I talk to Matt Thornton. Matt is the founder of Straight Blast Gym International or SBG and is a 4th-degree Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under Chris Hauter. We discuss how coming up in the 90s lead him to emphasise training against resisting opponents in a concept he outlines further called Aliveness. Also, how cross-training in multiple arts can teach you the delivery systems of each style while also identifying the common themes between them all, which can then be considered fundamentals. And finally, how real-life testing can lead to scepticism and critical thinking to help you identify the truths found in martial arts.
Podcast Transcript – Episode 024
Sonny Brown: I hope you guys enjoy it. Now let’s go to the podcast. Hi, Matt, how are you today?
Matt Thornton: Good. How are you?
Sonny: Doing well, Matt, doing well.
Sonny: You’ve been in the martial arts game for a long time. You’ve grown up as a traditional martial artist. You’ve now started the Straight Blast Gym, which is well-known now worldwide. My understanding is that after growing up in a traditional martial arts background, eventually you ran into Hickson Gracie and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu around the ’90s. Then that really changed and informed your training practice and teaching methodology and led to the development of what you call aliveness. I’m wondering if you could start off just by explaining to people how that happened, what exactly is aliveness and how that’s important.
Matt: Sure. I had very little traditional martial arts training per se. I did a little bit of traditional karate when I was a kid. I was always fascinated by martial arts and very quickly became super interested in the question about what works in fights and what doesn’t work in fights. I got in fights in school and so even as a boy, it was a question that interested me. When I was in the military straight out of high school, I was doing some research because I knew I wanted to do martial arts pretty much all my life. I was looking for something that was functional and I knew I wanted to do boxing. I had kind of decided that boxing was the most functional thing to do as far as striking. I’d also been in some fights where I’d been taken down to the ground and put in headlocks and all those kind of stuff that happens when you get in fights as a kid. I knew that you also had to have some grappling and some ground fighting. This idea of being able to find at all the different ranges made a lot of sense to me and mind you, this is in the ’80s before the UFC or anything like that. Through research, it looked to me at the time like Jeet Kune Do concepts, as it was being taught by people like Dan Inosanto and Paul Vunak was kind of what– that’s what it was. That was what they said it was anyway. When I got out of the army, I started training in Jeet Kune Do concepts and eventually became an instructor in that. I moved to Oregon and partnered up with another Jeet Kune Do instructor who was an instructor under Dan Inosanto and I taught at a school there while at the same time boxing at the local boxing gym here for I think the better part of two years. In that time, I had a lot of exposure to the rest of Jeet Kune Do community, the other instructors, and I started becoming really disillusioned with it, which I’ve talked about before. We can go into that if you want, but a lot of hypocrisy, a lot of saying one thing and doing something else and what I found to be a real inability to distinguish between things that work and things didn’t work. On one hand, they would make side-by-side comparisons with an art, like Shotokan karate and talk about how boxing was a superior delivery system, which of course it is for striking. On the other hand, I see these same people doing the most absurd [unintelligible 00:05:17] C-lock type stuff. If I was going to design something that would get you beat up in a fight, it couldn’t even touch this. I had trouble with that view. It just wasn’t congruent to me. It was around that time when I started to question all that and think about aliveness and think about why some arts work and why some arts don’t work, that I had my run in with Gracie Jiu-Jitsu via Fabio Santos and Hickson. When I went back to the school and explained to them what I had found, which to me was the missing link pretty much, and everything I always looked for, it was clear to me they weren’t really interested and weren’t interested in what I was interested in. That’s when I opened up my own school and the question that it consumed me when I was younger and the one that I still got asked a lot and I think it was a far more common question before the UFC than it is now, but, does this style work? Does Wing Chun work or does this particular style of karate work? If so, why not? My conclusion from doing the Jeet Kune Do concepts and the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and from those years of boxing, was that what determined what works and what doesn’t work is really the training method. The dead pattern, so traditional martial arts that had taken out aliveness. What can it help? The combat sports by definition because they cared about results had all kept aliveness. The one thing that all the sports that actually work in a fight or in a self-defense situation had in common, is they were all the martial arts that work in that situation is that they were all sports. What the sports had in common is that all sports train, combat sports train with aliveness. It’s not about sparring. You can spar with anything. You can take the ridiculous martial arts and spar with it and over a long period of time, you’re going to develop what looks like that MMA. It’s not sparring. It is the actual training method itself, which always involves timing, energy, and motion. After that then, what you have is not going to translate. You’re not going to have any timing, [unintelligible 00:07:23] . You may know the technique, but you don’t have the timing, you won’t be able to apply it. Timing only comes from an alive opponent. It doesn’t mean it has to be rough. Doesn’t mean it has to be– it doesn’t even mean sparring, because when we talk about drilling at SBG, we’re always talking about aliveness. All of our drills are alive, but it does have to be alive. It has to have that realistic energy movement that’s not in a contrived pattern and a timing that comes along with it. When you have that, then you can train. As you know I’m sure, an art like Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, you can train in a very soft way for lack of a better term, if you’re coming off an injury, a way that’s not going to get you hurt, a way that’s is in no way rough, but actually still develop actual skill that will translate against an opponent because you’re training with aliveness. The thing I wanted to get across to people was not each art individually or making lists about what works, what doesn’t work or talking about the need for sparring, but to actually talk about aliveness, because my position was, anybody that really understood what I meant by aliveness would be impossible to be fooled again by bullshit martial arts. If you don’t understand aliveness, you can be a world champion and I’ve seen this in action, world champion fighters and boxers and kickboxers who will be fooled by some hokey fake martial arts demonstration, because they don’t have that toolkit, which is really what aliveness is to be able to distinguish between what works and what doesn’t work. That was what I felt was the most important thing about martial arts, assuming that you’re looking for something that’s true. That was the message that I ran with then, and have been one way or another talking about for the last 25 years since.
Sonny: That makes sense. I’m wondering if you’ve ever run across this, as you mentioned, with Jeet Kune Do, something I’ve found ironically that the famous Bruce Lee expression take what’s useful, reject what’s not, add what’s uniquely your own. I’ve found in some instances that people are now able to use that as actually a way of rejecting things that we know that definitely work, because they just say, “Hey, that works for me.” I can kind of say that with anything, “Hey, it works for me. Don’t judge.” Is the difference that makes that saying applicable aliveness?
