A selection of genre-specific grappling playlists for striking & strangling during your bjj, wrestling or mma training workouts. All put into spotify playlists!
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 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 about Leg Locks in MMA and how they have influenced the Meta game. Robert 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.
Listen to the Leg Locks In MMA Interview
ROBERT DEGLE INTERVIEW
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, the 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.
Also about how social recognition drives the need for many accomplishments, the recent issues with the IBJJF (International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation), where they became the largest affiliation in the world, and BJJ were banned, and some teaching and training tips.
INTERVIEW TOPICS DISCUSSED:
The Impetus Behind His Organization
He says that travelling was his impetus. Visiting so many academies, he realized any place you walk through the door, you might find your new best friend, and there’s always some people that will dislike you.
Is Tribalism Good or Bad?
Tribalism is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a very healthy thing. But it can be misused like sometimes people build a relationship based on one person wanting something from the other. And this kind of relationship is very easy to make in Jiu-Jitsu because we often sign up for it, and there’s a hierarchy. And we can climb it through hard work, as long as we maintain good relations with the person at the top. That’s not a bad thing. But sometimes, that person at the top is not necessarily a nice person.
Why Is Social Recognition Necessary?
He asks to imagine a competition with no medals and no podium pictures. The pictures are on the podium for a reason, so that people can see that you went up in the hierarchy. What’s the purpose of the medal? It’s like proof that you won, and that’s the same with a jiu-jitsu belt.
Imagine if no cameras were allowed. You’ll feel like where is the point of achieving all this if you can’t show people that I have been struggling in the mud.
The Instructor-Student Relationship
Christian says that very often, people tell him you cannot be friends with your students. You have to keep it very strict. And he always found that to be bullshit. He’s never had any other relationship with his students and just been friends. For him, it’s just mutual respect, and he doesn’t need to be in a state of higher status. But that might not work for some people. Some people need 100% control to behave, while some need no control to behave well.
Beltchecker is just a way to automate the workload for IBJJF. It’s built on an exploiting human urge for social recognition. It was made to do things right for the IBJJF. The website is currently at 15,000 registered users in 10 months and is entirely free to use. It funds itself through certificates and ID cards for verified profiles.
Way To Making New Friends
Traveling and meeting so many people. He states, “I realized that no matter where I would go, I can become a good friend with someone I would like to hang out with. And the key for me has always been to treat every person I meet as a potential next best friend.”
Key To Improve In Jiu-Jitsu
A key to improve in jiu-jitsu is getting exposed to a lot of different games. People can do that through competition. It’s just kind of difficult to gather up enough minutes in competition, and it’s costly to get like 300 competition minutes, which will take you years and tons of money. You can also do training in other academies or travel. But to expose yourself to many things, the important thing is to try to find common denominators of what you need to look for in defending or attacking. The more you can find common denominators in something, the easier it will be to deal with the stuff you don’t know.
How Jiu-Jitsu Is Different From Other Sports
The only thing that makes Jiu-Jitsu different from other sports is invented degrees on black belts. In my opinion, it’s like we’ve introduced two very distinct promotion systems, like Skill Wranglers. We use colour belts to brag about how jujitsu is authentic. You get the belts and have the true skill because this is based on competition, or at least in comparison with competing athletes.
Quotes from Christian Graugart
“It’s just interesting how medals, or titles, or belts, can make humans do some quite wild things.”
“There’s no way you can ever learn everything in Jiu Jitsu. No matter how much you studied the game, there’s always a ton of stuff that you will never know.”
“Maybe it’s not just staying alive, maybe it’s important that you don’t quit.”
“If you see a problem or something that annoys you, then you just see the problem. But at the same time, you can also see an opportunity to try and come up with a different solution.”
“It’s so easy to tell other people to take initiative like someone should do something, or this should be done better.”
“You can either just keep complaining, or you can try to change things.”
“If you think something is annoying, or a problem, then probably other people do too. So if there’s a solution, it’s right there. You have to pick it up.”
[00:23] – Christain’s Backstory
[04:29] – The impetus behind his organization BJJ Globetrotters
[06:43] – Jiu-Jitsu has started to exit Brazil
[07:49] – How Matt Thornton steered his journey and Chris Haueter’s influence on him
[12:35] – Is the tribalism mentality necessary?
[14:48] – How social recognition impacts you and your family
[16:03] – Is social recognition a bad thing
[19:54] – The need for a boundary between instructor and student
[24:20] – The disadvantage of strict instructor-student relationship
[25:23] – The IBJJF and BJJ Globetrotters Association ban
[28:57] – About beltchecker.com
[36:25] – Tips to make friends in a new environment
[39:23] – His way of teaching Jiu-Jitsu to people
[43:25] – The key to improve in Jiu-Jitsu
[48:50] – What makes Jiu-Jitsu different from other sports
[52:01] – The worst thing you can ever do in jujitsu
[56:55] – A huge change in Jiu-Jitsu
[59:03] – The philosophy behind Globetrotters and Beltchecker
[01:02:10] – Politics in Jiu-Jitsu
[01:03:28] – The Cult of Done Manifesto
[01:04:48] – About the Globetrotters YouTube channel
In this episode of the podcast, I talk to Denis Kelly who runs the Australian Combat Sports Academy in Melbourne and has a Black Belt in BJJ, Zen Do Kai Karate and has fought MMA professionally while training worldwide.
We discussed his online teaching experience after his state just came out of the world’s longest lockdown where Melbourne was under curfew, and he could not operate his gym. Still, he persisted with teaching online lessons the entire time. We also discussed what he learned during that period regarding club culture and teamwork and what helped him endure those difficult times.
Listen to the Denis Kelly Interview
[00:00] – Introduction to Episode 035 [03:42] – Returning to Full Contact Training [05:24] – Black Belts He Has [07:10] – His Backstory [09:40] – The Reality of Fighter Lifestyle [12:49] – Chris Brennan as an Instructor [14:15] – Academies Denis Has Trained At [16:04] – His First MMA Fight [19:04] – His Advice to Aspiring Fighters [22:18] – The Secret to Getting BJ Penn’s Flexibility [23:18] – Keep Putting In Effort Until You Get To the Top [26:43] – The Downside of the Sports Industry Which People Miss Out [34:01] – What Kept Him Motivated to Train Continuously Even During the Lockdown [37:34] – His Suggestions to Gym Owners Considering Doing Online Classes [43:13] – No Online Training Can Replace the Physical Contact in Jiu-Jitsu Training [44:43] – A Good Structure for Online Classes [46:33] – What Kept Him Motivated to Continue Online Classes [49:03] – Ways to Make the Training Enjoyable [52:29] – Your Training Partner’s Performance Affects Your Performance [54:05] – The Overly Competitive Environment Is Not Good [55:27] – Do Not Worry About Sounding Like a Broken Record [57:14] – How He Sets up Expectations of Young Fighters [59:33] – Is Full-Time Training Necessary? [01:02:38] – What Is He Looking Forward To?
Being A Profesional MMA Fighter
Techniques Are Changing With Time
Denis says the sport is changing every year or even within a year. The techniques that worked six months ago won’t work now or next year. So, it’s like an unpredictable sport.
The Two Sides Of Continuously Changing Sport
The sport in the 2000s was not like how today it is. And they’re probably two sides to it. In some ways, people who are just getting into fighting have a little of an advantage that we didn’t have back in those days. Now you can find out a lot more about the sport. You can find out about what the fights look like, what the opponents look like, even what year what kind of training you should be doing. So, if you’re a new fighter getting into it, you can almost tell exactly what you need to do to be successful.
And the other side of it is if people are getting into it and want to be a fighter, they probably don’t see everything that’s going to go into it. They see successful people. They see Conor McGregor doing this and that and anything and think if I keep training, that will be me as well, but they don’t see all the extra work or the boring stuff that goes into it.
A Hazardous Sport
It is such a hazardous sport to get into if you’re looking for fame. Because no matter what happens, at the end of the day, someone is waiting with a shin kick to their head or trying some moves. There’re a lot of other hobbies that you could be undertaking to get famous.
The Downside Of Sports Industry
The truth that most people don’t realize about fighting is that in other sports, like football or tennis. If you’re pretty good at these sports, but then you’re slowly deteriorating, you’re probably not going to get invited back to the big matches or the big tournaments. Whereas with fighting, as long as you used to be a good fighter ten years ago, you’ll still get invited back to get knocked out by the next up and coming kid. And it’s easy. You can see like promoters probably sweet talk the guy to get them in there, and you get your career back on the road. That’s the downside of it that people miss out on.
Online Jiu-Jitsu Training
Tip For Gym Owners: Focus On Beginners
He says, during the period of the second lockdown, he just focused on complete beginners. Because he thinks that people who have already been doing Jiu-Jitsu for a while want to do Gi or No-Gi moves, and you can’t do any of that stuff in online Training. So, the second time around, we focused on the pure beginners, just showing them that this is mount position, this is how we do Armbar for a month, how to do Americana for a month, this is side control etc.,
He tells about his training module by saying, “We’re basically the second time around. We’re going to do just two Jiu-Jitsu classes a week, but it’s perfect for people who’ve never done Jiu-Jitsu before. We can tell them when this (pandemic) is all over when the war is over, and we can start training again.”
Teach Beginners With A Dummy
It’s probably easier for beginners to learn it on a dummy because they’re not worried about accidentally breaking the new guy’s arm on the first day, so they don’t mind doing it slightly wrong.
Online Training Can’t Replace Physical Training.
The majority of Jiu-Jitsu people who have been doing Jiu-Jitsu for more than one year are doing it because they like physical contact. So really, no amount of online drilling is going to replace that for them. But people who are in the zero to one year range can benefit from training with dummies and getting stuff explained to them. If they’re doing it appropriately, they’ll benefit when they first start doing an actual physical impairment.
ACSA MMA Club Culture
Making The Training An Enjoyable Activity
Making the training an enjoyable activity comes with the attitude of the coaches as well. There’s a lot of different things we can do through games. He says, “People take the fight seriously, but I see it mostly as an enjoyable activity. Sometimes people get caught up in a life or death struggle and you’re defending yourself from samurais or ninjas or whatever. Whereas the reality is that, what we’re really doing is play-fighting and it’s just an elaborate form of play-fighting. So if you can keep that attitude, then that sort of transfers into your classes and into your training and people tend to enjoy it more.”
A Cooperative Community Is Going To Work Out Better
He says, “There’re gyms where it becomes too competitive when the coach is pushing for a win at all cost kind of mentality. I think it’s okay for a little while. You get good short-term results, but then the fighters are sort of sabotaged in each fight because they want the coach’s attention. So this guy doesn’t want to spar with this guy.
This person doesn’t want to roll with this person. This person doesn’t want to show their moves because everybody’s okay for that number one spot. And then eventually it all falls apart, and everybody leaves and goes their separate ways. And then it’s starting from scratch again. So I think making sure that kind of cooperative community is going to work out better.”
It may seem counterintuitive, but if everyone is helping each other and having fun, better competitors can come from that. Or maybe a more consistent or wider range of competitors can come from it.
Do Not Worry About Sounding Like A Broken Record
Referring to the dilemma of whether to tell or not your training partner about improvement in their techniques or postures, he says, “If things need to be said, you probably need to repeat them a lot. And the only thing is that, sometimes the first time someone hears it, it might not make any sense to them or might not be relevant. But you should not be worried about sounding like a broken record.”
Is A Full Day Training Necessary?
Training for all those individual kinds of martial arts styles, it’s going to be time-consuming. He says, “I would advise people, don’t quit your day job. My general advice is until you’re getting paid the same amount per year, as a fighter, as what you would be getting from your job, Do not quit your job. If you need to get to a really good level at Jiu-Jitsu, striking on tape guns, etc., that’s going to cost money. If you’re looking at Rocky where he trains poor kids for $1, then don’t get your hopes up. That’s realistically not going to happen anywhere in the world.
Unless you’re already a really good, well-rounded martial artist, you’ll have to pay someone to teach you. And it’s going to be very difficult to do that. If you don’t have a job, then there’s a lot of other expenses. You’re probably not going to get paid for your first fight unless you’re getting paid to lose. You’re probably not going to get paid much for your first 10 or 15 fights. If you’re always low on money, if you’re always broke, you’ll probably have to take short notice fights just for money. Those short-notice fights will probably be the ones where you get an authored, or you get an injury, and then that sets back your career. So, there’re a lot of good reasons not to quit your job, to focus on fighting.”
“You want your training partner to get better because that’s going to make you better.”
– Denis Kelly
“The tough thing is that people don’t realize that you put in all that effort. And if you get a good result, if you win a fight, then your reward is that you get a tougher opponent the next time. Then you have to put in twice as much effort. And then you have to keep consistently doing that and find better and better people until you eventually get to the top.”
– Denis Kelly
“If things need to be said, you probably need to repeat them a lot.”
– Denis Kelly
“The more you spar, the shorter your career is gonna be.”
In this episode of The Sonny Brown Breakdown Podcast, I talk with Craig Jones. Craig Jones is an Australian grappler and Brazilian jiu-jitsu black promoted by Lachlan Giles while competing for the Absolute MMA Academy in the sport’s international circuit. An International Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Federation (IBJJF) World No-Gi Champion (2015 at in purple belt division) and a 2x ADCC Trials champion, Craig Jones turned many heads his way at the 2017 ADCC finals by submitting the tournament’s 88-kilogram #1 pick, Leandro Lo. Jones would later cement his status as one of the best grapplers of his generation by winning numerous prestigious events, including multiple belt titles in the Polaris Invitational promotion.
Starting with Australia, we end up moving to America to train with the John Danaher team. Join us on Craig’s journey to Puerto Rico. We discuss how his goals grew over time, how he teaches seminars and uses them to train and train other aspects of training with the DDS. We also discuss the importance of marketing as a professional grappler and earn a living from the sport at the highest levels where the line between sports and sports entertainment can change.
Craig Jones Interview Highlights:
[00:02:52] Why did Craig move to Puerto Rico?
[00:08:38] What was the big victory of Craig Jones?
[00:16:23] How had Craig decided to join the Danaher team?
[00:21:17] How does Danaher’s instruction system help in developing individual moves?
[00:24:40] How is Danaher’s systematic approach is different from other places?
What are the key areas of growth?
[00:31:21] What is the benefit of professional food time?
[00:41:19] Why most people are unable to make money in wrestling?
[00:44:52] Self-belief and Self-confidence are necessary for sports and for making money.
[00:51:43] You learn things from watching!
[00:58:47] Craig’s ability to market himself…..
What are the things involved in Craig’s success?
[01:04:28] How do you feel with pressure point techniques?
[01:07:30] What is the link between sports and sports entertainment?
[01:11:41] What is Craig’s goal?
What type of gym does Craig want?
[01:14:40] Craig’s piece of advice for Youngsters…..
Craig Jones Quotes:
“Minimising individual expressions, allows the team to be much more efficient.”
“When there is no rest, you have to pace yourself; if you escape that expose, you are not going to survive in the training session.”
“Don’t compete to make money, compete to finish.”
“Your coach is good but you also have to be good enough to recognise the areas where he is not good.”
Thanks for checking out the show. Be sure to subscribe and leave a review.
Sonny Brown: Craig, how are you doing today, mate?
Craig Jones: Yes. Good, good. Up bright and early so we could coordinate this one, but I’m usually up early anyway, so it’s not too bad.
Sonny: Appreciate it. It’s late here, but I’m usually up late so it works out well. It’s a good time, because it’s nice and quiet here for recording. I guess up early over there as now you’re in Puerto Rico, which is probably a big change, coming from Australia, then you moved to New York or New Jersey, I think, and then now to Puerto Rico. What’s happened? What’s going on? It seems like a wild move for you guys there.
Craig: Yes, very strange move. Honestly, when I first heard about it– Gordon went on vacation to see Mo in Puerto Rico. I think they were talking about some business stuff. Previous to that, Me, Ethan, and Taza, Mo brought us out here, but probably 18 months ago. Gordon went out, came back, and then immediately started trying to convince John to pack up the whole team and move. I don’t think John would have been interested in doing it whatsoever, except for the fact that COVID was really killing Panza’s gym in New York, or the restrictions were killing the competition classes.
If you’re running a school and only local people can enter, and train, and stuff, and there’s limited numbers, then the competition guys, they’re not there paying. They’re not really supporting the business apart from advertising and stuff. I wouldn’t say there was tensions, but it was definitely difficult to train as we usually would. We’d have time-restricted classes. Again, we were only allowed in 15 minutes before. We had to be out of there 15 minutes after.
While the gym was actually closed during quarantine, it was fine because we could just sneak in through the back door and there won’t even really be guys that teach in private. But once they opened up the gym in limited numbers, then it became very, very difficult. That encouraged John to move back here. Then obviously, the guys make a lot of money off DVDs. To move to Puerto Rico, you actually only pay 4% taxes of everything you own. I believe even capital gains and stuff, it’s only 4%. I think the combination of those two things, and we have Mo out here. Mo has been living out here for a few years, so we had a safety net. It wasn’t a complete risk.
Those were really the main reasons, and everyone really wanted to get out. New York’s a great place to visit, but I don’t think it’s a good place to live at all, obviously. Unless you’re a millionaire living in Tribeca or something, or in a real comfortable neighborhood, it’s pretty horrible to live there. I’ve moved to Puerto Rico and I’ve got a three-bedroom right on the ocean, and it’s the same price per month as my studio apartment in Hoboken, which is four flights of stairs, a shit apartment. I’m pretty sure there were rats in there and stuff. A great change.
Sonny: [laughs] That makes sense then. It’s a bit of like a perfect storm of the crazy global conditions. Yes, the team in New York moves up and moves to Puerto Rico. Now, are you able to get in on that good tax break? Are those incentives there for an Australian overseas?
Craig: I’m still, unfortunately, awaiting my visa. I think, technically, I’m here illegally right now. It should process pretty soon, but I have to do a biometrics appointment. Obviously, you have to go in physically for that and with the US, COVID’s crazy so all the offices are shut down. I think I have to wait to get my social security number, and then I’m entitled to that. Compared to the Australian tax rate, 4% is going to be pretty damn nice.
Sonny: [laughs] The incentives are there for a reason, I guess. They want people there.
Craig: Yes, that’s for sure.
Sonny: That’s one move then that you’ve made recently, but obviously, going from Australia to New York to begin with would have been a big move. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m thinking way back, one of your original Instagram handles maybe was jiujitsutravels or something like that, way back in the day? Was that always your goal to use jiu-jitsu as a means to travel?
Craig: Yes, pretty much. My goals always just grew with what I felt I could accomplish at the time. I know that when I started jiu-jitsu it was like, “If I get good enough, I can open a school and not have to work a full-time job.” Then, in terms of competition goes, it was always like, “Could I be the best guy in the state, best guy in the country?” Then just kept raising those goals. It was pretty much the same thing. Actually, jiu-jitsu traveling was pretty much all I was doing. I would go into a camp somewhere.
I’ve trained basically everywhere, like Marcelo’s, Atos, Drysdale’s. I’ve visited everywhere basically doing mini-camps and then competing, but I had to change the Instagram name. It was after ADCC 2017 where I also had that breakout performance. I remember André Galvão came out to me and he goes, “Man, you got to change your Instagram name. No one can find you.” [laughs] That was what made me switch it over.
Sonny: You got to consider the branding. It makes sense. The branding you’ve going for now too, I guess, is something that’s probably another topic with the budgie smugglers and the #FuckCraigJones [laughs] who may all say that’s the end, maybe.
Craig: [laughs] Yes, they are kids.
Sonny: Yes, that’s a rabbit hole. [laughs] 2017 was definitely a breakout performance in terms of competition. I remember watching it, that match against Leandro Lo. We were with the team Australia, we’re new, but that was still a big victory that, obviously, would have opened up some doors. Then you won in the second round of that as well. Breakout performance, no doubt. Did that then opened more doors for you in America where you were accepted into places like Danaher’s, or how did that next step evolution then go from there?
Craig: That really just opened the door that, man, I didn’t have to teach regular classes to live off jiu-jitsu. It switched. I remember basically straight after that event, in my email, it was probably every grappler’s dream at the time. Sponsorship offers from every brand, it was flooded with people asking for seminar opportunities. Based on that alone, I just took the risk up then and pretty much stopped teaching at Absolute St. Kilda. I would teach when I was back in town, but over time I came, I was back in town less and less, just because all the opportunities were in the States.
I would just live off the road. I remember I made horrible decisions after ADCC 2017. Because I had made no money forever, I took every single seminar opportunity, and I still competed at the same time. I remember, I think I did 76 speaks or 77 seminars over the next 12 months. I just kept using the seminars to prepare for competition. We’d do the seminar and then I’d roll with everyone at the end. Terrible, terrible idea that was. That was obviously risk of injury, rolling in seminars. You can get injured.
Sonny: Yes, that’s definitely not as expected nowadays that the person will roll with everyone. You hear the stories more of that happening with the old school. Rickson would line everyone up and then run through everyone.
Craig: There’s a safe way to do it. I always tell people this. I’m always like, “What’s the thing everyone’s worried about at seminars?” If they do roll with everyone, the coach is always worried about getting submitted. I have this strategy that when I run, then go on, let him roll with everyone. If someone in the room submits me, I’ll let him submit me a couple more times. I’m always like, if they can go and say they submitted me, people are going to believe it one time, but maybe not two or three times. [laughs] They’ll think I gave it to him.
Sonny: That’s some high-level tips there. It’s like, “Fool me once, but twice, three times, ahh–” The fix was in.
Craig: That’s how you protect the ego when you’re tired of rolling.
Sonny: High-level ego protection. You would just wait. On those competing, you’re just going there, just rolling with whoever at the seminars, keep yourself fit, and prepare for competitions. Were you doing the seminars in just weekends only? That’s more than one seminar a week then that you did that?
Craig: Yes. I would do them whenever. Obviously, sometimes it’s hard to get seminars during the week, but I think some parts of America, they find it so hard to get people to come there to do seminars anyway, that they will take weekday seminars. I remember even in the UK, the UK was really good. I feel like those guys in Europe are real desperate to get people out to seminars.
I remember when I competed against Matheus Diniz in GrappleFest, I think I did 18 seminars in 19 days. The day off I had was the competition. Basically, two and a half weeks straight just seminar, seminar, seminar. That’s not a good idea either, because I also feel like the quality of the seminar deteriorates as you’re just getting exhausted. Obviously, you would know it sounds like a dream to teach seminars, but it is exhausting. You need to keep your energy up in between, I think.
Sonny: Yes. That’s probably a good idea then, though, too, the lessons that you learned from doing that many seminars in the time. One of the coaches back here, Justin, he was giving me advice of it’s good to do things like that and you actually batch your mistakes. You can learn a lot from them at the same time. You’ve done that year of just hardcore seminars teaching. What would you think of the details then to deliver a good seminar and the things to avoid then? What are you on the lookout for? Also, will you teach the same thing every time or will you mix it up?
Craig: I’ll try to. I remember Braulio told me about this. It really does work well. You might do a limited run of seminars. You don’t necessarily need to advertise it, but just teach the same thing every seminar. It doesn’t have to be a whole year. I feel like I tried to do a seminar in like a tour, almost. I did have a proper tour recently, but I try to feel like I’ll teach this sequence of techniques for the tour and, really, by the end of that tour, I’ve heard all the questions people need to ask about the move when you teach it.
By the end of it, it’s just a well-polished technique. Now basically, every time I teach it, I get less questions because I’ve taken into account the questions of previous seminars. For me, it’s really less is more. What’s funny is I almost consider it like a comedian that either has to win over the audience or the audience is there for them. Do you know what I mean? Like if you’re a Joe Rogan and you go, he’s already won over his audience. These days as my jiu-jitsu notoriety increase, people come to the seminar just to see me.
I felt like, say, around ’86 to 2017 when I was just taking off, they were there to see the technique. Now, almost have a higher level of scrutiny, and they would care more about the quality of the technique, which is super strange because these days, I feel like people just want to come say hello, hang out, get a photo. I try to adapt the seminar to that, and I feel like less technique, more focused technique, and then lots of time for Q&A at the end. Lots of time for stories and stuff. It’s definitely changed over time, what I think people expect out of me.
Sonny: It’s a good point, because I’ve even felt that myself sometimes when looking at seminars that I want to go to. An example might be Kurt Osiander who was planning when he was coming out here, and of course Legend’s been around forever, but really I want to go there. I don’t really care what he’s going to show, what he’s going to teach, I want to hear his funny stories. I want to go get a photo with him, still in the middle fingers.
