Brandon Mccaghren

I talk to Brandon McCaghren or B-MAC from 10th Planet Decatur, Alabama. We discuss his start travelling from his home town to train with Eddie Bravo in LA and the value of constraints vs operating in the wild. How the innovative 10th Planet “Hot Box” system and the warm-up routines and patterns have helped it grow and establish itself.

Also, building positive club culture and the martial value of tai chi and finally, how to stay inspired as a white belt and the importance of self-discovery.

Listen to the Brandon Mccaghren Interview Here:

Brandon Mccaghren Interview

Sonny: Welcome to episode number 10 of the Sonny Brown Breakdown. A podcast where I discuss the training, teaching, health and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host Sonny Brown. In this episode, I talk to Brandon Mccaghren or BMAC from 10th Planet Decatur in Alabama. We discuss his start travelling from his home to training with Eddie Bravo in LA, the value of constraints versus being in the wild, 10th Planet warm-ups, building positive club culture, and the importance of self-discovery. Now, let’s go to the podcast. Okay. Here today with Brandon Mccaghren, BMAC. Here we go.

Brandon: Hey. That was pretty good.

Sonny: Did I get close on the last name?. How are you today, mate?

Brandon: I’m good, man.

Sonny: Good. I got in touch with you, I’ve seen all your stuff online. You’re very active with your website, Instagram. You got a great YouTube page as well. When I started looking into you and finding out how you got your black belt from Eddie Bravo. It was interesting to find that when you were learning in Alabama, that you were having to travel to LA in those early days. There was no one there locally for you to learn off. Yes. I was just wondering if you could give us an idea of what those early days were like? What drew you to 10th Planet as well?

Brandon: I just started martial arts, because I needed a way to get in shape, and I was not interested in running or lifting weights. I already established in my life I wasn’t going to do those things. [laughs] I got into martial arts really as just- for health reasons. I didn’t really have any aspirations of beating anybody up or anything like that. I didn’t think I had that inside. Yes, I just got introduced to martial arts, and then I slow– Not slowly. I quickly learned that Jiu-Jitsu was the martial art that interested me the most. But if there wasn’t any Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu within a driving distance — Not in a way that I could ever make it to class and train and run. I got to get there once a week or something like that. I was just trying to learn out of books wherever I could. I was learning there from the guy I was training with at the time. His name was Jamie Webster. He’s a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu guy. Tang Soo Do, Moo Duk Kwan , lot of MMA classes, and stuff like that. I was learning from him at the time and he was always teaching us Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu stuff. I just fell in love with that. Then I got hooked up with Eddie, because one of the guys I was training with– I was still a white belt. He goes, “Hey, man. I’m going to a Eddie Bravo seminar. Do you want to go?” I was like, “Yes. Who’s Eddie Bravo?” That’s how I met Eddie initially, and I loved what he was about. He was just super passionate. You know what I’m saying?

Sonny: Yes.

Brandon: I had been to a couple of seminars already by that time. Man, he was just so into what he was doing. At the time, he was booked to do like three hours. He ended up doing like six with us. Then he made himself available after the fact to answer some questions. I just like the spirit, the passion honestly, that he approached it with. That made a huge difference to me. I played guitar too. I didn’t like the idea of ripping my hands up.

Sonny: Playing with the Gi. You decided just go straight no Gi off the bat?

Brandon: Yes. We were training in the Gi at the time, but again, it wasn’t at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu school. I didn’t get the same education on gripping and breaking grips or using the Gi for or against me. I didn’t get the same kind of education, but I did play with the Gi. You know what I’m saying? I watch them, but I didn’t get that deep Gi education that I probably would’ve needed to fall in love with it early, but I was learning and . I just thought that fighting and the Gi, at that time in my mind, I couldn’t understand any correlation. I could see correlation now, but at that time, that was- no way you could’ve convinced me of that.

Sonny: What kind of things do you think now that the Gi has that value for fighting? What are those things?

Brandon: It has value for fighting the same way boxing has value for fighting. But boxing is not a complete fighting style by any stretch of the imagination. Every time you clinch somebody, they call it cheating. That’s not fighting. They break them up and they put the big pillows on their hands. If you want to learn the best way to use your hands to strike a man in a fight and the best way to defend yourself against hands in a fight, there is no other art, but bo– Boxing is the premier art to do that. But the way that they became so elite was that it was separated and were restrictve. The rules became very restrictive. You’re not allowed to kick him in the legs, you got to wear the big pillows. If you clinch him, that’s cheating. We’re only going to give you three minutes, 12 different times to work it out. Okay. That’s a really limited rule set. Don’t hit him in the back of the head either. All right. Got you. Because they limit the rule set so strictly, you have to learn how to use your hands the right way, but it’s not a complete fighting system. With the Gi, even though it’s not a complete fighting system anymore. It has things that maybe don’t translate that well when the Gi comes off or maybe it don’t translate that well when you’re getting hit. But because you’re not getting hit, because you do have handles and more friction work with, maybe you can learn some things in there that you wouldn’t be able to learn if somebody was cracking you in the mouth the whole time. You’ll take risk you wouldn’t take if somebody could hit you. Just like in boxing, you’ll use your hands and you’ll open up in ways that you wouldn’t if he was allowed to shoot a double leg on you. I think each of the different styles of fighting have their place. Even some of the more like artsy styles. There’s things that you can only learn by limiting the rules deeply, and that allows us to spring up specialists. Those specialists in turn can change the general fighting style dramatically.

Sonny: Yes, I hear that. It’s something that’s been coming up a lot recently. The power of those limitations that you can put on certain styles of training will actually allow them to develop more. It’s like that little counter-intuitive thing.

Brandon: Yes, it’s interesting. It is counter-intuitive, but it makes sense, man. It makes sense. That’s how you grow in your life. You give yourself a resistance that isn’t– An artificial resistance perhaps. Like, lifting weights is an artificial resistance, and that’s what forces the muscle to grow and adapt, and become stronger.

Sonny: Yes, that’s a good point. It does seem to be just this constant thing that people want to just– Yes, internal growth should just mean we let anything happen possible, but those power of those limitations and restrictions can’t be overlooked. It’s funny.

