Podcast Episode 131 – Kirik Jenness of The Underground Forum, the Fighter’s Notebook and More

In this episode I have a great talk with Kirik Jenness who is mayor for life of the underground forum at http://mixedmartialarts.com, the author of The Fighter’s Notebook, the official records keeper for mixed martial arts, and has “done every job in MMA except for being a ring girl.

This man is one of the founding fathers of MMA in North America and had a TON to share!

Here’s just some of what we covered…

01:27 – Kirik’s martial arts beginnings 06:15 – The origins of the Underground Forum and MixedMartialArts.com 10:21 – The Fighter’s Notebook 19:55 – Participating in early MMA 24:49 – Organized crime and combat sports 29:11 – Was Pride the golden era of mixed martial arts? 32:37 – Officiating early MMA events 37:06 – Octagons, rings, and other crazy fighting areas 46:26 – Creating ranks for fighters in MMA and boxing 51:48 – Craziest moves in MMA


The best way to listen to this podcast is to go to your favourite podcasting platform, subscribe to ‘The Strenuous Life’ Podcast, and then look for episode 131. 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…


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Adding New Techniques to Your BJJ Game

I once posted a cool new technique by a famous jiu-jitsu fighter on the Grapplearts Facebook Page.

Within the hour I got a text from a purple belt friend of mine who wanted me to show him how to do this technique and start using it.

I said sure, but I also advocated caution…

I told him that it was going to take a LOT more time to incorporate this particular BJJ technique in to his game. Not because it was extraordinarily difficult, but because it didn’t fit his pre-existing game!

This concept of congruence of new techniques with your existing game is an important topic, and I discussed it in more detail on episode 42 of my podcast which  you can listen to on iTunes, Google Play, Soundcloud, or Stitcher.  Give it a listen there, and if you enjoy it then please subscribe to the podcast itself!

You can also watch a detailed discussion of this topic in the video below…

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New Strenuous Life Podcast Episode with 5 x BJJ World Champion Bernardo Faria

I’ve just released a KILLER new podcast episode with 5 x BJJ World Champion on my Strenuous Life Podcast.

(This is episode 086 of the podcast for anyone keeping track.)

In this episode we talk about

Bernardo’s ‘kidnapping’ in the Philippines two years ago His thoughts on the results of ADCC 2017 The toughest guys he has ever rolled with Whether you can get your BJJ black belt without competing The connection between jiu-jitsu and entrepreneurship Whether North America will ever catch up to Brazil in jiu-jitsu And much more, so check it out!

Click here to get this podcast in iTunes or search your podcast provider for “The Strenuous Life Podcast”

Also if you get the chance, subscribe to the podcast.  I’ve got a TON of interesting guests and topics lined up for the near future…

Cheers, Stephan

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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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How to Choose a BJJ School to Train At

I often get emails from people trying to decide where to learn BJJ.

They’re usually trying to choose between 2 or 3 different schools…

Should they train with the purple belt down the street, or the black belt across town?

Should they study at the Gracie Barra school, the Atos affiliate, or the 10th planet representative?

Should they choose the small school that’s friendly, or the big school that’s less personal?

Should they stay at the school where they started, or go to a new one?

Sometimes the answer is pretty simple…

If you want to start BJJ at age 60 then a hardcore MMA gym full of steroid douchebags probably isn’t for you.

If you’re hell bent on medalling at the Mundials then you’d probably better pick the school with the widest and deepest talent pool to spar with.

And if you specifically want to work on a certain aspect of your game then you might pick an instructor who is well known for that position.

However, the vast majority of the time, it all comes down to personalities. 

The better you get along with your instructor then the longer you’ll probably train at the school.

And the more aligned your goals are with those of your fellow students then the more fun you’ll have training.

Go and visit all the different schools in your area.  Pay the drop-in fee, get on the mat with the people, and experience the class first hand.

The bottom line is that if you sign up with a school then you’re going to spend a lot of time there.

