking the side of offence and Priit Mihkelson being on the defence side.
With the issue being reasonably broad, it takes some interesting turns from a general conceptual overview of the topic to practical applications of the technique, the learning and teaching of grappling. Andy and Priit had a great conversation so check it out on your favourite podcast app to listen to how it went down!
A selection of genre specific playlists for stiking & strangling during your BJJ, Grappling or MMA workouts. Hope you enjoy!
80’s Montage Metal
Ready to go over the top, win the day, prove them all wrong and that you are the best around? Then the 80’s montage metal playlist is for you. With all the upbeat tracks from 80’s action and martial arts movie to help you triumph over any struggle. Give your training that extra boost and imagine being in your own movie montage scene.
Had a long weekend a at the bar, in your pickup truck driving down the highway or hopping from train to train then put this playlist on to soothe your soul while you roll.
I talk to Robert Degle who is a Danaher Death Squad member and trains under John Danaher. We discuss the use of leg locks in MMA, how leg attacks can be used either poorly or how they can be applied in a more high percentage manner. We do this by talking about some of the greatest leg lockers in MMA like Imanari, Ryan Hall, Rousimar Palhares and Marcin Held. Along with some of the essential MMA bouts containing leg lock battles and go through Gary Tonons career in One F.C. to examine the D.D.S. use of MMA leg entanglements.
Sonny Brown: Robert, how are you today, mate?
Robert Degle: Good. Just got up. It’s pretty early here in New York.
Sonny: Early in New York unlike here in Australia.
Robert: [laughs] Yes, [crosstalk].
Sonny: A little bit early for grappling.
Robert: Yes. [chuckles]
Sonny: Well, that’s what I was going to ask, actually. It’s been a couple of months since we talked, at least. I think just wondering what you’ve been up to since we last spoke, where you’re at because I know there was some plans to go back to Singapore and get back with Evolve, but, obviously, with things changing so rapidly, since then the rest of the Danaher team has moved to Puerto Rico. A whole brave new world out there. What’s going on with you? What have you been up to?
Robert: As I just gave away, I’m still in New York. I’m moving very soon, I’ll just say that. I don’t want to say where. Anyway, you can DM me and I’ll just tell you. [laughs]
Robert: I don’t want to publicly say it until I’m there, let’s just say that.
Sonny: Yes, okay.
Robert: A lot of people asked me about Puerto Rico. It’s like I didn’t go because I’ve just been waiting to go to Singapore. It’s like what was the point? Well, look, make no mistake, I’d love to train more with my coach and some of my teammates, but there are a lot of us still here. Not everybody left. I’m training at Renzo Gracie in Northern Valley, which Professor Carl Massaro is one of our teammates. He’s been in the blue basement for decades. I have a lot of good guys to train with there.
Also, in a lot of ways, I’m very attached to New York probably more so than I should be. [chuckles] Craig asked me once, he’s like, “Why do you like this place?” I was like, “Pure nostalgia, I grew up here. That’s maybe the only reason.” [laughs] I’m pretty reluctant to leave unless I’m leaving for something that I really want to leave for, if that makes sense.
Sonny: Yes. What about this allure of these Puerto Rican tax rates that I hear is so tempting? Does that–
Robert: I don’t make enough money to care.
Sonny: Fair enough. Still going to be in New York for a while. Plans to move somewhere else, keep that, wait until it happens. Don’t count the chickens before they hatch.
Sonny: One thing I know that you have, obviously, done since we last spoke is released an instructional on leglocks for MMA. I think it’s a great topic to discuss because it was even just a couple of weeks before that, a few guys in the gym were asking me and one of the other coaches, “What about leglocks for MMA?” We started discussing it and probably hit him with all the standard things that you might say.
Maybe I’ll give you the chance to introduce your instructional and maybe some brief thoughts on the topic, and then I can give you some of those objections that I would give someone else who was asking the same question.
Robert: Yes, for sure. I’ll start off by talking about what was the initial inspiration for the instructional. I think people think I’m joking when I say this, but this is really why I decided to make the instructional. I can’t tell you how many times some middle-aged blue belt has commented on one of my videos where I pulled guard in a grappling match have been like, “If this is the street, I would beat the shit out of you.”
[laughs] I hate that so much because it’s assuming that I would pull guard in a street fight. Obviously, that’s not what I’m going to be doing really. These comments which you would be shocked at how often they– Maybe you’re not shocked.
Sonny: I probably wouldn’t be shocked, but I’m sure a lot of people have got some wild comments that– Yes.
Robert: They have it all the time and it’s– There was one in particular where Grappling Industries reposted a match that I had, where I competed under the Grappling Industries tournament, and I heel hooked this guy. It was a pretty nice submission. This guy commented about how it’s not realistic for actual fighting and stuff and all these other things. I started to think about why do these guys look at what I’m doing and think that it’s ridiculous?
The conclusion I came to is they think it’s leg locks, but it’s not actually leglocks because if we think about what a leg lock is, it’s a joint lock that breaks your leg. If I told you that somehow I could equip you with the ability to break somebody’s leg in a fight, would that be a valuable weapon? Obviously.
Robert: It goes without saying. It’d be very silly to say otherwise.
Sonny: Sounds scary if— [chuckles]
Robert: Yes. [chuckles]
Sonny: It carries some serious weight behind it.
Robert: Right. What they were objecting to I think more so is how you got there. They go, “Oh, he’s sitting on his butt, he’s going towards the guy, then he’s doing moves to get him in a leg lock.” There’s interim steps and stuff such. The trick is, yes, you’re totally right. I don’t think you should pull guard in MMA or in a street fight. In a street fight, you’re going to get kicked in the face. In MMA, kicks are usually not legal on the ground, but there are still a lot of bad things that can happen to you. Yes, they’re totally right. That’s not a good idea.
The idea that leglocks themselves are not a good idea, I think there’s a lot of silly bias against them, which doesn’t– I think when you actually look at the available evidence, it doesn’t measure up. The criticisms don’t measure up to what I think they’re actually capable of doing. I wanted to give– It’s funny. I actually think on the other end of the spectrum, there are people who overestimate the value of leg locks. I wanted to give what I thought was a measured, almost I will even say conservative, approach to pursuing leglocks in MMA, which I think that can be used very effectively.
Also, I wanted to temper them, in my opinion, with a more realistic expectations for it. People take this instructional, and you’re not going to turn into the greatest leg locker on the face of the planet. It’s going to equip you with a practical realistic way to use leglocks in situations where strikes are involved. I hope I achieved it. I don’t know.
Sonny: Yes. Obviously, it’s probably one of the standard objections is once you can keep people on the ground, obviously, pulling guard becomes not the smartest idea in MMA as such. Yet, where we probably saw leglocks taking or used most in MMA was in Japan in Pride, the promotions where you can actually use soccer kicks and everything on the ground. Do you think that that counters that narrative or–?
Robert: I think that’s mainly a cultural thing like the community. The community of grappling practitioners there. Let’s say you go out there in a street fight and the guy goes to kick you in the face, could you counter that and leg lock? Yes, of course, but I don’t think [crosstalk].
Sonny: That’s not a video you want going around if you miss.
Robert: I wouldn’t recommend it.
Sonny: I wouldn’t recommend it either. There is that one video of the street fight, there’s a guy in a basketball court. I’m sure you’ve seen it. Where he takes a guy down and holds him in a heel hook. It’s been a while since I’ve seen it. He threatens, “I’m going to break your leg.” Of course, for a basketballer, I’m sure that carries even more significant measures. Other than that though, is there anyone that comes to mind that you can think of?
Robert: As for street fights? I don’t really watch that many street fight videos, so I don’t know. [chuckles]
Sonny: Fair enough. You’re not even making the point that they do work in street fights necessarily or that you would recommend it, so maybe that’s not the way to look at it.
Robert: I actually have a part in the instructional I talk about the purposes of leglocks for self-defense. I think they can be used for that. What I basically say is, “Guys, this is a last-resort thing. Don’t do this unless you have no other option.” I do think you can use them for self-defense. I’ve never had to use them for self-defense. I’ve used jiu-jitsu for self-defense. I use takedowns and guard passing, which is what I think should be your first option.
I think your first option as a grappler in any situation where strikes are involved should be taking the guy down and passing his guard. I think that is always going to be primary, but sometimes you can’t take the guy down. If you can’t take the guy down and let’s say maybe he’s a better striker than you, geez, what are you going to do? I think leglocks can feature very well into that sort of a situation.