Brandon: Unlimited growth could be possible with no restrictions, but it’s not controllable. It’s wild. It just grows, because it’s wild.

Sonny: Going into chaos.

Brandon: That’s good too. You got to learn how to operate in the wild. No question. But by limiting our– By training ourselves. Not just coming to class and rolling or just watching technique or just inactively participating in the class. By training, we make those wild scenarios a repeat occurrence. It’s something that, “I’ve seen this before.” It’s appearing in the different context now, but I’ve seen it a thousand times.

Sonny: I hear that. Let’s say you’re in Alabama, maybe in the wild of the Jiu-Jitsu, because there was no one there. You have that seminar with Eddie Bravo. He’s given you that– This is the guy who’s got the knowledge. He can give you some control over this Jiu-Jitsu beast, shall we say. How long since you did that seminar until you decided to travel out there, and was that scary going out there the first time?

Brandon: Yes, man. Especially for an old country boy. I’d never been to California before. I thought I was walking to a different world. [laughs] The first couple of times I went out there, I just got my, butt handed to me of course. Just trashed. Yes, it was an interesting experience. I started going out pretty quickly though. I’ve been going out every year. At least once every year since then. Sometimes I stay two weeks, sometimes I just stay a week, sometimes longer. Then I’ve been flying him out here for seminars and stuff like that the whole time. Then until I got my black belt, this was my rule. If Eddie’s doing a seminar to within a 10-hour drive, then I’ll make the drive. He was everywhere through the States for the last– Especially at that time from– Really, all the time with Eddie. It seemed like once a weekend or once a week- once a month, sorry. I could get out and see him on the weekends. I got actually quite a bit more contact with him than you would think, just because of who he was and the nature of his travel schedule.

Sonny: When you were travelling, did you know about his history with Royler Gracie? Was that something that drew you towards him?

Brandon: I learned about it after the first seminar, but not the first time that I went. I really didn’t know much about him at all. I heard his name, but I didn’t really know who he was.

Sonny: That’s fair enough. Fair enough. Let’s be fair, it is a cool name. It does–

Brandon: Dude, Eddie Bravo is a cool name.

Sonny: Does have a good ring to it.

Brandon: Sounds so much cooler than Mccaghren. [laughter]

Sonny: You’re doing the training up there, and what was happening when you were coming back to Alabama?

Brandon: We were still at the karate school that we started out called Webster’s Karate. Great martial arts place, just wasn’t Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. But we did have grappling and we had MMA, so I was getting beat up. I had people to spar with. I shouldn’t have Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training partners, but I was getting to use my Jiu-Jitsu that I was learning all the time. We had grappling classes. Usually, it was just– They weren’t full classes, but we’d have like 15 minutes of grappling twice a week is what we would do. Then on the weekends, we would have open mat and I would just– Then I was trying to- I was going- traveling on the weekends to compete or train with somebody. I was a matted at out my garage and I was– Anybody that wanted to. I was just training all the time. I was very directionless, but I was training all the time.

Sonny: A bit of the punk, do-it-yourself ethic going on.

Brandon: Yes. I was doing it. I was trying to reach out to resources as much as I could, because I definitely didn’t think I knew anything. It wasn’t that. It was just lack of training partners. I was just building– I was having to find people that could stay with it. People that would stay with it. Eventually, we had a couple of blue belts floating around, and eventually– It just grew and grew. Until now we got three black belts in every class. It’s crazy.

Sonny: That– You obviously, run your own school now. Seems rather successful. That started from those- the mat up in your garage?

Brandon: The school started as a blue belt- when I was a blue belt was when 10th Planet Decatur started. We did it at that school that I was at at Webster’s. We had the back room. He gave us the back room. I think he even bought the mats. These old puzzle mats and put them down. Just a step forward after six months, and a step forward after two years. Just eventually it becomes– It snowballs. I think– Right now, I think we have 108. Well, I don’t know about right now, actually. [laughter]

Sonny: I hear you.

Brandon: But I think we have right around 200 members on the roll.

Sonny: Nice.

Brandon: Just at the Decatur location.

Sonny: When that started, was that– Eddie had a system that he was doing back in the day I remember, called 10th Planet hotboxes or something like that. Where he would allow people to use his brand.

Brandon: I was never a hotbox. But what a hotbox was– There was no official coach, but there was like an official spot you could go. They weren’t allowed to charge for training, but the guy who was in charge of the hotbox was trying to learn from Eddie himself. Make sense?

Sonny: That makes sense.

Brandon: It wasn’t really a place. It wasn’t really like an official spot, but it’s like, “Yo, 10th Planet friendlies are here.” The people would go, “I’m trying to figure it out. I don’t have a coach. You too?” We would meet, because of the forums and stuff like that. We would hook up when we could.

Sonny: That’s pretty cool idea.

Brandon: A couple of good schools popped out of that system. Mobil, Alabama, Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Beaumont, Texas. I think JM and Zach with Grace Gundrum and Thor, where they trained. I think they were a hotbox too.

Sonny: That’s pretty cool.

Brandon: The hotbox system was cool. It got a little big to be able to monitor it properly. That’s why it died out, but the idea was awesome. I love that idea.

Sonny: Pretty groundbreaking pioneering idea, to try to and allow people to do that. Whereas, a lot of other parts of Jiu-Jitsu is so locked down to–

Brandon: That’s Eddie though, man. That’s what he does. He likes Jiu-Jitsu. Even the way he runs his association. It’s not like a money grab for him. He doesn’t- I don’t– I’m not required to bring him for a seminar. I’m not required to buy gear. I’m not required to have my gear be a certain color or certain– Dude, I just pay a small affiliation fee each month. Small. Smaller than– Very small compared to most organizations, and fly the 10th Planet flag like a boss. As hard as you can. Those are the rules. Eddie’s like, “Yo, do you love 10th Planet? Are you one of my black belts? Then let’s do this.” Then he gives you like, “Fly, little bird. Fly.” Like, “Find the best way. I’ll be here if you need me.” I like that. I love that.

