Legendary Longevity on a Journey Beyond a Hundred Battles With Jeremy Horn

In this episode, I interview Jeremy Horn, a storied MMA pioneer and legend with over 170 fights to his name, even fighting on the weekend where he was victorious in his professional boxing debut. He has fought a whos who of MMA greats including Chael Sonnen, Chuck Liddell, Anderson Silva, Forrest Griffin, Randy Couture, Dan Severn and Frank Shamrock and many in every significant promotion of the sport including UFC, Pride, Bellator, Pancrase, IFL & King of the Cage. We discuss the wild tale of his first fight in MMA where he wasn’t sure if he would make it out alive and how he has witnessed the sport change over the years. Also, his advice on training and sparring smart for career longevity, his time at the Militech Fighting Sytems which could be considered one of the first super camps of the sport. Finally, we discuss the overall benefits he has gained from living a martial arts lifestyle as he now continues to train upcoming martial artists at his gym “Jeremy Horns Elite Performance” located in Utah.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 019

Sonny Brown: Jeremy, pleasure to have you here today, mate. Let’s hope all is well over there in Utah. Looks very sunny in the background, I must say.

Jeremy Horn: That’s just a picture of my dog.

Sonny: Beautiful. Jeremy, your career is obviously very extensive. You’ve got to have be one of the fighters with the most MMA fights under their belt. At all, I think it’s 119.

Jeremy: I’ve actually got in the neighborhood of 175. A lot of my earlier fights didn’t get recorded. I was going to fight before the internet had a database so a lot of them slipped through the cracks. A lot of promoters didn’t really record them themselves, they didn’t submit them.

Sonny: I can believe that 100% that that is what happened and probably pride of the Sherdog days. With such an extensive amount of fights that’s so rare across the board of the entire sport, really, there’s a handful of guys that I’m sure you probably fought as well who you’re in that same category as yourself. One thing that’s always just interests me is how is that even possible? How does someone take on that many fights and get that much experience over the course of their career because now it just seems like it could never happen again?

Jeremy: Well, that’s certainly part of it. For today, everybody is so much more well-trained and well-rounded and evenly matched even when fights are technically a lopsided fight, they’re still way more evenly matched than somewhere back then. Add to that the fact that today everybody seems to be encouraged to stand up and throw punches. You’re seeing a lot more damage with people, the rules affect that as well. Back in the day when I was fighting, I’d easily– Dozens and dozens of fights where I could take the guy down and get on top of him and as soon as I started to throw a punch, he’d roll over and I’d choked him. The fight was over in a minute and a half, neither one of us took a single punch, we could both fight again an hour later if we felt like it. That’s a big part of it. Then that’s always been my mentality is, I want to win fights as fast as I can, as cleanly as I can and generally, that means taking people down and submitting them. It just causes less damage on both sides.

Sonny: That’s a good way to do it, [crosstalk] get a lot of fights by taking as little damage as possible.

Jeremy: Exactly. That’s how I like that.

Sonny: When you first got into into fighting, what was it that drew you into it, and did you have any martial arts background? What were those first couple of steps like?

Jeremy: I started martial arts when I was 12. My older brother had seen a demonstration at a local fair and so he joined and then not long after I joined. I just fell in love with martial arts right away. Like any kid, I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s so obviously, all the martial arts movies, the ninja movies, the John Claude Van Damme, Bloodsport movie. Those are movies I grew up on, so infatuated with martial arts. When the opportunity to fight rolled along it just seemed like something fun to do. What kid that does martial arts doesn’t want to try it out. I had a couple of fights, turned out I was decent at it and I loved it so I just kept fighting.

Sonny: I hear that we were listening to the Bloodsport soundtrack tonight at training, it’s always a good one. When you had those first fights, did you know what you were getting into?

Jeremy: No, not at all. In my first fight, I actually thought I was possibly entering into a snuff film. I thought we might have be going to be killed after the fight. In my first fight, I was living in Omaha at the time, in Nebraska, that’s where I born and raised. They flew us down to Atlanta for the fights and they didn’t pay us anything but they bought us a plane ticket, put us in a hotel and I think they gave us like $100 so we could get something to eat while we were down there. Me and a couple of my friends both fought. They show up the night of the fight with a limo which is odd. At this point, I don’t even know how I’m going to fight. It was just, you guys are coming to fight, we’ll have you a fight, be ready at five o’clock or whatever. They show up to pick us up, they drive us down into the dark after hours business area of Atlanta somewhere like a business district and we are in metal utility sheds and corrugated metal buildings and not a good area of town. They pull up and we are literally fighting in a warehouse. We walk in, they have some of those suede mats thrown down on the floor and there are people in tuxedos and evening gowns drinking champagne. There’s only about 20 people watching. It was creepy like bear light bulb hanging from a chain in the roof, in the ceiling in the building that’s what was lighting us. No cage, no boxing ring. They had a bunch of guys with those old school Taekwondo kicking shields, the curved ones you can hold. They had guys with a bunch of those running around the outside of the mat and if we got close to the edge, they would just body-check people back in to keep you inside. Then they got everybody lined up and then they’re like okay, you guys are about the same size so you fight him and you fight him and you fight him. I thought they were going to do this and then take us out and kill us and throw us in the ditch. It was bad, [chuckles] but they obviously didn’t so it ended up working out pretty well. It actually turned out to be the guys that did this show were the same ones that ended up promoting the MARS Show. I don’t know if you remember that it was–

Sonny: Japanese show?

Jeremy: It was martial arts reality super fighting. The main event was Murilo Bustamante against Tom Erikson. Do you remember that tournament?

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: It was those guys they were doing this. These fights were basically auditions to possibly get into the tournament. They were going all over and having everybody fight and then some of the people that fought got into the tournament. It was quite nerve-racking. After a start like that, it’s only uphill. It can’t get any worse after that. I’m like, oh, I actually am fighting in a cage in front of a crowd with a referee and people that know I’m here. It’s much easier to deal with.

Sonny: After that one then, were there any other unusual places that fights took place for you?

Jeremy: Well, unusual, sure, but nothing like that severe. Obviously, as the sport was growing, a lot of fights in rodeo arenas, I had a couple of fights that were basically in some guy’s backyard, that kind of thing.

Sonny: Nothing to compare to the warehouse with the tuxedos?

Jeremy: Yes, being flown to Atlanta and chauffeured to the fight in a limo and then you walk in. It literally was like a movie, we walk in and there’s people in evening gowns and tuxedos. This is crazy.

Sonny: That was so bizarre. What a way to get started on your journey.

Jeremy: Definitely.

Sonny: Couldn’t ask for much more for sure.

Jeremy: I had quite a few interesting beginnings in my career like that. I think that’s part of the reason I really had an easy time with a lot of things that other people would struggle with. Just like when that’s your first fight, it can’t get worse. A lot of guys are going to their first fight and it’s an amateur fight on a real MMA card and they’re like, “Oh, I’m nervous.” Did you think you were going to get murdered after you fought? [laughter] Definitely it’s only up from there, I actually got a locker room?

Sonny: What were some of those other interesting parts of those beginnings then for you that helped shape you?

Jeremy: Another one was my first fight at the UFC. My first fight at the UFC, which normally is incredibly nerve-racking for everybody. That’s a tough fight to get going, not only that but my first fight in UFC was Frank Shamrock. At the time, he’s looked at as the greatest fighter on the planet, and I knew that I was pretty much being brought in as a sacrificial lamb. I didn’t care that it was in the UFC. I’m like I’m fighting Shamrock, nobody thinks I’m going to win, nobody cares what happens, I’m lucky to be here. It’s not like I got to win this fight, I got to make a good impression. Nobody expected that, so no stress there. Also, Frank Shamrock had just fought his last two fights were Kevin Jackson and Igor Zinoviev, both really, really tough fighters. He beat both of them in 30 seconds. Again, I’m like nobody’s expecting anything at me but I knew that there’s nobody that he’s going to beat me in a minute. Those guys that are better than me but nobody’s going to beat me in a minute. I can run for a minute. [laughs] When I go into that fight, I had zero expectations. Nobody expected me to win. Nobody cared if I won. It was just another opportunity for Frank to beat somebody up so all the stress is gone. There’s no performance anxiety when nobody expects me to win. It makes it real easy, my first fight is out of the way.

Sonny: I think that fight you’re talking about he wasn’t going to beat you in a minute, I think that flight went on 17, 18 minutes or something.

Jeremy: Yes, I ended up winning the majority of the fight until I screwed up and got caught in a leg lock at the end of the fight.

Sonny: That hints to the different changes in the rules of the sport that you would have been around for because, of course, that was not a 25-minute title fight-

Jeremy: Right. Right. Sunny: -it was before those were happening. How did you see those evolution of rule changes happen from your side?

Jeremy: I guess we could say that the rule changes have been necessary for the acceptance of the sport and to get it a little more understood by the general public but truthfully, I don’t like a lot of them. As the sport gets further and further away from what a real fight actually is, it becomes more of just a game, it is just– It’s a sport, obviously, but it gets further away from reality. When they took away kicking and kneeing a downed opponent, that was big. When they take away hair pulling, [unintelligible 00:12:11] nobody- everybody shaved their head anymore anyway. Being able to control somebody by their hair is a big part of it, that helps a lot. Not being able to hit people in the back of their head, not being able to elbow people, the 12 to 6 elbow. All these little things make- they all add up to a big change. It used to be that if you were a grappler and you shot a double leg on somebody and they sprawled and you were stuck on all fours, you were in terrible danger, not anymore. You can shoot and stay on all fours and they can’t really do much to you other than then punch you or try to spin your back, that obviously submissions. If you were on all fours and somebody had you in front headlock, you were going to get kneed in the head. That was a massive, massive change for the wrestlers, now, they can take a shot and if they miss, no big deal.

Sonny: That’s still one of the biggest weapons in Japanese MMA, to be able to– those knees to the head from front headlock position is such a powerful weapon.

Jeremy: Yes, it’s huge. Or downward elbows when you’re on top of somebody that– They don’t get used a lot but that’s one thing that a lot of people don’t understand is the threat of them being used is oftentimes enough to elicit the response you want. I’m training guys in the gym here, and guys are getting ready for a fight and I try to tell them, “You have to spar and you have to train with the mindset of would I do this in a real fight if my life was on the line, if the win was on the line.” Because there is always another level of anxiety that you just can’t get to until you’re actually in a fight. We’re grappling and we’re rolling around and guys see they’re doing well. Then we put those little MMA gloves on and say, “Okay, now I’m going to punch you in the face”, and suddenly everything changes. Not a massive amount because we’re still friends and you know that if I hit you, I’m not going to try to hit you hard. If I do hit you hard, I’m going to let up and I’m not going to try to put you away. Whereas in a fight that one more step, it really breaks a lot of people and it’s just the threat of doing it. I don’t have to throw a single punch but if I put on a glove, and you think, “Fuck, this guy, he might hit me. I got to do this, this, this and he might hit me.” The same thing, now he’s like “He might hit me and it might knock my teeth out.” It changes things. I don’t even have to throw a punch but the chance that I could throw a punch changes your perspective. That’s what a lot of people don’t understand. You can put on gloves and you can train a little bit. It’s definitely a good training tool but it’s still not a fight.

Sonny: Then for you have those rule changes and turning it more into a sport and then we see now and even going more into an entertainment side with some of the promotional tactics and how different fighters are promoted. How do you think that has taken away from the essence of what you see as the real art of fighting?

Jeremy: I don’t know if the promotional side of things has taken away from it too much. Even now, I’ve got my problems with that as well because I prefer to see people that are awarded on their skill as a fighter. As a participant in the sport, I want to see people earn a number one spot by beating the number one guy. As a fan, I also enjoy the Conor McGregor’s of the world and the Chael Sonnen’s because it does, it makes it entertaining, definitely. I would still rather see people earn their spot through their actions and their performance not by running their mouth and that’s what earns them a big fight.

Sonny: Yes, I hear you. I’d still prefer that too but then I still always tune in. [crosstalk]

Jeremy: Absolutely. I love an entertaining fight as well and I love a good backstory, but it’s irritating when now everybody tries to be Conor, to be Conor and Chael both. Both of those guys have a gift to talk. They’re very good at hyping a fight and they seem sincere. Even though I think at this point, we all know, it’s a show. They’re talking, they’re building a fight, and they’re making us get engaged but you still can’t deny it, you’re still engaged, you still want to see it. Whereas other people just do a really bad job of it.

Sonny: When you were fighting and obviously over in Japan, there’s this crossover over there with Japanese MMA and pro wrestling. Was there any kind of fights that you had that the Japanese put that extra bit of show on for or that they were hyping up in an interesting way or–

Jeremy: No, not particularly. When I was fighting over in Japan, it was a big rush. The Japanese crowd and a lot of the organizations over there just really wanted to see a lot of foreign fighters. They are not quite sure. It’s both. They love to see foreigners come over and get beat by Japanese fighters. That’s huge for them, it’s a nationalistic thing. They’re proud of their fighters winning and so that’s cool. At the same time, they’re just huge fans of the sport. They love to see two guys fight and the winner win. They don’t care that much but at the same time, if that winner is a Japanese fighter, it’s just even better. It was just a huge push. Lots of foreign fighters coming over because the Japanese fighters and fans wanted to test themselves, I guess, wanted to see where they stood. We got a lot of press and we got a lot of push and a lot of support but never anything specific for me.

Sonny: Sure. I guess then speaking of then the different cultures and how those different cultures can breed different perspectives of people watching, and of also then the people earning their place. Probably one of the best examples of an early super team would have been the Miletich Fighting Systems and the culture in there must have been something special in those early days to produce so many of those champions.

Jeremy: To me, it really wasn’t anything special, it was just a room full of people that just really enjoyed training. Again, that’s another thing that I don’t like where the sports going now because now you see people that come into the sport and their goal is just to make money. They’re like, “Hey, I’m a pro fighter” because they love the image and the ego that comes with that, and I want to make money. When we started, there was no money in the sport. We trained every day because we love training, we love fighting, we love competing, we love doing what we do. When you love what you do, they always say “If you love your job, you never work a day in your life”, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: We were at the gym five or six days a week, two or three times a day because we loved it. “Hey, I’m going to put in 40 hours a week to train for this fight and I’m going to go make $300.” Now, you got to tease people with a carrot on a stick, they’re like “Hey, if you come train twice a week, you might make $1,000.” I don’t like seeing that because I’m tired of people thinking that to become a fighter is an easy payday. I get to lounge around and do nothing all day, and then I get to go fight and be a superstar and make lots of money, well, that’s not how it works. If that is your goal, then you shouldn’t be in this sport anyway, you should be in this sport because you love to train, you love to fight, and it’s a bonus that you get to do it for a living.

Sonny: I hear that. What part were you on your journey when you started training with Miletich Fighting Systems?

Jeremy: Well, so I’d had a couple of fights in a few different organizations, and then in my, I guess actually, it was my second and third fights, I fought a tournament for Monte, who was my manager. Now, he managed me…

Sonny: Monte Cox? Is it?

Jeremy: Yes, Monte Cox. I met Pat and all the guys, and obviously, I was in Omaha training with my friends, and we were still pretty new, and everybody was still figuring everything out. I saw Pat and his guys, and I was like, oh, those guys they have a direction, they know what were doing. My friends and I were just getting together and jacking around, doing whatever we thought was right, like a lot of people at the time. I decided that I wanted to go train with Pat. I would start traveling to Iowa, it was about four hours. I would drive there for the weekends, then I would stay with him for the weekends, and we’d train Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and then I’d go home on Monday and go back to work. Eventually, it got to the point where, excuse me, I was getting a few fights rolling in, but I was still working full time. Then I decided to move to Iowa, and at the time, fights were exploding, everybody was doing a show. If you had 300 square feet of space, you were going to put together a fight. When I move to Iowa, there were just so many fights happening that I could fight every weekend, and it turned out that I didn’t need to get a job again. Again, that’s another one of those things where I never really felt any stress. It’s not like, okay, here I go, I’m going to quit my day job, and throw all my eggs in one basket as a pro fighter. I was working in Omaha, I moved to Iowa, I had planned to get a job in Iowa, but there were so many fights that I didn’t need to. Back then, I was making $300, $400, $500 a fight maybe, but if you’re doing that every weekend, it’s enough to pay rent, so whatever. I’m like, okay, I got a lot of fights, I guess I’ll start looking for a job next week, another fight, another fight, and another fight, I’ll find a job next month. I just ended up never getting a job again because I didn’t need to. Then obviously, the sport started growing a bit, and there started to be a little more money in the fights, and I was still fighting every weekend if I could. Eventually, the fights started spreading out a little bit, but they were also paying a little bit more, so I just eased into being a pro. I never really intended to do it because I was training and fighting because I loved it.

Sonny: That’s a good way to do it.

Jeremy: That’s the way it should be.

Sonny: How many fights up to 100 did you get to when you realized, you know what? I think I’m in this?

Jeremy: Well, honestly, even like all the way up to five years ago, six years ago, I still look back and I think, man. I sometimes feel like a fraud, that’s going to get discovered at some point. People don’t realize I’m just some kid that likes to train, and fight, and play video games, and play with my dogs. Somehow they’re going to your realize, that I’m not really a pro fighter, they just happen to keep paying me to do this. That’s always how it’s been. I would get up in the morning, I would go to the gym and work out, and then I’d come home and hang out with my friends, and go ride my mountain bike, or play video games, then go back to the gym at night, and then on the weekends go fight. I never sat back and said, holy cow, I’m a professional at this. Imagine if you’re a college kid, but you get paid to go to parties every weekend. You just do your thing during the week, and then go do your thing on the weekend, and somehow there’s always money in your bank. That’s what it was. I never really looked at myself as a pro, never really sat back and thought, okay, this is my career now, I’m just riding this train as long as it’ll take.

Sonny: Wow, that’s fascinating. It was really just this natural progression of just, hey, I want to fight, I have to give this a go, into this crazy warehouse, let’s go one foot after the other, keep it going. It must’ve been maybe good fortune to be able to hook up with Miletich.

Jeremy: Yes, absolutely, it was. Had I not done that, then I’d imagine that things would have taken a different path obviously, because I would have hit some limits of technique and skill, and I would have started losing more. Because as it was, like in my first 30 or 40 fights, I think I only had three or four losses. I was doing well, and I was winning more than I lost. [crosstalk]

Sonny: Just to be on the side of that sentence, in my first 30 or 40 fights, I had a few losses, say no more.

Jeremy: It was a very different time back then too, because there were still a lot of people that were struggling to figure out the sport, and figure out the game. We were as well, but I guess I was just a little bit lucky, in that I had a little bit of a knack for it. I’ve got a good brain for understanding fighting, I guess. People tell me that the way I explain things, the way I teach, makes it easier to understand, and all I’m doing is like, this is how I look at it, this is what I think, this is how I look at this situation, and position and mindset and strategy. People like, oh, I get it. Just chugging along doing that, and then going to Iowa and having partners that were good, really good wrestlers and good kickboxers, and stuff like that, just gave me an opportunity to push me, make me better.

Sonny: What would you think then, some of those things that you looked at the problem a little differently to others, that enabled you to have success?

Jeremy: I don’t know if I could pick out any specific examples, but just different ideas of techniques, and different ideas of how to do things. This is one [unintelligible 00:26:21] that I actually ever have, I kind of struggled with a little bit as I’ve become a coach because to me– We talked earlier about, when you add punches and you add the ability to strike, it changes your mindset in a fight, but it never did for me. I realize now that it does, but it never did for me. I was always thinking look, if I’m in a fight, and I’m grappling properly, I’m controlling your arms, I’m controlling your head, I’m doing the things that I should do, then it doesn’t matter if you have the option of hitting me or not, because you can’t move your arms anyway. As long as I’m tying up your arms, which is what I want to do anyway to control you and win, so what is the matter if you can hit me? That’s how I’ve always looked at it, like if I’m doing things right, it doesn’t matter what the rules are. It doesn’t matter if there’s a gun laying across the room, legally you can get up and run over and shoot me, that’s fair. If I can keep you pinned down, and you can’t get anywhere near that gun, it’s not going to add stress to me because I got you. I realize now over the years of coaching, it’s not like that for everybody, that level of anxiety. I’ve always told people look, just do things right. If you’re grappling properly, it doesn’t matter if your opponent can hit you or not, do what’s right and you’ll succeed. That ghost hanging in the corner still scares them, but what if I lose track of him? What if he gets away from me? What if? That what if is what ruins people. I guess that I’ve always had a slightly different perspective, and that’s the one that jumps to mind, but conceptually, I grapple conceptually a lot more than a lot of other people, I think.

Sonny: Definitely your grappling skills seem to give you that advantage over a lot of people, and I’d say probably kept you safe, would that be reasonable to say?

Jeremy: Absolutely, it kept me safe, and my mindset as well. My goal was always to win fast, so I’m going to grapple, I’m going to not let you hit me, I’m going to keep you tangled up, and I’m going to get on top of you, and then you’re going to turn over, and I’m going to choke you. I’m a decent boxer, but I’ve never been known as a striker, I’m a grappler, and I think everybody should be, primarily when they get started. Striking is incredibly hard, and now everybody, they see the superstars in the UFC, everybody wants to be a kickboxer, but again, people don’t understand, it changes things. If you’re not used to it, and put a lot of hours into it, as well as the fact that t I think it’s more difficult. Grappling is like hand to hand, it’s like contact, whereas striking is we’re feet apart, and now it’s reflexes, and hand-eye coordination, and intuition, whereas those are all very less relevant in grappling.

Sonny: Is there a way that you would train your grappling, in maybe in the early days, that has changed over the years, or is there any kind of drills, that you’ve done the whole way through?

Jeremy: No, not really. My technique has changed a little bit, obviously. I’ve learned a bit more, and gotten a little bit better, and implemented some new things, and maybe changed a little bit the techniques that I used to do other things, but for the most part, well, it’s the same. It’s the same mentality obviously, like new techniques. Everything gets updated, everything progresses.

Sonny: Sure. One thing that always interests me is the progression of sparring over the years. We maybe hear that the old style way was more just the survival of the fittest. Whereas now people are trying to periodise training more and soft days and hard days. How do you look at that? How do you think that changed?

Jeremy: Well, I think I have always been of the mind, even from the very early days that training super, super hard, like hard sparring is unnecessary. Grappling is a little different. You can go really hard and you’re not going to get hurt, but when you’re hitting each other, you don’t need to do that hard. Also because like, if somebody’s going to punch me, they can either hurt me or they can’t. I don’t need to test that every day in the gym. All I need to test is whether or not I can avoid that punch. If the punch lands, the result is what it is. Again, that’s another thing that I’ve tried to explain to people. I’ve always tried to tell people when you’re sparring, what you should be trying to do is execute good technique, throw good clean punches, and do your best to avoid them. People are like, but what about this, what about that and what happens to this. I was telling people, there’s really only three examples, there’s only three things that can happen if somebody lands a punch. Let’s say you’re in a fight and we’re going to assume that your defense is already like redlining. You are doing everything you possibly can to the maximum of your skill and ability to not get hit. Let’s say that guy who manages to land a punch or a kick or a knee, there’s only three options. Either A that punch doesn’t hurt because the guy can’t crack an egg. What do you do? Nothing. Your strategy doesn’t change. You’re already defending as well as you can. That guy manages to get a punch through. If he set it up, well, maybe you’ll read that set up a little better, but for the most part, you do nothing. Because if you’re already doing everything you can, you can’t do anymore. Or that punch hurts you and hurts you bad and now you’re fighting on instinct and you’re wobbling. What do you do now? Nothing because you’re fighting on instinct. You don’t have a choice or you’re unconscious. Those are the only three choices if you’re going to get hit in a fight. Again, assuming that we are already doing everything we can to avoid getting hit. There is no reason to ever let emotion get into fighting because all it does is make you worse. When we’re talking about training, same thing, you don’t have to hit me hard. I’m trying to avoid that punch anyway. Obviously t here are some days where you need to go a little harder to make sure that you are capable of it, but once or once or twice a month is plenty. You know Sean, O’Connell. He won the first season of the PFL, he’s one of my guys.

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: Crazy, funny way in guy. That’s almost you all know him. From the very first day, he started training with me. It became very apparent that he does not care if he gets hit. He really doesn’t care. You watch his fights and somewhere you’ll punch him right in the face. His expression doesn’t even change. He doesn’t flame. He doesn’t squirm. He doesn’t run away. You punch him in the face. He just doesn’t care. That’s a unique perspective. All I had to do with him was get him to understand, but it is bad to get hit. You will go to sleep if you get hit hard enough. Even though you don’t care, let’s try to move your head. Let’s try to defend but yes, emotionally, you shouldn’t care. Mentally, defensively, you need to care, but emotionally, you shouldn’t care. You see those guys that are scared of getting hit, they shouldn’t be boxers. They should be grapplers. If your training is that, and all you’re doing is basically playing high speed tag, then your training can go on and on and on forever. I used to train with Jens back in Iowa when we were together, he’s weighing 140 pounds or 150 pounds. I’m weighing 210, and we’ve been sparked 10, 12, 15 rounds a day, because all we’re doing is playing tag, basically. With good adherence and good technique and not doing a bunch of flashy bullshit. If you do that, we’re learning good head movement, good defense, learning to do all the things you should do, but you don’t have to get hit hard.

Sonny: That seems like a much more efficient way to train because you’re going to get a lot more time working with good partners.

Jeremy: It’s a lot more fun. You trained yourself, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Jeremy: Do you train a lot of Jujutsu or MMA or a little bit everything?

Sonny: Jujutsu, MMA used to fight professionally, but now everything.

Jeremy: You know what it’s like when you go into that gym for a hard sparring, then you like, fuck, man, this is going to suck. I’m not happy here. This is going to be a bad day. I want to get my work done and get out of here because I’m not feeling it today. I’m getting my ass kicked and it’s going to suck. Well, who wants to train in days like that? Versus the days where you go in, you’re like, hey, we’re going to have some fun. We’re going to roll around real lightly on the mats. We’re going to have some fun. I’m going to learn, blah, blah, blah but if your sparring days are just like hey, we’re going to go in, we’re going to play tag. I’m going to run around, have some fun, then it makes training enjoyable and you get more out of it as well as retain more brain cells.

Sonny: I think even sometimes it’s certain people that are this round [crosstalk]

Jeremy: Absolutely. Everyone got one of those rounds. I got to bite down because this round is going to suck. You see, you need those every now and then, but only two to reinforce that, yes, I am tough. Yes, I can take a punch. Yes, I can continue to execute good technique even when I’m a little nervous and the things are on the line. Once you know that you have that faith in you, you don’t have to do it all the time.

Sonny: Were you ever able to do that then with Tim Sylvia?

Jeremy: Yes, because I’m faster than Tim. You’re training with people long enough, you get to know their tendencies and definitely hard to deal with his jab, but stay closer, stay far away.

Sonny: Then going back to your idea of taking the emotion out of fighting or the emotion out of getting hit, I think you were talking about specifically that when you’re taking your- like a mindset approach into fighting, is that where you also just trying to be emotionless and just trying to act rationally through the fight?

Jeremy: I try to be as much as I can, obviously, in a fight nerves creep in and nerves qualifies emotion. You start to make decisions that you wouldn’t normally because you’re basically scaring yourself. I got to flinch a little more because if this guy hits me, he’s going to knock me out. I can’t afford to let him come. I always tried to be as logical and rational as I could, when I fought. Every single time I fought, like generally, I was the better grappler in the fight. Look, I don’t care how good this guy is on his feet. I’m not going to box with it. If I can take him down, I win. It’s not a matter of, oh, what if he hits me or I can’t afford to get hit. I’m not even going to play that game. I’m going to do everything I can to take you down and then I’m calm. I’m calm with that mindset because I know what I have to do.

Sonny: Taking that mindset, is that something then you try and put onto your fighters that you’re training now? How do you go about trying to do that for you like when you’re warming them up or just when you’re walking them to the cage or how do you impart [crosstalk]

Jeremy: Yes, I do. Obviously, we talked about a lot while we’re training and while we’re rolling and stuff like that, I try to explain to people what their mindset should be. I’m like I said I always try to encourage people. Like I said, it all comes down to basically logic in fact. If you are faster than them, you’re faster. How do we work around that? If that guy’s faster than you, how do you work around that? If he’s stronger than you, how do you work around that? If you have a guy that’s bigger, stronger, faster, better Jujutsu, better boxing, better wrestling than you, how do you win that fight? You don’t, you can’t win that fight without some luck. If you’re my fighter, we’re not taking that fight. You don’t have a chance in that fight. There’s no reason to take that fight. If you’re a little bit stronger and you hit a little bit harder, but he’s a better grappler and he’s faster, well, now that gives us the strategy. We got to try to stay on our feet. You got to try to hit him hard, that kind of thing. Or if you’re a better grappler, blah, blah, blah. If there’s a way to win, then we just try to figure it out basically.

Jeremy: That makes sense.

Jeremy: Every fighter, well, it’s getting to be a little less common, but almost every fighter has a weakness, a weak area. All we got to do is find it and go there. Obviously, that weak area is getting smaller and smaller for a lot of guys, but everybody has one. We just got to find it and try to take the fight to that area. That’s again where we talked about earlier. I don’t really like to see where the sport is going now because now everybody wants to stand up and brawl. It drives me insane when I watched two guys that are, let’s say, one guy’s a bulkheads, are good stand up guys. One guy’s also a good Jujutsu guy. he’ll get clipped on his feet and he’ll go down. What’s the first thing he does?

Sonny: Stands back up.

Jeremy: Tries to get back to his feet. Like, what the hell are you doing, man? Do you understand what you should do? You are good on the ground and you are hurt on your feet, lay on your back and try to recover for a second. If that guy follows you to the ground, you’re good on the ground. Try to recover. Don’t get back up where you can barely stand up and let that guy knock you out more. Everybody is getting so sucked into this idea of, I got to stand up and prove how tough I am. I got to win that fight of the night bonus because I want to get up and brawl with people. I’ve never cared about that. I want to win. I still look at training and fighting as an offshoot of self defense.

Sonny: That makes me think then of maybe the diminished role of the guard now in modern MMA, it just doesn’t seem to be played as much, sometimes not at all. What’s your thoughts on how that’s happening and what could be different?

Jeremy: I agree 100% the guard is going away because the way the rules, rounds, and the standards have implemented the sport. There’s a lot of things that the grapplers, in general, but specifically it hurts the guard a lot. Judges are still stupid. If you’re on your back, they think you’re losing. Somebody can lay on your guard with their head in your chest and punch you in the ribs, and they’re going to win. That’s not always the case, but you get what I’m saying. There’s just a lot of opportunities where the grappler is hurt. Every round starts on their feet. The strikers get an advantage every round. Well, if I spend three minutes in a round, chasing you around because you’re running, then I finally get a hold of you, it takes me a minute to drag you down because you’re leaning against the fence and every now and then grab. Well, that’s a whole another issue.

Sonny: [laughs]

Jeremy: Out of a five minute round, I’ve been chasing you around, finally dragged you down and I have a minute to work. If I sit still for 30 seconds, I’m going to get stirred up. Really, I just spent four minutes working on taking you down, and we’re going to get stood up within a minute. Why don’t we start on the ground on the next round?

Sonny: I could be sold on that idea for sure.

Jeremy: Just like anything else. If there’s a referee restart, and they can reset it in the same position, like in some of the grappling tournaments, if the position is clearly definable, then restart him on the ground. He earned it that whole first round. Why not let him work from the segment? That might change things a little bit because now you have a guy if he’s good enough on the ground, he can take you down. One take down is all he needs. He gets one take-down in the first round and keeps you there for the rest of the fight, might change things a little bit, rather than the striker getting a free stand up every round as well as stand ups for the referees, stand ups for inactivity, blah, blah, blah. It’s just very skewed towards strikers.

Sonny: It’s definitely just evolved that way now. I think a couple of maybe set positions that they could restart if it needs to be. I’d be willing to watch some of that. Of course, I enjoy watching grappling myself. [chuckles] I may not be the average person that people are- that they’re marketing these fights through, unfortunately.

Jeremy: Right. The average people just want to see people get knocked out. It brings more money to the sport for the fighters, which I’m a fan of, but it also makes the pursuit of money the main goal rather than winning a fight.

Sonny: It’s one of those things that it’s going to be difficult to change at all really. On then your pursuit into professional fighting, and maybe this was getting into where it was starting, to get more money for you into the UFC and the rings as well. You had fights Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Anderson Silva, what for you was some of those most memorable ones with these elite levels of the sport?

Jeremy: Honestly, all of them were memorable. Again, because I’ve always loved fighting and I’ve always loved training. None of them really stood out more than any others because they’re all awesome. It’s like which one is your favorite? Well, they’re all my favorite. Again, I feel like I’m a kid that’s hiding and somehow I’m going to get discovered. I’ve gotten to live an amazing life. I’ve gotten to travel the world doing exactly what I love, training and fighting and being part of this community of people. I love all of it and I always have. The more I see it shift away from that, because it’s going to be more financially driven, the less I like it. I don’t want to see it go that way. I’ve had people come into my gym before, they’re flicking a cigarette as they walk in the door and they’re like, “All right, how long before I can have my first fight and how much money do I make?” I’m like, “Man, just get the fuck out of here.” Well, I’m not doing that. If you’re not here because you’re interested in training– You can come in and say,”Hey, look, fighting is my goal. I really want to fight. I love the sport. I want to be part of the sport.” “Absolutely. Come on in.” If you’re like, “Hey, I think this is an easy way to make money. I just want to fight and make money. What do I got to do to make that happen?” It’s not for you. First of all, you’re never going to be good at it. Second, there’s not that much money and until you’re way, way down the road. I don’t want to deal with that. I want people to come in and go, “I watched the sport. I love the sport. I want to try it. I would love to compete someday.” Those are the guys I want.

Sonny: I hear you.

Jeremy: Honestly, I want self defense, it goes without saying.

Sonny: For that side of things, I always tell people, it’s like picking up a guitar and saying, “I want to learn to play at the stadium, down the road or something.” It’s like, “Well, you got to play a lot of open mics first.” [laughs]

Jeremy: You can go a long, long way.

Sonny: What would you think would be some of those benefits of having the love of the sport, the love of martial arts, that have carried over into the other areas of life for you?

Jeremy: Obviously, all the relationships that I’ve made, all the the people that I’ve met and the lives that I’ve gotten to change, that’s another thing, that for me has been a really big deal. I don’t see myself as anybody’s special as a fighter and I don’t see fighters as special people anyway, athletes in general. I don’t watch any other sports. I don’t care about football, baseball or basketball. I just don’t care.

Sonny: Me too.

Jeremy: It really bugs me. You’re playing the game, so am I. I’m playing a game, I’m nobody’s special. I’m not doing anything. For people that somehow think that because of their status as an athlete, they mean more to the world than then somebody else. I’m nobody’s special. I am fortunate that I have lived the life that I have and I am fortunate that I’ve been able to make money doing what I do so that I don’t have to go get a job. Because if I couldn’t make money doing this, I would go get a job and I would still do this. My life would just suck because then I would have to spend all my hours working instead of getting the train like I do. I don’t think me as a fighter or any fighter has done anything particularly special for the world. I don’t deserve any credit as a fighter. I’m nobody’s special. As a trainer, as a martial artist, as a coach, I have changed a lot of people’s lives. That I am very proud of. As a fighter, man, so what? I haven’t been good at beating people up. I’m glad people enjoy watching me do it. I’m glad it gives them some entertainment. I guess, there’s a little bit of value there because people enjoy it. I’m way more proud of, the guy that joined my gym and because of it, quit drinking, quit being a dirt bag, and now he’s married with three kids and owns his own business. I’m way more proud of the fact that, there’s a little kid that trains with me, that was getting bullied, and now he’s confident, strong, has friends, and has completely changed his personality. I’m way more proud of those things than I am that I won a world title. I said, as a fighter, none of that crap matters. It matters to me, it’s cool, but it doesn’t matter as far as like changing the world. What matters to me is the things that I’ve done in the gym with the people that you’ll never hear of because they’re not going to be professional fighters.

Sonny: I really like what you’ve said there in terms of, I guess, having the impact on the closest people around you.

Jeremy: Absolutely.

Sonny: You might say that you don’t think you’re anything special as a fighter or that’s not as much value as worth. From a personal perspective, you’re an inspiration to–

Jeremy: I may be overstated that. That is very nice to know that what I have done has touched other people to make them want to be inspired. Yes, in that regard, it does matter. You get what I’m saying now.

Sonny: I do.

Jeremy: I’m just a guy in a ring beating somebody up. I didn’t do anything for the world. There is some value because other people–

Sonny: Again, I think, you’re right. At the end of the day, it is those personal interactions that we have with people closest around us who can know on that one on one level that are going to have that lasting impact as well. Just some of those impacts that martial arts can have on a personal level for people that maybe the most valuable aspect of training and competing. Would you think that the transformative power of martial arts in people’s lives?

Jeremy: Absolutely. I think that is one the biggest. I don’t want to say it’s overlooked because, obviously, that is something that a lot of people know martial arts does. It’s one thing that its losing its front page status, so to speak. It’s huge. I was a shy little kid that got bullied and I’m still a shy adult but I’m now confident. I’m shy because I don’t really like being around a lot of people, not because I’m scared to be around a lot of people. It certainly is nice to know that pretty much anywhere I am, I could kick the shit out any two or three people at a time. It makes it much easier for me to stay calm and relaxed. I’m okay just sitting in the corner watching people. I don’t have to be the center of attention. I don’t want to be the center of attention. Definitely, it has changed my life for the better massively. It does for thousands of people, maybe hundreds of thousands of people across the world every day.

Sonny: It’s very interesting you bring that up because, I guess, the two sides that people would look at martial arts would be like they see the UFC on television, the hardcore, competitive cage fighting side, where people think of it as a blood sport and this awful thing. Then, there’s also this other side of the power of building confidence and transforming people’s lives.

Jeremy: Yes, definitely.

Sonny: That’s something that you must have come across with a lot over the years, with being such an active fighter and knowing of this other part of martial arts. How have you dealt with squaring those two off in your life?

Jeremy: Well, I guess they really have not had a whole lot of crossover for me because I’ve always tried to help people. I see people come to the gym and I can see people that are like, they’re just broken people. I had a guy who trained with me years ago and he ended up quitting, which was really unfortunate because I think he’s one of the people that really needed it. He was early 20s, in decent shape, but not a physical superstar. I could tell that he felt like he was worthless. He was a really nice guy and he had trouble doing just a basic, free bodyweight squat. That should be a pretty the simple thing for a kid in his early 20s to do, but he just couldn’t do it. He didn’t have the balance or the flexibility. He had never done anything athletic before in his entire life and he knew it. He knew that he was not where he should be, even to the point where he would make comments about himself, he’s like, “Oh, man, I wish I could do this, like a normal person,” and stuff like that. I’m like, “Man, I hate to see that kind of thing. I hate to hear that.” I used to work with him a lot. I tried to get him to come back. I think just because he felt so self conscious being in a crowd of other people that could do it. I’m really lucky. I’ve got a great gym of people. I don’t have any jerks in my gym. Everybody’s friendly. A new guy comes to the gym and everybody comes over and says hi and introduce themselves. I know that it was just his own self consciousness that drove him away because he was very welcomed at the gym. He just couldn’t get over it. He ended up stopping training with us. I feel really bad for people like that.