I catch myself thinking that in my head before I book like, “Actually, why am I going to do these seminars?” It’s got to be interesting on the other side, when you’re putting it on to be able to navigate that change in people’s expectations, where maybe they want to go there and they want to see the #FuckCraigJones rashy on. [laughs]
Craig: That will be the merchandise and stuff. That’s how I’ve planned to stay relevant when I get old, at least the entertainment value.
Sonny: [laughs] That’s it. You spend all that time then doing those seminars. Tell me about how you ended up falling in with the Danaher crew. I guess you’re definitely part of their team now. Started off as rivals, but they had seemed to be pretty accepting of allowing their rivals to come train. How did that happen that you decided that that’s the place to be?
Craig: It’s if you can’t beat them, join them.
Craig: It was basically after me and Gordon’s second match. We had our match at ADCC 2017, and then we had another match at EBI 2017, the Absolute, so obviously, into this armbar, I still count that as a victory, because he should’ve tapped, but a week after that we trained, which was funny because we had our first match, we had our second match, and then exactly a week after the second match, we both had Kasai and I had the Murilo Santana rematch, and he had the Yuri Simões match. Then at this side, there are four or five different locker rooms at this particular venue they had, and it just so happened they put me and me by myself in the locker room with Danaher and all his guys.
There was Danaher guys in the undercut, the whole Renzo crew, basically. I remember just walking into the locker room after they took me there, and I walk in to the whole team that I competed against the previous weekend. I still remember Danaher being like, “Oh, you’re in this locker room with us?” [chuckles] I would say it was awkward for a second, but then it was really fun. I think at the time, actually, Marc Grayson, a local Sydney guy had flown out to be in my corner for the event.
That was definitely useful and stuff in terms of warming up, but I also got to see how the DDS guys warm up, and hear John telling stories and stuff like that in the back. I remember at the time, Gordon refused to admit his arm was injured. He was like, “No, it’s fine.” He’s moving around. It had a huge amount of swelling under here, the following week, It took until I actually joined the team for him to admit how bad it was, and he couldn’t train for three weeks or something afterwards.
That’s what started the relationship, and I remember they said, “If you’re still in New York, you should come in to train.” From there on, I really just started showing up with more regularity, which is strange because from being part of the team now, it’s very strict about who can and who can’t come, in terms of who could join the team or not. There’s been a lot of high-level grapplers out of us to join the team and they’ve turned them down just based on weight divisions and stuff like that.
I think I had an in into the team just because Danaher is from New Zealand and he loves people from that part of the world. He really appreciates– Anytime an Australian visits Renzo’s, typically, if John hears the accent, very, very welcoming. I think that might’ve been the in for me to get in there, because looking back, we really had no formal conversation about joining the team. I just kept showing up whenever I had spare time in America.
Sonny: [laughs] The old George Costanza method of just show up until everyone assumes that you’re on board, right?
Craig: Exactly, [laughs] exactly. I’m trying to remember how often I showed up. For two or three mini-camps, and then I showed up for, I think, three months for the Palhares match. Then I kept showing up for longer and longer. I think it went from a week to three months to six months, and then officially moved to New York in March. I actually moved to New York March 1st, and then the COVID lockdowns hit basically a week later.
It’s a strange time to move to New York. I really chose to join the team, because I figured I would go to wherever I get beaten up the worst. Going in there, basically, my skill set was a knockoff of what they were doing. To go see it at the source, I still remember getting beaten out by Jason Rau, Nick Ronan. I thought I’d go in there and just get beaten up by Gary and Gordon, but being beaten up by the low-level guys really showed me the holes I had in my game, and that’s why I stuck it out.
Sonny: I’ve heard lots of great things about Jason Rau, that he’s flown under the radar a bit and maybe getting out there a bit more. You bring up a good point of then how your game, like you said yourself that you felt your game was a bit of an imitation of theirs as you walk into there. Did you go in there with the intent of then, “I’m just going to soak up everything that Danaher can give me. I’m just going to start adopting their system as much as possible and just fall under his instruction style”? How much room is there left for you to develop your own individual styles within there, or your individual moves, or individual expression of that?
Craig: That’s a real good question. From what I understand about the team, for the most part, guys will have minor variations in style but everyone really does the same underlying systems. Everyone’s very, very similar, almost robot-like. The best time to see is if you see John run the guys through a warm-up before a competition. John’s telling them exactly what moves to hit. It’s almost very, very robotic. Sometimes, the guys will add on to the system with their own variations, which is good because of Gary and Gordon. It’s probably like the Yin and Yang, the complete opposite style. Gordon’s like minimum risk, maximum efficiency, Gary’s like maximum risk, you know what I mean?
Craig: Impossible to pin, impossible to hang on to. Obviously, their style has diverged but, really, the underlying systems and stuff are all the same. For me, it’s just minor tweaks, but for the most part, everyone’s doing the same thing. That’s why I think the team is so good. It’s because, say we look at a team like Atos, say we look at Kaynan Duarte and Lucas Barbosa, I couldn’t think of two things those guys do the same.
When they compete, although they’re part of a team to prepare, it’s individuals facing other individuals. Whereas what I can feel with Danaher’s group is everyone has the same system. Whenever one of us goes out and loses, provided we did the system and the system failed, then the whole team can adapt. For the most part, though, it’s like one of us will fail, I will mess up some part of it and get beaten in that sense, but I see it as a whole team actually working together to face other individuals. Because we have the same style, we can see where it fails and where it needs to be improved.
Sonny: I get exactly what you mean, where even that by minimizing the individual expression, it allows you to make any adaptations across the whole team much more efficient. Nowadays, it looks like a joke where everything is a system. Everyone’s putting out a system, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s got to be a system. Look, I’ll be guilty of that at some point, and I think it’s just the way it is. For you coming in there just like how you were training before in Australia, moving over there, all the other places you’ve seen, how different or how obvious is that systematic approach that Danaher’s got?
Craig: It’s so different, the way we train and everything because say, for example, every training session, we’ll always do a minimum of an hour of technique. If you watched a Danaher DVD or you go to a seminar, he might teach one move over three hours. In the gym, it’s going to be like he’d teach a sequence very quick, we’ll practice it, and then he will add in other parts of that technique.
In that sense, it’s very, very similar to the way most people teach classes, but it’s the competition guys all doing it. What I see in other gyms is the coaches will teach these elaborate techniques and teaching to the up-and-coming guys, but it feels like as guys get more and more advanced, they amount of drilling they do decreases. Whereas, we would never do a session without that. We wouldn’t even do a session pre-competition day without practicing specific techniques. We hit that and then we always do positional sparring.
Every time, we always go mount, turtle, closed guard, and then we might do start on a single leg, we might do start in cross ashi with the double leg control, maybe 50/50, but we always do those positions. That’s what I think a lot of high-level teams don’t do, because what they do , say you do IBJJF. The match is won or lost in guard, passing, and sweeping. When they do their sparring, it’s always like they might do first-point throw or something, but very rarely, these guys work bad positions. That’s obviously why they’re so scared to do an EBI-ranked, because they never worked bad positions.
Almost the same, I remember preparing for EBI, I spent very little time doing the bad positions. I was like, “If I get to overtime, I’m probably going to lose, so let me just prepare to win this thing in regulation,” because regulation is where you get paid anyway. We always do both positions around. That’s where I was let down entering the team for the first time, because I didn’t have a great amount of escapes, I didn’t have great total escapes, even close guard was really a neglected position.
When a visitor comes into the team, they might be good at jiu-jitsu, but are they good at the whole package? If we take a visitor and we put him in mount, total closed guard, and we don’t even do any rest in between those rounds. When there’s no rest, you have to pace yourself. If you use to escape them with explosiveness, you’re just not going to survive the training session. That’s where I was really let down because coming as one of the better guys in the gym, you just very rarely get put in bad positions.
When I was training mostly with Absolute St. Kilda, obviously, Lachlan Giles would be tough, there’d be other tough guys in the gym. I would spend very little time if ever on the mount. Then, you’d get put in mount in the training room with these elite-level guys, and you can’t escape. The other thing they do really, really well is everyone always says this. Don’t finish a submission, you don’t need to crank a submission in the training room, but for the most part, people do. That means that guys are afraid to work their late stage defense.
Whereas, say Danaher, no one’s allowed to finish an armbar. You’re allowed to extend an arm, but you’re not allowed to apply any hip pressure to the arm. What that builds is your ability to anytime you get put in an armbar, you don’t just tap when the arm gets extended, you get to give the hitchhiker a shot, you try to sit up, you try to use movement to clear it. That way, we build those reactions.
We also build the reaction without fear, because Gordon was showing me about armbar escapes is, if I’m really tense and you break the grip and I’m resisting, you’ll find my wrist every single time. If you know the grip is going to break and you relax and you throw the wrist, it’s very hard for the guy finishing the armbar to secure the wrist and get a finish. We train those late stages every weekend. I haven’t encountered any other team really do that. Those could be the key areas where I feel the most growth for me.
Sonny: I really am interested in the idea of him not allowing people to finish armbars, because I really enjoy late stage escaping armbars, hitchhiker, reverse hitchhiker, that type. I love the look on people’s faces when they think they got me dead to rights, and I can get out of there. I’ve taught those moves to white belts and people, and I can say that they like, “Oh, I’m never going to try that.” It’s a hard thing to actually get them to build confidence. We can put them in situational things with the arm extended, but I know that it’s still– For them to actually get the confidence to try it, it’s going to take a lot, but you’re saying that no one’s tapping to armbars there, or no one’s finishing them. Is that–?
Craig: Yes, we just do not. There’s never any arm injuries because you have that faith that if it’s extended, they’re not going to break out. It’s just everyone knows the philosophy. If you can’t make a guy submit and control them without applying breaking pressure, you don’t know how to really finish the submission, but we just take that to heart. Everyone’s heard that, how many people actually do it? You know what I mean? Typically, what I see is people will extend an arm in the gym. They look at the guy to tap, the guy that’s going to tap, they apply hip pressure.
Whereas really, if you can hold it for three seconds, you can break the arm. That’s where we have these elaborate foot positions to prevent these escapes. Whereas like John says, to us, “The chances of you breaking someone’s arm at the highest level without certain feet positions eliminating movement are pretty slim.” You know what I mean? At the very high-level, guys are going to take a few pups. That just allows us to train those gray areas. Just things that you know, but they’re just so hard to implement in the training room.
Sonny: I guess that’s something too, when you’ve got a group of professionals training full time that you can, it’s easier to implement that in in some ways. I know that they could be like with the part-time as they want to come in on a Wednesday night and get a tap in. The catch and release might not suit them. That could be their little victory in the moment. That’s probably, I guess, a benefit of the full-time, it’s very clear that you guys are there to make money, and this is going to be a better way to do that. Yes, I really liked that. Is there any other positions that they’ll do the same kind of thing for?
Craig: I’m trying to think. Nothing as black and white, but basically just to control them so they cannot move before really even in putting that submission position into a dangerous area. I think that’s where the guys’ risk-taking confidence comes from, because say, for example, you know your mount escape is terrible. You’re going to have a conservative game because you’re going to be like, “If I miss this sweep attempt that may pass, they’re going to a win.” For us, the training with all these bad positions, bad areas, we have more confidence in our escapes, which means we have more confidence in taking risks during a match.
That’s why I think of like the guy Gary told him. He can take all these risks because his submission defenses are like 10 out of 10. He’s almost impossible to pin and hold down. That’s why I think Gary’s style is so exciting. It’s not that his style is exciting. It’s that his submission defense and he can’t be pinned is so tight that his confident to take all these risks during the match, because he has less to lose than the average competitor from taking those risks. I think that’s built in the training room, the way we trained.
Sonny: How much then do you find is tailored due to the emergence of sub-only rule sets and maybe a shift away from the IBJJF rule sets that’s allowed that to happen? You put out a– I thought it was a funny video of taking shots at some of the IBJJF, but I saw some other people posting, they were quite not happy with it.
Craig: The Brazilians weren’t happy, because I said the secret from Brazil. They were like, “You should have just said the secrets of you jiu-jitsu.”
Sonny: Do you ever see yourself going back to the IBJJF, or if they’re bringing in leg locks or something, is that– or is it just going to be for the professional grappling? You’ve got a great setup with Submission Underground at scenes. Is that just going to dictate how what’s going on in the training room?
Craig: Yes, I’ve definitely done. I don’t think I’m going to do IBJJF events. It’s great they’ve added heel hooks, but where I think they let down is the way points are scored. It’d say a takedown is getting your opponent’s butt to the floor. I’m like, “Well, you should really have to pin them.” If we cut that scramble short and say that this is the point-scoring position, then we’re missing out on this whole range of things that can occur where the person is committing weight to you to try to pin you, which opens up other things.
Whereas if they just have to put your butt to the floor, again, you cut that scramble so short. I think that there are certain areas that IBJJF rules set is still a big letdown. We train every day for ADCC rules, but if we have a competition with other rules coming up, then we just make the adjustment. Really, it’s not a huge adjustment for me to go from ADCC style training to Submission Underground style training, because I just have to add in the overtime.
For the most part, whether there’s points or not, I’m going to have a very similar style, but again, IBJJF, the way the point scoring is done, I think it’s too big a change to go from preventing yourself being pinned to preventing your butt touching the floor. I don’t think I’ll jump in there. Maybe if I can keep getting the silver medals, I’ll do No-Gi Masters World.
Sonny: [laughs] That’s a backup plan?
Sonny: [laughs] With Submission Underground then too, the biggest thing that I’ve heard people complain is that five-minute time limit. I think everyone wants to see a bit longer on the board. Are you doing just strict five-minute rounds in preparation for that? How do you tailor yourself to those time limits?
Craig: All right. Here’s another thing that I didn’t say about the training room, is that, say, we would probably do six rounds, but we don’t have a timer on the board. John calls time whenever he deems fit. I think that’s so important in the training room, because although it’s good to know, to see the time and play to the time, that’s a skill set that’s very easily adapted. That’s a mindset change. As long as you’re mentally calm out there, you’ll be able to adapt to the score board.
What I notice is, say you do six rounds, probably the last 30, 20 seconds, the guys will look at the clock and I’ll deem whether they can do any more jiu-jitsu. That adds up over time. Whereas for us, we don’t see, we don’t know when the round is going to end. That means we have to do jiu-jitsu the entire round every round in the training room. For us, it could even be up to 30 seconds to a minute. I know a lot of guys, if they get a good position and they stay center a minute, they’re just like, “Oh, I’m just going to hang out. I’m going to hang out here the rest of the round, maybe shoot some reckless sub off at the end.
For us, we do jiu-jitsu the whole round. For Submission Underground, we just add in an extra round. Let’s say, we’ll actually go for five minutes on the board. John will say, “You’ve got to use the most aggressive style possible. Just chase this guy down for five minutes.’ I hate the fact that it’s five. It should be at least 10. I think the submission-only set, it’s got to be 10 minutes. I would be much more happy if Submission Underground just did Fight 2 Win stop. It’s 10 minutes, whoever was more aggressive gets the victory. I prefer that to EBI, especially EBI with five minutes. EBI with a five-minute round is basically an overtime for them.
Sonny: The last two, you’ve got to finish in that five minutes, so that’s good, but yes, when there’s too many, go to overtime. I still think EBI is probably the best way to finish that or to set, to get that submission finish. I probably think it still works better in that tournament format where you have to have someone moving through. Yes, I think we’d all prefer 10 minutes if you can. You seem to have some sway there, right? You have Submission Undergrounds, it seems like that’s your sport now?
Craig: Not enough sway. I haven’t really got a clear understanding of why they don’t do it. It’s something about the UFC boss saying, “We want this many matches and we want in this amount of time. This is your time allocated.” Which, to me, doesn’t really make sense either because it’s not a TV show. Really, the event can go over. That’s the only good thing about Submission Underground though, it’s like Quintet. It was a quick event. It’s like two hours to see everything. Whereas some events, like I remember Kasai went for five hours. Like Fight 2 Win, I don’t know if anyone would ever watch an entire Fight 2 Win, because they last for hours.
Yes, there’s something strange there where I think it’s that they don’t want to take away EBI overtime. They don’t want to lose overtime to add in another five minutes. I was trying to convince them to do something crazy, whereas Giles suddenly decides, he’s like, “If the first five minutes sucks, the match is over,” but if they’re having a good match, he’s like, “Yes, we’ll extend it.” There’s got to be some holes like that. If it’s a boring match, you guys are out of here. You know what I mean?
Sonny: I reckon you could convince him doing like the Caesar says thumbs up or thumbs down, just like cut the child in his little bunker.
Craig: He would love that.
Sonny: I think that could be a sell on there.
Craig: I want penalties. I tried to convince him. I said, “Guys, we got to do five minutes right. Here’s how it works. If someone’s inactive and they get a penalty, they lose an overtime round,” to incentivize action.
Sonny: I would be for that, because from what I’m watching with wrestling, especially like folk style wrestling, they give penalty so quick for inactivity. It like what Quintet was doing as well where they even stood up from mount for inactivity, which is crazy in any other jiu-jitsu tournament, but Quintet can get away with it. I think that it works, right? It’s like you better go for the finish. Otherwise, you could get screwed up pretty quick.
Craig: Really, there’s like a spectrum of sports to sports entertainment. I feel like Submission Underground lies very close to sports entertainment rather than sports. They should have a lot of leeway to play with the rules. For me, if the fans are paying to see the events, we should go out there and try to finish the other guy. That’s where a lot of guys are let down today, and that’s why I think a lot of guys don’t make any money in jiu-jitsu, is because they’re so concerned about winning and winning by any means necessary, that it’s really almost such a selfish pursuit, and the fans don’t care.
If you ask people out there, “Who are your favorite grapplers?” It’s really got nothing to do with accomplishments, it’s got to do with how they compete. It’s not so much putting on a show. If you compete as I think you should to punish your opponent, it will be exciting, and you will be rewarded financially with sponsorships, and seminars, DVDs. If you never finished any opponent, no one’s ever going to buy your instruction. I don’t think you should just compete to make money. I’m saying if you compete properly, you will, as a byproduct of that, make money.
I think it’s true. If you look at the last ADCC, who made the biggest impact? Lachlan Giles. He got third. Lachlan has lost first round in his weight division, three events in a row. He’s made more money out off his instructional than guys that have won multiple times. If you compete, again, as I think you should, to go out and dominate and finish rather than play the rules, you will be rewarded. I think the fans will show how much they appreciate you basically with their wallets.
Sonny: It’s a good point. I am thinking that I haven’t seen anyone release an instructional of a system for winning by an advantage, but maybe that’s a gap in the market, I don’t know. [laughs]
Craig: It’s just funny. It’s such a strange thing to say. MMA fighters, I feel like those guys more or less fight for money rather than to be a complete martial artist, but they also pursue to finish, because it does get them paid. I feel like grappling could be a bigger sport if guys had a similar approach. You don’t even need to go crazy with your self-marketing and stuff. Some people’s matches like Roberto Jimenez, his matches speak for themselves. That guy, he’s going to go out, he’s going to push forward, and he’s going to attack his opponents no matter who they are, no matter how big they are. I think he gets rewarded for that with how many people were going to tune in to watch him compete.
Sonny: It’s a very interesting change in mindset, I think, for your leading professional grapplers who are putting up money for bet matches and things of that nature. We even had one of your friends, Isaac Mitchell, out here in Australia who’s a purple belt but he was offering $1,000 just to try and get any black belt takers to get matches. Difficult, no one wants to do it because even though it’s money, it’s going to be a damn hard roll. It’s a different mentality too from that old school of you get your ranking, climb your way up, and do it that way, whereas he knows he wants to make money doing this sport and that’s the way to do it.
Craig: It’s a confidence thing though because say, for example, I spoke to Henry Cejudo about this. It all comes down to self-belief. Cejudo said to me he’s never trained harder than when he started the Triple C and started talking smack to people. It’s the same with Gordon. I feel like people only see the side of things where if an athlete talks shit, people are going to pay attention to him, because either they’ll support him or they’ll want him to lose.
People think that the athlete does that specifically to make more money. Say, for example, if you talk shit about your opponent, you are going to train harder because, now, you have more to lose. Say if Isaac or someone does a bet match, as far as I know, I don’t think Isaac’s spoken too much shit but if you a bet match, people see that self-confidence, but for the athlete themselves, now they’ve got to back it up, not just financially.
They’re putting off this image that they have, this confidence that they can get it done. Now, you’d better train hard because you’re going to lose money and lose face. It’s a way to guarantee that you’re going to show up in the training room. I know that motivates Gordon, I feel like Gordon would quit the sport if everyone was just nice to him. He wouldn’t have the motivation to show up, but he’s more motivated by proving people wrong. He makes these statements that he’s going to have to eat if he loses, and because he has to eat it, now he better get training, and he better get training very, very hot.
Sonny: That’s interesting. What is it that does make him then so different from from everyone else it seems? Is it his mentality?
Craig: I think so. I think it’s the self-belief, but it’s also– He’s got enough self-belief to think he can do it different. He’s confident enough in himself that he think he can play the game different and win. Whereas some people might have enough self-belief that they can emulate other styles and try to do them better, Gordon’s got enough confidence to think he can technically do things different, do things better. He can play the game better based on that self-belief, technically. That’s the thing with him, there’s no shortcuts. He is obviously huge and jacked, but he’s as technical as he is physically imposing. Obviously, so you’ve got the physique, you’ve got the technical ability, and you’ve also got the self-belief. It’s just the perfect storm now.
Sonny: Yes, no doubt. If you’ve got all those, you’re in good measure. The other thing too is then falling under Danaher. I can’t remember who it was, maybe it was Chael Sonnen saying that he’s probably the first person with a full-time coach, whereas Danaher is Gordon Ryan’s coach, and he is a professional athlete in that manner. Do you think that holds true? John, is he your full-time coach in the same way or is that just between those guys?
Craig: No, for sure because it’s almost like it gives you a myth to believing, because John can’t roll, and he never competed. Probably around the time he really competed was when he had some crazy injuries. He’s had his hip replaced and his knee replaced. We have this guy that is obviously very well-read in all martial arts aspects like in judo, in wrestling, he’s as a historian in all these techniques, but we have this guy on the sidelines who watches us every single day and adapts the next day’s class or the post-training discussion to the shortcomings of a current training session or what we did well.
The next day, we’ve got a guy that watched basically every single round adapt the class on the flyer to us. We take everything he says as gospel because, say your coach is good, but you’re also good enough to recognize areas based on rolling with him where he is not as good. Now immediately, that coach role, sad to say, has been tarnished a little bit, because he can see his shortcomings in the training session, whereas we have this myth, because he can’t roll, and we have the confidence in every technique he teaches. We see the success of the techniques. Obviously, GSP initially, but then Gordon and stuff, Gordon and Gary and stuff.
Really, it’s like you have this myth to believe in. Like Taza said it to me, Taza’s like, “You give up the problem solving yourself to this other guy to have complete confidence in.” He is a full-time coach, which no one else has. I’m sure André Galvão , I’ve trained with him, is an excellent coach, but he’s an athlete himself. Being an athlete,
you have to be selfish.
Sonny: That’s fascinating. The idea, then, of that myth from him not rolling. That is definitely one of the things that would separate Jujitsu from, say, your traditional martial arts would be the instructors on the mat every day rolling with people. I know that there would be a lot of people who would, if you told them that you’re instructor didn’t roll, obviously not mentioning that it’s John Danaher and one of the tops of one of the most successful teams, it would be a red flag warning sign to not go near that gym.
In a way that the traditional martial arts did use it as a myth to then enforce, or allow, them to pass on suboptimal techniques, shall we say. Bushido [laughs] might be the other way to put it. That’s how you get no-touch KOs or something like that. Where no one can ever try it on the coach. It builds that myth down a bad path. In this case, you’re getting the results in competition. It’s a myth that’s allowed you to succeed.
Craig: Yes. Also, just think about it like, say even you, personally, when you watch competition footage, or you watch people training, you learn things from watching them. Whereas John has probably one of the best training rooms in the world to watch, train, six rounds a day, every day. He can see trends. He can see things that happen in the training room that we’re all doing or all not doing, and obviously adapt on the fly. It’s like he has that raw footage to watch and analyze every single day.
Whereas again, other coaches have the ability to do it, but if you’re training yourself, your energy levels to pursue it aren’t going to be as great as someone who just gets to watch it every day. What’s mind-blowing to me is he can demonstrate every technique perfectly.
