10 Questions with Stephan Kesting

Stephan Kesting is an amazing martial artist and we at the CombativeCorner are very privileged to have had the opportunity to bring this interview to our readers.  Mr. Kesting is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu blackbelt, certified instructor of Erik Paulson’s Combat Submission Wrestling and several other highly notable achievements.  Visit his website at BeginningBJJ.Com to learn more about him.  Subscribe to his YouTube channel for some of the best instructional clips on the internet. [Youtube]

How did you become interested in learning the martial arts?

I’ve been interested in the martial arts for as long as I can remember

I recently came across a letter I’d written when I was 7 years old.  In this letter I demanded that my parents let me go to go to Judo and that I would go on strike if I couldn’t go.

It took another 5 years of cajoling until I actually stepped foot into Frank Hatashita’s famous Judo dojo on Queen Street in Toronto.  Since that day I’ve pretty much trained in one martial art after another, including Japanese Judo, Indonesian Silat, Russian Sambo, various Chinese Kung Fu systems, Brazilian Capoeira, Muay Thai Kickboxing, and many other martial arts.

I’m now a Brazilian Jiu-jitsu black belt under Marcus Soares and a certified instructor in Erik Paulson’s Combat Submission Wrestling.  I’m also a black belt in Kajukenbo Karate, an instructor in Dan Inosanto’s Jun Fan JKD, Maphalindo Silat and Filipino Martial Arts program.

At first the whole martial arts thing was all about self defense.  That’s still really important obviously, but now I also train in order to experience camaraderie with friends and for personal self development (see this article called  “Blood, Sweat and… Sparta!”  http://www.grapplearts.com/Blog/2010/11/598/)

How do you feel about martial arts for: the dojo, the street, and for competition?

There are big differences between how martial arts are practiced in the dojo and how those techniques actually get used on the street or in competition.

Dan Inosanto broke it down for me once: a martial art consists of 3 things: techniques, training method, and training equipment.

First there are the techniques you’re going to use.  These are the signature moves of the martial art: the basic throws of Judo, the details on the triangle choke in jiu-jitsu, the reverse punch in Karate, and so on.  And when it comes to using those techniques in different contexts, e.g. self defense vs. competition, you have to make adjustments.  You have to modify your techniques somewhat if you want them to work on concrete and in an environment where there could be multiple opponents, etc.

Intensity and intention are really important in the street – most real fights end very quickly, often because they’re actually ambushes rather than fights, or because there’s a discrepancy in size, number of people and/or weaponry.  If your focus is on self defense then you need to take these things into account and train a little bit differently…

But regardless of the techniques you end up using, the training method is even more important.  And this is where there’s a big carryover between the different aspects of grappling.  For example, if you compete then you gain experience with both stress and in-your-face aggression.  These factors can lead to a huge adrenaline dump, which can be debilitating if you’re not used to it.  Learning to deal with that adrenaline dump factor is very valuable.   Most people I know who’ve been successful at competing also tend to keep their heads about them when things start getting rocky in the street.

When it comes to a discussion of the BJJ training method, you’ve GOT to spar to make this an effective art.  I think it was John Machado who said “no sparring, no miracles.”  I couldn’t agree more. The magic of BJJ is in the training method, which is to say that if you and I are training partners, and you’re REALLY trying to armbar me and I’m REALLY trying to escape, then we’re both going to get better at applying those techniques for real.

When did you start Youtube and how important has it been in your business?

Youtube is an amazing resource.  Now that it’s so pervasive it’s hard to imagine training (and life in general) without it.

The only negative thing is that anybody can declare themselves an expert on any topic and start creating crap, but if you’re a discerning viewer you can soon begin to sort out the wheat from the chaff and figure out for yourself what’s legit and what’s not!  If nothing else, it makes for some interesting discussions.

How do you personally like to keep in shape? Any special diets?

I used to hate running, but then I was forced to do it in order to prepare for the fire department physical fitness exams.  And the more I did it, the easier it got and the more I found that I liked it.  And I’ve been weightlifting in one form or another – bodybuilding style, powerlifting, kettlebells, crossfit, etc – since my early twenties.  I’m not super strong, but I’m a heck of a lot stronger than I would be if I didn’t do any training.

I think that conditioning is super important, that’s why I’ve written so much about it (http://www.grapplearts.com/Blog/category/conditioning/).

But I’m also a realist – people get bored doing just one thing all the time, so that’s why I mix things up and drift betweeen different exercise modalities.  Sometimes I’ll do more running, then I’ll get fixated on how much I can squat, then I’ll spend a month alternating between climbing a local mountain one day and doing hot yoga the next.

