Australia · Interviews · My MMA Journey

Things to Know About Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Sydney

An Interview with Mario Yokoyama of myBJJ

Last week I popped into the myBrazilian Jiu-Jitsu headquarters in Camperdown to have a chat with founder and head instructor Mario Sergio Yokoyama.

Having finished another month at Darkside, I opted for a short break from boxing so I could take some time not only to explore other martial arts but to get to know the city and some of the other travelers and locals in it.

One of the first things I was happy to have done with the extra time was returning to myBJJ for my second interview with a founder and head coach of a Sydney martial arts gym–another fun and insightful experience. (The first was with Uro Pavi of Darkside.)

When I got back to Sydney last month, I took a free Jiu-Jitsu Fundamentals trial class at myBJJ and wrote about it here. Since then, I have been wanting to come back and ask Mario–the man behind my–some questions.

I wanted to learn more about the various Brazilian jiu-jitsu styles and approaches to training, the Gracies, self-defense, competitive BJJ, grading systems, and how jiu-jitsu differs from country to country.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: An Art for All Ages

When I arrived at the gym just after 9 in the morning, Mario was in the middle of a kids class. It was the last day of the winter break and of the jiu-jitsu school holidays camp so these young rollers would be in the gym’s care until 3 in the afternoon.

In addition to the questions I had prepared, I wanted to ask Mario about their kid’s classes. When I took my first stab at jiu-jitsu last year, my own daughter was three and too young to join. In fact, I found that most any sports teams in Manila–including soccer–didn’t take kids until the age of five.

I assumed this was because children under five couldn’t be expected to follow instructions but Mario told me they start training kids at three and sometimes even younger.

In fact, he said he’d had two-and-a-half-year-olds follow instructions better than some ten-year-old students and can already go through the moves.

Overall, however, jiu-jitsu does appear to be a discipline suited to all ages–from the preschoolers rolling around on the mats to the white-haired masters gracing the walls.

Mario Yokoyama: Student and Teacher

“I have been a black belt for almost twelve years and I’m still learning here with my own students. That was my plan at the beginning, to build a school where I can train as well.”

Speaking of the Gracies, Mario himself received his black belt under Ryan Gracie. However, he first began his jiu-jitsu training in Sao Paolo under master Roberto Lage.

Mario was thirteen years of age and a judo purple belt when he first walked into Lage’s jiu-jitsu academy. Though he initially came in to complement his ground training in judo, he quickly fell in love with the training style and mechanics of jiu-jitsu and decided to take the path of jiu-jitsu.

By the time he had his purple belt in jiu-jitsu, still in his teens, Mario was helping teach classes in Brazil. After that, he spent time in Japan teaching jiu-jitsu to the police and eventually he moved to Australia where he got started teaching in his back garden with three students.

As the number of students grew, he moved to a new location and when this got too small they moved again. This happened three times, he tells me. The third location was in Marrickville in 2013, where myBJJ was officially founded and the school started getting personality. Three years ago that location also got too small and that is when they moved to the current headquarters in Camperdown.

“When you have a good product, it doesn’t matter where you are, people come to train with you. When I was in Japan we had these guys who would drive four hours to train with us and four hours to go back [home],” Mario recounts and tells me the same thing happened in Marrickville where they had guys catching the train from out of town in the evening, staying the night and training again in the morning before returning home. Currently, they have people coming all the way from the Blue Mountains.

Gracie Barra, Gracie Humaita, and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Around the World

“They were very tough but very humble.”

When you look for places in Australia where you can train in jiu-jitsu, you’re guaranteed to see at least a few Gracies popping up. Often, it will be either Gracie Barra (“baha”) or Gracie Humaita (“umaita”)–schools that you can find all over the world.

Knowing that Mario got his black belt under Ryan (“Hyan”) Gracie, grandson of the acclaimed patriarch of Brazilian jiu-jitsu Carlos Gracie, I wanted to know where his gym fits in with these disciplines and I was also curious to hear some first-hand accounts of his interactions with members of the widely influential and almost notorious Gracie family.

For starters, I had to ask where myBJJ fits in the red-to-yellow or Barra-to-Humaita spectrum. Firstly,, Barra gyms–distinguishable by the red triangle–focus heavily on competitive jiu-jitsu and the training tends to revolve around points and rules.

Carlos Senior, the founder of Gracie Jiu-Jitsu and influencer of the Barra approach, believed that the best way to spread his family’s martial art around the world was through sport and that is exactly what happened thanks to his many sons and nephews. Carlos Junior now owns IBJJF, which hosts some of the biggest jiu-jitsu competitions in the world and sports a 50-page rulebook.

Where the jiu-jitsu taught in Barra schools has evolved for competition, Humaita, or the yellow triangle, denotes a more traditional self-defense school. Carlos’ younger brother Elio, who helped build the jiu-jitsu empire, saw jiu-jitsu purely as a martial art and form a self-defense and not as a sport. Therefore, Humaita schools–though they may still compete–teach BJJ first and foremost as a way to defend yourself.

After his first instructor, Roberto Lage–who’s master trained under a Gracie, fell victim to a stroke, Mario started training at the Ryan Gracie academy and he recalls how much it impressed him. Mario tells me that most of what the myBJJ team teaches comes from the Gracies, from Barra to Humaita and all the variations of and between the two that exist today.

As I see it, the classes at myBJJ seem to begin with a practical self-defense approach in the fundamental classes, progress to competition-geared jiu-jitsu in advanced classes, and turn away from points and rulebooks at the master class stage where fighters train in a manner that bespeaks no-holds-barred fighting and points again to the traditional approach.

As far as the Gracie family, what he could say about the members he has met–including Carley, Clark, and others who have visited myBJJ–is that they were very tough but very humble. At his use of the word humble, my mind immediately shot to the large, bold text on the front of the building: “Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu: The Humble Sport”.

Currently, myBJJ has schools in Australia and New Zeeland, and besides training in Brazil and Japan, Mario has also been to Korea, the US, and Portugal. He believes it’s important to different places and to see how they train.

“Sometimes I like to go away and come back here. I like to be outside, to see how the instructors and students train because that way we can take that and implement a new strategy or way to train our students.” For the same reason, he likes to bring guys in from outside to do seminars and classes.

“I have been a black belt for almost twelve years and I’m still learning here with my own students. That was my plan at the beginning, to build a school where I can train as well.”

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Martial Arts: Combat Sports versus Self Defense

“Your greatest weapon is your mouth.”

Because there is quite a difference between training to fight a more-or-less equally matched opponent in a ring or a cage and learning how to defend yourself in a real-life violent confrontation, I was keen on diving deeper into the self-defense versus competitive-sport topic.

I asked Mario if, from his experience, someone who has taken BJJ classes in a safe and respectful environment could actually defend themselves in an encounter on the street–that is, without experiencing such confrontation in class.

With this question, I was thinking back to what I had discussed with Uro Pavi at Darkside and his insight on self-defense.

What Uro had to say was that–and I quote–a violent encounter is ultimately more emotionally scarring than physically. This, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you miss the point and you’re not really getting the full self-defense experience.

Walk into any jiu-jitsu gym in Sydney, and you can feel quite guaranteed that you won’t be punched or kicked at all–and certainly not brutally. Therefore, I had to wonder, how can it prepare you?

Any combat sport will teach you physical moves that can be useful in a fight and if you train hard enough your body can learn to react. However, whether or not you are emotionally ready to handle a confrontation is a different story.

Here was Mario’s insight, when it comes to confrontation: “Your greatest weapon is your mouth.” As I understood it, he was saying that beyond being physical trained and emotionally tested, there is also the need for mental preparedness.

Mario explained it like this: if I was walking down the street and a little kid started yelling insults at me, I would take one look at him and know that he was no threat to me. I have no need to prove myself in this situation so it would be absolutely ridiculous to yell back at him. Therefore, instead of taking his bait to engage, I can carry on my way.

Along those lines, Mario told a story of an encounter when he first arrived in Sydney. He was in a pub when a large and, in Mario’s word, scary looking guy tried to pick a fight with him.

This guy was talking a big game but Mario, already a black belt by then, knew he could beat him. Mario proposed going to the parking lot to fight, offering to pay the man $5,000 if he beat him. On the other hand, if Mario won, this man would have to pay him $500. For all the man’s talk, including claims that his sister could beat him, he didn’t show up to the fight.