Sonny: Is there anything else that you think that martial arts or the MMA could do to help bring those people in, to help make the weak strong?

Jeremy: Yes, obviously, just doing what we do. Just helping them and training them and being a friend to them. That’s all people need. It all boils down to basically your own self image and your own self confidence. I’m sure you’ve seen it. There’s people that should not be confident that are, and then there’s other people– I’ve got a guy that he actually is now training. I think he’s probably pretty close to done. He’s going to be in the Secret Service. He was a really smart guy, college football star, trained with me for a while, have a lot of good fights, with dual citizenship with Australia and the US. He went to school in Australia, trained at a gym down there. Really funny, good looking guy. He’s six foot two, 210 pounds, just abs, just the whole package. I was talking to him one time and he was telling me how he thinks he’s ugly. He’s always worried that people think he’s funny looking. I’m like, “Dude, I would bend over backwards to be built like you. You’re a good looking guy. You’ve got a great sense of humor. How can you feel this way about yourself?” Now he was a copier locally, he got accepted into the Secret Service detail. He’s bouncing all over the US doing different training things. He probably still feels like he’s not good enough. I saw a documentary with Jim Carrey, the comedian. He talked about his upbringing and obviously an incredibly funny guy. He talked about how a lot of people that are very, very funny are because they are really self conscious and abused as kids. They develop a sense of humor to make everybody like them. There’s so many people out there like that that ,man, if you could see yourself the way the rest of the world sees you, you wouldn’t feel the way you feel. I think martial arts can do that for people by giving them some physical strength and giving them some physical tools. Showing them that they have some value and showing them that they do have friends with similar interests that aren’t going to judge them. That’s what martial arts should be about. As well as, obviously, helping people to defend themselves and helping people to build stronger lives and stronger relationships. Then, real far down the list of importance, is getting in the ring and competing. It’s certainly fun.

Sunny: Great fun.

Jeremy: In the world of importance, it’s pretty far down there.

Sonny: I really like that, Jeremy. That’s a very nice way to put it. I think I’ll finish up just with one more question for you. Just for advice for any young fighters, maybe on dealing with promoters, I think might be a good angle, because I’m sure you have a lot of experience with that. Just how would you recommend or a bit of advice that maybe you could have given yourself back in the day?

Jeremy: Well, I was pretty lucky. I had good people around me. My first trainer actually took over as my manager for a little bit. Because, again, he was just a good guy that wanted to see me not be taken advantage of. He was like, “Look, I don’t know anything about the sport, but I’m a smart guy and I’d be happy to look over your contracts and make sure that you’re not getting screwed.” He was basically my manager, but he didn’t really know what he was doing. He was like, “Look, I don’t want any money, I want to help you to make it.” He looked over my first UFC contract and basically he was like, “I want to make sure you’re not getting screwed and taken advantage of.” Then I went along with Bonnie, not long after that, who obviously is a great manager. I would recommend that they get somebody who obviously has some intelligence, but who also that they really trust to help them navigate through this. Everybody wants to fight. Every fighter wants to take every fight, but you need somebody there to say “Hey, man, this is probably not the best fight for you.” If you’re a fighter, and you’re talking to a promoter directly, what fighter is going to say “Yes, I know, that guy’s got 10 fights and I’ve got one. I probably shouldn’t be fighting him.” Well, no, the fighter is like, “Yes, I want that fight.” Well, not every fight is right all the time. It helps to have somebody else to protect you from yourself. That’s what I would say is, get somebody to be the middleman because promoters will naturally take advantage of fighters. Not necessarily in a nasty, underhanded way, but it’s the promoters job.

Sonny: That’s their job.

Jeremy: [crosstalk] as much fights as I can for as little money as I can. The fighter wants as much money as they can get. Find somebody to help walk that line. That’s one thing I would say. Find a good gym. Find a good gym with people that want to train hard.

Sonny: That’s good advice. I like the idea of finding someone who will protect you from yourself. I think it’s good advice for young fighters. I think that’s a good way to put it. Jeremy, it has been really awesome to talk to you, mate. I really appreciate you giving me your-

Jeremy: My pleasure.

Sonny: -time. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Jeremy: Absolutely.

Sonny: Awesome. I’ll be in touch in the future. Maybe we can do this again and again sometimes.

Jeremy: I’d love to. Awesome. Sounds good.

Sonny: Jeremy, thank you so much.

Jeremy: All right. Thank you. We’ll see you next time.

Sonny: Cheers, mate.

Jeremy Horn Interview

Crafting Comfort When Uncomfortable & Adapting for Victory With Alexander Volkanovski

In this episode, I talk to Alexander Volkanovski. Alex is the current UFC featherweight champion. We discuss what it was like as an amateur athlete rising through the ranks of Australia to become the UFC champion and how he was able to get valuable training with partners of all different abilities. Also, the mentality he adopted to help drive and motivate him to the top by building resilience and staying adaptable. And what it is like spending training time at City Kickboxing as he gives insight into some training drills and a few fights stories along the way, like the time in Guam where he had to solve the problem of a fighter who was greased up before the bout while in the middle of a fight. 

Blending Hip Hop, Chess & BJJ With Adisa Banjoko of the Hip Hop Chess Federation

I talk to Adisa Banjoko aka Adisa the Bishop. He is the creator of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, Author of a book titled Bobby, Bruce and the Bronx and host of the Podcast called The Bishop Chronicles.

The Hip Hop Chess federation combines the arts of Hip Hop, Chess and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and teaches positive life strategies to at-risk and incarcerated youth. We discuss how he formed the HHCF from an initial encounter in a juvenile detention facility where he found chess helpful to breakdown racial and social barriers, its development where traditionalists in each art were initially sceptical of the members of the other arts.

We go over practical examples of how chess, jiu-jitsu and hip hop can be useful metaphors for dealing with life’s struggles. Finally, how Adisa recently taught how to overcome creative blocks at a retreat with a Shaolin Monk hosted by the RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan at his house.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 017

Sonny: Welcome to episode number 17 of The Sonny Brown Breakdown. A podcast where we discuss the training, teaching, health, and education of mixed martial arts to help you find the difference that makes the difference. I’m your host Sonny Brown and in this episode, I talk to Adisa Banjoko aka Adisa the Bishop. He is the creator of the Hip Hop Chess Federation, author of a book titled Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx, and the host of a podcast called The Bishop Chronicles. The Hip Hop Chess Federation combines the arts of hip hop, chess, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and teaches positive life strategies to at-risk and incarcerated youth. We discuss how he formed the Hip Hop Chess Federation after an initial encounter in a juvenile detention facility where he found chess helpful to break down racial and social barriers, its development where traditionalists in each art were initially skeptical of the members of the other arts and we go over practical examples of how chess, jujutsu, and hip hop can be useful metaphors for dealing with life struggles. Finally, how Adisa recently taught how to overcome creative blocks at a retreat with a Shaolin monk hosted by the RZA of the Wu-Tang clan at his house. Now, let’s got to the podcast. Adisa, great to have you here mate. How are you today? How’s things?

Adisa: I’m really good. You know what I’m saying? Thank you for having me on the show. You’re really awesome. I love your videos and I can’t even believe I’m on the show. That’s totally true. I’m a little extra star-struck because I was listening to one of your podcasts earlier. I was literally eating lunch listening to it, and I’m still juiced from it. It’s weird. I’m having a star-struck moment. I’m just telling you.

Sonny: [laughs] The feeling is mutual mate because I’ve been a fan of your work for a long time. I can’t remember exactly when I first picked up a book–

Adisa: It was two years ago or something. It seemed right. Maybe less. I don’t know.

Sonny: It seems a while but I can’t even remember exactly how I found out about your stuff. It was through good fortune, let’s just say.

Adisa: [laughs]

Sonny: That I found out about you and your organization and have been fascinated with it ever since. I like reading about it. I like reading about what you’re doing. Basically, what you do is you run the Hip Hop Chess Federation which combines the elements of hip hop, chess, martial arts, particularly Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and you use that as a vehicle to teach, say, positive life strategies-

Adisa: Totally.

Sonny: -to kids, troubled youth, at-risk youth–

Adisa: Especially troubled youth, yes. Especially troubled youth. It’s for everybody. You know what I mean? Yes, Hip Hop Chess Federation was founded in 2006 but it had been something on my mind for at least 10 years, maybe 15 years before that. It’s little scattered fragments of wisdom are floating through your brain like, “Oh, that makes sense with that. That makes sense with that.” I think that was because I am a guy who didn’t graduate high school. I got a GED because I was really an alcoholic, a binge drinker. I didn’t graduate. I didn’t have any direction, let me be honest. Even if I’m honest about how I got into drinking was because I just didn’t have any direction. I dedicated myself to hip hop at a very young age and I was a journalist but I was also an artist. What happens is I started noticing when I was young that there were a lot of rappers that were mentioning chess and I love chess. I’m not a grandmaster. You’ve never seen me win any tournaments but I love the game. The thing that I always picked up from it was life decisions when I was either playing or when I was watching other people play. I could pull life things from other people’s games and that’s what my gift was like. You know what I’m saying? I’d be like, “Oh, in life … .” It would just stick with me. Long story short, I made a library of lyrics in my head that dealt with chess and it would be like from Public Enemy or it would be from EPMD. Obviously this is before Wu-Tang, but then Wu-Tang Clan comes out and they perfect that whole idea. The deal was that GZA from Wu-Tang and I, we met before Wu-Tang Clan. Me and GZA were cool before Wu-Tang Clan existed when he was a solo artist on a record label called Cold Chillin’. He’s hell of funny. We were always in tune. Basically, one day when I had put out some books on hip hop called Lyrical Swords Volume 1 and Volume 2, I was invited to be a guest speaker in a juvenile hall. It was career day. It was like, “We’re going to have this guy talk about journalism and … .” When I went in there, the kids was like, “Have you ever met Snoop?” “Well, I’ve talked to him on the phone for an interview but–” “Do you know Eminem?” “Yes.” “Do you know–” No one cared about what the hell I did at all. I was bombing. Quite frankly, I’m a good public speaker. I kill mics when I give lectures. I was completely humiliated just bombing in front of all these kids. That particular weekend I had bought a chessboard for my son who was four at the time. He’s 21 now. He just graduated. Congratulations son, I love you. I had this board and pieces and I was like, “Dude, you are bombing. You better figure out something.” I was only 10 minutes in and I was dying. I was like, “Teach them chess. You couldn’t waste an hour teaching chess.” I was like, “Quick show of hands. Who knows chess in here?” 85% of the room raised their hand. I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Okay, that’s no good.” They had just ruined my plan because I was going to teach chess and now they all know it. Then I was like, “All right. All right. Who in here is really good though? Who thinks they are the best? Who can play in here?” A bunch of hands went down. Only a few went up and I was like, “We’re going to have a tournament. We’re going to have a tournament and everybody who wins I’ll give one of my books to. That’s what we’ll do.” Circle up. Two kids are playing. They are both black and there’s this one kid, white kid in the hall. He’s sitting in a circle. This dude’s getting ready to move one of his pieces and he’s like, “Don’t move that piece.” He turns to him and he’s like, “Shut up white boy. Ain’t nobody asked you about no damn chess.” He moves the piece, loses his queen. Everybody was like, “Oh, you lost your queen.” Now, the white kid’s getting all this respect. It’s like, “We’ve got to pay attention to the white kid because he actually knows better.” Then later, this kid play. He’s literally 300 pounds and I said, “Who’s the best?” He said,” I’m the best.” You know how juvie is man. Kids are really mean. This kid was like, “This ain’t no sandwich-eating contest fat boy. You can’t win.” Then he was like, “Haha.” They are laughing at him. I’m trying to guard my laugh. I’m like, “Leave him be. Leave him be. He can play bro.” He wins the tournament, the overweight kid. When I’m leaving I’m like, “Wait a minute. First of all, how do all these kids know chess but they make horrible life decisions and they are in here for robbery, murder, stealing cars? But they play a game that teaches how to think better?” Then I was like, “You just saw racial divide melt when the white kid said, “Don’t move your queen.” Made the mistake, whatever.” His pecking order went up and then the overweight kid who everybody was laughing at in the beginning ends up winning the tournament and his pecking order went up. I was like, “What if–” I’m literally leaving. I have all my stuff. I was like, “This was great . Cool.” I’m leaving. I remember where I was in the juvenile hall in the stairwell when it hit me because I’m like, “What if there was a way that you could teach kids about chess but make it cool?” In that very instant every rap lyric I remembered about chess, literally just rain. Came down on my head. It was like, “Wu-Tang, Public Enemy .” I was standing there at the top of the stairs and I was like, “Hip hop chess. Hip hop chess.” That was the beginning of it. You know what I mean? A year or so later, I ran into RZA through Sway and Tech from the Wake Up Show. They hooked me up with RZA and then me and RZA became really cool really quick. I met him when he was giving a talk at a place called The Commonwealth Club here in the Bay area. I went in with my ex-wife. [chuckles] We went in there and there was nobody in this room. It was just me, him, and her. It was just hell of quiet. You’re sitting hell of awkward. [laughs] I went to the event and he was not giving interviews, but my friend told me. He was like, “Go there and see if you can get in, but he’s not supposed to be giving interviews.” All these press people had come and the lady was like, “RZA is not giving interviews so everybody shut up and get out of here.” I took my book and I signed it. Then I said, “Hey, do me a favor.” She’s like, “What?” I said, “Give this book to RZA, tell him I’m a friend of so and so and tell him I’d like to talk with him.” She was like, “Okay but I don’t know why .” She goes back and she comes back. She’s like, “RZA will see you now.” I was like, “Woohoo.” All the press be like, “What the–” I was like, “Later boys.”

Sonny: [laughs]

Adisa: I walk in. I sit in the back and it’s just some vegetables, some fruit, some water, and tea, and him. There’s no one else in the room. He’s like, “Peace.” I’m like, “Hey, what’s up, man?” Friend so and so. He’s kicking with Jay Z back in the day and he’s like, “All right, cool.” Then he looks at me. We’re just looking at each other. It’s hell of quiet and he goes, “You know who Tamo is?” I was like, “Who?” He was like, “Tamo.” I was like, “No, I don’t know who you’re talking about.” He was like– He had this really disappointed face and he was like, “He’s the guy that invented kung fu, man. Da, da, da, da.” Because he was like, “I thought you knew about martial arts kind of a thing.” I was like, “You know what? You’re right. You’re talking about Bodhidharma, and I always use that name instead of Tamo but I know.” Then, as soon as he realized that, we just boom. We click, and we’ve been cool ever since. I bumped into Josh Waitzkin. I was trying to interview Josh Waitzkin for my second book, but he never responded to anything. Then he responded. He was dropping The Art of Learning. He was like, “I got this new book. It’s called The Art of Learning. Can I send you an early copy? It’s not even ready yet.” I was like, “Yes.” I was like, “I saw you did Tai chi and stuff, but do you know about jujutsu?” He’s like, “Yes, I do know jujutsu, and I train jujutsu.” I was like, “What?

Sonny: [chuckles]

Adisa: You know what I’m saying?” It was just crazy. That was 2007. We did our first event in 2006. We did a quiet event with me, RZA, Josh Waitzkin, and DJ Cuba, and a few other people at the Omega Boys Club. Then after that, we did our big event and it just kept going from there, man. It’s crazy.

Sonny: Wow, that is a fascinating way that that’s all come together. I got to say.

Adisa: [laughs] I know.

Sonny: Especially for Josh Waitzkin getting involve. He’s someone in my other podcasts. He’s come up a fair bit and that book has come up a fair bit. It seems it was really just– I guess, you were putting yourself out there in that initial talk, and through a bit of fear and failure and improvisation. The creativity struck and it became clear that this is a great way to help people and break down racial tensions.

Adisa: Just help people discover themselves. After I did that, people were like, “Yo,” because when we did our second event, we were in The New York Times twice that year. We were in Good Morning America. The news was bonkers. I came across a grandmaster. We were talking on the phone, and he was like, “Yes, man, I’ve been hearing a lot of stuff about your org. I keep hearing a lot of hype.” He kept using the word hype a lot. I could tell that, “Come on, man. I’m not a grandmaster. I’m not– You know what I’m saying?” I think that certain people in the traditional chess world felt a little threatened, and they still do. You know what I mean? Because they’re like, “Oh, this fucking hip hop guy.” You know what I mean? “Get out of here.” You know what I’m saying? The truth is, a lot of the dudes in hip hop are beasts on this board. I’m not a beast. I’m all right, but RZA will drag you. My boy Rugged Monk, drag. Amir Suleyman, drag. GZA, drag. Kadir Latif. DJ Cuba on the clock, drag. I know it felt a little offensive because it was– If the traditional chess community is considered nerds. It’s like the cool kids just came over, pushed them off the “Look, look out the way. We’re going to play chess now.” They’re like, “We’ve been doing this. You don’t get to walk in and be cool. We’ve been here.” There was a little– I told that Grandmaster at the time I said, “Hey, listen, man. My job is to point people towards you. I don’t think that I’m you. Just like I know you don’t think that you’re me even if you like hip hop. My job is to point people towards the game and towards the people who make it great, and you’re one of the people that make a great. That’s all you need to understand.” I think over time, while I was able to talk to him, I think there were other people in the chess community that didn’t understand that and didn’t know that. You know what I’m saying? Jennifer Shahade who is a great ally and friend. Josh introduced me to her. She’s always been really– she wrote a book called Chess Bitch, and she wrote a really good book called Play Like a Girl! It’s really dope. It’s a history book of women in chess, but it also shows you moves that they specialized in so you can learn to actually think like them. It’s really dope. That is one of the best chess books on the earth for me because you learn about the history of chess, and the women who were dynamic in chess, and you get to understand their tactical specialties. It’s just a great book. You know what I’m saying? Over time, we got a lot of hype, but with that hype, and with that momentum came what? Comes responsibility. Then it’s like, “Okay, so what if Jay Z knows how to play chess? What if Public Enemy or RZA– What is that going to do?” That’s when I had to go inside myself and say, “Okay, what am I asking the game to do for these young people?” That’s when I started really doing the research that made the book, Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx happen. It has worksheets in the back helping people think about short-term goal planning, long-term goal planning, risk assessment. You know what I’m saying. Sacrifice. You know what I’m saying? You’ll do all of that in one five-minute match of jujutsu. [laughs] You know what I’m saying? These things are very integrative. I put the book together. It took some time to do it. In between that time, I was lucky enough to get invited through Jennifer Shahade to curate an exhibit on hip hop and chess at the World Chess Hall of Fame. My exhibit, the first day brought more people to the World Chess Hall of Fame than any other exhibit before it, except for Bobby Fischer. Unbelievable. You know what I mean? RZA came out and there were lines around the block to get into the World Chess Hall of Fame. In St. Louis, people were like, “I have never waited in line to get inside World Chess Hall of Fame.” [laughs]

Sonny: Sure. I can understand.

Adisa: “This has never happened, and I’m outside.” You know what I’m saying? It was just a packed crazy, beautiful event. I remember Bobby Fischer’s exhibit was upstairs. It’s a four or five-story building. There’s people, there’s music, the place is rocking. It’s me, RZA, all these people. It’s hell of sick. I go upstairs to Bobby Fisher’s exhibit, and it’s just beautiful. There was no one there because everybody– You know what I mean? I was upstairs and I was like, “I cannot believe I’m at the World Chess Hall of Fame. RZA is below me talking and there’s a film.” There was a film for it, all this other stuff, and it was very humbling. I was just grateful. You know what I mean? I was just grateful. We’ve been able to reach a lot of people, do a lot of stuff in juvies. Now, I’m here talking to you bro. I’m blown away.

Sonny: My honor, mate. My honor. Trust me [chuckles] . That book, I recommend everyone goes out and get a copy because I think it’s fantastic. Especially, maybe we’ll go through some of those stuff in the worksheets as well. I’m interested in discussing about that pushback you got when you initially started to enter into the chess world. Seems you’re taking those three traditional arts of chess, hip hop, martial arts, which stand on their own. I’m sure, there is those crossovers where people of course will do multiple things, but you’re then taking the three separate arts, repackaging them maybe, and presenting them as a cohesive whole.

Adisa: Yes, that is it.

Sonny: I can see how you are going to get a bit of pushback from the age traditionalist in those groups. How do you think that they can all work together cohesively into one unit?

Adisa: That’s a really good question. It is a question that I asked myself in the beginning because I was trying to figure it out. What I mean by that is, I knew how it was helping me. I understood how hip hop, chess, and martial arts especially jujutsu was helping me, but I didn’t really know what that would necessarily mean for someone else, especially someone that doesn’t do jujutsu or has no aspiration to do martial arts. Couple of things. How did my brain even work like this? Because it’s funny. I was recently talking with someone and they asked me– They said– Because they were from the hip hop community. Hip hop originality is everything. Originality is everything in hip hop, at least from my generation. I’m old school. You know what I’m saying? You needed to rap different, you needed to look different, you needed to have beats that were different. You stood out. He was like, “Were you trying to come up with some bonkers idea? What really was it?” You know what it was, man. When I was young, I was really small. I told you I was a binge drinker. You know what I’m saying? I had to sober up on my own because I didn’t even know AA existed. You know what I’m saying? Once I realized that I had a problem and I was like, “You got to figure it out.” I figured it out and I’ve been sober since I was 17 and I’m 50. You know what I’m saying? That’s a long ass time ago. My point is I remember when I was training with Ralph. I started at Ralph Gracie Mountainview. You know what I’m saying? I trained at Heroes Martial Arts who was one of Ralph’s top dudes but me, Gamby, BJ, Dave Camarillo. You know what I’m saying? We were all there at the same time. You know what I mean? I was just getting my ass kicked. They were champions. I was just getting my ass kicked. I was just a body getting dragged but in-between–

Sonny: No shame in that. Those are some big guys [laughs] .

Adisa: In-between bandaging my arm and getting ice for my eye, I remember one day I was like, “Yo, Ralph. How do you do this move?” I don’t really remember what the move was. I think it was an armbar from the mount. That you go here, here, here, here, and then boom, you take the arm and I was like, “Oh, that’s like chess,” in my own brain. I’m trying to know how to remember the move. You see what I’m saying? My brain starts using chess visuals to remember how things were. If he goes, “If you go here and the guy goes here, that’s like a chess puzzle.” I move, they go here and then you bink , and then checkmate, hurray. I was like, “Okay.” That’s how my brain was first integrating jujutsu and chess. When I started, people weren’t really digging it. Hip hop people liked it already because of Wu-Tang, but I came into this understanding before Wu-Tang. As someone who was a fan of Bruce Lee and the Chinese martial arts explosion with all those films. I was in the same vibe essentially as RZA and those guys. We just didn’t know each other. You know what I’m saying? The other part of it was coming into Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I remember I interviewed Helio Gracie in 1998 and I interviewed Hoise and we were at the Torrance Academy and I was hanging out with Rorian and– [laughs] I remember being like, “This is bonkers.” I was a white belt. I had been training with Ralph for probably about three months I think when it started. I remember going back home from LA and I was like, “The problem with Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that there isn’t a philosophy in it. It is a fantastic fighting style but it is not a martial art.” I was like, “Okay, what do you fill this void with of no philosophy?” My head was like, “You can create bulls and lions but you won’t necessarily create martial artists.” I still feel like that’s largely happened with what became MMA. Not jujutsu but MMA. I read The Book of Five Rings, I read The Art of Peace. I read all these different Darwinist. I’m a nerd so I’m diving into Darwinism. I’m diving into Confucianism. I’m a Muslim but I read everything. I’m reading the Bible. I’m reading the Torah, and I’m like, “Dude, there’s no philosophy for jujutsu.” You know what I mean? Then I stopped training with Ralph for a while and I was training with Charles, his brother. Then I stayed for a while. I left Ralph’s because I was taking my kids to one of my parents’ house after work and it was this whole thing, and then I started training with Charles because Ralph Gracie SF had started but it was too far in. I needed a middle joint. I started training with Charles. One day at Charles’ is this dude, he kept getting injured. He was a savage but he kept getting injured. He kept coming in. He tried to come in– He was a purple belt. I was blue at the time. I was sitting next to Oliver and Charles was sitting next to Oliver. It was like Oliver was sitting between me and Charles and the guy comes in and Charles is like, “Don’t train. You shouldn’t be here,” and he’s like, “No, because da da da da.” Those days Ralph had a shirt that said– I still have it. It says, “It’s better to die than not to train.” That was on the back of his shirt. You know what I mean? People would go in with busted arms. You know what I mean? This guy is trying to come in and Charles is like, “Get out, get out.” Finally, the guy leaves. He was trying to debate with Charles like, “Please let me train. Please let m train, ” and Charles was like, “No.” The guy starts to go downstairs. This is old-school Charles Gracie in Daly City which doesn’t exist anymore. Shout out to Oliver. You know what I’m saying? Shout out to Christiano. You know what I’m saying? Hymes. Anyway, Charles looks at Oliver because Oliver is like, “How come you won’t let him train? I thought you were supposed to train no matter what vibe.” Charles looks at him really casually and he goes, “Too much water it kills the plant.” I was like, “Overtraining.” You know what I’m saying? You can overwater the plant. I never forgot. I went home and I wrote it down. I wrote it down and then I had this idea to make a list of quotes that I thought were motivational for jujutsu even if it didn’t have to do with jujutsu. It would be a Charles Gracie quote. Something I remember from Ralph or something, then some Confusion quote, then something out the bible, and at the end of the year, I made a bunch of copies of it and I gave it to everybody I was close to in the school. In fact Oliver, he still has it. I called it The Writing of the Sages and it was just everybody’s quotes. He was like, “Dude, I still have that bro.” He was like, “I still read that. That shit is dope.” I became this quote dude. I realized at that point though that jujutsu had a philosophy, but it was not codified. It came from the training. It wasn’t bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. It was like you have to discover it and want to discover it. As I went forward, I started gathering all these things and I realized that what I was trying to do was help make it so that people could have some type of guide inside the sport and inside the art to improve themselves. As I started pushing these ideas, people in hip hop thought it was cool but they could only think of the Wu. They didn’t think deeper than Wu-Tang. They didn’t look into where Wu-Tang was getting their philosophies from. You see what I’m saying? They weren’t looking at Buddhism for real, they were just looking at Shaw Brothers Martial Arts. You know what I’m saying? The chess people thought that hip hop was cool, that they might like Public Enemy but they couldn’t look into the lyrics and see the value of what these lyrics were doing to motivate young people to play chess because they were much focussed on chess, they couldn’t see hip hop as a viable tool. You see what I’m saying? The biggest place where I got the support was in the martial arts community because these are guys that are listening to music to stay motivated and they might be playing chess to elevate their brain. You know what I mean? Stuff like that. The martial arts community actually had the most love for me, whether it was jujutsu people, kungfu people, karate people, judo, wrestling, whatever. Initially, I think everybody they were like, “Cool idea bro,” but they didn’t know what to do with it and I totally understood that. I didn’t take it personally because I myself didn’t have these answers but I was determined to find them. The first real breakthrough came when I realized that hip hop by all traditional East Coast perspectives says that hip hop started in August of ’73. Right before that, Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky for the world championship title and people forget that chess was not this sidebar thing in America the way it is right now. When Bobby Fischer played Boris Spassky, PBS had it’s highest ratings ever. Ever. It was not a sidebar thing, everybody was playing. Around the same time, Bruce Lee dropped Enter the Dragon. These things happened on top of each other bro. Bobby Fischer from Brooklyn and Cool Hat, the guy that really started making hip hop happen, he was in the West Bronx and then you got Washington Square Park where people are doing Tai chi and playing chess. You know what I’m saying? The chess hustlers are trying to get their money and that’s the same parks where people are trying to battle each other whether it’s in dance or in rapping. I could see the convergence but at that time, each segment was siloed, they didn’t realize what was happening at the same time because the chess people were like **** , and the martial arts people were like **** , and the hip hop people were like, “I’m doing something new. I don’t know what’s going on.” Everybody was different. Everybody was in their silos but they were influencing each other in some subtle ways. Once I figured that out, that was enough and I was able to build on that. I was really able to build on that. That’s how I ended up making my book. I was interviewing everybody. I didn’t care. I was talking to grandmasters like Maurice Ashley. I was talking to RZA and GZA. I was talking to anybody. That’s when I put– Before that book, I did a book called Lyrical Swords Volume II: Westside Rebellion. It’s not in print anymore. I don’t even know if it’s available anywhere. I don’t know. That’s the first book where I really– I even interviewed Denny Prokopos for that book when he was a kid. He wasn’t even– You know what I mean? I knew Denny was going to be bonkers. I knew he was going to kill the game with jujutsu, I knew it. I interviewed him. Do you know what I mean? It’s just crazy, man. It’s just crazy. I think I interviewed Rakaa from Dilated. You know what I’m saying? I interviewed RZA and GZA for that book. That became the seeds that became Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx down the line. You know what I mean? It was just crazy, man. It was crazy and then everybody started seeing the connections now and it’s funny because I was at a tech event and I ran into this guy from Google and he didn’t really know who I was, which made sense and then I mentioned something about chess and jujutsu and hip hop and he goes, “People say there’s a lot of connections between that. I’ve been seeing a lot more about it.” I was like, “That’s me.” [laughs] You know what I’m saying? I don’t care now that nobody knows that it was me dragging all this stuff together to help make it happen to see the connections. It wasn’t an easy thing to achieve in the beginning, but once people started seeing it, it started taking its own life and that’s why I don’t really care how much credit I get for it or not, I don’t care. There are other organizations that go, “We do hip hop and chess.” And stuff like that. It used to piss me off because I was like, “That’s all my stuff bro.” Then I was like, “You know what? It doesn’t matter. What matters is that they’re able to reach kids that I don’t have access to.” I don’t care. You know what I’m saying? Whatever bro. Everybody’s got to get the wisdom how they get it. That’s all I care about.

Sonny: I think everyone should know about what you’re doing. That’s for sure mate. That’s for sure.

Adisa: Thank you.

Sonny: I’m looking at it like you’ve got those three different arts blending together to create something a bit unique as coming from a martial arts perspective, could consider it like the arts of striking takedowns and submissions combining together to create MMA and to create something new on its own. I guess the thing with that example is that all three of those arts are useful in a combat setting. Would it be that these three separate arts, the thing that they share in common is how they can be used outside of their realm? They’re all enjoyable activities, but the common link is looking at it as a way to deal with other issues or other problems in life.

Adisa: Yes, that’s exactly it. The idea is that you’re dealing with a fusion of logic and art. You’re dealing with things that are all still sports, but what you’re really finding is that, at the highest level, how do you know who’s the best rapper? How do you know who’s the best in jujutsu? How do you know who is the best at Chess? They’ve got to battle. There’s something about doing it that has its own beauty, but battle is where you find the highest essence of that thing, whether it’s Eminem. If you look at Eminem battling people at Scribble Jam in YouTube. Go and look– He is marking people spontaneously. It’s not just that this guy can write songs. I realized early this Eminem kid is going to be a problem for the earth because I was watching him demolish people. You know what I’m saying? Before YouTube on Scribble Jam via chesses, but what I’m saying is, how do who’s the best in jujutsu? Because you’ve got to watch Abu Dhabi. You got to watch EBI. You got to watch– Because that battle it brings out the best in people. I realized that if they could use each thing to bring out the highest element of their artistic, logical self, they would always be really prepared to deal with anything that happens to them. Then I was working with a teacher at a school in San Jose where I first put my program together. When I put all the worksheets together, I was working at a high school in San Jose in a tough area and I was teaching– They were the first “Guinea pigs” of this whole concept once I put it together. One of the teachers there, he said, “Hey, man,” he’s like, “do you know about executive function?” I was like, “No.” He started talking to me about executive function of the human brain and how it is the air traffic control center of your brain that helps you multitask and all this other stuff. That’s when I really realized all three of these arts tap into executive function. They help exercise and strengthen executive function and he was like, “Dude, if you’re building executive function in young minds, they’re going to win regardless.” You know what I mean? Because that your brain will always be adaptable, always have a sense of fluidity, always have a heightened sense of how to problem-solve and once– His name was Dan Gilday. What up, Dan? He really changed my whole understanding of what this fusion could do for young people once I learned about the role of cognitive function. That’s really why people could talk about STEM education. This is STEAM, adding the art component. If you look at every culture in the world in its ancient setting, STEAM was always a part of it. It was only in– I would say, after the medieval periods where mathematics, religion, music, art all get separated. If you look at a pyramid, you’re looking at STEAM, that’s mathematics and art. That’s science aligning with the stars. There’s whatever stars up above. You look at the Kaaba in Mecca. It’s aligned with– I’m blanking on the star right now, I feel bad. If you look at a lot of the ancient Mayan and Inca structures, that’s all STEAM. Stonehenge, all this stuff. It’s a natural thing in us to fuse our science and fuse our art. It’s actually unnatural to separate it. When I do music, chess, and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and non-violence, that’s actually tapping into our natural, traditional self before all of these modern structures separated them.

Sonny: That’s actually one of the best cases of advocating, adding the art back into STEM that I’ve actually heard. It really makes it clear.

Adisa: I wrote an article about it, I’ll send it to you. I’ll send it to you.

Sonny: Because I know that when that was happening, not everyone was on board with changing the word and everything like that.

Adisa: No, no, truly. Truly.

Sonny: It’s a really good way of looking at it. I also like too that it doesn’t– I guess it can be advocated for without the need to just be purely a philosophical side of things but that cognitive function and executive function gives us something too that’s a basis in science that it can grab onto. I really like the way that’s all flows together in a nice mix.

Adisa: No, it does. It’s authentic and I know that it looks bizarre to a lot of people. I know, especially in terms of hip hop. People will be like, “Yo, man, I like the idea of chess and I like jujutsu, man, but hip hop’s crazy bro. I’m not really to–” I understand that on the surface because if all I thought– If all I knew hip hop was what I heard on the radio, I would believe it too. I would. I would totally believe it, but like any other given thing, if you tell people you do jujutsu, people initially assume, “Oh, Sonny must like to fight all the time. Maybe he’s got anger issues or whatever,” but they don’t understand that jujutsu is what makes Sonny peaceful. It’s what makes you relax. It’s what gives you your patience. They don’t understand that inner thing. Hip hop is the same way, man. There’s a lot of beautiful philosophical hip hop out there that has been there. Some of it’s really popular, some of it’s not, but it’s always been a part of the art of hip hop, but if you’re only focused on the music that celebrates the naked chicks and the drugs and everything else, I understand it. That too is a problem. That’s a societal issue. You know what I’m saying? Where people are just explaining what’s around them and sometimes they do celebrate it in unhealthy ways. What young people ever saw life correctly. They didn’t. [chuckles] These are kids. A lot of them don’t really know or young adults who haven’t really figured it out yet. I’m not advocating for all hip hop. I’m not advocating for every rap song and every rapper. I’m advocating for the ones that do show cultural, academic and moral wisdom in their art. I’m not an advocate for all hip hop. I am an advocate for the hip hop that champions unity, that champions non-violence, that champions the acknowledgment of other’s humanity. Because when you play a chess game with someone, no matter whether you win or you lose, you honor them as a person. . You know what I’m saying? That person could be a rabbi, or they could be a gangster. You’re going to honor that person. The next time you see another gangster, you’d be like, “Hey, you know what, I played a gangster and he smashed me on the boards.” That was crazy. You know what I’m saying? When you do jujutsu, there could be another race, another religion. They could have no religion. They could be a philosopher. They could be a carpenter. They could be a scholar on a college campus, and you have another level of respect for them. If you compete with someone artistically, whether it’s graffiti, or rap, or on turntables, or dance, you have a higher level of respect. What I’m hoping to do is to inspire people to first find their own sense of humanity through whichever one they choose. We don’t try to make people be hip hop artists, or MMA fighters, or chess masters. We want them to use these three things, and quiz them about what they want to do with their life and who they want to be so that we can help them be that. Some of the kids that I mentor they just– One of my friends, he’s a friend now. When he was a teenager, he was a little gangster dude who just really wanted to put up drywall. He’s like, “I don’t want to go to college. I want to go to drywall. I just want to do drywall.” I was like, “Cool.” He’s living a great life, not on the street Harlem business. Somebody else, he wants to go to college. “Okay, well, let’s hope you get some stuff.” He goes to college and does his thing. You know I’m saying? It’s not about anything other than using these things to find out who you are, acknowledge the humanity in others, and go be great. That’s it.

Sonny: Yes. I love that. Just using these vehicles, well-developed established cultures, and taking their teachings as tools to help you progress, and especially focusing on helping young people being able to tackle life’s challenges with it. That’s just awesome. I think too with taking the three parts. Each one has their own negative stereotypes that needs to be broken down. That each one looking at the other one probably thinks is the case. MMA or martial arts is thugs like you said-

Adisa: Barbaric.

Sonny: -barbaric thugs.

Adisa: Human chickens fighting, whatever. [laughs]

Sonny: Yes. Human cockfighting. It’s stupid as well. Ever they were dumb and then people looking at chess as just nerds who lack–

Adisa: Pure nerds who have no social engagement. You know what I’m saying?

Sonny: Hip hop would just be a glorification of drugs and violence.

Adisa: Yes, exactly, and sex and stuff. It’s like, “Why would I want that in my life?”

Sonny: Yes. Exactly. From the outside looking in people probably are going like, “I don’t want any of that. I want to– Whatever, different war.” [laughter]

Adisa: Exactly.

Sonny: Probably people listening to me probably already have a good understanding of how that’s not the case in the martial arts side of things, I’d imagine. The chess I think we’ll probably get into with some of the chess strategies as well. What about specifically with hip hop? You mentioned when it’s broken down into the four elements of hip hop, and how that is more fully developed than just that negative stereotype. Could you let people know about that now?

Adisa: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. The main thing is this. One time when I first got invited to the World Chess Hall of Fame, I was speaking to Susan Barrett who was a director at the time, and Jennifer Shahade, and some other people. She was like, “Okay, I don’t know about hip hop. What is it like? I believe that you’re onto something awesome, but what is it?” What happened is, I had been on the cover of Chess Life in 2012, and then that’s what got me the invite to go to St. Louis and talk with the World Chess Hall of Fame. I said, “Okay.” I said, “Look at your hand.” I was like, “You have rap music, you have hip hop dance like b-boying stuff like that. You have graffiti, and you have deejaying. You have those four elements.” Then, I said, “The fifth element is knowledge. That knowledge is supposed to be the knowledge of yourself.” The idea isn’t that you come into hip hop pretending to be black, pretending to be a tough guy, pretending to be a gangster. You bring your knowledge, your wisdom, your culture, and you feed it into these other four things. That is the hand of hip hop. That is the hand of hip hop. I said, “Rap music is one aspect. If we just focus on rap, and we just talk about what rappers say and do and whatever, we’ll get lost in that all day, but hip hop is a beautiful art form where you’re painting, where you are dancing, where you are spontaneously thinking and doing poetry.” I said, “That’s really what we need to cultivate.” When people only mistake rap for all of what is hip hop, it creates– You what I mean? It creates some confusion. That’s fine. I understand why people don’t get that part, but that’s not what it is. Everybody has different modalities of learning. Some people are naturally more artistic. Some people are more vocal verbal. Some people– You know what I mean? Are more cerebral. All of these aspects of what constitutes hip hop helps you improve who you are. If you have knowledge of self. Again, meaning don’t pretend to be black. If you’re Native American, bring that. If you’re Japanese, bring that. If you’re Canadian, bring that. That makes hip hop better. It doesn’t help hip hop if you come in mocking someone else. As a martial artist, a lot of how you play your game is based on your body type. You can try to do a game like someone who’s short and stocky, but I’m 6’3″. I can’t do a short and stocky game, and vice versa. There will be aspects of the short and stocky game I can use, but there’s a limit to that, and then I got to start playing more like Heron. Then I got to start playing more like Nogueira, then I got to look at what is Keenan doing because he’s got a body type more like mine. Even whatever Keenan is doing, all that ain’t going to work for me. I still got to do my game. What I tell my students I said, “I’m going to give you jujutsu, and then you’re going to make it your own. Your goal isn’t to be like me. Your goal is to be you, and you may have different instincts intuitions, whatever, and I want you to do that. I’m giving you your baseline so that you can discover the jujutsu player that you are. Not to be a replica of me.”