Obviously, every now and then he can only do things on a certain side because of his injuries. I’ve never seen him drill these techniques, but he teaches them, and shows the move perfectly. I’m like, “Some of these techniques are things that he’s just visualized in his head. Then show in the training room,” which is mind-blowing to me. If I think of something and try to teach it, I really have to have put some practice into it.
Sonny: [chuckles] Yes. I was just thinking now, has he ever invited you back to his house? Have you seen what goes on? Or, is that all just left to the mythical side of John Danaher?
Craig: I think that it’s changed. It’s changed over time. I think, traditionally, no one ever went to his place. I think that the first guys to go to his house were the BJJ Fanatics guys, Zenga and Bernardo. They did an interview there. It was an interview in his new apartment after getting the BJJ Fanatics money, versus, I don’t know if anyone went into his old one. I heard a story about Henzo trying to follow him home and actually see inside his apartment and stuff. [laughs] Again, I don’t know what’s true and what’s not true.
I remember John told us a story where he got kicked out of an apartment because a guy was playing loud music. The neighbors were angry and John choked him unconscious. John’s got some crazy stories about that. The best stories are probably when he first moved to New York and New York was a bit of a crazy place. These days he’s different. I know the guys have been around to his house. He talks about bringing us around for a barbecue and stuff. I think John, today, is very different to John, even 5, 10 years ago.
Sonny: Sure. That brings up something, then, with the myth. Him moving to Puerto Rico and he has put the pictures up of him in the long sleeve, long pants. Is that man going to start rocking? Can you make him a rash vest, singlet, or something? Can you get him into a pair of budgie smugglers? Is that the goal?
Craig: He keeps the same look, but he’s changed the New Balance to Crocs. I was trying to find someone to pay to paint his crocs into New Balance style. I haven’t found it yet. It’s the same image. Just got a fanny pack full of cash and knives.
Sonny: [laughs] It’s the name of a rap song, I’m sure. Probably the last thing, touching on John, I wanted to discuss, one is probably, do you still read all his Instagram posts? Is that recommended? Is that part of a team? You got to read all the posts? [laughs]
Craig: I don’t read them too often. Obviously, I read the ones he tags me or puts a picture of me and stuff. Yes, I think they’re just good little snippets, you know what I mean? I think even someone has turned them into a book. A physical book.
Sonny: Yes. I saw that too. [laughs] The other is his insistence on Japanese names. Especially as an Australian, one of my goals, I’m like, “Oh, I want to learn a new language. I want to become fluent in Danaher. I want to get all my Ashis and my Kata Gatames, I want to get it down this year.” I start using that in the training room. Of course, everyone starts busting my chops. Giving me slack like, “Oh, look. Aren’t you getting fancy standing over there with your names.” How have you taken that?
Craig: Right. Well, when I filmed my last instruction, luckily I had Placido there, which I think is fluent in Danaher. I’m picking it up. Picking up some parts of it. I think it’s funny just because people misinterpret why John does these things. People will be like, “Oh, he’s shining us down hard and stuff. Then when you get to know him, he’s actually just a crazy respectful historian.
Whereas the average person might try to honor the past to look smarter. John, obviously, doesn’t give a fuck how he looks. With what he wears, he’s not trying to appear any way other than what he is. When he honors the past moves, he’s just given respect to Japan. Quite often, when a move already has a name in Japan, he just up and gives it that name.
Say, when we’ve come up with new position recently, he will give it a Western name. He would call it S1 or S2 or something like that. I think he takes a lot of slack. People think he’s trying to appear a certain way. Again, if you look at how he dresses and stuff, he just doesn’t give a fuck of what people think of him.
Sonny: [laughs] No doubt. No arguments with me on that.
Craig: He’ll just fight about it.
Sonny: The thing I would think though, with his insistence on the Japanese names, is-is there any passive-aggressiveness to Brazil, in not using anything in Portuguese names? He’s skipping that going straight back to Japan.
Craig: Maybe, but I think it’s funny. Say this whole thing with now all the Brazilian slack. I remember, I was just training with Gabriel Checco. He was bringing up about American Jujitsu. How much they hate it. He’s like, “They’ve just stolen it from Brazil.” I’m like, “Well, you guys stole it from Japan.” You know what I mean?
Craig: If we go back far enough, everyone’s stealing everything.
Sonny: That’s it. The history, I find fascinating, myself. It has revolutionized how people are training, and competing, and earning money in the sport, as well. That side of things, it’s undeniable that he’s put out the most comprehensive system, in terms that is an actual proper system of anyone, really. You’re putting out your own instructionals and everything like that.
You even put out– I saw a joke one, “Just stuff I stole from John and Gordon,” or something. Done up in a mock BJJ Fanatic style. How do you, then, find the ability to market yourself, and your own system, and learn? Take what he’s given you and then learn and adapt, to be able to put something out?
Craig: Well say, for example, I had a lot of success with the first heel hook instructional I put out. At the time, John hadn’t released anything. Obviously, Lachlan’s Leg Lock One came a couple of years later, after his ADCC success. When I joined the DBS– because not everyone on the team does make instructionals, I knew, perhaps, I wouldn’t be allowed to make an instructional. I knew that I would cut my earning potential, but I wanted to learn from who I consider the best grapplers in the world today.
I wanted to learn their stuff so bad, I was willing to forego the financial dollars of making instructionals. Really, after I hit ADCC 2017, I probably could have just done an Eddie Bravo, and just lived off that moment. I really wanted to ensure that I wasn’t– I’m not saying that Eddie’s was a fluke, but a lot of people thought I had a fluke of a weekend.
I really wanted to, first, prove that it wasn’t. I would also just get better. I was willing to sacrifice the money of instructionals to join the team. Again, it is a lot of their techniques, really, that they’ve innovated. Obviously, it sounds silly to say their techniques. Again, I guess they’re the popularizer of a lot of these techniques.
Craig: I was willing to sacrifice that. Then again, after joining the team and still being successful and stuff, John encouraged me to still work with BJJ Fanatics and make instructions. Again, it’s going to be a merge of things that I do and the addition of what they do.
Really, I might have certain techniques down, because of obviously the variations of triangles. I wasn’t, obviously, fluent in all of those variations. After training with the team I was. Although it says my name on it, really, a lot of the DVDs will cover similar stuff. Just slightly different interpretations.
Sonny: Yes, okay. It is still your stamp on it. In terms of making BJJ Fanatics, I got to ask. One of the most interesting ones that you were involved in was the filming of Kazushi Sakuraba’s DVDs. I’m a big Sakuraba fan, talking about John Danaher being a mythical creature. For me, that’s Sakuraba where his in-ring accomplishments are just incredible.
I guess technically, though, I think he’s in a weird spot where he’s certainly not out there saying that this is the most up-to-date stuff. His YouTube channel is all just jokes, pretty much [chuckles]. He’s just entertaining. Just take me through your takeaway, what that experience was like. How it came about and what you enjoyed.
Craig: I’m trying to remember how it came about. I think me and Zenga, from Fanatics, are pretty close. We’ve talked in the past about who would be cool to get on there. I remember we were joking even about doing an instructional with Karelin. Having me as the new kid to get thrown around. Every technique. We would talk about how big of fans we were of Sakuraba. Then I remember him saying, “Oh, if I get the deal done, I’ll bring you. We’ll put you in the instructional.”
Then, really the focus was we’ll put me and Barnardo in there. Some people teach very shallow techniques, but when you ask them questions, the level of technique expands. We were really under the idea that if me and Bernardo were in there, and we’ll have it as if Sakuraba was teaching us a private lesson. Stakuraba, when he teaches the technique, it’s 30 seconds long. Then me and Bernardo would try to expand to give the audience the full scope of the technique.
It was very strange. A lot of strange techniques. During the pressure point techniques, when he would show the technique, I’d be like, “Oh, can you show it on Bernardo?” I wanted to see Bernardo suffer in pain.
Craig: Some aspects of it became a bit of a joke. Really just hanging around Sakuraba was very interesting. He’s a very strange guy. He doesn’t speak English very well, so we had to use this translator. It was just stuff. I remember asking him about why he started MMA. He just said he was a professional wrestler, and other wrestlers started fighting, and asked him if he would fight. He’s like, “I didn’t want to be a pussy.” I said, “Yes, I would fight.”
That’s literally how his career started. He’s like, “If they asked me, I wasn’t going to be a pussy and back down. I decided to do it.” Then, it was just Sakuraba telling us about how he overcame fear. He would tell us that whenever he was scared of an opponent, he would just run to the ring faster.
He’d want it to be over with quicker. He’s like, “If I’m scared of an opponent, I’m going to rush to the ring. Then, as soon as the bell goes, I’m going to rush for them.” He’s like, “To overcome the fear. I just need to run at the problem.” A brave guy. A crazy guy, with what he was able to achieve.
Sonny: Crazy. Even saying that he had fear. Obviously, he’s human, of course. The challenges that he did accomplish are just mind-boggling. That’s an insight. With the pressure point techniques, I think part of him, it does seem that he is trolling people 50% of the time, right?
Sonny: Do you ever feel that he’s just putting one over you guys at all?
Craig: It’s hard to say where the joke comes in. I think certain pressure points– it’s like if you were to tickle someone. They’re going to be ticklish, unless it’s actually a life and death situation. Then they’re probably not going to notice that stuff as much. When he applies pressure, it almost feels like it’s a tickling type of pressure. Whereas, in the relaxed environment, I’m going to react.
If it’s in a roll, like I say, if it’s in a competition, someone sticks their elbow into your leg to open your close guard, you’re not going to notice it in competition. In the training room, it’s going to bother you. Sakuraba, though, very funny guy. I’m not allowed to release this video, but he obviously smokes a lot of cigarettes. I remember him trying to explain to me with a packet of Marlboro Reds, as if that was the risk, how he broke Henzo’s elbow.
He’s got a packet of cigarettes and he’s trying to explain the grips on a packet of cigarettes. I remember when I was asking him a lot of questions about his lifestyle as a athlete. I was like, “Did you smoke throughout your career?” He’s like, “Yes, but no more than eight cigarettes a day.” Then he would drink a lot throughout his career. He would tell me the track and field athletes in Japan are the only ones that don’t smoke or drink. He’s like, “It’s only those cardio athletes that don’t do it.” He also was drunk.
Get this, before Quintet, the first one he was going to compete in– and he’s 50-years-old, the scramble guys that went out to him, the Polaris guys, Team Polaris, went out to have dinner with him the night before Quintet. He always drinks. They said, “Oh, do you want to have a drink?” He’s like, “No, not tonight.” They were like, “Is that because you’re competing tomorrow.” He’s like, “No, I’m hung over from yesterday.”
Craig: He said he drunk throughout his whole career, though. He would be smoking in the back locker room. He’s like, “I don’t care.”
Sonny: That’s the crazy thing. We’re talking about being professional athletes, professional grapplers these days, it doesn’t make sense how he was able to do what he did. Compete 90 minutes, then compete another 15 against– 90 against Royce and then come out again, competing another 15 against Igor Vovchanchyn. That doesn’t make sense how that’s even possible, for someone who’s smoking and drinking.
Craig: Those were the glory days in MMA. Now, although you have personalities, everyone’s an athlete. Back then people were just fucking crazy. You know what I mean? [chuckles]
Sonny: Yes. Is that something that you see with the professional grappling? We’re talking about Submission Underground and the link between sports and sports entertainment. Is that something that you see a potential with going forward? Again, you’ve got the leopard print. Is that something that you’re trying to focus on?
Craig: Yes, just to have better marketing. Probably the first proper influence I had in Jujitsu– a lot of Australians, in terms of competition in Jujitsu, was Kit Dale. Kit was able to use humor to almost transcend Jujitsu. He made funny clips and stuff that people outside of Jujitsu found entertaining. I just saw Kit being able to differentiate himself from the rest of the Jujitsu athletes. He actually got a lot of fans for it. I think that’s what makes Australians almost special in the sport.
You’ll see Gary and Gordon, they’ll make a lot of fun, a lot of jokes about other people and stuff, but I feel like the American sense of humor is less self-deprecating and resilient. I don’t know enough about the language to understand the humor at all, but to me, it seems like it’s a very serious, a little flat. We’ll have a fist fight if there’s any jokes.
I see that pervasive in the sport. I just want to keep it lighthearted. I can make jokes about other people. I think if I still make fun of myself a lot of the time. To me, it’s indirectly marketing myself. I’m just trying to take the piss of the sport. To me, it’s very serious. I’m like, “At the end of the day, we’re just wrestling other dudes.” We’re not performing a surgery here. What is to be taken serious in this sport? It’s just a game.
Sonny: Yes. I think taking the piss is something that is an Australian trait, that we do understand the merit of it. Where, when I’m doing it myself, taking the piss out of people, it’s like, “Hey, forgive me. That’s how I was raised. That’s what we do.” Even personally, with my friends, if they didn’t take the piss out of me, I’d probably start to get worried that they’re talking about me behind my back, you know? [chuckles]
Craig: Exactly. It’s funny because the egos in competition Jujitsu are affected by the egos guys develop just learning the line of scope. I always find there’s a transformation, especially when it’s your scope. Even when you see people that get given a teaching role, they get that little bit of power. It starts to make them a little strange. I remember there was a Scottish guy. I can’t remember his last name, Dan. I did a seminar, too, with him
Craig: straight after ADCC 2017. He was telling me this thing he does with his students. He goes, “No one will laugh more at your jokes than around grading time.” What he does is he’ll go up in front of his class and he would just say a terrible joke from time to time. If people laugh, he’ll be like, “What are you laughing at? This shit isn’t funny. Stop kissing my ass.” He’s like, “You guys, that’s how I keep myself in check in front of my own students. They’ll boost the ego too much.”
Sonny: Yes. That could work. Also sounds like it’s the trick of leading them into the setup, as well. Do you see yourself, then, ever opening up your own place, or doing anything like that? Or, is that just too far off?
Craig: No, for sure. I’ll be 30 this year. Obviously, it’s going to be worse every year. I already feel slightly more injuries, slightly more time to recover with things. I need, maybe, a few more days off. Especially because I’m the oldest guy on the team. When I’m training with guys like Nicky. Nicky Ryan’s, I think, 19. Nicky Rod’s 23. Pretty young guys. I do see myself moving back to Australia to open a team.
The goal is that I want to make enough money off instructionals and competing, that when I do open a team, I’ll open a team just for my own enjoyment. I don’t have to run it. I don’t have to make this huge money-making gym. I want a gym that is going to help local Aussies and stuff, just through the experiences I’ve had, the connections I have made. To help grow Australian Jujitsu. Again, not from a, “I want to make as much money. I’m going to have the biggest school ever.”
I don’t want to open a business like that. I feel like you have to put up with a lot, in that sense. A guy comes in and he’s a bit of a dick. You want to be like, “We can change this guy for the better.” When you think about the bottom line too much, I feel like sometimes you have to put up with certain students. Whereas, Danaher puts up with nothing.
There’s no bullshit. This is how it is. I don’t want to be an authoritarian. At the same time, I want to have the gym run a certain way to maximize people’s growth and stuff. Not be too concerned with the profit margins of the gym. I feel like it’ll be a better environment for me, and the guys. Rather than thinking of the big business model.
Sonny: Yes, I think that is probably a luxury to be able to do that. Not to have to worry about that. On the flip side, I would say is that if we do believe that there is the benefit in people doing Jujitsu, then it’s we want to be able to get as many people to do it as possible, as well. Of course, that’s a balancing act then, of which side you’re going to come down on. I think, obviously, if you’re a professional, there’s pretty clear of which way you need to be looking at.
Craig: I’ll probably do it like John’s style. You’ve got a gym within a gym. John teaches classes that everyone’s welcome to, but it’s clearly tailored towards the upper echelon. Also, the gym has other instructors that are going to tailor the classes to a different demographic. That way it can still benefit everyone.
The people that want to reap those specific rewards can do so. That’s what I think about Henzo was special, was crazy. It would be a Monday morning class, with 100 people in there, at 7:00 AM. It was meant to be 7:00 AM, but it would start at 7:45.
Sonny: What would your advice be, then, for Australians? Maybe you’ve got a younger Australian listening to this who wants to follow in the Craig Jones footsteps. How do they go about doing it? In terms of their development, their learning, with not maybe having that access directly to go overseas? Especially not at the moment.
What kind of learning tips would you give people to accelerate them? Hey, I know you put out a recent video breakdown as well. The breakdowns could be the way as well. What would you say is a good way to go about things?
Craig: I would just say to compete in everything, and aggressively chase everything. Take every match. I see guys get a tiny bit of success, maybe they’ll get on an international show, they might not even win on an International Superfight, then they’ll come back to Australia and be like, “I won’t take that match. I won’t do that tournament.” They’re like, “I feel like I’m above that now.”
Even people in America, even Americans I’ll see, they’ll be worried about taking what they deem a match below their level. To me, I’m like, “It’s all amateur until it’s on BJJ Heroes.” No one cares about who beat me before ADCC 2017. The only person that cared was me. If someone today were to brag about beating me prior to then, they look a bit silly. It’s like, “Oh, well that’s different.” They divide my career into two points. Before and after that point.
I would say for all the up-and-comers, do as much as you can. Get as much experience as you can, to be better prepared for when you do have that moment. The assumption would be that if you do all the preparation and training properly, make the sacrifices, if you stick in it long enough, you will have that moment.
Don’t protect what you don’t already have yet. I see that the biggest detriment with competitors, even some of my friends in Australia will be like, “No, I won’t compete against them.” I’m like, “All right. If you’re better than them, go out and show that you’re better than them. That’s marketing in and of itself.” I think people are scared to lose what only they think they have.
Sonny: Especially with the nature of video on the internet nowadays. You want nothing better than to get a submission on video that you can show people, I guess.
Craig: Exactly. A good guy for doing this is– do you know Robert Degle?
Craig: Degle, by all accounts, I hope he doesn’t take offense to this, but he hasn’t won anything major. He has beaten good guys. I would say a guy like that is someone to watch. Degle’s always competing. He’s always analyzing his footage. He’s always putting it out there on the internet. He’s always marketing himself in a way to show off how technical he is. I think a lot of people got to learn from a guy like that’s marketing model. Degle sells instructional products and does well. He’s marketed himself in a certain way.
Obviously, he did have the attachment to the Henzo crew and the Danaher crew, but I would look at a guy like that for inspiration. It always keeps coming back to money, but for you to survive in this sport, you have to make money. It’s going to be better if you can make money and just train. Rather than teach and train.
To me, obviously, you work a full-time job, or you work a part-time job chasing Jujitsu goals. If there’s a certain point where someone wants you to teach classes, now all your money is made within Jujitsu. Maybe you even hit a point where you just have to teach a few privates. Once you make enough money, that’s when you can really start selfishly focusing on competition goals. It’s always coming back to money, but you need it to–
Sonny: I think that’s a good area to have been focusing in with you. It is, I guess, probably where your mind is at the moment, of how you can do this sport professionally. It’s been great to get that kind of insight into it. Yes, Robert, a great example. I have spoken to him before. He got a submission over Sean O’Malley. That went gangbusters. Sean’s doing well in the UFC. He’s got his name. He only got those opportunities for entering in all these tournaments.
Finishing off one last question, because when this one happened, I talked about it with everyone, which was your match with Vinny Magalhães, where you contorted his leg into strange angles. It snapped and did all sorts of nasty things. At the time, everyone– that was all we were talking about. I just want to get what happened?
How did things end up at that point? Where you’ve got someone’s leg, literally bent around in the other direction. You’re having a chat with them in a cage, somewhere in America, “Is your leg all right, mate?” What was going on?
Craig: That’s the flip side of what I was talking about with Gordon Ryan and talking shit, and having confidence to back it up. Where Vinny’s marketed himself as basically unbreakable. If you’re going to market yourself that way and you get put in a breaking point, you’re probably going to have to let it break. I would be careful the angle at which you try to sell.
Craig: Vinny’s, I guess, a Brazilian with a good sense of humor. For me, I saw him making those jokes, and it is a joke really. Obviously, he knows he can be broken. It was just the angle. It was the corner he backed himself into. It was a strange setup for the match. I believe it was the only sporting event on in the entire world. Chael Sonnen was the only one brave enough to actually do anything, in terms of sport during the outbreak.
During the early days, when people didn’t really understand how dangerous it was or how dangerous it could be. Yes, we did this event in a barn about an hour outside of Portland. Obviously, Chael’s from Oregon. We were out in the Oregon country, at a random location we weren’t allowed to give out. At a hotel they told us not to announce to anyone. Vinny was down to do it. Me and Vinny both felt bad, because we had a tag team debacle, which was I was sick.
I was trying not to compete and make Nicky Rod do everything. Vinny played a real weird game, where he didn’t engage Nicky Rod. Then Kyle Boehm won in overtime and then everyone hated it. Obviously, even us as competitors, we thought it was silly. I tried to give Chael the money back after the event. I’m like, “I didn’t do anything, man. Take the money back.” Then Chael wanted me and Vinny to compete.
We were like, “Yes, we’ll do it. We’ll jump back in to try to make amends,” because Chael is a really good guy. That’s how the match setup happened. We both probably were unprepared, because of the COVID circumstances. We jumped in anyway to make amends. What happened with that previous show, again, Vinny was talking a little shit before the match. He was like, “He’s not going to submit me. He’s definitely not going to leglock me.” I know Gary and Gordon, both, had been in some heel hooks.
I think Gary’s were probably worse. I know Vinny’s leg was popping, Gary told me, during that match. The only doubt I had before the match was like, “Maybe this guy really is this flexible.” Then you have to talk yourself down. You’re like, “Everyone’s leg can break.” I was really confident, just for me to see how it would break. Given the flexibility of his knee and ankle ligaments, it just so happened to be his fibula that snapped. I think his fibula snapped and his entire ankle disconnected from the base of the leg.
He had no panic reaction. No reaction. The first time it broke, I didn’t know it broke. I heard a pop. Then we looked at each other and he didn’t react. I gave him props. I gave him a fist bump. I was like “Damn, you are that flexible.” Then leading up to the second time I grabbed it, he was like, “I think you broke my leg.” I was looking at it, and it was messed up.
I was even confused what to do at the moment. Really, I should have just stood up, and he would have had to walk on it. He didn’t really understand what to do. We continued the match and I went straight back for the same leg.
Sonny: What else are you going to do, I guess? That’s [laughs] the name of the sport.
Craig: After I ripped on it a second time, he started asking the ref, “How much time’s left?” You don’t know in Underground. I remember thinking, goddamn, this guy’s crazy. He just wants it to be over and go to overtime. Try and win it in overtime. Actually, he told me afterward, he was asking the ref because he wanted to survive the fight. Then retire before overtime. He’s not smart. He’s crazy.
Sonny: You understand a good way to wrap it up, where you do have to be careful with the shit talk or the marketing angle that you might put yourself in. When the leglocks don’t work. [chuckles] Well, they do.
Craig: Be careful what you say before a match.
Sonny: Yes, and I think that’s probably an interesting place to wrap things up. Craig, I really appreciate you giving me your time. I know you’ve had a busy year competing, which is pretty incredible, considering all those restrictions that have been going on around, that you have been able. I think, for sure you’re the most active out of the Danaher group.
Craig: I think so. I’m not necessarily by their choice. I just got lucky that, obviously, Chael Sonnen’s Chael Sonnen. He just doesn’t give a fuck what’s happening.
Sonny: Yes. A great year. You’ve got the new DVD out, if anyone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way that they can go about doing that?
Craig: Probably Instagram, just CraigJonesBJJ. That’s the way to see what I’m up to. It’s mostly jokes, but you’ll see some Jujitsu on there. [chuckles]
Sonny: Is there any more breakdowns in the pipeline for the YouTube channel?
Craig: Oh, I’ve got to get back into it. More than you, I’m apt to do a lot more video editing stuff. Obviously, just with the move, getting everything ready. Yes, I’m going to be trying to put up as many breakdowns. Trying to sneak out some of the devious secrets in those videos. The secrets.
Sonny: [laughs] There you go. Look, mate, thanks so much. I better run. I’m actually going to be training tomorrow morning with one of your old coaches Tiago Ferrero.
Craig: Oh, cool, yes.
Sonny: He lets us know when he used to know the small Craig Jones.
Craig: Oh, when he used to take us out drinking together.
Sonny: I’ll bring that one up. [laughs] He corrupted the man.
Craig: Definitely. [chuckles]
Sonny: All right, man. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.
