I talk to Daniele Bolelli, author, martial artist & university professor. He is the host of multiple podcasts, including the Drunken Daoist podcast and the History on Fire podcast and a frequent guest on the Joe Rogan Experience. He was a contributor to the “I Am Bruce Lee” documentary and recently covered the life of Bruce Lee in a 2 part history podcast. We discuss the teachings of Bruce Lee for martial artists and specifically how Bruce Lee used his martial arts as a vehicle for his Taoist philosophy.
Podcast Episode Transcript
Sonny Brown: Good day, Daniele. How are you today, man?
Daniele Bolelli: Good. Thanks so much for having a second chat with you here on the podcast. It should be fun.
Sonny: No problem at all. It’s my honor. The reason for this chat, I noticed you’d put out a two-part series on your podcast discussing the life and times of Bruce Lee. You’d also been in the documentary, I think it was I am Bruce Lee discussing in there. Bruce Lee is the prototypical martial artist many people aspire to emulate in lots of ways so I thought what a good opportunity just to have a discussion about him and what he means in the modern world and his legacy that he’s left for us. Probably a good way to start off is, how do you think Bruce Lee figures into your life and understanding of the martial arts?
Daniele: When you look at Bruce Lee’s philosophy there are many, many aspects about Bruce Lee’s life and legacies that are interesting. When you look at his philosophy, that’s where to me is as important as it gets. He has a fantastic example of how to apply those ideas to martial arts, but you can also see how those ideas you can apply them to everything else. That example is now being followed that much despite the fact that it seems to work so well in something that he touches on some topics that get under the skin of people, because ultimately he’s asking– If we just want to get the ball rolling and talk about what are some of those ideas, his a four-step methodology. The whole idea of research your own experience, but basically, is the whole idea of absorbing what is useful, rejecting what is useless and that being what’s specifically your own.
It seems so simple. That’s basic science. You look at the evidence, you take what works, you leave the stuff that doesn’t work and you tweak it a little. Yet, one of the things why was it so revolutionary, well, when it comes to martial arts, but many other fields in life fit the bill as well, is that people develop an attachment to a certain methodology. People are not dressed, though I practice martial arts, people are like, especially back then, they were hardcore about, “I’m a karate guy,” or, “I’m a judo guy,” or, “I’m a kung fu guy.”
That became their identity. Which, when you think about it, it’s stupid. It’s like “Why?” Take whatever works. Judo has great throws, use them. There’s some nice hands in boxing, use those as well. Instead, people became dogmatic about stuff, because ultimately it gave them a sense of belonging. It gave them a sense of membership in a community, gave them a sense of order, of clarity, of, “Our ways, the best way,” kind of thing.
Obviously, disproven by facts, because eventually when UFC put it to the test, and became, “Let’s take people from all these different style and see which one is the best.” It’s not even that jiujitsu was the right answer. It became jiujitsu was an initial right answer but at the end of the day, it became a process. It became MMA, it became you take the best from a bunch of different styles and you mix them together in the way that works best and then each practitioner adopts it a little bit to their physic, to their personality, to their ideas and that’s what delivers the greatest results. Why don’t we do that with religions? Why don’t we do that with philosophies? Why don’t we do that with politics? Because you see the same thing in all those fields. People are, “I am–” Fill in the blank, whatever label they apply to themself. “I belong, I’m leftist, whatever.” “I’m a conservative, whatever.” “I belong to this religion.”
It’s like, look, every system works some of the time and no system works all of the time. Why would you choose to limit yourself and not use all the tools in your belt when at the end of the day it’s about getting the job done? It’s about what is that delivers the greatest results. I think I know why, because unlike with martial arts where the physical practice forces you to acknowledge the results, you can only say so many times that your style is the best one if you get knocked and if somebody drives a knee through your skull 15 times and after 15 fights you’re like, “Maybe your approach is not the best one. I think it has been empirically proven enough times.” With ideas, people can always talk, people can spin the worst outcome into, “No, really. That was not so bad because the real thing hasn’t been tried or whatever.” That’s the problem that they never have to face the music of dealing with the outcome and they are too emotionally invested into that one ideology, that one dogma, that one thing that makes up their identity.
Sonny: The stakes of martial arts dogma and then in terms of other types of dogma is probably a lot lower, especially with the training of different styles. This is a life and death context of training which, I guess, does raise the stakes there. If you’re talking about personal safety, but for the most part, I guess, that’s not what was really being pushed forward by Bruce when he was pushing it forward. He gave a speech, or was in his book, when after the old guard of traditional martial arts, it was really just for not being effective and not testing that stuff, right?
Daniele: Yes. There was even an article, a fantastic article by the way, that he wrote for a black belt magazine called Liberate Yourself From Classical Karate. In just a few pages, he really sums up some of the key elements of his philosophy and is spot on. I think, again, the difference there is– yes, you’re right. People are not as invested in a martial art as they are in a religion or their philosophy of life or whatever, but they are still pretty invested. The only way that people have abandoned it is by being forced to stare at the results in a way that the beauty of martial art is that the outcome is rarely too ambiguous. You can go in, you can test it. If you lost maybe you can make an excuse once and then you try again and you get your ass kicked again. Then you do again and after a while is like, “It clearly doesn’t work.”
Whatever it is that you’re doing is not working. People are like, “I guess, I’m tired of getting my face rearranged. I should be open to other ideas that seem to work for other people.” Martial art forces you to do that because the results are so objective. Most other fields of life, not that clear-cut. I think that’s one of the huge appeals of sport in general and competition is that you get outcomes that there is always the time when you say, “Oh, this guy really won the fight and he got screwed over by the judges.” There’s always some ambiguity but so much less than in pretty much any other field. Sport has this beautiful simplicity. That you get the results and in many cases, you can’t really argue with them.
Sonny: Yes, that’s a good way of putting it. There’s still some ambiguity, but just a lot less than other sports because even Conor McGregor, his submission losses don’t really count, the decision losses. I don’t really like count guys. It’s the knockouts that are the only ones that count which, of course, I think to onlookers, it’s still on the scoreboard.
Daniele: Yes. nobody takes that seriously.
Sonny: Exactly. He had some not like notable fights because there’s always been some discussion about his fighting ability itself. There was one that happened.
Sonny: It was behind closed doors that did actually get spun from– Was there a bit of spin on both sides or is it just only the people who were there that really knew?
Daniele: It wasn’t on video. You will have the people who were there. Of course, when you have two sides and they are the only ones there, they are going to tweak it in the way that’s most favorable to them. It’s pretty clear he didn’t lose it. He probably won it in a way that was less than satisfying. It was probably sounded like a crappy fight where neither one did particularly well.
Bruce Lee really ended up feeling very disappointed, feeling like, “Man, I should have been able to take care of this so much easier, so much faster.” It really forced him to re-tweak his approach to martial arts. That’s when he started going further into abandoning Wing Chun and developing his idea of JKD and embrace even more than he was already doing which he was already doing some but even more so embracing cross-training, including working on his stamina, working cardio, doing all these other things that were important to him. I think it was an important fight in his life that really helped him shape his perception of things. As far as his skill, the general opinion by pretty much anybody will come in to train with him, including really high-level guys is that he was very skilled, but at the same time, who cares?
He could have been awful. It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things because he’s like, what’s the legacy? The legacy is that he came up with brilliant ideas that have revolutionized most people’s approach to martial arts that in some way planted even the seeds for things like UFC that really had a big impact. From where I’m standing, the evidence seem to say that he was a very skilled martial artist. This is not to say. Today, when everybody’s training the same in MMA, the greatest guy in the world is not the greatest guy in the world two years later. and suddenly …
Any of this obsession about the greatest whatever is bullshit, anyway. It doesn’t matter. It’s like, he was a guy who knew his stuff. He was good for the time, he was probably really good. For today, probably, he would have lacked a lot of things that are important, particularly in the grappling department. He was a good guy. He was a skilled guy. I was skilled, who cares? That’s beside the point. To me, the main focus should be on the ideas.
Sonny: Yes, especially the best person in the world changes week to week, really. No one can hold the titles for that long, exception GSP, I guess. He’s got to be there.
Daniele: Bowing at G.S.P’s Name!
Sonny: With those ideas, he did a lot of writing that I’ve familiarized myself with portions of it over the last couple of years because there just seems to be more and more– As I dig, all these letters, I just even discovered this or a whole series of books of letters that he’d written. Does that go then deeper into other areas of his application of that into the rest of his life or is he mainly just focusing on breaking those traditions of martial arts? Was he able to see that fulfilled in his life, do you think?
Daniele: I think there are two separate tracks there. The one level where yes, he did, is, in some way, his identity that was a global one. It wasn’t a Chinese one. It wasn’t an American one. He invented his identity as he went. He was not even full-blooded Chinese and he got a lot of shit for it back in Hong Kong. At the same time, he dealt with a lot of racism in US, they reinforced the Chinese side. He embraced this idea of, “I’m an individual who’s willing, able, and happy to pick a move between cultures. I don’t feel that I have to be stuck to one culture alone or I have to obey the dictates or I have to discriminate against any culture.”
He had this very open-minded, non-racist, and very fluid approach to ethnic identity which I think is great. That’s another one of those dogmas where people get really stuck on whether it’s ethnic pride or national pride or something where, “The way we do things is the right way.” He seemed always– Take from any source across the globe you can find that helps you. Now, of course, that methodology could turn out terrible in the hands of somebody who’s bad at it. You grab somebody who’s going to mix and match ingredients without a full understanding of all the things and you can come up with horrendous crap. Somebody else come up with strokes of genius.
The methodology is good, the idea is good, the result, of course, is not guaranteed because it depends on the talent of the person actually employing that approach. I think in that regard, that approach translated to his life. In other ways, I think he died way too young to be able to tell. His life was such a crazy meteoric rise from showing up in US with very little money in his pocket to suddenly becoming the most famous martial artist and one of the biggest actors in the world in the space of just a few years. I think he just did not even have the time to process it. Especially when you look at his success, there really had been on a two-year period, just the last two years of his life. That’s it.
From a financial standpoint, the money hadn’t even fully come in for him. He wasn’t even seeing the result of the work that he was doing that was extraordinary. He wasn’t quite there yet. Money usually arrives fairly quickly if you had tremendous success. That tells you how weak the whole process was. One of the things that I noticed when doing this series that I never picked up on earlier when looking at the Bruce Lee story, something that I never realized was his relationship with success and how he struggled with it. This is not news. Most people who achieve incredible success will have struggles with it which, of course, infuriates anybody who’s not as successful at them.
It’s like, “What do you mean?” Real hard to be adored by millions of fans and making a bunch of money and being– The fact is, in his case, there are several passages in his writings where he said the fact that his quality of life had gone dramatically down since his success. He didn’t know who to trust anymore because everybody wanted something from him. He did not know if that success was going to last. He felt pressure to say yes to everything, any project, anything he had to strike the iron while it was hot. He felt his need of grinding, grinding, grinding, working super hard, never taking a break which in some ways probably is the stuff that set up for his downfall.
While there are all sorts of theories his death, the allergy to medication, this and the other, there’s no argument that he was way overworked. He had lost a whole lot of weight on a guy who was already at barely any body fat, to begin with. Was just working himself ragged because he was just working crazy hours. In Hong Kong, he was working like a dog, morning to night, he never minded the emotional pressure that he was feeling. I think that definitely did not help him. He didn’t have the time to metabolize the success and come to terms with it and set boundaries so that he could still have a good life and take breaks and feed self, recuperate energy, feed his spirit, and go back to doing what he was doing. It was all happening too quickly. He was just caught into the rush of it all.
Sonny: Perhaps, when we’re talking about the benefit of martial arts is being able to get that instant feedback and your instant results. That level of success and not being able to trust people and having the world perhaps somewhat distorted to the truth of the feedback that you’re getting then would be playing a difficult role for him to interpret it?
Daniele: For sure. It’s even worse when people are younger than him. He was young, but not as young. When you look at how many child stars have come out really well adjusted, it’s like you need to be really mature and have lots of help around you and have time to come to terms with it because their level of success comes with a tremendous level of pressure. Whereas when you have a little niche following, people love you, when you go big, you’re going to have a bunch of people who hate your guts. Suddenly, you’re going to find crazy things said about you that may not be true at all being spread left and right.
You have to deal with all this accusation. You have to deal with people suing you because they want money. There’s a lot of stress that go with that stuff that if you don’t have somebody who know how to handle all that stuff, who can shield you from some of it, if it’s happening all at once and you never even envision that that could happen or at least couldn’t happen that quick, it’s too much. Mess you up.
I’ve seen even people, people I know who have achieved ridiculous success and there’s something about them even when they handle it well, where on a personal level, there’s a part of them that’s always guarded. There’s a part of them where there’s the field in front because they have to shake hands with so many people every day and every single day, everybody, including their friends really deep down want something from them because they know that if they do something, they can open doors that could change their life. Everyone is like, “Oh, you know, I like him, he’s my friend, but I also want this thing from him.”
In every interaction, you have to deal with that stuff. That’s heavy because you don’t know who to trust anymore. You don’t know who you can just be you and should the shit and relax with and instead, you have to constantly deal with people’s expectations and everybody thinking that meeting you is going to change their lives and it’s just like, “Ah, man, that’s a lot.”
Sonny: Yes, that’s a difficult one to process, I guess, especially if he spent so long moving to America and to make it to that point and has that strong philosophical backing and purpose to live to then have that distortion and the fame perhaps clashes really then I guess, with what he was trying to do, but a necessary part to spread at the message.
Daniele: Yes, for sure. It’s important to learn how to deal with success because there are opportunities that come with it. There’s a reason why you got there in the first place is you wanted it and you wanted it for good reasons, but we often, when you don’t have it, you tend to see the good stuff and you forget all the baggage that comes with it. I think it’s something I mention in the podcast when I did about him. I had a micro version because, of course, you don’t compare my experience to Bruce Lee’s experience.
We’re talking about such levels of magnitude of difference that it’s not even funny, but in my experience, I noticed when I achieve the most success I ever read, I would wake up in the morning, work like a dog, never have time to do anything for me and suddenly you look at yourself and you look like the stereotype of every asshole father in every other movie was too busy to play with his kids and too busy to pay attention to the people you love and too busy to eat well, and you’re like, “Wait, is this success? This sucks. This is not success, this is me being an idiot. This is me ruining–” I’m like a hamster on a wheel and just running around and doing these things saying, “Can’t you see how successful I am?”
And he’s like, “No, that’s not success.” [chuckles] It’s contradictory because the thing that made successful was that ability to grind, that hard work, that crazy work ethic, that ability to push, but then when you have it, you also need to learn how to let the foot off the accelerator a little and say, “Great that I did it,” pat on the back, but remember, this is a marathon, this is not a sprint, you need to last through this. [chuckles] It’s not just getting there, it’s also staying through it for a long time and that’s not an easy skill. It really is the opposite of what allow you to get there in the first place.
Sonny: That’s definitely a tricky one, I guess, just finding that balance of how you’re going to make it work. I know Bruce was big on setting goals or at least he’d written out a lot of his major goals that he’d want to achieve during his lifetime. Is that something that’s shown up more in his writings? Any affirmations or things like that?
Daniele: Big time, he was huge on that stuff. He really believe in this idea of keeping a journal, writing it down, putting it into words, saving it there and he did the impossible. He set for himself crazy goals and he actually from most of them in a really short period of time, there was that other side to it. No wonder he did the right, but he didn’t have the time to do it. How to integrate all this in an actually more harmonious life, in a happy sustainable life.
He did achieve check the boxes of making X money, achieve this fame, or do this and that. The other part of being able to actually have a good life connected with his wasn’t there yet. Maybe he would’ve. Maybe he lived longer, maybe he would’ve figured it out and would’ve been just a bump in the road of getting adjusted, and maybe he would’ve figured out a great way to deal with it. He didn’t have the time to do it.
Sonny: That’s a heavy one to think about then if perhaps maybe the order can be reversed on that. If things had turned out differently of which one comes first or could just be a chicken in the egg type situation, right?
Daniele: It’s hard, it’s really a balancing. Think about in very practical terms about martial arts, how do people get really good in martial arts? They work really hard, they push themselves to the limit. Sometimes they push a little past the limit, but if you do that forever and always you have the foot on the accelerator and push harder, work out harder, lift harder, put in three times a day kind of thing, you’re going to burn out eventually. It’s like, you are going to get great in a shorter time than other people, but it’s not sustainable forever. You cannot train like that for your entire life.
Sonny: Sometimes I think the portion of its philosophy of adding what’s uniquely your own, sometimes maybe I’ll add a couple of rest days that are uniquely my own in there. Maybe a few too many here and there. [chuckles]
Daniele: I think that allows you to practice until you’re 80, whereas the other approach– I was chatting with somebody today and we were talking about wrestling and saying, isn’t it tricky that wrestling is people do it as kids? People, if they’re really good, they compete in college, but there are very, very few places where, as an adult, you can go and train wrestling as an adult. You train it as part of jiujitsu, you train it maybe as judo, you train it as straight-up wrestling.
The stuff that makes wrestlers phenomenal is that they have this insane endurance disability to push through things that most everybody would’ve taught by then and somehow they come out the other end, okay, in semi one piece and it’s this crazy willpower drive harder, harder, faster kind of thing, but then nobody does as an adult. People do it on the side, but they switch their practice to something a little more mellow because you cannot train like that for the rest of your year. You can do it when you’re 18, you can do it maybe in your 20s, but after that, you’re going to be broken all the time.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. One thing I wonder with that is the way that it is set up in America of being through school systems and being available to every school anywhere, I know it’s not in every school over there then perhaps not having then the financial incentives for business owners to do that when four people who are graduating or something like that to keep it going, is there–
Daniele: For sure, but even the people who are great wrestlers, half of the time they end up either going into judo, going into Jiujutsu because they still want to grapple and they’re going to be great at it because they have all these maths sense and balance and skills, but training the way they did when they were 18, when they are 45 and they have a job and they have to deal with them, the reality is that y’all going to be great one day. You’re going to be great the second day and next week you’re injured for the next six months and don’t get me wrong. Of course, not everybody.
Some people manage to still train high-level wrestling for the rest of their life, but it’s such the energy behind wrestling. What makes it successful, tend to be so intense, so punishing on the body that it’s not the easiest thing to be able to keep training that way for the rest of your life. Even lifting weights or anything really is like there’s stuff that well, no pain gain approach works in the full term. Tend not to work very well as you age.
Sonny: Yes, that’s for sure. Pain is is a message from the body that something’s going wrong so you got to respect that at some point. That brings up a point then of how we know about Bruce Lee and his training methods because you mentioned that he did get into obviously physical fitness, I’ve seen his stretching routine and he obviously was a physical specimen. What do we know about how he was putting his training together in a practical sense and what he was doing for recovery as well?
Daniele: There’s a lot of stuff out there were some of the books you mention, they have books of letters, they have books about, they’re going to his daily routine. The problem is his daily routine change all the time because he was experimenting with things and learning new things. His daily routine in 1969 was different from 1971 and he was a guy who was enamored with experimentation. He was trying a million things from nutrition to actual lifting weights, everybody has an idea and they’re probably right for a period of his life, but it’s hard to generalize long-term because I don’t think there was a long-term yet in that regard. I think he was stealing this process of figuring it out as he went.
Sonny: Do you think then reflecting on my own question it’s probably missing the point then to try and look at the actual specifics of what he was doing rather than the methodology he was applying as a whole?
Daniele: The specifics are interesting and if you can catch a piece of information that like, huh, that’s interesting, maybe it works in experiment, but I think that’s as far as it goes. For the most part, I think the information that we have today about most athletes are great, we have access to tremendous amount of information. You may run into something that nobody’s doing today that like, “Oh, that’s actually interesting and shows promise,” but probably not a whole lot because realistically a lot of these things have been developed by other people over time.
Sonny: Part of that experimentation would’ve been applying the same philosophy of trying things, seeing what works, rejecting what doesn’t. Obviously, his upbringing would’ve played that role, but what would’ve really been the driving force behind him developing that? What was the foundation of it?
Daniele: When you read about his biography, he seems to have been born different by other people. His energy level was different from other people’s. His siblings say that he would just– Most kids move through the night. He just was a furnace. He was just constantly burning with energy. One of his nicknames, when he was a kid, was this kid that he couldn’t sit still, that he was in constant motion. He was hyperactive to the 10th power.
He has this vitality that was this very explosive, very go out there, do things, jump, try this, do this other thing, could not be contained kind of feeling. I think that’s a lot at the root of his personality. There was no going slow with him. He was like 120 miles an hour all the time in everything he did. I think in some way, there’s almost a genetic element there where he was born that way. Other people in his family weren’t.
It was both his personality, it was his physique, it was his energy. Who the hell knows what those things– the soul?. I don’t know, but it’s something that was uniquely his that’s just constantly driving him forward and constantly making him try things. This use of energy in a way that most people would run out quickly or be like, “Oh, man. Slow down a second.” They’re like, “No, I don’t have that much energy to do 10,000 steps.” He had it. Now, he had it, he also died at 32, so maybe he had to because he went through energy the way that maybe slowing down a little wouldn’t have been a bad idea. That was definitely part of who he was.
Sonny: He would’ve been facing then the limits of different people’s dogmas and ideology in a much faster rate than of what everyone else was experiencing if he’s learning kung fu. While that might then obviously take people a lot longer to press up against the limits, he was probably meeting those limits almost immediately, right?
Daniele: Yes. That’s where I think he’s so big on Daoism. So much of his philosophy is based on Daoism. One thing that clearly wasn’t quite there that is huge in Daoism is balance. He’s using more energy, less in your face flex muscle, and run at top speed and more fluidity, almost tai-chi-like in terms of energy.
I think that’s something that for somebody who was so good at that other side of the game, that’s probably something that investing more time and energy into things that for him may have given him stuff like meditation or stuff like do tai chi for a change, just do form, work on your breath, work on not doing anything, work on sitting on the beach for a month and just relaxing and seeing what that feels like. I don’t know that he ever had the chance to do something like that, both because his life worked out a certain way, but also because his energy was–
What would it be like if you’re not trying to do 10 million things every day and climbing a mountain and running 20 miles, and just sit there, just listen to the waves. What would happen at that point? I think there’s something interesting in terms of– Many people are lazy by nature and you need to start a fire under their ass to motivate them and get them going, but then there are also people who are the opposite, who are so self-motivated, so driven, so push, push, push that they need to learn to mellow out, where it’s important for them.
They’re already good at that stuff, learn the other stuff. Learn how to take a deep breath and do nothing and just sit in your garden for a while. I think it’s something that we all deal with. Just our personalities. Everybody is tilting more one way than another. Whatever you’re good at, that’s great, keep doing it, but learn the other stuff because it may give you that balance that ultimately helps you in life.
Sonny: That’s a very interesting point then, because it seems like in the martial arts world, everyone– Like cross-training is now commonplace. There’s MMAs taken from every style that works, that process is still ongoing, but it does seem then that the other part of finding that balance of everything, still, that’s a constant problem for everyone no matter what side of that spectrum that you fall in, right?
Daniele: Yes. Even I’m talking all this game like I know what I’m talking about. I suck at it like everybody else. There are 10 million things where I know exactly I should balance it out. Being able to do it is not the easiest thing. I think having the self-awareness of where you’re lacking is big. You’re not going to become amazing at what you’re not built for naturally, but if you can tweak it even 10%, if you’re a really driven person and you learn how to mellow out just a little bit, it’s going to go a long way.
Vice versa. If you’re a nice, mellow, happy person, but you don’t get stuff done very much, learning a little bit of assertiveness, a little bit of pushing, and being able to handle the grind is going to help you a bunch. Nobody asked you to become something you’re not and to just completely flip your personality. It’s not even physically possible. Just tweak it a little.
Sonny: As you’re saying it, I’m thinking, “I should probably get back to the meditation schedule a bit more now. I have to drink a bit more water today.” It’s obviously just a constant struggle or process either way you want to put it, really. Was then that form of Daoism, that part of the philosophy then guided that experience of martial arts, and then that is the underlying principles that really makes up the bulk of this philosophy, and the martial arts was just how he was putting it in action?
