You gotta understand, when I got into MMA, there was no road map to being an MMA champion. It was the ground level and everyone was racing to figure out how to become a complete fighter.
During the dark ages of the UFC we saw fighters like Marco Ruas use effective muay thai striking on the feet with luta livre and Brazilian jiu-jitsu on the ground. Being a young kid growing up in the U.S. at the time, I was under the impression that being proficient on the ground was enough after watching Royce Gracie win the first three UFC’s decisively. Marco Ruas opened my mind to other possibilities.
Enter Frank Shamrock. I first saw Frank fight the then Shooto Heavyweight Champion, Enson Inoue in 1997 when I was living in Japan. They fought in a Shooto promoted event named: Vale Tudo Japan. The winner would earn the right to fight for the UFC’s Middleweight title.
Frank went on to beat Enson in a hard fought battle. If you haven’t seen the fight, here it is here:
Like me, Frank got his start in MMA in Japan. He fought under the Pancrase banner during the early years of the sport.
This was a pivotal point in the sport. The term “Mixed Martial Arts” hadn’t even been coined yet. Frank saw the need to be well rounded before everyone else. Not just technically speaking. He approached the sport as a professional athlete that must train their body to perform at it’s best.
Several months later, I found myself contemplating returning to America to turn pro. I’d bumped into Enson at the All Japan Amateur Shooto event after placing 3rd and earning the right to turn pro. I took this opportunity to ask for some advice.
I asked: “If you were to return to America, who would you train with?” Enson went on to explain that he had recently lost to Frank and that he was doing big things in the US.
When I got home that night I started looking into it. Eventually, I came to the decision that if I was gonna be successful, being a well-rounded fighter wasn’t enough. I needed to be well-conditioned as well.
I quit my job as a Barista and moved to San Jose, CA in the fall of 1998 to try out for Frank Shmrock’s fight team. After a grueling test, I was voted onto the team. I continued to live in San Jose and learn from everyone there at the now well known, American Kickboxing Academy.
Here is a pic of the early days at AKA with Frank Shamrock, the current AKA MMA Coach, “Crazy” Bob Cook, and I:
One of the most valuable lessons I learned training under Frank Shamrock was that, there are no concrete answers. Everything is open to interpretation.
One day, he came over to me and said: “Teach me something.” I looked back at him, not sure what to say. How was I, an 18 year old amateur supposed to “teach” the UFC champion something he doesn’t already know!
We started rolling and discussing a few different positions. We were essentially brainstorming on new ideas on what things might work from certain situations.
From knee-on-the-belly, he asked me how to escape. I explained one of the basic ways I knew. He replied, well, what about this: Just roll away quickly and stand up…?!
At the time, one would have needed to be crazy to think that’d work. “No, I said. I’d get my back taken!”. “Really? he asked. Let’s try it out….”
Fast-forward several years, I have escaped from bottom many times using this technique.
That very experience would permanent my outlook on the sport, even today.
Challenge the norm. Go against the grain. Break the “rules”. Doing the unimaginable might just work.
Today, as a coach, I try to remember this valuable lesson I learned and I try to pass it on to my students.
Evolve with the sport because, it WILL evolve. It’s your job to make sure you don’t get left behind.
Thank you, Frank Shamrock.