Matt: Yes. The difference is the understanding of aliveness, because somebody that understands aliveness isn’t going to make that mistake, but that’s also where it’s helpful to talk about, you mentioned this when we started the podcast, and the reason why I started to refer to things as delivery systems. If you look at Jeet Kune Do concepts, we’ll use Jeet Kune Do world as an example, after Bruce Lee’s death they kind of broke off into two main camps, right? At one camp, they had guys who wanted to teach and fight exactly like Bruce Lee did. When he died, when he was 33 in 1973, with a limited exposure to things like Muay Thai and some of the other arts that we have now, but constantly growing in my opinion from just looking at his notes, being motivated by many of the same things that interested me, which is research and truth in combat. He was 33 years old, died 1973 and weighed 130-somewhat pounds. Right? They’re trying to mimic this particular fighting style. That’s one hand. The other hand, which was the Dan Inosanto Jeet Kune Do concepts camp, ran with that saying which Bruce Lee took from Mao Tse Tung actually, not a lot of people know, but research your own experience, absorb what is useful, reject what is useless, add what is specifically your own, is the entirety of that saying, which is a utilitarian philosophy. It makes sense. That doesn’t mean that you can just go to treat martial arts as an all you can eat buffet where I’ll take a Muay Thai kick and I’m going to blend it in with a Wing Chun punch. I’m going to take this and then I’m therefore I’m going to understand combat, because that’s not how fighting works. How fighting works is there’s human beings with two arms and two legs. There’s only so many ways you can hold another human being down on the ground. Only so many ways you can escape, only so many ways you can throw someone down efficiently, only so many ways you can strike. Those ways are based on science and so from an actual scientific perspective, what we want to look at is what the functional, if we’re talking about clinch, what the functional clinch arts all have in common, Judo, Mongolian wrestling, Sambo, Greco Roman, freestyle, folk style. Once you start to understand what they all have in common, the core delivery system of clinch, then you really start to understand clinch. Then you’re going to break it into the fundamentals that all great clinch wrestlers, athletes that train in clinch have and share in common, you’re going to learn those and pass those on. Then through sparring and training alive over years and years, and usually it takes at least 10 years, if not longer, you begin to develop your own style. That style will be the setups that you like, the particular take down you like. There’s some guys who might like a high single and some guys who are going to go for a knee block and somebody else becomes a master of ankle kicks. There’s no better or worse in that hierarchy, but what all those guys have in common if they’re all truly capable of competing at an Olympic level is just rock solid fundamentals. What Jeet Kune Do should have been looking for or anybody that’s really interested in taking a scientific approach should be looking for is, what are the fundamentals of standup clinch, and ground. Then let’s create an environment where we can learn those fundamentals safely, pass them on to the next generation. Then through a process of Alive training in a way that’s safe, each and every individual have his own style. Just like every Jiu-Jitsu black belt has a very different style. Every MMA fighter has a very different style. For most fighters to imitate, for example, how one of our fighters fights, like Conor McGregor, will be a mistake because Conor has a very unique style. The fundamentals that make Connor capable of doing what he does, those every fighter needs to have. Those fundamentals, standup, clinch, and ground. If they come to SBG, they’re not going to learn the Conor McGregor style, what they are going to learn the good fundamentals of standup, clinch, and ground. Then through a process of a Alive training, they will develop their own style. To my way of thinking, that’s what Jeet Kune Do actually is and should have been. What I think Bruce Lee was shooting for, but not what happened. I think that that’s actually what we do at SBG.
Sonny: I understand that, and yes, the idea of using those different styles that even within those limitations, everyone’s going to find their own way. I’ve even thought myself, like everyone is probably romanticizes the idea of Jeet Kune Do, but if they were really following that philosophy, wouldn’t they all be looking more like Vale Tudo / MMA fighters these days?
Matt: They should have had a huge head start on everybody else. If they had even following what they said they were doing, which was pursuing truth and all the different ranges, they would have been light years ahead of everybody else when Rorian started the challenge. They would have been the first true MMA fighters. There were some real pioneers that came out of that community. I don’t want to overlook that by painting with to wide a brush like Erik Paulson, for example. Well, Erik Paulson’s great and was great because he’s a great kickboxer , great wrestler, and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He’s working those same delivery systems and that’s what allowed him to fight at the level he could fight at. He was the exception to the rule when the vast majority of those students weren’t really capable of defending themselves at those ranges because they hadn’t been introduced to those functional delivery systems. You can’t really pick and choose like just to use a more concrete example as well, someone who’s a white belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu isn’t going to be capable of effectively applying that utilitarian philosophy from Mao Tse Tung about absorb what is useful and reject what is useless, because they have no idea yet what the fundamentals of grappling are. When they become a black belt, they will, but even there, it’s not a conscious thought process. Most black belts don’t think to themselves, “You know, I don’t like that sweep. I’ll do this sweep instead.” You just develop that, your body develops it through Alive training, right? Then you find out as a brown belt or black belt, this is the sweep that really speaks to me when I’m rolling. Having a hard roll, these are the routes that I take. Well, it’s not like they started out and looks through a book when they were a white belt and said, “You know, I’m gonna use this sweep and I’ll take this piece. I’ll do Marcelo Garcia’s arm drag and I’m going to blend it with Rogers choke . This is not how fighting works.
Sonny: Yes, not that, definitely. There needs to be I think that fundamental, that base layer of something that we’re laying down for people as they come in. As you’re talking then, I’m just thinking about even going deeper than that technique with the idea of aliveness. I just thought when I’m listening to debates between vegans actually, which is where it’s coming from, but I’m not looking to get into the conversation about, let’s just save nutrition for another one. I’ve heard debates and often one thing they say to, because a common thing that we’ll be thrown their ways, “Why are you eating plants? There’s some scientific studies I can find that plants react to pain or things like that.” The argument that they use is that they don’t have a central nervous system and they define it as, if something’s alive, it has a central nervous system. If it doesn’t have a central nervous system, then it’s not alive essentially, I think, I might be. I’m not an expert on that, but my point is, do you think then that aliveness training could be people being aware of their own central nervous system and in some way, training and activating their central nervous system deliberately that gives it that aliveness?
Matt: That’s what goes on with Alive training. What really made it clear to me when I was a white belt was, it was actually a video I saw of Hickson after I first trained with him. Somehow I don’t even remember where I had gotten a bunch of VHS tapes of Hickson sparring and training from one of my friends I think that was a grappler. Anyway, one of them was he’d shown up at the Torrance Academy in swim trunks and just iron man wrestled one after the other, everybody’s in the room. There’s clips of it, pieces of it on YouTube now that has been watched many, many times. At one time, I had like a much lengthier version of it. It’s like a 45 minute video of him rolling with everybody. Then at the end, he was sitting up against the wall, like I am here just relaxing and a student was asking him why he thought he was so much better than everybody else. He explained that Jiu-Jitsu’s about timing or Jiu-Jitsu’s about knowledge or technique, yes, but it’s also about timing. Then he talked about training a triangle and he said, you start with the triangle tight and close to take away space. Then you make sure that there’s some failure and some success. As the success outweighs the failure, you open up the space more and you slowly begin and he’s basically talking about adaptive resistance. The moment he said that, and he said to– he was telling this person that was his key for how he got good. The moment he said that I realized instantly, that’s exactly what’s missing in all of these other martial arts. They don’t have that sense of aliveness. That’s not sparring. I mean it is, but it’s just a very small window of what happens, but Hickson did that with everything. What most Jiu-Jitsu instructors call positional sparring, for us in SBG, that’s what we call drilling. You can take that principle and you can apply it to boxing. You can apply it to self-defense against the blade. You can apply it to anything. I have SBG instructors who apply it to firearms training, and you can take the steps to break them down as far as introduction, isolation and integration back into the game. We took that little kernel of truth that Hickson was offering there and it blossomed into a whole series of training methods. Epistemology that we use here at SBG and we’ve been using it since to train, but most combat sports have some version or another of this. Wrestlers train this way, boxers train this way, Muay Thai fighters train this way. There’s always that sense of timing and sense of alignment you’re getting. Even good Thai boxers when they’re working the pads, they’re still getting timing from the person that’s feeding them the Thai pads. That’s what makes those guys really good at Thai pads. What makes them so valuable, what makes them so good to fighters, is that very thing. The fact that they can replicate that level of timing that that fighter might receive in the ring, so that they’re actually learning. If you take away that aliveness, that timing and you just do repetitions, like for example, imagine a stuffed dummy and you just do a hundred repetitions of an arm bar from closed guard bottom on a stuffed dummy. You’re practicing the movement, but there’s no timing, there’s no resistance. You could do that for 10 years, your arm bar is still going to suck. Or you can take five minutes and grab someone, put them in that position, let them struggle with you until you finish and then make it a little looser and a little looser the way Hickson said. In an hour, you can dramatically increase your ability to apply an arm lock. That’s the difference between Alive training and dead pattern train. The traditional martial arts by definition are really just a series of dead patterns. There are things that you memorize and the other person performs an action, like usually they step forward with some kind of punch, then they freeze and then the other person does all their cool shit which is rehearsed, but that has nothing to do with someone who’s going to be moving around trying to punch you in the face. That disconnect, understanding why that disconnect occurs is what aliveness is all about.
