A Heath Pedigo interview, Founder of Pedigo Submission fighting, aka Daisy Fresh. We discuss the culture and mindset used to build Daisy Fresh from Mt. Vernon to win the Pan Ams and the work ethic he looks to instil in his team and build camaraderie. Also, his thoughts on breaking down techniques from competition footage, and the evolution of training and teaching Jiu-Jitsu and the role coaches play in the process and his belief that Jiu-Jitsu can be used as a vehicle for bettering people and saving lives.
Heath Pedigo: Good brother. Thanks for having me on Sonny Brown Breakdown. I’m humbled.
Sonny: I’m humbled. My pleasures. Pleasure is all mine. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak to me because Daisy Fresh Pedigo is really on the rise at the moment. Obviously, I’m sure everyone’s now familiar with the FloGrappling series and what you guys have been doing on the competition scene over there. I just want to start off with just getting into the recent team victory you had at the Pan-Ams and just what was, I guess, a completion of a 22-year goal which is the martial arts dream.
Heath: Originally the goal at first it was the Pan Ams. Obviously, 20 years ago that was the GI Pans. I just wanted to be able to compete with these major organizations. You have dreams like– all of them basically. Checkmat, Towson, Gracie Barra. It’s not anything that they’re doing wrong specifically. No hate towards them. It’s just some of these, there’s 200, 300 schools and these guys are from different countries. They’ve never met each other and they combine their points together. For us, we have two, three small gyms in Southern Illinois to be able to compete with these mega organizations. It’s just such a huge accomplishment for us.
That’s the thing I’m most proud of. Just to be able to show people you don’t have to have anything fancy. I like to call it a duct tape gym. Like the Russian style. there’s duct tape on everything. Everyone always says, “Man, I get these guys some mat.” The funny thing is we don’t even really think about that. We’re just all happy to just be there doing what we love to do. I think people put so much emphasis on what’s around them and what they don’t have rather than just what they have. We’re just all happy to be doing what we love. Fuck the mats and what the gym looks like, results, and how many lives you’re saving. That’s all that matters in the end anyway. Sorry, I got off.
Sonny: That’s all right.
Heath: It was a huge thing to be able to win that. It’s been a lifelong goal to win a major tournament and the goals don’t stop there. Now we’re going to the world and then winning the GI. We’re still building as a team. We’ve only been a black belt for a few years so it’s just really exciting. Like I said the boys’ hard work and the dedication that the men and the women that train at the gym. They’ve given up a lot of things in their life, their families. Guys like Spatch came from Australia.
He hasn’t seen his family, especially with the COVID. He can’t even come back right now. They’ve given up so much. They all believed in me and my vision and to get to pay them back so they could be a part of that it’s in the legacy of jiu-jitsu forever. We can always look back on that and say, “Hey, we did this and we were able to win and not only compete with these major teams but beat them.” It was a really incredible feeling. I’m really proud of that and really proud of the boys and the girls for, like I said, believing in the vision.
Sonny: Getting people to believe in that vision is such a key component of coaching and leadership in general. You mentioned that obviously the mats where I’m sure people have probably reached out offering mats and such now. One thing I’ve considered is it’s better to be in a place that’s perhaps smaller with used mats than to be in a room full of people all there together than a gym with the latest new facilities that doesn’t have many people there.
Sonny: How do you consider that that plays into account when you’ve literally got people leaving their lives and moving to the other side of the world to come join in that environment?
Heath: The ultimate goal is obviously we’re going to get a bigger place. The Daisy Fresh episode, I don’t know if you’ve seen that yet, it came out two days ago.
Sonny: I haven’t.
Heath: There’s something new that’s really neat. The Midwest is a hard-working place. Like I said the people that are here they’re just a little hard. There’s a lot of poverty and they didn’t really know how. It was like being in Australia and being over in the suburbs of Perth. The people are just a little harder. Pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, that doesn’t always work for everybody. Some people just don’t know how to do that. The ultimate goal was obviously to get a bigger gym because the bigger the facility we have the more people we can help.
We actually have had a couple of people reach out about the mats but I’ve been trying to wait because like I said I’m really trying to get a new facility right now and I don’t look at it more like soldiers and more students to make money. I just look at it like it’s more and more lives that are being able to be saved. A bigger gym means more people. It’s just simple.
It’s funny the people, they’re from all over right now. We have about 20 people that are just sleeping in a parking lot right now.
That are just coming to train from all over. They’re all from places which is like maybe that they’re– No disrespect to anyone’s team or their coaches, but maybe they’re just not interested in competition or they don’t see what it takes to be a champion in some of these mega-events. These blue belt kids, the juvenile blue belts, they’re so good, man. Some of them are as good as the black belts were 10 years ago. Like I said, that’s not a knock on any black belts. It’s just the sport evolves and everyone’s just so amazing and incredible and you have to stay out on everything to keep being able to compete.
The ultimate goal is to get a bigger place. I’m actually going to keep the Daisy Fresh though. It’s almost like a jiu-jitsu landmark now so I’m going to try to use that as the living barracks and then try to get a bigger open space. We’re going to take over the high school wrestling program I think too. That’ll be really nice so we can really crack into the local youth. If you Google, what is the most dangerous city in Illinois, Mount Vernon actually comes up. It’s a small place. There’s only about 14,000, 15,000 people here. In the Daisy Fresh when they’re going by there’s a thing called the corner tavern. It shows it on there. A guy got shot and killed two nights ago there. Like I said, it’s just a rough place.
People ask me all the time, “Why don’t you go to California especially with the show now. You can go to Australia. Go anywhere. Open up a gym.” I just feel this place, my roots are here and I feel it needs us. I want to pull as many people out as I can before we move along. People run out into the world looking for this or that when sometimes home is where it’s at in the first place. I want to fix everything up there and then try to move on and get out into the world and help as many people as possible.
Sonny: The benefits of the culture first attitude of really the goal being to help people before anything else can certainly be seen as, and as I was Googling to work out the time zone differences actually, one of the automated Google Search things is, how safe is Mount Vernon. It’s certainly one of the dangerous places in America.
Heath: Like I said, not to scare anyone if you have kids in Houston , “Hey Heath can I come with the kids” it would be 100% totally fine. It’s just all in a small area. Essentially the neighborhood that I grew up in and went to school and, like I said, it’s just poor. That’s basically the way to put it. It’s not that it’s White or it’s Black. It’s just a poor area. When you’re 14 and the guy down the road ask a kid to take this box down the road and he gives him $400 when he wants to work a job it’s tough for these kids to work for $7 an hour and no one bust their ass. They see the easy way so young.
It’s easy to get caught up in that, and like I said to take in an easy way and that’s where the respect is handed out in the streets. It’s like the guys who are gang banging, then seeing them selling the dope and they have the fancy shit. It’s not the kid who left home, worked two jobs, and barely made it by the skin of his teeth, it’s not what’s appreciated in our society.
It’s just something that’s got to change but that all goes into the gym culture too. Me thinking about that it’s like I try to make sure that the youth see that jiu-jitsu is on the rise everywhere in every country and the guys not only are they making more money but they’re getting a lot more just platforms to be seen on and it’s really cool for them. These podcasts and stuff like this, sometimes it’s all kids need. They just need somebody to love them. They’re ready to be loyal to anything whether it be a gang or this or that, they’re just looking for love.
A lot of the kids that come in just have never belonged to anything. When they know and they feel that I truly believe and that the passion of what I’m showing, and what I’m doing they’re just able to give that love right back but you have to be careful. It’s important as a leader, or a coach or an instructor, a professor whatever, all these lives are in your hand so opening up a gym for some people it’s just to be the king of their kingdom and then they like that. Everyone knows someone, everyone knows a gym that’s like that and you have to be careful not to fall into that trap.
You got to remember you’re in a position where people look up to you and 15 years down the road some of these kids are going to have their own gym so the things that they learn from you they’re going to share with the world so it can spread out. When someone leaves, goes to California, opens up a gym, goes to Australia, they can take your attitude from the last 15 years with them. You spread that all over the world. I think it’s important to make sure that the environment of your gym is good. You got to remember people are always watching. I think it’s important.
When people see that you’re doing the right thing and they believe in you and they know that you believe in them, it’s easy and that’s just what we’ve built here. These guys, they’re my friends. I had a guy tell me one time, “Don’t make friends with the students.” I’ve never looked at it like that. I’ve probably spent more time doing psychology for the guys or trying to anyway to help them out rather than jiu-jitsu stuff. The jiu-jitsu just becomes a part of their life and it’s tough. When one of them leaves or something happens, it is like losing a best friend. It’s just important to give back without expecting anything. I think that’s the way to deal with that as a leader. If you’re willing to give everything you have and you expect nothing in return, I think that it’s a win-win.
Sonny: Yes, for sure. That idea of giving yourself to the service of others is an idea or a mindset that drives a lot of good working in helping people all around the world. Is that then something that you started off with or is that something that you’ve developed over time and was it a learning process?
Heath: It’s always been like that. Before I went and got my belt in jiu-jitsu, and we had just done like a No-Gi grappling. My brother and I, we learned from VCR tapes in the grass, we trained and we would basically just take absolutely anyone who is willing to roll with. Then actually, we did Valley Judo stuff at the time so my brother would just basically just beat the shit out of us and head butt us. This is even pre-Elvis Sinosic submitting Jeremy Horn. This is even before that. See I know. I got-
Sonny: I share that, I like it.
Heath: Now, he was one of my favorites but we really didn’t know anything and then we would save up money and we would buy these Japanese VCR tapes but they’re all in Japanese. We would get them, and then I would just study them for hours. I still actually have all my original notebooks, I have about 200 of them. They’re like upside-down graphs, even if someone opened them up, I don’t even know if you’d be able to tell what it is but the first few years we just did that and we just tried to teach to anyone who would listen.
When you’re young you have those big dreams you want to be the UFC champion, everyone wants to be a world champion or whatever.
I did some MMA fights and stuff, my brother did that but I never really like that. When he was done it was easy for me to be done with that too. I just really had a passion for just learning jiu-jitsu and helping other people learn it. In the beginning, I just wanted to make people better so I could have someone good to roll with. Then it just turned into being able to help people succeed and then we started doing local tournaments. Actually, I took a bus out for 30 hours into the North American Grappling Championships. At the time it was like, I’m not even sure if the Pan Ams had gotten– I think it was the first year that it had gotten to the United States ‘98 or ’99.
There were like 700 people at these little tournaments back then. It was outside of our town, we’d just never seen. The closest black belt was two hours and I actually got linked up with him later at Rodrigo Vaghi, that’s where I got all my belts from. He’s wonderful and he’s really an amazing man to let me do my own thing, he’s always offered a helping hand and he’s never asked me for anything actually so I’m forever grateful for him for that and just allowing people to grow. I restarted the gym in the GI as a blue belt in 2010, I think.
It’s just always been a process to hope others, even if it was for selfish reasons in the beginning I’ve just always wanted to help other people. My mom was a teacher for over 40 years, her and my dad just always gave back to the community that we lived in and she’s a wonderful woman and maybe some of that just rubbed off.
Sonny: Yes. I think for sure, actually. Both my parents are teachers also so I can relate in that regard and respect to the shout-out for Elvis Sinosic. My coach was coaching Elvis at the time and was in his corner over Jeremy Horn. One thing I do want to bring up that you mentioned there is the fascination with the Shooto fighting and Shooto wrestling and I’ve heard you were even watching the Japanese combat wrestling which I’ve gone down a couple of YouTube rabbit holes on that.
It’s a very interesting rule set, different points going system, they’re wearing shoes, leg locks or fair game. I actually think that it’s more similar to how the modern No-Gi game looks than perhaps jiu-jitsu did at the time and it’s headed more towards that. Is that something that you’ve kept that fascination in with that side like that Japanese Shooto side or?
Heath: I believe that the Japanese were the first complete estimation athletes or like Valley Judo practitioners, they are such good wrestlers, they all had good striking, all those little 155 pound guys like Rumina Sato and Hayato Sakurai, all those names like Genki Sudo, they were really complete wrestlers and they had amazing striking. They were like the first wrestlers and strikers. They were jiu-jitsu black belts they could leg locks so for me I was like, “Man, they’re the most complete fighters.”
That’s always who I wanted to try to evolve the game towards learning plus their fans are just so complete when it comes to understanding submissions. Their culture, I just always really enjoyed it and I think that they understood the passion for the submission in a fight and stuff like that a little bit more than everybody else. I really love that, just that Japanese style of– That’s why it’s a submission fighting actually because of those old Shooto wrestling matches. You can look those up like I said Rumina Sato is ankle picking the guys and heel hooking them. Actually the footage of Genki Sudo that’s on the internet at the west side, that’s actually my camera.
Sonny: Oh, I’ve watched it about a thousand times at Chris Brennans place.
Heath: That’s actually my footage. Scott Profeta, a friend of mine and that was from California, he used my camera, we recorded that and we were out there. I was just traveling around the world, I was like 16 or 17 just trying to get all over the world and then I’m not sure how he got a hold of that but it got on there so it’s actually Scott Profeta he was the one recording. Like I said, a good guy. Him and I loved those guys, I still think we caught up to them in a way. With jiu-jitsu, Brazil obviously has had the most influence on jiu-jitsu.
That goes without saying I don’t think there’s anyone in the world that thinks any different than that because certain people have put, like with us, listen, no one from our gym gives a shit about calling it American jiu-jitsu. Man, no one cares about that dude. Spatch is from Australia, George is from Nicaragua, Alejandro is Uruguayan. His parents– nobody cares, man. We just want to be the best in jiu-jitsu and in general, and no one wants to take anything away from, especially, Brazilians. You know what I mean? It’s not like that at all. I think people look sometimes for a rouge because you’re competing and it keeps things exciting, but at the end of the day, there’s no hate at all at our gym for anybody who manage it, anyone who’s sharing the dream and the art, that’s all we really care about and it doesn’t mean anything.
I think we evolved and caught up to the Japanese guys when it comes to the leg lock systems. I know you guys over there, you guys just have two of the best leg lockers in the world, arguably one of the best leg lockers in the world. I just think a lot of it from a lot of Japanese influenced and I was really lucky that I just stumbled on those. There’s just something about them and it was really drawing to me.
I was like 13 or 14, but it was a long time ago, 23 years ago, I bought my first tape. I actually still have that full VCR collection that I have, a whole trash bag full of them, I still have all those tapes. I actually go back and watch some of them some time, and some of the best stuff just still applies. Today, there is an old Imanari heel hook video, man. This guy has been ahead of the game for years on the grips and all this stuff. They’re just really incredible, man. It just evolved so much, man. We’re lucky to be a part of it.
Sonny: For sure. Speaking of that evolution there, obviously is it seems to be a bit of a cultural change going on now that, of course, you are a part of now in a big way building up dominant teams in America and also changing how things have been taught in a way in terms of– nowadays, it’s far more team-orientated with you guys than perhaps everything being based around the sole source of information being from the instructor. How have you seen that develop over time and where do you see that going?
Heath: I think everything always started– I think there were the instructors that came to America, and I think that their rules, their word, that was just a rule and the way things were, you know what I mean? Whoever had taught them, that’s just the way things were. If the instructor was good at cross-collar chokes, all the students would be good at cross-collar chokes. Now, you can go into a gym and it’s like the instructor can be a guard passing machine and have no bottom.
He can have 10 students that are the Cicero Costha kids that are bare on bowling. With all the things that we have available to us now like YouTube channels and the BJJ Fanatics videos or podcast, I just– It’s 2021, I don’t really think that there’s not really a reason for too many people to be behind. If they’re truly passionately, their life is jiu-jitsu, but that being said, I think it’s just important. Like I said, as an instructor and a leader, you don’t have to be a black belt to be a leader, a white belt could open up a gym and he could create killing machines that were amazing. There’s more to it than that. You have to make sure these are good people and they’re going to give back to life.
It really doesn’t matter to some people but for me, that’s important. I just think there’s a big hierarchy in jiu-jitsu, and I think that that has a lot to do for a long time. It kept the jiu-jitsu from evolving, and I think that that’s gone now. I got guys like Gordon Ryan, and Craig, not only have they cracked into the scene, these are arguably not just the best grapplers currently, but these guys could be some of the best grapplers ever to have ever lived in the arena. They’re always going to be remembered no matter what because right now– The UFC was huge. I think UFC 40 or 41 when Ken Shamrock fought Tito Ortiz, that was the big change.
The Fertitta brothers came in and they purchased it, and I think that was the big thing that– There was a little bit more WWF, WWE-type marketing, now, hell, there’s one of these things every weekend. Like you said, back in the day, when Elvis fought, there was a UFC once every three months and there were six fights, and the guys were making $5,000 when they had several fights. I just think the world constantly evolves and sports evolve, and it goes back to like you said, the instructing thing, I think it’s important that you just don’t get caught in that, “My way is the only way.” I have students that constantly showing me new things or bring things to the table.
I think it’s just incredibly important to have that open mind in your gym, and I think it breeds that a lot more of a team. Every situation needs a leader no matter what, even if it’s a one-person show, there has to be a leader. I think when you have that open-door policy, I think it’s incredibly important to cross-train too. I could care less where the guys from the gym go and train, it doesn’t matter to me at all. If they would want to leave the team and go somewhere else, then I wish them the best of luck.
I think a lot of instructors have a little bit insecurity and they try to lockdown. They use different excuses to sell that to the students, and it goes back to their king of the kingdom type thing. I don’t know. I just think you have to have to keep an open mind and never stop learning, never stop being a student, and breaking things down, Sonny Brown style, it’s incredibly important, man.
Sonny: [chuckles] That’s actually something I wanted to touch on is I have heard you say that you do prefer breaking down competition footage to analyze techniques over instructionals, which is obviously there’s still a lot of value in instructionals but it’s something that I’ve always been interested in because it’s really– they’re showing the techniques that are 100% work in competition bring it on display. It’s also something that when I was doing it, some people would tell me “You can do that but you’re not going to really– there’s still the secret stuff that you’re not going to be able to tell from just looking at the footage.” What’s been your experiences with that?
Heath: I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. You could show me five times something and then your friend could show me, and the time that he shows me, that might be the time that I get it, and then you’re like, “Shit, I showed you that five years ago.” You know how it is with just learning curves and stuff like that, but as for the video itself, I watch instructionals now because I think they’re neat, I think it’s important to– Especially if the guys are going to go up against–
If Andrew was going to go against Sonny Brown, Andrew Wiltse, I would watch your instructionals because I know it’s your opportunity to make money, you’re going to show what you’re good at and what you can do. I would watch your instructional just so I could see the small things in your setups, the grips that you’re going to grab, where you’re going to grab, where your feet are, how they’re positioned, all that stuff. That’s more why would you use an instructional. The actual competition footage, you nailed it when you said it.
This is what they’re doing, this is how they’re winning, and this is why they are who they are because of competition, not because of what they’re showing inside that gym. I think breaking that down, and I’m like the old school like pause, back up, pause, back up, pause, back up. The grip is one of the most important things like the Gi such a small adjustment on a grip can be the difference between so many different things. There’s so many small things like that, I just think you have to take the time to really dig in and you want to learn rather than just say, “Hey, man, I’m just going to watch the footage.” Like I said, I think you have to really dig in and to break this stuff down.
I think you also need goals with what you’re breaking down, am I breaking it down just so I know Sonny’s game, or am I breaking it down so I can give Sonny a beating? Am I breaking it down because I want to get his knowledge and be good at what he’s good at? I think having an end goal with what you’re doing is very important too, and the book doesn’t stay wide open like that, it’s like there’s an end game for exactly why you’re doing it.
I try to write it all out in my mind first and then break it down and say, “Okay, here it is, this is what we’re going to do with it now.” No one really has any excuses any more, man, you can get on Flo and you can literally watch anybody’s matches, not just in YouTube in general, there can be a small– I watched a small jiu-jitsu tournament from Australia a couple of years back with Spatchy and there were 80 people there but break that all down just the same. You find an instructor if you are going to go against a guy say a blue belt or purple belt.
You’re going to go against a guy and you’ve looked up the names like everybody does. You get on there and say, “Okay, man I’m hoping I don’t have this guy the first round,” and then you can’t find anything. Then you looked on Facebook, you looked on Instagram. One of the things that you can do is you can find the people that train with them and then you can start to notice visibly the similarities that the people have. Like I said, grabbing, pulling guard, taking down, resting even like breaking points. You can see in Jiu-Jitsu players when they really break, man. A lot of the teams, man believe it or not they all break and gas out on that same level.
I just think there’s a whole lot, and I think it’s extremely underappreciated and underestimated thing that lot of coaches don’t do. Part of the reason is, what are you going to get for it? It’s your time, it’s time with your kids. As an instructor, I do look at it as work. The whole, if you love your job it’s never work, that’s bullshit I think because it is work. I look at it like this, there’s a factory in our town, it employs about a third of our 15,000 residents, about 5000 people work there. These guys put in 10 hours a day, they bust their ass, man.
I have a lot of these guys at the gym. I don’t think it’s fair for me to run the jiu-jitsu gym and not be putting in the same amount of work as them. Instead of saying, “Yes, I’m a coach and I coach for two hours in the morning and two at night.” What about the other six hours? We’re lucky, we can go and pick the kids up from school and we can spend time with your girl and that stuff but those extra hours I think it’s extremely important to not get lost and then get lazy and I use that time.
Just think about those guys that are working, and always trying to compare yourself to that, and ask yourself are you putting in the extra time to build and learn. It’s important not to waste it, time is the most valuable thing of all. I always try to look at it like that, make sure that I’m always using all of it as much as I can and not having to work a lot, not using it as a tap-out. You know what I mean? Something to that as a beneficial, I’m not saying other people don’t do it but I just think a lot more people could probably do that and benefit from it.
Sonny: That’s a really solid way of taking maybe a blue-collar work ethic and then applying it to the coaching profession which is obviously what you’ve done and what you’re doing successfully. I think part of that work ethic is that what you’ve built in the gym is the ability to, it seems like anyway as I’m watching it, is push people to their breaking points and everyone going at hard rounds all the time in the gym. One thing I wanted to bring up which I heard you mention, how it relates to culture as well is I heard you say that when a new white belt comes into the gym and maybe their energy is maybe a bit frantic or that they’re a bit wild, you don’t try and curtail that or slow them down.
You try and keep that fire inside them and mold that which is a bit in terms if culture, it would be maybe counterintuitive or maybe not so common because part of the culture that I see more often is, “No, make sure all the white belts are able to roll as safe as possible, try and calm them down,” but it seems like you take the opposite approach.
Heath: Within reason of course. It’s like I said that on the show your real thing and then I actually don’t look at any internet stuff at all so I don’t have any idea so if someone said, “Fuck his mama,” I would only know that if boys showed me. I’m extremely lucky, I don’t care. That being said, within reason. Obviously, if some fucking nut comes in and he’s slamming people down, you’re to going tell him not to do that, but I think it’s important to control their elbows and knees of course, so they don’t bust everybody’s heads open. Obviously but why take that fire away from somebody because they want to go hard?
I have several masters guys, we have a 70-year-old guy, not everybody at the gym is– we train hard, you know what I mean, it’s hard. It’s 100 degrees in there right now but there are groups in our gym where the guys, they have to work on Monday, they’re not interested in winning the world. It’s not just a team of people who are going to rip each other’s heads off. We actually have an incredible, incredibly high non-injury rate. You would think that the guys get hurt all the time. Sometimes people get hurt because they’re like holding back or they are trying not to. It’s like when you go into a match and say, ” I can’t get leg locked.”
That’s all you’ve thought about for a week is your opponent being a leg locker. Then the first thing that happens is you get leg locked because that’s all you thought about instead of going out and enjoying your game and smashing the person the way that you do, you fell into that trap of basically them being inside your head. I think in that manner, I let the guys bang when the new white belts come in. I don’t always put them with the other white belts until they are ready I put them over with the guys and let them go hard.
You almost got to break them that’s how I look at it. You can see in the first couple of weeks how tough somebody’s going to be and he’s just a competition guy. Everyone who comes in now, of course, with the show and Flo, they want to be a world champion. It’s like, “Hey, Sonny, man, what’s your goal, and you say I want to be a world champion.” I already probably knew that, if you moved halfway across the world to live in the parking lot, obviously you want to be a world champion but what else?
The other stuff is just as important. I do think it’s important to not take that away and just guide them towards being able to push the pace and learning the techniques and the way the guys drill in the gym they drill hard. Some of them do, like George Valadares. He’s the one who does all the YouTube stuff for anyone who’s seen that? He usually just started doing that stuff three months ago I don’t know if you’ve got a chance to watch any of it but-
Sonny: I have.
Heath: – he’s amazing, man. He picked up a book for dummies and Alejandro’s brother works in Hollywood and gave him some advice and man, he’s just incredible. He’s so amazing and we’re so lucky to have him to get to share all that. The information and what’s going on with just everybody in the world. George and Thatcher, sometimes they’ll spend 10 or 12 hours a day, not everybody has the availability to be able to do that. Sometimes guys got to get it in when they come in. I think it counters a lot of stuff we say think a lot of stuff we say. I think a lot of instructors might tell people to slow down because maybe they don’t go with that rate.
It’s one thing if like I said the guys– It’s your job to control the room as the leader. When people say that’s when I say, “Hey a new white belt comes in,” there’s not seven white belts out there throwing each other down. It’s not like that. You know how it is. Anybody who’s making these comments most probably isn’t a black belt. They probably never ran a gym. I think you got to put them in. I think you got to see what they are made of, how hard they’re going to be able to push, if they’re going to come back. Once they’re broken and then you knock them down, you got to build them back up. I think immediately stripping them of their physical attributes the second they came in, I don’t really agree with that.
Technically, things are important obviously but– Listen, at a certain level everyone’s amazing, man. At the adult Purple Belt worlds. These guys are fucking incredible, man. They’re so good, the guys who lose in the first round now could have been the champion. Something for everybody out there to always remember nothing that means anything comes easily. 50% of people at every single tournament lose the first round. Let’s always remember that. Half of everyone loses their first match that signs up. If 2000 people sign up a 1000 people will lose their first match so that’s half of everyone, no matter what, every time.
I think it’s important not to get down about losses. I think you learn that from the beginning, from the instructor when that’s stripped away from you and they’re saying, “Hey, this is my way, this is the way that you’re going to do it. You’re going too hard or you want to slow these guys down.” Listen, you can talk all this shit you want but I’m on the show right now because we just won the biggest No-Gi team tournament title in the last two years probably because of COVID but it was the biggest one. We showed up. I just think that there’s something to be said to not strip everything away from something. If a kid comes in, he’s had a rough life and goes hard, I try to build off of that.
Like I said, of course, you have to make things safe. That shit goes without being said. It’s like someone saying, “Oh, love my kids they come first.” No shit, you don’t have to say that, that goes without saying. Of course, I make it safe but I just don’t think it’s unnecessary to, like I said, strip all the attributes and I’ll say now jiu-jitsu is for the meek and the little guys. I don’t even know who said that in the first place but size does matter.
Everybody’s got a little animalistic instinct, everybody’s a little wild and to compete and win I think for a lot of people it has a lot to do with it when you get out there and you’re both the same technically being mean and being tough it does go a long way sometimes. Watching a college wrestling match, these guys are tough. They’re banging on each other and if you’ve ever wrestled in college you’d see the rooms are brutal.
These jiu-jitsu guys that are commenting on how rough things are, they’d pass out if they saw college wrestling these guys are basically fighting and they’re slapping each other’s heads and getting it in. Like those guys that are Australian top team you guys got. Those guys are all buff, man there’s 50 Guys that look like supermodels in there. I’m sure when they’re training they’re banging over there. If you want to do it as a hobby than a self-defense thing then that’s cool.
I don’t look down on anybody who supports jiu-jitsu and I don’t think you have to compete, to give back or be a part of it or be amazing. For the ones that do it, you got to let them do what they do, and if you don’t like rowing hard go with the new guys because you’re afraid that you’re going to get tapped on in front of everybody there’s a corner, a gym down the road then you can go to and that’s just how I’ve always looked at it. Every day I show up I get my guard passed by white belts, maybe it’s because I suck.
Spatchy: I try it’s tough, actually. [laughs]
Heath: Again, there’s nothing to lose every time we step in there as humans for a couple of hours a day you get to leave everything like the wife and the kids and the stress of work and you get to leave that behind for a couple of hours. I think it’s important not to limit yourself when you have that opportunity for that time. That’s why it’s important to me. I don’t try to take anybody down, I try to build them from what they have.
Their backgrounds come into play on that. A lot of these kids that I have winning now I feel like if I would have stripped them down and had them doing things technically which– We actually do a lot of technical stuff. You can watch Andrew Wilson any of his passing DVDs and you can see the guy’s a technical genius. I think a lot of people, unfortunately, use it as an excuse, and once you put the black belt on, like I said, it’s important to remember other people aren’t there yet, so if you’ve checked out the physical part, that’s okay but don’t hold anybody else back because you’ve checked out yourself.
I don’t even think that an instructor has the role to be effective– You could be in a sweatsuit with a whistle. More than half of these guys they’re old, they can’t get on the mats like Mike Tyson’s boxing coach couldn’t beat him up in boxing, but he can show him everything. I could care less about people who do and don’t roll with their guys I don’t think that means they’re a pussy or anything like that. I just think it’s important though to not strip away their natural, hunger and like I said animalistic instinct. I don’t even know if that’s a word but it sounds cool so-
Sonny: It does sound cool. [laughs]
Heath: I just think it’s a little bit of like barbarian and all of that shit. Everybody’s got a little bit of savage in them. I think that’s– One of the reasons I think people love the Daisy Fresh thing is because it’s a little rough, man and everyone can relate. A big named guy who’s won the world, he might not be approachable, man and it’s like when you see Jacob Couch or Alejandro, or any of these boys from the show. It’s Spatch, Georgie, they’re approachable. When you see them and you think, “Holy shit, these guys did this I can do this too, they’re just like me.” I think that alone makes the show incredible and I think that’s why everybody loves it. It’s unapologetic.
One of the other funny things to me is people love telling stories about their instructors doing fights in the 90s and the old Valley judo, jiu-jitsu was built off violence and for that generation. It’s funny because the way that we train or the way Gracies came over when they did these Gracies in action and they were going hard and it’s funny that everyone loves to tell that story at the dinner table, but when it comes to us doing that we’re playing the cards we were dealt instead of crying around about it, we just built something from nothing. It’s just funny I think it’s the pot calling the kettle black, a little bit.