Sonny: That’s beautiful. All those elements of hip hop too involve the nature of battle. There are breakdancing battles,-

Adisa: Yes, man.

Sonny: -graffiti’s people.

Adisa: Yes, they have graffiti battles all the time. You know what I’m saying? Graffiti battles are beautiful. One of the things I learned when I was going to St. Louis, I guess the biggest graffiti wall in the world I think is in St. Louis. It’s called Paint Louis. What they do is they have all these graffiti writers from– I think they’re all American, but they may be from overseas as well. They paint this mile and a half long wall. That’s huge bro. Beautiful work. You know what I mean? It’s competition, but the nature of that competition is what brings the best out of you. You know what I’m saying? I have this topic that I talk about in the book called How Your Enemies Improve You. How your enemies improve you and what is that about? That is someone who’s doing jujutsu with you. It’s his job to undermine all of your weaknesses. After the thing, you might be a good guard player, but you don’t know how to recover side control. The person that tells you that, and you might be like, “Damn these fools that I couldn’t recover side control.” Then, you think about it and you be like, “Damn, he’s right though. I really couldn’t recover my guard. I couldn’t really recover my guard.” That person has just improved you. Your homie you might know the same thing when he rolls with you, but he’s going to say. He’s not going to tell you. He’s like, “Man, I have fun. Sonny, this was great man. Let’s go get some Acai .”

Sonny: [laughs]

Adisa: It’s because he’s your homie because you all at homies and you like, e ating Acai, . “What a great day.” He’s like, “Yes.” He may not even be doing it deliberately, but your enemy will tell you, “You can’t recover. If I pass your guard, you can’t get it back.” That is your enemy improving you, and that is his job. When you and your friend plays chess with you, and he mops you with his knights, that’s his job and it’s your job to be, “Okay, how do I neutralize the advancements of the knights or at least force him to lose one of them so that I can survive long enough to castle and get my game going because he’s killing me with these knights.” That’s how your enemies improve you. You deal with these kids who can’t deal with simple social pressures, simple issues, whether it is with their homework or this or that, and it’s like, “Man, you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to weather the storm, find your moment, step into it.” That’s how your enemies improve you.

Sonny: Now, I really like that because especially it seems it makes sense then. You’ve got the enemies in life who can improve you, and we’re taking all those– The battle of chess, martial arts, and that battling side in hip hop, and we’re learning about ourselves and the outside world in those battles, and then we can take that and transfer it onto the battle of life, shall we say. The battle of everyday living. [crosstalk]

Adisa: You know what I mean? Of school. You know what I mean? You don’t take the pressure personally. That’s the idea that you don’t take the pressure that they put on you personally. That pressure that they put on you is what makes you better, is what improves you, is what helps you rise to the occasion because whatever you saw Muhammad Ali do, whatever you saw Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and any of these guys do, they could only do it to the degree that their opponent put pressure on them so they could “Oh, I got to go like that. Boom, he makes the shot.” That’s, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Adisa: If your opponent’s like, “Go ahead and make the shot.” You’re not going to get good. He’s got to make you feel you have to do everything in your heart to make it happen. That’s how those moments happen whether it’s– Was it Braulio Estima when he triangle choked the dude from Atos, remember? When he had that crazy–

Sonny: I’m not sure.

Adisa: I just, there’s a match that I’m thinking of. I think it was Braulio Estima and he triangle choked the brother from Atos. I’m blanking right now because my main… scattered. I know that that triangle choke didn’t come easy is my point. You know what I’m saying? He just didn’t give it to him. He had to figure it out. You know what I mean? He had to explode, he had to believe, he had to own that moment. You know what I mean?

Sonny: I get you. If every match is an easy match, then you’re never going to be great, right?

Adisa: Yes.

Sonny: You’re never going to reach that. Be forced out of your comfort zone where you’d pull off something once in a lifetime incredible if you’re just cruising all the time, right?

Adisa: [chuckles] Exactly.

Sonny: I get it. It’s a good point. I love that idea of the opponents because it’s something I’ve always thought about or I think I’ve read in a book by Kyle King. It’s the idea that you’re going around life and you’ve got a sign on your forehead or on your back or something that says something about you and no one is ever going to tell you what that is except your enemy. They’re going to tell you but no one– You got to say something but no one is going man. No one is going to say what it is. You’re just going to be left to stumble around but that in a battle, they’re going to let you know, right? [laughs]

Adisa: Yes, every time.

Sonny: You got to be grateful for that because “Oh thanks. Now I’m a little bit less ignorant. Even though maybe it hurt, but okay, we can improve on that.” I’ve always said, I’d rather people would joke to my face than behind my back. at least if they are joking to my face I know. It’s still cool. [laughs]

Adisa: Exactly.

Sonny: Someone says something behind your back and then, “Oh God, why is it they’re not happy?” [laughs] I love it.

Adisa: True.

Sonny: When we then get into how you’re giving these lessons to kids, the actual– We know how it all works, how it all links up now. When the rubber hits the road, how we give the lessons to the kids. How are you actually going in and doing that? Then I’d love to get into some of the specifics that– I’ve got a list here but we can get into first just how you’re going through the actual emotions.

Adisa: The first job is to usually help them just love chess. I just got a message from a young lady who heard me on my podcast on Bishop Chronicles and I was like, “Look, just play chess. Don’t worry about trying to become a master. Just do that.” She was like, “Why are you encouraging people not to become a master? I don’t understand.” I was like, “Because you have to teach them to love the game first. You don’t want to master anything you don’t love. In order for you to love it, you have to like it.” You have to like it. If chess is a chore and it sucks, you’re not going to want to be a chess master. If jujutsu is just rowdy and you’re getting slammed and broke up all the time, you’re not going to want to master it. You see what I’m saying? This is why I love the dynamic role that drilling has played in over the years. I love how Heaton talked about keeping it playful. It’s not murder, murder, murder every round, every time. You have to have fun with it. It’s from that place of fun that you find your creativity. It’s from that place of fun that you find the time to think about a position in a way you couldn’t if the person was just trying to take your head off every time. The first thing I do is I try to just teach the kids to enjoy chess. Just to enjoy it. Then now that you enjoy it, now they want to be competitive. “I want to play you. You play me, blah, blah, blah.” Now I can introduce the last strategies. When I go in the juvenile halls, whether they’re in St. Louis– We have a program in St. Louis that’s gone on since 2014. Shout out to Michael Wessel . He’s the guy that works in the St. Louis. He’s running that on his own since 2014. He’s a martial artist and he’s a chess player. He just makes the kids fall– We can’t really show them jujutsu in the hall because obviously there are the people in the hall who can’t afford for kids to be knowing choke holds for a bunch of reasons

Sonny: [laughs] I hear you. [laughter]

Adisa: For kids who are in the hall, I’m just going to teach them chess and life strategies. That’s all they’re going to get. At schools, when I teach, it’s usually a mix of just chess fundamentals and jujutsu fundamentals, but a lot of the jujutsu fundamentals actually don’t really deal with submissions. They just deal with, how do you escape a headlock? How do you not get head locked? Your older brother grab you by the head or your homie grab you by– How do you get out of that? If you get pinned, mount escapes. You know what I mean? I really don’t show a lot of submissions in the high schools and stuff like that because I just– People–

Sonny: It makes sense.

Adisa: Even though you’re teaching these kids, it’s dangerous and especially if you teach in gang-related areas. You know what I’m saying. Stuff can get crazy real quick. Because I don’t know their temperament, I need to make sure that I’m giving them things that will keep them safe but not potentially harm others. It’s only after I know that, “This kid’s legit.” Now I can point him in the direction of a school, call the guy, I say, “Hey, this kid’s legit. Let him train with you.” Whatever. They may go on their own like, “I just joined a house in Barkley.” You know what I’m saying. “I just joined Heroes or I just joined Denis.” “Cool.” That’s how it really plays out. It’s not a one size fits all thing. I have to tailor-make my situation for the kids. My first actual student was a young man who in retrospect– I’m not really sure if he was autistic but he might have been on the Asperger spectrum. You know what I’m saying? He was very shy, didn’t have a lot of friends, et cetera. Actually, even though it sounds crazy, Hip Hop Chess Federation used to have a whole competitive cheerleading branch that competed all over the country and was good. [chuckles]

Sonny: It’s all battling. It’s all battling. [laughter]

Adisa: Exactly. They all played chess. They all played chess. His sister was a cheerleader. His dad was like, “Would you be interested in teaching jujutsu to my son?” I was like, “Yes.” He came in and he barely spoke. He barely spoke. When I say barely spoke, barely hello. You know what I mean? I said, “Can I show you what jujutsu is?” He says, “Okay.” I show him escape from the mount. I show him whatever, passing the guard. Then we sat down and I was like, “Do you play chess?” He’s like, “Yes.” We played a game of chess and I was like, “Now, do you see how that happened? That’s just like when this happened. Does it not make sense?” He was like, “Yes.” I was like, “Do you want to learn jujutsu?” He was like, “Yes.” He came through, he trains with me for three months and I think it was the US Open, comes. I said, “Do you want to compete. I think you could do good.” He was like, “Yes.” His dad was nervous because he’s like, “Yes, if he gets mopped. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my son’s brain. Is he going to be hell of sad? I don’t know.” I said, “Look, I think he can do it. I think we’ve run through enough whatever. The day of the competition, we show up. I think it was the first match of the day. The place is empty. We’re at the US Open in Santa Cruz, the place is empty. I can see the other kid in the bullpen and he’s looking at my guy, My guy’s looking at him and I can see he’s getting nervous. Now he’s like, “Dang, it’s getting real. I’m actually going to go out here and have a match.” I said, “Come here bro, come here, come here.” Then he’s like, “What’s up?” I said, “Do you know who Garry Kasparov is? The chess grandmaster?” He was like, “Yes.” I said, “Listen to me. He said, “Never let your opponent show you what they’re capable of.” You know what I’m talking about?” He’s like, “Yes.” I said, “Bro when that ref says go, shoot. Shoot. Don’t wait, don’t circle, don’t wonder. All you have to do is do what you’re trained to do. You know the route. You know what we’re trying to do, you know the positions. There’s nothing to be afraid of. Nothing will happen to you that you haven’t already felt. You’ve been cross-choked before. You’ve been arm-locked before. People have had your back before. People have passed your guard, but you’ve also done the same. When that guy says, go, shoot, handle your business, and just listen to me.” He’s like, “Okay.” I said, “Remember what Garry Kasparov said.” He goes, “Okay.” Bro, I got the video. As soon as the dude says, “Go.” He just dropped. Boom. Gets the mount off top. The kid turns his back. [claps] Monteleone. Bro. He took silver that day.

Sonny: Beautiful.

Adisa: He took silver that day. It wasn’t about the medal, it was that he went out and he did it. His father could not believe that that was his son. He couldn’t believe it. That was a dope moment. You know what I mean? That was a dope moment. There were a lot of those little moments that come and go. To be fully fair, there’s a lot of kids that I lose to the streets. You know what I mean? You have a kid you’re mentoring, like one of the first group of kids I mentored at one high school, this one Latino dude, he’s in high school, I was like, “What do you want to be?” He’s like, “I want to be a scientist,” but he didn’t know any Latino scientists. So I would tell him about how the Incas invented the zero around the same time as the people of India, but they never had any contact. I was like, “Isn’t that crazy that two people who live so far away have the same idea, but they don’t have any contact? That’s nuts,” whatever. Anyway, get to the summer, bro, by the time I come back, he’s a validated gang member. He don’t care about chess, he don’t care about nothing but the streets, and I don’t even know where he’s at right now. There’s a lot more of them than the kid that I just told you about, but you have to go through these things and you have to depersonalize it, you know what I mean. It was hard for me, I got really emotional back in the day. I lost a lot of kids to the streets. A lot of the boys became bangers, some of the girls became prostitutes, some of the kids just got killed, you know what I’m saying, but then you have other kids who graduate. Like one of the kids who I mentored went to Pitzer College on a full ride, and now he’s going to medical school to be a dentist. You never know what’s going to stick, you don’t know what’s not going to stick, I just stick to my script. Kids stay, kids go, kids grow, kids get killed or fall off, and you just have to keep going.

Sonny: Yes, man, really puts it in perspective when you think a lot of people might complain about losing a student to go join another Jiu-Jitsu school or something like that. [laughter]

Adisa: Right, and he’s representing North Daniels.

Sonny: Yes, and that’s a big deal. It could be worse, yes.

Adisa: Exactly.

Sonny: Okay, so when you go into the schools, you’re teaching the kids life strategies. I think a good place to start would be one of the things you promote is the idea of the chessboard and the open mind.

Adisa: Yes, the chessboard and the open mind, right.

Sonny: Is that a good place to jump off?

Adisa: That is because what I’m trying to teach people about is like the chessboard, obviously, is a checkerboard and it reminds me of the yin and the yang. You look at the Yin Yang, you’ve got the black with a white dot, you have a white with a black dot. Depending on how much you study Daoism, it looks like just a polar opposite thing, but also teaches people to see the good in something bad, or the bad in something good. To be less judgmental, but when you look at the chessboard, what you’re really looking at is infinite potential. When you look at the chessboard and you can look up the numbers for yourself, as soon as each person moves, all of the potential that’s on that board in terms of moves outnumbers the stars. When you can see that your own mind has that same flexibility, has that same potential, and all you have to do is tap into it, all kinds of new things happen. I think that one of the main reasons that kids, especially disenfranchised youth, fall for drugs, fall for alcohol, fall for pimping and everything else, and gang life is because they don’t see how many options are available. They think that, “Everybody in my family’s broke, so I’m going to be broke,” or “Everybody in my family bang, so I’m going to bang” or whatever and really, that’s not the case. You always have options. I like to teach people to understand that their mind is just as infinite in its potential as all the moves on the chessboard, but they have to trust it, and then they have to act on it.

Sonny: I like that a lot. Then it seems that one of the tangible ways you can put that into effect is you’ve got two kind of equations, one being the three PA is better than one NT, and then the PPC code.

Adisa: The PPC code, right. Three PA is greater than one NT. That means three positive actions are greater than one negative thought. What that really deals with is coming to grips with taking charge of your life. One of the things that I love about chess is that when you sit down at a board, that board don’t know whether you’re black or white, don’t know whether you got one parent, two parents, no parents. Don’t know whether you’re hella rich or hella broke. It doesn’t know. It’s only going to reward the person who brings the best moves. End of story. That’s it. That’s all. What three positive action is greater than one negative thought is about is a lot of times when people have anxiety, they’re concerned about the future to a point that they can’t control it and they’re stressed out by it. When people are depressed, they’re locked into the past. Whether they were abused or they made a mistake and whatever, but they can’t change that either. You can only change right now. What three PA is greater than one NT is about is about taking three positive actions in every day to combat a negative thought in your brain. I normally talk about it to kids in terms of an algebra test. Let’s say you’re three weeks away from an algebra test, and you’re doing okay, you’ll probably get a C based on where you’re at right now. What three things can you do today to be better at algebra? You can go on to YouTube, you can call your teacher say, “I don’t know what’s going on here,” or you could reach out to a student and say, “Hey, man, I noticed you understand some of these equations better than me, can you help me?” Okay, that’s for today. Now, tomorrow, you may do three totally different things. You may talk to a family member, you may go back and look in the book, the chapter before that you’re in just to make sure your fundamental understanding of algebra is okay. You may look at some old tests you did and try to correct them yourself, but these were measurable steps. Three weeks from now, if you do three things every day, you won’t be stressed out, you’ll sleep better, and chances are you’re going to get a much better grade, but not because you’re Superman, it’s because you took action. That you don’t let the world happen to you. That you take control. Look, there’s always things that you can’t control like if your principal, or your parent, or the teacher you’re dealing with isn’t cool with you, whatever, you can’t really control that, but they can’t stop you from studying. It takes 21 days to make a habit, it takes 90 days to create a lifestyle, and so if you can make a habit of taking movement, you’re doing chest. When you’re in a bad position in chess, like if you’re playing Scrabble, you can throw your bad letters back. Pick a whole new set of letters and try to play it off. Chess ain’t like that. You got to deal with the position as it is. If it sucks, it sucks, figure it out, whatever. That’s what three PA is greater than one NT is about. I usually, even for myself, when I’m going through really dark times, and really weak times that are bothering me, I figure out okay, what three things can I do today? What happens is, when you make a habit of doing three, then all of a sudden you’d be like, “That was easy, let me do a fourth thing. Let me do 10 things.” Then all of a sudden, nothing’s just going to happen to you because your default setting is to be like, “Oh, it’s looking bad. I bet I could do this, though” or “My boss is getting on my ass right now, but I bet I could do this though.” You become a solution-based person. That’s for short term goal-setting. Now, the PPC code is patience, planning, and courage. It’s like a triangle. At the base of the triangle, you have your planning because you can’t do nothing without a plan, then you have patience on the left side, and then you have courage descending on the right. Planning speaks for itself. If you don’t have a plan, you usually lose your way or whatever or waste a lot of energy even if you do meet your goal, but then we talk about patience. Patience I think is a misunderstood beautiful thing in the world. One of the last times that I was down in Toronto, which is a long time ago, but I was there and I was hanging out with a heater on and there was a shirt and it said, “Placencia” on the chest, and then under it,it said, “Lose this lose everything.” I love that shirt. I wore it out. [laughter] I love that shirt. The reason is because I had already had the PPC code when I saw that shirt, but I really wanted it, but the deal is patience. When I say patience to most kids, I go, “So what does it mean when you’re patient?” and they always go like, “I’m waiting.” Like you’re waiting in line for a hamburger or something. I said, “Yes, but that’s not what patience is.” Patience, going back to the PPC code because we’re going from short term goal planning to long term, is the work you do while you wait for your opportunity. People, it’s a sunny day right here, so if I go, “Hey, you all want to go play hoops?” everybody will come outside and play hoops, and you say, “I want to be a professional basketball player,” but then when it’s raining, and you say, “Hey, let’s go play hoops,” everybody’s like, “Man, I ain’t going outside, it’s freezing outside, man. It’s hella wet outside,” but that person who goes to shoot, he’s got patience because he knows through that diligence of coming out and shooting all the time, when the big game comes, when the Scout shows up, when the pressure is on from that other high school that they know they got a good defensive dude over there, he’s going to be ready. Patience isn’t just sitting around, it’s doing the work anyway when there’s really no reason to do it. Now, what is courage? Courage is about a lot of times, and I’m speaking for myself personally, there’s a lot of things that I didn’t do well because I was afraid to succeed, and so you see somebody who’s like a singer, and you go, “Oh, hey, Jerry, what do you like to do?” “I’m a singer,” da, da, da, da. So you go to see Beyonce sing, and then Beyonce is coming down the stairs and she falls, and they’re like, “Oh my God, we got to take her to the hospital. Who here can sing?” You go, “Jerry, you can sing, right?” Then Jerry’s like, “I can sing, but–” It’s like, “No, dude, you got to have the courage right now to step on that stage and be like, ‘All right, give me the mic, bro.'” “Oh, Beyonce fell and Jerry saved the day with his great voice.” A lot of us are afraid, and so we need that courage, in the long run, to finish what we start. It takes courage. I don’t care whether it’s Jiu-Jitsu, whether it’s just, like I said, my son just graduated college, my daughter just finished her first year of college. It takes courage to do all of that stuff. It takes courage to apply for a job you really want but think you might not get. If you can make these things a consistent pattern, you will get breakthroughs that other people just simply don’t get. Just like on a chessboard, pawns are short-range weapons, knights are mid-range weapons, bishops and queens are long-range weapons. Even the king is a short-range weapon because he can’t protect a pawn to get a new queen. There’s all kinds of weaponry, but you have to know what weapon do you need right now. If you use a knight to do a bishop’s job, you’re coming up short. If you use a rook to do a pawn’s job, you’re coming up short. You need to know what weaponry is best. Is it a Close Guard, De La Riva, Straight Open Guard, Rubber Guard? You got to have the sensibility to figure out for the short and long-term what’s going to get you through.

Sonny: I really like that. The three PA being greater than one NT, it’s like, man, that’s just good, useful, actionable advice that everyone can implement into their own life.

Adisa: It’s hollering because you realize that it doesn’t matter what happens, you still have options. That’s my thing is even when it looks like A and B is all there is, there’s always a C. There’s almost always a C, but you have to be patient enough and you have to train yourself to be creative enough to look for that opportunity, and then have to be courageous enough to try and close on it.

Sonny: Again, courage it’s huge, especially in martial artists. Sometimes you have people that go into competitions and, of course, some win, some lose. People try and put it down to win or learn or as long as you enjoyed it or everything, but it is just that, “Hey, you got out there while everyone else is on the couch, that’s enough, man.”

Adisa: It really is and it doesn’t feel like that when the other guy’s getting his hand raised, and it doesn’t feel like that when you didn’t make it to the podium or you’re not at the top of the podium, but the truth of the matter is it takes a lot of courage to get out there and compete in anything. Be it cheerleading, chess, Jiu-Jitsu, it takes a lot. You have to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to have that presence and that patience and your moment of victory always comes. It’s very rare that someone stays in the thing and stays horrible forever. It’s very rare, very hard to do, but you have to take the shots, you have to learn from the damage you take, and listen to other people, and you’ll be good.

Sonny: Yes, I like that and I think part of that is probably while you’re in the game of whatever it is you’re doing is paying attention to the details of what’s going on within that game and I think that’s something else that you talk about with the pawn structure.

Adisa: Yes, pawn structure.

Sonny: Can you expand on that a little?

Adisa: Yes, absolutely. I talked about pawn structure and paying attention to details. Pawns, as we know, are technically the weakest pieces on the board, but if you have what’s called the pawn chain, where the pawns are holding together and it’s connected in a diagonal, if anything takes that pawn, the pawn behind it will always capture whatever took it. I used to play with this one kid, he used to kill me when we were playing because we’re playing games, and he would always have this one pawn that he would push a little bit halfway, but then let him sit for the rest of the game. Then when you start losing, you know like everybody starts losing pieces, there’s this one pawn on like the A5 who’s like three squares away, and you have a knight, so you can’t get over there in three hops, he’s going to get a queen. It’s this attention to details. Understanding A, how connected pawns can protect you, and how little details in the pawn structure can be the difference between you getting a queen towards the end of the game, or being so far away you never have a chance to really get him over there. These are the things that we need to pay attention to in life. How many times have you almost had a clock choke, but you didn’t. Either you reached too deep or you were way too shallow. How many times you watch somebody do a cross choke from the closed guard and you’re like, “He is [crosstalk] , that’s not going to work.” You see him just burn his forearms out like [mimics] . You’re like, “Bro, you’re not getting that choke, it’s not happening,” but once you make a habit of like, “Where do I want my thumb? Oh, I turn the blade like that, he ain’t leaving now.” You have to understand those things, and so that’s all part of the pawn structure.

Sonny: Yes, I like that because I’ve been actually doing that a lot with my Jiu-Jitsu training, is focusing, especially with collar chokes because we have one hand here, one hand here, bring it together, but really just stopping to take a moment and think, “Hey, okay, I’m trying to lock the two carotid arteries that around this position of the neck, so where’s my pressure going? Is it on those carotid arteries? If it’s not, what can I do to fix it?”

Adisa: Right, “Does he have too much posture for me to really do this or do I have them close enough to me?” There’s all kinds of stuff, man. Those details, they make all the difference.

Sonny: That’s the difference. The difference that makes the difference, that’s what we’re all about here, mate.Going on with the pawns, there’s also an idea of the Pawn to Queen Threat Assessment, or was that covered in that as well?

Adisa: No, so Pawn to Queen Threat Assessment is a little different. I used to coach soccer for a bunch of years. If you’re playing soccer with someone and a teammate yells at you like, “Come on, man, get on the ball, bro. Don’t let him” da, da, da, and you start thinking about him yelling at you about the ball, you’re distracted. That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that you just play your best game, don’t worry about that and keep it moving. If you stay on top of your player, or if you stay dribbling, and maneuvering, you’re going to win. That’s the queen. Focus on your queen and what she can do. You have to understand that you can’t be distracted by every little thing. What is the most important thing at this time? I remember one time when I was a white belt, this dude was trying to choke me. I think it was a cross choke or something and I was trying to pass the guard and I wasn’t defending the choke, and Huff was just sitting there shaking his head like, “What the heck?” I said, “Damn, I don’t understand what happened?” He said, “When someone’s choking you, deal with the choke, okay? Don’t try to pass a guy’s guard if he has your neck. That’s the priority.” It’s training yourself to see the priority of the moment rather than doing what you want to do when you really can’t. I want to pass his guard, I’m not going to because I’m about to have to wake up in a little bit if I don’t address the choke.

Sonny: Now, that makes a lot of sense. The same thing’s happened to me with I think a baseball bat choke or something. If I even bait the guard, pass.

Adisa: [laughs] Exactly, right? You’re trying to do something.

Sonny: There was a reason they allowed that. Yes, that makes sense.

Adisa: Exactly.

Sonny: Too late for me, but well played for them. There’s also, with the pawn, the idea of the Poison Pawn.

Adisa: Yes, now, this is something that a lot of kids get. This is one of the things of all the things I came up with that I noticed they got quickly. A Poison Pawn is a thing where someone will put a pawn out there that looks really easy and you’ll usually have to use your queen to go get it, but then once you put that queen out there, your opponent can set up other pieces to trap her and then take her. What was the deal? In chess, a lot of people don’t know that all the pieces have value. The pawn is worth one, the Knights and the bishops are worth three, the rooks are worth five, and the queen is worth nine. Now, the king, he is priceless, so he doesn’t have because if there’s no king, there’s no game, but she’s worth nine. You just basically gave $9 for $1. I always equate it for money. You took $1, but then they took $9 from you. That’s a big loss. Nobody wants to deal with that. Don’t go out there. How many times in the day or in your life have you taken something that looked easy and cheap, but in the long term, it cost you? So what happened, this is a true story, there was a kid who I was trying to mentor, but I really didn’t mentor him. He lived in an area that was pretty boring and stuff like that. This is when the iPhones first came out. Him and his friends were totally bored. A guy comes down the street on a bike, a new BMX bike that looked hella sick, and he had an iPhone in his hand. They were like, “Let’s beat his ass and take the phone,” so they did. Ping-pung, took the phone. “This is fresh, what does this thing do?” Then they’re peddling around, whatever, they take off. When they come home, cops are waiting for them at the house. The DA charged them all as adults. The dude didn’t even graduate high school, he went straight to jail, bro. Didn’t graduate because they charged him with more than six felonies. Now they got it broken down to two, they were able to negotiate it down to two felonies. They still had to do time. Now, what was that about? In the short run, it’s like, “We’re bored, we want to have fun, let’s go slap this dude up, show them we’re the alphas, take his stuff,” but in the long run, you ruined your whole life. I tell people what is the Poison Pawn? Like when you’re hanging with the homies and they go, “Let’s rob that fool,” you should know, as fun as that might be and as much empowered as you’re going to feel in that moment, that is not a good idea. Now in business, I’ll show you how it also plays out. True story. A friend of mine, a VP at a Silicon Valley company, killing the game. He’s not a VP, he’s like a top director. They make him, they’re like, “Hey, do you want this position?” He’s like, “Yes, I’ll take a position.” So then he takes the position, they have a whole ceremony for him, whatever. Two weeks later, “Oh, yes, we have to cut all our executives, you’re out.” He was a VP for like two months. Now, when he took that position, he didn’t think about the idea that they might be getting rid of people. He wasn’t thinking about where’s the company? What is the trajectory of the company at? Now, the same situation, a few years later, another friend has a position at a growing media company, and they call him into the office one day and they’re like, “We think you’re awesome. We’d like to give you a promotion.” He sat back and thought of everything and he was like, “I don’t want that promotion.” They were like, “What?” We’re killing the game” and da, da. He’s like, “You know what, I just like what I’m doing” da, da, da, held on. Wave of layoffs came a year later. Whoosh, he’s kept his position. They want another promotion, he didn’t take it, another wave of layoffs. Once the company got stable, then he took the thing because he thought. These two people don’t even know each other. They’re unrelated people, unrelated industries, but this is about not taking what looks easy at the time. You don’t pick up the poison pawn. Anything that looks easy without contemplating serious reflection, you should just ignore it because, in the long run, it can cost you.

Sonny: Yes, I hear that. I won’t go into any personal stories of my own, but I get you. We’ve all done it, right?

Adisa: We’ve all done it.

Sonny: That’s a universal life experience probably.

Adisa: Sometimes the Poison Pawn is another pointer. [laughter]

Sonny: I know exactly what you’re saying. I guess that’s your idea of things being too good, they may be too good to be true, being careful.

Adisa: Yes, not really assessing the total value of what they’re offering. You don’t have to pick up everything that someone offers you, that’s the idea.

Sonny: Just knowing being able to step back and make a decision based on more than just the initial allure of something.

Adisa: Yes, and the excitement of that.

Sonny: The excitement, yes because everyone can get wrapped up in the excitement, that’s for sure. Then there’s another idea you talk about that might be the opposite of that, which is that people can actually block their blessings.

Adisa: Yes, it’s called blocking your blessings, and these are all worksheets by the way that are in the book. Blocking your blessings comes from a chess game that I saw where, basically, these two dudes were playing and one guy had another guy’s king surrounded pretty much. I was pretty sure the game was going to be over. Then when I bounced and I came back, the guy who had his king surrounded had won the game. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t understand how the dude who had his king surrounded had won and I was like, “Can we run it back a little bit? What do you remember about this position? Show me what happened.” He’s like, “We were here, then we were there, then we’re here, then we’re there. He did that, I did that, and he did this, and I did that.” What I realized is the guy who was attacking didn’t have any coordination of his pieces, and so many times, he was actually in his own way and the pieces weren’t protecting each other. So the king and some pawns were able to take some big pieces, and it totally ruined the initial advantage. That was probably the first life and chess lesson that I could discern. I remember saying, “How many times do you think you get in your own way in your life?” He’s like, “I don’t know, dude,” so we started thinking about it. It’s this idea like a lot of us we talk about haters, we talk about, oh, so and so at the job don’t like me, so and so in school don’t like me, or these fools at the Jiu-Jitsu don’t like me or whatever, but how much of it is really just you, bro, not training? How much of it is you, Mike, not really thinking about how your diet is, or how much cardio do you do outside of training? Or you’re in school, but how much homework do you really do? They say that you suck at math, but you don’t really study. Tell the truth, you’re not really studying. They’re not really hating, and so it’s about taking responsibility for your own shortcomings instead of blaming others.

Sonny: That’s huge, especially in martial arts training. It’s like you have to, it’s all on you. It’s easy to, “Oh, the training partners aren’t good enough, the gym needs better whatever.”

Adisa: Coach isn’t talking to me enough.

Sonny: That’s a big one, they should be paying more attention to me, which, in some situation, maybe that’s true, of course, but a lot of the time, it’s, hey, you’ve got to take charge.

Adisa: You got to step in, totally.

Sonny: You do break it down into the three phases of combat with that martial arts element. Combat safety, position, and finish.

Adisa: Right, safety, position, and finish. This was an idea that Gumby gave to me over a heroes martial arts in San Jose, shout out to Gumby. All the homies over there. He was like, “This essentially is the three phases of what a fight is, whether it’s individual or whatever. First you keep yourself safe, then you improve your position, then you try to finish your opponent.” I started thinking about that in chess, castling early. I like to castle early. Getting my king safe, then I can be more free to attack. Once I know that my castle is tucked away and he’s got some people in front of him, okay, he’s good, now I can go. Then once you get to the highest level of a positional dominance, now you go try to kill the king. Just like in Jiu-Jitsu, you take them down, try to pass the guard if you’ve got to pass the guard, get them out, and then once you get to the highest position, you go for a finish. You try to end the match. A lot of times if you’re trying to, like the time I was getting choked out but I’m trying to pass, it goes back to some of these things slightly overlap where you get like, what is my priority? If you’re trying to finish a guy but you don’t have the full position, he may escape the mount. If you try to checkmate a person but you haven’t really secured all the square cut-offs, you can lose your queen. In the course of it, there’s checkmate. Actually, no, there’s a knight right there, boop. Now you just lost your queen because you didn’t really have the position the way you thought you had it. It’s about really understanding the totality of which phase you need to be in through the course of your battle.

Sonny: That makes sense. I think everyone in martial arts will relate to that for sure. There’s another idea that you’ve got, worksheets, which I’m going to recommend everyone gets the book too to go through them is who controls your illusion of options.

Adisa: Yes, totally. I spoke about this a little bit before when people try to make you think it’s A or it’s B, but there’s a C. Really, it’s A to Z. There’s all kinds of options. Look at this situation we’re in right now. Life worked really different just a few months ago, and now it’s totally different, but guess what, people still got to go to school, people still got to try to exercise, people still got to try to get information. I hate not being able to train right now, but what do I do for cardio? I’m jumping rope, I do solo drills, and that’s going to be what my Jiu-Jitsu is for a while. Even when things look broke down and shut down, that more often than not, there is an opportunity for you to step up, to step into something, to find a way. Again, if you use your Jiu-Jitsu training, you use your chest training, you use your artistic training to look for new opportunities, you usually will, but if you believe that people say, “No, it’s just A or B.” No, it’s not A or B. If technology and the history of technology in the last 30 years has taught us anything is that we can find a way. Look when nobody used cell phones at all. Remember when people used to be like, “Oh, why do I need a personal computer? Why would I ever need a computer in my home?” Yes, let me take a computer from your home right now and you can just start cooking meat like a caveman because you got no options because you don’t have a computer in your home. Things change quick. It’s about look at all that innovation, look inside Jiu-Jitsu. Look at how the Japanese take Kodokan Judo to a point, Maeda goes to Brazil, Helio takes what they gave him, builds on it. His sons come to America, American wrestlers and people like Eddie Bravo. What if we did this? What if we did that? Because we already have a big wrestling tradition here. The way that we approach Jiu-Jitsu is way different just because of Graeco-Roman and freestyling folk traditions. Then Jiu-Jitsu gets a whole new spectrum of positions. Then you look at all of that and then the internet happens. Because I remember when certain moves were rumors before YouTube. “Hey, have you heard of the reverse standing reverse standing omoplata?” “Yes, I don’t know how it works, but I heard it’s pretty dope.” “You can go find out in YouTube five minutes, bro.” In competition, see it played out. Whereas before, a lot of techniques were secret. Half will show you something, “Don’t nobody show this, but check this out.” There isn’t that anymore. Every school had that, had a certain series of moves or a concept that they kept to themselves. Now because of the internet, some blue belt can do something spontaneously and we all see that and go, “I’m about to add that to the Foot Locker repertoire, that was hot.” Now we’re all doing it. This is how quick innovation happens, so we always have that.

Sonny: Oh, man, it’s changed so quick. The last month or two, over the last couple of years, everyone started putting techniques online. If it came before, no one would do it and now, everyone’s got instructionals and world champ’s got their YouTube

Adisa: I remember when MG and action hit. Remember when Marcella was like, “Yes, you can just come in and I’ll just show everything,” and we’re like, “Whoa.”

Sonny: Then everyone was still like, “Oh, you can’t learn Jiu-Jitsu online.” Now in the last couple of months, man.

Adisa: We’re doing it.

Sonny: In the last month, you better be learning your Jiu-Jitsu online over YouTube, otherwise, everyone’s going broke.

Adisa: That’s right, and you ain’t going to survive, homie.

Sonny: That’s it, which I’m fine with because we’ve got to make those.

Adisa: Right, exactly.

Sonny: It is funny how quickly attitudes and opinions can change on something like that.

Adisa: Remember when Jiu-Jitsu guys would be like, “Katas are trash. Who needs katas? I need real people, bro. We just got to be out here. We’re running the shoots, dog, running the shots. That’s what it is.” “Yes, I won’t be seeing you for like two years, so enjoy the katas.”

Sonny: Everyone’s still on katas now. Everyone wish they had more katas. People at home coming up with katas.

Adisa: You know who the first person I knew who had katas in Jiu-Jitsu?

Sonny: Who?

Adisa: Denny Prokopos because even though he trained with Eddie, he lived here in the Bay. When Eddie would show him stuff, he would invent solo drills on his own so he could remember all that stuff, and then he’d come back and still be as good, if not better, than a lot of the dudes that were training with Eddie all the time, and it was because of those katas, those solo drills. Then a lot of other people eventually started doing, I think, on their own, but I’m just saying in my life, I remember Denny being the first, too.

Sonny: It’s funny how much Eddie Bravo and 10th Planet is coming up in my conversations just because of how many areas they did seem to innovate. I was talking to B Mac yesterday, Brandon McCatherine. I don’t think I got the name right, but we was talking about how the 10th Planet warm-ups are really katas, that those guys do now, they’re totally katas.

Adisa: Right, and that was something that was unthinkable because really, if you look at the 10th Planet, the way that they run this stuff now, those are just katas now chained.

Sonny: Exactly, right.

Adisa: They’re just chained katas as opposed to random individual katas. Armbar drill, guard pass drill. Now armbar, pass, da, da, da, and that’s what those things become and it’s beautiful, man. That’s a blend of Jiu-Jitsu culture with technology culture that makes all of that possible because if you rewind the game 15 years, it’s impossible. It doesn’t exist.

Sonny: That’s right.

Adisa: Even if you have it, you have it in some fragmented segment that’s not applicable on a global level.

Sonny: In terms of blending it all together and bringing it all together, even 10th Planet when they were coming out, there was a lot of pushback against how they were doing it, taken off the gate that’s going to ruin Jiu-Jitsu.

Adisa: Yes, exactly.

Sonny: That deviations, creating more diversity was actually going to be terrible to these traditions, but you’ve also got a worksheet talking about how this unity and diversity.

Adisa: Yes, unity and diversity. That idea is that it’s got several layers to it like most things in chess or Jiu-Jitsu or hip hop, it’s got several layers to it. The first is that you have a specific way of playing your Jiu-Jitsu game. Are you more of a passer or are you more of a guard player just out of curiosity? What are you?