Sonny: That’s very cool, and very different from how other places do things very. Heresy, to some other places to do things like that. It really is.

Brandon: What have you got to be afraid of? If you’re going to lose people or not have a successful- not make as much money, but you’re going to be passionate about what you’re doing every day. Eddie’s pumped about 10th Planet. Probably more pumped about it than he’s ever been.

Sonny: It’s generous of him to be able to do that, because he’s– The 10th Planet brand now has grown so huge, especially from his involvement with Joe Rogan. It’s just always getting that exposure, right. That for a lot of people coming into it, there is that attraction to 10th Planet, of being that little bit different, that little bit on the outside, but yet everyone seems to have heard of it. It’s probably a common thing. You find white belts on the mat going like, “I want to try this Rubber Guard. I want to learn this twist. What’s going on with those guys over there? What’s this Lockdown?” It seems to be that that’s probably a common experience with everyone teaching at every Jiu-Jitsu school. There’s always a few guys who are like, “What are these 10th Planet guys doing over there on. I want find out.”

Brandon: A couple of 10th Planet dorks over in the corner. [laughs]

Sonny: It is. There’s that attraction to it, which is funny, but it’s situated in that in that space, it seems.

Brandon: My understanding is that causes tension in some places, which I don’t really understand. For the most part, I think everybody’s cool with it. It seems to be. It’s a little different than it used to be. 10th Planet definitely used to carry a different- it used to carry the Scarlet Letter. Like, “Oh, god. It’s 10th Planet. Run. You’re going to get high just seeing him.”

Sonny: I was always lucky that my coach is a Machado blackbelt. We had–

Brandon: You moved?

Sonny: Yes. We always had Rubber Guard and Twisters has been in our syllabus as things to learn, and there was never any pushback if I want to experiment with 10th Planet or really with anything. A very– Anthony Lang, shout out. A very open-minded and– Was very cool like that, but there was definitely that time where it was seen as you just going to– One you’re probably going to injure yourself or two, you’re gone off the deep end. Like, “That stuff don’t work.”

Brandon: You probably think 9-11 was an inside job now. You know what I mean?

Sonny: [laughs] Exactly.

Brandon: Them chemtrails is everywhere.

Sonny: Well, that’s just something Eddie’s it is known for now. For sure as the other part, right?

Brandon: Man, he may be more– Right now, at this point in his life, he might be more popular as a conspiracy theorist than as a Jiu-Jitsu guy. Really, he might be.

Sonny: [laughs] There’s got to be a lot of conspiracy theorists people happy that he’s flying their flag, the same way he’s happy you’re flying the 10th Planet flag.

Brandon: Man, he loves the conspiracy theory, boy. I like to listen to him. I don’t know. I’m too dumb to really make my mind up one way or the other usually. I just listen. I’d be like, “That is– He’s crazy.” I like it.

Sonny: That’s something with– 10th Planet, the schools I know are called Moons. I’m not sure. Like, the Planet. The moons on the Planet. That’s probably–

Brandon: I don’t know. Whatever.

Sonny: [laughs] That’s probably it, . But as an instructor then, there’s no, “If you’re going to become a Moon, you’ve got to believe that something’s crazy about the world.” There’s no– [laughs]

Brandon: No. No, nothing like that. Really– Honestly, man. Eddie doesn’t really care what even kind of Jiu-Jitsu you did. You don’t have to do the Lockdown and Rubber Guard and all that stuff to be a 10th Planet guy. Something one of his black belts told me one time that I really love. Samir Olam told me that the Lockdown is not the 10th Planet gospel. An open mind is the 10th Planet gospel. It doesn’t make much difference to Eddie or to me either. If you’re a Lockdown or Rubber– I don’t care what kind of guards you play, but you better play some guard. But you better build your guard on these principles, otherwise it’s not going to be a real guard. Sometimes that manifests itself as Rubber Guard based on you and your experiences, your attributes, the moment. Sometimes that may manifest itself is a No Gi Spider Guard in some situations. That’s okay, too. Don’t hate. Just let it come to you. As long as you build your game around good solid principles, then who cares what techniques you use, dude. I couldn’t care less.

Sonny: That’s interesting. I’m in a 10th Planet school and I’m like, “You know what? I don’t like Rubber Guard. I’m not going to play it.” No one’s going to be there going–

Brandon: No. So Matt Skaff, I have a couple of black belts under me now, but the first two I gave, I gave on the same day. Shawn Applegate, Matt Scaff. Scaff has been with me since he was a white belt. He’s still there everyday now. He doesn’t play any Rubber Guard and he never did. Never did, but he’s a destructive black belt. You don’t have to play Rubber Guard to be an awesome guard player. You have to play Rubber Guard to do certain things with your guard or to get certain submissions that you’re interested in. But the thing that I believe Jiu-Jitsu is, I can’t want the Rubber Guard in the first place or I can’t want the Lockdown or the Half-guard or the Z or whatever. Any kind of desire I have to chase those things puts me behind. It makes me late. I believe in a real reactionary style of play. Almost like, “I’m going to stick to you and then you decide what happens next, but I’ll win.” if that make sense . Theoretically, at least. It doesn’t always play out that way. [laughter]

Sonny: I hear that. You’re saying it’s that idea of you react to what the opponent gives you, and you won’t fight to force them into a certain position like the Rubber Guard. If it’s not there, it’s not there. It’s the same way with the personality of someone that you’re coaching. If it’s there for them and they want to follow that path, that’s fine. But you’re not going to ever force that onto them. Is that roughly right?

Brandon: Yes. I don’t want to say never. Some guys need to be forced. Some guys need to be corralled down a little tighter. Like, “Okay. You’re not going to be a top player at 109-Pound” or “You’re not going to be a mount guy, probably.” You know what I mean?

Sonny: Yes. I get you.

Brandon: Maybe let’s work on leg locks for you for a little while or something.

Sonny: I hear that. That takes us back to talking about those limitations, that we do need to put them on there. As much as we like to talk about the open mind and everything, those limitations are [crosstalk] .