Sonny: It’s really being able to get that timing down of working with another live opponent, so a live partner. I guess when I was first thinking it’s about your own central nervous system, it’s actually really going to be then about the interplay between the two people. You can’t have one person who is, yes, aliveness and the other person who is not on board, right? It’s got to be that communication between the two?
Matt: Yes, exactly, because that’s where you’re getting feedback from. Let me use a different example which what I’ve used before about tennis. If I wanted to teach somebody how to work on a backhand– I’m a terrible tennis player, but let’s just say, for example, I was a tennis coach. He said, “Hey, I need to work on my backhand.” I could make up a tennis kata and we could put him in the garage and they could do an hour of tennis kata every day for a decade. I could criticize them as they go. “Your thumb is too far. Your left pinkie needs to be out more this way. You’re right shoulder is too back behind your left shoulder.” We could get really nuanced with it. You can imagine what’s going on. Nothing from that I think is going to develop good tennis skills. You can take someone, have him throw a backhand a couple of times in the air. We do have to do that. We call that the introduction stage just to make sure they have the rote mechanics of it which usually takes, if the person is just an average human being and it’s not something that’s too complicated, it usually takes 5 to 10 minutes. Then after that, what am I going to do? I’m going to stick him on the court and I’m going to lob balls at him. I’m not going to try and hit him as fast, as hard as I can, as fast as I can so they can’t hit the ball back. I’m going hit it slow, then as they start to hit the ball– and they’re going to miss sometimes because failure is an essential part of a live training. As they start to get better at hitting the ball back with the backhand, I put in more energy and fake a lot more. It’s just more resistance, but there’s no aliveness until that ball comes in. Aliveness now is me or whatever is shooting the ball, could be a machine, a moving target that’s different every time that they have to respond to, so the nervous system has to respond to that. Through that process, of course, they can develop a good backhand. Imagine teaching tennis the way we teach traditional martial arts.
Sonny: Yes, no one would do it, right? It wouldn’t work. It makes a lot of sense. I guess in tennis it’s easy to hit the ball at someone. That’s what they’re expecting. With, let’s say, Jiu-Jitsu, when guys come in, they start drilling. A common thing would probably be they’re either completely not giving any aliveness when they start or they’re at the opposite spectrum and they’re too alive and flailing around. I’ve always thought that’s a very crude method, but what we often use is we go, “Hey, guys, go 50% today.” 50% while we’re drilling. Like I said, I feel it’s a crude method but it can get the point across to somewhere, find that middle. What do you think? Is there a better way to actually teach people how to train with proper aliveness?
Matt: First of all, I think, you have to explain the process to people. At my gym anyway, we’ll explain to them what aliveness is, why we’re doing this, the importance of drilling that way so they understand what they’re achieving, and also so they have expectations going into it that they should be failing some of the time. If they’re not failing some of the time, they’re not learning at the level that they could be learning at, so that they don’t go in there thinking it’s supposed to work every single time and they’ve somehow messed up. Once we set those expectations, then you can talk to them the way you did and try to explain percentages of– but the problem is I’m sure you realize this, 50% is completely different to different people. One of the best ways to do it is if you have an experienced coach on the mat or teachers to pick partners for everybody which we often do. If there’s somebody who really has trouble relaxing and being able to tone it down sometimes, you might have them go with a more advanced practitioner who’s going to be able that kind of pressure without worrying about getting hurt. You have to adjust it, but you’re absolutely correct. The key to the whole thing is adaptive resistance. People sometimes think, “Well, it just means you’re just throwing people right into sparring,” which is not what we do at all. We’re throwing them right away into timing, but it’s adaptive resistance. We changed from using the word progressive to adaptive, because the word progressive assumes, in a way, that we’re always turning it up. Well, sometimes we turn it back down. You, as the training partner, can adjust that with your training partner however you feel like you need to. In the beginning, the coach will do it for the students until they learn how to do it. For sure, there’s going to be people who are much better training partners and other people that maybe you don’t want as a training partner because they struggle to use adaptive resistance. Sometimes that’s okay too because maybe sometimes you can just match people up by weight and belt level, and they’re just really good match for each other. For people who go 100%, it still works out fine. The coach and the students have to figure out how to make it work, but one way or another has to be alive. Otherwise, again, we’re just back to dead repetitions. Unfortunately, even with Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, that’s often how it’s taught. They’ll show technique and then you roll. The saving grace for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is the fact that they roll. Unlike striking, you can roll every day and not get brain damage, so people can roll a lot. The middle piece of drilling the technique that you just learned in class with timing is often non-existent in many Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools. What happens is a lot of people get weeded out and a lot of people have a longer learning curve than is necessary. Then other people who are more, for lack of a better term, natural athletes are just tough to begin with can just survive that process and through the rolling will develop skill. You still get good. I think Hickson’s way is smarter and certainly faster.