Sonny: I like that. Maybe let’s start with the objection that I gave these guys just a few weeks ago I think it was. Should we do some leglocks in MMA? Now, with that being said, like my gym, we’ve always been okay with leg locks. I’ve trained with people who won their MMA fights with leg locks. It was in our MMA syllabus, toe hold, knee bar.
We never shied away from it, but it’s still the old classic thing is while you’re going for a leg lock with both your hands tied up around the leg, your opponent’s hands are free to punch you and it’s too risky. It’s too risky. Don’t do it. You’re better off just focusing and scrambling, getting on top rather than committing your hands to one of the legs while you can get punched. What would you say to someone saying that?
Robert: Well, they’re totally right. There are guys throughout the history of leglocks in MMA who, you’re absolutely right, completely disregarded the need to protect themselves from getting punched in the face. I don’t want to call people out. I feel bad, but I will mention one fight. A very, in my opinion, notable example of somebody who I think is not a bad leg-locker, but, man, he didn’t do the right thing in this fight. If you look at Ian Entwistle versus Dan Hooker.
Sonny: I was thinking that one myself.
Robert: I feel bad. I’m not trying to shit on Ian because I’m not saying he’s bad whatsoever. In this match, he didn’t do a good job. He held onto the heel hook for such a long time and it’s clearly not working. We can talk more about this later on, but I’ll just mention this now. I think there’s two main ways in which leg-locking is different in grappling from situations where strikes are involved, obviously including MMA.
I think one of those big differences is you have to have the ability to mitigate the opponent’s ability to basically– If he can touch your face, he can punch you. If he’s within a hand’s reach, you’ve got to make sure he can’t. You have to stop that. You have to make it be the case that he is not a hand’s reach away from you. Because you’re totally right, both your hands are going to be committed to that heel.
You have to make sure that as you’re breaking him, not only can he not mitigate the break, defend somehow. Most MMA guys don’t know how to heel slip or toe slip. That’s not a significant issue in MMA, but they do know how to punch you in the face. You’ve got to make sure that you do a good job of keeping the guy from being able to touch your face, which obviously would translate to getting punched in the face.
For instance, in that fight, Ian, at one point, he does a really good job keeping Dan away, and then for some reason, he goes to what basically is an outside sankaku at one point, which is way better because you can keep the guy away from you. Then he goes right back to a regular 50/50 and it’s like, “Damn, dude. You had the position. You’re so close.” [chuckles]
He got beat up. You hate to see that. The guy does a great job getting the position, he gets his heel and he’s got everything that he should need to get the break. Not that I want to see him get broken, but to get the tap, whatever. He gets beat up. Whereas by contrast, a really good example– There’s a couple of ways you can keep the guy from punching you. I think there’s two main ways. The first one is, I call it a misdirection. Any time you put pressure to the back of somebody’s knee, what will happen is two things, their heel becomes exposed typically and their upper body is turned away from you.
If you imagine a backside 50/50. In a backside 50/50, what happens is– Let’s say the guy’s foot is flat on the mat. They’re standing up, you’ve got a 50/50 and they’re going to punch you. If you spin under for a backside 50/50, what happens is you start to put pressure to the back of their knee. As a result, their heel comes off the mat because the weight, it’s pushing the knee forward, brings the heel off the mat. Then you can expose the heel. At the same time, their upper body is turned away from you, so it’s very hard for them to punch you.
Some notable examples of this in MMA would be Ryan Hall versus Frans Slioa. I probably pronounced that wrong. [chuckles] That was an Ultimate Fighter. One of his qualifying fights. Ryan does an amazing job in that fight of keeping Frans away from him and making it hard to punch him. I studied Ryan a lot because I think Ryan is genuinely a master of not getting his face caved in as he’s going for leg locks, you know what I mean? If you go back and watch that fight, you’ll see at one point, Ryan is in a bottom 50/50, Frans is in a great position to punch him. He can hit him really hard from where they are, but Ryan does a beautiful spin-under movement.
What he does when he does that is he puts pressure to the back of the knee that exposes the heel and also it keeps him safe from strikes. Now, the second way you can keep yourself safe from strikes, Ryan actually does this also in that fight really well. You can take your feet and put that in front of the guy so you’re pushing him away from you. It could be an outside sankaku. There are a lot of other variations of your feet.
If you look at that fight, Ryan puts his feet in what I call a double foot-on-hip ashi. It’s the same position that Lachlan finished Mansher Khera with. He actually didn’t finish Mansher from an outside sankaku. It was what I call a double foot-on-hip. Ryan uses the same basic position to finish Frans. That’s really good because you can push the guy away from you while also getting a really strong break.
I was also going to mention, you can also look up Iminari versus Joachim Hansen back in the day in Pride to see Iminari is in a bottom 50/50 and he does an amazing job spinning under just like Ryan did in that other fight to keep himself safe from strikes. But he does get KO’d very brutally. [laughs]
Sonny: I was going to say, which match was that exactly? Didn’t they have two? Because that was a very brutal KO. That one stands out. `
Robert: Very vicious, but that was not from 50/50. He did a good job staying safe in 50/50. Imanari got KO’d going for an Imanari roll.
Sonny: Just goes straight into a big knee.
Robert: Yes, it was bad.
Sonny: Hellboy, Joachim Hansen was such a good fight as well. It just didn’t transition when UFC bought Pride. Not a lot of people know him, but he’s an amazing fighter. Imanari, that was a tough out.
Robert: Yes, for sure. The thing is people say that the whole thing about you can get punched in the face. The thing with that is is you’re absolutely right. I don’t even disagree with that. I actually completely agree with it. The thing is it’s like, if that’s the case then, then we have to make sure that when and if we go for leglocks, we have to make sure we are well-equipped to not get punched in the face as we do this. There are definitely ways to do that. Also, I think oftentimes, with that criticism of getting punched in the face is also connected to this criticism of positional loss. You’re on top, and then you go to the bottom.
Sonny: Get on top, stay on top. Don’t ever drop back for a leglock. You could give up position. That could be the end of the fight.
Robert: What’s funny is I mostly agree and I even say that on the instructional. I’ll tackle that a few ways. The first way is the same criticism holds true for armbars. Nobody ever shits on armbars for that.
Sonny: I actually advise the guys not to go for armbars for MMA. For that reason, I like the arm triangle unless there’s 30 seconds left in the round just like the classic armbar. You better not mess that one up. You better be good at those armbars in the gym, but certainly, there’s not that stigma around it.
Robert: I think that’s good advice, to be honest. Don’t do it until the end of round, be cautious. I totally agree. The trick is just what that discounts is the idea that all leglocks are born out of just dropping from the top. I spent the vast majority of the instructional talking about how can you use leglocks from the bottom position. Let’s say you got taken down or maybe even knocked down or from a situation where you’re trying to take them down but you just can’t get it. I think that’s the best situation to use leglocks in.
I mostly would agree with the idea that if you’re in a fight where punches are involved and you’re on the top, I think falling back for any submission is not really the smartest thing to do, but I do practice that by saying I think that it is feasible to go for leglocks in situations where you feel like you’re going to– Let’s say you’re on top and you’re going for a knee cut, and you maxed up into a cross Ashi, you’re still on top of the guy. You haven’t really given up bottom position. Even if you fall back for a cross Ashi and you’re controlling both legs, that’s a really good position to just get right back on top.
Basically, I think that if you’re going to go for leglocks from the top at MMA, it should be from a position where you can much more easily get back on top. I generally don’t recommend it from the top falling back for a straight Ashi or even a 50/50 or anything like that. I would say go to cross Ashi from the top. Go to cross Ashi pretty much only because you can control his legs, and then you can stop him from– He’s not going to get on top of you. You’re going to be in a double-seated situation so long as you control both of his legs. What that means is you’re going to be able to get back on top. The risk isn’t as high.
It’s like that criticism, basically, I totally understand it. It’s not an idiotic criticism. There is reall merit to it. I just think that we shouldn’t discount the use of these valuable weapons because there are things that can go wrong when we use them and because there are, I think, dumb ways to use them. I think if you’re just taking people down and then falling back for leglocks immediately, that’s pretty dumb. It’s not a good strategy. You work for the take down.
I would recommend try to pass his guard and control him. That’s how you win rounds in MMA and that’s also how you stay safe from getting punched with real force, but that’s a dumb way to use leglocks but there’s a smart way to use leglocks, which is from the bottom position. Also, keep in mind, leglocks are an awesome way to get on top. You can attack leglocks and then when the guy defends, a common defensive reaction you’re going to see when you attempt leglocks is the guy’s going to bring his hips to the mat because there are a couple of reasons to do that that keep him safer relatively. Guess what? You can get on top.