Sonny: A passer now, white belt, blue belt [unintelligible 01:35:59]

Adisa: When I started, I was more of a guard player, then I became more of a passer, but the idea is you evolve and you have different strengths and the other people have things that you just don’t have. The idea is, mentally, you need to surround yourself with people who don’t think like you because if everybody thinks like you, you’ll fall victim to the same traps. On the streets, why do gangsters always fall and people who be in gangs fall for the same stuff? Because no one tells him, “You know what, this gang shit’s trash, actually. I’m going to quit and go get a job.” Because they fall victim to the same thing, “Oh, I’m on a gun charge.” Then things add up and the next thing you know, the DA done thrown hella stuff at you and now you’re doing hella time. You need to have someone who thinks different than you and not be mad at people who think different than you. It’s good that Eddie Bravo thought different, it’s good that Helio thought different than Maeda. If everybody just would’ve stuck with what came out of the Kodokan, we’d literally be doing Japanese techniques from a long time ago, but we have to think differently. It’s also about unity and diversity, it’s about having different kinds of people around you. I’m an African American Muslim, but I hang out with atheists who are white from Germany, or I might hang out with a Canadian Catholic. It doesn’t matter, bro. You need different people around you so that you can be growing because if you don’t have different people around you, they’re going to give you ideas that are going to change your life. They might give you ideas that save your life, and it doesn’t matter where these ideas come from, it only really matters that you get them and you’re able to exercise them. I try to not have too many people that think like me around me as a general rule because I think it’s dangerous. Just in the old days, like I talked about, dudes from Gracie Barra would never train with 10th Planet. Dudes from Nova Uniao, what? Training when Gracie Barra, that was blasphemy of the highest order, boy, you come up missing. “Oh, I was just training with Nova Uniao last week.” No, you get dragged into the basement. No, dude, you take it all, man. It’s all beautiful, it’s all Jiu-Jitsu, man, we need to relax. We need to relax and understand that every innovation is good for the game. Every innovation is good for the game even if it’s not for everybody. That’s the vibe.

Sonny: I love that, the point about having different viewpoints and bringing other people’s perspectives in, and making friends with people who have different thoughts and ideas, or just coming from a different background because especially in today’s world where people get into their silos driven by online social media, where the algorithms stuff, making sure you only ever see people you agree with and you can just click away.

Adisa: It’s not good, man.

Sonny: I think that’s a big problem.

Adisa: It is. It’s a huge social problem, man. It creates illusions of just being right all the time, it creates illusions of superiority, whether that’s racial, political, social. It’s not real, man. Again, Hip-Hop Chess Federation, first and foremost, about any of the stuff is really about nonviolence, man. About being a peaceful human being, about not using the martial arts. I’m always sick and saddened when you see somebody who comes in and, let’s say, they’re an off-brand nerd because so many of us are, and then they start learning Jiu-Jitsu and they become the bully that they said they hated, and you’re like, “Whoa, so you get a blue belt now, you’re coming in a leather jacket, shoving fools? What happened, bro?” Getting back to the philosophy lacking in Ju-Jitsu. That’s how that happens because the guy comes, he sees Colby Covington, and then he thinks he wants to be like Colby. You might want to wrestle like Colby, but there could be some other aspects of Colby that are socially troubling and not good for a greater diverse society, but you can like his wrestling though. Take his wrestling, trash the rest of that, bro and keep it moving. I remember there was a guy who does Ju-Jitsu who is Jewish and we were talking about Allekan, he played for the Germans World War II, a kind of a Nazi and whatnot. He told me how much he liked certain things from Allekan and I was like, “You study his work? That dude was a Nazi.” He was like, “Yes, but he was good though. I can see he was a Nazi, see what he took tactically, and then trash the rest of them because he was a Nazi and I hate him.” [laughter] I was like, “That’s awesome.” I’ve really striven to develop that where I don’t let any really bad aspect of a person keep me from seeing the good value in a lot of whatever else they brought to the game. That’s all.

Sonny: That’s a big topic of conversation, that one alone, if you can separate the art from the artist or if it’s possible.

Adisa: Yes, it’s a grimy, grimy thing. It’s not always possible, to be frank with you, but where it is and you can, you should.

Sonny: I hear that, especially that illusion of being right all the time now, it’s just so frequent.

Adisa: It’s going to be a cancer to humanity if you can’t chill out.

Sonny: So bad.

Adisa: It’s going to be a cancer to humanity.

Sonny: Yes, you can go through now with your world views and never be proven wrong if you don’t want to. It’s totally up to you.

Adisa: It’s true, you can just be in your bubble.

Sonny: Do you want to be right all the time? I’ve got the world view for you, just click come over here. There’s lots of them too. It’s not one or two, there’s little sub-groups. That’s a topic for another day.

Adisa: Yes, but you’re right though, it’s real.

Sonny: Because this has been a long discussion, but it’s one that I really wanted to have.

Adisa: I’m really grateful, man. This is fantastic. I appreciate you for having me on.

Sonny: My pleasure. As I’m thinking about the clock, maybe you can tell me about what the chess clock represents in the Hip Hop Chess Federation?

Adisa: Man, I’m really glad that you asked that as one of the last questions because it’s a really big deal. In chess, there’s a clock. Basically, let’s say, we’re going to have a five-minute game. I start and I hit the clock and what that’s going to do is when I press the clock, it starts your time, so your time starts ticking down from five. When you move, you hit the clock and my clock starts ticking down from five. Now, if neither one of us checkmate each other, whoever ran out of time first, loses. This is a big deal because in life, all of us only have a limited amount of time and we don’t know. Like America’s lost like 80,000 people from COVID at this point, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Adisa: Four months ago, they were thinking about what they were going to do 20 years from now, and they’re not here for real. The only difference between them and us is that our time hasn’t come yet. Every time our heartbeats, every time we blink, that’s one last blink, that’s one last heartbeat. The chess clock represents the finality of death and maximizing the use of your time on this earth while you’re here. If anything, COVID has helped refine my Islamic and stoic self to be all of who I really want to be and do all of what I really want to do. I had a situation where a friend of mine spent most of their time just looking for the right person. After a bunch of years, they found this person and she was like, “Yes, I’m about to get married in a couple of months. I’m moving over to this one stake, we’re going to get together. We’re engaged.” He’s dead. I was like, “Yo, that is some heartbreaking triple tragic stuff right there.” To finally find the love of your life, be getting ready, got your new job, everything looks good, and now that person is dead. This is why the chess clock is here. It is a reminder of death. It is a reminder of the finality, not to be morbid, not to be crude, not to be cold. Everybody hearing this at some point will no longer be here and at some point, I will no longer be here. What are you doing today to bring yourself joy? What are you doing today to enrich your higher physical, spiritual, mental clarity? Because we all, and I’m triple guilty of it, that’s why I built a lot of this stuff, it’s to break my own cycles of laziness, to break my own cycles of being caught up and down on myself, break my own cycle of creating more stress around things I had more control of than I understood. That’s what the chess clock is about, man. The finality of life and having gratitude from that place. Later when I learned about stoicism, the stoic said memento mori, remember death because it’s a purification of your gratitude. If you understand memento mori, you’re going to go hug your mom. If you remember memento mori, you’re going to tell your wife, you’re going to tell your husband, you’re going to take a minute and tell your son, “Hey, come here, man, I love you, bro. I love you and here’s why” because you know you could walk out that door and might not come back. We’ve never been in a time where that’s been more real for all of us than right now, so the chess clock is real.

Sonny: I hear that, memento mori. That’s beautiful. That’s a good point to finish this up on. I think I’d love to have you come back. We can do another one.

Adisa: I would love to and I got to have you on Bishop Chronicles because I got a lot of questions for you, man.

Sonny: It would be my honor, trust me.

Adisa: We’ll hook that up real soon, I’m going to get you on.

Sonny: Yes, for sure. I think you’re wonderful. What you’re doing is great work. I’d love to talk about stoic philosophy, Islam. I’d love to talk about your history in the music industry as well because I know you were friends with Eazy-E, Tupac.

Adisa: Yes, back in the day, me and Eazy, me and Pac. I got crazy stories, boy.

Sonny: I’m sure you do. I want to hear them. I think your run with Mac Dre was around. That whole movement must have just been fascinating.

Adisa: Bonkers.

Sonny: I want to hear about that and how these movements happen. That’s a great story.

Adisa: So yes, I’m going to have you on Bishop Chronicles, bro.

Sonny: Please. I know you were even at a retreat with RZA last week you said, and was it a Shaolin monk teaching martial arts or–?

Adisa: Yes.

Sonny: So cool.

Adisa: I got invited by RZA to do a thing with TAZO Tea, it was called Camp TAZO. We did it in Shaolin in New York on Staten Island. I was in London at the time when I got the invite for my 50th birthday, and I was like, “You know what, I’m going to spend my time saying yes to more things. Who is the 50-year-old Adisa?” I’m asking myself. “Does he still do Jiu-Jitsu? Maybe, maybe not. Does he intermittent fast still? Maybe, maybe not. Is he a vegan, is he a meat-eater, is he carnivore? What’s happening?” I was like, “Whatever else I’ll figure out, for right now, I’ll just say yes more.” I get a message and this lady is like, “Hey, RZA, I wanted to know if you can come teach at this thing,” and I’m on vacation, and so I say yes. Now, I haven’t even got back to work yet and I just committed to going somewhere else. I don’t know how I’m going to get there. I had a ticket from New York before I even left London. I get back to work and my boss is an 80-year-old physicist who knows nothing about hip-hop and cares much less about it. I pulled him into his office and I said, “Hey, how’re you doing?” He’s like, “Great, man, how was London?” I was like, “London was great, I had a fantastic time, but I got to run something by you. You know who the Rolling Stones are, correct?” He’s like, “Yes.” I said, “I want you to imagine that Mick Jagger wants you to come to his house and talk about physics for a day. What would you say to that?” He was like, “I would do it.” I said, “There’s a group called the Wu-Tang Clan and they’re the Rolling Stones of right now and their Mick Jagger, a man by the name of RZA, who you need to know, has invited me to come speak about chess.” He was like, “You should go do that then.” I was like, “Thank you.” [sighs] So I go and it’s me, RZA, and a Shaolin monk named Shi Yan Ming. I taught about chess and life to a group of young professionals who were hitting creative walls in their life. Some of them were in tech, some of them were rappers, some of them were dancers, some of them were comedians, and we spent a day. Camp TAZO went for several days, but on my day, I met with Shi Yan Ming and RZA and there was meditation. Shi Yan Ming taught Kung Fu, I taught about chess and life, and it was bonkers. It was a beautiful thing, man. It was a beautiful thing. That was like in February. I’m very grateful to RZA for always having been a strong supporter of Hip-Hop Chess Federation, and me personally, he didn’t have to invite me out, bro. He could have invited anybody. He could have invited any grandma, he could have invited Magnus Carlsen, he could have invited all these other people, but he chose me. That was a very beautiful thing. I actually talk about that on my podcast. I have a thing about the whole Camp TAZO experience. Then actually, when I got back, I was so blown away I started thinking about all the time that me and RZA have done different stuff and I found audio of me and RZA speaking to incarcerated kids in St. Louis, I had lost the file. So I added that file to another show. You hear the kids in the crowd, you hear we’re talking to incarcerated boys and girls during the Ferguson uprising. St. Louis was on fire and we were literally in juvenile hall talking to kids on lockdown. This is the kind of stuff that if you tune into Bishop Chronicles you can check out, but I feel blessed to have this life, I feel blessed to have this opportunity. I do want to give a quick shout out to my brother Paul Moran who passed away from Open Mat Radio. He passed away not too long ago. When you talk about unity and diversity, that was an event that he came and spoke at a couple of years ago. His idea was to work with me to make unity and diversity something that we did everywhere. I don’t have the footage or the audio from that, but I’m in search of it. I’m grateful for this opportunity, and I’m grateful for my friendship with Paul and all the people in Jiu-Jitsu. If I ever trained with you. If you were ever my instructor because I was the ultimate crunch and lazy person, I am grateful for you and know that I have never forgotten any of you, whether you were my training partners, or you were my instructors. I appreciate you all for improving me.

Sonny: That’s beautiful, man.

Adisa: I appreciate you, Sonny for improving me and giving me this opportunity and that’s true.

Sonny: I appreciate you, man. I appreciate you too. Don’t worry, straight back at you. Don’t worry, the feeling’s mutual, mate. That’s great. Check out your podcast, Bishop Chronicles. I’m going to go do one on there as well, so we’ll hook it up. We’ll put the links into show notes for that. There’ll also be the links to buy the book, Bobby, Bruce & the Bronx.

Adisa: On Amazon Kindle. Kindle and paperback.

Sonny: There you go, so you don’t even have to leave the house, you can get it. You got the worksheets in there, you can go through it. It’s a great book. Also, you’ve got some Jiu-Jitsu instructionals that I’ll put links into the description of Iron Hook Scroll and the Cloud Scroll.

Adisa: Yes, the Iron Hook Scroll and the Cloud Scroll. The Iron Hook Scroll are advanced closed guard techniques that’ll really help you. It’s an over hook system, an advanced over hook system. Technically, it’s a long man’s game, but I have short man’s adaptations. It’s a free PDF that you can download online. If you just put Iron Hook Scroll BJJ you’ll find it and you can download the PDF. I have some videos on YouTube from when I first did the Iron Hook Scroll, then later I did the Cloud Scroll, which is more advanced over hook techniques. The armbar from the iron hook, I think I can say, virtually, that is the strongest armbar from the closed guard in terms of not getting socked while doing it and in terms of being able to finish uninterrupted. The cloud scroll are things that developed from people trying to defend the iron hook. Like you know how if you lean too far one way it gives you option in another way, it’s that kind of thing, but I think that you’ll like it. Keith Pallegro, a fan of the Iron Hook Scroll, Denny Prokopos, a fan of the Cloud Scroll. There’s a lot of top tier dudes. Gumby from On the Mat Machine over at Gracie. A lot of other people have given me thumbs up for the stuff that’s in there and I have to say, and we’ll talk about this on another day, but every technique from the Iron Hook Scroll, was born from Transcendental Meditation.

Sonny: Boom.

Adisa: None of it came from my mind.

Sonny: Boom.

Adisa: That’s God’s truth. That’s why I haven’t written nothing on Jiu-Jitsu no more because it hasn’t come to me.

Sonny: That’s right, we’ll get into that on another one for sure.

Adisa: Work.

Sonny: 100%. Because this has been great, I’m going to go now play some chess.

Adisa: Whoohoo, he’s getting that chess groom in, I love it.

Sonny: Play some chess, put some liquid swords on, maybe go for a run, do some katas.

Adisa: That’s right. Sonny: Get into it.

Adisa: Word. Hit the swords, boy.

Sonny: We’ll do this again, Adisa. Thank you.

Adisa: Yes, man.

Sonny: Thank you so much.

Adisa: Thank you so much.

Sonny: I really appreciate your time. You take care.

Adisa: Likewise.

How It’s All Your Fault, Failing Upwards & Fighter Pay With Jon Fitch

In this episode, I talk to Jon Fitch. Jon was the World Series of Fighting Welterweight Champion, Has fought for the UFC title against George St Pierre and also fought for the Bellator title against Rory Macdonald which went to a draw. He has also written an autobiography called Failing Upward/Death by Ego and hosts his podcast called Jon Fitch Knows Nothing. We discuss how he got into fighting and his early wrestling career at University. His thoughts on mindset, masculinity & manhood. And the issue of fighter pay and his antitrust lawsuit against the UFC.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 016

Sonny: Jon, how are you today, mate?

Jon Fitch: I’m good man. I’m doing pretty good, sunny day out here in California.

Sonny: That’s what we like, mate.

Jon: I’ll probably get a lift. I’m going to move some stuff out into my regular yard area, in between the garage and the house. I think I want to get a little solar workout in with some tan going while-

Sonny: Get that vitamin D.

Jon: [crosstalk] beach muscle workout.

Sonny: [laughs] Good stuff. Today, I just want to ask you a couple of things about your career, your training, training style, smash system, and really get into some of those details. I would like to start things off just, obviously, with your wrestling career. In Australia, the wrestling isn’t that much of an option for people to be able to go into. I was just wondering how that started for you, getting into wrestling and if you had any idea if you’d be doing it for as long as you have been.

Jon: I was a huge pro wrestling fan when I was really little. Everything for me was pro wrestling and professional football. That’s the only things I really was interested in, other than He-Man and G.I. Joe, and all of that stuff. I always thought I was going to be a professional football player, but then I found wrestling because I had- it was a second cousin. It was a kid of my dad’s cousin, his older brother wrestled in high school, and he would tell me stories about the wrestling matches at school all the time. It sounded like what I was watching with Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog, and all those guys. I thought it was amazing because he’s a good storyteller. I was only at the fourth grade. I was intrigued. Went to a Catholic school and buses would come, you could go and get on a bus, and then ride the bus to the high school because that’s how they would stop around different places and drop the kids off. I believe I wouldn’t ask for anything, I just would get on the bus and we’d ride to this high school, junior high. I’d go to the junior high practices, started it in the fourth grade. We had this coach, Sonny, he would let young kids come in. He wouldn’t say anything. He would take us to tournaments. I was in the fourth grade and wrestling in a junior high tournament. I was also on the eighth graders. He would just lie about our age, and he would get us matches. It wasn’t really that much about records or whatever at that time. He just made wrestling super fun. My focus was football, but then in the off-season, I had wrestling because it was just so much fun. Wrestling was my backup sport until my senior year. After football season, I was like, “Oh, well, it doesn’t look like I’m getting a scholarship. It doesn’t look like I’m going to a big school.” I wasn’t really that fast. I was probably 30 pounds too light for the position I would have played, so a little bit too short. I was like, “Well, let’s focus this year, the senior year on wrestling, and then try to get that into a scholarship, something wrestling in college”. I had a good high school career, a good high school season, senior season, that year. There’s not a lot of money in wrestling. I didn’t get a scholarship. I ended up going and walking on to Purdue because I wanted to challenge myself and wrestle the big 10 schools. I was in the big 10, and all these other big schools are in the big 10. I couldn’t really afford to just go out to Iowa or go to school out of state, so I went to Purdue. I didn’t like IU at the time. I just ended up going to Purdue and wrestled there.

Sonny: Nice. I got to ask what’s IU, actually? Is that another university?

Jon: Indiana University. They’re the rival schools.

Sonny: The rival school, got you. That makes sense. Why not then? You went to university it was to study physical education, is that-?

Jon: Yes. I initially went because I wanted to do history and PE was the minor, because you did majors and minors back then. Then I was getting a two-point-eight one semester and history requirements are at three-point-oh. They’re like, “Oh, well, you’re going to lose eligibility because we don’t know if you’re going to raise your grades enough to be eligible.” I just flip-flopped my major, minor because the requirements for PE was a two-point-five. The degree was pretty much the same, and the classes were pretty much the same. You could still get the same job.

Sonny: I did PE at university as well. I guess, if they’re making it a bit easier for them what they say, “Those who can’t do, teach. Those that can’t teach, teach PE.” It’s brutal.

Jon: My thing was I went to college because I wanted to wrestle. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t know there was that many options of career paths. I was fixated on playing professional football. I didn’t even think for a second I wasn’t going to make it.

Sonny: How did you transition? You’re in that situation, how did you go to being a fighter? How did you start MMA? How did that transition take place?

Jon: Success has a lot to do with hard work, but it has a lot to do with luck, too. I went to Purdue University where Tom Erikson was an assistant wrestling coach. He was a heavyweight for the United States as number two for 13 years under Bruce Baumgartner. He fought Brazil a couple of times, he’s knocked out Randleman a long time ago, he’s fought Bustamante, he fought Goodridge at Pride, fight a number of times. He fought Shannon “The Cannon” Briggs in K-1.

Sonny: I think he’s still going.

Jon: Yes, sure. Him and Tyson are supposed to have some local fight. We’ll see. I just got lucky because Tom was there. I had watched fights and some pancreas and some other things. It was interesting. I never really–There was no outlet to go and try it. There wasn’t jujitsu around. There wasn’t a Muay Thai school. There’s cheesy McDojos, karate schools, and taekwondo schools. It was just something like, “Oh, that would be cool, maybe.” I didn’t really put any thought or effort into it. When Tom started bringing guys like Gary Goodridge, and Mark Coleman, and Ian Freeman came in the town once. He would bring guys in to train. Then I would just watch them and work out with them sometimes because it was a different alternate workout that was interesting. Then I wouldn’t do that bad with bigger guys. I was like, “Oh, maybe I could do this. This is interesting.” Then they’re talking about the money they’re making and the girls, the gangsters, the travel. It sounded amazing.

Sonny: That probably appeals to every young man, who can blame them?

Jon: Getting an envelope full of cash. I will pull a hundred dollar bills because you put on a good performance. There’s just all kinds of stories. Stories like guys getting tricked into smuggling drugs, guys get in fights and pull knives in the parking lots on the way. This is the wild west of MMA too, back then. Some wild stories, dude.

Sonny: I want to hear a couple of those stories for sure. How do you tell your parents that, “Hey, I’m dropping out of school. Mom-“?

Jon: I didn’t drop out, I graduated end of year. That’s [crosstalk] .

Sonny: I’m sorry, my correction. “I’m not going to pursue a career in teaching, Mom, instead I’m going to become a professional fighter.” How do you have that conversation?

Jon: I didn’t for three years. I fought for three years and they didn’t know. Then after the last fight, the trip before I came back to tell them, it was right before I signed my first UFC fight. It was that summer I went home to see them. I was going to tell them because I had just had a fight, but one of my knucklehead cousins said something about it. They saw it online at somebody’s wedding, funeral, or something. My parents found my– I had a website. [laughter]

Jon: They tell them I had a website. They found my website and then they sent me a personal training or request.

Sonny: I think you have worked the best to get a personal trainer, to get a session, to get a private.

Jon: I was like, “Oh, what? Oh, they got me”.

Sonny: I guess if you’re going into the UFC that was [crosstalk] project.

Jon: That was when they had found out on. They had an idea because, before that fight, I almost got into the Ultimate Fighter, so I had to let them know that, “Hey, I’m nowhere training, and then they’re pudding all those reality show.” That was before they didn’t tell anybody that they’re going to fight on the show.

Sonny: Okay. The other first one, right?

Jon: The first one. Yes, that was like, “Surprise, you’re going to fight for free”.

Sonny: That’s why I’d like to get into that and, I guess, those early days of American Kickboxing Academy then. Because I know that first show was big for you guys there, and if we could start, I guess, with how you found AKA? And how that all began? There’s a book.

Jon: I got this book. Failing Upward/Death by Ego. A lot of all that stuff is in here. Because it’s that early development of the gym and you’re going to read my actual journal entries from that time, and the stuff I was thinking about while it happened. Then I read reflections with my perspective now, with everything I’ve seen and been through. It’s fun to see and for me, to go back and read about because seeing how our workouts evolved, the team evolved, it really was- It wasn’t like there was anyone person who was responsible for AKA. Javier had the location and he had some skills of footwork and power, and then he had guys with wrestling, discipline, and cardio. You had kickboxers, you had a blend of guys from all over the place who were all adding a little bit of something and help form and shape AKA for what it is today.

Sonny: That first Ultimate Fighter where you were selected, then they called you and you said, “No, we’re good”, how did you overcome that? You must have been disappointed, right?

Jon: Yes, I was disappointed because I knew- and you can read it in there, there’s that in that book too, me going into that. You’ll see I was super disappointed because I knew it was going to be big. I knew there’s no way it wasn’t going to be and I was just like, “Damn, that was a huge opportunity that I missed out on.” I doubled down with training and I was lucky the Wednesday that I was supposed to leave, they told me not to get on the plane and my management had a fight for me that Saturday, so I didn’t have to wait any time or stew in my anger or whatever. I went down to fight, I got a W right away and then I was just like, “Whatever I don’t need them. I’ll focus on my own stuff”.

Sonny: That’s got to help, just being able to get back onto it and keep-

Jon: Yes. Get back to work, get to a fight, get to win and then you launch yourself into whatever the next thing is. It was going through relationships, get on to the next one and the next.

Sonny: Tough times [laughs] .

Jon: Just get to the next one.

Sonny: [laughs] Now you’ve gone through the UFC, you’ve had a long career 40-odd fights, still going. I’m wondering, how does someone like you from those early days make their career? How do you have that longevity in your career that a lot of people started later than you and have finished earlier than you?

Jon: I think diet nutrition helped a lot. I think training smart and listening to my body, not just beating the crap out of ourselves. Making sure that I train to win the fight, I train to peak on fight night. I think, discipline. I have to owe all my success to discipline because I’m not naturally like gifted, I’m not a super-fast, I’m not super strong, I’m not really flexible, my technique is pretty good. I’m a technician, I think my way through things and I think just the discipline, my stubbornness, and my way I can calculate things. I think there’s something to be said about pattern recognition. I think when it comes to this I have a lot of that. I think it’s just that I understand the body and how it moves, and I can read where it’s going sometimes.

Sonny: That’s pattern recognition massive. Is there any way that you consciously developed that pattern recognition for you in your fights?

Jon: I think that I owe a lot of my success to visualization, I would say, because I can be obsessively compulsive about thinking about a specific topic, a specific sequence of techniques. That can be a really great thing but again, also it’s a two-sided sword. I can also get stuck just sitting and staring thinking about something stupid for a long time, but at the same time I catch myself, it’s almost like I get sucked into a vortex and into spit out into another dimension where I’m living that life in that dimension. If I’m honed that into visual training, walking through the fight, walking through the tunnel, walking through getting my hands wrapped, the conversations, if I can recreate that in my head, that’s a big benefit. It can be a slippery slope because if you go down the wrong way, then you’re thinking about throwing shit all day.

Sonny: Yes, for sure. I think everyone’s probably been there once or twice in their lives. Is that something that you had as a child? Were you always like that? Or was it something you developed as a professional athlete?

Jon: I think that I’ve always had it as a kid. I have a couple of boys now and my younger one, I think has that too or he can just sit quietly and play by himself for a long time. Before I came down here, me and the older boy were playing the LEGOs for 40 minutes, and the other ones in the kitchen by himself just playing. He’s probably got a little bit of that too. I think I’ve also developed it over the years. Realizing that your mind is your mind and so if your mind’s going crazy, your mind is thinking whatever, you’re the one that has the power to stop it and make it think something different.

Sonny: Yes. That’s a massive power that if people can get control of they can change their thinking, they can change their lives. Is-

Jon: If you follow my Instagram, I have a big poster in my garage, it says, “It’s your fault”, so I can always remind myself because it doesn’t matter what happens to you in your life. You could be robbed and attacked but still the way you feel about it, the way you deal with it, the way you handle the situation afterwards, that’s on you.

Sonny: Yes. I’m with you on that for sure, accepting responsibility of, “Hey, you’re the one who’s got to fix it. You’re the one who’s got to change it, it’s your fault”.

Jon: You’re the one who has to get over it. You’re the one that has to heal. No one else is going to do a for you or take any of that away from you. Nobody’s coming to save you.

Sonny: Yes, I hear you on that. What I found though is sometimes, like now, if you showed someone that poster, they’d be like, “Oh, that’s not very positive.” It’s the power of positive thinking, “Hey, why are you saying negative?” How would you respond to someone like that?

Jon: I’d rather have the power of rational thought. I like the power of rational thought over, “My feelings are hurt all the time.” It’s a rational way of explaining it, and I can use that anytime that I’m upset, or get angry, or feel like somebody wronged me. It’s an easy fallback, like, “Well, you being angry about this right now, that’s on you.” It doesn’t change anything, it’s not going to change the situation. It just makes you feel a little shittier, it raises your cortisone levels, your testosterone drops, and then it’s just a spiral downward. Then your black pilled, MGTOW guy went and bought everything, “It’s not fair. Life is not fair”, like, “No, it’s not.

Sonny: [laughs] That’s going to dark places. But that’s just- it’s-

Jon: Yes, it’s not. Life’s not fair. I told you, it’s just an acceptance of life’s not fair. Life is full of suffering. It’s awful, it’s terrible. So many bad things happen throughout your lifetime or the other people, it sucks. One of my friends died recently from brain cancer, I have another one who’s going through his third session of brain cancer. I don’t know, it’s a dark place but once you can accept that and understand that, there’s still a lot of beauty and the fact that you get to experience life and you get experience loss, I think it may make things easier to absorb.

Sonny: Yes, I agree with you on that. Do you think that obsessively, positive people-? although I think people have a hard time actually staying that overly positive all the time. Do you think maybe that’s one end of the spectrum, that, “Hey, you’ve got to be positive all the time, never say anything negative” has fostered that other darker end of the spectrum that it’s ruining things up?

Jon: That’s the thing, it doesn’t have to be about happy or whatever, it’s just a stoic acceptance of is. This just is, it’s not good or bad, whatever. The way I respond to it, that’s on me. This just is, this thing just happened. I can cry about it, I can do whatever, or I can move forward. If I can’t change it, accepting the fact I have no power over it. That’s spilled milk. I spilled the milk; do I sit and cry about it and feel upset about it? Or I’m like, “Oh, well, this thing happened, I can leave it there and it’ll get smelly and sticky or I can take care of it and clean it up before it gets smelly, and sticky, and get ants”?

Sonny: I’m a big fan of stoicism. What I’m wondering, I guess, is then for your coaching, and maybe with visualization as well, is that something that you’ll coach your fighters to do? Will you try to get them to sit down, and visualize, and be stoic about things?

Jon: I will try to get them to separate because even in the fight you can’t be emotional. There’s this balance where you have to fight with feeling like Bruce Lee, right?

Sonny: Yes.

Jon: You can’t be emotional, you have to have purpose behind your actions, but at the same time you can’t have anger or that emotion behind it.

Sonny: I like that. I guess looking for that balance, one thing with you is I know that you play the ukulele, which, of course, professional cage fighter ukulele people may not think goes hand in hand. How do you find that connection there between the softer side of ukulele and cage fighting? Do you think there’s a link between them beyond just being arts? Between music and martial arts?

Jon: I think there’s a great connection between just brain health and fine motor movement and music. I think that’s one of the reasons why I like ukelele, is because I want to keep my brain healthy. Two is I used to play a lot of video games, a lot of video games, eight hours a day video games. On the weekday in between training. Then I had kids and I realized that I was wasting a lot of time doing nothing, and I wasn’t getting anywhere, so I replaced my video game time with reading and ukulele. Now it was something that I was learning, something I was benefiting from, and then it was a chance for me to have music in my kid’s life. Now, they could grow up and listen to songs, another day I’d play some instrument. We wrote a song together called The Dinosaur Song, it’s pretty good.

Sonny: We got to check that out.

Jon: It’s on somewhere on YouTube. I need to redo it because I didn’t sing very well. The Dinosaur Song it’s pretty good song, I did a really good job writing it. Then I’m real about this idea of creating, or starting, or being a part of a new masculine Renaissance. I think we have an issue with men not really knowing how to be good at being men these days. A lot of masculinity is villainized, you have a lot of young men who don’t have positive male role models or role models that are men around. They don’t get to see what positive masculinity looks like. I don’t know, I think being able to sing, dance, play music, fight in a cage, shoot a gun, change your oil, it’s man shit. There was a time when the manliest men painted.

Sonny: Yes.

Jon: Let’s get back to that, we can do it all.

Sonny: I’m with you on that, having a full range of skill sets as a person, they should be never seen as a negative just broadening your avenues of experience. Can you expand on that a bit for me about what things you think should change, how you would go about doing that?

Jon: You can’t force anything. I think I’m trying to put together a masculinity mastery program. Or at least a group where guys can share space and talk about shit they didn’t get taught because they didn’t have a dad or somebody around, or they had an effeminate dad. Things that don’t get covered by a lot of people, things that even I took years to learn. I think that would be a good start, just creating spaces that men have. Because women have infiltrated everything, there’s no space for just dudes. Boy Scouts of America now have girls in it, but there’s plenty of space where it’s just women, but men are not allowed to congregate alone.

Sonny: Obviously, probably the biggest thing or negative when talking about those men’s issues would be the rates of suicide with men, right? That’s a huge thing, and depression, and you talk about [crosstalk]

Jon: I would say that a lot of those depression and suicide cases are biological because the men have low testosterone and they don’t realize it. They go to a psychiatrist, and they put them on a bunch of drugs, and the psychiatrist never says, “Hey, go get your T levels checked.” Low testosterone levels will make you fucking sad, will make you a sad little whiny girl. If you are struggling with depression the first thing you should do is go get your T levels checked and then start lifting weights.

Sonny: Nothing wrong with getting down and lifting some weights, that’s for sure.

Jon: Lifting weights, resistance training is one of the best things for your health overall. It’ll raise your mood, it’ll raise T levels, and it has a lot of long-term health benefits. In a short period of time you see benefit, two weeks of resistance training you’ll see benefits.

Sonny: For sure, I think it’s like resistance training, sleep, vitamin D, those are the things that can help.

Jon: High-intensity cardio.

Sonny: To open up that space for men to be able to talk about things that I guess are commonly seen as being weak, that’s stereotypical like, “Never talk about something bothering you”, how do you do that?

Jon: I feel there’s a lot of brainwashing stuff about the stereotypical stuff. They push around a lot of the worst things that some of the worst maybe fathers said, “Don’t talk about your-” It’s not about not talking about your pain, and your suffering, and what you’re going through, it’s about time and place. There’s a time and place. If you’re in charge of a company, and you have a big meeting, and they’re facing something and you’re crying in the middle of a meeting, and these people are looking up to you for leadership, that is the time when you have to man up because you have a lot of people depending on you. You’re going through shit, yes, but part of being a man is taking that shit and dealing with it, so everybody else doesn’t suffer. You can have your time and place to deal with it, that’s a part of that stoicism. I cry, there’s times when I have to cry, but I’m not going to do it in front of my kids when I have to get shit done. Bad things happen. When you’re a man you’re supposed to be the leader, you’re supposed to be looked up to as a leader. When shit goes down, the women and the children look to you to handle shit. It’s not about not being sad and not crying, it’s about time and place because people depend on you. If you falter, people may die. That’s evolution of where we came, millions of years to get to this point. Men were responsible for keeping the women and the children alive. “Oh, my feelings are hurt. Somebody didn’t return my call”, or, “You didn’t say hi. You missed my birthday.” Those are things that hurt your feelings, and you can feel sad about, and you talk to the people who hurt you, but if that’s getting in your way of living your life, and staying alive, and keeping people around you alive, that’s not a good look.

Sonny: I think I get you. Let me say if I’ve understood right, you’re talking about I guess balancing that idea of stoicism and never expressing, or just accepting all the responsibility.

Jon: It’s not never expressing it, it’s just knowing when to.

Sonny: Creating a space where that’s where you’re going to express it and doing it in there. Then, outside of that, you’re taking care of everything else and taking responsibility.

Jon: Quite honestly, there were clubs and places where a man would be able to go and be alone, and that’s when it happened. The second you add a woman to the environment everybody’s attitude changes. Men would go out to battle for millions of years, they’re fighting to the death to protect what’s theirs. They come back home and they sit by the campfire, and they share their stories about what happened, and what they lost, and what they felt. They decompressed from the horror of the violence they just went through. The same thing happens when men go to war. They go out to war, they fight, they go through all the shit. It was around the Vietnam, is when we really started seeing bigger cases of PTSD. That was because they no longer had the decompression time. They went from killing somebody on Saturday to being at home in their living room on a Monday. In World War II, they took months to get home. They decompressed, they had a time to talk it out, and cry, and deal with stuff along their comrades who went through the same shit. Then, that ended and then you see [unintelligible 00:30:46] cases of soldiers committing suicide and PTSD. They don’t have the same chance to decompress, and I don’t think men get a chance to decompress in this society because there’s no spaces where it’s just men.

Sonny: That’s something I think is huge, that you’re probably referring. Clubs like Freemasons is a worldwide one, we had other local clubs, Lions Club in Australia, I don’t know if that’s worldwide. But clubs like that, that it was just taken for granted that that’s what men would go and meet. I know all their numbers are dropping down, membership numbers-wise. It seems like sports, especially maybe even fighting, people are coming into it to get that initiation, to get that feeling of acceptance and it’s [crosstalk]

Jon: In the tribe.

Sonny: Yes, that initiation structure that has maybe been taken out of our society.

Jon: We don’t have any rites of passages in our society at all anymore. People don’t move out of their parents’ homes, so you don’t even have the rite of passage of moving out.

Sonny: Yes, I hear that. Do you think that people are looking sometimes at cage fighting as a way to get that rite of passage?

Jon: Fighting is an art, it’s an art form. I think people escape to art when they want to be distracted and pulled away from reality. It’s not a fantasy, people want to live the fantasy in some way because real life is terrifying. If you can’t accept how that it’s terrifying and that you’re lucky just to breathe and that it’s going to end tragically one day, it’s easier to live in the dream.

Sonny: It’s killing the boy, not living in the dream and getting after it.

Jon: I think we’ve lost that. In a way, I didn’t really become a man until I started having kids and started realizing all this shit I thought I knew was fucking garbage. It’s just growing pants.

Sonny: Sure. I think the idea of the positive masculine role model then that you have is having that balance of the lighter and hardest sides. For that, what would you be looking for then for the positive female role model that’s not the negative stereotypes of the female?

Jon: That’s the thing. That’s where a lot of people may disagree with me, but men’s behavior is responsible for the women’s behavior. If men are being lazy, childless slobs, how do you think the women are going to act? They’re not going to step up to your– You’re lowering yourself. You want a woman to be better role models, you lead, that’s the job of that man, is to lead. You’ll be the role model. Women will step up to your level. If you make yourself high value and you lead a certain life, those women will start to adapt to the high-level men. The problem is we have a lot of soy-ish behavior among the males today. Because I go on dates and I do Bumble, and the Tinder, and whatever. I’ll go on a lot of just one-time dates and I’ll ask girls straight up what the market’s like, what’s like being out, what do they think of the guys. It’s all the same type of stuff. They’re all passive, they’re all soy, they’re effeminate, it’s not looking good out here. They call this area, “Man Jose”, because it’s four guys to one girl out here, but if you’re slightly masculine at all it’s shooting fish in a barrel. If you’ve got a decent job, and you lift weights, you got a little bit of game, you got no problem out here.

Sonny: If I’ve got this, understanding right, your advice or just your idea, maybe not advice, is just for men-?

Jon: Don’t worry about the girls. Make yourself the best version of yourself as possible that turns you into a magnet. You don’t have to go looking for a needle in a haystack, the needle comes searching for you.

Sonny: That makes sense. If you’re working on yourself, trying to be the best person that you could be and trying to take yours-?

Jon: Think, if The Rock was a single dude, you think he’d have a hard time looking for a girl? No, because he works out really hard, he’s a hell of an actor. He hustles, dude hustles. Girls are going to flock to him. Make yourself a center of attention, make yourself something to flock to. You have to build a life that people want to be around.

Sonny: Obviously, it should be everyone’s goal. Build a good life, build yourself in life.

Jon: Yes, there’s a lot of the positive mindset people who are like, “Oh, you’re just good enough the way you are.” That’s a dangerous trap to me. “Oh, you’re just good enough. You’re perfect just the way you are.” The same thing with body positivity, you’re telling people that they’re fine when they’re unhealthy. They could get diabetes, or cancer, or something, a heart disease. It’s mean almost. I don’t know. Are you really being that nice? You’re causing more damage than you’re stoping.

Sonny: It’s a combination then of having that acceptance of being responsible for everything in your life, but also not just accepting a lower level of standards for yourself or-?

