Given that jiu jitsu is still relatively underground, one of the subtle joys of the jiu jitsu experience is learning that one of your favorite celebrities/actors/musicians/public figures trains. Jiujiteiro fans of hip-hop sensation Mac Lethal were probably delighted when they saw him start posting pictures of himself training and wearing Scramble brand gear. Turns out that the highly talented “Chael Sonnen of Rap” (Pancake Rap) now trains rather seriously, competes, and has been affected profoundly by jiu jitsu.
I had an opportunity to chat with Mac Lethal about his experience; he was kind enough to share a couple of stories and to give us a look at what it’s like for someone with relative celebrity to train on a day by day basis.
If you’ve listened to Mac’s work, you know that he loves to sprinkle in references to the UFC and martial arts in general.
“I’ve always been a fan of the UFC, like most people who start training. And I’ve always wanted to get into martial arts (I wrestled and did some judo as a kid, though I never did much with it). So in 2011 I was invited by Jason High to come try a class at his gym, and instantly fell in love. I got my *** kicked the first time.”
Like many, Mac immersed himself into the jiu jitsu world, and has reaped some of the benefits “I am now a blue belt. I train at Kansas City Brazilian Jiu Jitsu now, and Professor Jason Bircher is my trainer/friend. He usually makes people wait about 3 years per belt. Last time I competed I won 2 matches by ankle lock and the gold by triangle. So that was cool to submit everyone. But I’ve also been smashed and lost too. The guys in the gym I train at are so tough, I feel like I compete every time I train with them! I have not competed as much as a lot of people. It’s a time constraint thing more than anything. I have no problem getting my *** beat in public.”
Many public figures who train jiu jitsu do so in the confines of private lessons. This is done to ensure safety, but ultimately has caused some celebrities who train to come under scrutiny by the BJJ community. I was very curious about Mac’s thoughts on this matter, and he shared them openly:
“I do classes with the commoners, man. I will roll with anyone, regardless of gender, skill/belt level, or size. I understand the logic behind having your training catered to you in private, but I feel like you get a much more realistic experience when you throw yourself out there with the wolves. If I spend an entire 6 minute sparring session getting knee on belly and arm-triangled by a brown belt female, so be it. If a white belt kid sneaks an Ezekiel choke on me, so be it. I want realistic training, because in a street fight I don’t get to choose what happens or what intensity I fight at. I want the raw, real pain of a real altercation. Plus I’ve made so many awesome friends in regular classes. Privates are great for brushing up your technique, but regular classes give you the full experience.”
Given that he is a touring musician, Mac Lethal has gotten to train at schools outside of his home gym, and has gotten to partake in areas of the jiu jitsu lifestyle that many of us haven’t.
“The jiu jitsu community is pretty tight knit, so I get a lot of love from people on the mats in other places. I’ve never had anyone out of town recognize me after training, but it happens in KC a lot. I’ll roll with someone and then they’ll put 2 and 2 together. I got to train in NYC at Marcelo Garcia’s gym, the class was taught by Bernardo Faria. That was pretty insane. I’m a member of MG in Action, so meeting Marcelo was crazy. I went to Metamoris 3 by myself, and had several people say hi to me. One guy was like ‘Are you Mac Lethal? If yes, why the **** are you at the Metamoris Brazilian Jiu Jitsu competition?’ I was like ‘I’m here to watch Garry Tonon, man! I’m a fan!’”
A cool part of being a celebrity who trains Jiu Jitsu is that sometimes Mac might find that people he’s a fan of may also be fans of him
“I’m friends with Dirt Nasty aka Simon Rex, and he knows I train BJJ. So he took me to Kron Gracie’s gym (a friend of his) and Kron taught us a private class. We trained with Kron and had lunch/hung out for a few hours. I got a text from Dirt the next day that said ‘Kron Gracie just texted me saying ‘Dude, why didn’t you tell me that was Mac Lethal? I can’t believe I just taught him a private and didn’t even know it was him.’ That was a wild experience.”
Just chilled and trained with the legendary Kron Gracie. Amazing. @riokid A photo posted by Mac Lethal (@maclethal) on Aug 8, 2014 at 6:04pm PDT
Most people who train have had profound revelations as a result of training; Mac Lethal shared some of his
“It teaches you to be more realistic about your abilities and your place in the world. People ignorantly spend their entire lives with an unrealistic understanding of themselves. Some people lack confidence, some people have too much of it. It balances you out. It gave me confidence, patience, perspective in areas in my life I didn’t have it in, and removed it from areas of my life that I had too much of it. It’s spilled over into every area of my life. It’s taught me how to just honestly and openly ask for help when I didn’t know how to do something. I was always too prideful to just admit when I didn’t have a thorough understanding of something (cooking, cleaning, how to operate a DSLR camera at a high level) etc. Seriously, I was never good at cleaning my house, until BJJ. Then I was fine with going “Maybe I should treat this like BJJ and Google how to properly and effectively dust my house. Maybe I should go back and learn how to get REALLY good with my recording studio set up.” The humility it teaches you is unlike anything else. I’m more comfortable around everyone, I’m less likely to argue/get defensive, and I’m more open to differing points of view. BJJ has made me crave learning and self-improvement. You can’t get better at something if you think you’ve mastered it. And I spent a lot of my life thinking I had it ALL figured out.”
In closing, Mac Lethal had the following shout outs “I just wanna give a big thank you to all my friends and training partners in the Kansas City area. And thank you to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.”
Mac Lethal and others like him serve as ambassadors for the jiu jitsu community by being public figures that are open about their training. Jiu Jitsu has a certain uniting effect, and Mac’s experience is a perfect example of that.