A really good example of this is– This isn’t MMA but it’s a good example of this, is Craig Jones versus Matheus Lutes at Polaris. Craig goes for a Kani Basami and he gets what is called a Russian Ashi, and he goes for a heel hook. Russian Ashi isn’t really the best for finishes and Lutes is also very hard to tap with leglocks. He clearly doesn’t want to tap to a leglock. It’s a very tight-looking heel hook but he doesn’t tap to it.
What does Craig do? Craig does a great job of using the position then to just get on top. If you don’t get the breaks, just get on top. You know what I mean? If you’re doing that from the bottom position or if you have the ability from the top once you go for the leglock to get back on top, you mitigate the risk of being on bottom and losing position and such.
Sonny: Okay. That idea then of using the leglocks to just at least offer a threat from the bottom to maybe someone’s walking into your open guard, you can just at least threat with a heel hook to make them back off or even using leg attacks to help pass guard. That’s something that Sakuraba would do as well a little bit. I guess that, as an addition to the toolbox, seems like always a good thing to have. When we think of leglocks in MMA, there’s a handful of guys who you think you point to and say, “These are the guys.” Obviously, Imanari, Palhares. I would put in Entwistle in there as well because he did score a lot of heel hooks in MMA. He got a lot of quick victories as well.
They’re those guys that we look at, but there doesn’t seem to be that many of them. It’s like that is what they’re known for. The ones you look to that make leglocks work in MMA are really those guys. That’s their game, especially Imanari, where he would enter just by throwing these wild kicks with reckless abandon that would just– It was a beautiful thing to do. It seemed like Ryan Hall took a little bit of that, but then he actually has a bit more technique in those kicks. Actually, probably a lot more. How do you think about the disparity then of just how many people are leglockers in MMA versus the potential of their use?
Robert: A few comments. I just want to comment on Ryan Hall first. I think this is interesting. I view Ryan as an updated refined version of Imanari. I think he has a very similar approach to Imanari in a lot of ways and he’s just like a more systematic controlled version of Imanari in a lot of ways. Not to disparage Imanari whatsoever, because he’s actually-
Sonny: Not at all.
Robert: -a gigantic influence on me. It’s fairly arguable. One thing Imanari was not good at was being controlled. He used to do crazy shit.
Sonny: That’s what reckless abandon is what I’m describing because he would just throw, and then just all of a sudden, he’d end up with your heel and that was it.
Robert: Yes. He’s pretty wild. It’s an interesting point you bring up. You see a lot of these guys that they do leglocks but they’re super specialists at it. I think there are two main ways to use leglocks in MMA, you could even say in combat sports in general, because I think even in grappling, you see this distinction a little bit. You see guys that they take leglocks and then they make that the main focal point of their game. In MMA, you can take somebody like Paul Harris as an example. That becomes the center point of their game. You can have a lot of success with that, but I think there is a ceiling to that. It’s hard if leglocks are the chief focus of your game to succeed at the highest level. On the other side of the coin, you have guys that use leglocks rather than as an end into themselves. They use them as a means to an end and the larger end is the positional game, the upper body positional game which is getting on top, passing the guard, taking it back or getting them out to punch them in the face if it’s MMA.
Leglocks can situate themselves very well into that context, that strategy of using the threat of leglocks, you can either break the guy and then now he is easier to take down. If I break both your of legs, it will be obviously much easier to take you down or the threat of that will allow you to get on top. Just off the top of my head, I think two of the best leglockers in MMA for the way I would recommend using leglocks in MMA would be Gary Tonon. Obviously, there’s bias there but I do think it’s true.
Sonny: Yes, I will ask you about that in a bit.
Robert: I also think Marcin Held deserves.
Sonny: Yes, of course.
Robert: Marcin is somebody who we’ve seen the development of his career where in the beginning he was one of those guys that it was leglock or bust. If he didn’t get the break he was probably going to fall short. I don’t now if you remember his fight with Michael Chandler where, godamn he was so close. Have you ever seen this fight?
Sonny: I think I went through all of Marcin’s fights a while back so I would have watched it but I’m not remembering it for a while because he played a lot of Williams Guards so when I was looking over that I went through every one of his I could find.
Robert: Okay, so at some point go and check out his old fight with Michael Chandler where he’s so close to finishing Michael Chandler and then he doesn’t and Michael gets out and Michael arm triangles on it. It’s like, “Ah, dead,” but he’s so close. It was such a nice knee bar entry but you see he’s young and inexperienced. When the leglock falls short his whole game falls apart but as his game developed over time, you start to see a maturity. He actually fought a friend of mine named Phillipe Nover. Phillipe Nover trains with us in the blue basement.
Sonny: Phillipe from the ultimate fighter?
Robert: Yes, that Phillipe Nover.
Sonny: Did he win it, MMA?
Robert: He did. He won, yes. Phillipe is such a good guy. Phillipe’s actually a nurse which is fucking crazy.
Sonny: Yes, I remember that.
Robert: He still works as a nurse nowadays. It’s wild but he trains with us. I’ve rolled with him many many times and he has very good leglock defense. In that fight, Marcin couldn’t get the finish, so what did he do? He came on top. Sorry, Phillipe, he used the leglock really well to positionally advance which is I think that’s the most mature intelligent way to use it. Really, I’m going to be honest, any context whether it’s fighting or what’s funny is I think at the highest level, I really think the same style that dominates in terms of the general strategy, obviously, specifics change but the same style that dominates MMA grappling I also think dominates pure grappling. ADCC and I’m talking about No-Gi only, the Gi is a totally different ball game.
ADCC is pretty similar to MMA grappling when you see what succeeds. When you watch the guys that are dominant at ADCC I do think that style translates very well into MMA. What I’m recommending doing for leglocks in MMA not seeing it as an end unto itself, not seeing it as distinguished or divorced from this positional strategy but rather seeing it as a part of this positional strategy.
I think that also can be used very well for ADCC or just competitive No-Gi where by all means try to finish them with the heel hook but in the event that either maybe you can’t get the finish or maybe they just need the break because there are fights where people literally had their ACLs torn mid-fight. Conor McGregor against Max Holloway. It wasn’t a heel hook but apparently, Conor popped his ACL in the second round and he just kept fighting.
Sonny: Lot of adrenaline going through the bone. A lot on the line that much bigger crowds and everything to keep you going.
Robert: Yes. I’ve heard of other fights too where people, I think if I remember correctly, I think Kurt Pellegrino tore his ACL on a fight or something and he kept going and he went up winning so yes, sometimes people will just eat it. You have to be prepared for what do we do next. If the leglock is all you have, then it’s a rough spot to be in.
I think the biggest adjustment we’ve got to make for leglocking is to just situate them into a different strategic context and when we do that, pretty much all of the major criticisms, I think they all pretty much evaporate. I think most of those criticisms are just born out of looking at leglocks in a way that you shouldn’t be using them. If you look at them and how I think a smarter strategy is, I think they work really really well if that makes sense.
Sonny: I get where you’re coming from which is basically, of course, if you are just diving back, if you’ve got full mountain instead of opting to punch the guy you just dive back onto a toe hold or something and you lose it and then end up on bottom. Of course, it’s not going to work. That’s not what you’re recommending to do.
Robert: That’s the dumbest thing ever.
Sonny: Yes, [laughs] but you’re saying that there is a way to use this strategically and those are the times when you can look in MMA. There’s evidence of how they can be used in such a way and as long as you focus on that don’t just get that tunnel vision of the legs, then they can be a useful addition into your MMA game, right?
Robert: Yes, absolutely, and also it’s funny, you mentioned toe holds. A lot of people have asked me, they’ve gone through the instructional or they’ve dm’d me and they said, “I don’t see any toe holds or ankle locks in this structure,” I’m like, “Yes, because you should not be doing that in MMA.” [laughs] In my opinion, it’s like, “Look, can you get toe hold an ankle lock finishes?” Yes, obviously you can. Andrei Arlovski won the UFC Heavyweight title with an ankle lock. A lot of people mentioned that fight to be like, “Yes, Rob, we were under the lock.”
Sonny: There’s always one.