Training, recovering from training, and interacting with the other students all adds up to a BIG time investment.  So it makes sense to spend a few evenings researching all the options available to you before you make that sort of commitment.

When you go to the school try to assess the head instructor.

It’s better train with someone you like and respect, than with a highly skilled  competitor with tons of medals who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about your well being or progress…

Your training partners are just as important (sometimes MORE important) than your instructor.  So don’t underestimate the effect that the head teacher has on the rest of the students.

Like attracts like, so most of the time the personality of the instructor sets the tone for the whole rest of the school.

An asshole instructor is inevitably surrounded by a cadre of asshole acolytes.

» Continue Reading.

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Keep It Simple Stupid When Learning New Techniques

Have you heard of the acronym K.I.S.S?

It stands for “Keep It Simple Stupid.”  (It was later made politically correct by changing it to “Keep It Short and Simple” but that never really caught on, especially me.)

Anyway, K.I.S.S. is a good rule to live by when fighting, sparring and training.  You want to simplify as much as possible and not try to keep track of too many things at once.

There’s good science behind this: the more factors you have to consider the slower you make your decisions.  So keeping things simple actually makes you move faster.

But lets focus on how the K.I.S.S. principle applies when it comes to learning new moves.

Here’s my opinion: if you’re a teacher then you don’t want to load a student down with every last detail all at once.

And if you’re the student then you want to just focus on the next few things that’ll give you the best results fastest.

For example, if I’m teaching a complete beginner to throw a right cross I might tell them: “start with your fist glued to your jaw, then throw your fist in a straight line towards the target while you twist your body to generate the power.”

That’s it!  The subtleties of weight shifts, hand twists, foot pushes, non-telegraphic movement and so on will all come later, because first they’ve got to get in some experiental learning – learning by doing – before anything else makes sense.

Sometimes it’s more important for the student to get a quick result with a technique than it is to get it absolutely perfect on the first go.

If you have some initial success then it’ll boost your confidence in that technique and make you eager to learn the additional details to make it work even better.

Similarly if I’m teaching a triangle choke to someone for the first time I might tell them “triangle your legs around your opponent’s head and arm, then squeeze your knees, pull his head down and lift your hips.”

Now is that the most effective way of doing the triangle choke?


Are there many adjustments and tweaks that you can make to the triangle choke that make it much more effective?


For example, in the Youtube clip below Elliott Bayev does an absolutely brilliant job of breaking down some of these finer triangle choke adjustments.

So why not show » Continue Reading.

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Don’t Be Afraid of Admitting that You Don’t Know Everything

This is rant was brewing inside me for a long time, and I’m sure it’ll upset some people and ruffle some feathers.  Oh well, can’t make an omlette without breaking a few eggs, so I’ll get over it…

I did the rant in video form, and the full name of that video is “Don’t Bullshit Your Students About Knowing Everything!” which pretty much sums it up!

The humility to admit that you don’t know everything is admirable.

And bullshitting students about a position or a technique you know nothing about is deplorable.

Your ego isn’t more important than their development.

Here’s the video…

Now, some shout-outs…

In the video I start out by saying that one of the coolest things I ever heard a martial arts instructor say was “Ask me any question you have.  If I know the answer then I’ll tell you.  If I don’t know the answer then we’ll find out together.

That instructor was Makoto Kabayama (formerly going by ‘Nip) of the Kabayam Bushidokan in Toronto.

And the other instructor I reference in the video – the guy who was OK with my bringing in other teachers to learn Capoeira – was Philip Gelinas of the GAMMA school in Montreal.

If you’re reading then thanks to both of you – you’ve been way more influential than you give yourselves credit for.

If you admit that you don’t know everything then it implies that you yourself still have some learning and growing to do, which is the case for everyone from this year’s Mundial champion to Rickson Gracie himself.

If you’re done with learning you should be in the grave.