If you’ve trained in jiu-jitsu and have learned how to handle someone bigger and stronger than you, you can look a challenger up and down and know that they are not a threat. Just as you would not engage an impudent child, so this contender is likely unworthy of a contest and, at the end of the day, that mental confidence and calm may be all you needed to win the fight.

I’ve found this lesson to be at the core of every serious martial arts school or MMA gym I’ve been to. You don’t learn martial arts so that you can go out and pick fights. You train and challenge yourself in the gym so that you don’t have to prove yourself by getting into fights out in the street.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu in Australia

“I have guys who make their best friends on the mat.”

Next, we talked about the people who come here to myBJJ in Sydney to learn a martial art. Compared to the streets of Brazil and the United States, where knowing how to handle yourself can be an essential skill, Australia is quite a safe place.

Regardless, the confidence that comes with knowing you can defend yourself if you need to is valuable to anyone, anywhere. In Australia, Maria says, life is relaxed. It is neither as dangerous as Brazil nor as stressful as Japan, where people work twelve to fourteen hour days.

Here, jiu-jitsu is a lifestyle. You can do it for fitness–and that brings confidence to other areas of life as well–but you don’t just come to train. You come to learn something new and you make new friends.

“I have guys who make their best friends on the mat,” Maria says. “There are guys I train with who I have a closer bond with then I have with my own brother. These guys, my best friends, are the ones who try to choke me out in every class as well. And it’s great. I trust them, my life in their hands. I know they’re not going to hurt me.”

On what you walk away with, he goes on: “Anytime you have a really tough session, you feel like you learned something You come home and you feel so tired but you feel like you’ve learned. It’s very addictive too.”

Mario calls it “a great addiction” because they have had people come in and replace their addictions to cigarettes and alcohol with jiu-jitsu. In fact, he thinks that jiu-jitsu could make a great therapy for daily life and I have to say from personal experience that I wholeheartedly agree.

“You know you’re going to have great instructors and classmates.” He carries on with pride and enthusiasm. “The class finishes, sometimes at 8:30; come here after 9 and we still have people on the mats, talking and reviewing techniques.”

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts and Grading Systems

“When a student is ready for the next belt, we order it and give it as a gift.”

At myBJJ, they follow the IBJJF belt system: white, blue, purple, brown, and black.

Some jiu-jitsu schools have added additional belts by combining colors and giving, for example, a white-and-blue belt, but they have not adopted this practice here.

For kids, the colors are white, yellow, orange, and gray, and they have adopted mixed colors such as a yellow-and-orange belt. However, for the stripe system, they only give four at myBJJ and not twelve as some schools do.

“I know it’s a good way to motivate the students–giving stripes–but we have other ways to do that,” Mario explains. When I asked long it typically takes an absolute beginner to earn a blue belt, he said the fastest is eight to ten months but that, for some, it can take up to three years.

Mario referenced back to being held as a white belt for four years by his mentor and instructor Roberto Lage. He recalls the first day he trained with him, coming as a purple belt in Judo at the time. Roberto told him, “It’s better to be a strong white belt than a regular blue belt” and Mario has carried that outlook with him ever since.

“I prefer the white. A belt is just [there] to tighten [your gi].” He says. Knowing what you can do is internal; the color of your belt has no effect on that.

As far as ceremonies for awarding belt promotions, they differ per school but Mario personally says, “I believe everybody progresses differently. When a student is ready for the next belt, we order it and give it as a gift.”

He tells me that some schools have one or two grading days or ceremonies in the year and that it’s a good way to bring in a lot of money. However, he likes to promote each student when they are ready. On a fixed grading day, two students may end up getting the same belt promotion though one has attended 200 classes and the other only 100.

Just as he came up to instructor Salvador at the end of my trial class last month and surprised him with his black belt, every student is presented with their new belt as a gift precisely when Mario believes they are ready–even if that moment happens to be in front of the entire gym and brings them to tears.

The Good and the Bad

What Mario likes about jiu-jitsu here in Sydney is the fire with which people come to train. “Some people train three times a day,” he says, “some people come every day.”

On the other hand, he doesn’t like it when people come in with that fire but eventually stop coming regularly. Often it’s because something comes up, either with work or family, which is very understandable and often how life can be.

That’s also why myBJJ has classes from 6 in the morning to 9 at night. Mario tells me he sees extremely fast results from his students, even faster now than five years ago when they were already learning at impressive speeds.

Chances are you’ll impress yourself too. Jiu-jitsu is a beautiful sport and one I encourage anyone to try, for many of the reasons Mario gave above and more. If you’re still looking for a reason or a place to give it a go, your first class here is free.

Australia · Interviews · My MMA Journey

Things to Know About Boxing and Martial Arts in Sydney

An Interview with Uro Pavi of Darkside Gym

Back in Sydney after two months of travel, I’ve finally found time to sit down and write up an interview I held back in April with Darkside founder and head coach Uro Pavi.

“Maybe it’s inside human nature: no matter how civilized we get, there’s always that animalistic urge to at least explore our aggressive side.”

I’ve taken a lengthy intermission from my MMA journey to focus my attention elsewhere. Despite aspirations to try judo and kickboxing in the Netherlands and catch some jiu-jitsu classes at my gym in Manila, my time has been entirely occupied by travel, family, the enjoyment of good company, and keeping up with work. One must be realistic, after all, of how much they can expect of themselves.

That being said, I’m excited to be in Sydney again and eager to jump back into the fighting world. As a first step in that direction, I’m excited to share some of what I’ve learned from the man behind Darkside Gym.

As far as my own background is concerned, I’m still very new to the combat sports scene and there is a lot that I don’t know. Though I have developed a recent fascination with boxing and mixed martial arts, I’d never watched UFC and only caught a few boxing fights in my lifetime–mainly Pacquiao’s while in the Philippines because they were such national events.

I hadn’t heard of Muay Thai until I got into it from boxing (my arms were getting muscular and my legs felt left out) and although I went to high school in the Netherlands it wasn’t until recently that I learned how famous the Dutch are for their kickboxing style. I knew kids who did judo and Dutch athletes who won medals but can’t say I had more than a vague idea of what the sport was.

Since I first slipped into boxing gloves nearly two years ago, I’ve had the opportunity to practice Muay Thai, yaw-yan, grappling, jiu-jitsu, a bit of wushu, and MMA at an array of gyms. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with lots of different coaches and I’m starting to better understand how fighting styles differ and come together in various combat sports.

Certainly, the gym that has provided me with some of my most valuable learning experiences to date is Darkside. Therefore, with no further ado, may I present the passion, stories, and insights of the gym’s very own Uro Pavi:

How did you first get into combat sports?

I started when I was a kid in Yugoslavia and then we came to Australia and there was boxing at the local PCYC. I started boxing and progressed into MMA.

PCYC, is that like the YMCA?
Yeah, very similar. It’s the Police Citizens Youth Club. I went there to do some wrestling and the coach, he was praising me a lot, [saying] “Hey, good job, good job!” and I thought, this guy is really being nice to me! Because the coaches I had in Yugoslavia used to beat us. So I found it really strange that he was really nice. So I went into the boxing gym [here] and it was a brutal first session but I fell in love.

“We’re one of those gyms that does a lot of physical application of the theory.”

That was in Yugoslavia or here?
Here. The boxers were very, very rough and I thought, wow, this is normal.

So you did wrestling in Yugoslavia?
Yeah, wrestling, as a kid.

Boxing and wrestling were popular sports here in Australia?
It was just more what was available at the time. Australian boxing, we’ve had Lionel Rose; we’ve had the homegrown guys–Jeff Fenech. At the time, Jeff Fenech was boxing and he was winning so it was exciting to watch. We had Kotsya Tszyu. [He] was Russian and he came to Australia to pursue his professional career so he wasn’t really a native Australian but there was a lot of buzz around boxing at the time.

Around what time?
Ah, 20, 25 years ago. Wow.

Can you tell me a bit about how the fight scene has developed in Australia?

This is a sporting nation so we’ve had boxing for a long time. I think Lionel Rose won the [1968 world cup] and sort of put Australian boxing on the map. (Lionel Rose was the first indigenous Australian world champion boxer.)