Reid Reale is a BJJ Black Belt who also holds a master’s degree in dietetics and a PhD in sports nutrition. His PhD thesis was entitled “Optimising Acute Body Mass Management in Australian Olympic Combat Sports”, which he completed while working as a dietitian at the A.I.S. and for the Australian Olympic Combat Sports athletes before and after the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Additionally, he published other research papers in the field titled “Acute weight management in combat sports: pre-weight-in weight loss, post-weight-in recovery and competition nutrition strategies” & The effect of water loading on acute weight loss following fluid restriction in combat sports athletes”.
Since then he has worked as a sports scientist at the Gatorade sports institute before starting a role as performance nutrition manager at the U.F.C. Pi in Shanghai, China.
There he has worked with the local Chinese team managing nutrition, weight loss & weight cuts and after the recording of the interview, he has been over at fight island helping competitors with their weight cuts there. We discuss these issues and the practicalities around dealing with the fighters in his programs and more.
If you are interested in learning more about the subject you can purchase his book called “Combat Sports Nutrition” at https://combatsportsnutritionebook.com/ which has been recently updated and use the discount code “sonnybrown” for a 40% discount!
Sonny Brown: Beautiful. Dr. Reale, how are you today?
Dr. Reid Reale: I’m good, mate. How are you? Thanks for having me on.
Sonny: My pleasure, sir. My pleasure. Now, I’ve known you for, I guess– When did we first meet? Was it 2016, 2017? A few years at least.
Dr. Reale: I think we actually first met at a Jiu-Jitsu Comp, and then maybe a year later, at the Institute of Sport in Australia.
Sonny: I blocked that Jiu-Jitsu Con out when you strangled me, mate.
That was that CTE dark memory going–
Dr. Reale: I think that was your return after a big layoff or something there, wasn’t isn’t it? Don’t be too hard on yourself.
Sonny: I had a broken finger, but excuses please only those who give them.
Since, then mate, you have been living the life, haven’t you? Tell us about your current role at the UFC Performance Institute. You have really been, as far as a person into a weight-cutting nutrition, you’ve found yourself in a pretty plum gig, haven’t you?
Dr. Reale: Yes, it’s worked out quite well for me. When you and I met under less strangling each other circumstances at the Institute of Sport in Australia, I was doing my PhD, looking at weight-cutting in Olympic combat sports, and I finished that in 2017. After that, I moved to the US for two years where I worked for Gatorade Sports Science Institute, which obviously Gatorade have no interest in fighting.
Fast forward two years, working with Gatorade actually landed a job with the UFC at the Performance Institute in Shanghai. Basically in Shanghai, I run the nutrition department there. The title is performance nutrition manager. Everything to do with the fighters making weight, but also their day-to-day nutrition, also coordinating with the kitchen, also external parties to do with supplements. Pretty much anything to do with supplements, or food, making weight, or nutrition in general, with the fighters at the Performance Institute in Shanghai, I oversee that. It’s literally exactly, if you had to create a perfect job for me, based on my personal interest, and then also what my PhD was looking at, this job is it. I’m really fortunate.
Sonny: That role with UFC, you’ve recently been at the fight shows, managing fighters and taking care of the day-to-day, like around the world with different fight shows, yes?
Dr. Reale: Yes. Most people listening to this probably are aware of the Performance Institute in Vegas. It’s a little bit different to what we do in Shanghai. In Vegas, they serve us any rostered UFC fighter, and we do that as well. The fact that we’re located in Shanghai means that most of the fighters are in the US, or Brazil, or whatnot. Most of the roster fighters are making use of the Vegas PI, whereas in Shanghai, we had the full-time academy of Chinese athletes who aren’t yet in the UFC, and so my day-to-day is managing those guys.
The reason why I’m explaining this, is a big part of what they do in Vegas is they actually go to fight shows, and they team up with Trifecta Nutrition. Some people might have heard that name or seen the logo is getting around. Trifecta is like a meal prep service, but they offer really good service at UFC events. Not every event, but every pay-per-view of many of the fight nights, they offer a service which is free to fighters, where they will cook all of your meals for fight week, as well as provide you post weigh-in recovery nutrition, drinks and supplements and whatnot.
A big part of what I do at Vegas is fly around the US and the world and do that, but because of this coronavirus shit that’s been going on, I’ve been out of China since January 22nd, and so I’ve had the opportunity to do more of what they do in Vegas. I went to Auckland to do the Felder card. I was there for a week. Then I was also in Vegas for the Zhang Weili, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and the Romero and Adesanya card. Prior to that, the only other UFC event that I had done on the ground doing the Trifecta meal prep service, was the card in Shenzhen. When was that? Was that last year? Yes, that would have been last year when Zhang Weili won the belt.
What we do with our Trifecta is Trifecta have a chef, and the chef does all the cooking of course, but they have a UFC dietician on the ground at the fighters hotel, to manage the fighters and be the middleman between the fighters and the chef, and to get ideas of where the fighters are at, and where their weight is at, what kind modifications you would need to make to their diet to ensure they make weight, and then communicate that to the chef.
Obviously, the chef isn’t an expert in nutrition, but the chef is the expert when it comes to cooking delicious food, and so we work on side by side with the chef, and then also the fighters during fight week to, as best we can, make sure they make weight. Of course, [chuckles] you can’t make sure everybody makes weight, but we provide the best service as possible to the fighters.
Sonny: When you’re working with the chefs going around to the different fighters, how are you getting those fighters to be accustomed to the different tastes of all the different foods? Are you just telling them what to eat or are you dealing with the tempers and, “I don’t want to eat this, Reid. Take it back, mate. Get me a steak.” What kind of things are going on there?
Dr. Reale: They actually provide a really good service. I didn’t come up with this service, the UFC were doing this before I was on board, but something that makes me feel warm and fuzzy. The service that they provide was actually based on a lot of the research that I published during my PhD. That’s good and makes me feel like I actually did something in my PhD.
Basically, you’re a fighter, your listeners are fighters, we know how much shit fighters put themselves through in that fight week. A lot of them barely eating anything, eating really bland tasteless foods, and all this sort of stuff. If anything, the fighters are actually quite surprised with, number one, how much food they get eat, number two, how good they feel during fight week, and number three, just the taste of the food. That’s the whole idea of having a chef on board.
We’ve got cookie-cutter approaches based on the different weight divisions, because obviously, it’s like all these calories, and proteins, and macros, and whatnot, are based on the size of the athlete. We’ve got basic plug and play recipes for fighters of different weights, but then we adjust that based on how far they are off weight. Because obviously, if you’ve got two lightweights and one has only got five pounds to do in the last week, it’s a walk in the park, or as the guy walks in, he’s still 20 pounds overweight, you wouldn’t be giving them both the same meal plan for fight week. We have these stock standard approaches that we implement, and then adjust based on the fighters specific situation.
Within that, because in nutrition, what we’re doing is just providing energy and macronutrients, there’s a lot of wiggle room. We ask them, “Protein preference, do you prefer steak, fish, chicken?” Things like this. Then, during fight week, there’s not much carbs for most people, but it’s quite a high fat diet. The fat sources that we have is like nut butters, peanut butter, almond butter, avocados, sometimes cream-based sources, things like this. Then we’ll ask them what their fat preferences are. Then, what else? Then, post weigh-in is when they get their carb back up, so then we also ask them, “Carbohydrate sources, are your rice guy, a potato guy, a pasta guy?”
We do the best that we can to deliver them the nutrition they need in a way that suits their palate, but also doesn’t make it too hard on us. Because if you just completely had everything open for discussion, you can imagine logistically, it’s quite difficult when you serve some 25 fighters and you’ve only just met them a day ago. It’s a lot of work for the chef.
The chef, man, this guy, Mario. I can’t pronounce his last name. I can pull up the Facebook and find out. Chef Mario does such a good job, man. He’s really passionate about it. He’s always tweaking these recipes and the sauces and to make them taste better and everything, and so he does a really good job. He gets feedback from the fighters because he travels around. They had just put a new chef on Trifecta, but prior to this, there was only the one chef, Mario and he would do every single event, this poor guy. He would be in London one week, then he’s in Perth the next week, then he’s flying all around the US. He just loves it, this guy. Actually, he’s an absolute workhorse. He’ll see the same fighters every couple of months and get feedback from them, and adjust the recipes and things. He does a really good job. Here he is, Mario LimaDuran. I don’t know if we can see this. There we are.
Sonny: Mario LimaDuran. What a legend.
Dr. Reale: Yes. Man, he’s such a good chef and such a good guy. Yes, he works his ass off during those fight weeks.
Sonny: I remember when you worked out a meal plan for me, the first thing that you did was put us through a DEXA scan to figure out body weight, fat, muscle, bones. Is that how you’re–? Are you putting all the fighters when they come in through that same process, or how do you figure that out?
Dr. Reale: During fight week, obviously not, because fight week, the fighters just rock up on a Tuesday for a Saturday fight to a hotel. We don’t have a DEXA scanner or anything there, but we’ve got a bit of an idea about just what weights they’re at. In terms of in Shanghai, for sure, man, we’re doing DEXAs on these guys. During fight camp, every three weeks outside of fight camp, every five or six weeks I would do RMRs, resting metabolic rate assessments on these guys, and trying to make it as scientific and keyed-in as possible.
Having said that, everybody’s different. You can get two fighters, both 70 kilos, both 10% body fat, you do all the calculations, you figure out what diet they should be on, you give them both the same diet, one guy loses weight, one guy puts on weight. There’s a lot of genetic variation within people. The way it is, with all sports sciences, you use the science to guide you in your decision-making, but then you assess the progress as you go and adjust accordingly.
Sonny: That’s interesting of the genetic variation with the food. Is that something that people had a handle on yet, or you can make adjustments for that with some kind of testing or anything like that, or is it still early days?
Dr. Reale: Yes. Certainly, very early days. In the long term, this is where this stuff is all heading, but I think we’re decades off, getting this stuff nailed down. Genes are so complex, even with disease and with everything. We get sniffs of what might be going on when a new study comes out about nutrient gene interactions and things like this. The way dieticians and sports dieticians that are worth their salt around the world do it, is just to make– I don’t want to use the word rough, but it pretty much is rough calculations, based on what the scientific literature says. Then you’re just getting the people to report back to you, how’s your weight changing? How much training you’re doing? How are you feeling? Then you’re making, I will say, informed subjective guesses as to what’s actually happening within the body and then adjusting accordingly.
Sonny: Yes, okay. That makes sense. I think I may have already seen some ads starting to pop up here and there for genetic testing for a nutritional profile. That’s probably they’re jumping the gun just just going for the money, is that–?
Dr. Reale: Yes, 100%, man. As is the case with everything, right? Soon as something promising comes out, these people are going jump on board and tell you that, “Come and spit in this tube and we can tell you how much carbs you need, and how much fat you need, and your blah-blah-blah,” all this stuff, but, I wouldn’t be investing in this. Well, investing is one thing, I wouldn’t be basing my diet based off these nutrigenomics tests just yet, when we’ve got perfectly effective means of doing it outside of that.
I think some nutrients, they’re certainly further along than others. I’ll give you an example, like with iron. Iron is a very important nutrient. It’s using red blood cell production and blah-blah-blah. Very important for athletes. There’s certain genetic anomalies or conditions, or genetic– I’m trying to think of the word. I don’t want to swear in your podcast, but anyway, there are certain genetic conditions which mess with your iron absorption or your iron regulation. There’s certain people–
One’s called hemochromatosis, where your body doesn’t regulate iron absorption and excretion the way that it should. These people, what normally happens, when your iron stores are quite full in your body, your body will stop absorbing so much iron from your diet. Vice versa, if your iron stores are very low, your body will absorb more iron from your diet.
This is because iron in excessive amounts in the body can be toxic. Our bodies evolved over millions and billions of years to get by in this world that we find ourselves. People with this genetic anomaly, hemochromatosis, their body doesn’t regulate this iron absorption and excretion. They just keep eating iron, and they end up poisoning themselves and dying.
Something like this, I believe they can test for, but in terms of figuring out exactly how much magnesium you need based off your genes, I don’t think that’s there. Certainly, there are certain things that they probably can test for and do a decent job of, but long term, maybe this is where this stuff is all heading.
Sonny: Yes, okay. then to make those informed decisions with the different variations on athletes, I guess then you need that constant data. You can’t just see them once and you can make your decision from there. You need to be getting that constant feedback and constant data. I guess that’s what having a full-time fight team living in camp in China has allowed you to be able to do around the clock, right?
Dr. Reale: Yes. It’s really awesome. Like I said, we do the DEXA scan, which for people who don’t know is just a body composition scan. It’s originally designed to assess bone mineral density, but you can also get indications of muscle mass and body fat from it. We’ll do a DEXA scan– I forget, we’ve got it in the schedule. Maybe it’s every three weeks, maybe it’s every two weeks in fight camp we do it. Then outside of fight camp is every four or five weeks where we do that.
Then, of course, for fighters, the big thing that you’re concerned about is body weight. We just track their body weight every week. We have them weigh in Monday, Tuesday, and then Thursday every week. The reason why we pick Monday, Tuesday is because most people don’t train as much on the weekend, they pig out over the weekend, and so Monday morning, you’re typically at your heaviest, but then for whatever reason, sometimes you’re not.
Sometimes for whatever reason, you’re like, maybe you just fell asleep early on Sunday and you didn’t eat as much, you didn’t drink as much fluid and you’re a little bit lighter than your, “true body weight” on a Monday morning, so that’s why we do Tuesday as well. Then we just take the average of Monday, Tuesday, and use that as an indication of their heaviest weight for that week. That’s that weekly feedback that we’re getting to see how their weight’s tracking.
Then we also do Thursday, just because we want to see them later in the week after a few days training, how it looks like. We had discussions about the best day to do it. I think when we go back to China, we’ll move that one to a Saturday morning. It’s more towards the end of the week when a fighter’s depleted, so you can get an idea of them at their heaviest and lightest for the week. We do that.
The body composition measurements, the DEXA scan is more assessing, number one, their white division fit. Are they in the correct weight division? As we all know, you get guys that are fighting at lightweight that have absolutely no abs at all and maybe they’re only at 10 pounds above lightweight, and they’ve got so much body fat on them that if we could just get the fat down, the amount of muscle mass they actually have under that fat is more in line with the guy at featherweight or sometimes even bantamweight.
The DEXA scan gives us a good idea about weight division fit. Then also whether we’re dieting them too fast, or that they’re losing weight so fast that then you can see the muscle mass start to change as well, but generally, body weight is a pretty good indicator for most people as to what’s going on. If you’re losing weight really slowly, chances are, you’re probably not losing a whole lot of muscle.
For the people listening at home or fighters who don’t have routine access to a DEXA scan, getting a DEXA scan a couple of times a year is probably sufficient, and then you’re just tracking your body weight in between that. For our fighters, we’ve got the luxury of throwing them in a DEXA scan whenever we want, so we make use of it.
Sonny: Of course, if you’ve got the equipment there, why not use it? Those days of weighing yourself, is that something that just the the regular fighter, or jiu-jitsu, or regular athlete, that three days a week, is that good enough or should they be getting on it more since they don’t have the DEXA?
Dr. Reale: It depends what kind of person you are. The issue with weighing not frequent enough, is that you don’t actually have an idea of the way your weight’s tracking, because if you just jump on the scales on a Wednesday one week, then you don’t weigh for two weeks, and you get on it on a Monday, then a week later, you do a Thursday, then two weeks later, you do– It’s just you’re not getting a good indication of the way your weight is tracking.
Also, something else that I should say is that like the time of day when you weigh. Really, the only thing that we care about is that fasted waking weights. We want them to get up in the morning, don’t eat or drink anything, go to the bathroom, and then get on the scale so that we can get an indication of the empty, rested fasted weight. If you weigh yourself after training when you have sweat, you don’t know how much exactly you’ve sweat, you don’t know how much you’ve drank, if you’ve eaten meals throughout the day, it confounds the numbers that you’re getting. That’s one thing. If you don’t standardize the way you weigh yourself, the information is somewhat useless. Then, we’re also going with that.
Then, the danger of weighing yourself too often is that sometimes people will develop complexes with this, like body image issues, eating disorders, and things like this. That’s not good either. If you’re the kind of person that can be really objective with this, and I’ve worked with fighters in the past that are, that they really don’t care. They understand the body is the vehicle that they drive for their sport. The number on the scales doesn’t seem to put them into spirals of depression or anything like this, so for these people– Some people just want to weigh themselves every day, and that’s completely fine, providing it’s not causing you any psychological ill harm.
Like myself, jiu-jitsu competitor for 15 years, dietician, PhD in weight cutting, and blah-blah-blah, all this. When I got jiu-jitsu comps coming up, I’m the kind of guy that’s going to be weighing myself every day, just because I’m interested. I want to see what my weight is at the start of the week compared to the end of the week, and things like this, but people who– Look, some athletes don’t really want to think about all this stuff. They just want to do the bare minimum, do what they’re told, not have to think about it. If you’re this kind of athlete, I would still say you want to get at least weekly weigh-ins, so you have an idea of whether you’re actually putting on weight or losing weight, and the same way we do at the academy.
I think doing two days back to back is a good idea just because weight does tend to fluctuate day-to-day, and so we have heavy days and light days based on a variety of factors. If you just do like a Monday, Tuesday, every week, I think, they’re good days to do it because that’s probably when you’re going to be at your heaviest. As a fighter, you probably want to know how far off are you from your weight division.
If you don’t want to think about it, just Monday, Tuesday, every week, log that weight. If you don’t have fights coming up and you really don’t want to do it, don’t do it. I would argue that’s slightly irresponsible if you’re the kind of person that balloons out. We know from research in general population but as well as athletes, people who weigh themselves compared to people who don’t weigh themselves maintain their body weight better. That’s probably no surprise, right? Because if you’re head in the sand, hands over your eyes and ears, and you are not paying attention to something, that’s when things can get out control without you realizing it.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. I’ve had situations where I’ll ask a fighter with a fight coming up, “What’s your weight?” You can tell they’re a bit, “I’m not going to do it until I’m ready mentally and then I’m confident enough that what’s going to be on the scale is what I want to see.” It makes me think then, when you’re dealing with those athletes and you’re tailoring it to their different personalities even, is there any way that you’re figuring out what their personalities are, questionnaires or anything like that, or are you just gauging it and using your intuition?
Dr. Reale: Yes, the second one. We don’t do any questionnaires in terms of getting an idea of their personality types. I’m not sure whether there’s any out there that would help, but certainly, it’s about getting to know them. It’s quite interesting, working in China actually. There’s a lot of downsides to the- I’ll just come out with it and say, lack on interest in sports nutrition and performance nutrition amongst Chinese athletes, but there’s some upsides where they don’t tend to have these body image issues around weight and things like this. You know what I mean?
It’s a lot more just part of the sport and do what you’re told. They don’t tend to do their heads in over it as much. There doesn’t seem to be these issues around, like you just alluded to, like fighters dreading stepping on the scales and things like this. There’s that. There’s this certainly cultural differences, but then there’s individual athlete differences as well. Yes, you just got to get know your athletes as a coach.
Sonny: Yes, that makes sense that you’re just going to have to have those people skills as a coach to be able to know what that particular person is going to require.
Dr. Reale: There’s two kinds of athletes. There’s athletes that turn into– I’m trying to think of a diplomatic way to say this. There’s athletes whose weight increases dramatically in between fights, and there’s athletes who don’t. If you are working with athletes whose weights don’t increase dramatically in between fights, then maybe there’s nothing to worry about. You know what I mean?
We’ve got several athletes in our academy who without really thinking about it or making concerted efforts to get it right, their body-weight management is essentially perfect. They just sit around 10% to 12% above their weight division, in camp, off camp, whatever. They don’t even have to diet during fight camp. Their weight will slowly come down but they don’t even have that much to lose. Then they do a weight cut of like 10% in the last week. Then, two weeks after the fight, they’re not any heavier and maybe at their biggest, they’re like 13% or 14% above their weight division. Again, that comes down during fight camp anyway without them really trying to do so. Certainly, it’s not the majority of them. Most fighters balloon out in between fights, that’s probably the reality. right?
Sonny: I hear that.
Dr. Reale: [laughs] Yes.
Sonny: [chuckles] I know that all too well. Obviously, if you’re getting fighters, one of the best things they can do is just keep their fight weight low between each fight or in that range, so that they don’t have these massive weight cuts six weeks out, that they’ve got to start freaking out about it. It that–?
Dr. Reale: Yes. We work with some numbers, some guidelines that we like to use with our guys. I don’t think it’s a case of you should always be ready. Some of the review papers that we published as a part of my PhD, we recommend fighters should not try and cut, I’m not talking fat loss here, I’m talking like acute weight loss or weight-cutting, in that last 7 to 10 days, that fighters should not try and cut more than 10% of their body weight.
For a lightweight who’s going to fight at 70 kilos or 70.5 kilos or whatever it is, we don’t want them to be any heavier than 77.5 kilos, 7 to 10 days out because we know that fighter’s can– It’s not a walk in the park but fighters can, without hurting themself, cut 10% of their body weight, and then recover really well. It’s always a balance because people who don’t understand the sport say, “Why don’t you just get down to 71 kilos or 72 kilos so the weight cuts easy?” It’s like, “Well, then you’re going to be too small when it comes time to fight, right?”
That 10%, that’ s a good, pragmatic balance between not cutting so much weight that you’re going to hurt yourself and ruin your performance, but also not giving your opponent a significant size advantage. Now, obviously, some people do a lot more than 10%. I won’t say names but there’s been some UFC fighters that have gained 25% of their body weight, after weigh-in. That’s crazy. In order to gain that 25%, you’ve probably have to lose 25% in that last 7 to 10 days. Losing 25% of your body weight is ridiculous, that’s how people end up dying in the sauna.
It’s certainly not a case that the heavier fighter always wins, but we would be foolish to think that size does not play a part in competitive success. Each fighter has got to figure out what works for them. The numbers that we use is about 10%, we want them to cut. If it’s a little bit less, no problem. If they’re 8%, I still don’t think they’re too small. 11% or 12% that can probably do but it’s going to suck a lot more. Once you cut more than that in that last 7 to 10 days, is when you start to- all the support staff around the fighter are getting a bit worried.
Having said that– This brings me back to my actual point. Having said that, you could then be led to think that a fighter should just constantly remain at 10% above their weight division and that way, they never have to lose body fat. They can just do weight cuts after weight cuts and never have to actually do a fat loss phase. That’s fine for some fighters. If that’s where they sit, that’s fine, but in my experience and what we’ve worked with with our guys, we allow them to put on some fat and indeed some muscle in between fights, but we don’t want it to be too excessive.
We tell them at the start of fight camp, “We don’t want you to be bigger than,” I think we say “about 13%-14% above your weight division.” That means in that last– We have shorter fight camps for our guys. We want them to be able to take a fight on six weeks’ notice, and so that means that we’re going to drop 1% of their body weight per week. If they’re up around that 15% above their weight division, in order to get them down to 10% above their weight division a week.
There’s a lot of research to support the claim that once you’re losing more than 1% of your body weight per week, the calorie deficits that are required to achieve that, increase your risk of injury and illness, lead to greater loss of lean mass and muscle mass, and things like this. As best you can, you want to prevent yourself having to lose more than 1% of your body weight per week in fat loss. Then, try to aim for around that 10% in the last 7 to 10 days. That’s the way we come up with these numbers.
Of course, it doesn’t always work. Some fighters just go home and pig out and come back 20% above their weight division. Then we say, “You’re 20% above your weight division, there’s no short-notice fights.” Then they get a short notice fight on four weeks notice and then you’re pulling your hair out, trying to figure out what you’re going to do. That’s when it’s like, “What are we going to do?” The fighter has to make weight or at least come very close to making weight, otherwise, you’re not going to able to fight.
The unfortunate reality of these sports are then, you’re starving people in order to get their weight down. You’re putting them on severe calorie deficits. Their training’s affected, increased risk of injury, they’re going to lose muscle mass, they’re going to feel like crap the whole time, but you got to do what you got to do to get that weight down. Then it sets up the rebound again afterwards, so some people get trapped in that cycle and they never escape it.
Again, we’ve got a few good examples of athletes in our academy that do it quite well. Generally, not through any concerted effort of their own. That’s just kind of the way their genetics are set up. They pretty much just pig out the whole time. They eat as much food as they can and they’re just that kind of body type where they stay jacked and lean. They don’t ever get greater than 12% to 13% above their weight division, then we just do a weight cut at the end of it, and they’re good.