Stephan Kesting


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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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Should You Compete in BJJ Tournaments?

I often get asked whether competition is essential to BJJ, and if you need to have competed to get promoted to black belt.

(If you prefer to watch or listen to me talk about this this topic then just scroll to the bottom of this blog post and look for the video called “Do you need to compete to get your black belt“).

The quick answers are: no, you don’t necessarily need to compete.  And no, you don’t need to compete to get your black belt.

You can definitely learn a lot and continue to get better just with concerted drilling and focused sparring in class.

After all, there are a lot of BJJ black belts who have never competed or have only competed a few times.

That all being said, competing at least a few times, is a really good idea.  Let’s look at the main two big reasons why this is so…

Reason #1 to Compete in BJJ Tournaments: Self Defense

This might seem counterintuitive, but even if your main reason for training jiu-jitsu is self defense then it’s still a really good idea to compete in a couple of tournaments during your BJJ career.

Stepping onto a mat to face an unknown opponent in front of your teammates and a random assortment of spectators is stressful.  That stress results in a ‘fight or flight’ reaction, where tons of adrenaline and other hormones get released into your system.

This hormone dump can be debilitating if you’ve never experienced it before.  Common reactions include holding the breath, getting exhausted instantly, the mind going blank, fine motor skills disappearing, and a complete inability to formulate and follow through on a plan.

(All of these symptoms could have terrible side effects if you experienced them while fighting for your life in a real confrontation.)

The good news is that you CAN get over it.  All you need to do is to expose yourself to it in incrementally increasing doses of stress.

In fact, if you’re training at all then you’ve probably already started this process…

You were probably scared when you were thinking about walking into your first BJJ school, but you eventually went in, right?  Good for you!  It was a small example of confronting your fears and dealing with adrenaline.

And you were probably a bit freaked out when it came time to spar, right?  Sparring with your training partners and visitors to the school is definitely a » Continue Reading.

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Podcast EP 34: Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Principles with Rob Biernacki (plus Ninjas, Insane Martial Arts Instructors and Martial Arts Cults)

The latest episode of the Grapplearts Radio Podcast is out.  In it I talk with Rob Biernacki, a friend, BJJ black belt, and contributor to Grapplearts (see the videos and articles he’s been involved with here).

This is a fun, opinionated conversation in which I’m sure we’ll offend just about everyone!  Some of the topics we covered in the 1:19 discussion include…

How the underlying principles of BJJ that make it easy to learn techniques, adapt to new situations, and transition effortlessly between gi and no gi training Stories about cultish schools run by insane martial arts instructors A narrow escape from vindictive ninjas in the 1980s The role of competition in BJJ Maintaining standards in the martial arts Why suffering is a good thing for the development of martial arts skills

I hope you’ll like it!  You can watch, listen to, or download my conversation with Rob one of the following ways…

Click here to go to the Grapplearts Radio Podcast in iTunes and subscribe (recommended) Click here to directly download the mp3 file of this interview And/or click play on the embedded Youtube video below…


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Black Belt Blindness, And Other Dangers….

A black belt is just a 2 inch wide piece of cloth, not a license to pontificate upon matters about which you are utterly ignorant. It’s also doesn’t give you the right to have people’s unquestioning obedience. To get a legitimate black belt in BJJ requires more time, effort, and investment than a black belt […]

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 […]

Just Ask the Question!

I know I’ve been lucky, but most of my martial arts instructors have encouraged questions. For example, my BJJ coach, Marcus Soares, is known for his killer conditioning sessions (‘warmups,’ he calls them…). But right after putting his class through hell he always starts the technical part of class by asking, “Are there any questions.” […]

The Answer is Out There!

Let’s say that you want to add a new technique – any technique – to your game. With new techniques there’s always a ton of trial and error, struggle and effort, discouragement and tough times before it starts working reliably for you. But here’s the thing: no matter what area of jiu-jitsu or submission grappling […]