Daniele: 100%. I think so much of his philosophy is just straight up Daoism, however, creatively applied to the context of the 1960s, so it has a sort of anti-authoritarian bands. Daoism already has, but he takes it three steps further. He’s perfectly adapted to the context of the ’60s and the martial art world and then moviemaking. He took something that in some way is like, “Well, he’s not creating anything new. This stuff has been around 2,000-plus years.” Yes, but he’s able to adapt it in a very novel way to a unique context about when he was alive. I think that was his stroke of genius. He’s just out to take this source material and make it relevant and applicable in 1960s United States.
Sonny: What a way to promote it or make it spread that message then worldwide and for many decades so far. Then, Hollywood and movies and the massive martial arts world at the time. Probably no better vehicle, really.
Daniele: In fact its brilliant that way. When people are like, “Well, he didn’t really create anything new,” it’s like, “No, he didn’t, but few people do.” Most of the time, it’s how you’re able to adapt something that has been done before, and in the process of adapting, it kind of becomes new.
Sonny: We talked about the difficulties of success and how that impacted him. It does seem somewhat counterintuitive to have a Daoist philosophy and be seeking that Hollywood movies, right? Is there room for that in there?
Daniele: I think it’s contradictory just the way his personality was, that if you want to conceive it in Daoist terms, his personality was purely yang. Drive, drive, drive harder, faster kind of thing. Daoism tends to emphasize the more subtle approach, the more flexible approach, the more yielding approach. His personality and Daoism, in some way, did not click at all, and Hollywood even less so, but he made it work in some way.
He did bring some of these ideas to public consciousness in a way that nobody had done at the time because nobody had been in that position to make it happen. He was able to apply them to the martial arts. Despite some of his limitations, he just did a phenomenal job with those things, and in many ways, I think made some of those concepts household names much more than they would’ve been otherwise.
Sonny: If we look then in terms of Daoism, is there part of what Bruce Lee was pushing forward that have perhaps been overlooked that could be more applicable in terms of the wider world and not just martial arts, or is there things that basically the generally public may be missing when they look at Bruce Lee that you think could be of value?
Daniele: I really think that that approach to look at something else. Really, you can point to anything, but use an example that’s easy because everybody’s bombarded with that stuff all the time. Think about politics. In politics, people almost unfailingly, you can tell what somebody’s going to feel over a whole list of issues based on any one issue. Like if I know how you feel about abortion, I know how you feel about global warming and how you feel about masks. I know how you feel about–
Why is that? Because you are not really thinking about each issue, you are embracing the party line of whichever side you follow and you are going to buy the whole playbook on this is what we believe about issue A, B, C, D, and E. What does that tell you? That as an individual, you’re not really making an individual decision. You’re just putting on some clothes and embracing that identity. Then you’re embodying that identity. That’s exactly what Bruce Lee would say is just damn stupid. It’s like, “Why would you trade your individuality? Why don’t you just look at what works?”
If you think that what works can be found in any one ideology, well, then you’re delusional because that’s not how life works. It’s like that you are never going to find– This is not to say that all ideologies are on the same playing field. Some are clearly better than others. They have a better track record historically, but the reality is that you’re going to find elements that are valuable in a bunch of different places. Rather than having this discussion between left-wing, right-wing, capitalist, socialist, or that thing, how about we figure out what’s the right balance to solve this one issue.
Not in the abstract, not in general because the thing is, tomorrow, with a different issue, we’re going to have to tweak that balance. Let’s say the capitalist, socialist balance, we went 80-20 on this issue and they worked, tomorrow may be 50-50 or maybe 80-20 the other way, or it may be– What’s the problem with that? It requires people to actually think on their feet, to not be yelling slogans, but instead to carefully weigh the evidence and tweak it and adapt it and magically do the work. That’s hard.
It’s so much easier to just yell the slogan off your side and automatically 50% of the people are going to waive the flag behind you and say, “Yes, you’re right. That’s the way to go.” Even though none of those things help solve any real problem or improve anybody’s life. Again, it’s an identity game rather than being something that leads to practical solutions. I’m interested in practical solutions.
I don’t give a crap where the solutions comes from. I don’t care what ideology belongs to or what anything is like. Is this problem getting solved? Is the lives of people touched by this problem improved as a result of what we do? Yes, I like it. I’m sold. Call it whatever you want. I don’t even feel the need to– Whether it’s politically, philosophically, religiously, however you want to conceive it, I don’t care for the labels.
I’m interested in the outcome. I feel that it’s … like who wouldn’t? If we’re talking about solving problems and improving people’s lives, the obvious solution is, “Let’s tweak the approach in a way that deliver those results.” Pretty straightforward. You’re not talking anything wilder and yet hardly anybody does it. There’s a line in the data sheet that’s actually pretty funny where it goes like, “My way is very easy to understand and very easy to practice, but nobody understand it and nobody practice it.” [laughs] I’m like, “It’s unfortunately applicable there because it’s so obvious and yet nobody does it. Maybe it’s not so obvious.” I think that’s what Lee did with martial arts.
When he did go out and say, “Screw your styles.” Styles are prisons. They are good if they are flexible. They are good if you can stick to a style, but also learn from other things, but not if you devote your individuality to one style. Screw the styles, just become the best martial artist you can be across from styles. He was able to push that just because the evidence has shown that crosstraining makes better fighters. That’s just how it is. With ideas, again, because nobody will admit defeat. Commune was actually a great idea is just the real communism hasn’t been tried. How many times do we have to go through the same thing before we say that maybe there are some problems with the ideas?
That’s the problem with ideas. Nobody ever admits defeat for their side. Rather than saying, “You know what? That didn’t work. There’s still a good idea on what I’m thinking, but maybe I need to lose 70% of it and just focus on that one nugget.” He’s like, “No, we were right. Forget the evidence. The evidence is lying. Reality is an illusion. It’s all in my head because I want to believe it.” That would make the world a much better place rather quickly if people stopped wearing ideological hats and wanting to stick to them at all cost and instead focus on the staff that actually works.
Sonny: That really makes me think then, because one of the issues of speaking with someone who already has their mind made up and there’s no changing it no matter what, then it’s very difficult to persuade them with the idea of, “Hey, perhaps–” Just that notion of, “Hey, yes, maybe you’re right in some things, but perhaps not in others.” What could be seen as a reasonable idea doesn’t come across as very persuasive because it’s sitting on the fence or not having that strong way to convince them. Isn’t then part of that Bruce Lee’s legacy is how he was able to forcefully present that ideology to the world?
Daniele: 100%. I think that the unfortunate aspect that he was able to do it in one field. Well, it’s already huge. It’s more than most people will ever do in their life. He was able to apply to one field in a very clear, convincing way. It would be nice if it could be extended to a bunch of other fields of experience in life. Clearly easier said than done.
Sonny: Yes. Very much easier said than done. It is really part of the human condition that it’s dealing with and who knows where things will be going because it seems to be ramping up more and more as the years go on.
Daniele: I get it. I think I know where it comes from, his life is scary. The universe is a scary place. You can play all your cards well and horrible things happen anyway. We don’t know crap about where we come from, where we’re going. We are just being alive as human beings, involves so much existential anxiety and worry and concern and fear because you don’t control the outcome of major things happening around you all the time.
Of course, people are going to, when they find something that they think works, they’re going to cling to it to death, even when it stops working in real life because it’s their anchor. In their mind, it’s the thing that keeps them safe in an unsafe world. Of course, they’re going to like it. Of course, there’s stuff that people don’t want to give up because it’s the one thing that allowed them to make sense of the world and feel safe in it.
Sonny: Yes. I hear that because that ambiguity in the world is very scary at times, especially with the ability to, in an instant, see what’s all the bad things that are going on all around the world just delivered to you as soon as you wake up in the morning. It can be intimidating. It’s sometimes best to try and block some of that stuff out, but that has made me think then of your book, which was the basis of choosing your own religion, taking the parts from what you wanted to put together. I guess that is based then on the same way of thinking and mindset, yes?
Daniele: To me, that’s life. While I understand why people will cling to an ideology at all costs to the one thing that informs their identity, I think that if you manage not to be 100% ruled by fear, people sometimes feel that unless you take this very strong, hard stance going one way, you are wishy-washy, and you are not, the reality is that while you’re a 100% right, that’s the perception, the reality is the exact opposite.
That’s the coward way out to just take this stance because it makes you feel good, despite the fact it only works 20% of the time and you’re going to automatically apply it 100% of the time because you’re afraid to look. You’re afraid to find out that your ideas yesterday don’t work so well today, because you’re afraid– Real courage to me is found in to putting all your beliefs to the test every single day and being ready to change them at the drop of a dime. That to me takes serious strength. That ability to be flexible, paradoxically, is what real strength is.
Sonny: Yes. That’s a hard one to get the head around sometimes because it’s certainly not the perception as such. One thing Bruce Lee was able to do it with his art, I think, if you look at it as martial arts, as an art form, it gives a pathway of being able to do that because art is supposed to make people think, entice them, perhaps cause confusion or just– It’s supposed to elicit a range of emotions that can then perhaps change the logical side of how people are thinking. I think he really used martial arts as an art form for a catalyst for change really.
Daniele: 100%. That’s why he embodied those ideas and those principles applying them to the martial arts, but the martial arts are just one vehicle. You could do it with anything else. That’s the Zen idea, which in some ways, Zen Buddhism always are extremely similar. There are plenty of similarities there. The Zen idea there is that all forms of art are vehicles to embody certain ideas, certain teachings that then can be applied to that one particular field. It goes back to the Miyamoto Musashi idea. You learn how to master the sword and you learn how to master everything else. On the surface, it looks like a weird statement. It’s like, no, you just learn how to master the sword. There’s nothing to do with everything else.
It’s like, yes, maybe if you only learn the technique, yes, you only learn how to master the sword, but if you learn the principles behind it. guess what? The principle that can make you a great swordman are the same one that can make you great at anything else in life because that’s just the language of life as a whole. The specific field may be different, but the principles behind it are not. I think that’s kind of where it’s at with this concept that all art forms are nothing but particular forms to embody more universal principles.
Sonny: That does then make me think of how in the modern world where martial arts sees itself placed in terms of we look very strongly to the prizefighting aspect and that kind of promotional side, which has driven martial arts so far yet when we think of Bruce Lee, when we talk about it a lot, it’s really the traditional martial arts still harken back and in some ways, I guess, even though he was against traditional martial arts at the time, it’s come around full circle, perhaps?
Daniele: Precisely because the shape it takes doesn’t really matter in some way. I think you can do the same thing with MMA. You can do the same thing with combat sports. Sometime the facade or spirituality and teaching that you got. In some, traditional martial arts is real. In some, traditional martial arts is purely a facade. It’s like some guy who never really trained a harder in his life, spouting philosophical Maxis, pretending that he’s teaching about life, where he’s not really teaching about life or an effective martial arts either.
Whereas some guy you go to a boxing gym and some dude who may have never read a book in his life, but is really smart, really sensitive and he’s able to use his boxing stuff to teach people something that’s more than just boxing. Actually, there’s a way of life behind it and there’s principles behind it. To me, the art itself doesn’t matter, is the spirit of the person teaching, the intention behind it, the energy that they bring to the table can change everything. You can do that with MMA. You can do that with boxing. You can do that with any combat sport.
Sonny: I guess that way of thinking can be done through anything just with the intention, the energy, and the mindset that you bring behind it. It doesn’t even need to be spelled out logically. It is an emotional way of operating in the world that then influences others?
Daniele: Yes, you can teach the stuff that people talk about traditional martial arts. Respect and discipline, and you can teach that through the wildest combat sport. You can still do that if that’s how you decide to approach it and that’s how you decide to teach it, but of course, usually does not tend to attract that kind of crowd, so that’s why it becomes the stereotype of why it’s not that way typically, but it doesn’t have to be.
You hear all the time, this thing, martial arts, make you better people. No, of course, they don’t. However, some particular teacher in that particular school can teach things in a way that apply to more than martial arts and can be more about life. Then you’re going to have 10 more people who try to do the same thing and fail miserably and it’s like, [laughs] “You should have just taught me martial arts because it would’ve been better off.” The goal is there, the intention is good, some people will pull it off, some people won’t. That’s how it works.
Sonny: I guess that way of thinking it’s not just martial arts, someone teaching martial arts that could do that or practicing, it is someone who you’re working with as a bricklayer or a laborer or any profession could have that same way?
Daniele: 100%. It’s really the individual behind it and what they belief. There are some people that you hang around with them and you listen to them read the phone book because they just have that energy that everything they touch, they bring something good that’s valuable about life.
Sonny: Yes, although I think that in professional jobs with KPI reports or some administration managerial positions may not be able to. [laughs]
Daniele: Some fields is 100% easier than others. While theoretically, you can apply it in everything, it’s a lot easier in some contexts than others for sure.
Sonny: Actually, I just thought, have you seen the movie Office Space?
Daniele: No, I haven’t.
Sonny: I won’t go into it then, but it really does seem fitting in that regard where there is a guy working in the office who perhaps is dealing with that. Then I guess to finish up for people wanting to look into then the works of Bruce Lee and what would be the best way to take his teachings. Obviously, you’ve got the great two-part series out, but should they go into Bruce Lee or just jump into Daoism, what’s your thoughts on that?
Sonny: I think the great start is, you can probably google it and I’m sure it’s going to pop up on some site. Just even read one article. I don’t even know, it’s like 4, 5, 6 pages, something really short. Just liberate yourself from classical karate. There was really a perfect summary of his approach to the whole thing that he wrote for Black Belt Magazine. You don’t even have to read a full book. You read a few pages and you really capture a lot of his ideas and then you see if it resonates with you. It’s like, “Okay, I want to hear more about it.”
Then you look at Bruce Lee’s other writings. Then maybe you start looking at these things that Bruce Lee was reading that was informing him. A huge thing was listening to Alan Watts. Alan Watts was huge for Bruce Lee. He read his books and clearly, they influenced tremendously the way he presents his ideas. There were some ideas he borrow from Krishnamurti who was very about refusing to follow a guru, refusing to follow a single methodology and is very anti-authoritarian band or you look at different Daoist writings what’s out there that catches your eye. I think that’s probably a safe way to start.
Sonny: I love it. Alan Watts, I’ve listened to fair few of his lectures on YouTube and it’s good stuff I’ll say that. It’s stuff that make you think. If people are listening to that, the applications in the world say someone wants to start tomorrow, take parts of those philosophies. What’s like one simple thing that perhaps someone could do?
Daniele: A real simple one, take all your beliefs and throw them in the trash.
Sonny: I love it.
Daniele: Real simple.
Sonny: See what happens, I guess?
Daniele: Yes. That approach life without all these preconceived ideas.
Sonny: That’s beautiful. That’s a good spot to finish up, Daniele. I really appreciate you giving me your time today. I’m very thankful and grateful for the opportunity to talk to you. If people want to get in touch, what’s the best way to do it. I know you’ve got the books and the podcast.
Daniele: Yes, I think that’s probably the easy stuff. I have a couple of podcasts out, History On Fire, even to some History On Fire episodes are behind the paywall. The majority can still be found all over the place for free, do a more chatty podcast , The Drunken Daoist s ome times and that one is like. I range all over the place in terms of topics, I have a few books out, so whatever strikes your fancy.
Sonny: Awesome. Well, I really appreciate it and you have a great day.
I talk to Priit Mihkelson, A Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt From Estonia and founder of Defensive BJJ. Priit always has a lot of interesting takes on the teaching, training & traditions of Jiu-Jitsu and after recently relocating his school I took the chance to ask him about his thoughts on belt rankings. We have a great conversation about how he has applied them to his Defensive BJJ system and set up his new school. We then move on to the use of hierarchy & titles like Professor and Master and their place in Jiu-Jitsu
In this episode, The Sonny Brown Breakdown Podcast, I talk to Erin Herle. Erin is a jiu-jitsu black belt and also the founder of #submitthestigma. #submitthestigma is a mental health advocacy group in combat sports.
We discuss the work that #submitthestigma does and the interplay, boundaries, and roles that Jiu-Jitsu training can play in mental health, the mental side of the competition, and fighting. We also discussed ways to become confident, have a strong sense of self-belief, and how to build beneficial connections with training partners through communication.
Erin also shares her own Jiu-Jitsu competition experience and how that has affected her and her transition into MMA.
We also dive into heavier topics like depression and suicide and why Jiu-Jitsu shouldn’t be seen as a replacement for therapy.
“A boundary is not just about the self. A boundary affects other people too. And where you put that boundary could either create growth or stifle growth.”
[00:00] – Introduction to Episode 045 [03:44] – Erin’s Background in MMA and Jiu-Jitsu [06:16] – Why She Used # In the Name of Submit The Stigma [10:20] – What Caused Her to Start #Submitthestigma? [14:25] – How Is Mental Health Synonymous With Sports? [18:04] – Professional Athlete in Jiu-Jitsu Is Just a Mindset [21:54] – How Confidence Can Overpower Techniques [24:50] – How a Psychiatrist or Psychologist Is Going to Help You? [27:08] – How Does Jiu-Jitsu Help You Mentally? [28:21] – How Does Erin Take Care of Her Mental Health? [31:49] – The Similarity Between Depressed People and Cats [33:56] – Why Should People Normalize Talking About Their Feelings [37:54] – How Does Erin’s Organization Help People With Mental Health Issues? [42:17] – How Does She React to Unsolicited Advice by People? [44:02] – How Does She Handle Awkwardness With Her Training Partners [46:27] – A Great Advice She Got From Audrey Winters [51:03] – The Challenges That Female Jiu-Jitsu Athletes Face [52:52] – Best Ways People Can Train With the Partner of the Opposite Gender [56:20] – “Female-Only Classes Are Great, but Don’t Stay There.” [1:01:24] – How to Build Beneficial Connections With Training Partners Through Communication
Erin is a BJJ black belt. She got her belt in 2017 from Rubens “Cobrinha” Charles. She started training jiu-jitsu in the summer of 2009, and she started competing right away. In 2014 she started training with Marcello Garcia. Since 2016 she began teaching in international seminars. She did workshops in Paris, Wales, Madrid, and Barcelona, etc. In 2015 after when her dad died by suicide, she started the NPO #submitthestigma.
The # in Submit The Stigma
Erin says, “the hashtag is there because I want it to be shared. I want it to be a connection and to build a community for people who have mental illness not only within the Jiu-Jitsu but also the people that need mental wellness.”
Mental Training In Jiu-Jitsu
There’s a lot of mental learning in Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a lot about will. It’s not the same as a dancer team. We’re learning techniques in Jiu-Jitsu. But when you’re actually applying them, someone else is trying to screw up your dancer team.
It’s not as clean-cut. So when you’re drilling a technique, you have to think about all the possible options, all the possible moves that your opponent is going to do. And when you learn something in Jiu-Jitsu, it’s part of a whole system. You’ve to learn a lot of stuff in Jiu-Jitsu, and it’s all mental, especially when you’re working with other people.
Being a White Belt Helped Her in Other Areas of Life
Erin says, “learning how to be a white belt helped me in every other area of my life. So, being a white belt again means accepting that you don’t know anything.”
Mental Health Is Synonymous With Sports
She relates mental health in terms of performance, in terms of liking yourself, and just being happy with yourself. Many of the training camps that she came up with were like “you’ve to suffer.” If you’re not suffering, then you’re not training hard enough. If you like what you eat, you’re not dieting hard enough. So mental health is just synonymous with sports.
The Professional Athlete in Jiu-Jitsu
She says, “Many people say that to be professional, you get paid. I guess it’s just a mindset. But it’s hard to say about Jiu-Jitsu because the only governing authorities like the IBJJF are for-profit companies. They regulate us only because we choose to.”
Jiu-Jitsu Allows You to Put Yourself in Stressful Situations
It’s not fun work to be in a bad position and try over and over again. And maybe your partner is choking you the exact same way, seven different times. But how lucky are you to have that person choke you in the exact same way seven different times? The information that you gather from that is going to be good. So Jiu-Jitsu allows you to put yourself in stressful situations. And then, in a moment of calm and an environment atmosphere of learning, you are able to learn so much about how you react and why you’re reacting.”
Technique and Confidence
At some point, belief and confidence can be more important than techniques themselves. If someone has good technique, they can lose to someone who has more of a belief in themselves. And that belief in that confidence can somewhat overpower techniques sometimes.
Take Time Instead of Just Reacting
Take the time instead of just reacting to everything in life. That’s unexpected, but this way, you have more time to think about why you’re doing what you do. And instead of just reacting, you respond. And then when you respond, you’re going back into the technique that you were taught, or the knowledge that you have, or the previous experiences you’ve had in this position. In this way, you’re able to create a good response.
Jiu-Jitsu Is Not a Replacement for Therapy
These days a lot of people say, “Well, I go to jiu-jitsu. That’s my therapy. And there are people on Instagram who are like- I know everything about psychology. Just go to the spa. Buy yourself some stuff. That’s all crap.”
The best way that Erin has found is that anecdotes and stories help so far.
She explains this by giving an example “Say you’re standing in a line. But you and the dude in front of you are just like totally irked peeved like; I don’t want to be there. And someone just says, man, last time I stood in the line this long, I shit my pants, and then you’re like, Oh, my God, me too. And then you have this instant bond. It’s like being able to share that you’re not alone. Or maybe you can tell a tremendous drunk story. And sometimes, maybe there’s no help to be given. It’s just hear me out. Let me tell you; you’re not alone.
The Similarity Between Cats and Depressed Humans
When a cat sense death, it just accepts it and hides itself. Depressed people share the same characteristic. So, people who feel depressed or have issues feel like a burden. They don’t want to burden someone else with their problems. And so they usually turn inward and feel alone, and isolate themselves.
Feel Less Bad About Losing
When you lose a game, you could either say, wow, I lost. I didn’t get first place. I’m second. I’m the first loser. Or you could say how many people had to lose in the bracket. So there are 16 people in the bracket. Yeah, 15 people lost. Go talk to those people and feel less bad about losing. Or you can go to another person to say, Yeah, I have a world title. And I’ve also lost a world title in the final. So, it makes you realize that you’re not going through something that’s never happened before. Like, it’s not uncharted territory. It didn’t happen to you because of you.
“It’s okay to fail. You have to fail. Failing is part of learning. Failing is part of growth.”
– Erin Herle
“People will die by their own hand because they feel alone.”
– Erin Herle
“No role is useless.”
– Erin Herle
“If you hurt someone in jiu-jitsu, you’re doing it wrong.”
I Interview Richy Walsh In Episode Number 44 Of The Sonny Brown Breakdown Podcast. Richy Walsh is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, a veteran of The UFC, The Ultimate Fighter television show and he now works as an MMA Coach at the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai, China.
We discussed the goals of the UFC P.I and their expansion into China, how they run the MMA Combine and scout for new talent on the local scene, the process of running their fight camps, professional sparring sessions and how he game plans and breaks down footage for the athletes. He also explained the process behind the development and periodization of MMA Skills training and his thoughts on building a system to apply the same process for mental skills training.
Links to the UFC Performance Institute Research Journals are contained in the Resources section at the bottom of this page. Also, if you want to learn more from the staff working at the UFC P.I then listen to my interview with Reid Reale who also works there as a Performance Nutritionist.
The UFC combine is conducted to bring out potential MMA athletes and take them through a battery of tests. The tests range from anthropomorphic, where the height, body mass, etc., to Non-Technical tests like strength test, deadlift strength, grip strength, reactionary drills on the lights, and punch throw. In total, there are 11 tests consisting of technical, non-technical, anthropomorphic difficulties, etc.
In a nutshell, the combine is based loosely on the NFL combine, where they bring a batch of college athletes to recruit.
“We see them in the domestic scene, bring them in, invite them in, ask them to try out our physical, technical, or non-technical, and anthropomorphic tests.”
– Richy Walsh
The Non-technical Tests
He says, with the non-technical stuff, we’re just seeing their actual physical capabilities, where they sit in that division, and against the other people who are combining. They continually test them. And have a testing week to keep track of their constant progress on the gym floor.
The Technical Tests
For the technical tests, coaches will put them through a grappling test, where they do positional stuff. Generally, they are asked to do inside control, in mount position, starting on the back, and run through positions, right in a rotation. And they’re going to be scored for submission and passes, sweeps, etc. It’s much like a Jiu-Jitsu competition, but the coaches are just isolating the positions for the times. So that gives a good spider graph of where their strengths and weaknesses are in grappling.