Sonny: Yes, definitely agree with you on that. The idea of people having different percentage levels is always one that’s turn me off, because sometimes it would be like, “Hey, we’re drilling 50%,” and then I’ll say, “Put it up to 80%.” As the words come out of my mouth, I’m like, “How am I going to know what everyone’s different 80% is?” but I like the idea of that’s where paying attention as a coach and making sure people are matched up is correct. The other way I’ve started thinking about a good way to do that is then turning that drilling time into different types of games that people can play, because when people and kids, everyone is playing, everyone has the understanding of what a game is. If someone is taking it too seriously, it ruins the game, right? I’m thinking, is there any way that you’ve used games in your coaching? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Matt: Absolutely. You’re 100% right. That sets the right tone I think with rare exception. Is it helpful to have the attention too high? It should be a playful environment. It has to be an environment where the athletes, the students feel safe being vulnerable. That’s essential. If people don’t feel safe being vulnerable, they are not going to take risks. They are not going to want to risk getting arm locked or risk getting someone on their back or risk getting into a particular position because they’re afraid they’re going to get hurt. It’s really, really important that that environment is an environment where everybody, everybody, not just the top people or the upper belts or the athletes, but everyone feel safe. Then they go into the drill with the expectation of failing a good percentage of the time and having fun. To be honest with you, it doesn’t take people long to adapt. Alive training is fun. My experience has been anybody who’s done a lot of Alive training just can’t go back even if they wanted to, because you can’t teach it in a non-alive way because it doesn’t feel honest and it’s boring where you know that there’s a better way you can do it. Alive training, what it always does almost instantly is it engages you in an activity where you’re required to be present. You can’t sit around and daydream in your head. You can repeat a pattern and be thinking about whether or not you left the stove on. When you have to actually respond real time to someone else, then people get absorbed by that activity and people love that too. That’s part of what gets people hooked to Jiu-Jitsu. 100%, I think, treating the drills as a game is absolutely healthy.
Sonny: I like that. While you’re talking about people getting into dead patterns, I just thought, is that something where in an actual fighting where you might try and put your opponent into a dead pattern or make them follow a pattern while you’re still alive, you’re still alive to get an advantage over them? Is that something you can do like getting people into a rhythm and then you’re breaking the rhythm? Is that something that could be played with?
Matt: Yes. A dead pattern, by definition, means it’s rehearsed and the same every time. It’s something that you’ve memorized and just repeat over and over again and maybe every once in a while, you put in something– Did you ever train Jeet Kune Do or Kali?
Sonny: No, I’ve done a few classes of eskrima– sorry, arnis.
Matt: Usually, in those Filipino martial arts, they’ll have stick patterns you do. You click the sticks together in a particular pattern with variations of forehands and backhands, and sometimes you’ll do things then call Serrada, where you’re feeding an angle and going back and forth, but it is a pattern, right? I’m responding in a particular pattern, you’re responding a particular pattern, every once in a while somebody maybe might break the pattern and put in what they call a broken rhythm, but it’s still a pattern. That doesn’t really relate to anything that happens when you put a stick in somebody’s hand and they actually want to hit you in the head. That’s going to be a dead pattern. What you’re describing is knowing in advance what someone’s going to do, and being able to set up, for lack of a better word, an ambush for them, which we do often in Jiu-Jitsu. You’ll put somebody in a position where you know where they’re going to escape and their escape is your finish. For example, in the early UFCs or the go-to for self-defense as you get a fight with somebody that’s not also a trained fighter, you take them down, you mount them, you slap them in the face, you know they’re going to roll belly down and you’re finishing the job. That’s not really a dead pattern, but that is you knowing what’s going to happen because you’ve been there so many times with resisting opponents, alive opponents, and so the person has it, and you can predict with good accuracy where this is going to go and you can be there before they can with your body and with your movement because you have that timing. That really becomes even more apparent when the skill level, there’s a huge disparity in skill level where– What belt are you in Jiu-Jitsu?
Sonny: Black belt.
Matt: Okay, so as a black belt, you could be rolling with well, here, let me run this fight. Have you experienced rolling with a brand new white belt who’s super athletic, maybe not necessarily a wrestler, but let’s say played rugby or something like that and they’re a pain in the ass because they’re going everywhere and you don’t really know what they’re doing. Then when they first get their blue belt, they’re much better obviously Jiu-Jitsu, but they’re a little bit easier for you to deal with because you can now predict what they’re going to do when it’s not so spastic, right? That really what separates you as a black belt from them as a blue belt to a purple belt is not always knowledge of technique, very often they may know more technique. It’s that timing and if your timing is good enough, they can know exactly what you’re going to do. You could tell him, I’m going to take your left arm from cross sides, whatever, and do– That is an example I think of how powerful Alive training is, because you develop this level of timing and timing really is the ultimate superpower in fighting. Everything is predicated on timing and managing distance. If you manage distance and control the timing, you’re going to control that event, you’re going to control the outcome.
Sonny: Okay. Yes, I understand that. I know exactly what you’re talking about of when someone comes in off the street and you know that they’ll do something that you’re not expecting and throws you often. I’m lucky my coach Anthony Lang has always said, when people do come in for the first time, make sure you row with them, because that’s going to keep giving you a realistic look of what it’s going to be like if you did get into a fight with someone at the bus stop, he would say.
Matt: That’s so true. Because after a while, we started doing Jiu-Jitsu versus Jiu-Jitsu, and we’ve forgot what Jiu-Jitsus versus the world feels like, it’s good to go back and revisit that sometimes.
Sonny: Yes, yes. It’s so important, because, yes, you might not run into a blue belt at the bus stop, but [chuckles] — With those patterns then and the traditional martial arts, how do you think they lost that element aliveness? Did they have that spark at one point and it just faded out over time? How did that happen?
Matt: Yes, that’s a good question. Short answer, I don’t know. Long answer is I suspect that there’s a couple of different reasons and that different ways this occurs. The first way is we never had to begin with and I actually think that is the most common way. There’s a lot of when you start to look at some of these martial arts, for example if you take a look at Wing Chun just to pick one, but we could pick anything, you really can’t trace the history of that art past one or two guys before Ip Man, so Bruce Lee’s instructor. Once you go any further past that, it really becomes hazy and you don’t know where it came from. There have been scholars that have posited that it’s actually just comes from British boxing or the European boxing, and you kind of see so much of the similarities in the old-style boxing and people in Hong Kong being a port of so much great trade would have had lots of exposure to this kind of thing. They could have taken something like that and then ruined it by making it even more of a set of dead patterns. That could have been where it came from. Other situations where I know for a fact, it was just from the very beginning a con game, you know? I think of this also in terms of religion, because I see 100% parallels between traditional martial arts and religion, both in the epistemology as well as the rationalizations and excuses for them. If you think about it, religion, was there ever a kernel of truth to a particular religion? Oftentimes there is, right? Then in other cases, we know– You’re not Mormon, are you?
Matt: Okay, Just thought I asked ahead of time.
Sonny: No, that’s fine.
