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 Chris Brennan who is an MMA Hall of Famer, fighting in Pride, UFC, Shooto, Cage Rage and King Of The Cage veteran, and a 3-time No-Gi world champion and ADCC veteran. But perhaps it might not be well known that he started the first No-Gi Jiu-Jitsu school in America back in 1998 after leaving the Gracie Academy. We discuss what the Gracie Academy and the change to No-Gi were like and how he learned to train his students while competing in MMA. We also discuss how he has taken those lessons and passed them on to his sons to help their MMA & grappling careers. Also, he shares some stories of backstage shenanigans with the Pride referees and the time that Genki Sudo came to town and competed in the Westside Submission Grappling tournament, one of the most viewed Jiu-Jitsu highlight videos around.
Sonny Brown: Chris, how are you doing there, mate?
Chris Brennan: Awesome, man. Thank you very much. How are you?
Sonny: I’m doing well. Thanks so much for joining me, and it is an honor to have such a veteran of both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA to be able to talk to.
Chris: Thank you.
Sonny: I mean, competing in all the top organizations, UFC, PRIDE, Shooto, Cage Rage, King of the Cage where you were the championship, and fighting the best guys in those organizations as well. Along with competing in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the No-Gi Black Belt World Championships, then what I really want to get into is the creation of your own gym, which was the first No-Gi Grappling School in America.
I actually didn’t know that initially. I might assume that many others, when they think No-Gi Grappling in America, they go to Eddie Bravo. We have a mutual friend in Dennis Kelly who lived and trained with you. He let me know, and I was fascinated to learn that. I just want to go back to the start with you, with you’re obviously watching UFC 1 while you are bouncing, I do believe, with Kimo and Todd Medina, earlier with Siver as well. That would, I guess, led you to the Gracie School. What was it like that first day going in there? How did that experience unfold?
Chris: It was cool. I actually went to another guy first, trained with Ken Gabrielson in his garage. Then I found Royce. I didn’t know Royce was in the area. I just watched the first UFC and didn’t know he was in the area. Find out he was in the area and I went directly there, kind of wanted to go to the stores at the time. I train there for a little bit. I actually sold my car, packed for double bags and flew to Brazil. I had 10,000, I expected to stay for a month, month and half, whatever, take as many privates as I could and train I need.
Well, one US dollar was seven riyal at the time. I basically had 70,000. I stayed for a year and took lots and lots of privates, trained everyday, multiple times a day. I got good, but when I came home, it’s when I really got to the following year kind of everything I learned over that year, I’d learn so much, and it was kind of overloaded and took notes and videos and lots of stuff. Then I brought a friend back with me who came back just short time after I did and stayed and I trained with him in my garage in California for a year, year and a half. That was kind of the real growth spot for me. I went back to the Gracie Academy and trained.
I was a blue belt at the Gracie Academy. They taught at a very– you want me to jump in to the Gracie Academy thing already or not yet?
Sonny: Yes, sure.
Chris: There’s a lot to talk about.
Sonny: When you went to Brazil, you hadn’t gone to the Gracie Academy yet?
Chris: I had gone there for a short time, and I really wanted to fight. My goal was to fight. I already got the vibe from Rorian and at the time that Royce was the going to be the only fighter in the building. I liked Royce. Me and him vibed really well from the very beginning. I was one of the guys with balls in the class that will be like, “Who hit you the hardest? Who has the toughest fight?” I had all the questions that no one wanted to asked him. It was cool.
I was there for a short time, and then I went to Brazil. I trained at Alliance, which was master jiu-jitsu at the time, Jacare, Romero Cavalcanti. I train at his gym. Man, Leo Vieira was a brown belt, Comprido was a purple belt, Ricardo Vieira was a yellow belt. Fabio Gurgel was there still in Rio. I hadn’t gone to Sao Paulo yet, which is where Marcelo started with him. It was way before everything. I just had an awesome, awesome experience. Me and Leo Vieira were like everyday trained together. My buddy, Roger Brooke, who is the guy that I brought back with, and he was a brown belt. I just had a lot of really cool experiences down there.
Sonny: Going back from spending that you’re in the Brazil, heading back to the USA, then I guess going back to the Gracie Academy, what were the differences in how jiu-jitsu was being taught to the students at the time?
Chris: Oh, so super different. The Gracie’s taught– they would teach you one way for a certain amount of time. For example, they would teach you how to pass the guard by putting your hand on the bicep on one side and reaching your hand between the legs on the other, and then stacking them and passing. There was no such thing as a triangle yet because they hadn’t taught you that. You’re doing that for months, and then you move on to the intermediate class and you don’t want to pass that way anymore because the triangle, you did do it like this.
Basically just created six months of bad habits, now I have to break. I love teaching anything. I used to teach my brothers how to tie their shoes, how to ride a bike. I enjoyed teaching. As someone who enjoyed teaching, right off the bat I’m like, “This is wrong. You shouldn’t have to teach anything and then unteach it to teach it a different way.” That’s what they did. It was just some money-making long process thing. After a little bit, it got exposed. I left the Gracie Academy, to go back just a little bit. I’m training there. I’m going through the instructor program. Me and Marc Laimon lived in a hotel room together. We lived in the days in, and we took all the furniture out, mat at the living room and just trained there everyday, but we were also in the instructor program at the academy. We’re paying 600 bucks a month to be in this program where we have to be there basically 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM with a break in the middle, and clean the toilet, clean the showers, clean the mats, assisting all the classes.
It was good. It was good for me because I have been coming from a kind of a very undisciplined background. I was a jackass as a kid. It was good for me discipline-wise, for sure. The problem was we weren’t getting the reciprocation. They weren’t teaching us the way we should have been getting taught.
My goal from day one was to fight. I saw the UFC, I want to fight. I went to learn jiu-jitsu to fight. I end up getting a fight with Pat Miletich. I had a couple of small fights in between, but I end up getting booked to fight Pat Miletich in Battlecade Extreme Fighting. That was a John Freddy’s baby. That end up folding, and the fight didn’t happen, and then Monte Cox, his past manager, hit me up and said, “Hey, would you like to fight Pat in our event, extreme challenge.” I said, “Yes. Absolutely.” I get booked to fight with Pat, and Rorian calls me in his office one day and says, “Hey, I heard you have a fight coming up,” and I said, “Yes.” He goes, “Yes, you can’t fight and be out of here,” and I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, is our name on anything? Is our name on? Are they advertising you as a fighter out of here? ” I was like, “No.” He said, “Do they know you train here?” I said, “I’m pretty sure they do. I mean, I’m really the only person that fights or that wants to fight, and out of the gym, so I’m sure they know where I train, but that’s all.” He says, “I need to see a copy of the contract.” I was like, “Man, I don’t even have a contract.” Back then, it was a small organization. He may have sent me a paper one day to sign, but at that point, I hadn’t had it yet.
He’s concerned that they’re building me up as a Gracie Jiu Jitsu fighter. Well, long story short, I come back to him and I was like, “Listen, I don’t have this. They’re not building me as this, but I’m going to fight. That’s my goal in the first place. We can do challenge matches here in the gym for you, but I can’t make money fighting out there for myself,” and his answer was basically no. Me, Mark Layman, Lola Anderson, Ethan Milliyes, and I believe my friend, Richard Bressler also came, and then a guy, Abvi. Abvi is a Jewish guy, who’s got a shitload of money, and he was training at the Gracie Academy. He said, “Let’s go open a gym together,” and I was like,” Seriously?”
We literally left the Gracie Academy and drove to Beverly Hills, and he found a building and we opened Beverly Hills Jiu Jitsu. Where my motivation came is on the way out the door, I’m having a conversation with a guy named Sam Ranch, who was the manager of the Gracie Academy, and he said, “What are you going to do?” I said, “Well, at some point, I’m going to open up a gym.” He goes, ” [laughs] Chris Brennan Jiu Jitsu, fuck Me. Who’s going to come?” I said, “Well, we’ll find out.”
When I left there, man, that was all I ever needed. I needed somebody to tell me I couldn’t do it, so that I could. That was the end of it for me. I didn’t put a Gi on, from blue belt on. I only trained at Beverly Hills for a little while, and then I bounced around Hicks and had a guy down the Regal where my parents lived, named Mark Ecker and Dave Comma. They were both phenomenal, and I trained with them off and on. Then finally I started teaching out of my garage because at the time, I was a good blue belt, and I was teaching No-Gi, which is what I wanted to do, and I really studied the last few months that I was at the Gracie Academy. I really studied how they taught, and they taught really well. They taught their techniques, their details very well. They just didn’t teach you a lot.
It was hard, but I got a lot of it– how the attention to detail down really well. Rorian was a good teacher. He’s an attorney, so he speaks really well. [chuckles]. I ended up teaching out of my garage, and I grew to 30 or 40 students. I opened a gym, and I got my first fight in UFC. I fought in UFC– actually, sorry. I got my first fight in UFC, training out of my garage.
Chris: Then I fought in the UFC. I took the money that I got and came home and opened my gym. That gym lasted about eight or nine months, and it closed because I was way ahead of the time. I didn’t have Joe Rogan on TV talking about me [laughs] and my jiu-jistsu. I went back to my garage, built up to about 60 students, moved into another building, and from that point, it’s just been phenomenal since beginning of ’98.
Sonny: Yes, an amazing time around that time with so much going on. When you have started teaching the students coming through the door at your new place, obviously you said the attention to detail as a way of– at Gracie Academy, that they were very good at. Was there any other things that you could see the benefit in, or just things that they were doing that you really liked in terms of potentially student retention, business-wise, things like that, of how they were running things?
Chris: I mean, they obviously killed it business-wise. They had a ton of students at the time. Royce was fighting in UFC. Everyone wanted to be the skinny guy that was beating all the big guys in the UFC. That was basically their business card. That’s why they used Royce in the first place. As far as student retention goes, in my opinion, it worked for a little while, just having it– it was the most effective style, but then you have guys like Machado right down the road who are teaching and producing better guys.
Then Rorian brought in Kaiki, and Kaiki was an awesome teacher, and he was showing all the good stuff, and Rorian would literally come in and tell him he couldn’t show that, and he would get basically lectured for showing that. Shortly after the time, we all left. He left and started doing his own thing. They ended up– and I don’t know how the Gracies got talked into this because they had to have known how they were teaching, but they did Machado versus Gracie school tournament, and the Gracies got their asses kicked, the students of the Gracie Academy got their kicked.
There were a handful of good guys. You’re going to get good at jiu-jitsu if you train jiu-jitsu, but there were much higher percentage of high-level grappler at the Machado gym at that time. Then Kaiki did the same thing. When Kaiki left, a lot of the high level students left with him.
Sonny: Do you think it was then the drip fading of techniques that they were doing to potentially keep people interested or keep them always wanting to see what the next one might be, as opposed to-
Sonny: -I assume then the Machados, were just showing all the latest stuff, maybe, for lack of a better term, or just showing more things? Do you think that that’s what was causing the difference there?
Chris: Yes, I mean, at the time, I don’t know what there was, it was the latest or the whatever. There wasn’t a lot of evolution for a handful of years, to be honest, and there really didn’t need to be evolution to us because they’ve been doing it so long, there was already so much to show us. They were just doing it at such a slow pace that it really started to hinder people, and people wanted to compete. They didn’t even like you to compete outside the gym. You could only do in-house tournaments, and I can tell you why, [laughs] because they weren’t going to do very good.