Robert: Yes. It’s like, “Okay guys, but we’re talking about percentages here.” You can go to a local grappling industries tournament and put some tough blue belt in an ankle lock and he’ll refuse to tap and you’ll break his ankle. I’ve seen that many times at local tournaments. If someone’s going to do that for a $5 medal, people are going to do that in high stakes professional MMA.
I can speak from personal experience, I had two matches. One was at the ADCC trials, one was at a fucking Naga, not really worth it, but I let my foot break both times. They’re both like a steem lock variation. My foot broke both times and I just didn’t tap and I won both matches.
Sonny: Was it worth it?
Robert: In hindsight, knowing that my foot is fine now, yes. I’m glad.
Robert: Immediately after the second one, the second one was because it was the same foot. The second one was definitely worse. I couldn’t walk for a month and I was like, “Bro, that was not smart.” I’m 100% sure I should’ve just tapped that but in hindsight, no. It healed up fine and there was no lingering issues. My foot is fine, but anyway, the point I’m getting at is that you don’t want to bang–
If I’m going to attempt to break someone with a leglock, I sure as fuck don’t want it to be the least damaging variation of leglocks. I basically recommend the only leglocks you go for in MMA are knee bars and heel hooks and they could be outside or inside. Obviously, we all know that the inside heel hook is the most devastating. I don’t think should just count knee bars either. I think knee bars are very valuable. I think they’re very very valuable. I think those three, outside inside heel hooks and knee bars.
Sonny: I wouldn’t disagree with that. If you did take knee bars out of there then people would be telling you about Frank Mir beating that beast of a man Brock Lesnar with a knee bar. It was a good time, right?
Robert: Yes, I just say those three because what do they do, they attack the most vulnerable, they attack the joint of the leg that’s the most– If your foot breaks, that shit will heal, but not all the time. I’m not an expert on the biomechanics of your feet, but my foot has been broken and it’s healed. It’s not as devastating, but the knee, man, we all know the knee is very serious. The consequences are much more significant.
Sonny: For sure. It actually highlights something that I just want to bring up as an aside, which I think is the way that the Danaher team uses the term break, it’s not necessarily breaking the bone. A break could mean a ligament tear, just any major swelling. Is that what is considered a break? It’s not necessarily the bones, right? It took me a while to get my head around it, because when I would hear “Break,” I think, “Oh, they must have broken a bone,” but it’s not necessarily that. Is that right? Because that’s just what I’ve managed to figure out on the outside.
Robert: It’s funny, I’ve never sat down and asked Danaher, “What do we mean by break?” What I take it to mean, I think we’re just referring to structural destruction. That sounds like the black metal album.
Sonny: I like it. Structural destruction. It’s like a song title.
Robert: I don’t know how else I would describe it. Any time a structure is destroyed. It’s funny, I do get your confusion a little bit. My teammates and I, we often times talk about pops. I’m like, “What is a pop?” I still don’t really know.
Sonny: [laughs] Is a pop different than a break? Like, “I got a pop,” is not a break?
Robert: I think a pop is just when you hear a pop, just physically, which I don’t know what that tells you. I had a match once where there was a pop in my knee and it just turned out to be an air pop. I was like, “Okay, nice.”
Sonny: That’s what I’ve heard. It can be air or it can actually be when something gets stretched and the pop is actually when it goes back into place. Something gets stretched out and when it rebounds back into place, that’s the pop sound. A physiotherapist told me that when my knee popped and I had assumed that that pop was a tear, that was the noise your knee made when it tore, was a pop, but they said that it’s actually when it snaps back into place apparently.
Robert: Interesting. The one time I had a match where I couldn’t finish this guy with an inside heel hook and my mechanics were off. I asked Danaher about it. I sat down with him and I was like, “Okay, I got to figure out what happened.” The first thing he asked me was, “Did you hear a pop?” I think a pop is a sign, it’s a signal that there could have been a break. It’s not proof, but it’s a signal that there could have been. I think that’s generally what we mean by pop.
Break, again, I think break mainly refers to ligaments, to be honest. We’re mainly not attacking bones. It’s mainly the ligaments of the knee or of the elbow or the shoulder. I think those are probably the three main targets, the knee, elbow, shoulder, and obviously we got feet too. I’d say those are all the major targets, and it’s mainly ligament, I would say. The only break to your bone I could think of would be that Tex Johnson ankle lock, because he almost does an ankle lock higher than most people do them, but he seems to get such torque on it that it snaps the shinbone. It’s funny, I’m telling you not to do ankle locks in MMA. There are exceptions. If you tell me that you’re capable of snapping somebody’s shinbone.
Sonny: [laughs] Maybe we add it to the arsenal.
Robert: Yes, that’s different. Can most people do that? I think a lot of that is also a byproduct of just being an absolute moose of a human being. I’ve never seen a devastating break from an ankle lock in MMA. Actually, okay, I have once. Héctor Lombard got a pretty nasty one.
Sonny: Which one was whose? I’m trying to–
Robert: It was an obscure fight.
Sonny: He fought a lot in Australia. I saw him fight a lot live because he came up on the CFC, a local promotion down here, and trained at one of the local gyms until he got onto Bellator. There’s definitely one where he breaks some guy’s leg in a gym, I think it was a knee bar, but it’s a horrific one that I don’t want to even go Google again.
Sonny: I’m trying to remember. The fight one doesn’t come to mind off the top of my head.
Robert: I think I know which one you’re talking about. I don’t think it’s that one. It’s in a dusty cage. Sorry, not dusty cage, it’s like a ring. It’s like a shitty-looking ring. It was the last fight he had. What’s his name?
Sonny: Yes, I’m starting to remember, it was Brian Ebersole on the card as well.
Robert: I think he was. Yes, he was.
Sonny: I think it was an explosion fight or something like that.
Robert: I think, if I remember correctly, Héctor got a pretty nasty ankle lock on. I think the kid was really young too, which is terrible. Apparently Héctor snapped his shinbone. Anyway, people always bring up these examples. Look, man, I’m totally open minded. If you can show me that it works consistently, fine, by all means. I’m just arguing that the goal for leglockers in MMA should be– This is another criticism people levy against it, which I think is actually an intelligent criticism, they say you have a limited amount of training time.
Sonny: Yes. This was one I was going to bring up as well.
Robert: I hear this all the time, it’s very valid. You have a limited amount of training time, you should be allocating your training time to more relevant areas. Okay, I don’t disagree, yes. I think leglocks are probably less important than striking and less important than takedowns, but I would argue they are more important than arm bars from the guard, which people do not seem to want to stop drilling. They’re more important than triangles from the guard. I think they’re more important than a lot of other things from the bottom position, quite frankly.
I think that leglocks can be situated very well within this idea of using submission attacks to get on top. I think that because they’re not as important as the most important things, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t allocate time to practicing them. On top of that, I think if you’re going to practice them, only practice the most relevant areas that have been demonstrated to be effective. You can get a nasty ankle lock if you practice it, if you refine it and practice it. I rolled with guys with nasty ankle locks. The time those guys took, these guys were not MMA fighters, they were all grapplers. Let’s say they’re MMA fighters. What do you think is a more relevant use of your time, working on that ankle lock or working on your boxing? Probably your boxing.
Sonny: Definitely boxing.
Robert: Yes, definitely, I agree. I hear these things, it’s funny because, because I’m in the middle of this debate where some guys are hyper leg-locky. They’re like, “Fucking let’s just go out there leg-lock people.” The other side is like, “Leg locks suck.” I’m in the middle like, “No, let’s find common ground.” There’s a middle point we can reach that I think is more reasonable than either of these two extremes. This criticism of limited training time is very valid.
I think that you can still use them effectively, more effectively than many other things, and I think that as long as you allocate just the amount of time to learn the most relevant skills, get really good at the core skills, finishing with heel hooks and knee bars, gaining the positions, mitigating the opponent’s ability to strike you from the positions. Those are the main things. You get really good at those things and you’re going to be able to use leglocks really effectively to either break people or to get on top of them. Those are two very damn good things to have in any fighting scenario.
I used to coach some MMA guys. I’m not currently coaching any MMA guys, but I plan on doing so in the future. I have a friend of mine who is Singaporean, who is an MMA fighter, he was actually being scouted by the UFC but he’s stuck in Singapore. [laughs]
Sonny: It’s a tough time.
Robert: It’s a pandemic, yes. [laughs] It sucks, but it is what it is.