Brandon: The open mind, to me, that’s what gives you the choice of what to work on. That’s how you can stay passionate everyday, because you’re training. You’re working, but you’re working on something that interests you. Like a white belt says, “Brandon, I really love Jiu-Jitsu, but I’m not growing too fast. What should I be working on?” What makes you want to train really well tomorrow? That’s what you should be working on. You’re a white belt. The game is so big. You can’t possibly pick something that you’re good at. Because you’re a white belt. That means you suck. Just grab something that excites you, makes you want to train, and dive as deep as you know how. When your interest shifts, that’s okay. You’ll have built a base level set there. You’ll probably pick up new things enrolling now with that new base level set, but when your interest shifts, move your interest. I was interested in mount, now I’m interested in leg locks. Go. Fly, little bird. If you build your game on principles instead of just memorizing moves, then every time that you’re learning something, you’re learning everything. Does that make sense?

Sonny: Yes.

Brandon: I know that makes sense to you. People that are listening, “Nobody knows what he’s talking about. Obviously, it makes sense to him.” Say I build my mount escapes on the principles of balance and weight distribution and leverage and timing. The mount escape is built on that. Not on, “Where do I put my hand? Where do I put my feet? When do I bump it?” Those are all important, but the principles are what make the technique work. Well, those principles– When you learn weight distribution in situation A, if you’re really learning weight distribution, not just memorizing a movement. Then you also improve your weight distribution on other situations, because you’ve improved your general understanding of what it means to distribute weight. Even though I might be learning it from the mount over here, it’s going to work on my leg lock escapes over here, because the principle never changes. It’s always true. Does that make sense? If you have somebody who can guide your learning well in the beginning, which is hard to find. If you have somebody that can guide your learning well, I’ll give you as much rope as you want. Go learn whatever thing it is you want to learn, but you’re going to learn Jiu-Jitsu during the course of learning through the filter of mount escapes, let’s say.

Sonny: You’re saying as a coach, you can let your students explore with whatever techniques really they want. Whatever techniques they’re interest them, that draw them, that keep them passionate, that keep them making wanting to show up on the mats day after day to try out this new move. Whatever it is. As long as they’re doing it in a way that they can learn and understand the principles that can translate to something else when they get bored of that technique.

Brandon: Yes. That’s a much smarter way than all the words that I said.

Sonny: No. You’re putting it up there, mate. [laughter]

Sonny: It’s a softball for me- to me. Don’t worry. [laughs] It is interesting though, because one of the things I’ve been talking about with a few other people, which I think is a great innovation by 10th Planet, is the warm-up system. Which no one else is doing. Certainly, the first people that I– The first affiliation I heard of doing it and he probably still is. Especially the way he’s doing it.

Brandon: I think so.

Sonny: Everyone’s got warm-ups, of course. If I don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s not going to make sense. Maybe you could give us a rundown of what 10th Planet is doing with their warm-ups.

Brandon: What Eddie does– If you try to come to Eddie’s class at HQ and you don’t know the warm-up, he’s going to be like, “Go to the beginner class.” Eddie’s theory is the same as hitting the heavy bag in boxing or hitting the speed bag in boxing or just hitting mitts. We’re going to memorize this combo. Until this combo is stuck into your DNA, you’re going to hit the mitts just like this. You know what? Once you do know the combo, you’re going to come back and you’re going to hit the mitts again. There’s only a couple of punches in boxing. The potential combinations of techniques are much, much smaller than say, in Jiu-Jitsu. That’s a limited rule set. Why do guys who are really, really great like a Floyd Mayweather. Why does Floyd Mayweather still hit mitts? Why is he still running those basic combinations everyday? Because he’s still finding improvement. He’s making sure that they’re stuck in his DNA, and that when it’s time to throw the punch, he doesn’t throw it. The punch throws itself. That’s Eddie’s theory with the warm-ups. He took what in his opinion are the most important techniques to him or even if it’s not the most important technique, it’s a technique that teaches a thing that he wants taught, puts them into a flow. He did 32 of them. I think there’s eight sets of four. There’s 32 total. You run one set of four each time you come to class, and that’s the first 15 minutes of class. It’s a memorized flow. It’s hitting mitts. Instead of just, whatever push-ups or running and whatever torture that the coach might have in mind to start class. Let’s just get going with some Jiu-Jitsu mitt work.

Sonny: I like the sounds of that. Because even when I’m getting people to warm-up– “We’ve got to do hip escapes. We go to shrimp, prawning. We’ve got to do it.”

Brandon: Prawns. Is what y’all call it? No way.

Sonny: No, just me. [laughter]

Sonny: I thought I’d throw that in there. For being an American, I thought you’d enjoy it. That’s not widely used.

Brandon: Well, I’m going to take it and I’m going to start doing it.

Sonny: We do that. We’re trying to get to a Million or something. Once everyone gets that– Everyone has to know that movement. Everyone has to have that down. They’ve got to know what it is. Really after a point, like, “Okay. We really are just warming up. You guys probably all know how to do this, because we’ve done at least 100,000 by now.” We just throw it in. The warm-up system that Eddie’s put in, it does seem to be a lot like a Kata. A Jiu-Jitsu Kata. Especially now when people aren’t allowed to train or who knows where they are, but a lot of people having difficulty getting into the gym right now. Having a Kata to workout on or something like that doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, if you’ve got the ability to do it. He’s got all these high-percentage moves that he’s worked into a flow. If you go to the advanced class, first 15 minutes, you’re just warming up using that. Is the beginner class just each one of those moves broken down? How does that beginner’s class then work for people?

Brandon: I think everybody does it a little different. We don’t do it exactly- at our school- exactly the way that Eddie does it. The way that it works at HQ is you want to come to Eddie’s class, you have to know the warm-up, so that you can do the warm-up, but in the beginner’s class, it’s just about teaching those 32 patterns. There’s a ton of Jiu-Jitsu included. They’re long patterns. It’s just about teaching those 32 patterns in the beginner’s class.

Sonny: Because if anyone is interested, it’s definitely worthwhile going to have a look at some of those patterns. They’re great for Instagram videos as well, I noticed.