Yes, I mean, teaching slow is one thing that are holding back techniques and giving it one way and then having to change it to another way and things like that, that’s not good, and I don’t think it’s good for business either. I don’t know that they’ve changed that ever. Hopefully they did. I opened my gym and I was– I didn’t have a coach. I didn’t watch instructionals. I knew I didn’t want to put the Gi on, and I knew no one else was training Jiu jitsu without the Gi full time. Teaching the full-time. I literally got my students, Jeremy Williams, Tracy [unintelligible 00:18:14], Eric Victor, and I trained these guys as good and as fast as I possibly could to create training partners for myself, and to get them– I showed everything at the highest level that I knew at the time, and this continued to evolve that way and evolve that way and evolve that way, and continued to get better and better.
My style, in my opinion, got to be so good because it was basically trial by error. Trial by fire. I would train it, I would fight, and what worked, I would keep and develop more, and what didn’t, I wouldn’t. I ended up with some losses because of it, but I also ended up with some really high quality– really good wins and with really cool submissions and in, I think in 21 wins, I got 19 submissions, and 18 of them in the first round.
Sonny: Pretty good.
Chris: Yes. It showed my style. That’s what I wanted to do. I found out what worked, what didn’t by actually trying it in the cage.
Sonny: Well, that’s it. There’s no substitute for getting that real experience and putting it all on the line. I imagine, though, there must have been a lot of push back when you said you were going to do No Gi and do a No Gi only school. The common one that we still hear today is that training in the Gi makes you know Gi better, but that’s– I mean, I say we still hear it today, but it’s pretty much been disproven now over time with the No Gi guys.
Sonny: What was that like, the scrutiny on you from the community for taking the Gi off?
Chris: I was blackballed for a long time. No one wanted to promote me. No one wanted to let me train there unless I train the Gi. I wasn’t doing jiu-jitsu, but I’m beating guys. I’m like, “Okay. I am sure you would like to take the credit for my win by submission using jiu-jitsu even though you don’t want to call it jiu-jitsu.” I was a blue belt for four years, but I was hitting helicopter armbars on Fabiano Iha in Marc Ruas’s garage as a blue belt, but no one was going to be the guy to promote me unless I put the Gi on. That’s where Franjinha came in and helped me out. He was somebody that I met in Brazil who ended up being back in the United States with Paragon. From that point on, he’s promoted me. He’s put all the stripes and stuff on my black belt and everything.
For the longest time, I couldn’t get anything promotion-wise. Literally maybe four years ago, three years ago, my kids are competing in a tournament, and they’re destroying other kids. This dude, Alex Martin, who has a gym here in Dallas says, “Man, they’re so technical. Who teaches them jiu-jitsu?” I looked at him and I was like, “What?” He goes, “Who teaches jiu-jitsu at your gym?” I said, “I do.” He goes, “You train Gi?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Yes, who trains the Gi?” I said, “They’ve never put a Gi on before.” He said, “How did they get so technical?” I said, “Because it’s a myth, bro. You don’t have to put the Gi on to get good at jiu-jitsu.” He was just like, “Huh.” I think he was just trying to pump me by saying it. I knew he knew I didn’t train Gi. I knew he knew I was the coach.
I never, never got the credit for anything. My third World’s, I’m in the finals of World’s a third year. I got a guy, Paulo Guillobel, who’s a fifth-degree from Saulo, and he’s in the finals. I had won the first two years, and he shows up to finals day and he says, “Hey, man, thanks for showing up.” I go, “What?” He goes, “Thanks for showing up.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “I wasn’t sure if you’d be here.” I was like, “Why wouldn’t I be here? I won the last two years in a row?” [chuckles] He goes, “You know. Yes. I don’t know. Thanks.” I beat him, and he’s standing there at the podium. He goes, “Man, I really underestimated you. I didn’t think you’re that good.” I said, “I didn’t underestimate you. I knew you were good. That’s why I was prepared.”
Three years in a row, won every match but one by submission. It doesn’t matter. 21 subs or 19 subs in MMA just never got the credit for– I didn’t blow it up. I didn’t try to promote it too crazy. I just wanted to promote my gym and train and build good guys. That’s what I did. I wasn’t butt hurt about it. I do speak up sometimes when they talk about Eddie being the first. He definitely wasn’t that. I tried to get a match with him, to be honest, right after his last match with Royler. It was declined, but I think I approached it too aggressively.
Eddie’s good. He’s very good. He’s very good at his stuff. Stylistically, I am a terrible matchup for him. The way I pass. His go-to position from the bottom, is my go-to position to kill people from the top. I just wanted it, so I message Ralek who was matchmaking for Metamoris. I said, “Hey. Set up a match with me and Eddie.” I said, “Promote it as the original no-Gi guy versus the guy that gets credit for being the original no-Gi guy.” I said, “If I don’t tap him in five minutes, he can have whatever it is you’re going to pay me. You don’t even have to tell me what that is, but whatever my purse is, he can have it if I don’t catch in five minutes.” He was so excited. He goes, “I’ll get back to you.” He comes back to me, he goes, “Yes. He’s not going to compete anymore, he said.” I was like, “Man, I probably shouldn’t have approached it like that.”
I don’t dislike Eddie. He’s a nice guy. He’s respectful to me. He talks, at least as far as I know, highly of me. He commentated on a lot of my fights and talked highly of me. He’s got my name on his board in his gym that has submissions and positions and stuff. He’s got something on there called the Brennan mount, which is a tricky little mount that I do. It’s nothing against him. Also, now in the position we’re in, he has way more to lose than I do. If we compete, he beats me, everyone’s like, “Okay. Cool. Whatever.” If I beat him, what I’ve been saying is true. I get it. It is what it is.
Sonny: He obviously went through a lot of the same criticisms that you went through for doing no-Gi. Particularly the idea of the myth that you have to train in the Gi if you want to get technical. I was wondering if maybe you could expand on that just a little bit, of why you think that is a myth, and how, if someone’s thinking it still is the case, how they can look at it technically to dispel it.
Chris: I think it started, obviously with, jiu-jitsu in Brazil was all Gi. Then there was the Luta Livre guys. They were doing some sort of jiu-jitsu, submission wrestling without the Gi on, but they were more strikers with some submissions. They had such a rivalry going that jiu-jitsu was the winner. Every time they fought those guys, they took the Gi off to fight them.
In my opinion, whatever you’re training in, you’re creating habits. Every single time you do something, you’re creating habits. If 50% even, and the Gi guys train more than 50% Gi, but even at 50% of the time you’re holding my sleeve and my lapel and my pants, and then you go to train with me without it, that stuff’s not there anymore. There you are, basically like the passing the guard with the hand on the bicep thing. You now have to switch over to something else.
Right away, in my opinion, when I first took it off was, how can you get to the 10,000-hour rule if you’re doing the three different ways, two different ways. I wanted all no-Gi. I wanted to drill, and drill, and drill, and drill, and drill one way. If I could be tight, if I can find handles and be tight without the Gi on, how much tighter would it be if I put the Gi on? Then it would be tighter. If you train in the Gi all the time, and you have the handles, and you have the sleeves, and you have all those things that made it tight, and now we took the Gi off, you just lost everything that was creating your friction and your tightness. That’s why when you saw Eddie’s guys trying to fight in the UFC and stuff, they were trying to wear leggings and knee sleeves and all of that to create that tension.
My goal, always, was to create all that tension, and that weight, and that friction without that. With my grips, and with my handles, and with my positioning. That’s what I created and developed over that time. I think because that was what they came up doing forever, that was their moneymaker when they came here. The stripes cost now, the belt cost now. The Gi is their money-maker. You take off the Gi, it’s a different ballgame.
Renzo was at my grand opening. I’ve been friends with Renzo for probably, I guess almost 20 years, 20-something years. He says something about my Gi classes. I said, “I don’t have Gi classes.” He goes, “What?” I was like, “Yes, I don’t have Gi classes.” He goes, “None? Zero?” I said, “No.” He goes, “Man, I do $9,000 a month in laundry for Gi’s.” I said, “Look, I get it. I get that there’s another market for money there, but my market from day one has been no-Gi. I haven’t put a Gi on since blue belt. For a couple of pictures, I have, but that’s all. I get that I could make more money, but for me, it’s not about that. It’s about the principle of what I’m teaching, why I’m teaching it.”
If you want to compete in a Gi, for sure you need to train in a Gi. We’re not competing in a Gi. We’re competing in no-Gi, we’re fighting. We’re doing jiu-jitsu now at a level where now, had I spent my whole career competing in no-Gi jiu-jitsu matches only and not fighting, I’d probably been a huge name in jiu-jitsu, but I spent my time fighting instead because that’s what I really wanted to do.
I retired in 2013, and everyone’s like, “You’re going to start doing jiu-jitsu now?” I was like, “I don’t know. We’ll see.” My kids were competing at a tournament in Houston, and I was like, “Yes, I will do it with you.” I went down there and I did it. Then two months later, I did another one. Everyone’s like, ” You should do the Worlds in November,” or December, whatever it was. I was like, “Oh, my God. Well, okay.” I went down there.
I hadn’t trained, until that year, with a lot of high-level guys, but I traveled around Texas at training and some gyms before I started competing. I was handling everyone with my go-to stuff that I knew in my gym. I was having a harder time catching my blue belts with it than black belts at other places because they knew it. They knew what I was doing, but I got to the new people that I hadn’t trained with before. Not just catch it, catch it, catch them, catch them, and then I went to the new breed tournament, I won.
I went to the Austin open and I won, tapped everyone. Went to World’s my first-year, tap, tap, tap through to the finals and won, I was like, “Whoa.” The next year I went to Pan Ams in New York. Tapped everybody there and won. Came back a week later, went to California, did Worlds again, won all the way through there again with submissions. The following year, Pan Ams again, then I went back to California again and tapped everybody except for the last guy, who was very good, but beat him, and saw just how can you critique it and it’s not like I’m doing fancy rubber guard stuff. It’s not like I was tapping everyone with leg locks. I was beating them straight up with guard passing conversion, guillotines.
That was my bread and butter, and it kind of shot a few people up. The highlight was my first year at Worlds. In the finals, I won with the flying armbar, and like a jumping flying armbar. As soon as I stood up, Eddie, and like seven other dudes that were pretty good name guys, were literally standing right there watching. That could have been more satisfying. I didn’t ever have to repeat again after that.
Sonny: Got to be happy with that. Got to be happy.
Chris: Yes, I was happy. I was happy.
Sonny: Then one thing you did mention, there was the power of creating habits, and how intentionally or unintentionally you end up creating habits no matter what you’re doing. I guess then you talked about creating your own training partners to train with out of your students, and building up their habits. Just want to just ask them, how do you or how were you approaching that to train up those training partners, and then maybe has that changed over time?
Chris: The first year, I was doing it because, number one, no one was letting me come to their gym, because of my rebel to the No-Gi, or to the Gi. I had a handful of guys who were my very good friends, and I just started teaching them. My gym was small at the time, my garage was small at the time, and just started giving the good stuff, man, and rolling nonstop. I have a video of me and Jeremy Williams, who was my first black belt, and there’s a clock in the background. It starts at midnight, and at 2:30 AM, we end rolling. We roll for two and a half hours, starting at midnight at my gym. We’re just there rolling.