Getting the baseline with strength and weakness
Richy says, “We’re getting a baseline on every athlete with their strengths and weaknesses. For example, on the anthropomorphic basis, it could be just where they sit in that division. Are they tall for that division? What is their actual division? What is their body type? We also have a scoreboard that’s live, so the athletes can know where they stand. “
The Wrestling test
He says, “We want to see their variety of takedowns, their technical execution of takedowns in some parts, and how many they can do in that as against a metric. But this time, we added in the combine and some wall work together. They do takedowns in the open for one minute and then punches in the takedowns. And also, against the wall under hooking into the wall doubles, or singles. So we want to see that mix of MMA because it allows them to get their mind away from too much of the isolated art and more into the transitional sections, which is where most of the good fighters are good.”
Selecting the fighters from the local China regional circuit
He says that they constantly keep tabs on the local events. So that they can know most of the fighters who are in those promotions. He says, “We’ll be keeping tabs, and we’ll have a list of potentials. And then we’ll go through that list myself and watch all their flights. And we’ll see who we like, who we don’t like and invite those.”
Mental Skills Training
Preparing Mental Skills
Richy says that there’s a lot of considerations about the mental side of fighting. And you have to do an objective analysis on your fighter in your gym to see where their strengths and weaknesses lie on a psychological or physical level. Then see what best fits into their training plan. You might have someone who’s just a freak, and it doesn’t matter what you say or do. They’ll just go out and fight. For this type of fighter, you need to focus on different aspects than someone who is worried or nervous. He says, “We need to focus on getting you through the fight camp. Maybe it’s injury prevention; maybe it’s getting you to every session because you’re always late.” So this is where you objectively try and look at the person, but then there has to be the subjectivity of what best fits each individual.
Getting negative thoughts is natural
Getting negative thoughts about the competition is natural. He says, “even if you program it, you just set it aside. We set aside two times a week where we think for 30 minutes, all the good and bad things that come into our head because it’s going to happen, doesn’t matter if you’re the best. You’re still going to have a moment where you will have negative imaginations about the competition. “I could be knocked out and embarrassed” those thoughts are going to pop in your head because it could happen. So you’d be stupid not to think it. It’s like if I’m doing something dangerous, I want to know what the consequences are. In my head, I don’t want just to be utterly ignorant because I want to be prepared for those sorts of things that are going to happen.
Mentally evaluating the fighters
The idea is to create a mental preparedness score, just like a mental survey. They are not doing it currently, but this is something that he’d like to incorporate in training. Richy says, “Like on the training front, the staffing, the physio, the sports science, and everything like that. These things don’t just happen overnight. If you’re doing the best job in the world, then things’ll constantly evolve. And that’s where we’re tightening the screws on things, but also getting to things where can we improve on, where can we be world-class, and trying to create new or different ways to do it right, without just like getting testing fatigue. So we don’t want to bamboozle them with too much stuff at once. And it’s the best way to get them in the system.”
You can’t just watch the tape once, and they usually already have background information on their own fighter and the opponent. Richy says, “You can sit down and just watch the fights a few times, because sometimes even when you watch a UFC fight, you’ll notice you tend to focus on one fighter you like watching. There’ll be fighting on the domestic show or UFC for the academy athletes, so we watch the opponent’s last three fights. We watch them a few times, just get to know how he moves in general stance. And then, I’ll go through and write some notes on the opponent that specifically tells traits. So, it’s just building out those things and taking notes on the opponent.”
Early Game Planning Is A Trap
Richy says, “Through tape watching, we know the tendencies of the opponent’s keys to victory for our guys. And then we work that game plan within the three weeks before the fight. Because if we do it six weeks before fight camps, opponents change a lot on the domestic scene. So putting a lot of time into game-planning for things that are going to change is another thing. And then game-planning too early for somebody is another trap. Because you’re focusing on the opponent, you’re mentally training yourself to focus on their movement and what they’re going to be doing. And if they don’t do it, suddenly you build this expectation of what they were going to do, and it’s not what you want. You want to focus on how you’re going to win, how you’re going to be fighting, and how you’re moving. And then added to that, knowing how the opponent will move in his traits and tendencies and how to trap him and the do’s and do not in certain situations, their strengths and weaknesses, etc., is going to help you. So, in a nutshell, you have to note down things that they do that are common.”
The First Game Plan
It’s always a good question to ask your fighter questions like, how do you want to fight and if they’re going to be specific to the person they’re finding or what they want to do, then allow them to do their thing.
[00:00] – Introduction [01:41] – Hiring Role Open for an Editor and My Patreon Account [03:04] – About Richy and His Martial Arts Journey [07:13] – His Advice to People Who Want/Are Pursuing a Career in This Field [11:49] – His Plans for His Chinese Students and UFC [14:32] – Pros of Being Part of a Multi-Billion Industry [16:27] – About UFC Combine [19:40] – The Wrestling Test [22:17] – Selecting the Fighters From Local China Regional Circuit [27:07] – His Way of Preparing the Athletes for the UFC Competition [31:03] – Periodize Skills Training [32:16] – Preparation in Mental Skills [34:12] – When You Start Visualizing Things Negatively [36:56] – How He Evaluates the Mental Preparedness of the Athletes [40:03] – What Is Tape Study, and How He Uses It? [46:04] – The First Game Plan [47:48] – Discussing the Opponent’s Traits With His Student [48:52] – His Thoughts on Technical Sparring and Hard Sparring [52:15] – Dealing With the Problems of Switching Between the Real Fight and Practice [54:55] – His Secret Tricks for the UFC [59:01] – Richy’s Future Plans [01:04:07] – The Best Way to Contact Richy Walsh
“You need to have the skill. That’s the ultimate requirement to be in that real top echelon of fighting.”
– Richard Walsh
“No matter how good you are, bad things still gonna happen to you. You’re still going to have a moment where you could be knocked out and embarrassed.”
– Richard Walsh
“If you’re focusing on the opponent, you’re mentally training yourself.”
A Heath Pedigo interview, Founder of Pedigo Submission Fighting, aka Daisy Fresh. We discuss the culture and mindset used to build Daisy Fresh from Mt. Vernon to win the Pan Ams and the work ethic he looks to instil in his team and build camaraderie. Also, his thoughts on breaking down techniques from competition footage, and the evolution of training and teaching Jiu-Jitsu and the role coaches play in the process and his belief that Jiu-Jitsu can be used as a vehicle for bettering people and saving lives.
Heath Pedigo: Good brother. Thanks for having me on Sonny Brown Breakdown. I’m humbled.
Sonny: I’m humbled. My pleasures. Pleasure is all mine. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak to me because Daisy Fresh Pedigo is really on the rise at the moment. Obviously, I’m sure everyone’s now familiar with the FloGrappling series and what you guys have been doing on the competition scene over there. I just want to start off with just getting into the recent team victory you had at the Pan-Ams and just what was, I guess, a completion of a 22-year goal which is the martial arts dream.
Heath: Originally the goal at first it was the Pan Ams. Obviously, 20 years ago that was the GI Pans. I just wanted to be able to compete with these major organizations. You have dreams like– all of them basically. Checkmat, Towson, Gracie Barra. It’s not anything that they’re doing wrong specifically. No hate towards them. It’s just some of these, there’s 200, 300 schools and these guys are from different countries. They’ve never met each other and they combine their points together. For us, we have two, three small gyms in Southern Illinois to be able to compete with these mega organizations. It’s just such a huge accomplishment for us.
That’s the thing I’m most proud of. Just to be able to show people you don’t have to have anything fancy. I like to call it a duct tape gym. Like the Russian style. there’s duct tape on everything. Everyone always says, “Man, I get these guys some mat.” The funny thing is we don’t even really think about that. We’re just all happy to just be there doing what we love to do. I think people put so much emphasis on what’s around them and what they don’t have rather than just what they have. We’re just all happy to be doing what we love. Fuck the mats and what the gym looks like, results, and how many lives you’re saving. That’s all that matters in the end anyway. Sorry, I got off.
Sonny: That’s all right.
Heath: It was a huge thing to be able to win that. It’s been a lifelong goal to win a major tournament and the goals don’t stop there. Now we’re going to the world and then winning the GI. We’re still building as a team. We’ve only been a black belt for a few years so it’s just really exciting. Like I said the boys’ hard work and the dedication that the men and the women that train at the gym. They’ve given up a lot of things in their life, their families. Guys like Spatch came from Australia.
He hasn’t seen his family, especially with the COVID. He can’t even come back right now. They’ve given up so much. They all believed in me and my vision and to get to pay them back so they could be a part of that it’s in the legacy of jiu-jitsu forever. We can always look back on that and say, “Hey, we did this and we were able to win and not only compete with these major teams but beat them.” It was a really incredible feeling. I’m really proud of that and really proud of the boys and the girls for, like I said, believing in the vision.
Sonny: Getting people to believe in that vision is such a key component of coaching and leadership in general. You mentioned that obviously the mats where I’m sure people have probably reached out offering mats and such now. One thing I’ve considered is it’s better to be in a place that’s perhaps smaller with used mats than to be in a room full of people all there together than a gym with the latest new facilities that doesn’t have many people there.
Sonny: How do you consider that that plays into account when you’ve literally got people leaving their lives and moving to the other side of the world to come join in that environment?
Heath: The ultimate goal is obviously we’re going to get a bigger place. The Daisy Fresh episode, I don’t know if you’ve seen that yet, it came out two days ago.
Sonny: I haven’t.
Heath: There’s something new that’s really neat. The Midwest is a hard-working place. Like I said the people that are here they’re just a little hard. There’s a lot of poverty and they didn’t really know how. It was like being in Australia and being over in the suburbs of Perth. The people are just a little harder. Pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, that doesn’t always work for everybody. Some people just don’t know how to do that. The ultimate goal was obviously to get a bigger gym because the bigger the facility we have the more people we can help.
We actually have had a couple of people reach out about the mats but I’ve been trying to wait because like I said I’m really trying to get a new facility right now and I don’t look at it more like soldiers and more students to make money. I just look at it like it’s more and more lives that are being able to be saved. A bigger gym means more people. It’s just simple.
It’s funny the people, they’re from all over right now. We have about 20 people that are just sleeping in a parking lot right now.
That are just coming to train from all over. They’re all from places which is like maybe that they’re– No disrespect to anyone’s team or their coaches, but maybe they’re just not interested in competition or they don’t see what it takes to be a champion in some of these mega-events. These blue belt kids, the juvenile blue belts, they’re so good, man. Some of them are as good as the black belts were 10 years ago. Like I said, that’s not a knock on any black belts. It’s just the sport evolves and everyone’s just so amazing and incredible and you have to stay out on everything to keep being able to compete.
The ultimate goal is to get a bigger place. I’m actually going to keep the Daisy Fresh though. It’s almost like a jiu-jitsu landmark now so I’m going to try to use that as the living barracks and then try to get a bigger open space. We’re going to take over the high school wrestling program I think too. That’ll be really nice so we can really crack into the local youth. If you Google, what is the most dangerous city in Illinois, Mount Vernon actually comes up. It’s a small place. There’s only about 14,000, 15,000 people here. In the Daisy Fresh when they’re going by there’s a thing called the corner tavern. It shows it on there. A guy got shot and killed two nights ago there. Like I said, it’s just a rough place.
People ask me all the time, “Why don’t you go to California especially with the show now. You can go to Australia. Go anywhere. Open up a gym.” I just feel this place, my roots are here and I feel it needs us. I want to pull as many people out as I can before we move along. People run out into the world looking for this or that when sometimes home is where it’s at in the first place. I want to fix everything up there and then try to move on and get out into the world and help as many people as possible.
Sonny: The benefits of the culture first attitude of really the goal being to help people before anything else can certainly be seen as, and as I was Googling to work out the time zone differences actually, one of the automated Google Search things is, how safe is Mount Vernon. It’s certainly one of the dangerous places in America.
Heath: Like I said, not to scare anyone if you have kids in Houston , “Hey Heath can I come with the kids” it would be 100% totally fine. It’s just all in a small area. Essentially the neighborhood that I grew up in and went to school and, like I said, it’s just poor. That’s basically the way to put it. It’s not that it’s White or it’s Black. It’s just a poor area. When you’re 14 and the guy down the road ask a kid to take this box down the road and he gives him $400 when he wants to work a job it’s tough for these kids to work for $7 an hour and no one bust their ass. They see the easy way so young.
It’s easy to get caught up in that, and like I said to take in an easy way and that’s where the respect is handed out in the streets. It’s like the guys who are gang banging, then seeing them selling the dope and they have the fancy shit. It’s not the kid who left home, worked two jobs, and barely made it by the skin of his teeth, it’s not what’s appreciated in our society.
It’s just something that’s got to change but that all goes into the gym culture too. Me thinking about that it’s like I try to make sure that the youth see that jiu-jitsu is on the rise everywhere in every country and the guys not only are they making more money but they’re getting a lot more just platforms to be seen on and it’s really cool for them. These podcasts and stuff like this, sometimes it’s all kids need. They just need somebody to love them. They’re ready to be loyal to anything whether it be a gang or this or that, they’re just looking for love.
A lot of the kids that come in just have never belonged to anything. When they know and they feel that I truly believe and that the passion of what I’m showing, and what I’m doing they’re just able to give that love right back but you have to be careful. It’s important as a leader, or a coach or an instructor, a professor whatever, all these lives are in your hand so opening up a gym for some people it’s just to be the king of their kingdom and then they like that. Everyone knows someone, everyone knows a gym that’s like that and you have to be careful not to fall into that trap.
You got to remember you’re in a position where people look up to you and 15 years down the road some of these kids are going to have their own gym so the things that they learn from you they’re going to share with the world so it can spread out. When someone leaves, goes to California, opens up a gym, goes to Australia, they can take your attitude from the last 15 years with them. You spread that all over the world. I think it’s important to make sure that the environment of your gym is good. You got to remember people are always watching. I think it’s important.
When people see that you’re doing the right thing and they believe in you and they know that you believe in them, it’s easy and that’s just what we’ve built here. These guys, they’re my friends. I had a guy tell me one time, “Don’t make friends with the students.” I’ve never looked at it like that. I’ve probably spent more time doing psychology for the guys or trying to anyway to help them out rather than jiu-jitsu stuff. The jiu-jitsu just becomes a part of their life and it’s tough. When one of them leaves or something happens, it is like losing a best friend. It’s just important to give back without expecting anything. I think that’s the way to deal with that as a leader. If you’re willing to give everything you have and you expect nothing in return, I think that it’s a win-win.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. That idea of giving yourself to the service of others is an idea or a mindset that drives a lot of good working in helping people all around the world. Is that then something that you started off with or is that something that you’ve developed over time and was it a learning process?
Heath: It’s always been like that. Before I went and got my belt in jiu-jitsu, and we had just done like a No-Gi grappling. My brother and I, we learned from VCR tapes in the grass, we trained and we would basically just take absolutely anyone who is willing to roll with. Then actually, we did Valley Judo stuff at the time so my brother would just basically just beat the shit out of us and head butt us. This is even pre-Elvis Sinosic submitting Jeremy Horn. This is even before that. See I know. I got-
Sonny: I share that, I like it.
Heath: Now, he was one of my favorites but we really didn’t know anything and then we would save up money and we would buy these Japanese VCR tapes but they’re all in Japanese. We would get them, and then I would just study them for hours. I still actually have all my original notebooks, I have about 200 of them. They’re like upside-down graphs, even if someone opened them up, I don’t even know if you’d be able to tell what it is but the first few years we just did that and we just tried to teach to anyone who would listen.
When you’re young you have those big dreams you want to be the UFC champion, everyone wants to be a world champion or whatever.
I did some MMA fights and stuff, my brother did that but I never really like that. When he was done it was easy for me to be done with that too. I just really had a passion for just learning jiu-jitsu and helping other people learn it. In the beginning, I just wanted to make people better so I could have someone good to roll with. Then it just turned into being able to help people succeed and then we started doing local tournaments. Actually, I took a bus out for 30 hours into the North American Grappling Championships. At the time it was like, I’m not even sure if the Pan Ams had gotten– I think it was the first year that it had gotten to the United States ‘98 or ’99.
There were like 700 people at these little tournaments back then. It was outside of our town, we’d just never seen. The closest black belt was two hours and I actually got linked up with him later at Rodrigo Vaghi, that’s where I got all my belts from. He’s wonderful and he’s really an amazing man to let me do my own thing, he’s always offered a helping hand and he’s never asked me for anything actually so I’m forever grateful for him for that and just allowing people to grow. I restarted the gym in the GI as a blue belt in 2010, I think.
It’s just always been a process to hope others, even if it was for selfish reasons in the beginning I’ve just always wanted to help other people. My mom was a teacher for over 40 years, her and my dad just always gave back to the community that we lived in and she’s a wonderful woman and maybe some of that just rubbed off.
Sonny: Yes. I think for sure, actually. Both my parents are teachers also so I can relate in that regard and respect to the shout-out for Elvis Sinosic. My coach was coaching Elvis at the time and was in his corner over Jeremy Horn. One thing I do want to bring up that you mentioned there is the fascination with the Shooto fighting and Shooto wrestling and I’ve heard you were even watching the Japanese combat wrestling which I’ve gone down a couple of YouTube rabbit holes on that.
It’s a very interesting rule set, different points going system, they’re wearing shoes, leg locks or fair game. I actually think that it’s more similar to how the modern No-Gi game looks than perhaps jiu-jitsu did at the time and it’s headed more towards that. Is that something that you’ve kept that fascination in with that side like that Japanese Shooto side or?
Heath: I believe that the Japanese were the first complete estimation athletes or like Valley Judo practitioners, they are such good wrestlers, they all had good striking, all those little 155 pound guys like Rumina Sato and Hayato Sakurai, all those names like Genki Sudo, they were really complete wrestlers and they had amazing striking. They were like the first wrestlers and strikers. They were jiu-jitsu black belts they could leg locks so for me I was like, “Man, they’re the most complete fighters.”
That’s always who I wanted to try to evolve the game towards learning plus their fans are just so complete when it comes to understanding submissions. Their culture, I just always really enjoyed it and I think that they understood the passion for the submission in a fight and stuff like that a little bit more than everybody else. I really love that, just that Japanese style of– That’s why it’s a submission fighting actually because of those old Shooto wrestling matches. You can look those up like I said Rumina Sato is ankle picking the guys and heel hooking them. Actually the footage of Genki Sudo that’s on the internet at the west side, that’s actually my camera.
Sonny: Oh, I’ve watched it about a thousand times at Chris Brennans place.
Heath: That’s actually my footage. Scott Profeta, a friend of mine and that was from California, he used my camera, we recorded that and we were out there. I was just traveling around the world, I was like 16 or 17 just trying to get all over the world and then I’m not sure how he got a hold of that but it got on there so it’s actually Scott Profeta he was the one recording. Like I said, a good guy. Him and I loved those guys, I still think we caught up to them in a way. With jiu-jitsu, Brazil obviously has had the most influence on jiu-jitsu.
That goes without saying I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that thinks any different than that because certain people have put, like with us, listen, no one from our gym gives a shit about calling it American jiu-jitsu. Man, no one cares about that dude. Spatch is from Australia, George is from Nicaragua, Alejandro is Uruguayan. His parents– nobody cares, man. We just want to be the best in jiu-jitsu and in general, and no one wants to take anything away from, especially, Brazilians. You know what I mean? It’s not like that at all. I think people look sometimes for a rouge because you’re competing and it keeps things exciting, but at the end of the day, there’s no hate at all at our gym for anybody who manage it, anyone who’s sharing the dream and the art, that’s all we really care about and it doesn’t mean anything.
I think we evolved and caught up to the Japanese guys when it comes to the leg lock systems. I know you guys over there, you guys just have two of the best leg lockers in the world, arguably one of the best leg lockers in the world. I just think a lot of it from a lot of Japanese influenced and I was really lucky that I just stumbled on those. There’s just something about them and it was really drawing to me.
I was like 13 or 14, but it was a long time ago, 23 years ago, I bought my first tape. I actually still have that full VCR collection that I have, a whole trash bag full of them, I still have all those tapes. I actually go back and watch some of them some time, and some of the best stuff just still applies. Today, there is an old Imanari heel hook video, man. This guy has been ahead of the game for years on the grips and all this stuff. They’re just really incredible, man. It just evolved so much, man. We’re lucky to be a part of it.
Sonny: For sure. Speaking of that evolution there, obviously is it seems to be a bit of a cultural change going on now that, of course, you are a part of now in a big way building up dominant teams in America and also changing how things have been taught in a way in terms of– nowadays, it’s far more team-orientated with you guys than perhaps everything being based around the sole source of information being from the instructor. How have you seen that develop over time and where do you see that going?
Heath: I think everything always started– I think there were the instructors that came to America, and I think that their rules, their word, that was just a rule and the way things were, you know what I mean? Whoever had taught them, that’s just the way things were. If the instructor was good at cross-collar chokes, all the students would be good at cross-collar chokes. Now, you can go into a gym and it’s like the instructor can be a guard passing machine and have no bottom.
He can have 10 students that are the Cicero Costha kids that are bare on bowling. With all the things that we have available to us now like YouTube channels and the BJJ Fanatics videos or podcast, I just– It’s 2021, I don’t really think that there’s not really a reason for too many people to be behind. If they’re truly passionately, their life is jiu-jitsu, but that being said, I think it’s just important. Like I said, as an instructor and a leader, you don’t have to be a black belt to be a leader, a white belt could open up a gym and he could create killing machines that were amazing. There’s more to it than that. You have to make sure these are good people and they’re going to give back to life.
It really doesn’t matter to some people but for me, that’s important. I just think there’s a big hierarchy in jiu-jitsu, and I think that that has a lot to do for a long time. It kept the jiu-jitsu from evolving, and I think that that’s gone now. I got guys like Gordon Ryan, and Craig, not only have they cracked into the scene, these are arguably not just the best grapplers currently, but these guys could be some of the best grapplers ever to have ever lived in the arena. They’re always going to be remembered no matter what because right now– The UFC was huge. I think UFC 40 or 41 when Ken Shamrock fought Tito Ortiz, that was the big change.
The Fertitta brothers came in and they purchased it, and I think that was the big thing that– There was a little bit more WWF, WWE-type marketing, now, hell, there’s one of these things every weekend. Like you said, back in the day, when Elvis fought, there was a UFC once every three months and there were six fights, and the guys were making $5,000 when they had several fights. I just think the world constantly evolves and sports evolve, and it goes back to like you said, the instructing thing, I think it’s important that you just don’t get caught in that, “My way is the only way.” I have students that constantly showing me new things or bring things to the table.
I think it’s just incredibly important to have that open mind in your gym, and I think it breeds that a lot more of a team. Every situation needs a leader no matter what, even if it’s a one-person show, there has to be a leader. I think when you have that open-door policy, I think it’s incredibly important to cross-train too. I could care less where the guys from the gym go and train, it doesn’t matter to me at all. If they would want to leave the team and go somewhere else, then I wish them the best of luck.
I think a lot of instructors have a little bit insecurity and they try to lockdown. They use different excuses to sell that to the students, and it goes back to their king of the kingdom type thing. I don’t know. I just think you have to have to keep an open mind and never stop learning, never stop being a student, and breaking things down, Sonny Brown style, it’s incredibly important, man.
Sonny: [chuckles] That’s actually something I wanted to touch on is I have heard you say that you do prefer breaking down competition footage to analyze techniques over instructionals, which is obviously there’s still a lot of value in instructionals but it’s something that I’ve always been interested in because it’s really– they’re showing the techniques that are 100% work in competition bring it on display. It’s also something that when I was doing it, some people would tell me “You can do that but you’re not going to really– there’s still the secret stuff that you’re not going to be able to tell from just looking at the footage.” What’s been your experiences with that?
Heath: I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. You could show me five times something and then your friend could show me, and the time that he shows me, that might be the time that I get it, and then you’re like, “Shit, I showed you that five years ago.” You know how it is with just learning curves and stuff like that, but as for the video itself, I watch instructionals now because I think they’re neat, I think it’s important to– Especially if the guys are going to go up against–
If Andrew was going to go against Sonny Brown, Andrew Wiltse, I would watch your instructionals because I know it’s your opportunity to make money, you’re going to show what you’re good at and what you can do. I would watch your instructional just so I could see the small things in your setups, the grips that you’re going to grab, where you’re going to grab, where your feet are, how they’re positioned, all that stuff. That’s more why would you use an instructional. The actual competition footage, you nailed it when you said it.
