INTERVIEW WITH JASON CRANDELL
Yoga for BJJ recently interviewed one of the best vinyasa yoga teachers on the planet – Jason Crandell. He has taught countless teacher trainings and is considered to be the teacher of teachers. He happens to be the teacher with whom Sebastian completed his 500+ hours of yoga teacher training. What makes Jason even more awesome is the fact that he also trains jiu jitsu!
Read on to learn more about his and Sebastian’s story, verified benefits of yoga as it relates to jiu jitsu, breathing styles, posture, and some of the best advice for anyone just starting with jiu jitsu and/or yoga!
How come you became a yoga teacher?
I started practicing yoga over 20 years ago, when I was going to San Francisco State University. I struggled at the beginning as it was really difficult but every time I left class I felt really good. I felt different. I used to skateboard and play hockey, so it wasn’t just because I used my body. I always did athletic things but there was something about the yoga practice that made me more clear, calm and content. I never experienced that from any other physical experiences. I knew there was something there and I stuck with it. Shortly there after I was in a graduate program, I was practicing more frequently, pretty consistently and did longer classes. I then realized I didn’t want to do any academic stuff/educational degree – I wanted to be a yoga teacher. That was around 20-ish years ago, when there wasn’t that much industry. Being a yoga teacher didn’t really seem like a viable career. But I didn’t really care, there wasn’t anything else I really wanted to do. Yoga was just a really good fit, so I continued to pursue it.
You’re one of the most patient yoga teachers out there…
Well I can be incredibly impatient at times just like everyone else. I have a lot of empathy for not understanding something or understanding something but mentally or emotionally not being able to accept something. I’m patient with people when they are in a vulnerable moment. I think that learning is difficult. Learning takes a long time. Most people who are good at something are good because they worked really hard for a long time. Most people are not good at something just because they have a lot of natural talent in something. I just think that in order to learn anything (art, physical discipline, etc.) it takes a long time to actually learn stuff. I’m not in a hurry for people to learn stuff. Being a teacher brings the best part out of me. I really love to teach. I’m not frustrated when someone has to ask 40 questions to understand something – I’m happy for people to be asking me questions about yoga. It’s one of the few things in the world that I actually have a ton of experience with. I feel like the jiu jitsu teachers I have are the same. Also, whenever I ask Sebastian something he’s the same, he’s really patient. Because he really likes it, so he doesn’t mind talking about armbar this and armbar that.
How come you started training jiu jitsu?
When I was a kid I did Taekwondo and loved it. I loved sparring. I also played hockey. I always liked to be physical. I realized that I was really starting to miss that. Yoga is super physical but it’s not interactive. I missed martial arts. I also wanted to get involved with a discipline that I knew nothing about. I met Sebastian when I was already really eager to start a martial art, just wasn’t sure which one. It was on one of the first days of teacher trainings when I noticed that he had a bag with a BJJ patch on it. We started talking and I decided on that trip that as soon as I get home, I would start with jiu jitsu. I also started because I had just turned 41 and I started to feel like this is about my last shot to start a new difficult physical thing. It’s already a pretty old start for a sport. Tons of guys do it – at 40 they start to run marathons, or they decide to start with crossfit. This was the time to consider something… So I just started. There’s an academy literally a 3 minute walk from my house, which was a perfect fit straight away.
Did you struggle with anything when you first started training Jiu Jitsu?
Let me tell you what I don’t struggle with. I don’t struggle with positional awareness. I know where my body is, I can feel it and I’ve always been pretty good even in my first couple months at understanding when I’m in a dangerous position – when my body is compromised and when it’s not. I’ve got good self awareness, body awareness, positional awareness and leverage wise I have pretty good instincts. I also know how to fight pretty hard because I grew up as an ice hockey player. I know how to fight for the puck, how to use my body, I know how to leverage.