We just trained so much, and to start out, I was way better than them, and it just helped them elevate a lot faster. It pushed me a little bit, but that’s also where, in my career, it hindered me. I didn’t go away to other camps with higher level guys to train with. I was always the best guy in my camp. Unless, like, I had Pete Spratt as a striking coach, and that was awesome, but as far as jiu-jitsu and everything went, I was the best guy. It would take two or three times, four times through a round-robin of all my guys before I started getting beat, before I started getting dead. It wasn’t as effective as it should have been, but at the same time, I couldn’t afford to go away. I had a gym, had a wife of kids. It just didn’t work out that way, but that is also why I bring people in for Lucas, and I take him to train with people, so he’s not that that best guy in the room.
It’s not comfortable. We didn’t do it for a while, so when I first started doing it, he didn’t want to do it. I was like, “Why?” “Well, I can tell you why. Being the best guy in here, you’re going to come across a guy who starts to put it on you in the cage, and you’ll never been there before, and that’s not good.” I’ve got him trained with some really good guys, and I can tell you this, he’s on the highest level right now, with the best guys.
Sonny: Yes, and he’s doing quite well in Bella tour at the moment. That’s something I want to ask you about now, is how, especially with creating habits, and especially with jiu-jitsu habits translating over into MMA. It seems like a lot has changed in the last 10, 15 years, at least, of just with even submissions from people in the guard. Just not happening very often.
Chris: Of course.
Sonny: How do you then look at training kiu-jitsu for MMA in this day and age?
Chris: Fortunately, I didn’t wrestle. I started wrestling throughout my career when I had a couple of losses to Pat Miletich by decision because y’all wrestle me. My kids started wrestling in the beginning of high school. They both have very good wrestling. That is, in my opinion, the key to MMA, whether you want to be a striker or a jiu-jitsu guy, you need to know how to wrestle, and they both can wrestle.
If they’re put on their back, like if Lucas gets put on his back, he’ll get, depending on, let’s say, it happens in a fight, we got a plan, but let’s say it happens in a fight and there is two or three minutes left in the round, he’s got 30 seconds to try and submit him that he can’t, it’s time to get up, time to get on top.
He’s super dangerous on his back, he gives me so many problems from his back, but I know it’s MMA, I know it’s very difficult. Sleeping or getting up, get in the back, whatever, is important. If there’s 30 seconds left, let’s get up. If there’s a minute left, let’s get up. If there’s two, two and a half minutes left, I’m going to give him 30 seconds to try and set up a submission. Otherwise, after that, it’s time to get up, because in MMA, if you’re on your back, you’re losing, unless you’re throwing up multiple close subs and being very active, and he’s not, then he could probably win a little bit, but otherwise you’re losing in the judges eyes being on bottom. As good as his jiu-jitsu is on his back, the goal will be to get up if he ends up there.
There’s lots of ways to get up. However, he would get up to get back on top, not really to get back to the feet, unless he just end up on the ground with a monster that was a surprise to us or something. If you watch MMA now, MMA is the same fight. Every single fight is the same fight, and it’s two guys striking really well. Some guys strike really well, some guys don’t. Somebody gets a takedown, the other guy gets back up. No one’s really working to submit anybody. That’s why you’re not seeing a lot of submissions. At the same time, there’s only a handful of high-level jiu-jitsu guys in MMA, in my opinion.
If you watch the jiu-jitsu in general, I’m not pointing anybody out because they’re Jacaré, Demian Maia, Joe Lauzon, there’s a handful of– Jim Miller. There’s some really good guys. Cerrone is even underestimated on the ground. For the most part, their jiu-jitsu sucks in MMA. People don’t train it. I think you have to have a specialty, and then get everything else as good as you can. If wrestling is your specialty, or jiu-jitsu is your specialty, that is going to shine because as a striker, as a grappler, for example, you got three or four feet to worry about, close that distance. Then if you’re light-years ahead of him on the ground, that’s it for him. You see guys that cannot get up, and they cannot get up when they have a good guy on top of them. They have everything to worry about after that.
My goal with him is to change the game back a little bit to how it was, but at a much, much higher level. I can’t even explain to you his jiu-jtsu in MMA. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of his fights, but his jiu-jitsu and wrestling combo in MMA is now making his striking better, because people worry about the take-downs, so he’s landing good strikes, then get to take-down. He is just a grinder, tons of strikes, tons of elbows, nonstop passing, knee-riding passing, hovering, and it’s just really hard to put him in a bad position. We train it like that. We train it.
If he’s going to lose a position, it’s going to be to the next best position, is going to be right back to the other one again. Putting him on his back is going to be really, really difficult. Keeping him there would be even more difficult. I want to continue to see him use a lot of jiu-jitsu, and maybe get some more people that ended up falling back that route. Otherwise, MMA is for sure its own style. It is guys training Jiu-Jitsu, kickboxing, and boxing, and wrestling all at the same time and mastering nothing. They’re good everywhere but they’re not great anywhere. If someone is great somewhere and you’re able to take them there, you’re going to beat them there.
He is a good, good wrestle. He’s great at Jiu-Jitsu. His striking is– I don’t like to keep talking about striking because I want to surprise somebody. He is going to get a knockout. I just don’t want them to fall in love with the knockout when he gets it. When he gets a knockout, we’re going to go backstage and shoot doubles.
Sonny: I hear you.
Chris: Just because, man, you know guys like Jorge Gurgel, even Demian Maia for a while. Those guys fall in love with their striking, and wrestlers fall in love with their strikings. They have power, but that’s where you end up getting losses. The goal with him, man, is to run to 10 and 0, and then start challenging for the top five guys, for the belt in Bellator and get there without losses.
That’s obviously the goal for everybody, but this is a realistic goal about how we’re approaching it, not rushing it and just fighting smart. For a while, you’re listening to the commentators say, “Oh, I want to see him do this. I want to see that.” We don’t give a shit what you want to see. We want to win the fight.
Chris: The goal is to win. He’s very mentally strong and stays very patient. He’s dedicated like literally nobody I’ve ever seen. He has a whiteboard in his bedroom the size of a sixty-five-inch TV that looks like the algorithm and goodwill hunting, but it’s the breakdown of his fight camp. He does it every camp. He was a really smart kid before he started fighting. He wasn’t a fighter, never been in a fight before, just taking a different approach to it. It’s difficult to beat. It’s going to be difficult to beat.
Sonny: When you started teaching him Jiu-Jitsu, had you already started wrestling, or where did that fall in line? Did you always teach Jiu-Jitsu in the mind of it, it’s going to be MMA applicable?
Chris: Yes. I always thought Jiu-Jitsu was fairly MMA. My passing is perfect for it. Anytime on the bottom, there’s not a lot of reaching under the leg. There’s not a lot of stuff that leave you open to getting hit. There was always that MMA in the background, but legit Jiu-Jitsu is not what you would now call MMA Jiu-Jitsu, for sure. It was definitely more you could compete with it or fight with it. That’s how mine was, my whole career, too.
My kids, Luke, for example, was just a quiet nerdy book, animals, art kid. Tyler was racing motocross. He was real athletic. They were about to go into 7th and 8th grade. I said, “I’m going to have you guys start training.” I had just opened my gym in Texas. I said, “I’m going to have you guys start training just for self-defense reasons”, because both of them are super sweet kids, and had anybody ever picked on them, they would have never fought back, for sure would not have fought back.
I started training them. Maybe a month, two months in, there was a tournament coming up, a NAGA tournament. Tyler wanted to do it, and Lucas was not interested at all. We went and Tyler won. On the way home, Luke said, “When’s the next tournament?” I said, “I’m not sure. Why? “Because I’ll do it.” I was like, “Okay, cool”.
He had what would be probably a fifty-fifty first year of winning and losing. He was bigger than Tyler. He was competing against good kids. He’s competing against kids that are training way longer. Tyler took to it. Tyler has nine Jiu-Jitsu losses out of 290 something wins. He’s redeemed, I think, all but two of them because we never saw those guys again. He was just a savage.
Luke had a good amount in his first year. Then, by the second year, he just worked so hard and was an athletic and worked himself into being athletic. By the third year, he won the kids’ world championships in California, and so did Tyler. He just got better and better and better. Luke didn’t start wrestling until his freshman year in high school. Tyler, as an eighth-grader, got to show up to the high school practices sometimes and train with them, but he didn’t get to actually wrestle till his freshman year.
That was it. They didn’t start till freshman year in high school. Their work ethic was second to none. The wrestling coach also– we walked in to the orientation and the rest of the coach made eye contact with me and saw them and he goes, “Man, I heard you guys moved to Frisco, but we weren’t sure what school you were going to go to. We’re so excited.” Again, they are the hardest-working guys in the room. Now, Tyler’s wrestling Division I. His coach tells me he’s the hardest working guy in the room. It’s just the work ethic we created while training Jiu-Jitsu and started them in wrestling.
Sonny: Sounds like a pretty good combination and a good way of looking at things you’ve got there. I guess when you are training them and training guys at your own gym, I wonder what the role then of creativity is in your teaching process and training process because I’m thinking, for a guy to go out on their own, go against the grain, you probably would be more open to new ideas and experimentation, and trying things like that in the training room. Would that be a fair assumption to make?
Chris: Yes. I’m open to anything, but I also have a passing system, a guillotine system. I love leg locks as well. I learned my leg locks from the Sambo guy. One of my students took a handful of privates from Gordon and from, I believe, Gary when they were here and showed me something. When he showed me that, I was like, “Oh, awesome.” At that night, I hit it three times on people. From that point on, I use it, Lucas uses it, and stuff like that.
I’m definitely open to learning anything and love to learn, but I’ve mastered what I do. I’m a one side– I don’t even drill both sides. I drill one side and I’m 99% on every side. I’m on the left-arm Kimura and armbar guy. I’m a right leg outside hook, left leg inside hook. I pass to both sides. I guillotine on my left arm. Everything’s one side, and the other side is probably fucking 40%.
The side I’m good, I’ve put in so many hours and so many drills, doing it live as well so many times that, like I said, when I went to Worlds, I tapped everybody in all three tournaments with the same submission, give or take one guillotine, but all from the same position, my home base position. It’s just something that I’ve drilled so much that’s real hard to stop. If I get to it, then typically, I get to it.
Both of my kids were even more open than me. I don’t know if it’s because Luke’s super artsy, but he’s like mind completely open and does some crazy stuff. Watching him and Tyler roll together hurts my brain because the different positions and stuff that they get into and stuff that they try, and are able to recover from if it doesn’t work. It’s pretty awesome. Everyone’s pretty open.
Sonny: Yes. I guess even just being able to learn those things from other people and students and having them work on things as well, go back to what you’re describing at the Gracie Academy, is possibly the exact opposite, right?
Chris: Yes, for sure, the opposite. If I try to walk in the gym and say, “Hey, boys, I saw this. Check this. Let me show you.” Probably laugh at me.
