The Martial Arts Mind Podcast

The podcast companion to the Martial Arts Mind blog.
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Oct 11, 2019

"If you look at a beautiful technique, you can see it's congruent. And if you look at a beautiful human being, you can see that they're congruent - what they think, what they say and what they do is all in line."

On the Martial Arts Mind podcast, we often find ourselves discussing the synergy between student and teacher - how these two roles intertwine in the classroom, how they power the engine of growth and discovery, and how they're frequently two sides of the same coin.

Nowhere is this more true than with our guest this week. Sensei Gabriel Van Rel has been practicing Aikido, Judo and Tae Kwon Do since the age of seven. Throughout the 1990s and 2000s, his focus on Shotokan karate took him to the North American Cup and the Gichin Funakoshi World Shotokan Karate Championships, and saw him as the youngest member of five-man team that won the US National Championships.

As a full-time instructor with his own dojo, he joins us from London, England to explore his own practice: what it means to train whole-heartedly; how he sees his own path and his place in his students' lives; and the meaning and manifestation of mastery on and off the mat. In the process, we delve into what it means to be a full-time practitioner, how our teachers shape our training and our lives, and what it means to find meaning on the mats.

We hope you enjoy our discussion with Sensei Van Rel. For us, it's meaningful, insightful and full of the promise of where serious, sustainable martial arts can lead.


Jul 10, 2019

“Those who dare to teach and lead should never cease to learn.”


Buzz Durkin is a 10th degree black belt in Okinawan Uechi-ryu Karate. For more than four decades he has led one of the most successful traditional martial arts schools in North America. A member of the World Martial Arts Hall of Fame, he has graduated hundreds and hundreds of students to the rank of black belt and beyond. He’s known around the world for the longevity of his students’ practice; on any given day in his dojo, you might find 3 generations of a family - a grandfather, a father and a son - all training in different classes.

But more than any of that, he is still a student of the martial arts - a dedicated proponent of the karate style he began studying over 50 years ago. His deep belief in the power of hard physical training, coupled with the emotional control and mental discipline that are hallmarks of serious martial arts practice, mark him as a true leader and role model. His ability to relate to people and his understanding of human nature are well-known in the martial arts world, and he’s quick to point out that they are at least as important as any physical abilities he may have developed over the years.

In this episode, we discuss his work over the last 50 years: from early martial arts experience in the 1960s, to his tour of duty in Vietnam; the growth of his own karate school and the capability of a good teacher; the beauty and relevance of traditional martial arts; the importance of positive community; not burning out, staying engaged and enjoying the practice.

It is our most sincere honor to be able to spend time in conversation with him. We hope you enjoy it. 


More about Buzz Durkin at

Learn about Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at

Check out the Martial Arts Mind Blog at


Apr 9, 2019

With the rise in popularity of MMA and jiu-jitsu over the recent years, many of the more traditional approaches to martial arts have fallen out of favor. Seen as artifacts of a different time, styles like kung fu and karate are sometimes given short shrift as “impractical”, “out of date” or “ineffective”.


Thomas Clifford - our guest today - challenges this notion. A lifelong practitioner and martial arts leader, his decades of experience training and teaching span both traditional and modern disciplines. He believes that practices from kaju kempo to the five animal frolics provide a deeper and more enduring value than they’re sometimes given credit for.


With their capacity to benefit participants on a physical, mental and emotional spectrum, they have become more than devices for self-defense or tournament wins - they provide serious insights, rare opportunities for self-development and invaluable lessons for inner growth.


But more than that, he argues that these practices develop skills and attributes we need in the world at large: responsibility, sustainability, accountability and maturity. We can learn flexibility of thought from the Chinese healing arts; an appreciation for our own shortcomings as we study our instructors and peers;  and the importance of perseverance as we learn to lead and follow in the classroom.


Critic, thinker, provacateur, student, teacher - Tom Clifford is all of this and more.  As a teacher straddling the classical and the contemporary (kung fu, kaju kempo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu), he challenges the conventional thinking around the division between what is “modern” and what is “traditional”.  And he raises the possibility that the embedded wisdom in many of these older styles might contain the key not just to survival, but to larger-scale success.