“I think everyone in Australia went, ‘Wow, what the hell just happened?’ and that spurred on the next generation of fighters.”

We also had one of the biggest fights in the world here at the turn of the century in 1908. Look it up; it’s a fascinating fact. We had a young champion as well around 1920 or 1930 so boxing has always been a part of the sporting culture in Australia; it really has.

As far as wrestling or martial arts, I think the biggest influence Australia had was through kickboxing and then Muay Thai–us being so close to Thailand.

So that came from South-East Asia?
Yeah, from Thailand! I remember watching, what’s his name, “the hurricane”, Paul Briggs. I remember he was a kickboxing champion and they brought in two Thai fighters to fight our best guys in kickboxing. Briggs was saying, “As soon as he comes, in I’ll work my hands because I know his kicks are great.”

I would have been 15 or 16 at the time; I was watching and thinking, yeah, we’ll win by knockout, we’re better boxers; we should win, right. And then this Thai guy came in and chopped his leg down; in less than one round the fight was over and I thought, wow. I think everyone in Australia kind of went, wow, what the hell just happened?

That spurred on the next generation of fighters. In Australia, especially in Queensland, the Muay Thai community is quite big; I don’t know about New South Wales so much. I know in the 90s there weren’t any Muay Thai gyms.

My coach back in the Philippines was telling me that Queensland is known for Muay Thai.
Yeah, they’re very, very good. [In the] Gold Coast you have one of the best Muay Thai practitioners in the world, John Wayne Parr; he trains out of Boonchu in Queensland and he’s still fighting. He’s got his own promotions there but he was in the Muay Thai Contender series. He lost to [Yodsaenklai Fairtex in the finale]. I watched the whole Contender series; I think that community grew from there.

As far as MMA’s concerned, I think Larry Papadopoulos [of] Boxing Works was a pioneer. He used to do the Shooto contest in Japan; when I was younger, I used to go and watch.

Not judo, Shooto: no-holds-barred fighting. And [there is] also Pancrase. He was the king of Pancrase, which [comes from Pankration] a Greek MMA fighting style I suppose you could say, from the ancient Greeks.

I’ve noticed that there are a couple of Greek gyms and trainers here in Sydney.
There are; there’s one just down the road [with] a bit of a legend. He’ll tell you how much of a legend he is; he’s very good at saying that. But he’s very good; he’s a good coach at what he does, and that is Pancrase, so they win a lot of tournaments. I think he’s one of the most decorated masters in the world I think; I’m pretty sure, and he’s 55.

So Pancrase is like MMA?
There are no strikes to the head you but it’s very close to MMA.

Sambo is probably more aggressive–the Russian style–but my experience with Pancrase has been [that] there are trainers who really teach brutality in terms of what you would expect, and there are others that stick to the traditional Greek warrior sort of mentality.

Is it in any way related to, for example, Krav Maga, where it’s about doing serious damage and not fighting for sport?
You know, it’s funny. I met Itay Gil, the Krav Maga guy–he came upstairs. I was actually hiring space off a guy who ran Krav Maga upstairs at the time. Itay, he’s a legend; I remember watching him on Fight Quest. He’s like the grandfather of Krav Maga.

“Ultimately, a violent encounter is more emotionally scarring than physically. So, I feel, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you kind of miss the point.”

He comes up to me on the bag and he goes, “I see you; I watched you sparring: very good! Very good kicks, very good punches, very good elbows and knees. Very, very good, but I specialize in knife and [live breech?]. If you come down to Israel, I’ll run you through a two-week…” He was a scary man. I’m like, “Listen, this is what I do, I do a sport.”

Was that when you started Darkside?
That was when I started hiring space, which would have been 8 years ago now. Upstairs, yeah. I met Itay and he ran it differently from a lot of Krav Maga schools. It was very brutal; it really was.

What’s the difference between self-defense and fighting for sport?

You know how I feel about self-defense? I feel about self-defense in two ways:
It’s good to get self-defense; it is very good to go and do it with anybody because that introduces you to a flow of what might happen. But ultimately, a violent encounter is more emotionally scarring than physically. So, I feel, if you’re not getting that first emotional rush of being brutally hit and punched and kicked, you kind of miss the point, you know? You’re not really getting the full self-defense [experience].

You mean, for example, what you’ll get with sparring?
Yeah, exactly. Sometimes you go to a Krav Maga school and they’ll go, “Alright, now eyes.” or “Hit to the throat.” but you’re not really getting hit; nothing’s really happening.

And Itay had the guys get dressed in full gear, [from] one side of the cage to the other. They had a nice fake knife each; he’d say, “Alright, go!” and they’d run at each other, literally, and start stabbing each other.

Like a battlefield?
Literally. It was amazing.

And he’s training them for what?
Self-defense. What they were doing was Krav Maga in terms of how he would teach it in Israel to the special forces.

It certainly doesn’t sound like a casual class.
No, it was pretty full on. I was like, “Wow, this is what Krav Maga is.”

What I was experiencing at the time was that Krav Maga was a little bit of “Well, I grab the throat here and do this.” Then I saw Itay run [a class] and I thought, “Wow, this is what I saw on Fight Quest. This guy is crazy.”

And you know he had these small women that I’ve seen do the Krav Maga. He’d get them in there and get a big guy and go, “You’d better attack them.” He’d say, “See, it’s not what you think! It’s not what you think. Get up!”

But you’re paying for something: you’re paying to at least be woken up. After that class I remember a few girls were sitting there–a few guys too–[with] tears in their eyes [from] that confrontation.

It can be quite shocking.
I was really impressed with that Krav Maga.

Let’s go back to Pancrase and MMA. The trainers have different approaches?
[In] Pancrase, some trainers. But again, it’s the same thing with MMA. I’ve been to some MMA gyms where it’s a lot of theory, a lot of technical stuff. A lot of technical stuff. And they’ll teach you a particular move or a way of doing things. Then you’ll go to other gyms where they’re just like, you know, bash each other, and you figure out that most of the stuff you learned is rubbish. Just to perfect the spinning back heel kick takes years and years. You’re not going to [use] it.

At some gyms, I’ve noticed they do a lot of theory and at other gyms, I’ve noticed they do a lot of physical application of the theory. I think we’re one of those gyms that does a lot of physical application of the theory.

I think you have a pretty good balance here. You’ll learn a new move and start using it right away.
You have to. Obviously, there are tiers. With the guys here, especially. They’ve been with me for two or three years; they understand [the] sequencing they have to do and it takes a long time; it’s not quick. It takes a couple of years to develop that sense of when to throw a round-house kick; when to counter with a certain something.

It takes getting it wrong in a fight–in an actual fight. You get it wrong and then you walk out saying, “Yeah, I saw it! I know what you were saying!” And I know, going into the fight, their weakness–especially for my fighters. I’ve had fighters go into a fight and I’ve seen their weaknesses and I go, “Hopefully, this guy isn’t going to exploit that.” And they go to exploit that and I’m sitting there and I’ll laugh in the corner; there’s nothing else I can do: it has to click.

I remembered Andy saying you don’t really have roots in MMA here so whatever comes is from different cultures.
A hundred percent. And with MMA, if you take Brazil out of it, there are not a whole lot of grassroots. It’s just a new thing; it’s just been happening over the course of the last fifteen years with the UFC. Then gyms started to teach MMA specifically and that started to flourish. For young fighters, they could become good at something. But in reality, there’s not a lot of background in it. You’ll do one sport and then you’ll do a bit of another sport and before you know it you’ve combined them.

I suppose any MMA gym would use different influences. It’s not just the standard boxing, Muay Thai, MMA, but it might be judo or jiu-jitsu?
A hundred percent! You know, to date I’ve had probably about a hundred black belts come to the gym and train with us. Whenever I ask them, “Have you done any martial arts?” they’ll say “I did Kyokushin (Karate).” and I’ll say: “You must be a black belt?” “Ah, yeah, but it’s not fighting.” Yeah, it is! Not all that they do is going to be effective but there’s going to be stuff that they do that is amazing.

Or with Taekwondo?
A hundred percent! With Taekwondo, even with Kung Fu. I’ve noticed that Kung Fu guys punch really hard when you teach them how to throw a right cross; their hands are like rocks. Just a slight modification and you get an amazing result. So, yes, there are a lot of backgrounds that come into martial arts.