Sonny: Also, you mentioned the benefit of competition in being able to go out and test yourself against other people, and using that as the testing ground to get new ideas and bring new things back in to change habits. There’s a particular competition that I have to ask you about, which is the 2001 Westside Submission Grappling Tournament when Genki Sudo came to town. There’s a video online that I must have watched about 1,000 or more times of Genki Sudo-
Chris: The highlight?
Sonny: Yes, the highlight video. I’ve got the whole thing. I’d love to see it. It has to be one of my favorites of all time. It’s one of those ones that I’d show people, “Hey, this is this is how cool this can be.” You were the referee in that tournament. In the video, obviously, it was at your place. Can you describe what’s the back story there? What happened? What went down that day?
Chris: I used to hold a tournament in my gym, Westside Submission Tournament. I’ll hold it every few months. We give away either free pizza and drinks or I’d get like a ten-foot subway sandwich and cut it and give away free food to the competitors. We had Roy Nelson, we had Herb Dean, we had Dean Lister. A lot of really good guys, Romie Aram, Javi Vazquez. Really good guys, come in and do the tournament. Unfortunately, a lot of times they weren’t there at the same time. They weren’t there at the same tournament.
That day Genki walked in and I didn’t know who he was at the time. He had a couple of guys with him, I think some sort of publicity guy or journalist guy or something, I don’t know. I don’t even know why he was in the US and why he’s at my gym or how he found out about it, I don’t know. But he doesn’t walk in my gym in Lake Forest, California. I was like, “Oh, this guy looks like he’s going to be good in flying triangle.” He went with my guy first and he flying triangles the next three guys, and he flying triangle the next three guys in a row.
I was like, “Shit, man, if we just saw those first three, you probably wouldn’t get flying triangle.” You might’ve got beat by something else, but probably wouldn’t get flight triangle. He hits those. Then he’s dancing around one kid’s guard and hops over his guard to a mounted triangle, and then hits that rolling cap pressure. As you can see me in the video, I was just laughing when he hits that cap. I was like, “Oh my God, that was crazy”.
He had seven matches and just ran through seven guys. Then he’s tired, sits down, Javi Vazquez walks in the door and he was going to do the absolute. I was like, “Oh, man.” I offered 500 bucks to the winner of both of them, back then that was a lot of money in the Jiu-Jitsu bet. I said to Genki and he goes, “No”, he was tired. He was exhausted. He didn’t want to go and Javi was fresh. I got it and I was like, “Okay, hopefully, you come back another time”.
That match didn’t get to happen. It would have been pretty exciting because Javi was very good, and would have definitely been the highest level guy that day that Genki would have gone against. How cool just to have that video of him showing up a super nice guy, smoked everybody, and then just grabbed his piece of pizza and left [laughs]. That was mind-blowing.
Sonny: That is incredible. It matches what I picked up, what I thought it was going on, which is, “Yes, why is Genki Sudo here?”
Chris: Yes, I was thinking the same that you are.
Sonny: “What is going on?” Because he’s such a creative grappler himself. That it’s just incredible to watch. It just didn’t seem like it was like “What is going on?” [laughs] Did you ever see him again after that day in America?
Chris: I saw him in Japan but I never saw him in America again. I don’t know what he was doing there.
Chris: The cool thing about it was not only is he creative, he wasn’t afraid to go for it. I’m creative but all my stuff has like a 99% exit strategy where I’m right back to a good spot. He would just throw with things. It was amazing to watch that day. Pretty cool.
Sonny: I definitely jumped on a few training partners going for that flying triangle over the seated guard a few times after watching that video, and failing spectacularly. That’s incredible. I guess, also with speaking over in Japan, taking your note brand of Nogi Jiu-Jitsu going over into pride shooter and things over there, was there any considerations for your Jiu-Jitsu, like any of those criticisms of Nogi? Did you experience that over there or was it just all forgotten and left behind in America?
Chris: No criticism at all over there. They’re all very cool. My first– well, I’d say go to Pride first. I don’t know if I went to Pride– was it Rampage first when he fought Sakuraba or if I fought Gomi first? I forget. But my first trip for me fighting was Gomi. I hit some really nice submissions, really nice takedowns, really nice. He hadn’t been taken down in a fight yet, and I took him out four times, had a couple of Kimuras locked up. That was early on in my Kimura game attack system, whatever.
I had him in so many things. They loved it. It was a very high pace fight, close, close decision. Then my first fight in Pride, I hit two subs on the same guy. I armbar him.
Sonny: Yes, I wanted to talk to you about that.
Chris: The second half of that fight was so much more exciting. I was mad at the time but glad it happened now because it actually worked. I got to work my home base position, which I just started then, which is why I kill everyone from now. But that was a whole dramatic scene, but I got to show some fancy Jiu-Jitsu there as well. That was cool. Rolling Kimura from the single leg.
Sonny: That was Eiji- I’ll probably butcher the pronunciation.
Chris: Eiji Mitsuoka.
Sonny: You got it. Tapped him with an armbar, and then it was confusion where the ref hops up, says he didn’t tap. You guys, after the break, you guys have to go again. What was going on there? Is it one of those Japanese refereeing stories that you might hear?
Chris: It started long before that [laughs]. Let me go back to the short time before that. I was supposed to fight Joe Stevenson in the UFC right after he won The Ultimate Fighter. They asked me to fight him and I had wanted to fight him but they’d come to me offering me 3,000 to show, 3000 to win. I just, a couple of years earlier, beat him handily in less than two minutes. I was like, “Man, I’m not fighting three to three. It’s not worth it to me”.
Then I asked what he was getting, he was getting 10 to 10. I was like, “No. No way.” Like, “Oh, he’s the winner of the show. He wants you to be his first fight in UFC.” I’m like, “I’m not doing it for three to three.” At the time, I needed money but I didn’t need it like that, so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They came back and offered me four and four. Joe started talking trash, even the first time, and that’s what got him put to sleep the first time.
I ended up saying yes, and they said, “Okay, we’ll set a contract.” Well, 30 days later– actually, I didn’t hear from them. 30 days later, the Gracie hit me up to fight in the Gracie Fighting Championships and they were offered me 20,000 flat. It was 36 days before the UFC. I said, “Yes, I’ll take that fight.” I take that fight. Joe Silva calls me and says, “Hey, what are you doing? You can’t take that fight.” I said, “Why?” He goes, “Your contract-” “But what are you saying? I never got a contract.” He said, “You never got our contract back” I was like, “Because you never sent me a contract”.
We got a big argument. Long story short, they tell me, I can’t take the other fight. I said, “You’re going to have to pay me more than four and four if you don’t want me to take that fight. They’re paying me 20 grand. I need 20 grand.” I said no. The next day, Dana calls me and he says, “Chris, drop out of that fight. You can’t take that fight.” I said, “Listen, Dana, you guys are paying me shit money, and they’re paying me good money. I need to fight.” “We’ll put you on the poster, blah, blah, blah.” I said, “It doesn’t matter, whatever”.
Then he says, “Listen, drop out that fight or you’re banned from the UFC for life.” I was like, “What?” At that point, they had given me tickets to the UFC a couple of times when I was in town in Vegas and that weekend was my anniversary. My wife and I are in Vegas and I said, “I’ll tell you what. Give me tickets to the fights this weekend and I’ll do it.” He goes, I can’t really-” and I hung up the phone. That was the end of it. I leave to go big bear to get ready for the fight that Gracies had offered me. The next day on the underground forum, Dana White posts, “Chris Brennan is a fucking pussy.” By the time I got to it, it was 20 pages long but everyone was bashing Dana. “You’re the CEO of this company. How are you going to talk like this about one of your guys? Blah, blah, blah”.
For the most part, it was ripping him. A couple of people call me a pussy probably but whatever. I’m dying and I’m like, “Oh my God.” I get through my fight. I win. I go to the UFC, another UFC to watch. As I’m there, I’m walking through the pool area at Mandalay and I hear Chris, Chris Brennan. I looked back and it’s [unintelligible 00:59:49] from pride. Well, I ended up verbally agreeing to my pride contract after UFC. Couldn’t have gotten any better than that. I tell them yes, that I would like to fight for them, and they said, “Okay, we’ll get back to you”.
I go home and that is on Sunday. On Monday, they call me and said, “Hey, do you want to fight in our next show?” I said, “Yes, when is it?” “Like Monday?” Well, it was on a Monday, I don’t know why. I was like, “What?” I had two days of training and then I’m on a flight to Japan and not in shape, I wasn’t ready to fight and I show up in the weight class, was 183 pounds. That’s what the middleweight was at that time. There was no 161 weight class yet at pride. I show up, I make my cut, I get to 183. I weigh in and they come to me and they said, “Hey, he’s a little bit smaller. I’m going to need you to lose a couple more pounds.” I was like, “Oh, okay, what do you need?””It’s 181”.
I went and I cut two more pounds. I make 181, and they told me again that, “We need you to make 180 pounds, you lose another pound.” I’m like, “Man”, I wasn’t in shape. It’s already hard cutting this, so I go and I cut that pound. I come back again and the third time they’re like, “Hey, he’s 76, I need you to make 79, make 79, they’ll take the fight.” I’m like, “What do you mean they’ll take the fight? You guys offered me this fight because of him.” My brother says, “Listen, if you want him to lose that next pound, we’re going to need some compensation from you”, and they said, “Oh, okay. Do you want crystal with the fight?” Me and my brother looked at each other like, “What?” I was like, “No, no, we’ll take care of that”, and that’s how I ended up signing a four-five deal with Brian.
I walked away and I’m elbowing him like, “Dude, I knew that shit happened over here.” I was tripping out so hard and now I’m like, “Man, they’re just going to screw me and the others. I really got to get in and get out.” I got to get this done, can’t let it go to the judges. I go in and I armbar this guy, he screams, taps, and the ref grabs me all at the same time. I let go, I stand and walk away, I turn around and they’re saying they didn’t tap like, “Oh my God, this is it. This is how they’re going to do it.” I’m not in shape. I had fought for a minute and a half and I was already tired, and then fortunately they took like a five or six-minute break while all the referees were discussing it and they came back, “You’re going to fight again.” I was like, “Oh my God”.
Then I thought, for sure, I wasn’t going to win at that point, no matter what I do, they’re not going to let this happen, so I ended up breaking a shoulder on the same side. I hit him with the whole takedown single leg to the Kimura, to the roll. All of it was just so perfect and it was flashy, it was fancy. Didn’t even mean to be, but it just was and I hit him with a gray Kimura at the end, it literally towards to your shoulder and I lead into him and I said, “You should have admitted your tap the first time”, and I walked off.
Then I was irritated and I want to talk trash when they interviewed me but I calmed down by that time I was like, “No, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have let go, I should have waited for the referee.” Even though I did wait, the referee did break us up, and I just took the blame for it and moved on because I knew I wanted to come back and fight some more and whatnot. That was a crazy, crazy, crazy night man.
Sonny: Yes, that whole thing it’s like a scene from a movie or something, the backstage.
Chris: I wish I had that all on video. It was fantastic.
Sonny: It’s amazing. I guess just focusing then on your use of Kimuras, or at least the instructional, the king of the Kimuras. It’s obviously like it really got a bump in people’s minds, now people call it the Kimura trap and things like that. Danaher is obviously very heavy on the Kimuras. What’s your thoughts on that? Always you must be like, “I knew so all along”, right?