Matt: I think for anybody that’s not Mormon and hasn’t been indoctrinated that way. With a little bit of study, it becomes pretty clear that Joseph Smith was a con artist that he set out intentionally to create a religion, both to make a bunch of money and have sex with a lot of young girls. That was his thing. That’s what he did. It’s even more clear I think with Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard, you go on YouTube and watch that guy, and you now he’s a sociopath who said himself, he wanted to create a religion so he could get rich and have sex with lots of girls and not pay taxes. That was this whole idea to get tax-exempt status which he achieved by the way. Sometimes I think it’s from the get-go, there have been, for example, systems of C-lock that I’ve seen, where I think they just made it up. Filipino martial arts, they see some people are a little bit credulous, maybe a little bit naive, they create a pattern or they take other patterns they’ve seen before then they’ll say they’re grandmaster, whatever, and now you have a system and you have a way to make money. That’s one aspect of it. The other aspect of it is sometimes I think it may have been functional and then it loses its function because sporting aspects are no longer there. I think Japanese Jiu-Jitsu is a great example of that. We know Japanese Jiu-Jitsu at one point was 100% functional battlefield art that was designed for Samurai and people were fighting in Japan on the battlefield. When they lose their weapon, you kick the guy in the back and stab him in the head before he stabs you and kill him. That’s the art. Then as that part of fighting, that kind of fighting phases down through peacetime or because of the evolution of firearms and warfare, whatever it is, it no longer becomes necessary to train in a functional way. Then sometimes it gets systematized and people put it into a series of pairs in some way to try and preserve it. The only way it’s saved as a functional art is if somebody turns it into sport, and then it’ll evolve according to the rules. Because they put so much emphasis on throws as opposed to the ground fighting in judo, they really evolved the upper body throws but their ground fighting is not on par with what happened in Brazil, where the rules were, we’re going to fight and then nobody, it’s a macho culture, nobody else is going to interrupt and we’re not going to break it up and nobody’s going to stand up and you can basically do whatever you want. In that tradition of South America, you then took what was really old Judo and evolved the ground fighting game because if somebody doesn’t come in and break up a fight, it stays on the ground, right? Usually for a long time. Depending on what happens culturally, you can have an art go and then now you have Japanese Jiu-Jitsu, which most places around the world in the United States in Europe that I’ve gone to is a Japanese Jiu-Jitsu black belt, who’s had no exposure to Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Judo, is completely incapable of defending himself against a blue belt, and we all know that. They have all the same locks and the names, form and everything, but if you just touch hands and wrestle to submission, your typical blue belt with two years of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu is going to wipe the floor with a fourth-degree black belt in Japanese Jiu-Jitsu because of A liveness . Long story short, I think it depends. Sometimes they’re created as cons, just like religions and sometimes the function it evolve– that society evolves in a way where the function is no longer necessarily there. Unless it’s turned into a sport where there’s people still care about the results, it seems pretty natural for things to devolve into dead patterns.
Sonny: Yes, okay, I think I get what you’re saying. I should say, I’m not a Mormon, but I have been a bit sympathetic to them recently due to their ability to take the joke of the Book of Mormon so well, apparently, okay, and they’re not so bad.
Matt: A disclaimer real quick, growing up in California, I have, and here on the West Coast, United States I’ve had plenty of opportunity to interact with Mormons and they’re always very nice people. If I was going to pick a city to live in and somebody told me it was like 80% Mormon in that city, it’d be fine with me. It’s a great place to raise your family, but I do think Joseph Smith was a con artist. I’m sure you can separate the fact that these are really nice people from that.
Sonny: I’m with you on that. It seems as long as something gets turned into a sport, then it will get that feedback element of aliveness just by definition.
Matt: That’s it. What you said there, feedback element is the key to it and that’s the opponent process.
Sonny: I guess with Scientology for example, it didn’t get that feedback because there’s no means for it to what L. Ron Hubbard wrote down is just dogma that will never change. Funny example I can think of that is apparently in their Sea Org organization to wash the windows, they’re only allowed to use I think vinegar and lemon or something still I heard, because at the time that was the best thing available and that was what he wrote down to use. They don’t use Windex or anything like that. Anyway, that’s a whole another topic, but that inability to update I guess.
Matt: What’s interesting in relation exactly what you’re saying is those arts, especially the ones that I think were designed to be that way– even if they weren’t designed to be that way, I think it happens anyway, where the arts that have stuck around for a really long time, there are dead patterns. Here’s another fallacy I run into all the time, you didn’t ask it this way, but the way a lot of people will ask it is, “It feels martial arts are all bullshit like you say, why they’ve been around for so long?” The unwritten assumption, unthought assumption in that premise is because something’s been around for a long time, therefore it must be useful which we both know is a fallacy. Things that are around a long time are around a long time, the only thing that tells us is they’re good at replication. Astrology’s been around for thousands of years, it’s not useful. It’s good at replication. When you talk about these dead patterns, these dead traditions, something like Scientology, they actually develop through a process of evolution that doesn’t require conscious thought or sometimes by a clever con artist like L. Ron Hubbard, they develop defense mechanisms that prevent feedback loops and opponent processes and prevent the whole scam from being revealed. The more feedback mechanisms they have to protect their dogma, to protect it from science, protect it from questioning, the longer they survive in many ways. That’s part of what happens. You can look at it and say, “Well, this has been around a long time,” precisely because you’re not allowed to question it. There’s all kinds of traditions they have that protect their weird ideas. You can see the same thing with make-believe martial arts.
Sonny: I think that’s really interesting, you mentioned that they’re good at replication, because I’d love to think that the idea that something’s been around, it’s true or it’s good or even if something’s popular, it must be great, a lot of people watching it, but we know that that’s not always the case, could be a matter of taste. With the replication thing then, I’m wondering if it’s like a personality part of human nature then, because I get the feeling that people who would be more resistant to change and more reluctant to open up to new ideas would probably be actually also better at replicating that same idea as well. That mindset seems to go hand-in-hand. “This is good, we’re just going to keep doing it over and over again and we’re going to get good at doing the same thing.” You think there’s something to it, that personality aspect?
Matt: For sure, I definitely think there’s something to that. I also think that the real piece to me, the thing that it really comes down to is what motivates the people who are following or choosing to believe in those systems. In my case, for whatever weird reasons, I was motivated to understand what works and what doesn’t work in fighting. As a young man in my early 30s, that meant I cared a lot about who I can beat, not beat and being able to be good. That eventually gave way to being a teacher and taking pride in my work in other ways. The fact that I was motivated by what actually works, that’s what kept me asking questions and created a volition to do aliveness. One way or another, I would have gravitated to something functional. I’ve seen other people that that’s not interesting to them. If their main goal in martial arts isn’t that it works or that it’s functional or to be able to defend themselves or that it has to be true, but more the social aspect of it or they just like clicking sticks together or maybe they like to collect patterns. There are people that like to collect things like stamps and things like that. That’s what motivates them. They’re not really going to be moved by you and I talking about aliveness because that’s not their main interest. I do think that there are also people who are motivated by the same things that drew me to marital arts, maybe the same things that drew you to martial arts. For a while, wind up getting fooled and/or wasting time. I know there are people like that, because I get thousands of emails from them over the years because they’re grateful. When that happens, when they all of a sudden realize, like for example my friend, Rokas, who edits a lot of our videos was an aikido instructor, who on his own said, “I’m going to try it out against MMA and see if aikido works.” When the obvious happened, he had a choice, “Do I now pretend that didn’t happen or do I let aikido go and take a path on towards functional martial arts?” He, thankfully, took the path towards what’s true, but what if he wasn’t motivated by what’s true, right? Could have gone back and decided to stay in aikido, but that’s proof, positively there are people in those systems who just don’t know, just like there’s people that get sucked into Scientology or Mormonism or whatever. They’ve never really heard the arguments for evolution or critical thinking applied to religious dogma. I hadn’t. I grew up in a fairly conservative, religious family and it wasn’t till I read on my own that I hadn’t learned anything about evolution. It’s not like you learn about a lot about that in American high school or secondary school. I think the conversation is worthwhile to have.