This is what they’re doing, this is how they’re winning, and this is why they are who they are because of competition, not because of what they’re showing inside that gym. I think breaking that down, and I’m like the old school like pause, back up, pause, back up, pause, back up. The grip is one of the most important things like the Gi such a small adjustment on a grip can be the difference between so many different things. There’s so many small things like that, I just think you have to take the time to really dig in and you want to learn rather than just say, “Hey, man, I’m just going to watch the footage.” Like I said, I think you have to really dig in and to break this stuff down.
I think you also need goals with what you’re breaking down, am I breaking it down just so I know Sonny’s game, or am I breaking it down so I can give Sonny a beating? Am I breaking it down because I want to get his knowledge and be good at what he’s good at? I think having an end goal with what you’re doing is very important too, and the book doesn’t stay wide open like that, it’s like there’s an end game for exactly why you’re doing it.
I try to write it all out in my mind first and then break it down and say, “Okay, here it is, this is what we’re going to do with it now.” No one really has any excuses any more, man, you can get on Flo and you can literally watch anybody’s matches, not just in YouTube in general, there can be a small– I watched a small jiu-jitsu tournament from Australia a couple of years back with Spatchy and there were 80 people there but break that all down just the same. You find an instructor if you are going to go against a guy say a blue belt or purple belt.
You’re going to go against a guy and you’ve looked up the names like everybody does. You get on there and say, “Okay, man I’m hoping I don’t have this guy the first round,” and then you can’t find anything. Then you looked on Facebook, you looked on Instagram. One of the things that you can do is you can find the people that train with them and then you can start to notice visibly the similarities that the people have. Like I said, grabbing, pulling guard, taking down, resting even like breaking points. You can see in Jiu-Jitsu players when they really break, man. A lot of the teams, man believe it or not they all break and gas out on that same level.
I just think there’s a whole lot, and I think it’s extremely underappreciated and underestimated thing that lot of coaches don’t do. Part of the reason is, what are you going to get for it? It’s your time, it’s time with your kids. As an instructor, I do look at it as work. The whole, if you love your job it’s never work, that’s bullshit I think because it is work. I look at it like this, there’s a factory in our town, it employs about a third of our 15,000 residents, about 5000 people work there. These guys put in 10 hours a day, they bust their ass, man.
I have a lot of these guys at the gym. I don’t think it’s fair for me to run the jiu-jitsu gym and not be putting in the same amount of work as them. Instead of saying, “Yes, I’m a coach and I coach for two hours in the morning and two at night.” What about the other six hours? We’re lucky, we can go and pick the kids up from school and we can spend time with your girl and that stuff but those extra hours I think it’s extremely important to not get lost and then get lazy and I use that time.
Just think about those guys that are working, and always trying to compare yourself to that, and ask yourself are you putting in the extra time to build and learn. It’s important not to waste it, time is the most valuable thing of all. I always try to look at it like that, make sure that I’m always using all of it as much as I can and not having to work a lot, not using it as a tap-out. You know what I mean? Something to that as a beneficial, I’m not saying other people don’t do it but I just think a lot more people could probably do that and benefit from it.
Sonny: That’s a really solid way of taking maybe a blue-collar work ethic and then applying it to the coaching profession which is obviously what you’ve done and what you’re doing successfully. I think part of that work ethic is that what you’ve built in the gym is the ability to, it seems like anyway as I’m watching it, is push people to their breaking points and everyone going at hard rounds all the time in the gym. One thing I wanted to bring up which I heard you mention, how it relates to culture as well is I heard you say that when a new white belt comes into the gym and maybe their energy is maybe a bit frantic or that they’re a bit wild, you don’t try and curtail that or slow them down.
You try and keep that fire inside them and mold that which is a bit in terms if culture, it would be maybe counterintuitive or maybe not so common because part of the culture that I see more often is, “No, make sure all the white belts are able to roll as safe as possible, try and calm them down,” but it seems like you take the opposite approach.
Heath: Within reason of course. It’s like I said that on the show your real thing and then I actually don’t look at any internet stuff at all so I don’t have any idea so if someone said, “Fuck his mama,” I would only know that if boys showed me. I’m extremely lucky, I don’t care. That being said, within reason. Obviously, if some fucking nut comes in and he’s slamming people down, you’re to going tell him not to do that, but I think it’s important to control their elbows and knees of course, so they don’t bust everybody’s heads open. Obviously but why take that fire away from somebody because they want to go hard?
I have several masters guys, we have a 70-year-old guy, not everybody at the gym is– we train hard, you know what I mean, it’s hard. It’s 100 degrees in there right now but there are groups in our gym where the guys, they have to work on Monday, they’re not interested in winning the world. It’s not just a team of people who are going to rip each other’s heads off. We actually have an incredible, incredibly high non-injury rate. You would think that the guys get hurt all the time. Sometimes people get hurt because they’re like holding back or they are trying not to. It’s like when you go into a match and say, ” I can’t get leg locked.”
That’s all you’ve thought about for a week is your opponent being a leg locker. Then the first thing that happens is you get leg locked because that’s all you thought about instead of going out and enjoying your game and smashing the person the way that you do, you fell into that trap of basically them being inside your head. I think in that manner, I let the guys bang when the new white belts come in. I don’t always put them with the other white belts until they are ready I put them over with the guys and let them go hard.
You almost got to break them that’s how I look at it. You can see in the first couple of weeks how tough somebody’s going to be and he’s just a competition guy. Everyone who comes in now, of course, with the show and Flo, they want to be a world champion. It’s like, “Hey, Sonny, man, what’s your goal, and you say I want to be a world champion.” I already probably knew that, if you moved halfway across the world to live in the parking lot, obviously you want to be a world champion but what else?
The other stuff is just as important. I do think it’s important to not take that away and just guide them towards being able to push the pace and learning the techniques and the way the guys drill in the gym they drill hard. Some of them do, like George Valadares. He’s the one who does all the YouTube stuff for anyone who’s seen that? He usually just started doing that stuff three months ago I don’t know if you’ve got a chance to watch any of it but-
Sonny: I have.
Heath: – he’s amazing, man. He picked up a book for dummies and Alejandro’s brother works in Hollywood and gave him some advice and man, he’s just incredible. He’s so amazing and we’re so lucky to have him to get to share all that. The information and what’s going on with just everybody in the world. George and Thatcher, sometimes they’ll spend 10 or 12 hours a day, not everybody has the availability to be able to do that. Sometimes guys got to get it in when they come in. I think it counters a lot of stuff we say think a lot of stuff we say. I think a lot of instructors might tell people to slow down because maybe they don’t go with that rate.
It’s one thing if like I said the guys– It’s your job to control the room as the leader. When people say that’s when I say, “Hey a new white belt comes in,” there’s not seven white belts out there throwing each other down. It’s not like that. You know how it is. Anybody who’s making these comments most probably isn’t a black belt. They probably never ran a gym. I think you got to put them in. I think you got to see what they are made of, how hard they’re going to be able to push, if they’re going to come back. Once they’re broken and then you knock them down, you got to build them back up. I think immediately stripping them of their physical attributes the second they came in, I don’t really agree with that.
Technically, things are important obviously but– Listen, at a certain level everyone’s amazing, man. At the adult Purple Belt worlds. These guys are fucking incredible, man. They’re so good, the guys who lose in the first round now could have been the champion. Something for everybody out there to always remember nothing that means anything comes easily. 50% of people at every single tournament lose the first round. Let’s always remember that. Half of everyone loses their first match that signs up. If 2000 people sign up a 1000 people will lose their first match so that’s half of everyone, no matter what, every time.
I think it’s important not to get down about losses. I think you learn that from the beginning, from the instructor when that’s stripped away from you and they’re saying, “Hey, this is my way, this is the way that you’re going to do it. You’re going too hard or you want to slow these guys down.” Listen, you can talk all this shit you want but I’m on the show right now because we just won the biggest No-Gi team tournament title in the last two years probably because of COVID but it was the biggest one. We showed up. I just think that there’s something to be said to not strip everything away from something. If a kid comes in, he’s had a rough life and goes hard, I try to build off of that.
Like I said, of course, you have to make things safe. That shit goes without being said. It’s like someone saying, “Oh, love my kids they come first.” No shit, you don’t have to say that, that goes without saying. Of course, I make it safe but I just don’t think it’s unnecessary to, like I said, strip all the attributes and I’ll say now jiu-jitsu is for the meek and the little guys. I don’t even know who said that in the first place but size does matter.
Everybody’s got a little animalistic instinct, everybody’s a little wild and to compete and win I think for a lot of people it has a lot to do with it when you get out there and you’re both the same technically being mean and being tough it does go a long way sometimes. Watching a college wrestling match, these guys are tough. They’re banging on each other and if you’ve ever wrestled in college you’d see the rooms are brutal.
These jiu-jitsu guys that are commenting on how rough things are, they’d pass out if they saw college wrestling these guys are basically fighting and they’re slapping each other’s heads and getting it in. Like those guys that are Australian top team you guys got. Those guys are all buff, man there’s 50 Guys that look like supermodels in there. I’m sure when they’re training they’re banging over there. If you want to do it as a hobby than a self-defense thing then that’s cool.
I don’t look down on anybody who supports jiu-jitsu and I don’t think you have to compete, to give back or be a part of it or be amazing. For the ones that do it, you got to let them do what they do, and if you don’t like rowing hard go with the new guys because you’re afraid that you’re going to get tapped on in front of everybody there’s a corner, a gym down the road then you can go to and that’s just how I’ve always looked at it. Every day I show up I get my guard passed by white belts, maybe it’s because I suck.
Spatchy: I try it’s tough, actually. [laughs]
Heath: Again, there’s nothing to lose every time we step in there as humans for a couple of hours a day you get to leave everything like the wife and the kids and the stress of work and you get to leave that behind for a couple of hours. I think it’s important not to limit yourself when you have that opportunity for that time. That’s why it’s important to me. I don’t try to take anybody down, I try to build them from what they have.
Their backgrounds come into play on that. A lot of these kids that I have winning now I feel like if I would have stripped them down and had them doing things technically which– We actually do a lot of technical stuff. You can watch Andrew Wilson any of his passing DVDs and you can see the guy’s a technical genius. I think a lot of people, unfortunately, use it as an excuse, and once you put the black belt on, like I said, it’s important to remember other people aren’t there yet, so if you’ve checked out the physical part, that’s okay but don’t hold anybody else back because you’ve checked out yourself.
I don’t even think that an instructor has the role to be effective– You could be in a sweatsuit with a whistle. More than half of these guys they’re old, they can’t get on the mats like Mike Tyson’s boxing coach couldn’t beat him up in boxing, but he can show him everything. I could care less about people who do and don’t roll with their guys I don’t think that means they’re a pussy or anything like that. I just think it’s important though to not strip away their natural, hunger and like I said animalistic instinct. I don’t even know if that’s a word but it sounds cool so-
Sonny: It does sound cool. [laughs]
Heath: I just think it’s a little bit of like barbarian and all of that shit. Everybody’s got a little bit of savage in them. I think that’s– One of the reasons I think people love the Daisy Fresh thing is because it’s a little rough, man and everyone can relate. A big named guy who’s won the world, he might not be approachable, man and it’s like when you see Jacob Couch or Alejandro, or any of these boys from the show. It’s Spatch, Georgie, they’re approachable. When you see them and you think, “Holy shit, these guys did this I can do this too, they’re just like me.” I think that alone makes the show incredible and I think that’s why everybody loves it. It’s unapologetic.
One of the other funny things to me is people love telling stories about their instructors doing fights in the 90s and the old Valley judo, jiu-jitsu was built off violence and for that generation. It’s funny because the way that we train or the way Gracies came over when they did these Gracies in action and they were going hard and it’s funny that everyone loves to tell that story at the dinner table, but when it comes to us doing that we’re playing the cards we were dealt instead of crying around about it, we just built something from nothing. It’s just funny I think it’s the pot calling the kettle black, a little bit.
Like I said, at this point, it doesn’t even matter, man. The 2020 No-Gi Pans, we got second, and all the other stuff that we had won as a team was– We won the novice pans, novice worlds, and then we won at Chicago, which was a huge deal to us but once you get up on a major, it’s like maybe it was an accident and then the following year winning that’s like, “Okay, man, obviously these guys are doing something. We’re still such a little group. I don’t remember how many people we signed up. I think we had 15 people maybe signed up for the No-Gi Pans or something like that for those adult points and I think only one or two guys didn’t medal.
Our system is a bullshit word but it’s the way we do things I can’t tell you that it’s the right way or the wrong way but it’s just the way we do them it seems to be working. Especially in other countries like Europe, Australia, all these places. I know those are continents and not countries but there’s now black belts everywhere and you don’t need that to be successful, you can build something and be a part of the revolution. I consider myself an activist in the jiu-jitsu revolution. The best way to support a revolution is to build your own. Start your own and I think that you can do that.
If a question is how can I do this, how can I start up a gym on my own and in a town 100 miles from Perth there’s, going to be no one around out there. You can do it though, if you believe in your product you truly believe in what you’re giving away, people will believe in you. If you support them with everything you have, they’ll support you and I think that’s the way that everything that’s special is built. Carlson Gracie, he’s passed away he’s been gone for years and people still– They wear the shirts, we fight for Carlson. They loved this guy.
He was a god in the favela, he was a god in the rich community. Everyone just loved him because all these guys lived with him, he just constantly gave back and they’re still fighting for the guy 15 years later and I think that anyone can build that man, even on a small scale I think that you can build something amazing. If you can’t do huge, giant big things in life that change the world, do a lot of small ones. I think Napoleon Hill had a quote like that, his was way better though you’ll you have to look it up but anyway it’s-
Sonny: I like it. I think from then, what you were saying with the black belts and the fight is really you obviously take care of the safety set side of things but when you say you don’t want to take the fire out of them. You’re not talking about frenetic movement, you’re talking about more, the fire of belief and passion that they have in themselves, you don’t want to ever temper that down, or put any doubt in their mind and build that belief in them because there is an understanding that, sometimes, the power of belief can overcome technique, right?
Heath: I just should have said that, what you just said. I wish I said that. Now that was way better than what I said. No doubt for sure.
Sonny: Sorry I was going to say, but I look at what’s going on over there and I look at it and I think, man, you guys are the ones you’re doing it. You guys are still doing it. It does have that vibe of wow, these guys are out there just going for it, and you do have that belief built in the culture there.
Heath: Like I said going back to that culture thing I just think it all starts from the top you can go into a gym basketball team– What’s that sport you guys made up?
Heath: AFL. You can go into an AFL team.
Heath: You guys made it up so you give it the best.
Spatchy: One of the hardest sports in the world.
Heath: Oh, anyway-
Heath: -just kidding there. No, I’m just saying you can go into a jiu-jitsu gym and you can almost feel like– I think the leader kind of, he sets the tone a little bit, and you can tell him if this guy’s an asshole. Sometimes the guys are going to be assholes. People will get– That was a big thing a few years ago. It’s chilled out a lot now because now people blast your ass on the internet. Now, if you’re a jerk to your students, or you treat people like shit, that kind of behavior was something that people could do before and get away with.
I just think it always kind of starts– You got to build the foundation and the leader, he’s the most important part of the foundation. Like I said, if the guys I asked, sometimes the people will be asked if they’re coming to you then the rest of them will be contagious to it. But if you’re amazing and you’re constantly trying to build everyone around you, it should be successful. It’s like the iron sharpens iron type of thing. I just think that people can feel that.
I think when they come into the gym, I have no idea about any other gyms because I’m only at our gym, but anyone who’s associated with us and in our place, it’s important to me that you have to build yourself. You can’t get confused about putting other people before you, because you have to be selfish a little bit to– Sonny has to take care of Sonny, to be a better father, and a husband, or a boyfriend, a teammate.
If Sonny isn’t happy with himself, he can’t give the things that he needs to other people. I think it’s important that you have your own mind right, then you’re able to give back. Second, I think that’s really important to build off of, but you can always just fill it, man in the culture of a GM’s in Jiu-Jitsu. I’m really proud of our guys because it’s no one– You’ve never got to see Sonny, but hopefully one day we’ll get over it. No one from our team competes without at least 10 people on the barricades. It doesn’t matter if they’re white belts or black belts, or if they’re not allowed to be down there’ll be in the stands, they’re just so supportive of the guys.
When they lose, the team takes a major loss, you know what I mean? But as Spatch actually said in the Daisy Fresh one or two, it’s one of my favorite quotes, he said, “Andrew, just one, what difference does it make? What happened with everyone else?” He won and he got his black belt and that was a moment for us as a team that was just amazing enough. Later on, people said, “Oh, Wiltse is the only one that wins from the team.” That’s been settled now though that is what it is, but I just think it’s when you really believe in everyone around you and you truly wish success for them, I think that you just can’t get and be let down man.
If you’re constantly giving and making every round, you’re sharp, it’s just going to sharpen you up and not, not holding anything back. When you build that culture, people feel more– They feel obligated to keep themselves sharp, I think. They’re able to talk about mental illness a little bit more, and be open and share that stuff because they truly trust these people. It’s not just about jiu-jitsu. If it is just about jiu-jitsu to you, then you probably have a huge gym, and a nice car, and great things, but I don’t actually have any of that stuff, that’s a choice though, the platform that Flo‘s given us could have 500 students move to the city. Like I said, fuck a million dollars when you can leave a legacy.
It’s about being able to change lives and help people. You never know how much time you got, you can wake up tomorrow and they tell you, “Hey, you got the stage four cancer, that’s that, you’ve got 30 days.” It’s important that every day that you build something that’ll keep going when you’re gone. Just to know that you’re a part of something that’s bigger than you. I think all that’s an incredibly important when you create that culture in your gym. There’s so much more than winning in jiu-jitsu when it comes to that.
I think when everyone starts to do that, that’s when you’re really going to see a change in the evolution of jiu-jitsu. I think when teams aren’t about just one person, one great person and everyone’s just giving and everyone thinks that they do this. It’s hard to look in the mirror and believe that you’re not that type of person, everyone thinks that. When that culture it’s built, you can really do incredible thing. It’s like possessing superhuman powers to help other people. When you walk into the room and you feel uplifted so much that you can– You just feel amazing.
It just spreads, it’s like cancer, negative things spread and positive things spread. I just think it’s really important to keep that mindset when you’re building your culture, or if you want to change it, you know what I mean? Everyone’s welcome to do what they want. These are the things that I’ve done, it’s the only way I’ve ever known how to do things. I’ve had a lot of success, a lot of failure on the way too.
Sonny: Yes. You touched on the idea of taking care of yourself first is, and I think of the airplane, if the oxygen masks drop down, you always got to put the oxygen mask on for yourself first before you can help other people. Then from the sounds of that, it’s like you build that belief in yourself first, then look to instill it into people’s their own belief in themselves around you, and then creates a kind of feedback or self perpetual thing that you’re looking to build that will last for a long time and spread out. Is that kind of?
Heath: Exactly. I’m actually going to steal the airplane thing and pretend that you didn’t say that, and that I said that.
Sonny: Go for it. [laughs]. [crosstalk] Sure, I got it somewhere else as well.
Heath: That’s exactly it though. Everybody kind of gets– They get lost in wanting to help other people and people like to tell people that they’re helping other people, or I always put everyone before myself. People brag about that and kind of get, but at the end of the day, it’s important that you’re healthy and mentally, because like I said, at a certain point, you might do that now but what about in two years? Things are a lot more important than today and tomorrow, you got to think about the future and it’s just so important to work on yourself to get to where you can help everyone else.
If you can combine those two things, be healthy, be able to help everyone, and expect nothing back. It’s funny, you get the most when you expect the least. It’s like when you’re chasing after a significant other, and they’re just kind of not interested in, then you’re like, ugh, fuck it, then the next thing, not only a hurry, you got four more call on you too, you know what I mean? It’s like when you stop chasing and you just start living. I think that’s just the way to create the culture, I think it’s a really positive one. I’m really proud of ours too. When people come and visit, they always say like, “Hey, the gym’s just like on the show and everybody’s so tough, and everyone’s so helpful and everyone’s so cool.”
I know it’s a little intimidating to come in and we have so many visitors sending people from other countries. The one that’s really gotten me lately is people are stopping by in the nighttime and they’re taking pictures with the sign, but they don’t come in and train. Then like I said, we’re really lucky, we’re at a crossroads, two main interstates cross in our town. Everything’s so cheap here, you can rent a house here for $600.
Sonny: That sounds better than Sydney. You’re tempting me to [laughs].
Heath: Listen in.
Sonny: Make a challenge.
Heath: [crosstalk] If you can ever come over, if you ever get to where you can come over, you come over and do a little thing on the gym, you stay with us. It’ll be great. But yes, that’s part of the reason, like I said earlier, why I like being from a small place. It gives me the availability to help more people. It’s a little cheaper and we gotta do it the hard way. Sometimes we got to put 15 people in a suburban that holds only eight people and drive down. Things are getting better, we’re just able to get a van and people ask, “Do we get anything from the Flo series?” It’s a two-part answer, but we don’t get any money from them directly.
However, they gave us the platform to share our story and that is worth everything. We’re forever grateful to them and Michael Sears and Simone Khan, who does the show, just to keep believing in the boys and keep sharing the story. I just think it’s touched so many people, we’ve gotten literally thousands of messages about just positive messages. The only negative message we get is “Fuck American jiu-jitsu,” which we collect those and we’re going to make a video on those, it’s going to be fun, but [laughs] it’s really funny too, because like I said, we don’t even give a shit about that, but-
Spatchy: I get the most messages about it.
Heath: Yes, actually Spatch gets the most messages about him, he’s Australian. It’s like indirectly, they go to him and that– We’re going to make a cross out American and part Australian jiu-jitsu, we’re going to make that a shirt actually. I think that I’ve actually never made a shirt before, ever. People always ask about apparel and merchandise. Will you kids call it Merch?
Sonny: Yes, Merch. We’re actually working on a first shirt right now. Like that, but we’ve never had one actually. If there’s any out there, like someone else has made them or something like that. It’s really humbling to have all the people, especially from the other countries and I keep saying that, but I just feel like in parts of Australia, Europe and I think a lot of these places, a lot of the South American countries, I think they’re where I was 20 years ago. It’s like you’re limited and sometimes you just can’t get over to the black belts or maybe you’re not in the position with family or whatever it is. I don’t know. I mean, fuck, you guys did the same thing. You’re a black belt and you made this happen. Peter– What’s the Peter guy’s name over there? He’s like the godfather, Peter Deben?
Sonny: Peter Deben.
Heath: He’s probably the first black belt over that way. Right? [crosstalk]-
Spatchy: John Will.
Sonny: There’s, yes, John Will, they said the dirty dozen but there’s a–
Heath: Yes. You know what I mean? That’s even a new Romina. Are there 100 black belts in Australia?
Sonny: I’d say so, yes. I’m just guessing.
Heath: You know what, 10 years ago, I think in America, that’s when it just first started coming. If you were a purple belt back in the day you were like a super bad-ass. If you were an American dude you had one of those, it’s like you knew somebody. You know what I mean? It’s growing in all the places and I just love to be able to talk with people and help them like I said, these small gyms and these garage gyms and some people have been paying these giant association fees and business is businesses. It is what it is. It’s just so nice to be able to feel like you’re helping people and get those messages and then say that you made them get back into Jiu-jitsu or whatever it may be, it’s really amazing and it’s because guys like you that have these shows, when you share everything with everybody, so that’s incredibly important.
Sonny: Thank you. I’m sure the merch will be a big seller. No doubt. I think it will be that you could bring people wearing a Daisy Fresh shirt and at other gyms and there’ll be asking them, why are you wearing that Daisy Fresh shirt guys?
Heath: I’ve really tried out. I see them sometimes when, like I said, I just think it’s a relatable thing. I think everyone kind of relates to it in a way that, man, these guys are approachable. They’re just normal hardworking dudes from wherever, and anyone can do it and that’s what’s Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be about anyway. It’s not supposed to be about hierarchy or it’s not supposed to be about one certain set or group of people being the best or monopolizing anything. That’s why like I said, the Jiu-jitsu revolution is important to make everyone see and understand that anyone can do anything and that everyone has that capability just with passionate love and teamwork, you can build anything. I think, like I said, that’s what that revolution is about.