Chris: For sure. It’s a grip that you can submit people with. You can turn in armbars, you can take the back, you can sweep, you can do so much with it, and in a Nogi situation, it’s a good grip, fifth-round sweaty. It’s going to be your best go-to to control an arm. I have a grip when I grab it, it puts a bicep slicer feeling on your arm the entire time and I get guys tapping early to stuff that I’m doing just because the grip stays on so tight.
It’s always been all the way back in the end of 1999 to 2000. I was doing it all the time. 2001, I hit it. I don’t know what year I fought Gomi in, but at that point in time, I was hitting on everybody in training. I had on Domi, I didn’t finish it, but literally, my point of my career, was the development of my style, my game, and I got better training on the best guys and then trying in the gym and getting better and trial and error, what did I do wrong in the fight? I made a huge mistake in the Gomi fight that I pet [unintelligible 01:05:35] when I’m teaching now on this one sweep, but it ended up with him inside control on me on this role because my knee wasn’t on his belly. It was the tiniest thing that made a giant difference in the position, right at that point.
It’s something that I’ve spent. If a guy spent a couple of years getting good at something, it’s something I spent 15 years getting good at. I spent 15 years or more working the guillotine into the Kimura because they both play right next to each other. If I miss one, the other’s there and then adding Lakes. In the last five years, I’ve just been a passing, passing, passing, passing. I love my knees slides and low passes, and some of the stuff that Gordon’s doing now. But even the stuff that he does, if Gordon was under Gordon and he tried to pass that way, he’d leg lock him. My leg stable and everything, the way I do it is always been legs safe even before legs became a thing. I didn’t have to make a lot of adjustments in the last four or five years when legs became really big to my passing system to knock it leg locked.
Sonny: Then you mentioned in the Kimura as the grip, do you think that that was your early adoption of Nogi that led you down that path? Or was it already [crosstalk].
Chris: Yes, for sure.
Chris: What happened was, one day at the Gracie Academy, and I knew I already didn’t want to train GI, I didn’t want to compete GI, but one day in the Gracie Academy, there were a couple of guys that were in the GI that were better than me, a couple of purple belts and a couple of brown belts. At the time I was blue and had, I don’t know, two stripes. They could beat me in the GI, I could give everyone a hard match, but they could beat me in the GI.One day a hoist came down, said, “Everybody take off your GI off. We’re going to go open hand strikes and go live.” I just beat them out of everyone, but not just striking them, my Jiu-Jitsu was just naturally really good without the GI on. I had my sweeps, I had my take-downs, my guard passing, like all of it just naturally came to me that day. I went and sat back down, I was like, “Holy crap.” I’ve been doing Nogi on the side, me and Layman in the hotel room. We had guys like Lucio DeAngelis, Little H who’s in fights in Bellator and wasn’t LFA. A lot of really good guys from Brazil, Mauricio Zingano was like one of my best friends and he would train in our hotel room with us all the time, and we always train Nogi. When it came time to do with those guys, they had barely done any and that’s what I had been spending my time trying to do the most, and it just really showed. At that point I was like, “Yes, that’s the key for me. I’m done with this shit”.
Sonny: Then I guess just to wrap things up with hindsight now, looking back at that moment deciding to go Nogi, probably being outcast from the mainstream Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu scene at the time and then now Gordon Ryan just the other day saying on Joe Rogan Show that he thinks Nogi is obviously going to be the only thing that people are going to be watching people competing in the future. What advice would you give yourself or what lessons would you take back up from that whole journey?
Chris: Well, here’s an example of how serious I was about it. The Roger Brooklyn guy, my friend, who I brought from Brazil, he was a brown belt indeed, and he was going to open my gym with me. He was going to partner with me. He was going to be the Jiu-Jitsu coach to start with. As soon as I told him it was going to be Nogi, he didn’t want any part of it. Then I was like, “Man, this is what I want to do, come on.” I’m putting the money up, I’m doing all this and he just did not want to do it. For himself at the time, he was probably right, because he would have never gotten his black bells, not for a long time anyway. He would’ve got black bell too.
I get why he didn’t do it, he had trained all the way through brown belt as it was and whatever, but I was so early on that I just knew. Next-generation, it’s perfect now because of my kids, they’re obviously the next generation but my goal at the time was next generation was going to be the next generation of Jiu-Jitsu. They said that when I was fighting in the UFC that night against Pat Miletich . “He’s going to open up a school called The Next Generation. He wants to create the next generation of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu guys”, and that’s what I wanted to do. I want to have the next generation of Jiu-Jitsu and that be Nogi. That was why I named my gym what I named it, It just so happens to be now that my kids actually are the next generation. It works again but originally I was going Nogi no matter what. As a blue belt, when he said he wasn’t going to be involved with like, “well, I guess I’m open to the gym as a blue belt”.
Sonny: I guess it was just that, that’s firm belief within yourself looking at what you wanted to do in fighting and just staying true to that path. Even as you mentioned earlier, Renzo saying he was doing $9,000 worth of gay laundry a month. Am I correct that you even went the route of starting the first Nogi brand with Nogi?
Chris: Yes. A buddy of mine, Jeremy, we started that clothing company, Dan, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Hitman Fight Gear, but Hitman Fight Gear used to sponsor me and I told him I wanted to start a clothing company but I wanted to be more sporty, not as black and skulls and everything as Hitman was. He had just gotten 300 pairs of blue shorts that were really cool but they were blue and it didn’t buy with his thing. I spent I think 1,200 bucks, bought those shorts and then just started Nogi. Then I got my buddy Jeremy who’s an artist and he started creating logos and we just grew it from there. Then later sold it to Budo videos, down the line.
Sonny: Incredible. So many really were starting that next-generation even ahead of the curve really in a lot of what you were doing in grappling and now passing that onto your kids.
Chris: Like I said earlier, I didn’t come– when I first started, I wasn’t coming from a really good place. I had nothing. I didn’t have money. I’m glad that I had to do it the way I did it and grind and work hard and fail and work hard and fail, because it helped develop me as a person. I dropped out of high school as a freshman in high school and didn’t go back. It really helped me develop into a person and into a businessman and then into a hard worker. The downs for me was always– I was never deterred. I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. No matter how many times it didn’t work, I never thought I wasn’t going to make it. Just help me stay determined to get to where I’m at.
Now my kids have it almost too easy. For sure, they’ve never done without, and that was a hard thing for me when Luke decided he was going to fight. It was like, okay, we’re going to turn everything up in training and see how that goes because he had never been in a fight before. He was a sweet kid, never been an argument before. He just is so good at the sport. His second opponent was a shit talker. He was a mad dog. Wouldn’t shake his hand at the press conference and was just being a dick. He had never dealt with that even in real life. I’m like, “Hey, just laugh”.
“Whatever he does, don’t even worry about it. Because tomorrow, he still has to fight you. Even though he’s acting stupid, he still has to fight you. It’s not going to help him fight you any better.” Now, he’s old. He’s 20, almost 21. He’s different. It’s definitely got a mean, mean way about him now in the cage, but I was curious. At the beginning, I was like, “Okay, you want to fight? You’re fighting from a very, very different place than I was fighting from, for sure”.
Sonny: I think I know what you’re talking about. Where I’m from we have a saying that someone’s got to get a bit of mongrel in them and they got to switch on, turn that in to have that little bit of fight in them.
Chris: It tells.
Sonny: Well, Chris, it has been an amazing interview for me to have the opportunity to have this conversation. Such a rich history that you’ve got in the sport that it has been a pleasure to chat with you about. I’m wondering if people want to get in touch with you, want to get in contact, anything like that. Why they should go about it or anything you’d like to plug?
Chris: I’m on Facebook. My Facebook is full but they can follow me or go to my athlete page and follow it. Instagram. It’s @Chris_Brennan_3x_champ. I’m super accessible. Someone wants to message me, question me, whatever, feel free to hit me up at any time. Otherwise, Next-Generation MMA is my gym. I’ve got two here in Texas. One in Colorado, one in California, two in Ireland, two in England, two in Norway, and one in Australia.
Sonny: That’s I guess from humble beginnings going worldwide.
Chris: Yes, sir. I’ve been lucky and fortunate.
Sonny: I’m fortunate to have had this chance to speak to you today, Chris. Really, really appreciate it.
Chris: Thank you very much. I appreciate the interview.
What’s more important in the battle between offense vs defense? Well In the seminal 1997 action film “Double Team” starring Jean Claude Van Damme and Dennis Rodman, the following exchange takes place…
JCVD: Offense gets the glory… RODMAN: …But defense wins the game
The debate over Offense and Defense has been raging ever since, and on the latest episode of “The Sonny Brown Breakdown,” I was joined by two guests who went into battle for the respective sides. With School of Grappling taking the side of offence and Priit Mihkelson being on the defence side.
With the issue being reasonably broad, it takes some interesting turns from a general conceptual overview of the topic to practical applications of the technique, the learning and teaching of grappling. Andy and Priit had a great conversation so check it out on your favourite podcast app to listen to how it went down!
I interview Lachlan Giles. We discuss how his persistence over years of competition culminated in things coming together for him on the day to take out Bronze in the ADCC 2019 Absolute division. We also examine how he optimally narrowed his focus and training for that specific competition, the importance of self-directed learning and the value obtained from breaking down competition footage. Also, how some scientific principles might apply to Jiu-Jitsu teaching methodology and lesson structure with details of one attempted study he undertook. Finally, he considers a possible direction of where he sees the no-gi grappling game evolving.
Sonny Brown: Lachlan, thanks so much for being here today mate, how are you?
Lachlan Giles: Good. How are you? Thanks for having me on.
Sonny: My pleasure, mate. The honor is all mine, trust me. Obviously, everyone I think would be familiar with your recent success, bronze medal ADCC, going from strength to strength, really putting Australia on the map in terms of grappling. Obviously, we’ve had standouts before but it seems like a more cohesive unit coming out from Melbourne down there. My first question would be is, coming up in Australia around your time, the idea of getting to those levels that ADCC and competing on such international stage, would have seemed out of reach or at least, I would have thought that would have been the common perception that you got to go to Brazil or you got to go to America and that’s where you’re going to get your training. It couldn’t be done by local guys in Australia. When did you feel that it might actually be possible or that you could overcome that or was that the perception that you had at one point?
