Jiu Jitsu Times EXCLUSIVE Interview: Dragonforce’s Herman Li

How many of you out there love heavy metal? I know that for me BJJ and music are two necessities in life, and whenever I find out that one of my favorite musicians happens to also be a BJJ practitioner, it brings out the fan boy in me.

A while back I read that Herman Li, the amazing guitarist of the famed power metal band Dragonforce does BJJ. A guitarist… doing bjj… FINGERS??? I had to talk to him about this, and learn about his experience as a jiujiteiro…

Herman started with traditional martial arts as many of us did “Since I’m from Hong Kong I was exposed to martial arts growing up; watching Jackie Chan movies, and Bruce Lee movies, that kind of thing.  So I was always into martial arts. At the beginning I was doing Wing Chung, for a number of years, and then I trained a little bit of Japanese jujutsu- a little judo, and then ended up doing BJJ.  Of course there was always UFC – I watched that since UFC 3, when it came out on video — VHS — I rented it from the video store!”

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Li has practiced jiu jitsu since 2005, originally starting at a Carlson Gracie academy and eventually becoming a student of the famed Roger Gracie, however because of touring obligations he hasn’t advanced past blue belt. Because of his lengthy time training in England, Li has gotten to meet and train with some famous names in jiu jitsu other than his instructor,  “Seymour Yang (Meerkatsu) is at the Mill Hill BJJ, which I still go there and train. And Oliver Geddes was a white belt when I started training! I’m still a blue belt.  I’m stuck at the blue belt because I can’t put in enough training to get to purple.  It’s a whole different kind of game. But, you know, I enjoy the martial arts so that’s the main thing.”

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Unlike many famous people who train, Li has even gone as far as to compete “I did compete a lot, but the last time was, I believe, in 2008.  That was a lot of fun— to be unable to sleep properly for a week— I was shrimping in my sleep.  I was waking up, doing weird stuff; I was doing jiu jitsu, moving around in bed in the night.”

As a touring musician, Li doesn’t have the same kind of freedom to train as most people do; as a result he has to sort of improvise “In the past, I had mats that I could carry with me on the tour bus.  I did a tour where I was training with Zoltan Bathory from Five Finger Death Punch.  He’s a purple now.  He was a judo black belt before that.  When I was training with him, he didn’t do any BJJ yet he was only a judo guy.  But I guess after doing that tour, he got into it. I still have mats around on tour, but unfortunately I currently don’t have many people on tour to train with.”

There are few professions that place greater importance and value on one’s fingers than that of guitarist. Jiu jitsu is very hard on the fingers so I was curious if Herman prefers gi or no gi: “It kind of depends.  I mean, no gi is harder to secure the submission while in gi— when you’re getting a submission you think ‘I have time to do this it won’t slip away.’ Me, personally, when I’m on tour, I like to do a bit more no gi b/c it’s better for my fingers.”

I was also curious what Herman’s thoughts on spider guard are “Spider guard is such an important thing you can’t just ignore it… I think it depends on who you’re training with that they’re not going to do anything too crazy and you’re going to work together.  I try to learn the spider guard, De La Riva; any kind of technique, you can’t really say well I’m not gonna do it.  I struggle a bit more with chokes, with the gi.   I don’t like putting my hand in there sometimes— you just worry about it. You worry about the fingers;  Especially if u do the stand up, the judo stuff— breaking peoples’ grips and stuff.”

Herman uses tape to avoid injury “Every jiu jitsu guy has swollen finger joints.  If you look at all their fingers.  So, I tie up with tape. I remember that Matt Heafy from Trivium (another metal band) was asking about what to do with fingers.  I said you have to tie them up.  He started off a year or so ago.  When I went to his shows to train, he was worried about his fingers too.  So you have to tie every one of the fingers, for extra strength.  I tape even when I’m just training casually.”

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Another risk someone in Herman’s position takes is rolling with the wrong person, this is something we all deal with on a day to day basis but because of Herman’s celebrity there are some potential added risks “I’m happy to train with everyone.  Only selective with the crazy white belts— beginners — that are really aggressive and watch too much UFC at the beginning and haven’t learned the art yet. I don’t care about losing.  I think some celebrities don’t like to seem like they tapped out to someone… but who really cares?  There’s always going to be someone better than you. But really, when you’re learning and practicing losing is like is learning opportunity.”

For Herman, perhaps the biggest benefit of jiu jitsu is that of the healthy lifestyle, and outside of Roger Gracie he really wants to learn from Marcelo Garcia (like many!)

Herman is currently on tour with his band Dragonforce playing shows with another heavy metal band, Kamelot, he has asked that I spread the word that he is looking for people to come train with him while he is on tour, they can contact him via his Facebook profile https://www.facebook.com/hermanliofficial

Jiu Jitsu Times thanks Herman Li for taking the time to share some of his jiu jitsu experiences with us, and we wish him safe travels on tour! \m/

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Emil Fischer is an active brown belt competitor under Pablo Angel Castro III training at Strong Style Mixed Martial Arts and Training Center near Cleveland Ohio (www.strongstyle.com) and teaching at Ground Up BJJ (http://mpcle.com/class/ground-up-bjj/.) For more information, other articles, and competition videos check out his athlete pages at www.facebook.com/emilfischerbjj www.twitter.com/Emil_Fischer and https://instagram.com/emilfischerbjj/. Emil is sponsored by Meerkatsu (www.Meerkatsu.com, discount code EmilKatsu), Eddy's On Coventry, Cleveland Cryo (www.clevelandcryo.net discount code EmilCryo,) NottaRookie, The Terphouse (www.TheTerphouse.com, used discount code COOKIES), Trap And Roll Soap Company (www.trapandrollsoap.com discount code COOKIES) Impact Mouthguards (www.impactmouthguards.com discount code EMILIMPACT), North South Jiu Jitsu Underwear, as well as a brand ambassador for Ludwig Van (www.ludwigvantheman.com discount code FAMILY) and Vanguard Kimono.
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