Kurt Osiander is a jiu jitsu black belt and the head instructor of Ralph Gracie Academy in San Francisco. He is one of the most unique personalities in the BJJ community and is well respected for his teaching style and his tough-as-nails approach to training. While in San Francisco on Valentine’s day, I stopped by his school for a quick conversation.
Jared Weiner, a long-time black belt competitor and head instructor of BJJ United, talks to me about his struggle with post concussion syndrome, depression, fear, doubt, drawing strength from his family, his friends, and his team, losing a friend to cancer, his philosophy of training and competing, his evolution as a coach in preparing his students for competition, the darker parts of Philadelphia, uncovering the reality of poverty and desperation, and more.
Advice to those suffering through post concussion syndrome:
“Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. I was too afraid to reach out. I didn’t want to tell people what I was going through because I’m supposed to be the leader here. I have students looking up to me. I didn’t want them to see me in my weaker state. You have to throw that bullshit to the side. Maybe my weaker state is a state they need to see so that if they’re going through the same thing, they’re going to go get the proper help needed. If you smack your head around and you’re not feeling right, go see a doctor, take the rest you need, reach out to the right people.”
On leading by example:
“It is what it is. I’m not the ‘elite’ jiu jitsu athlete. I’m not the best dude in the world, but I’m on the mat with the guys every day. I try to put myself there with them and help with what I can help with. So maybe it’s important for them to see me in this state too, and see me fight through it, and lead by example in that way. I’m still being a teacher… but in a different form.”
On never quitting in a match:
“You have to finish the fight no matter what. That’s just my mentality. I would never stop a match unless there was a limb hanging off. That’s just what we do. We train hard in here. We fight hard in here. We smack heads in here all the time. Get cuts, bleed, we keep going. That’s what we do.”
One of Jared’s favorite shots that he talks about in the episode:
Jimmy Pedro is an American judo competitor and coach, World champion, 3x World medalist, 2x Olympic medalist; we talk about his father (Big Jim Pedro Sr), his early career, the times he wanted to quit, overcoming a neck injury, coming back from retirement, the life of an athlete vs the life of a coach, a system for developing elite-level judoka, Japanese vs Russian judo, periodization, a weekly program for an elite-level judoka, toughest moment as a coach, watching Travis Stevens lose the semifinals at the Olympics, mental game, visualization, IJF, judo as a spectator sport, the future of judo in the United States and the rest of the world, and more.
“Every champion wants to quit… At 19, I lost at the Kano Cup, went 0-2. I remember sitting on the steps of the Budokan, thinking to myself: I hate this sport, I just want to quit, this stinks. People see champions as winners, but they don’t see those dark days, the days when they struggled or they lost or they failed or the day in training when they got their butt whooped or those tournaments where they fought miserably. We all go through it. Nobody goes undefeated.”
On never quitting on the mat:
“I’ve never been broken in a judo match. I’ve never quit. I’ve fought some guys who were tough as nails. I’ve had to fight for my life. But I’ve never backed down. I might’ve been beaten, but I went out fighting.”
“We know we can’t beat the Russians, the French, the Brazilians, the Japanese by doing more judo than they do. They have way more people to train with, way more opportunity. So we have to beat them with physicality, strategy, gripping, newaza, conditioning, toughness, and the mindset that we are going to win.”
Mark Manson is the author of the well-respected dating book “Models: Attract Women Through Honesty” that espouses honesty, self-discovery, genuine connection with like-minded human beings and… common sense as a way of life and love; we talk about materialism, death, vulnerability, rejection, demographics, self-discovery, writing rituals, etc.
“Women are complex and it’s an adventure getting to know them and understand them. You can never reduce dating to an algorithm: say this, text her this many times, etc.”
“The only way more experience with women can be bad is through the ‘paradox of choice’. If you give people two options, and they choose one, generally they will be happy with what they chose. If you give them 100 options and they choose one, then they are more likely to spend a lot of time worrying that maybe the other 99 options were better, that they missed out.”
“Monogamy works for most people. What doesn’t work for most people is ’till death do us part’. The majority of people prefer to stay with one partner at one time. What doesn’t work for the majority is being sexually monogamous with one person for 60+ years. Once you take into account the divorce rate and the infidelity rate, you end up with a small slice of the pie of people who stay faithful to one another their entire lives. A lot of people get bummed out by that idea, but this is something we have to be realistic and honest about. That said, people vary a lot.”
“If you want a woman with different values then you need to live a life based on different values. You can’t go spend money at a strip club and expect a girl from Sunday school to show up on a date with you.”
“The first draft is for me. The revision is for the readers.”
On “suffering better”:
“We spend most of our lives focusing on gaining more and more positive experiences, but the quality of our lives is actually determined by our ability to handle negative experiences.”