Like I said, at this point, it doesn’t even matter, man. The 2020 No-Gi Pans, we got second, and all the other stuff that we had won as a team was– We won the novice pans, novice worlds, and then we won at Chicago, which was a huge deal to us but once you get up on a major, it’s like maybe it was an accident and then the following year winning that’s like, “Okay, man, obviously these guys are doing something. We’re still such a little group. I don’t remember how many people we signed up. I think we had 15 people maybe signed up for the No-Gi Pans or something like that for those adult points and I think only one or two guys didn’t medal.
Our system is a bullshit word but it’s the way we do things I can’t tell you that it’s the right way or the wrong way but it’s just the way we do them it seems to be working. Especially in other countries like Europe, Australia, all these places. I know those are continents and not countries but there’s now black belts everywhere and you don’t need that to be successful, you can build something and be a part of the revolution. I consider myself an activist in the jiu-jitsu revolution. The best way to support a revolution is to build your own. Start your own and I think that you can do that.
If a question is how can I do this, how can I start up a gym on my own and in a town 100 miles from Perth there’s, going to be no one around out there. You can do it though, if you believe in your product you truly believe in what you’re giving away, people will believe in you. If you support them with everything you have, they’ll support you and I think that’s the way that everything that’s special is built. Carlson Gracie, he’s passed away he’s been gone for years and people still– They wear the shirts, we fight for Carlson. They loved this guy.
He was a god in the favela, he was a god in the rich community. Everyone just loved him because all these guys lived with him, he just constantly gave back and they’re still fighting for the guy 15 years later and I think that anyone can build that man, even on a small scale I think that you can build something amazing. If you can’t do huge, giant big things in life that change the world, do a lot of small ones. I think Napoleon Hill had a quote like that, his was way better though you’ll you have to look it up but anyway it’s-
Sonny: I like it. I think from then, what you were saying with the black belts and the fight is really you obviously take care of the safety set side of things but when you say you don’t want to take the fire out of them. You’re not talking about frenetic movement, you’re talking about more, the fire of belief and passion that they have in themselves, you don’t want to ever temper that down, or put any doubt in their mind and build that belief in them because there is an understanding that, sometimes, the power of belief can overcome technique, right?
Heath: I just should have said that, what you just said. I wish I said that. Now that was way better than what I said. No doubt for sure.
Sonny: Sorry I was going to say, but I look at what’s going on over there and I look at it and I think, man, you guys are the ones you’re doing it. You guys are still doing it. It does have that vibe of wow, these guys are out there just going for it, and you do have that belief built in the culture there.
Heath: Like I said going back to that culture thing I just think it all starts from the top you can go into a gym basketball team– What’s that sport you guys made up?
Heath: AFL. You can go into an AFL team.
Heath: You guys made it up so you give it the best.
Spatchy: One of the hardest sports in the world.
Heath: Oh, anyway-
Heath: -just kidding there. No, I’m just saying you can go into a jiu-jitsu gym and you can almost feel like– I think the leader kind of, he sets the tone a little bit, and you can tell him if this guy’s an asshole. Sometimes the guys are going to be assholes. People will get– That was a big thing a few years ago. It’s chilled out a lot now because now people blast your ass on the internet. Now, if you’re a jerk to your students, or you treat people like shit, that kind of behavior was something that people could do before and get away with.
I just think it always kind of starts– You got to build the foundation and the leader, he’s the most important part of the foundation. Like I said, if the guys I asked, sometimes the people will be asked if they’re coming to you then the rest of them will be contagious to it. But if you’re amazing and you’re constantly trying to build everyone around you, it should be successful. It’s like the iron sharpens iron type of thing. I just think that people can feel that.
I think when they come into the gym, I have no idea about any other gyms because I’m only at our gym, but anyone who’s associated with us and in our place, it’s important to me that you have to build yourself. You can’t get confused about putting other people before you, because you have to be selfish a little bit to– Sonny has to take care of Sonny, to be a better father, and a husband, or a boyfriend, a teammate.
If Sonny isn’t happy with himself, he can’t give the things that he needs to other people. I think it’s important that you have your own mind right, then you’re able to give back. Second, I think that’s really important to build off of, but you can always just fill it, man in the culture of a GM’s in Jiu-Jitsu. I’m really proud of our guys because it’s no one– You’ve never got to see Sonny, but hopefully one day we’ll get over it. No one from our team competes without at least 10 people on the barricades. It doesn’t matter if they’re white belts or black belts, or if they’re not allowed to be down there’ll be in the stands, they’re just so supportive of the guys.
When they lose, the team takes a major loss, you know what I mean? But as Spatch actually said in the Daisy Fresh one or two, it’s one of my favorite quotes, he said, “Andrew, just one, what difference does it make? What happened with everyone else?” He won and he got his black belt and that was a moment for us as a team that was just amazing enough. Later on, people said, “Oh, Wiltse is the only one that wins from the team.” That’s been settled now though that is what it is, but I just think it’s when you really believe in everyone around you and you truly wish success for them, I think that you just can’t get and be let down man.
If you’re constantly giving and making every round, you’re sharp, it’s just going to sharpen you up and not, not holding anything back. When you build that culture, people feel more– They feel obligated to keep themselves sharp, I think. They’re able to talk about mental illness a little bit more, and be open and share that stuff because they truly trust these people. It’s not just about jiu-jitsu. If it is just about jiu-jitsu to you, then you probably have a huge gym, and a nice car, and great things, but I don’t actually have any of that stuff, that’s a choice though, the platform that Flo‘s given us could have 500 students move to the city. Like I said, fuck a million dollars when you can leave a legacy.
It’s about being able to change lives and help people. You never know how much time you got, you can wake up tomorrow and they tell you, “Hey, you got the stage four cancer, that’s that, you’ve got 30 days.” It’s important that every day that you build something that’ll keep going when you’re gone. Just to know that you’re a part of something that’s bigger than you. I think all that’s an incredibly important when you create that culture in your gym. There’s so much more than winning in jiu-jitsu when it comes to that.
I think when everyone starts to do that, that’s when you’re really going to see a change in the evolution of jiu-jitsu. I think when teams aren’t about just one person, one great person and everyone’s just giving and everyone thinks that they do this. It’s hard to look in the mirror and believe that you’re not that type of person, everyone thinks that. When that culture it’s built, you can really do incredible thing. It’s like possessing superhuman powers to help other people. When you walk into the room and you feel uplifted so much that you can– You just feel amazing.
It just spreads, it’s like cancer, negative things spread and positive things spread. I just think it’s really important to keep that mindset when you’re building your culture, or if you want to change it, you know what I mean? Everyone’s welcome to do what they want. These are the things that I’ve done, it’s the only way I’ve ever known how to do things. I’ve had a lot of success, a lot of failure on the way too.
Sonny: Yes. You touched on the idea of taking care of yourself first is, and I think of the airplane, if the oxygen masks drop down, you always got to put the oxygen mask on for yourself first before you can help other people. Then from the sounds of that, it’s like you build that belief in yourself first, then look to instill it into people’s their own belief in themselves around you, and then creates a kind of feedback or self perpetual thing that you’re looking to build that will last for a long time and spread out. Is that kind of?
Heath: Exactly. I’m actually going to steal the airplane thing and pretend that you didn’t say that, and that I said that.
Sonny: Go for it. [laughs]. [crosstalk] Sure, I got it somewhere else as well.
Heath: That’s exactly it though. Everybody kind of gets– They get lost in wanting to help other people and people like to tell people that they’re helping other people, or I always put everyone before myself. People brag about that and kind of get, but at the end of the day, it’s important that you’re healthy and mentally, because like I said, at a certain point, you might do that now but what about in two years? Things are a lot more important than today and tomorrow, you got to think about the future and it’s just so important to work on yourself to get to where you can help everyone else.
If you can combine those two things, be healthy, be able to help everyone, and expect nothing back. It’s funny, you get the most when you expect the least. It’s like when you’re chasing after a significant other, and they’re just kind of not interested in, then you’re like, ugh, fuck it, then the next thing, not only a hurry, you got four more call on you too, you know what I mean? It’s like when you stop chasing and you just start living. I think that’s just the way to create the culture, I think it’s a really positive one. I’m really proud of ours too. When people come and visit, they always say like, “Hey, the gym’s just like on the show and everybody’s so tough, and everyone’s so helpful and everyone’s so cool.”
I know it’s a little intimidating to come in and we have so many visitors sending people from other countries. The one that’s really gotten me lately is people are stopping by in the nighttime and they’re taking pictures with the sign, but they don’t come in and train. Then like I said, we’re really lucky, we’re at a crossroads, two main interstates cross in our town. Everything’s so cheap here, you can rent a house here for $600.
Sonny: That sounds better than Sydney. You’re tempting me to [laughs].
Heath: Listen in.
Sonny: Make a challenge.
Heath: [crosstalk] If you can ever come over, if you ever get to where you can come over, you come over and do a little thing on the gym, you stay with us. It’ll be great. But yes, that’s part of the reason, like I said earlier, why I like being from a small place. It gives me the availability to help more people. It’s a little cheaper and we gotta do it the hard way. Sometimes we got to put 15 people in a suburban that holds only eight people and drive down. Things are getting better, we’re just able to get a van and people ask, “Do we get anything from the Flo series?” It’s a two-part answer, but we don’t get any money from them directly.
However, they gave us the platform to share our story and that is worth everything. We’re forever grateful to them and Michael Sears and Simone Khan, who does the show, just to keep believing in the boys and keep sharing the story. I just think it’s touched so many people, we’ve gotten literally thousands of messages about just positive messages. The only negative message we get is “Fuck American jiu-jitsu,” which we collect those and we’re going to make a video on those, it’s going to be fun, but [laughs] it’s really funny too, because like I said, we don’t even give a shit about that, but-
Spatchy: I get the most messages about it.
Heath: Yes, actually Spatch gets the most messages about him, he’s Australian. It’s like indirectly, they go to him and that– We’re going to make a cross out American and part Australian jiu-jitsu, we’re going to make that a shirt actually. I think that I’ve actually never made a shirt before, ever. People always ask about apparel and merchandise. Will you kids call it Merch?
Sonny: Yes, Merch. We’re actually working on a first shirt right now. Like that, but we’ve never had one actually. If there’s any out there, like someone else has made them or something like that. It’s really humbling to have all the people, especially from the other countries and I keep saying that, but I just feel like in parts of Australia, Europe and I think a lot of these places, a lot of the South American countries, I think they’re where I was 20 years ago. It’s like you’re limited and sometimes you just can’t get over to the black belts or maybe you’re not in the position with family or whatever it is. I don’t know. I mean, fuck, you guys did the same thing. You’re a black belt and you made this happen. Peter– What’s the Peter guy’s name over there? He’s like the godfather, Peter Deben?
Sonny: Peter Deben.
Heath: He’s probably the first black belt over that way. Right? [crosstalk]-
Spatchy: John Will.
Sonny: There’s, yes, John Will, they said the dirty dozen but there’s a–
Heath: Yes. You know what I mean? That’s even a new Romina. Are there 100 black belts in Australia?
Sonny: I’d say so, yes. I’m just guessing.
Heath: You know what, 10 years ago, I think in America, that’s when it just first started coming. If you were a purple belt back in the day you were like a super bad-ass. If you were an American dude you had one of those, it’s like you knew somebody. You know what I mean? It’s growing in all the places and I just love to be able to talk with people and help them like I said, these small gyms and these garage gyms and some people have been paying these giant association fees and business is businesses. It is what it is. It’s just so nice to be able to feel like you’re helping people and get those messages and then say that you made them get back into Jiu-jitsu or whatever it may be, it’s really amazing and it’s because guys like you that have these shows, when you share everything with everybody, so that’s incredibly important.
Sonny: Thank you. I’m sure the merch will be a big seller. No doubt. I think it will be that you could bring people wearing a Daisy Fresh shirt and at other gyms and there’ll be asking them, why are you wearing that Daisy Fresh shirt guys?
Heath: I’ve really tried out. I see them sometimes when, like I said, I just think it’s a relatable thing. I think everyone kind of relates to it in a way that, man, these guys are approachable. They’re just normal hardworking dudes from wherever, and anyone can do it and that’s what’s Jiu-jitsu is supposed to be about anyway. It’s not supposed to be about hierarchy or it’s not supposed to be about one certain set or group of people being the best or monopolizing anything. That’s why like I said, the Jiu-jitsu revolution is important to make everyone see and understand that anyone can do anything and that everyone has that capability just with passionate love and teamwork, you can build anything. I think, like I said, that’s what that revolution is about.
Sonny: Like a big part that I’m really picking up in that revolution that you’re mentioning is certainly that team aspect. Even when you mentioned how like college wrestling coaches are on the sideline with the tracksuit and the whistle, which is heresy in Brazilian Jiu-jitsu and perhaps there’s good benefits to that or there’s reasons in that. It keeps the art not being falsified or, but now it is at the stage where that could certainly be part of the next revolution, where you have that team atmosphere, you have specialist coaches, perhaps. You have that kind of a model that’s used in other sports. Is that part of what you’re heading towards?
Heath: I think it’s important– Let me share, I think it’s important for someone who has– Maybe we’ll get to the point when someone who’s like never done Jiu-jitsu would be able to teach Jiu-jitsu. Maybe, I don’t know, probably not in my lifetime, but when I say that, I just mean, you get a guy that’s in his late thirties, late forties, people don’t realize some of these– I’ve been training for almost 30 years already. You know what I mean? It just takes toll on you after a while and I get into a group with Andrew Gotzis and his brother and George and Jacob Coach and I mean, at the end of that, about that time next month, I’d be ready to go again physically.
What I mean by being over the coach on the side is, obviously– I’m just thinking, I don’t think you have to be out there rolling every single time to get that respect from the guys. I think that if you’re able to build something with them– like my guys could tap me all the time and they wouldn’t lose any respect for me because they could tap me out. I mean, that doesn’t mean shit. I’ve actually never even thought, it’s never even crossed my mind that they would think any less of a– There’s times that I busted my knee open a couple of months ago. I wasn’t able to train for two months and I got big and fat one time. I never felt like the guys had any less respect because I wasn’t training because I’m still there. I’m grinding it out with them. I’m sleeping on the match with these guys and what you know doesn’t go away. You know what I mean?
I think as long as your team isn’t getting watered down and– With our belts that we give out, we’ve kept it pretty simple. I have the guys when they pans the worlds and they get the next belt. Some people obviously can’t do that. There’s hobbyist and some people say, “Hey, man. That’s sandbagging.” Anyone who says that probably doesn’t compete or hasn’t competed in real competitions. When the guys lose, it’s not a big deal, but when their guys lose, oh man, this guy’s been sandbagged.
I don’t think anyone would accuse us of watering anything down. I think it’s important to just be connected with the students and that’s what I mean by that. If you have that respect and you’re able to do that off to the side and they’ll let you– Go in any, like I said, any Division One wrestling, most of these guys are 50, 60 years old. I mean, they’re not turned out, they’re wrestling with the guys. I mean, does that make them a shitty instructor? You know what I mean? I think that things will evolve into that, especially as us guys that are black belts, are the leaders now get a little bit older because it’s like Andrew.
There’s things that Andrew could show you that I couldn’t. I show him a move and I show him the entire passing system. He shows me back the entire passing system plus everything that he’s done to it just from me showing it to him. I think that him and Gordon and these guys, I think that they are very special mentally, the way that they see things and break things down. I think that their brains just work a little bit different than mine anyway. He’s not interested in really teaching. He’s still competing actively and he’s doing the instructionals and seminars and stuff, but he’s not really ready to take those reigns as the coach.
I just think there are captains on the team that you have to have and know these guys got your back. Like I said, as long as you have the respect from the students, there’s a big difference between respect and like, dominative like I said, the king of the kingdom. Some of these guys, they haven’t rolled with the students in 10 years, and then they get mad when the students leave and they show shit, and then–
Results are all the matter in the end anyway. Right? If a team’s pumping out constant champions, I mean, who am I to be judgmental towards their system? I would actually want to know everything about it. I think that’s a big difference between winners and people that don’t win, is they have an open mind to that. Is there any really set way to do anything in life in sports? You have all these coaches– I read every sporting thing that I can, and I’m really big to dig in into other sports. Not any Australian football stuff. I’ve never read any of this stuff. Is there a coach stash?
Spatchy: From where?
Heath: Australian football?
Spatchy: Like a famous coach ?
Spatchy: There’s a couple of decent ones but not like [crosstalk]-
Heath: You don’t know nothing.
Sonny: Ron Barassi.
Heath: Ron Barassi?
Spatchy: Hes good as…
Heath: The American guys think you said Ronda Rousey, but anyway–
Heath: I’m just kidding.
Spatchy: Shes a badass bitch.
Heath: Anyway, I just think things are constantly evolving, man. I think when you put your time in and you get the respect and the students trust you, that’s why it’s so important not to be a piece of shit and take advantage of your situation. I do think that time’s coming though. Like I said, the older the guys get, these young guys want to keep competing. We have a pretty young team, and guys that’ll be getting black belts here real soon and they’re definitely not ready to open up anytime soon. You know what? I’m slowing down, man. I’m getting old and you know how it goes, getting out there and mixing it up every time. I just don’t think that that’s as important as everyone thinks it is, just you can’t use it. There’s a fine line. You can’t use it as an excuse to not train and not get it in and I don’t know. You get it.
Sonny: Yes. It is that fine line that you mentioned of being able to keep it real and just the reality of eventually, the young guys are going to overtake you and that actually should be the goal of a good coach, it’s you want people to get better than you.
Heath: In martial arts in general, the perfect sensei treats the student that can defeat him, and show others how. That’s the oldest thing.
Sonny: Everyone can say that as well. It’s easy to put the poster on the wall that can espouse that value, but then actually being able to do that, and having a culture where people still don’t look at that as a bad thing and still have that support from each other is the key really, and the most difficult part about it. That takes the work and that takes potentially a toll in being able to put that into place. Was there any significant challenges or times, things that you had to overcome while building that kind of culture?
Heath: Yes, for sure. There was a time when we had won a team trophy, and they wouldn’t allow me to accept– We got second at a No-Gi Pans one time, with two guys, that’s a true story. Marcella Garcia’s team had won everything and the other 17 divisions were won by like individuals, so from different teams. It just worked out perfectly. Actually, I wasn’t allowed to get the trophy yet, and it happened again, in Atlanta. Finally, they let me on the podium. Actually one of the Gracie Barra guys said, “Man, let the dude on there.” You know what I mean? Next week though, there were two kids, eight-year-olds that were up there, and they were holding it, and I had guys competing and rules are rules. I get it, I understand it, and I’m okay with that.
If everyone’s following the rules, I’m cool with that, but it was tough to be in the stands yelling from 40 feet away, when I have students that are in the finals of the open worlds, you know what I mean? In the Gi, and in blue and purple, and just things like that. I could see people, girlfriends, and just people down and you want to make the coaching only black belts, I’m all for that, I get it, and I can appreciate that, but I wish the rules were all applied the same to everyone. That’s been a long time ago. Now, I think things have really shaped up, and I think they’ve fixed a lot, and it’s gotten much better, but there’s been a lot of shit talk about our team over the years, you know what I mean? Especially before the Daisy Fresh thing came out, we were on the scene, and we’ve always been a little bit rowdy.
You know that they’re boys, they’re from 17 or even younger than that, to 25. Like I said, they’re just young, and they’re full of it and they’re ready to go. We started making some statements, we just didn’t really have the numbers to win anything. We would take 10 guys and win 12 gold medals, we just didn’t have the numbers, but now, I think things have grown. There’s always a push back in anything, you know what I mean? In the last year, everyone has been extremely kind. When we won the No-Gi Pans, I actually really felt like that almost every coach from even the major teams, some of them wouldn’t get on the podium with me. They had other people get up there, because they didn’t want to be up there, but it is what it is.
We take our Ls like champs. If we’re in third, I get up there. If we don’t get a medal, it is what it is, but for the most part they were really supportive man, and they really went out of their way. I think they’re starting to see, it’s not about American or Australian, or Brazilian. It’s not about that. It’s just about Jiu-Jitsu man and saving people and growing our sport. In 100 years from now, can you imagine how big this is going to be, and looking back on things and seeing, man what a — It’s important for me for Pedigo Submission Fighting to not turn into one of these giant organizations, not that there’s anything wrong with these things. It’s just, I see some of these coaches sometimes and I always have a list. You can catch me any tournament, I’ll have the big giant list and coach every every person we got and running around the entire time.
Some of these guys, they’ll go and coach guys in the finals and they’ve never met these guys before. You know what I mean? It’s like they close out in divisions with people that they’ve never met. Dante Leone, when we were in his finals, that was in one of the Daisy Fresh, this is the No-Gi Black Belt World Championships, so that this kid’s dream and they wanted him to step down and give the title to this guy that he doesn’t even know. I don’t even know if they’d ever trained together before. Maybe but, I just don’t understand that. I don’t get that. They’ll say, it’s just about points but you know what? If Sonny and Heath are going into finals, and we already got the points, why ask one of us to step down? There’s little more to it I think, and I think these things are all changing.
We won the No-Gi Pans, the blue belt open. We got first and second, and one of our lightweights, Jacob Bornemann and Tristan Overvig, they had the match, man. We won first and second in the lightweight division. They tagged Cravens and Jacob Bornemann, they had the match. I think it’s important for the person who deserves to win to win. I think it hurts, if one of the two are weaker or something, I think it hurts them even more to just give them the title and secretly, deep down inside, you might always wonder who won and I just think it’s important for the best person to win. The guys are so happy anyway to be up there. They got nothing to lose, but when they get out there man and go against each other, they banging. These guys live together.
This isn’t like Jacob and some kid from Brazil that he’s never met before. This is like his roommate that he lives with. I just think keeping it pure, and I think that’s part of watering it down here. The same guys who bitch about watering it down. The same guys wanting to close out the divisions and asking people to step down, and it just is what it is, man. For us, we’re always going to get it in, we’re always going to have the matches, and I think until everybody else does too, it hurts the sport a little bit. American wrestlers, you can’t imagine the disgust that they have, knowing that these guys close divisions out. There already pissed off because there’s two third places. Me explaining that to them almost ends up in a fight every time.
The fact that these two guys that don’t know each other are closing out for points, or that sometimes guys will close and say, “Hey, this is my friend from so and so, we closed the division.” They wouldn’t even be on the same fucking team. I don’t know how it is in Australia, because that’s even a smaller community over there, but I just think it all plays into that bitch ass-ness, and it just breeds a weak competition mentality. People think that they’re building the team and the organization a little bit more, but really, I think it’s just a weakening, and I think that’s a part of the reasons that a lot of these guys leave.
One of my old training partners, he moved away. Jonathan Thomas, I don’t know if you’re familiar with him? Redhead John. John and I actually got all our belts together. A lot of people don’t know that he’s blue and white, we went up white, blue, purple, brown, and then when he moved away, we did a lot of training together. We happened to be Rodrigo’s at the exact same time, and we were the same size, so we got it in a lot. His brother is actually a coach at one of our association gyms that we have now in Tennessee, but when he got to Alliance, they asked him two or three years in a row to step down to one of the guys, like Mario Reis or Cobrinha. These guys had multiple world championships, and they would close out in the in the semis, so they didn’t have to have a match, and they could do the finals.
I don’t know, man, and it just so rubbed me the wrong way. I just always thought at that point in my life, man if we ever get to where we’re able to win at this level, I think it’s so important for the sport to do these matches. Like I said, we’re a baby team still. Hopefully, we’re able to change some things, and some people appreciate and understand that and that. I’d rather give up the team trophy than the boys wonder who the best person was. I think, if it’s that important to you– It’s about them, and they’re going to carry this around for the rest of their lives. You know what I mean? Like I said for Dante, that was his opportunity since– He was 20-years-old or something, he’s a fucking kid. His lifelong dream, and he’s Canadian on top of that. He is the first ever Canadian black belt world champion.
Not even giving him that the chance to do that, and we were ready. You know what I mean? He had trained at the training camp, and damn was good, he was ready to go and I just hated that. Actually hearing that and being there, that was my first time that I had been in the black belt world champion box, trying to get one coach in the box down there. I don’t know man. It was tough to hear. Talk about watered down and stuff like that. Like I said, people from two separate countries that don’t know each other.
Sonny: I hear you on that. I’m not a fan of closeouts myself. In fact, one of the most memorable matches I ever had was when I went against my good friend and teammate in the finals. I’ll regularly bring it up with him at every opportunity.
Heath: Who won?
Sonny: Me. That’s why I still bring it up.
Heath: Oh, that’s right. So memorable.
Sonny: Don’t worry. Apparently, I just ran and stole the whole time.
Heath: That’s why it’s important. Because maybe it’s a minimal fraction of anything but like I said, the best guy won that day. Maybe next time he would win, but this time you won and you know. Sometimes you fight harder against your friends. I’ve had two brothers that have went against each other before. It was a bloodbath, man. It was like, they killed each other going out there. If you don’t mind me asking, how’s the ju-jitsu scene in Australia right now with all the stuff?
Sonny: Man, it’s been going well. There’s certainly been a lot more changes, again, from maybe 10 years ago, where there was a lot more distance between schools. There was only a certain few that you could get to, and now it’s really popping up on. There’s 10 gyms in a three-kilometer radius of where I’m at now, with new ones still opening, which is–
Heath: You got to kick those guys arse man!
Sonny: Well, you got to have a little bit of that, “Let’s go guys.” You got to have a little bit, at the same time, it’s also getting to the point where it’s like, “Well, there’s just so many now that–” It’s easier if it’s the one rival or something like that. Now, it’s so many, it’s like, “We’re still going to go hard,” but I might not have even heard of one place that we’re going against yet.
Even with cross-training and such like that, it certainly seems like it’s become a lot more acceptable, and relaxed a bit more. I think everyone, the core group of competitors, and top-level guys out here seem to be like that. They’re all training together regardless of affiliation. They are all getting together and doing working.
Heath: That’s how you know. I think that’s the way to really gauge things, is that what you just said. At the end of the day, the top guys, the big competitors there regardless of affiliation, they’re getting an NC. That’s what’s important. That’s the example that needs to be set. A competitor know he’s good, it’s sucks. If you have a gym and a guy opens up the gym next door. If you were cooking hamburgers, that would suck for a hamburger place to come there.
It’s a little personal, but at the end of the day it’s like when if St Browns getting it in and showing the right shit, those guys from the other gym are going to come over anyway. That’s always how I look at it. It’s like, if someone needs to go, c’est la vie, it is what it is. I think, even when guys come you’re like– I helped a couple of guys for years, and they actually won World Championships for other teams. I always, of course, hoped that they would switch over, but that didn’t make it any less, me happy for them when they won.
Does it suck to see their coach get on there and talk about how he’s training them and did this? Of course, but, at the end of the day, it goes back to, “What was this about? Me or helping them? I think, if you keep that mindset, I think the more people that do it, the better. The more places that pop up sometimes the better. It sucks to the business owner, but for ju-jitsu and the longevity of it, I think it’s important to have the more the better.
Sonny: I think one of the core messages that you’ve mentioned is the use of ju-jitsu as a vehicle to change people’s lives for the better. If there’s more people doing ju-jitsu, then there’s more possibility of changing people’s lives for the better. Maybe just to finish up is, what do you think is it that makes ju-jitsu special or gives it the ability as a sport to be a vehicle for change and bettering people, or is it something that you think you could do through anything? Is it just a belief in yourself?
Heath: Of course, no matter what you’re doing, you have to believe in yourself. I can’t speak on too much stuff because ju-jitsu is really all that I’ve ever done. The reason that I think ju-jitsu is an amazing gift for that is because it doesn’t lie. You have to be honest with yourself because you know deep down inside if you’re fibbing, or if you haven’t been working hard or you’re cheating on your diet, or you’re not taking your time to get better or make people around you better, it tells the truth always.
For mental health, ju-jitsu, it doesn’t fix mental health. Obviously, if you have the mental health issues, you need to talk to someone that does mental health. I think it’s just saved a lot of lives out there, man. My favorite line ever in the Daisy Fresh was when Michael Sears asked Jorge Valladares, he asked him and Spatchy and Alejandro and Andrew and they almost had the same answer. Like, “If you weren’t here at that Pedigo submission fighting, what would you be doing?” I said, “I probably would just kill myself.” I got a message two nights ago, a guy had sent me and just said, “I have a disease. I drink and I’m killing myself. Can you help me?” It’s just a local guy. When you take these things on, it’s deciding and it’s a, “Hey, I want to save as many lives as I can.” Then you don’t get to hang the phone up though at eight o’clock when you hang the Gi up and leave from working. You get two o’clock phone calls in the morning, and are you willing to do all that? Because that’s what it takes. That’s what it takes to really build something special.
It’s funny, people, they always ask me about the ju-jitsu like there’s some secret ju-jitsu moves. You’re one of the first ones actually that’s asked me like, “Is the success because of the ju-jitsu or is it because of the environment and the culture?” I actually believe it’s the second one. I actually believe it’s the environment that makes the champions. Like I said, it’s 2021, man, you want to do spider guard, watch Michael Lang, that was 15 years ago.
You can learn anything from watching stuff, but you can’t build an environment, you have to do that and the people around you have to do that. I think that a lot goes into it and I think that everyone wants to talk about feeling like they do that. Remember the king of the kingdom thing and if you’re a black belt that’s out there, not judging you, or anyone that’s listening, but ask yourself that, is this so you can be the boss or is it because you truly want to save lives? Are you willing to miss your son and daughter’s AFL Junior meets or basketball games?
Are you willing to get up at two in the morning to bail someone out of jail? If you’re not, that’s cool, that’s fine. I think it takes these things. When a guy’s wife leaves him, and he has nothing, he has ju-jitsu and the people that are there, that’s what makes this so special, man. Our gym is just made up of so many of those that. We have more non-competitors than we have competitors. It’s like a surprise to people. In that little Daisy Fresh room, we have about 50 to 60 people every single night in there plus the visitors that come and probably half are competitors and the other half, they’re competing, but not for metals, they’re competing for their life. Which, to me is even way more delicate and important than winning 100 World Championships. The medals and trophies are just that, at the end of the day, they’re just possessions.
