Self Defense vs MMA with John Hackleman

The intersection of MMA and self defense has always been interesting to me, so I was thrilled to have a chat with John ‘the Pitmaster’ Hackleman recently.

John is well known for coaching Chuck Liddell to the UFC light-heavyweight title, but he has mentored many other successful MMA fighters as well.

But despite his success as an MMA coach the reason he started training martial arts was very practical: he wanted to be able to protect himself (or, as he likes to say, stop people from taking his lunch money)!

So it’s no surprise that at The Pit, his school in Arroyo Grande, California, a HUGE emphasis is placed on self defense and practical real world applications.

In this episode of The Strenuous Life Podcast John Hacklemann and I discusses the Conor McGregor bus attack, training Chuck Liddell, differences between MMA and self defense, our mutual backgrounds in the self defense system Kajukenbo, the single most important thing you can do to stay safe on the street, sparring vs drilling, and more.

This is an incredibly informative episode, especially if you’re interested in self defense and/or MMA!

To listen go look for The Strenuous Life podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Soundcloud and Google Play. and then listen to episode 142 with John Hackleman.

(A subscription, rating, and review are always super appreciated!)

Here’s some of what we covered…

00:24 – The Conor McGregor incident 05:15 – How much pre-fight hype in the UFC is just for show? 11:03 – Differences between MMA and self-defense 18:12 – The single best way to stay safe in day-to-day life 24:46 – Kajukenbo karate training 31:06 – The development of Hawaiian Kempo 32:10 – Training Chuck Liddell 34:46 – Training MMA vs. specific arts 39:48 – Sparring vs. drilling 44:59 – Can you get tough without actual sparring 53:15 – John Hackleman’s personal fitness routine at age 60 61:30 – Crossfit and Crosspit 63:26 – Where can we find you?

Alternately  you can listen to the discussion in the embedded player here:

For more John Hackleman check out this feature about his MMA training methods and/or his 11 super-short and effective MMA conditioning workouts.

Also follow John on Youtube at https://www.youtube.com/user/ThePitOnlineDojo and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ThePitMaster

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12 BJJ Black Belts Give Their Best Tips for Starting BJJ {Video and Podcast}

Today you’re going to get 12 BJJ black belts give their best tips, strategies and advice for people just starting out in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. White belts looking for help getting started and organising their training will really benefit from watching this.

Although there are a few themes the fascinating thing is how diverse the advice is.  There is no one path, no one BJJ tip to rule them all, so getting different opinions from different grapplers is an amazing thing!

If this video doesn’t fire you up and get you on the mat grappling then nothing will!

Watch the video below, or scroll down to find out who they are in advance and listen to this in audio-only podcast format!

Here are the 12 BJJ black belts featured in this video:

Stephan Kesting (0:00 to 1:14) grapplearts.com Bernardo Faria (1:14 to 2:25) bernardofaria.com Brandon ‘Wolverine’ Mullins (2:25 to 5:22) justgipants.com Travis Stevens (5:22 to 6:04) fujisports.com/blog/travis-stevens/ Rob Biernacki (6:04 to 7:21) islandtopteam.com/ Pshemek Drabczynski (7:21 to 8:10) besthometrainer.com Ritchie Yip (8:10 to 9:22) infighting.ca Sean McHugh (9:22 to 10:20) alliancekelowna.com Elliott Bayev (10:20 to 12:09) openmat.ca Jason Manly (12:09 to 12:48) instagram.com/jasonmanly Michael Zenga (12:48 to 13:49) bjjfanatics.com Perry Bateson (13:49 to 14:56) nwjja.ca/ BJJ Positions & Techniques Checklist (free download here)

If you want this same information in audio form then go to your favourite podcasting platform, subscribe to ‘The Strenuous Life’ Podcast, and then look for episode 132. You can find it on most podcast platforms, including…

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/strenuous-life-podcast-stephan-kesting-grapplearts/id320705565?mt=2

Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/listen?authuser&u=0#/ps/I3qvbtkdb74xrpv6ozbzie2ca4e

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-993426357

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/stephan-kesting/grapplearts-radio-podcast

Alternately you can also listen to the advice on the embedded player below…

See you on the mat!