Sonny: I think so too. Just a quick side, you said the person who’s doing aikido, is he on Youtuber’s Martial Arts Journey I think?
Sonny: When he first uploaded, I followed his dealings with aikido and going into Jiu-Jitsu and it was interesting and he did take a good perspective on things. With that perspective, I was just thinking, as you said, you’re motivated by what’s good or being good and for us, that’s being good against alive, resisting opponents and I was thinking for the people that have fallen into that repetitive style of patterns, it’s probably their perspective is they are following what’s good but they’ve got good at those repetitive patterns, that’s their concept of good. They’re the best at repeating those repetitive patterns without a doubt. I guess, in society there’s some people– not some, there’s definitely a need for that, right? People who can just go out to work, that it’s the same thing over and over again, but then we also need the people who’re going to bring in the new stuff and the new ideas as well. Would you think that that’s roughly–?
Matt: For sure, I don’t have any problem with someone– of course, I want to live in a society where people are free to do whatever kind of martial art they want. We take that off the table, of course. I don’t have any problem with someone who really wants to train and learn aikido. What I have a problem with is when they start teaching aikido and they think that it’s going to help people defend themselves in what could be a life or death situation. What happens so often is you have aikido instructors, using aikido as an example but it could be any fake martial art, who will run into someone like me or you, who they know has a background or is a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, would say one thing to us, “Well, I train it for cultural reasons. Aikido is about spiritual development and mastering the inner self. We’re not really talking about fighting people. We’re just on a different journey,” and it all sounds really good, but then if you were to drop in and have a hidden camera and microphone in their aikido classroom, you’re not around, that’s not what they’re offering. I don’t think that’s healthy for people. Let’s use another example, we talked about Rokas, I don’t think it would have been healthy for Rokas to continue doing aikido after he made his discovery because he’s smart enough to realize it didn’t work. What are you left with then after that? You’re left with trying to rationalize and defend the position that’s pretty indefensible and then teach it to other people. The whole thing is really dishonest in a way. Like you said, yes, doesn’t work, I’ve discovered it doesn’t work. If you want to learn how to fight, go do MMA, go do Brazilian Jiu-Jujitsu. I’m going to teach for and he has some other reason there, that’s fine. I just rarely see that happen.
Sonny: Yes, I hear you, I think that idea of it being dishonest is a big one, because from what you’re saying, it’s like if people want to say, “Hey, I do this art, and I’m really good at repeating these patterns, I’m really, really good at it.” Sure, you are good at repeating those patterns, no doubt, and if they want to say, “This is a beautiful art, this has so many elements of beauty, and look at how I’m moving, and it’s a beautiful thing I’m doing,” it’s like, yes, that can be beautiful, it’s beautiful, but I think the distinction is if they say, “This is a good combat martial art,” and you have to go, “Hey, that’s not true, that’s not the truth.”
Matt: Right, and on top of that, in a way, I’m still giving them too much credit, because anything somebody would say about Aikido as far as benefits, and usually they’ll chime in on things related to self-actualization or development of people’s personalities, I believe is, you found in much larger quantities in an alive martial art like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. The things that have benefited me in terms of maturing as a human being, and using my job, my art, to be a better human being, those lessons through martial arts came about as a direct result of the pressure of alive training. It wasn’t that I got a belt or learned a certain volume of techniques or read Asian philosophy. It’s the trials and journeys of having to tap thousands of times for 15 to 20 years, and all that comes along with aging, and passing on the information, and dealing with your own ego when someone younger comes in. Do you still roll? Then, you roll, and the whole thing, and to avoid that process, to take yourself out of that process, out of rolling, out of the alive training, I think is bad for human beings. The most valuable to me about the art, personally, is a direct result of the fact that it’s alive.
Sonny: I’m with you there really a hundred percent. I’m probably giving them the benefit of the doubt, that other perspective, but in reality, there’s probably not a lot of people who do take that perspective, like, “Oh, no, this is no good for self-defense, I’m just moving around in a beautiful art form.” That’s probably not as common, and you do have to look at if you’re in a group that would allow a lot of dishonesty, because probably the majority of people would say that what they’re doing is good combat, and if you’re in a group that everyone’s not telling the truth, then how are you going to get those insights? It can’t be good.
Matt: You wind up like Steven Seagal.
Sonny: [laughs] He’s another kettle of fish, oh dear. Do you think then, with your talk on those delivery systems, are all the delivery systems, then, that you’re relating to, are they those alive martial arts, or is there anything you go, “Hey, we do a little bit of take something from a Wing Chun.” Do you ever take anything from that, or the aliveness is from those martial arts that have always had that in them?
Matt: Speaking for my curriculum, SBG is a big organization, and there is some variety in the different coaches. So, speaking for myself at my gym here, our ground fighting is all Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. There’s some wrestling mixed in there, but again, there’s some wrestling mixed into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, because of the influence of Bob Anderson, and Rolles Gracie seeing how that influenced Jiu-Jitsu. Then, the clinch is primarily derived from Greco, but also there’s some Muay Thai, and there’s some Folkstyle and freestyle and I learn anything awesome from another wrestler about clinch, we immediately put it into the curriculum. The stand-up is a variation of boxing. For me, it’s more boxing. For some of the other gyms, they might be more Muay Thai-based, but to me when you talk about boxing, or Muay Thai, or Boxe Francaise Savate, it’s essentially the same delivery system. If you’re really good at any functional martial art, it’s pretty easy to go back and forth between the other arts of the same range. So, a judo black belt, in my experience, is going to have a bit of an edge on somebody that’s not a judo black belt when they do Greco. I had the privilege in the past to work with really good Olympic-level Greco-Roman guys, and there were some things that they had to get used to with the grip and things like that, but man, they were still animals in the clinch, because the fundamentals that define a good, for example, hip toss, are the same in Mongolia as they are in Judo as they are in Folkstyle. So, it’s really easy to go back and forth, but you can’t do that with a traditional martial art, because it’s just not the same delivery system. Like I said earlier, what we should be looking for is what they have in common. A lot of the other coaches in the gym, for example, one of the things they’ll say is, “It’s just wrestling, it’s all wrestling.” I say, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, to give credit to my coaches, because that’s where I learned it from, there’s that level of integrity to say, “I’ve learned this from–,” and we pass that on. But, from a scientific perspective, saying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Japanese Jiu-Jitsu should, and ultimately I think, will sound a lot like saying Canadian geometry, or Japanese, and that’s where we should be going, to the point where we’re just talking about wrestling or Jiu-Jitsu, whatever word you want to use, but its scientific finding on the ground.
Sonny: Okay, I really like that and agree with you. It seems like your motivation, or your search in martial arts, is then finding essentially, the truth between all those different combat sports, Muay Thai clinch, Sumo wrestling clinch, Greco, Judo, whatever works between all those, is going to be the truth, the fundamentals.