Sonny: Like a big part that I’m really picking up in that revolution that you’re mentioning is certainly that team aspect. Even when you mentioned how like college wrestling coaches are on the sideline with the tracksuit and the whistle, which is heresy in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and perhaps there’s good benefits to that or there’s reasons in that. It keeps the art not being falsified or, but now it is at the stage where that could certainly be part of the next revolution, where you have that team atmosphere, you have specialist coaches, perhaps. You have that kind of a model that’s used in other sports. Is that part of what you’re heading towards?
Heath: I think it’s important– Let me share, I think it’s important for someone who has– Maybe we’ll get to the point when someone who’s like never done Jiu-jitsu would be able to teach Jiu-jitsu. Maybe, I don’t know, probably not in my lifetime, but when I say that, I just mean, you get a guy that’s in his late thirties, late forties, people don’t realize some of these– I’ve been training for almost 30 years already. You know what I mean? It just takes toll on you after a while and I get into a group with Andrew Gotzis and his brother and George and Jacob Coach and I mean, at the end of that, about that time next month, I’d be ready to go again physically.
What I mean by being over the coach on the side is, obviously– I’m just thinking, I don’t think you have to be out there rolling every single time to get that respect from the guys. I think that if you’re able to build something with them– like my guys could tap me all the time and they wouldn’t lose any respect for me because they could tap me out. I mean, that doesn’t mean shit. I’ve actually never even thought, it’s never even crossed my mind that they would think any less of a– There’s times that I busted my knee open a couple of months ago. I wasn’t able to train for two months and I got big and fat one time. I never felt like the guys had any less respect because I wasn’t training because I’m still there. I’m grinding it out with them. I’m sleeping on the match with these guys and what you know doesn’t go away. You know what I mean?
I think as long as your team isn’t getting watered down and– With our belts that we give out, we’ve kept it pretty simple. I have the guys when they pans the worlds and they get the next belt. Some people obviously can’t do that. There’s hobbyist and some people say, “Hey, man. That’s sandbagging.” Anyone who says that probably doesn’t compete or hasn’t competed in real competitions. When the guys lose, it’s not a big deal, but when their guys lose, oh man, this guy’s been sandbagged.
I don’t think anyone would accuse us of watering anything down. I think it’s important to just be connected with the students and that’s what I mean by that. If you have that respect and you’re able to do that off to the side and they’ll let you– Go in any, like I said, any Division One wrestling, most of these guys are 50, 60 years old. I mean, they’re not turned out, they’re wrestling with the guys. I mean, does that make them a shitty instructor? You know what I mean? I think that things will evolve into that, especially as us guys that are black belts, are the leaders now get a little bit older because it’s like Andrew.
There’s things that Andrew could show you that I couldn’t. I show him a move and I show him the entire passing system. He shows me back the entire passing system plus everything that he’s done to it just from me showing it to him. I think that him and Gordon and these guys, I think that they are very special mentally, the way that they see things and break things down. I think that their brains just work a little bit different than mine anyway. He’s not interested in really teaching. He’s still competing actively and he’s doing the instructionals and seminars and stuff, but he’s not really ready to take those reigns as the coach.
I just think there are captains on the team that you have to have and know these guys got your back. Like I said, as long as you have the respect from the students, there’s a big difference between respect and like, dominative like I said, the king of the kingdom. Some of these guys, they haven’t rolled with the students in 10 years, and then they get mad when the students leave and they show shit, and then–
Results are all the matter in the end anyway. Right? If a team’s pumping out constant champions, I mean, who am I to be judgmental towards their system? I would actually want to know everything about it. I think that’s a big difference between winners and people that don’t win, is they have an open mind to that. Is there any really set way to do anything in life in sports? You have all these coaches– I read every sporting thing that I can, and I’m really big to dig in into other sports. Not any Australian football stuff. I’ve never read any of this stuff. Is there a coach stash?
Spatchy: From where?
Heath: Australian football?
Spatchy: Like a famous coach ?
Spatchy: There’s a couple of decent ones but not like [crosstalk]-
Heath: You don’t know nothing.
Sonny: Ron Barassi.
Heath: Ron Barassi?
Spatchy: Hes good as…
Heath: The American guys think you said Ronda Rousey, but anyway–
Heath: I’m just kidding.
Spatchy: Shes a badass bitch.
Heath: Anyway, I just think things are constantly evolving, man. I think when you put your time in and you get the respect and the students trust you, that’s why it’s so important not to be a piece of shit and take advantage of your situation. I do think that time’s coming though. Like I said, the older the guys get, these young guys want to keep competing. We have a pretty young team, and guys that’ll be getting black belts here real soon and they’re definitely not ready to open up anytime soon. You know what? I’m slowing down, man. I’m getting old and you know how it goes, getting out there and mixing it up every time. I just don’t think that that’s as important as everyone thinks it is, just you can’t use it. There’s a fine line. You can’t use it as an excuse to not train and not get it in and I don’t know. You get it.
Sonny: Yes. It is that fine line that you mentioned of being able to keep it real and just the reality of eventually, the young guys are going to overtake you and that actually should be the goal of a good coach, it’s you want people to get better than you.
Heath: In martial arts in general, the perfect sensei treats the student that can defeat him, and show others how. That’s the oldest thing.
Sonny: Everyone can say that as well. It’s easy to put the poster on the wall that can espouse that value, but then actually being able to do that, and having a culture where people still don’t look at that as a bad thing and still have that support from each other is the key really, and the most difficult part about it. That takes the work and that takes potentially a toll in being able to put that into place. Was there any significant challenges or times, things that you had to overcome while building that kind of culture?
Heath: Yes, for sure. There was a time when we had won a team trophy, and they wouldn’t allow me to accept– We got second at a No-Gi Pans one time, with two guys, that’s a true story. Marcella Garcia’s team had won everything and the other 17 divisions were won by like individuals, so from different teams. It just worked out perfectly. Actually, I wasn’t allowed to get the trophy yet, and it happened again, in Atlanta. Finally, they let me on the podium. Actually one of the Gracie Barra guys said, “Man, let the dude on there.” You know what I mean? Next week though, there were two kids, eight-year-olds that were up there, and they were holding it, and I had guys competing and rules are rules. I get it, I understand it, and I’m okay with that.
If everyone’s following the rules, I’m cool with that, but it was tough to be in the stands yelling from 40 feet away, when I have students that are in the finals of the open worlds, you know what I mean? In the Gi, and in blue and purple, and just things like that. I could see people, girlfriends, and just people down and you want to make the coaching only black belts, I’m all for that, I get it, and I can appreciate that, but I wish the rules were all applied the same to everyone. That’s been a long time ago. Now, I think things have really shaped up, and I think they’ve fixed a lot, and it’s gotten much better, but there’s been a lot of shit talk about our team over the years, you know what I mean? Especially before the Daisy Fresh thing came out, we were on the scene, and we’ve always been a little bit rowdy.
You know that they’re boys, they’re from 17 or even younger than that, to 25. Like I said, they’re just young, and they’re full of it and they’re ready to go. We started making some statements, we just didn’t really have the numbers to win anything. We would take 10 guys and win 12 gold medals, we just didn’t have the numbers, but now, I think things have grown. There’s always a push back in anything, you know what I mean? In the last year, everyone has been extremely kind. When we won the No-Gi Pans, I actually really felt like that almost every coach from even the major teams, some of them wouldn’t get on the podium with me. They had other people get up there, because they didn’t want to be up there, but it is what it is.
We take our Ls like champs. If we’re in third, I get up there. If we don’t get a medal, it is what it is, but for the most part they were really supportive man, and they really went out of their way. I think they’re starting to see, it’s not about American or Australian, or Brazilian. It’s not about that. It’s just about Jiu-Jitsu man and saving people and growing our sport. In 100 years from now, can you imagine how big this is going to be, and looking back on things and seeing, man what a — It’s important for me for Pedigo Submission Fighting to not turn into one of these giant organizations, not that there’s anything wrong with these things. It’s just, I see some of these coaches sometimes and I always have a list. You can catch me any tournament, I’ll have the big giant list and coach every every person we got and running around the entire time.
Some of these guys, they’ll go and coach guys in the finals and they’ve never met these guys before. You know what I mean? It’s like they close out in divisions with people that they’ve never met. Dante Leone, when we were in his finals, that was in one of the Daisy Fresh, this is the No-Gi Black Belt World Championships, so that this kid’s dream and they wanted him to step down and give the title to this guy that he doesn’t even know. I don’t even know if they’d ever trained together before. Maybe but, I just don’t understand that. I don’t get that. They’ll say, it’s just about points but you know what? If Sonny and Heath are going into finals, and we already got the points, why ask one of us to step down? There’s little more to it I think, and I think these things are all changing.
We won the No-Gi Pans, the blue belt open. We got first and second, and one of our lightweights, Jacob Bornemann and Tristan Overvig, they had the match, man. We won first and second in the lightweight division. They tagged Cravens and Jacob Bornemann, they had the match. I think it’s important for the person who deserves to win to win. I think it hurts, if one of the two are weaker or something, I think it hurts them even more to just give them the title and secretly, deep down inside, you might always wonder who won and I just think it’s important for the best person to win. The guys are so happy anyway to be up there. They got nothing to lose, but when they get out there man and go against each other, they banging. These guys live together.
This isn’t like Jacob and some kid from Brazil that he’s never met before. This is like his roommate that he lives with. I just think keeping it pure, and I think that’s part of watering it down here. The same guys who bitch about watering it down. The same guys wanting to close out the divisions and asking people to step down, and it just is what it is, man. For us, we’re always going to get it in, we’re always going to have the matches, and I think until everybody else does too, it hurts the sport a little bit. American wrestlers, you can’t imagine the disgust that they have, knowing that these guys close divisions out. There already pissed off because there’s two third places. Me explaining that to them almost ends up in a fight every time.
The fact that these two guys that don’t know each other are closing out for points, or that sometimes guys will close and say, “Hey, this is my friend from so and so, we closed the division.” They wouldn’t even be on the same fucking team. I don’t know how it is in Australia, because that’s even a smaller community over there, but I just think it all plays into that bitch ass-ness, and it just breeds a weak competition mentality. People think that they’re building the team and the organization a little bit more, but really, I think it’s just a weakening, and I think that’s a part of the reasons that a lot of these guys leave.
One of my old training partners, he moved away. Jonathan Thomas, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him? Redhead John. John and I actually got all our belts together. A lot of people don’t know that he’s blue and white, we went up white, blue, purple, brown, and then when he moved away, we did a lot of training together. We happened to be Rodrigo’s at the exact same time, and we were the same size, so we got it in a lot. His brother is actually a coach at one of our association gyms that we have now in Tennessee, but when he got to Alliance, they asked him two or three years in a row to step down to one of the guys, like Mario Reis or Cobrinha. These guys had multiple world championships, and they would close out in the in the semis, so they didn’t have to have a match, and they could do the finals.
I don’t know, man, and it just so rubbed me the wrong way. I just always thought at that point in my life, man if we ever get to where we’re able to win at this level, I think it’s so important for the sport to do these matches. Like I said, we’re a baby team still. Hopefully, we’re able to change some things, and some people appreciate and understand that and that. I’d rather give up the team trophy than the boys wonder who the best person was. I think, if it’s that important to you– It’s about them, and they’re going to carry this around for the rest of their lives. You know what I mean? Like I said for Dante, that was his opportunity since– He was 20-years-old or something, he’s a fucking kid. His lifelong dream, and he’s Canadian on top of that. He is the first ever Canadian black belt world champion.
Not even giving him that the chance to do that, and we were ready. You know what I mean? He had trained at the training camp, and damn was good, he was ready to go and I just hated that. Actually hearing that and being there, that was my first time that I had been in the black belt world champion box, trying to get one coach in the box down there. I don’t know man. It was tough to hear. Talk about watered down and stuff like that. Like I said, people from two separate countries that don’t know each other.
Sonny: I hear you on that. I’m not a fan of closeouts myself. In fact, one of the most memorable matches I ever had was when I went against my good friend and teammate in the finals. I’ll regularly bring it up with him at every opportunity.
Heath: Who won?
Sonny: Me. That’s why I still bring it up.
Heath: Oh, that’s right. So memorable.
Sonny: Don’t worry. Apparently, I just ran and stole the whole time.
Heath: That’s why it’s important. Because maybe it’s a minimal fraction of anything but like I said, the best guy won that day. Maybe next time he would win, but this time you won and you know. Sometimes you fight harder against your friends. I’ve had two brothers that have went against each other before. It was a bloodbath, man. It was like, they killed each other going out there. If you don’t mind me asking, how’s the ju-jitsu scene in Australia right now with all the stuff?
Sonny: Man, it’s been going well. There’s certainly been a lot more changes, again, from maybe 10 years ago, where there was a lot more distance between schools. There was only a certain few that you could get to, and now it’s really popping up on. There’s 10 gyms in a three-kilometer radius of where I’m at now, with new ones still opening, which is–
Heath: You got to kick those guys arse man!
Sonny: Well, you got to have a little bit of that, “Let’s go guys.” You got to have a little bit, at the same time, it’s also getting to the point where it’s like, “Well, there’s just so many now that–” It’s easier if it’s the one rival or something like that. Now, it’s so many, it’s like, “We’re still going to go hard,” but I might not have even heard of one place that we’re going against yet.
Even with cross-training and such like that, it certainly seems like it’s become a lot more acceptable, and relaxed a bit more. I think everyone, the core group of competitors, and top-level guys out here seem to be like that. They’re all training together regardless of affiliation. They are all getting together and doing working.
Heath: That’s how you know. I think that’s the way to really gauge things, is that what you just said. At the end of the day, the top guys, the big competitors there regardless of affiliation, they’re getting an NC. That’s what’s important. That’s the example that needs to be set. A competitor know he’s good, it’s sucks. If you have a gym and a guy opens up the gym next door. If you were cooking hamburgers, that would suck for a hamburger place to come there.
It’s a little personal, but at the end of the day it’s like when if St Browns getting it in and showing the right shit, those guys from the other gym are going to come over anyway. That’s always how I look at it. It’s like, if someone needs to go, c’est la vie, it is what it is. I think, even when guys come you’re like– I helped a couple of guys for years, and they actually won World Championships for other teams. I always, of course, hoped that they would switch over, but that didn’t make it any less, me happy for them when they won.
Does it suck to see their coach get on there and talk about how he’s training them and did this? Of course, but, at the end of the day, it goes back to, “What was this about? Me or helping them? I think, if you keep that mindset, I think the more people that do it, the better. The more places that pop up sometimes the better. It sucks to the business owner, but for ju-jitsu and the longevity of it, I think it’s important to have the more the better.
Sonny: I think one of the core messages that you’ve mentioned is the use of ju-jitsu as a vehicle to change people’s lives for the better. If there’s more people doing ju-jitsu, then there’s more possibility of changing people’s lives for the better. Maybe just to finish up is, what do you think is it that makes ju-jitsu special or gives it the ability as a sport to be a vehicle for change and bettering people, or is it something that you think you could do through anything? Is it just a belief in yourself?
Heath: Of course, no matter what you’re doing, you have to believe in yourself. I can’t speak on too much stuff because ju-jitsu is really all that I’ve ever done. The reason that I think ju-jitsu is an amazing gift for that is because it doesn’t lie. You have to be honest with yourself because you know deep down inside if you’re fibbing, or if you haven’t been working hard or you’re cheating on your diet, or you’re not taking your time to get better or make people around you better, it tells the truth always.
For mental health, ju-jitsu, it doesn’t fix mental health. Obviously, if you have the mental health issues, you need to talk to someone that does mental health. I think it’s just saved a lot of lives out there, man. My favorite line ever in the Daisy Fresh was when Michael Sears asked Jorge Valladares, he asked him and Spatchy and Alejandro and Andrew and they almost had the same answer. Like, “If you weren’t here at that Pedigo submission fighting, what would you be doing?” I said, “I probably would just kill myself.” I got a message two nights ago, a guy had sent me and just said, “I have a disease. I drink and I’m killing myself. Can you help me?” It’s just a local guy. When you take these things on, it’s deciding and it’s a, “Hey, I want to save as many lives as I can.” Then you don’t get to hang the phone up though at eight o’clock when you hang the Gi up and leave from working. You get two o’clock phone calls in the morning, and are you willing to do all that? Because that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to really build something special.
It’s funny, people, they always ask me about the ju-jitsu like there’s some secret ju-jitsu moves. You’re one of the first ones actually that’s asked me like, “Is the success because of the ju-jitsu or is it because of the environment and the culture?” I actually believe it’s the second one. I actually believe it’s the environment that makes the champions. Like I said, it’s 2021, man, you want to do spider guard, watch Michael Lang, that was 15 years ago.
You can learn anything from watching stuff, but you can’t build an environment, you have to do that and the people around you have to do that. I think that a lot goes into it and I think that everyone wants to talk about feeling like they do that. Remember the king of the kingdom thing and if you’re a black belt that’s out there, not judging you, or anyone that’s listening, but ask yourself that, is this so you can be the boss or is it because you truly want to save lives? Are you willing to miss your son and daughter’s AFL Junior meets or basketball games?
Are you willing to get up at two in the morning to bail someone out of jail? If you’re not, that’s cool, that’s fine. I think it takes these things. When a guy’s wife leaves him, and he has nothing, he has ju-jitsu and the people that are there, that’s what makes this so special, man. Our gym is just made up of so many of those that. We have more non-competitors than we have competitors. It’s like a surprise to people. In that little Daisy Fresh room, we have about 50 to 60 people every single night in there plus the visitors that come and probably half are competitors and the other half, they’re competing, but not for metals, they’re competing for their life. Which, to me is even way more delicate and important than winning 100 World Championships. The medals and trophies are just that, at the end of the day, they’re just possessions.
If you have the opportunity to save these people’s lives, and everyone out there that’s a leader and that runs a gym, even if you’re just a student, you can step up, man and you can really help people. It is a full-time job. While I was talking you, I have about 500 unanswered text messages. Man, they just build up, and sometimes you fall behind and that starts to put a lot of stress on you too. That goes back into, you have to make sure that you’re all right too. I think you can get lost when you’re really trying to build something.
I got off subject on it there. It’s so important, I think to really be doing everything that’s necessary. If you want results, I just think that it takes that. The ju-jitsu is just a minimal part of winning the environment as everything. If you’re an Australian Football League player that you play on the shittiest team, and you do that for five years. I think if you go and play on the best teams for five years, no matter what anyone says, your game is going to be elevated up by the people around you, the coaches. It might not be just a skill. It might be the coaching. It might be your environment. It might be like a positive impact that they have, but it’s not secret strength conditioning, a deep De La Riva sweep that nobody knows.
It’s not that, it’s just so many things that factor into that. I think people could spend a little bit more time, building that environment for the students than just the ju-jitsu itself, what I mean? Hats off to anyone who does that, like I said. It’s totally cool for anyone to do anything they want. It’s not a knock on anyone. It’s just it’s the only way I know how to do things. Like I said, it’s a full-time job, man. At the end of the day, ju-jitsu was all I knew and this is the way that I cannot leave something behind and feel like I truly tried to change and better the world.
Maybe in another life it can be something else, but it’s ju-jitsu now, and that’s all I’ve done since I was 12 years old. My brother opened up the gym and then I did in 1997, so I was 13, 14, and we immediately started. We were able to rent our first place and he moved into it and it was right uptown on the square. We had two students for one year. One of them is a black belt now. He runs a gym for us out in Los Angeles area, Derek Featherston, but it just it takes time.
Like I said, anything worth anything, it takes incredible feats and a failure and just the time to put into it. That’s what I’ve done because I don’t know– If I didn’t do this, I don’t know what else I would do. I guess work at the factory or whatever. That just wasn’t enough for me, man. I just wanted to reach as many people as possible. Ju-jitsu’s given me the opportunity to– Especially now I feel like actually, I change the world, even if it’s just one of these boys. If they were truly going to kill themselves or hurt someone else, just being being there for them.
The price is, it’s 50 bucks a month right now to train at our gym, 50 bucks. You can live there for 50 bucks. That’s American dollars, not AUD, but it’s definitely not about making money and like are you able to pay the bills and stuff like that. I could raise the prices and I’ll make more money, but you’re not able to help as many people. When we get a bigger gym let’s charge more money obviously, but it’s still just going to be about helping people. I think that winning is just a by-product of that in the environment, that change the question.
I think the environment is so important and the mental aspect of this is– when you watch especially the lower belts, man, like the purples and the blue, purple, brown. Sometimes it just comes down to who’s tougher. It’s who’s got the most heart and who wants to win the most. They’re all so good, and you can see this. I think that so much mental like when you– The AOJ guys are incredible at building confident ju-jitsu guys. Byrd Satya, he had just went against a Cole from AOJ, the young kid, he was incredible. Cole actually won the match. Man, even at that age, he’s like 15 or 16. He was so confident. Their ju-jitsu is wonderful, but their confidence level, like the Mendez brothers are doing a wonderful job at building those guys confidence, they believe that they’re going to win. I really think that that goes a long way. I think it’s a big part of competing in that.
We break down technique and we break down takedowns but do you break down breaking people in general? I do. I try to look and see, like I said earlier when someone breaks physically and when they slow down, if they grab the grip and you break the grip, maybe on the eighth one, the ninth one, it’s all especially look after the 10th one the guy’s not going to reach anymore, he’s going to reach down. I think these are things that kind of go unnoticed. There really is. There’s just so much mental into it. At a certain level, everyone, for the most part– there’s obviously stand outs.
There there’s the Buchachers and the Gordon Ryan’s the statute Brooks’s. There’s these guys, out there, but for the most part, normal, normal, guys you know. The semis and the finals, these guys are going to be pretty equal in technique. What’s it going to come down to? Is it going to come down to ju-jitsu, or is it going to come down to mental toughness and that awareness and preparation? I think these are things that are all vital to becoming a champion. If you’re one of those guys up, if you like say, “Brown, you can just maul the fucking guys.” That’s great, but I’m not, you know what I mean? I have to look into actually more things than that. I think the boys have really benefited from that. I think that hopefully when they open their own gyms and they’re able to pass that down and they’re willing to do that work and build the environment, you know what I mean? When you build the environment, it’s like the field of dreams.
I had a Brazilian guy that kept telling me these IBJJF tournaments, if you build it, they will come. I didn’t know, that’s what he was saying in Portuguese. Then a girl that was walking by told me, “Do you know what he’s saying?” I said, no. That’s what he was saying from the movie. He was being supportive of the show, which is really cool. I actually bought the DVD next time I seen them and give it to him, keep it in my bag. I do believe that. I think it’s really about the environment as much as the ju-jitsu itself.
I think that if you’re not as good at jujitsu as a lot of people, that you can make up for that in a lot of different ways. Sometimes guys just aren’t technicians. You know what I mean? It’s look, you, Sonny Brown has the physical attributes that he has. That’s the way it is. Even if you get juiced up out of your mouth–
Sonny: Not much.
Heath: Me neither, I hear you, but you have hair at least that’s , You have what you have. Some people have more. I have a kid, a Jacob Ornament kid, he just walked on a college wrestling team. He’s never wrestled. They give him a full ride. It’s like one of the greatest accomplishments as a teammate and coach he was able to a full ride on that team and a college to wrestle. He’s never wrestled. He just learned how to wrestle in the gym, doing ju-jitsu. Now that he’s able to be on that team. That was really incredible. The kid’s physically just a monster man.
I have other guys that just aren’t that way. They have to take the mental route and do that. Andrew Wiltse is a lot like that. Anyone who knows now, you know that guy’s a giant dork, you know what I mean? He’s into this weird, like wizard Lord of the Rings type stuff. I don’t even know what the hell he likes, but he reads books and he is physically an animal, but he takes the time to learn the things like a hand placement, feet placement, a hip positioning, and all these stuff. You’re like, “Where is his knee on the knee slice? Is it slicing out is it slicing down, what’s the angle? What’s the percentage of misses the first try?” He knows all this stuff. It’s all completely broken down. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, this shit does matter. I mean, there’s a level that it doesn’t matter at.