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Podcast Episode 125: Reilly Bodycomb on Sambo, Leglocks, MMA, Jiu-Jitsu and No Gi Grappling

I loved doing this interview with Reilly Bodycomb. Reilly is a Russian sambo and leglock expert who has competed in a TON of different rulesets including BJJ, no gi submission grappling, MMA, Sambo, and wrestling.

He is the Pan-American Sport SAMBO Champion (2016), USA Sport SAMBO Champion (2016), Dutch Combat SAMBO Champion (2016), recently competed in Japan and is a BJJ black belt as well!

In our talk he shared stories about competing all over the world, and shared some major insights about how the rules you compete under totally influence the development of a sport.  My favourite part was when we were riffing about creating the ‘perfect’ grappling rule set.

I hope you  get as much out of it as much as I did.

If you enjoyed it then please share this podcast episode with at least one friend or training partner – that’s how this podcast grows and I really appreciate it!!

Here are some of the highlights

00:23 – Reilly Bodycomb intro 07:22 – History of Sambo and the Russian martial arts 13:53 – Competing around the world 15:48 – Rules of Combat Sambo 20:34 – Dealing with and competing under differing rulesets 28:35 – Reilly’s favourite throws for different sports 32:49 – Gym culture and training environments 37:23 – Leglocks in submission grappling 48:30 – The flying scissor takedown 53:38 – Competing in Japan 56:04 – Game design and the ‘perfect’ set of rules

The best way to listen to this podcast is to go to your favourite podcasting platform, subscribe to ‘The Strenuous Life’ Podcast (*ahem* that’s my podcast) and then look for episode 124. You can find it on most podcast platforms, including…

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/strenuous-life-podcast-stephan-kesting-grapplearts/id320705565?mt=2

Google Play: https://play.google.com/music/listen?authuser&u=0#/ps/I3qvbtkdb74xrpv6ozbzie2ca4e

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-993426357

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/stephan-kesting/grapplearts-radio-podcast

You can also listen to interview on the embedded player below…

Finally, if you like what you hear then why not go and give The Strenuous Life Podcast a rating or review on whatever platform you listen to it on. That kind of stuff is super appreciated, and it’s really helping



P.S. Find out more about Reilly Bodycomb and his upcoming ankle lock instructional at https://www.rdojo.com

Combat Sport Videos and Links Referred to in this Podcast are Below! Example of Russian style wrestling from the Russian Nationals

How to do the Flying Scissors Takedown (and hopefully not injure your partner)

Daido Juku Karate Competition

» Continue Reading.

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The 5 Steps to Training A New Technique

Most of the videos I post online are from my main Youtube channel which focusses quite heavily on BJJ, no gi jiu-jitsu, MMA and other forms of grappling.

But what a lot of people don’t know is that I also have a second youtube channel called ‘Self Defense Tutorials‘ which – as the title might imply – focuses more on self defense and martial arts training.

Here is one of the videos from that second channel talking about the 5 levels of training you need to make a technique functional and something you can rely on in a real situation.

Ultimately it doesn’t matter if that technique is a triangle choke, a throw, a right cross or a double stick striking combo; the same 5 levels of training are required again and again.

Understanding and implementing these 5 different ways of training will definitely speed up the learning process regardless of whether your goal is to get your BJJ black belt, fight in an MMA match, or just walk the streets with increased confidence.

Check out the video below…

I wrote a more in depth article about these 5 levels on selfdefensetutorials.com called How to Make Sure Your Martial Art Will Work on the Street.

You should check out that article if you want more details, but if you just want a quick reference, here are the steps for internalising a martial arts technique and making it functional.

THE 5 LEVELS OF TRAINING A NEW MARTIAL ARTS TECHNIQUE Solo Training Partner Training with Low Resistance Partner Training with Higher Resistance Contested Situational Sparring with a Partner Partner Sparring with Many Different Techniques

It’s all explained in the video above, with lots of examples from different martial arts!

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Should You Train When You’re Really Tired?

I recently came back from Europe and just got clobbered by the 9 hour time difference. But I was really missing jiu-jitsu, so I made sure to get in a training session on my first full day back.

Was it an epic roll with 110% intensity?  Not so much…  It was a very controlled roll, focussing on just a few positions, with lots of discussion and analysis breaks.

Something is better than nothing.

