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 Interview Transcript
Sonny Brown: Hey, Heath how are you today mate?
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.
Heath: You too. Thanks.
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