Do you have wushu here?
Yeah, we do. If you can think of a sport, we’ve got it. In Sydney, the martial arts community that’s not MMA is huge: Karate, Kung Fu, it’s huge. Almost every kid has done some sort of martial arts. I think parents recognize–in Australia in particular–the need for their child to do martial arts, to build their self-esteem and to build confidence. They just shy away from the combat side of it [and stick to] the more traditional stuff.

For example, a mother would come in–this isn’t a mother’s type of gym–[and say] “I’ve got a son who wants to do boxing; I don’t want him to get beat up.” It’s like taking your son rock climbing and then saying to the instructor, “I don’t want him climbing Everest.” There are a lot of steps to get to that point.

The idea then, for a lot of mothers, is to put their children in a traditional martial arts [school] where they’re very uniform, rather than a gym like this which is obviously very confronting for a lot of people.

Not that it isn’t a respectful environment.
No, not at all. But it’s a perception. Anybody that watches boxing [has it]–I don’t single out mothers; it’s just that I’ve found it with mothers predominantly, but there are fathers out there who don’t like it at all.

What compelled you to open this gym?
(Laughs) I ask myself every day. You know what, when I was younger I was OK at boxing and there was an opportunity for me but I realized how little I knew in terms of martial arts. We didn’t have YouTube; the internet was just a fledgling thing so for a young [person] who wanted to be a boxer, you had to find the right coach and that was, in itself, an absolutely painful experience.

And then on top of that, I think WBA or WBC or PBA, any organization would issue you a book that you had to actually pay for; I don’t know what it was, 1500 per year. Promoters would have these books and match up certain fighters. [They] would be printed once a year. It was just such a long, drawn-out process.

I remember when I was 19 I thought, “You know what, I can’t ask my coaches anything.” Either they don’t know or they don’t want to talk about it or they don’t want to tell you. My thought process was, perhaps maybe they don’t know enough so they don’t want to discuss it. [They had] limited access too. But I figured what I see and what they tell me are two different things.

[I thought] I would like to have a gym one day where the actual students can ask anything and if they want to achieve the highest level of the sport. I want, at least, to be able to facilitate the ability for them to be able to go to that level. I didn’t have the skill, but if a kid comes along [that’s what I want to be able to do].

“I do not foster an environment where the ego takes over. A fighter had to walk through the gym doors at some stage as a fresh-faced beginner. Somebody took the time and the care to show him things–spent time with him even though they didn’t think they were going be anything special. I think that’s something they’ve got to pay forward.”

And I love doing this; I love martial arts; I just love it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

When you set up fights, who is your main competition?

If you ask any promoter, you will get the same thing: 99 percent of the time, I do not pick and choose our opponents. Honestly, I’ll put my guys in the ring with anyone; sometimes we lose, sometimes we win. That’s just normal; it doesn’t bother me when we lose just like I’m not overly celebrating when we win.

It’s nice to get a victory, but in reality, at the end of the day, it’s not my win or my loss; it’s the fighter’s. So I can’t claim their victories and then blame them when they lose. And it happens a lot; you’d be surprised how often that happens.

But at the end of the day, that part of it is pretty much for fun?
Well, it depends. People take it very seriously. Like there’s an ego element to it.

But not too many careers being made or broken?
Not for the fighters but for the coaches.

I don’t know what it is. I mean you think about it, right, we’re in a sporting country that does have a huge boxing background in terms of [our] history. If you look it up, Australia and boxing, you’ll see it. We have never won a gold, silver, or bronze in the world games. Which tells you that there’s something wrong with our boxing program at an amateur level.

We’re world champs in rugby union, cricket. There are nations that are much bigger than we are, yet we’re one of the superpowers. At some point, a kid will come through and should be good enough to be a world champ but they seem to rob the kids.

I’ve met a lot of the people that are responsible for boxing and there’s a huge war going on right now between the official ones and the new system that’s sort of set up and I’ve found that the ego that’s involved is just, it’s breathtaking.

And that’s on the coaches’ part?
The coaches; not the fighters.

Are there a couple of major gyms here that train most of the fighters or lots of little gyms?
Lots of little gyms. There are a few main gyms–Bondi Boxing is one of them. I’d say they would have to be one of the most successful ones. There’s Bodypunch at Lakemba, as a boxing gym they’re also very good. Muay Thai gyms: you’ve got Luis Regis, he’s not far from here and there are a plethora of other gyms.

For MMA, there’s really only Australian Top Team, Perosh, and a few others that are quite good–as far as training competitive fighters. For every amateur fighter that you coach, you’re looking at ten, fifteen, before you get one professional. So a lot of it is just people having a go, doing a sport that they love or trying to test themselves and compete.

“The most damage you can achieve in  a grappling sense is picking somebody up and slamming them. That’s more than a kick, more than a knee, more than a punch: more than anything else.”

Over the years, what sort of people have been coming here to train and what tends to be the greatest motivation to learn a fight sport?

I ask myself [that] a lot. Sometimes they come just to get fit or because they watch boxing or they don’t like going to a [regular] gym, or they just want to try something different. The ones who do want to compete–and I have a lot–I don’t know what it is. Why do you do it?

(Now I’m nervous because I’ve been put on the spot) Haha. Uh, lots of reasons?
You know what I mean? I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s just inside human nature: no matter how civilized we get, there’s always that animalistic urge to at least explore our aggressive side.

It’s a curiosity: what would it be like to actually do it.
Yeah, to go in there and fight and get punched in the face for real. You know what I mean? It’s a real feeling when you’re fighting. People are watching; you see different faces in the crowd and there is a–I don’t know how to explain it–there’s a very primitive feel to it when you’re in there and you’re fighting and I can see how a lot of fighters fall in love with that concept. Even when they lose, they don’t mind.

I think MMA, unlike boxing–well Muay Thai was actually the original one–there’s no disrespect if you lose. Your career is not ruined; if anything, it means that you fought someone. Now you’ve got a loss on your record: that means you fought somebody good; that’s taught you a lesson. Boxing is a bit different: as soon as you lose all of a sudden you’re no good; it’s absurd. Boxing has never been like that. Maybe it’s a Mayweather era; I don’t know.

Even Mayweather: there’s been one particular fight where he definitely lost; there’s no doubt about it. I mean, he came back and he beat the guy pretty badly. But Castillo, in that first match, he definitely beat him. You could see it in Mayweather’s face: he was running; he barely landed any punches; he got beaten up pretty bad. Bob Arum was the promoter and they gave it to [Mayweather]. I remember thinking, “My god, that’s pretty bad.” but then he rematched Castillo and he beat him real good.

I guess it’s also that boxing is a money game?
A hundred percent: the oldest combat one. There’s money in so it matters.

Most gyms I’ve been to have separate classes for advanced fighters and casual practitioners. This is the only place I’ve been where you can walk in as a beginner and train and spar regularly with serious fighters. Why is that?

Because I do not foster an environment where the ego takes over. I know people say “no egos” but it’s bullshit most of the time: “I’m a fighter; why do I have to put up with beginners? Why do I have to teach a beginner something?” That is an ego already. The thought process: “I am a fighter thus I can’t be bothered” is an absolute ego trip, automatically.

The idea is, a fighter had to walk through the gym doors at some stage as a fresh-faced beginner. Somebody took the time and the care to show him things–spent time with him even though they didn’t think they were going be anything special. I think that’s something they’ve got to pay forward. I think that’s the most important thing, that a fighter should pay that forward. And if they have an issue with it, they can go somewhere else. I don’t need that.

It’s one of the things I like about training here.
And another thing: you get a beginner and they start a class and they’re moving around with a fighter; “Oh my god, you’re really good!” and the fighter goes “Yeah, you better keep your hands up!” and this and that and you go “Yeah, I’d better listen!” and before you know it, six months down the track, nobody can tell it’s only been months.

It’s interesting when you’re sparring: you’ll go with someone new and you’ll think yeah, I’m pretty good and then you’ll go with someone who makes you feel like an absolute beginner.
I’ve also found when people rehash what they’ve learned by teaching somebody new it reinforces in their own head. If they say, “You’ve got to keep your hand up when you jab!” they’re thinking “Why am I not doing that?”

“It starts standing up; it starts at striking range. Striking has to occur; you cannot be afraid of the striking.”