If you have the opportunity to save these people’s lives, and everyone out there that’s a leader and that runs a gym, even if you’re just a student, you can step up, man and you can really help people. It is a full-time job. While I was talking you, I have about 500 unanswered text messages. Man, they just build up, and sometimes you fall behind and that starts to put a lot of stress on you too. That goes back into, you have to make sure that you’re all right too. I think you can get lost when you’re really trying to build something.
I got off subject on it there. It’s so important, I think to really be doing everything that’s necessary. If you want results, I just think that it takes that. The ju-jitsu is just a minimal part of winning the environment as everything. If you’re an Australian Football League player that you play on the shittiest team, and you do that for five years. I think if you go and play on the best teams for five years, no matter what anyone says, your game is going to be elevated up by the people around you, the coaches. It might not be just a skill. It might be the coaching. It might be your environment. It might be like a positive impact that they have, but it’s not secret strength conditioning, a deep De La Riva sweep that nobody knows.
It’s not that, it’s just so many things that factor into that. I think people could spend a little bit more time, building that environment for the students than just the ju-jitsu itself, what I mean? Hats off to anyone who does that, like I said. It’s totally cool for anyone to do anything they want. It’s not a knock on anyone. It’s just it’s the only way I know how to do things. Like I said, it’s a full-time job, man. At the end of the day, ju-jitsu was all I knew and this is the way that I cannot leave something behind and feel like I truly tried to change and better the world.
Maybe in another life it can be something else, but it’s ju-jitsu now, and that’s all I’ve done since I was 12 years old. My brother opened up the gym and then I did in 1997, so I was 13, 14, and we immediately started. We were able to rent our first place and he moved into it and it was right uptown on the square. We had two students for one year. One of them is a black belt now. He runs a gym for us out in Los Angeles area, Derek Featherston, but it just it takes time.
Like I said, anything worth anything, it takes incredible feats and a failure and just the time to put into it. That’s what I’ve done because I don’t know– If I didn’t do this, I don’t know what else I would do. I guess work at the factory or whatever. That just wasn’t enough for me, man. I just wanted to reach as many people as possible. Ju-jitsu’s given me the opportunity to– Especially now I feel like actually, I change the world, even if it’s just one of these boys. If they were truly going to kill themselves or hurt someone else, just being being there for them.
The price is, it’s 50 bucks a month right now to train at our gym, 50 bucks. You can live there for 50 bucks. That’s American dollars, not AUD, but it’s definitely not about making money and like are you able to pay the bills and stuff like that. I could raise the prices and I’ll make more money, but you’re not able to help as many people. When we get a bigger gym let’s charge more money obviously, but it’s still just going to be about helping people. I think that winning is just a by-product of that in the environment, that change the question.
I think the environment is so important and the mental aspect of this is– when you watch especially the lower belts, man, like the purples and the blue, purple, brown. Sometimes it just comes down to who’s tougher. It’s who’s got the most heart and who wants to win the most. They’re all so good, and you can see this. I think that so much mental like when you– The AOJ guys are incredible at building confident ju-jitsu guys. Byrd Satya, he had just went against a Cole from AOJ, the young kid, he was incredible. Cole actually won the match. Man, even at that age, he’s like 15 or 16. He was so confident. Their ju-jitsu is wonderful, but their confidence level, like the Mendez brothers are doing a wonderful job at building those guys confidence, they believe that they’re going to win. I really think that that goes a long way. I think it’s a big part of competing in that.
We break down technique and we break down takedowns but do you break down breaking people in general? I do. I try to look and see, like I said earlier when someone breaks physically and when they slow down, if they grab the grip and you break the grip, maybe on the eighth one, the ninth one, it’s all especially look after the 10th one the guy’s not going to reach anymore, he’s going to reach down. I think these are things that kind of go unnoticed. There really is. There’s just so much mental into it. At a certain level, everyone, for the most part– there’s obviously stand outs.
There there’s the Buchachers and the Gordon Ryan’s the statute Brooks’s. There’s these guys, out there, but for the most part, normal, normal, guys you know. The semis and the finals, these guys are going to be pretty equal in technique. What’s it going to come down to? Is it going to come down to ju-jitsu, or is it going to come down to mental toughness and that awareness and preparation? I think these are things that are all vital to becoming a champion. If you’re one of those guys up, if you like say, “Brown, you can just maul the fucking guys.” That’s great, but I’m not, you know what I mean? I have to look into actually more things than that. I think the boys have really benefited from that. I think that hopefully when they open their own gyms and they’re able to pass that down and they’re willing to do that work and build the environment, you know what I mean? When you build the environment, it’s like the field of dreams.
I had a Brazilian guy that kept telling me these IBJJF tournaments, if you build it, they will come. I didn’t know, that’s what he was saying in Portuguese. Then a girl that was walking by told me, “Do you know what he’s saying?” I said, no. That’s what he was saying from the movie. He was being supportive of the show, which is really cool. I actually bought the DVD next time I seen them and give it to him, keep it in my bag. I do believe that. I think it’s really about the environment as much as the ju-jitsu itself.
I think that if you’re not as good at jujitsu as a lot of people, that you can make up for that in a lot of different ways. Sometimes guys just aren’t technicians. You know what I mean? It’s look, you, Sonny Brown has the physical attributes that he has. That’s the way it is. Even if you get juiced up out of your mouth–
Sonny: Not much.
Heath: Me neither, I hear you, but you have hair at least that’s , You have what you have. Some people have more. I have a kid, a Jacob Ornament kid, he just walked on a college wrestling team. He’s never wrestled. They give him a full ride. It’s like one of the greatest accomplishments as a teammate and coach he was able to a full ride on that team and a college to wrestle. He’s never wrestled. He just learned how to wrestle in the gym, doing ju-jitsu. Now that he’s able to be on that team. That was really incredible. The kid’s physically just a monster man.
I have other guys that just aren’t that way. They have to take the mental route and do that. Andrew Wiltse is a lot like that. Anyone who knows now, you know that guy’s a giant dork, you know what I mean? He’s into this weird, like wizard Lord of the Rings type stuff. I don’t even know what the hell he likes, but he reads books and he is physically an animal, but he takes the time to learn the things like a hand placement, feet placement, a hip positioning, and all these stuff. You’re like, “Where is his knee on the knee slice? Is it slicing out is it slicing down, what’s the angle? What’s the percentage of misses the first try?” He knows all this stuff. It’s all completely broken down. Whether anyone wants to admit it or not, this shit does matter. I mean, there’s a level that it doesn’t matter at.
Like I said, some people can slide by and keep doing it, but I think at some point it’s like the NBA, the basketball in America in the 1960s, a 6’10 guy was the best guy. Now the shooting guards are six foot 10. Now they weigh 280 pounds. They have muscles, they have conditioning coaches. There’s more to it than just the basics of playing basketball. There’s a lot more to it that goes into it. I think that you’ll kind of see that slowly turn up as ju-jitsu gets more popular and other places I think places like Australia and Europe and small places, like South America, Mexico, all these places. I think they’re going to make up for what they miss in technique by these things, and being able to replace a technique that they haven’t been able to get with. Like I said, toughness, or just the physics of a winning a match, basically.
Sonny: I hear you on that. I think that kind of wraps things together, where it is that change in ju-jitsu of perhaps shifting to that team culture, team sport, more atmosphere than requiring that belief and team leadership that instills the belief in those, everyone around you, not just in the leader, but in themselves as well. Then that belief potentially having the ability to overcome techniques. Then also recognizing that it’s not just putting that comradery in a mission statement or value statement that’s on the wall. There is a big sacrifice that comes along with going down that route.
Heath: For sure and like I said don’t let me– I’m not saying that ever– You can always learn technical, you know what I mean? I’m not saying be a meathead and go out there. You should constantly be learning. Even when you’re a black belt and 100 years old. If you’re still a student of the game, and love ju-jitsu, you should always be trying to learn. Some people aren’t capable of picking things up the way other people are. Some people just have that knack for just being able to see something.
We talked earlier about Jordan and Andrew, that sometimes John Danaher, these guys. Sometimes they just get things and they understand things a little differently. Maybe in other areas of life, this would’ve been considered a negative thing but for us in ju-jitsu, it’s a great thing. These things don’t replace learning the techniques but I think people have to keep in mind sometimes that capabilities of certain people are limited sometimes and they have to use their attributes in different ways and you can’t ever count anyone out, you know what I mean?
Mikey Musumeci, He’s a perfect example of this. Look at the guy, he’s just technically– I think he might be a little bit more athletic than he lets on. The guy is incredible. He just told Spatchy “Look you’re a little too small for this weight class you’re doing. You need to be drilling 12 hours a day if you’re going to be doing this.” He drilled that heel hook that he did on Lucas. He did it to him. He did it to Spatchy for hours before.
Spatchy: Same thing.
Heath: The exact same one, “Hey this is what I’m going to do,” and then he went out there and he just applied that perfectly. I just think he’s on that side of the spectrum of ju-jitsu. I think he’s that technical genius. I think Rodolfo Viera is on the other side of him. Not that he’s not an insanely technically amazing guy. I’m just saying he has physical attributes that allowed him to roll through– He was that king and then when Buchecha came, he was even more of a physical specimen and then he just rolled right through him. I just think that you have to constantly be a student of everything. That pretty much sums it up.
Sonny: I love it, Heath. You’ve been very generous to me with your time today and I really want to just say thank you for taking the time out of your day. I really appreciate it because it’s been a fascinating discussion for me just to get those insights. Especially on the culture side of things that we’ve gone over. It’s such an important part that’s often just given the lip service treatment or just that surface level stuff.
It’s been really great to get into that and I’d love to actually if– I know Spatchy has been in the background there. I’d love to have– Probably I’ll speak to him to get a full chat with him some time as well if any of the guys there because each one there is a cast of characters, right? They’ve all got great stories to tell.
Heath: Definitely all those guys, they all love to, I’m so happy for them that, like I said, that floor gave the platform to show them and for them to get the time to speak to guys like you. Helping them be seen and I think it just helps everybody realize, like I said, that, “Hey man I can do this,” and that’ll really take you far in life. Just believing in yourself a little bit and that can carry over to job interviews and talking to girls or whatever. That confidence carries and I think the show does that for so many more people than people realize, you know?
All of us weren’t lucky enough to be born in a place where there’s a lot. I think that’s really what this has done. People see it. If you can’t be a part of it, build it yourself. It’s not always the route that’s the easiest one but it was the correct one for me. Even if you’re part of something now, you can still build and you can change and you can make things happen and for everybody out there, it’s important. If you’re a leader, just remember you’re responsible for not just the students that you have but there’s students and people down the line, their kids and these people really look up to you. I think it’s important to always remember that and really believe in whatever it is that you’re trying to sell.
If you do and you’re passionate about that, I think that results are– They’re endless, that capabilities of what you’re able to do are. All these boys, man, anyone that they’re all down and they’d love to have them on, they’d love to be on there. You just let them know and we’ll hammer it out brother.
Sonny: Amazing. Yes, definitely want to make that happen. It really is the power of belief that’s kicking ass as well. It’s good to see.
Heath: Yes no doubt. Jorge just started with the Pedigo Submission Fighting YouTube thing and a lot of the videos he put on there, the reason that we put those out there, it’s actually for that. The comments on there are so good from the Daisy Fresh thing. We wanted to just keep sharing the story. Everyone’s able to talk to the boys, see that it’s possible. It really makes me excited just thinking about it. Checking those videos out on there. That’s not like a plug either. They’re really motivational and they can really give hope to, like I said, small places and the countries that are just behind because of where you are.
It’s like Australia, ju-jitsu’s not behind, it’s limited because of that. Everything catches up though. Some of the best guys in the world are Australian guys and I think that everything comes around and it just takes time. It’s like you said, there’s more than 100 blackbelts there. 10 years ago, there were like probably 6. Everything grows and over time, it’s really exciting to think about what all this will be like in 50 years when I’m long gone. It’s really neat to think about. I’m really happy that even if I had the tiniest part in being a part of the foundation for that, like I said, in that revolution. That makes me really happy. All this is worth it just for that.
Sonny: I love it. No doubt you will and the story is still being written as we speak, so I’m sure there’s plenty more chapters to add onto what’s going to come in the years ahead.
Heath: No doubt.
Sonny: Heath, thanks so much for your time mate. I really appreciate it again. You guys are inspiring, watching from over here. Yes, just want to say thanks a lot and hopefully, I’ll talk to the other guys and we could do it again in the future.
Heath: You’re the best, Sonny. Thanks for having me on and like everything you do. I know it’s your free time that you just do it. A lot of people always look at it like guys are trying to self promote themselves and make things but they don’t realize that– I’ve watched a lot of your stuff and I get a lot of people that ask to do these things and I do one every few months usually, but I just try to pick the ones where I know that people are passionately just– They want to make people in ju-jitsu better. I know that you do that, and thank you for that.
I’m humbled to be on your show with all the great people you’ve had. I really look forward to coming over to Australia, me and the guys. Like I said, I don’t really do seminars like just me. I want to have all the boys too. They’re a part of everything that’s been built. We would like to come over so maybe here in the next year, we’ll get over and maybe we’ll get to cruise by your spot and check it out. [crosstalk] They’re really wild, man, just fair warning.
Sonny: [laughs] I’m humbled to hear that and yes that’d be amazing. We got to wait for everything to open up but that would be just– Going to be good times.
Heath: Thanks brother. Well, thanks so much for having me on and I’ll have Alejandro give you a shout and we’ll schedule some times for the boys and you can have some twos or ones or whatever you want, you’re the boss.
Sonny: Thanks so much. It’s just a treat to be able to do that.
Heath: All right thanks again, Sonny, I appreciate you brother.
Sonny: Thanks so much, Heath. Have a great day mate.
I talk to Tum “Energia” Voorn who is a Jiu Jitsu Practitioner with a Capoeria background and who also trained as a teacher. We discuss an inquiry-based instructional strategy that he describes as “Teaching Without Telling” and how he applies it in a grappling context, what obstacles it may have in its implementation, how to overcome them and the benefits of its use. We also relate this to forming a positive club culture by encouraging student feedback and, finally how leg locks can play into this pedagogy.
What’s more important in the battle between offense vs defense? Well In the seminal 1997 action film “Double Team” starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, the following exchange takes place…
JCVD: Offense gets the glory… RODMAN: …But defense wins the game
The debate over Offense and Defense has been raging ever since, and on the latest episode of “The Sonny Brown Breakdown,” I was joined by two guests who went into battle for the respective sides. With School of Grappling taking the side of offence and Priit Mihkelson being on the defence side.
With the issue being reasonably broad, it takes some interesting turns from a general conceptual overview of the topic to practical applications of the technique, the learning and teaching of grappling. Andy and Priit had a great conversation so check it out on your favourite podcast app to listen to how it went down!
In this episode of the podcast I talk to one of the greatest grapplers in the world today, Craig Jones about his start in Australia, to moving to America to train with the Danaher team and now preparing in Puerto Rico. We discuss how his goals grew over time, how he teaches seminars and uses them to train and train other aspects of training with the DDS. We also discuss the importance of marketing as a professional grappler and earn a living from the sport at the highest levels where the line between sports and sports entertainment can change.
Sonny Brown: Craig, how are you doing today, mate?
Craig Jones: Yes. Good, good. Up bright and early so we could coordinate this one, but I’m usually up early anyway, so it’s not too bad.
Sonny: Appreciate it. It’s late here, but I’m usually up late so it works out well. It’s a good time, because it’s nice and quiet here for recording. I guess up early over there as now you’re in Puerto Rico, which is probably a big change, coming from Australia, then you moved to New York or New Jersey, I think, and then now to Puerto Rico. What’s happened? What’s going on? It seems like a wild move for you guys there.
Craig: Yes, very strange move. Honestly, when I first heard about it– Gordon went on vacation to see Mo in Puerto Rico. I think they were talking about some business stuff. Previous to that, Me, Ethan, and Taza, Mo brought us out here, but probably 18 months ago. Gordon went out, came back, and then immediately started trying to convince John to pack up the whole team and move. I don’t think John would have been interested in doing it whatsoever, except for the fact that COVID was really killing Panza’s gym in New York, or the restrictions were killing the competition classes.
If you’re running a school and only local people can enter, and train, and stuff, and there’s limited numbers, then the competition guys, they’re not there paying. They’re not really supporting the business apart from advertising and stuff. I wouldn’t say there was tensions, but it was definitely difficult to train as we usually would. We’d have time-restricted classes. Again, we were only allowed in 15 minutes before. We had to be out of there 15 minutes after.
While the gym was actually closed during quarantine, it was fine because we could just sneak in through the back door and there won’t even really be guys that teach in private. But once they opened up the gym in limited numbers, then it became very, very difficult. That encouraged John to move back here. Then obviously, the guys make a lot of money off DVDs. To move to Puerto Rico, you actually only pay 4% taxes of everything you own. I believe even capital gains and stuff, it’s only 4%. I think the combination of those two things, and we have Mo out here. Mo has been living out here for a few years, so we had a safety net. It wasn’t a complete risk.
Those were really the main reasons, and everyone really wanted to get out. New York’s a great place to visit, but I don’t think it’s a good place to live at all, obviously. Unless you’re a millionaire living in Tribeca or something, or in a real comfortable neighborhood, it’s pretty horrible to live there. I’ve moved to Puerto Rico and I’ve got a three-bedroom right on the ocean, and it’s the same price per month as my studio apartment in Hoboken, which is four flights of stairs, a shit apartment. I’m pretty sure there were rats in there and stuff. A great change.
Sonny: [laughs] That makes sense then. It’s a bit of like a perfect storm of the crazy global conditions. Yes, the team in New York moves up and moves to Puerto Rico. Now, are you able to get in on that good tax break? Are those incentives there for an Australian overseas?
Craig: I’m still, unfortunately, awaiting my visa. I think, technically, I’m here illegally right now. It should process pretty soon, but I have to do a biometrics appointment. Obviously, you have to go in physically for that and with the US, COVID’s crazy so all the offices are shut down. I think I have to wait to get my social security number, and then I’m entitled to that. Compared to the Australian tax rate, 4% is going to be pretty damn nice.
Sonny: [laughs] The incentives are there for a reason, I guess. They want people there.
Craig: Yes, that’s for sure.
Sonny: That’s one move then that you’ve made recently, but obviously, going from Australia to New York to begin with would have been a big move. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m thinking way back, one of your original Instagram handles maybe was jiujitsutravels or something like that, way back in the day? Was that always your goal to use jiu-jitsu as a means to travel?
Craig: Yes, pretty much. My goals always just grew with what I felt I could accomplish at the time. I know that when I started jiu-jitsu it was like, “If I get good enough, I can open a school and not have to work a full-time job.” Then, in terms of competition goes, it was always like, “Could I be the best guy in the state, best guy in the country?” Then just kept raising those goals. It was pretty much the same thing. Actually, jiu-jitsu traveling was pretty much all I was doing. I would go into a camp somewhere.
I’ve trained basically everywhere, like Marcelo’s, Atos, Drysdale’s. I’ve visited everywhere basically doing mini-camps and then competing, but I had to change the Instagram name. It was after ADCC 2017 where I also had that breakout performance. I remember André Galvão came out to me and he goes, “Man, you got to change your Instagram name. No one can find you.” [laughs] That was what made me switch it over.
Sonny: You got to consider the branding. It makes sense. The branding you’ve going for now too, I guess, is something that’s probably another topic with the budgie smugglers and the #FuckCraigJones [laughs] who may all say that’s the end, maybe.
Craig: [laughs] Yes, they are kids.
Sonny: Yes, that’s a rabbit hole. [laughs] 2017 was definitely a breakout performance in terms of competition. I remember watching it, that match against Leandro Lo. We were with the team Australia, we’re new, but that was still a big victory that, obviously, would have opened up some doors. Then you won in the second round of that as well. Breakout performance, no doubt. Did that then opened more doors for you in America where you were accepted into places like Danaher’s, or how did that next step evolution then go from there?
Craig: That really just opened the door that, man, I didn’t have to teach regular classes to live off jiu-jitsu. It switched. I remember basically straight after that event, in my email, it was probably every grappler’s dream at the time. Sponsorship offers from every brand, it was flooded with people asking for seminar opportunities. Based on that alone, I just took the risk up then and pretty much stopped teaching at Absolute St. Kilda. I would teach when I was back in town, but over time I came, I was back in town less and less, just because all the opportunities were in the States.
I would just live off the road. I remember I made horrible decisions after ADCC 2017. Because I had made no money forever, I took every single seminar opportunity, and I still competed at the same time. I remember, I think I did 76 speaks or 77 seminars over the next 12 months. I just kept using the seminars to prepare for competition. We’d do the seminar and then I’d roll with everyone at the end. Terrible, terrible idea that was. That was obviously risk of injury, rolling in seminars. You can get injured.
Sonny: Yes, that’s definitely not as expected nowadays that the person will roll with everyone. You hear the stories more of that happening with the old school. Rickson would line everyone up and then run through everyone.
Craig: There’s a safe way to do it. I always tell people this. I’m always like, “What’s the thing everyone’s worried about at seminars?” If they do roll with everyone, the coach is always worried about getting submitted. I have this strategy that when I run, then go on, let him roll with everyone. If someone in the room submits me, I’ll let him submit me a couple more times. I’m always like, if they can go and say they submitted me, people are going to believe it one time, but maybe not two or three times. [laughs] They’ll think I gave it to him.
Sonny: That’s some high-level tips there. It’s like, “Fool me once, but twice, three times, ahh–” The fix was in.
Craig: That’s how you protect the ego when you’re tired of rolling.
Sonny: High-level ego protection. You would just wait. On those competing, you’re just going there, just rolling with whoever at the seminars, keep yourself fit, and prepare for competitions. Were you doing the seminars in just weekends only? That’s more than one seminar a week then that you did that?
Craig: Yes. I would do them whenever. Obviously, sometimes it’s hard to get seminars during the week, but I think some parts of America, they find it so hard to get people to come there to do seminars anyway, that they will take weekday seminars. I remember even in the UK, the UK was really good. I feel like those guys in Europe are real desperate to get people out to seminars.
I remember when I competed against Matheus Diniz in GrappleFest, I think I did 18 seminars in 19 days. The day off I had was the competition. Basically, two and a half weeks straight just seminar, seminar, seminar. That’s not a good idea either, because I also feel like the quality of the seminar deteriorates as you’re just getting exhausted. Obviously, you would know it sounds like a dream to teach seminars, but it is exhausting. You need to keep your energy up in between, I think.
Sonny: Yes. That’s probably a good idea then, though, too, the lessons that you learned from doing that many seminars in the time. One of the coaches back here, Justin, he was giving me advice of it’s good to do things like that and you actually batch your mistakes. You can learn a lot from them at the same time. You’ve done that year of just hardcore seminars teaching. What would you think of the details then to deliver a good seminar and the things to avoid then? What are you on the lookout for? Also, will you teach the same thing every time or will you mix it up?
Craig: I’ll try to. I remember Braulio told me about this. It really does work well. You might do a limited run of seminars. You don’t necessarily need to advertise it, but just teach the same thing every seminar. It doesn’t have to be a whole year. I feel like I tried to do a seminar in like a tour, almost. I did have a proper tour recently, but I try to feel like I’ll teach this sequence of techniques for the tour and, really, by the end of that tour, I’ve heard all the questions people need to ask about the move when you teach it.
By the end of it, it’s just a well-polished technique. Now basically, every time I teach it, I get less questions because I’ve taken into account the questions of previous seminars. For me, it’s really less is more. What’s funny is I almost consider it like a comedian that either has to win over the audience or the audience is there for them. Do you know what I mean? Like if you’re a Joe Rogan and you go, he’s already won over his audience. These days as my jiu-jitsu notoriety increase, people come to the seminar just to see me.
I felt like, say, around ’86 to 2017 when I was just taking off, they were there to see the technique. Now, almost have a higher level of scrutiny, and they would care more about the quality of the technique, which is super strange because these days, I feel like people just want to come say hello, hang out, get a photo. I try to adapt the seminar to that, and I feel like less technique, more focused technique, and then lots of time for Q&A at the end. Lots of time for stories and stuff. It’s definitely changed over time, what I think people expect out of me.
Sonny: It’s a good point, because I’ve even felt that myself sometimes when looking at seminars that I want to go to. An example might be Kurt Osiander who was planning when he was coming out here, and of course Legend’s been around forever, but really I want to go there. I don’t really care what he’s going to show, what he’s going to teach, I want to hear his funny stories. I want to go get a photo with him, still in the middle fingers.
I catch myself thinking that in my head before I book like, “Actually, why am I going to do these seminars?” It’s got to be interesting on the other side, when you’re putting it on to be able to navigate that change in people’s expectations, where maybe they want to go there and they want to see the #FuckCraigJones rashy on. [laughs]
Craig: That will be the merchandise and stuff. That’s how I’ve planned to stay relevant when I get old, at least the entertainment value.
Sonny: [laughs] That’s it. You spend all that time then doing those seminars. Tell me about how you ended up falling in with the Danaher crew. I guess you’re definitely part of their team now. Started off as rivals, but they had seemed to be pretty accepting of allowing their rivals to come train. How did that happen that you decided that that’s the place to be?
Craig: It’s if you can’t beat them, join them.
Craig: It was basically after me and Gordon’s second match. We had our match at ADCC 2017, and then we had another match at EBI 2017, the Absolute, so obviously, into this armbar, I still count that as a victory, because he should’ve tapped, but a week after that we trained, which was funny because we had our first match, we had our second match, and then exactly a week after the second match, we both had Kasai and I had the Murilo Santana rematch, and he had the Yuri Simões match. Then at this side, there are four or five different locker rooms at this particular venue they had, and it just so happened they put me and me by myself in the locker room with Danaher and all his guys.
There was Danaher guys in the undercut, the whole Renzo crew, basically. I remember just walking into the locker room after they took me there, and I walk in to the whole team that I competed against the previous weekend. I still remember Danaher being like, “Oh, you’re in this locker room with us?” [chuckles] I would say it was awkward for a second, but then it was really fun. I think at the time, actually, Marc Grayson, a local Sydney guy had flown out to be in my corner for the event.
That was definitely useful and stuff in terms of warming up, but I also got to see how the DDS guys warm up, and hear John telling stories and stuff like that in the back. I remember at the time, Gordon refused to admit his arm was injured. He was like, “No, it’s fine.” He’s moving around. It had a huge amount of swelling under here, the following week, It took until I actually joined the team for him to admit how bad it was, and he couldn’t train for three weeks or something afterwards.
That’s what started the relationship, and I remember they said, “If you’re still in New York, you should come in to train.” From there on, I really just started showing up with more regularity, which is strange because from being part of the team now, it’s very strict about who can and who can’t come, in terms of who could join the team or not. There’s been a lot of high-level grapplers out of us to join the team and they’ve turned them down just based on weight divisions and stuff like that.
I think I had an in into the team just because Danaher is from New Zealand and he loves people from that part of the world. He really appreciates– Anytime an Australian visits Renzo’s, typically, if John hears the accent, very, very welcoming. I think that might’ve been the in for me to get in there, because looking back, we really had no formal conversation about joining the team. I just kept showing up whenever I had spare time in America.
Sonny: [laughs] The old George Costanza method of just show up until everyone assumes that you’re on board, right?
Craig: Exactly, [laughs] exactly. I’m trying to remember how often I showed up. For two or three mini-camps, and then I showed up for, I think, three months for the Palhares match. Then I kept showing up for longer and longer. I think it went from a week to three months to six months, and then officially moved to New York in March. I actually moved to New York March 1st, and then the COVID lockdowns hit basically a week later.
It’s a strange time to move to New York. I really chose to join the team, because I figured I would go to wherever I get beaten up the worst. Going in there, basically, my skill set was a knockoff of what they were doing. To go see it at the source, I still remember getting beaten out by Jason Rau, Nick Ronan. I thought I’d go in there and just get beaten up by Gary and Gordon, but being beaten up by the low-level guys really showed me the holes I had in my game, and that’s why I stuck it out.
Sonny: I’ve heard lots of great things about Jason Rau, that he’s flown under the radar a bit and maybe getting out there a bit more. You bring up a good point of then how your game, like you said yourself that you felt your game was a bit of an imitation of theirs as you walk into there. Did you go in there with the intent of then, “I’m just going to soak up everything that Danaher can give me. I’m just going to start adopting their system as much as possible and just fall under his instruction style”? How much room is there left for you to develop your own individual styles within there, or your individual moves, or individual expression of that?
Craig: That’s a real good question. From what I understand about the team, for the most part, guys will have minor variations in style but everyone really does the same underlying systems. Everyone’s very, very similar, almost robot-like. The best time to see is if you see John run the guys through a warm-up before a competition. John’s telling them exactly what moves to hit. It’s almost very, very robotic. Sometimes, the guys will add on to the system with their own variations, which is good because of Gary and Gordon. It’s probably like the Yin and Yang, the complete opposite style. Gordon’s like minimum risk, maximum efficiency, Gary’s like maximum risk, you know what I mean?
Craig: Impossible to pin, impossible to hang on to. Obviously, their style has diverged but, really, the underlying systems and stuff are all the same. For me, it’s just minor tweaks, but for the most part, everyone’s doing the same thing. That’s why I think the team is so good. It’s because, say we look at a team like Atos, say we look at Kaynan Duarte and Lucas Barbosa, I couldn’t think of two things those guys do the same.
When they compete, although they’re part of a team to prepare, it’s individuals facing other individuals. Whereas what I can feel with Danaher’s group is everyone has the same system. Whenever one of us goes out and loses, provided we did the system and the system failed, then the whole team can adapt. For the most part, though, it’s like one of us will fail, I will mess up some part of it and get beaten in that sense, but I see it as a whole team actually working together to face other individuals. Because we have the same style, we can see where it fails and where it needs to be improved.
Sonny: I get exactly what you mean, where even that by minimizing the individual expression, it allows you to make any adaptations across the whole team much more efficient. Nowadays, it looks like a joke where everything is a system. Everyone’s putting out a system, it doesn’t matter what it is, it’s got to be a system. Look, I’ll be guilty of that at some point, and I think it’s just the way it is. For you coming in there just like how you were training before in Australia, moving over there, all the other places you’ve seen, how different or how obvious is that systematic approach that Danaher’s got?
Craig: It’s so different, the way we train and everything because say, for example, every training session, we’ll always do a minimum of an hour of technique. If you watched a Danaher DVD or you go to a seminar, he might teach one move over three hours. In the gym, it’s going to be like he’d teach a sequence very quick, we’ll practice it, and then he will add in other parts of that technique.