Sonny: I like that, that you do give a people a bit of allowance and keeping it [unintelligible 00:32:36] in the ballpark, shall we say. I’m interested, you mentioned then that some people, given those circumstances, are going to have to lose a lot of weight, and they are going to have that rebound effect. One phrase I had heard thrown around is metabolic damage, that people can permanently damaged themselves. Then, that throws everything off, they hold more fat into the future, something like that. Is that a thing, or what can happen there?
Dr. Reale: Yes, I don’t know about permanent. Obviously, that side depends on your definition of permanent, but permanent is actually pretty clear. Permanent means forever, right? I don’t know– [crosstalk]
Sonny: Pretty much.
Dr. Reale: Yes. [chuckles] I don’t know if it is forever, but certainly you can– What happens is, we have a resting metabolic rate, which is how much energy our body burns at rest. If you use the analogy of like a car, when you do exercise, you’re putting your foot on the accelerator, you’re burning gas, but even when you’re laying down in bed or sitting down, the engines idling, so it’s heating over, and this is that resting metabolic rate.
What happens is when you start dieting, or when you’re overtraining or under fueling yourself, that resting metabolic rate starts to decrease, and they’re starting in recent years, last 5 to 10 years, it’s become really fashionable in the research community to use resting metabolic rate as an indication of overtraining and under-fueling. We do this at the PI in Shanghai where we test at resting metabolic rate every couple of weeks. When you start to see their resting metabolic rate drop, again, that’s an indication that maybe they’re not fueling well or they’re overtraining.
What you find is that, yes, when people diet, their resting metabolic rate decreases. There’s several reasons for this, one, is you’re feeding them less calories. Two, if you lose muscle mass. Muscle mass is metabolically active so the less muscle you have, the less fuel your body requires just to maintain that muscle mass. Then there is some research to suggest that this suppression lasts longer than the period of the calorie deficit does. What that means basically, you diet for 10 weeks and then you stop dieting. Your metabolism resting metabolic rate decreases throughout that 10 weeks, your calories come back up, but your RMR stays low. That would be an indication of metabolic damage, so to speak.
There was actually some interesting studies looking at ex Biggest Loser contestants. Biggest Loser that television show where they had the morbidly obese people that lose all the weight. That was showing that in these people, even two years after the show, their metabolic rates were all screwed up. It’s certainly possible. The caveat around this is that everybody’s different. You wouldn’t believe the genetic variation in humans. I’ve seen athletes that you feed them ridiculously low-calorie diets in order to get them to make weight and their RMR stays very high, and they don’t lose any muscle mass. These people are just genetic specimens.
That’s just the way the human race is set up. Pretty much everything exists on a bell curve, and most people, some are in the middle and you’ve always got people at the tips of the bell curve. Generally, the people at the tips of the bell curve are the people winning Olympic gold medals, and Tour de France, and UFC world champions, and things like this.
Sonny: Yes, that’s fair enough. It’s probably then a bit unreasonable for me to blame my difficulties losing the Christmas kilos on a weight cut I did five years ago.
Dr. Reale: What was your quote at the start, about the excuses are only–?
Sonny: [chuckles] Excuses please only those who gives them. [laughs] I hear you. How are you guys then testing getting that metabolic rate for the guys in China? Is that something that the regular athlete can do?
Dr. Reale: How do we do it, and how is it done in the research setting? Basically, not a lot of people might be familiar with how it looks like, but people may be familiar with Vo2 max test. Maybe you’ve seen somebody on the treadmill with the mask on jogging on the treadmill. A lot of people have seen this, whether it’s on the TV or at a university or something like this. What that’s doing is that that mask is attached to a gas analyzer, which is measuring the amount of oxygen that you’re sucking in and the amount of carbon dioxide that you’re producing. Then we do a bunch of equations on these numbers to figure out how much energy you’re burning, and also how much fat and carbohydrates you’re burning and things like this.
Basically, it’s the same thing, but resting metabolic rate, as the name would suggest, you do it at rest. We just get people to come in and lay down, they lay down for 30 minutes with the mask on, and we just measure how much energy they’re burning at rest. It’s really important the standardization of that, so similar to the way you do your weight. When we do this, it’s early. It’s like 7:00 AM. I think the last one we do is like 7:45 something like this, but the athletes don’t really like it because it’s 30 minutes lying on your back, and it’s at an ungodly time for these Chinese athletes to get up at 6:30 and come in and do a resting metabolic rate test.
That’s how it’s done. How is it–? You have to be fast. You can’t eat or drink anything. You can drink water, but you can’t eat or drink anything with energy. You shouldn’t have tobacco, or alcohol, or caffeine for the 12 hours beforehand, things like this. No marijuana either for all the fighters out there. Then can–
Sonny: You’re breaking dreams.
Dr. Reale: [laughs] The argument could be made that if you’re always smoking marijuana, maybe you should do it on marijuana, because then it’s a better indication of your typical resting metabolic rate.
Sonny: I’d give them the chance. That’s all a fighter would need to hear, and then they’ll take that around with it, mate, so don’t give me the opportunity.
Dr. Reale: Then can fighters do it themselves? To be honest, I haven’t heard of commercial places that do it. DEXA scanning is very popular now. There’s a lot of, I know certainly in Australia, in the US, I guarantee, and other places I know, in the UK as well, you can go and get your body composition tested via DEXA scan. I haven’t heard of places doing RMRs. Your best bet might be to contact a university. If you have any friends that study sports science or nutrition, tap them on the shoulder, but it wouldn’t surprise me if places do start to provide this service because it’s kind of becoming a standard nutrition diagnostic test in many sports institutes around the world.
Sonny: Okay, so the best then that the regular athlete without that access might be able to do is you get a DEXA scan, and then there’s some calculations you can make off that, and then get the feedback and see how that’s going. Is that–?
Dr. Reale: Yes, exactly. Right, but to be honest, you don’t even really need a DEXA. Two ways to do it. One, is just Google metabolic rate equation, and there’s a bunch of different equations out there. Common ones are the Schofield equations, Harris-Benedict equations, Cunningham equations. Cunningham requires you to know your muscle mass. If you want to use a Cunningham equation, then you would need to get a DEXA, but these equations are just based off your body weight, maybe your height, maybe your age, and definitely your sex, male versus female.
These equations, they’re pretty accurate. They’re accurate for most people plus or minus 10%. If you wanted to design your diet this way, you could just get one of these equations, feed your info into it, and then that’s going to tell you how much you burn hypothetically at rest. The issue then anyway is this, even if you do– There’s two different ways to get the RMR, right? One is to measure it directly or indirectly, via a test that I just described, or two, use one of these equations, but that’s only one component of your energy expenditure.
Then, there’s the actual energy that you expend through training and even like incidental exercise. Even if you don’t go to training, you’re moving around, you’re doing housework, things like this. Then, you’re burning energy that way. That way, you can’t really measure anyway. There’s no good way to do it. Even if you have the actual perfect gold standard RMR measurement, you’re then getting the energy expenditure through exercise anyway.
Really, what it comes down to is, like you said, it’s like you’re just looking for feedback. This is how we work with athletes, right? Like I said, right in the beginning, you come up with an intervention or a diet or some sort of plan based off the scientific literature, and then you adjust based on the reality and the feedback that you’re getting from the athlete’s weight, or their training quality, or whatever. For you, Sonny Brown, what’s your weight right now?
Sonny: Oh, I’m ready to go, coach. Throw me in, I’m the fight weight, I’m in striking distance, don’t worry about that. [laughs]
Dr. Reale: Let’s say you’re 75 kilos, 80 kilos.
Sonny: Yes, 80.
Dr. Reale: All right. Let’s say you’re 80 kilos, and you’re going to try once per day, right? I’m going to ballpark it here. Say you burn 3,000 calories in a day, it may not be exactly 3,000, it may be more or less, but it’s probably not too far off. What we do is we feed you 3,000 calories, and then we weigh you according to a standardized procedure we’ve described earlier, and then we just see what happens. If we feed 3,000 calories a day, every day, for three weeks, and your weight stays the same, then we nailed it. If your weight increases, then we’re obviously feeding you too much, which means that the combination of your resting metabolic rate and your exercise energy expenditure is actually less than 3,000. Or, if you’re losing weight, then we’re not feeding you enough.
Really, this is the way that we do it anyway. Even at the academy, we have all these plug and play diets for the different weight divisions that we use. We have these menus set up, where we say, “All right, a lightweight wants to lose body fat.” We estimate that for this lightweight to lose body fat, they’ll need to eat two 2,500 calories a day. I’m just pulling out numbers here, maybe it’s a little bit more. Then we give them this menu, and the menu says like, “Pick a protein, pick a vegetable, pick rice, or noodles, dumplings whatever,” and they tick what they want, and then they follow this diet.
Then they do it for two weeks. If they’re not losing weight, then we have to reduce the calories. No matter what their RMR said or no matter what any calculations that we come up with said, you have to work with the feedback that you’re getting from reality. Really, you don’t need to go and get RMRs. It’s interesting, but it’s not critical to your success and even to your weight loss efforts.
Then you don’t even need to get a DEXA in order to base your diet off. The main reason why athletes who don’t routinely have access to a DEXA and will have to pay for access to a DEXA, the reason I would recommend that they get it, is to do an assessment of whether they’re in the right weight division or not. If you’ve ever wondered, “Can I go down a weight division?” Your first step should be to go and get a DEXA scan so you can see exactly how much fat-free mass you have underneath your body fat.
Sonny: Yes, okay. Then I guess the best way then just for the regular fighter just piecing it together, is really just be paying attention to what their weight is on the scale or a couple of times a week at least, be paying attention to how many calories they’re eating every day, and then just adjusting as they go. Is that reasonable?
Dr. Reale: Yes, 100% correct. You don’t even have to do calories. My mind works that way and a lot of people’s minds do work that way, and I would say that a lot of fighters do actually. Fighters are either particularly anal and on top of their numbers like that or they don’t really care, but a lot like the numbers because it gives them a sense of control, so that is one way. Even if you just know you eat the same stuff every day and your weight’s not moving, you don’t even have to add the numbers up. You just say like, “All right, I’m going to eat a bit less. I’m going to reduce the fat in my diet. If I always cook with a shitload of oil, I’m just going to reduce some of the oil in my cooking. If I had two cans of Coke every day, I’m going to switch the Coke Zero.”
You don’t even know what the total amount of calories you’re eating, but if your weight has stayed the same and you’re eating the same, then obviously, you’re providing the correct amount of energy for your expenditure. If you want to lose weight, you need to reduce that energy intake.
Sonny: Okay, that makes sense. Did you just summarize it as to lose weight, eat a bit less, Reid? Is that what we’ve come down to here?
Dr. Reale: Pretty much.
Sonny: [chuckles] All these PhD years of research?
Dr. Reale: Yes, that’s it.
Sonny: That’s incredible, but it makes sense. As long as you’re paying attention to it and just unconsciously shoveling stuff in your mouth and not moving, if you’ve got an idea of what you’re cooking with, what you’re eating, you can adjust accordingly and wing it and “All right, I’ll have one scoop instead of two,” or something like that, and just figure it out yourself, right?
Dr. Reale: Yes, correct. That’s 100% correct. If you know roughly what you’re eating and you just reduce down, but it’s important for people to understand, it’s not the volume of food, it’s the energy content of the food. Often, we can actually keep the same volume of food or even more, but reduce the energy intake, because it’s the energy that we need to decrease not the volume of food.
The example that I just gave you is, reduce the fat content of your diet, things like oil, butter, margarine, spreads like these, even things like nuts, the fat on your meat, this stuff is incredibly energy-dense. You can remove some of that fat and you can actually put in more vegetables and salads, and things like these. You might actually eat a greater volume of food, but you’re eating less energy. I’ve got a plug for a book that I wrote. Maybe you can provide the link or something.
Sonny: Combat Sports Nutrition, is that–?
Dr. Reale: That’s the one. We’ve recently updated, mate. Recently updated. Seriously, that probably explains a lot of this stuff in greater detail and in the way that fighters can understand, but exactly what you said, it’s eat less, move more, end of story.
Sonny: Now the problem with that advice though, I’ll just hang on just before I go into the problem with that advice, is it does seem that the main thing is, know which foods are energy-dense and which foods are not, and just as long as you then have that knowledge, you can adjust accordingly, right? Is that–?
Dr. Reale: Correct, yes.
Sonny: That’s important that even if you don’t know the exact amount of calories, if you know that this one is dense and it’s going to have lots, then that’s going to be an important thing to know. Now the problem with the advice of, “Just eat less, you’ll be right, monitor yourself,” is it’s very hard to actually get people enthusiastic about that and to like that idea of that simplicity. People want some form of diet that they can attach onto, and buy into, and follow to a tee. Do you make sure that they get that buy-in or how do you get that buy-in from your athletes?
Dr. Reale: Yes, it’s different for different people. Like you said, a lot of people want– Nutrition is funny, right? A lot of people want a name for the diet. What diet are you on? It’s like, “Well, I don’t know. I just eat a lot of vegetables, and some meat, and some carbs, and the way it adds up, it’s less calories.” It’s like that’s not as sexy as the carnivore diet, or the paleo, or a modified Atkins, or whatever it is.
That’s our job as dietitians with the fighters that we work with, is to get that buy-in. The way most dietitians would do it is to just explain the physiology and the nutrition to them, and hopefully, once they get it, that they don’t need a name for the diet. This is one of the big benefits of working with the Chinese athletes is like, man, veganism, gluten-free, paleo– What else is there? Probably some Scientology diet or- but all these things–
Dr. Reale: All these things are not a thing in China. When we put them on these plans, they get it. It’s like, they don’t overthink it. We just say, “Look, all right, you’re currently eating four steaks for lunch and three massive bowls of noodles, so we’re just going to have one bowl of noodles, and two steaks, and then a bowl of salad.” It’s kind of easier in a way.
Dr. Reale: They don’t take ownership of it themselves, they just do what they’re told. Whereas your Western athletes, sometimes, you really got to sell things to them. Yes, it’s difficult, man. That’s the difficult job as a dietitian is working with different personality types. In the past, I’ve had good success just reiterating science to people, and I think because of– I’ve never fought MMA, but just training jiu-jitsu, competing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, being around fighters all my life and things like this, I think that’s helped me get buy-in. I can speak to people on their level.
Sometimes, people, it’s easy– It’s like, you’re not giving them the answers they want because they want the paleo diet, or the monopoly diet, or whatever it is, but if the person that they can’t relate to– Maybe the person that they can’t relate to is the reason why they’re not buying in, and then this other thing is just another reason.
Whereas with me, it’s like, I’m not going to give them the paleo diet or the monopoly diet, because I’m going to explain it to them in a way that they understand, and use my own experience to say, “Look, man, I know sometimes it sucks, you got to make white, but trust me, if we do it like this, this, and this, you can still have a bit of cake on Saturday. We’re just going to make sure it all adds up in a way,” blah-blah-blah, use a bunch of analogies. Often, like money analogies work where it’s like reverse saving, like, “You’ve got this money in the bank, but we need to spend more money than we’re making in order to get that bank balance down, because the bank balance is your body fat and things like this.”
That’s what’s difficult about being a dietitian is selling things to people, and that’s why often, not always, but often you’ll find that dietitians that have done the particular sport themself in question, have a lot of success. Like if you’re a marathon runner or a cyclist, and you work with cyclists, you’re kind of halfway there in terms of generating buy-in.
Sonny: I can see that where people are not going to take advice on diet from just, “What do you know about our sport, mate? Stick to golf course or something like that.” Whereas if you’re in the sport, they go, “Okay, he’s speaking from a– At least he’s had some experience in.” Yes, I understand that. I guess also, I’m taking in that I guess in China, you haven’t had the athletes come to you and say, “Hey, I just watched Game Changers mate, I want to be Conor McGregor.” “Nate Diaz told me, eat your veggies.” That’s not happening over there?
Dr. Reale: No, it doesn’t happen. The big one that gets in the way, but it doesn’t get in the way as much as we thought, maybe it would have, and I’ll give you a two-part answer here, but traditional Chinese medicine, because they’ve got a lot of strongly-held beliefs around healing powers of food, and the hot and cold thing, and eating tiger penis for your vitality, and all this sort of stuff. They do have these kind of held beliefs.
A big one is like the hot and cold stuff. There are certain foods in the traditional Chinese
medicine beliefs that either have hot properties or cold properties and it’s not temperature. It’s not like curry is hot and cucumbers are cold, although I do believe cucumbers are cold. It’s to do with, I don’t know, the yin and yang or the balance or something like this. They believe that there’s certain times of the year, and certain times of the day, and whether you’re a female on your cycle or whatnot, where you should have more hot foods or more cold foods et cetera. This is a big thing.
When we first started, there was a few examples where it’d come up but to be honest, I think now the athletes have been there for long enough and the good thing about China is that, from a practitioner point of view, is the athletes are used to doing what they’re told not like Western athletes. They grow up in a system at their school where they don’t ask questions, they do what they’re told. Then the gyms are even worse in the sporting system, where it’s like you don’t ever question your coach, very hierarchical, or authoritarian coaching style. They do what they’re told, even if they maybe had issues with it.
Having said that, what’s happened was when we first opened, there was a few times where some things were said and athletes maybe had problems with certain things. They were like, “Well, my grandma said I shouldn’t eat this thing after training because–” One of them was like, “You’re not supposed to eat fruit after training.” This one’s a bit of a problem actually. They don’t drink a lot of water with their meals. Obviously, athletes need to stay well hydrated, and particularly if you’re training twice a day. That one’s a bit of an issue that we haven’t cured actually, [unintelligible 00:54:41], no fruit after training, whereas we put fruit out for them, try and get some carbohydrates and some vitamins and minerals and whatnot.
Then what happened is particular with the weight cutting. The weight cutting is where we got a lot of buy-in because they were cutting weight horrendously in their home gyms and then they did what we told them because they were part of his program. We provided all the food for them, we gave them structured plans, we sat them down and told them how it all works, whether they listened to or not, but they just did it because they do what they’re told.
Then I would say 100% of the athletes that went through a more evidence-based scientific approach to cutting weight after their fights, regardless of whether they won or lost, although we’ve got a very good win record. We’ve only had maybe three losses or something from over 30 fights I think. That they all say that it was much easier, they felt much better, the weight come off a lot more easy, that the recovery was fantastic. They felt great in the ring– in the cage, sorry, and et cetera.
Then what happens is after they’ve gone through the process once, even though the first time maybe they didn’t really trust it, but they were just doing what they’re told, then they bought in hook line and sinker. Then what’s happened is we’ve got new athletes that have come into the academy and because we’ve now developed this culture with the first group of athletes, the new athletes have stepped in and you’ve already got all these advocates standing around the place saying, “I’ll listen to these guys. These foreign experts know what’s going on. Just do what you’re told, you’ll be good, you’ll be good.”
It hasn’t been as difficult as maybe we thought it might have been. There was a few teething issues but yes, we certainly got the buy-in after they’ve gone through it. This isn’t talking nutrition but even if they’re training, Chinese MMA training, tipping all their sports training is the harder, the more, the better. If two hours a day is good, four hours is better. Six hours is even better, eight hours is even better. What’s a rest week? What’s a rest day? There’s no such thing as tapers leading into competitions and things like this.
Our head coach has obviously brought a more evidence-based periodized approach to their training. A lot of the athletes were like, “Well, I don’t know about these rest days and I don’t know why we’re doing less on this day. I feel like I’ve not really trained that hard and all this.” After they go to their fights, and they’re actually well rested, and they’re more poppy, and they’re explosive, and they’re not feeling so fatigued all the time, they’re bought in hook line and sinker to have a more evidence-based scientific approach to their training as well as the nutrition.
Sonny: Okay, so it’s like give them a chance to see the benefits of an evidence-based approach and you’re pretty confident that they’re going to be happy with the results and buy-in after that, right?
Dr. Reale: Yes, and I think this is a good thing for all athletes. I would always tell athletes when they cutting weight, part of your weight cutting process is to plan the weight cut and then evaluate it afterwards. After every time you cut weight, people do this instinctually but it’s also good to do consciously, to plan the weight cut and then afterwards assess, “What did I do different this time to the last time? What worked? What didn’t work? How did I feel?” et cetera.
With our athletes, because maybe they don’t have as much insight into nutrition and they don’t care, we sit them down, and interview them, and give them probing leading questions to make them think about it. We get some really good quotes out of them about just how good they felt from the weight cut, they didn’t know it could be this easy, et cetera, so yes. That solidifies the buy-in. It’s one thing for them to go through the process and realize that it was better, but when you guide them and give them the leading question to actually make them say those words that, “Man, this was way better than the last weight cuts that I did with my previous gym.” Not that their previous gyms were bad but it’s very old school hard training methods in these gyms that they come from around China.
Sonny: That makes sense. I’ve seen a couple of documentaries on how Chinese MMA has been developing and it seems like still a bit of the Wild West days over there, right?
Dr. Reale: Yes, you want to watch one. We got a lot of guys from this gym in I believe it’s– Is it Chengdu or Sichuan area? It’s near Tibet area. You want to watch this. It’s a vice documentary on YouTube. Type in Enbo, E-N-B-O, and it’s called an Enbo Fight Club for boys. It’s an orphanage where this local mafia boss gets these abandoned orphaned street kids and trains them to be MMA fighters. They’re all like from 12 years old, dropped out of school, and just fight MMA, but they’re the best gym in China. We’ve got those athletes in our program and they’re weapons these kids.
Sonny: Yes, right, that’s scary. They’re coming off for everyone. Just go back, one thing I want to clarify is that did you ever at a stage then, were you designing diet plans with those hot-cold principles in mind? I wasn’t sure about that.
Dr. Reale: Never.
Sonny: Never. Okay. Just checking mate, just checking.
Dr. Reale: I’m against it because I’m like, science, integrity, and all this. I see the value in reaching people on their level so maybe I’m a little bit too digging my heels in here. Maybe you could– but I’m in two minds about it. Some people say, “Well, if they want to eat hot foods at a certain time, can’t you just find foods that you would have them eat but make sure they are the hot variety?” Like if we want them to have protein after training, and let’s say chicken is a cold food and beef is a hot food, and they want to eat a hot food, just give them beef, and then you can tell them why we’re giving you hot foods because that’s what you want.
That’s one option. You could do it like that where you’re sitting on the fence, and I’m getting what I want and they’re getting what they want. But then I also think I don’t want to lie to people and I want to teach them about evidence-based nutrition. I never rubbish their beliefs, but I would rather be honest and in my mind have more integrity and do what I know to work and explain to the athletes. Because I want them to develop these skills so that when they leave our academy that they know what’s going on as well.
Sonny: Yes, I agree with that. It’s maybe something though coming back over to Australia with athletes and just giving them glucose a little bit pre-competition, glucose or after training, whatever, and just telling them that they can have a Red Snake or a Red Frog or just like a lolly. That idea itself with a lot of people have said that, “Here, just mate, have had a couple of snakes.” They’re like, “That’s junk food, that’s lollies, that’s unhealthy. I’m not going to touch that.” Have you experienced that as well, that pushback on that side of things?
Dr. Reale: With our Chinese athletes or just athletes in general?
Sonny: Just athletes in general?
Dr. Reale: Yes, for sure, and particularly with fighters because fighting or MMA, it’s a relatively new sport. It hasn’t had a lot of involvement with evidence-based training and nutrition practices. There’s a lot more of these– how do you term it, these beliefs and these counterculture and subculture lifestyles and beliefs and stuff. Whereas when you talk to a swimmer or a rower or marathon runner, they get it. They’ve been reading about carbohydrates and electrolytes and stuff for decades. When you tell them, “I have some Gatorade, it’s sugar water,” they know. It’s like, “Yes, it’s sugar water, but the thing that I need right now is sugar and water so sugar water is perfectly appropriate.
Fighters are the same in terms of their needs when they’ve got these high-energy needs but like you said, it’s like some people are resistant to this stuff. I’ve certainly encountered it but again, the best thing that I can do as a dietitian is just to explain it to them and say it in an honest way. The thing with fighters as opposed to maybe these- -other sports is that often fighters are working with incredibly low energy budgets because they’re trying to bring their weight down so there actually might be less room in the diet for some of these junk foods.
Whereas if you are Michael Phelps, and you’re burning 7,000 calories a day in the pool, maybe he meets his protein and vitamin and mineral needs in 2,000 calories. If he eats 5,000 calories of crap, it doesn’t really matter because it’s just fuel for the fire. Whereas the fighter is maybe burning 3,000 calories a day gets their protein, vitamins, and minerals in 2,000, but they’re trying to lose weight. Instead of eating how much they’re burning, they’re trying to eat less, so there might be less room for it. There’re certainly times where it’s appropriate. But yes, I think it’s, again, from my point of view, it’s just about explaining the physiology to them and getting the buy-in that way.
