I talk to Jonathan Brookins. Jonathan is a veteran of the WEC where he faced Jose Aldo and the UFC where he was the winner of The Ultimate Fighter Season 12 where Georges St Pierre coached him along with assistant coaches Firas Zahabi and John Danaher.
Jonathan Brookins stood out in the show as being a unique & thoughtful personality, very humble and kind, and his life outside of fighting is equally compelling. We discuss his early days fighting in Florida, his time in the Ultimate Fighter house and his decision to take a break from the UFC to travel to India to attend a silent meditation retreat.
While there he helped a group of local children go to school and unfortunately had a scare as a snake bit him. We also discuss his battles with addiction and his fascination with the mystic, and philosopher George Gurdjieff and the valuable lessons that he takes from martial arts practice and applies to life.
Jonathan also has a podcast called “The Work” and can be followed on Instagram @jonathanxbrookins.
[01:33] – His Experience of Living in New York
[03:09] – What Draw Him Towards MMA
[05:04] – How Did He Start His Initial Training
[07:48] – His Fight With José Aldo in WEC
[13:14] – The Lesson He Learned From UFC
[15:04] – His Addiction to Weed in the Initial Years of His Career
[19:26] – His Fight With Dustin Poirier
[20:59] – He Shares Some Bad Past Incidents With Dana White
[23:57] – About the Book Jonathan Livingston Seagull
[26:09] – The Reason Why He Lost His First Fight
[26:50] – His Decision to Get Rid of His Addiction
[28:21] – The First Fight He Won, but the Bonus Was Given to Someone Else
[32:09] – His Decision to Go to India
[35:41] – The Time When a Snake in India Bit Him
[41:29] – His Experience in Rishikesh
[44:55] – The End Result of Yoga in Dharmashala
[45:34] – How He Helped Some Kids to Go to School in India
[51:54] – The Process of Silent Meditation
[55:50] – His Struggling Days
[59:10] – About the Book Meetings With Remarkable Men
[1:03:20] – Self-Recognition Exercises That He Recommends
[1:06:23] – The Process of Intentional Suffering Spurs Growth
[1:09:22] – The Other Side of the Process of Cutting Weight
[1:13:27] – Change Yourself to Change the World
[1:15:48] – The Best Way to Connect to Jonathan
What Drew Him Towards Fighting
He says, “Fighting for me was always a bit of a means to an end. I never grew up as a person that ever wanted to fight, and I never even really wanted to wrestle. They weren’t my immediate choices. It wasn’t the sport that I initially set out to do in high school. But I didn’t make the basketball team. I was a bit small. So the only sport left to play was wrestling. And then I ended up getting good at it. I got a college wrestling scholarship. But I didn’t finish college. Then again, I was left with limited options. And the only thing for a kid who only acquired wrestling skills to do at 20 years old was fighting. So, I just went for it.”
He says, “Sometimes the things that we don’t necessarily want are the best things for us. So fighting and wrestling were the things that were the best things for me to grow as a person, but they weren’t immediately the things that I wanted.”
His Initial Fight Training
He initially started with a fighter named Crazy Horse. Now a lot of people know him as Charles Bennett. They were training in a small town in Florida. He was the only real fighter in the city. He says, “I just followed his lead more or less. He was a free spirit and marched by the beat of his drum. I could relate to that even though we were very different as people. So that was very cool. And, in Florida, the fight scene, back in the day, was like American Top Team versus Florida.
So I had many good fights down in South Florida. I also trained with Dean Thomas. I even went down to Greg Jackson when I was younger. I coached with most of the top teams and America Top Team. So I came up with a lot of different squads when I was younger.”
His Fight With Jose Aldo
Recalling the night when he fought with Jose Aldo, he says, “Fighting in the WEC was interesting. It was an interesting night of fights. There were six of us 145 pounders fighting that night. Mike Brown was fighting Uriah Faber. I was fighting Jose Aldo. So there were six of us that night. And then I was like, wow, out of the six of us 145 pounders tonight, one of us is going to be the best in the world. At the time, Uriah Faber was on the top. But I thought between me and Aldo, one of us had a chance to be the kingpin. Aldo wasn’t a big name at the time. And my mindset for going into that was like me and Aldo are a good match for each other. Looking back at my fight career I never really knew how to fight. I was not a great technical striker, or anything. I was always just kind of going by instinct, in and out of that instinct. I was pretty dang scrappy. And so I was able to pull off a lot of wins. So I never counted myself out against anybody.”
Damage Caused By Aldo’s Kicks
“Aldo’s kicks hurt, but the big deal is after the fight. Your legs are injured. But this was my first time in a fight, like actually getting so much damage to my legs that I couldn’t move in the fight anymore. After the first round, I remember going back to my corner, and Tito Ortiz was in my corner. And he’s pulling out the stool for me to sit down on, and I couldn’t sit down. I can’t bend my leg. That definitely permanently damaged my leg. And to this day, it’ll still fill up with fluid. It’s like you’re literally getting hit with a baseball bat in the leg for 15 minutes. It was one of the most painful experiences.”