And you have to remember what you’ve learned in case you need to explain it to somebody else.

It’s going to sound funny but I find that for coaches who have a very high ego, the fountain of knowledge for their sport resides in them: all the answers come from them.

Everybody coaches a little bit differently here and I’m fine with that because sometimes they might be wrong in what they say, but that’s their interpretation; I’m alright with it. As long as it’s effective for them, it might be effective for the next person. I can’t have that mindset where everything that I do is right and everything that everybody else does is wrong.

It does get confusing if you go to different gyms that have different trainers and one person will say “Absolutely, this is the way to do it” while another says “Absolutely, that is the way to do it.”
I know, it’s so confusing!

You know, Andy would come here and teach a Muay Thai kick after he came back from Thailand. It was very rigid and upright. And doing the practice with some people, [say you’re] coming back with a left hook, [and a student says], “Yeah but Andy showed me how to do a kick like this or do a switch kick like that.” Yeah, OK, that’s not wrong, but I don’t want you to do a kick like that for this class.

The way the Thais throw a kick is not wrong but there are different kicks; there are different ways of kicking. I’m not flexible at all; I can kick you in the head, no problem, but if I try to do it Thai style, I can barely get passed your hip.

So it’s about finding what works for you?
Exactly right; that’s the most important point. I would prefer that people …my philosophy is defense first. And then offensively, Jesus Christ. Basically, I’m a teacher here teaching people how to be artists. So I show them the canvas, I explain the colors and I say these are the sort of rules how you mix the colors and then there you go, do your thing. Once they’ve reached that next level, you see it in them; the things they do are just magic.

Watching Ty (“the Trigger” Telford), he’s one of the only guys I’ve ever turned pro, watching Ty do what he does in the ring, it’s like watching… And everyone says “Good job, Uro!” I can tell him anything, I can say whatever I want to, “you should’ve done this.” It’s not me that’s doing it, it’s him. He’s absorbed his lessons well and now, just, boom! It’s amazing. Watching him, [he’s] flawlessly defensive and offensive; it’s just amazing.

Even Eden, who is now fighting again: hopefully, it all clicks in but if it doesn’t that’s fine. We’ll go again and again. (Eden Fordham is fighting on July 8 in Hurstville; check it out!)

But if it clicks in, I know I’ll just love watching it. She’ll come to the corner and I’ll [say] “Hey, that was great! Just throw the jab, alright! Anyway, see ya!” That’s what I’d love to do. Not “Oh, you’ve gotta do it this way; she’s coming at you, sprawl here, do that.”

A lot of the coaches that do that. It’s fine, I don’t criticize them–that’s their mentality–but I prefer to be calm in the corner. I prefer to talk to my fighter; to be a skill set and not an emotional thing.

I’ve had to get worked up over certain fighters. I’ve had to yell at them and get angry but it’s usually when I haven’t worked with them closely enough. So [with fighters like Ty and Eden] I’m not worried.

I have sent a few guys to other gyms. I’ve said, “I don’t want to coach you anymore. Good luck to you.” They’ve won titles, they’ve done things as professionals–one guy signed up with the UFC but he didn’t want to go do it. It’s just not on me to coach them anymore; I realize we didn’t have that bond.

“Have we really won? Sure, we won because you managed to pull it off but it was her aggression that caused you to win, not your skill set.”

I’ve heard you say that you’d rather someone lose a fight than win by submission. When you train a fighter, why do you so strongly emphasize winning by knockout?

When I do grappling here, we do a lot of standing stuff because it starts standing up.

There’s no analogy you can use. Some people go, “What if it was a fight and I could kill you.” And I’m like, “Yeah, but if I pick you up and I suplex you on the head, on cement, you’re dead.” That’s the end of it. The reason you can suplex somebody on the mat and they survive is because it’s soft.

In a grappling sense, if you know your submissions, you win, but you’ve got to get to that point. You have to get on the ground; you have to get in that situation; you have to work for that. The mats are designed to be soft so you don’t break your spine but the hardest thing you can do in a grappling sense is picking somebody up and slamming them. That’s literally the most damage you can achieve. That’s more than a kick, more than a knee, more than a punch, more than anything else.

If you look at it from that point of view, what’s the most important thing in grappling? It is the standup phase. The standup phase of grappling is making sure you can work pummeling; sprawl; get a single leg, look for a takedown; control the top position. Not scramble on your back, hoping [for the best]. I’m just talking strategy: if you take me down and you’re on top of me, I have to start working for an armbar. You have to make a mistake for me to catch you in that armbar.

Now there are systems being used that force you to make that mistake. So I can learn how to do mission control with Kempo and Jiu-Jitsu; then I start to work that arm and trap that shoulder. There are systems out there that work like that; but why be in that positions in the first place?

There’s no better explanation than this: You get a freestyle wrestler walking in here. A world champion freestyle wrestler goes to a no-gi grappling tournament, picks a dude up, slams him on his head, walks away. He’s won. So your grappling doesn’t work if that’s the issue.

So you emphasize being in the dominant position where you’re getting the takedown and you’re on top?
Always. Now [let’s say] you get into a situation where you’re doing an MMA bout and I’m like, “Oh, you’re great at submissions, Flo. You’re amazing at submissions, right. So when you get in there, work, and then go for a takedown.” So you’re like, “OK, I’ll go in there.”

She’s really good at striking. You go in there and she starts jabbing you; you try and grab her. She hits you with the right hand; you go “Oh, Jesus, I’ve got to get ahold of her.” You start to get more and more desperate; she’s beating the shit out of you, she drops you. You hit on your back; she’s on top, hitting you. You’re working, working. She’s over-committed to an elbow; you manage to get that elbow; you get the arms, legs over, all of a sudden you’ve got an armbar: “Oh my god, I’ve won!”

Have we really won? Sure, we won because you managed to pull it off but it was her aggression that caused you to win, not your skill set.

“With boxing, after six months of training steadily, I let my guys go into a fight. Even if they’re not ready,”

Yeah, I get it. You’re just surviving.
Surviving and hoping that at some point she’s going to make a mistake.

Now there are guys that are taking it to the highest level in the UFC and they’re amazing. But then they go up against an average or a good wrestler and if they can’t take him down, all their Jiu Jitsu, all their game, everything they’ve spent ten, fifteen years developing, is gone. And it comes back to the striking; it always comes back to the striking.

So I want a mentality in this gym that is striking based. I’m gonna stand there; I’m gonna trade. That doesn’t mean that we can’t go for the takedown–we drill takedowns, we drill groundwork; we’ve got BJJ here. This is all important; I’m not saying that it’s not but when you are talking strategy and the anatomy of a fight, it starts standing up; it starts at striking range.

Striking has to occur; you cannot be afraid of the striking. So if I drill it into people’s heads over here that they have to be excellent strikers then that’s step one to our advantage, automatically. It’s the same thing on the ground: first, we get up, we try and sweep; then the submission.

How long would you say it takes, on average, to get a beginner ready for their first bout and how does it differ from boxing to Muay Thai and MMA?

It’s hard. I had one guy: he went with us for nine months before he got his first fight. He got his first two wins by knockout against guys from great gyms–guys who were more experienced than him and very good. He got two knockouts very quickly.

Other people have been doing it for five years and they’re still not ready. On average, I’d say about two years: consistently training for two years, at least three times a week. But you know we’ve got back-to-back classes here so it’s not like you do one and piss off; you can do all of them. So you can do three, three times a week, a couple of sessions each time and you should be alright.

It depends on what [you’re doing]. Boxing fights: very easy. I’m not taking anything away from boxing. Actually, boxing is the hardest sport to coach but very easy on your body; very easy physically. Then it goes kickboxing, very tough on your body; Muay Thai is very tough and then MMA is the most brutal of all. But I do notice that Muay Thai fighters or kickboxers tend to get more brutalized than any other ones so, with kickboxing, it takes a bit longer than it does with boxing.

“We’ve got a rivalry but one thing I love is that all the coaching staff and all the gyms are one big family. “

With boxing, after six months of training steadily, I let my guys go into a fight. Even if they’re not ready, it doesn’t matter. If they know their defense I know I can put them in and not worry.

Because you can’t do that much damage? And the amateur fights they’ll use the headgear as well?
Yeah, all amateur fights–unless they’re MMA. But boxing, kickboxing, and Muay Thai, are all with headgear. In wrestling, obviously, there’s no headgear.