There’s few situations in a fighter’s nutrition program where they have to have candy, so if I really don’t want it, I can certainly work around it. The time that I think about when it’s appropriate is more like– one is post-weigh-in because if you’re trying to beat these incredibly high carbohydrate targets and carbohydrate is sugar. If you’re trying to get 700 or 800 grams of carbohydrates in before you go to sleep that night, it can be quite hard to do that in a sweet potato. Having some sugary crap in that post weigh-in period is completely appropriate. Interestingly enough, people that have these beliefs around not wanting to eat the candy, those beliefs go out the window post weigh-in anyway, so that’s an easy fix.
Then the other times is like maybe judo or jujitsu competitors who have competitions where they’re fighting multiple times throughout the day and you don’t want to eat heavy foods in between comps, so candy and stuff is appropriate then. But then you’re talking about your fighters in their day-to-day training environment. One Snake is not going to hurt anyone. One Snake’s– I don’t even know, but what is it? It’s probably five grams of sugar. That’s probably 20 calories, maybe it’s probably 30 or 40 calories max. Again, it’s probably not going to make the difference in their performance anyway, so if they really didn’t want it, half a banana’s just as good.
Sonny: You can always find something to substitute in that’s going to suit them if they really want it. Is that what you–?
Dr. Reale: Correct, yes. Nutrition’s– there’s many different ways to skin a cat, and yes, everyone has their tastes, preferences in things like these. A good dietitian will– That’s a dietitian’s job, is to understand somebody’s requirements, understand their likes and desires and beliefs, and make these things line up.
Sonny: There’s a lot of the mental aspect it seems like to actually goes into play with a lot of this stuff. One thing I want to talk about is going through some of the specifics of the weight cut, maybe some of the methods that you’ve seen that are inappropriate to use. Maybe first, particularly one I want to discuss with you is the sauna suit and just how that gets used, and what you think of it.
Dr. Reale: It’s interesting. Do you mean in the weeks leading up to a weigh-in?
Sonny: Yes. I’ve seen it used in so many ways. My thoughts on it is people see the name sauna suit and think that it’s a suit you wear in the sauna and not a suit that simulates sauna-like conditions. Say that six times quick. Should you wear a sauna suit in the sauna?
Dr. Reale: You can. At that stage, you’re just trying to get water out of the body. If that’s going to help you sweat more, and you feel comfortable to do so, there’s no reason why you can’t. The thing that’s going to– and there’s a lot of different considerations. We’ll say MMA, we’ll just put it in an MMA context, rather than jujitsu or judo or something like this because there’s different considerations with same-day weigh-in, multiple-bout competitions and things like these, so one, we’re talking MMA.
At the end, you’ve used all the other weight-cutting methods, the low carbohydrate diet, the low fat in the diet, the low salt, you’ve brought your body fat down, you’ve stopped drinking fluids, blah, blah, blah. That last push is just trying to get water out of the body. Any way you do that– There is some nuance differences between the methods, particularly active versus passive sweating. If you’re just going to jog on a treadmill for five hours, and that’s probably a dumb idea because you’re going to get quite sore from the exercise and the fatigue. In terms of pushing the water out of your body, the thing that’s going to affect you the most is how much water you get out of your body.
Whether you get 4% of your body weight in sweat out of your body from a bathtub, a sauna with no sauna suit, a sauna suit with no sauna, or a sauna suit in the sauna, it’s probably not much difference to your health and then your performance as well. Because as we know with MMA, there’s 24 to 30 hours, depending on the event, between the weigh- in and when you compete. I’m not really that concerned, and I certainly allow athletes to make a lot of decisions themselves, within reason but how they feel most comfortable.
Some fighters definitely prefer the bathtub to the sauna. Some fighters, particularly in China– This is the problem we have actually with a lot of the Chinese fighters is that they want to work the weight off. They want to just jog around the block with their sweats on until the weight comes off. Although I think it’s fun if they like this, if they’ve got a big weight cut, I don’t want them to work all the weight off. Maybe you do that to get yourself sweating, and you drop a kilo or two maybe, depending on how hydrated you are to begin with and how big you are.
Certainly the passive methods, sauna, hot bath, heated rooms, things like these is going to cause less physiological distress and causes less muscle fatigue on the athlete. So in terms of the sauna suit, I don’t have a problem with it. The other thing that I would just mention on that is, and I’ve come 360 on this, it was always intriguing to me when fighters, and you see this in– definitely, it happens in China. I remember being in Korea five or six years ago with our judo team. These guys wouldn’t have a competition for four weeks, five weeks, and they’re wearing their sweat suits under their gis and I thought, “What are you doing?”
But there’s actually something to it. There’s a process, and endurance athletes know, it’s called heat acclimation, where if you’re going to go compete somewhere in the heat, acclimatizing yourself to the heated environment prior to going to the heated environment aids your performance. Part of this heat acclimation process, what happens is your body learns to sweat better, because when you’re in a hotter environment, obviously the temperature is hotter, but your core temperature is hotter as well. Our body likes to maintain a fairly static core temperature and the way our body cools down is to sweat.
Part of acclimatizing to heated environments, is your body, what it does is it lowers the sweat threshold, so you sweat earlier and you sweat more. There’s different ways you can do this. One is to just exercise in heated training environments, but also wearing a sweat suits can simulate the same thing. If you know you’re going to do a big sweat the day before weigh-in or weigh-in day, depending on when the weigh-in is, it’s actually beneficial to acclimatize yourself to the heat in the weeks leading up to it.
You can do it by having saunas every day, you can do it by having hot baths every day, or you can do it by putting these sauna suits on. It’s actually not as stupid as maybe people who run off with it thought.
Sonny: That’s new to me. I’ll have to go look into that but that’s interesting. You’re saying that all you really care about then, when your fighters are losing weight is how much they’re sweating out, and whatever they decide is their most comfortable way to sweat that out is all right, as long as it’s not just working themselves to the bone?
Dr. Reale: Pretty much, yes. Our head coach, he loves the bath. In his experience with all these fighters, he uses the bath. Where we take our Chinese fighters, we always go to this one city, Jiangzhou. It’s definitely not Shanghai. Shanghai is a worldly cosmopolitan tier one beautiful city in China and Jiangzhou is not, let me just put it that way. We go to Jiangzhou every four to six weeks for these fights and there’s no bathtubs there, so they all go to a local sauna. The sauna is definitely longer than the bath, but the fighters don’t mind because they’re getting the sauna, they’re talking shit and doing their thing so there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
Again, the biggest consideration is how much you’re going to sweat. We want to manage our fighters in a way where hopefully, they’re going to sweat 5% or less of their body weight for that final sweat. If we get them to 10% above their body weight- -seven to ten days out, we then implement a low carbohydrate diet and then a low fiber diet to empty their guts. They’ll typically lose 5% of their body weight through low carbs and low fiber and then also low salt in the last two to three days and some of the fighters even more.
That’s another good thing about China, there’s no such thing as a low carb diet. These guys are always eating lots of noodles and lots of rice so when we finally come to take the carbs out of their diet, they lose a tremendous amount of weight compared to like a Western athlete who might not have even looked at a carb for six weeks prior to their fight, you know what I mean? Our guys actually have reasonably easy weight cuts, of course, some worse than others and there’s a few that comes to mind. But yes, if we can get them to 5% or less above their weight division on that final day, we know they’re pretty much right.
It seems like it’s harder for women and then it’s also just harder or easier for individual athletes. Who knows why? Just genetics I guess. But yes, that’s where we’re at with there. So yes, again, 5%, even if they had to work 5% off from exercise, I would wait for them to do that, but it’s probably no big deal. Sometimes they’ll have to– Actually, with this coronavirus stuff, the fights have started back up again and we’re not even there, but some of the fighters have been going there to Jiangzhou and the sauna is shut down because of the coronavirus considerations.
They’re working the weight off. They’re there with their sweat suits on, and jogging, and doing star jumps and whatever. It was cold when they first started going there so yes, they must’ve been struggling. A lot of them took short notice fights so they were probably doing big sweats. Again, MMA, you’ve got 30 hours. As long as you’re a [unintelligible 01:14:45], it’s amazing what the body can do with 30 hours.
Sonny: One thing you mentioned there that I’ve heard a lot is when you ask a fighter, “How do you plan on losing weight?” “Cutting carbs out, cutting carbs. That’s the only way to do it, cut carbs.” What do you say to a fighter when that’s their response?
Dr. Reale: Yes, well, again, we’re talking two different phases for the actual weight cut. Like that last seven to ten days, you definitely should cut carbs because carbs are holding onto water in the body but we can do that acutely. Really, you can do it in a couple of days if you’re training hard but you should be tapering in that final week. You’re probably not training that hard that final week so you’re probably not burning as much carbs as you normally would. For that reason, we always do about seven days of zero carbs or close to zero so that’s one thing.
I think what you’re more talking about is during the fat loss phase, when people are like, “All right, I’m not going to eat carbs for six weeks.” Now, the thing is, is that carbs are your body’s preferred fuel source for high-intensity exercise. It’s very difficult for you to have quality intense training sessions when you’re not eating sufficient carbs. For that reason, I generally recommend that we cut the fat. It’s somewhat contentious in popular media. Everyone’s like keto diets and whatnot, and high-fat this and low carb that, but it’s pretty rock solid science that high intensity exercise is improved when carbohydrates are high compared to when they’re lower. I always try and get my fighters to reduce their fat intake first before carbs.
Now you’ll reduce both because you’re trying to get energy down but certainly reduce most of the fat in the diet and then start to cut some carbs. Reduce carb portion sizes certainly, particularly on rest days and things like these. But when you’re doing two sessions a day and you’ve got hard sparring sessions and stuff, if you’re not having some carbs your performance is going to suffer. The thing is, is that you don’t have to go without the carbs, it’s just calories. Any way you can get those calories down is the way to do it.
If you can get the calories down by reducing a little bit of carbs but more of fat, you still get to have carbs, which are going to fuel your training. Even sometimes people are over eating protein so they can even shave a little bit off the protein side of things. Then of course, if you’re drinking alcohol, that’s just a waste of calories right there. Certainly get rid of the alcohol first, get rid of not all but a good chunk of the fat and then start cutting your carbs.
Sonny: It’s in that weight loss phase, not the weight cut phase, right, that’s the definition, the change between those two, is that not really?
Dr. Reale: We say chronic weight loss versus acute weight loss or you can just say fat loss versus weight cut. In my mind, whenever I say the word weight cut, I’m always meaning that non-fat loss weight loss, if that makes sense.
Sonny: Yes. That’s where you’re losing the water weight in that last couple of days, so to speak.
Dr. Reale: Correct. Yes. We say last week, seven to ten days, something like that.
Sonny: In that last lead up, they’ve been doing some water loading. I don’t think we’ll get into the specifics of how that all goes down, but what are some of the problems that you’ve run into when you’re working with professionals that you’ve had to modify your practice on the go? If you come into it and just something’s not working and you’ve had to shift gears in the middle of a weight cut.
Dr. Reale: The funny thing it’s fairly simple. It’s like we know where the weight is stored within the body and we know how it comes out. We just do these things like the carbohydrates are going to bond to the water in your muscles, so we’re reducing carbs. Excess salt is going to make you hold onto water, so we dropped the salt. You don’t want fiber hanging around in your guts because that’s just like undigested plant matter and it’s also drawing water in. We’re never going to change these things, you’re always going to be cutting carbs, cutting salt, cutting fiber.
The things that will change is sometimes the calories because ideally– and here’s the thing, it’s like fat loss is all about calories. But these acute weight loss methods that we’re talking about, they’re actually not to do with calories. At that point, we’re not trying to drop fat. We’re just trying to empty your carbs stores, empty your gut and get rid of some water. None of these three things are affected by calorie intake. Maybe carbohydrate stores if you over eat calories, but if you just cut the carbs and keep calories the same, you will deplete these [unintelligible 01:19:42] stores.
What we actually want to do in that final week as best as we can is actually keep calories relatively high. You might actually be eating more energy and more calories on the week of a fight than you have for weeks beforehand because we’re no longer targeting fat loss. That’s a hard thing for fighters to often wrap their head around. It means that you don’t have to suffer as much as maybe fighters have in the past. The way we do that is by really bumping the fat out.
Before we talked about keeping fat low because we’re trying to reduce calories, but in that final week, we’re trying to target these other compartments of body mass, and we can actually bring the fat intake back up. This is what they do at the UFC PI in Vegas, we want to trifecta, meal prep service during fight week. They include a lot of high fat sources and high fat protein bomb, little snack balls and things like these. Where was I going with that? Yes, so we keep fat intake and calorie intake relatively high.
Now if somebody is really struggling to make weight, the modifications we make is what will actually start to bring the calories down. Not only are we attacking all these other methods, we’ll actually start to really bring the calories down just to try and get any extra fat loss that might be necessary and maybe even muscle mass loss because it’s like you’re running out of options. It’s like we’re throwing the kitchen sink at this guy, but he’s still just too big. What else can we do?
Well, we can drop calories, whereas like that 10% body mass loss, that doesn’t rely on any fat loss at all. If somebody is 10% above their weight division, we don’t really have to worry about the calories, keep calories adequate. If the guy’s burning 3,000 calories a day, give him 3,000 calories but cut the carbs, the salt and the fiber. That’s one thing we’ll do is bring the calories down.
Another thing that we’ll do is play around with the water intake. Normally, like our Chinese athletes even, they fight on– has a similar weigh-in protocol to the UFC where they weigh-in in the morning around 10:00 AM. What we normally do is if they weigh-in at Friday at 10:00 AM, that means Thursday, they’re doing their weight cuddle, Thursday night/Friday morning. We’ll just tell them to either cut– they can drink all day, Wednesday, and even water load until Wednesday night when they go to bed and then Thursday, they get up and don’t drink all day Thursday, or they might even drink until lunchtime.
Now, if somebody is really cutting their weight close as well, maybe we’ll cut the water earlier. Maybe not even cut it completely, but instead of saying you’re going to water load all day Wednesday, it’s like, you’re going to water load into a Wednesday lunchtime, and then you’re just going to do half a liter for the last second half the day, Wednesday. Two things wil6l change. One is that we will bring the calories down lower than we would normally like to and two, will start the fluid restriction a bit earlier. That’s some things that we do.
Other problems that you run into is when athletes don’t listen to you and they start their sweat too early. There’s been examples where for whatever reason, a fighter’s gone to this event before we left with- -them. We generally travel as a team. There’ll be like 10 fighters going, the head coach and myself, and we go out there and we tell them what to do. We’re like, “Drink this. Eat this. All right, now, the time’s this, stop drinking right now.” But then they go there by themselves. We had this girl, she’s freaking out. She’s like, “Oh my weight, my weight,” so it’s like she thought she’d start sweating on the Wednesday.
She’s jogging around, she stopped drinking, but then of course, what happens is, she goes back to her hotel room that night, she’s like, “Jesus, I’m still not weighing in for two more days.” Then she fucks it up, because then she’s drinking later than she should have because she tried to cut it earlier than she should have. She’s sweating now, although she’s then going to replace the fluid and throws a spanner in the works that way. I’m sure, if you’ve been around fighters, this stuff happens all the time. Yes, they’re kind of the issues that we run into. In terms of the food, they just do what we tell them, so that’s handy.
I think fighters compared to other athletes, and the nature of the weight cut compared to any other situation in sport, if people don’t listen to what you do 99% of the time, the 1% of the time, they’re going to listen to what you do, if they’ve trusted you, is going to be for that weight cut. You’ve got instant buy-in then.
Sonny: Then if we could just touch briefly on maybe the dangers in weight cutting? Flo put out a new documentary, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, it’s about bad weight cuts. We know that there’s that inherent risk. We know ONE FC has got hydration testing if we can believe that they’re actually doing that. Who knows? It’s all behind closed doors but there are these other ideas out there about how weight can be managed for the sport itself. Is that something that you would advocate for or is it just you’re doing the job in the system that’s there now?
Dr. Reale: Both. First of all, I haven’t seen that the Flo documentary that you’re talking of. Second, agree with your political commentary around the ONE FC weight-cutting situation there. Then third, would I advocate for trying to– in one’s defense at least they’re trying something. When you’ve got people dying from weight cutting, it’s ridiculous. What kind of sport do we have where the people are dropping dead? If there was a way that you could fix it, it would be fantastic. I don’t know what that way is.
Actually, having said that, if you weigh people in right before they fight, that will fix it but there’s a whole lot of reasons why that’s never going to happen, because of, I don’t know, basically, financial interests and logistic interests and things like this. Then if you’re going to do a day before weigh-in or even a morning of weigh-in, people are going to cut weight. How do you stop it within that context? I don’t know. Would it be a good idea? For sure.
Having said that, it’s kind of cool, isn’t it? Everyone loves it like it’s this little challenge. Yes, I don t know. It’s super interesting. This is what my PhD looked at. If you can detach yourself from it and not think about the people dying, it’s super interesting and really nuanced. It’s a really stupid situation where you’ve got people dying a day before they’re going to go and fight somebody to try and kill each other. It’s ridiculous. I certainly would, if there was somebody come up with good ways to stamp it out, I’d be all for it.
Sonny: It’s pretty difficult it seems because, anyway that anyone can come up with, there’s always people who are going to push for ways around it. They extended the weigh-ins in this. California does that testing that if you put on too much, they will restrict your weight limit. Have you run into that yet with any of your athletes?
Dr. Reale: No, we haven’t actually. I’m not actually sure 100% how that’s enforced and whether it is or not, but yes, you’re right. Apparently, it’s if you put on more than 10% of your weight, the fights cancelled, although, I haven’t heard of people doing it. What happens in judo, because in judo, now they have the 5% rule, where you’re not allowed to be greater than 5% above your weight division the morning after competition.
Two things. Number one is what people do is they still cut, let’s say 10% of their body weight, and then they just rehydrate 5%. Then you just wait to see whether you’re going to be randomly checked. Then either you’re not checked and then you just keep recovering, or you’re checked. You step on the scales, you get ticked off and then you keep rehydrating and recover the weight anyway.
There’s that and then also, there’s a certain amount of corruption with the way that these random checks are enforced. You can almost guarantee that if the competitions taking place in Russia, that the officials are not going to randomly check the Russian fighters. Then also, if you’re going to randomly check people, why not check everyone? In which case, why don’t you just bring the weigh-in closer to competition? There’s that issue. I forget what else I was going to say. But yes, so that’s with that.
Sonny: It’s a very complex situation. I don’t expect us to get to the bottom of this one right now because who knows how it’s all going to play out. There’s a lot of information to take in. We only scratched the surface on some of those issues. There’s a lot to actually learn about this topic. Final question. What would be something that maybe you would change to maybe bring everyone into a more evidence-based approach for nutrition rather than– Is there something that you would do to prevent people from clinging on to fat diets or gurus or stuff like that? Is there something that you could say that would make a difference?
Dr. Reale: I don’t know. I think we’re heading in the right direction, because it’s certainly more of evidence-based now than it was five years ago, or 10 years ago. All sports have followed the similar trajectory, where just over the years, there’s more research and there’s more– the science permeates the sporting culture more. I think the biggest thing that probably helps is role model behavior. If some more, high-profile athletes advocated for evidence-based approaches that that would help. I know that’s certainly a conscious part of the UFC Performance Institute is doing good work with people and hoping that these top fighters speak about it. Often, they don’t.
Often, fighters will make a lot of use of the services and completely change their training camps, and nutrition, and strategies, and everything based around advice that they received from the PI and then don’t make a mention of it. But then they’ll make mention of somebody or something else that was impactful so that doesn’t help.
We know from the research, this is common in all sports, but I feel especially fighting sports that when athletes rate who their biggest influence is on their nutrition practices are it’s never dieticians and it’s never doctors. Certainly, it should be dietitians over doctors, but at least a medical health professional. The biggest influences on athletes behaviors in nutrition and otherwise is always coaches and other athletes. If we had more high profile athletes and high profile coaches advocating for evidence-based nutrition, that would help.
Something that the UFC PI is got on the horizon is some coaching, accreditation type workshop system for MMA coaches. IBA, the International Boxing Association, they do with boxing coaches where you can be a level one accredited coach, a level two or level three, blah, blah, blah. Part of these coaching accreditations give you basic coaching knowledge, how to structure training camps, and then also things to do with medical safety concussion knowledge and nutrition, et cetera.
I think we’re heading in the right direction and long-term, these kind of coaching accreditation schemes will be available for MMA coaches, which will go a long way as well. But yes, again, I think we’re heading in the right direction with all this stuff.
Sonny: I love that. That sounds like a real good plan. Hook me up when that course goes live. Come on mate.
Dr. Reale: Surely will, mate.
Sonny: [laughs] Thanks so much for your time, mate, today or tonight. Really appreciated the chat. Of course, people want more of that information, more of that knowledge. It’s the Combat Sports Nutrition book, and where else can I get in touch with you?
Dr. Reale: I’m not very prolific on social media. I’m making concerted effort to do some Instagram posts but I’m pretty bad at it. My Instagram is just my name Reid Reale. Do we say hashtag? Is it #ReidReale or @Reid Reale?
Sonny: @, this one I think, yes.
Dr. Reale: I’ve got a Facebook page, Combat Sports Nutrition that I never posted on. I’ve figured out how to link it to the Instagram, so that will work. They can get my personal Facebook or if they’re interested in the notes side of it, Google Scholar has all my research articles and as well as the website research guide. But yes, I guess, Instagram or Facebook is probably the way to do it.
Sonny: You’re not on Twitter- -waging the nutrition wars on there? Is that–?
Dr. Reale: There’s just too many things, man. Now that I live in China, all that stuff’s blocked anyway. I’ve got a WeChat. You can add my WeChat and–
Sonny: What’s that?
Dr. Reale: You don’t know WeChat?
Sonny: I know what it is. [laughs]
Dr. Reale: It’s like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram, Gojek, Uber Eats, Skyscanner, everything rolled into one. An added bonus, the Chinese government gets to read all of your texts.
Sonny: [laughs] They can answer some of my unread emails for me. We can work out a deal with them. That sounds good mate. I will do this again in the future sometime if I can ever track you down again whatever part of the world you’re in. Thanks so much, mate.
In this episode of The Sonny Brown Breakdown Podcast, I talk to Matt Kwan – a BJJ Black Belt under Rob Biernacki, and co-host of the podcast BJJ Mental Models with his brother Steve Kwan.
We discuss concepts of belt tests and grading with the differences between adults and children and then explore essential ideas used by Gordon Ryan and the DDS. These include tempo in jiu-jitsu described through the terms of offensive and defensive cycles and blading to redirect frames while attacking and how these can help you learn BJJ faster and more efficiently.
[02:29] – Matt’s backstory
[09:53] – His criteria vs. Rob’s criteria for giving a black belt
[12:26] – About his idea of implementing kids belts test
[16:04] – The goal of the Kids Belt Test
[17:24] – Testing as pass or fail is up to the instructor’s interpretation
[19:49] – Don’t ask a kid to do a belt test unless they’re ready
[21:25] – The carrot and stick approach to encourage and motivate people
[24:02] – Mental models that Matt found applicable
[27:48] – Putting together the defensive and offensive cycle
[30:37] – You cannot hold the De La Riva Guard
[32:15] – The best way to learn De La Riva Guard with offensive and defensive cycles
[34:17] – Try to establish your grip
[36:00] – Head is one of the most underrated grips that you can use
[38:16] – Gordon Ryan’s No Gi Passes
[41:10] – In Jiu-Jitsu, there’s no time to be in the defensive cycle
[42:19] – The best way to put a technique into a live scenario
[44:00] – Have slick guard retention to become offensive
[45:30] – About Matt’s Blading model to redirect frames
[51:05] – Understand the content to the extent that it becomes an obsession
[53:21] – Change the angle of your hips and shoulder to deflect the Knee-Shield
[56:00] – Off-balance your opponent when you’re stuck in a defensive cycle
[57:43] – Ways to interrupt the opponent’s offensive cycle
[01:02:05] – When you got caught in double under the situation
[01:03:45] – Use less energy as possible and make the opponent work more
[01:05:09] – Create high percentage funnels to keep the opponent in the defensive cycle
[01:06:44] – Emphasis of Gi and No-Gi in grip fighting
Belt Test For Kids
He doesn’t like the idea of a Belt test for kids. He says, “Are you going to fail or pass a kid because it’s a test? And if they fail the test, it can demotivate them. So, it’s a better idea to have this test as more of a handbook or a playbook as opposed to an actual test where you will pass or fail.