Like I said, some people can slide by and keep doing it, but I think at some point it’s like the NBA, the basketball in America in the 1960s, a 6’10 guy was the best guy. Now the shooting guards are six foot 10. Now they weigh 280 pounds. They have muscles, they have conditioning coaches. There’s more to it than just the basics of playing basketball. There’s a lot more to it that goes into it. I think that you’ll kind of see that slowly turn up as ju-jitsu gets more popular and other places I think places like Australia and Europe and small places, like South America, Mexico, all these places. I think they’re going to make up for what they miss in technique by these things, and being able to replace a technique that they haven’t been able to get with. Like I said, toughness, or just the physics of a winning a match, basically.
Sonny: I hear you on that. I think that kind of wraps things together, where it is that change in ju-jitsu of perhaps shifting to that team culture, team sport, more atmosphere than requiring that belief and team leadership that instills the belief in those, everyone around you, not just in the leader, but in themselves as well. Then that belief potentially having the ability to overcome techniques. Then also recognizing that it’s not just putting that comradery in a mission statement or value statement that’s on the wall. There is a big sacrifice that comes along with going down that route.
Heath: For sure and like I said don’t let me– I’m not saying that ever– You can always learn technical, you know what I mean? I’m not saying be a meathead and go out there. You should constantly be learning. Even when you’re a black belt and 100 years old. If you’re still a student of the game, and love ju-jitsu, you should always be trying to learn. Some people aren’t capable of picking things up the way other people are. Some people just have that knack for just being able to see something.
We talked earlier about Jordan and Andrew, that sometimes John Danaher, these guys. Sometimes they just get things and they understand things a little differently. Maybe in other areas of life, this would’ve been considered a negative thing but for us in ju-jitsu, it’s a great thing. These things don’t replace learning the techniques but I think people have to keep in mind sometimes that capabilities of certain people are limited sometimes and they have to use their attributes in different ways and you can’t ever count anyone out, you know what I mean?
Mikey Musumeci, He’s a perfect example of this. Look at the guy, he’s just technically– I think he might be a little bit more athletic than he lets on. The guy is incredible. He just told Spatchy “Look you’re a little too small for this weight class you’re doing. You need to be drilling 12 hours a day if you’re going to be doing this.” He drilled that heel hook that he did on Lucas. He did it to him. He did it to Spatchy for hours before.
Spatchy: Same thing.
Heath: The exact same one, “Hey this is what I’m going to do,” and then he went out there and he just applied that perfectly. I just think he’s on that side of the spectrum of ju-jitsu. I think he’s that technical genius. I think Rodolfo Viera is on the other side of him. Not that he’s not an insanely technically amazing guy. I’m just saying he has physical attributes that allowed him to roll through– He was that king and then when Buchecha came, he was even more of a physical specimen and then he just rolled right through him. I just think that you have to constantly be a student of everything. That pretty much sums it up.
Sonny: I love it, Heath. You’ve been very generous to me with your time today and I really want to just say thank you for taking the time out of your day. I really appreciate it because it’s been a fascinating discussion for me just to get those insights. Especially on the culture side of things that we’ve gone over. It’s such an important part that’s often just given the lip service treatment or just that surface level stuff.
It’s been really great to get into that and I’d love to actually if– I know Spatchy has been in the background there. I’d love to have– Probably I’ll speak to him to get a full chat with him some time as well if any of the guys there because each one there is a cast of characters, right? They’ve all got great stories to tell.
Heath: Definitely all those guys, they all love to, I’m so happy for them that, like I said, that floor gave the platform to show them and for them to get the time to speak to guys like you. Helping them be seen and I think it just helps everybody realize, like I said, that, “Hey man I can do this,” and that’ll really take you far in life. Just believing in yourself a little bit and that can carry over to job interviews and talking to girls or whatever. That confidence carries and I think the show does that for so many more people than people realize, you know?
All of us weren’t lucky enough to be born in a place where there’s a lot. I think that’s really what this has done. People see it. If you can’t be a part of it, build it yourself. It’s not always the route that’s the easiest one but it was the correct one for me. Even if you’re part of something now, you can still build and you can change and you can make things happen and for everybody out there, it’s important. If you’re a leader, just remember you’re responsible for not just the students that you have but there’s students and people down the line, their kids and these people really look up to you. I think it’s important to always remember that and really believe in whatever it is that you’re trying to sell.
If you do and you’re passionate about that, I think that results are– They’re endless, that capabilities of what you’re able to do are. All these boys, man, anyone that they’re all down and they’d love to have them on, they’d love to be on there. You just let them know and we’ll hammer it out brother.
Sonny: Amazing. Yes, definitely want to make that happen. It really is the power of belief that’s kicking ass as well. It’s good to see.
Heath: Yes no doubt. Jorge just started with the Pedigo Submission Fighting YouTube thing and a lot of the videos he put on there, the reason that we put those out there, it’s actually for that. The comments on there are so good from the Daisy Fresh thing. We wanted to just keep sharing the story. Everyone’s able to talk to the boys, see that it’s possible. It really makes me excited just thinking about it. Checking those videos out on there. That’s not like a plug either. They’re really motivational and they can really give hope to, like I said, small places and the countries that are just behind because of where you are.
It’s like Australia, ju-jitsu’s not behind, it’s limited because of that. Everything catches up though. Some of the best guys in the world are Australian guys and I think that everything comes around and it just takes time. It’s like you said, there’s more than 100 blackbelts there. 10 years ago, there were like probably 6. Everything grows and over time, it’s really exciting to think about what all this will be like in 50 years when I’m long gone. It’s really neat to think about. I’m really happy that even if I had the tiniest part in being a part of the foundation for that, like I said, in that revolution. That makes me really happy. All this is worth it just for that.
Sonny: I love it. No doubt you will and the story is still being written as we speak, so I’m sure there’s plenty more chapters to add onto what’s going to come in the years ahead.
Heath: No doubt.
Sonny: Heath, thanks so much for your time mate. I really appreciate it again. You guys are inspiring, watching from over here. Yes, just want to say thanks a lot and hopefully, I’ll talk to the other guys and we could do it again in the future.
Heath: You’re the best, Sonny. Thanks for having me on and like everything you do. I know it’s your free time that you just do it. A lot of people always look at it like guys are trying to self promote themselves and make things but they don’t realize that– I’ve watched a lot of your stuff and I get a lot of people that ask to do these things and I do one every few months usually, but I just try to pick the ones where I know that people are passionately just– They want to make people in ju-jitsu better. I know that you do that, and thank you for that.
I’m humbled to be on your show with all the great people you’ve had. I really look forward to coming over to Australia, me and the guys. Like I said, I don’t really do seminars like just me. I want to have all the boys too. They’re a part of everything that’s been built. We would like to come over so maybe here in the next year, we’ll get over and maybe we’ll get to cruise by your spot and check it out. [crosstalk] They’re really wild, man, just fair warning.
Sonny: [laughs] I’m humbled to hear that and yes that’d be amazing. We got to wait for everything to open up but that would be just– Going to be good times.
Heath: Thanks brother. Well, thanks so much for having me on and I’ll have Alejandro give you a shout and we’ll schedule some times for the boys and you can have some twos or ones or whatever you want, you’re the boss.
Sonny: Thanks so much. It’s just a treat to be able to do that.
Heath: All right thanks again, Sonny, I appreciate you brother.
Sonny: Thanks so much, Heath. Have a great day mate.
In this episode of The Sonny Brown Breakdown Podcast, I talk to Erik Uresk, aBlack Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Judo, former professional MMA fighter and coach at Alliance MMA & Phuket Top Team. We discuss his start into the MMA World, how he advocates for embracing vulnerability in his training to help conquer adversity, his coaching philosophy, and how to generate trust from athletes. They also talked about the challenges he faced while working with high-level athletes mainly while working with Dominic Cruz (an athlete who has extensive knowledge of MMA).
Listen to The Erik Uresk Interview
For him, confidence comes to preparation. Not every day is going to feel good in the gym. He believes that there is no greater confidence than overcoming adversity. But there need to be a little bit easier rounds where you can be creative like there need to be different intensities and different periods of training. It can’t be like always all hard all the time. But there has to be a regular familiarity with vulnerability and discomfort in a fighter’s training.
Get Acquainted With Vulnerability, Discomfort, and Pain
He suggests an athlete get acquainted with vulnerability, discomfort, and pain. He then justifies it by putting the questions: Can you be successful without dealing with adversity, and hiding from those vulnerabilities? Yes, you can. Can you get the most out of yourself? No, you cannot. So there’s a huge difference between being successful, and winning fights. You can win fights purely based on your athleticism, but there will come a time in a place where adversity strikes you, and then how familiar will you be with that feeling. So, an athlete must get fully acquainted with vulnerability, discomfort, and pain
A Common Trend He Noticed With World Champions
After working with so many World Champions he noticed a common trend among them. And the trend is that they get obsessed about the stuff that they’re not good at.
Not Every Coach Is Meant For Every Athlete
Fighting is not for everybody. It’s a rational choice. Generally a choice for the well-adjusted. It’s a great opportunity to learn and forge yourself in a fashion that you might not have gotten to otherwise. But not every coach is meant for every athlete. If the coach has more passion and fire for your fight career than the athlete, then there’s a problem. He says “If that’s the case, I’m fine with not working with you.”
His journey from being a fighter to a coach
He worked with Alliance MMA, San Deigo for 4 years before moving to Bali MMA. There he felt like he was in a bad place mentally and left it after 8 months. After spending some time in the UK he went to Thailand and structured his training the best way he knew, and others started following the structure he was following, which made him kind of a proxy head coach there. During a fight camp there, he realized that he wanted to retire and step into the role of a formal head coach. Within a year of that decision, he joined Phuket Top Team.
The Philosophy behind the training structure
He followed the same training structure that they had at Alliance MMA in San Diego. He liked how the team did everything together, the coach had everything prescribed what everybody was going to do, there was a memory training every morning, everybody was in the gym trying to help each other. He saw all that worked and felt that this is a recipe to success. So he took all this with him to Phuket and perpetuated it.
How did he develop the style of grappling and boxing
Because of his Greco-Roman wrestling, grinding and top pressure were always easy for him. He always understood the feel of how to immobilize people. And he got good at immobilizing people due to this. But the problem with that is in a fight, it doesn’t mean much. He states you can win around by getting side control and holding the guy. You’re not going to win a lot of fans that way. And then if you get tired, and the guy gets up, now your arms are full of blood, and you’re not gonna be able to box. So he realized that as he started to challenge his play it safe mentality, he started to understand how to get positions to progress himself. So he tried to create the perfect pedigree between wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu and using the traits that they both offer.
Why did he create the pedigree between Wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu?
Because if you look at a guy like Mike Chandler in his fight against Charles Oliveira, before getting clipped with the left hand, he was shutting down the grappling, right from the top position by not engaging in the grappling. One thing that he finds interesting is, it’s largely poorly executed even at the top levels.
He says it’s because when you learn jujitsu for fighting, you often learn from a guy that has trained in the IBJJF point system. So if he is in a headquarters position, landing shots, does he need to pass to get to side control in an IBJJF tournament? Yes, he does. Being in headquarters is nothing, He is still actively trying to pass the guard. So he has to progress towards a finishing position. That’s why the hierarchy is supposed to represent energy. This teaches that side control or side mount is better than half guard.
Using Legs To Create Pins
In a lot of positions that produce pins, you can’t hit the person. That’s not great for pursuing a finish. If we’re looking to progress our position, using the arms to hold somebody down in a position. It isn’t great. So he started coming up with techniques of how to use the legs to create lower body pins. So if they can’t move their hips, then they can’t escape and that leaves the hands free to do what he is getting paid to do
(damaging the person). And then ultimately, when it’s done at its best, it becomes a dance where we’re kind of hovering back and forth between damage and then advancing position which could either lead to a TKO or ultimately a submission.
QUOTES FROM ERIK URESK:
“We all are afraid of losing, looking stupid, and not feeling in control to varying degrees. Whatever it is, it’s really important to confront it and not hide from it.”
“You don’t achieve much by telling somebody that they’re wrong. What you achieve great results with is explaining why you believe, what you believe, and then showing tangible proof of its effectiveness”
“When a fighter loses, you’ll see whether they trust their coach or not real quick, because it’s often when a lot of the blame and stuff starts to come out.”
“Learning to develop and maintain trust is the most important thing in coaching.”
“If your personal life is a mess, you’re gonna see that in the cage up to some degree.”
“Each person has the dignity to learn from their failure.”
“When you don’t know what love is, you take any positive attention as love.”
“The only thing you can control is your effort. You can’t control the outcome.”
I talk to Tum “Energia” Voorn who is a Jiu-Jitsu Practitioner with a Capoeria background and who also trained as a teacher. We discuss inquiry-based learning & instructional strategy that he describes as “Teaching Without Telling” and how he applies it in a grappling context, what obstacles it may have in its implementation, how to overcome them and the benefits of its use. We also relate this to forming a positive club culture by encouraging student feedback and, finally how leg locks can play into this pedagogy.
“Sometimes the best thing to do is actually ask the right questions at the right time, and have people find their own solutions to the problem.”
[00:00] – Introduction to Episode 41 [02:58] – Tum’s Background Story [08:05] – Why Did He Start Teaching [09:53] – Applying the “Teaching Without Telling” Method to Grappling Setting [13:12] – How to Teach Grappling to a Beginner [15:03] – Teaching Submission Step by Step [17:53] – Let Them Solve the Problem by Starting off With the Why [19:00] – How to Self Evolve? [23:59] – The Idea of Not Correcting Students Too Much [27:38] – Ask Questions to Let the Students Know About Their Fault [33:58] – Making Things Easy Isn’t Necessarily the Best Way to Improve [34:48] – How Tum Gives Small Guidelines to His Students to Make Them Improve [36:18] – Belt Promotions With Demo [40:18] – The Situation of Asking an Obscure Question on a Particular Move [42:20] – Facilitating and Creating an Environment That Benefits Growth [44:29] – Where Do YouTube Jiu-Jitsu Videos Lack [49:07] – Fun and Competition Approach of Jiu-Jitsu [51:50] – About Capoeira [56:37] – Creating a Culture of the Ability to Fail [58:00] – Giving Proper Feedback to People [1:03:33] – Create an Environment Where It’s Okay to Ask Questions [1:07:43] – The Artistic, Creative, and Problem-Solving Side of Jiu-Jitsu [1:14:48] – Being Open to Improvement [1:18:09] – Answering a Problem With a New Problem [1:24:00] – Relate Different Techniques, Positions or Guards to Make It a System [1:29:47] – His Approach of Making Jiu-Jitsu Videos
Applying teaching without telling into grappling
Tum says he likes Teaching without telling. Instead of just giving the instructions or monkey see monkey do, what he does is divide the class into groups and subgroups which has both fast learners and slow learners. He teaches by looking at the individuals eventually, and trying to make them better at the sport and having them understand what it is that they are doing, and what it is that they’re trying to achieve by asking more questions and less telling.
He explains that by giving an example, “what I did in the classroom from an early age with elementary school is when kids ask you questions like, teacher where can I find this? Or where can I find the scissors? Then it’s super convenient to just give them the answers like it’s over here or I’ll get it or just take it over there. But it’s way better to just ask the questions like, okay, where did you last put it? What’s the usual place? Where would you expect them to be? And through those small ways of answering questions with questions, instead of just giving the answer, I try to improve them.
Sometimes the best thing to do is actually ask the right questions at the right time, and have people find their own solutions to the problem. So instead of just giving all the answers to the hundreds of 1000s techniques, I would rather give some a point of view and a method of thinking to how to solve these problems, which can be then applied to several position situations and techniques in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.”
Let the people come up with their own rewards, values and answers. In this way, they’re much more likely to grow and learn. Because it’s pretty impossible to come up with all the answers as one person, no matter how much you know about Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or another given subject. And also, if you combine all the problems solving minds of all the people in the room, then together, you get so much more information and so much more possibilities of the outcome.
Tum tells, “last week, I had my students come up with a winning technique. They really like the small techniques where the instructions are not more than a minute, and they teach it to one of the other students. Then they switch around.
For example, you choose to explain to me an Ezekiel choke. And I choose to explain a Triangle choke. So you teach me your way of doing Ezekiel. And I teach you my way of doing the triangle, and then we switch. You get to another student, but you still teach this same Ezekiel, like 5, 10 or 20 times. And every time you explain this to someone, you evolve yourself by thinking about the steps.
You are explaining a technique to someone, and you then have a moment like, Hey, I automatically always do this. But why do I put my hand out? And as you are going through the steps, you yourself are thinking about this technique that you do so often in sparring. And now having the time to reflect on what it is exactly what you’re doing.
If people like training, if people like drilling, if people like sparring, then they are more open to learning, and they will grow faster. Tum says, “I’m a strong believer of having people motivated and enthusiastic for the sport and for what it is they’re doing. And then learning will come by itself.”
Creating a culture of the ability to fail
Failure is a necessary process and it’s one of the best teachers out there. Tum says, “don’t overload your students with all the details. Because if you haven’t experienced the problem, then the solution is pointless and worthless. So have them experience these problems, have them experience failure, have them correct themselves and be their own teacher because that’s the best way for drilling and learning.”
The idea of not correcting students too much
Tum says, “Obviously, safety is the number one priority. So someone explained something wrong, and it is a risk for safety or is a risk for injury, then obviously, I will step in and correct them to prevent injuries or other accidents from happening. But besides that, I would just let them go through it and see that they do not get the proper tap.
I would urge the other student to just let them try and solve it themselves. And usually, they come up with the answer. If not, I would step in and ask a question. I wouldn’t say, Hey, you have to get one arm out. I would say okay, why is the choke not working? What exactly is the strangle? What are you trying to strangle what part of your body is strangling his one? And then the students would find out that Oh, okay, the two arms is the problem by just having me ask the question.”
Show them instead of talking
It’s easier to teach them by showing the techniques instead of talking and that’s also a problem with a lot of teachers or especially in schools as well. It’s sometimes so easy to just give the answer. That’s convenient and good for your class, you can work what you thought you will work on that day or that specific week or month. And it just makes everything easier. But easier isn’t necessarily the best way to improve.
Tum says, “sometimes I call the whole group and ask Hey, what are the questions? What are the things you bump into? I call that troubleshooting. So we just did the technique. Before we go on, I first ask them, What did you walk into? What did you bump into? Then if no one can answer my questions then I say okay, this is what I saw, this is what I bumped into.
Then we continue with the technique or the system of that month. If they have any questions, I never answer them just as a question. I always say show me the question, don’t speak to me. Then they answer the question themselves on some occasions, as they start explaining, they just stop mid-sentence to say, oh wait, I forgot I have to take one out. Okay, I answered my own question. Thank you.”
Moving into a facilitator’s role as a teacher
He says, “We’re currently looking way more at teaching methods. Sometimes the mat space is a classroom, where you just listen to the teacher. Sometimes the mat space is a laboratory where you get to experiment with things. And sometimes the classroom is a play garden, we just get to play to spar with some friends. And having these different environments I think is really good because out of your class out of those people, everyone responds differently. Everyone has different learning methods, some people react really good to visual explanations.
I’m just a facilitator, and maybe a form of guideline. But I’m not a master, by any means on anything in life. Because I think facilitating and creating an environment that benefits and stimulates learning and growth is way more important than being the central person and telling everyone what and how to do it.”
There’s no interaction in instructional videos
There’s a great benefit of YouTube and instructionals videos. But one thing that’s clearly missing is, we cannot ask the why and we cannot interact with the group. I think one of the most important things in teaching is interacting with the group, watching their interest, watching if they get bored, watching how they react, having them ask questions, having them see the problem from different angles, etc. That’s almost impossible to do in an instructional. YouTube, for example, is a perfect way where you can show the monkey see monkey do. You can explain the why behind the technique and you can answer it yourself or you can ask it in the comments. But it’s more so of a demonstration.”
“Patience is a big part of teaching.”
– Tum Voorn
“Failure is a necessary teacher and is one of the best teachers.”
– Tum Voorn
“There’s never normally black and white, it’s always the shades of grey.”
I talk to Chris Brennan who is an MMA Hall of Famer, fighting in Pride, UFC, Shooto, Cage Rage and King Of The Cage veteran, and a 3-time No-Gi world champion and ADCC veteran. But perhaps it might not be well known that he started the first No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu school in America back in 1998 after leaving the Gracie Academy. We discuss what the Gracie Academy and the change to No-Gi were like and how he learned to train his students while competing in MMA.
We also discuss how he has taken those lessons and passed them on to his sons to help their MMA & grappling careers. Also, he shares some stories of backstage shenanigans with the Pride referees and the time that Genki Sudo came to town and competed in the Westside Submission Grappling tournament, one of the most viewed Jiu-Jitsu highlight videos around.
Sonny Brown: Chris, how are you doing there, mate?
Chris Brennan: Awesome, man. Thank you very much. How are you?
Sonny: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for joining me, and it is an honor to have such a veteran of both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA to be able to talk to.
Chris: Thank you.
Sonny: I mean, competing in all the top organizations, UFC, PRIDE, Shooto, Cage Rage, King of the Cage where you were the championship, and fighting the best guys in those organizations as well. Along with competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the No-Gi Black Belt World Championships, then what I really want to get into is the creation of your own gym, which was the first No-Gi Grappling School in America.
I actually didn’t know that initially. I might assume that many others, when they think No-Gi Grappling in America, they go to Eddie Bravo. We have a mutual friend in Dennis Kelly who lived and trained with you. He let me know, and I was fascinated to learn that. I just want to go back to the start with you, with you’re obviously watching UFC 1 while you are bouncing, I do believe, with Kimo and Todd Medina, earlier with Siver as well. That would, I guess, led you to the Gracie School. What was it like that first day going in there? How did that experience unfold?
Chris: It was cool. I actually went to another guy first, trained with Ken Gabrielson in his garage. Then I found Royce. I didn’t know Royce was in the area. I just watched the first UFC and didn’t know he was in the area. Find out he was in the area and I went directly there, kind of wanted to go to the stores at the time. I train there for a little bit. I actually sold my car, packed for double bags and flew to Brazil. I had 10,000, I expected to stay for a month, month and half, whatever, take as many privates as I could and train I need.
Well, one US dollar was seven riyal at the time. I basically had 70,000. I stayed for a year and took lots and lots of privates, trained everyday, multiple times a day. I got good, but when I came home, it’s when I really got to the following year kind of everything I learned over that year, I’d learn so much, and it was kind of overloaded and took notes and videos and lots of stuff. Then I brought a friend back with me who came back just short time after I did and stayed and I trained with him in my garage in California for a year, year and a half. That was kind of the real growth spot for me. I went back to the Gracie Academy and trained.
I was a blue belt at the Gracie Academy. They taught at a very– you want me to jump in to the Gracie Academy thing already or not yet?
Sonny: Yes, sure.
Chris: There’s a lot to talk about.
Sonny: When you went to Brazil, you hadn’t gone to the Gracie Academy yet?
Chris: I had gone there for a short time, and I really wanted to fight. My goal was to fight. I already got the vibe from Rorian and at the time that Royce was the going to be the only fighter in the building. I liked Royce. Me and him vibed really well from the very beginning. I was one of the guys with balls in the class that will be like, “Who hit you the hardest? Who has the toughest fight?” I had all the questions that no one wanted to asked him. It was cool.
I was there for a short time, and then I went to Brazil. I trained at Alliance, which was master jiu-jitsu at the time, Jacare, Romero Cavalcanti. I train at his gym. Man, Leo Vieira was a brown belt, Comprido was a purple belt, Ricardo Vieira was a yellow belt. Fabio Gurgel was there still in Rio. I hadn’t gone to Sao Paulo yet, which is where Marcelo started with him. It was way before everything. I just had an awesome, awesome experience. Me and Leo Vieira were like everyday trained together. My buddy, Roger Brooke, who is the guy that I brought back with, and he was a brown belt. I just had a lot of really cool experiences down there.
Sonny: Going back from spending that you’re in the Brazil, heading back to the USA, then I guess going back to the Gracie Academy, what were the differences in how jiu-jitsu was being taught to the students at the time?