So I’d say about two years, on average. And then there’s the rest of your life.

Out of all the pros that have come through here, most of them quit. They stayed with me for two or three weeks and then they quit altogether. There is a high demand [as far as] what I expect. I figure, if a person is ready to turn professional, they should be ready to mix in with the best in the world. [That’s why] I turned Ty pro.

And if they’re falling short, we’re just kidding ourselves. People go, “They’ll develop in time.” Of course, they will; I’m not saying that they [have to be] mentally ready to fight the best in the world; I’m saying that they should be, physically and skill-wise at least, ready to take on the best in the world. Mentality can be built over time, that’s fine. That’s how I feel; I turn somebody pro, that’s how I would do it.

You have a pretty high standard, then?
Yeah, it’s funny that you should say that but I never thought of it that way until I spoke to Ty about it. And I was thinking, of all the [fighters] I’ve coached, how many have actually turned pro? Only one. I’ve only ended up turning one person pro and that’s Ty.

Eden is going for pro?
Amateur. She’s going to have to get a license. This is one fight that has to go well for us in terms of, I’ve got to see where she’s at. She’s such a lightweight fighter; there aren’t many girls (in that weight class) in the world so we might have to turn her pro for her next one.

I want her physically ready and mentally ready, which she is. But whether she switches on or not, that’s up to her. Skill-wise, I love watching her sparring here with James and the other fighters; I mean it looks amazing. I’m ecstatic just watching.

What’s one thing you love and one thing you hate about competitive fighting in Sydney?

One thing I love is that in most cases–take boxing out of it but for the rest–we’re one big family. All the coaching staff and all the gyms, we’ve got a rivalry but we’re all [in it together].

There are not enough students to go around [because] we’ve got so many different sports. And I think anybody who’s coaching in Sydney–whether that’s martial arts, fighting, or any sport–is doing it for the love of it. We’re doing it for the passion; I think I like that part of it.

There are very few people like myself who can actually make a fulltime living out of it.

The part that I don’t like–same issue: there are not enough people. That’s the positive and negative. If there were more people, there would be more fights; there would be more interest in professional fights.

In Ty’s weight division, there are only 39 registered boxers in New South Wales. That’s not many. To get somebody to fight Ty is almost impossible. These guys keep pulling out; they don’t want to touch him.

With MMA it’s a bit different; MMA fighters will fight anybody but even then I’ve had an issue matching up James with some of the best fighters from other gyms [because they] would say no. Even though he lost one fight, it’s the way he lost. He didn’t lose getting by getting knocked out or anything; he got stopped but it was four rounds of [pure] brutality and he was fine at the end of it.

“We’re doing it for the passion; I think I like that part of it.”

International · Interviews · Philippines · Travel Tips

Things to Know About Couchsurfing

An Interview with my First Host


Sure, I’ve heard the word before and known such a thing existed, but it wasn’t until about a month ago that I took a serious look at it.

Although I no longer have a permanent home in the Philippines, I have been returning to the islands frequently and just last week I was there again before flying to the Netherlands.

With four days in Manila to sort out some business, run errands, and repack, I was looking into budget-friendly hotel and Airbnb options. Hoping to book a place with a reliable internet connection so I could still do my classes and online work, I was disappointed to find that nothing could guarantee that within the location and price range I was after.

On that account, I realized I might have to cancel or reschedule some of my classes and see what I could manage from some of the coffee shops in the area that I know have good connections such as Carpe Diem and Exchange Alley Coffee House.

It was then that Couchsurfing popped into my head: what if I could find a place to stay and make a friend along the way? It would certainly make the stay in Manila a little less lonely since I have, for better or for worse, cut most ties with my old life here.

I signed up on through my Facebook account and seeing a number of my friends were users gave me more faith in the idea. Browsing through a few profiles of potential hosts in Metro Manila, I quickly thought: these are my people.

The surfers I encountered were world travelers and world learners, swapping stories, exchanging languages, and sharing jamming sessions. I got in touch with both locals and foreigners staying in Manila and soon made friends with Rhylie Villoria, a Dutch-speaking Filipina with six (seven if the Amsterdammer who popped in for a visit counts them) rescue dogs and a drum kit living in the exact part of the city I needed to base of during my stay. She offered to host me and my first Couchsurf was made official.

To be honest, I didn’t put much into my profile–other than a few short lines and a link to my blog–nor did I bother making the payment to verify my identity. I simply sent our a number of messages and requests and posted a “public trip” requesting a host, which other surfers can see.

I felt blessed to have found such a wonderful person as Rhylie and after staying with her, she took some time to answer a few of my questions about the Couchsurfing community.

How did you discover Couchsurfing?

My Norwegian brother-in-law mentioned it; that was a year before I started hosting.

How long have you been surfing and how many people have you hosted?

I’ve been on Couchsurfing since March 2015 and I’ve hosted 21 people so far.

Why do you host?

When I started hosting, my intention was so I’d have a diversion or distraction because I’d just gone through a breakup. But after hosting a few people, I realized it was fun and I was learning more about other people’s country and culture so I began hosting as much. Also, it’s my way of paying it forward since I’ve Couchsurfed at some hosts’ places too. Another reason is that I’m raised to be kind to people in need, so whenever I see couch requests, I do my best to help out.

Tell me about your most memorable Couchsurfing experience.

When I was in Genk, Belgium, I got hosted by a middle-aged man whom later became my “uncle Dave”. He gave me shelter for three days during my first visit to Europe–Belgium being the first country. He toured me around and drove me wherever I wanted to go; I saw things and places not a bunch of tourists have seen around Genk. The hosting didn’t end there because whenever I come to Genk, his house remains open to me and he even let me celebrate Christmas with his family when I had no one to celebrate it with while abroad. When you Couchsurf, you can gain lifetime friends.

Do you feel safe Couchsurfing alone?

I feel safe given the circumstances that I take time to get to know my host and listen to my gut feelings. I don’t just choose a host; I talk to them for a while, read their references, and do a little background check on what’s available online. Being careful has a lot to do with feeling safe so I make sure I take precautionary measures as well, but yeah, once I’ve assured trust toward the host, I feel safe.

What should everyone know about Couchsurfing?

Couchsurfing isn’t just a free place to substitute pricey hotel rooms whenever you travel around a new place; it’s a community of people who are willing to help out yet not to have their kindness abused. It is a place where hospitality and kindness are the currencies and exchange rates are dependent on your faith in humanity. There are bad stories alongside the good ones every now and then but there will always be a huge percentage of people who keep upholding the true purpose of this community.



Australia · Interviews

Things to Know About Live Music in Sydney

An Interview with Harrison Bray of Bad Absalom

It’s been a little while coming but I’ve finally found the time to write up the first interview in my series on things to know about Sydney scenes.

Today we’re taking a look at live music–specifically hard rock and heavy metal–with Harrison Bray, a 22-year-old who has been making music for two decades and actively participating in the local music scene since he was old enough to do so.

He now drums for Bad Absalom, a band I have enjoyed seeing multiple times in Sydney during my visits in the past year.

With a calculated sound, energetic stage presence, and magnetic friendliness, Bad Absalom is sure to give you a good time. Feel free to come see them at the Townie on April 18, the Bald Faced Stag on April 20, and follow them on Facebook for updates on gigs near you.


After a sit down with Harrison, I intruded on Bad Absalom’s practice Friday evening at Adversary Studios. Knowing I would be flying out before their next gig, I was happy for the chance to hear some of the bands new songs before then.

Having seen Bad Absalom at multiple venues in the past year, I’ve watched the band find its sound with a solid drummer as the latest addition to a long-standing trio of talented musicians.

Although Arthur May is the frontman, his younger brother and lead guitarist Jeremy takes an equally if not a more active role in pushing the band forward and was the one who convinced Arthur to come in and sing for the band. They continue to manage the band together.

The May brothers of Bad Absalom started playing with a good friend of theirs in Nepal back in 2013 and continued to do so when they moved to Greystanes, Sydney in 2014. It was in Newtown where they met their bassist, Richie Secker a year later.

As soon as he stepped into their house, they knew, says Richie, and the trio has been playing together for three years now.

But it was ghetto, back in Greystanes, they say.