I’m going to coach him on using leg locks in MMA and he’s talked to me a lot about the strategy and stuff, and it’s like, “Look man, focus on your boxing and your wrestling first and foremost. That’s paramount. I don’t want to interrupt that training time. That’s got to be your central focus, but then the leg locks are going to come into play when that stuff doesn’t work.” It’s funny, I don’t know if you remember, do you remember that old Eddie Bravo video where he’s talking about-
Sonny: The Third Option?
Robert: The Third Option, yes.
Sonny: Oh yes, oh yes.
Robert: I actually totally– People can rag on Eddie, but do you remember when Tony fought Justin Gaethje recently? Eddie was like try an Imanari.
Sonny: Maybe try an Imanari. Poor guy.
Robert: Yes. People attacked Eddie, but the reality is-
Robert: -nothing else was working. He’s getting his ass kicked.
Sonny: Was he supposed to just give him this magic bit of advice that would have won the fight? It’s a tough position to be in.
Robert: The thing is that people shit on Eddie there but it’s like a disingenuous criticism because Eddie didn’t say that– Imagine if in the beginning of the first round Tony’s about to walk out and Eddie said, “Maybe try a new move.” Then it’s pretty inappropriate. That’s not the time for that. In the fifth round, you’ve been getting your ass kicked the whole fight, you can’t take the guy down, fuck it, try the leg lock.
Sonny: Exactly. The tough thing to go with that too is if he had just given like the cliche, “Come on mate, dig deep, go out there, give me five minutes Tony, that’s all we need. I know you’re an animal,” kind of speech, which is useless most of the time.
Robert: 100% yes.
Sonny: No one would have blinked twice.
Robert: People also just loved to shit on Eddie Bravo. He’s his own worst enemy with some of these conspiracy theories and stuff but I don’t think he’s an entirely idiotic guy when it comes to jiu-jitsu. I think he has a lot of insight on jiu-jitsu.
Robert: I don’t think he is the greatest coach ever but he’s definitely got some insights, he’s very creative.
Sonny: Very creative without a doubt.
Robert: Anyway so getting back to The Third Option, I think in that video basically what Eddie Bravo says is he says, “Look if you can’t beat him on the feet, and you’re having a hard time taking him down, what are you going to do next?” He says, “Pull guard.” A lot of people shit on that, what he said there, but I think he’s totally right. He’s totally right. I was talking to Gary one time about pulling guard in MMA and he thinks of, he’s actually, I’ve heard him say this in interviews too if I remember correctly where he says, “If you think about it, pulling guard into leg locks is the best way to pull guard because you pull right into a submission and on top of that if you don’t get it, you get on top of the guy.”
This brings me to– We talked a little bit about this before the podcast got started where it’s funny that I think leg locks back in the day were more advanced in MMA actually than grappling. If you go back to the era before the Death Squad blew up, you go back to 2012 let’s say, not that long ago, all things considered.
Sonny: It’s tough to say not long ago or does it?
Robert: Yes. I used to stay up to watch Dream and ONE Championship, I’ll never forget-
Sonny: Those were the days.
Robert: Yes, they were great.
Sonny: Simpler times.
Robert: Yes. Oh geez. Well, there’s still events happening but not many for sure. I remember when Imanari heel hooked Kevin Belingon. It was a ONE championship fight. That fight, I’ll never forget that. I woke up, it was the morning of Comic-Con, and I was going to Comic-Con. Before I was going I was like, “I’m going to watch. I love Imanari so I want to see him fight.” I got up at 4 AM to watch him fight. I watched it and I was like, “Fuck yes, Imanari is the man. Holy shit.” Back then I do genuinely think that there was nobody in pure grappling at the level of Imanari and Palhares. I think those two were the best. I don’t think anyone was at their level.
There were other guys that were very skilled, but nobody was as good as those two in my opinion. I’m a very big Imanari fan. I genuinely think Imanari is one of the most creative innovators I would say in grappling history but definitely in leg lock history. The guy discovered so many things which are only now, the relevance of them are becoming known. What’s really interesting about him though is that he would discover things which I think were actually brilliant, and then just stop doing them, and it’s like, “Why? What happened? This was working.” I don’t know. I think he just probably wasn’t organized about it but he was coming out with brilliant stuff.
Back then leg locks in MMA seemed to be better than in pure grappling. I think the main reason why that is is cultural which I think comes down to a lot of major criticisms of leg locks have more to do with cultural outlook than they do with actual efficacy. Back then in the MMA world, leg locks, they maybe weren’t the most popular thing but they weren’t outright frowned upon whereas in jiu-jitsu not only was it considered bad, it was considered borderline unethical. I actually first got into lego locks because of MMA. Okay, that’s not fully true. Basically what happened was I was a Gi athlete, I was focusing on a Gi, and I started to really get into leg locks and in order to keep practicing them, I actually fought MMA. I fought MMA-
Sonny: You won with leg locks as well, yes?
Robert: Yes. I had four fights. My first night I won by a very fast heel hook. I had no idea what I was doing. I won by– I accidentally did some very good stuff.
Sonny: Why not? That’s the best way to do it I guess.
Robert: Yes. It’s taken played. I won two and I lost two, but even the two that I lost, if you Google you’ll find them on YouTube, they’re still up, one of them I still I’m salty about. I think I should have gotten the decision. The reason I didn’t get the decision is because I kept falling. It’s ironic. I wouldn’t recommend anyone to do this. I kept falling back through leg locks. What you’ll see in the fight is the guy never punches me hard. At no point do I get– Out of four fights, I got punched hard one time. I was doing stuff I actually don’t recommend people to do. I was diving for leg locks like a madman. I had one fight against the guy named Shaquan Moore, a very tough guy.
I didn’t finish him but I won the decision where I was literally just sitting on my bottom pulling guard, and I was going towards him and I was actually having a lot of success doing this. The key is to see, if anyone’s curious and wants to watch my fights, I focused hard on not getting punched. I was like, “Okay, how can I mitigate strikes?” The one time I did get hit hard is because what happened was I got really eager to get the finish. It was my last fight which I lost my decision. I do think I deservedly lost the decision. I didn’t get blown out of the water, but I definitely think the guy edged me out on points.
It was near the end of the third round, and I knew he was up on points, and he hadn’t really cracked me at any point, but he did a great job mitigating, keeping control, and regulating distance and stuff. He played a very cagey, intelligent game. In the third, I dived, I did like kind of Asami. I got his legs and I was like, “I’m going to get him.” He cracked me real hard while I wasn’t paying attention and then I was like, “Oh shit.” Basically, I dipped on the position, and I was like, “Okay.” I let him out because I didn’t want to get hit again and then we just standed there, stood there rather, and then the fight ended and he got the decision there. I think he deserved it.
Anyway, the point is other than that one slip up I never really got hit very hard because I focused very hard on, “If I’m going to go for these, I need to make sure that I keep him away from me.” I talked about this earlier, I don’t need to reiterate it. Just one quick thing is I only stopped doing it in MMA because I saw an avenue for using leg locks. I was very interested in leg locks. I was very curious about them I thought they were cool. NoGi started to gain some popularity so I was like, “Oh, maybe I don’t need to do these fights anymore to do this I can just go in a tournament instead.” I shifted to that yes.
Sonny: If you haven’t watched Imanari’s fights, which probably if you’re listening to this, I imagine you probably have because-
Sonny: -you got to be pretty into it. Yes, and there’s so many creative things that he did over the years it’s a treat to go back and just watch. Even in his losses he is just one of those entertaining guys that normally win spectacularly or lose spectacularly. There’s no in-between. I actually did a breakdown video on guard pulling in MMA, and one of the things that I bring up in that is that if you want to do it successfully, you have to close the distance in one way or another. I guess borrowing an Imanari role, you’ve got to close the distance and that’s entering into a clinch, or I actually think that the best way to do it is to be shooting in onto a double leg and then pulling into a half guard like Damian Maia would do.
If you are going to have to pull guard, I’d say that, in my opinion, that’s the best way to do it which also then means that to practice your guard pulling, you’re actually going to have to be practicing your wrestling, practicing your double legs, because you’re still going to be able to take a good shot to get in on the hips. Even if you want to pull guard, you should have good wrestling. Is that something you agree or disagree with that?
Robert: It’s funny, I literally say verbatim, the same exact thing on the instructional.
Sonny: Great minds think alike then.
Robert: Yes. It’s so funny because everybody fixates on the rolling entries, the Imanari rolls, the Ryan Hall rolls. They’re good, they can work, but I definitely think shooting for doubles or even singles, and then off of the failed attempt– Like Poirier’s a huge percentage of his entries was he would go for a double, he would put the guy against the cage and he’s trying to get the double but the guy would defend so he says, “Fuck it. I’m going to go for a leg lock.” He sits back goes for the leg lock and usually gets it. I totally agree.