Lachlan: Yes, certainly. You have that dream of getting on the podium at a world level but to be honest, I didn’t– if you had ever asked me at any point, I probably would have said it’s probably unlikely. I’m doing my best to improve but the chance of that happening is pretty slim. I had been on overseas training trips before and I’d seen the level. As always, in some ways, it could be a positive experience but also a negative. Sometimes you’d roll with one of the best guys in the world, you could roll with a world champion when you go on one of those trips. Sometimes, you’d be like, I could get a little bit of my game going for a moment, it was never pretty. I’m trying to think on my head. I don’t think there was ever a time I rolled with a current top world champion and walked away like, “Yes, I beat them.” I’ve never walked away with that feeling but you might. You get to your position you’ve been working and maybe off-balance them or something, you could come away with some little glimpses that part of what you’re doing is heading in the right direction, but at the same time, usually, it’s quite disheartening because at those training camps as well, everyone takes it very seriously. They’ll be people, you could be a black belt. I’ve had times where I’m a black belt, I’m trying to prepare to compete at a world’s, which is in two weeks time and I’ll roll with a brown belt. I’m like, “Oh, I don’t know if I would win in that match.” We’d have a roll and I come away for that kind of “Jeez, that was really tough.” In some ways, it’s quite disheartening to just see the amount of people with the same goal as you who are putting in, what I’d say is a similar amount of effort. When you think of it like that, it is actually quite difficult. I feel like I’m part of it. I’d say actually, a good part of my success in ADCC was just on the day, I had my day and that’s what everyone hopes that– You want to be the best in the division where even on your worst day, you still win, but failing that, then you just want to have your day. [laughs] If you’re not at that level, then you want to just have your day. I think at ADCC, I definitely, probably exceeded even my dreams of how well I could perform in a particular tournament. Yes, it’s a mix. I do think along the way seeing people do well internationally, I think Keith was probably the first. I was a brown belt, he was a purple belt and he won the world purple belt. I was like, “Jeez, that’s–” Because I would train with Keith. I just started training with him around that time and I was like, “Jeez, that’s a pretty–” I knew he was tough from the training with him and I was brown and he was purple and he was beating me, but I felt like I was nipping at his heels a little bit, but he would stay. But I was like, Okay he’s doing well and that’s not too big of an ask for me to do well at the brown belt level and then that, obviously, his success continued. Anyway, we had other people like my wife, Liv, she won blue belt worlds so that gave me, “Okay, it’s doable if we stick to the right strategy.” Then, obviously, Craig in 2017, having his result. I think though I wasn’t always looking at world championship level competition. At first, it was like, “Can I do well in Australia?” Or even can I do well in a smaller– the Victorian championships or something? Once you achieve your goal, you tend to look a bit further, [laughs] you set some new goal– you realign the goalposts and try to make a new goal. I never really with confidence said like, “Yes, I’m now at a level where I’m going to be a world champion”, which I’ve seen all but yes.
Sonny: You say, you had a good day at ADCC, obviously, that’s correct, it would have been a good day. You have had a few good days in recent memory as well, that’s probably not the only one. You’ve had a couple of good days, right?
Lachlan: Over the last five years, I’d had some wins over some people who had done– My first probably big win was against, I bet, Rani Yahya. No, I’m sure it was Edwin Najmi, Edwin Najmi was probably my first big win. That was in Australia, at BOA Super-8. Then that same year, he came second at worlds, that next worlds,that came around, I was like “Okay.” That’s the thing, it can be a one-off thing compared to a– to win the worlds, you got to be consistently winning those matches, which I felt like I fumbled my way through that match and it just got through. There’s a few of them along the way. Then in 2019, I felt like I had a very, very– in the lead up to ADCC, I think I hadn’t lost yet that year. I hadn’t been competing every weekend or anything, I’d pick and choose my tournament that I was going in but I was feeling very confident in my style and what I wanted to do. There’s definitely been a momentum and I was probably the most confident I’d felt about a tournament at an international stage before.
Sonny: Yes, that’s a good one to be feeling confident about. That’s for sure.
Lachlan: Yes, I certainly. As I said, confident but not to a silly degree. I think I tried to be realistic. I didn’t think, yes, I’m going to win ADCC, but I thought I had a chance, give everything– [crosstalk]
Sonny: Best effort.
Sonny: That makes sense. As you’re building on those victories as you said, from Victorian, just growing and growing setting the incremental goals, what did you think was the change that you needed to make or that you did make that enabled you to go to those next levels that other people weren’t at that stage, really, really seeing through with that much consistency?
Lachlan: You mean for 2019 compared to before that or–
Lachlan: Probably my biggest strength is my consistency. I’ve been training for 17 years now, maybe even longer. I probably don’t care that correctly. In the last 10 years, you could probably count on your hand the amount of times I’ve had more than a week off. It’s usually like every day of the week, showing up training. I probably don’t train more than a lot of the top athletes you hear of training like four or five hours a day. I definitely don’t even do half of that usually but I am there every day and I’m thinking and trying to work through that. I think that was a big thing. At some point, I made the decision to focus on ADCC, that was probably even before the 2017 ADCC. I said, this is what I want to try to do well at, it’s pretty hard to try to go well at ADCC and IBJJF No-Gi. They’re almost separate the way you got to train for them and the skill sets you got to develop, I said, I’m going to focus on the ADCC thing. I put all my effort into that. Then there was probably two years of continual growth and that 2019 was probably where it really started to show. I’ve narrowed my focus. I think narrowing my focus helped a lot.
Sonny: I like the sound of that, especially I remember you saying for your ADCC prep, you really just focused on leg locks and wrestling and I made sure to send that quote to all the guys I coach wrestling to be like, see guys. Take downs matter.
Lachlan: To be honest, I do love training for ADCC because you have to be good everywhere. I do feel like in my division and IBJJF, you can almost forget about the stand-up thing. Like you can just pull guard and you just imagine that wrestling doesn’t exist. Whereas in ADCC you can’t ignore it. You have to develop that skill-set. Because if it goes to overtime, you don’t know what you’re going to lose. It forces you to do that and I enjoy the training. You feel like you’re a bit more of a complete athlete, you have to know how to pass, how to play guard, how to wrestle, you have to know leg locks, back takes, finishes, you include everything. That’s one of the reasons I like it.
Sonny: That’s nice, beautiful. Nothing wrong with being a complete- have a complete game in jiu-jitsu. There’s nothing wrong with that. When you’re building up and focusing, you’re narrowing your focus from there. I think before you mentioned that you saw the value in type study and that doing type analysis was a key moment for you when you started to do that. I’m a big fan of that myself obviously. Just wanted to get inside your thought process of what role that played and how you went about it.
Lachlan: It’s been huge. I think I made a few posts on Instagram or Facebook recently about things that have influenced my development along the time. I remember seeing Dan Lucot posted, he had this Roger Gracie breakdown that he had online on YouTube, where he talked through the techniques and then he’d show a clip of Roger using it, it showed that he got the inspiration for teaching that technique by watching Roger and breaking down what he was doing. He went through most of the Roger’s game plan. He called himself Trump Dan, Dan Lucot. Actually another guy I was working with at the time of training with Dan Shaw, he was someone who was watching international competition. At the time I was just maybe watch the occasional MMA fight, but most of my jiu-jitsu, it was just based off whatever I’d see in the gym or what I’d seen on UFC or something. I’d try to just do that move. I think I spent a long time after watching Kazushi Sakuraba giving my back to try to get more people because it was my favorite MMA fighter. Once I caught onto the fact that you could watch international tape and see all these moves that I wasn’t being exposed to at all at home, that was huge for me because then I was like, I could go look at what they’re doing and then I’d try it in the gym and obviously first you suck at it, but also when you suck at it, but no one knows what you were even doing, then it can still work and that can build confidence really well. I was finding a lot of things that wouldn’t take much practice before I could start hitting it a lot and against my training partners. Then you’re kind of ahead of– there’s an arms race where they start trying to develop counters, but you’re ahead of the arms race because you were watching the tape and seeing how the top guys are countering it. I followed that a lot and that’s when I started playing, what I’d say is a more international style, like the Marcella Garcia style and the Mendez brothers and countless other influences depending what technique I was working. That was a huge factor in my development. Even now, I’m trying to work my wrestling. I’m studying a lot of tape of elite wrestling at the moment in my free time
Sonny: Plenty of free time at the moment. I’m a big fan of breakdowns, obviously myself and for me, it was like all the other sports like NFL, you know that they go through tape after a game, just break it down, basketball, soccer, they all do it, but I have had some people suggest to me that jiu-jitsu, you got to feel it. You can’t see what they’re doing. You have to actually learn from, go to someone and feel what they’re doing and that’s the only way to actually learn a type value, studying types of limited use. What would you say to something like that?
Lachlan: It’s funny because if you look at any of those sports, soccer, football, rugby, all that, I feel like the technical portion is far less relevant than it is in as– I feel like athleticism is a much bigger factor in those sports than it is in jiu-jitsu or in grappling. You’re actually going to get more out of type analysis in a grappling sense than you would in a- like I can’t even pick– I used to play Australian rules football and I’m trying to picture how someone showing me a video of watching Australian rules football would really help me that much, that you can get an idea of like, Oh, they turn left or right but it’s like, they shrug a tackle like this, but compared to the technical nuance you can pick up from studying a Jujitsu type, it’s just like nothing. If they’re finding it’s working, if they’re finding it valuable enough for those sports then surely it should be valuable for jiu-jitsu. I agree that sometimes you don’t need to feel it, but sometimes you won’t see what’s going– you won’t be able to visualize or get a true sense of what that move feels like unless you have that person do it to you but that’s not to say you can’t. Sometimes if you’ve got a very keen eye for detail, you can still pick up those things. Maybe you won’t maybe you get the general idea of the movement and then that helps you pick up when you- let’s say I’m studying Leandra Lo and I’m trying to copy every move he does. I just like, I can’t get his- I can’t do his kneecap and then you get a chance to roll with him and he does it to you and you’re like, Oh. You go like, “I could really feel this.” You try to do the things that people did to you when you tried his game, you try to do them on him just to frustrate him and you’re like, “It didn’t work.” Because you can actually have enough of a reference point to make the adaptation to learn his game better. Whereas if you never played his game and then he did it, you’d just be like, “He just beat me. I don’t know why.” I think it’s really important in grappling, to really pay attention to why things are or are not working. What’s the key detail that you are missing or that happens so that you go for your sweep and it doesn’t work, what grip are they doing that annoys you that no one else is doing that when you do sweep them. Because once you recognize that, you can start to strategize around it.
Sonny: That makes sense. It’s like, obviously it would be better if you could feel the moves that all the top guys are doing and that you want to study, but realistically, you’re going to be able to get value from that type study no matter what, right?
Lachlan: Yes. For sure. I think it’s not just- when we say types there, you’re not just watching people roll and trying to see who wins. It’s not an entertainment thing. You’re trying to put yourself in their shoes and go, what would I do here. If I was in that position, how would I be reacting? Why are they taking that grip because I would do something different then you can start? Once you realize what’s different to what you would normally do, that’s something you can then start trying to implement.
Sonny: You mentioned then that the important of troubleshooting, and I would imagine that when you’re coaching and trying to put that mindset onto the people you’re coaching, the importance of being able to individually troubleshoot whatever they’re having problems with. Is that something that you think you can teach people to be able to do?
Lachlan: I’m trying– to be honest, I’m trying to get better at making people self-directed learners which is not an easy– teaching people how to learn as opposed to teaching them the moves is something I’ve more recently started trying to put a bit more focus on. I think you can do that. It’s always hard with class times, but I have occasionally not recently because of corona, but pre corona, we’d sometimes finish a round or specific training round and then we’ll be, “Okay, now you explain to your partner something they were doing that was frustrating to you and then they do the same for you.” Just to get them to have a little discussion about what was frustrating and potentially how they could solve that problem as well. Which I think that’s a contrived way to get people to do it but I think some people naturally do it and they’re usually the ones that improve pretty quick. You see people, they go to open mat and they roll and then you see them sitting there workshopping things and they’re usually the people that you know are going to improve quite fast.
Sonny: That makes sense, people taking on their own responsibility for their learning, being able to self direct it. I think I’ve heard you mention that you’ll even have classes where people will just be given the freedom to work on whatever it is they want to work on. Not so much in an open mat fashion but you’ll help them out just whatever they want to work on. Is that correct?
