Tonight I watched my 145 lb brother train with one of our students, a 300 lb former lineman (Division 1 College Football ) and it reminded me of writing this blog post, so I dug it up and I’m reposting. I’ll post some photos of Ronnie training with Jeff at the end of this post. Enjoy. — Ray
Recently my original BJJ instructor Steve Maxwell was a guest on a podcast with Joe Rogan. It wasn’t long after it was released into the world I began to get some text messages and comments that my brother, Ron Huxen had been mentioned by Steve on the podcast. I have to admit, I mostly stay away from podcasts. I just can’t find the time. Despite the news of the mention I still didn’t tune in, until eventually I heard the gist of it was Ronnie had been training with some giant football player who had slammed him through the roof. When Ronnie and I spoke about it we were both laughing as we had a bit of a different recollection of the events. I finally caved and listened to story on the podcast. For anyone interested it’s about at the 22 minute mark.
The story is used to illustrate the point that there are some massive, incredible athletes in the world and when they show up to train it’s entirely different than when your average citizen walks in off of the streets. That is certainly true of the athlete in question in the story, former NFL player Jeff Thomason.
When Jeff came to the BJJ club Ronnie and I were actually purple belts and in point of fact fairly recent ones. We had been purple for a year or so. He was a physical marvel. 6’5″ around 265 with a crazy strength to weight ratio and the reflexes and natural athletic ability of a 10 year NFL player. Jeff could handle all the white belts and most of the blue belts when he stepped on the mat. He was just so long, strong and athletic it was just too overwhelming for most of the students, though some could definitely make him work. Fortunately, he was a wonderful guy, very friendly and interested in learning technique and enjoying training. Though, if he was in a bad position or when it was time to train with someone who was a threat, he played hard.That was when you got to appreciate what an athlete he was and just how physically overwhelming he could be for most people.
Steve used a story about when Ronnie was going for an armlock and Jeff did essentially a Turkish Get-Up with Ron on his arm. While, in point of fact, he didn’t come to his feet and didn’t put him into the ceiling tiles like in the story he did just come up and sling Ronnie off of him. It was another time you got to realize just how physically different some people are.
I was actually more impressed by another incident. Jeff and I were training from the feet prepping for a tournament. He really hadn’t done much takedown work then and I had been doing Judo for 8 years. I wasn’t sure what to expect so I was playing a little tentatively. he reached out and caught my gi pants at the knee like a lot of other people had done before with me. I wasn’t too nervous about it, but he suddenly jerked and yanked me up in the air and slammed me. I was at my competition weight of 225 lbs at the time. It was and still is the most physically impressive thing someone has done to me, precisely because there was no technique, it was all strength. That being said, it was the only time he ever took me down. Now that I knew what I was getting into, I played him differently controlling his strength with grip fighting and aggressive attacking. I had learned the hard way when you’re dealing with a physical monster like that, you don’t let them use their advantages, you make the game a technical, strategic one.
Ronnie was turned upside down by Jeff from the feet once too, but considering he was literally half Jeff’s size it didn’t impress me as much. But what was more impressive was that Ronnie regularly (meaning more than 75% of the time) actually took Jeff down, using technique and grip fighting.
I realize that the story in the podcast is for entertainment and to illustrate the point that there are these incredible athletes lurking out there. The implication (and I think it was more than an implication, it was pretty explicitly said) was that they can’t be handled by technical BJJ. But it leaves out the back story to the training that happened on that mat. The reason Ronnie and I were laughing over the story so much is what wasn’t included. It neglects to mention that Ronnie tapped Jeff dozens of times and in all the times they trained he never caught Ronnie once. I wasn’t mentioned and was a much more realistic size match up for Jeff but was still giving up 40 lbs., a few years in age and he was this physical beast. In all the times I trained with Jeff I did’t tap him as often as Ronnie did, but did catch him periodically and was able to sweep and maintain dominant positions and was never submitted by him.
While the lack of the back story made it funny to us, the reality is it should have been a great chance to reinforce the idea that BJJ/Judo technique can overcome even these crazy, huge alpha athletes. Even when Jeff turned us upside down or when he slung Ronnie across the room, the final result was inevitable, he was going to be submitted or put in a bad position until time expired. If he had been able to keep training, I’m sure that would have eventually changed. If he had been able to continue to add more technique to his huge physical advantages, he would have run over us like a tank. But, in the time that he was with us his technical improvement was not nearly enough to make the difference. This was a great opportunity and great platform to get that part of the story out there about what technical BJJ and Judo can do to make up for physical mismatches.
In the David versus Goliath analogy you have this 6’5″ 265 lbs 10 year NFL veteran who had just retired and in fact was called back to play in the Superbowl (though he didn’t make a catch he was out there competing against the cream of the crop) while he was training with us, who is an incredible physical specimen and who is also a smooth, smart well coordinated and conditioned athlete, not just some strong man. Then on the other side of the mat you have this 6′ 137 lb early 30’s skinny guy who has literally never played an organized sport, but who has 8 years of Judo and 6 years of BJJ. It turns out BJJ and Judo are the ultimate slingshots and David wins every confrontation. And that is the whole point of why I train.