This is an important conversation for all modern martial arts practitioners. We found it insightful, illuminating and engaging. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as we did.




In this episode, we discuss Tom Bisio’s book, “A Tooth from the Tiger’s Mouth”. You can find a link to it here.


If you’re interested in the MAM/BBJJ “Chop Wood Carry Water” t-shirt we mentioned on one of our other episodes, you can find it here through DojoPrints.


For more about Tom Clifford’s dojo in Pearl River, NY, you can head here.


And the Martial Arts Mind blog is alive and well. More episodes, essays and articles are here.



Mar 8, 2019

Garry St. Leger’s (@gstleger) accomplishments are too long to list, but among them: he is a decorated judo black belt whose rank as #1 in the country led him to the Olympic team in 2008, and onto the US World Team in 2010. He is a jiu-jitsu black belt under Renzo Gracie and John Danaher, and serves as a coach and trainer to some of MMA’s most quickly-rising stars. He is sincere, serious, focused and, above all, committed to sharing the values of long-term martial arts practice with others.

This is a conversation about Garry’s extraordinary journey as a lifelong martial artist. It’s about his practice, from childhood training in Brooklyn with his twin brother under Olympian Parnel Legros, on to the US Nationals and then the Olympic team, and up through his present life as a coach, instructor and teacher. It’s about how he manages his own training, how judo has impacted him, and what he wants to impart to his students. It’s about the moments when he thought he was finished - done with the martial arts - and the powerful experiences which brought him back.

But most of all, this is a conversation about giving. It’s about the mindset and practices that led Garry to the highest levels of international judo and which continue to inform his life on and off the mat. His dedication to the art, to his family and to his students is unmistakable and inspiring.

We are both honored to have Garry as a teacher, partner and friend, and it was a supreme pleasure to have him as our guest on this podcast. We enjoyed this exchange immensely - hopefully you do as well.

You can find Garry St. Leger on Instagram (@gstleger) and on Facebook (@gstleger). Contact him for details on private lessons and seminars. 

Jan 10, 2019

Anthony “Q-Unique” Quiles is the perfect guest to start off the podcast for 2019. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he’s a member of New York’s legendary breakdancing group the Rock Steady Crew and co-founder of the iconic underground hip-hop group the Arsonists. He’s traveled the world as frontman for his own rock groups StillWell (with members of Korn and P.O.D) and now King’s Bounty. And - no surprise for MAM listeners - he’s a lifelong martial artist.

From his hardscrabble background in south Brooklyn to hanging with hip-hop legends to appearing on stage across the globe, Q's is a true New York story. He takes us on a journey through his early days kickboxing with Brooklyn icons Louis Neglia and Jerry Fontanez; how martial arts values influenced his life as an artist; the lessons he learned as a martial arts parent, shepherding his own son through to black belt; returning to training in his 40s (and having to spar with Shihan Dunn); reflections on his life and relationships in the music industry; and his ongoing commitment to improvement, progress and black belt as a student of Jiu-Jitsu.

Funny, deep, charismatic and memorable, this episode explores what it means to be an artist, a parent, a practitioner and a citizen of the world with someone whose creative vision is sharpened by his martial arts training.

Q showcases the best part of a martial arts life. We sincerely hope you enjoy the conversation.

Learn more about Q-Unique's most recent projects:

Visit the Martial Arts Mind blog:

Check out our podcast home at Brooklyn Podcasting Studio:

More about Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:

Nov 27, 2018

When we find ourselves in a place of great physical and emotional weakness, with our backs against the wall, can our training actually revive us? Our guests this week argue that it can…and it has.

This episode delves deeply into a personal story of addiction and recovery, and how the process we all undergo as Jiu-Jitsu practitioners can rekindle our ability to connect with one another, to learn more about ourselves and to push through even our darkest challenges.

Rosanna Scimeca has been a Jiu-Jitsu practitioner for over 20 years, and in this episode she shares with Shihan Gene Dunn and guest Jessica Stone how Jiu-Jitsu training grew into an “almost spiritual practice” to support her recovery and transition away from drugs and into a healthier lifestyle.