Matt: The fundamentals of that delivery system, the things that everybody needs to know how to do, that everybody’s going to do more or less the same way, that define your ability to be able to play the game. That’s all based on human movement, as Connor would say, it’s all essentially basic human movement. It’s the same now as it’s always been, because we only have two arms and two legs. So, in many ways, we’re rediscovering it, and I’m sure if we were to go back in time, I suspect when the Greeks fought Pankration, we’d see something that looks very similar to what we’re doing now, because they had hundreds of years to work on it. That’s ultimately what our goal is. Then, the SBG way is to really limit yourself in class, and I try and do this when I teach. The actual curriculum and what we teach in class, to only the fundamental movements, and then what that does is, that actually creates more room for freedom of expression than you would otherwise have. A lot of people, I think, get this part wrong too, because the more you get into the weeds about, for example, your particular sweep– obviously, you’re going to have routes you’re very good at as a black belt, and if you pass that on, I go here and then they do this, then I go here, and then they do this, you have this long chain of movements, it may or may not relate to 90% of the people in that room ever. I’ve never seen another black belt Marcelo Garcia has taught that has his game, but if you focus just on fundamentals and then let the students play in an environment, like you create an alive game like you were talking about before, ultimately what you’re going to get is a room full of black belts who all look completely different, which is how I believe Jiu-Jitsu and fighting should be. That goes back to … no part of it. But, you really style as a coach and a teacher, you stifle that process, when you go beyond the fundamentals, because then you’re actually giving them a style, which I think is a mistake.
Sonny: That’s a really big concept for me to get, I think, but makes a lot of sense that you just focus on the truth. You’re just teaching students the truth of all martial arts that works across all styles, which you call, “Hey, those are the fundamentals,” and then from that foundation, their own form of expression is going to grow out of it, and that they’re going to end up looking different, but because they have the truth as their basis, it’s all going to be good, it’s all going to be efficient, effective martial arts.
Matt: It also means that conversations like Gi or NoGi, MMA self-defense, don’t really matter that much, because the fundamentals are the fundamentals. There’s no special mount escape I do if I’m caught in a 7-Eleven parking lot that’s going to be different from what I’m doing in Jiu-Jitsu at the gym. It’s the same fundamental human movement. So, when you have a school that focuses on fundamentals like we try and do at SBG, you’ll have some athletes that want to compete IBJJF, and I can go to that, and they can compete, and they can do well. You’ll have some that want to fight, a few that want to get in the cage. They can do that and they’ll do well. Some of them prefer not wearing the Gi, some would prefer wearing the Gi. It doesn’t really matter, because if you really are good at fundamentals, you should be able to play– you’ll be better at some than others, but you should be able to play at all those different theaters of operation and do well. If your game falls apart when you put the Gi on or take the Gi off, or somebody is allowed to punch you in the face, by definition you don’t have good fundamentals.
Sonny: Okay. That’s huge and then, would it be– a lot of people might even have misconceptions in of what your idea of fundamentals are, because it’s really that it’s fundamental movements that–
Matt: Yes. I get asked a lot, what is a fundamental? My basic answer to people is, I can list specific techniques, specific human movements, but the real answer is, it’s going to transcend venue, it’s going to transcend uniform, it’s going to transcend bodies, it’s going to transcend era and it’s going to transcend geography. Just like I said, there’s no such thing as Canadian geometry. Take a rear naked choke as an example, an efficient rear naked choke, you also have to define our goal. Our goal isn’t just working a fight, our goal is being as efficient as possible in a fight, which means to use as little energy, strength, risk, explosiveness as possible, use as little as possible to achieve our goal. As little as possible, but no less, right? That’s a never-ending measurement that hopefully, as we continue learning the art gets more and more refined, to when somebody can become a black belt, they’ll be doing the same movements they did as a blue belt, but just so much more efficient. That’s our idea. There’s also more efficient ways to mechanically do things. We’re always refining that, too. When we find a more efficient way to do a fundamental, then we will do it. For example, rear naked choke, there are the rough fundamental mechanics you can look at and to the naked eye, especially somebody that didn’t have a strong background in Jiu-Jitsu, they would not be able to tell the difference. The hands appear to be in roughly the same space and everything. You and I both know there are more efficient ways to perform that rear naked choke, if you know how to apply it the right way, in particular, get connection and all the things that Hickson and people like Henry Akins teach. That level of efficiency doesn’t change when you put the Gi on. It doesn’t change when you take the Gi off. It doesn’t change when I teach it to my tiny wife. It doesn’t change when I do it as a 275-pound man. It doesn’t change when a child does it. It doesn’t change in MMA and it’s not going to change in the street. That’s the efficient way to do that rear naked choke, and that’s a fundamental movement. It’s a fundamental human movement and we’re going to teach that to everybody that comes through our door, because I think it’s something they need to learn. Over time and it takes a long time, but over years, everyone will find their own best way to get into it, how they get into it, their own little way of getting into it. Then, the temptation is when you become a teacher is to teach you a way of getting into it, which I think is a mistake. I think what you want to go back to do is just teach the core fundamentals, and then create a game where your students can find their own way to get into it.
Sonny: That makes a lot of sense. We know that the setups are important, the entries are important. We know that’s everything and you’re not going to be able to get it if you can’t get there, so let me show you 20 different ways to get there. Again, getting there is that element of, I guess, personality and body type and–
Matt: Right. If, instead, you have a game where one side is starting on the back, for example, and the other side is maybe trying to do an escape or some particular movement. The person on the back is allowed to go for the rear naked choke and you set the timer and you do five minutes each side and switch and you do that for 45 minutes. Everybody in that room will figure out their own little ways to hand fight, their own ways to get that choke. You might show some things– I’m not saying we’re restricted in, like, we never show good entries like to do. But, by really keeping the curriculum close to the fundamentals, I think what you do is you accelerate the students’ learning curve, because they’re really only focusing on the things that really, really do matter, at least in class. Then, you’re creating an environment where each athlete has maximum room for freedom to develop their own way of doing it. When I go to schools that aren’t SBG sometimes and I watch their classes, I will know that the teacher teaches his own style or her own style because I’ll watch all the students that are all trying to do the same kind of guard, the same kind of sweep, they’re doing the same kind of pass. It’s just such a really inefficient way to do JIu-Jitsu, because I’ve never seen two black belts that should roll the same way, or do. Everybody has their own style and if I just taught what I do well at my gym, I don’t even know if I have any black belts, since I have my own way of doing it. Mechanically, what underlies my movement, under the surface, the structure, the skeleton of what’s going on, that’s the same for me as it is any of my other black belts.
Sonny: I really understand that because, for me, I feel confident showing something that, “Hey, this works in my game, get off your gut.” That gives me the confidence to actually teach it, just basically teach it with confidence. I’ve been figuring out the ways that we can allow people’s personality to grow. The way I’ve been thinking is, when they’re doing those techniques, instead of saying, “Hey, this is the setup, this is the way.” It is just paying attention, watching and then offering something from experience that a coach can say, “Hey, try this, see how it goes, you’re close to it already, maybe give that a go and see.”