Brandon: No doubt. [laughter]

Brandon: In my opinion, they shouldn’t be looked at as, “Do these moves. These moves are the 10th Planet system.” It should be looked at as hitting the mitts. When you see somebody hit the mitts, you don’t go, “Well, it’s not a real fight. That wouldn’t work in real life.” Of course not, bro. He’s hitting the mitts. He’s running through his pattern. That’s really the way it should be thought of. It’s done with just proper resistance. Not much resistance, but not no resistance, the proper resistance so that both partners understand where this is going. Once you get to a high level, you’re throwing three, five-movement combinations. Your body’s producing combinations that you didn’t even know were there sometimes. Having the guys working combinations like that I think is really smart.

Sonny: They’ve got those combinations to piece together. I’m having trouble thinking of something that’s in there now, but say a common backtake or a leg drag. Sure, there’s probably a leg drag in there somewhere. Guys will come to the beginner’s class. How will it be broken down? Would you say, “Okay, we’re learning a leg drag today and this is in this combination,” but it’s just a leg drag?

Brandon: Let’s say I was going to teach one of the warm-ups and there was a leg drag in the warm-up. Say the flow was we drag the leg pass, we drop into the leg drag. He’s going to turn and we’re going to take the back from there. That’s a three-move combination. The point of that exercise though is not the backtake, it’s the leg drag. That’s the part we’re trying to emphasize, let’s say. We’re going to spend time talking about the leg drag, the purpose of the leg drag, when the leg drag might come up, here’s where you need your hands to be, your head to be, your body positioning. SBG would define it like, “Here’s the posture, the pressure and the possibilities from this position.” Then, we’ll explore it from there. “Today, beginners, what’s going to happen is he’s going to turn and we’re going to jump on the back. It’s a position you’re going to see a lot. In fact, you’re going to need to know how to do it just like this. It’s not the only time the leg drag is used, it’s just the only time the leg drag is used tonight. All right, everybody ready? One, two, three,” then we’ll break on it.

Sonny: Got you. I like the sound of that. I’m going to try to fit it into a music metaphor because you like guitar. [chuckles] See how we go. Is it like the individual moves then become notes or chords that the students can play, the warm-ups then become a scale that they can go through, and then when you let them into free-rolling, they’re doing solos?

Brandon: I love it. That’s great. Actually, that’s a great analogy. The scales analogy is really a great analogy. Like me and you are going to play guitar together and we’ve never played before. It’s my turn to solo, I don’t just start playing scales, but if I want to be good at soloing, then I’d better be good at scales. Yes, the warm-ups can be thought of as scales and maybe the individual moves are chords or they’re licks. They’re riffs maybe.

Sonny: That would probably make more sense. A little bit more to them than just the single note.

Brandon: Dude, that’s a great analogy. I don’t know if that analogy works for people who don’t play guitar, but it works for me, bro. That makes perfect sense to me.

Sonny: I grew up in a musical family.

Brandon: What instruments do you play?

Sonny: Well, I’ve stopped playing when I got into martial arts though, but my dad is a guitarist and I grew up playing guitar, piano. I did a bit of saxophone.

Brandon: Oh man. I don’t play any wind instruments. I love to hear a good saxophone player though.

Sonny: Me, too. [crosstalk]

Sonny: Sonny Rollins is the namesake inspiration that was always– It helped later on in the day.

Brandon: You’ve got to channel some of that energy.

Sonny: [laughs] I think that’s a good thing too then to just have that structure for beginners. That’s one thing I’ve been chatting about with a lot of people. Everyone has a little different take on how beginners are boarding to the club, but everyone understands that it’s the most important thing because nearly everyone teaching back in the day, it was kind of sink or swim with everyone.

Brandon: No doubt.

Sonny: There wasn’t this structure to try and keep people around. It was turn up on the mats. If you can hang, if you can stick around, then great. We’ll take you on. Now, everyone understands the benefit of having something in place to keep people wanting to turn up to do this sport that is tough. Let’s face it. A big thing that can contribute to that is just that club culture and getting people onboard and building an environment that’s friendly and not so, I guess intimidating, is a common word that people have coming into any type of gym. You seem to be pretty passionate about doing that and I’ve heard you talk about that being an important thing to you. How do you think that plays into Jiu-JItsu? Not the technique, not the moves, but just the environment that you can actually build to get people to keep doing Jiu-JItsu.

Brandon: I think it’s everything, man. Again, I didn’t start Jiu-Jitsu because I wanted to be a world champion or even because I thought that I might be able to get good. I didn’t even consider that that might be a possibility. You know what I mean? I just needed a thing to go do to help me get healthy that I would keep doing. Because that was the problem, I could start at the gym. Everyone of us could start at the gym and we could start a good diet and start eating well, but it’s keeping something going is the most important part. For me in the beginning, I was lucky that my wife started training with me on day one. She was actually the one that was like, “You’ve got to do something, you’re getting fat.” I was like, “Okay, okay. We’ll figure it out.” That’s a true story. [laughs] She’s a black belt. She stayed with it everyday, too. She’s a black belt, too. It’s been awesom through quarantine. It’s been great for quarantine. I was lucky to be able to start training with her because I wanted to be there every night. We were doing it together. We were starting at the same time so we bought were unskilled. It was a new thing together. It wasn’t a situation where she was teaching me or I was more advanced than her. We were both ignorant together at the same time so it was fun. It was a fun environment. Plus, I can’t praise Jamie Webster enough for the way that he ran his karate. He still runs and it’s still a great school, it’s just different than what we do. He really instilled in us the idea that martial arts were going to benefit us. We were going to benefit from learning martial arts. Come to class even when you don’t feel good. Come to class. We’ll make it an environment and he made it an environment that we wanted to come to. It was an opportunity for me and Lindsey to get away from the kids for just a little bit, spend some time together. That’s a huge part of the culture at our gym is I train, my wife trains, and we’re on the mat everyday. Both of our kids train and they’re on the mat. We have a ton of husband and wife and kids combos that come in and train. We have a very family atmosphere at our place because it starts at the top. We know now what we didn’t know in the beginning, which is that hours are really the only thing that matters. Hours on the mat is the only way to get good. Where if I run you off, you will never accumulate the hours if I rough you up and send you out here. Even if it’s rough, if you feel like your soul benefited from being there tonight, you’ll come back tomorrow. Even if it’s rough. Even if it was hard. It is. It’s rough, it’s hard, it’s uncomfortable, it’s weird, it’s gross, but if you feel like your person benefited from it, you’ll come back tomorrow. If it was fine, you’ll come back tomorrow. To me, again, I’m not trying to raise up a competition gym. We’ve got good competitors, but our good competitors are good because they love it so much and they spend so much time on the mats, not because I pushed that atmosphere. I pushed the, “This is going to be good for you. If you could just stomach it and come and try it out, you’re going to really like it.” Right now, not that many, but we’ll put 60 people on the mats every night with that spirit right there. The training is high level when it is but it’s fun most of the time. The average student doesn’t care anything about getting good, they’re just looking for something. It could be self-defense, it could be health, it could be a community, but they’re looking for something, and it’s almost certainly not to be the UFC champ.