This aspect of closing the distance, what’s so key about it is that what it enables you to do is proactively force body contact in such a way that– Whenever we’re grappling in MMA, we have a different consideration that we still have it in regular grappling, but not as much. The guy doesn’t need to grapple you. In pure grappling there’s a lot of stalling, but they’re supposed to be engaging you. In pure grappling, hypothetically, this doesn’t always play out but how it’s supposed to work is if I pull guard, the onus is on you to engage me. That’s how it’s supposed to work it doesn’t always work like that, but it’s how it’s supposed to work.
In MMA, that’s not true whatsoever you sit on your butt, the guy has no need to engage you. The onus is on you. If you want to grapple you have to make him grapple so what you have to do is you have to find a way to bridge the distance so that you can proactively force body contact which you can force grappling exchanges. The issue with rolling entries, it’s not that they’re bad because I talk about them and I do think they can be used well, the big issue is that they’re mainly reactive it’s really hard to proactively force rolling entries.
Every time people try to practically force them, they just wind up looking dumb, and they just don’t work that well. A notable example is– Who was it? Rory McDonald’s versus Stephen Thompson was it?
Sonny: Yes, I remember that one. I was pretty hyped for that fight. That was pretty not very memorable in the end.
Robert: Fair enough. Do you remember that rolling entry?
Sonny: Yes, Rory went for the rolling entries, but yes.
Robert: It was when Stephen was backing up so it’s so hard to get it under those situations. The best place to get it is when you bridge the distance especially when you’re going for a takedown. When you create that kind of a threat then he defends it then you can pull it to the legs. That’s the best way to do it.
Sonny: Where would you class then the Ryan Hall, Gray Maynard fight in that one? Is that a good example of that as well?
Robert: Yes, that’s a really good example to illustrate my point. If you watch that fight so many times Ryan tries to get the rolling entry and Gray will run away. That or rather he’ll back it up. Then the best few times Ryan gets in on Gray’s legs, you’ll see it’s because Gray is going towards him. Gray starts to walk towards him and that’s when Ryan gets him. Yes, that fight was also, I would say I found that terrible.
Sonny: [laughs] Look up Imanari matches before going back to look those ones up this year.
Robert: Yes, that one was just awful. It’s not entertaining whatsoever.
Sonny: Give some data let’s put it like that [laughs]
Robert: Definitely a useful fight, yes, for sure.
Sonny: I want to talk then about Garry Tonon. We’re talking about shooting the double. I can’t remember the guy’s name, who he fought. Shooting for the single leg, he ducks under, pulls guard into a heel hook, gets the tap. To me, that is just a masterful bit of shoot boxing, just striking to wrestling to submission attacks it’s just such a very masterful fight. He has run into problems with his leg locks in some of his other fights, run into problems. I think it was his second one he fought the Indian 10th Planet guy. I thought he had his heels snapping or breaking and the guy gets out.
Even though in the last fight, the guy seemed pretty wildly, pretty skilled and it seemed like he couldn’t rely on those heel hooks as much as he could in say, submission grappling where you’d think if Garry gets you in that position, if he got even those guys in this position in a ADCC rules match probably you’d expect Garry to get the finish but there’s something about MMA if it’s the gloves, if it’s the extra sweat or something that it seemed like they weren’t as reliable as they should be, as they normally are. What’s your thoughts on that then?
Robert: I’ve seen all of these fights obviously.
Robert: I’ll take it one at a time so the first one is your Yoshiki Nakahara that’s the ideal way to use leg locks.
Sonny: I agree that is an ideal. If anyone I know did that, yes it would be amazing.
Robert: Yes, He goes for the takedown, and then when the guy defends, he goes for the leg lock, and yes beautiful execution yes pretty perfect. Yoshiki actually came to train with us. He wanted to learn leg lock defense. I rolled with him at the time. Really nice guy. I think it’s always cool when people do that. They recognize they have an area of weakness, and they go to mitigate it with somebody who just beat them with it. Yes, so it was cool of him. Then the second one is Rahul Raju. Actually, I’ll talk about the Koyomi Matsushima fight that’s the other Japanese guy who he fought.
That’s an interesting one to compare to the Yoshiki Nakahara fight because there’s a lot of similarities but there are some key differences. The first big difference is that Koyomi definitely came better prepared, technically speaking to defend. Koyomi had Satoru Kitaoka in his corner, who is a real innovator of leg locks back in the day. I still love to study Kitaoka. I think he also trained with Imanari leading up to the fight. He definitely came very prepared, technically to defend and you can see it Koyomi was doing very intelligent defense.
I think in that fight, the reason why Garry couldn’t get the finish simply was a matter of Koyomi preparing himself very well defensively, but the reality is Garry was able then to get on top pass the guard. Garry won the fight based on that you know what I mean. The leg locks I don’t remember if he ever got on top from the leg lock threat. I honestly don’t recall but sometimes it just doesn’t come through. A big difference when you look in those fights– Another thing is Garry, in the Yoshiki Nakahara fight, he pulls into a far hip Ashi and he rolls through to an outside Ashi. In that Koyomi Matsushima fight, he pulls into a diagonal Ashi.
Usually, that’s okay, you can still get the roll to the outside Ashi to get the break, but it can be hard if the guy’s very prepared defensively and Koyomi definitely was. He did all the right things defensively and so, yes, there is a slim margin for errors. I also think the gloves as you said, I do think that plays a part. That is another big factor where your gripping has to be very very good, has to be very on point. Anyways, the Rahul Raju fight, that fight definitely Gary, the trick is, Gary had a hard time getting him to tap. I think he’s still broken if I remember correctly. I think he broke Rahul.
Sonny: Yes. It’s been like apologies to all these guys for not remembering a nice show and it’s been a while since I’ve watched that so I’m just going from memory, but I remember I’m like, “Damn, this guy’s legs look like rubber candle.” He defended, got out, didn’t tap but I do remember having that feeling of like, “Oh, is that not working, is the adrenaline or–?”
Robert: Yes. I think there was a lot of adrenaline but fight I can definitely say Gary used the leg locks to get on top. After the failed leg lock attempts, he would get on top with it which is I think the best way to use it. I forget. I don’t remember if I asked Gary about this, I don’t remember if I did, but for some reason, I think I remember I did and Gary told me that he heard pops. I think so. Those were very notably brutal. Rahul is fighting, I think he actually fought last night-
Sonny: Oh wow.
Robert: at ONE. He’s still clearly healthy.
Sonny: Yes. I made all respect to him as well for getting there-
Robert: Yes, for sure.
Sonny: -and surviving and putting up a decent fight too. Go on, sorry.
Robert: Sorry, just to add. That’s what I was getting at with why I said I think Gary is a really, I think he’s the best guy for leg locks in MMA. I think probably ever, to be honest because what he’s doing is he’s not just using it for the finish. Against Rahul, he couldn’t get the tap, fuck it, passes guard. He turned that on its head. Instead of fucking try like, “Oh, fuck it,” passes the guard.
Sonny: That’s a really interesting way of looking at it and I think it’s probably correct in that even though that he’s only working with six fights still such so early on. With all that expectation that he does have so many leg lock finishes in his grappling career that I’ve been thinking, “Oh, if he gets someone in that position, it should be dead to rights that he finishes him.” From the other perspective, it is, “Well, he didn’t finish but he still used the leg locks to get on top.” Obviously having such a threat behind him with that is going to make it easier to work those other elements of his game because people they don’t want to be in his guard or they don’t want to sit on top probably trying to go for grant and pound if they’re concerned about him snatching hold of the leg so he still has that advantage.
One thing actually again I thought of going back to the brakes on the pops when you’re talking about twisting. Probably on the aside, but I can’t let it go. If you get a pop and they tap, does the pop become a break?
Robert: I don’t know.
Sonny: I heard a pop and he taps so does that make it a break?
Robert: Well, the thing is, I guess when we were talking about brakes, we’re dealing with speculation.
Sonny: Of course because that’s not like, “Until you get an x-ray how are these guys calling it a break?” That was my brain. After the match they go, “Oh yes, I’m broken.” I’m like, “Wait until he gets the MRI mate.” Like, “Come on.”