We also zero in on some of the challenges women face in Jiu-Jitsu; the need to directly contend with our physical shortcomings in the training; the perceptual difference between Jiu-Jitsu sparring and striking, and many more topics.

One of the more intimate and layered conversations we’ve had in recent memory, we left this exchange better for having had it, thinking more deeply about our own relationship with training, and how the martial arts holds a promise for each of us.

Our hope is that it does the same for you.


Jul 27, 2018

When we run self-defense classes at our schools, they’re not just about “survival strategies”. They’re about success. And the best expression of that is when people are empowered enough to proactively take control of their safety. Of course it’s important to know tactics and techniques. But in many cases, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

That’s where our guest today comes in. Shihan Michelle Gay is a 5th Degree black belt, 6-Time Women’s full-contact knock-down Karate champion and a Certified Laban Movement Analyst. She has her own dojo - Ken Wa Kan - on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, and is the pioneer behind “Safe and Sound”, a self-defense seminar series like no others.

"Safe and Sound" is a completely different take on self-defense. It’s about preventing dangerous situations from happening before they get started. The focus is on a set of awareness strategies for both men and women, emphasizing the pre-conditions of aggression: what they are, how to identify them and how to avoid them.

Our discussion zeros in on some of the key points of the seminar, with solid takeaways for violence prevention, and on the importance of learning to communicate more effectively whoever (and wherever) you are. There are some real mind-blowers in here.

We sincerely hope you enjoy the exchange.

Check out “Safe and Sound” here:

Jul 6, 2018

Transformation is at the heart of many martial arts “success stories”: practitioners go from bitter to compassionate, from reactive to proactive, from an unhealthy to a balanced lifestyle. Even the origin myths - those legends passed down over decades or even centuries - tell stories of powerful, personal change through martial arts practice.

Today’s podcast is a conversation with two students from our dojos - Tara and Nick - who understand transformation in a deeply personal way. As transgender practitioners, they bring a set of distinct experiences to their training. We talk about some of the obstacles they’ve faced (and overcome), what makes their journeys unique as well as what unites them with all martial arts practitioners. And we talk about the universal appeal of a positive, open, inclusive community of martial artists, and the hope that great training provides.

Yes, it’s a lot to cover. But we’ve been waiting to have this conversation. Honest, intimate and personally meaningful, it’s exactly the dialogue we were hoping it would be.

May 30, 2018

So we're in a bookstore and we come across a kind of weird, modern self-helpy kind of book, and lo and behold it has a bunch of advice about Jiu-Jitsu in it. Not technical advice but guidance and opinions around choosing a place to train, the right philosophy, and on and on. It takes the standard line about finding the right "gym", the gold-medal instructor and many of the other commonly-accepted tropes about doing "serious" Jiu-Jitsu training. And so we're off to the races...

In this episode, we take a look at what's so appealing about the hyper-aggressive vision of Jiu-Jitsu (and modern martial arts) as just another "extreme sport" and what it leaves OUT of the discussion at the end of the day. From choosing training partners, making meaning from your training, creating space for an alternative perception of what it means to be a practitioner - we tackle it all this week. 

May 10, 2018

What’s the relationship between freedom and discipline in the martial arts? How much is too much? And how does your mindset determine your experience in training? In this episode, Gene Dunn and Brian Glick (of Brooklyn BJJ, and 3rd degree Black Belts under John Danaher/Renzo Gracie) look at how constraints operate in the martial arts - why they matter and how they work - and what we as practitioners need to look for (and look out for).

Feb 22, 2018

The Martial Arts Mind is BACK!

In this episode, Brian Glick and Gene Dunn (3rd degree Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts under John Danaher and Renzo Gracie) start with an analysis of one of the Martial Arts Mind’s recent posts, “Walk Faster”. Drawing on personal work with their own teachers, they discuss Sifu Paul Vizzio's contention that many practitioners go far…but not far enough. They delve into the importance of eliminating complaints, why presenting an “upright bearing” matters, and why we all need someone in our life to hold us accountable. 