In that sense, it’s very, very similar to the way most people teach classes, but it’s the competition guys all doing it. What I see in other gyms is the coaches will teach these elaborate techniques and teaching to the up-and-coming guys, but it feels like as guys get more and more advanced, they amount of drilling they do decreases. Whereas, we would never do a session without that. We wouldn’t even do a session pre-competition day without practicing specific techniques. We hit that and then we always do positional sparring.
Every time, we always go mount, turtle, closed guard, and then we might do start on a single leg, we might do start in cross ashi with the double leg control, maybe 50/50, but we always do those positions. That’s what I think a lot of high-level teams don’t do, because what they do , say you do IBJJF. The match is won or lost in guard, passing, and sweeping. When they do their sparring, it’s always like they might do first-point throw or something, but very rarely, these guys work bad positions. That’s obviously why they’re so scared to do an EBI-ranked, because they never worked bad positions.
Almost the same, I remember preparing for EBI, I spent very little time doing the bad positions. I was like, “If I get to overtime, I’m probably going to lose, so let me just prepare to win this thing in regulation,” because regulation is where you get paid anyway. We always do both positions around. That’s where I was let down entering the team for the first time, because I didn’t have a great amount of escapes, I didn’t have great total escapes, even close guard was really a neglected position.
When a visitor comes into the team, they might be good at jiu-jitsu, but are they good at the whole package? If we take a visitor and we put him in mount, total closed guard, and we don’t even do any rest in between those rounds. When there’s no rest, you have to pace yourself. If you use to escape them with explosiveness, you’re just not going to survive the training session. That’s where I was really let down because coming as one of the better guys in the gym, you just very rarely get put in bad positions.
When I was training mostly with Absolute St. Kilda, obviously, Lachlan Giles would be tough, there’d be other tough guys in the gym. I would spend very little time if ever on the mount. Then, you’d get put in mount in the training room with these elite-level guys, and you can’t escape. The other thing they do really, really well is everyone always says this. Don’t finish a submission, you don’t need to crank a submission in the training room, but for the most part, people do. That means that guys are afraid to work their late stage defense.
Whereas, say Danaher, no one’s allowed to finish an armbar. You’re allowed to extend an arm, but you’re not allowed to apply any hip pressure to the arm. What that builds is your ability to anytime you get put in an armbar, you don’t just tap when the arm gets extended, you get to give the hitchhiker a shot, you try to sit up, you try to use movement to clear it. That way, we build those reactions.
We also build the reaction without fear, because Gordon was showing me about armbar escapes is, if I’m really tense and you break the grip and I’m resisting, you’ll find my wrist every single time. If you know the grip is going to break and you relax and you throw the wrist, it’s very hard for the guy finishing the armbar to secure the wrist and get a finish. We train those late stages every weekend. I haven’t encountered any other team really do that. Those could be the key areas where I feel the most growth for me.
Sonny: I really am interested in the idea of him not allowing people to finish armbars, because I really enjoy late stage escaping armbars, hitchhiker, reverse hitchhiker, that type. I love the look on people’s faces when they think they got me dead to rights, and I can get out of there. I’ve taught those moves to white belts and people, and I can say that they like, “Oh, I’m never going to try that.” It’s a hard thing to actually get them to build confidence. We can put them in situational things with the arm extended, but I know that it’s still– For them to actually get the confidence to try it, it’s going to take a lot, but you’re saying that no one’s tapping to armbars there, or no one’s finishing them. Is that–?
Craig: Yes, we just do not. There’s never any arm injuries because you have that faith that if it’s extended, they’re not going to break out. It’s just everyone knows the philosophy. If you can’t make a guy submit and control them without applying breaking pressure, you don’t know how to really finish the submission, but we just take that to heart. Everyone’s heard that, how many people actually do it? You know what I mean? Typically, what I see is people will extend an arm in the gym. They look at the guy to tap, the guy that’s going to tap, they apply hip pressure.
Whereas really, if you can hold it for three seconds, you can break the arm. That’s where we have these elaborate foot positions to prevent these escapes. Whereas like John says, to us, “The chances of you breaking someone’s arm at the highest level without certain feet positions eliminating movement are pretty slim.” You know what I mean? At the very high-level, guys are going to take a few pups. That just allows us to train those gray areas. Just things that you know, but they’re just so hard to implement in the training room.
Sonny: I guess that’s something too, when you’ve got a group of professionals training full time that you can, it’s easier to implement that in in some ways. I know that they could be like with the part-time as they want to come in on a Wednesday night and get a tap in. The catch and release might not suit them. That could be their little victory in the moment. That’s probably, I guess, a benefit of the full-time, it’s very clear that you guys are there to make money, and this is going to be a better way to do that. Yes, I really liked that. Is there any other positions that they’ll do the same kind of thing for?
Craig: I’m trying to think. Nothing as black and white, but basically just to control them so they cannot move before really even in putting that submission position into a dangerous area. I think that’s where the guys’ risk-taking confidence comes from, because say, for example, you know your mount escape is terrible. You’re going to have a conservative game because you’re going to be like, “If I miss this sweep attempt that may pass, they’re going to a win.” For us, the training with all these bad positions, bad areas, we have more confidence in our escapes, which means we have more confidence in taking risks during a match.
That’s why I think of like the guy Gary told him. He can take all these risks because his submission defenses are like 10 out of 10. He’s almost impossible to pin and hold down. That’s why I think Gary’s style is so exciting. It’s not that his style is exciting. It’s that his submission defense and he can’t be pinned is so tight that his confident to take all these risks during the match, because he has less to lose than the average competitor from taking those risks. I think that’s built in the training room, the way we trained.
Sonny: How much then do you find is tailored due to the emergence of sub-only rule sets and maybe a shift away from the IBJJF rule sets that’s allowed that to happen? You put out a– I thought it was a funny video of taking shots at some of the IBJJF, but I saw some other people posting, they were quite not happy with it.
Craig: The Brazilians weren’t happy, because I said the secret from Brazil. They were like, “You should have just said the secrets of you jiu-jitsu.”
Sonny: Do you ever see yourself going back to the IBJJF, or if they’re bringing in leg locks or something, is that– or is it just going to be for the professional grappling? You’ve got a great setup with Submission Underground at scenes. Is that just going to dictate how what’s going on in the training room?
Craig: Yes, I’ve definitely done. I don’t think I’m going to do IBJJF events. It’s great they’ve added heel hooks, but where I think they let down is the way points are scored. It’d say a takedown is getting your opponent’s butt to the floor. I’m like, “Well, you should really have to pin them.” If we cut that scramble short and say that this is the point-scoring position, then we’re missing out on this whole range of things that can occur where the person is committing weight to you to try to pin you, which opens up other things.
Whereas if they just have to put your butt to the floor, again, you cut that scramble so short. I think that there are certain areas that IBJJF rules set is still a big letdown. We train every day for ADCC rules, but if we have a competition with other rules coming up, then we just make the adjustment. Really, it’s not a huge adjustment for me to go from ADCC style training to Submission Underground style training, because I just have to add in the overtime.
For the most part, whether there’s points or not, I’m going to have a very similar style, but again, IBJJF, the way the point scoring is done, I think it’s too big a change to go from preventing yourself being pinned to preventing your butt touching the floor. I don’t think I’ll jump in there. Maybe if I can keep getting the silver medals, I’ll do No-Gi Masters World.
Sonny: [laughs] That’s a backup plan?
Sonny: [laughs] With Submission Underground then too, the biggest thing that I’ve heard people complain is that five-minute time limit. I think everyone wants to see a bit longer on the board. Are you doing just strict five-minute rounds in preparation for that? How do you tailor yourself to those time limits?
Craig: All right. Here’s another thing that I didn’t say about the training room, is that, say, we would probably do six rounds, but we don’t have a timer on the board. John calls time whenever he deems fit. I think that’s so important in the training room, because although it’s good to know, to see the time and play to the time, that’s a skill set that’s very easily adapted. That’s a mindset change. As long as you’re mentally calm out there, you’ll be able to adapt to the score board.
What I notice is, say you do six rounds, probably the last 30, 20 seconds, the guys will look at the clock and I’ll deem whether they can do any more jiu-jitsu. That adds up over time. Whereas for us, we don’t see, we don’t know when the round is going to end. That means we have to do jiu-jitsu the entire round every round in the training room. For us, it could even be up to 30 seconds to a minute. I know a lot of guys, if they get a good position and they stay center a minute, they’re just like, “Oh, I’m just going to hang out. I’m going to hang out here the rest of the round, maybe shoot some reckless sub off at the end.
For us, we do jiu-jitsu the whole round. For Submission Underground, we just add in an extra round. Let’s say, we’ll actually go for five minutes on the board. John will say, “You’ve got to use the most aggressive style possible. Just chase this guy down for five minutes.’ I hate the fact that it’s five. It should be at least 10. I think the submission-only set, it’s got to be 10 minutes. I would be much more happy if Submission Underground just did Fight 2 Win stop. It’s 10 minutes, whoever was more aggressive gets the victory. I prefer that to EBI, especially EBI with five minutes. EBI with a five-minute round is basically an overtime for them.
Sonny: The last two, you’ve got to finish in that five minutes, so that’s good, but yes, when there’s too many, go to overtime. I still think EBI is probably the best way to finish that or to set, to get that submission finish. I probably think it still works better in that tournament format where you have to have someone moving through. Yes, I think we’d all prefer 10 minutes if you can. You seem to have some sway there, right? You have Submission Undergrounds, it seems like that’s your sport now?
Craig: Not enough sway. I haven’t really got a clear understanding of why they don’t do it. It’s something about the UFC boss saying, “We want this many matches and we want in this amount of time. This is your time allocated.” Which, to me, doesn’t really make sense either because it’s not a TV show. Really, the event can go over. That’s the only good thing about Submission Underground though, it’s like Quintet. It was a quick event. It’s like two hours to see everything. Whereas some events, like I remember Kasai went for five hours. Like Fight 2 Win, I don’t know if anyone would ever watch an entire Fight 2 Win, because they last for hours.
Yes, there’s something strange there where I think it’s that they don’t want to take away EBI overtime. They don’t want to lose overtime to add in another five minutes. I was trying to convince them to do something crazy, whereas Giles suddenly decides, he’s like, “If the first five minutes sucks, the match is over,” but if they’re having a good match, he’s like, “Yes, we’ll extend it.” There’s got to be some holes like that. If it’s a boring match, you guys are out of here. You know what I mean?
Sonny: I reckon you could convince him doing like the Caesar says thumbs up or thumbs down, just like cut the child in his little bunker.
Craig: He would love that.
Sonny: I think that could be a sell on there.
Craig: I want penalties. I tried to convince him. I said, “Guys, we got to do five minutes right. Here’s how it works. If someone’s inactive and they get a penalty, they lose an overtime round,” to incentivize action.
Sonny: I would be for that, because from what I’m watching with wrestling, especially like folk style wrestling, they give penalty so quick for inactivity. It like what Quintet was doing as well where they even stood up from mount for inactivity, which is crazy in any other jiu-jitsu tournament, but Quintet can get away with it. I think that it works, right? It’s like you better go for the finish. Otherwise, you could get screwed up pretty quick.
Craig: Really, there’s like a spectrum of sports to sports entertainment. I feel like Submission Underground lies very close to sports entertainment rather than sports. They should have a lot of leeway to play with the rules. For me, if the fans are paying to see the events, we should go out there and try to finish the other guy. That’s where a lot of guys are let down today, and that’s why I think a lot of guys don’t make any money in jiu-jitsu, is because they’re so concerned about winning and winning by any means necessary, that it’s really almost such a selfish pursuit, and the fans don’t care.
If you ask people out there, “Who are your favorite grapplers?” It’s really got nothing to do with accomplishments, it’s got to do with how they compete. It’s not so much putting on a show. If you compete as I think you should to punish your opponent, it will be exciting, and you will be rewarded financially with sponsorships, and seminars, DVDs. If you never finished any opponent, no one’s ever going to buy your instruction. I don’t think you should just compete to make money. I’m saying if you compete properly, you will, as a byproduct of that, make money.
I think it’s true. If you look at the last ADCC, who made the biggest impact? Lachlan Giles. He got third. Lachlan has lost first round in his weight division, three events in a row. He’s made more money out off his instructional than guys that have won multiple times. If you compete, again, as I think you should, to go out and dominate and finish rather than play the rules, you will be rewarded. I think the fans will show how much they appreciate you basically with their wallets.
Sonny: It’s a good point. I am thinking that I haven’t seen anyone release an instructional of a system for winning by an advantage, but maybe that’s a gap in the market, I don’t know. [laughs]
Craig: It’s just funny. It’s such a strange thing to say. MMA fighters, I feel like those guys more or less fight for money rather than to be a complete martial artist, but they also pursue to finish, because it does get them paid. I feel like grappling could be a bigger sport if guys had a similar approach. You don’t even need to go crazy with your self-marketing and stuff. Some people’s matches like Roberto Jimenez, his matches speak for themselves. That guy, he’s going to go out, he’s going to push forward, and he’s going to attack his opponents no matter who they are, no matter how big they are. I think he gets rewarded for that with how many people were going to tune in to watch him compete.
Sonny: It’s a very interesting change in mindset, I think, for your leading professional grapplers who are putting up money for bet matches and things of that nature. We even had one of your friends, Isaac Mitchell, out here in Australia who’s a purple belt but he was offering $1,000 just to try and get any black belt takers to get matches. Difficult, no one wants to do it because even though it’s money, it’s going to be a damn hard roll. It’s a different mentality too from that old school of you get your ranking, climb your way up, and do it that way, whereas he knows he wants to make money doing this sport and that’s the way to do it.
Craig: It’s a confidence thing though because say, for example, I spoke to Henry Cejudo about this. It all comes down to self-belief. Cejudo said to me he’s never trained harder than when he started the Triple C and started talking smack to people. It’s the same with Gordon. I feel like people only see the side of things where if an athlete talks shit, people are going to pay attention to him, because either they’ll support him or they’ll want him to lose.
People think that the athlete does that specifically to make more money. Say, for example, if you talk shit about your opponent, you are going to train harder because, now, you have more to lose. Say if Isaac or someone does a bet match, as far as I know, I don’t think Isaac’s spoken too much shit but if you a bet match, people see that self-confidence, but for the athlete themselves, now they’ve got to back it up, not just financially.
They’re putting off this image that they have, this confidence that they can get it done. Now, you’d better train hard because you’re going to lose money and lose face. It’s a way to guarantee that you’re going to show up in the training room. I know that motivates Gordon, I feel like Gordon would quit the sport if everyone was just nice to him. He wouldn’t have the motivation to show up, but he’s more motivated by proving people wrong. He makes these statements that he’s going to have to eat if he loses, and because he has to eat it, now he better get training, and he better get training very, very hot.
Sonny: That’s interesting. What is it that does make him then so different from from everyone else it seems? Is it his mentality?
Craig: I think so. I think it’s the self-belief, but it’s also– He’s got enough self-belief to think he can do it different. He’s confident enough in himself that he think he can play the game different and win. Whereas some people might have enough self-belief that they can emulate other styles and try to do them better, Gordon’s got enough confidence to think he can technically do things different, do things better. He can play the game better based on that self-belief, technically. That’s the thing with him, there’s no shortcuts. He is obviously huge and jacked, but he’s as technical as he is physically imposing. Obviously, so you’ve got the physique, you’ve got the technical ability, and you’ve also got the self-belief. It’s just the perfect storm now.
Sonny: Yes, no doubt. If you’ve got all those, you’re in good measure. The other thing too is then falling under Danaher. I can’t remember who it was, maybe it was Chael Sonnen saying that he’s probably the first person with a full-time coach, whereas Danaher is Gordon Ryan’s coach, and he is a professional athlete in that manner. Do you think that holds true? John, is he your full-time coach in the same way or is that just between those guys?
Craig: No, for sure because it’s almost like it gives you a myth to believing, because John can’t roll, and he never competed. Probably around the time he really competed was when he had some crazy injuries. He’s had his hip replaced and his knee replaced. We have this guy that is obviously very well-read in all martial arts aspects like in judo, in wrestling, he’s as a historian in all these techniques, but we have this guy on the sidelines who watches us every single day and adapts the next day’s class or the post-training discussion to the shortcomings of a current training session or what we did well.
The next day, we’ve got a guy that watched basically every single round adapt the class on the flyer to us. We take everything he says as gospel because, say your coach is good, but you’re also good enough to recognize areas based on rolling with him where he is not as good. Now immediately, that coach role, sad to say, has been tarnished a little bit, because he can see his shortcomings in the training session, whereas we have this myth, because he can’t roll, and we have the confidence in every technique he teaches. We see the success of the techniques. Obviously, GSP initially, but then Gordon and stuff, Gordon and Gary and stuff.
Really, it’s like you have this myth to believe in. Like Taza said it to me, Taza’s like, “You give up the problem solving yourself to this other guy to have complete confidence in.” He is a full-time coach, which no one else has. I’m sure André Galvão , I’ve trained with him, is an excellent coach, but he’s an athlete himself. Being an athlete,
you have to be selfish.
Sonny: That’s fascinating. The idea, then, of that myth from him not rolling. That is definitely one of the things that would separate Jujitsu from, say, your traditional martial arts would be the instructors on the mat every day rolling with people. I know that there would be a lot of people who would, if you told them that you’re instructor didn’t roll, obviously not mentioning that it’s John Danaher and one of the tops of one of the most successful teams, it would be a red flag warning sign to not go near that gym.
In a way that the traditional martial arts did use it as a myth to then enforce, or allow, them to pass on suboptimal techniques, shall we say. Bushido [laughs] might be the other way to put it. That’s how you get no-touch KOs or something like that. Where no one can ever try it on the coach. It builds that myth down a bad path. In this case, you’re getting the results in competition. It’s a myth that’s allowed you to succeed.
Craig: Yes. Also, just think about it like, say even you, personally, when you watch competition footage, or you watch people training, you learn things from watching them. Whereas John has probably one of the best training rooms in the world to watch, train, six rounds a day, every day. He can see trends. He can see things that happen in the training room that we’re all doing or all not doing, and obviously adapt on the fly. It’s like he has that raw footage to watch and analyze every single day.
Whereas again, other coaches have the ability to do it, but if you’re training yourself, your energy levels to pursue it aren’t going to be as great as someone who just gets to watch it every day. What’s mind-blowing to me is he can demonstrate every technique perfectly.
Obviously, every now and then he can only do things on a certain side because of his injuries. I’ve never seen him drill these techniques, but he teaches them, and shows the move perfectly. I’m like, “Some of these techniques are things that he’s just visualized in his head. Then show in the training room,” which is mind-blowing to me. If I think of something and try to teach it, I really have to have put some practice into it.
Sonny: [chuckles] Yes. I was just thinking now, has he ever invited you back to his house? Have you seen what goes on? Or, is that all just left to the mythical side of John Danaher?
Craig: I think that it’s changed. It’s changed over time. I think, traditionally, no one ever went to his place. I think that the first guys to go to his house were the BJJ Fanatics guys, Zenga and Bernardo. They did an interview there. It was an interview in his new apartment after getting the BJJ Fanatics money, versus, I don’t know if anyone went into his old one. I heard a story about Henzo trying to follow him home and actually see inside his apartment and stuff. [laughs] Again, I don’t know what’s true and what’s not true.
I remember John told us a story where he got kicked out of an apartment because a guy was playing loud music. The neighbors were angry and John choked him unconscious. John’s got some crazy stories about that. The best stories are probably when he first moved to New York and New York was a bit of a crazy place. These days he’s different. I know the guys have been around to his house. He talks about bringing us around for a barbecue and stuff. I think John, today, is very different to John, even 5, 10 years ago.
Sonny: Sure. That brings up something, then, with the myth. Him moving to Puerto Rico and he has put the pictures up of him in the long sleeve, long pants. Is that man going to start rocking? Can you make him a rash vest, singlet, or something? Can you get him into a pair of budgie smugglers? Is that the goal?
Craig: He keeps the same look, but he’s changed the New Balance to Crocs. I was trying to find someone to pay to paint his crocs into New Balance style. I haven’t found it yet. It’s the same image. Just got a fanny pack full of cash and knives.
Sonny: [laughs] It’s the name of a rap song, I’m sure. Probably the last thing, touching on John, I wanted to discuss, one is probably, do you still read all his Instagram posts? Is that recommended? Is that part of a team? You got to read all the posts? [laughs]
Craig: I don’t read them too often. Obviously, I read the ones he tags me or puts a picture of me and stuff. Yes, I think they’re just good little snippets, you know what I mean? I think even someone has turned them into a book. A physical book.
Sonny: Yes. I saw that too. [laughs] The other is his insistence on Japanese names. Especially as an Australian, one of my goals, I’m like, “Oh, I want to learn a new language. I want to become fluent in Danaher. I want to get all my Ashis and my Kata Gatames, I want to get it down this year.” I start using that in the training room. Of course, everyone starts busting my chops. Giving me slack like, “Oh, look. Aren’t you getting fancy standing over there with your names.” How have you taken that?
Craig: Right. Well, when I filmed my last instruction, luckily I had Placido there, which I think is fluent in Danaher. I’m picking it up. Picking up some parts of it. I think it’s funny just because people misinterpret why John does these things. People will be like, “Oh, he’s shining us down hard and stuff. Then when you get to know him, he’s actually just a crazy respectful historian.
Whereas the average person might try to honor the past to look smarter. John, obviously, doesn’t give a fuck how he looks. With what he wears, he’s not trying to appear any way other than what he is. When he honors the past moves, he’s just given respect to Japan. Quite often, when a move already has a name in Japan, he just up and gives it that name.
Say, when we’ve come up with new position recently, he will give it a Western name. He would call it S1 or S2 or something like that. I think he takes a lot of slack. People think he’s trying to appear a certain way. Again, if you look at how he dresses and stuff, he just doesn’t give a fuck of what people think of him.
Sonny: [laughs] No doubt. No arguments with me on that.
Craig: He’ll just fight about it.
Sonny: The thing I would think though, with his insistence on the Japanese names, is-is there any passive-aggressiveness to Brazil, in not using anything in Portuguese names? He’s skipping that going straight back to Japan.
Craig: Maybe, but I think it’s funny. Say this whole thing with now all the Brazilian slack. I remember, I was just training with Gabriel Checco. He was bringing up about American Jujitsu. How much they hate it. He’s like, “They’ve just stolen it from Brazil.” I’m like, “Well, you guys stole it from Japan.” You know what I mean?
Craig: If we go back far enough, everyone’s stealing everything.
Sonny: That’s it. The history, I find fascinating, myself. It has revolutionized how people are training, and competing, and earning money in the sport, as well. That side of things, it’s undeniable that he’s put out the most comprehensive system, in terms that is an actual proper system of anyone, really. You’re putting out your own instructionals and everything like that.
You even put out– I saw a joke one, “Just stuff I stole from John and Gordon,” or something. Done up in a mock BJJ Fanatic style. How do you, then, find the ability to market yourself, and your own system, and learn? Take what he’s given you and then learn and adapt, to be able to put something out?
Craig: Well say, for example, I had a lot of success with the first heel hook instructional I put out. At the time, John hadn’t released anything. Obviously, Lachlan’s Leg Lock One came a couple of years later, after his ADCC success. When I joined the DBS– because not everyone on the team does make instructionals, I knew, perhaps, I wouldn’t be allowed to make an instructional. I knew that I would cut my earning potential, but I wanted to learn from who I consider the best grapplers in the world today.
I wanted to learn their stuff so bad, I was willing to forego the financial dollars of making instructionals. Really, after I hit ADCC 2017, I probably could have just done an Eddie Bravo, and just lived off that moment. I really wanted to ensure that I wasn’t– I’m not saying that Eddie’s was a fluke, but a lot of people thought I had a fluke of a weekend.
I really wanted to, first, prove that it wasn’t. I would also just get better. I was willing to sacrifice the money of instructionals to join the team. Again, it is a lot of their techniques, really, that they’ve innovated. Obviously, it sounds silly to say their techniques. Again, I guess they’re the popularizer of a lot of these techniques.
Craig: I was willing to sacrifice that. Then again, after joining the team and still being successful and stuff, John encouraged me to still work with BJJ Fanatics and make instructions. Again, it’s going to be a merge of things that I do and the addition of what they do.
Really, I might have certain techniques down, because of obviously the variations of triangles. I wasn’t, obviously, fluent in all of those variations. After training with the team I was. Although it says my name on it, really, a lot of the DVDs will cover similar stuff. Just slightly different interpretations.
Sonny: Yes, okay. It is still your stamp on it. In terms of making BJJ Fanatics, I got to ask. One of the most interesting ones that you were involved in was the filming of Kazushi Sakuraba’s DVDs. I’m a big Sakuraba fan, talking about John Danaher being a mythical creature. For me, that’s Sakuraba where his in-ring accomplishments are just incredible.
I guess technically, though, I think he’s in a weird spot where he’s certainly not out there saying that this is the most up-to-date stuff. His YouTube channel is all just jokes, pretty much [chuckles]. He’s just entertaining. Just take me through your takeaway, what that experience was like. How it came about and what you enjoyed.
Craig: I’m trying to remember how it came about. I think me and Zenga, from Fanatics, are pretty close. We’ve talked in the past about who would be cool to get on there. I remember we were joking even about doing an instructional with Karelin. Having me as the new kid to get thrown around. Every technique. We would talk about how big of fans we were of Sakuraba. Then I remember him saying, “Oh, if I get the deal done, I’ll bring you. We’ll put you in the instructional.”
Then, really the focus was we’ll put me and Barnardo in there. Some people teach very shallow techniques, but when you ask them questions, the level of technique expands. We were really under the idea that if me and Bernardo were in there, and we’ll have it as if Sakuraba was teaching us a private lesson. Stakuraba, when he teaches the technique, it’s 30 seconds long. Then me and Bernardo would try to expand to give the audience the full scope of the technique.
It was very strange. A lot of strange techniques. During the pressure point techniques, when he would show the technique, I’d be like, “Oh, can you show it on Bernardo?” I wanted to see Bernardo suffer in pain.
Craig: Some aspects of it became a bit of a joke. Really just hanging around Sakuraba was very interesting. He’s a very strange guy. He doesn’t speak English very well, so we had to use this translator. It was just stuff. I remember asking him about why he started MMA. He just said he was a professional wrestler, and other wrestlers started fighting, and asked him if he would fight. He’s like, “I didn’t want to be a pussy.” I said, “Yes, I would fight.”
That’s literally how his career started. He’s like, “If they asked me, I wasn’t going to be a pussy and back down. I decided to do it.” Then, it was just Sakuraba telling us about how he overcame fear. He would tell us that whenever he was scared of an opponent, he would just run to the ring faster.
He’d want it to be over with quicker. He’s like, “If I’m scared of an opponent, I’m going to rush to the ring. Then, as soon as the bell goes, I’m going to rush for them.” He’s like, “To overcome the fear. I just need to run at the problem.” A brave guy. A crazy guy, with what he was able to achieve.
Sonny: Crazy. Even saying that he had fear. Obviously, he’s human, of course. The challenges that he did accomplish are just mind-boggling. That’s an insight. With the pressure point techniques, I think part of him, it does seem that he is trolling people 50% of the time, right?
Sonny: Do you ever feel that he’s just putting one over you guys at all?
Craig: It’s hard to say where the joke comes in. I think certain pressure points– it’s like if you were to tickle someone. They’re going to be ticklish, unless it’s actually a life and death situation. Then they’re probably not going to notice that stuff as much. When he applies pressure, it almost feels like it’s a tickling type of pressure. Whereas, in the relaxed environment, I’m going to react.
If it’s in a roll, like I say, if it’s in a competition, someone sticks their elbow into your leg to open your close guard, you’re not going to notice it in competition. In the training room, it’s going to bother you. Sakuraba, though, very funny guy. I’m not allowed to release this video, but he obviously smokes a lot of cigarettes. I remember him trying to explain to me with a packet of Marlboro Reds, as if that was the risk, how he broke Henzo’s elbow.
He’s got a packet of cigarettes and he’s trying to explain the grips on a packet of cigarettes. I remember when I was asking him a lot of questions about his lifestyle as a athlete. I was like, “Did you smoke throughout your career?” He’s like, “Yes, but no more than eight cigarettes a day.” Then he would drink a lot throughout his career. He would tell me the track and field athletes in Japan are the only ones that don’t smoke or drink. He’s like, “It’s only those cardio athletes that don’t do it.” He also was drunk.
Get this, before Quintet, the first one he was going to compete in– and he’s 50-years-old, the scramble guys that went out to him, the Polaris guys, Team Polaris, went out to have dinner with him the night before Quintet. He always drinks. They said, “Oh, do you want to have a drink?” He’s like, “No, not tonight.” They were like, “Is that because you’re competing tomorrow.” He’s like, “No, I’m hung over from yesterday.”
Craig: He said he drunk throughout his whole career, though. He would be smoking in the back locker room. He’s like, “I don’t care.”
Sonny: That’s the crazy thing. We’re talking about being professional athletes, professional grapplers these days, it doesn’t make sense how he was able to do what he did. Compete 90 minutes, then compete another 15 against– 90 against Royce and then come out again, competing another 15 against Igor Vovchanchyn. That doesn’t make sense how that’s even possible, for someone who’s smoking and drinking.
Craig: Those were the glory days in MMA. Now, although you have personalities, everyone’s an athlete. Back then people were just fucking crazy. You know what I mean? [chuckles]
Sonny: Yes. Is that something that you see with the professional grappling? We’re talking about Submission Underground and the link between sports and sports entertainment. Is that something that you see a potential with going forward? Again, you’ve got the leopard print. Is that something that you’re trying to focus on?
Craig: Yes, just to have better marketing. Probably the first proper influence I had in Jujitsu– a lot of Australians, in terms of competition in Jujitsu, was Kit Dale. Kit was able to use humor to almost transcend Jujitsu. He made funny clips and stuff that people outside of Jujitsu found entertaining. I just saw Kit being able to differentiate himself from the rest of the Jujitsu athletes. He actually got a lot of fans for it. I think that’s what makes Australians almost special in the sport.
You’ll see Gary and Gordon, they’ll make a lot of fun, a lot of jokes about other people and stuff, but I feel like the American sense of humor is less self-deprecating and resilient. I don’t know enough about the language to understand the humor at all, but to me, it seems like it’s a very serious, a little flat. We’ll have a fist fight if there’s any jokes.