What I struggled with was that I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I didn’t understand what positions I was trying to accomplish, what techniques I was trying to use. I didn’t understand and I still don’t. I got better but I still don’t. My chess game isn’t that great. All the guys I roll with, there’s no single thing that I can do to submit them. I have to know that I have to work on this to get that reaction and this to get that reaction. I struggled with not knowing the longer view/the game. And physically I really struggled with conditioning, the explosiveness. The way that I practice vinyasa yoga is that I work hard but I don’t go fast. I didn’t train my body to be explosive for minutes in a row. It’s been 2 years that I’ve been training pretty consistently now. I’ve developed way better cardio and explosiveness but it’s still work in progress. The getting beat up…I mean I grew up with an older brother, plus with sports. It’s uncomfortable but it’s not a new phenomenon.
What are the benefits of yoga for jiu jitsu, that you’ve experienced so far?
I have a ton of dexterity in my legs that other people don’t. I mean a lot of people are like ”ooh yoga, you’re so flexible then”. I am flexible, but more than flexibility it’s that my legs and hips are smart, they know what to do in different situations. For me, open guard stuff is really comfortable and guard recovery stuff. And spider and lasso. For a white belt with stripes, my open guard is good, it’s a relatively comfortable spot. I’ve been using my feet, hips and legs for a long time, so they’re pretty dexterous. When you do yoga, you do a lot of skill based stuff. I think it’s something a lot of people don’t know about yoga. They think a lot about flexibility but they don’t think about skill. Yoga is a skill game, you get to know how to use your legs, the rotation in the hips… I have a big lower body advantage. Especially when I go against a bigger guy, I’m pretty good at keeping them away and then recovering, open guard stuff.
I also think that yoga has helped me with recovery. So not so much conditioning. I mean, I was in good shape but not in good fighting shape. Good shape and fight shape are two totally different things. For a 41 year old guy I was in pretty good shape but I feel like my yoga contributed less to the shape and physique but more to the ability of my body to recover. Even if I go for a couple of days in a row, I mean if I go more than 5 days in a row I start to break down a little bit so 4 days in a row is my maximum. It’s helped me recover. I’ll be at the academy with guys I rolled with a couple of days in a row who are literally half my age, they’re in their early 20ies and they’re like ”oh man I’m so sooore”… and I’m like go stretch, go take a couple breaths and move your body in a general way.
Do you have a warmup routine? A post-training routine?
No not really. At this point i’m pretty good at figuring out what hurts and/or what’s going to hurt. And then managing it. For me, yoga as it relates to jiu jitsu is a lot of hip mobilization, general twists and shoulder stuff. My shoulders have taken a significant beating, a lot more than I anticipated. Therefore I have to do a lot of shoulder opening stuff.
How does posture in yoga relate to posture in BJJ? Is there a difference in your posture vs your opponents posture?
My own posture is something I focus a ton on. I pretty much have a good sense of balance, I have good responsiveness, good posture so for my belt level I’m pretty difficult to sweep. I’m positionally aware, I don’t really easily give up or make many mistakes (of course all relative to my belt level). So yeah I have good base, good responsiveness, good balance, good positional awareness. Even if I don’t know the jiu jitsu technique, I sort of know how to move my body to decrease my vulnerability. And that’s just from knowing ”oh that arm, I don’t know what that person is doing, I’ve never seen this technique, but I don’t like my arm going in that direction. How do I get my body to shift in a different direction so that they don’t get that position?”
I can be mildly frustrating, because of my postural awareness. It’s going to take someone that’s better than me longer to finish me off than it would take if I didn’t have any of my positional awareness stuff. For someone that’s my belt level, I really don’t make positional mistakes that they’d be able to capitalize on. I more or less know where my body is and where I break down/where I’m strong. I feel like that’s more important than flexibility. I know where I am in space, I know when something is disconnected and vulnerable. I think that stuff is more valuable than flexibility (for jiu jitsu).
How important is breathing in yoga? Are you able to use the same breathing style in BJJ?