Sonny: That seems to be an overall factor that just overrides everything is people got to have fun. People got to have fun.

Brandon: I’ve got to have fun.

Sonny: Everyone’s got to have fun.

Brandon: If I’m training to be the best person in my gym, if I’m trying to be the best person that I train with, well, I did it. I’m the best person that I train with. So then, why keep training if that was the objective? There has to be some other thing that brings be back. I do want to keep getting better, I am very passionate about it, but honestly, it benefits me tremendously to be there. It benefits me physically. Right now, especially during all this craziness, I think all of us see more than ever that it benefits us mentally. More than we even realize, most of us. Especially those of us that train everyday and just take it for granted. it benefits us mentally more than we even knew. There’s just something about physical touch and adding a skill. It’s a potion that just can’t be messed with. It’s a winning potion.

Sonny: I hear that. Sometimes I feel like I wish I enjoyed just doing Tai Chi in the park a bit more and my shoulder wouldn’t hurt as much.

Brandon: I feel that. [chuckles]

Sonny: It’s not as fun.

Brandon: I like some of that stuff. I like some of that stuff.

Sonny: It’s okay.

Brandon: There’s been some things, I went on a kick for a little while where I was reading a lot of essays from Tai chi. I went on a kick for a little while where I was really learning a lot about the touch that I wanted my Jujutsu to have. Just from reading some of the theories and trying to practice some of the– I don’t have a Tai chi coach or anything, but just like listening to their martial theories and our martial philosophy. I would have to say that Tai chi is much, much more art than martial, but that doesn’t mean there’s no value in it.

Sonny: I should say it he wasn’t bragging on Tai chi. I don’t know if you’ve read the book The Art of Learning? You know Josh-

Brandon: Yes, Josh Waitzkin. Sonny: -Waitzkin, the Margelo Garcia black belt now, but his book, The Art of Learning, he goes into the World Tai chi Championships. Before I read that book, I had no idea that it could actually be a competitive side. When you actually look at his matches and his matches actually seemed to be some of the only ones online. The competitive side is definitely not promoted by Tai chi I think.

Brandon: Definitely.

Sonny: They really look like [crosstalk]

Brandon: Nodi, Judo, or sort of.

Sonny: Yes. It like okay, they have the, what was it? Fixed feet and free open feet or something. One where they have to keep their feet planted, then that’s just total reaction where they try and push people over like Sumo wrestling. But if they Sumo– I always pronounce that wrong people don’t understand what I say.

Brandon: I like the way you pronounced it. I thought it was great.

Sonny: Sumo? They have to stay their feet planted and they can push each other over three feet or whatever it’s called.

Brandon: I can’t remember how it’s called. It might be open. They have fixed style and open style. I get a lot of value. If you ever have a student come in, those students that come into their life and no matter what move you teach them they’re like this. They are balled up a rock. I’ll teach them how to do that fixed style, Tai chi. Foot to foot, and then running the circle and feel how when you push me that makes you stiff and I can move you and feel how you relax, I can’t move you so easily anymore. Oh, okay, and that can start to help open up their learning there.

Sonny: That’s a good way. Actually, one way I’ve actually used it as well is just for like a fun game with people. I’d Get them to stand on kickbags. One foot each on kickbags and just hand your hand here. Go. You guys would just try to push each other off, just to keep things– It’s a fun little game.

Brandon: Again, it’s fine.

Sonny: I got it from looking at Tai chi.

Brandon: Like you, I never would’ve thought that there was any value to Tai chi had I not read Art of Learning. I think at the time he was a Brown belt under Marcella that I read the book. I remember when he got his black belt, it was a big deal. It was Marcella’s first black belt. I knew that he was a really good Jujutsu practitioner and that he was not just saying, I used to do Tai Chi, but no, no, no there’s martial value here, look into it. Okay. I’ll try. I’ve found that for my own style, at least I’ve found that to be definitely true.

Sonny: Interesting. I didn’t expect to [crosstalk] out of Tai chi.

Brandon: Again, I should be real clear. I don’t know anything about Tai Chi, but I’m not like a study practitioner anyway. I just was trying to glean. Knowing what I did know about martial arts, trying to glean, where is the martial value here? It’s in the training style, it’s in the philosophy. It’s not in the martial technique because there’s not any, but the art has a lot to teach about how to make my martial more martial.

Sonny: The other big takeaway is obviously when you see older elderly people doing it in the park and they’re out there at an old age still moving well. Maybe that’s something to consider. Bringing it back to fun and keeping things fun. Let’s say, I’m a white belt coming into your class. I’ll be gone a couple of weeks. Maybe I’ve had a rough night. Some guys sweat it on us, something’s a bit sore. Didn’t get any taps. What do you actually do to make things fun, to make that person want to keep coming back? What’s some tangible ways that can be done?

Brandon: Well, I think mainly just checking on them and making sure that they understand that that’s the process that you signed up for. That feeling you have right there that’s what you were looking for. That I didn’t accomplish what I set out to accomplish. Good. That means your goals were high enough to know. “I didn’t get what I needed to get this guy beat me up”. Good, good. You need those things. The fire refines the gold. You don’t understand what I mean. It burns away the impurities. There’s no way to find the gold without putting it through the fire. Good job. The fire is going to last longer than you think I’ll see you tomorrow, right? Yes, yes. When’s your next class you’re coming to? I don’t know, I got to check my schedule. No, no, no. When are you coming next? You’d be here Tuesday at six. Yes, yes I’ll be here Tuesday at six. I’ll see you then don’t miss. You know what I mean?