I see that pervasive in the sport. I just want to keep it lighthearted. I can make jokes about other people. I think if I still make fun of myself a lot of the time. To me, it’s indirectly marketing myself. I’m just trying to take the piss of the sport. To me, it’s very serious. I’m like, “At the end of the day, we’re just wrestling other dudes.” We’re not performing a surgery here. What is to be taken serious in this sport? It’s just a game.
Sonny: Yes. I think taking the piss is something that is an Australian trait, that we do understand the merit of it. Where, when I’m doing it myself, taking the piss out of people, it’s like, “Hey, forgive me. That’s how I was raised. That’s what we do.” Even personally, with my friends, if they didn’t take the piss out of me, I’d probably start to get worried that they’re talking about me behind my back, you know? [chuckles]
Craig: Exactly. It’s funny because the egos in competition Jujitsu are affected by the egos guys develop just learning the line of scope. I always find there’s a transformation, especially when it’s your scope. Even when you see people that get given a teaching role, they get that little bit of power. It starts to make them a little strange. I remember there was a Scottish guy. I can’t remember his last name, Dan. I did a seminar, too, with him
Craig: straight after ADCC 2017. He was telling me this thing he does with his students. He goes, “No one will laugh more at your jokes than around grading time.” What he does is he’ll go up in front of his class and he would just say a terrible joke from time to time. If people laugh, he’ll be like, “What are you laughing at? This shit isn’t funny. Stop kissing my ass.” He’s like, “You guys, that’s how I keep myself in check in front of my own students. They’ll boost the ego too much.”
Sonny: Yes. That could work. Also sounds like it’s the trick of leading them into the setup, as well. Do you see yourself, then, ever opening up your own place, or doing anything like that? Or, is that just too far off?
Craig: No, for sure. I’ll be 30 this year. Obviously, it’s going to be worse every year. I already feel slightly more injuries, slightly more time to recover with things. I need, maybe, a few more days off. Especially because I’m the oldest guy on the team. When I’m training with guys like Nicky. Nicky Ryan’s, I think, 19. Nicky Rod’s 23. Pretty young guys. I do see myself moving back to Australia to open a team.
The goal is that I want to make enough money off instructionals and competing, that when I do open a team, I’ll open a team just for my own enjoyment. I don’t have to run it. I don’t have to make this huge money-making gym. I want a gym that is going to help local Aussies and stuff, just through the experiences I’ve had, the connections I have made. To help grow Australian Jujitsu. Again, not from a, “I want to make as much money. I’m going to have the biggest school ever.”
I don’t want to open a business like that. I feel like you have to put up with a lot, in that sense. A guy comes in and he’s a bit of a dick. You want to be like, “We can change this guy for the better.” When you think about the bottom line too much, I feel like sometimes you have to put up with certain students. Whereas, Danaher puts up with nothing.
There’s no bullshit. This is how it is. I don’t want to be an authoritarian. At the same time, I want to have the gym run a certain way to maximize people’s growth and stuff. Not be too concerned with the profit margins of the gym. I feel like it’ll be a better environment for me, and the guys. Rather than thinking of the big business model.
Sonny: Yes, I think that is probably a luxury to be able to do that. Not to have to worry about that. On the flip side, I would say is that if we do believe that there is the benefit in people doing Jujitsu, then it’s we want to be able to get as many people to do it as possible, as well. Of course, that’s a balancing act then, of which side you’re going to come down on. I think, obviously, if you’re a professional, there’s pretty clear of which way you need to be looking at.
Craig: I’ll probably do it like John’s style. You’ve got a gym within a gym. John teaches classes that everyone’s welcome to, but it’s clearly tailored towards the upper echelon. Also, the gym has other instructors that are going to tailor the classes to a different demographic. That way it can still benefit everyone.
The people that want to reap those specific rewards can do so. That’s what I think about Henzo was special, was crazy. It would be a Monday morning class, with 100 people in there, at 7:00 AM. It was meant to be 7:00 AM, but it would start at 7:45.
Sonny: What would your advice be, then, for Australians? Maybe you’ve got a younger Australian listening to this who wants to follow in the Craig Jones footsteps. How do they go about doing it? In terms of their development, their learning, with not maybe having that access directly to go overseas? Especially not at the moment.
What kind of learning tips would you give people to accelerate them? Hey, I know you put out a recent video breakdown as well. The breakdowns could be the way as well. What would you say is a good way to go about things?
Craig: I would just say to compete in everything, and aggressively chase everything. Take every match. I see guys get a tiny bit of success, maybe they’ll get on an international show, they might not even win on an International Superfight, then they’ll come back to Australia and be like, “I won’t take that match. I won’t do that tournament.” They’re like, “I feel like I’m above that now.”
Even people in America, even Americans I’ll see, they’ll be worried about taking what they deem a match below their level. To me, I’m like, “It’s all amateur until it’s on BJJ Heroes.” No one cares about who beat me before ADCC 2017. The only person that cared was me. If someone today were to brag about beating me prior to then, they look a bit silly. It’s like, “Oh, well that’s different.” They divide my career into two points. Before and after that point.
I would say for all the up-and-comers, do as much as you can. Get as much experience as you can, to be better prepared for when you do have that moment. The assumption would be that if you do all the preparation and training properly, make the sacrifices, if you stick in it long enough, you will have that moment.
Don’t protect what you don’t already have yet. I see that the biggest detriment with competitors, even some of my friends in Australia will be like, “No, I won’t compete against them.” I’m like, “All right. If you’re better than them, go out and show that you’re better than them. That’s marketing in and of itself.” I think people are scared to lose what only they think they have.
Sonny: Especially with the nature of video on the internet nowadays. You want nothing better than to get a submission on video that you can show people, I guess.
Craig: Exactly. A good guy for doing this is– do you know Robert Degle?
Craig: Degle, by all accounts, I hope he doesn’t take offense to this, but he hasn’t won anything major. He has beaten good guys. I would say a guy like that is someone to watch. Degle’s always competing. He’s always analyzing his footage. He’s always putting it out there on the internet. He’s always marketing himself in a way to show off how technical he is. I think a lot of people got to learn from a guy like that’s marketing model. Degle sells instructional products and does well. He’s marketed himself in a certain way.
Obviously, he did have the attachment to the Henzo crew and the Danaher crew, but I would look at a guy like that for inspiration. It always keeps coming back to money, but for you to survive in this sport, you have to make money. It’s going to be better if you can make money and just train. Rather than teach and train.
To me, obviously, you work a full-time job, or you work a part-time job chasing Jujitsu goals. If there’s a certain point where someone wants you to teach classes, now all your money is made within Jujitsu. Maybe you even hit a point where you just have to teach a few privates. Once you make enough money, that’s when you can really start selfishly focusing on competition goals. It’s always coming back to money, but you need it to–
Sonny: I think that’s a good area to have been focusing in with you. It is, I guess, probably where your mind is at the moment, of how you can do this sport professionally. It’s been great to get that kind of insight into it. Yes, Robert, a great example. I have spoken to him before. He got a submission over Sean O’Malley. That went gangbusters. Sean’s doing well in the UFC. He’s got his name. He only got those opportunities for entering in all these tournaments.
Finishing off one last question, because when this one happened, I talked about it with everyone, which was your match with Vinny Magalhães, where you contorted his leg into strange angles. It snapped and did all sorts of nasty things. At the time, everyone– that was all we were talking about. I just want to get what happened?
How did things end up at that point? Where you’ve got someone’s leg, literally bent around in the other direction. You’re having a chat with them in a cage, somewhere in America, “Is your leg all right, mate?” What was going on?
Craig: That’s the flip side of what I was talking about with Gordon Ryan and talking shit, and having confidence to back it up. Where Vinny’s marketed himself as basically unbreakable. If you’re going to market yourself that way and you get put in a breaking point, you’re probably going to have to let it break. I would be careful the angle at which you try to sell.
Craig: Vinny’s, I guess, a Brazilian with a good sense of humor. For me, I saw him making those jokes, and it is a joke really. Obviously, he knows he can be broken. It was just the angle. It was the corner he backed himself into. It was a strange setup for the match. I believe it was the only sporting event on in the entire world. Chael Sonnen was the only one brave enough to actually do anything, in terms of sport during the outbreak.
During the early days, when people didn’t really understand how dangerous it was or how dangerous it could be. Yes, we did this event in a barn about an hour outside of Portland. Obviously, Chael’s from Oregon. We were out in the Oregon country, at a random location we weren’t allowed to give out. At a hotel they told us not to announce to anyone. Vinny was down to do it. Me and Vinny both felt bad, because we had a tag team debacle, which was I was sick.
I was trying not to compete and make Nicky Rod do everything. Vinny played a real weird game, where he didn’t engage Nicky Rod. Then Kyle Boehm won in overtime and then everyone hated it. Obviously, even us as competitors, we thought it was silly. I tried to give Chael the money back after the event. I’m like, “I didn’t do anything, man. Take the money back.” Then Chael wanted me and Vinny to compete.
We were like, “Yes, we’ll do it. We’ll jump back in to try to make amends,” because Chael is a really good guy. That’s how the match setup happened. We both probably were unprepared, because of the COVID circumstances. We jumped in anyway to make amends. What happened with that previous show, again, Vinny was talking a little shit before the match. He was like, “He’s not going to submit me. He’s definitely not going to leglock me.” I know Gary and Gordon, both, had been in some heel hooks.
I think Gary’s were probably worse. I know Vinny’s leg was popping, Gary told me, during that match. The only doubt I had before the match was like, “Maybe this guy really is this flexible.” Then you have to talk yourself down. You’re like, “Everyone’s leg can break.” I was really confident, just for me to see how it would break. Given the flexibility of his knee and ankle ligaments, it just so happened to be his fibula that snapped. I think his fibula snapped and his entire ankle disconnected from the base of the leg.
He had no panic reaction. No reaction. The first time it broke, I didn’t know it broke. I heard a pop. Then we looked at each other and he didn’t react. I gave him props. I gave him a fist bump. I was like “Damn, you are that flexible.” Then leading up to the second time I grabbed it, he was like, “I think you broke my leg.” I was looking at it, and it was messed up.
I was even confused what to do at the moment. Really, I should have just stood up, and he would have had to walk on it. He didn’t really understand what to do. We continued the match and I went straight back for the same leg.
Sonny: What else are you going to do, I guess? That’s [laughs] the name of the sport.
Craig: After I ripped on it a second time, he started asking the ref, “How much time’s left?” You don’t know in Underground. I remember thinking, goddamn, this guy’s crazy. He just wants it to be over and go to overtime. Try and win it in overtime. Actually, he told me afterward, he was asking the ref because he wanted to survive the fight. Then retire before overtime. He’s not smart. He’s crazy.
Sonny: You understand a good way to wrap it up, where you do have to be careful with the shit talk or the marketing angle that you might put yourself in. When the leglocks don’t work. [chuckles] Well, they do.
Craig: Be careful what you say before a match.
Sonny: Yes, and I think that’s probably an interesting place to wrap things up. Craig, I really appreciate you giving me your time. I know you’ve had a busy year competing, which is pretty incredible, considering all those restrictions that have been going on around, that you have been able. I think, for sure you’re the most active out of the Danaher group.
Craig: I think so. I’m not necessarily by their choice. I just got lucky that, obviously, Chael Sonnen’s Chael Sonnen. He just doesn’t give a fuck what’s happening.
Sonny: Yes. A great year. You’ve got the new DVD out, if anyone wants to get in touch with you, what’s the best way that they can go about doing that?
Craig: Probably Instagram, just CraigJonesBJJ. That’s the way to see what I’m up to. It’s mostly jokes, but you’ll see some Jujitsu on there. [chuckles]
Sonny: Is there any more breakdowns in the pipeline for the YouTube channel?
Craig: Oh, I’ve got to get back into it. More than you, I’m apt to do a lot more video editing stuff. Obviously, just with the move, getting everything ready. Yes, I’m going to be trying to put up as many breakdowns. Trying to sneak out some of the devious secrets in those videos. The secrets.
Sonny: [laughs] There you go. Look, mate, thanks so much. I better run. I’m actually going to be training tomorrow morning with one of your old coaches Tiago Ferrero.
Craig: Oh, cool, yes.
Sonny: He lets us know when he used to know the small Craig Jones.
Craig: Oh, when he used to take us out drinking together.
Sonny: I’ll bring that one up. [laughs] He corrupted the man.
Craig: Definitely. [chuckles]
Sonny: All right, man. I really appreciate it. Have a great day.
I talk to Chris Paines who describes himself as a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt who has never done Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He started training submission grappling somewhat isolated from the larger BJJ scene in Staffordshire, England but began attending BJJ Globetrotters camps where he met Priit Mihkelson. It was at these camps where he was graded up and awarded his black belt by Priit. The unconventional way he learned made him forced him to emphasise understanding the concepts behind grappling, which he describes as a machine of physics and biology through which using concepts the techniques can emerge. We discuss these conceptual ideas and specifically his universal theory of guard which has him focusing on control points and applying other lessons from wrestling that has allowed him to progress.
Sonny Brown: Chris, how are you today, mate?
Chris Paines: I’m good, thanks. How are you today?
Sonny: Good mate. Good. I’ve got in touch with you, actually the first time I think I saw you, it was a YouTube video from a seminar you did at BJJ Globetrotters, which had a nice click baity title of, I think it was something along the lines of This is How to Defend Everything or–
Chris: That one, yes.
Sonny: The title certainly worked for me. I clicked on it and I thought, “What is this guy going on about? How is what he’s doing, going to ever work.” Then luckily, I played around with it and I thought, “Oh, actually, there’s something to this.” Then it turns out that that was something that you had been working with Pritt Mihkelson on, and I ended up having a chat with him.
Then looking into your own stuff, I was very interested with the take that you had on teaching and learning Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and also with your involvement with the BJJ Globetrotters. Because I think you may have been maybe one of the first or you were ranked through them as well.
Chris: Both on and off I’ll give a brief background to my BJJ.
Sonny: Yes, please.
Chris: I’ve never actually done BJJ, I’m a Black Belt who’s never done it. I actually came through via submission wrestling 11 years ago. My coach just left after the first year, various reasons due to work and injury, et cetera. They said to me like, “Can you look after the club until we come back?” That was 10 years ago [crosstalk] there was no- all the techniques we had, there was no standard guards, there was no De La Riva, there was no Single Leg X. Here you had close guard, half guard, and butterfly.
If you stood up, you both stood up and you wrestled again, and that’s pretty much all we had. It was a neck cranks and heel hooks.
When I started to come in with stuff like lockdown because I was watching some Submissions 101, reading some 10th Planet books and that was about it. That put me pretty much in front of the whole group, quite fast because I had stuff that people hadn’t seen before. They just said, “Can you look after it until we come back?” I don’t think they’re coming back. I’ve been waiting for 10 years and they haven’t come back yet.
Even where I am, we’re quite fortunate in that Braulio Estima has gyms about 35 miles away from my gym. I don’t know if that is in kilometers, like 50 kilometers, but traveling there, like I could maybe go maybe once every three to six months due to work. I used to go to London for the same thing, maybe every three to six months go for like a single session. The main only reason we bought Gis because it was cold.
We were rolling around in hoodies and tracksuits and one winter, I think it hit -14 and inside the gym, Celsius. The water in the toilet froze and various other cold things, it was pretty horrendous. We were just a bunch of No-Gi guys who did heel hooks and neck cranks wearing Gis. Occasionally, may be every six months, three months a year, whatever, I’d go to a BJJ gym and learn like a sweep, then would come back and just do that sweep relentlessly.
My approach to Jiu-Jitsu was forced along the lines of figuring out why certain things happen. What is the common thread amongst sweeps? Why do chokes work? Why is there guard? If I could apply a concept of why that existed, then next time I go to a gym then teach like a sweep, if my concept is proved right, it’s like I’ve got the right concept. If I just keep using the concept, eventually I’ll invent the techniques that already exist.
BJJ is not handed down by some deity. It’s on a plinth or a tablet or something. It’s physics, it’s biology and we apply ourselves to the machine and we get turnings out the other end. If I understand the machine, I should theoretically get the same techniques out eventually. When I’m at Priit, and his very conceptual style of looking at Jiu-Jitsu as well, as in it doesn’t really teach this is a d’arce, this is a triangle, this isn’t a matter of understanding of what defense is. That just touched on everything I wanted to know about jiu-jitsu.
I called them round with his ideas, I looked into his– I was never like, if it was from a Gracie or from a Bravo or something, say that’s it, that’s gospel. It was only a case of if it works, I’ll get my blue belts and purple belts to teach you. One thing I say to them is, “I don’t care if you think if it’s wrong, it’s right for now.” As in what you’re doing works for you now. There’s obviously the versions of what you’re doing and bad details, but what you’re doing is right right now, and that understanding then you will always get better.
I see that as my way of looking at it as well and how I look at pre stuff, as in what I know works for now, there is obviously something better. I’m not the be all end, all of this technique. There’s always going to be bad details and different coaches and different black belts. I cant exactly have my blue belts and purple belts think that I am the end product when I’m still trying to figure it out. If I just apply myself to the machine and understand the machine, and eventually I’ll understand Jiu-Jitsu on that level.
The reason why I prefer that way is because Jiu-Jitsu is chaos. As a 95% of a role, you have no idea what’s happening. As in, it’s just mainly are happening around you. Hopefully something you kind of recognize happens when you can apply something you already know. If you understand the machine in various points in that role. Even when there’s chaos, you can apply the machine and get a technique to work in that scenario. That’s where the whole heart of defendant’s thing came from.
As in, if I can understand the concept of why defense works across the board, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the chaos. I can find my way out and I think if I’d known that as a white belt, Jiu-Jitsu would’ve been so much easier. Instead of the hunted like ropes learn techniques I have to know. I remember having a spreadsheet back 11 years ago, listing of fight control defenses and guards and attacks and guards and I don’t know. A lot times, even today, a few people say, “I need to go on YouTube and look up three more fight control defenses. It’s like, “Oh, good God, this will take forever to learn.” I don’t know where you can learn Jiu-Jitsu this way, there has to be something more simple.
Sonny: Yes, I agree with you there. It’s funny that the idea of having that spreadsheet of just all the techniques, it seems like a good idea. Hey, if I just get everything written down, I’ll have a more complete understanding, but then it soon becomes unmanageable with how you’re going to do things, or how you’re going to actually achieve that. I just want to focus on just your background. Just one little bit more, so you’re actually from then a catch wrestling lineage. Would that be correct in saying, you said submission wrestling, but is that–
Chris: Yes. I don’t think it’s easy to use the word catch in the UK, if you don’t actually belong to the snake pit and that lineage. Calling it submission wrestling was just easier. Like if I understand it my coaches’ coaches were just basically guys who watched a bit of UFC and just wanting to hurt each other. There was no real solid technique behind what we did. It was actually here’s a double leg, has a close guard, and here’s a triangle. Just keep doing that until you win. I didn’t see De La Riva or open guard or Single Leg X. Maybe the first four years of doing jiu-jitsu or grappling per se.
I actually, prior to that, I came from a traditional jiu-jitsu background, like a Japanese jiu-jitsu, and I did I got my black belt in that. That’s why they, I was used to the idea of a list of techniques. Coming into it, that’s why every time I’d learned something, I’d write it down and create my own list because it didn’t exist. There wasn’t like a belt system or a syllabus. I created my own. Then once they left, I realized that I had no other real recourse for finding new techniques easily, figuring out the why I seemed to make a lot more sense than just having this dead list of techniques that will never be finished.
Sonny: Yes. Then, so for you putting out the- or figuring out, sorry, the why and the understanding or the machine as you’ve put it, how did that process take place as your traveling with BJJ Globetrotters to go to their camps and coming back home and putting that together? Was there an “A-ha” moment or was it a slow gradual process?
Chris: I don’t think it was an “A-ha” moment. I think it was a, it was very slow and gradual and, I was actually so I met Christian Graugart, the creator of Globetrotters just before he created Globetrotters. He’d already written the book and this was the end of 2012. I just bought it over that Christmas and I read it very, very fast. Then he said he was doing the seminar in the UK in Manchester or Bolton, shall I say? I was still white belt, obviously.
I went up and I want to go meet him after reading this book. We ended up catching a train together back to Manchester and he mentioned this idea of how because I said, we’re an independent gym. We didn’t really do BJJ or have any IBJJF connections. He said, he wants to create this network of independent gyms that could just train together. I gave him my email address.
Then about a month later, he emailed a bunch of us saying this affiliation is going to happen. “Do you want to be part of it?” Instantly I said, “Yes.” He said, “Well, one caveat is anyone who wants to come and see, you can obviously train for free.” A bunch of the first coaches or in this chain email said, “If wants to come in, like meet me at my gym, they can stay for free.” That’s where the whole mat surfing idea came from.
Soon after that, since there was a bunch of us, you said, why don’t we all get together in my gym in Copenhagen and just train. The first Globetrotter camps we’re just in CSA and Copenhagen and there’s about 40 or 50 of us on the mats. There was no merch table or coaches from around. It was just the coaches from the gym doing a small number of classes in a day, like maybe five or six classes.
To say, to go from that in 2013 to the utter behemoth that is today has been quite weird. The first, the ability to go to the Globetrotter camps and see all these different ideas from these different coaches. Because the amount of times you’d see a class and then another coach would do pretty much the exact same class, but in a different way. Makes you think that there isn’t a fine, there isn’t a definitive technique. They’re all playing around the same concept. It just galvanized my ideas of, yes, don’t become beholden to a single way of doing a technique or a single technique in general, or list of techniques, understand the machine and you’ll be able to apply it to that situation and create variations on the fly.
Sonny: Yes. Which sounds like a much more efficient way if possible, to actually learn and teach things. Right? I guess the, if possible part is the difficult thing, because it’s not exactly laid out like that already. It’s something that you’ve had to explore and develop, I guess. What’s that process been like?
Chris: I think one of the first ones that actually really pushed me in the direction of it was the brilliant, I say brilliant DVD set by Kit Dale and Nic Gregoriades, probably at the end of 2013, 2014. They talk about this conceptual jiu-jitsu as well. They, in the height of Kit Dale’s fame. Again, it’s like this, it pushed my ideas further. Like this is a real thing. They talked about, I remember one of the specific ones was like sweeps about unbalancing about taking off fight legs off a table and creating a force on the diagonal and stuff like this.
Just some approaching concepts that way, but then I was also on the first instances as well was, there was a Ryan Hall seminar went to back in 2011, it was in the UK for the ADCC. He did a seminar as on his deep half system, but at one point he just threw this casual comment about core control in jiu-jitsu is based on being in between the person’s knees and elbows and say, if you want to start them, just connect your knees to your elbows. It was a throwaway comment. It was even put emphasis in the seminar to this idea, but that was like, mind-blowing, I’m just putting these two things together. I think it might have been mentioned in the Kit Dale-Nic Gregoriades DVD as well.
They’re all touching on this same idea. Just this number of coaches out there just saying there are concepts that cover everything. Thenmaybe look at different sweeps, I think, “Right. Going from what these two guys have said, removing the table leg and creating a brush off an angle and all these different ideas that they had, I was like, right. Well, that obviously there’s an idea here. If I look at the wleeps, I know, do these fit or can, or if I apply the idea, does my sweep work better?
Then it became, I go to a gym, I would learn a sweep and I was like, “Right. Does this fit the concept by–? No? Yes? Perfect.” Then it became a case of I mid roll because I have that my first year of training was involved in the drilling after that it became teaching and rolling. I didn’t really, I probably drilled a total of probably about 20 hours in the past 10 years. It was all developed on the fly as in, I try a technique and try and put the concept together as it happens.
I’d look at certain things that happen, like where that leg is, where my arm is, et cetera, and go, “Right. Well, if I apply the concept, will this work right now? Yes or no.” It was just that constant testing. It was never like an hour of the session was drilling. It was right and it’s just roll and roll and roll. As things happened, it just proved that the concept worked on after tweaked various aspects of it.
Sonny: So it’s very interesting that, yes, I guess you’ve been in a bit of an isolated situation and that’s allowed you to explore and experiment in a new direction than what is more common. If I got it right in thinking that you’re building up these ideas of concepts that can apply to moves across jiu-jitsu or grappling, and then you would go to another place where they’re teaching a concept and your not sorry, what you go to another place where they’re teaching a technique and as they’re teaching the technique, you’re thinking, okay, I’ve got these concepts that I know, what can I apply? What concept can I apply that will be applicable to this technique? Is that how you do it?
Chris: Yes, exactly. Yes. I’m seeing the end result of the answer and applying the equation to it. Then if I get, if they cause obviously these are black belts and I’m much more knowledgeable than I was. They’re thinking right. If my equation fits their answer, if they’re about to do, I think they’re about to do. Then my equation is correct. If not, I may have to tweak equation somehow, but most of the time it was, it was working out in the right way. It was right. I can then go back and the surface have to drill that one technique or whatever. I’d have just the concept I could then run with and then just carry on rolling as it was, and just keep inventing techniques. Eventually I was creating juices already existed and it’s quite interesting.
Like I was I’ve got pretty much concepts of concepts everywhere. Like I’ve got an overarching theory I’ve got, and I was going to private probably about six months ago and the guy messages me and he says, I won’t learn nothing. I was like, reverse octopus back control or guard or something insane. I was like, okay, I’ve never even heard of this. I had a quick Google of it on YouTube and yes, it was like, it pretty much was exactly what I expected. My guard theory to be, I think I actually already played it in certain places and I was like, right. Okay. The theory is correct again. I was like, well, you don’t need to learn this by teacher the concept, you will invent it yourself again or variations of it.
Sonny: Interesting. You’ve got those young men you save and then concepts of concepts that you’re refining, not the techniques, I guess, but you’ve spending time refining your concepts that can help generate those techniques from out of those concepts, which is an interesting way to look at it. Is that close to then?
Chris: Yes, that’s pretty much it. Yes, as in, it’s like the idea that if you give a million monkeys or whatever else a million typewriters, eventually they’ll create Shakespeare. As in, if I give a million white belts, these million concepts, eventually they’ll invent jiu-jitsu. Being from the traditional jiu-jitsu background, which is quite judo-esque with the throws and karate punches, et cetera. They did O-Goshi, they did Ippon Seo Nagi , and Koshi Guruma Then you look at catch wrestling and they’ve got the mare , which is pretty much Ippon Seo Nagi,.
I think, again, it’s something that Ryan Hall says is, “There are only so many ways of grabbing the human body.” You’ll eventually develop all these same techniques. It was like hip tosses, et cetera. I did some Icelandic glima, while on the Globetrotter council a couple of years ago and they had hip tosses, et cetera, and you think, “These are, you’ve got Japanese judo and Icelandic glima, thousands of miles and thousands of years of culture apart developing the same techniques.
To separate jiu-jitsu out and say, jiu-jitsu is a unique thing only to jiu-jitsu it’s not. Whereas it’s defined by the ruleset. We fight on the ground. If I just put two random people on the ground and left them there for a couple of years, eventually they’d develop jiu-jitsu. Given the concepts, they’d develop jiu-jitsu faster, even without teaching them a single technique, because there’s only so many ways a human being can be manipulated. As I say, it’s physics and biology. It’s a science.
Sonny: Very interesting and– I guess, would you be able to give us then an idea of one of your concepts, maybe the theory of guard that you just mentioned that can be applied?
Chris: Yes. The way I look at guard is if you were to picture, like a law of grappling when it comes to control. Wrestlers have been doing it forever. There’s three categories of control, there’s behind the head, in the armpit or behind the knee/in the hip.
That pretty much comes after it in wrestling. That’s your double legs, your single legs, throws, your snap downs, your head ties, everything. All you’re ever doing in wrestling is attacking those three categories of places with your weapons: two hands or two hands and a leg, if you have good balance, all you ever doing is getting a combination those things, and the more of those places you control of the five; one head, two armpits, and two knees, the more control you have of the person, the more likely you are to get a takedown.
That is no different to any guard. In taking out the Gi for a moment, we’ll come back to that. Half guard is no different to a single leg. Close guard is no different to having double-unders. Instead of having two weapons, like you are on standing with your two hands, on the ground, you have four weapons: you have two arms and two legs. It’s what makes guard so interesting in my eyes.
I think that, again, it was a Ryan Hall interview when he says, “Why does Roger Gracie do so well?” He says, “If you are better than the other person play guard, because if someone’s upright, they’ve got balance. They’ve got gravity, they’ve got mass, they’ve got all this mobility on their side. If you’re on your back, you literally have none of those things available to you. You have to try and even the fight with improving your number of weapons from two to four. That’s why you don’t just fight from side crawl. That’s why you bring your legs into the fight. That’s assuming that you are better than the other person, you can override these natural attributes.
If you can’t, play on top and don’t play guard ever. Going back to this idea that if you’re playing guard, you want to try and maximize control, and it’s no different to wrestling. As in, I want to increase my numbers as much as I can with these four weapons. You think that when you’re playing close guard, you all just getting double-unders. Then now, because you have your arms free, you can now control the back of the head.
Now you have three points of control and guard is using them and one in lost with how many of those control points you have? If you have five, if you have both their knees, both their armpits and their head wrapped up, they’re going nowhere. If you have three, so maybe close guard with a control of the back of the head. Again, it’s pretty hard for them to go anywhere. Two, yes, it’s now getting easily more likely they are to escape. If you have one, life is now hard. All I ever look at when I’m playing in guard then is if I’m in guard, I’m on the bottom, I want to increase my numbers as much as I can to five. If I’m on top of guard, I want to decrease those numbers down to one or zero and that’s my guard pass.
I’ll just look at those five points, and that’s again, going back to this idea of wrestling. If you don’t want to get single-legged, don’t let anyone control the back of your knee. The first thing you learn in wrestling is to pummel, why? You don’t want anyone in your armpits. If for some strange reason in jiu-jitsu, because you have these predicaments dilution, style of learning. As in he does X, I do. Y we can’t let people have these control points. We let people have close guard.
At no point in wrestling would you let someone have double under hooks. You’d die. You wouldn’t let someone sit with a single leg on you. You’d die. Yet we let people play close guard and half guard against us all day long and we don’t deal with those issues. If you were to deal with them like a wrestler, does pummel out, strip those controls to the back of the knee, the armpits, et cetera, then we’re passing. Why don’t we just learn that? I’m just learning a whole raft of guards and a whole raft of escapes. Have I made sense or have I just lost it there.