The Lesson He Learned From UFC
He says, ‘the lesson I learned with the UFC stuck with me to this day as more of a social experience. At that time, I smoked a lot of weed. That was just who I was from the time I was 20 years old. By the time I fought Jose, I was 24 years old. I just smoked a lot of weed. That was just my coping mechanism. I had lost a family member. And so even when I fought Jose, you look at the fighting, I got this long hair, and it’s in my face, and I was stoned. I smoked just a couple of minutes before going out to the fight. And I knew that wasn’t right. I was a young kid, though. I wasn’t going to listen to anybody. I was going to let somebody tell me you shouldn’t do this. I was like, you know, it’s working for me. Who am I to listen to you guys? But when you fast forward to the Ultimate Fighter season 12 tryouts and all of this. I started to rethink my strategy. Like, how I wanted to approach life and fighting, and I told myself, I’m going to stop smoking weed. This was like an internal thing that I put into myself. This is how bad I want to be on this show.
His Decision To Get Rid Of Addiction
He says, because weed was so important to me to function, I had so much anxiety and angst and all of that, that dealing with life without it seemed almost impossible. But I was like, this is how bad I want to be on this show. And then, sure enough, I got on the show.
His First Fight
During that time, he was reading the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull. He connected so well with the book that he was crying. He says, “Two weeks before the fight. I just started crying, and the tears helped. I just went back into my room, and I went to sleep. And then the next morning, I woke up, and I was like, all right, you’re sober, man. Two weeks ago, I got to train for the fight, and I ended up barely beating Michael Johnson. He had me in deep trouble at the beginning of the fight. He was beating the trash out of me for the first round. After the fight, we’re in the palms, in Ariadne Celeste, and the people want me to fight Jeremy Stephens. So I’m trying to get ready for the Jeremy Stephens fight. And I break the orbital in my eye. And that was probably the lucky thing. I went to take a shot on somebody, and their knee hit my eye. When I went to blow my nose, it just shot up, so I’m out of the fight. Then they gave me a guy named Eric, another top guy. I go to fight this guy. This was my first UFC fight. And most people say, I won the first one, and they decide to give the bonus to that guy. People told me that I’d lose many fights based on being awkward and ugly in my career. I promise you. There have been fights. If you watch the actual scoring, I won, but I look uglier, so giving it to the other person is fine. So, I lost my first one. And that hurt. And I think that one sobered me up.
His Second Fight
He says, “For my second fight, I invested everything I can into my health. I turned vegan before there was even a single vegan fighter. I invested everything like I’m buying, $700 Vitamix blenders and $1,000 food dehydrators. I got into my second fight at a fighting Vagner roadshow in Nebraska against another toughen jiu-jitsu guy. I knocked the guy out in the first round. It’s a nice knockout. And it was the only knockout of the night. And they announced to give bonuses away for the Fight of the Night. Everybody’s coming to me. And they’re like, Yeah, dude, you got the bonus. And I’m like, hell yeah, I need the bonus. Because you can’t live off $20,000 for six months. But the bonus was given to someone else.”
His Experience In Rishikesh
“Rishikesh was phenomenal. When I get to Rishikesh, they have this old ashram that you can’t find if you go to Rishikesh. You don’t automatically have access to the Beatles ashram; you have to ask somebody who knows where it’s at. And it’s a track, you have to go through quite a bit of jungle and stuff, but it’s tucked away. And it’s preserved.
They have all these old meditation huts, and people will come and give their love and spray paint and, and all of that.”
Dharamshala: End Result Of Yoga
He says, “Dharmshala was the real deal. That was the practical application of what is the result of yoga and all of this. It’s what you’re going to get in Dharamshala in the Vipassana centers and the people trying to preserve what the Buddha was trying to express. This is the idea or rather the technique of meditation because, without meditation, nothing works.”
Vipassana is the technique of meditation that the Buddha used. That was what he called the technique that he was using to meditate, which meant insight. It meant to know the truth, to see the truth as it is. And it’s only taught in these specific places, these specific retreat centers, they’re called Vipassana centers, and they’re all over the world. In India, America, Georgia, Canada, Australia etc.
“Sometimes it’s the things that we don’t necessarily want that are the best things for us.” – Jonathon Brookins
“If you dot the i’s and cross the t’s, you can do it. Put your mind to it, write it down and believe there’s a large chance that it is going to manifest itself.” – Jonathon Brookins
- India, Yoga, and MMA: Fightland Meets Jonathan Brookins
- The India Diaries
- Jonathan Brookins Twitter
- Jonathan Brookins LinkedIn
- Jonathan Brookins Podcast – The Work
- Jonathan Livingston Seagull
- Meetings with Remarkable Men
Jonathan Brookins Interview
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