After that workout I shot a video to help you decide whether you should train on days when you’re so tired you can’t see straight. I also covered some concrete examples of how to modify your training if you do decide to go to the gym exhausted.  And finally I shared a trick I often use to get me motivated on days when I just don’t feel like training.

The funny thing is that after getting up at 2 am, training at about noon, and editing the video that I was so tired I accidentally split the video up into two separate videos.

Oh well, if uploading two shorter videos instead of one longer video is the worst that happens to me today then I figure it’s still a pretty good day.

If you often find yourself  not getting enough sleep but still wanting to train then I think these two videos (part 1 and part 2) might be useful!

(By the way – I’m fully aware that some of my advice contradicts what I said a long time ago in my Dojo of the Rising Sun article –  that approach led to a pinched nerve in my neck because of overtraining. Today’s advice is informed by trying to learn from those mistakes once in a while and then passing that information on to you.)


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Are You Willing to Go Back to White Belt?

Most people training in the martial arts have a goal to achieve the mythical black belt.

“When I finally wrap that black belt around my waist”, the narrative goes, “THEN life will be good, my wife, kids and dog will all love me, and I’ll never look stupid on the mats again.”

Ummmm, back up just a second…

A good black belt frequently has to go back to being a white belt, and deliberately put himself into situations where he’s going to look stupid for sure.

What do I mean by this?

In order to keep growing in the art at any level you need to learn new things.

And almost every time you add something big to your game then things are going to get worse before they get better.

Let’s say there’s this cool guard pass that your instructor has been telling you to do. You’re agree and think it would be a great fit with your game.

So you drill the move a few times and then try it out in sparring.

Things don’t go so well… You don’t pass the guard of your training partners… And you get swept and submitted multiple times.

Is it a stupid guard pass?  No, it’s just much more likely that you weren’t doing it 100% correctly.

Or let’s say that you start using a new submission from mount that you saw a world champion win the Mundials with. But when you try it out at the open mat suddenly you can’t finish even the brand new beginners with it.

These failures are happening because you haven’t yet learned the timing, the adjustments, and the fine details that make the technique work against any kind of resistance.

You might have a blue belt around your waist because you are blue belt level at doing a certain set of techniques. Those are your most reliable techniques, the core of your game.

By definition, a new technique is not one of your core techniques. So even though you’re an official blue belt you’re still a white belt when it comes to your new guard pass or submission.

And that’s OK. This is exactly how Jiu-jitsu is supposed to work.

In fact it’s an absolutely necessary part of getting as good as you can get.

There is a saying they get printed on coffee mugs that I completely agree with: » Continue Reading.

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On Starting Sparring from the Knees…

A reader writes: Hi Stephan, I’ve been doing BJJ for about 6 months and am wondering if you have any advice about what to do when you’re starting on the knees?

I find that most wrestling-style takedowns are very difficult to do from the knees, especially because my opponents are really good at sprawling.

And if I get my grips then inevitably my opponent also gets his grips and the whole thing turns into a big pushing and pulling match, which doesn’t seem very technical to me.

Anyway, I currently feel really lost and have no idea how to initiate the action from the knees – can you help?

Sincerely Bohdan


Hi Bohdan,

Most BJJ classes start their sparring from the knees. This is because staying on the knees reduces the amount of space you need for each sparring pair, and that allows more people to be on the mat at the same time.

Starting on the knees also reduces the risk of injury associated with throws and takedowns.   Less throws and takedowns equals less injuries (I love Judo as a sport but don’t fool yourself – it has an incredibly high injury rate).

However starting with both people on their knees isn’t the most realistic position from which to initiate sparring.

First of all, starting on the knees has no application to modern self defense.

This might not always have been true.  In medieval Japan, after all, people spent a lot of time on their knees, and I’m sure that people did get attacked while kneeling.  That’s why many traditional Japanese jujutsu systems include armed and empty handed techniques for when both people are kneeling. But this kind of scenario – two people kneeling in front of each other – in today’s day and age is exceedingly rare!

Furthermore starting on the knees has very limited application in tournament competition.

I’ve watched hundreds and hundreds of BJJ matches, and I can only think of one or two cases where both contestants both ended up on their knees facing each other for more than a brief moment (inevitably one person either pulls guard or stands up).