Sonny: No that’s made, it’s made a lot of sense. I was just thinking my wrestling coaches, he certainly doesn’t like seeing the way that jiu-jitsu players will just accept a half guard on bottom.
Chris: It’s like watching a wrestler just accept a single leg and go “Right, cool. I’m going to fight it from here.” That is ultimately bizarre to me. Actually, there’s a very good friend of mine, his name’s Darrius from Germany. He’s done all manner of different grappling styles. He’s a very good judo guy. One thing he mentioned to me was that when they grabbed the Gi in judo, is actually where the seam is in line with the armpit. Which is one thing I didn’t realize, and that’s the tightest part of the Gi. If you go like, two inches above and you go more towards the neck, it gets quite loose.
If you go two or three inches down towards the bottom of the lapel, again it gets quite loose, but right around the armpit, it’s super tight and it goes round the back. I thought it controls the armpit. Even with the Gi on, they’re still doing it. If you look at worm guard, if you look at De La Riva, if you look at similar gags, the rule applying this idea, even with, or without the Gi, as mad as Keenan system is, it works because again, you’re controlling the armpit with the Gi wrapped around your foot and the back of their knee.
If you want to start stripping worm guard apart, you pummel the leg out of the armpit and pressure out of the De La Riva hook and put into the back of their knee instead. You don’t need a list of techniques to escape all these different guards. You’re just saying, “Right, are there behind your knee?” Then what’s the first ecape you learn as a white belt from close guard? Drive your elbows into their thighs. Why? It gets them out of your armpits. The easiest escape from half guard is to just a push on the hip and bring your knee up. They’re in holding onto your ankle.
The first escape from De La Riva is to move you on the out and push it to the back of their knee, because it takes the control from the back of your knee, from similar advances to strip that feet from your hips. They’ve no longer got their hips controlling the back of your knee. It’s all there. It’s wrestling 101.
Sonny: That’s a couple of things have clicked for me there. Especially as you mentioned grabbing the gear as a means to control the armpit. That’s certainly a new way of looking at it for me. It really is, you’re just like knee pit control, armpit control behind the back of the head. Those are the five points. If we let people become aware of that, then no matter what situation they get put into, they can be thinking one, “What of those five points do I have control that I can clear out? Or two what points of my opponents of those, can I control?
Chris: Exactly. Well, you think of your half guard, it gets bad. Deep half is more of a control than regular half because instead of just controlling one knee, you’re controlling two. Or if you’ve got the dog, et cetera, you’re now controlling the armpit, but if you’ve got a wizard, et cetera. It’s all wrestling. If you control the back of the head, et cetera, you’ve now got three or four points control. If you can wrap the gear up around the back and get the far armpit, you’ve now got five points of control. I don’t see any difference between– guard is just like fighting a four-armed alien wrestler and how you try and cope with that scenario.
Sonny: Then that is your overarching theory of guard at a wider view. Is that, is that correct?
Chris: Yes. Like I said, I don’t consider anything have to be at an endpoint. I have what I have that is right for now. I always look for things that either improve my ideas or prove my ideas are working. Looking at in a more scientific way, but so far looking at all the, like I said, when I’ve got this reverse deli octopus or whatever it was, you wanted me to go through. I don’t care. It was the idea. I think you got a close guard and he pulled on the back of the shoulder and the back of the head then got an under hook on the leg.
I was like, “Well, yes, this is exactly what I’ve been saying. You’ve now got four points of control over him. You could have invented this yourself.”
Sonny: It’s a very interesting way to look at it that, yes, you could then using those principles, be able to come up with things that have already been invented by other people. I guess that is a common refrain in all of grappling. Nothing’s really invented, it’s just rediscovered or popularized by certain people.
Chris: Exactly, exactly I’d say about the whole glima and judo idea.There’s only so many ways of controlling a human being. If you grapple for long enough, you’ll invent the same things that have existed forever. People seem shocked when they see 60-year-old videos of judo and they’re playing De La Riva. It’s like, no it’s just again, it’s the laws of grappling, you are controlling the back of the knee. Of course it’s going to work.
Sonny: Then someone is coming into your gym that you’re running a class. How do you then take that overarching theory of guard that you’ve got there and apply that into a technique or just into a usable manner for someone? Is there a way that you go around that?
Chris: The lack again, I did jiu-jitsu not the normal way of say, do a triangle from close guard. Again, I had a meeting with Priit. He said it makes more sense to do stuff backwards. I could see that. Where I started to look at how I looked at jiu-jitsu anyway. We did have a beginner course where it was eight weeks long and every week they learned all these different concepts. They’d learn the behind the knee idea, they’d learn the don’t let anything in between your knee and your armpit idea.
Again, it was a slight segue side idea. If you look at any video of when Priit does running man, it’s no different to what– Again, a very good friend of mine, Charles Harriot showed me his ideas on shrimping, and a shrimp is just a closed side version of running man as in one direction, you shrimp on the other direction you’re running man but they’re both the exact same idea. I’m trying to get my knees and elbows to touch.
At that point, it made me realize that everyone, if they’re shrimping both ways up and down the mats, in theory, they’re doing shrimp and running man which is great. Again, I can’t prove that either that both of these things are to get someone out your knees and armpits by connecting those to your knees and your elbows back together again. I thought, well, why do I have to then like specifically only teach the shrimp? Why can’t I just say connect these two things back together again?
We had this idea of an eight-week course, they learn that idea. Don’t let anyone between your knees and your armpits, day one, day two this has guard theory and by the end of the guard theory session, I was watching people invent De La Riva, the beginnings of it. They’ll grab him behind the ankle and wrapping their thought behind you the person’s knee. I was like, do you guys have never seen De La Riva but you have just invented it. Fantastic.
If someone comes into the class, every concept gets drove relentlessly every single day. We’re certain we’re doing a triangle or a kimura or something. We’d start from the end. We’d do the triangle and learn all the finishing aspects of it and then go backwards. Go from just having control behind the head with your legs but that postured or something and then go from just the arm is trapped, but every step back you do, the person’s moving around a bit more. You’re just trying to find that end product.
Instead of learning five different setups to a triangle, you learn the end product of what you want. I want the arm trapped. I’m doing it from these control points of behind the head, armpits, and legs. It gives people their free rein to then play with their ideas and their body types and their personalities, et cetera. It goes back to the concepts repeatedly.
If we were doing a kimura, we do the exact same thing. It’d be start from the kimura from top control and then work backwards. I don’t differentiate. I don’t think there’s a difference necessarily between mount, side contro,l and North-South. I don’t separate them in my head. I don’t have a mount– I don’t teach mount. I don’t teach side control. I don’t teach North-South. The difference between any of them is in site control, you control in their armpits with one arm and one leg in Mount, it’s two legs and then North-South is two arms. You still the same idea I’m still controlling their armpits or does it put a different part of my body in their armpit?
The amount of times people are, how do you go from side control to mount? Well, simple. You just take your knee out or take your arm out but you need a– I don’t care how you do it, timing’s your own but that’s what you want to accomplish. Figure it out. Then we go back from there. You’ve got the kimura and then you go from these top controls and then every time you’d go back a step they’d offer a bit more resistance or a bit more movement. You’d have to get those controls, find the rest to set up your kimura and then rinse and repeat.
Sonny: I think there’s a lot of merit in that idea of teaching things backwards or just starting with the end product so that then people have a clear goal of what they’re working towards. It makes sense and also then as you do work the way back, people get to spend more time completing the steps towards the finished product rather than spending time repeating a setup that is not what they actually want to achieve. It’s just part of it.
Chris: Yes it’s one moment in chaos where they might get that set up. You’re setting them up to fail. They have two or three different selves in chaos that they can use but if I wait for chaos to align for it to work and it’s like again, how many times do you catch the submission and then you go, how did I get here? It wasn’t a specific cell. You just like, Oh my guard, I made a triangle, this is amazing. I want to just recreate the idea as in your body knows what it’s like to get a triangle or again, it’s how many times do you see people set up a triangle and then get to the end but have that lens the wrong way round or forget how triangle ends anything.
There’s a disconnect there. There’s a problem. You got people who can start triangles have never been a cell. You’ve got people who can do perfect setups who don’t have any idea to finish the triangle. Well, I’d rather, it’d be the first kind as in you just know what a triangle feels like and you can warp chaos together.
Sonny: Yes okay and then, I mean focusing in then on the idea of that warping chaos or controlling chaos, do you ever present people an idea of Oh, this is something I prepared earlier, like something that you’ve come up with or like a Danaher technique or a Marcelo Garcia technique and say hey, try this or is it all just letting the people tailor it to their own personalities? How does the interplay work between those?
Chris: I may go make sure techniques that or demonstrations of the concept but I wouldn’t teach it as you had drilled this technique. I’d show the concept, I’d teach the concept, then show the technique or a variation that someone’s come across of the concept in action but then go back to teach them the concept in general. Again, we don’t drill. I’ve always said I don’t want to– the idea of doing it for an arbitrary amount of time. You have to do 10 in two minutes. You have to stop after 15 reps or five minutes of doing this technique or some madness like that.
I’d rather you did it once than spend that entire however long just doing that technique, looking at the end of it. I looking at every single facet of it, talking about that, saying, “Right well, if you move this way, could you get out? No? Well, if you go this way, could you go out? No? Well, will this improve this grip or will this not improve this grip?” I want that kind of feedback.
Then, again, going back a level and try and get the resistance working and saying, “Right, well if you turned up on your side to defend this, could I still got this? No. I’m going to have to figure out how to stop it from turning onto your side first.” I’d rather that be the way of drilling instead of here’s this up, is, here’s the end product do that 10 times and then come back to me, I’ll show them, I said the end product of what some people have figured out before, just to show the concept in action. I don’t want that to be what they drill.
Again, one of my favorite ones is when I teach the guard passing session, privacy, et cetera, how much to pull off in the sun, not yet but I’m working on it as I say to people, right. This is the concept of guide passing and I type BJJ guard passing into YouTube and guarantee anything you find is going to have my concept in action. Yet you could spend forever watching all these YouTube videos or just some concept, and then they can go away with those tools and then watch all these videos in their own time, Danaher videos, Marcelo and go right. Well that here is the concept working now, renders them obsolete.
Sonny: Yes okay. Yes, it’s really just for you the main focus is always going to be on those concepts and the techniques are just a way to see the concepts in action?
Sonny: Okay that makes a lot of sense. One thing I want to focus in on there is then your idea of your students giving that constant feedback to each other because that’s something that is not as common, I would say because it’s mainly should be the instructor giving the feedback but if students can give each other good feedback, then obviously that’s going to be a big benefit to everyone. How do you actually go about fostering that within your club?
Chris: The fastest that the show one of these ideas I’d show all the parameters of what wouldn’t necessarily be an action, as in I’d say to people.
If you’re going to do like a guard holding or something, like putting a guard into action, I’d want the person in guard to try and posture, try and stack, hand fight, et cetera. Could I get rid of your grip for this? I’d settle these different parameters and say, “I want to do this, I want to do this, I want to do this.” Again, if someone else is trying to get away from the idea of if people are doing just drills, the one person is dead practically for those 10 reps. You’re just going to do 10 triangles to him.
As soon as they switch off for those 10 reps, I would say, “Right, now it’s my turn.” I want it to be conscious, I want them to be giving feedback not just for their partner’s sake but for their own sake, as in I want them to have it done to them and for them to go right actually because I want them to not almost go like how to make– not in the same sense of I wanted them to only make their partner better, I want them to almost have their partner do to them what they do to someone.
If I was saying like we’re doing an Americana or something, I say to someone, “Right. I want you to be conscious of what’s happening during the Americana. I want to actually say to a partner, “What if you bring my arm this way? If it hurts more, all right, okay.” I’d love to do that next time for myself instead of just switching off of those 10 reps. It’s not just the person doing the technique’s sake. It’s for the other person’s sake.
That’s why I say this idea of, I don’t want 10 reps, I want it to be a constant conversation throughout that two to five minutes or whatever of, “What if you move my arm here? What if you move my arm here? Does that hurt more?” Not for that other person’s sake but for your own sake as in, “Actually, my arm hurts way more if it’s put here.” Right, okay, because you know your own body, and then you just have to replicate that on someone else.
Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. The idea of being present and mindful while you’re going through those– not repetitions but while you’re actually working on the concepts and techniques rather than– I’ve certainly been in the situation where myself is switched off while someone’s repping out a technique on me. You wait for your turn really.
Chris: Exactly. It’s then switching the role up a little bit as in it’s almost reversing the entire process in the sense of the person doing the technique isn’t the person learning? It’s you. It’s a frustration of my own over the years of I don’t know what I’m causing to other people because I’m not them, as in as much pressure as I can put through someone, I don’t know what that pressure feels like unless it’s done to me.
Whenever I go anywhere and I teach something, I don’t want to watch two people do it in front of me. I want the person who’s having the issue to do it to me. I then feel everything that should be happening. Almost at that point, I’m learning more than they are because I can go, “Right. My arm hurts a bit more if you move it this way. Could you move my arm over here? Yes, that really, really hurts now. ” I’m learning just as much as they are because I’m actually having it done to me for probably the first time. I can then take what I just learned from then twisting my arm and then use my own jiu-jitsu.
Sonny: It’s funny that you mentioned the way of knowing how much pressure you’re putting on someone because that’s something I’ve thought about myself just as a way to how I can actually explain that accurately to anyone. I’m thinking, “Oh, should I bring in like a scale one day and a medicine ball and we give people– they can see on the numbers where it goes up when they take their knees off the mat or something like that,” because it is a hard thing to actually get across just slowly lifting the knees up or elbows off the mat, that that will actually increase pressure.
I know it when I do it to people because maybe I can see the change of reaction in their face or their breathing pattern, and I’ve had it done to me as well, but to actually make that happen quicker for people to pick that up is a very interesting challenge that you’re trying to-
Chris: Yes, completely.
Sonny: -take on there. When you’re doing those things and the feedback is going on, we talked about personalities.
How much does people’s personality make that work or perhaps even not work with some people because I could see with your training partner, it becomes such a crucial part of the feedback process instead of the instructor who’s spent a lot of time doing this you. Your training partner might not have as much time giving that feedback. How do you coach that side of things and how do you cater to those different personalities?
Chris: It then becomes more of a culture thing as in when that understanding of your feedback isn’t just for their benefit, it’s for your own, as in you could be directing someone to a faster technique more correctly. At the same time, you are the full loop, as in if you can direct someone to do a technique that, again, like you said, people might tap just out of “I’m tired of this situation” tap when you’re drilling something as you drill a triangle, and they just tap because their head is in that triangle, I’d rather it be a case of I’d rather have someone put me in a triangle, and then if I was a student, and then direct them to hurt me more.
Just that culture change there as in it’s no longer a case of drilling just for the sake of drilling so you can get better, then I have my go and I get better. It’s a conversation as in we’re investigating these techniques. When the outcome isn’t reached between these two people to a full standard, that’s where I can get involved. I’m obviously walking around at this point, I’m getting my head stuck in triangles, et cetera.
It’s weird that I don’t get to drill, but if I demonstrate a technique, I’m not the one doing the technique. If a pair called me over and they say, “Could you show us that triangle again, please?” I’m like, “Okay, you do it to me.” I make them go through everything of twisting me up and choking me because I want them to then– I’m getting constant feedback throughout. I want that culture that it’s a conversation here.
The more feedback you give, the better you’ll be. The idea of, “I need to get my 10 reps in, just hurry up and do yours, please,” as long as I want to be the person on the bottom because I learned more. I want that to be the culture instead of, “No, you’ve had your minute and a half. It’s now my time for the minute and a half.” It just doesn’t make sense to me.
Sonny: Okay. It is a big change in culture from what a lot of people would normally be expecting. What was a big challenge that you’ve had to overcome while working your way out with that?
Chris: How do you mean?
Sonny: Is there anything that you try to implement to get people to do that that failed and you had to scrap or improve upon, or has it all just been a bit of a linear progression?
Chris: It’s more of a linear progression, but one of the best things that help is, again, this idea is like that we’re drilling without taking– Again, it’s directly from Priit. We were arriving in these directions but hadn’t got there yet, and it wasn’t until– Again, I met Priit at one of the Globetrotter camps back in 2017, and it was this first Globetrotter camp in Copenhagen.
As the couple of battles are competing at black belt at the time, and some of the UK competitions, and doing pretty okay, I saw this Estonian black belt and I thought, “You probably can’t even find Estonia on the map. Who’s ever heard of Estonia?” I thought I’d give this guy a bit of a run around when I got to the camp. Instead, he twisted me up and spat me out. I thought, “Right, I’m going to have to pay attention to what this guy classes.” His way of teaching was markedly different.
I said, “How much would it cost me to get you to the UK?” He came over and did one of his intensive weekends. He was massive into this idea of– One thing he does in his seminars is he will have you do the techniques quietly by giving no feedback after, and then he’d stop you and say, “Right, two minutes, three minutes, four minutes, talk about the technique. Just don’t drill, just talk.” I’d give feedback on that technique and say, “What worked well? What didn’t go well?” Then, once you’ve done that, do it again with that new feedback. They were a completely different way of doing jiu-jitsu.
Sonny: Yes, very different.
Chris: Then, once you’ve had this conversation, then have a conversation in the class. That’s one thing I should pick up, though I didn’t look at it even more, this idea of this more of a conversation aspect of doing jiu-jitsu as where– I did a tour of the US just prior to lockdown, as in North Carolina with Johnny Buck, one of his open mat sessions early one morning. The whole open mat was just people sitting against the wall asking questions of the last week. I did this in a row. What could I do here?”
Various people would pop up with their answers. I thought, “That’s brilliant.” I love this idea of it’s not you will sit down quietly listening to me. It’s, “Right, why does this work? Why didn’t this work? What pros and cons have we found from doing it this way? Can we get it better now? Can we work together and figure this out? Because again, it was a unique way I came through. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I never assumed that I was better than anyone. That’s why this came in at such the right time for me.
One thing, I went to Braulios for like one or two sessions, and it was you can’t train there unless you’ve got the gi on and the Gracie Barra — you can’t go anywhere else apart from Baja gyms mentality. If any of my students say, “I’m going to go train here tonight,” or, “I’m going to go train here tonight,” I was like, “Cool, please, can you just show us what you picked up of when you come back?”
We only get better if we were a team. I don’t know everything, unfortunately. I just got here first. I was always very pro other people traveling or pro people coming into the gym because I was like, “Right, cool. What do you know? Can you show us anything?” or if people traveled like, “Bring us back something cool.” That then just built an idea of since I started jiu-jitsu, it’s never been a case of, “I’m the black belt. This is the technique.” I was a white belt teaching a class. I was a blue belt teaching a class. Let’s all get together and figure this out together because it’s the only way we’re going to figure out otherwise. I don’t think we’ve ever changed.
Sonny: Okay, that’s interesting. That’s something else I’ve talked to a couple of other people, and they’ve been putting these isolated situations where they’ve had to teach, at that blue, purple belt level, but I’m sure there’s plenty of other people in those situations who have maybe just done what they have seen other people do, but it also seemed to have caused a bit of innovation in at least a few of the people I’ve seen. It’s very interesting. What’s Johnny Buck like? He seems like a bit of a character. Is he–
Chris: He is hilarious. His gym, it seems rough as hell. It doesn’t make sense, but they are the one of the nicer gyms I’ve ever been to. Johnny, every high-rank belt, every student was just the nicest person. The crack and the banter amongst them all was amazing. Again, he probably is a member of his online group, about a month or two before I went over. Every time a new person started, they got a welcome off everyone. They got invited to the group and everyone said hello to them, welcome to, such and such, and everyone wished them hello, or they’ve got a big board on the back of their wall where it’s like some whiteboard pens or whatever.
You write down like it’s a gratitude board or like an accomplishment board. You write down something cool you’ve done or thank someone for something they’ve done recently. I lost two pounds this week or I’ve run three miles. It doesn’t have to be jiu-jitsu based. It’s just something cool you did. That sense of community in a gym was just like– Johnny comes across as such, like I said, a wild character. For him to foster that kind of culture in his gym, I was like, “This is the nicest place I’ve been to.”
Like I said, I’ve been to Barra gyms where if you deviate at all from the technique that has been shown, you’re doing pushups, but in Johnny’s gym, it was like this is the nicest place in the world. Let’s all give each other thanks and gratitude for something we’ve done. He’s probably going hate me– if he ever listens to this, me saying Johnny Buck is the nicest man in the world. As much as the hard ass that he comes across, he’s so cool. He may never let me come back. [laughs]
Sonny: You might see the other side [laughs] after that.
Chris: Exactly. I might see the bad Johnny Buck.
Sonny: That sounds interesting, but it’s not that surprising, to be honest. Especially in this sport, it’s not the most uncommon thing to see people who can have an exterior of the roughest looking people you’ve ever seen. Then, they turn out to be some of the nicest people you’ve ever met. It’s one of the good things about this sport, that you do run into a lot of good people. I’m wondering just to maybe wrap things up, Chris, if we have a look over your learning experience, what’s the one thing that you wish that you could go back to yourself when you started learning that you could tell yourself that would help improve the speed at which you were learning even more?
Chris: If I knew the concepts I knew now, if I was told these, if I was just given the control concept of knees and elbows which is pretty much the how to defend everything video, if I knew that when I was at the beginning, I could have saved myself so much time. The hours I spent reading books and watching YouTube and all this kind of jazz, it was like I could have easily just saved myself so much heartache.
Peter says it very well when he teaches this infinitely better than I ever could. He says jiu-jitsu is suffering, as in you have so much at the beginning that you don’t know what is happening to you. It’s a horrible experience. That’s why the first thing I ever teach is, if you keep your knees glued to your armpits, you’ll be fine. Anytime you feel lost, just do that. I don’t care if you ball up or anything, at least you’re not getting submitted, but if you can just connect your knees to your armpits, you’ll be fine, and anytime anything ever goes wrong.
The amount of two-month white belts that I’ve had come through, I’ve competed on grapple fast on the same card as like Craig Jones and Lachlan Giles. I’ve had white belts who’ve been in for like two months who I can’t choke or submit because they just ball up. They just connect their knees to their armpits and they’re fine. Looking at that from their perspective, they’ve got the class black belt wailing on them and they’re surviving, nothing bad is happening to them. The only thing that’s bad happen to them is when they reach out.
Again, it’s something we’re all told on day one, keep your elbows close, but I just never was told how close. If I’d known that, if I’d known keep them so close, they’re connected to your damn knees and hips, I think jiu-jitsu would have been a lot easier for me.
Sonny: Yes, it is funny, those little things that maybe do get mentioned in passing, or even like the Ryan Hall comment that gets mentioned in passing that had that impact on you.
Chris: Even in passing, there was no emphasis on it. I spent so much longer playing the deep half stuff he showed than anything to do with the knees and the elbow thing. If I’d known that, that would have been infinitely more useful. One of the other things, again, it was Braulio’s first black belt, Chiu Kwong Man in Birmingham. He teaches Renegade jiu-jitsu. He’s got Tom Breese and a couple of really high-level guys in his team.
I did a couple of seminars with them, again, about five years ago. He said that everyone talks about the space between the knees and armpits. Again, they weren’t, but okay. I said, “No one ever talks about the space between the ass and heel.” He said, “If you can keep that one closed, there’s no other guards that will work on you. Again, like De La Riva, half guard, butterfly, none of those work if they can’t get in between your ass and heel.”
I was like “What? I can fix guard that easily?” Again, it goes back to that how to defend everything. If I’d just known those two things early on, I could have figured out jiu-jitsu a whole lot faster. The emphasis was on those two things.
Sonny: The emphasis and just knowing where to put those emphases is an interesting area because it seems to still be evolving in a way to shed light on some actual constants which are strange.
Chris: The emphasis in jiu-jitsu is wrong. There’s a guard passing video by Renzo Gracie, close guard pass video where he talks ages about where’s to grip on the gi. People spend so long on those stupid details. Do you put your fingers in the middle of the gi? Do you twist it left? Do you twist it right? Is your elbow flared? Is it crunched in? Is it pushed into the stomach? Can you push it on your whatever. That isn’t the important part.
He talks about various aspects of that for this guard passing video. Again, all he does is he connects his knees to his elbows and then climbs in the space between their knees and elbows. At no point does he talk about that being the crucial aspect of this guard pass. That was a passing detail that the guard pass doesn’t work if they’re not in this space.
Sonny: It’s fascinating that we can focus so much time on a technique like that. I guess that’s why some jiu-jitsu moves will go in trends where they can come in and out of trends, but the constant between it all would be those concepts that follow those things if those techniques are long.
Chris: Exactly. There’s also a new guard that comes out in some way. Again, they’re always iterations of the same damn concept. I’m sure that you think rubber guard again is just an expression of that guard concept. How can I control your armpits in the back of your head with the full weapons I have? Yet, all of a sudden, 10 years ago, everyone goes nuts about rubber guard. It’s like, “No, it’s the same thing again, or the half guard, or worm guard, or whatever mad guard that Keenan’s come out with recently, whoever knows what that is, which it is the same damn thing. You can’t really play guard without this concept, but why is no one talking about this is what’s happening?
Sonny: That’s a very good point. That’s why we’ve talked about it here and put some emphasis on it. I really have appreciated this conversation, Chris. I’ve really enjoyed it.
Chris: I loved it. Thank you so much. Hoping to have another chat in the future.
Sonny: For sure. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way that they can go about and do it?
Chris: If they just type Chris Paines, P-A-I N, so pain, E-S into Google, Chris Paines BJJ, they’ll find my Facebook, they’ll find my YouTube, they’ll find my personal website. Any of those aspects, if you will contact me via those, I reply relatively fast. I’ll happily talk to anyone. The amount of people who contact me and ask me questions and stuff, if I’ve got access to a video camera, I’ll record an answer. I’m very, very accessible if anyone ever wants to talk to me.
Chris: I’m just going to do some [crosstalk] .
Sonny: Hey, who isn’t, really, in this day and age especially.
Chris: It’s such a brilliant idea because I’d never done BJJ. I’m not from a lineage. I have no lineage. I’ve obviously got my black belt from Priit, but as far as the learning goes, there isn’t anyone above me. The linear thing falls apart. That idea that when in a style that puts so much emphasis on if it’s from Brazil or who’ve got that belt from who, which I’ve been asked that question numerous times and it drives me insane, just a simple idea that there’s some no-name guy from Stafford that people want to find out something from him. I’ll happily answer any question just because of that.
Sonny: Yes. It’s something that I’m running into a lot with people I’m talking to because there’s obviously that tremendous value in tradition that I probably don’t need to explain because it’s pretty evident that that seems to be the dominant force, that value of tradition, but then it’s the people that are going outside of that that can bring in some new creative ideas where I think a lot of value can actually be had. The mat is the truth, as Sakuraba has said.
Chris: Exactly. Everyone is equal on that mat.
Sonny: It’s very, very interesting stuff. Chris, thank you so much, and let’s do this again in the future.
Chris: Perfect. Thank you so much. I’ve really enjoyed it.
In this episode, I talk to Luke Martin from Sydney West Martial Arts. Luke is a Jiu-Jitsu instructor I have personally trained with, and for the last few years, he has been pursuing ways of bringing the world-class John Danaher grappling system into his gym. Despite being based on the other side of the world, for years he has taken weekly online private lessons with Jason Rau and gives many practical tips on how he has been able to pass along these teachings to his students. He also has a podcast called The Heat Locker where he has interviews with Jason Rau and other students of John Danaher’s from his most recent trip to the Blue Basement in New York City.
In this episode, I talk to Andy from the School of Grappling. The School of grappling Instagram and website has many great articles that look at statistics of MMA and ADCC grappling exchanges and how to use systems and heuristics to improve your grappling training. Here we discuss his fascinating ideas about teaching and developing intuition/instincts for grappling.
Sonny: Welcome to episode number three of the Sonny Brown Breakdown, a podcast where we will discuss the training, teaching, health and education of mixed martial arts. In this episode, I talked to Andy from the School of Grappling, where we discuss his fascinating ideas about teaching and developing intuition and instincts in your grappling training. Now let’s go to the podcast. Just give you a bit of background I came across your stuff, I believe it was on Instagram. I first saw the School of Grappling Instagram account and I was very intrigued by some of the ideas that you’re putting across, some of the posts you’re putting up, lots of work you’ve been putting into it, researching the statistics of ADCC and MMA, and I thought you had some excellent ideas and I thought it’d be great to get you on how to chat. And so, I’m just wondering, you know, with your School of Grappling page, what’s the overall idea that you’re trying to impart into people with School of Grappling, and just a bit of your own personal background with grappling and also your education background?
Andy: Okay, first of all, what’s up guys? Yeah, I think I’ll start with my background first and I will not go too much in depth because I actually think what I’m talking about is way more important and way more interesting than I am. I’m basically just a physicist. I like to really analyze stuff. Obviously, that’s why I did all the statistics and I have 20 years of grappling expenses, it all started with judo. And some of you may know, some of you don’t, that in judo the rules changed a lot over the last, maybe 10 to 15 years and they got more and more restricted and competition got more and more specialized. So, I felt like I needed to go and learn something else. And probably like everybody I watched the UFC and I saw this whole Gracie story unfold and thought like, like, huh, just BJJ seems to be the shit. So, I started BJJ and sadly, I really got a bit disappointed because I felt like I went from one specialist thing to the another and because the stuff I learned in BJJ was literally nothing like grappling in MMA at this time. It’s like, all these rules and so much got pulling the key stuff got weirder and weirder. So, I focused more on No-Gi grappling because I felt like this is a little bit closer to real grappling. Because like I said, I wanted to go to something which includes more than judo and not from one specialized thing to something different, which says specialize in another direction. So, I started moderating No-Gi and first, all the leg lock stuff when it came about and then I realized, ah, that’s still not kind of all grappling has to offer and still doesn’t really look like, like grappling in MMA at all.