With the May’s nephew as a drummer, the band was complete and played a few shows. However, on the night of their first gig at the Valve, the drummer was kicked out by a bouncer for being underage and their set was scrapped. They did play there again but as a band that was just getting started, the singer says they weren’t what he’d consider quality performances.

Over time, the band went through a number of changes, with a new drummer and second guitarist with whom they performed for a time under the name Mud Angel. However, over the course of the past year both the guitarist and drummer pulled out and the band was back to its three core members.

Enter Harrison, who came on board just eight months ago. As of 2018, the band has now landed its first paid gig, recently recorded an EP, and will soon be playing at one of Sydney’s prime metal venues, the Bald Faced Stag.

Harrison brings more to the band then drumming alone. As somewhat of a jack of all trades in not only music but photography and journalism as well, this Sydney local is an active participant in the city’s metal community and live music scene.

Thus, Mr. Bray appeared just the local to talk to for the lowdown on the music scene.


Tell me about how you got started with music.

I was born into a musical family: my mother lays the piano and sings; my dad was raised with a father who plays guitar and I grew up listening to old music such as big band, swing, and jazz. So, from a young age, I’ve always had music as an influence.

When my older brother started drum lessons, we bought a second-hand drum kit from a garage sale and for a long time, I would just spend hours whacking around on it. I didn’t really know what I was playing or how to do it but I figured it out. Eventually, I started primary school and I started lessons. And I’ve been playing ever since.

Ever since…?

I’ve been playing since I was about two. I’ve had ten years worth of lessons.

Outside of school, what was your first live performance?

I guess what you could technically call my first performance would have been very possibly at Frankie’s for the karaoke, but I’ve done a lot of stuff since then.

As a drummer, I’d say my first proper performance outside of school would have been with my old band, Broken Knuckles. We didn’t survive for very long because our lead guitarist went back to Spain. We played a couple of originals and a few covers but yeah, we were a metal band.

How did you become a member of Bad Absalom and what was your first impression of the band?

There’s a mutual friend that the band has; I know her through Frankie’s–we became very good friends–and about two weeks before her birthday party, which was hosted at Foundry 616, she posted on Facebook asking if she knew anybody who’s a drummer. I contacted her and said yes, I play drums; I have for a long time. What’s up?

She said that there was a band playing at her birthday who’s drummer just pulled out and they needed someone to fill in. I said, yeah I’d love to, put me in contact with them, so she put me in contact with Arthur and I spoke with him for a couple of days. He sent me some demos and then about a week after he sent me another message that said, sorry mate, we’ve actually found a drummer who we’ve played with before who’s gonna do the party. And I said that’s absolutely fair because you want someone who you’ve played with before rather than someone who’s just heard your stuff.

I was going to the party anyway because she’s a friend and I like to party. About two hours before the party I jump out of the shower and I’ve got a few missed calls from her. I call her back and she asks me, can you please bring your guitar and put together a set with my boyfriend because one of the bands we had has completely pulled out.

I went along and met up with the lead singer of Darker Half–a band in Sydney–and we sat down for about 20 minutes and put together a half-hour set. The boys from Bad Absalom were there that night as well. They saw me perform, except it was vocals and guitar. About six months later, I get a message from Jeremy that said hey man, it’s official, we’ve kicked out our drummer; we’d like you to come and join us. And I said absolutely, I’d love to join.

Jeremy said let’s meet up, have a few drinks, and discuss possibilities. I said absolutely, I’m completely down for that. Fast forward a couple of weeks, we met up at The Townie in Newtown–which is where we played our first gig–we had a few drinks, I got to meet the guys, and my first impression was: these are my guys. They’re good musicians, they know what they want, they’ve got a goal set and it’s very very similar to a goal I have. I just had an instant good feeling about it.

And that goal is?

Well, ideally, the goal is, you know, world famous, internationally known, touring the world, playing music, getting paid.

And that’s a goal everyone in the band shares?

Somewhat, yes. Everybody in the band wants to become known; everybody in the band wants us to take off. It’s just, we may all have different levels of notoriety. For example, I want to get signed to a label and tour the world but I don’t know where the other guys sit. I know that if we did get signed to a label, they’d be on board.

You’re a musician. When you started with the band, what did you think both of the individual members and its potential as a whole?

When we had our first practice, I’d say I looked at the boys and thought, yeah, these guys actually know what they’re doing. When I got into the practice with Jeremy and Richie and Arthur, we were talking in technical terms and I realized that these guys actually know their theory and know what they’re doing.

Tell me about recording your first EP.

Well, the EP, it was a lot of fun, We booked out Adversary Studios in St. Peter’s for about eight hours and we spent the day just recording. It was absolutely brilliant. Our engineer was absolutely fantastic and she seemed to really like the music. We’re not completely finished yet; we’ve still got to lay down a few guitar tracks. Actually, Jeremy is going to be doing that today.

The process was drums and bass, guitar, and we did those for three songs, and at the end of the day, we recorded the vocals. Out of everything the vocals took the least time because Arthur knew what he was doing and it’s a lot easier to focus on one person than it would be to focus on a drummer and a bassist or a guitarist with malfunctioning gear.

With the EP, we’re very, very close to releasing it. We haven’t got anything booked yet for the release party but it’s in the works. We do have two gigs coming up. One is on the 18th of April at the Townie, which is a Wednesday night. We’re sort of using that as practice before our actual gig which is on Friday the 20th of April at the Bald Faced Stag in Leichhardt.

That’s a big one for you guys?

Yes, the Bald Faced Stag is one of the best venues to play in Sydney. I guess you’d say it’s the ANZ Stadium of the Sydney scene. If you play the Stag people know who you are. And we’ll be playing with Hibiscus Biscuit and Cold Vulture.

What are some of your favorite live acts in Sydney?

My ultimate favorite band is sadly no longer together. They were called Under Night’s Cover. They were probably one of the biggest bands in the Sydney scene–very well known–and they played their final show last year to a sold-out crowd.

Is that something you aspire to with Bad Absalom, to reach that level of notoriety in Sydney?


There are a lot of other Sydney-based bands as well. For example, there’s Snow Leopard, which is an Iron-Maiden style band. They play originals but they also play Iron Maiden covers. Then there’s Kvltofice, which is very power-metally, and also Carmeria. Funnily enough, all three of those bands have the same bass player. His name is Tory and he is an awesome guy. Then there’s another band I mentioned earlier, which is Darker Half, also I’d say very power-metally.

Although one of my favorite bands to go and see, and I’ve seen them multiple times–actually I’d call them my friends–are not Sydney based but they’re here two or three times a year. They’re called Lagerstein; they’re a band from Brisbane. Basically, the translation of their name would be “beer mug” and they’re a pirate metal band. I first saw them open for Alestorm–an internationally famous pirate metal band–back in 2015 or 2016. Every time they’ve come to Sydney since then, I’ve been because they’re my mates and it’s always just a fantastic show. It’s usually sold out: great crowd and fantastic music.

How did you get into music journalism?

I got into photography because another Sydney band that I have been to see a couple times, Molly and the Krells, had an album launch at Brighton Up Bar on Oxford Street and I got very, very drunk and started taking pictures on my phone at the gig. I was moving around, getting different angles, different types of shots, and I looked at the photos a couple days later and thought, wow, these are actually really good. I showed them to some people and they agreed. That’s when I started looking into photography and realized it was something I could do.

With the writing, it comes down to the twins, with whom I became friends and then learned about their business, Twin Musix. They showed me the website and around this time Alice Cooper came out with his first studio album in a few years. It was called Paranormal. I was very, very excited–being a die-hard Alice Cooper fan–and I asked if I could write an album review for them because I’ve always had these thoughts about albums that I listen to but never had anyone to express them to.

They said yeah we’d love you to help. I wrote the review; they loved it; they posted it online, and they got more and more work. I said to them, if you need some help, you don’t have to do it alone, And they said yes, we’d love some help, so I started working with them doing writing, editing articles and interviews, and I’ve only recently gotten into the photography part of it. The twins are very particular about the type of photos that go on the website. Up until recently, they only trusted themselves–which I understand–but they allowed me to do the Arch Enemy gig because they were in Melbourne at Download and I was here n Sydney.

I was lucky because, had I not gotten a photography pass, I wouldn’t have been able to go to the show because it was sold out. So I got a free ticket to see one of my absolute all-time favorite bands and I got to go in front of the barrier and take photos up close and personal, which was such a rush.