Matt: Absolutely. I think the main thing is create games. This is actually really easy to do with Jiu-Jitsu. It’s a little bit harder to do with stand-up, but with jiu-Jitsu, it’s so easy because we can just make positional games. If we’re talking about a choke, for example, we can have people starting in the position where that choke occurs. So, I may have shown that choke in class, and then when it gets time to drill, I’ll have them start with a choke almost all the way on. Most of them are going to have close to 100% success, maybe 90% success, and then have the person resist and then we’ll do it, we’ll do it, we’ll do it and then like Hickson said, we’ll back up and back up and back up. Now, eventually, we’re back to a position where you’re just on the back, but your hands aren’t engaged around the neck yet at all, and now they have to start to get in and get the choke. Before that, we will talk on the fundamentals of hand fighting and how you efficiently get the choke on. Then, we’re going to let them play and the majority of the class, if it’s an hour class, for example, 40 minutes of that class is going to be drilling, and it’s going to be drilling in the position or the place where the lesson occurred today in class. We have 10 minutes of introduction stage where we’re showing whatever the fundamental technique is, fundamental human movement. We make sure everybody can do it without resistance, which honestly doesn’t take long for most people, 5 to 10 minutes maybe. When you see they have it, now you set up a drill. One of my requirements for SBG coaches is they should be able to create a drill for anything instantly like that. They can look at any problem, any skill set, whether we’re talking about, stand up clinch or ground, even firearms, whatever it is, and they can immediately come up with a live drill that the class can then do. The focus on the class is that drill, and through that process, they are getting time. At the end, sometimes we have 5 or 10 minutes at the end of the class, we’ll let them start in that position, just wrestle to submission if it’s Jiu-Jitsu, and that’s the context. So, we’ve isolated a piece of the game, we’ve introduced a piece of the game, we’ve isolated it with timing and then we integrate it back into the whole, whatever it is Jiu-Jitsu, MMA, and let them play with it. That’s our process for doing it. To be honest, it’s really simple with Jiu-Jitsu, because Jiu-Jitsu lends itself so well to positional sparring. You can think of any technique, you can think of a Jiu-Jitsu, you can make a simple drill really by just having people start where that technique occurs and giving them a particular place and then going back to it over and over again, so they get timing at that little spot.
Sonny: Just show them the finish and let them play to work their way there. I guess when you said drilling too, it’s fun drilling. It’s not, “Oh, drilling.” it’s, “Yes, drilling, we’re having fun.”
Matt: If you like rolling, you’re going to love drilling the way we drill. I can hear sometimes– so for example, before the virus hit, I was spending some time really focused on the Upa with my students, and because I found that a lot of people were doing it wrong or what happens is often they get away from it, partially because the elbow-knee escape works so well, especially even some of my black belts. We would do rounds during my competition team practice. We’ll see one side holds mount, one side escapes. Five minutes and then I let them switch. I like longer rounds because it gives your body time to problem-solve. They’ll go back to what they do best. So, if they are good at the elbow-knee escape, they will keep doing the elbow-knee escape over and over again. So, then, as a coach I now have to change the game. I say, “Okay, five minutes one side hold mount and attack and one side escape, but you’re only allowed to Upa . And you can hear some of the students in the class go, “Oh.” But, to me that’s fun and they are still having fun. Now, it’s a challenge, now they’re only allowed to do that one escape. They are going to have to get sneaky and figure out ways to , if they black belt on top of them, f igure out ways that he or she doesn’t quite see it coming so they could still make it work. What that does by isolating that piece is it gets them really good. Then, we can go back and put it back into the hole and their game is much better than it was before. Because with Jiu-Jitsu what happens is– I’m sure you discovered if all you do is roll. If you just teach a bunch of techniques and let the students roll, especially if its in an environment where its very competitive. Everybody’s going to do what they are good at. And you will get good at the routs, but people with have holes. They’ll have parts of their game that they don’t like to go to, so they avoid them. I think one of our jobs as coaches, as Jiu-Jitsu coaches, is to make people go to those places so they develop skill, fundamental skill in all the different positions, because we don’t want the first time they have to struggle out of that spot to be against somebody whose very good at that spot in a tournament or in other situations.
Sonny: Yes, and it’s yet making them go to those places that they are uncomfortable and don’t like but in a fun environment where there is no pressure on failing. Is that?
Matt: Exactly, where I am constantly saying every single time I’m teaching class or about to do a drill, “Failure is an essential part of the process. It’s not just okay, it’s mandatory. If you’re not failing through the whole thing, you’re still back at the introduction stage. You are probably not really acquiring any time.”
Sonny: Yes, and that was a huge thing for me. Recently, I had a chat with my friend Andy from School of Grappling and he pointed out that a lot of what coaches would often do is try and take their failures and say, “Hey, students, you don’t have to fail. I did the failing for you. Here is what you just do instead.” He said that’s catastrophic. You have to let people fail for themselves and learn, and you are just there to guide.
Matt: That’s very insightful. One hundred percent true. We can try and save on time. Obviously, that’s part of what our job is as a coach, but you can’t short-circuit that process for them. You can’t give people timing.
Matt: I can show them exactly what they need to do but you know you have to let them put in the work to be able to do it and that work requires failure. You can’t fail for them. My failures don’t give you timing, they give me timing. They don’t give any body else timing.
Sonny: Exactly, right. Yes, there’s a lot to take in from that conversation for me, Mat. Its been really excellent. I guess, in summarizing, if I’ve got an idea now of your martial arts philosophy maybe or just your ideas about it. We’re doing a physical activity that we’re searching for the truth in a universal human experience of wrestling and fighting. We are looking to help other people find that truth and have fun while doing it. Is that?
Matt: That’s great. Yes, that sums it up pretty much, what we try and do at SBG.
Sonny: Oh, that’s beautiful. Matt, thank you so much. I’d love to have you on again and talk about some other of your thoughts, stoicism and critical thinking.
Matt: Any time.
Sonny: Awesome. If people want to get in touch with you, what’s the best way to go about doing it?
Matt: Yes, for gym-related stuff, they can go to straightblastgym.com and a couple of years ago I started SBGU, which is my online university. I think we have close to a thousand different videos on there now, and I put up when I’m teaching, my classes go up there every week. Now that I haven’t been teaching with the virus, I’ve been putting up classes of training with my wife. There are multiple clips that go up every week. So, people that are interested in our stuff, they can go on there. For more essays and writing and things like that, not necessarily always related to martial arts, they can check out mattthornton.org, but straightblastgym.com usually has the links for all that.
Sonny: Awesome, I’ll be getting in touch with Ben Power from SBG Sydney as well.
Matt: Yes, he is very talented. Definitely probably worth having on the podcast and training with him, once all of this is over.
Sonny: Definitely. Matt, thanks so much. Hope you have a good day and we can do this again in the future.
Matt: Awesome, thank you very much.
Sonny: Thanks mate.
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