May 12, 2016

Your overall health and fitness often determines how much physical energy you have and how sharp your mental focus will be. How we feel determines our attitude toward everything we do and our attitude influences our actions, or inactions. It’s a tremendous feeling to be energetic, healthy, fit and focused.

It’s always better when your emotions are more up than down and you also transfer a vibrant and positive energy force to others. When you feel good, you tend to spread that feeling toward others.

But as the saying goes, "You can't out-train bad nutrition"....

Health and fitness don't always go hand in hand, and as martial artists we need to keep tabs on both. But finding a starting place can be challenging without a guide, so in this episode we delve into some personal experiences with figuring out how to eat right. 

From the importance of martial discipline to the blueprint of the "Whole 30", we catch up on some of the successes we've seen and tools we've used to stay on top of eating right. 

Apr 7, 2016

Lately we've been receiving a lot of messages about safety in training, so we've dedicated this podcast to the question of how, when and why to manage a rough training session. Sometimes it's the partner you have...sometimes it's something more. Listen in as Glick and Dunn discuss strategies for handling hard training, and why the myth that "only hard training is real training" just doesn't hold water. 

Apr 4, 2016

Join us for a look back at the landscape of the martial arts beginning in the early 1960s through the eyes (and voice) of a legend. Ranging from such topics as overtraining ("bad training") to surviving childhood to innovations borne of necessity, this interview captures a half-century of martial arts with a true master. 

In the early sixties, Sifu began studying Fu Jow Pai in New York's Chinatown. He went on to earn the rank of Sai Chuon (Fourth Degree Blackbelt), the highest rank the Grandmaster has ever awarded a student. He also studied with, and later taught kickboxing for, Shotokan Karate Master Toyotaro Miyazaki. He is best known for holding World Champion titles over a 23-year period from 11 professional kickboxing organizations in 4 different weight divisions: Featherweight, Super Featherweight, Lightweight, and Super Lightweight.


Nov 30, 2015

What's it take to become a great instructor?

Does a winning tournament record pave the way for a successful teaching career?

And what's the task for the student when it comes to relating to the instructor?

We welcome Jamie Crowder back to the show, and continue to explore the process of growing into the roles of teacher and student in the martial arts classroom. 

Nov 3, 2015


Leaving behind our preconceptions is one of the hardest things to do when we begin training, but it's also one of the most essential.

It often seems that the tighter we cling to how things are "supposed" to go in the dojo, the more frustrated we feel.

A starting point for the new student is to trust the classroom - and in order for that to happen, the instructor must create a trustworthy environment and culture. 

But it's not always as easy as it seems...

We talk about this and more with Kyoshi Matthew Fremon - a 5th-degree black belt instructor and 25-year student of Ken Shi Kai (a branch of Kyokoshin karate), and a brown belt pursuing his black belt at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Oct 4, 2015

Many of our Martial Arts Mind conversations touch on the essential topic of the relationship between the student and the teacher, since it's one of the things that really defines a great martial arts experience. 

But when it comes to choosing a model during the early stages of practice, there is another relationship that comes to the fore: the complex interplay between the master and the monster. 

The raging, me-victorious "monster" can triumph in the short-term but is it enough to see real success over a long arc of training? And what are the sacrifices for the student who chooses the path of the calmer, inconspicuous "master"? 

We discuss these and more with Kyoshi Matthew Fremon - a 5th-degree black belt instructor and 25-year student of Ken Shi Kai (a branch of Kyokoshin karate), and a brown belt pursuing his black belt at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

Sep 17, 2015

One of the oft-repeated maxims in the martial arts is "emptying the cup" - if a new student can't put aside their pre-existing concepts, there will be no room for something new to think about.

This idea provides the entry-point for our conversation this week, with some gems from our guest - Master Thai Boxing Instructor Jamie Crowder -  about the right way to learn martial arts as a beginner. 

(And he has the experience to know: Master Crowder has been a martial arts practitioner for nearly 30 years, has taught students all around the world and is largely considered one of the finest Thai Boxing instructors in New York.) 