Chris: Oh, so super different. The Gracie’s taught– they would teach you one way for a certain amount of time. For example, they would teach you how to pass the guard by putting your hand on the bicep on one side and reaching your hand between the legs on the other, and then stacking them and passing. There was no such thing as a triangle yet because they hadn’t taught you that. You’re doing that for months, and then you move on to the intermediate class and you don’t want to pass that way anymore because the triangle, you did do it like this.
Basically just created six months of bad habits, now I have to break. I love teaching anything. I used to teach my brothers how to tie their shoes, how to ride a bike. I enjoyed teaching. As someone who enjoyed teaching, right off the bat I’m like, “This is wrong. You shouldn’t have to teach anything and then unteach it to teach it a different way.” That’s what they did. It was just some money-making long process thing. After a little bit, it got exposed. I left the Gracie Academy, to go back just a little bit. I’m training there. I’m going through the instructor program. Me and Marc Laimon lived in a hotel room together. We lived in the days in, and we took all the furniture out, mat at the living room and just trained there everyday, but we were also in the instructor program at the academy. We’re paying 600 bucks a month to be in this program where we have to be there basically 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM with a break in the middle, and clean the toilet, clean the showers, clean the mats, assisting all the classes.
It was good. It was good for me because I have been coming from a kind of a very undisciplined background. I was a jackass as a kid. It was good for me discipline-wise, for sure. The problem was we weren’t getting the reciprocation. They weren’t teaching us the way we should have been getting taught.
My goal from day one was to fight. I saw the UFC, I want to fight. I went to learn jiu-jitsu to fight. I end up getting a fight with Pat Miletich. I had a couple of small fights in between, but I end up getting booked to fight Pat Miletich in Battlecade Extreme Fighting. That was a John Freddy’s baby. That end up folding, and the fight didn’t happen, and then Monte Cox, his past manager, hit me up and said, “Hey, would you like to fight Pat in our event, extreme challenge.” I said, “Yes. Absolutely.” I get booked to fight with Pat, and Rorian calls me in his office one day and says, “Hey, I heard you have a fight coming up,” and I said, “Yes.” He goes, “Yes, you can’t fight and be out of here,” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, is our name on anything? Is our name on? Are they advertising you as a fighter out of here? ” I was like, “No.” He said, “Do they know you train here?” I said, “I’m pretty sure they do. I mean, I’m really the only person that fights or that wants to fight, and out of the gym, so I’m sure they know where I train, but that’s all.” He says, “I need to see a copy of the contract.” I was like, “Man, I don’t even have a contract.” Back then, it was a small organization. He may have sent me a paper one day to sign, but at that point, I hadn’t had it yet.
He’s concerned that they’re building me up as a Gracie Jiu Jitsu fighter. Well, long story short, I come back to him and I was like, “Listen, I don’t have this. They’re not building me as this, but I’m going to fight. That’s my goal in the first place. We can do challenge matches here in the gym for you, but I can’t make money fighting out there for myself,” and his answer was basically no. Me, Mark Layman, Lola Anderson, Ethan Milliyes, and I believe my friend, Richard Bressler also came, and then a guy, Abvi. Abvi is a Jewish guy, who’s got a shitload of money, and he was training at the Gracie Academy. He said, “Let’s go open a gym together,” and I was like,” Seriously?”
We literally left the Gracie Academy and drove to Beverly Hills, and he found a building and we opened Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu. Where my motivation came is on the way out the door, I’m having a conversation with a guy named Sam Ranch, who was the manager of the Gracie Academy, and he said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, at some point, I’m going to open up a gym.” He goes, ” [laughs] Chris Brennan Jiu Jitsu, fuck Me. Who’s going to come?” I said, “Well, we’ll find out.”
When I left there, man, that was all I ever needed. I needed somebody to tell me I couldn’t do it, so that I could. That was the end of it for me. I didn’t put a Gi on, from blue belt on. I only trained at Beverly Hills for a little while, and then I bounced around Hicks and had a guy down the Regal where my parents lived, named Mark Ecker and Dave Comma. They were both phenomenal, and I trained with them off and on. Then finally I started teaching out of my garage because at the time, I was a good blue belt, and I was teaching No-Gi, which is what I wanted to do, and I really studied the last few months that I was at the Gracie Academy. I really studied how they taught, and they taught really well. They taught their techniques, their details very well. They just didn’t teach you a lot.
It was hard, but I got a lot of it– how the attention to detail down really well. Rorian was a good teacher. He’s an attorney, so he speaks really well. [chuckles]. I ended up teaching out of my garage, and I grew to 30 or 40 students. I opened a gym, and I got my first fight in UFC. I fought in UFC– actually, sorry. I got my first fight in UFC, training out of my garage.
Chris: Then I fought in the UFC. I took the money that I got and came home and opened my gym. That gym lasted about eight or nine months, and it closed because I was way ahead of the time. I didn’t have Joe Rogan on TV talking about me [laughs] and my jiu-jistsu. I went back to my garage, built up to about 60 students, moved into another building, and from that point, it’s just been phenomenal since beginning of ’98.
Sonny: Yes, an amazing time around that time with so much going on. When you have started teaching the students coming through the door at your new place, obviously you said the attention to detail as a way of– at Gracie Academy, that they were very good at. Was there any other things that you could see the benefit in, or just things that they were doing that you really liked in terms of potentially student retention, business-wise, things like that, of how they were running things?
Chris: I mean, they obviously killed it business-wise. They had a ton of students at the time. Royce was fighting in UFC. Everyone wanted to be the skinny guy that was beating all the big guys in the UFC. That was basically their business card. That’s why they used Royce in the first place. As far as student retention goes, in my opinion, it worked for a little while, just having it– it was the most effective style, but then you have guys like Machado right down the road who are teaching and producing better guys.
Then Rorian brought in Kaiki, and Kaiki was an awesome teacher, and he was showing all the good stuff, and Rorian would literally come in and tell him he couldn’t show that, and he would get basically lectured for showing that. Shortly after the time, we all left. He left and started doing his own thing. They ended up– and I don’t know how the Gracies got talked into this because they had to have known how they were teaching, but they did Machado versus Gracie school tournament, and the Gracies got their asses kicked, the students of the Gracie Academy got their kicked.
There were a handful of good guys. You’re going to get good at jiu-jitsu if you train jiu-jitsu, but there were much higher percentage of high-level grappler at the Machado gym at that time. Then Kaiki did the same thing. When Kaiki left, a lot of the high level students left with him.
Sonny: Do you think it was then the drip fading of techniques that they were doing to potentially keep people interested or keep them always wanting to see what the next one might be, as opposed to-
Sonny: -I assume then the Machados, were just showing all the latest stuff, maybe, for lack of a better term, or just showing more things? Do you think that that’s what was causing the difference there?
Chris: Yes, I mean, at the time, I don’t know what there was, it was the latest or the whatever. There wasn’t a lot of evolution for a handful of years, to be honest, and there really didn’t need to be evolution to us because they’ve been doing it so long, there was already so much to show us. They were just doing it at such a slow pace that it really started to hinder people, and people wanted to compete. They didn’t even like you to compete outside the gym. You could only do in-house tournaments, and I can tell you why, [laughs] because they weren’t going to do very good.
Yes, I mean, teaching slow is one thing that are holding back techniques and giving it one way and then having to change it to another way and things like that, that’s not good, and I don’t think it’s good for business either. I don’t know that they’ve changed that ever. Hopefully they did. I opened my gym and I was– I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t watch instructionals. I knew I didn’t want to put the Gi on, and I knew no one else was training Jiu jitsu without the Gi full time. Teaching the full-time. I literally got my students, Jeremy Williams, Tracy [unintelligible 00:18:14], Eric Victor, and I trained these guys as good and as fast as I possibly could to create training partners for myself, and to get them– I showed everything at the highest level that I knew at the time, and this continued to evolve that way and evolve that way and evolve that way, and continued to get better and better.
My style, in my opinion, got to be so good because it was basically trial by error. Trial by fire. I would train it, I would fight, and what worked, I would keep and develop more, and what didn’t, I wouldn’t. I ended up with some losses because of it, but I also ended up with some really high quality– really good wins and with really cool submissions and in, I think in 21 wins, I got 19 submissions, and 18 of them in the first round.
Sonny: Pretty good.
Chris: Yes. It showed my style. That’s what I wanted to do. I found out what worked, what didn’t by actually trying it in the cage.
Sonny: Well, that’s it. There’s no substitute for getting that real experience and putting it all on the line. I imagine, though, there must have been a lot of push back when you said you were going to do No Gi and do a No Gi only school. The common one that we still hear today is that training in the Gi makes you know Gi better, but that’s– I mean, I say we still hear it today, but it’s pretty much been disproven now over time with the No Gi guys.
Sonny: What was that like, the scrutiny on you from the community for taking the Gi off?
Chris: I was blackballed for a long time. No one wanted to promote me. No one wanted to let me train there unless I train the Gi. I wasn’t doing jiu-jitsu, but I’m beating guys. I’m like, “Okay. I am sure you would like to take the credit for my win by submission using jiu-jitsu even though you don’t want to call it jiu-jitsu.” I was a blue belt for four years, but I was hitting helicopter armbars on Fabiano Iha in Marc Ruas’s garage as a blue belt, but no one was going to be the guy to promote me unless I put the Gi on. That’s where Franjinha came in and helped me out. He was somebody that I met in Brazil who ended up being back in the United States with Paragon. From that point on, he’s promoted me. He’s put all the stripes and stuff on my black belt and everything.
For the longest time, I couldn’t get anything promotion-wise. Literally maybe four years ago, three years ago, my kids are competing in a tournament, and they’re destroying other kids. This dude, Alex Martin, who has a gym here in Dallas says, “Man, they’re so technical. Who teaches them jiu-jitsu?” I looked at him and I was like, “What?” He goes, “Who teaches jiu-jitsu at your gym?” I said, “I do.” He goes, “You train Gi?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Yes, who trains the Gi?” I said, “They’ve never put a Gi on before.” He said, “How did they get so technical?” I said, “Because it’s a myth, bro. You don’t have to put the Gi on to get good at jiu-jitsu.” He was just like, “Huh.” I think he was just trying to pump me by saying it. I knew he knew I didn’t train Gi. I knew he knew I was the coach.
I never, never got the credit for anything. My third World’s, I’m in the finals of World’s a third year. I got a guy, Paulo Guillobel, who’s a fifth-degree from Saulo, and he’s in the finals. I had won the first two years, and he shows up to finals day and he says, “Hey, man, thanks for showing up.” I go, “What?” He goes, “Thanks for showing up.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here.” I was like, “Why wouldn’t I be here? I won the last two years in a row?” [chuckles] He goes, “You know. Yes. I don’t know. Thanks.” I beat him, and he’s standing there at the podium. He goes, “Man, I really underestimated you. I didn’t think you’re that good.” I said, “I didn’t underestimate you. I knew you were good. That’s why I was prepared.”
Three years in a row, won every match but one by submission. It doesn’t matter. 21 subs or 19 subs in MMA just never got the credit for– I didn’t blow it up. I didn’t try to promote it too crazy. I just wanted to promote my gym and train and build good guys. That’s what I did. I wasn’t butt hurt about it. I do speak up sometimes when they talk about Eddie being the first. He definitely wasn’t that. I tried to get a match with him, to be honest, right after his last match with Royler. It was declined, but I think I approached it too aggressively.
Eddie’s good. He’s very good. He’s very good at his stuff. Stylistically, I am a terrible matchup for him. The way I pass. His go-to position from the bottom, is my go-to position to kill people from the top. I just wanted it, so I message Ralek who was matchmaking for Metamoris. I said, “Hey. Set up a match with me and Eddie.” I said, “Promote it as the original no-Gi guy versus the guy that gets credit for being the original no-Gi guy.” I said, “If I don’t tap him in five minutes, he can have whatever it is you’re going to pay me. You don’t even have to tell me what that is, but whatever my purse is, he can have it if I don’t catch in five minutes.” He was so excited. He goes, “I’ll get back to you.” He comes back to me, he goes, “Yes. He’s not going to compete anymore, he said.” I was like, “Man, I probably shouldn’t have approached it like that.”
I don’t dislike Eddie. He’s a nice guy. He’s respectful to me. He talks, at least as far as I know, highly of me. He commentated on a lot of my fights and talked highly of me. He’s got my name on his board in his gym that has submissions and positions and stuff. He’s got something on there called the Brennan mount, which is a tricky little mount that I do. It’s nothing against him. Also, now in the position we’re in, he has way more to lose than I do. If we compete, he beats me, everyone’s like, “Okay. Cool. Whatever.” If I beat him, what I’ve been saying is true. I get it. It is what it is.
Sonny: He obviously went through a lot of the same criticisms that you went through for doing no-Gi. Particularly the idea of the myth that you have to train in the Gi if you want to get technical. I was wondering if maybe you could expand on that just a little bit, of why you think that is a myth, and how, if someone’s thinking it still is the case, how they can look at it technically to dispel it.
Chris: I think it started, obviously with, jiu-jitsu in Brazil was all Gi. Then there was the Luta Livre guys. They were doing some sort of jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling without the Gi on, but they were more strikers with some submissions. They had such a rivalry going that jiu-jitsu was the winner. Every time they fought those guys, they took the Gi off to fight them.
In my opinion, whatever you’re training in, you’re creating habits. Every single time you do something, you’re creating habits. If 50% even, and the Gi guys train more than 50% Gi, but even at 50% of the time you’re holding my sleeve and my lapel and my pants, and then you go to train with me without it, that stuff’s not there anymore. There you are, basically like the passing the guard with the hand on the bicep thing. You now have to switch over to something else.
Right away, in my opinion, when I first took it off was, how can you get to the 10,000-hour rule if you’re doing the three different ways, two different ways. I wanted all no-Gi. I wanted to drill, and drill, and drill, and drill, and drill one way. If I could be tight, if I can find handles and be tight without the Gi on, how much tighter would it be if I put the Gi on? Then it would be tighter. If you train in the Gi all the time, and you have the handles, and you have the sleeves, and you have all those things that made it tight, and now we took the Gi off, you just lost everything that was creating your friction and your tightness. That’s why when you saw Eddie’s guys trying to fight in the UFC and stuff, they were trying to wear leggings and knee sleeves and all of that to create that tension.
My goal, always, was to create all that tension, and that weight, and that friction without that. With my grips, and with my handles, and with my positioning. That’s what I created and developed over that time. I think because that was what they came up doing forever, that was their moneymaker when they came here. The stripes cost now, the belt cost now. The Gi is their money-maker. You take off the Gi, it’s a different ballgame.
Renzo was at my grand opening. I’ve been friends with Renzo for probably, I guess almost 20 years, 20-something years. He says something about my Gi classes. I said, “I don’t have Gi classes.” He goes, “What?” I was like, “Yes, I don’t have Gi classes.” He goes, “None? Zero?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Man, I do $9,000 a month in laundry for Gi’s.” I said, “Look, I get it. I get that there’s another market for money there, but my market from day one has been no-Gi. I haven’t put a Gi on since blue belt. For a couple of pictures, I have, but that’s all. I get that I could make more money, but for me, it’s not about that. It’s about the principle of what I’m teaching, why I’m teaching it.”
If you want to compete in a Gi, for sure you need to train in a Gi. We’re not competing in a Gi. We’re competing in no-Gi, we’re fighting. We’re doing jiu-jitsu now at a level where now, had I spent my whole career competing in no-Gi jiu-jitsu matches only and not fighting, I’d probably been a huge name in jiu-jitsu, but I spent my time fighting instead because that’s what I really wanted to do.
I retired in 2013, and everyone’s like, “You’re going to start doing jiu-jitsu now?” I was like, “I don’t know. We’ll see.” My kids were competing at a tournament in Houston, and I was like, “Yes, I will do it with you.” I went down there and I did it. Then two months later, I did another one. Everyone’s like, ” You should do the Worlds in November,” or December, whatever it was. I was like, “Oh, my God. Well, okay.” I went down there.
I hadn’t trained, until that year, with a lot of high-level guys, but I traveled around Texas at training and some gyms before I started competing. I was handling everyone with my go-to stuff that I knew in my gym. I was having a harder time catching my blue belts with it than black belts at other places because they knew it. They knew what I was doing, but I got to the new people that I hadn’t trained with before. Not just catch it, catch it, catch them, catch them, and then I went to the new breed tournament, I won.
I went to the Austin open and I won, tapped everyone. Went to World’s my first-year, tap, tap, tap through to the finals and won, I was like, “Whoa.” The next year I went to Pan Ams in New York. Tapped everybody there and won. Came back a week later, went to California, did Worlds again, won all the way through there again with submissions. The following year, Pan Ams again, then I went back to California again and tapped everybody except for the last guy, who was very good, but beat him, and saw just how can you critique it and it’s not like I’m doing fancy rubber guard stuff. It’s not like I was tapping everyone with leg locks. I was beating them straight up with guard passing conversion, guillotines.
That was my bread and butter, and it kind of shot a few people up. The highlight was my first year at Worlds. In the finals, I won with the flying armbar, and like a jumping flying armbar. As soon as I stood up, Eddie, and like seven other dudes that were pretty good name guys, were literally standing right there watching. That could have been more satisfying. I didn’t ever have to repeat again after that.
Sonny: Got to be happy with that. Got to be happy.
Chris: Yes, I was happy. I was happy.
Sonny: Then one thing you did mention, there was the power of creating habits, and how intentionally or unintentionally you end up creating habits no matter what you’re doing. I guess then you talked about creating your own training partners to train with out of your students, and building up their habits. Just want to just ask them, how do you or how were you approaching that to train up those training partners, and then maybe has that changed over time?
Chris: The first year, I was doing it because, number one, no one was letting me come to their gym, because of my rebel to the No-Gi, or to the Gi. I had a handful of guys who were my very good friends, and I just started teaching them. My gym was small at the time, my garage was small at the time, and just started giving the good stuff, man, and rolling nonstop. I have a video of me and Jeremy Williams, who was my first black belt, and there’s a clock in the background. It starts at midnight, and at 2:30 AM, we end rolling. We roll for two and a half hours, starting at midnight at my gym. We’re just there rolling.
We just trained so much, and to start out, I was way better than them, and it just helped them elevate a lot faster. It pushed me a little bit, but that’s also where, in my career, it hindered me. I didn’t go away to other camps with higher level guys to train with. I was always the best guy in my camp. Unless, like, I had Pete Spratt as a striking coach, and that was awesome, but as far as jiu-jitsu and everything went, I was the best guy. It would take two or three times, four times through a round-robin of all my guys before I started getting beat, before I started getting dead. It wasn’t as effective as it should have been, but at the same time, I couldn’t afford to go away. I had a gym, had a wife of kids. It just didn’t work out that way, but that is also why I bring people in for Lucas, and I take him to train with people, so he’s not that that best guy in the room.
It’s not comfortable. We didn’t do it for a while, so when I first started doing it, he didn’t want to do it. I was like, “Why?” “Well, I can tell you why. Being the best guy in here, you’re going to come across a guy who starts to put it on you in the cage, and you’ll never been there before, and that’s not good.” I’ve got him trained with some really good guys, and I can tell you this, he’s on the highest level right now, with the best guys.
Sonny: Yes, and he’s doing quite well in Bella tour at the moment. That’s something I want to ask you about now, is how, especially with creating habits, and especially with jiu-jitsu habits translating over into MMA. It seems like a lot has changed in the last 10, 15 years, at least, of just with even submissions from people in the guard. Just not happening very often.
Chris: Of course.
Sonny: How do you then look at training kiu-jitsu for MMA in this day and age?
Chris: Fortunately, I didn’t wrestle. I started wrestling throughout my career when I had a couple of losses to Pat Miletich by decision because y’all wrestle me. My kids started wrestling in the beginning of high school. They both have very good wrestling. That is, in my opinion, the key to MMA, whether you want to be a striker or a jiu-jitsu guy, you need to know how to wrestle, and they both can wrestle.
If they’re put on their back, like if Lucas gets put on his back, he’ll get, depending on, let’s say, it happens in a fight, we got a plan, but let’s say it happens in a fight and there is two or three minutes left in the round, he’s got 30 seconds to try and submit him that he can’t, it’s time to get up, time to get on top.
He’s super dangerous on his back, he gives me so many problems from his back, but I know it’s MMA, I know it’s very difficult. Sleeping or getting up, get in the back, whatever, is important. If there’s 30 seconds left, let’s get up. If there’s a minute left, let’s get up. If there’s two, two and a half minutes left, I’m going to give him 30 seconds to try and set up a submission. Otherwise, after that, it’s time to get up, because in MMA, if you’re on your back, you’re losing, unless you’re throwing up multiple close subs and being very active, and he’s not, then he could probably win a little bit, but otherwise you’re losing in the judges eyes being on bottom. As good as his jiu-jitsu is on his back, the goal will be to get up if he ends up there.
There’s lots of ways to get up. However, he would get up to get back on top, not really to get back to the feet, unless he just end up on the ground with a monster that was a surprise to us or something. If you watch MMA now, MMA is the same fight. Every single fight is the same fight, and it’s two guys striking really well. Some guys strike really well, some guys don’t. Somebody gets a takedown, the other guy gets back up. No one’s really working to submit anybody. That’s why you’re not seeing a lot of submissions. At the same time, there’s only a handful of high-level jiu-jitsu guys in MMA, in my opinion.
If you watch the jiu-jitsu in general, I’m not pointing anybody out because they’re Jacaré, Demian Maia, Joe Lauzon, there’s a handful of– Jim Miller. There’s some really good guys. Cerrone is even underestimated on the ground. For the most part, their jiu-jitsu sucks in MMA. People don’t train it. I think you have to have a specialty, and then get everything else as good as you can. If wrestling is your specialty, or jiu-jitsu is your specialty, that is going to shine because as a striker, as a grappler, for example, you got three or four feet to worry about, close that distance. Then if you’re light-years ahead of him on the ground, that’s it for him. You see guys that cannot get up, and they cannot get up when they have a good guy on top of them. They have everything to worry about after that.
My goal with him is to change the game back a little bit to how it was, but at a much, much higher level. I can’t even explain to you his jiu-jtsu in MMA. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of his fights, but his jiu-jitsu and wrestling combo in MMA is now making his striking better, because people worry about the take-downs, so he’s landing good strikes, then get to take-down. He is just a grinder, tons of strikes, tons of elbows, nonstop passing, knee-riding passing, hovering, and it’s just really hard to put him in a bad position. We train it like that. We train it.
If he’s going to lose a position, it’s going to be to the next best position, is going to be right back to the other one again. Putting him on his back is going to be really, really difficult. Keeping him there would be even more difficult. I want to continue to see him use a lot of jiu-jitsu, and maybe get some more people that ended up falling back that route. Otherwise, MMA is for sure its own style. It is guys training Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and boxing, and wrestling all at the same time and mastering nothing. They’re good everywhere but they’re not great anywhere. If someone is great somewhere and you’re able to take them there, you’re going to beat them there.
He is a good, good wrestle. He’s great at Jiu-Jitsu. His striking is– I don’t like to keep talking about striking because I want to surprise somebody. He is going to get a knockout. I just don’t want them to fall in love with the knockout when he gets it. When he gets a knockout, we’re going to go backstage and shoot doubles.
Sonny: I hear you.
Chris: Just because, man, you know guys like Jorge Gurgel, even Demian Maia for a while. Those guys fall in love with their striking, and wrestlers fall in love with their strikings. They have power, but that’s where you end up getting losses. The goal with him, man, is to run to 10 and 0, and then start challenging for the top five guys, for the belt in Bellator and get there without losses.
That’s obviously the goal for everybody, but this is a realistic goal about how we’re approaching it, not rushing it and just fighting smart. For a while, you’re listening to the commentators say, “Oh, I want to see him do this. I want to see that.” We don’t give a shit what you want to see. We want to win the fight.
Chris: The goal is to win. He’s very mentally strong and stays very patient. He’s dedicated like literally nobody I’ve ever seen. He has a whiteboard in his bedroom the size of a sixty-five-inch TV that looks like the algorithm and goodwill hunting, but it’s the breakdown of his fight camp. He does it every camp. He was a really smart kid before he started fighting. He wasn’t a fighter, never been in a fight before, just taking a different approach to it. It’s difficult to beat. It’s going to be difficult to beat.
Sonny: When you started teaching him Jiu-Jitsu, had you already started wrestling, or where did that fall in line? Did you always teach Jiu-Jitsu in the mind of it, it’s going to be MMA applicable?