Robert: Yes, for sure. No, 100%. It’s a tricky thing. One time Danaher told us his story about we’re talking about the paradox of this, we’re trying to practice braking mechanics, but we don’t actually want to hurt each other. The only way you could really know is by you’re right, getting an MRI. One time, Danaher told us he said, “Don’t rely on any mechanics unless you’ve seen it definitely break two people. I’ve seen it, done more than once, and you can rely on the mechanics.”
I was talking to a friend at training yesterday he was a former wrestler, and he’s like, “Yes, why does it NoGi jiu-jitsu become a high school sport?” I was like, “Okay, it’s because, imagine just the visual image of a 14-year-old with like a snapped ACL lying in a gymnasium locker room, sorry, or a gymnasium floor just screaming.”
Sonny: It’s not going to happen.
Robert: The school would not fund that.
Sonny: Well, that’s why wrestling is the perfect thing you guys got over there, folkstyle wrestling where it did evolve from catch wrestling, taking out the submissions so people could perform it, and then I know that they’ve got a lot of potentially dangerous calls from high school wrestling where they take some things out and keep it safe. I think it’s because they’ve taken those submissions out that it is able to work in a school environment and frankly, I think everyone talks about getting jiu-jitsu in schools over here in Australia and it’s like, “Man, it’s the same thing.”
Robert: Yes, it’s tough.
Sonny: There’s no way that, you could do some things but it’s not going to take off like a big thing because there’s just too many headaches involved with submissions whereas wrestling it’s like, “Well, hey.” It’s just like rugby scrum kind of. It’s far more palatable than anything if it could go wrong in jiu-jitsu.
Robert: Yes. Well, it’s funny because I think that wrestling is statistically more dangerous injury-wise.
Sonny: Than jiu-jitsu?
Sonny: It could be, it could be.
Robert: Just from my own personal– I shouldn’t have said statistically too bad because I don’t know the statistics.
Robert: My own personal anecdotes I’ve seen many more injuries from wrestling than jiu-jitsu. For myself, I can say for instance I have had many more injuries from wrestling than I’ve ever had from leg locks. The point is that in wrestling the goal is not to break the guy’s leg because jiu-jitsu it is.
Sonny: That’s it. Those visuals count for points on the sideline-
Robert: Yes. No, 100%.
Sonny: -or just anyone trying to sell it to a school admin. That is going to matter what the goal is.
Sonny: Then going into that specialization then of that wrestling or jiu-jitsu where to spend the time, we know that Gary was a wrestler, goes into jiu-jitsu, adds striking into the mix and he’s still, I look forward to every one of his fights now watching him, paying close attention just to see where this development of the modern submission grappling game can go in MMA. He’s got to be at the forefront of it. You get someone coming in saying, “Fresh, brand new,” how much specialization then would you put on that leg locks? Or is it really as we’ve discussed in just those key areas that you’ve talked about? I guess, in what order of hierarchy would you put that in?
Robert: The most important things for MMA first and foremost would be striking offense and defense. Personally, this is a hot topic of mine, a lot of grapplers will get mad at me, but I think striking is the single most important thing in MMA because I think that if you have– It’s debatable. A lot of people say wrestling and I think there’s some validity to that but fair enough. I think that wrestling defense if you have solid wrestling defense, striking seems to be firmer.
Sonny: Can be very hard to take someone down who’s got a good single leg defense, the no shoes on, and if they get good at using the cage, taking someone down who wants to just avoid it to strike can be very difficult.
Robert: Yes. I would say– Anyway, we don’t have to rank the first two because there’s a debate there but I would say striking and then wrestling, or just takedowns, those two areas, To be honest, I would honestly rank leg locks right beneath those two. I would rank them right beneath those two. We’re talking about skills from the outset of a match because you could say, I would argue back control. Pinning is more important than leg locks, but hat’s not the outset of a match. I would rank that above, but if we’re talking about things that you’re going to do at the beginning of a match, I would say striking, takedowns, leg locks. In my opinion, those are your best three options. If you get really good at–
Another point, I don’t even talk about this point on the instructional because I don’t think it’s too important, but I don’t want people to fixate on this. I think it’s a mistake to ever fixate too much on trying to– I used to try to do this, metagame the community where I’d be like, “What are people not good at?” There was a point to doing that initially when the squad came up, but it’s really hard to do that now in grappling. In MMA, to be honest, can get away with– Palhares was a master at two things. To be honest, he doesn’t have sophisticated skills in certain leg locking areas. For instance, his heel exposure strategies aren’t super sophisticated, but in MMA, you don’t really need that, that much.
Palhares, for instance, was an absolute master at entering the legs and breaking people, maybe the best ever at that with an outside heel hook, specifically an outside heel hook, psychotically good. The point is if you’re a grappler and you’re looking to do leg locks, I think a large percentage of your time has to be on heel exposure strategies. Whereas in MMA, it’s just not as important. It’s just not-
Robert: -because guys don’t know how to hide their heel as much. Now, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn that because what happens if you go get somebody who does know how to do that? You got to learn to deal with it, but you don’t need to invest as much time. Training time has always been like you’re playing the stock market, which is on everybody’s mind nowadays.
Sonny: I was trying to think of how I could work a joke.
Robert: Yes, the GameStop–
Sonny: Yes, GameStop somehow, I don’t know, I’ll see what I come out with. [chuckles]
Robert: Yes. I view it is like playing the stock market, where you don’t really know where– There was hedge fund managers they were expecting that stock to go down in value to make money, and then it, obviously, didn’t. It’s similar with– Imagine if you don’t invest any time into, just an analogy, you invest no time into leg locks, but then maybe you’re in a fight where it really could have been valuable for you or maybe you invest too much time in– Let’s say, you invest hours of time into, something that I love to shit on because it’s super popular, and I think barely ever works is just the traditional armbar from the closed guard.
Sonny: Yes, I’d agree with you.
Robert: Just the way people do it most of the time it just doesn’t work.
Sonny: Imagine to get your guard passed in MMA pretty much.
Robert: Yes, and also you’re on bottom and you’re ineffectively throwing your legs up and the guy’s punching you in the face.
Sonny: It’s– Yes.
Robert: It’s stupid. It can work, but it’s a low percentage.
Sonny: Of course, it can work, but I’d probably say keep them tight so you’re not getting punched in the face first. Then if they are posturing up, feet on hips trying to kick them away or throwing the legs up just you could– Geez. [laughs]
Robert: Anyway, yes, I think you get what I’m saying.
Sonny: Yes. I think what you’re saying is we got to take leg locks to the moon really.
Robert: Well, yes.
Robert: Yes, there you go, that was really good.
Robert: Yes, 100%.
Sonny: I think that’s pretty much covered I think most of the things we wanted to get through in this discussion. Maybe what are some all-time matches or leg locks for leg locks in MMA aside from the ones that we’ve discussed if you haven’t seen that Gary Tonon one? I’d animated it. I think it’s free on the ONE FC thing, so definitely check that out. What are some other maybe some hidden gems that you could think of that people could go and check out to see leg locks in MMA in action?
Robert: Yes. I think that one of my favorites ever is Palhares versus David Branch. That’s a really, really good one. Very, very significant match in grappling history too because Danaher was actually in David Branch’s corner. Definitely, very closely studied the outcome of that fight because Palhares got the heel hook on Branch. A lot of his early outside heel hook stuff, he studied Palhares very intensively. Everyone should ensure–
Sonny: As they would, yes, of course.
Robert: That was very good at what he was doing, which I find very interesting because it’s almost like he doesn’t seem like the brightest character. It’s like how did he figure this stuff out. [chuckles]
Sonny: He does seem like the brute strength reap and tear kind of guy too, but hey, he obviously figured it out.
Robert: Yes, there was real I think technical refinement to what he was doing. Anyway, that one is really, really good. Another good one, Imanari versus Hiroshi Umemura. The thing is it’s tough because that fight I’m reluctant to mention it because I don’t think people are going to be able to find it very easily because that’s an old Deep– It’s called Deep–
Sonny: Deep. Yes, Deep and ZST ones that he fought on, they’re tough to get.
Robert: Yes. A good ZST one you could watch is his tag team fight with Takumi Yano. It’s great one.
Sonny: Yes, exactly. That is classic.
Robert: That one is not really even MMA, to be honest. It’s sort of MMA.
Sonny: I’d wonder if there’s bits of work there or if they had–
Robert: Yes, I think probably.
Sonny: You never know with that if they were–
Robert: Most likely. It’s funny because that kneebar he gets at the end is definitely a real kneebar. It was very brutal. [chuckles]
Sonny: You just don’t know what they had agreed to. It could be 100% real. I don’t know. It’s a tag team match, two grapplers against two strikers in Japan. Who knows?