Jon: For a long time throughout human history the goal was to always be improving, always be bettering yourself, always do more, be better, where I feel like in recent years, last 20 years or so, it’s just like, “I’m good enough. Gimme, gimme, gimme”.

Sonny: That trying of bettering yourself and becoming the best person you could be, how do you think that taking it back to martial arts is? Is that the best vehicle they got to do it?

Jon: That’s the whole purpose, that’s the whole purpose of martial arts, isn’t it? It’s self-betterment. It’s not just about fighting people, it’s about being better to your family, being better to your loved ones, being better to strangers, being better to earth and things around you, I think. When I first got into fighting, it was about I wanted to do the crazy stuff and I wanted the money, but then I think I went to Japan the first time, I started reading about Buddhism and I read this book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. By the time I moved to California, I had already started moving towards the path rather than the party.

Sonny: That’s a huge thing in that book. I remember it’s just talking about that idea of quality and just- [crosstalk]

Jon: Yes, I got that from that book. Writing that book helped me fall back in love with training, and the fighting, and all that stuff again because I channeled myself back into that mindset, I was like, “Yes, man, I forgot about the quality.” I became obsessed with the UFC title. I felt like for a long time that my only chance of success or any type of success was tied to that title. That made me train hard and win a lot of fights, but at the same time, it almost destroyed me.

Sonny: The great example, I guess, in that book as well, I remember when he’s going on a hiking trip with his son and they’re talking about when you’re going to reach the top of the mountain and then there’s- It’s a big lesson.

Jon: Well, he spent time in Tibet, I think, and he was walking up to the mountain with some monks. He kept complaining about the trip. “Are we at the top yet? Are we at the top yet?” Rather than just looking at the rocks, and looking at the trees, and smell in the air and enjoying himself, he’s worried about getting to the end. That can ruin it.

Sonny: Yes, all about enjoying the journey. You’ve got a great documentary. It’s such great heights that follows that path for you up to your title fight with GSP. Can you explain that process? Did you have that feeling as you were going through it or was that something that you discovered off after that fight? Because that’s got to be a massive moment.

Jon: Man, no, that was just the accumulation of all the hard work and following the path. I think a lot of the things that went around, that whole fight made me sniff the gold, I started coming down a little bit with the belts are becoming a little bit of the precious around that time. They don’t know if you’re going to win, so they start buttering you up because any watch the company man so you got to- I have special dinners and your plane seats are a little bit better now, your hotel room’s a little bit better now. There’s little perks that come along and they let you know, “Hey, we can do this. You don’t have to be with the rest of the slobs on the first floor”, or whatever [chuckles] . I think they may have do it on purpose, man, because you’re hooked. They use you hooked to that, like, “Hey, look what we can do for you if you’re a company man type of thing”.

Sonny: Yes, okay. That was something that, I guess- maybe a little known for as ending up resisting that?

Jon: Yes. Because some dumb sportsman are hard. I wanted to be a true sport, I don’t want to get by on anything because of outside things. I didn’t want to be charismatic and get fights. I just wanted to win and do it that way. I wanted it to be a sportsman. That was one of the things too because I could feel what they were doing. It was like, “Oh, this is what it’s like.” The money and the respect, and whatever, is nice but at the same time, this is sleazy and slimy, I didn’t really like it. [chuckles] I don’t take the buy-out for it.

Sonny: I remember the time, I think it was even Dana White, there was a common criticism that your fighting start wasn’t exciting enough but-

Jon: That was a manufactured criticism because no one had ever said that until before my second fight with Thiago. That was the fight that I’d started getting pushed around. When they really started pushing me, “Winning doesn’t matter, only excitement matters.” They really started pushing the entertainment narrative over the sport narrative, at least towards the public.

Sonny: It’s a testament though your longevity to have- maybe you’ve made the right decision in terms of longevity of your career.

Jon: I would’ve made a lot more money if I just would’ve said, “Okay, boss. Whatever you say.” Which a lot of guys do.

Sonny: Yes. That was the famous example of when you turned down the lifetime licensing rights for the video games. Which I think if you explain that to anyone rationally, of, “Hey, do you want to give a company the right to use your-?”

Jon: Image and likeness forever for no money.

Sonny: It was probably the contract that was probably for the universe, the end of time, five billion years, or something like that.

Jon: Yes, it was lifetime, as long as they wanted it, it was theirs, that and the merchandising you get. If I die, they could still use it and not pay my family. I’m like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” I think it’s a tragedy alone that the promotions are allowed to keep all of the pictures and all the videos of the fights. That’s part yours as a fighter. You should be allowed, at least some access to that, to create your own promotional content.

Sonny: Yes, that should be standard in contracts.

Jon: We don’t get any kind of say in anything, it’s take-it-or-leave-it. The managers are just brokers, there’s no real agencies.

Sonny: That’s a shame, maybe we’ll get into that. What do you think about the sport then? It’s definitely become more entertainment.

Jon: It is. It’s pro wrestling. They also catered to a pro wrestling fanbase. There’s almost a hundred percent crossover between WWE fans and UFC fans, but there’s no crossover between boxing fans and UFC fans. Boxing fans don’t watch any of it all.

Sonny: What do you think is the difference then in the fans?

Jon: I think they created this pro wrestling fanbase because that’s what they’re used to seeing. They wanted to see they control the titles, they want to see the forced match-ups. They like it, it’s pro wrestling. This is basically the offer-it-all, the WWE did a tough man type competition, that’s basically what happened. The Fertittas probably watched that and said, “Oh, that’s what we could do to this.” It’s their exhibitions, the titles are promotional titles, they’re not world titles. It’s a show, they’re putting on a show and they’re selling it as a sport which is a problem because the Athletic Commissions are involved. There needs to be sanctioned by the controls titles. It just has to happen, there has to be a separation of power. We can’t allow them to exploit fighters like this anymore.

Sonny: Yes. You mentioned the Brawl for All, actually, there’s a great show on that, I watched recently called Dark Side of the Ring. Have you seen that?

Jon: I did watch along with my friend Kris Tinkle. We did a Fitch & Tinkle SMASH Everything, we have a podcast and we did a watch along. We watched that and we did a podcast over it while we were viewing it, so people can cue it up and watch as we are watching it and comment direct. Have you watched the New Jack one?

Sonny: Yes, that’s fascinating. What a guy.

Jon: It’s terrorizing. We watched that one too. He did out-threat me accordingly to what that was about. But, oh my goodness, if you guys have not watched that, that is–

Sonny: Yes, I don’t want to spoil it because that’s- [chuckles] there’s a lot of guys wowed. He is wow.

Jon: They got them. They’re taking advantage of a situation too, men. Just taking the things he would say to the crowds to get them riled up, oh my goodness.

Sonny: That’s right. You got to remember there are some bad and scary people out there [chuckles] .

Jon: Excuse me, scary people. I think he was charismatic. He has three- what do you call it? Three justifiable homicides [laughs] .

Sonny: Scary.

Jon: He’s also a bounty hunter. Three justifiable homicides, that’s wow.

Sonny: They’ve got some great stories in there. Let’s say if there was a Dark side of the Ring of UFC, what would the story be that you would know, that you would tell for that?

Jon: My dark side of the octagon story would be the story of how SEG was in position to get MMA regulated by the State of Nevada and when they would’ve done that, they would’ve been successful, made money, and they’d never would’ve had to sell the property or sell the OC. For some strange reason, the Nevada Athletic Commission voted no, and nobody could figure out why. Shortly after that, the Fertittas bought UFC under Zuffa for two million. Do you know who is on the Athletic Commission at the time of the vote?

Sonny: I don’t.

Jon: Fertitta.

Sonny: There you go.

Jon: One of Fertitta voted no, quit the Commission, turned around and after they cut the legs out of one of the UFC there, there was no way they were going to get regulated by any other state, and they had no way to make money, so they had no other choice. The Fertittas defunded, they cut the legs off of the SEG UFC so that they could buy it at a cheap two million dollars.

Sonny: Okay. My understanding that the Fertittas feels like, maybe, a mafia involvement element of-

Jon: There’s cronyism. This goes deeper. Next, there’s around 2000, ‘2000s when the Ali Act passed. Senator John McCain was having that, he’s pushing that in to get that passed. He wanted to also put MMA on it because he was upset about MMA and he called it cockfighting and he was going to force them onto the same bill. But then one day, he just stopped talking about it. It just so happens that he is also constituents or colleagues who work very close with Harry Reid. Do you know who Harry Reid is?

Sonny: I don’t.

Jon: He’s a senator or governor from Nevada. They worked, voted, and did a lot of stuff together. Harry Reid is good friends with Fertitta’s father, [unintelligible 00:49:13] Fertitta’s father, senior.

Sonny: There’s that connection.

Jon: There’s a, “Hey buddy”, connection between all of them.

Sonny: Now there’s another source of something big with them and the Culinary Workers Union or-?

Jon: That’s just the Culinary Union. They’ve been trying to unionize their hotel for a really long time. Most of Vegas is unionized. If you sponsor it or not, the Fertitta’s hotel is not. They tried a lot of tactics to try to do it, including manipulating the Mixed Martial Arts Fighters Association and some other UFC fighters. Trying to get them to sign up and unionized under the UFC, because they’re trying to damage them to gain leverage with what they’re doing. We stopped working with them because we don’t like how they’re operating.

Sonny: The idea of a union and a fighters union, I know you’ve got the antitrust lawsuit, I believe, going on.

Jon: We are awaiting a decision from the judge. We had a pretty evidentiary hearing back in August. The judge listen to UFC’s experts who listen to our experts. He has a year from that time to write a decision on it. I think there’s two things relating to the decision. One of them is class certification, that’s the important one. A class certification, we’re going to trial.

Sonny: Are you then hoping to develop a fighters union or for a fighters union to come out of this?

Jon: We have Mixed Martial Arts Association that has been around for over 10 years. We’re here, fighters just need to sign on the dotted line and we can move forward. But people are scaredy cats, I guess. They’re okay, these fighters are okay. With the UFC, their estimated made like $45 million on pay per view on Saturday. 45 million and they paid the fighters 3.5 million.

Sonny: Crazy.

Jon: 12% split by all those fighters. You’re kidding, right? The fact that those guys, Justin Gaethje and Tony were making five to $15 million for that fight, that is insulting.

Sonny: What would you say then to the idea then of a fighters union or just a union in general?

Jon: You can’t do a union. A union is in one organization, one owner. That means you have no leverage. You need an association like SAG, Screen Actors Guild, so you can look at the promoters like production companies like Fox, or Pixar, or whatever, those production companies. The actors can all be under the same roof of an association that way, you can do insurance and all that stuff. That way, you don’t have to worry about losing your union stuff because you lost your job at one promotion, we’re all under one umbrella, we need to set an industry-wide standard. That’s the best way to do it.

Sonny: That makes sense. Maybe finishing up, to get people to jump on board with that to join the association, what would you say to fighters who might be reluctant to be looking at things like getting a larger revenue split, distributing income to the fighters, when that idea to a lot of people might be seen as soil, socialism or something like that?

Jon: No, it’s a free market because right now the way I look at it is the MMA market is communism, it’s communist. You have one oligarch who takes up, sucks up all the money and it redistributes it as they see fit. It’s not decided by the market. If you wanted a free market, the fighters should be able to, when they win a title, let them be free agents. You need cross-promotions, so fighters can fight other fighters from different promotions to get their titles. The titles need other titles with their rankings. The rankings need to be independently done worldwide. Fighters need to be able to keep their ranking regardless of what promoter they fight for. I was ninth in the UFC when they cut me, I went to zero when I was released. Your notoriety is tied to a lot of these things. It’s not a production, it’s a sport, it needs to be around like a sport.

Sonny: You’re thinking-?

Jon: They are putting restrictions on a market, that’s what I’m saying. Ben Askren fighting for ONE FC should have been able to fight because he was undefeated champion, he was number one in the world contender, he should have been able to fight whoever was the champ at the time in the UFC, but he was restricted as an independent contractor. As an independent business, as a sole business, he was restricted from doing business because of the UFC’s business model, that is on American.

Sonny: Yes, I think I have heard it described as monopsony?

Jon: They use monopsony .That’s making people wear uniforms and basically treating them like an employee, even though they’re independent contractors.

Sonny: Basically, if it was a free market in your mind, if it was just pure capitalism, your workers would be getting more and you’d have more rights. Is that what you’re saying?

Jon: You’d have more opportunities to fight, you’d have more promotion, you’d have more promoters have more money coming into the market to compete. One of the big things with the UFC’s businesses, it’s almost impossible to get into the market. You saw affliction and some other people years ago with big money. Billionaires who wanted to get into the market and start their promotion, but they realized that they can’t compete because all the contracts are already monopolized, all the top contracts are monopolized by the UFC. They have 90% of the top 10 guys in every weight class. You’re not going to be able to have enough notoriety to pull people’s eyeballs in to start a new business. That’s a limitation on the market also, that’s illegal. Anybody should have the right to open a business and compete, but you can’t compete because of the illegal contracts that the UFC uses.

Sonny: If that was all, your lawsuit can change that then, right?

Jon: Possibly. After we win, then they would have to change their business model or some other group of fighters could sue them again.

Sonny: That’s going to be a very interesting thing to pay attention to into the future and see what evolves from that. I guess my last question here today, I really appreciate the time that you’ve given me, is, what advice then would you give to a fighter just getting into the game? Maybe then in dealing with that business side of things.

Jon: I wrote a blog, Five Things a Beginning Fighter Should Know. You got to jump my channel and check that out, I got a blog there. Sign up for the newsletter, it came out in the newsletter first and now it’s up on the website for the own blog. But the one of number of things I say in there the most important thing to do right now is you have to promote yourself. Promoters are not promoting you anymore. They are going to take a guy who already has a certain level of notoriety and they’re going to squeeze the juice out of them. They’re going to check a pre-juiced, they’re not going to grow the orange or whatever. They’re going to find a ripe one, pick it and squeeze it. You’ve got to build your own notoriety. You got through social media, email lists, videos, YouTube, podcasts. It sucks, but that’s what you have to do now. You have to get your own sponsors. You’re going to build your own affiliate sales, all that type of stuff. You need outside funding besides the promoter because that’s going to have to pay for your training and you’re not going to be able to just live from fight to fight. That’s my big thing, is self-promotion. Y, you have to build your social media, you just have to. It’s necessary. If you can’t afford somebody to do it for you, you’re going to have to do it yourself, have some type of app or some kind of thing that lets you post or set pre-set posts. You just have to do it, you have to figure out a way to use the market to sell yourself. Because if you have 200,000 Instagram followers, guess what? You’re going to get a hell of a lot bigger fight contract. You’re going to get a lot more exposure. You’re a big fat juicy orange when you got that type of credit. They’re going to come squeeze you up. Otherwise, they’re not going bother with you. There are promoters out there right now that will require fighters to have a certain follower account on social media just to get in the fight.

Sonny: Which is wild to think about, but probably all that stuff now I guess it’s a good skill for anyone in any industry to get a handle of because that’s just the world [crosstalk]

Jon: Just the way it’s going, yes. Everything’s going online.

Sonny: No one’s looking up the Yellow Pages anymore. Unfortunately, sorry, Mr. Yellow Pages, but you’re going [laughs] . I’d love to have you back in the future, maybe just talk social media promoting, that’d be interesting.

Jon: I’m still trying to figure it out, but yes.

Sonny: Me too, mate, me too. It’s all a process. What was the title of your book again?

Jon: I have Failing Upward/Death by Ego, that’s my journals and stuff, the beginning days. Then I have The Weight Cut Bible, for anybody in a weight class sport, but also, if you just do the meal plan stuff, if you don’t do the weight cut part, you’re going to get jacked and be ripped. It’s good for you.

Sonny: That’s what I’m doing with the social media at the moment, filing and let’s just hope it goes upward. You know what I’m saying? Let’s just keep going up.

Jon: It’s keep going. It’s like playing a video game. You play the first time, the monster kills you, but then you learn the pattern, you figure it out, you beat it, and you get to the next level. That’s what you should be focusing on doing with your life. Don’t get frustrated and smash the console because you died the first time.

Sonny: That’s it, I love that. One last thing, I’ve got a text here from a Brian Ebersole.

Jon: Yes, Ebersole.

Sonny: [laughs] And he says, “Do you remember who has your Chappelle show DVD?”

Jon: Does he still have my Chappelle show DVD? Man, he’s going to sell that on eBay.

Sonny: [laughs] I think he said he’s lost it, and he’s very sorry about that.

Jon: No worries.

Sonny: Is there a message I pass along to Brian?

Jon: That’s funny. No, I love Brian, he’s awesome. He was basically my first manager because Tom Erickson set up my first fight and I went out by myself to the fights and I didn’t have a corner, didn’t wear a [unintelligible 01:00:41] cup. Just met Ebersole out there, talk to him, and then he fought somebody, I fought somebody, and we went out to bars and strip clubs afterwards. He was in Illinois, I was in Indiana Purdue, and were like two hours apart. He was the first person I got the train with that ever had any real MMA experience. He knew some of the Midwest circuit promoters, so he would call and see where the shows were and we’d drive out to Minnesota, or Iowa, or whatever. Jump into a show and it’s good times

Sonny: Happy guys. I’ll pass that along. I’ve had a great chat, I really appreciate it, Jon, and people should check out the books, check out your podcast, Jon Fitch Knows Nothing, and your Instagram and your Roku as well, is that?

Jon: Rock fan. Just go to jonfitch.net, everything I’ve got is on jonfitch.net. See the books, podcast, blogs, lots of stuff.

Sonny: Excellent. Jon, thanks so much for your time.

Jon: Thank you, it’s good talking.

Creating Championship Culture and Conquering Cancer With Greg Nelson

I talk to Greg Nelson, who was the coach for UFC champions Brock Lesnar, Sean Sherk and Rose Namajunas. He is a 4th Degree BJJ Blackbelt, Division 1 Folkstyle Wrestler, All American Gymnast and Muay Thai kickboxer along with multiple other martial arts. We discuss how he creates a positive culture in his gym while utilising visualisation, affirmation and building relationships. How this also contributed to his incredible battle against cancer where after beating it once he overcame a different form of rare nerve cancer which has intrigued medical scientists. And we also discuss technical aspects of coaching and cornering fighters in the cage.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 015

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Sonny: Greg, how are you today, man? It’s an honor to be on the line with you.

Greg: I’m doing pretty well, can’t complain. Save the normal complaints of what’s going on, but other than that, just pushing on, keeping things busy, doing what we can with what we got.

Sonny: That’s awesome. I’ve reached out to you because you’ve been a big inspiration to me in a bunch of different areas really, obviously, with mixed martial arts. Your own history and background in mixed martial arts is rather extensive. I know you’re All American wrestler, also All American gymnast. You were Thai boxing back in the ’80s. You’ve done work with Shuto Filipino martial arts. I’m sure I’m missing out a few, but I feel like if we go through your entire history, that will probably be a show on its own, right?

Greg: It’s been an epic journey, that’s for sure. It’s been fun. I love doing the martial arts. It doesn’t matter what kind it is really. It’s been a pretty diversified trip. I really enjoy it. For me, as well it’s about the journey, about enjoying the time and having fun doing what you like and staying healthy along the way.

Sonny: That’s some of the things I’ve heard you say about the journey is some of the favorite things I’ve heard you talk about. What I am wondering is then with that background and all those different martial arts, is then how those then informed your coaching practice and how you eventually shifted into the coaching side of things and of course, going on to coach champions, like Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Dave Menne, Brock Lesnar and of course, just coaching a lot of people in general. How did you take that wide experience? Then what was the impetus to transition over into coaching?

Greg: I think coming from an athletic background, growing up doing just all sorts of sports, but then really narrowing it down when I got into high school into gymnastics and wrestling. Obviously, with gymnastics, you got a multitude of events that you’re doing. That went right into the wrestling season. I was doing martial arts at the same time. Right between my high school and going into college, that’s when I met Sifu Rick Faye and we started training then and it was just in his garage with six people. It was pretty cool because I was just like, “Oh, you doing all the stick work and doing all this stuff that I only read about on Dan Inosanto. Man, this is great.” Right from then on, it was like, everything was interconnected. I was just writing about this. To me, I never really saw a difference between training gymnastics, wrestling, martial arts, it was all intertwined into one thing. It was all about getting better and more athletic, and understanding movement, and just seeing how it all tied together. Drifting into these other martial arts, first, it was Filipino martial arts and Jun Fan martial arts, then Muay Thai, and then Savate and Wing Chun. I just kept on growing with the whole over the years. That has allowed me a huge variety of training methods to pick and choose from depending on who I’m working with. Also just I think it really helped build the creative mindset and being able to just make up stuff when we needed to make up stuff. There’s a perfect example of it. We’re just making up stuff a lot of it right now. We’re just pulling from it. I’ve been able to pull from so many different martial arts that when I had an athlete that was competing, let’s say came in a lot of them had a very strong wrestling background. They’re going to need striking, they’re going to need to build up their grappling. I would look at where they were, what type of body they have, were they fast? Are they just big or whatever? I could pull from different sources of training methods. That’s always been a huge help. There’s never been really an empty, where it’s like, “Jeez, I don’t know what to do here,” because you just have so many drills and training methods and tools and techniques over the years. Then all the testing that we’ve done with all the fighting bit, just my own wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu and grappling, Judo. Just continuing on, obviously Muay Thai and all that other fighters that are in the school, were always picking at each other’s brains. How did you develop that? How did that fight feel? What do you think we need to work on? This has just been a constant evolution of building off of each other over the years. If I have a question about something I said, “What do you think, XYZ?” From one of the fighters, from one of the coaches. We have a very interactive team, that we’re always dialogueing back and forth with.

Sonny: I like that. The wide variety of experience that you built on your own now when you’ve translated into coaching, it’s more arrows in the quiver, more tools in the toolbox that you can then pick and choose from and suit each individual athlete based on, you mentioned the feedback that they’re giving you and their own thoughts on what they think, right?

Greg: Exactly, because you can’t put all fighters in a cookie-cutter. They’re all different. They all have different body types, different strengths, different backgrounds, mindsets, psychology, everything is different with each fighter. You might have one fighter over here, though the base techniques that they need are pretty similar, once they develop that, now it’s really the whole Bruce Lee philosophy, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and average specifically your own and mix it up and find what works best for each fighter and go from there.

Sonny: I like that. One thing with that Bruce Lee philosophy, do you think that it sometimes could be for some fighters that when they’re training, they could say, “This works for me so, I don’t want to change,” when in fact, they might be getting false positives or bad feedback on something. I’ve had some experience where I see that people take that philosophy and maybe through a misunderstanding of it, use it to– it makes them go down a path that maybe isn’t the best for them. Have you ever seen anything like that?

Greg: I think especially with fighters, you’re going to get feedback pretty fast if [chuckles] your philosophy’s working or not. We’ve had game plans that we put together that within the first round, we’re like, “It ain’t working.” That person ain’t planned against us, whatever, but because we have this really strong foundation with each one of the fighters, they have a good wrestling background, a good Jiu-jitsu background, with striking background, we can make shifts. They are also going to be able to do that on the fight because when you think about a fight camp for a particular fight might be 8, 10 weeks. All the other times throughout the year, say if there’re other fight camps or training and as you said earlier, give me another arrow in the quiver. When they come into the octagon or the ring, wherever they’re fighting, they’re going to be able to make adjustments on the fly because they’re constantly live grappling, they’re sparring, they’re testing, we have different types of people. That’s being a truly mixed martial artist, being able to do that right away. That’s something that’s really important to see.

Sonny: That adaptability obviously is huge to be able to do that on the micro-level within a fight and then on the macro-level of just big life changes for a fighter to be able to adapt especially like things we’re going through right now. Do you think that adaptability and openness to change and being a coachable athlete, do you think that can be taught in itself or is that something that inherent to just the athlete when they walk through the door?

Greg: I think you can teach it. You got an athlete who’s really hard-headed when he comes in, pretty soon things are going to start happening, where he realizes, “Maybe I got to change”. This is the nature of training, especially when you’re walking into a place that maybe has a good variety of really tough well-rounded fighters that will find their holes pretty fast, and they’ll fall into suit. Usually, that’s what happens, and then as they start to realize and then they’ll go to the other fighters and they’ll say, “Hey, how did you catch me there as well?” Because you’re staying right on his tracks pretty easy to hit you. You got to start getting footwork, you got to start breaking it up whatever it might be. I think that definitely it can be taught and I think just the nature of how we run our program that you’re coming into a school that has a really wide variety of martial arts. You’re not just getting this really even in the context of just mixed martial arts, no we’re going beyond that. We got Filipino Martial Arts, and the Wing Chun and Jun Fan and Savate, and all these different arts that people are seeing, and they’re going, “What is that?” “Oh, that’s this,” and then they see a little element, “Hey I might be able to use that”. It becomes part of who they are, they want to– They obviously drift into our academy because of maybe they feel that fits there because that’s important too. They got to feel they have a fit with who you’re training with and the coaches and the philosophy.

Sonny: That makes sense. It sounds like the feedback that people are getting from the training partners and the feedback people are giving the coaches, you place a strong emphasis on and probably rightly so. One of the things that I remember you saying somewhere is just being appreciative and valuable to the time that any of your training partners are actually giving you, and cherishing that time you get to spend to train with that person and that really stuck with me when you’re talking about where it might be that one person who you’re seeing there every week for a good couple of months or maybe years. You’re getting good rounds in with them and just being appreciative of the time because eventually, who knows? People get jobs, people move on, whatever, that’s not always going to be there and especially now in this moment we can think of people that we wish we were training with. How do you create that culture? How do you make sure that people are willing to give that feedback in the gym to their different training partners? What I’m asking is, how do you be a good training partner for people?

Greg: Well, I think the biggest thing is we always talk about even with our fighters, we’re here to build each other up. If everybody’s building each other up, well, everyone’s going to get better because if you’re not getting better, and everyone else is getting better, well, you’re just going to fall behind. We’re always there to work with one other, they’re always calling each other to make sure that, “Hey can you come in and train at this time? Are you going to be there?” If they don’t show up and there I am right away so we’re always keeping everybody accountable. A big part of it is also– and this maybe comes from just the fact that how we started the entire academy when we’re training, when we’re fighting back in the day, you showed up because you are obligated to not only for yourself but to your training partners. They’re going to be there for you, you got to be there for them and those are the people that are going to build you up when you don’t feel like being there. Then they’re going to chide you, they’re going to do whatever they got to do to get you back into the mood. Usually, you get the guys that you find really care for you and you want to be there for them. You want them to– Hey, I’m not going to say we haven’t had people that we’ve had some issues with. If I got somebody that is not a good fit, they got to go. It’s very important to have a good vibe between all the fighters, all the teammates. No fights in there, no personality clashes. Every once in a while without a doubt, it happened in the wrestling room, it happened whatever. You can get so tired sometimes both the guys are so tired, and you got your wits’ end and it’s just like they’re about to throw blows down and I say, “Okay guys. Chill out. Relax, we don’t have time for that,” and they’re, “All right, sorry about that.” Things are gonna happen, but for the most part, they get over that pretty quick, and then they’re back to training. The people that have a problem or their ego is too big for that, we just say, “You know what? It’s probably not the best place for you”. You got to get the problem out of there, or else it might fester to the rest of the guys. We have a pretty very friendly team, everybody’s friends with each other, they really want to be there to help each other out and that’s a big, big part of the development of everybody.

Sonny: That makes sense. You’re very selective in the people that you allow to stay on the team if they’re starting to become possibly a negative influence or don’t have the right attitude. Let’s say this is something that I think is probably pretty common with a lot of gyms around the world that someone gets ready for an MMA fight, they have their fight, win, lose and then you don’t see him again for another month until they’re ready to come back in and start training. Everyone was there helping him get ready and then they have their time in the spotlight and then we might not see him until they’re ready to come back in on their own time. If that was to happen in your gym, you don’t see him for a month, they come back in, how do you handle a situation like that?

Greg: Well, obviously it depends on the fight. Usually, they get done fighting, I want them to take a week off, I want them to just rest and recover. It’s a lot of things have to recover after you get down with a really hard fight. What usually happens, I generally never have to call anybody because the other guys on the team will be the ones calling. They’ll be like, “Hey where you been? What’s going on?” Either through our little messenger page that we have for our team, or they’ll call each other up. They really police one another really well so I don’t have to do that and I tell them straight up. “Hey, if I have to be there every single day to remind you to get in the gym, maybe this is the wrong sport for you. This is not one to take lightly”. All right. We have a pretty good group of guys and they keep each other accountable so–

Sonny: That’s good I like that. I should clarify injuries permitting. I’m not saying that everyone should come back in before they got the stitches out or something like that.

Greg: [unintelligible 00:17:04] say, “What are you doing here? Look at your face, get out of here”. [laughter]

Sonny: It seems like you have such a positive attitude and that positive environment even to develop that within your athletes to be taking the initiative. I know a big thing with you does seem to be the power of positive thinking and you’re big on affirmations, you put them up on Instagram and I think, “Damn, I should be writing down something like this. How does he do it? How did he come up with this stuff every day?” Tell me a little bit about that because I do think it’s valuable and I do think it’s something that’s important and I just want to know, like your mindset how you came to that and how you think it affects you.

Greg: Well, I think that mindset and that positive mindset, obviously being an athlete, the mindset has to be there. I was fortunate in the fact that I had some really proactive coaches that were probably even ahead of their time. I remember my gymnastics coach in high school which was in the 80s, 1980, he was really big on visualization and having you visualize your routines and to think about what’s going to happen if you fall? How are you going to recover? What are you going to think about? Where’s our breathing going to be? He was already putting that and planting those seeds in and I started to see that, “Men, this stuff works”. I tell you there’s a great story about visualization and about the mentality that I went through, I was learning a release move on a high bar. You’re flying out the bar and you’re coming back and re-grabbing the bar and I was just crashing, just wiping out. I wasn’t getting the bar, and the bar’s like what? Nine feet in the air so when you’d fall down he’s like, “Argh, get back up, do it again.” Crash! Finally, he’s like, “Get off the bar. It’s not doing anything for you right now.” He goes, “What I want you to do, I want you to go home and visualize yourself doing this move over and over,” and I remember him saying this, “However long your adolescent mind will allow you to visualize this, I want you to focus on it.” I was so determined to get this move. I’m going, “I don’t know, whatever. If this is going to work I’m going to try it”. The whole weekend I really spent time before I went to bed, when I woke up, random times throughout the day I’d focus. I remember him saying, “Hey, because you’ve never done it, you’re not possibly going to be able to see yourself doing this move so put your face on someone else doing the move first, and then start to work your way through”. I did that I really got to the point where I was visualizing myself doing the move. I remember that Monday, when I came back into the gym, I got up in a bar after our regular warm-ups and went to do the move and I cast it over, boom! Grabbed the bar and I was like, “Ah,” and I let go. He goes, “Why did you let go?” I go, “Because I never had it before, I couldn’t believe it.” I got up and I hit it and I never missed that move again and I did not physically do that move the entire weekend. Right then I was going, “Holy fuck, this works. This visualization, this mental game works.” I really started to delve into it a lot more with not only the physical plane of moves over my head in gymnastics, but I brought it into wrestling and then what’s going to happen if I get taken down, how am I going to come back? I’d started to visualize matches, I’d started to visualize all these different things and that really started to build the importance of using the mental capabilities, the psychology of winning and performing. Then I remember I got a book and it was by Dan Millman called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Sonny: I was just about to ask you that because with the gymnastics– please continue.

Greg: I read that, of course, he’s bringing the martial arts element into it. He’s a gymnast and I’m looking at this stuff going, “This is exactly true, this is everything’s right in this book. This is awesome.” Then from there, on that book I got the warrior athlete from him, so I just kept on building, That was the impetus to really start reading books on this stuff was Dan Millman’s books, It was so awesome that there’s now these things, and there was books back then, you couldn’t Google anything. I still have– in fact, this will crack you up. I just found this because I’m digging around stuff and there it is.

Sonny: I got that one behind me as well. I got it right behind me.

Greg: I’m going over it and I’ve rewriten all the notes I had, and sometimes you’re looking at the notes and I remember my gymnastics coach also wrote for me these, a piece of paper and I have that too. I wish I had it up here, but he wrote down his questions. How do you mentally prepare for gymnastics? How do you mentally prepare for wrestling? What’s different? What’s the same? He had all these questions that he wanted me to define. I found that in gymnastics, I had to be really relaxed and calm and get my breathing down because everything is so precise and if you too amped up, you’re going to wipe out and crash. In wrestling, it was almost the opposite. I was getting super amped up to get out there. It was really getting me to focus on how to prepare myself for these different things and that just naturally went over into the martial arts and how I did the training for martial arts. I think another thing as far as learning and thinking about that is when I got to college, you go and you meet sports psychologists that are working for the university and they started talking about visualization. They start talking about positive feedback in your mind and positive affirmations. When things go wrong, how are you going to deal with it? When a class doesn’t go so great, how are you going to stop from bringing that into the practice room? If a week doesn’t go so great in the practice room, does that mean it’s not going to go well for your fight? It could be the opposite, we don’t know. All these things are starting to be developed at this time and that was right away in my late teens and early 20s and that just kept on building from there.

Sonny: That’s fascinating and I think they made a movie too out of the Dan Millman, one of the books, which is interesting. If people aren’t into reading they can start with the movie. In fact, I’ve got some notes on the mindful athlete up on my website that I’ve put up there. It’s a great book, no doubt. When you’re dealing with that with your athletes, will you recommend that, “Hey, you set aside a time to visualize.” Will you take them aside and tell them how to do it? What type of involvement do you then take on to giving your athletes the structure on how to visualize and how to think positively.

Greg: I’ll do a number of things. Usually, after every practice, I’ll sit down and I’ll be having a thought or whatever, and I’ll write it down on a whiteboard and I’ll talk about it. Sometimes it’ll be about the mental game, sometimes it’ll be about pushing themselves and when they get really fatigued, how to push past that. I’ll talk to the fighters as a group and then I’ll also talk to them as individuals, watching their training, what they need, what I think they should focus on. Some resources that they could use, things to watch. Ultimately, I’m a big believer in this, that I could sit there and tell them all day long until I can’t talk anymore, but they got to take initiative. I’ll tell them, I’ll point them the way and then I’ll ask them, “Hey, did you ever–” “Oh, you didn’t. Well, what’s the deal?” I’m not just going to sit there and harp on them. I’m going to say, “Hey, this is for you, not for me. I hope you figure that one out, so keep on going.” I got another person I got to deal with and then I got an entire school of students who’ve got hundreds of students in there. I got to sit there and focus just on you. Especially as a professional fighter or as an athlete, this is something that you should want to do. You should want to prepare your mind, your body, everything for the event to be the best fighter, the best competitor you can be.

Sonny: Definitely, I think it’s that old, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink kind of a mindset especially with some fighters, all you can do is offer up the advice if they want to take it, if they don’t you can’t spend all day with them, unfortunately. Now that makes sense. Do you put that visualization into part of your morning routine? Do you do that every morning? I know you get up and do– with the anesthetics, it seems like, and do you make it part of your daily ritual, daily schedule?

Greg: Well, definitely for every single day, at some point in time I’m visualizing something. Just because I have so much feedback over the years, so I could be shadowbox and I could be doing the Carenza and I could be visualizing weapons coming at me or people coming at me, so I could do it in that manner. I also do when I need to calm myself down and how to try to just get to the zone where you’re just relaxing. For me, that’s not easy because I’m wired, I’m like a random [unintelligible 00:27:09] . I have to find a way to do that and so that’s part of the thing too and I do this thing. It’s pretty simple where I just sit down and relax. I learned this from Brendon Burchard, he’s a high-performance coach and it’s called the release meditation. All you do is you sit there and you relax and you just say release, release, and you try to release all the tension and all thoughts and if a thought comes in, you just let it release out. You don’t try to fight it and it calms you down. I’ll try to do that, and to me, that was a very simple thing because I try to think about a candle burning and whatever, in my mind, the candle is burning and a wind is blowing it and then someone’s throwing firecrackers in there, that keep it really simple. That’s better for me just release, just release all the thoughts that are coming in and relax. I’ll do that and that’ll be part of my visualization too and I’m really big in that positive affirmations to keep myself on a positive framework, be optimistic about what’s going to happen, and enthusiastic about what I’m going to do and excited about what I’m doing right now. Again, you have to train your brain to do that just like you train your body to be stronger or faster. That’s not automatic. We always say you have the ants, the automatic negative thoughts, and they’re all over. They will overwhelm you. You don’t just have positive thoughts that come in and everything’s great. It’s automatic negative thoughts come in, you got to crush those and then stamp on those ants and then get the positive ones in there. You have to start to train your brain for that as well and that’s just something that I’ve done for a long, long time ever since I was younger. Seeing as an athlete doing it and then getting different directions by different martial artists and how they were visualizing, how they would see things mentally, and I tried to use that same philosophy. It was useful, that really works well for me and then someone would explain something to me, try to teach me. Just whatever doesn’t work that well and I’d be like, “Ah, okay, I get it. Maybe I’ll point somebody else that way, but that just doesn’t work for me.” Then there’s been things I just added my own twist to.

Sonny: I really liked that, the way of thinking that it is a skill that you have to train because it’s very easy for people to go on just to look on the bright side of life, cheer up buttercup, but sometimes it’s hard. You’ve got to start small, lift those weights and it’s hard. I actually had a good conversation yesterday with the Bishop runs Hip-Hop Chess Federation, is very interesting and he was talking about three positive actions for every one negative thought. I thought that was really good.

Greg: Those negative thoughts are so– they’ll bombard you. They could bombard you. They do, and a lot of people let them and it overwhelms them.

Sonny: Yes, I’ve been there. I think everyone has that. [crosstalk] With your affirmations do you write those every day and where do they come from? I look at them, you put them online for other people to read and thank you for that and they’re quite detailed. They’re not just “cheer up” or “you’re going to have a great day”. You’ve got some substance behind them that you seem to be putting out every day. How do you come up with those, and where’s that coming from, and how important do you think that is, actually writing it down?

Greg: I have a couple of different ones. There’s ones that I say and I do it every day in the shower. I’m in the shower and the first thing I say is, “This is going to be the greatest day of my life”. Right away I’m already preparing my mind this is going to be a great day no matter what happens. I’m going to be full of energy and positivity throughout the entire day. I could be excited so I say that “My abilities and skills are expanding all day long”. I’ll say that. Then I’ll say, “I have the power of my mind”, and then I go through the alphabet. I choose to be and I’ll say, “Have a good attitude, be action-oriented, be bold and creative, courageous, disciplined, decisive, energetic, excited-

Sonny: Let’s go.

Greg: … and just keep on going through that. To have an attitude in grace and health and happiness and integrity and joy and tonnes of love and motivation and never give up, and optimistic, and persevere and just go through the entire alphabet. Man, that’s all I think about it and I do that every single day to start off in the shower.

Sonny: Beautiful.