Chris: Yes. I always thought Jiu-Jitsu was fairly MMA. My passing is perfect for it. Anytime on the bottom, there’s not a lot of reaching under the leg. There’s not a lot of stuff that leave you open to getting hit. There was always that MMA in the background, but legit Jiu-Jitsu is not what you would now call MMA Jiu-Jitsu, for sure. It was definitely more you could compete with it or fight with it. That’s how mine was, my whole career, too.
My kids, Luke, for example, was just a quiet nerdy book, animals, art kid. Tyler was racing motocross. He was real athletic. They were about to go into 7th and 8th grade. I said, “I’m going to have you guys start training.” I had just opened my gym in Texas. I said, “I’m going to have you guys start training just for self-defense reasons”, because both of them are super sweet kids, and had anybody ever picked on them, they would have never fought back, for sure would not have fought back.
I started training them. Maybe a month, two months in, there was a tournament coming up, a NAGA tournament. Tyler wanted to do it, and Lucas was not interested at all. We went and Tyler won. On the way home, Luke said, “When’s the next tournament?” I said, “I’m not sure. Why? “Because I’ll do it.” I was like, “Okay, cool”.
He had what would be probably a fifty-fifty first year of winning and losing. He was bigger than Tyler. He was competing against good kids. He’s competing against kids that are training way longer. Tyler took to it. Tyler has nine Jiu-Jitsu losses out of 290 something wins. He’s redeemed, I think, all but two of them because we never saw those guys again. He was just a savage.
Luke had a good amount in his first year. Then, by the second year, he just worked so hard and was an athletic and worked himself into being athletic. By the third year, he won the kids’ world championships in California, and so did Tyler. He just got better and better and better. Luke didn’t start wrestling until his freshman year in high school. Tyler, as an eighth-grader, got to show up to the high school practices sometimes and train with them, but he didn’t get to actually wrestle till his freshman year.
That was it. They didn’t start till freshman year in high school. Their work ethic was second to none. The wrestling coach also– we walked in to the orientation and the rest of the coach made eye contact with me and saw them and he goes, “Man, I heard you guys moved to Frisco, but we weren’t sure what school you were going to go to. We’re so excited.” Again, they are the hardest-working guys in the room. Now, Tyler’s wrestling Division I. His coach tells me he’s the hardest working guy in the room. It’s just the work ethic we created while training Jiu-Jitsu and started them in wrestling.
Sonny: Sounds like a pretty good combination and a good way of looking at things you’ve got there. I guess when you are training them and training guys at your own gym, I wonder what the role then of creativity is in your teaching process and training process because I’m thinking, for a guy to go out on their own, go against the grain, you probably would be more open to new ideas and experimentation, and trying things like that in the training room. Would that be a fair assumption to make?
Chris: Yes. I’m open to anything, but I also have a passing system, a guillotine system. I love leg locks as well. I learned my leg locks from the Sambo guy. One of my students took a handful of privates from Gordon and from, I believe, Gary when they were here and showed me something. When he showed me that, I was like, “Oh, awesome.” At that night, I hit it three times on people. From that point on, I use it, Lucas uses it, and stuff like that.
I’m definitely open to learning anything and love to learn, but I’ve mastered what I do. I’m a one side– I don’t even drill both sides. I drill one side and I’m 99% on every side. I’m on the left-arm Kimura and armbar guy. I’m a right leg outside hook, left leg inside hook. I pass to both sides. I guillotine on my left arm. Everything’s one side, and the other side is probably fucking 40%.
The side I’m good, I’ve put in so many hours and so many drills, doing it live as well so many times that, like I said, when I went to Worlds, I tapped everybody in all three tournaments with the same submission, give or take one guillotine, but all from the same position, my home base position. It’s just something that I’ve drilled so much that’s real hard to stop. If I get to it, then typically, I get to it.
Both of my kids were even more open than me. I don’t know if it’s because Luke’s super artsy, but he’s like mind completely open and does some crazy stuff. Watching him and Tyler roll together hurts my brain because the different positions and stuff that they get into and stuff that they try, and are able to recover from if it doesn’t work. It’s pretty awesome. Everyone’s pretty open.
Sonny: Yes. I guess even just being able to learn those things from other people and students and having them work on things as well, go back to what you’re describing at the Gracie Academy, is possibly the exact opposite, right?
Chris: Yes, for sure, the opposite. If I try to walk in the gym and say, “Hey, boys, I saw this. Check this. Let me show you.” Probably laugh at me.
Sonny: Also, you mentioned the benefit of competition in being able to go out and test yourself against other people, and using that as the testing ground to get new ideas and bring new things back in to change habits. There’s a particular competition that I have to ask you about, which is the 2001 Westside Submission Grappling Tournament when Genki Sudo came to town. There’s a video online that I must have watched about 1,000 or more times of Genki Sudo-
Chris: The highlight?
Sonny: Yes, the highlight video. I’ve got the whole thing. I’d love to see it. It has to be one of my favorites of all time. It’s one of those ones that I’d show people, “Hey, this is this is how cool this can be.” You were the referee in that tournament. In the video, obviously, it was at your place. Can you describe what’s the back story there? What happened? What went down that day?
Chris: I used to hold a tournament in my gym, Westside Submission Tournament. I’ll hold it every few months. We give away either free pizza and drinks or I’d get like a ten-foot subway sandwich and cut it and give away free food to the competitors. We had Roy Nelson, we had Herb Dean, we had Dean Lister. A lot of really good guys, Romie Aram, Javi Vazquez. Really good guys, come in and do the tournament. Unfortunately, a lot of times they weren’t there at the same time. They weren’t there at the same tournament.
That day Genki walked in and I didn’t know who he was at the time. He had a couple of guys with him, I think some sort of publicity guy or journalist guy or something, I don’t know. I don’t even know why he was in the US and why he’s at my gym or how he found out about it, I don’t know. But he doesn’t walk in my gym in Lake Forest, California. I was like, “Oh, this guy looks like he’s going to be good in flying triangle.” He went with my guy first and he flying triangles the next three guys, and he flying triangle the next three guys in a row.
I was like, “Shit, man, if we just saw those first three, you probably wouldn’t get flying triangle.” You might’ve got beat by something else, but probably wouldn’t get flight triangle. He hits those. Then he’s dancing around one kid’s guard and hops over his guard to a mounted triangle, and then hits that rolling cap pressure. As you can see me in the video, I was just laughing when he hits that cap. I was like, “Oh my God, that was crazy”.
He had seven matches and just ran through seven guys. Then he’s tired, sits down, Javi Vazquez walks in the door and he was going to do the absolute. I was like, “Oh, man.” I offered 500 bucks to the winner of both of them, back then that was a lot of money in the Jiu-Jitsu bet. I said to Genki and he goes, “No”, he was tired. He was exhausted. He didn’t want to go and Javi was fresh. I got it and I was like, “Okay, hopefully, you come back another time”.
That match didn’t get to happen. It would have been pretty exciting because Javi was very good, and would have definitely been the highest level guy that day that Genki would have gone against. How cool just to have that video of him showing up a super nice guy, smoked everybody, and then just grabbed his piece of pizza and left [laughs]. That was mind-blowing.
Sonny: That is incredible. It matches what I picked up, what I thought it was going on, which is, “Yes, why is Genki Sudo here?”
Chris: Yes, I was thinking the same that you are.
Sonny: “What is going on?” Because he’s such a creative grappler himself. That it’s just incredible to watch. It just didn’t seem like it was like “What is going on?” [laughs] Did you ever see him again after that day in America?
Chris: I saw him in Japan but I never saw him in America again. I don’t know what he was doing there.
Chris: The cool thing about it was not only is he creative, he wasn’t afraid to go for it. I’m creative but all my stuff has like a 99% exit strategy where I’m right back to a good spot. He would just throw with things. It was amazing to watch that day. Pretty cool.
Sonny: I definitely jumped on a few training partners going for that flying triangle over the seated guard a few times after watching that video, and failing spectacularly. That’s incredible. I guess, also with speaking over in Japan, taking your note brand of Nogi Jiu-Jitsu going over into pride shooter and things over there, was there any considerations for your Jiu-Jitsu, like any of those criticisms of Nogi? Did you experience that over there or was it just all forgotten and left behind in America?
Chris: No criticism at all over there. They’re all very cool. My first– well, I’d say go to Pride first. I don’t know if I went to Pride– was it Rampage first when he fought Sakuraba or if I fought Gomi first? I forget. But my first trip for me fighting was Gomi. I hit some really nice submissions, really nice takedowns, really nice. He hadn’t been taken down in a fight yet, and I took him out four times, had a couple of Kimuras locked up. That was early on in my Kimura game attack system, whatever.
I had him in so many things. They loved it. It was a very high pace fight, close, close decision. Then my first fight in Pride, I hit two subs on the same guy. I armbar him.
Sonny: Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that.
Chris: The second half of that fight was so much more exciting. I was mad at the time but glad it happened now because it actually worked. I got to work my home base position, which I just started then, which is why I kill everyone from now. But that was a whole dramatic scene, but I got to show some fancy Jiu-Jitsu there as well. That was cool. Rolling Kimura from the single leg.
Sonny: That was Eiji- I’ll probably butcher the pronunciation.
Chris: Eiji Mitsuoka.
Sonny: You got it. Tapped him with an armbar, and then it was confusion where the ref hops up, says he didn’t tap. You guys, after the break, you guys have to go again. What was going on there? Is it one of those Japanese refereeing stories that you might hear?
Chris: It started long before that [laughs]. Let me go back to the short time before that. I was supposed to fight Joe Stevenson in the UFC right after he won The Ultimate Fighter. They asked me to fight him and I had wanted to fight him but they’d come to me offering me 3,000 to show, 3000 to win. I just, a couple of years earlier, beat him handily in less than two minutes. I was like, “Man, I’m not fighting three to three. It’s not worth it to me”.
Then I asked what he was getting, he was getting 10 to 10. I was like, “No. No way.” Like, “Oh, he’s the winner of the show. He wants you to be his first fight in UFC.” I’m like, “I’m not doing it for three to three.” At the time, I needed money but I didn’t need it like that, so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They came back and offered me four and four. Joe started talking trash, even the first time, and that’s what got him put to sleep the first time.
I ended up saying yes, and they said, “Okay, we’ll set a contract.” Well, 30 days later– actually, I didn’t hear from them. 30 days later, the Gracie hit me up to fight in the Gracie Fighting Championships and they were offered me 20,000 flat. It was 36 days before the UFC. I said, “Yes, I’ll take that fight.” I take that fight. Joe Silva calls me and says, “Hey, what are you doing? You can’t take that fight.” I said, “Why?” He goes, “Your contract-” “But what are you saying? I never got a contract.” He said, “You never got our contract back” I was like, “Because you never sent me a contract”.
We got a big argument. Long story short, they tell me, I can’t take the other fight. I said, “You’re going to have to pay me more than four and four if you don’t want me to take that fight. They’re paying me 20 grand. I need 20 grand.” I said no. The next day, Dana calls me and he says, “Chris, drop out of that fight. You can’t take that fight.” I said, “Listen, Dana, you guys are paying me shit money, and they’re paying me good money. I need to fight.” “We’ll put you on the poster, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “It doesn’t matter, whatever”.
Then he says, “Listen, drop out that fight or you’re banned from the UFC for life.” I was like, “What?” At that point, they had given me tickets to the UFC a couple of times when I was in town in Vegas and that weekend was my anniversary. My wife and I are in Vegas and I said, “I’ll tell you what. Give me tickets to the fights this weekend and I’ll do it.” He goes, I can’t really-” and I hung up the phone. That was the end of it. I leave to go big bear to get ready for the fight that Gracies had offered me. The next day on the underground forum, Dana White posts, “Chris Brennan is a fucking pussy.” By the time I got to it, it was 20 pages long but everyone was bashing Dana. “You’re the CEO of this company. How are you going to talk like this about one of your guys? Blah, blah, blah”.
For the most part, it was ripping him. A couple of people call me a pussy probably but whatever. I’m dying and I’m like, “Oh my God.” I get through my fight. I win. I go to the UFC, another UFC to watch. As I’m there, I’m walking through the pool area at Mandalay and I hear Chris, Chris Brennan. I looked back and it’s [unintelligible 00:59:49] from pride. Well, I ended up verbally agreeing to my pride contract after UFC. Couldn’t have gotten any better than that. I tell them yes, that I would like to fight for them, and they said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you”.
I go home and that is on Sunday. On Monday, they call me and said, “Hey, do you want to fight in our next show?” I said, “Yes, when is it?” “Like Monday?” Well, it was on a Monday, I don’t know why. I was like, “What?” I had two days of training and then I’m on a flight to Japan and not in shape, I wasn’t ready to fight and I show up in the weight class, was 183 pounds. That’s what the middleweight was at that time. There was no 161 weight class yet at pride. I show up, I make my cut, I get to 183. I weigh in and they come to me and they said, “Hey, he’s a little bit smaller. I’m going to need you to lose a couple more pounds.” I was like, “Oh, okay, what do you need?””It’s 181”.
I went and I cut two more pounds. I make 181, and they told me again that, “We need you to make 180 pounds, you lose another pound.” I’m like, “Man”, I wasn’t in shape. It’s already hard cutting this, so I go and I cut that pound. I come back again and the third time they’re like, “Hey, he’s 76, I need you to make 79, make 79, they’ll take the fight.” I’m like, “What do you mean they’ll take the fight? You guys offered me this fight because of him.” My brother says, “Listen, if you want him to lose that next pound, we’re going to need some compensation from you”, and they said, “Oh, okay. Do you want crystal with the fight?” Me and my brother looked at each other like, “What?” I was like, “No, no, we’ll take care of that”, and that’s how I ended up signing a four-five deal with Brian.
I walked away and I’m elbowing him like, “Dude, I knew that shit happened over here.” I was tripping out so hard and now I’m like, “Man, they’re just going to screw me and the others. I really got to get in and get out.” I got to get this done, can’t let it go to the judges. I go in and I armbar this guy, he screams, taps, and the ref grabs me all at the same time. I let go, I stand and walk away, I turn around and they’re saying they didn’t tap like, “Oh my God, this is it. This is how they’re going to do it.” I’m not in shape. I had fought for a minute and a half and I was already tired, and then fortunately they took like a five or six-minute break while all the referees were discussing it and they came back, “You’re going to fight again.” I was like, “Oh my God”.
Then I thought, for sure, I wasn’t going to win at that point, no matter what I do, they’re not going to let this happen, so I ended up breaking a shoulder on the same side. I hit him with the whole takedown single leg to the Kimura, to the roll. All of it was just so perfect and it was flashy, it was fancy. Didn’t even mean to be, but it just was and I hit him with a gray Kimura at the end, it literally towards to your shoulder and I lead into him and I said, “You should have admitted your tap the first time”, and I walked off.
Then I was irritated and I want to talk trash when they interviewed me but I calmed down by that time I was like, “No, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have let go, I should have waited for the referee.” Even though I did wait, the referee did break us up, and I just took the blame for it and moved on because I knew I wanted to come back and fight some more and whatnot. That was a crazy, crazy, crazy night man.
Sonny: Yes, that whole thing it’s like a scene from a movie or something, the backstage.
Chris: I wish I had that all on video. It was fantastic.
Sonny: It’s amazing. I guess just focusing then on your use of Kimuras, or at least the instructional, the king of the Kimuras. It’s obviously like it really got a bump in people’s minds, now people call it the Kimura trap and things like that. Danaher is obviously very heavy on the Kimuras. What’s your thoughts on that? Always you must be like, “I knew so all along”, right?
Chris: For sure. It’s a grip that you can submit people with. You can turn in armbars, you can take the back, you can sweep, you can do so much with it, and in a Nogi situation, it’s a good grip, fifth-round sweaty. It’s going to be your best go-to to control an arm. I have a grip when I grab it, it puts a bicep slicer feeling on your arm the entire time and I get guys tapping early to stuff that I’m doing just because the grip stays on so tight.
It’s always been all the way back in the end of 1999 to 2000. I was doing it all the time. 2001, I hit it. I don’t know what year I fought Gomi in, but at that point in time, I was hitting on everybody in training. I had on Domi, I didn’t finish it, but literally, my point of my career, was the development of my style, my game, and I got better training on the best guys and then trying in the gym and getting better and trial and error, what did I do wrong in the fight? I made a huge mistake in the Gomi fight that I pet [unintelligible 01:05:35] when I’m teaching now on this one sweep, but it ended up with him inside control on me on this role because my knee wasn’t on his belly. It was the tiniest thing that made a giant difference in the position, right at that point.
It’s something that I’ve spent. If a guy spent a couple of years getting good at something, it’s something I spent 15 years getting good at. I spent 15 years or more working the guillotine into the Kimura because they both play right next to each other. If I miss one, the other’s there and then adding Lakes. In the last five years, I’ve just been a passing, passing, passing, passing. I love my knees slides and low passes, and some of the stuff that Gordon’s doing now. But even the stuff that he does, if Gordon was under Gordon and he tried to pass that way, he’d leg lock him. My leg stable and everything, the way I do it is always been legs safe even before legs became a thing. I didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments in the last four or five years when legs became really big to my passing system to knock it leg locked.
Sonny: Then you mentioned in the Kimura as the grip, do you think that that was your early adoption of Nogi that led you down that path? Or was it already [crosstalk].
Chris: Yes, for sure.
Chris: What happened was, one day at the Gracie Academy, and I knew I already didn’t want to train GI, I didn’t want to compete GI, but one day in the Gracie Academy, there were a couple of guys that were in the GI that were better than me, a couple of purple belts and a couple of brown belts. At the time I was blue and had, I don’t know, two stripes. They could beat me in the GI, I could give everyone a hard match, but they could beat me in the GI.One day a hoist came down, said, “Everybody take off your GI off. We’re going to go open hand strikes and go live.” I just beat them out of everyone, but not just striking them, my Jiu-Jitsu was just naturally really good without the GI on. I had my sweeps, I had my take-downs, my guard passing, like all of it just naturally came to me that day. I went and sat back down, I was like, “Holy crap.” I’ve been doing Nogi on the side, me and Layman in the hotel room. We had guys like Lucio DeAngelis, Little H who’s in fights in Bellator and wasn’t LFA. A lot of really good guys from Brazil, Mauricio Zingano was like one of my best friends and he would train in our hotel room with us all the time, and we always train Nogi. When it came time to do with those guys, they had barely done any and that’s what I had been spending my time trying to do the most, and it just really showed. At that point I was like, “Yes, that’s the key for me. I’m done with this shit”.
Sonny: Then I guess just to wrap things up with hindsight now, looking back at that moment deciding to go Nogi, probably being outcast from the mainstream Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene at the time and then now Gordon Ryan just the other day saying on Joe Rogan Show that he thinks Nogi is obviously going to be the only thing that people are going to be watching people competing in the future. What advice would you give yourself or what lessons would you take back up from that whole journey?
Chris: Well, here’s an example of how serious I was about it. The Roger Brooklyn guy, my friend, who I brought from Brazil, he was a brown belt indeed, and he was going to open my gym with me. He was going to partner with me. He was going to be the Jiu-Jitsu coach to start with. As soon as I told him it was going to be Nogi, he didn’t want any part of it. Then I was like, “Man, this is what I want to do, come on.” I’m putting the money up, I’m doing all this and he just did not want to do it. For himself at the time, he was probably right, because he would have never gotten his black bells, not for a long time anyway. He would’ve got black bell too.
I get why he didn’t do it, he had trained all the way through brown belt as it was and whatever, but I was so early on that I just knew. Next-generation, it’s perfect now because of my kids, they’re obviously the next generation but my goal at the time was next generation was going to be the next generation of Jiu-Jitsu. They said that when I was fighting in the UFC that night against Pat Miletich . “He’s going to open up a school called The Next Generation. He wants to create the next generation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys”, and that’s what I wanted to do. I want to have the next generation of Jiu-Jitsu and that be Nogi. That was why I named my gym what I named it, It just so happens to be now that my kids actually are the next generation. It works again but originally I was going Nogi no matter what. As a blue belt, when he said he wasn’t going to be involved with like, “well, I guess I’m open to the gym as a blue belt”.
Sonny: I guess it was just that, that’s firm belief within yourself looking at what you wanted to do in fighting and just staying true to that path. Even as you mentioned earlier, Renzo saying he was doing $9,000 worth of gay laundry a month. Am I correct that you even went the route of starting the first Nogi brand with Nogi?
Chris: Yes. A buddy of mine, Jeremy, we started that clothing company, Dan, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Hitman Fight Gear, but Hitman Fight Gear used to sponsor me and I told him I wanted to start a clothing company but I wanted to be more sporty, not as black and skulls and everything as Hitman was. He had just gotten 300 pairs of blue shorts that were really cool but they were blue and it didn’t buy with his thing. I spent I think 1,200 bucks, bought those shorts and then just started Nogi. Then I got my buddy Jeremy who’s an artist and he started creating logos and we just grew it from there. Then later sold it to Budo videos, down the line.
Sonny: Incredible. So many really were starting that next-generation even ahead of the curve really in a lot of what you were doing in grappling and now passing that onto your kids.
Chris: Like I said earlier, I didn’t come– when I first started, I wasn’t coming from a really good place. I had nothing. I didn’t have money. I’m glad that I had to do it the way I did it and grind and work hard and fail and work hard and fail, because it helped develop me as a person. I dropped out of high school as a freshman in high school and didn’t go back. It really helped me develop into a person and into a businessman and then into a hard worker. The downs for me was always– I was never deterred. I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. No matter how many times it didn’t work, I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. Just help me stay determined to get to where I’m at.
Now my kids have it almost too easy. For sure, they’ve never done without, and that was a hard thing for me when Luke decided he was going to fight. It was like, okay, we’re going to turn everything up in training and see how that goes because he had never been in a fight before. He was a sweet kid, never been an argument before. He just is so good at the sport. His second opponent was a shit talker. He was a mad dog. Wouldn’t shake his hand at the press conference and was just being a dick. He had never dealt with that even in real life. I’m like, “Hey, just laugh”.
“Whatever he does, don’t even worry about it. Because tomorrow, he still has to fight you. Even though he’s acting stupid, he still has to fight you. It’s not going to help him fight you any better.” Now, he’s old. He’s 20, almost 21. He’s different. It’s definitely got a mean, mean way about him now in the cage, but I was curious. At the beginning, I was like, “Okay, you want to fight? You’re fighting from a very, very different place than I was fighting from, for sure”.
Sonny: I think I know what you’re talking about. Where I’m from we have a saying that someone’s got to get a bit of mongrel in them and they got to switch on, turn that in to have that little bit of fight in them.
Chris: It tells.
Sonny: Well, Chris, it has been an amazing interview for me to have the opportunity to have this conversation. Such a rich history that you’ve got in the sport that it has been a pleasure to chat with you about. I’m wondering if people want to get in touch with you, want to get in contact, anything like that. Why they should go about it or anything you’d like to plug?
Chris: I’m on Facebook. My Facebook is full but they can follow me or go to my athlete page and follow it. Instagram. It’s @Chris_Brennan_3x_champ. I’m super accessible. Someone wants to message me, question me, whatever, feel free to hit me up at any time. Otherwise, Next-Generation MMA is my gym. I’ve got two here in Texas. One in Colorado, one in California, two in Ireland, two in England, two in Norway, and one in Australia.
Sonny: That’s I guess from humble beginnings going worldwide.
Chris: Yes, sir. I’ve been lucky and fortunate.
Sonny: I’m fortunate to have had this chance to speak to you today, Chris. Really, really appreciate it.
Chris: Thank you very much. I appreciate the interview.
What’s more important in the battle between offense vs defense? Well In the seminal 1997 action film “Double Team” starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, the following exchange takes place…
JCVD: Offense gets the glory… RODMAN: …But defense wins the game
The debate over Offense and Defense has been raging ever since, and on the latest episode of “The Sonny Brown Breakdown,” I was joined by two guests who went into battle for the respective sides. With School of Grappling taking the side of offence and Priit Mihkelson being on the defence side.
With the issue being reasonably broad, it takes some interesting turns from a general conceptual overview of the topic to practical applications of the technique, the learning and teaching of grappling. Andy and Priit had a great conversation so check it out on your favourite podcast app to listen to how it went down!