How long have you been involved in the live music scene in Sydney?

Going to shows, I’d have to say since about year ten of high school. Because, being underage at the time, you can’t really go to many local shows. I could go to concerts; my first concert was AC/DC back in year ten.

I’ve been in the scene for a long time, but I’ve been active in the scene for the past few years. I wasn’t really able to get into the scene as much as I wanted to until I turned 18 and once I hit 18 it was like a whole new world opened up to me There were all these venues that were playing local bands and all these events at nightclubs with live music and these 18+ gigs.

In that time, how has music in Sydney been evolving?

I wouldn’t say it has been evolving; I’d say the music scene has stayed the same but thanks to the government and their ingenious lock-out laws I’d say it’s actually been slowly dying. But that being said, there are countless numbers of people trying to keep it alive and they’re doing a very good job. But unfortunately, with the lockout laws forcing business to shut down due to lack of income and lack of patronage more and more live music venues are getting shut down.

I read recently that the Basement is set to shut down. Is that an important venue for local acts?

Yes, the Basement has been one of the key places for big-time local acts to play. It’s like you have different levels. For example, Somebody can go and play the Valve and that’s the first level. Then you get places like Frankie’s and the Bald Faced Stag, that’s the next level. And then you’ve got places like the Basement and Manning Bar and that’s sort of the peak of the Sydney scene.

When I went and photographed Arch Enemy at Manning Bar the two bands that opened for them were Sydney-based. The first one was called Potion; I hadn’t heard them before but I really liked their sound. The second one was actually fronted by somebody I know and they were called We May Fall. They’re very hardcore metal.

Is Manning Bar a metal venue?

No, Manning Bar is a live music venue. They host all kinds of music there. For example, when I’ve been to the Rock ‘n’ Roll fair they’d have rockabilly bands playing. I personally have been there for metal gigs but I know that they’ve played other people there.

And the Basement?

I’d say the Basement was more for bands rather than solo artists. If, say, Ed Sheeran was to come along and Green Day was to come along when they were nobody, Green Day would play the Basement and Ed Sheeran would play something like Foundry 616.

What’s one thing you love and one thing you hate about the live music scene in Sydney?

One thing I love is the community. Everybody knows everybody. I’ll go to a gig as a performer or just as a punter and I’ll know people in the band or I’ll know other people in the audience. Everybody comes out; all your friends and other bands come out to support you and because they’ve come out to support you, you in turn go out and support them. That way you always pull a crowd.

The metal community in Sydney, our bond is, it’s, it’s thicker than blood. We care about each other, we look out for each other. We contact a band and say, hey we’ve got a gig coming up. Would you like to be on the bill with us because you haven’t played a gig in a while and we know you want to. Or, hey we’ve got this gig coming up and there’s gonna be these types of people here; we know that you play that kind of music and we’d love to have you.

Is it a small or closed community?

It is not small; I guarantee you it is not small. It is a massive community and it’s definitely not closed. The Sydney community, especially the metal community, is very welcoming. I’ve gone to big concerts like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, stuff like that. I’ll be waiting in line for hours on a day and I’ll be making friends with people in line; people I’ve never met before in my life. I just start talking with them about metal; I start talking to them about bands we like, bands we’ve seen, even people we’ve met. And then fast forward six months, we’re friends, seeing each other every now and then, they’re coming to my gigs, I’m going to their gigs, and it’s just so open and welcoming.

I’d say, anyone who wants to check out the metal scene in Sydney but is afraid to, doesn’t need to be because they’re just such nice people. Yes, unfortunately, every scene has one or two dickheads (Just one of two?) but the majority of the people in the scene are incredibly nice.

I can’t even think of anything I hate too much about the Sydney metal scene apart from, obviously, venues closing down. I guess that would be it to me: the venues closing down; the lack of venues. If we were to travel back in time to the 80s, or even to the 70s, every night you could pay five bucks and go and see some of the greatest bands playing in any club–local bands, and sometimes these local bands went on to make it big.

Back then you could pay five bucks and get in for a whole night and see about ten different bands playing. Nowadays you’re lucky to get more than two or three venues playing shows in one weekend. Yes, there are a lot of live venues but a lot of the times these venues won’t go out and book people. The band has to turn around and book it themselves; they would contact the venues rather than the venues contacting them. How would I put it? Back in the day, you would have had multiple bands playing, whereas nowadays there would be two or three bands paying just for one night.

Wow. I’ve never been to a gig in Sydney with more than four acts; usually there are just three.

No, same here. I’d say the most I’ve been to would have to be a four-band act. And there’s just so much potential for so much more to be done. There’s always potential for more music to be played and more people to get involved but there’s no space. There’s no venue because they’re all shutting down.

What was the last Sydney band to make it big internationally?

Off the top of my head, I don’t actually really know. I do know that there are a lot of bands from around Australia that have made it big. For example, Airborne. They’re a Melbourne-based band. I’ve got a poster in my room that’s signed by the band from 2006 and it’s their Aussie pub rock tour. I got that off my old lead singer who must’ve been at the show and it would’ve just been a pub show, but then I got to see Airborne play the Metro a couple years ago. And I’ve seen footage of them playing some of the biggest festivals in the world such as Wacken Open Air, Download in England, all kinds of stuff. They are internationally known.

There’s another band I mentioned before, Lagerstein. Last year they were on tour in Europe. It was a completely self-promoted, self-funded tour but they now have an international following. Lagerstein is from Brisbane.

Do you think Sydney is missing out because the music scene isn’t giving bands that potential?

Not necessarily. It’s more of a case of, Sydney is a very expensive place to live and the bands that are living in Brisbane and Melbourne, they’ve got more venues there to play; those places have got a nightlife.

Were they not affected by the lock-out laws?

No, the lock-out laws were Sydney-specific; New South Wales only. If you go to Melbourne, you can leave a bar at 1:30 AM and go into a number of bars and there is a nightlife there and they have bands playing there. But no, I don’t think that Sydney is missing out. I just think that because I’m based in Sydney I don’t see these bands touring.

Actually, no. I’m wrong: Darker Half. They are from Sydney and they did a tour in Europe a few months back; I think they’re going over again real soon. But yes, other than Darker Half I really can’t think of any international Sydney bands, apart from of course ACDC.

Where do you go to catch the best live performances in Sydney? Are they venues you can walk into on the weekend knowing you’ll catch a live band?

Yes, there are venues like that; for example, Frankie’s, who are very public in their promotion of live music. It’s a free entry venue, which in Sydney is pretty amazing. Frankie’s doesn’t have live music every night but I’d say they have it three or four nights out of the week. Then there’s the Townie (which is also free entry) but they only have it maybe two or three nights out of the week.

Of course, there’s the Bald Faced Stag but that’s not necessarily free entry. Sometimes bands will be playing there for free; other times it’s a ticketed event. But there’s always usually live music on there at least once or twice a week.

How about your upcoming show there?

It’s a free entry gig but we’re not playing the stage; we’re playing the main floor. I think it’s something that’s only come out recently. They did a massive renovation of the Bald Faced Stag not long ago. They completely got rid of the Pokies Room and expanded the Live Music Room–a big empty room with a stage–and that’s usually where they have the big acts play.

I recently saw a friend of mine, he’s in a band called ThunderDome, play at the Stag a few weeks back and they played in the main area, right next to the bar. It’s kind of convenient actually, and similar to the Townie. Except, the Townie has a stage; the main area of the Stag does not. You’re right on the ground, up close and personal with the fans.

How do you find what’s going on online?

Obviously, these venues have their websites, which would have a list of events coming up, but Facebook is your best bet. There are a lot of pages (check out Sydney Metal Gig Guide and Anything Music Sydney) for the music scene in Sydney. You could even go to “Events near me” and have a look who’s playing.

Would you say every live gig is going to have a corresponding event on Facebook?

Yes. If you’ve got a live event and you’re not advertising it on Facebook, you’re not really advertising

Alright, let’s wrap this up. Anything else to say?

Come and check out Bad Absalom play at the Stag on April 20. We’re also playing the Townie on April 18. It’s my birthday on April 19 so the Stag gig is going to be a really big party. Come down, have a few drinks, see some great music, and let’s just have a great time.