The following is an abridged quote from Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace that I read to close the podcast:
“If, by the virtue of charity or the circumstance of desperation, you ever chance to spend a little time around a Substance-recovery halfway facility, you will acquire many exotic new facts…That certain persons simply will not like you no matter what you do. That you do not have to like a person in order to learn from him/her/it. That loneliness is not a function of solitude. That logical validity is not a guarantee of truth. That it takes effort to pay attention to any one stimulus for more than a few seconds. That boring activities become, perversely, much less boring if you concentrate intently on them. That if enough people in a silent room are drinking coffee it is possible to make out the sound of steam coming off the coffee. That sometimes human beings have to just sit in one place and, like, hurt. That you will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do. That there is such a thing as raw, unalloyed, agendaless kindness. That concentrating intently on anything is very hard work. That the people to be the most frightened of are the people who are the most frightened. That it takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak. That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable. That other people can often see things about you that you yourself cannot see, even if those people are stupid. That having a lot of money does not immunize people from suffering or fear. That trying to dance sober is a whole different kettle of fish. That, perversely, it is often more fun to want something than to have it. That if you do something nice for somebody in secret, anonymously, without letting the person you did it for know it was you or anybody else know what it was you did or in any way or form trying to get credit for it, it’s almost its own form of intoxicating buzz. That it is permissible to want. That everybody is identical in their unspoken belief that way deep down they are different from everyone else. That there might not be angels, but there are people who might as well be angels.”
Rory Miller has 17 years of experience working in maximum security detentions, booking, and mental health facilities; for 14 months he was an adviser to the Iraqi Corrections System, working in Baghdad; he is the author of several books Meditations on Violence; we talk about self-defense, the false assumptions martial artists make about violence, breaking the “freeze” response, fear of death, fear of embarrassment, how a criminal thinks, Steven Pinker, the decline of violence in the world, the power of violence, human nature, and much more.
“One of the problems with martial arts, especially if you want that martial art to make you feel safe for self defense, is that people want answers. People want to feel comfortable having answers. But there is nothing out there that’s an answer to all the bad things that could happen.”
“It’s not uncommon to spend 5, 10, 20 years for a martial artist to study what to do when a bad guy attacks him, and yet spend absolutely no time studying how bad guys actually attack in reality. I only see that in martial arts. There is no way you would ever go to a medical doctor and he would say that he has never bothered to study diseases or injury, he just focused on studying surgical techniques and drugs.”
“No one remembers their training until after the first 3-5 encounters.”
“If someone (who is not dealing with violence as part of their job) had to use serious self-defense skills five or more times, they need to make better lifestyle choices.”
“There are four ways that things get into your head: teaching, training, condition, and play.”
“A lot of times what we are training and what we are conditioning are working against each other, and it’s the conditioning that comes out in a fight first.”
“People who play hard have a huge edge over people who don’t play hard but pretend that they do.”
“Death is an inevitability. The world has a 100% mortality rate. No one gets out alive. A lot of the self and ego that people get defensive over is a wisp of smoke anyway.”
“In infinite universe, everybody is wrong, just accept that. If you can just start there, it gives you a lot of freedom to learn and to make things better, because then you’re not trying to making things right, you’re just trying to make them better.”
“Most of the mistakes that people make in a fight aren’t because they are afraid of dying, but because they’re afraid of looking stupid, they’re afraid of being embarrassed.”
“Everything involved in self-defense is breaking a social taboo. We don’t usually yell at strangers. We definitely don’t hit strangers. Even guys who practice martial arts all the time. We’re hitting friends, people we know, not strangers.”
“I believe everyone is a natural fighter, but we’ve been conditioned not to be.”
“Part of being good is exerting will when nature wants you to be bad, when nature wants you to eat the weak, to say: not today, I don’t need to do that, I’m not going to.”
“Violence works. The rarer it is, the better it works.”
Frank Molinaro aka Gorilla Hulk is the 2012 NCAA Wrestling Champion, and a 4-time NCAA Division-I All-American; we talk about World Team Trials, last second victory, his day-to-day routine, diet, Vitamix, rehabbing injuries, sauna, cutting weight, leg killer video, cardio circuits, drilling, play wrestling, mastering a technique, 2011 NCAA finals match against Kyle Dake, wrestling the NCAA tournament through an injury, visualization, confidence, matches that haunt him, mental toughness, married life, coaching, and more.
Video: What It Takes to Win a National Championship
Full Audio of Interview on YouTube
Frank on what it takes to win an NCAA championship:
“You can’t just want to win a national championship. You have to see it every day in your head. You have to expect it to happen. When I made it to my first national finals, I was going in with the attitude that I’m going to wrestle 100% and I was going to make it happen, and that’s not how you win at the highest level. So I changed my approach the year after. I visualized winning probably 100 times a day, wrote it down first thing in the morning, had it on my phone, had it on my walls, had it on my locker. So when it happened it wasn’t a crazy jump up and down reaction, it was something that I expected to happen. My junior year I can honestly say I didn’t expect it to happen. I thought it could happen. But there’s a huge difference between when you want something to happen and you truly 100% believe something is going to happen.”
