Letters: Grappling cred

2 June 2005

Nowhere on your website (apart from mention of the gym in the West End) can I find any reference to who, or where, you have studied grappling with?

In the late ’70s and throughout the ’80s the main sources of such training in London would have been the wrestling and judo clubs; where guys around your age and size like Jacks, Starbrook, Remfries, and later Adams, Radburn (judo), etc., and a very strong wrestler (’84 Olympic bronze) called Noel Loban, amongst others all trained.

Did you ever grapple or train in any way with any of these sorts of guys? Or visit any of these clubs? Which high-level grapplers visited Earlham Street? Where does your experience in this area come from?

— Geoff Oughton

I get the feeling from your question about grappling that I’m still being judged on the same old criteria: who’s Steve Morris? Who’s he ever fought? Who’s he ever trained with? As if being taught is the only way you can become good. In fact, that was the feeling I got off Jenkins: ‘who is this guy’? I can understand that, because most people have achieved their success by completely different routes. My route was never mapped out for me. I was always an outsider to everything.

And what seems to be my problem, as a trainer, is that my reputation as a fighter seems to get in the way of what I’ve got to teach. It becomes very much a testosterone thing. I suppose if I was fat, balding, or effete like many coaches, there wouldn’t be a problem. And also, what I teach contradicts much of what guys have ever learnt before. They find it very difficult, after spending 8 hours a day doing something, to be told that there’s a better and more effective way to do it in less time.

When I started the full-contact training at Earlham Street, there were several judoka already within the group. A couple of internationals but I can’t remember their names. One who was a personal friend was Tom O’Shaughnnessy, 4th dan. We had a wrestler as well, but no big name. Earlham Street was an open gym, people knew our reputation, and anybody was welcome to come up. But we weren’t interested in sport, just fighting. And the guys who challenged me, I didn’t know their names or who they were. Didn’t interest me.

A few years ago when Tom Crudgington was training Muay Thai fighters, he reeled off a long list of names to me of guys I had trained who had gone on to have successful fighting careers in Muay Thai and kickboxing. The only ones I can remember training are Vince Jauncey, Pat O’Keefe and Kong Futek. I really wasn’t interested in sport. I couldn’t play a fucking game of football without being sent off. I’m coming at this thing from a different angle.

It was fighting we were interested in, not wrestling/grappling per se, or boxing, or Muay Thai. This was a process of trial and error, never so much a case of HOW we were going to get a guy down to the ground as just finding a way to do so. The motivation was the most important thing–to finish the guy off.

For me it’s always been the personality type, the mindset to win, mental and physical toughness, and athleticism that are important. The training and the skills are a bonus. They give you the edge at the highest level. And I still train people that way today. I like to set up situations within my training, and it’s up to the guy how he’s going to fight his way out of it. Everybody’s going to skin the cat in a different way. That’s MMA. The only difference between now and the 1970s is that now I have learned to retain the reality and intensity of the training, but take out the possibility of serious injury.

As to who taught me, I taught myself. This is true across the board. I never went into a boxing or Muay Thai gym, either. And I sure as hell didn’t learn how to punch in karate! Most of my early knowledge came from my father, Army PT corps, who had boxing, wrestling, and fencing experience. But most of my skills come purely out of fighting, which I’ve done a lot of all my life. And if I saw a move that seemed to work, I’d try it out. In the late 60’s, I asked my father how to do the illegal move in boxing called the spinning backfist. He showed me, I practiced it a couple of times, got it fixed in my mind, went down to the LKK the next day, and was laying guys out right, left and centre with it.

When I was fifteen I was locking and choking guys out, but I didn’t go anywhere to study it. It’s just a case of ‘finish him off’. And that’s why I got kicked out of Kyokushin Kai, and why I would never go back into a controlled environment again. I’m not into controls. That’s why Earlham Street became more of a Fight Club environment. It was to get away from all that.

I’ve always been on the outside looking in, and this enables me to look at this thing from a completely different angle. No presumptions, just ‘does it work?’ And I’ve never been into overspecialization. That’s why MMA appeals to me. You can learn it very, very quickly. I’ve watched thousands and thousands of MMA fights, as I suspect you have, and I’m looking at how that fight’s telling me I NEED to fight, not how I WANT to fight. It’s pretty simple, really.

The game started off with BJJ submissions on the ground being dominant, but it’s changed. Predominantly, it’s no longer a game of chess. It’s not boxing, it’s not BJJ, it’s not Muay Thai, it’s not wrestling, it’s MMA, with its own set of fundamental skills and key moves that are about fighting, full stop. And that’s where I’m coming from. Sure, people like Couture adapt their Greco-Roman to MMA and win, but I’m coming from being a multidimensional fighter, rather than a specialized one from a system.

And I’ve developed a methodology by which you don’t have to cross-train. You’ve just got to get this job done. In fact, cross-training is a big mistake, because you’re taking a number of specialities and then you have to modify them so that they fit together. The Muay Thai stance (shoulder to hip) is too upright and too high for MMA. Whereas the freestyle wrestler (low shoulder to knee) is too low. Everything has to be modified. You need instead to understand what’s fundamental to all of the specialities and then be able to adapt those fundamental patterns specific to what you need to do (MMA) and that’s what I’ve done. I’d never have got that by coming from inside any one system.

Many guys have got a stereotypical way of training or believing what the fight should be, and I come in and completely destroy that mold. There’s some process within me that allows me through trial and error, analysis, and the occasional accident to come up with this approach, which I believe is unique, and the short-cut (if you like) to success.

But who knows? I could be wrong. Time will tell.