He compares it to American Football, where he was the smallest guy in the field who had very little athletic ability. So for the first half of the year, they give him a playbook and learn the plays and practice, and then the second half of the year is the games. He figured out from this that if he looks at this as a playbook and gives it to the kids a few months before their quote test, where they have to perform techniques, then at least they have on paper what they need to know. And if they don’t know it, they can come and ask the coach, or they can study on their own time and also their parents can also get involved in it.
Don’t Spoon Feed The Information
Teach kids how to learn. He doesn’t want them to regurgitate but understand the tricks and techniques. He tells them to explain alignment. He says, “I don’t want them to repeat in my words, what is posture structure base? I want them to be in a position and tell me, Okay, are you in alignment right now? Are you on base? Do you have posture?” In that way, they can take what they’ve learned and plug it into any given situation. In this way, you can know whether or not they’ve understood the principles and if they can apply them to any given situation.”
Theory Part Of The Test
The test that he designed also has a theory for the kids. Like for Grey Belts, you can ask questions: What do you like about Jiu-Jitsu? What don’t you like about Jiu-Jitsu? Why do we shake hands before? Name a time in life when you might have to use the skill. He also wants to make sure that they can do the solo drills needed in Jiu-Jitsu by asking questions like: Can you do a shrimp? Can you do a sit-out? Can you bridge? What’s an under hook? There is value in that for the kids.
Matt Abolished The Sub-Belts
In the IBJJF model, there are four kids’ belts, and each belt has three sub-belts. Matt abolished the sub-belts in his school. He decided to go on for the grey, yellow, orange, or green belts. He did so because he didn’t want to promote the kids constantly. He wants to make them really want the promotion. The test is not necessarily a pass or fail thing. So the kids can take the test when they are ready.
Mental Models That He Found Applicable In His Journey
The first one is the idea of tempo, which is actually a chess term. Gordon Ryan refers to it as offensive cycles, defensive cycles. He explains it by giving an example:
“Let’s say I’m in the bottom position, and my opponent is on top. So if I were to make a grip, I would off-balance my opponent and force him to post hands on the floor. I’m now in the offensive cycle. This is because I have won the engagement phase using grips, and I’ve made him post on the floor. So I’ve broken his alignment. So for this moment, my opponent is vulnerable. And my opponent is very unlikely to start a passing chain because his alignment is compromised. So he is more concerned about improving his posture. And I have an opportunity now to sweep to enter the legs to go for submissions. So that would be an example of an offensive cycle.”
For Defensive Cycles,he says, “Let’s say my opponent pulls guard on me, and he has a Color Ankle De La Riva Guard situation. He has an open-guard situation. He has a grip on me. So if he has got grips, and he is moving me around. And I’m on top, and I’m feeling a little bit off balance. I’m in a defensive cycle. So for me to get into an offensive cycle, what I need to do is break the grips that immediately break my alignment. As soon as I break the grip, I don’t just start passing right away. I will either try to change the angles, or I will make space. That is where I can change it from a defensive cycle to an offensive cycle.”
In Jiu-Jitsu, There’s No Time To Be In Defensive Cycle
In Jiu-Jitsu, there’s no time to be in the Defensive Cycle. You want to be in the offensive cycle the entire time. It teaches the person on the bottom to always be in an offensive cycle. But it also teaches the person on top to be in an offensive cycle. And the best way to be in a Defensive Cycle is to remove factors like submissions and even guard passing.
“Not everyone can go to university and become a professor. And not everyone has the skills to earn a real black belt.”
– Matt Kwan
“If you can’t display the requirements, then you shouldn’t get your next belt.”
– Matt Kwan
“The best defense is a good offense.”
– Matt Kwan
“If you don’t know what to do, strip whatever grip your opponents have and try to establish your own.”
– Matt Kwan
“You don’t just get your grips and then stop. It’s a ladder or a sequence that should lead you to the finish.”
I talk to Chris Paines who describes himself as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt who has never done Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He started training submission grappling somewhat isolated from the larger BJJ scene in Staffordshire, England but began attending BJJ Globetrotters camps where he met Priit Mihkelson. It was at these camps where he was graded up and awarded his black belt by Priit.
The unconventional way he learned made him forced to emphasise understanding the concepts behind grappling, which he describes as a machine of physics and biology through which using concepts the techniques can emerge. We discuss these conceptual ideas and specifically his universal theory of guard which has him focusing on control points and applying other lessons from wrestling that has allowed him to progress.
Listen to the Chris Paines Interview
Chris “Vilão” Paines INTERVIEW Transcript
Sonny Brown: Chris, how are you today, mate?
Chris Paines: I’m good, thanks. How are you today?
Sonny: Good mate. Good. I’ve got in touch with you, actually the first time I think I saw you, it was a YouTube video from a seminar you did at BJJ Globetrotters, which had a nice click baity title of, I think it was something along the lines of This is How to Defend Everything or–
Chris: That one, yes.
Sonny: The title certainly worked for me. I clicked on it and I thought, “What is this guy going on about? How is what he’s doing, going to ever work.” Then luckily, I played around with it and I thought, “Oh, actually, there’s something to this.” Then it turns out that that was something that you had been working with Pritt Mihkelson on, and I ended up having a chat with him.
Then looking into your own stuff, I was very interested with the take that you had on teaching and learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and also with your involvement with the BJJ Globetrotters. Because I think you may have been maybe one of the first or you were ranked through them as well.
Chris: Both on and off I’ll give a brief background to my BJJ.
Sonny: Yes, please.
Chris: I’ve never actually done BJJ, I’m a Black Belt who’s never done it. I actually came through via submission wrestling 11 years ago. My coach just left after the first year, various reasons due to work and injury, et cetera. They said to me like, “Can you look after the club until we come back?” That was 10 years ago [crosstalk] there was no- all the techniques we had, there was no standard guards, there was no De La Riva, there was no Single Leg X. Here you had close guard, half guard, and butterfly.
If you stood up, you both stood up and you wrestled again, and that’s pretty much all we had. It was a neck cranks and heel hooks.
When I started to come in with stuff like lockdown because I was watching some Submissions 101, reading some 10th Planet books and that was about it. That put me pretty much in front of the whole group, quite fast because I had stuff that people hadn’t seen before. They just said, “Can you look after it until we come back?” I don’t think they’re coming back. I’ve been waiting for 10 years and they haven’t come back yet.
Even where I am, we’re quite fortunate in that Braulio Estima has gyms about 35 miles away from my gym. I don’t know if that is in kilometers, like 50 kilometers, but traveling there, like I could maybe go maybe once every three to six months due to work. I used to go to London for the same thing, maybe every three to six months go for like a single session. The main only reason we bought Gis because it was cold.
We were rolling around in hoodies and tracksuits and one winter, I think it hit -14 and inside the gym, Celsius. The water in the toilet froze and various other cold things, it was pretty horrendous. We were just a bunch of No-Gi guys who did heel hooks and neck cranks wearing Gis. Occasionally, may be every six months, three months a year, whatever, I’d go to a BJJ gym and learn like a sweep, then would come back and just do that sweep relentlessly.
My approach to Jiu-Jitsu was forced along the lines of figuring out why certain things happen. What is the common thread amongst sweeps? Why do chokes work? Why is there guard? If I could apply a concept of why that existed, then next time I go to a gym then teach like a sweep, if my concept is proved right, it’s like I’ve got the right concept. If I just keep using the concept, eventually I’ll invent the techniques that already exist.
BJJ is not handed down by some deity. It’s on a plinth or a tablet or something. It’s physics, it’s biology and we apply ourselves to the machine and we get turnings out the other end. If I understand the machine, I should theoretically get the same techniques out eventually. When I’m at Priit, and his very conceptual style of looking at Jiu-Jitsu as well, as in it doesn’t really teach this is a d’arce, this is a triangle, this isn’t a matter of understanding of what defense is. That just touched on everything I wanted to know about jiu-jitsu.
I called them round with his ideas, I looked into his– I was never like, if it was from a Gracie or from a Bravo or something, say that’s it, that’s gospel. It was only a case of if it works, I’ll get my blue belts and purple belts to teach you. One thing I say to them is, “I don’t care if you think if it’s wrong, it’s right for now.” As in what you’re doing works for you now. There’s obviously the versions of what you’re doing and bad details, but what you’re doing is right right now, and that understanding then you will always get better.
I see that as my way of looking at it as well and how I look at pre stuff, as in what I know works for now, there is obviously something better. I’m not the be all end, all of this technique. There’s always going to be bad details and different coaches and different black belts. I cant exactly have my blue belts and purple belts think that I am the end product when I’m still trying to figure it out. If I just apply myself to the machine and understand the machine, and eventually I’ll understand Jiu-Jitsu on that level.
The reason why I prefer that way is because Jiu-Jitsu is chaos. As a 95% of a role, you have no idea what’s happening. As in, it’s just mainly are happening around you. Hopefully something you kind of recognize happens when you can apply something you already know. If you understand the machine in various points in that role. Even when there’s chaos, you can apply the machine and get a technique to work in that scenario. That’s where the whole heart of defendant’s thing came from.
As in, if I can understand the concept of why defense works across the board, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the chaos. I can find my way out and I think if I’d known that as a white belt, Jiu-Jitsu would’ve been so much easier. Instead of the hunted like ropes learn techniques I have to know. I remember having a spreadsheet back 11 years ago, listing of fight control defenses and guards and attacks and guards and I don’t know. A lot times, even today, a few people say, “I need to go on YouTube and look up three more fight control defenses. It’s like, “Oh, good God, this will take forever to learn.” I don’t know where you can learn Jiu-Jitsu this way, there has to be something more simple.
Sonny: Yes, I agree with you there. It’s funny that the idea of having that spreadsheet of just all the techniques, it seems like a good idea. Hey, if I just get everything written down, I’ll have a more complete understanding, but then it soon becomes unmanageable with how you’re going to do things, or how you’re going to actually achieve that. I just want to focus on just your background. Just one little bit more, so you’re actually from then a catch wrestling lineage. Would that be correct in saying, you said submission wrestling, but is that–
Chris: Yes. I don’t think it’s easy to use the word catch in the UK, if you don’t actually belong to the snake pit and that lineage. Calling it submission wrestling was just easier. Like if I understand it my coaches’ coaches were just basically guys who watched a bit of UFC and just wanting to hurt each other. There was no real solid technique behind what we did. It was actually here’s a double leg, has a close guard, and here’s a triangle. Just keep doing that until you win. I didn’t see De La Riva or open guard or Single Leg X. Maybe the first four years of doing jiu-jitsu or grappling per se.
I actually, prior to that, I came from a traditional jiu-jitsu background, like a Japanese jiu-jitsu, and I did I got my black belt in that. That’s why they, I was used to the idea of a list of techniques. Coming into it, that’s why every time I’d learned something, I’d write it down and create my own list because it didn’t exist. There wasn’t like a belt system or a syllabus. I created my own. Then once they left, I realized that I had no other real recourse for finding new techniques easily, figuring out the why I seemed to make a lot more sense than just having this dead list of techniques that will never be finished.
Sonny: Yes. Then, so for you putting out the- or figuring out, sorry, the why and the understanding or the machine as you’ve put it, how did that process take place as your traveling with BJJ Globetrotters to go to their camps and coming back home and putting that together? Was there an “A-ha” moment or was it a slow gradual process?
Chris: I don’t think it was an “A-ha” moment. I think it was a, it was very slow and gradual and, I was actually so I met Christian Graugart, the creator of Globetrotters just before he created Globetrotters. He’d already written the book and this was the end of 2012. I just bought it over that Christmas and I read it very, very fast. Then he said he was doing the seminar in the UK in Manchester or Bolton, shall I say? I was still white belt, obviously.
I went up and I want to go meet him after reading this book. We ended up catching a train together back to Manchester and he mentioned this idea of how because I said, we’re an independent gym. We didn’t really do BJJ or have any IBJJF connections. He said, he wants to create this network of independent gyms that could just train together. I gave him my email address.
Then about a month later, he emailed a bunch of us saying this affiliation is going to happen. “Do you want to be part of it?” Instantly I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, one caveat is anyone who wants to come and see, you can obviously train for free.” A bunch of the first coaches or in this chain email said, “If wants to come in, like meet me at my gym, they can stay for free.” That’s where the whole mat surfing idea came from.
Soon after that, since there was a bunch of us, you said, why don’t we all get together in my gym in Copenhagen and just train. The first Globetrotter camps we’re just in CSA and Copenhagen and there’s about 40 or 50 of us on the mats. There was no merch table or coaches from around. It was just the coaches from the gym doing a small number of classes in a day, like maybe five or six classes.
To say, to go from that in 2013 to the utter behemoth that is today has been quite weird. The first, the ability to go to the Globetrotter camps and see all these different ideas from these different coaches. Because the amount of times you’d see a class and then another coach would do pretty much the exact same class, but in a different way. Makes you think that there isn’t a fine, there isn’t a definitive technique. They’re all playing around the same concept. It just galvanized my ideas of, yes, don’t become beholden to a single way of doing a technique or a single technique in general, or list of techniques, understand the machine and you’ll be able to apply it to that situation and create variations on the fly.
Sonny: Yes. Which sounds like a much more efficient way if possible, to actually learn and teach things. Right? I guess the, if possible part is the difficult thing, because it’s not exactly laid out like that already. It’s something that you’ve had to explore and develop, I guess. What’s that process been like?
Chris: I think one of the first ones that actually really pushed me in the direction of it was the brilliant, I say brilliant DVD set by Kit Dale and Nic Gregoriades, probably at the end of 2013, 2014. They talk about this conceptual jiu-jitsu as well. They, in the height of Kit Dale’s fame. Again, it’s like this, it pushed my ideas further. Like this is a real thing. They talked about, I remember one of the specific ones was like sweeps about unbalancing about taking off fight legs off a table and creating a force on the diagonal and stuff like this.
Just some approaching concepts that way, but then I was also on the first instances as well was, there was a Ryan Hall seminar went to back in 2011, it was in the UK for the ADCC. He did a seminar as on his deep half system, but at one point he just threw this casual comment about core control in jiu-jitsu is based on being in between the person’s knees and elbows and say, if you want to start them, just connect your knees to your elbows. It was a throwaway comment. It was even put emphasis in the seminar to this idea, but that was like, mind-blowing, I’m just putting these two things together. I think it might have been mentioned in the Kit Dale-Nic Gregoriades DVD as well.
They’re all touching on this same idea. Just this number of coaches out there just saying there are concepts that cover everything. Thenmaybe look at different sweeps, I think, “Right. Going from what these two guys have said, removing the table leg and creating a brush off an angle and all these different ideas that they had, I was like, right. Well, that obviously there’s an idea here. If I look at the wleeps, I know, do these fit or can, or if I apply the idea, does my sweep work better?
Then it became, I go to a gym, I would learn a sweep and I was like, “Right. Does this fit the concept by–? No? Yes? Perfect.” Then it became a case of I mid roll because I have that my first year of training was involved in the drilling after that it became teaching and rolling. I didn’t really, I probably drilled a total of probably about 20 hours in the past 10 years. It was all developed on the fly as in, I try a technique and try and put the concept together as it happens.
I’d look at certain things that happen, like where that leg is, where my arm is, et cetera, and go, “Right. Well, if I apply the concept, will this work right now? Yes or no.” It was just that constant testing. It was never like an hour of the session was drilling. It was right and it’s just roll and roll and roll. As things happened, it just proved that the concept worked on after tweaked various aspects of it.
Sonny: So it’s very interesting that, yes, I guess you’ve been in a bit of an isolated situation and that’s allowed you to explore and experiment in a new direction than what is more common. If I got it right in thinking that you’re building up these ideas of concepts that can apply to moves across jiu-jitsu or grappling, and then you would go to another place where they’re teaching a concept and your not sorry, what you go to another place where they’re teaching a technique and as they’re teaching the technique, you’re thinking, okay, I’ve got these concepts that I know, what can I apply? What concept can I apply that will be applicable to this technique? Is that how you do it?
Chris: Yes, exactly. Yes. I’m seeing the end result of the answer and applying the equation to it. Then if I get, if they cause obviously these are black belts and I’m much more knowledgeable than I was. They’re thinking right. If my equation fits their answer, if they’re about to do, I think they’re about to do. Then my equation is correct. If not, I may have to tweak equation somehow, but most of the time it was, it was working out in the right way. It was right. I can then go back and the surface have to drill that one technique or whatever. I’d have just the concept I could then run with and then just carry on rolling as it was, and just keep inventing techniques. Eventually I was creating juices already existed and it’s quite interesting.
Like I was I’ve got pretty much concepts of concepts everywhere. Like I’ve got an overarching theory I’ve got, and I was going to private probably about six months ago and the guy messages me and he says, I won’t learn nothing. I was like, reverse octopus back control or guard or something insane. I was like, okay, I’ve never even heard of this. I had a quick Google of it on YouTube and yes, it was like, it pretty much was exactly what I expected. My guard theory to be, I think I actually already played it in certain places and I was like, right. Okay. The theory is correct again. I was like, well, you don’t need to learn this by teacher the concept, you will invent it yourself again or variations of it.
Sonny: Interesting. You’ve got those young men you save and then concepts of concepts that you’re refining, not the techniques, I guess, but you’ve spending time refining your concepts that can help generate those techniques from out of those concepts, which is an interesting way to look at it. Is that close to then?
Chris: Yes, that’s pretty much it. Yes, as in, it’s like the idea that if you give a million monkeys or whatever else a million typewriters, eventually they’ll create Shakespeare. As in, if I give a million white belts, these million concepts, eventually they’ll invent jiu-jitsu. Being from the traditional jiu-jitsu background, which is quite judo-esque with the throws and karate punches, et cetera. They did O-Goshi, they did Ippon Seo Nagi , and Koshi Guruma Then you look at catch wrestling and they’ve got the mare , which is pretty much Ippon Seo Nagi,.
I think, again, it’s something that Ryan Hall says is, “There are only so many ways of grabbing the human body.” You’ll eventually develop all these same techniques. It was like hip tosses, et cetera. I did some Icelandic glima, while on the Globetrotter council a couple of years ago and they had hip tosses, et cetera, and you think, “These are, you’ve got Japanese judo and Icelandic glima, thousands of miles and thousands of years of culture apart developing the same techniques.
To separate jiu-jitsu out and say, jiu-jitsu is a unique thing only to jiu-jitsu it’s not. Whereas it’s defined by the ruleset. We fight on the ground. If I just put two random people on the ground and left them there for a couple of years, eventually they’d develop jiu-jitsu. Given the concepts, they’d develop jiu-jitsu faster, even without teaching them a single technique, because there’s only so many ways a human being can be manipulated. As I say, it’s physics and biology. It’s a science.
Sonny: Very interesting and– I guess, would you be able to give us then an idea of one of your concepts, maybe the theory of guard that you just mentioned that can be applied?
Chris: Yes. The way I look at guard is if you were to picture, like a law of grappling when it comes to control. Wrestlers have been doing it forever. There’s three categories of control, there’s behind the head, in the armpit or behind the knee/in the hip.
That pretty much comes after it in wrestling. That’s your double legs, your single legs, throws, your snap downs, your head ties, everything. All you’re ever doing in wrestling is attacking those three categories of places with your weapons: two hands or two hands and a leg, if you have good balance, all you ever doing is getting a combination those things, and the more of those places you control of the five; one head, two armpits, and two knees, the more control you have of the person, the more likely you are to get a takedown.
That is no different to any guard. In taking out the Gi for a moment, we’ll come back to that. Half guard is no different to a single leg. Close guard is no different to having double-unders. Instead of having two weapons, like you are on standing with your two hands, on the ground, you have four weapons: you have two arms and two legs. It’s what makes guard so interesting in my eyes.
I think that, again, it was a Ryan Hall interview when he says, “Why does Roger Gracie do so well?” He says, “If you are better than the other person play guard, because if someone’s upright, they’ve got balance. They’ve got gravity, they’ve got mass, they’ve got all this mobility on their side. If you’re on your back, you literally have none of those things available to you. You have to try and even the fight with improving your number of weapons from two to four. That’s why you don’t just fight from side crawl. That’s why you bring your legs into the fight. That’s assuming that you are better than the other person, you can override these natural attributes.
If you can’t, play on top and don’t play guard ever. Going back to this idea that if you’re playing guard, you want to try and maximize control, and it’s no different to wrestling. As in, I want to increase my numbers as much as I can with these four weapons. You think that when you’re playing close guard, you all just getting double-unders. Then now, because you have your arms free, you can now control the back of the head.
Now you have three points of control and guard is using them and one in lost with how many of those control points you have? If you have five, if you have both their knees, both their armpits and their head wrapped up, they’re going nowhere. If you have three, so maybe close guard with a control of the back of the head. Again, it’s pretty hard for them to go anywhere. Two, yes, it’s now getting easily more likely they are to escape. If you have one, life is now hard. All I ever look at when I’m playing in guard then is if I’m in guard, I’m on the bottom, I want to increase my numbers as much as I can to five. If I’m on top of guard, I want to decrease those numbers down to one or zero and that’s my guard pass.
I’ll just look at those five points, and that’s again, going back to this idea of wrestling. If you don’t want to get single-legged, don’t let anyone control the back of your knee. The first thing you learn in wrestling is to pummel, why? You don’t want anyone in your armpits. If for some strange reason in jiu-jitsu, because you have these predicaments dilution, style of learning. As in he does X, I do. Y we can’t let people have these control points. We let people have close guard.
At no point in wrestling would you let someone have double under hooks. You’d die. You wouldn’t let someone sit with a single leg on you. You’d die. Yet we let people play close guard and half guard against us all day long and we don’t deal with those issues. If you were to deal with them like a wrestler, does pummel out, strip those controls to the back of the knee, the armpits, et cetera, then we’re passing. Why don’t we just learn that? I’m just learning a whole raft of guards and a whole raft of escapes. Have I made sense or have I just lost it there.
Sonny: No that’s made, it’s made a lot of sense. I was just thinking my wrestling coaches, he certainly doesn’t like seeing the way that jiu-jitsu players will just accept a half guard on bottom.
Chris: It’s like watching a wrestler just accept a single leg and go “Right, cool. I’m going to fight it from here.” That is ultimately bizarre to me. Actually, there’s a very good friend of mine, his name’s Darrius from Germany. He’s done all manner of different grappling styles. He’s a very good judo guy. One thing he mentioned to me was that when they grabbed the Gi in judo, is actually where the seam is in line with the armpit. Which is one thing I didn’t realize, and that’s the tightest part of the Gi. If you go like, two inches above and you go more towards the neck, it gets quite loose.
If you go two or three inches down towards the bottom of the lapel, again it gets quite loose, but right around the armpit, it’s super tight and it goes round the back. I thought it controls the armpit. Even with the Gi on, they’re still doing it. If you look at worm guard, if you look at De La Riva, if you look at similar gags, the rule applying this idea, even with, or without the Gi, as mad as Keenan system is, it works because again, you’re controlling the armpit with the Gi wrapped around your foot and the back of their knee.
If you want to start stripping worm guard apart, you pummel the leg out of the armpit and pressure out of the De La Riva hook and put into the back of their knee instead. You don’t need a list of techniques to escape all these different guards. You’re just saying, “Right, are there behind your knee?” Then what’s the first ecape you learn as a white belt from close guard? Drive your elbows into their thighs. Why? It gets them out of your armpits. The easiest escape from half guard is to just a push on the hip and bring your knee up. They’re in holding onto your ankle.
The first escape from De La Riva is to move you on the out and push it to the back of their knee, because it takes the control from the back of your knee, from similar advances to strip that feet from your hips. They’ve no longer got their hips controlling the back of your knee. It’s all there. It’s wrestling 101.
Sonny: That’s a couple of things have clicked for me there. Especially as you mentioned grabbing the gear as a means to control the armpit. That’s certainly a new way of looking at it for me. It really is, you’re just like knee pit control, armpit control behind the back of the head. Those are the five points. If we let people become aware of that, then no matter what situation they get put into, they can be thinking one, “What of those five points do I have control that I can clear out? Or two what points of my opponents of those, can I control?