Sonny: Yes.

Brandon: That’s a little trick there. Just getting them to commit, to saying a time and a day on the way out the door is actually a huge thing.

Sonny: You’re creating that personal connection then with you how I’m holding you accountable for turning up, but you’re turning up because it’s going to be fun. This is tough, but we know that there’s benefit from it. We know that there’s value from it. People probably intuitively know that, “Hey, I’m working hard at something. This is going to pay off eventually”. But you got to give them the reason to put themselves through that, through the fire to actually get that.

Brandon: We ease everybody in man. If you’re just a random dude coming in and you’ve never trained before, you’re pretty out of shape. You know that you’re walking into something hard. You’re like, “dude, I just got to do something”. We’re going to ease you in. I don’t let people roll on their first night. Like, stop you are not going to roll tonight unless you’ve got a background already, that’s a little different. Like you wrestled in college. Well, okay, come on over here. I got a got a little things for you. Little things like that when they do start, I’ll make the matches generally in the beginner’s class. Me or one of the coaches we make the matches that we feel are appropriate as much as we can. We’ve got a ton of people in there these days it’s not as easy as that used to be. You just got 20 people in class, “All right everybody on the wall. You two guys, come on out here. Y’all go” you know what I mean, making those matches. Otherwise, you’ll have black belt hunters roaming the room looking for who they can beat up and get there. Then those people generally will duck hard matches too. They’ll just run around and look for white belts to beat up on to make sure that they don’t get beat up. We also limit the beginners to three rounds in the beginner class. They go to class, they drill, and then they’re only allowed to roll three rounds at the end of that. Then we break in the advanced days and then we keep going after that. We turn them, “get out to here, three rounds that’s all you’re getting tonight”.

Sonny: Leave them one more right?

Brandon: Leave them one more and for smoke, a lot of the guys only wanted two. A lot of the new people only wanted one or they didn’t want to get out there at all. Hitting that mark, hitting three is a big deal to them. Rather than going “All right, we’re going to roll for the rest of the night, and then you go in”, “Oh, I can’t take anymore. I can’t, I don’t know if I can get a fourth-round in.” Then getting that beginner feeling like everybody’s watching me quit and walk off the mat. You don’t get the opportunity to have that feeling. We cut you off at three. When we think you’re ready to start bumping up, then we start- we don’t hold everybody there forever by any means, but some people need to be held there for a while.

Sonny: No, that’s a good way of looking at it because obviously, I’m thinking my first reaction is leave them wanting more because that’s just my mindset thinking that everyone wants to keep doing it. I wasn’t considering that. There might be people they’re scared of getting in that one round. I’m just okay, I’m happy with it.

Brandon: There might be they definitely were. I was. Man, there were times when I first started training and we had that MMA class, I didn’t know anything. I literally I was 230 pounds at that time, five feet, eight inches tall, 230 pounds. Now I’m 170, well probably a little more like 180 right now. If I’m being honest, I’ve been eating a little quarantine healthy, but when I was a big boy, I was at least 50 pounds overweight and I didn’t know anything. The first class I went to, I got the food beat out of me. They beat me to death. The next, I don’t know, man, for the next several months, it was just that it was just basically like being the new guy, just getting hammered, just crushed. Man, I would sit in my car sometimes and just be so nervous about going back inside. If I wasn’t the kind of person that I am, I liked things like that it’s not so bad, but that is weird. You gotta be flicked in the head to stay with that and most people will not get out of the car after the third or fourth time. They’ll just be like, “this is [crosstalk] I’m going to the house.”

Sonny: What I’ve certainly found is that most or a lot of the people who have been doing this for a long time or started or a bit longer ago, everyone has that mindset that they were probably going to get to black belt and keep doing it probably no matter what happened in those first classes, but yet now people are coming in and hey, they just want to work out. They just want to get fit. They’ve heard about this sport that’s getting a bit more coverage. People are talking about it. They especially heard about on Joe Rogan. That’s a big-

Brandon: Honestly, that’s helped out a lot, not just for exposure but for letting people know what they’re walking into. He goes, “Hey listen, it’s going to be hard. This little nerd is going to kick your butt and you’re going to want to quit and he’s going to break your arm and it’s a death game or death video.” Crazy but it lets people know what they’re walking into a little bit. I also find like having so much content, so much video content out on our school. It’s like people know, they kind of know us when they get there, if they’ve been a little nervous and I’ve been investigating, watching all dude, there’s so much video and so much audio of me that you can almost like know everything about my life before you even walk in. Not only that but people have seen the mat room that’s familiar to them. They know that there’s a little tiki hut over in the corner. They know there’s bleachers right there. They know that big bay door opens. They know you got to walk. You know what I’m saying? They know it’s not unfamiliar when they get there. It makes it much easier too and then they say, look, I’m not a big tattooed scary looking guy. I’m a little dorky redneck fella and I smile a lot and he’s the guy in charge, this will be okay. Then what I actually have is I have people take it not seriously enough sometimes because they’re comfortable when they come in as well. I hold on this idea, it’s not going to be as easy as you thought. I’m going to mess you up.

Sonny: It’s funny you mentioned people being like, coming in a bit out of shape. Do you have the excuse over there? The same that I hear a lot here. I’m going to come to training once I get fit enough.

Brandon: Yes, that’s ridiculous.

Sonny: That seems to be a common one.

Brandon: It’s understandable though because like for most sports, if you can like for basketball or let’s say football, if I can get in great shape to play basketball, a lot of that’s going to translate to football because we’re running or jumping and we’re exploding and we’re cutting back and forth and just light body contacts. There’s no grappling, there’s no striking, anything like that. There’s no up and down, up and down off the floor. Most sports translate to each other at least a little bit, but nothing translates to grappling and grappling don’t really translate to anything else either. Just because I can roll for like– I could roll for four hours before I had to stop, but I bet if you asked me if you asked me to run a mile, I would fall over dead.