Greg: That kind of, there it is and then that part’s done. I’ve already directed my brain right away to look at the positive things. Then the other ones I have the sheet of paper, I think you saw me– One of them is the purpose of my life now is and that was originally again, Sean and I learned it at Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy, where he said, “There’s a purpose of my life now it’s like, be, do some of that”. It’s like be full of energy and truly excited and enthusiastic and totally engaged. To be bold and courageous, kind of the things I talked about, and to do what I love in a way that I love it. To serve with happiness and gratitude, to seek challenges, blah, blah, blah. Then so that you’re at the end of my life, kneeling before my Lord, He’ll say, “Well done my good and faithful servant, you’ve used your time, your talent your treasure to your ability. That’s something that I wrote out. Then the other one it’s about what I choose to protect. I choose to protect my integrity, my faith, my choice, my life, my health, my happiness, my energy. That’s a very proactive thing that I choose to protect it so that when I get up I’m going to drink water, I’m going to sleep the amount of sleep I’m supposed to get, I’m going to exercise regularly, I’m going to eat clean and green as much as I can. I’m going to plan my day and attack that plan. I’m always going to keep learning and reading and listening and studying. I’m going to value my time and be generous and kind and real and try to be as authentic as possible with people. I’m not going to fear failure, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll fail all the time, I don’t care less. Also, I’ll do that. That’s something my daughter talks about. She’s a gymnastic too and she’d always say, “Fail, fail, fail until you don’t”. That’s what gymnastics is. You crash and then you get up, you crash, you crash, and then you get it and then you start to perfect it as much as you can and then they say, “Okay, you got that now you got to get something else. Cash, crash, fail, fail”. That’s just the process. You’re always challenging yourself to do new things, or try new things. You know what I always say, “No challenge, no change”. It’s always you’re trying to find ways to challenge yourself. For me, I try not to complain over trivial nonsense. There’s enough things that are really there to complain about. Right now we got a big one.

Sonny: That’s true.

Greg: Now you start looking back and go, “God, I couldn’t believe that sometimes I get so irritated because there’s some guy taking too long to pump his gas”. Now I’m like, “Wow, that’s crazy”. All right. Now look at what we’re dealing with and so the other thing is that my thing is to try to use that to protect my ability to be positive and optimistic and inspiring. I take that on as a challenge to do that no matter what I’m facing. This really served me well, especially obviously when I had cancer because now I was like, “So what?” That was like a battle for a solid year and then afterwards, building back up was another process.

Sonny: Now that story is, from what I know of it just rather amazing could be because my understanding was that the cancer you had was an incredibly rare form of cancer, that they really didn’t know about your chances for survival. Obviously, we know how the end of the story went, it all turned out okay in the end, but it looked like it would have been incredibly daunting. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like. One of the important things I remember reading about it when you’re mentioning that story is that once you found out about it, you didn’t want to know the odds of the survival rates, and, oh, all that positive thinking stuff, you put it to the ultimate test. How did that all happen?

Greg: That I had two cancers back to back and the first one was I had stage four liver cancer, and I had tumors on my spleen and tumors on my liver, and there’s kidney involvement. It was like they’re like, “Well–” I remember at the time, I was married and my wife was like a bulldog and she was just the one that really got the doctors to start to– because I was 37 so they’re going, “It’s probably not cancer”. I didn’t get any scans or anything and finally, I got the scan and they said, “Come to the hospital”. I went to the hospital and I remember I was so fatigued, I could hardly do anything. I’d sure move and I had to sit down, I’d just be like, “Men this is not normal”. I remember getting off the elevator, and the first thing I saw was oncology, so I’m like, “Oh, all right, God, I have cancer”. In my mind right then, I was like, “Okay, now I have something to fight. Now, I know what it is to fight”. Then when they did the biopsy and they said, “Yes, all right. You got cancer in your liver,” I said, “Okay, what do we got to do?” I told them right away and I said, “Hey, I don’t want to hear statistics, I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear anything because that takes into people that it was too late, they quit, they didn’t want to fight, too old, misdiagnosed, addictive. That’s not what I want to hear, I just want to hear what do we got to do?” If all of a sudden, and just afterwards, I got to find out all the numbers but that first cancer, that was about a 5% survival rate at that point. I ended up going through chemo and dealing with all that and obviously, they don’t know how much I train, what my mind is made up, how much physical abuse and pain and discomfort I’m used to taking. They don’t have any clue. I remember my wife brought in a picture book and a video, “This is what we’re dealing with, so it showed competition, fights and training”. They’re like, “Oh, okay”. Well, that cancer went into remission. All good. The tumor’s gone away, it went away and then all of a sudden the second one came. I always tell people, my stage four liver cancer was my easy cancer. Then the second one, I ended up going down to Rochester Mayo Hospital, a very famous hospital in the States here, and a lot of people come from internationally there. For months, I went into the door and I didn’t leave for months and they had no clue what was going on because there was nothing showing up in my blood, there’s nothing showing up on scans and all they know is that my ability to walk was taken away and I had tons of pain, just nonstop pain, pain, pain. Once again, I was like, “I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear stats, when they don’t even know what to do, and anyways what’s up with this? Keep on figuring out this”. A long story short, they finally did a high powered MRI imaging, they found that my left cyanic nerve was bigger and brighter than my right. They went in, I did a biopsy on one nerve in my ankle then they did a biopsy in my sciatic nerve, and they found that the cancer went into my nervous system. They told my wife at that point. “All right, here’s the deal. We know what it is. There’s been zero survivors to date. They’ve all died of pain.” I didn’t know that, so I was like, “What are we going to do?” My son was two and my daughter was five, a lot of motivation to keep going. I’ll tell people when you talk about the negative thoughts and how they come in bombarding you, man, when you’re alone in those rooms and you’re dealing with this pain, it’s just like phew if you didn’t have a way to attack that, that alone would just cause a lot more despair than you need. I remembered having that and I’d get one word in mind, whatever it was and I’d just say it over and over until it’d either subside or I’d fall asleep or something would happen where that negative thought would leave. That was the battle, it was just continual. Knowing that, “I know how to do this really good. I know how to fight really well,” and I even had mantras there. One of them was, I may have cancer, but cancer will not have me. That was one of them. The other one was, I will fight until I live or die, but either way, I won’t stop fighting. I already knew that. I’m not some fantasy person. I know there’s a chance. Either way, whatever’s going to happen is not just going to be me giving up. It’s just going to happen because that’s just the nature of this. That was the mindset. I always tell people all those years of preparation and sports and martial arts and the pushing and the driving and developing that mindset and the way to visualize and imagery and all this other stuff was like preparation for this big battle. Then once that battle subsided and I came back, then it was like the second chapter of my life where you start looking at things a lot differently. Like I talked about the trivial nonsense. Things get pretty trivial after that. I remember some of the guys would get so irritated because they would say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened,” and I’d go, “Dude, at least it’s not cancer. Don’t worry about it.” They be like, “All right. We get it.” That’s how I think about it now, I go, well– this whole quarantine thing when it had happened, when it started I’d go, well, I was quarantined inside a hospital room on a bed for months and couldn’t get up because I couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything. My kids would come in and half the time I’d be zoomed in and out of morphine. Being able to do all this stuff I can do now in this quarantine, I can still go outside. I can still walk around. I can still train. I can still talk to my friends. I can go and do zoom classes. I can do podcasts. I can do whatever. It’s a different world and it’s nothing like being– what about those people that are in the hospital right now that are really going through this battle or going through any other battle that they’re dealing with? Far worse than being stuck in a house for a little while. I look at life in a much different light than I did beforehand.

Sonny: That is such an incredible story. There’s so much to take in from that, it’s amazing to hear it from you. For people listening if they don’t completely understand the rareness of that cancer and what you did being so incredible is like that was written about in scientific journals and articles and studied as an exceptional case. I’ve been thinking, “You’re on the cover of the Mayo Clinic magazine, which many martial artists might want to be on different covers.”

Greg: You definitely do.

Sonny: That just is a testament to just how incredible and exceptional that was, right?

Greg: Yes, it was. Obviously we didn’t know at that point until they found out what it was, but at that point, these other people had gone through it and they didn’t know, they found the majority of them post-mortem what they had, and then one person lived and then died. That was what they had basically. I talked to the doctors and that was like 18 years ago. 2002, 2003, that whole span of time. 17 years actually, coming up it was Memorial Day weekend which was coming up in the United States. That’s when I was diagnosed with my first cancer back in 2002. It’s surreal right now. I look at it kind of surreal. I go down and I talk to the doctors and they say, “Anytime you’re in town just come in and let’s run surgery. We will drop anything.” They want to talk and see how things are going and if I have any residual effects, which yes, definitely I had my sciatic nerve obliterated. I got some issues with my left foot and compared to what it was, they were just like, “This is amazing.” The doctors would talk about it and the one doctor who was the head of the neurology department of Mayo, he changed an entire conference that he did because of my case and how they look at a nerve cancer and how they look at abnormalities in the nervous system. It changed a lot of things. I didn’t do anything, I just fought. That’s all I did.

Sonny: It’s amazing. It is truly an incredible story. It’s that testament then to all the mindset that you’re talking about, that visualization, affirmations, positive thinking that you’re helping develop with the martial arts, that is just testament to it. They seem to be working in unison with that visualization. Going into this quarantine I could tell who had never gone through a big injury before because they’re worried like, “My skills going to drop off in six months.” For me I’m thinking, actually when I’ve come back from injuries, sometimes surprisingly the first couple of weeks I’m feeling a bit better. Don’t get me wrong, not that I’m comparing a bad knee to what you overcame. My question is, the combination then between that mindset that you used to overcome your cancer and then the actual techniques that we’re training in the gym. From the mental aspect and the mental side of martial arts to then the physical, technical hitting mitts, hitting pads, rolling round, cranking arms, how do those two inform each other? How do we help one side develop the other?

Greg: I think that any kind of hard training where you’re pushing yourself and you’re putting yourself in very uncomfortable positions a lot and you have to deal with it, is developing your ability to problem solve on the spot and be able to deal with– You’re underneath some big dude is crushing you and you figure out how to breathe and how to not panic. Then pretty soon that becomes almost normal. You think about the person that you were when you started jujitsu or started training and then all of a sudden throw them in with the people that you’re training with now, that person will be crushed like an ant. They’d be like,”What’s happening?” That process of just you’re not only getting physically tougher, but you’re mentally getting tougher. You’re being able to deal with more and more pressure. Your little aches and pains that you right now just think, “It’s pretty normal.” Maybe to somebody who doesn’t do anything, they’d be like, “God, this is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.” It’s like, this is actually pretty good. I feel pretty good because I’m used to– obviously, you’ve had knee injuries or whatever. I think that right there as you start to train and you start to push yourself physically, you have to constantly battle that mind that wants to say, “You’re good enough, that’s probably good enough,” when you know you could do more. There’s one little battle right there, especially when you’re doing any kind of conditioning or pushing or you set a high rep on a technique that you’re going to do and you look at it and you go, “Man, I’ve been doing this for 22 minutes now and still got X amount of reps.” You start playing these mind games, “I can do maybe a little less.” That’s where you got to fight that. That’s where the battle comes in and that’s where you start getting a little bit tougher, mentally tougher as you start getting physically tougher. I think that you cannot become really physically tougher and in great shape without first being mentally tough because you’ll quit. As soon as you start getting really tired, you start feeling your lungs burning, your muscles burning, a lot of people who don’t have that, who don’t realize that’s what you’re yearning for, that’s where they’re like, “I got to go, I got to quit.” Whereas you’re like, “I can do one more, I can do one more rep. I can do one more rep. I can do one more sprint. I can do one more go.” That becomes something that you take into the rest of your life as well on and off the map because now you realize, “I’ve been through some pretty tough positions and really uncomfortable positions, I’ve been in a bunch of really burning lungs, my legs have been crushed all over somebody, I can deal with this problem.” I look at a lot of the problems that we have in our everyday life is the same thing, we had to figure out how to deal with this problem. What’s the difference? It’s just a different problem. Maybe I have to mentally deal with the pressure now of trying to figure something out as opposed to physically dealing, but it’s kind of the same process? That’s how I look at things. The more I’ve been around high-performing people like– there was that place I went to is– I talked about this, this is Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy where you’re around a lot of people that some of them could be really, really high-performing business CEOs, some of them are high-performing athletes, entrepreneurs, and then, of course, you’ve got people who have no idea why the heck they’re even at this conference, [chuckles] and they signed up for. You deal with all these people, but you start seeing the people that are really successful, they have no fear about falling on their face and getting back up. They don’t have any fear about the pressure because they know it’s going to be normal. They know that the person who perseveres past those pressure, past the part where it’s uncomfortable, past the point where you feel stupid, whatever it is, because they realize everybody has to go through this, and the people that persevere past that are the ones that are looked at as, “Wow, look at that person, he’s successful.” They’re still going through the same stuff it’s just at a different level now. I think that is a huge part of jujitsu, it’s a constant problem-solving, constantly dealing with pressure, constantly asking questions, “What would be the better way to do this? How do I get through this situation?” I always say this, whenever I’m grappling I find myself in a craptacular position-

Sonny: [laughs]

Greg: I’m always like, “All right, well, this is a unique training opportunity.” That’s how I look at it. I don’t be like, “Oh, damn, I’ts a test. My God! I’m just like, “Okay, here we go. This is different, let’s figure this out now.”

Sonny: I love that. That’s a very good way to look at things. Would you say that it’s like you talk about the fear of looking stupid doing something? That’s more of an imagined fear that people could have versus when we try martial arts we get a pretty tangible fear, so it gives us a good way to bridge that gap between the imagined fears in our head and the actual physical reality.

Greg: Yes. Especially if you go into a competition or something and you’re getting ready to go out, and there’s a chance you can get tweaked, you can get your arm busted or who knows what happens out there. Definitely that’s a little bit more of a real apprehension that gets out there it’s like, “Okay, this might happen,” but then you have to be able to control that say like, “Well, when is the last time I’ve seen that happen. Well, not really. Did I prepared for this? Yes. Did I worked super hard for this? Yes. Good, now I can go out there and I can get through that.” Now, most other fears that are out there are contrived, we make them up, they’re imaginary. If you think about originally what was fear based on, against giant tigers or some coming after us or another warring tribe coming to kill us. Stuff like that. Then, all that stuff was taken away and it’s like your brain starts to figure out things to take its place. [laughs] It’s like, “Well, that’s not really that scary. To fear making a mistake.” Really? That not really a fear. That’s like, “Yes, I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want my friends to think or people think I’m an idiot.” That’s not really a fear. That’s just a loss. I don’t even know what that is sometimes. It’s something that we make up. If you just look at half my videos I’m just making crap up, I’m just doing and trying stuff. It’s like, “Whatever, we’ll see what happens.” Sometimes some of the goofiest stuff I do I’m like, “Yes, we’ll see what happens,” those are the ones that people are like, “Oh, my God, that was great. I can’t believe that.” I’m like, “Really? Wow, that was just me jumping in a chair.” [laughs]

Sonny: I love it. You’ve mentioned then that the best way or one way to help overcome those fears in a tangible reality is to have a plan for what you’re going to go around doing. Shout out to mate Pete. Shout to Pedro who once told me to plan your work, work your plan [crosstalk] it’s a good one. I wonder then and especially with competition going in with game plans for fighters Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Brock Lesnar, how do you as a coach take all that stuff we’ve talked about, planning to mitigate fears and then implement a game plan into your fighters over the weeks of a training camp, and then when it comes final?

Greg: I think the biggest thing as far as mitigating the fear is you’re straining and you’re training hard, and you’re physically pushing yourself and just preparing. You’re doing everything you know you can to be the best you can on the night that you’re going to go out there. You can’t do anything else, what are you going to do? We’re ready. We have a saying here because it’s Midwest, “The hay is in the barn, all the work is done.” Now, it’s like we just got to go out there and let it shine. I remember, this is a funny thing because each fighter is so different. If you look at it Sean Sherk, pretty much it wasn’t not a big secret what was going to happen. He was going to shoot a double at some point, put you down on the ground, and it was hard to get up once he hit you on the ground. That was a big thing. He had, I’d have to say one of the simplest game plans all the time. If you look at him, he was not that tall. He was maybe 5’7′ that’s with shoes on. I’m about the same size. For the first 30-whatever, 35 fights of his career there was no one 55 weight class, it was all 170. He was fighting people that were way bigger, and taller. His philosophy, “Whether they’re taller than me now, but when I take them down, and I’m on top, I’m the tall one in the cage.” What he did because he had a speed, this whole thing was, “How do I transfer, how do I get myself from here to there.” Every single day he had a routine that he did. At least three days a week he was just really maximizing combinations and shots in every possible way, focused mitts, cables, shadow boxing, partner drills, wherever. We always joke about it because we always say he had one real guard pass and everyone goes, “Well, yes, but he had like four options.” He was so good at it, you could stop it. It was really tough. Then, if you were inside the guard and he could pass it, he was so dangerous inside there because he had short arms, he was like T-Rex, but he could hit super fast and cut you open inside your guard, so that was a problem. He had this very streamlined game that he just developed, “Okay, this is my game plan, I’m going to go in there, I’m going to take him down, and I’m going to be in better shape than they are. I’m going to condition myself so I can just keep going, and going, and going.” His game plan never really change that much. He just got better at it. That was that mindset. He was also one of those guys that was a product of the classroom. He would take regular Thai boxing classes with students. You’d look over and some white belt would be arm barring him because he’s letting them be,” Oh, you got me. Good job.” He didn’t care because he knew he could absolutely smash the dude. He could play. He’d say, “Okay, I want you to put me in a triangle and choke me out. Ready? Go.” Then, he just methodically work his way out. I never ever had to worry about anybody getting hurt rolling with Sean Sherk even though he was the fastest, most explosive just really good fighter. Never had to worry because he just had that mindset. It’s like, “Yes, I’m training and having fun.” He had also this mindset where at nighttime he’d always ask somebody to come and train. He’d say, “Hey, so do you want to come train tonight?” You’d say, “Yes.” Right away he’d go ask somebody else, “Hey, do you want to come train tonight? “Yes.” He’d have two people that were going to come to train tonight. He’d write down his third workout when neither of the guys showed up because they were going, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to keep up with Sean tonight.” He’d look at the clock and whatever, you got to train at eight o’clock at night, 8:01, nobody showed up, he was already putting together his thing and nothing would change in his mind. He already had the game plan set. When one of them showed up, he had the plan. When both of them showed up, he had a plan, so he never looked at it as, “Geez, no one’s going to show up.” He was like, “Okay, let’s go,” and that’s his mindset. That’s how he developed. I look at the other fighters that have been really successful, they have that same mindset. They know what they got to get done, and they’re going to get it done no matter what. They don’t really worry about whether this person is going to show up or that person is going to show up, because they’re going to be fighting alone in the ring anyways, so they’ve already mentally prepared for it. It’s funny because you have Sean on one end of the spectrum, then you have Brock on another end of the spectrum. It was kinda like a Sean Sherk but giant . He had already gone through so many different evolutions of his game; great wrestler, NCAA champion. Then he goes from there to, “I’m going to go to the WWE and I’m going to become a world champion at that. Then I’m going to leave that and I’m going to go play professional football.” To be the last person cut off for a professional football team without playing football since high school is pretty amazing. Then he’s like, “Okay, I’m going to try MMA,” and every one of those things, he’s risen up to the top at some point. He’s very methodical about how he trains, what he does, wants everything. When I would work with him, myself, Marty Morgan, Eric Paulson was even involved with it, he wanted to know what was going to be done during that day so he could know how hard to push. He goes, “I just don’t want you to add stuff on at the end of the day, because I’m going to push already.” He knew he was. That’s just the nature of the beast, He didn’t want you just to add stuff, “I think you should add this.” “No, I’ve already put my mind and when it’s time to go, I’m going to go hard.” The people that we brought in because he could, it’s a different game with a guy like that who has millions of dollars and he can bring in whoever he wants. We’d bring in Cole Conrad who was a two-time undefeated NCAA wrestling champion and four-time All American, and Tony Nelson, two-time national champion and four-time All American, and Marty Morgan was an undefeated NCAA national champ, and runner up in third place very good multiple time All American. Then we brought in Comprido who was a two-time absolute world champion in Jiu-Jitsu, then we got Pat Barry. We could bring all these people in and you would put them in a house or wherever and they would live there. He’d pay them and they’d train. His mentality was, “Okay, you’re being paid, that means you got to show up. If you don’t, then you’re just going to get fired.” It was pretty straightforward. But all those guys were competitors at the highest level. There was no qualm there. Then his strength and conditioning coach was the strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Broncos that would fly in. So we had the highest level people there. He would get pushed through these really strenuous camps. Then he gets done with that journey, goes back to the WWE and is still a big superstar. It’s so funny because you have a different type of mentalities, different athletes. Rose, different entirely again. Comes from an absolute striking base. No wrestling, but became very good at Jiu-Jitsu. She’s physically very tough. I’ve punched her hard in the face, I’m telling you that right now, and she’ll punch you right back. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this girl’s tough.” She’s 115 pounds, 120 pounds max maybe. She’s tough, but she’s also very educated, very smart. I don’t have to take that abuse, I’m going to have to learn how to create angles and get in there. I want to have a set plan going in. Each one of them had a very specific mindset, but knew where they needed to be stronger, and had no qualms about developing in that area as much as they could, so it was fun to watch and seeing their growth.

Sonny: That’s great. It’s great to hear how their mindset was enabling them to all reach their goals. All were world champions. Brock Lesnar world champion in fourth fight, just absolutely incredible from pro wrestling. It’s just incredible stuff. When you’re game planning for the fights, you’re getting them prepared, how much will you tailor what they’re planning on doing? I think we probably went over Sean Sherk not so much, but tailor what those guys were going to do for their individual opponents? How do you approach your athletes and say, “Hey, your guy’s really strong here, maybe we work on something else,” without coming across as scared or without coming across as being negative? Or thinking that, “Oh, you got to worry about something here.”? Do you do that? Do you tailor it much? Or do you just focus on their positives? How do you go about that?

Greg: I guess it’s a little bit of both, because you can’t take a person who has a certain skill set and just say, “Oh, guess what? You’re going against this guy. We’re going to Lego you together and turn you into this person.” They already have a specific skill set that they have, so you look at what they have, “Okay, this is where you’re great. This is where you’re really good. This is where we got to probably avoid as much as possible in this fight. But if we do end up in that position, here’s how we’re going to deal with it.” That’s how we look at it. We just say, “Okay, this person’s a really good wrestler or a really good striker or whatever their deal is,” and then we’d say, “Okay, so now that we know that, how are we going to deal with that? How are we’re going to deal with that strike?” You can game plan, especially if you watch– This is a really detailed version of it, but with Frank Mir, obviously, the first fight, hey, it was still pretty good. He got caught. He thought he actually won, after he smashed him, he gets pulled up, and he thought, “That’s it? That’s over?” His mindset was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” Then he gets his hand raised, and then, “One point.” He’s like, “What is this?” Then he had to go back. The second fight, we knew what Frank was about. I already knew what Frank was about, so I said, “Okay, here’s the deal.” We broke him down really well, and it got to the point where we looked at him and said, “Okay, 86% of the time after Frank throws a combination he moves to his right. The other times he moves to the left, so that’s a major tendency that we can exploit to shoot in or do whatever. When we’re down on the ground, we know he’s going to probably try to work that half guard, he’s probably going to go after your legs because it worked already. Look at your upper body, it’s going to be tough to get you. You’re so dominant there.” This was a dig on Frank at the same time, because he said, “His submission skill, his ability on the ground is nowhere near mine, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to go back to some of my first catch wrestling move that I ever learned in my life, and that’s what we’re going to drill.” That’s what happened. If you look at it, it was that reverse half, catch the forearm, trap it, and that’s what we drilled. That was pretty much the nuts and bolts of that whole game. Get in the half guard, stop that and just pound him into oblivion, and it went to plan perfectly. We looked at where his strengths were, but, hey, here’s what he has worry. How is he going to find anybody with the attributes, the strength, the speed, the explosiveness of Brock Lesnar and then imitate? It’s a lot easier to find somebody who’s not as fast, is a good grappler, and we have a two-time absolute world champion grappler. He’s got some good things. So we were able to find those people, but it’s hard to find a person like a Brock. You also have to play with their mindsets as well. You have to keep them strong, what feeds their strength mentally, and you have to bring that into your training. Usually they’re pretty smart. Brock was pretty smart when he would say, “Hey, listen, I know we had two really hard training sessions today, but now my body’s trash,” and I’d say, “Okay, let’s do one and then maybe swim tonight.” You have to know your own body, because that’s where you’re going to get injured. Especially as a big, super fast dude, you’re throwing that much weight around that fast with another human that big, and you could get injured really fast. He was very smart in that respect, knowing if and when he had to taper down, because he knew he was a great athlete, pushed himself for so many years. You have to trust your athlete too, and you’d know that when he says that he’s not like, “I’m a big puss.” It’s not normal. It’s like, “I get it. I get it.” You have to be smart with that as well. There’s a time where you tailor-make. You can try to say, “Hey, this guy fits perfectly with what we do. We’re just going to–” “Game on. Go for it,” or say, “Hey, we got to watch out for this person’s x, y, z. We’re going to move more like this. We’re going to put that into our training camp.” The other thing, too, is you have to remember, they might be game planning the exact same way. “Here’s what they’re expecting.” Here’s a great example of that, Sean Sherk versus Hermes Franca. We watched Hermes. Every time he threw a punch, he’d go like this. Sean was like, “That’s when I’m going to shoot every single time.” He’d throw that big old haymaker. He could hit hard. He was good on the ground, but that’s when Sean was going to shoot. Guess what they were game planing? When we go like this, we’re going to lift our knees straight up because he’s going to shoot. That’s exactly what happened three times. It was lucky that Sean’s neck is this thick, and his skull must be super thick because he took that knee square in the face, boom, and was able to continue and keep fighting. He even got caught once in a really tight guillotine, but he was able to deal with that because he already trained for it. He already knew, “I’m a great double leg takedown guy.” He wanted people to get him in guillotines a lot, and he would fight his way out of it. He’d figured out. He goes, “If I’m going to shoot a lot, there’s a good chance I’m going to end up in a guillotine, or I got to be able to deal past the guard.” That was a big focus of his game. That’s why it was almost impossible to choke him.

Sonny: That’s funny. I was speaking to Brian Ebersole just recently. He was saying, “Guillotines don’t exist. I’m just in a double leg.” [laughs] My memory of that fight with Sean Sherk, too, is that, it was something like– Was it 20 takedowns or something like that? I think, at one point it was the highest takedowns in UFC?

Greg: To this date, number two in UFC history, to this date, 10 years after he fought. He had that probably just to go and go and go and go and go.

Sonny: There is some debate that fight, that’s number one now with Khabib what they score as takedowns could actually be classed as mat returns under wrestling. I think it only puts it for six takedowns for Khabib if you change that. We could make an argument that if we score how takedowns are done in college wrestling, Sean would still be number one. Also, what you mentioned with Brock Lessnar with the reverse half nelson, the crucifix, pirate’s crucifix stockades, I love to hear that. I actually did a video on that. I did a breakdown video on that technique. Brock’s the best. He’s finished the fight with the highest percentage or the biggest name to use it in MMA. That’s just incredible to hear.

Greg: Good game plan. We’re going to use the stock, and we’re going to tie him up. This is one of the first things I learned way back with Larry Hartsell in the ’80s. We’re going bring it to life. Because he was such a good wrestler at controlling top crossbody anyways, it just tied in perfectly. We knew, he’s going to try to block with that other arm, pin it down. Comprido brought his elements to it. “This might happen. Here’s how I want you to control that.” We were all just coming together to take that one little area of the game and just master it.

Sonny: That’s incredible. Did you practice that one from half guard? Were you practicing those setups?

Greg: Yes, from half guard, from crossbody, from everywhere.

Sonny: That’s so cool. I’m so happy to hear that. [laughs] Just following on then with that game planning and coaching. When you actually get into the fight then, I like that idea that you can only really change little bits about people’s tendencies. We can’t let go on together and replace the whole fight. That’s one thing I had to tell myself as well and tell people who I’m coaching is that if you watch a video on someone, they’re in there with someone else. It’s going to be different when you’re in there. When they actually get in there, what kind of coaching advice do you like to give? Any cues, or do you use code words, or do you have a backup game plan that you might say, “Hey, switch to plan B.” When the fights on, how do you do that?

Greg: I think because you’re trained for so long and you’re training with a variety of different people in your own camp all the time, you’re going to be able to adapt really fast. Hopefully, you have a good group of wrestlers in there. You got really good jiu-jitsu guys in there. You got really good strikers. You got the ground and palm guy. You have all these people that they’re already dealing with constantly. They’re going to be able to adapt pretty fast if they need to because it’s flow. They feel when they go. This is another really good example with Sean Sherk when he fought Nick Diaz. Going out there, we were like, “We got to take Nick Diaz down because he’s got those long hands. He’s going to sit out there, and he’s going to try to keep you at length and just punch you right in the head. He’s got some heavy hands, so we don’t want to do that. We want to try to get him down.” But when we got there, Nick Diaz was crouched over, totally ready, prepared for the double leg. Sean shot in, he got sprawled on, he got stuck, and then he got back up, he sprawled again. He comes back in the corner, and he said, “He prepared for the double. I can’t take him down.” I go, “Yes, but he’s crouched over. He’s as tall as you now, so punch him in the face.” If you watch that fight, all of a sudden, in the second round, he’s like doing boxing combos and people were like, “Oh my god, Sean Sherk can box.” He’s always been able to box. It was right there. Then he was able to set up to take down and get him down on the ground from there. It’s not like he was just rocking Nick Diaz, but he was punching him enough that it was just like, dang dang dang . It was really fast shots that he was able to set up his takedown. We had to change that whole game plan from first round to the rest of the fight. That was done, “Sean, start boxing. now its time to box. He’s as tall as you. He has to change his entire position and his footwork and everything because he’s crouched over. He’s not normal.” That was changing it on the fly but having the ability because he’s trained all that stuff already ahead of time.

Sonny: That makes sense. Just having the advice that you can actually give to someone within the fight is really what they’ve done outside the fight in preparation. You can’t just yell out, “Hey, reverse flying whatever.”

Greg: Yes. That’s all I am, too. I’m pretty straightforward in the corner. Sometimes, I hear people yelling entire instructional videos. It’s like, ” the persons not hearing anything ” It’s like all they hear is, ” wah wah wah .” One of my fighters that I used to corner, I had three commands. It’s all I said, hands, that meant something with his hands are open. Leg, and everybody thinks, “Oh, leg kick.” No. That meant kicks are open. There it is because he was really good at faking a low kick and head kick, and he knocked out a lot of people with it. As soon as I see the person’s hands come in or that neck was exposed, I would just go, “There it is.” Sometimes, he would not take it right away. He would start setting it up and look, and then he’d come back and say, “I see it. I see it. I’m going to take it this round.” It was very simple sometimes because we worked so well together. We trained so much that he just knew exactly when I said– With Sean, he already knew what he was going to do, how he’s going to do it. Maybe he would have to come in like in that Nick Diaz thing and be reminded, “Hey, you’re really good with your hands. Let them go.” “Okay.” Baam. He was also one of the guys I would just say, “Okay,” and then do it. That again is a different type of guy. Just to say okay.

Sonny: I like that, definitely one of the best guy code word, combo things that I had when I was fighting. One of my coaches, Carlos, was just blue, just blue,simple . That was a coded word, but it was just one word. For you is that, keep it simple.

Greg: Keep it simple. Usually, in the corner, they hit in there, and the first thing, I’m like, “Sit down, breathe, just breathe.” I get them to breathe and get them to try to as much as possible. If they’re busy just going, ” breathing ,” and you’re trying to tell them something, they’re not hearing anything. It’s like, “Breathe, calm down, doing good.” I’m also pretty honest. I’ll be like, “Listen, you’re getting your ass kicked. You’ve got to figure this out. You got to start doing something now.” Sometimes, you need to light that fire. Who knows what’s going on in their head. It’s like, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re getting wailed on,” or I’ll say, “Hey, you got to watch that leg kick. You’re walking right into it. You’ve landed your right hand, so walk away. Keep with your game plan but know that he’s going to come with that right kick. I guarantee, they are telling him right now, “Kick his leg.” Sometimes, it’s simple because there’s not enough time to tell them all what’s going on. I’ll also also confer with the other people that are in the corner, and they’ll have one thing to tell him. It’s one thing. That’s it. Because if I’m telling him one thing, someone else is telling him one thing, three things isn’t going to be an overload. It’s like a lot of times simple. Sometimes it’s the attitude like, “Hey, listen, to turn up the heat or impose your will. This guy is about ready to break.”

Sonny: That makes sense. I think that getting everyone in the corner on the same page, and then probably knowing their personalities and the personality of your fighter and doing all that preparation work beforehand.

Greg: I have a couple of guys that have such booming voices that I’ll tell them what to yell. Because, I’m like, “Waah,” my voice is starting to crackle. Marty Morgan was like that with Brock because he was Brock’s wrestling coach in college. That’s the voice he could hear. Anything I had to say I would just tell Marty and Marty would just , “Woo,” he had just this booming voice and Brock will hear it. You got to be smart with that, and the voice he hears is the voice you want to be yelling.

Sonny: I hear that. Yes. Sometimes when I’m in there and I just feel the urge to yell especially where kickboxing coach is,Nick Pudney he’s yelling out the advice and I want to yell something, I’ll just be like, “Okay, I’ll just repeat what Pudz is yelling because I get it out of my system and then, it’s just following orders. [laugh]

Greg: These guys see different things. They have a different, they fight differently. They come from a different background so both people are going, “Kick him. Punch him. Kick him. Punch him. Take him down.” The guys are, “Aah.”

Sonny: That’s so good. Amazing, I’ll just finish up with a couple more questions. There’s one with Brock Lesnar’s training, especially in terms of preparation. At one stage there was, I guess, Bas Rutten had said that when Brock was sparring, he wasn’t allowed to be hit in the head, hit in the face. There was something like that. I’m wondering, is there any truth to that? What was the deal? What was the actual– the truth behind that?

Greg: There was times where sparring hard and hard sparring for sure. Then there’s other times, where it’s just like we know that he could take a good shot. He took a lot of shots and we were trying to develop different parts of his game plan. It’s like, “Okay, we don’t want to sit there and sling punches,” we’re in there with who knows who, a couple of guys obviously one of them from your part of the world. You don’t want to get hit by that dude. Hunt, you don’t want to throw his overhand right land it on your head because if it does, it’s going to be game over. There was a time where I remember Marty yelling at him. “No.” He just yelled no because they both started swinging and somehow they both missed each other and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is–” but get back in the game plan. There was a time where we didn’t want him to just sit there and get into that mentality of trading blows. What are you going to do, train your head to be hard enough to take Mark Hunt’s overhand right? Not going to happen, right? Remember how much you get hit in that training camp.

Sonny: Makes sense.

Greg: It was like, “Okay, we have to try to get to your game plan, get it in there and have punches thrown at you.” Your goal is not to become a striker, it’s to become a fighter that wins at what you’re great at. There was times where that would happen, but he had to be hit. There’s times where I’d say that he’s got to be punched in the face a little bit more. We had to bring it up. But he’d been in a lot of crazy things. The other thing, too, is you have to look at what he’d come into the camp with. Does he have a tweak in his body here or there? Obviously, if you ever saw him when he did his, whatever the heck was called a shooting star where he flew up in the air and landed right on his neck. You don’t want to have this guy’s neck getting snapped back all the time when he had that issue. There was times and places where, when we said, “Hey, you got to pick it up.” He would.

Sonny: That makes perfect sense actually, now that you explained it. You’ve got a guy who’s a primarily a wrestler learning striking, sparring with World Champion kickboxers in K-1 and Pat Barry, Mark Hunt. You don’t want to send your athlete in there just to get lit up by them. That’s not going to help anyone. So, of course, it would make sense, “Hey, let’s work different areas of the game.” Like, I guess, what you said with Sean Sherk, working with a white belt is like you want to have people tailor their training to help that person improve. Again, a guy like Mark Hunt wouldn’t need to go 100% for Brock Lesnar’s head to get his point across of, “Hey, I could have hit here.”

Greg: Yes, I had been for that fight too. If you watch that fight, and you see how much Brock is just bouncing around in an unpredictable pattern, that was planned out. Because I said, “If you give Mark a steady bead on your head, he’s going to land. It’s going to happen.” You got to be unpredictable and move in and drop low for a low ankle pick and then come bounce back up. That’s why he was hopping around and was almost like a jumping bean in there, because he was trying to be really unpredictable with his footwork, and then just explode in as fast as he could. That was the purpose behind that and then he’d get out of it a little bit and start swinging and we’re like, “No. Get out of there.”

Sonny: That’s right. That makes perfect sense. Actually one of my favorite clips of you is where you’re talking about the importance of timing sparring, and especially what we know or what we’re learning more and more about with CTE. It’s like, obviously, holding back on some shots to the head doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. [laugh] Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now. I send my guys who are sparring, I’ve got a clip with that with you saying that, talking about the importance of timing sparring and just getting those rounds in because I think it’s such an important thing to do. You got to go hard sometimes but life long, right?

Greg: Yes, you definitely got to go hard, but I was tell my guys this too. I said, “If you know you can already take a really good shot, you don’t have to keep reminding yourself that you can take a good shot. You already can.” Because guess what? Your brain is not like your body. It doesn’t get harder through the contact, it gets softer. There’s a time if you’re getting zinged a lot and you’re getting flashed or whatever, and you’re just fighting your way through it, that that little toughness just shuts off, and also, duh, you get hit and it’s over. It’s like, you got to get out of the game. It’s done. Why force that issue? A big part of it is because when I would go and train in Thailand, these guys have hundreds of fights and they play all the time, they’re playing. When they do tie pads and they do heavy bag and they clench. They’re going hard, super hard, but they’re not going to spar like they fight. There’ll be nobody left to fight. The whole art is designed to wreck the human body. How could you spar with that? They can have some speed in it and some snap, but they’re not out there to try to knock each other out. In fact, if someone gets a little bit out of hand over there, they’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa, who, what are you doing? This is not the fight. If you want to fight there’s a lot of opportunities for that.” You watch some great fighters have hundreds of fights, and you watch them timing sparring and they’re having a blast, because they get so good. Training over there, it’s like they can read your mind. You’re about to do something and it’s like, “No. Boom.” Why? Because they’re so used to playing the game and watching each other that they see this. They see that and they stop you already. A big part of it is being able to educate your eye and your ability to perceive what’s going to happen and then be able to just stop it or just move out of the way as opposed to just bang and you never see what’s going on, except for flashes of light every once in a while. You want to have the ability to watch and educate your eyes to be able to see what’s going on. Then, like you said, there’s a time and a place where we got to spar hard and sometimes they’ll say, “Okay, hey, we’re going to, at this time, at this day, we’re going to spar hard, be ready.” Get ready for it. You just don’t bring them in and say, “We’re going hard today.” They’re like, “Really, great.” You can get smashed and injured. You got to be smart with it, especially now that we do know that there is so much more damage being done than we know. This is already a seriously damaging sport to your brain. No reason to increase it.

Sonny: It’s like everyone probably had a fair idea. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do, but now we know for sure.

Greg: We know for sure.

Sonny: I like that, just setting a day that, okay, this is the hard spar day. Other times we’re playing because we can get so much more reps in and do it for a lot longer as well. The ability to train your instincts and intuition through that play sparring is something I’ve recently been thinking is just so valuable.