So, I studied a lot of wrestling, especially folks style wrestling, coach wrestling in the USA and then slowly, I felt like huh, yeah, now things get more like grappling. If you include all the stuff from judo, all the stuff from jujitsu, from No-Gi jujitsu and a lot of wrestling, I felt like this is actually what grappling is about, if you combine all the stuff. And this is kind of also what I tried to do with my page, I want to move the grappling community a bit more together because I feel like all the sports specialized in different directions like judo, jujitsu No-Gi jujitsu, submission only, Sambo, wrestling, freestyle wrestling, all this stuff. Everybody’s specialized and actually that’s a good thing, I feel like, because that’s needed if you want to progress in a certain direction, but I feel like my role or what I’m trying to do is to bring it back together again to say like yeah, you know what, in the end, it’s all grappling and maybe it’s fun and we can all learn if we take look at it all and not just focus on our own stuff. That’s like the first thing I tried to do with School of Grappling, also the cultural side and the historical side, because for me, grappling is a sport, obviously, and that’s a really important part. Not so much in martial arts, like Parag Mickelson, also says, I think that’s not so important. But it’s also important for culture and stuff like this. I always felt like the Greeks showed how important this kind of sport like grappling or 05:41 [inaudible] can be on the society. Also, like if you take a look at Mongolia, for example, people just meet in the field and they grapple and they get like huge honors and thousands of, watches and all the stuff and yeah, that’s always interests me, like, the cultural side also.
And another thing I’m trying to do, is obviously all the statistics stuff I do, because I feel like yeah, many cultures have people in jujitsu, mostly, but also wrestling and judo, they all show stuff and claim stuff. But actually, most of it or some of it really is not supported by evidence at all. And I think smart people already knew this. So, for example, a lot of things you’ve seen in my statistics, I feel like don’t really show new stuff for the smart guys, it proves that they were right, what they felt was anecdotally right at the time. Yeah, the third part and maybe the part which is dearest to my heart is, I want to really educate people how to learn grappling or jujitsu, because I feel like, grappling, it lost so much in the last years, but teaching to not feel like yeah, the way people coach and teach in, jujitsu and judo, especially, not so much in wrestling, I feel like it’s really not up to date.
Sonny: Yeah, that’s certainly one of the things that drawn me to your work. And like you mentioned at the start there that you know, looking to combine the different grappling arts of judo, wrestling and jujitsu and I know one thing I’ve seen, you use the hashtag a lot on your Instagram page of, wrestle, jujitsu and linking that into how things are being taught in jujitsu, like to just basically discuss what your current thoughts are on the state of pedagogy used in jujitsu as a whole and just, you know how you think things are currently being taught or work, how it can be improved? And what your what thoughts are on this at the moment?
Andy: I want to start off with saying, I will be speaking about jujitsu, but I felt like the same is true for judo, especially because they’re both a sport, but they’re still kind of martial artsy. So, they didn’t make the jump like wrestling and reached the point where it’s just a sport but there’s still so many components of martial arts and I feel like that’s a bad thing actually. Because I feel like most people, competitors and coaches, they focus too much on techniques and that’s really a modern thing. I feel like they, there’s this misconception that you have to learn just enough or the right techniques and if you just know more techniques than the other guy, or the right ones, then at some point you will become skillful or become a master of your art. So, naturally, coaches who believe this like, okay, I just have to collect all the techniques that work and if I know them better than somebody else and I can do them better then I’m skillful, I’m a master and I will win lots of competitions or train. Good people and yeah, if that’s the goal, naturally, you will focus on teaching techniques, obviously, and I think that’s really bad because yeah, we will reach that point soon.
So, then some smarter guys, I feel like, especially Ryan Hall, or Rob 09:59 [inaudible], they introduced the jujitsu community to concepts and principles. So, basically what they are saying is, yeah, look, nobody can remember 10,000 techniques but you don’t have to, you just have to know, like, the underlying concepts and principles behind the techniques and then you can basically just come up with the exclusive technique at the time. And I feel like that’s a really, really, really big improvement to the first method. And it’s a method I also use a lot. I think concepts and principles are really, really important because if you know concepts and principles, you can come up with heuristics or rules of thumb, which help decision making in really complex situations. They’re way faster than techniques because you don’t really have to think that much. And that’s actually how I tried to transcend even that because, if you want to remember techniques, you actually have to do a little bit of thinking. And that’s a bad thing because everybody knows fighting or grappling, you have to make decisions really, really fast and you have to multitask, and a lot of things are going on.
So, what concepts, principles or rules of thumb do, they really, really lower the amount of thinking you have to do or the stuff you have to know. But actually, if you take a look at how really, really good math masters of any kind, it can be sports, it can be cooking, can be music, it can be arts, painting, anything, if you take a look at them, you realize most of them don’t think at all. They reach to the point where they just do stuff, intuition, with their intuition. And that’s actually something I have studied a lot. And I feel like that’s what I bring to the table. I say, yeah, techniques, sure they are important, but we shouldn’t focus on them at all. And I say concepts and principles, they are also important, they’re actually much more important, and they are still a big part of my method. But the end goal should not be to teach techniques or concepts or to develop a sense of intuition in each student you have. And if that’s your goal, and you’re you really say, that’s the premise I start with, then naturally all your training and all the classes you design look completely different because you have a different goal. And that’s basically, the starting point of my whole method and why I think most people have it wrong with all this technique stuff.
Sonny: Okay, that’s, a fascinating way of looking at it. And I really, like agree with the angle being to train people’s intuitions because that’s whenever you’re going against the good grappler that’s, you can tell that they’re not thinking, they’re just moving. So, my question would then be, if, you know, we’re shifting away from techniques to training concepts and principles, to maybe build that intuition, then how do we actually go about you know, working out what these principles are for grappling, which ones are the ones to teach that we should use and you know, how do we not just fall into the same trap of technique collection and just transfer that into say concept collection and figuring out which ones are the best to use and how to go about that?
Andy: Yeah, I don’t really use concepts and principles that much. And I tell you why because I think they are important for some people. For me, for example, I’m a nerd, I like to think about stuff. And, for me, concepts and principles have a lot, especially because I mean, I’m a physicist, I really, really know all this level of stuff. And that’s simple stuff for me so I can really work with it. But I also came across many, many, many, many, many students who aren’t like that. They just are really good movers; they like to move. They are a lot more embodied; they don’t think as much. And actually, I think, to attain intuition, you don’t need concepts and principles. They can help for some people, but you don’t need them. And actually, I think that’s, if you really think about it, if you think about some, I don’t know football players, basketball players, grapplers, fighters, for me is what, always was pretty obvious that they are not that smart. And they really don’t understand the concepts, and they really don’t understand the principles, at least not in an explicit way. But for some reason, they just move so masterfully, they always do the right stuff. They, but they do it without much thought. And I think a really good example for this is in MMAs, Tony Ferguson. I think if you would discuss concepts and principles with him, yeah, that wouldn’t go. But he still always knows what to do in the situation when it arises. And I think that’s the point, that’s where I want to go, what I want to reach in my students. I want to develop this intuition in everybody because I feel like this is literally the highest form of mastery.
And another thing I want to talk about in this, actually everybody is a master. We always think, when we think about mastery, we think about stuff like sports and cooking or craftsmanship. But if you think about the stuff you do every day, most of it is intuition. If you, I don’t know, if you cut a cucumber, if you turn the lights on, if you open the door, all that stuff, you don’t think about it, you just do it because you experience the stuff so often and you actually have some sort of, you are emerged in a task, you know, it’s like, this is the stuff, you need to do it for living. So, you naturally, I invested, and I think that’s something which lacks, if you just tried to copy techniques and stuff. Yeah, I don’t know if that was a big tangent.
Sonny: No, no, that explains a lot for me. So, you’re saying that, you know, we don’t necessarily need to explicitly teach concepts to people, like they don’t need to be able to know, to recite the concepts back to us, or the principles, you know, they don’t need to be able to write them down, what they are, but we should be teaching in a way that they just, that they intuitively pick up those concepts and principles through practice, is that?
Andy: Yeah, exactly. And I think like, what’s really important for me, is, I want to get across that, there’s no dogma, it’s, everything is just a tool. I still use techniques; I still use concepts and principles. And so, for example, if you realize some students, they need concepts and principles, then use then for God’s sake. And but also, you realize that many, many, many, many great athletes really, really work with this stuff because they’re just not that kind of a guy, you know? So, what you said is absolutely correct. The goal is to develop intuition through exercises I tried to design. Because like, actually, what intuition really is, that’s up for debate. Many people believe it’s, and that’s something I also wrote, it’s something like an unconscious, heuristic or implicit rule of thumb in our body, which we can use without thinking about them. That’s more like the stuff of 19:12 [inaudible], I talked about the psychologist. And, but there are many people, especially philosophers who actually believe, nah, intuition is something completely different, it’s just, yeah, then stuff gets really complicated if you look at it from a phenomenological, psychological, philosophical side.
But what everybody agrees on is that the only way you get intuition is first in experience, stuff you personally experience yourself. And so, what most coaches do I feel like is a try to teach in a way where they, either try to convey their own experiences and that’s not a bad thing. I mean, they want to help the students obviously. What’s even worse is when coaches try to convey stuff, they didn’t experience themselves, so this is like the Bullshido Mcdojo style, like you have a script Master, he tells you do x and a and b. And so, you just mimic the stuff and teach your students and they mimic you. And so, it’s basically an evolution of mimicry over generations. And I think this is actually the worst thing you could do. And what most coaches do, and I do too, from time to time, because I fail, is they try to convey their own experiences. And I feel like this is actually wrong. You have to realize that in order for your students to really learn, to really get a grip of something, they just have to experience it themselves. I feel like a really good example is, I personally, when I was a child, I really like to play with dangerous stuff like fire knives and so on and my mother always told me, don’t do this, be careful, don’t play with knife and stuff like this. And I always felt like yeah, whatever, I don’t care. Until I once, I cut myself really bad, I still have the scar on my left hand. And from this day on, I really was careful with knives because I experienced something myself and I made an error. And obviously, I don’t say every kid should cut him safe but what I’m saying is if you want to really remember stuff, like really remember stuff, you have to connect it to some perception and action or experience you had yourself at some point in your life. And the more of experiences which resemble similar situations, the better you get those similar situations. Yeah and I feel like many people now could maybe say, oh, yeah, so he’s arguing, just roll all the time. And yeah, I think like, you can actually maximize the amount of experiences you get in a certain timeframe. And that’s basically my method.
Sonny: Okay, that’s an interesting way of looking at it. I think it makes sense. Like, you know, you can tell someone that you know, you better have both arms in or both arms out when you’re in someone’s guard, or you’re going to be at risk of a triangle choke. You can explain that but obviously, they’re going to understand it a lot better if it actually happens to them and they’ll have that that deeper understanding, which makes a lot of sense. So, then what would your ways of conveying that intuition or helping your students build that intuition, how do you go around go about doing that?
Andy: So, for example, there are many ways, I think you could either start by, that’s a bit more, if you give more guidance, for example, let’s take something everybody can relate to. Let’s say you want to work on back control, okay. So, what you could do, you could basically start with the technique, like most coaches do, so you maybe work a certain series of moves, for example, yeah, the guy turtles, you get a seat belt, you insert the first talk, you’re breaking down, you insert the second hook, then you trap his arms and you choke him, right. So, you show them, you explain, maybe, the important concepts and stuff. And then you let them, and actually, I feel like this whole repetition thing is just stupid because either I really work with smart people, but I feel like if I show them a really, a sequence like this, everybody can do it after three times, five times, ten times, but there’s no need to do it like 100 times. So, when I have the feeling like, buddy, gets the technique kind of, or the sequence, I say, alright, let’s move on.
So, the next goal would be to say, okay, now everybody has like, an idea what to do. They don’t, they cannot do it perfectly, and they aren’t masters at it at all, but they have a goal in mind, and that’s really important. So, now we start with little mini bearings or games, like you break it down, so you work certain skills. For example, you tell, you say, listen, okay now, you know what the goal is, let’s start with the seatbelt and we do a little game, just try to get both hooks in. So, then the people can play with it, a person gets a seat belt, then they play around. I also tell my students, kind of regulate the intensity, if you know the guy doesn’t get it at all, maybe do a little bit of less resistance. If you feel like he gets the hooks in too easy, do a little more resistance. So, it’s not so much sparing in the sense of fighting, it’s more like playing. I want people to play around with a certain situation. And maybe they do it like five minutes. One guy, five minutes, the other guy and I feel like it’s always really, really interesting if you try that yourself, how fast people learn small little details, if they just repeat the task again and again and again and they fail, they fail again and they try something else. They come up with little details, if I would have shown them all these details in the technique before, they would have been overwhelmed, but this way, they just do it intuitively because they try.
So, for example, after that, I would do another game and say, okay, and now the stuff from back control, and one guy tries to escape and you just try to hold him there, so no chokes, nothing. So, you just work on the control for example. And then one guy tries to escape and then what I often tell students, so for example, if you want to work your, keeping him in bear control, I say, okay 20 seconds, you go hard on him, don’t let him escape. And then after that, give, the other person a chance to work his escapes. So, then you lower the resistance a little bit so he can get out, but with a lot of struggle, so it shouldn’t be easy. And so, and then you can progress like you train sub-skills of a certain skill, you develop game for it. And at some point, if you feel like people get competent in these parts in the sub skills, not in the whole sequence, but in a certain sequence. For example, then use start adding the sequences together, sorry. The easiest thing would be, okay, goal, you start with seatbelts, your goal is to get a rear naked choke, right? So, that would be another game. So, you don’t start in back control but with a seatbelt. And you can get, develop games, however you want, if you know what you’re doing, it’s basically simple. You just define a goal, you define certain constraints like, yeah, don’t do this, don’t do that. And, but the important thing is, I will always want to work with a task. So, it’s not like I tell my students, do this. I don’t tell them at all what they should do, I tell them, solve this problem. And how you solve this problem, actually, I don’t care. But the trick is, the constraints of the of the task or the game are set so they will do the right stuff, right?
So, that’s a bit trickier. It’s like the goal is to get them somewhere, to do something, but you don’t, you’re not allowed to tell them how. So, you have to design games and stuff, which forces a certain behavior after some time, but the point is, they themselves felt acted and they made decisions and they gained experiences because they acted and perceived and it’s not like, the coach showed me, right. And that’s more like a guided approach when I have something in mind, like, a control, for example. But actually, you can also do, sometimes you don’t even need that. So, for example, how I teach the wrestling stance, right, is I felt like if you want somebody to teach him footwork or stance, and you say, tell them, yeah, you stand with this foot in front and with this width and you bend a little bit, but not too much, and then your arms should be like this. And a thing like stands can get really, really, really complicated really, really quickly. Because a new student has to think about all this stuff. So, what I like to do, I like to let them play a game. And the game is really simple. It’s like, you have to touch the knees of the other guy, so if you would do that, only this rule, and this goal, so touching the knees of the other guy and defending. Then obviously people would stand really, really bend forward and that’s actually what happens. If you try that, if you play this game, people will stand really bent forward.
So, I introduced another rule. And I said, okay, so if the hands or anything, but the soles of your feet touch the ground, you lose the point. So, if you make the other guy touch the ground with anything but his feet, you get a point. So, what, and when you have these two rules, you actually realize people will automatically have a certain stance, which give them mobility because they have to defend people tapping their knees, but it also fixes the bent posture because if they’re been too much, well, people just snap you down and your hands touch the floor, right, or your knees. And what I really realized is that with this game, I can teach a beginner who never did martial arts, maybe not a perfect, but a decent and functional stance in like two minutes. And they don’t have to think about it. It’s just like, they had a task, they had a goal and they self-regulated themselves to achieve that goal. without much thought, it’s just like, oh, fuck, he tapped my knee, I better do this now, oh fuck, I touched the floor, I better don’t stand that bend forward and stuff like this. So, it’s nestled in experiences, right? And I’m always amazed how far, how fast I can teach a stance like this, it’s mind boggling.
Sonny: Very interesting. So, that’s, I mean, it sounds like it’s, you know, a form of say, just positional sparring, but not really. Because, like, I think sometimes I myself, will, you know, if I teach a half guard pass, I’ll make sure students you know, do some starting rounds in, you know, from half guard. But I know even in that case, that’s like a simplified version because, you know, sometimes they’ll start there and then they won’t ever be able to use the past that we’ve shown. So, you’re kind of focusing on, like setting the right constraints and you know, making the right set of rules that the students will have that level of failure to enable them to learn the moves, or the techniques, enough, in a faster way. Is that kind of close?
Andy: Yes. Yes, that’s close. I think like, if you don’t think so much about sparring or rolling, think about it like games, right? A game has rules and goals. And so, that’s all you need. You need rules. You need goals. If you actually use the term game, for some reason people automatically are more flowy, they aren’t that tense, right? If you tell them guys, we’ll play a game, they just play. But if you tell them we do position of sparring now, people for some reason, you can do the same stuff, but if you tell them, it’s sparring now, they will be a lot more tense, and it will be more ego and stuff. So, I feel like it’s a little bit of gamification, right. And I think that’s a really important part because then people think like, yeah, I’m not working a competition situation, no, I’m just playing a game. If I don’t get a point, who cares, right?
Sonny: Yeah, that makes sense in just to, you know, the gamification making it enjoyable and playful, because I’m thinking, say we show, passing or just opening close guard, it’s one thing to, just put people in someone’s guard, say we’ll open their closed guard, that’s the role of the sport and open the guard pass. But we know that’s very difficult for anyone to pull off against a completely hundred percent resisting opponent, it’s going to be hard whereas at certain times it might take minutes at least to actually pull that off. So, I think that makes sense what you’re saying to figure out ways that we can reduce that bigger action, open guard and pass it down into smaller little chunks. Would you say like–?
Andy: Yeah, absolutely.
Sonny: To work out the smaller parts of that and then make games out of those.
Andy: Yeah, I think the important thing is like, I mean, we are coaches. So, hopefully we know which stuff works and which doesn’t. So, it’s not like I’m sitting there and I’m just like, trying to. It’s not like, I just see what comes up. I always have stuff in mind prior, right? So, I know what the behavior I want to see is, but I have to find ways to kind of trick people into that behavior. I don’t tell them; I want you to do this. But I set the constraints in a way that they will automatically do it after some time, because there’s only two- or three-ways stuff actually works. So, for example, one thing you can achieve that is by like you said, making the tasks smaller and smaller. So, if it’s too abstract, it’s like, for example, you start and have no grips or anything and you tell them people sweep the other guy. That’s like, a fairly complex problem right there, maybe 1000.
Sonny: That’s a pretty common way currently of doing it, right?
Andy: Yeah, absolutely. But if you want people and that’s fine for advanced students, if you know half guard, that’s fine, right? But if you want to teach half guard, let’s say something I really focus on in half guard is I tell people, okay, for example, you start with an under hook. You already have your hooks switched, like in the Quota Guard from Lucas Lake right. And now the goal is to build up to a dogfight. No, it’s not a sweep, it’s just almost too easy, it’s like, I mean, you haven’t known the neat twist, or the hooks switched. So, you just have to build up to a dogfight. And that’s the goal is to build up to the dock, find the roots, well, you start in this position and then people will actually succeed at it because it’s not that complex anymore, and that’s really important. People have to succeed a lot of times, but they also have to experience some failures. So, it’s a balance of the tasks shouldn’t be too easy, but it shouldn’t also be too hard.
So, for example, if people get that, I can get them to building up to a dogfight I do another game where they start in the dogfight and I tell them okay, now you guys are both stuck in a dogfight now. Sweep the other guy and take his back and the other person should defend or escape, then we can do another game. For example, you start in half guards, and the game is, the top and the bottom guy, it should pump the floor under hooks. So, it’s just if you get to on-hook, you get a point start again, you get an on-hook, you get a point start again. So, it’s like you can, this way they can fight for a certain goal in one minute. I don’t know how many times you can come in and pump in one minute, maybe five times each, depending on how good you are.
And then after people made all these games, so they made many experiences, getting an under hook, switching the hook, building up to a dogfight. What do I do when I’m at a dogfight? If people have succeeded in the small tasks, then we can do positional sparring from half guard, because people actually, they already had some complexity and some resistance but in a way, where they could handle the resistance and complexity because it wasn’t overwhelming, right. And you can do that step by step, you don’t have to go from I get an under-hook to half guard sparring. So, you can, what I like to do is, I do many small parts. And then I take two parts together, for example, getting an under hook and switching the hooks for the neat with for example after Lucas Lake Guard, then I do build to the dogfight and sweeping from the bug dog fight is a new sparring again. So, you kind of chunk things together again until the big picture arises. I don’t know if you get what I mean.
Sonny: Yeah, that does make a lot of sense. So, I’m looking at it from the perspective of, we could have, positional sparring being common, already, but this is, figuring out the ways, what you’re suggesting is more than just positional sparring. And it seems like it’s, the ways to break it down. So, there’s even, the micro positions or the little micro battles and building out a way up from there.
Andy: Yeah, and the point is, for example, it’s always still a task, right. I don’t tell them, okay, I show you know how I build up from half guard to get to the dogfight and I put my hand here and then I make space. I push it forward so I can get my bottom knee out and stuff like that. I don’t, yeah, maybe I give cues for some people who need some help. But it’s not like I tell them mimic me, it’s like, that’s your start, that’s your end. Figure it out, right. And people will figure it out. If the task is small enough, people will figure it out, I can guarantee you, if they don’t figure it out, it just means the task is still too complex. So, you have to make it smaller.
Sonny: That makes sense. So, it’s interesting. It really links with that building then of concepts, just through this chunking it down, this gamification and making it smaller, because, I mean, there has been discussion in the Grappling community for a while, like what’s better, you know, technique or drilling or concepts? And it seems like you’re putting forward the idea of it’s not a binary choice. It’s not it’s not drilling or concepts. It’s another option of gamification that kind of combines both of those elements together where you’re doing the reps over, but you’re doing the reps of the concepts in time.
Andy: Yes, I feel like this is like some buzzwords or sayings like this repetition without repetition, right. Or like another really smart saying, I forgot who said it right now, it’s, don’t repeat the same solution again and again, but solve the same problem again and again. That’s basically it. I feel like it is reading in jujitsu. It’s more like, okay, here is the perfect form, right? It’s like, some guy with a black belt shows you the perfect technique, the perfect form of something and then you try to mimic it and mimic it until it looks exactly like that. And I think that’s catastrophic. And also, that’s not how wrestlers drill, drilling in wrestling for some reason, probably because it’s a bit more dynamic on the feet. It’s not that rigid, that’s this rarely. If wrestler drills, it’s always a little bit more playfulness, a little bit more activity from your partner. It’s not that fixed, I feel like, at least that’s my experience. Yeah.
Sonny: Okay. Yeah. So yeah, that importance of you making it playful and making it fun while getting those repetitions in of the repetitions is just solving the same problem, not a set way to actually solve it. And that’s interesting, because that I think people will like when you say it, kind of understand, that makes a lot of sense. But I don’t think there’s many people out there who, explicitly have come up with a set of games for Grappling, that is like the okay, these are all the little games that can be played. I think that’s a very unique way of looking at things with a lot of avenues to explore.
Andy: Yeah, that’s the point because I actually want to encourage people not to mimic myself, because that’s actually the thing I’m fighting against. Right.
Sonny: Okay. Yeah.
Andy: I want to give people a sense, like, okay, that’s how I do stuff because I have a different goal. And if you understand what I’m saying, you can come up with all kinds of games, yourself, and even depending on the XX want you to write if you’ve trained for IBJJF it would be different games, if you’ve trained for MMA it would be different games, but the point is, nest your learning in tasks and in games and not in the wrong sense of perfection of a certain form, because I feel like this literally does not exist at all. And that’s just what much martial arts lead into, I feel like it’s like this real Zen like or Eastern notion of the perfect form and practicing the one kick 1000 times and all this just kind of romantic view about martial arts. And if you take a look at a real fight at a real match, the whole stuff is dirty, the stuff is messy, but it’s functional, it just works. And if you try to get perfect at one move, what I argue is that means you invest too much time in getting really good at a really specific time thing, which means you probably suck at many things.
Sonny: That could be positive could be possible too. So, I mean, that idea of the perfect form if we want to, you know, if we look at the top people in the sport or, sometimes in MMA as well, like the names that come to mind for me is, like a George St. Pierre, Marcella Garcia or any of John Danaher students really is these guys at the moment would probably, say like, my gut feeling is that their technique is just, they’re getting by with superior technique or, their techniques are that much better I still, you know, maybe that’s just the way that you know, with the conventional way of thinking, but when we look at the results that they’re currently getting, they’re still the ones winning. So, I guess the traditional way of thinking would be that, okay, well, they’re the ones winning, we should copy their techniques that they’re doing. If we still get a lot of success with that, what’s the harm you think in, in taking that route?
Andy: So, what you’re saying is like, this guy’s master certain techniques, so why shouldn’t we just focus on these techniques right?
Sonny: Yeah, well, you know, just copy the–
Andy: I mean, there’s some point to it. Actually, yeah, I don’t, like I said, it’s all tools. It’s not like I say, I don’t teach techniques, because I only want to intuition, that that’s not right. Because I feel like it really depends on many, things. For example, that’s a really big criticism I have for the community, how they think about learning and coaching. For some reason, they always think that competitors are really good learners or teachers. Because I personally feel like because intuition, and if you train twice a day, six times a week, you will get this intuition no matter what you do. Let’s take a look at some of these guys. They train obsessively for years and decades. Of course, they will be fucking awesome, great loss fighters. Of course, that’s not the point, the point is, like me, I have a lot of people, they work full time, they are lawyers, they are engineers, they train twice a week for one and a half hour. They cannot get to that level of GSP or Marcello Garcia. Well, they don’t get there anyways, but they don’t get there with the same way people learned it right, because of the sheer amount of sacrifice they made, the sheer amount of work they put in. What I’m arguing is, if you train twice a day, every day for five years and you are not great at what you are doing, you must really suck.
Andy: So, that’s not my standard. My standard is like, I teach people who train twice a week for two hours. Because that’s actually the hard problem of coaching in my opinion
Sonny: Yeah, well the majority of people are going to be in that situation, which is a good point, most people don’t end up competing, most people are training for fun so that I can see how that will then cater, if we’re making those games, and the smaller game making, and those smaller games and making it fun, that’s actually going to cater to a wider audience and then the competitors if they want can, you tailor it more to them if they have to go down a different path.
Andy: And the other thing is like, I speak out of my ass. And maybe that’s a bit arrogant to say, but somebody buy DVDs, or instructions I watch of high-level competitors. And I feel like, dude, you don’t understand what you’re talking about. And obviously this guy would wreck me. I mean, I’m a hobbyist also, this guy would kill me on the mat. But not because he understands the biomechanics, the concepts, the principles better, not because he’s a better teacher, not because he’s a better learner. Because he made a sacrifice I did not make, the sacrifice was training full time every day, and sacrificing a lot of things. Many people are not willing to sacrifice, and I think we always have to keep that in mind, that’s a big part of getting good at anything. That’s what I was arguing with the intuition anyways, it’s just you experience, right.
Sonny: Yeah, that makes sense. So, like, I’ve had the thoughts before that, you know, obviously the people training, at Danaher would probably if they are training full time, they’d probably be just as good if they go on any of the other top coaches if they’re that committed. And I mean, there’s probably some people I think in everyone’s gym where you just think, well, okay, this, person will probably be good no matter where they go, because they’ve got that commitment to training and they’re putting in the hours and, they’re going to be good no matter who they’re training under. And I guess then that that makes sense that they’ve learnt not so much how to be able to repeat those techniques or concepts or principles, but they’ve just learned through hours and just that repetition of solving problems and failing to solve it.
Andy: Just think about it, if the average class, let’s say, just to simplify stuff is one-hour technique, drills and repetition, one hour rolling, okay? So, if we just assume that these guys learn nothing in the first part of technical training, if they train twice a day, six times a week, they still have 12 hours of rolling every week. That’s the amount of rolling that hobbyist maybe gets in a month or so. Right. So, we should not over value the way these guys train. Obviously, not all of them, I know for a fact that many coaches out there are doing good work, right. I’m not saying, I have figured it out and the community sucks. I’m saying, what I see is that many people who do it kind of wrong, but some still do a good job, obviously. For example, I listened to a lot of podcasts of Damien Maya lately, and actually seems like he’s doing stuff fairly common to how I do it. And he actually said, in a podcast, I think it was, I don’t remember when the podcast was, but he actually said, the way he teaches now is completely different from how he learned and he uses a lot more of the stuff I’m talking about a little bit more of many positional sparring, playful, aiming stuff like this. And that I felt like was really interesting, like the guy who many argue is the greatest grappling, MMA and who obviously achieved this point. By the way, he trends argues that he doesn’t teach the way he learned in the beginning. Right.
Sonny: And I think that’s the area of interest is that, you know, a few people are talking about and is coming to the forefront because, it is this, you know, like a change from how everyone was taught which, my gut feeling is that I guess how the Jujitsu was originally taught, was really people were keeping secrets, and it was still, this secretive arms, I’ll show you this and but don’t show this, this is the secret move. And that’s, from that martial arts background, I think where the idea is you just have to have the secret weapon and they never–
Andy: Yeah, it’s like that, this notion that the master or the Sensei, he knows something you don’t know. And I feel like this is just plain false. Like, if you take a look at great musicians, they just have so much experience that they played so many years. They just act intuitively; they just have the skill. It’s not like they have a trick in their sleeve, right. It’s embodied in their being, it’s like, they care so much, it’s just part of who they are. And I think like, it’s important that we have to realize if we, our students want to achieve this kind of mastery, we all have to learn that it’s not about knowing certain things. It’s just about immersing ourselves in the task, getting familiar with all the situations that arise again and again, experiencing it over and over again until we get a kind of embodied sense of the situation, right.
Sonny: That makes a lot of the comparison with music because I was thinking then it’s kind of like, when people start jamming in a band and you’ve seen when a solo ends or something and the guitarist will just look at the drummer and they have that connection of just putting in the hours being able to sense just know and sense what’s going on.
Andy: Yeah, and the goal basically is, like I said, people like Damon, Maya, Marcel Garcia, Gordon Ryan, all these people, they have the experience because they trained so much, obviously, and probably, I don’t know, but I guess the training at the basement of Ghana is also very good. So, the combination of good training and experience of course, they are really good. 99% of the Jiu-Jitsu community are not people who train all the time. It’s like, how do I get this? How do I increase the experience they get? How do I find a mix? How do I find a way? So, they don’t have to practice for 10 years straight until they are somehow competent. How can I increase all this? And that’s what I’m trying to do. It’s not like I’m trying to skip stuff, it’s not like I’m saying, yeah, I just have to teach them the right techniques. No, I’m saying it’s a process, they have to get the experience, they have to develop sense of situations, they have to get intuition. But how can I speed it up a little bit? How can I make these experiences a bit more powerful? Or maybe how can I get more experiences in a certain timeframe? Or maybe how can I give them the right experiences, right? It’s like, I mean, I feel like I’m an experienced dealer. I give them experiences, which help them to get better, and I maybe somehow can guide their learning by designing a practice which gives them more experiences and the right experiences. So, they can learn faster, but there’s no shortcut.