Sonny: Yes. I hear you. I’ve been doing running during this time just to keep something up.

Brandon: I tell everybody I learned how to fight so I wouldn’t have to run no more.

Sonny: Fair-play to that.

Brandon: Fight or flight, it’s always going to be fight.

Sonny: Fairplay.What would you tell someone if they’re thinking, “I’m not going to come into class because I do want to get fit first.” What would you tell that person if they’re listening to this now? That’s what they’re thinking. “I want to try to jiu jitsu, but I’m going to get fit”. What would you say to them?

Brandon: I always encourage you to get as in shape as you can. You’re going to need every bit of it. Then when you get out of shape, you’re going to find out that it was wasted time. You should have just listened to me in the first place and sign up for class on day one. I don’t want to say it’s wasted because getting in good shape is never wasted. Right. Obviously the better shape you’re in, the more athletic potential you’re going to have when you do start getting your butt kicked but rest assured you don’t know how to use your body, you’re going to get tired. It doesn’t matter what kind of shape you’re in, if you’re in shape for running, you’re in shape for efficiency and running, but you don’t know anything about how to squeeze efficiently or how to rest and when to rest and how to breathe, get in class. That’s the only way to get in shape for grappling is to grapple.

Sonny: Nice. I like that. I hear that very loud and clear. Just one last question, I guess about keeping things fun is do you play music while you roll? Being a musician, what music do you like to listen to if you do it?

Brandon: I am a Pearl Jam man. I love Pearl Jam.

Sonny: There we go. There we go.

Brandon: I play Pearl Jam. They get sick of it. They get sick of Pearl Jam but I play Pearl Jam albums pretty much every session. I like that kind of music. I like rock. I don’t mind hip hop, but a lot of times we will have kids in our theroom and stuff and I don’t want to blast that too loud. I’m not against it but it just depends on who’s in the room. You know what I’m saying?

Sonny: I hear you, sometimes. One, I feel sorry for sometimes the students having to listen to the music I’, playing and two sometimes I will listen to lyrics and think, “Ooh, sounds a bit different when it’s just in my headphones.”

Brandon: I don’t like anything too hard though. I don’t like real hard music when I train. I like just chill stuff, man. Nothing too wild because I don’t play like a real aggressive style.

Sonny: You think that does help create that vibe in the room?

Brandon: Yes. The music definitely. Run this experiment, any of you, I dare you try to play, just play a Jackson five and music from the fifties and the sixties and your next class and watch what happens. Just watch and you tell me.

Sonny: Alright, interesting. I can’t wait to get back and give that a shot. We’ll report back and see how that goes.

Brandon: Make sure you play stuff like that everybody knows the words to and it feels like bebop-y like this and watch what happens in class. Even try with like eighties pop music or something like that and watch what happens to the class.

Sonny: Okay. I like it. I’m starting to groove out now just running that through my head.

Brandon: I know,

Sonny: [laughs] Last question would be just a bit of advice to that you could tell your white belt self back in the day if we could go back in the time machine, ghost of jiu jitsu past. What would be the one thing that you could say that you think your white belt self would benefit the most from hearing?

Brandon: Well, the thing that I would want to tell myself, I already heard when I was a white belt. You just don’t listen, but it’s like “Tap earlier or you don’t have to win at all”. That would be something that I would say I would really emphasize to myself. “You don’t have to win at all. You can’t win, and you’re not impressing anybody by how tough you’re acting. You’re not tough either. Settle down, take your L and learn what you’re supposed to learn. It’s a longer process. You don’t have to be good tomorrow.”

Sonny: I hear that. That’s good advice for sure for people to take on board.

Brandon: Well I heard all that as a white belt. I just didn’t hear it.

Sonny: That’s one of the things we’ve been talking about too is the problem of then trying to get people just to learn solely from the own mistakes that you’ve made without letting them make their own mistakes. It seems to be a hard thing. If we could just listen to every bit of advice people give us, the world would be a different place, but people have to make their own mistakes and finding out a way to allow them to do that and so they can actually take that advice because they have to make the mistake themselves to learn it which is weird.

Brandon: There’s great value in self discovery. When you come up with the answer to a problem yourself, it sticks differently. Right? It doesn’t mean that I didn’t understand it when you gave me the advice, I understood what you said, but it didn’t stick to my DNA the same way because when I had no choice but to do it this way, when this way solved the problem for me, “Look at this thing I came up with.” “Brandon, I told you that three years ago”, “well I came up with this just now”.

Sonny: Exactly. That’s something, look, maybe we can come back do this again another time. We can do it a bit more because I really enjoyed this chat and I think there’s a lot of valuable things to take away from it and thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

Brandon: It’s a pleasure for real. Thank you so much.

Sonny: B.Mac. Can I call you B.Mac now?

Brandon: Yes we’re pretty much best friends now.

Sonny: Beautiful, B.Mac. If people want to get in touch with you, I know you’ve got a great website, you’ve got some courses on there. You also got stuff with BJJ fanatics on the rubber guard that people can buy and check out. You got a bunch of courses online, people want to do those, get in touch with you. What should they do?

Brandon: Just go to Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Brandon MC.Ninja. That’s me. Just look it up. There’ll be something free right there for you and some variety on any of those channels you go to. There’s tons of free content. If you’re looking for something a little more in depth. I got four courses that are free as well and then I got paid products as well. Just start with the free stuff.

Sonny: Beautiful. I hear you got a free one on the triangle choke at the moment is that-

Brandon: I do man if you want, I’ll send you a link to where everybody- and a code to where everybody can get it and [crosstalk] I’ll put it out to them after that.

Sonny: Yes, we’ll put that in the show notes and a little link section and everyone can get on board with that. B.Mac thanks so much for your time, sir. Really appreciate it and stay safe and let’s chat again in the future.

Brandon: Sounds good, man. Thank you so much, sir.

Sonny: Thank you. Take care mate.

Brandon McCaghren on Restrictions & Wilderness on the 10th Planet