In yoga I do Ujjayi breath – same thing in jiu jitsu. You’re making your breath as long and as smooth as you can. That doesn’t totally work in Jiu Jitsu when you’re trying to explode and change positions. But it does work when you get better control. So one of the first things that I’ll do if I’m being controlled and stressed out is I focus on protection and breathing. I know that in order to escape something in some point I’ll have to explode. So for example if someone has me in side control, mount, back control but are not yet really threatening, I try to relax a little bit. I try to take a moment, slow down, don’t freak out and breathe. I know I have to have a little bit of calm before the storm. I know that the moment they go from control to submission, that’s gonna be my time to try and escape. I only have so much energy, especially at this point. I can’t be freaking out and breathing crazily when it’s inefficient. So I try to calm down, breathe and focus.
The same goes for when I get control. Say when I’ve been fighting from the bottom and then I get a sweep and I get to the top – at that point I know I’ve spent 30s to a couple of minutes working hard and I’m a little gassed, so I have to take a moment. As soon as I can, I go back to my breath and try and be calm for a moment. When I say calm I don’t mean I’m loosing tenacity, I mean I’m just slowing down for a moment. I’d say that I watch the person that I’m training with. I feel a little bit like a spy. I know when they’re a bit stressed out and out of breath I know if someone has control on me, say they have my back. I know if they’re huffing and puffing, they’re not going to finish me. So I can watch that a bit, ok so they’re gassed, so they have control over me but they don’t have the strength to finish. I feel less compromised. Unless I’m in a horrible position. The same for when I have them in position and I see they’re breathing hard and being tired. I know they’re stressed out. If I have them in position and they’re alert but calm, I know that my position is not as good as it should be. I’m always trying to calm down myself, and I try to figure out what’s going on, through their and my breath.
Do you have any advice for people over 40 just starting with jiu jitsu?
Yeah, don’t! No just kidding.
Just try not to be a hero, tap when you have to. Be consistent, be patient, include yoga and just choose your sparring partners well. As someone over 40, the training partners that I’m still most scared of (from an injury perspective) are strong, young, athletic wrestlers. I will roll with anyone but I know that all of them are former wrestlers so I have to be really careful with my own ego. The upper level guys who are more flexible, really technical, open guard, I go hard with them. But a blue belt college wrestler… oh my god. They get the single leg and tap tap tap. I just know what’s going to happen. So someone that is more technical and less explosive is going to be safer to roll with for an older person. You just have to be careful, tap as many times as you need to.
Do you have any advice for BJJ athletes that are thinking about starting with yoga?
The first thing is to think about yoga the way you think about jiu jitsu. Consistency is the most important thing. You don’t want to just be able to do bjj for 7 days in a row and then take two months off. You need to be mature…the most important thing is to be consistent and patient. Start with 10-20 minutes regularly. Also, especially if you’re a guy, you have to realize yoga is its own discipline. That means you’re gonna be a little lost when you start.
If I walked-in to BJJ on day 1 or day 10 and felt like I should know this stuff, that I should be able to do all this stuff instantly, I wrestled with my brother when I was 7 y/o, I should know all this stuff, then I’m an idiot. If you start yoga and are like I should be able to do all this stuff and understand it and not be confused then you’re being foolish. You have to know you’re going to be a bit lost, confused, you won’t know what to do or why to do it sometimes and you just have to be patient and willing to learn like with anything else.
Be patient, be willing to learn and be consistent with it. See it as (if nothing else) a way to compliment and extend your jiu jitsu game. If you look at any pro athlete on the planet – they’re done by 44, they can’t do it anymore. So whether you want to be a world class competitor or just a really well trained guy at the club, you want to be able to do that for a long time. You can’t be a knucklehead about it. You have to take care of yourself, you have to do the things that are gonna balance some of the stuff out so that you can extend your experience.
If you don’t take anything else out of this interview with Jason, at least keep this in your mind:
Think about yoga the way you think about jiu jitsu. Be patient, be willing to learn and be consistent with it. See it as (if nothing else) a way to compliment and extend your jiu jitsu game.