So spending most of the match on the knees, pushing and pulling against your sparring partner, is a waste of sparring time.

But what are your alternatives?

Well, often you can ask your opponent to start in a specific position. Tell him something » Continue Reading.

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Tips for Recovering from a BJJ Injury and Getting Back to Training

Unfortunately injuries are just part of the game. Now hopefully they’ll be minor injuries and you’ll recover from them quickly, but regardless, getting back to training after recuperating from an injury is always a tricky business.

In the video below I give some of my best tips about exactly how your return to the mats should be structured.  This is advice I’ve learned the hard way – for the longest time I didn’t use it myself and I wish I had.


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How to Get Kicked Out of Your BJJ Club

by Jeff Meszaros

So, you’ve been training at the same jiu-jitsu club for a while now and you’ve decided it’s not for you. You’ve given it very careful consideration and concluded that it’s time to move on to another club or quit altogether.

But you don’t want anyone to call you “a quitter” so instead of quitting, you’ve decided to take the high road and get kicked out.

But how can you do it? How can you get thrown out of a martial arts club?

Here are a few ways. They’re guaranteed to irritate your instructor and, probably, your fellow jiu jitsu students too. Do some of these and chances are you’ll be told to hit the road very soon, if not immediately.

Don’t Pay For Classes

Refusing to pay is a fine way to get tossed out of any business; especially if you’re expected to pay up front. Walk into a coffee shop and shout “I refuse to pay for my coffee!” and see how that goes for you. You won’t get any coffee and they may call the cops to come take you away.

But, as hard as it is to get free coffee, there are actually many ways to get free jiu-jitsu classes. You can offer to clean the mats each night or, if you know some stuff, help teach classes or just bring in lots of people who will join. Do any of this stuff and you’ll easily earn your keep, even if you’re not paying for classes.

But that’s not your goal. You want to get kicked out, so here’s what you’ll do: Straight up refuse to pay. Act like jiu-jitsu is a God-given right; like air, water and decent wi-fi and say you should never have to pay for it. That should do the trick; especially if you refuse to help in any way.

Perhaps that’s too obvious and you want to draw things out as much as you can. Maybe you’re still on the “free trial” that some schools offer and you want to see how long you can milk that before someone loses their cool.

Here are some fun ways to make life agonizing for your instructor.

First, avoid them like the plague so that they can’t collect money from you. Run in and out of class before they can talk to you; or just come to classes taught by assistant instructors » Continue Reading.

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Who Should You Mostly Be Sparring With To Improve The Fastest?

Who should you spend most of your time on the mats training with and sparring against?

One of my martial arts mentors, Dan Inosanto, said it best; “You make your fastest progress when you’re sparring people just a little bit better or a little bit worse than you.

This makes a lot of sense.

Imagine you’re a new blue belt and you’ only ever train with high level brown belts and black belts…

How often are you really going to land a good technique on someone that much better than you?  Not very often!

In fact you’re going to spend almost all your time defending, defending, defending, which means you’ll never get good at your offense.

Now imagine the opposite: that you’re a brown belt and you only ever spar white belts…  Are they really going to give you much of a challenge?  Not likely.

Against those white belts you may be able to drill your offensive techniques, but they won’t keep you on your toes and take advantage of your mistakes.  So you run the risk of getting sloppy and complacent.

Of course you should sometimes spar people much much better or much much worse than you.  You can definiteiy learn from doing that occasionally.

But if you want to get better fast then you should spend the majority of your time – somewhere between 50% and 80% of your matches – sparring against people more or less your own level.

In the video below I go a little bit deeper into this topic, but now at least you have the general idea.

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BJJ Beginner Tips Interview and Podcast

In this Grapplearts interview I talk to BJJ Black Belt Ritchie Yip, focusing on tips that BJJ beginners need to know.  But sometimes the conversation goes a little off track! You can follow/consume/download/watch this awesome and informative interview several different ways… You can watch the Youtube video below You can download the mp3 file by […]

The Two Biggest Benefits of Training Martial Arts

Funny story… I was passing through the downtown core of a major North American city a few years ago. I had 40 minutes to kill, so I went for a walk and quickly came across a martial arts club I had heard about but never set foot in.   So into the club I went, […]