Robert: It’s a very ridiculous fight, but it’s interesting. It is on YouTube for free. I generally would just say watch Gary, watch Rousimar, watch Imanari, watch Marcin Held, watch Ryan Hall. There’s a lot of other guys you can watch, but those are the central–
Sonny: Those are the main guys, right?
Robert: Yes, they’re the main guys I would recommend. There’s so many other guys. I’d say Marcin Held. I would say a lot of other Polish guys like Marcin Held. I criticize one of Ian Entwistle’s fights but he’s also done very well before. His fight against Anthony Birchak was a very, very good fight. That’s a really good use of leg locks in MMA. Definitely has his moments, Paul Sass is another one, Paul Sass.
Sonny: Yes, Paul Sass. One of the best guard pullers ever with something like– Who knows how many triangle victories he got?
Robert: Here’s a fun fact about Paul Sass.
Sonny: Please, yes.
Robert: I was a massive fan of Paul Sass. I thought his game was so good. I did a seminar in Liverpool at Paul Sass’s academy. He doesn’t own it. It’s where he trains.
Sonny: Kaobon or something like that?
Robert: No, NextGen MMA. I was talking to the owner of NextGen MMA who was Paul Sass’s coach. I said, “Whatever happened to Paul? Why doesn’t he fight anymore?” He said, “Paul got a job working in finance making a ton of money and just said, “Fuck this.'”
Robert: I was like, “All right, that’s totally fair.”
Sonny: That’s definitely fair. It seems fitting that he would because he was such a unique fighter as well in that guard pulling, and that he only ever won by triangles and heel hooks. I think that was it.
Robert: He had one decision win.
Sonny: He had that heel hook against Michael Johnson, right?
Robert: Yes, that was an awesome one. He had one decision win. Yes, but that was the only one on that. I’ve never seen the decision win. I just know it happened, but, yes, all triangles and heel hooks other than that.
Robert: Definitely one of the best guard pullers in MMA history, an absolute legend of a guy.
Sonny: Without a doubt. What about any up and comings? Is there anyone that comes to mind, a leg locker that–? Maybe it’s the person you mentioned you were training before or just anyone under the radar that maybe we could keep an eye on if we want to keep savvy in the leg lock game in MMA?
Robert: Not anyone that’s currently fighting, but one of my teammates Damian Anderson he has been training a lot with Gary doing the MMA drills and Damian is a very, very high-level leg locker, especially with outside heel hooks. Outside heel hooks, I would say, are his specialty. In my opinion, legitimately one of the best outside Ashi and outside heel hook practitioners out there. Very, very solid at that and he seems to be shifting his focus, mainly to MMA. I think that once he fights there will be a lot of really interesting outside heel hooks on display. Yes, he’ll finish most people with that, but he’s not just focusing on that.
One thing that Danaher does is when he works with the guys is they’re working on MMA. All the arts integrated together. Gary’s not just doing jiu-jitsu practice and then hitting a punching bag, and then [laughs] they’re integrating it all together. I’ve no doubt, I think Damien will do very well because he’s directly under Danaher and Gary, so he’s going to do well.
Sonny: That would make me excited to watch him. Definitely. I just remembered the final question of scrimmage wrestling. Scrimmage wrestling is something I hear about. What is it? From what I understand that does seem something that would work into MMA and maybe leg locking in MMA as well, right?
Robert: Well, you’re going to hate my answer. My answer is I actually don’t know what the definition is.
Sonny: That’s okay. It seems I’m trying to get a definition and I’m like– My vague one is wrestling up from the bottom.
Robert: Okay, that might be what it is. I’ll tell you what the scrimmage wrestling drill is. Scrimmage wrestling drill is we start from a broken down single leg and you have to wrestle up from that. That’s the scrimmage wrestling drill. I have never really asked what is the definition of this. I just know and I guess, I’ve seen a lot of other– Danaher is always trying to integrate wrestling with– You have to modify it. You can’t just copy and paste it. For instance, very low single legs, and wrestling are much more viable because man, that shoe really catches when you grab the ankle, there’s a real surface it catches right.
Grappling that is not viable, the foots going to slip out. You can’t do that as easily. You got to modify it. Similarly, let’s say I shoot a single leg and I stand up with it and I just look for the takedown but I’m struggling to get it but I don’t account for submission threats, you can get counter because in wrestling those threats are illegal, obviously. You can’t keep hitting somebody in wrestling, you can’t rolling for somebody in wrestling.
Sonny: Used to be able to, because– what was– I’m blanking now, Foxcatcher, the ’92 Atlanta. Was it ’92 Atlanta Olympics? Damn, I’ve gotten terrible with dates and names, but he’s going up against the Turkish guy. Is it Mark? Mark Schultz. Mark Schultz. Yes. He’s going up against him and he breaks a guy’s arm in the Olympics.
Robert: Oh, wow, there you go.
Sonny: Now it’s banned. It’s definitely banned.
Robert: Okay, so there you go, you can’t do that in your wrestling, but in jiu-jitsu, obviously, super valid counter. You’ve got to take that into account. You’ve got to factor that in. When Danaher is coaching wrestling, he’s always thinking about that thing. A lot of what you’re going to see at an up and comer, Damien, for instance, or Gary in future fights is going be the integration of different arts. Yes, that’s, I think, a very valuable insight that I gained watching him coach those guys. Yes.
Sonny: Okay, that’s, that’s good. I’ll keep thinking about and looking out for that thing in the future as well. Hey, Robert, thanks so much for your time. It was great to catch up and obviously if people want to get a hold of that leg locks in MMA instructional and get in touch with you, what should they do to get their hands on that?
Robert: The instructional is just on my website, it’s robertdeglebjjonline.com. So robertD-E-G-L-E-bjjonline.com. It’s on there, and if you want you can follow me on Instagram. Same thing, Robert D-E-G-L-E BJJ. Also, I have a YouTube channel which I haven’t been putting up as much stuff, to be honest, because I’ve been pretty busy lately, but–
Sonny: As we all are. As we all are, it’s crazy times.
Robert: Yes. Hopefully, I will get back to YouTube because I actually enjoy YouTube more than Instagram.
Sonny: I think it is better, it’s longer-lasting anyway. It just reminded me there’re some clips from the instructional app on there, is that right?
Robert: Yes, there’s two. Yes, there’s two. I have two up. One on breaking mechanics, one on I talked about, so we didn’t get to this on the podcast, but I think that breaking mechanics actually. There are some differences in MMA versus grappling. If you’re curious about that, I have a video.
Sonny: You have a video, yes nice.
Robert: Yes, there’s a video where I talk about that. I’ll just say this. I think it’s way easier to break somebody in MMA, it’s so much easier to break people, as long as you’re in a cage because you’ll hit the cage wall. That helps things immensely.
Sonny: No rolling out of bounds and–
Robert: Yes, you can’t, it’s impossible. [chuckles] I had a grappling match in a cage and we hit the cage and I had the lock. I just thought to myself, “Oh, man, I feel so bad.”
Robert: I was like “Really it was the cage that fucked this guy , we hit it and he tapped.
Sonny: Two points in a standoff are gone.
Robert: Yes, yes, no, no.
Sonny: Two gone.
Robert: You can check me out on YouTube as well.
Sonny: Awesome. Awesome. Robert, thanks so much for your time mate.
Robert: Thanks for having me.
Sonny: Yes, be in touch. Stay in touch again in the future. It’s been a good chat and yes, I appreciate it very much.
In this episode of the podcast, I talk to one of the forefathers of American MMA & submission grappling, founder of Combat Submission Wrestling, Erik Paulson. We discuss the benefits of note-taking and the ability to be a free thinker and having freedom of movement, along with stories of the early days of training with the Gracies & the Machado Brothers alongside Shooto & Catch Wrestling. We get into some specifics on Kesa Gatame, Neck Cranks & Leg Locks and we also end up going deep on the power of meditation, spirit, heart & energy.
In this episode of the podcast I talk to Christian Graugart who is the founder of BJJ Globetrotters, a community that runs seminars & camps around the world that discourages jiu-jitsu politics. We discuss the role of tribalism in BJJ and the benefits of thinking outside the box. The desire for social recognition that drives the need for many competition accomplishments and their recent issues with the IBJJF and their Beltchecker website as a possible alternative. Along with tips on training, teaching & building a friendly culture at your club.
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