Learn more about us at the Martial Arts Mind blog and Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Sep 5, 2015

Professor Jin Yung (Renzo Gracie black belt) shared a story with us a few weeks ago about a newer white belt student in his classroom. 

While being guided through a sparring session by one of the black belt instructors, he asked his partner to “go harder” on him - he insisted he could take it. What happened next…well, you’ll need to listen to the podcast. 


So we invited Professor Jin to the show this week to delve a little deeper into how students can actually get the most out of their training, and what instructors need to do in order to foster the right type of training environment.

(You can read more about cooperative training at Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu's website).

Aug 22, 2015

Many practitioners and instructors focus more on what they're practicing than on how they're practicing, but setting up a system for success matters a lot. Professors Dunn and Glick talk to one student of Brooklyn Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu who's seen both sides, and shares his thoughts about sustainable training. 

Most systems just turn on and off. But your body and mind have a lot of switches that have to be flipped with care. We hear that vitamin C is good for us, so we start taking 10,000 units a day, and in the process we train our bodies to throw off huge amounts of vitamin C.

Eventually, we forget or get tired of taking the huge doses but in the meantime, our bodies keep getting rid of huge amounts of vitamin C until it's totally gone. By forgetting about the effect of overdoing, we cause the very thing we were seeking to avoid: a vitamin deficiency and poor health. 

Sometimes in the effort to learn more as fast as possible, new students of Jiu-Jitsu want immediate results without considering the longer arc of their experience. It's easy to forget that both the body and mind need time to adjust...and that there's no way to cram for longterm success.  Before long, they grow tired or bored or get injured, and end up back where they started - unable or unwilling to continue their training. 


When you "turn on" any system, set the controls correctly. Create a sustainable practice. Sometimes even the best-running system needs maintenance to keep it from running itself into the ground. 

For more about sustainable practice, read what Brooklyn BJJ is up to. 

Aug 7, 2015

Part Two of our interview with Susan Guerra!

Susan Guerra is a lifelong martial arts practitioner who holds black belts in multiple styles. She talks with us about her experience as a student (and as a woman) on the mat in pursuit of her Jiu-Jitsu black belt, and some of the long-term benefits she's seen from training over the decades. 

If you enjoy these podcasts, please subscribe through Stitcher or iTunes! And don't forget to leave a comment below!

Aug 3, 2015

Do NOT miss this episode!

We speak this week with Susan Guerra, a lifelong martial arts practitioner who holds black belts in multiple styles. She touches on some of the most vital lessons she's learned over the past three decades of training, with especially acute insights into the experience of what it's like to be a woman in pursuit of a Jiu-Jitsu black belt. 

There was so much great content here we had to split this episode into two look for Part Two of our interview with Susan coming soon!

If you enjoy these podcasts, please subscribe through Stitcher or iTunes!

Jul 25, 2015

In this episode, the Martial Arts Mind is joined by lifelong martial artist and legendary instructor Shihan Mike Vacca for a conversation about the three biggest issues confronting the lifelong Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. The topics range from:

  • proper partnering in the classroom, and what can go wrong
  • the trouble with all-levels classes
  • the role of the student in the culture of the classroom
  • how an instructor's mindset can bring out the best (and the worst) in students
  • and much more!

If you enjoy these podcasts, please review them on the blog or on iTunes. You can always read more about the methods we use here. And don't forget to subscribe!

Jul 9, 2015

In this episode, The Martial Arts Mind is joined by legendary martial arts instructor and educator Kyoshi Thomas Clifford for a discussion about why it's time to update the dominant metaphor for Jiu-Jitsu. Don't miss this one!

And please subscribe to the Martial Arts Mind podcast, now on iTunes and Stitcher!

Jul 3, 2015

For some martial arts students and instructors, self-defense and fighting are interchangeable concepts. What's a responsible approach to understanding "a fight" and its impact on the participants? And what's the role of the instructor when it comes to educating students? In this episode, the Martial Arts Mind explores a few things to watch out for. 

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