Frank on what it takes to be a winner:
“What it comes down is how badly do you want to win and what you’re willing to do.”
Frank on losing:
“Losing is something that I’ll never be able to get used to. I take losses very seriously. Losing will put me into depression for two weeks. I question everything in my life. I question what the heck I’m doing. I did this wrong. I did that wrong. So, I know how painful losing is every time I step on the mat and how badly I want to win. The moment you start to tolerate losing, you’re not going to reach your potential.”
Marco, Tim, and I talk about birthdays, holidays, the passing of time, the Tim Spriggs article on creontes, Lloyd Irvin, loyalty, mat fees, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two-state solution, facebook miscommunication and much more.
Andre Terencio is an IBJJF referee, 3rd degree black belt in BJJ with more than 20 years of training, competing, coaching, and refereeing; we talk about the value of competition, how new rules are enacted, what makes a good competitor, what makes a good referee, the goal of a good rule set, advantages, leg reaping rule, new rule forbidding sumi gaeshi as counter against head-outside single leg, Eduardo Telles turtle guard, Keenan Cornelius DQ at Worlds, submission-only tournaments, and more.
“I believe that every jiu jitsu practitioner should at least once in his life or her life step on the competition mat. It’s a great experience. It’s not just about the goal of winning a medal, but to prove to yourself that you are able to step on the mat and beat your own fears.”
Andre on the relationship between referee and competitor:
“As a referee, people might not like you but they still respect you, because in the back of their head they know that it’s a tough job.”
Dan Severn is a UFC Hall of Famer, a legend in combat sports with more than 4 decades of wrestling and fighting under his belt; we talk about fighting, kids, competition, technology, amateur wrestling, Leri Khabelov, beating a man he couldn’t beat, UFC, Royce Gracie, no holds barred fighting, etc.
Dan on staying healthy through a long career of 150+ fights:
“I believe in the theory of duck. I’ve had young guys tell me: ‘Mr. Severn, I like to stand there and trade.’ Really? Trading means I’m going to give you some, and then I’m going to take some. I don’t believe in trading. I believe in guerilla warfare. Get in, get out. It’s called peace work. “
Dan on the mechanics of wrestling:
“In wrestling, I’m using principles of leverage to turn you on your back. What’s another word for leverage? Pain. I have to induce you into pain to make you do things for me.”
Ryan Hall is a BJJ black belt, head instructor of 50/50 BJJ, an ADCC bronze medalist with a long career in high level competition throughout which he has beaten many of the top grapplers in the world; we talked about moral victory, maintaining a stoic expression, a unified theory of grappling, the value of competition, a lifelong pursuit of a singular goal, best martial art for self defense, cultivating ego, and much more.
Ryan referencing Frank Herbert’s Dune in discussing the value of pursuing a singular goal for a long time:
“If you search for freedom, you become a slave to your own desires, ironically. But if you search for discipline, you find liberty, in the long-run.”
Ryan on the courage of giving 100%:
“It takes courage and heart to properly prepare (for competition), because you’re risking horrible dissapointment. I’ve prepared so hard, tried so hard before and I won. And other times, I’ve prepared so hard, tried so hard and I lost. It hurts. It really hurts. It doesn’t hurt nearly as much if you half ass it, because you didn’t put that much into it. But that’s a cowardly approach. The right way is to prepare properly, you train hard, and then win, lose, or draw you deal with the results.”
Ryan discussing that most people are not honest with themselves about how hard they work:
“Most people would rather look like the thing, than be the thing.”
Ryan on what is involved in working hard:
“Trying hard doesn’t just mean having to be carried off the mat. It means thinking, reassessing, reevaluating, asking ‘how can I be better?’ It takes honest self analysis.”
Ryan on the cost of excellence:
“You show me someone who is well adjusted, and I will show you someone who is probably not a high achiever.”
Ryan on removing extraneous details:
“A principle-based approach to grappling is incredibly important. What I try to do is block out the extraneous nonsense. Talking about 55 details and reasons for something that’s going on is only clouding your thought process.”
Ryan on moral victory versus actual victory:
“If Fedor slaps your mother, you have to hit him. You have to. And he’s going to kick the shit out of you, almost certainly. But you have to hit him. Trying your best and losing would be the honorable thing to do.”
Ryan on the importance of ego (grounded in reality) in progress:
“Most progress over the course of human history has been made by unreasonable people that said: ‘fuck you, I’m going to win.'”