Lachlan: Yes, that’s true. Self-directed learning is something that’s come up in the research on how fast people learn quite a bit. If you let people self direct it, they’re going to pick up things quicker as long as they’re following the right path, I guess. With our prior sessions and with our advanced sessions. Our prior sessions are all, you work on whatever you want. I barely give any set thing like, okay, we’re working from a double leg or single leg or whatever or from knee through pass. I’d almost always be– whatever you want to start from, it’s your five minutes, you go from there, that’s what you’re working on and then your partner gets five minutes starting from their position. That does force people to go home and come into the class with a plan or at least if they want to get more out of the class, they’re going to come in like, okay, I’m working on this, this and this. They get a lot of reps in on that area. That’s one thing we do. In our advanced classes, I will teach a technique in the advanced class but when it’s time to drill, if you’ve got something that you want to work on, then feel free to do that. I don’t really make them do the technique that I’m teaching.
Sonny: Okay, that’s interesting. You show a technique if people maybe want inspiration or an idea but if they want to do their own drilling, they’re free– you’re not going to over there and whack them over the head with a kendo stick and tell them to get back on track. [chuckles] With your drilling, is there anything that you do different or that makes what you’re doing unique? Obviously your friend Kit Dale was probably at least vocally saying that he wasn’t drilling or something along those lines but what is it that you can do to improve on people’s drilling that you think?
Lachlan: Yes. It depends on the level the person has. It’s very dependent on how confident you are and the technique you’re doing. If it’s a new movement– if you don’t feel confident with your movement, then I think you just want to get some reps in the movement. I think, at a certain point, the timing and the context for when to use the move become more of a factor and your success than the actual ability to execute the move when you need to more than the actual technical steps. That’s where I feel like it has to shift from drills to specific training. Let’s say you want to drill finishing your arm bar like , okay, you got a static opponent and you’re just extending their arm 50 times. At a certain point, okay, you know how to extend their arm and finish an arm but that’s going to have diminishing returns quite quickly but then having someone trying to fight out of the armbar at various stages will give you a much better feel for the context of as to when you should push the arm which way and so on. I feel like there’s some in-between level of that, which is, I like the way wrestlers drill and I found I can do it well in wrestling but I can’t do it well in jiu-jitsu. I don’t know why. I just haven’t found a way to be able to do this. You need a good drilling partner, I think, but in wrestling, you shoot and they’ll defend and you transition and you keep– your opponent will make you go through three or four transitions. They’re going to let you take them down. They’re not trying to completely stop you but they’ll stop some of your attacks so that you have to work the timing and the context of when you would change between your moves and I found that really useful for wrestling. I find people are less good on the ground at giving correct feedback for that but I think you could do the same thing.
Sonny: Yes, definitely. That was actually something I was talking to Brian Ebersole about. He was saying he would do for his, his making sure that defending a drill is making sure that it’s five, six different ways to defend and then the person’s gets all those different looks. I think that’s definitely a big portion.
Lachlan: I think an issue on the ground might be that there’s a lot of static positions which you don’t really have in wrestling or at least not as much. In wrestling, it’s usually all dynamic. You come in and you try to finish. There’s very little pause in between whereas if you were to say like, “I’m going to drill like that, you’re on top and I’m on bottom and I’m going to try and sweep you.” If you block one sweep, my answer might be to come back to a static position and just settle back to a position that I can just hold for a bit and reset my attacks but that doesn’t make for very good flow drill. You’ve blocked my attack and I come back whereas, in wrestling, it would be like, you just keep driving until eventually you find something. I’m still playing around with ways to use that best in grappling jiu-jitsu format.
Sonny: Yes. I understand. I know you are aware of Preet Mickelson and his work. I actually checked him out on some recommendation, I think [crosstalk] . The conversation I had with him was a lot about switching how we try and present in jiu-jitsuto a sport rather than an art as how it’s been taught previously and that wrestling has had that benefit of just being around for a lot longer. I wonder if that’s the thing that you’re discussing now about just trying to figure out the way to make that transition and what are some of those things then from sports science that you are looking to bring in?
Lachlan: Yes. That’s a good question. [laughs] I think a lot of it has to do with taking a step back and defining your goals and what you’re wanting to achieve. That’s what I did with ADCC. I felt that made a huge difference. Just stepping back and going like, what do I want to do? I want to win ADCC. What does it take? What does someone who wins ADCC do? What’s their skill set? Work on that. Okay, like wrestling, leg locks. At least for me. You can make it very specific to yourself. For me, what would it take to take the 2017 Lachlan Giles and then get into 2019 and try to win ADCC? What changes are required? Let’s just put all our effort on that. Don’t waste your time doing other things. That’s how I approached it and that made a big difference. I think there’s that. I think from my own training, I feel like I apply a lot of things pretty well. What I find is hard as a coach to teach to a group a sport that is often best practice on an individual level. As in I feel self-directed learning and what techniques you should be working on and whether you need to be doing more rolling or drilling and so on is very dependent on the person and then everyone comes together in one class. How do you make each individual person get the most out of the class when they’re all requiring different things at that time? That’s actually probably my biggest question at the moment, is how to maximize the use of class time for students. I think it’s easier that one of the best things you could do is divide it by experience because then that takes care of the how much time should you spend drilling, specific training enrollment because I think that the more experience you get, the more time doing those less things and the earlier on the more time spent drilling. It’s easier for the early on, you can do a fundamentals class and teach the foundation or positions. Everyone’s going to get something out of that by going to these classes. Whereas, for the advanced people, they need probably their specific game. Separating classes based on experience is, I think, is a big thing. I’m trying to implement some of the learning principles like space repetition. I wrote out a syllabus and whatever we cover, we’ll teach it and teach it in detail and then we just refresh it again just for a week. We might spend a week on it and then we’ll do a revision week eight weeks later which covers everything we did in the last eight weeks just in one week just to bring that back in the brain. It’s things like that I’m trying to implement. I wouldn’t say I got it perfect yet but it’s something I’m working on. I don’t know what else to do.
Sonny: That’s all right. Yes, space repetition, that was a big thing in sports. It’s good that you’re trying to implement that into jiu-jitsu. I like the way you’ve just said then of condensing the eight weeks and put it down into the week as a refresher. That’s a good, rough way for people to go in. As for what else you can do, I remember you doing a Brazilian Jujitsu learning study in your own gym based on, I think, it was rites of completion or successful trials of techniques. Are you able to talk about that? How that went?
Lachlan: Yes, I’ll get into that. I didn’t get enough useful data out of that. I think I’ve got a better way to measure it now which I’ll try to look at next time. I wanted to make a study to see whether working one thing, focusing on one topic for a few lessons in a row and then changing to another topic for a few lessons in a row and then changing to another topic, whether that would be a better way to learn than a more random– I do one one day, another one the next day. Within the session. Within the one session, you’re working the three different techniques and all positions. We took data at the start. The group was in the middle and you line up. Whoever you go against, you either win or you lose. You start from your position and you win or you lose. Then you’d come back and you’d write that on a spreadsheet, win or loss.
Sonny: Or learn.
Lachlan: Or learn, yes. We got that data from the start, from the first week to the last week of it. Did people learn better from working everything at once or blocked? It’s somewhat of a blocked versus random training study to a certain degree but we didn’t get enough. One thing I found was tough was with a structure like that, with the random training was you might have three positions you’re working but maybe even in a 15-minute period, you might only get six gos overall. You’re only getting two attempts at the thing that you do. I feel like something full learning is you want to understand what is going wrong and give yourself a chance to try to correct it. I don’t know if this is being shown in sports but I feel like that’s a process you want to go through. If you shoot a basketball, you want to know that it did or didn’t go in the hoop then you make your adjustment based on that and shoot it again. Okay, that was better so now you get some reinforcement for that behavior. Maybe you don’t have to do that a hundred times but you at least want to be able to do that, I think. Getting just two attempts at your technique you’re trying in the whole session of each one might not be enough to actually– At least it’s a strong improvement. I think the research would support a random style of training like mixing things up but I think sometimes when it’s so complex and you’re getting so few things, I just don’t know how well that applies to jiu-jitsu. If you can get someone to shoot a basketball 50 times in a row then mixing it up and making them have to focus on different aspects of it, it probably helps more. I don’t know in jiu-jitsu. That’s what I wanted to find out. One of the issues was the era in the measurements from who you are rolling with had too big of a factor on the outcome. If you come out from the front of the line and then you got a black belt, you could have improved massively at your technique but you’re going to lose. It ends with being a lot of variability and you’d need huge amount of data. I had to meet 50 people that did study but we would have needed, I think, 300, we would have needed to actually get to look for some sort of effect that I was after. What I was thinking instead was to take a more specific thing and such as guard retention or something and measure the time– if you get people to write down the time that they were playing guard or how many times they got– You did a 10-minute period, you have 10 minutes, you’re on your back. If you get passed then it doesn’t matter if the person goes to the end of the line but measure the amount of times you got passed in a 10-minute period or something. That might be a little bit better but I’ll look into that again further. I want to get into some more research side of things but, obviously, after ADCC, I’ve been travelling and doing a lot of seminars and so on.
Sonny: Living the life.
Lachlan: Yes. Not anymore.
Sonny: Yes, no one is but it’s been good. I think there are all those, I guess, unique challenges in Brazilian jiu-jitsuof grappling that and maybe those other sports don’t have. Spaced repetition, we talked about. Any other elements that you’ve heard about that you might want to look into or give some pointers to people to maybe start their own research on?
Lachlan: In my opinion, one of the biggest things in grappling is that you need to identify what the problem is. I’m going to use a basketball analogy again but this is how I see it. Imagine you shoot a basketball. Maybe you’re blindfolded or you can see the ring, you shoot but then as you shoot, they cover your eyes and you don’t even know– Someone might tell you, they say it missed. That you missed the basketball shot but they don’t tell you whether it was too shallow, too deep, too much to the left or to the right. It would be so hard to improve your basketball shot without knowing what you needed. Essentially, knowing what you need to do to get better. Like, I need to shoot it with a bit more force or less force or a little to the left, to the right. Once you know that, you can be more accurate with your shots but I think in something as complex as grappling, most of the time, you go for a move, it doesn’t work and you don’t know what you could have done to actually fix it. I think that’s an essential part of grappling that is different to a lot of the sports that get researched. In just where in the other sport I can think of, it would be pretty easy to tell them in a case of an error, what they needed to do to fix it. In jiu-jitsu, it’s actually really difficult.
Sonny: Right. I hear you. Just being able to increase that level of feedbacking between rolling partners. Let’s say, if someone tells you it was a crank not a choke, then stop them and find out why. Is that about right?
Lachlan: It’s may be not based on sports science but it’s just my feelings towards what I think is a huge factor in improving.
Sonny: That makes sense. I think a lot of the stuff that we’ve talked about, maybe it’s geared towards maximizing the time spent training for a competition and effectiveness. How do you then balance that out for just the hobbyist people coming into your gym, keeping it fun. Would they have been keen to fill out surveys on how their success rates and whatnot? How do you work that divide between the competition team and just your people wanting to get fit and have a bit of fun?