Sonny: Yeah, yes, certainly, still no shortcuts. But, I agree with what you’re saying and if we go to the concepts, verse drilling debate that happened, I was always thinking, Well, you know, if you have someone who trains twice a week, just a regular person, as well as a hobbyist, then drilling might be a more efficient use of time and that, just get some reps in here, some of the basic foundational moves, just rip it out, use your two hours a week in the most efficient time, in the most efficient way, but I think it makes sense that breaking just that drilling down even further to that, not drilling techniques but drilling and repeating those experiences. It makes a lot of sense to how people can pick up.
Andy: And another thing, I think it’s really important, it’s not like a master. And that’s the word I use a lot because that’s what I’m interested in, right, mastery. And of any kind, because you can actually learn a lot of a lot about mastery in combat sports, if you take a look at mastery in music or whatever, it’s like, not everything you do is intuitive, right. There are still situations maybe where you experience something new, while you have to rely on these concepts or principles by your aesthetics. Maybe if you are in a match, or in a fight, there are strategic and tactical elements you have to think about. So, what intuition also does is, it frees up your mind. If you don’t have to think about the stuff you do all the time, then you have more time to think about maybe not more important, but the stuff that is special to the situation, the strategy, the tactics. Maybe a problem arises you’re not familiar with so you can think about your aesthetic or your rule of thumb, but and that’s why I still teach them right.
Sonny: Yeah, I like that way of thinking about that intuition. So, you’re not spending that time thinking that’s what another jerk have made in the past, while you’re thinking, say someone’s thinking about a concepts, will it be too late, have I already hit the move that I’ve drilled 1000 times? But if it’s an intuitive thing, then that makes sense that you you’re not thinking about a concept or principle. It’s just when you–
Andy: Yeah, and I mean, I found it somewhat, I read how far Philosophy and Science, and I say that as someone who studied both, drifted away from everyday life, right, people can relate to a lot of these things. And that’s what I’m saying, is just to think about what you do every day. The stuff I’m talking about you experience from the moment you wake up, if you drive in a car, driving a car. I mean, in Germany, everybody drives with gear, right? So, you have to do a lot of stuff. You have to shift the gears, you have to look at the traffic, you do all this stuff, it’s incredibly complex. But you don’t do it by consciously thinking about it. And if you would, you would probably do a crash, because you drive the car you don’t think about it, you do everything right. You listen to music, you talk maybe to your wife who’s sitting next to you, and you do all the stuff without much conscious thought, it’s not like a new thing. This is the natural mode of how most people do most of the things they do in life. And, for example, if I’m a scientist, if I work scientifically, that’s a really small part of my life. It’s a method, it’s a tool, it’s a technique, it’s not what being a human is really about. We’re not robots, we’re not like, yeah, this is my perfect system algorithm. It’s like no, we are mostly actually Intuitively with almost everything we do.
Sonny: And it makes sense that we are changing the train from an arms race or collection of techniques to just that inbuilt experience and more time for intuition. I think that’s a very interesting way of looking at things and I think we can explore that a lot more into the future. I think there’s a lot of room to discuss this even further, but it’s been a fascinating conversation. Is there anything you’d like to finish up on, that we haven’t touched on?
Andy: Yeah. Of course, I feel like what we didn’t touch today, but maybe we’ll do at another time if you like, is the whole notion of systems and system thinking. Because what I don’t want people to think is like, this guy doesn’t teach any systems, this guy doesn’t teach any techniques, and that would be wrong. I just feel like the overall goal for me is not to teach a technique or a certain system, I still use them and actually, systems are some. The other thing I’m really interested about, it’s the one thing, is all this intuition and mastery stuff, the other thing is systems. So yeah, I still use them, I can already say so much. It’s not all intuitive, but a lot of things.
Sonny: Beautiful. That’s, if you’d be happy to come back on we do a part two, I think that’s a perfect lead in to, to have another discussion about the systems, because we’ve had a great discussion here about intuition.
Andy: Yeah, for sure sounds fun.
Sonny: Excellent. So, just finishing up, is there anything you would like to or just mention how people can get in touch with you or how they can follow you. And I know you’ve got a couple of projects in the works you might want to mention.
Andy: Yeah, so obviously, my name is Andy, my tech on Instagram is at School of Grappling. I mostly do stuff there, I have a Twitter account, but I don’t really get Twitter, it’s not for me. So, I basically just use it to share some interesting links, since you cannot share links on Instagram, which is really bad. And I also have a homepage, schoolofgrappling.com, where it’s more like, in addition to the stuff I write on Instagram, where I can maybe get more in depth, write bigger articles, embed some videos and stuff. And I will probably do more in the future on my homepage. And the next projects, yeah, just, you will see,
Sonny: We will see, well hopefully everyone’s interested now after–
Andy: I can already tell you that. I feel like the ADC studies I have done, right now, I’m not that interested in Jiu-jitsu or doing statistics for jujitsu. So, I’m currently focusing a lot on Grappling and MMA.
Sonny: Okay, yeah, because that was something else that you’ve done a lot of with work on statistics, and maybe we’ll save that discussion for next time.
Andy: God’s willing
Sonny: And maybe we can do a third one as well.
Andy: Yeah. I’d love to. It’s been very insightful, insightful conversation. Because Yeah, I really feel like this is something that it’s pushing boundaries in that there’s a lot more to, to develop because as you said, it’s not the way things have generally been taught in the martial arts as a whole. So, it opens up a lot of room for development. And that’s exciting. So, yeah, thank you very much for having this discussion. And we will make sure that, we will chat again and about systems. And thank you very much.
Sonny: Yeah, thank you guys. Thanks for listening. See you.
Narrator: And that concludes this episode of the Sonny Brown Breakdown. Please leave a review of the iTunes Store and check out, sunnybrown.net, that links to all my social media. Thanks
If you are looking to improve, you need to become a self-reliant learner.
Typically we only spend a few hours each week in class, and this is simply not enough to progress in the sport! You need to spend time outside of class learning!
Prepare your mind to learn
Try to be in a happy, accepting state.
Try to not be negative about what has been going on in your day
If you need sleep and can afford to get more rest, SLEEP! If you have bad breath and that bothers you, BRUSH! If you have little pet peeves, which are bothering you, FIX THEM. The more that you have to keep your brain from wandering to the better!!!)
You must do something calming yet slightly active for exactly 10 minutes before class. If you do warm ups, then this is a good start but consider walking on the treadmill for 10 minutes and listening to music before you start your training. Stretching and listening to music is also good.
Establishing an emotional connection makes you learn faster. Think of all the subjects in high school that you didn’t want to learn. They were the most difficult ones for you while others that you enjoyed seems to be easy.
What style do I learn best?
Visual (spatial): You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.
Aural (auditory-musical): You prefer using sound and music.
Verbal (linguistic): You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.
Physical (kinesthetic): You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.
Logical (mathematical): You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.
Social (interpersonal): You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.
Solitary (intrapersonal): You prefer to work alone and use self-study.
If you are a visual learner, use images, pictures, and other visual media to help you learn. Incorporate as much imagery into your visualizations as possible.
Use mind maps. Use color and pictures in place of text, wherever possible. If you don’t use the computer, make sure you have at least four different color pens.
Diagrams can help you visualize the links between parts of a system, for example, major engine parts or the principle of sailing in equilibrium. Replace words with pictures, and use color to highlight significant and minor links.
Use BJJ books and try to recall the step by step images in the book
Use sound recordings to provide a background and help you get into visualizations. For example, use a recording of you or the instructor talking through the techniques step by step. If you don’t have these recordings, consider creating them while training or writing them down and recording them after class.
Use mnemonics and acrostics, make the most of rhythm and rhyme, or set techniques to a jingle or part of a song.
If you are a verbal learner, try the techniques that involve speaking and writing. Find ways to incorporate more speaking and writing in techniques. For example, talk yourself through techniques or use recordings of your techniques or combos for repetition.
When you read content aloud, make it dramatic and varied. Instead of using a monotone voice to go over a procedure, turn it into a lively and energetic speech worthy of the theater. Not only does this help your recall, you get to practice your dramatic presence!
If you use action, movement and hands-on work in your learning activities. Having someone do the technique to you first is going to be your best option. Also drilling the move and going through details.
For visualization, focus on the sensations you would expect in each scenario. For example, if you are visualizing the feel of the gi collar or sleeve. Where your weight needs to be. Often you will feel yourself have to move around while visualizing.
Keep in mind as well that writing and drawing diagrams are physical activities, so don’t neglect these techniques. Perhaps use big sheets of paper and large color markers for your diagrams. You then get more action from the drawing.
If you are a logical learner, aim to understand the reasons behind your techniques. Knowing more detail behind your techniques helps you memorize and learn the material that you need to know. Explore the links between various methods, and note them down.
Think of concepts
Also, remember that association often works well when it is illogical and irrational. It doesn’t matter how logical two items are together. You have a better chance of recalling them later if you have made the association illogical. Your brain may protest at first! So think about giving concepts or techniques funny names.
You may sometimes over analyze certain parts of your learning or training. Over analyzing can lead to analysis paralysis. You may be busy, but not moving towards your goal. If you find, you are over analyzing stop! Take what you have and start doing. Often people try to take in a whole system of techniques and its tough to digest.
If you are a social learner, aim to work with others as much as possible. Try to hit as many classes as possible. If this is not available, then consider forming your group with others at a similar level. They don’t have to be from the same school or class.
Role-playing or slow rolling is a technique that works well with others, whether its one on one or with a group of people. Drilling with training partners in a slower scripted grappling session works great!
Mind maps and systems diagrams are great to work on outside of class. You can even use sites like Mind Mup to create them and share with your friends. Allowing them to add info or make changes.
LEARNING PHASE: This is the initial phase. Generally this is when an instructor is showing you a technique for the first time and you are just beginning to start to learn it. Try to watch the instructor carefully and break the move into 4-5 small chunks. Write them down if you want.
RE-ITERATION PHASE: Begin to drill the techniques. Try to replay the steps in your head. Saying them under your breath if you want to.
REPEAT: Repeat the above steps for all the techniques
DO: Try to put yourself in the situations you learned that class
RETAINMENT PHASE: At the end of rolling try to recall each step of each technique you learned in class. Then later that night when you are going to bed do a mental check to see if you can remember the techniques you learned.
RE-DO PHASE: The next day in the morning commit a few minutes to trying to remember the techniques you learned. Using as many senses as possible to recall them. Saying them out loud or writing them down will help too. The last part is to work them into the next grappling session you have along with the new techniques you learned that day.
Block Vs Random Training
Blocked Practice is what you see in gyms across America. These are all of the ‘traditional’ practice techniques that we thought were best. Block is when you work on one particular skill or technique at a time – think drilling 100 arm bars at a time
Random Practice is a motor learning technique that creates a random and highly variable environment for development. Rather than focusing on just one skill or technique at a time. This will combine a number of techniques and skills in a random fashion
The great part is most gyms already are setup this way. You first learn via block than random. However you as a person need to make changes to make sure you are getting the most benefit from it!
Situational Drilling with no variables
This is still necessary in my opinion. You need to learn the skill in an organized fashion first. Concentrate on learning the technique and establish links to previous techniques or ideas.
Situational Drills with changing variables
When rolling try to put yourself into positions that you are still learning or have just learned to refine the new technique. Don’t always rely on tried and true techniques. Allow yourself to fail.
So what are you saying?
During the ‘extra’ batting practice sessions:
Each player in the Block Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a block pattern (15 curveballs, 15 fast-balls, 15 change-ups)
Each player in the Random Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a random pattern (curve, fast-ball, fast-ball, change-up, curve, etc…)
Two acquisition tests were performed to measure progress during the six week experiment. At the end of the acquisition phase a random transfer test was performed where all the players received 45 pitches and the number of ‘quality hits’ were measured.
A study was done looking into the effects of Block vs Random Practice on shooting a basketball. Students were divided up into two groups. One was trained in a block fashion (shooting the same shot repeatedly) and the other in a random fashion (shooting a variety of different shots). During the transfer test the experimenters measured the students’ success on their first shot attempt (a very game-like measurement because in a game you only get one chance to shoot a given shot). The results were again consistent with other experiments and field tests looking into the effects of Block vs Random Practice.
Each player in the Block Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a block pattern (15 curveballs, 15 fast-balls, 15 change-ups)
Each player in the Random Training group would receive 45 total pitches in a random pattern (curve, fast-ball, fast-ball, change-up, curve, etc…)
Two acquisition tests were performed to measure progress during the six week experiment. At the end of the acquisition phase a random transfer test was performed where all the players received 45 pitches and the number of ‘quality hits’ were measured.
The lizard brain will fight (to the death) if it has to, but would rather run away. It likes a vendetta and has no trouble getting angry.
The lizard brain cares what everyone else thinks, because status in the tribe is essential to its survival.
A squirrel runs around looking for nuts, hiding from foxes, listening for predators, and watching for other squirrels. The squirrel does this because that’s all it can do. All the squirrel has is a lizard brain.
The only correct answer to ‘Why did the chicken cross the road?’ is ‘Because it’s lizard brain told it to.’ Wild animals are wild because the only brain they posses is a lizard brain.
The lizard brain is not merely a concept. It’s real, and it’s living on the top of your spine, fighting for your survival. But, of course, survival and success are not the same thing.
The lizard brain is the reason you’re afraid, the reason you don’t do all the art you can, the reason you don’t ship when you can. The lizard brain is the source of the resistance.”
So how does this affect my learning in BJJ?
This is the part of the brain that tells you that you shouldn’t do this technique because you will look dumb in front of the group if you fail.
This is also the part of the brain that tells you that you shouldn’t grapple with the people that are better than you because you are afraid you will lose.
This is also why many people choose not to compete even if it would help their learning process.
Don’t try to fight it. You will lose. Acknowledge it and decide to do the opposite of what it says.
The lizard brain hates change. So make things random. Are you normally a guard player, try to get on top and be a top player for a bit. If you are a top player be on your back.
Treat your sense of fear and anxiety as a benchmark for things that you need to work on and get excited about making improvements there.
Everything is pretty scary at first. Driving a car, riding a bike and the first time you grappled, but once your lizard brain got over the fear it became old hat and now you barely think about it.
Learned helplessness occurs when an animal is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that it cannot escape. Eventually, the animal will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action.
While the concept is strongly tied to animal psychology and behavior, it can also apply to many situations involving human beings. When people feel that they have no control over their situation, they may also begin to behave in a helpless manner. This inaction can lead people to overlook opportunities for relief or change.
A great example of this is how they train elephants. When they are young they tie an elephant to a tree. The elephant tries to break free but is too small to break the tree. After days it gives up. Then when the elephant is bigger and could actually break the tree it doesn’t believe it can so it doesn’t even try.
How does this translate to learning in BJJ? Well when you first start you are often tapped out several times. This establishes a helplessness mindset. The great thing is that being aware of this helps you stay out of this trap. Everyone is human! Once you acquire enough skill you will be able to beat that person. The higher skilled practitioners are not unbeatable. He or she might just be right now with your current skill set but tomorrow is a different story.
Three stages of learning
Cognitive Stage- During this initial stage of motor learning, the goal is to develop an overall understanding of the skill. The learner must determine what the objective of the skill is and begin to process environmental factors that will affect their ability to produce the skill. The teacher must do their best to provide an optimal environment for learning, which may mean removing large distractors. During this stage, the learner mostly relies on visual input and trial and error to guide learning.
Associative Stage – During this stage, the learner begins to demonstrate a more refined movement through practice. Now that the learner has had some practice and has identified various stimuli that may occur, they can focus on “how to do” moving on from the “what to do” in the first stage. Here, visual cues become less important and proprioceptive cues become very important. Proprioceptive cues refer to the learner focusing more on how their body is moving in space and what input is being felt from their joints and muscles. The more practice, the more proprioceptive input the learner receives to aide learning. Therefore, the more practice the better!
Autonomous Stage – During this final stage of learning, the motor skill becomes mostly automatic. Progression to this level of learning allows the learner to perform the skill in any environment with very little cognitive involvement compared to the first stage.
Don’t get in this habit! This happens when you first start and you want to know everything about everything! Your brain can’t process all that data at one time. You have to cut it up into bite sized chunks. No more than 30-40 minutes learning. As far as a technique number no more than 4-5. Then get into the art of doing! Once you feel you have really learned those skills, do the next 4-5. Allow your brain to digest the information that you have just fed it.
Also get specific! Don’t say I want to learn more from guard. Say you want to learn 4 sweeps from full guard. This will narrow down your dataset and help you master certain positions.
Research – Do – Analyze your mistakes – Research – Do – Reanalyze
Failing to get better – Do’s
Failures, screw-ups, and unknowns help you build resilience and character, give you insights about your work, yourself, and others, enrich your experiences, test your emotional intelligence, and add to your knowledge and skills. To gain the most from them, you could practice the following dos and don’ts on how to respond:
Feel and Reflect: Fully experience the emotions that come with failure before you jump to the next thing. You owe it to yourself to process the feelings (e.g. sadness, fear or anger) without getting overly attached to them. Speeding up and keeping yourself busy can cause you to miss out on vital lessons. To reap the nuggets, reflect and take a close look at what went awry. Did the mistake arise from a well-intentioned error of judgment or just plain carelessness? Reflecting on what didn’t work helps you learn from your mistakes and get on the right path.
Claim Appropriate Responsibility: Blaming yourself for events that are outside your control or constantly rescuing others signals that you’re taking on too much responsibility. But step up to the plate when your involvement truly matters. Think about your role in the situation and decide what you can do differently and better, going forward. Acknowledge your limits. Do you need more training? Is your workload too much for you to cover?
Admit and Reframe : When you acknowledge your misstep, you free up your energy to refocus on next steps. Get real about what constitutes success–dedicated work and true grit, coupled with mistakes and uncertainty.
Take Effective Action :Forget the word “try.” Set out specific action steps that you must take. If you fail to complete them, regroup and reset. Although trying is better than not trying at all, it gives you wiggle room to avoid committed action. When you focus on doing, you drop the drama associated with trying.
Failures, Screw-ups, and Unknowns | Dyan Williams
Failing to get better – Don’ts
Blow Off Failure and Move On Too Quickly: Failure can trigger painful emotions. It can derail you, raise your self-doubt, and heighten your anxiety. It often brings unnecessary stigma and shame. To take the edge off, you might dismiss your failures as trivial or reinterpret them as successes. But adopting an unrealistic, Pollyanna attitude has serious drawbacks.
Blame and Make Excuses: When you don’t take ownership of your actions and choices, you miss out on the chance to correct course. Blaming others or external events can give you a sense of control, but makes it harder for you to effect change. While clueless colleagues or a poor economy might be contributing factors, dwelling on them doesn’t change much. Chastising yourself also adds barriers to bouncing back.
Deny and Cover Up: Ignoring and hiding your mistakes cause you to miss out on the valuable lessons they provide. You are bound to repeat them if you don’t shed light on them. Denying your role in the failure or that a failure occurred thwarts improvement. Find a supportive group or create a learning organization where goof-ups are openly discussed.
Give Up Easily :Stretching and growing involves facing uncertainty and having setbacks. If you are not willing to move beyond your comfort zone, you might feel safe, but surely limit your opportunities. While quitting is not in itself a bad choice, you want to make sure you’re not simply succumbing to fear of failure. This kind of relinquishment leads to regret.
Embracing failures doesn’t mean deliberately seeking it or creating a lax work environment. It’s not a call for reckless conduct and disregard of standards. Fear of failure can be healthy when it protects you and doesn’t paralyze you. Failure and mistakes have real consequences. Do what you must to avoid or minimize them.
Failures, Screw-ups, and Unknowns | Dyan Williams
Mistakes are feedback
To make mistakes proper feedback you need to categorize the mistake into one of three categories.
Fluke – Try not to lump everything into this category, but sometimes they happen. You get flying triangled in 10 seconds. That kind of stuff…. things you know how to defend but it just happened. Don’t worry about these. Keep positive, laugh it off and move on.
Error in the Process – Your technique was off. You left your arm out of position and you got armbarred. Ask your training partner what you could have done better then try to fix it. Use it as a tool for further learning.
Having no information – You are a new white belt and you got swept from De La Riva…. You have no idea what de la riva is… How can you be mad at making a mistake you have no knowledge about. Your mind has built up no memories of this position so it will fail. When these start to come up. Learn about that position. Ryan Hall is a great example of this. No one was doing 50/50 guard and he tore through people that had no clue about this position. So don’t blame yourself, learn about the position and combat it next time. Also don’t get mad at the position or the person doing it to you. Its a learning tool…they are preparing you for when it might happen in competition
Ask Why.. then why, how & what.
Ask yourself why you are doing a technique this way. Why are you are putting your hand on the collar? Why should my weight be here instead of there?
Understanding why will help you better understand every technique. Then you can start to form concepts and generalities that you can use to simplify your game.
If you want to go even further ask yourself Why, How and What. If you don’t know why you do something.. have you really learned it? This concept comes from Simon Sinek.
Don’t know why? Ask the instructor… They don’t know? Research it online
Becoming a self reliant learner
Use additional resources like:
Much of these tips will overlap but with a few small differences
What you will find is everyone has generally the same idea on techniques for some of the smaller details will change. This is normal and most of the time both people can be right they are just doing the technique slightly different.
Question your source! Only get videos from people you have found to be good teachers. I will include a list of my subscriptions at the end.
Watch one technique or an idea then search for that same technique to get a different perspective. Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time.
Online watch a few videos and only watch something that you can conceptualize. Basically if you are new hold off on Berimbolo. Not to say that you can’t watch it, but it should merely be as fun activity rather than trying to actively learn
Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. I use my phone to take notes so I can access them easily. Evernote is a great app for this.
Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the video in your head and follow along.
Watch the videos again and see if you missed any piece of info. Yes it will take longer but I would rather have you learn a few techniques well, over learning a bunch poorly.
Then before class watch the videos one more time. Then try it in rolling. Lastly compare what happened to the video a last time. Often videos include small changes to make for defenses.
I actually prefer books over videos, but I think that is due to my learning style. The nice thing is that you can bring books with you.
Again question your source! Only get books from people you have found to be good teachers. I will include a list of my authors at the end.
Read one technique or idea. Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time. Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. Even though the technique is already written down, you should explain it in your own words.
Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the pictures in the book in your head and follow along.
Read the technique again and see if you missed any piece of info.
Only read and remark on about 4 techniques. Anymore than this and your mind starts to wander. Your brain will also reject it because it seems like a lot of work. To do all this for multiple techniques.
Ah DVDs I have hundreds of them!!! This is not the way to go. It lowers my bank account and I haven’t even cracked open half of them. So please take it from me. Buy one set. Go through it systematically then sell it online and buy another set. For this its a combo of Youtube and book theory.
Usually DVDs come in sets of 3, 4 or 5. Find the one with the most relevance to you! For example if you suck at half guard maybe pop in that DVD in even if its really the 3rd DVD. Unless it is teaching a system over the course of those DVDs.
Watch one technique Do all the steps then do the next technique. No more than 4-5 techniques at one time.
Write the name of the move down. Then take step by step notes on how to do it. Splitting it up into about 5 parts. I use my phone to take notes so I can access them easily.
Say the steps out loud. Then try to visualize the video in your head and follow along.
Watch the videos again and see if you missed any piece of info. Yes it will take longer but I would rather have you learn a few techniques well, over learning a bunch poorly.
Then before class watch the videos one more time. Then try it in rolling. Lastly compare what happened to the video a last time. Often videos include small changes to make for defenses.
Magazines and Podcasts
I love listening to podcasts and reading BJJ magazines, but this is not where I choose to learn technique. With these take a lighter approach to the learning process on these. Listen to podcasts and read magazines for more of the lifestyle of BJJ instead of techniques. It also helps you learn who some of the better instructors are and the big names in the sport. Many of the magazines have technique sections, but often they are very complex speciality moves to look cool in the magazine. If you are a high rank person give them a shot! If you are a low rank person read them over and try to get the concept of the technique. This will help you later when you start getting into more complex techniques.
Man! I have a love, hate relationship with seminars. They can be great and they can be terrible. I have probably attended 40+ seminars in my day. Most are 3 hours. Don’t expect to remember everything! If you can take notes… do it.. If they will let you video tape for sure do it… but often people won’t let you.
Realize that you wont remember it all
Do the move the way the instructor asks…(Often you will encounter instructors that do things differently. For instance on armbars some people will say to always grab with your elbows and some will say to always grab with your hands. Do it their way while you are at their seminar.
Try your best to lock in the moves you like
Again if you can video tape it. If they won’t let you … ask if you can videotape yourself doing the move on your phone. Dont disturb the seminar by talking through the video. Just rep the move
There are a few things thats can help you learn just by changing your mindest.
Have positive expectations about class and about learning- If you come in with a great attitude you are more open to learning.
Anticipate the next move – When your coach is teaching, listen but also try to anticipate the next portion of the technique. This will get you in an inquisitive mindset. If you are right great! If you aren’t it’s much more likely to stick because it disrupted your current thought pattern
Accept feedback – If someone tells you that you are doing something wrong try to listen to them. Maybe they are right, maybe they are wrong but give what they are saying a chance. Again if you go in with a negative mindset you will never believe what they are telling you.
Focus on the positives – maybe you didn’t get the entire technique right or maybe you couldn’t pull it off live. I am willing to bet that you got certain aspects of the technique right. You just need to go back research more, then test more.
Carol Dweck – A Study on Praise and Mindsets
Ashley Merryman: Top Dog – The Science of Winning and Losing
Don’t let randomness change your attitude. Say you hit a particular move 50% of the time. One day you are doing the move live and you fail 5 times in a row. Often this will send someone into a negative attitude. Then your average will actually get a lot worse. Chances are over time you will hit the move 50% of the time but don’t allow random spots of failure change your mindset. Chances are you will get it the next 5 times.
That being said, you should go back and see if any other variables were at play. Was the person better defensively, was your timing off, did you forget a step. Take it as a learning tool and not something you failed at.
Boost your learning outside of BJJ
Do mental puzzles – This is a fun one to do with BJJ too. Try to figure out as many different way you can get to a certain technique or combo. Try to figure out if you can do moves from other positions. Also take stock of all the techniques you know from a certain position. If you can only think of a few, you probably just found your new early for learning.
Visualize and Walking Meditation – Pretty much every day I walk the dog and listen to music. This allows my brain better time to process. Often you will feel like you were on a 5 minute walk and it will be 40 minutes.
Eat right – Not only is it good for your body and learning in BJJ but its good for the mind.
Get some sunshine – Your brain needs vitamin D and melatonin
Get rest – Many researchers believe that rest is the most important part to learning. It is what locks it into your long term memory.
Become a teacher
When you are a white belt I don’t suggest this, but it your are a Blue or higher this is a great way to learn. It really makes you figure out techniques. The why that I was talking about earlier! Once you have the why, it makes the doing part a lot easier. Teaching also helps build up your confidence. The more confident you are the less likely you are to feel ashamed if you make a mistake in front of the group.
Don’t recreate the wheel
One of the best ways to get better is to research a person rather than a particular position or technique.
Try to find someone roughly your same size. Read up about their training and their style. Try to copy it at first then make it your own. Copy someone that is already in the spot you want to be in. They have created a training plan already you just have to follow it.
20 hours not 10,000
Most people have heard the idea that you have to do something for 10,000 hours to master something. This seems pretty daunting but it has been shown that you can become fairly proficient at something after just 20 hours. Especially if it is very specific.
Essentially about 20 minutes twice a day or one 40 minute session for a month.
So do you want to get better at submissions from butterfly guard? Spend two 20 minute sessions per day learning about submissions from butterfly. After a month you should be really good at submissions from butterfly. You have to be specific though and you can’t double up on skills and expect great results.
Have two mind maps
1) Techniques that you know
2) Grappling system complete with all the defenses you have been presented with. So say one of your submissions from guard is armbar. Standard armbar. Then on your mind map some of the children of that armbar on your mindmap should be all the defenses you have seen so far and the counter to those defenses. This map will be massive but will also help your coach come tournament time. It will lay out all that you plan to do and your reactions to thier counters. Try to also do it in a way where a counter can lead back to another point much like a flow chart.
Rolling is great for testing these. If a new defense comes up. Get excited. It’s another to add to your mind map and you get to research how to combat that one!
Types of sparring partners
In live rolls you will mean 5 types of people. Here is how you should handle each one!
People way worse than you – Work your new and unrefined techniques when going with these partners. Allow yourself to try new things and don’t use your “A” game
People slightly worse than you – Try to work on more of your refined techniques mixed in with a few new tricks. Use some of your A game
Your equals – Use your main go to techniques and log the mistakes you found
People slightly better than you – Work on some of your defenses and try to impose your “A” game on them. Allow yourself to fail in new positions
People way better than you – Work on your defenses. Still try to out technique your opponent but realize the real learning is coming in your defenses.
Flow rolling with a purpose
In my eyes there are two types of flow rolling.
1) Both people grappling with little to no resistance. Both are trying out new moves, having fun and just seeing where the roll takes them. This turns into an almost active meditation state and is great for having fun and learning new areas of the gym.
Flow rolling with a purpose
2) in the second situation one person goes in with the idea of drilling a specific set of techniques. Their partner helps them to get in these situations and allows them to do the move that they wish to do. Then they begin to add small amounts of resistance at those particular moves and presented different defenses to those particular moves. So you will continue to grapple just like your flow drilling but actively trying to put the main trading partner into those positions they want to learn.
Be specific in what you want to learn – example I want to learn 3 sweeps from deep half guard
Be random in the way that you learn the techniques. Learning one technique then learning all the defenses and variations of that technique so nothing surprises you.
Use more senses – Hear, Watch, Write it out, say it out loud, recreate it on video
Get much needed rest
Ask why – if you know the why you are much more likely to understand how
Bring a positive attitude everytime to class and your learning
Don’t allow yourself to slip into learned helplessness
Competed in my first ISKA tournament in the u83kg ISKA No Gi Grappling division. Had 3 Matches nd won them all by submission to take out 1st place. Was a good day out and never a dull moment as ISKA has so many different forms and styles all going on at once it really is quite spectacular. The martial arts tricking divisions were particularly impressive with the level of athleticism on display.
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