The bottom line is that doing something for conditioning is better than doing nothing.

With regards to diet – I’m currently following a mostly vegan diet.  Lots and lots and lots of nuts, seeds, and veggies.  I allow myself a cheat meal (usually a bit of meat) every 3 or 4 days, which seems to be working out really well for me.

Why do you prefer jiujitsu? What does it have over other martial arts (personally, if anything)?

I love many different martial arts, but in the end it came down to time.  I don’t have enough time to train in every art that attracts me, so I had to pick one art and concentrate on that.

So why grappling?  It appeals to me for many reasons – I like how it challenges you physically and mentally – it really is a game of physical chess.   I also like how open-ended the jiu-jitsu journey is.  Boxing only has 5 or 6 main punches, but grappling has hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of moves, so there’s always more to learn

Maybe it’s also because of the fact that grappling is the oldest human sport.  Whether it’s called Judo, Jiu-jitsu, Sambo, Greco-Roman, or Catch, just about every culture has its own form of folk wrestling.  This isn’t an accident – locking horns with someone and trying to throw them, lift them or submit them is a primal activity.  Every culture will have its own tricks and techniques, many of which can be used in a jiu-jitsu context.  Examples of this sort of cross-pollination might include the leglocks of Sambo gradually becoming more popular in BJJ, or the addition of wrestling skills to the MMA arsenal.  So, once again, there’s always more to learn.

What are some of bigger obstacles for you when teaching beginners?

That really depends…  Some of the classic beginner errors I see all the time include using strength to compensate for lack of technique, and holding the breath while rolling.  (http://www.grapplearts.com/Blog/2004/10/breathing-oxygen-and-exhaustion/)

Finally some beginners really struggle with claustrophobia, but usually people can learn to deal with that (http://www.grapplearts.com/Grappling-BJJ-Claustrophobia.html)/

What is your stance and/or concerns about online learning?

I think that online training has a potentially huge role in the era of the internet.  It’s something that I offer myself, both in my free sites like www.grapplearts.com and www.beginningbjj.com, and as a premium service on www.grapplearts.tv.

Obviously it’s super useful if you don’t have a formal instructor. If you’re NOT training at a school, then the critical thing about online learning is that you make sure you’re also sparring regularly. So long as people train hard and spar regularly they can learn a LOT from online resources.

But even people who train with famous instructors at very reputable schools get better faster via some form of online learning.  Sometimes it’s as simple as just getting a different perspective on the techniques you already know, or learning a little detail that takes a technique from never working for you to being one of your best moves.

How effective (do you believe) jiujitsu is in self-protection?

Grappling is a huge part of self protection.  It’s all well and good to say that you’ll never go to the ground, but sometimes you’re going to end up there against your will: you could slip, you could get tackled, or you could get knocked down.  And what if you’re trading blows with someone on your feet and things aren’t going your way: 99% of the time you’ll end up clinching your opponent and anytime you’re tied up that tight there’s a really good chance that things are going to go to the ground.

Even if your whole strategy is based on standing back if you get knocked down, then you’ve got to have some good grappling skills to be able to get back to your feet.   The irony is that getting up to your feet from the ground (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Thp7ipnjyTI) is, in itself, a grappling technique.

Interesting anecdote: a sheriff told me that they had to change their handcuffing and frisking procedures in the courthouse because suspects were going for rolling kneebars when the good guys were standing behind them.  So grappling is everywhere and the best way to defend against it is to be well versed in it yourself.  Then you can make the decision to go to the ground or to say on your feet as per the exact circumstances of your situation.

What is one thing that you’d like emphasize to the beginning martial art (jiujitsu) student?

It’s a positional game!  This is the key, not the armlocks, not the leglocks, not the fancy gi chokes.  Position allows you to set up everything else

This was the underlying insight that drove me to write my Roadmap for BJJ book.  At first I was going to sell it, but then I decided that it was more important to grow the sport and so I’m now giving it away free at http://www.beginningbjj.com

This month’s ‘Roundtable Discussion’ was New Year’s Resolutions. Do you make New Year goals? If so, what are your goals for 2011?

One of my resolutions is not to wait for New Year’s Eve to make resolutions!  I try to make them whenever it seems appropriate and then follow through on them all year round.  For 2011 I want to travel more and train at different schools, start teaching a few more seminars, and really bump Grapplearts up into the stratosphere!

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One Response to “10 Questions with Stephan Kesting”

  1. kimono jiu jitsu…

    [...]10 Questions with Stephan Kesting «[...]…

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