Chris: Exactly. Well, you think of your half guard, it gets bad. Deep half is more of a control than regular half because instead of just controlling one knee, you’re controlling two. Or if you’ve got the dog, et cetera, you’re now controlling the armpit, but if you’ve got a wizard, et cetera. It’s all wrestling. If you control the back of the head, et cetera, you’ve now got three or four points control. If you can wrap the gear up around the back and get the far armpit, you’ve now got five points of control. I don’t see any difference between– guard is just like fighting a four-armed alien wrestler and how you try and cope with that scenario.
Sonny: Then that is your overarching theory of guard at a wider view. Is that, is that correct?
Chris: Yes. Like I said, I don’t consider anything have to be at an endpoint. I have what I have that is right for now. I always look for things that either improve my ideas or prove my ideas are working. Looking at in a more scientific way, but so far looking at all the, like I said, when I’ve got this reverse deli octopus or whatever it was, you wanted me to go through. I don’t care. It was the idea. I think you got a close guard and he pulled on the back of the shoulder and the back of the head then got an under hook on the leg.
I was like, “Well, yes, this is exactly what I’ve been saying. You’ve now got four points of control over him. You could have invented this yourself.”
Sonny: It’s a very interesting way to look at it that, yes, you could then using those principles, be able to come up with things that have already been invented by other people. I guess that is a common refrain in all of grappling. Nothing’s really invented, it’s just rediscovered or popularized by certain people.
Chris: Exactly, exactly I’d say about the whole glima and judo idea.There’s only so many ways of controlling a human being. If you grapple for long enough, you’ll invent the same things that have existed forever. People seem shocked when they see 60-year-old videos of judo and they’re playing De La Riva. It’s like, no it’s just again, it’s the laws of grappling, you are controlling the back of the knee. Of course it’s going to work.
Sonny: Then someone is coming into your gym that you’re running a class. How do you then take that overarching theory of guard that you’ve got there and apply that into a technique or just into a usable manner for someone? Is there a way that you go around that?
Chris: The lack again, I did jiu-jitsu not the normal way of say, do a triangle from close guard. Again, I had a meeting with Priit. He said it makes more sense to do stuff backwards. I could see that. Where I started to look at how I looked at jiu-jitsu anyway. We did have a beginner course where it was eight weeks long and every week they learned all these different concepts. They’d learn the behind the knee idea, they’d learn the don’t let anything in between your knee and your armpit idea.
Again, it was a slight segue side idea. If you look at any video of when Priit does running man, it’s no different to what– Again, a very good friend of mine, Charles Harriot showed me his ideas on shrimping, and a shrimp is just a closed side version of running man as in one direction, you shrimp on the other direction you’re running man but they’re both the exact same idea. I’m trying to get my knees and elbows to touch.
At that point, it made me realize that everyone, if they’re shrimping both ways up and down the mats, in theory, they’re doing shrimp and running man which is great. Again, I can’t prove that either that both of these things are to get someone out your knees and armpits by connecting those to your knees and your elbows back together again. I thought, well, why do I have to then like specifically only teach the shrimp? Why can’t I just say connect these two things back together again?
We had this idea of an eight-week course, they learn that idea. Don’t let anyone between your knees and your armpits, day one, day two this has guard theory and by the end of the guard theory session, I was watching people invent De La Riva, the beginnings of it. They’ll grab him behind the ankle and wrapping their thought behind you the person’s knee. I was like, do you guys have never seen De La Riva but you have just invented it. Fantastic.
If someone comes into the class, every concept gets drove relentlessly every single day. We’re certain we’re doing a triangle or a kimura or something. We’d start from the end. We’d do the triangle and learn all the finishing aspects of it and then go backwards. Go from just having control behind the head with your legs but that postured or something and then go from just the arm is trapped, but every step back you do, the person’s moving around a bit more. You’re just trying to find that end product.
Instead of learning five different setups to a triangle, you learn the end product of what you want. I want the arm trapped. I’m doing it from these control points of behind the head, armpits, and legs. It gives people their free rein to then play with their ideas and their body types and their personalities, et cetera. It goes back to the concepts repeatedly.
If we were doing a kimura, we do the exact same thing. It’d be start from the kimura from top control and then work backwards. I don’t differentiate. I don’t think there’s a difference necessarily between mount, side contro,l and North-South. I don’t separate them in my head. I don’t have a mount– I don’t teach mount. I don’t teach side control. I don’t teach North-South. The difference between any of them is in site control, you control in their armpits with one arm and one leg in Mount, it’s two legs and then North-South is two arms. You still the same idea I’m still controlling their armpits or does it put a different part of my body in their armpit?
The amount of times people are, how do you go from side control to mount? Well, simple. You just take your knee out or take your arm out but you need a– I don’t care how you do it, timing’s your own but that’s what you want to accomplish. Figure it out. Then we go back from there. You’ve got the kimura and then you go from these top controls and then every time you’d go back a step they’d offer a bit more resistance or a bit more movement. You’d have to get those controls, find the rest to set up your kimura and then rinse and repeat.
Sonny: I think there’s a lot of merit in that idea of teaching things backwards or just starting with the end product so that then people have a clear goal of what they’re working towards. It makes sense and also then as you do work the way back, people get to spend more time completing the steps towards the finished product rather than spending time repeating a setup that is not what they actually want to achieve. It’s just part of it.
Chris: Yes it’s one moment in chaos where they might get that set up. You’re setting them up to fail. They have two or three different selves in chaos that they can use but if I wait for chaos to align for it to work and it’s like again, how many times do you catch the submission and then you go, how did I get here? It wasn’t a specific cell. You just like, Oh my guard, I made a triangle, this is amazing. I want to just recreate the idea as in your body knows what it’s like to get a triangle or again, it’s how many times do you see people set up a triangle and then get to the end but have that lens the wrong way round or forget how triangle ends anything.
There’s a disconnect there. There’s a problem. You got people who can start triangles have never been a cell. You’ve got people who can do perfect setups who don’t have any idea to finish the triangle. Well, I’d rather, it’d be the first kind as in you just know what a triangle feels like and you can warp chaos together.
Sonny: Yes okay and then, I mean focusing in then on the idea of that warping chaos or controlling chaos, do you ever present people an idea of Oh, this is something I prepared earlier, like something that you’ve come up with or like a Danaher technique or a Marcelo Garcia technique and say hey, try this or is it all just letting the people tailor it to their own personalities? How does the interplay work between those?
Chris: I may go make sure techniques that or demonstrations of the concept but I wouldn’t teach it as you had drilled this technique. I’d show the concept, I’d teach the concept, then show the technique or a variation that someone’s come across of the concept in action but then go back to teach them the concept in general. Again, we don’t drill. I’ve always said I don’t want to– the idea of doing it for an arbitrary amount of time. You have to do 10 in two minutes. You have to stop after 15 reps or five minutes of doing this technique or some madness like that.
I’d rather you did it once than spend that entire however long just doing that technique, looking at the end of it. I looking at every single facet of it, talking about that, saying, “Right well, if you move this way, could you get out? No? Well, if you go this way, could you go out? No? Well, will this improve this grip or will this not improve this grip?” I want that kind of feedback.
Then, again, going back a level and try and get the resistance working and saying, “Right, well if you turned up on your side to defend this, could I still got this? No. I’m going to have to figure out how to stop it from turning onto your side first.” I’d rather that be the way of drilling instead of here’s this up, is, here’s the end product do that 10 times and then come back to me, I’ll show them, I said the end product of what some people have figured out before, just to show the concept in action. I don’t want that to be what they drill.
Again, one of my favorite ones is when I teach the guard passing session, privacy, et cetera, how much to pull off in the sun, not yet but I’m working on it as I say to people, right. This is the concept of guide passing and I type BJJ guard passing into YouTube and guarantee anything you find is going to have my concept in action. Yet you could spend forever watching all these YouTube videos or just some concept, and then they can go away with those tools and then watch all these videos in their own time, Danaher videos, Marcelo and go right. Well that here is the concept working now, renders them obsolete.
Sonny: Yes okay. Yes, it’s really just for you the main focus is always going to be on those concepts and the techniques are just a way to see the concepts in action?
Sonny: Okay that makes a lot of sense. One thing I want to focus in on there is then your idea of your students giving that constant feedback to each other because that’s something that is not as common, I would say because it’s mainly should be the instructor giving the feedback but if students can give each other good feedback, then obviously that’s going to be a big benefit to everyone. How do you actually go about fostering that within your club?
Chris: The fastest that the show one of these ideas I’d show all the parameters of what wouldn’t necessarily be an action, as in I’d say to people.
If you’re going to do like a guard holding or something, like putting a guard into action, I’d want the person in guard to try and posture, try and stack, hand fight, et cetera. Could I get rid of your grip for this? I’d settle these different parameters and say, “I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to do this.” Again, if someone else is trying to get away from the idea of if people are doing just drills, the one person is dead practically for those 10 reps. You’re just going to do 10 triangles to him.
As soon as they switch off for those 10 reps, I would say, “Right, now it’s my turn.” I want it to be conscious, I want them to be giving feedback not just for their partner’s sake but for their own sake, as in I want them to have it done to them and for them to go right actually because I want them to not almost go like how to make– not in the same sense of I wanted them to only make their partner better, I want them to almost have their partner do to them what they do to someone.
If I was saying like we’re doing an Americana or something, I say to someone, “Right. I want you to be conscious of what’s happening during the Americana. I want to actually say to a partner, “What if you bring my arm this way? If it hurts more, all right, okay.” I’d love to do that next time for myself instead of just switching off of those 10 reps. It’s not just the person doing the technique’s sake. It’s for the other person’s sake.
That’s why I say this idea of, I don’t want 10 reps, I want it to be a constant conversation throughout that two to five minutes or whatever of, “What if you move my arm here? What if you move my arm here? Does that hurt more?” Not for that other person’s sake but for your own sake as in, “Actually, my arm hurts way more if it’s put here.” Right, okay, because you know your own body, and then you just have to replicate that on someone else.
Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. The idea of being present and mindful while you’re going through those– not repetitions but while you’re actually working on the concepts and techniques rather than– I’ve certainly been in the situation where myself is switched off while someone’s repping out a technique on me. You wait for your turn really.
Chris: Exactly. It’s then switching the role up a little bit as in it’s almost reversing the entire process in the sense of the person doing the technique isn’t the person learning? It’s you. It’s a frustration of my own over the years of I don’t know what I’m causing to other people because I’m not them, as in as much pressure as I can put through someone, I don’t know what that pressure feels like unless it’s done to me.
Whenever I go anywhere and I teach something, I don’t want to watch two people do it in front of me. I want the person who’s having the issue to do it to me. I then feel everything that should be happening. Almost at that point, I’m learning more than they are because I can go, “Right. My arm hurts a bit more if you move it this way. Could you move my arm over here? Yes, that really, really hurts now. ” I’m learning just as much as they are because I’m actually having it done to me for probably the first time. I can then take what I just learned from then twisting my arm and then use my own jiu-jitsu.
Sonny: It’s funny that you mentioned the way of knowing how much pressure you’re putting on someone because that’s something I’ve thought about myself just as a way to how I can actually explain that accurately to anyone. I’m thinking, “Oh, should I bring in like a scale one day and a medicine ball and we give people– they can see on the numbers where it goes up when they take their knees off the mat or something like that,” because it is a hard thing to actually get across just slowly lifting the knees up or elbows off the mat, that that will actually increase pressure.
I know it when I do it to people because maybe I can see the change of reaction in their face or their breathing pattern, and I’ve had it done to me as well, but to actually make that happen quicker for people to pick that up is a very interesting challenge that you’re trying to-
Chris: Yes, completely.
Sonny: -take on there. When you’re doing those things and the feedback is going on, we talked about personalities.
How much does people’s personality make that work or perhaps even not work with some people because I could see with your training partner, it becomes such a crucial part of the feedback process instead of the instructor who’s spent a lot of time doing this you. Your training partner might not have as much time giving that feedback. How do you coach that side of things and how do you cater to those different personalities?
Chris: It then becomes more of a culture thing as in when that understanding of your feedback isn’t just for their benefit, it’s for your own, as in you could be directing someone to a faster technique more correctly. At the same time, you are the full loop, as in if you can direct someone to do a technique that, again, like you said, people might tap just out of “I’m tired of this situation” tap when you’re drilling something as you drill a triangle, and they just tap because their head is in that triangle, I’d rather it be a case of I’d rather have someone put me in a triangle, and then if I was a student, and then direct them to hurt me more.
Just that culture change there as in it’s no longer a case of drilling just for the sake of drilling so you can get better, then I have my go and I get better. It’s a conversation as in we’re investigating these techniques. When the outcome isn’t reached between these two people to a full standard, that’s where I can get involved. I’m obviously walking around at this point, I’m getting my head stuck in triangles, et cetera.
It’s weird that I don’t get to drill, but if I demonstrate a technique, I’m not the one doing the technique. If a pair called me over and they say, “Could you show us that triangle again, please?” I’m like, “Okay, you do it to me.” I make them go through everything of twisting me up and choking me because I want them to then– I’m getting constant feedback throughout. I want that culture that it’s a conversation here.
The more feedback you give, the better you’ll be. The idea of, “I need to get my 10 reps in, just hurry up and do yours, please,” as long as I want to be the person on the bottom because I learned more. I want that to be the culture instead of, “No, you’ve had your minute and a half. It’s now my time for the minute and a half.” It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Sonny: Okay. It is a big change in culture from what a lot of people would normally be expecting. What was a big challenge that you’ve had to overcome while working your way out with that?
Chris: How do you mean?
Sonny: Is there anything that you try to implement to get people to do that that failed and you had to scrap or improve upon, or has it all just been a bit of a linear progression?
Chris: It’s more of a linear progression, but one of the best things that help is, again, this idea is like that we’re drilling without taking– Again, it’s directly from Priit. We were arriving in these directions but hadn’t got there yet, and it wasn’t until– Again, I met Priit at one of the Globetrotter camps back in 2017, and it was this first Globetrotter camp in Copenhagen.
As the couple of battles are competing at black belt at the time, and some of the UK competitions, and doing pretty okay, I saw this Estonian black belt and I thought, “You probably can’t even find Estonia on the map. Who’s ever heard of Estonia?” I thought I’d give this guy a bit of a run around when I got to the camp. Instead, he twisted me up and spat me out. I thought, “Right, I’m going to have to pay attention to what this guy classes.” His way of teaching was markedly different.
I said, “How much would it cost me to get you to the UK?” He came over and did one of his intensive weekends. He was massive into this idea of– One thing he does in his seminars is he will have you do the techniques quietly by giving no feedback after, and then he’d stop you and say, “Right, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, talk about the technique. Just don’t drill, just talk.” I’d give feedback on that technique and say, “What worked well? What didn’t go well?” Then, once you’ve done that, do it again with that new feedback. They were a completely different way of doing jiu-jitsu.
Sonny: Yes, very different.
Chris: Then, once you’ve had this conversation, then have a conversation in the class. That’s one thing I should pick up, though I didn’t look at it even more, this idea of this more of a conversation aspect of doing jiu-jitsu as where– I did a tour of the US just prior to lockdown, as in North Carolina with Johnny Buck, one of his open mat sessions early one morning. The whole open mat was just people sitting against the wall asking questions of the last week. I did this in a row. What could I do here?”
Various people would pop up with their answers. I thought, “That’s brilliant.” I love this idea of it’s not you will sit down quietly listening to me. It’s, “Right, why does this work? Why didn’t this work? What pros and cons have we found from doing it this way? Can we get it better now? Can we work together and figure this out? Because again, it was a unique way I came through. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I never assumed that I was better than anyone. That’s why this came in at such the right time for me.
One thing, I went to Braulios for like one or two sessions, and it was you can’t train there unless you’ve got the gi on and the Gracie Barra — you can’t go anywhere else apart from Baja gyms mentality. If any of my students say, “I’m going to go train here tonight,” or, “I’m going to go train here tonight,” I was like, “Cool, please, can you just show us what you picked up of when you come back?”
We only get better if we were a team. I don’t know everything, unfortunately. I just got here first. I was always very pro other people traveling or pro people coming into the gym because I was like, “Right, cool. What do you know? Can you show us anything?” or if people traveled like, “Bring us back something cool.” That then just built an idea of since I started jiu-jitsu, it’s never been a case of, “I’m the black belt. This is the technique.” I was a white belt teaching a class. I was a blue belt teaching a class. Let’s all get together and figure this out together because it’s the only way we’re going to figure out otherwise. I don’t think we’ve ever changed.
Sonny: Okay, that’s interesting. That’s something else I’ve talked to a couple of other people, and they’ve been putting these isolated situations where they’ve had to teach, at that blue, purple belt level, but I’m sure there’s plenty of other people in those situations who have maybe just done what they have seen other people do, but it also seemed to have caused a bit of innovation in at least a few of the people I’ve seen. It’s very interesting. What’s Johnny Buck like? He seems like a bit of a character. Is he–
Chris: He is hilarious. His gym, it seems rough as hell. It doesn’t make sense, but they are the one of the nicer gyms I’ve ever been to. Johnny, every high-rank belt, every student was just the nicest person. The crack and the banter amongst them all was amazing. Again, he probably is a member of his online group, about a month or two before I went over. Every time a new person started, they got a welcome off everyone. They got invited to the group and everyone said hello to them, welcome to, such and such, and everyone wished them hello, or they’ve got a big board on the back of their wall where it’s like some whiteboard pens or whatever.
You write down like it’s a gratitude board or like an accomplishment board. You write down something cool you’ve done or thank someone for something they’ve done recently. I lost two pounds this week or I’ve run three miles. It doesn’t have to be jiu-jitsu based. It’s just something cool you did. That sense of community in a gym was just like– Johnny comes across as such, like I said, a wild character. For him to foster that kind of culture in his gym, I was like, “This is the nicest place I’ve been to.”
Like I said, I’ve been to Barra gyms where if you deviate at all from the technique that has been shown, you’re doing pushups, but in Johnny’s gym, it was like this is the nicest place in the world. Let’s all give each other thanks and gratitude for something we’ve done. He’s probably going hate me– if he ever listens to this, me saying Johnny Buck is the nicest man in the world. As much as the hard ass that he comes across, he’s so cool. He may never let me come back. [laughs]
Sonny: You might see the other side [laughs] after that.
Chris: Exactly. I might see the bad Johnny Buck.
Sonny: That sounds interesting, but it’s not that surprising, to be honest. Especially in this sport, it’s not the most uncommon thing to see people who can have an exterior of the roughest looking people you’ve ever seen. Then, they turn out to be some of the nicest people you’ve ever met. It’s one of the good things about this sport, that you do run into a lot of good people. I’m wondering just to maybe wrap things up, Chris, if we have a look over your learning experience, what’s the one thing that you wish that you could go back to yourself when you started learning that you could tell yourself that would help improve the speed at which you were learning even more?
Chris: If I knew the concepts I knew now, if I was told these, if I was just given the control concept of knees and elbows which is pretty much the how to defend everything video, if I knew that when I was at the beginning, I could have saved myself so much time. The hours I spent reading books and watching YouTube and all this kind of jazz, it was like I could have easily just saved myself so much heartache.
Peter says it very well when he teaches this infinitely better than I ever could. He says jiu-jitsu is suffering, as in you have so much at the beginning that you don’t know what is happening to you. It’s a horrible experience. That’s why the first thing I ever teach is, if you keep your knees glued to your armpits, you’ll be fine. Anytime you feel lost, just do that. I don’t care if you ball up or anything, at least you’re not getting submitted, but if you can just connect your knees to your armpits, you’ll be fine, and anytime anything ever goes wrong.
The amount of two-month white belts that I’ve had come through, I’ve competed on grapple fast on the same card as like Craig Jones and Lachlan Giles. I’ve had white belts who’ve been in for like two months who I can’t choke or submit because they just ball up. They just connect their knees to their armpits and they’re fine. Looking at that from their perspective, they’ve got the class black belt wailing on them and they’re surviving, nothing bad is happening to them. The only thing that’s bad happen to them is when they reach out.
Again, it’s something we’re all told on day one, keep your elbows close, but I just never was told how close. If I’d known that, if I’d known keep them so close, they’re connected to your damn knees and hips, I think jiu-jitsu would have been a lot easier for me.
Sonny: Yes, it is funny, those little things that maybe do get mentioned in passing, or even like the Ryan Hall comment that gets mentioned in passing that had that impact on you.
Chris: Even in passing, there was no emphasis on it. I spent so much longer playing the deep half stuff he showed than anything to do with the knees and the elbow thing. If I’d known that, that would have been infinitely more useful. One of the other things, again, it was Braulio’s first black belt, Chiu Kwong Man in Birmingham. He teaches Renegade jiu-jitsu. He’s got Tom Breese and a couple of really high-level guys in his team.
I did a couple of seminars with them, again, about five years ago. He said that everyone talks about the space between the knees and armpits. Again, they weren’t, but okay. I said, “No one ever talks about the space between the ass and heel.” He said, “If you can keep that one closed, there’s no other guards that will work on you. Again, like De La Riva, half guard, butterfly, none of those work if they can’t get in between your ass and heel.”
I was like “What? I can fix guard that easily?” Again, it goes back to that how to defend everything. If I’d just known those two things early on, I could have figured out jiu-jitsu a whole lot faster. The emphasis was on those two things.
Sonny: The emphasis and just knowing where to put those emphases is an interesting area because it seems to still be evolving in a way to shed light on some actual constants which are strange.
Chris: The emphasis in jiu-jitsu is wrong. There’s a guard passing video by Renzo Gracie, close guard pass video where he talks ages about where’s to grip on the gi. People spend so long on those stupid details. Do you put your fingers in the middle of the gi? Do you twist it left? Do you twist it right? Is your elbow flared? Is it crunched in? Is it pushed into the stomach? Can you push it on your whatever. That isn’t the important part.
He talks about various aspects of that for this guard passing video. Again, all he does is he connects his knees to his elbows and then climbs in the space between their knees and elbows. At no point does he talk about that being the crucial aspect of this guard pass. That was a passing detail that the guard pass doesn’t work if they’re not in this space.
Sonny: It’s fascinating that we can focus so much time on a technique like that. I guess that’s why some jiu-jitsu moves will go in trends where they can come in and out of trends, but the constant between it all would be those concepts that follow those things if those techniques are long.
Chris: Exactly. There’s also a new guard that comes out in some way. Again, they’re always iterations of the same damn concept. I’m sure that you think rubber guard again is just an expression of that guard concept. How can I control your armpits in the back of your head with the full weapons I have? Yet, all of a sudden, 10 years ago, everyone goes nuts about rubber guard. It’s like, “No, it’s the same thing again, or the half guard, or worm guard, or whatever mad guard that Keenan’s come out with recently, whoever knows what that is, which it is the same damn thing. You can’t really play guard without this concept, but why is no one talking about this is what’s happening?
Sonny: That’s a very good point. That’s why we’ve talked about it here and put some emphasis on it. I really have appreciated this conversation, Chris. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Chris: I loved it. Thank you so much. Hoping to have another chat in the future.
Sonny: For sure. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way that they can go about and do it?
Chris: If they just type Chris Paines, P-A-I N, so pain, E-S into Google, Chris Paines BJJ, they’ll find my Facebook, they’ll find my YouTube, they’ll find my personal website. Any of those aspects, if you will contact me via those, I reply relatively fast. I’ll happily talk to anyone. The amount of people who contact me and ask me questions and stuff, if I’ve got access to a video camera, I’ll record an answer. I’m very, very accessible if anyone ever wants to talk to me.
Chris: I’m just going to do some [crosstalk] .
Sonny: Hey, who isn’t, really, in this day and age especially.
Chris: It’s such a brilliant idea because I’d never done BJJ. I’m not from a lineage. I have no lineage. I’ve obviously got my black belt from Priit, but as far as the learning goes, there isn’t anyone above me. The linear thing falls apart. That idea that when in a style that puts so much emphasis on if it’s from Brazil or who’ve got that belt from who, which I’ve been asked that question numerous times and it drives me insane, just a simple idea that there’s some no-name guy from Stafford that people want to find out something from him. I’ll happily answer any question just because of that.
Sonny: Yes. It’s something that I’m running into a lot with people I’m talking to because there’s obviously that tremendous value in tradition that I probably don’t need to explain because it’s pretty evident that that seems to be the dominant force, that value of tradition, but then it’s the people that are going outside of that that can bring in some new creative ideas where I think a lot of value can actually be had. The mat is the truth, as Sakuraba has said.
Chris: Exactly. Everyone is equal on that mat.
Sonny: It’s very, very interesting stuff. Chris, thank you so much, and let’s do this again in the future.
Chris: Perfect. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed it.