Lachlan: That’s a tough one. People were quite interested in the study so they actually– A good amount of people joined up for that study. I heard that something else which failed was, I tried to get everyone to fill out a spreadsheet just with their goals and like, okay what are you aiming for? This was actually for our pro team. but like, what are your goals and what do you need to improve to get there? That wasn’t followed and people tended to be less active in that which is fine. Some people are doing that themselves at least in their own head but a lot of people aren’t and just going through the process is a very beneficial thing to do. Even just to write it down and go, okay, this is where I want to go, this is what I got to do. That means that on your day when you come into the gym tired, you’ve committed to working on the skill set you need because for example, wrestling’s the perfect example for this because we’ve got so many people that say they want to do ADCC and then they come in and they’re tired and sore. What’s the one thing they won’t work? Wrestling because it’s hard. I’ll be the same unless I– When I’ve got ADCC coming up, I can be like, okay, it’s coming up, I need to do this. I’ll force myself to do it but I definitely rather just pull guard and do the more lazy approach, but that’s not what you need. That’s not what I need to achieve my goal. Having it written down and going, okay, well, today, I’m doing my single-leg take-down defense, then that’s what I’m going to do. It makes a big difference.
Sonny: That’s just definitely the power of writing down your goals for sure. I wonder did you write down your ADCC goal? Was that written down in a notebook somewhere that you’d go back and look at?
Lachlan: I probably wouldn’t have a physical– It was– Yes. [crosstalk] Did I write– Maybe. I’m trying to think. It would have been– We were writing down a weekly plan and trying to focus that. It can be hard to say, for the next eight weeks, I’m going to work this position or whatever or next four weeks because sometimes you feel like you didn’t get enough of it. Like you need to do more of it by the end of that time or you might feel like after two weeks of doing it, that you’re actually feeling quite comfortable and there’s something else that’s got more importance, but at least– It’s better to write it down and then change it if need be, than not do anything at all.
Sonny: Then for your competition side, you had that consistency and that ability to stay in that competitive space for a long time until you got success. What would your advice be for the novice who just wants to just pick up a sport and stay in the sport for a long time? Let’s say they get their blue belt and maybe they’re thinking about, “I’ve done enough,” for some reason, and they don’t want to come back. What would your advice be to someone like that to help keep them actually in the sport?
Lachlan: They have to work out what they’re doing it for. If their goal was to get a blue belt and quit, then I don’t know if there’s anything I could say that would change that.
Sonny: Goal achieved. Done.
Lachlan: Yes. If your goal is to have something to keep you fit and keep your mind engaged and something you– The main thing should be you enjoy it. If you don’t enjoy it, if you’re going there, you don’t enjoy it, but you want to get your blue belt then don’t even bother getting your– I suppose it’s probably still good. It’s still probably good to get your– If you don’t enjoy it, I still think it’s a useful thing to practice for the self-defense point of view, I suppose for a certain point in time maybe to a blue belt then quit but if you enjoy– Find a way to enjoy it, find good training partners that you enjoy rolling with or maybe who make you think and do that. Roll at a pace where you’re not going to get injured.
Sonny: In terms of different training partners who will make you think and probably change your game, going back to the competition when you’re competing in Open Weight and you’re going against all these different competitive styles, especially from people in your own weight division to the giants in Open Weight, how are your setups changing and your attacks changing? Did you just have the same game or did you say, okay, once I get past x kilograms, then I’m switching things up.
Lachlan: Yes, I had two main areas I was trying to set my leg-locks up from and one was that De La Riva and K-Guard and the other was from reverse De La Riva, which has a bit of a closer range. In my weight division, for whatever reason, just stylistically I thought it would be better against my opponent, which was Lucas Lepri. I thought, the reverse De La Riva thing might catch him off guard. I just had a different entry that I thought he might not have seen, but that was my undoing. But in the Open Weight, I feel I want to keep a bit more distance so De la Riva– Something that just keeps both feet in front of my opponent and most of the time is what I wanted to work with. Just a slight more distance-based guard and that seemed to work well. I was already practicing that style the whole training camp, anyway. I wasn’t particularly trying to get ready for big people. That just happened, but it was probably good that my style was strongly influenced by the Miyao brothers who were quite small. I figured whatever they’re doing probably works. Most of the people they roll are probably bigger than them. Whatever they’re doing works, scales up.
Sonny: That’s fair enough. You want to get that skill set that will go across weights. With the big guys, probably the biggest in one way or another would be Gordon Ryan. What’s happening with him at the moment? At the moment, obviously, nothing but there was that talk of the match and he was putting that stuff out there. What’s happening with that? Do you think that’ll ever come to fruition?
Lachlan: I don’t think he ever really wanted to do that match. At least not for that price. He put an offer of 500,000 dollars on a legal battle compared to my 5,000 which of course I was happy to do, but then I said yes and then he started putting all these stipulations in about I have to fight x and y with three other people within a year or something which wouldn’t have happened with corona probably anyway so there you go. I wouldn’t have got my 500,000. You know Gordon, he’ll say anything.
Sonny: Just a bitter blaster.
Lachlan: Since everyone’s been locked inside, he certainly unleashed– He’s furious [crosstalk]
Sonny: A bit of cabin fever fear.
Sonny: When things finally, we get back out on the mats, we get going what do you think will be the next evolution in No-Gi grappling that people should be maybe looking forward to and thinking ahead? Where do you think the game is going to go?
Lachlan: I think that very much depends on the rule set. In ADCC, the wrestling is going to be a huge determining factor in a lot of matches. If you’re preparing for ADCC and you’re not wrestling then I don’t know what you’re doing. That’s going to be a huge factor. Everything else will be there. The sport’s evolving, so we’ll get sharper with our leg-locks, sharper with our passing guard, front headlock. It’s hard to say what– If I knew where the evolution was going to occur, what’s a new tactic or something, then I would be doing that already. I see some patterns. I see certain people favoring some positions now. We’re talking about Gordon. I know Gordon’s playing a very seated guard, almost trying to wrestle up from a seated guard, which works for him. I can see that being valuable. That used to be more my style. I used to play a lot more forward pressure. It’s a much more risky style. Your chance of being front headlocked Kamurad or under-hooked, it’s higher risk, higher reward. I personally see what the Miayos are doing and the K-Guard has been the other reaction which is to play more off your back and try to get into leg entanglements. That’s the avenue that my direction is going and I see more and more of that in No-Gi because it’s hard to play standard De La Riva and those Gi-based guards but the K-guard still lets you work in on those positions. That’s my guard evolution, is working to there for passing, I don’t know, body lock, but that’s not exactly new. Body lock is certainly common No-Gi. Everyone’s is getting better at back takes, I think they’re realizing that to score points if you’ve got wrestling, you also need to be able to take the back because your opponent’s probably going to turtle and try to escape. You talked to Preet, I do think a better defensive back game will surface to a degree. It’s a hard one for me because I have success but sometimes you go against someone like a Craig or something and I really don’t feel like turning my back at all is a good idea. Some of those people who are very good at taking the back, I just feel like turning your back and trying to fight off the back can be a landmine.
Sonny: You’re giving them what they want.
Sonny: They want you to stay pinned.
Lachlan: At the moment, my thoughts are only when it’s a choice between me losing points and turning my back and risking, I’ll turn my back but otherwise, I’m not going to try to fight a defensive back battle proactively. In terms of what the next evolution is wrestling and–
Lachlan: Yes, potentially some better ways of setting up submissions from standing. That’s not something I’m particularly looking into, but that could be someone who’s–
Sonny: Just chaining that wrestling into submissions?
Lachlan: Yes. I think now that you’ve a rule set like ADCC where people are going to be willing to engage the stand-up battle, you then might see some opportunities to set up submissions from the standing position, which you wouldn’t have seen in IBJJF because people just pull guard so now there’s more opportunity for something like that.
Sonny: I like it. That’s going to give me something to go think about and work on more standing submissions. That’s going to be a good little way to end that, I think, just a little of advice for people to go off and research themselves. I really appreciate the time you’ve given me today.
Lachlan: No, I think you had some really good questions.
Sonny: Oh, thanks. I appreciate that feedback. We’re talking about important feedback.
Lachlan: Yes, that’s right.
Sonny: [chuckles] Thank you very much. Of course, you also did mention that the body lock could be a big thing and you’ve got the body lock instruction if you want to get it.
Lachlan: Just a [crosstalk]
Sonny: That’s it. What are the other ones that people can get and how should they get in contact with you if they want to?
Lachlan: Through BJJ Fanatics, I have instructionals on half guard, front headlock series, about one and a half guard passing. I’ve got the body lock pass and I’ve got the leg lock anthology as well. There’s those five and then on grapplers guide, I’ve got something on butterfly guard and on the equivalent to guard retention but on top, which is sweetp prevention. When you get stuck in all different types of guards, how do you actually maintain your base and get back to neutral position without getting swept or submitted. It’s a topic I thought hadn’t really been covered. If you go on the BJJ Fanatics, you could use my code, lachlan10 that says 10% and if you go to grapplers guide that’s got a whole bunch of, not just me, there’s a whole bunch of other experts that have on different topics and I want you to use a Lachlan, that say a 30%.
Sonny: Nice, beautiful. I’ll put that in the links and show notes and people can follow through there and I think that’ll be offered. For now, you’ve got to go to class. You got a zoom class so–
Lachlan: Yes, a zoom class coming up.
Sonny: I’ll let you go get prepped up and everything for that. Thanks so much for the time again, and have a great evening.
“Leave your ego at the door” is a common phrase you will see written on the walls of martial arts gyms everywhere. But it has always amused me because it would be almost impossible to do unless everyone had an existential crisis as they walked through the door. But more than merely being helpful, considerate and courteous to people, I think it might be useful to interpret it as not being fearful of receiving feedback or experiencing failure in the learning process.
To simplify the process, we can experience failure and either laugh or cry about it. You probably have to do both at some points, and only ever having one reaction would possibly lead to negative consequences. Maybe accepting it as just the way things are and an unremarkable, expected, and natural part of the process seems to be the healthiest attitude. You might feel awkward, uncomfortable and embarrassed, but no need to make it worse by thinking that those feelings would be rare.
Of course, you will find these new movements and skills difficult at first. Unless you started training as a child, we all come to martial arts at a stage of life when we are probably skilled in different areas, at the very least whatever you do for a profession would give you skills in one area that most people in the same room do not possess. Everyone would likely struggle if they stepped into your day to day activities and had to learn on the job. It’s the expected outcome, predictable and we shouldn’t let it surprise us, throw us off or discourage us from persisting.
Understanding that process could then lead to the more common interpretation of the saying of basically not being arrogant or a jerk. Then maybe becoming less arrogant and more understanding of other peoples struggles and your own could then, in turn, make you a more peaceful person?
Using Martial Arts To Leave Your Ego At The Door?
If you want to try that out, then martial arts might be an excellent vehicle to do so. Possibly because on some level, fighting or physical struggle has a deeper meaning with a long history in humans nature than other modern skills you could learn. Im not doubting that you could get the same lessons through other professions, but martial arts does seem to have some exceptional qualities to it if that might be what you are looking to achieve in regards to loss of ego.
Or maybe im overthinking it (more than likely) and simply put, just don’t be a goose and injure anyone in the mat by going too hard.
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