Greg: It’s the exact opposite in Holland.

Sonny: Yes.

Greg: It’s like, oh my gosh, this is a love jungle. You walk in those play and it is this hard core. Even there now, I guess that you’re starting to see that they’re starting to address a little bit of that and they’re getting more time. At that point, it is going to be the toughest of the tough that can be able to survive in that arena. Maybe somebody gets injured that could have been a great fighter at some point, but they’re just like, “Oh, man.” It was almost like if you walk into the gym over there with a limp, everyone was like, ” [swirls tongue] I’m going to get after him.” That’s great for the toughest guys that just can endure. For everyone else, it’s not so great.

Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. Great for tough guys, great to prove your toughness in a gym, but for longevity, I’m certainly not so sure about. If we look at martial arts as one of the goals is to be a lifelong martial artist, then the ability to make the weak strong, certainly we can’t just have a sharp pick tough guy competition where the weak get kicked out and never get to do martial arts. I wonder what your advice could be to be a lifelong martial artist. If you were to go back to yourself and visit yourself when you’re white belt just starting, what would be the piece of advice you would give yourself or maybe anyone else who wants to be that lifelong martial artist?

Greg: My thing is, do what you love and love what you do and have fun with it. When you go in there, it’s inherent in martial that there’s going to be challenges, and there’s going to be struggles, but those are something that you’re going to want to embrace. Those are the goals. The goal is to find as many challenges and as many struggles as we can and figure out ways to get through them and have fun with it. Don’t worry. Nobody’s getting paid or getting medals for being the toughest guy in the gym on Tuesdays. It’s just the way it is. You can get caught 100 times, but be the toughest guy on whatever you’re fighting. I saw that when I was wrestling at the U . You’d watch guys that were getting beat in practice and you’re like, “God, maybe this guy’s going to lose his spot.” The coaches knew that under the bright lights, that dude wins. That’s the way it is. Who knows what he’s doing? Maybe he’s trying new things, he’s trying to play around. He’s having fun. He realizes we’re going to be here for four years doing this hardcore against other guys that all want to win and all want that spot. I got to pick and choose my battles. The biggest battle is to win on the night that I’m supposed to win for the fighters. I even tell that to my fighters, “Who cares if you’re in a regular class and you get tapped out? Big deal. Put yourself in as many odd, strange predicaments as you can find because that’s how you’re going to figure out.” Everything that you go through in the ring, you want to be able to deal with it and go through it in the academy far before you ever have to deal with it in the cage. I have My guys that are really good fighters and have many, many, many fights. I’ll look over there, and they’re getting arm barred by somebody and they’re laughing, “Oh my God, I can’t believe. I didn’t think you were going to take it.” That’s the mentality I want because then they’re having fun and they’re being creative, and they’re learning and growing and they’re not worried about, “Okay, I got to keep my reputation.” Nobody knows you’re fighter. Have fun. Then, guess what? You’re going to have more people want to grapple you because they know, “Hey, he’s just having fun. I’m not going to get hurt. I don’t have to worry. He’s just fun to grapple with.” How many different looks and feels do you get when you’re that guy? You get them all. That’s a huge part of it.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. I like it. It’s good advice. Do what you love, love what you do. I love that. I love your sayings. You’ve got a bunch of phrases that I love. Just to finish up, I’m going to ask you about just to hear it from the man himself, because I’ve certainly used these a lot myself. Yes, I’ve used them a lot myself, so I’d love to just hear your explanation of these two, and then, well, I’ll let you go. One is just that, “Repetition is the mother of all skill and discipline is its daddy.” I like that one. Can you tell me what you think?

Greg: Repetition is the mother of skill, right? Everybody hears that one. They go, “That’s great.” But if you don’t have discipline, you’re not going to put in the rest. Discipline is going to be over there. Daddy’s going to be over there going, “Hey, get those reps in. You got to go.” You got to have the repetitions, but if you don’t have the discipline not only to do them but to do them how you’re supposed to do them with the right mindset when you want to and when you don’t want to because you said you were going to do them. That’s where the discipline comes in. Discipline, that’s the name of the game.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. The other one is, “Jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone.” Love it.

Greg: That’s right. I sell people this. One of the best examples of that, again, I’ll bring him up, is Sean Sherk. Everybody knew a double leg take down was coming. Good for you. You got to stop it. He had a couple of guard passes. Good, you know him, stop him. He just had that mentality. Under pressure, and Guru Dan said this once, I remember just saying, I can’t even remember when, but it was a long time , Dan Inosanto . He goes, “I might know 600 submissions, but when I’ve about 50%% pressure, it drops to 50. When it’s live, it’s down six.” I always tell people, especially self defense or fighting, I said, “When is the last time you saw a new punch invented in boxing or a new tool invented in Thai boxing? Or a new single leg, double leg, high cross, sweep single move invented in wrestling?” There isn’t any. But, you might have options and different setups, but it’s taking those simple things and figuring out, “How do I apply them?” Those arts like that: wrestling, judo, Muay Thai, boxing, if it’s not working, it’s going to be filtered out pretty dang fast. They figured out what works and now it’s about honing those skills, so you’re being pretty good instead of being a guy that’s going to be great or trying to be great at everything. You can train a whole bunch of stuff. Man, I trained hundreds of things from all these different arts, but I know exactly what my few is that I will know I can jack as many people as possible with. I always tell people for self defense, “Think about this; self defense or a real fight situation, how many moves do you have in your repertoire that you think you could pull off against anyone at any time under any circumstance on any environment?” Man, that goes [noise] really fast. I go, “Because what if you’re sick and you got the flu?” People don’t attack healthy, strong looking people. They attack the people who look sick or they’re just like, “You’re now sick. You got to be out,” or whatever. Now, you get attacked. What are you going to do? No warm up. You can’t jump around. You’re not feeling as strong. What’s our game? What’s your move? That’s the no jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone. You know the ones to jack them with.

Sonny: [laughs] Yes. I love it. It’s funny with that self defense, one thing I always think of is that the positive mindset and feeling confident when you’re walking around is actually one of the key themes of self defense that before the techniques in martial arts get there is that ability just to be confident makes it less likely that people are going to attack you.

Greg: I used to work at a Target store. It’s a retail store here. The one I worked at was the highest crime store in the entire state. It was the second most 911 calls, emergency calls of all business establishments in all of Minnesota. It was chaotic. All the male employees that worked there got stabbed at least once. I got stabbed twice. It was just a crazy store. It was in the ’80’s. ’80’s and early ’90’s where things were a little bit more available to do, and they didn’t care. When you walked in, and you were going, “Oh man, I hope somebody goes after it today.” No one would, because they could see it. They could feel it. They knew it. But when you’re like, “I don’t feel so good today. I don’t know what to do,” that’s when the guy would punch. That’s when they would fight. It’s like they can read it. Having that confidence in that way you’re moving, like when you’re walking, you’re walking like that lion. You’re just like [growls] yes, and they know that’s a lion. Let’s wait for the next one to come by. Then also they see the little tippy toed around, doesn’t know what he’s doing, they’re like, “That’s the one we’re going after.” That’s a huge part. A huge part of it is having that attitude. It’s not being a jerk, it’s not being cocky. It’s just showing that you’re confident in who you are and yes, “You jump me, you’re getting a battle, buddy. That’s all there is to it.” They can read it. They’re saying, “Oh, I pass. Next person.”

Sonny: It’s so important and I think that really ties together everything we’ve talked about, I think, today. The ability of that visualization and positive thinking, going into the techniques, having a plan and then how that’s going to help you be a martial artist for life and keep you safe. It really puts it all together in a beautiful little perspective, little package, little philosophy. I just thank you so much for your time, Greg [laughs] . It’s a big honor for sure. I’ve enjoyed it. As far as power visualization goes, I can go put a tick next to my interview dream list. [laughter]

Greg: It was fun. I like it. Enjoy it. We have the time now.

Sonny: It’s been great for me. I’m trying [laughs] to get in touch with people. It’s been brilliant. Look, thank you so much. If people want to get in touch with you, follow you, what’s the best way for them to do it? I know you’ve got the online academy now as well, which might be a good option for people. How do they go about that?

Greg: That’s gregnelsonmma.com for the online academy. Then, of course, in my Instagram, Greg Nelson MMA, Facebook, Greg Nelson so look it up, look at the goofy stuff I do [laughs] . Training, having fun, loving what I do. That’s it.

Sonny: Thanks, Greg. Thank you so much. It’s been brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I hope you stay safe and have a great day. I’d love to have you back on sometime in the future when things get back to normal and have another chat.

Greg: Yes, definitely would love to.

Sonny: Thank you so much, man. Really appreciate it.

 

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I talk to Greg Nelson, who was the coach for UFC champions Brock Lesnar, Sean Sherk and Rose Namajunas. He is a 4th Degree BJJ Blackbelt, Division 1 Folkstyle Wrestler, All American Gymnast and Muay Thai kickboxer along with multiple other martial arts. We discuss how he creates a positive culture in his gym while utilising visualisation, affirmation and building relationships. How this also contributed to his incredible battle against cancer where after beating it once he overcame a different form of rare nerve cancer which has intrigued medical scientists. And we also discuss technical aspects of coaching and cornering fighters in the cage.

Podcast Transcript – Episode 015

Sonny: Greg, how are you today, man? It’s an honor to be on the line with you.

Greg: I’m doing pretty well, can’t complain. Save the normal complaints of what’s going on, but other than that, just pushing on, keeping things busy, doing what we can with what we got.

Sonny: That’s awesome. I’ve reached out to you because you’ve been a big inspiration to me in a bunch of different areas really, obviously, with mixed martial arts. Your own history and background in mixed martial arts is rather extensive. I know you’re All American wrestler, also All American gymnast. You were Thai boxing back in the ’80s. You’ve done work with Shuto Filipino martial arts. I’m sure I’m missing out a few, but I feel like if we go through your entire history, that will probably be a show on its own, right?

Greg: It’s been an epic journey, that’s for sure. It’s been fun. I love doing the martial arts. It doesn’t matter what kind it is really. It’s been a pretty diversified trip. I really enjoy it. For me, as well it’s about the journey, about enjoying the time and having fun doing what you like and staying healthy along the way.

Sonny: That’s some of the things I’ve heard you say about the journey is some of the favorite things I’ve heard you talk about. What I am wondering is then with that background and all those different martial arts, is then how those then informed your coaching practice and how you eventually shifted into the coaching side of things and of course, going on to coach champions, like Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Dave Menne, Brock Lesnar and of course, just coaching a lot of people in general. How did you take that wide experience? Then what was the impetus to transition over into coaching?

Greg: I think coming from an athletic background, growing up doing just all sorts of sports, but then really narrowing it down when I got into high school into gymnastics and wrestling. Obviously, with gymnastics, you got a multitude of events that you’re doing. That went right into the wrestling season. I was doing martial arts at the same time. Right between my high school and going into college, that’s when I met Sifu Rick Faye and we started training then and it was just in his garage with six people. It was pretty cool because I was just like, “Oh, you doing all the stick work and doing all this stuff that I only read about on Dan Inosanto. Man, this is great.” Right from then on, it was like, everything was interconnected. I was just writing about this. To me, I never really saw a difference between training gymnastics, wrestling, martial arts, it was all intertwined into one thing. It was all about getting better and more athletic, and understanding movement, and just seeing how it all tied together. Drifting into these other martial arts, first, it was Filipino martial arts and Jun Fan martial arts, then Muay Thai, and then Savate and Wing Chun. I just kept on growing with the whole over the years. That has allowed me a huge variety of training methods to pick and choose from depending on who I’m working with. Also just I think it really helped build the creative mindset and being able to just make up stuff when we needed to make up stuff. There’s a perfect example of it. We’re just making up stuff a lot of it right now. We’re just pulling from it. I’ve been able to pull from so many different martial arts that when I had an athlete that was competing, let’s say came in a lot of them had a very strong wrestling background. They’re going to need striking, they’re going to need to build up their grappling. I would look at where they were, what type of body they have, were they fast? Are they just big or whatever? I could pull from different sources of training methods. That’s always been a huge help. There’s never been really an empty, where it’s like, “Jeez, I don’t know what to do here,” because you just have so many drills and training methods and tools and techniques over the years. Then all the testing that we’ve done with all the fighting bit, just my own wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu and grappling, Judo. Just continuing on, obviously Muay Thai and all that other fighters that are in the school, were always picking at each other’s brains. How did you develop that? How did that fight feel? What do you think we need to work on? This has just been a constant evolution of building off of each other over the years. If I have a question about something I said, “What do you think, XYZ?” From one of the fighters, from one of the coaches. We have a very interactive team, that we’re always dialogueing back and forth with.

Sonny: I like that. The wide variety of experience that you built on your own now when you’ve translated into coaching, it’s more arrows in the quiver, more tools in the toolbox that you can then pick and choose from and suit each individual athlete based on, you mentioned the feedback that they’re giving you and their own thoughts on what they think, right?

Greg: Exactly, because you can’t put all fighters in a cookie-cutter. They’re all different. They all have different body types, different strengths, different backgrounds, mindsets, psychology, everything is different with each fighter. You might have one fighter over here, though the base techniques that they need are pretty similar, once they develop that, now it’s really the whole Bruce Lee philosophy, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless and average specifically your own and mix it up and find what works best for each fighter and go from there.

Sonny: I like that. One thing with that Bruce Lee philosophy, do you think that it sometimes could be for some fighters that when they’re training, they could say, “This works for me so, I don’t want to change,” when in fact, they might be getting false positives or bad feedback on something. I’ve had some experience where I see that people take that philosophy and maybe through a misunderstanding of it, use it to– it makes them go down a path that maybe isn’t the best for them. Have you ever seen anything like that?

Greg: I think especially with fighters, you’re going to get feedback pretty fast if [chuckles] your philosophy’s working or not. We’ve had game plans that we put together that within the first round, we’re like, “It ain’t working.” That person ain’t planned against us, whatever, but because we have this really strong foundation with each one of the fighters, they have a good wrestling background, a good Jiu-jitsu background, with striking background, we can make shifts. They are also going to be able to do that on the fight because when you think about a fight camp for a particular fight might be 8, 10 weeks. All the other times throughout the year, say if there’re other fight camps or training and as you said earlier, give me another arrow in the quiver. When they come into the octagon or the ring, wherever they’re fighting, they’re going to be able to make adjustments on the fly because they’re constantly live grappling, they’re sparring, they’re testing, we have different types of people. That’s being a truly mixed martial artist, being able to do that right away. That’s something that’s really important to see.

Sonny: That adaptability obviously is huge to be able to do that on the micro-level within a fight and then on the macro-level of just big life changes for a fighter to be able to adapt especially like things we’re going through right now. Do you think that adaptability and openness to change and being a coachable athlete, do you think that can be taught in itself or is that something that inherent to just the athlete when they walk through the door?

Greg: I think you can teach it. You got an athlete who’s really hard-headed when he comes in, pretty soon things are going to start happening, where he realizes, “Maybe I got to change”. This is the nature of training, especially when you’re walking into a place that maybe has a good variety of really tough well-rounded fighters that will find their holes pretty fast, and they’ll fall into suit. Usually, that’s what happens, and then as they start to realize and then they’ll go to the other fighters and they’ll say, “Hey, how did you catch me there as well?” Because you’re staying right on his tracks pretty easy to hit you. You got to start getting footwork, you got to start breaking it up whatever it might be. I think that definitely it can be taught and I think just the nature of how we run our program that you’re coming into a school that has a really wide variety of martial arts. You’re not just getting this really even in the context of just mixed martial arts, no we’re going beyond that. We got Filipino Martial Arts, and the Wing Chun and Jun Fan and Savate, and all these different arts that people are seeing, and they’re going, “What is that?” “Oh, that’s this,” and then they see a little element, “Hey I might be able to use that”. It becomes part of who they are, they want to– They obviously drift into our academy because of maybe they feel that fits there because that’s important too. They got to feel they have a fit with who you’re training with and the coaches and the philosophy.

Sonny: That makes sense. It sounds like the feedback that people are getting from the training partners and the feedback people are giving the coaches, you place a strong emphasis on and probably rightly so. One of the things that I remember you saying somewhere is just being appreciative and valuable to the time that any of your training partners are actually giving you, and cherishing that time you get to spend to train with that person and that really stuck with me when you’re talking about where it might be that one person who you’re seeing there every week for a good couple of months or maybe years. You’re getting good rounds in with them and just being appreciative of the time because eventually, who knows? People get jobs, people move on, whatever, that’s not always going to be there and especially now in this moment we can think of people that we wish we were training with. How do you create that culture? How do you make sure that people are willing to give that feedback in the gym to their different training partners? What I’m asking is, how do you be a good training partner for people?

Greg: Well, I think the biggest thing is we always talk about even with our fighters, we’re here to build each other up. If everybody’s building each other up, well, everyone’s going to get better because if you’re not getting better, and everyone else is getting better, well, you’re just going to fall behind. We’re always there to work with one other, they’re always calling each other to make sure that, “Hey can you come in and train at this time? Are you going to be there?” If they don’t show up and there I am right away so we’re always keeping everybody accountable. A big part of it is also– and this maybe comes from just the fact that how we started the entire academy when we’re training, when we’re fighting back in the day, you showed up because you are obligated to not only for yourself but to your training partners. They’re going to be there for you, you got to be there for them and those are the people that are going to build you up when you don’t feel like being there. Then they’re going to chide you, they’re going to do whatever they got to do to get you back into the mood. Usually, you get the guys that you find really care for you and you want to be there for them. You want them to– Hey, I’m not going to say we haven’t had people that we’ve had some issues with. If I got somebody that is not a good fit, they got to go. It’s very important to have a good vibe between all the fighters, all the teammates. No fights in there, no personality clashes. Every once in a while without a doubt, it happened in the wrestling room, it happened whatever. You can get so tired sometimes both the guys are so tired, and you got your wits’ end and it’s just like they’re about to throw blows down and I say, “Okay guys. Chill out. Relax, we don’t have time for that,” and they’re, “All right, sorry about that.” Things are gonna happen, but for the most part, they get over that pretty quick, and then they’re back to training. The people that have a problem or their ego is too big for that, we just say, “You know what? It’s probably not the best place for you”. You got to get the problem out of there, or else it might fester to the rest of the guys. We have a pretty very friendly team, everybody’s friends with each other, they really want to be there to help each other out and that’s a big, big part of the development of everybody.

Sonny: That makes sense. You’re very selective in the people that you allow to stay on the team if they’re starting to become possibly a negative influence or don’t have the right attitude. Let’s say this is something that I think is probably pretty common with a lot of gyms around the world that someone gets ready for an MMA fight, they have their fight, win, lose and then you don’t see him again for another month until they’re ready to come back in and start training. Everyone was there helping him get ready and then they have their time in the spotlight and then we might not see him until they’re ready to come back in on their own time. If that was to happen in your gym, you don’t see him for a month, they come back in, how do you handle a situation like that?

Greg: Well, obviously it depends on the fight. Usually, they get done fighting, I want them to take a week off, I want them to just rest and recover. It’s a lot of things have to recover after you get down with a really hard fight. What usually happens, I generally never have to call anybody because the other guys on the team will be the ones calling. They’ll be like, “Hey where you been? What’s going on?” Either through our little messenger page that we have for our team, or they’ll call each other up. They really police one another really well so I don’t have to do that and I tell them straight up. “Hey, if I have to be there every single day to remind you to get in the gym, maybe this is the wrong sport for you. This is not one to take lightly”. All right. We have a pretty good group of guys and they keep each other accountable so–

Sonny: That’s good I like that. I should clarify injuries permitting. I’m not saying that everyone should come back in before they got the stitches out or something like that.

Greg: [unintelligible 00:17:04] say, “What are you doing here? Look at your face, get out of here”. [laughter]

Sonny: It seems like you have such a positive attitude and that positive environment even to develop that within your athletes to be taking the initiative. I know a big thing with you does seem to be the power of positive thinking and you’re big on affirmations, you put them up on Instagram and I think, “Damn, I should be writing down something like this. How does he do it? How did he come up with this stuff every day?” Tell me a little bit about that because I do think it’s valuable and I do think it’s something that’s important and I just want to know, like your mindset how you came to that and how you think it affects you.

Greg: Well, I think that mindset and that positive mindset, obviously being an athlete, the mindset has to be there. I was fortunate in the fact that I had some really proactive coaches that were probably even ahead of their time. I remember my gymnastics coach in high school which was in the 80s, 1980, he was really big on visualization and having you visualize your routines and to think about what’s going to happen if you fall? How are you going to recover? What are you going to think about? Where’s our breathing going to be? He was already putting that and planting those seeds in and I started to see that, “Men, this stuff works”. I tell you there’s a great story about visualization and about the mentality that I went through, I was learning a release move on a high bar. You’re flying out the bar and you’re coming back and re-grabbing the bar and I was just crashing, just wiping out. I wasn’t getting the bar, and the bar’s like what? Nine feet in the air so when you’d fall down he’s like, “Argh, get back up, do it again.” Crash! Finally, he’s like, “Get off the bar. It’s not doing anything for you right now.” He goes, “What I want you to do, I want you to go home and visualize yourself doing this move over and over,” and I remember him saying this, “However long your adolescent mind will allow you to visualize this, I want you to focus on it.” I was so determined to get this move. I’m going, “I don’t know, whatever. If this is going to work I’m going to try it”. The whole weekend I really spent time before I went to bed, when I woke up, random times throughout the day I’d focus. I remember him saying, “Hey, because you’ve never done it, you’re not possibly going to be able to see yourself doing this move so put your face on someone else doing the move first, and then start to work your way through”. I did that I really got to the point where I was visualizing myself doing the move. I remember that Monday, when I came back into the gym, I got up in a bar after our regular warm-ups and went to do the move and I cast it over, boom! Grabbed the bar and I was like, “Ah,” and I let go. He goes, “Why did you let go?” I go, “Because I never had it before, I couldn’t believe it.” I got up and I hit it and I never missed that move again and I did not physically do that move the entire weekend. Right then I was going, “Holy fuck, this works. This visualization, this mental game works.” I really started to delve into it a lot more with not only the physical plane of moves over my head in gymnastics, but I brought it into wrestling and then what’s going to happen if I get taken down, how am I going to come back? I’d started to visualize matches, I’d started to visualize all these different things and that really started to build the importance of using the mental capabilities, the psychology of winning and performing. Then I remember I got a book and it was by Dan Millman called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.

Sonny: I was just about to ask you that because with the gymnastics– please continue.

Greg: I read that, of course, he’s bringing the martial arts element into it. He’s a gymnast and I’m looking at this stuff going, “This is exactly true, this is everything’s right in this book. This is awesome.” Then from there, on that book I got the warrior athlete from him, so I just kept on building, That was the impetus to really start reading books on this stuff was Dan Millman’s books, It was so awesome that there’s now these things, and there was books back then, you couldn’t Google anything. I still have– in fact, this will crack you up. I just found this because I’m digging around stuff and there it is.

Sonny: I got that one behind me as well. I got it right behind me.

Greg: I’m going over it and I’ve rewriten all the notes I had, and sometimes you’re looking at the notes and I remember my gymnastics coach also wrote for me these, a piece of paper and I have that too. I wish I had it up here, but he wrote down his questions. How do you mentally prepare for gymnastics? How do you mentally prepare for wrestling? What’s different? What’s the same? He had all these questions that he wanted me to define. I found that in gymnastics, I had to be really relaxed and calm and get my breathing down because everything is so precise and if you too amped up, you’re going to wipe out and crash. In wrestling, it was almost the opposite. I was getting super amped up to get out there. It was really getting me to focus on how to prepare myself for these different things and that just naturally went over into the martial arts and how I did the training for martial arts. I think another thing as far as learning and thinking about that is when I got to college, you go and you meet sports psychologists that are working for the university and they started talking about visualization. They start talking about positive feedback in your mind and positive affirmations. When things go wrong, how are you going to deal with it? When a class doesn’t go so great, how are you going to stop from bringing that into the practice room? If a week doesn’t go so great in the practice room, does that mean it’s not going to go well for your fight? It could be the opposite, we don’t know. All these things are starting to be developed at this time and that was right away in my late teens and early 20s and that just kept on building from there.

Sonny: That’s fascinating and I think they made a movie too out of the Dan Millman, one of the books, which is interesting. If people aren’t into reading they can start with the movie. In fact, I’ve got some notes on the mindful athlete up on my website that I’ve put up there. It’s a great book, no doubt. When you’re dealing with that with your athletes, will you recommend that, “Hey, you set aside a time to visualize.” Will you take them aside and tell them how to do it? What type of involvement do you then take on to giving your athletes the structure on how to visualize and how to think positively.

Greg: I’ll do a number of things. Usually, after every practice, I’ll sit down and I’ll be having a thought or whatever, and I’ll write it down on a whiteboard and I’ll talk about it. Sometimes it’ll be about the mental game, sometimes it’ll be about pushing themselves and when they get really fatigued, how to push past that. I’ll talk to the fighters as a group and then I’ll also talk to them as individuals, watching their training, what they need, what I think they should focus on. Some resources that they could use, things to watch. Ultimately, I’m a big believer in this, that I could sit there and tell them all day long until I can’t talk anymore, but they got to take initiative. I’ll tell them, I’ll point them the way and then I’ll ask them, “Hey, did you ever–” “Oh, you didn’t. Well, what’s the deal?” I’m not just going to sit there and harp on them. I’m going to say, “Hey, this is for you, not for me. I hope you figure that one out, so keep on going.” I got another person I got to deal with and then I got an entire school of students who’ve got hundreds of students in there. I got to sit there and focus just on you. Especially as a professional fighter or as an athlete, this is something that you should want to do. You should want to prepare your mind, your body, everything for the event to be the best fighter, the best competitor you can be.

Sonny: Definitely, I think it’s that old, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink kind of a mindset especially with some fighters, all you can do is offer up the advice if they want to take it, if they don’t you can’t spend all day with them, unfortunately. Now that makes sense. Do you put that visualization into part of your morning routine? Do you do that every morning? I know you get up and do– with the anesthetics, it seems like, and do you make it part of your daily ritual, daily schedule?

Greg: Well, definitely for every single day, at some point in time I’m visualizing something. Just because I have so much feedback over the years, so I could be shadowbox and I could be doing the Carenza and I could be visualizing weapons coming at me or people coming at me, so I could do it in that manner. I also do when I need to calm myself down and how to try to just get to the zone where you’re just relaxing. For me, that’s not easy because I’m wired, I’m like a random [unintelligible 00:27:09] . I have to find a way to do that and so that’s part of the thing too and I do this thing. It’s pretty simple where I just sit down and relax. I learned this from Brendon Burchard, he’s a high-performance coach and it’s called the release meditation. All you do is you sit there and you relax and you just say release, release, and you try to release all the tension and all thoughts and if a thought comes in, you just let it release out. You don’t try to fight it and it calms you down. I’ll try to do that, and to me, that was a very simple thing because I try to think about a candle burning and whatever, in my mind, the candle is burning and a wind is blowing it and then someone’s throwing firecrackers in there, that keep it really simple. That’s better for me just release, just release all the thoughts that are coming in and relax. I’ll do that and that’ll be part of my visualization too and I’m really big in that positive affirmations to keep myself on a positive framework, be optimistic about what’s going to happen, and enthusiastic about what I’m going to do and excited about what I’m doing right now. Again, you have to train your brain to do that just like you train your body to be stronger or faster. That’s not automatic. We always say you have the ants, the automatic negative thoughts, and they’re all over. They will overwhelm you. You don’t just have positive thoughts that come in and everything’s great. It’s automatic negative thoughts come in, you got to crush those and then stamp on those ants and then get the positive ones in there. You have to start to train your brain for that as well and that’s just something that I’ve done for a long, long time ever since I was younger. Seeing as an athlete doing it and then getting different directions by different martial artists and how they were visualizing, how they would see things mentally, and I tried to use that same philosophy. It was useful, that really works well for me and then someone would explain something to me, try to teach me. Just whatever doesn’t work that well and I’d be like, “Ah, okay, I get it. Maybe I’ll point somebody else that way, but that just doesn’t work for me.” Then there’s been things I just added my own twist to.

Sonny: I really liked that, the way of thinking that it is a skill that you have to train because it’s very easy for people to go on just to look on the bright side of life, cheer up buttercup, but sometimes it’s hard. You’ve got to start small, lift those weights and it’s hard. I actually had a good conversation yesterday with the Bishop runs Hip-Hop Chess Federation, is very interesting and he was talking about three positive actions for every one negative thought. I thought that was really good.

Greg: Those negative thoughts are so– they’ll bombard you. They could bombard you. They do, and a lot of people let them and it overwhelms them.

Sonny: Yes, I’ve been there. I think everyone has that. [crosstalk] With your affirmations do you write those every day and where do they come from? I look at them, you put them online for other people to read and thank you for that and they’re quite detailed. They’re not just “cheer up” or “you’re going to have a great day”. You’ve got some substance behind them that you seem to be putting out every day. How do you come up with those, and where’s that coming from, and how important do you think that is, actually writing it down?

Greg: I have a couple of different ones. There’s ones that I say and I do it every day in the shower. I’m in the shower and the first thing I say is, “This is going to be the greatest day of my life”. Right away I’m already preparing my mind this is going to be a great day no matter what happens. I’m going to be full of energy and positivity throughout the entire day. I could be excited so I say that “My abilities and skills are expanding all day long”. I’ll say that. Then I’ll say, “I have the power of my mind”, and then I go through the alphabet. I choose to be and I’ll say, “Have a good attitude, be action-oriented, be bold and creative, courageous, disciplined, decisive, energetic, excited-

Sonny: Let’s go.

Greg: … and just keep on going through that. To have an attitude in grace and health and happiness and integrity and joy and tonnes of love and motivation and never give up, and optimistic, and persevere and just go through the entire alphabet. Man, that’s all I think about it and I do that every single day to start off in the shower.

Sonny: Beautiful.

Greg: That kind of, there it is and then that part’s done. I’ve already directed my brain right away to look at the positive things. Then the other ones I have the sheet of paper, I think you saw me– One of them is the purpose of my life now is and that was originally again, Sean and I learned it at Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy, where he said, “There’s a purpose of my life now it’s like, be, do some of that”. It’s like be full of energy and truly excited and enthusiastic and totally engaged. To be bold and courageous, kind of the things I talked about, and to do what I love in a way that I love it. To serve with happiness and gratitude, to seek challenges, blah, blah, blah. Then so that you’re at the end of my life, kneeling before my Lord, He’ll say, “Well done my good and faithful servant, you’ve used your time, your talent your treasure to your ability. That’s something that I wrote out. Then the other one it’s about what I choose to protect. I choose to protect my integrity, my faith, my choice, my life, my health, my happiness, my energy. That’s a very proactive thing that I choose to protect it so that when I get up I’m going to drink water, I’m going to sleep the amount of sleep I’m supposed to get, I’m going to exercise regularly, I’m going to eat clean and green as much as I can. I’m going to plan my day and attack that plan. I’m always going to keep learning and reading and listening and studying. I’m going to value my time and be generous and kind and real and try to be as authentic as possible with people. I’m not going to fear failure, and I’ll embrace it. I’ll fail all the time, I don’t care less. Also, I’ll do that. That’s something my daughter talks about. She’s a gymnastic too and she’d always say, “Fail, fail, fail until you don’t”. That’s what gymnastics is. You crash and then you get up, you crash, you crash, and then you get it and then you start to perfect it as much as you can and then they say, “Okay, you got that now you got to get something else. Cash, crash, fail, fail”. That’s just the process. You’re always challenging yourself to do new things, or try new things. You know what I always say, “No challenge, no change”. It’s always you’re trying to find ways to challenge yourself. For me, I try not to complain over trivial nonsense. There’s enough things that are really there to complain about. Right now we got a big one.

Sonny: That’s true.

Greg: Now you start looking back and go, “God, I couldn’t believe that sometimes I get so irritated because there’s some guy taking too long to pump his gas”. Now I’m like, “Wow, that’s crazy”. All right. Now look at what we’re dealing with and so the other thing is that my thing is to try to use that to protect my ability to be positive and optimistic and inspiring. I take that on as a challenge to do that no matter what I’m facing. This really served me well, especially obviously when I had cancer because now I was like, “So what?” That was like a battle for a solid year and then afterwards, building back up was another process.

Sonny: Now that story is, from what I know of it just rather amazing could be because my understanding was that the cancer you had was an incredibly rare form of cancer, that they really didn’t know about your chances for survival. Obviously, we know how the end of the story went, it all turned out okay in the end, but it looked like it would have been incredibly daunting. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like. One of the important things I remember reading about it when you’re mentioning that story is that once you found out about it, you didn’t want to know the odds of the survival rates, and, oh, all that positive thinking stuff, you put it to the ultimate test. How did that all happen?

Greg: That I had two cancers back to back and the first one was I had stage four liver cancer, and I had tumors on my spleen and tumors on my liver, and there’s kidney involvement. It was like they’re like, “Well–” I remember at the time, I was married and my wife was like a bulldog and she was just the one that really got the doctors to start to– because I was 37 so they’re going, “It’s probably not cancer”. I didn’t get any scans or anything and finally, I got the scan and they said, “Come to the hospital”. I went to the hospital and I remember I was so fatigued, I could hardly do anything. I’d sure move and I had to sit down, I’d just be like, “Men this is not normal”. I remember getting off the elevator, and the first thing I saw was oncology, so I’m like, “Oh, all right, God, I have cancer”. In my mind right then, I was like, “Okay, now I have something to fight. Now, I know what it is to fight”. Then when they did the biopsy and they said, “Yes, all right. You got cancer in your liver,” I said, “Okay, what do we got to do?” I told them right away and I said, “Hey, I don’t want to hear statistics, I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear anything because that takes into people that it was too late, they quit, they didn’t want to fight, too old, misdiagnosed, addictive. That’s not what I want to hear, I just want to hear what do we got to do?” If all of a sudden, and just afterwards, I got to find out all the numbers but that first cancer, that was about a 5% survival rate at that point. I ended up going through chemo and dealing with all that and obviously, they don’t know how much I train, what my mind is made up, how much physical abuse and pain and discomfort I’m used to taking. They don’t have any clue. I remember my wife brought in a picture book and a video, “This is what we’re dealing with, so it showed competition, fights and training”. They’re like, “Oh, okay”. Well, that cancer went into remission. All good. The tumor’s gone away, it went away and then all of a sudden the second one came. I always tell people, my stage four liver cancer was my easy cancer. Then the second one, I ended up going down to Rochester Mayo Hospital, a very famous hospital in the States here, and a lot of people come from internationally there. For months, I went into the door and I didn’t leave for months and they had no clue what was going on because there was nothing showing up in my blood, there’s nothing showing up on scans and all they know is that my ability to walk was taken away and I had tons of pain, just nonstop pain, pain, pain. Once again, I was like, “I don’t want to hear numbers. I don’t want to hear stats, when they don’t even know what to do, and anyways what’s up with this? Keep on figuring out this”. A long story short, they finally did a high powered MRI imaging, they found that my left cyanic nerve was bigger and brighter than my right. They went in, I did a biopsy on one nerve in my ankle then they did a biopsy in my sciatic nerve, and they found that the cancer went into my nervous system. They told my wife at that point. “All right, here’s the deal. We know what it is. There’s been zero survivors to date. They’ve all died of pain.” I didn’t know that, so I was like, “What are we going to do?” My son was two and my daughter was five, a lot of motivation to keep going. I’ll tell people when you talk about the negative thoughts and how they come in bombarding you, man, when you’re alone in those rooms and you’re dealing with this pain, it’s just like phew if you didn’t have a way to attack that, that alone would just cause a lot more despair than you need. I remembered having that and I’d get one word in mind, whatever it was and I’d just say it over and over until it’d either subside or I’d fall asleep or something would happen where that negative thought would leave. That was the battle, it was just continual. Knowing that, “I know how to do this really good. I know how to fight really well,” and I even had mantras there. One of them was, I may have cancer, but cancer will not have me. That was one of them. The other one was, I will fight until I live or die, but either way, I won’t stop fighting. I already knew that. I’m not some fantasy person. I know there’s a chance. Either way, whatever’s going to happen is not just going to be me giving up. It’s just going to happen because that’s just the nature of this. That was the mindset. I always tell people all those years of preparation and sports and martial arts and the pushing and the driving and developing that mindset and the way to visualize and imagery and all this other stuff was like preparation for this big battle. Then once that battle subsided and I came back, then it was like the second chapter of my life where you start looking at things a lot differently. Like I talked about the trivial nonsense. Things get pretty trivial after that. I remember some of the guys would get so irritated because they would say, “Oh my God, I can’t believe this happened,” and I’d go, “Dude, at least it’s not cancer. Don’t worry about it.” They be like, “All right. We get it.” That’s how I think about it now, I go, well– this whole quarantine thing when it had happened, when it started I’d go, well, I was quarantined inside a hospital room on a bed for months and couldn’t get up because I couldn’t walk, couldn’t do anything. My kids would come in and half the time I’d be zoomed in and out of morphine. Being able to do all this stuff I can do now in this quarantine, I can still go outside. I can still walk around. I can still train. I can still talk to my friends. I can go and do zoom classes. I can do podcasts. I can do whatever. It’s a different world and it’s nothing like being– what about those people that are in the hospital right now that are really going through this battle or going through any other battle that they’re dealing with? Far worse than being stuck in a house for a little while. I look at life in a much different light than I did beforehand.

Sonny: That is such an incredible story. There’s so much to take in from that, it’s amazing to hear it from you. For people listening if they don’t completely understand the rareness of that cancer and what you did being so incredible is like that was written about in scientific journals and articles and studied as an exceptional case. I’ve been thinking, “You’re on the cover of the Mayo Clinic magazine, which many martial artists might want to be on different covers.”

Greg: You definitely do.

Sonny: That just is a testament to just how incredible and exceptional that was, right?

Greg: Yes, it was. Obviously we didn’t know at that point until they found out what it was, but at that point, these other people had gone through it and they didn’t know, they found the majority of them post-mortem what they had, and then one person lived and then died. That was what they had basically. I talked to the doctors and that was like 18 years ago. 2002, 2003, that whole span of time. 17 years actually, coming up it was Memorial Day weekend which was coming up in the United States. That’s when I was diagnosed with my first cancer back in 2002. It’s surreal right now. I look at it kind of surreal. I go down and I talk to the doctors and they say, “Anytime you’re in town just come in and let’s run surgery. We will drop anything.” They want to talk and see how things are going and if I have any residual effects, which yes, definitely I had my sciatic nerve obliterated. I got some issues with my left foot and compared to what it was, they were just like, “This is amazing.” The doctors would talk about it and the one doctor who was the head of the neurology department of Mayo, he changed an entire conference that he did because of my case and how they look at a nerve cancer and how they look at abnormalities in the nervous system. It changed a lot of things. I didn’t do anything, I just fought. That’s all I did.

Sonny: It’s amazing. It is truly an incredible story. It’s that testament then to all the mindset that you’re talking about, that visualization, affirmations, positive thinking that you’re helping develop with the martial arts, that is just testament to it. They seem to be working in unison with that visualization. Going into this quarantine I could tell who had never gone through a big injury before because they’re worried like, “My skills going to drop off in six months.” For me I’m thinking, actually when I’ve come back from injuries, sometimes surprisingly the first couple of weeks I’m feeling a bit better. Don’t get me wrong, not that I’m comparing a bad knee to what you overcame. My question is, the combination then between that mindset that you used to overcome your cancer and then the actual techniques that we’re training in the gym. From the mental aspect and the mental side of martial arts to then the physical, technical hitting mitts, hitting pads, rolling round, cranking arms, how do those two inform each other? How do we help one side develop the other?

Greg: I think that any kind of hard training where you’re pushing yourself and you’re putting yourself in very uncomfortable positions a lot and you have to deal with it, is developing your ability to problem solve on the spot and be able to deal with– You’re underneath some big dude is crushing you and you figure out how to breathe and how to not panic. Then pretty soon that becomes almost normal. You think about the person that you were when you started jujitsu or started training and then all of a sudden throw them in with the people that you’re training with now, that person will be crushed like an ant. They’d be like,”What’s happening?” That process of just you’re not only getting physically tougher, but you’re mentally getting tougher. You’re being able to deal with more and more pressure. Your little aches and pains that you right now just think, “It’s pretty normal.” Maybe to somebody who doesn’t do anything, they’d be like, “God, this is the worst I’ve ever felt in my life.” It’s like, this is actually pretty good. I feel pretty good because I’m used to– obviously, you’ve had knee injuries or whatever. I think that right there as you start to train and you start to push yourself physically, you have to constantly battle that mind that wants to say, “You’re good enough, that’s probably good enough,” when you know you could do more. There’s one little battle right there, especially when you’re doing any kind of conditioning or pushing or you set a high rep on a technique that you’re going to do and you look at it and you go, “Man, I’ve been doing this for 22 minutes now and still got X amount of reps.” You start playing these mind games, “I can do maybe a little less.” That’s where you got to fight that. That’s where the battle comes in and that’s where you start getting a little bit tougher, mentally tougher as you start getting physically tougher. I think that you cannot become really physically tougher and in great shape without first being mentally tough because you’ll quit. As soon as you start getting really tired, you start feeling your lungs burning, your muscles burning, a lot of people who don’t have that, who don’t realize that’s what you’re yearning for, that’s where they’re like, “I got to go, I got to quit.” Whereas you’re like, “I can do one more, I can do one more rep. I can do one more rep. I can do one more sprint. I can do one more go.” That becomes something that you take into the rest of your life as well on and off the map because now you realize, “I’ve been through some pretty tough positions and really uncomfortable positions, I’ve been in a bunch of really burning lungs, my legs have been crushed all over somebody, I can deal with this problem.” I look at a lot of the problems that we have in our everyday life is the same thing, we had to figure out how to deal with this problem. What’s the difference? It’s just a different problem. Maybe I have to mentally deal with the pressure now of trying to figure something out as opposed to physically dealing, but it’s kind of the same process? That’s how I look at things. The more I’ve been around high-performing people like– there was that place I went to is– I talked about this, this is Brendon Burchard’s High Performance Academy where you’re around a lot of people that some of them could be really, really high-performing business CEOs, some of them are high-performing athletes, entrepreneurs, and then, of course, you’ve got people who have no idea why the heck they’re even at this conference, [chuckles] and they signed up for. You deal with all these people, but you start seeing the people that are really successful, they have no fear about falling on their face and getting back up. They don’t have any fear about the pressure because they know it’s going to be normal. They know that the person who perseveres past those pressure, past the part where it’s uncomfortable, past the point where you feel stupid, whatever it is, because they realize everybody has to go through this, and the people that persevere past that are the ones that are looked at as, “Wow, look at that person, he’s successful.” They’re still going through the same stuff it’s just at a different level now. I think that is a huge part of jujitsu, it’s a constant problem-solving, constantly dealing with pressure, constantly asking questions, “What would be the better way to do this? How do I get through this situation?” I always say this, whenever I’m grappling I find myself in a craptacular position-

Sonny: [laughs]

Greg: I’m always like, “All right, well, this is a unique training opportunity.” That’s how I look at it. I don’t be like, “Oh, damn, I’ts a test. My God! I’m just like, “Okay, here we go. This is different, let’s figure this out now.”

Sonny: I love that. That’s a very good way to look at things. Would you say that it’s like you talk about the fear of looking stupid doing something? That’s more of an imagined fear that people could have versus when we try martial arts we get a pretty tangible fear, so it gives us a good way to bridge that gap between the imagined fears in our head and the actual physical reality.

Greg: Yes. Especially if you go into a competition or something and you’re getting ready to go out, and there’s a chance you can get tweaked, you can get your arm busted or who knows what happens out there. Definitely that’s a little bit more of a real apprehension that gets out there it’s like, “Okay, this might happen,” but then you have to be able to control that say like, “Well, when is the last time I’ve seen that happen. Well, not really. Did I prepared for this? Yes. Did I worked super hard for this? Yes. Good, now I can go out there and I can get through that.” Now, most other fears that are out there are contrived, we make them up, they’re imaginary. If you think about originally what was fear based on, against giant tigers or some coming after us or another warring tribe coming to kill us. Stuff like that. Then, all that stuff was taken away and it’s like your brain starts to figure out things to take its place. [laughs] It’s like, “Well, that’s not really that scary. To fear making a mistake.” Really? That not really a fear. That’s like, “Yes, I don’t want to look stupid. I don’t want my friends to think or people think I’m an idiot.” That’s not really a fear. That’s just a loss. I don’t even know what that is sometimes. It’s something that we make up. If you just look at half my videos I’m just making crap up, I’m just doing and trying stuff. It’s like, “Whatever, we’ll see what happens.” Sometimes some of the goofiest stuff I do I’m like, “Yes, we’ll see what happens,” those are the ones that people are like, “Oh, my God, that was great. I can’t believe that.” I’m like, “Really? Wow, that was just me jumping in a chair.” [laughs]

Sonny: I love it. You’ve mentioned then that the best way or one way to help overcome those fears in a tangible reality is to have a plan for what you’re going to go around doing. Shout out to mate Pete. Shout to Pedro who once told me to plan your work, work your plan [crosstalk] it’s a good one. I wonder then and especially with competition going in with game plans for fighters Sean Sherk, Rose Namajunas, Brock Lesnar, how do you as a coach take all that stuff we’ve talked about, planning to mitigate fears and then implement a game plan into your fighters over the weeks of a training camp, and then when it comes final?

Greg: I think the biggest thing as far as mitigating the fear is you’re straining and you’re training hard, and you’re physically pushing yourself and just preparing. You’re doing everything you know you can to be the best you can on the night that you’re going to go out there. You can’t do anything else, what are you going to do? We’re ready. We have a saying here because it’s Midwest, “The hay is in the barn, all the work is done.” Now, it’s like we just got to go out there and let it shine. I remember, this is a funny thing because each fighter is so different. If you look at it Sean Sherk, pretty much it wasn’t not a big secret what was going to happen. He was going to shoot a double at some point, put you down on the ground, and it was hard to get up once he hit you on the ground. That was a big thing. He had, I’d have to say one of the simplest game plans all the time. If you look at him, he was not that tall. He was maybe 5’7′ that’s with shoes on. I’m about the same size. For the first 30-whatever, 35 fights of his career there was no one 55 weight class, it was all 170. He was fighting people that were way bigger, and taller. His philosophy, “Whether they’re taller than me now, but when I take them down, and I’m on top, I’m the tall one in the cage.” What he did because he had a speed, this whole thing was, “How do I transfer, how do I get myself from here to there.” Every single day he had a routine that he did. At least three days a week he was just really maximizing combinations and shots in every possible way, focused mitts, cables, shadow boxing, partner drills, wherever. We always joke about it because we always say he had one real guard pass and everyone goes, “Well, yes, but he had like four options.” He was so good at it, you could stop it. It was really tough. Then, if you were inside the guard and he could pass it, he was so dangerous inside there because he had short arms, he was like T-Rex, but he could hit super fast and cut you open inside your guard, so that was a problem. He had this very streamlined game that he just developed, “Okay, this is my game plan, I’m going to go in there, I’m going to take him down, and I’m going to be in better shape than they are. I’m going to condition myself so I can just keep going, and going, and going.” His game plan never really change that much. He just got better at it. That was that mindset. He was also one of those guys that was a product of the classroom. He would take regular Thai boxing classes with students. You’d look over and some white belt would be arm barring him because he’s letting them be,” Oh, you got me. Good job.” He didn’t care because he knew he could absolutely smash the dude. He could play. He’d say, “Okay, I want you to put me in a triangle and choke me out. Ready? Go.” Then, he just methodically work his way out. I never ever had to worry about anybody getting hurt rolling with Sean Sherk even though he was the fastest, most explosive just really good fighter. Never had to worry because he just had that mindset. It’s like, “Yes, I’m training and having fun.” He had also this mindset where at nighttime he’d always ask somebody to come and train. He’d say, “Hey, so do you want to come train tonight?” You’d say, “Yes.” Right away he’d go ask somebody else, “Hey, do you want to come train tonight? “Yes.” He’d have two people that were going to come to train tonight. He’d write down his third workout when neither of the guys showed up because they were going, “Oh, my God. I’ve got to keep up with Sean tonight.” He’d look at the clock and whatever, you got to train at eight o’clock at night, 8:01, nobody showed up, he was already putting together his thing and nothing would change in his mind. He already had the game plan set. When one of them showed up, he had the plan. When both of them showed up, he had a plan, so he never looked at it as, “Geez, no one’s going to show up.” He was like, “Okay, let’s go,” and that’s his mindset. That’s how he developed. I look at the other fighters that have been really successful, they have that same mindset. They know what they got to get done, and they’re going to get it done no matter what. They don’t really worry about whether this person is going to show up or that person is going to show up, because they’re going to be fighting alone in the ring anyways, so they’ve already mentally prepared for it. It’s funny because you have Sean on one end of the spectrum, then you have Brock on another end of the spectrum. It was kinda like a Sean Sherk but giant . He had already gone through so many different evolutions of his game; great wrestler, NCAA champion. Then he goes from there to, “I’m going to go to the WWE and I’m going to become a world champion at that. Then I’m going to leave that and I’m going to go play professional football.” To be the last person cut off for a professional football team without playing football since high school is pretty amazing. Then he’s like, “Okay, I’m going to try MMA,” and every one of those things, he’s risen up to the top at some point. He’s very methodical about how he trains, what he does, wants everything. When I would work with him, myself, Marty Morgan, Eric Paulson was even involved with it, he wanted to know what was going to be done during that day so he could know how hard to push. He goes, “I just don’t want you to add stuff on at the end of the day, because I’m going to push already.” He knew he was. That’s just the nature of the beast, He didn’t want you just to add stuff, “I think you should add this.” “No, I’ve already put my mind and when it’s time to go, I’m going to go hard.” The people that we brought in because he could, it’s a different game with a guy like that who has millions of dollars and he can bring in whoever he wants. We’d bring in Cole Conrad who was a two-time undefeated NCAA wrestling champion and four-time All American, and Tony Nelson, two-time national champion and four-time All American, and Marty Morgan was an undefeated NCAA national champ, and runner up in third place very good multiple time All American. Then we brought in Comprido who was a two-time absolute world champion in Jiu-Jitsu, then we got Pat Barry. We could bring all these people in and you would put them in a house or wherever and they would live there. He’d pay them and they’d train. His mentality was, “Okay, you’re being paid, that means you got to show up. If you don’t, then you’re just going to get fired.” It was pretty straightforward. But all those guys were competitors at the highest level. There was no qualm there. Then his strength and conditioning coach was the strength and conditioning coach for the Denver Broncos that would fly in. So we had the highest level people there. He would get pushed through these really strenuous camps. Then he gets done with that journey, goes back to the WWE and is still a big superstar. It’s so funny because you have a different type of mentalities, different athletes. Rose, different entirely again. Comes from an absolute striking base. No wrestling, but became very good at Jiu-Jitsu. She’s physically very tough. I’ve punched her hard in the face, I’m telling you that right now, and she’ll punch you right back. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, this girl’s tough.” She’s 115 pounds, 120 pounds max maybe. She’s tough, but she’s also very educated, very smart. I don’t have to take that abuse, I’m going to have to learn how to create angles and get in there. I want to have a set plan going in. Each one of them had a very specific mindset, but knew where they needed to be stronger, and had no qualms about developing in that area as much as they could, so it was fun to watch and seeing their growth.

Sonny: That’s great. It’s great to hear how their mindset was enabling them to all reach their goals. All were world champions. Brock Lesnar world champion in fourth fight, just absolutely incredible from pro wrestling. It’s just incredible stuff. When you’re game planning for the fights, you’re getting them prepared, how much will you tailor what they’re planning on doing? I think we probably went over Sean Sherk not so much, but tailor what those guys were going to do for their individual opponents? How do you approach your athletes and say, “Hey, your guy’s really strong here, maybe we work on something else,” without coming across as scared or without coming across as being negative? Or thinking that, “Oh, you got to worry about something here.”? Do you do that? Do you tailor it much? Or do you just focus on their positives? How do you go about that?

Greg: I guess it’s a little bit of both, because you can’t take a person who has a certain skill set and just say, “Oh, guess what? You’re going against this guy. We’re going to Lego you together and turn you into this person.” They already have a specific skill set that they have, so you look at what they have, “Okay, this is where you’re great. This is where you’re really good. This is where we got to probably avoid as much as possible in this fight. But if we do end up in that position, here’s how we’re going to deal with it.” That’s how we look at it. We just say, “Okay, this person’s a really good wrestler or a really good striker or whatever their deal is,” and then we’d say, “Okay, so now that we know that, how are we going to deal with that? How are we’re going to deal with that strike?” You can game plan, especially if you watch– This is a really detailed version of it, but with Frank Mir, obviously, the first fight, hey, it was still pretty good. He got caught. He thought he actually won, after he smashed him, he gets pulled up, and he thought, “That’s it? That’s over?” His mindset was like, “Wow, this is crazy.” Then he gets his hand raised, and then, “One point.” He’s like, “What is this?” Then he had to go back. The second fight, we knew what Frank was about. I already knew what Frank was about, so I said, “Okay, here’s the deal.” We broke him down really well, and it got to the point where we looked at him and said, “Okay, 86% of the time after Frank throws a combination he moves to his right. The other times he moves to the left, so that’s a major tendency that we can exploit to shoot in or do whatever. When we’re down on the ground, we know he’s going to probably try to work that half guard, he’s probably going to go after your legs because it worked already. Look at your upper body, it’s going to be tough to get you. You’re so dominant there.” This was a dig on Frank at the same time, because he said, “His submission skill, his ability on the ground is nowhere near mine, blah, blah, blah, blah,” and I’m like, “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to go back to some of my first catch wrestling move that I ever learned in my life, and that’s what we’re going to drill.” That’s what happened. If you look at it, it was that reverse half, catch the forearm, trap it, and that’s what we drilled. That was pretty much the nuts and bolts of that whole game. Get in the half guard, stop that and just pound him into oblivion, and it went to plan perfectly. We looked at where his strengths were, but, hey, here’s what he has worry. How is he going to find anybody with the attributes, the strength, the speed, the explosiveness of Brock Lesnar and then imitate? It’s a lot easier to find somebody who’s not as fast, is a good grappler, and we have a two-time absolute world champion grappler. He’s got some good things. So we were able to find those people, but it’s hard to find a person like a Brock. You also have to play with their mindsets as well. You have to keep them strong, what feeds their strength mentally, and you have to bring that into your training. Usually they’re pretty smart. Brock was pretty smart when he would say, “Hey, listen, I know we had two really hard training sessions today, but now my body’s trash,” and I’d say, “Okay, let’s do one and then maybe swim tonight.” You have to know your own body, because that’s where you’re going to get injured. Especially as a big, super fast dude, you’re throwing that much weight around that fast with another human that big, and you could get injured really fast. He was very smart in that respect, knowing if and when he had to taper down, because he knew he was a great athlete, pushed himself for so many years. You have to trust your athlete too, and you’d know that when he says that he’s not like, “I’m a big puss.” It’s not normal. It’s like, “I get it. I get it.” You have to be smart with that as well. There’s a time where you tailor-make. You can try to say, “Hey, this guy fits perfectly with what we do. We’re just going to–” “Game on. Go for it,” or say, “Hey, we got to watch out for this person’s x, y, z. We’re going to move more like this. We’re going to put that into our training camp.” The other thing, too, is you have to remember, they might be game planning the exact same way. “Here’s what they’re expecting.” Here’s a great example of that, Sean Sherk versus Hermes Franca. We watched Hermes. Every time he threw a punch, he’d go like this. Sean was like, “That’s when I’m going to shoot every single time.” He’d throw that big old haymaker. He could hit hard. He was good on the ground, but that’s when Sean was going to shoot. Guess what they were game planing? When we go like this, we’re going to lift our knees straight up because he’s going to shoot. That’s exactly what happened three times. It was lucky that Sean’s neck is this thick, and his skull must be super thick because he took that knee square in the face, boom, and was able to continue and keep fighting. He even got caught once in a really tight guillotine, but he was able to deal with that because he already trained for it. He already knew, “I’m a great double leg takedown guy.” He wanted people to get him in guillotines a lot, and he would fight his way out of it. He’d figured out. He goes, “If I’m going to shoot a lot, there’s a good chance I’m going to end up in a guillotine, or I got to be able to deal past the guard.” That was a big focus of his game. That’s why it was almost impossible to choke him.

Sonny: That’s funny. I was speaking to Brian Ebersole just recently. He was saying, “Guillotines don’t exist. I’m just in a double leg.” [laughs] My memory of that fight with Sean Sherk, too, is that, it was something like– Was it 20 takedowns or something like that? I think, at one point it was the highest takedowns in UFC?

Greg: To this date, number two in UFC history, to this date, 10 years after he fought. He had that probably just to go and go and go and go and go.

Sonny: There is some debate that fight, that’s number one now with Khabib what they score as takedowns could actually be classed as mat returns under wrestling. I think it only puts it for six takedowns for Khabib if you change that. We could make an argument that if we score how takedowns are done in college wrestling, Sean would still be number one. Also, what you mentioned with Brock Lessnar with the reverse half nelson, the crucifix, pirate’s crucifix stockades, I love to hear that. I actually did a video on that. I did a breakdown video on that technique. Brock’s the best. He’s finished the fight with the highest percentage or the biggest name to use it in MMA. That’s just incredible to hear.

Greg: Good game plan. We’re going to use the stock, and we’re going to tie him up. This is one of the first things I learned way back with Larry Hartsell in the ’80s. We’re going bring it to life. Because he was such a good wrestler at controlling top crossbody anyways, it just tied in perfectly. We knew, he’s going to try to block with that other arm, pin it down. Comprido brought his elements to it. “This might happen. Here’s how I want you to control that.” We were all just coming together to take that one little area of the game and just master it.

Sonny: That’s incredible. Did you practice that one from half guard? Were you practicing those setups?

Greg: Yes, from half guard, from crossbody, from everywhere.

Sonny: That’s so cool. I’m so happy to hear that. [laughs] Just following on then with that game planning and coaching. When you actually get into the fight then, I like that idea that you can only really change little bits about people’s tendencies. We can’t let go on together and replace the whole fight. That’s one thing I had to tell myself as well and tell people who I’m coaching is that if you watch a video on someone, they’re in there with someone else. It’s going to be different when you’re in there. When they actually get in there, what kind of coaching advice do you like to give? Any cues, or do you use code words, or do you have a backup game plan that you might say, “Hey, switch to plan B.” When the fights on, how do you do that?

Greg: I think because you’re trained for so long and you’re training with a variety of different people in your own camp all the time, you’re going to be able to adapt really fast. Hopefully, you have a good group of wrestlers in there. You got really good jiu-jitsu guys in there. You got really good strikers. You got the ground and palm guy. You have all these people that they’re already dealing with constantly. They’re going to be able to adapt pretty fast if they need to because it’s flow. They feel when they go. This is another really good example with Sean Sherk when he fought Nick Diaz. Going out there, we were like, “We got to take Nick Diaz down because he’s got those long hands. He’s going to sit out there, and he’s going to try to keep you at length and just punch you right in the head. He’s got some heavy hands, so we don’t want to do that. We want to try to get him down.” But when we got there, Nick Diaz was crouched over, totally ready, prepared for the double leg. Sean shot in, he got sprawled on, he got stuck, and then he got back up, he sprawled again. He comes back in the corner, and he said, “He prepared for the double. I can’t take him down.” I go, “Yes, but he’s crouched over. He’s as tall as you now, so punch him in the face.” If you watch that fight, all of a sudden, in the second round, he’s like doing boxing combos and people were like, “Oh my god, Sean Sherk can box.” He’s always been able to box. It was right there. Then he was able to set up to take down and get him down on the ground from there. It’s not like he was just rocking Nick Diaz, but he was punching him enough that it was just like, dang dang dang . It was really fast shots that he was able to set up his takedown. We had to change that whole game plan from first round to the rest of the fight. That was done, “Sean, start boxing. now its time to box. He’s as tall as you. He has to change his entire position and his footwork and everything because he’s crouched over. He’s not normal.” That was changing it on the fly but having the ability because he’s trained all that stuff already ahead of time.

Sonny: That makes sense. Just having the advice that you can actually give to someone within the fight is really what they’ve done outside the fight in preparation. You can’t just yell out, “Hey, reverse flying whatever.”

Greg: Yes. That’s all I am, too. I’m pretty straightforward in the corner. Sometimes, I hear people yelling entire instructional videos. It’s like, ” the persons not hearing anything ” It’s like all they hear is, ” wah wah wah .” One of my fighters that I used to corner, I had three commands. It’s all I said, hands, that meant something with his hands are open. Leg, and everybody thinks, “Oh, leg kick.” No. That meant kicks are open. There it is because he was really good at faking a low kick and head kick, and he knocked out a lot of people with it. As soon as I see the person’s hands come in or that neck was exposed, I would just go, “There it is.” Sometimes, he would not take it right away. He would start setting it up and look, and then he’d come back and say, “I see it. I see it. I’m going to take it this round.” It was very simple sometimes because we worked so well together. We trained so much that he just knew exactly when I said– With Sean, he already knew what he was going to do, how he’s going to do it. Maybe he would have to come in like in that Nick Diaz thing and be reminded, “Hey, you’re really good with your hands. Let them go.” “Okay.” Baam. He was also one of the guys I would just say, “Okay,” and then do it. That again is a different type of guy. Just to say okay.

Sonny: I like that, definitely one of the best guy code word, combo things that I had when I was fighting. One of my coaches, Carlos, was just blue, just blue,simple . That was a coded word, but it was just one word. For you is that, keep it simple.

Greg: Keep it simple. Usually, in the corner, they hit in there, and the first thing, I’m like, “Sit down, breathe, just breathe.” I get them to breathe and get them to try to as much as possible. If they’re busy just going, ” breathing ,” and you’re trying to tell them something, they’re not hearing anything. It’s like, “Breathe, calm down, doing good.” I’m also pretty honest. I’ll be like, “Listen, you’re getting your ass kicked. You’ve got to figure this out. You got to start doing something now.” Sometimes, you need to light that fire. Who knows what’s going on in their head. It’s like, “Listen, I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re getting wailed on,” or I’ll say, “Hey, you got to watch that leg kick. You’re walking right into it. You’ve landed your right hand, so walk away. Keep with your game plan but know that he’s going to come with that right kick. I guarantee, they are telling him right now, “Kick his leg.” Sometimes, it’s simple because there’s not enough time to tell them all what’s going on. I’ll also also confer with the other people that are in the corner, and they’ll have one thing to tell him. It’s one thing. That’s it. Because if I’m telling him one thing, someone else is telling him one thing, three things isn’t going to be an overload. It’s like a lot of times simple. Sometimes it’s the attitude like, “Hey, listen, to turn up the heat or impose your will. This guy is about ready to break.”

Sonny: That makes sense. I think that getting everyone in the corner on the same page, and then probably knowing their personalities and the personality of your fighter and doing all that preparation work beforehand.

Greg: I have a couple of guys that have such booming voices that I’ll tell them what to yell. Because, I’m like, “Waah,” my voice is starting to crackle. Marty Morgan was like that with Brock because he was Brock’s wrestling coach in college. That’s the voice he could hear. Anything I had to say I would just tell Marty and Marty would just , “Woo,” he had just this booming voice and Brock will hear it. You got to be smart with that, and the voice he hears is the voice you want to be yelling.

Sonny: I hear that. Yes. Sometimes when I’m in there and I just feel the urge to yell especially where kickboxing coach is,Nick Pudney he’s yelling out the advice and I want to yell something, I’ll just be like, “Okay, I’ll just repeat what Pudz is yelling because I get it out of my system and then, it’s just following orders. [laugh]

Greg: These guys see different things. They have a different, they fight differently. They come from a different background so both people are going, “Kick him. Punch him. Kick him. Punch him. Take him down.” The guys are, “Aah.”

Sonny: That’s so good. Amazing, I’ll just finish up with a couple more questions. There’s one with Brock Lesnar’s training, especially in terms of preparation. At one stage there was, I guess, Bas Rutten had said that when Brock was sparring, he wasn’t allowed to be hit in the head, hit in the face. There was something like that. I’m wondering, is there any truth to that? What was the deal? What was the actual– the truth behind that?

Greg: There was times where sparring hard and hard sparring for sure. Then there’s other times, where it’s just like we know that he could take a good shot. He took a lot of shots and we were trying to develop different parts of his game plan. It’s like, “Okay, we don’t want to sit there and sling punches,” we’re in there with who knows who, a couple of guys obviously one of them from your part of the world. You don’t want to get hit by that dude. Hunt, you don’t want to throw his overhand right land it on your head because if it does, it’s going to be game over. There was a time where I remember Marty yelling at him. “No.” He just yelled no because they both started swinging and somehow they both missed each other and I was just like, “Oh my gosh, this is–” but get back in the game plan. There was a time where we didn’t want him to just sit there and get into that mentality of trading blows. What are you going to do, train your head to be hard enough to take Mark Hunt’s overhand right? Not going to happen, right? Remember how much you get hit in that training camp.

Sonny: Makes sense.

Greg: It was like, “Okay, we have to try to get to your game plan, get it in there and have punches thrown at you.” Your goal is not to become a striker, it’s to become a fighter that wins at what you’re great at. There was times where that would happen, but he had to be hit. There’s times where I’d say that he’s got to be punched in the face a little bit more. We had to bring it up. But he’d been in a lot of crazy things. The other thing, too, is you have to look at what he’d come into the camp with. Does he have a tweak in his body here or there? Obviously, if you ever saw him when he did his, whatever the heck was called a shooting star where he flew up in the air and landed right on his neck. You don’t want to have this guy’s neck getting snapped back all the time when he had that issue. There was times and places where, when we said, “Hey, you got to pick it up.” He would.

Sonny: That makes perfect sense actually, now that you explained it. You’ve got a guy who’s a primarily a wrestler learning striking, sparring with World Champion kickboxers in K-1 and Pat Barry, Mark Hunt. You don’t want to send your athlete in there just to get lit up by them. That’s not going to help anyone. So, of course, it would make sense, “Hey, let’s work different areas of the game.” Like, I guess, what you said with Sean Sherk, working with a white belt is like you want to have people tailor their training to help that person improve. Again, a guy like Mark Hunt wouldn’t need to go 100% for Brock Lesnar’s head to get his point across of, “Hey, I could have hit here.”

Greg: Yes, I had been for that fight too. If you watch that fight, and you see how much Brock is just bouncing around in an unpredictable pattern, that was planned out. Because I said, “If you give Mark a steady bead on your head, he’s going to land. It’s going to happen.” You got to be unpredictable and move in and drop low for a low ankle pick and then come bounce back up. That’s why he was hopping around and was almost like a jumping bean in there, because he was trying to be really unpredictable with his footwork, and then just explode in as fast as he could. That was the purpose behind that and then he’d get out of it a little bit and start swinging and we’re like, “No. Get out of there.”

Sonny: That’s right. That makes perfect sense. Actually one of my favorite clips of you is where you’re talking about the importance of timing sparring, and especially what we know or what we’re learning more and more about with CTE. It’s like, obviously, holding back on some shots to the head doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. [laugh] Doesn’t seem like such a bad idea now. I send my guys who are sparring, I’ve got a clip with that with you saying that, talking about the importance of timing sparring and just getting those rounds in because I think it’s such an important thing to do. You got to go hard sometimes but life long, right?

Greg: Yes, you definitely got to go hard, but I was tell my guys this too. I said, “If you know you can already take a really good shot, you don’t have to keep reminding yourself that you can take a good shot. You already can.” Because guess what? Your brain is not like your body. It doesn’t get harder through the contact, it gets softer. There’s a time if you’re getting zinged a lot and you’re getting flashed or whatever, and you’re just fighting your way through it, that that little toughness just shuts off, and also, duh, you get hit and it’s over. It’s like, you got to get out of the game. It’s done. Why force that issue? A big part of it is because when I would go and train in Thailand, these guys have hundreds of fights and they play all the time, they’re playing. When they do tie pads and they do heavy bag and they clench. They’re going hard, super hard, but they’re not going to spar like they fight. There’ll be nobody left to fight. The whole art is designed to wreck the human body. How could you spar with that? They can have some speed in it and some snap, but they’re not out there to try to knock each other out. In fact, if someone gets a little bit out of hand over there, they’ll be like, “Whoa, whoa, who, what are you doing? This is not the fight. If you want to fight there’s a lot of opportunities for that.” You watch some great fighters have hundreds of fights, and you watch them timing sparring and they’re having a blast, because they get so good. Training over there, it’s like they can read your mind. You’re about to do something and it’s like, “No. Boom.” Why? Because they’re so used to playing the game and watching each other that they see this. They see that and they stop you already. A big part of it is being able to educate your eye and your ability to perceive what’s going to happen and then be able to just stop it or just move out of the way as opposed to just bang and you never see what’s going on, except for flashes of light every once in a while. You want to have the ability to watch and educate your eyes to be able to see what’s going on. Then, like you said, there’s a time and a place where we got to spar hard and sometimes they’ll say, “Okay, hey, we’re going to, at this time, at this day, we’re going to spar hard, be ready.” Get ready for it. You just don’t bring them in and say, “We’re going hard today.” They’re like, “Really, great.” You can get smashed and injured. You got to be smart with it, especially now that we do know that there is so much more damage being done than we know. This is already a seriously damaging sport to your brain. No reason to increase it.

Sonny: It’s like everyone probably had a fair idea. It’s probably not the healthiest thing to do, but now we know for sure.

Greg: We know for sure.

Sonny: I like that, just setting a day that, okay, this is the hard spar day. Other times we’re playing because we can get so much more reps in and do it for a lot longer as well. The ability to train your instincts and intuition through that play sparring is something I’ve recently been thinking is just so valuable.

Greg: It’s the exact opposite in Holland.

Sonny: Yes.

Greg: It’s like, oh my gosh, this is a love jungle. You walk in those play and it is this hard core. Even there now, I guess that you’re starting to see that they’re starting to address a little bit of that and they’re getting more time. At that point, it is going to be the toughest of the tough that can be able to survive in that arena. Maybe somebody gets injured that could have been a great fighter at some point, but they’re just like, “Oh, man.” It was almost like if you walk into the gym over there with a limp, everyone was like, ” [swirls tongue] I’m going to get after him.” That’s great for the toughest guys that just can endure. For everyone else, it’s not so great.

Sonny: Yes, that makes sense. Great for tough guys, great to prove your toughness in a gym, but for longevity, I’m certainly not so sure about. If we look at martial arts as one of the goals is to be a lifelong martial artist, then the ability to make the weak strong, certainly we can’t just have a sharp pick tough guy competition where the weak get kicked out and never get to do martial arts. I wonder what your advice could be to be a lifelong martial artist. If you were to go back to yourself and visit yourself when you’re white belt just starting, what would be the piece of advice you would give yourself or maybe anyone else who wants to be that lifelong martial artist?

Greg: My thing is, do what you love and love what you do and have fun with it. When you go in there, it’s inherent in martial that there’s going to be challenges, and there’s going to be struggles, but those are something that you’re going to want to embrace. Those are the goals. The goal is to find as many challenges and as many struggles as we can and figure out ways to get through them and have fun with it. Don’t worry. Nobody’s getting paid or getting medals for being the toughest guy in the gym on Tuesdays. It’s just the way it is. You can get caught 100 times, but be the toughest guy on whatever you’re fighting. I saw that when I was wrestling at the U . You’d watch guys that were getting beat in practice and you’re like, “God, maybe this guy’s going to lose his spot.” The coaches knew that under the bright lights, that dude wins. That’s the way it is. Who knows what he’s doing? Maybe he’s trying new things, he’s trying to play around. He’s having fun. He realizes we’re going to be here for four years doing this hardcore against other guys that all want to win and all want that spot. I got to pick and choose my battles. The biggest battle is to win on the night that I’m supposed to win for the fighters. I even tell that to my fighters, “Who cares if you’re in a regular class and you get tapped out? Big deal. Put yourself in as many odd, strange predicaments as you can find because that’s how you’re going to figure out.” Everything that you go through in the ring, you want to be able to deal with it and go through it in the academy far before you ever have to deal with it in the cage. I have My guys that are really good fighters and have many, many, many fights. I’ll look over there, and they’re getting arm barred by somebody and they’re laughing, “Oh my God, I can’t believe. I didn’t think you were going to take it.” That’s the mentality I want because then they’re having fun and they’re being creative, and they’re learning and growing and they’re not worried about, “Okay, I got to keep my reputation.” Nobody knows you’re fighter. Have fun. Then, guess what? You’re going to have more people want to grapple you because they know, “Hey, he’s just having fun. I’m not going to get hurt. I don’t have to worry. He’s just fun to grapple with.” How many different looks and feels do you get when you’re that guy? You get them all. That’s a huge part of it.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. I like it. It’s good advice. Do what you love, love what you do. I love that. I love your sayings. You’ve got a bunch of phrases that I love. Just to finish up, I’m going to ask you about just to hear it from the man himself, because I’ve certainly used these a lot myself. Yes, I’ve used them a lot myself, so I’d love to just hear your explanation of these two, and then, well, I’ll let you go. One is just that, “Repetition is the mother of all skill and discipline is its daddy.” I like that one. Can you tell me what you think?

Greg: Repetition is the mother of skill, right? Everybody hears that one. They go, “That’s great.” But if you don’t have discipline, you’re not going to put in the rest. Discipline is going to be over there. Daddy’s going to be over there going, “Hey, get those reps in. You got to go.” You got to have the repetitions, but if you don’t have the discipline not only to do them but to do them how you’re supposed to do them with the right mindset when you want to and when you don’t want to because you said you were going to do them. That’s where the discipline comes in. Discipline, that’s the name of the game.

Sonny: That’s beautiful. The other one is, “Jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone.” Love it.

Greg: That’s right. I sell people this. One of the best examples of that, again, I’ll bring him up, is Sean Sherk. Everybody knew a double leg take down was coming. Good for you. You got to stop it. He had a couple of guard passes. Good, you know him, stop him. He just had that mentality. Under pressure, and Guru Dan said this once, I remember just saying, I can’t even remember when, but it was a long time , Dan Inosanto . He goes, “I might know 600 submissions, but when I’ve about 50%% pressure, it drops to 50. When it’s live, it’s down six.” I always tell people, especially self defense or fighting, I said, “When is the last time you saw a new punch invented in boxing or a new tool invented in Thai boxing? Or a new single leg, double leg, high cross, sweep single move invented in wrestling?” There isn’t any. But, you might have options and different setups, but it’s taking those simple things and figuring out, “How do I apply them?” Those arts like that: wrestling, judo, Muay Thai, boxing, if it’s not working, it’s going to be filtered out pretty dang fast. They figured out what works and now it’s about honing those skills, so you’re being pretty good instead of being a guy that’s going to be great or trying to be great at everything. You can train a whole bunch of stuff. Man, I trained hundreds of things from all these different arts, but I know exactly what my few is that I will know I can jack as many people as possible with. I always tell people for self defense, “Think about this; self defense or a real fight situation, how many moves do you have in your repertoire that you think you could pull off against anyone at any time under any circumstance on any environment?” Man, that goes [noise] really fast. I go, “Because what if you’re sick and you got the flu?” People don’t attack healthy, strong looking people. They attack the people who look sick or they’re just like, “You’re now sick. You got to be out,” or whatever. Now, you get attacked. What are you going to do? No warm up. You can’t jump around. You’re not feeling as strong. What’s our game? What’s your move? That’s the no jack of all trades, master of none; master of few and jack everyone. You know the ones to jack them with.

Sonny: [laughs] Yes. I love it. It’s funny with that self defense, one thing I always think of is that the positive mindset and feeling confident when you’re walking around is actually one of the key themes of self defense that before the techniques in martial arts get there is that ability just to be confident makes it less likely that people are going to attack you.

Greg: I used to work at a Target store. It’s a retail store here. The one I worked at was the highest crime store in the entire state. It was the second most 911 calls, emergency calls of all business establishments in all of Minnesota. It was chaotic. All the male employees that worked there got stabbed at least once. I got stabbed twice. It was just a crazy store. It was in the ’80’s. ’80’s and early ’90’s where things were a little bit more available to do, and they didn’t care. When you walked in, and you were going, “Oh man, I hope somebody goes after it today.” No one would, because they could see it. They could feel it. They knew it. But when you’re like, “I don’t feel so good today. I don’t know what to do,” that’s when the guy would punch. That’s when they would fight. It’s like they can read it. Having that confidence in that way you’re moving, like when you’re walking, you’re walking like that lion. You’re just like [growls] yes, and they know that’s a lion. Let’s wait for the next one to come by. Then also they see the little tippy toed around, doesn’t know what he’s doing, they’re like, “That’s the one we’re going after.” That’s a huge part. A huge part of it is having that attitude. It’s not being a jerk, it’s not being cocky. It’s just showing that you’re confident in who you are and yes, “You jump me, you’re getting a battle, buddy. That’s all there is to it.” They can read it. They’re saying, “Oh, I pass. Next person.”

Sonny: It’s so important and I think that really ties together everything we’ve talked about, I think, today. The ability of that visualization and positive thinking, going into the techniques, having a plan and then how that’s going to help you be a martial artist for life and keep you safe. It really puts it all together in a beautiful little perspective, little package, little philosophy. I just thank you so much for your time, Greg [laughs] . It’s a big honor for sure. I’ve enjoyed it. As far as power visualization goes, I can go put a tick next to my interview dream list. [laughter]

Greg: It was fun. I like it. Enjoy it. We have the time now.

Sonny: It’s been great for me. I’m trying [laughs] to get in touch with people. It’s been brilliant. Look, thank you so much. If people want to get in touch with you, follow you, what’s the best way for them to do it? I know you’ve got the online academy now as well, which might be a good option for people. How do they go about that?

Greg: That’s gregnelsonmma.com for the online academy. Then, of course, in my Instagram, Greg Nelson MMA, Facebook, Greg Nelson so look it up, look at the goofy stuff I do [laughs] . Training, having fun, loving what I do. That’s it.

Sonny: Thanks, Greg. Thank you so much. It’s been brilliant. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation and I hope you stay safe and have a great day. I’d love to have you back on sometime in the future when things get back to normal and have another chat.

Greg: Yes, definitely would love to.

Sonny: Thank you so much, man. Really appreciate it.