When people think of celebrities who do jiu-jitsu, they often think of tough guys like Jason Statham and Charlie Hunnam. One celebrity who has quietly climbed the ranks through to third-degree black belt is the drummer of the multi-platinum hair metal band Poison — Rikki Rockett. I had an opportunity to chat with Rikki about his experience as a musician jiujiteiro and some of his thoughts on the gentle art.
“Like many people, I saw Royce Gracie in the UFC and wanted to know more. This was around the time of UFC 3. I met Jean Jacques Machado and John Machado at a rally and they invited me to their school. One of the first people I met there was Eddie Bravo. I got tapped about a dozen times by a few people and signed up the next day. I never looked back.
I trained at the Tarzana School until purple belt, and when Renato Magno (who came over from Brazil with the Machado Brothers.) opened Street Sports BJJ, I switched over to that school. I remain close to Jean Jacques, John, and Rigan and have trained with Carlos Machado as well. All of the brothers are the best people on the planet. They generally stay out of BJJ politics, their record speaks for itself and because of all of that, they are well respected. I am currently a 3rd degree under Renato Magno.”
If you’re not familiar with Rikki or Poison, you may not realize how big of a deal he and his band are. The band has sold over 45 million albums worldwide, and their album Open Up and Say… Ahh! Is 5x platinum. Here are some examples of their work:
I was interested in Rikki’s experience as a celebrity in the jiu-jitsu world, namely how he structured his training to still be mindful of his status.
“I do both general classes and privates. Usually I amp up the privates around tour time because I can’t afford an injury. I have never missed a tour and I never want to. The guys I train with ‘get it’ most of the time, but anything can happen, and it’s a risk I take.
Mostly now, the privates are to avoid injury and also the timing. I live pretty far from the school, (87 mile round trip) and in order to get my kids from school, I have to train early in the day, and the earliest class is 12:00. That cuts it close!
Hardly anyone ever says anything to me. In Los Angeles, there are so many people in the industry — music, actors, stunt people, etc. — that they are used to seeing these people. A lot of the guys that I train with are stunt guys, and they are no joke. They push it. We get a lot of police in the morning and people that work night shift at jobs.”
As a touring musician, Rikki is constantly on the road, and his hands are his livelihood. I was curious about his protocols for training on the road.
“I hardly get to train on the road, and it sucks! It’s risk vs. livelihood. If I get hurt, a lot of people go home. Promoters don’t like ‘fill in’ players in this band, and it affects ticket sales. When the original four don’t show up, it’s a pretty big problem. However, I have done a few seminars on the road and I really love teaching. I can control and sort of ‘read’ who I want to roll with. If I just walk into a school to train, come free training time, every swinging **** in there wants to tap me out so they can say they did!
I learned to protect my hands early on, but accidents happen. I usually do not tape my fingers unless I am experiencing some kind of issue. I don’t wear a mouth guard or a cup. Sometimes I forget my knee pads. I am NOT recommending that people don’t use these things. I started in a jiu-jitsu gi top and Judo bottoms and never even wore a shirt underneath. I got used to not wearing much protection. Now, I have a collection of gis that my girlfriend wants to choke me out for having so many! Wear a mouth guard. Wear pads and wear a cup. I am just lazy!”
Most celebrities who train haven’t competed, but Rikki has. The idea of seeing a celebrity compete (or better yet getting to take a shot at them in competition) is something that many practitioners think about. I asked Rikki about his experience and aspirations as a competitor
“I did compete against a really good guy the year I got my black belt. He beat me by points, but I hung in there. I have not done any more because generally, most of the tournaments that our school participates in are in the spring and summer, some in the fall. I am usually on tour or preparing for a tour at that time. This year will be an exception, and so maybe this year I will.
I would not fight a celeb just because they are a celeb. I think people would see that as just a fluffer fight for something. It would become more about the novelty of it. I have rolled with other celebs, (Greg Clark, Danny Inosanto, David Mamet, Joey Diaz, and many, many others) and they are all legit. You do not get away with anything in this martial art. A true Brazilian black belt does not belt you up until you have put in the time. On the mat, we are all equal. This is one club that you can not buy yourself into. So, I wouldn’t say no to a celeb, just wouldn’t do it for the novelty of it all.
As for goals, I actually would like to compete and win something. To be in my late 50’s, have survived cancer and win in jiu-jitsu would show that this martial art in and of itself can create milestones from the success you set for yourself and for the better of the individual who thought that maybe they can’t do it. Even if I lose, I win just by being in a place where I can compete. Not anyone can compete. If you are in a jiu-jitsu competition and you are a purple belt (not to say there aren’t some badass blue belts!) and up, you aren’t ‘dabbling’ in this sport. You have dedicated yourself in a number of ways in life.”
As a cancer survivor, Rikki has some unique perspectives both on jiu-jitsu and on life. I wanted to get a feel for how or if jiu-jitsu contributed to Rikki’s survival.
“Going through all of that made me realize just how damn easy it is to take your health and mobility for granted. I was braver because of jiu-jitsu training. I know that to be a fact. I knew I had survived some really tough rolling experiences, so I knew I could handle the treatments.
Get screened for oral cancer. It is soooo on the rise. It has taken over as the number one cancer caused by HPV. We all have HPV of some kind, we just don’t know which strain and if it can cause cancer in us. Jiu-jitsu helped me through treatment. Seriously! I got the strength knowing that I could make it because of all the years of blood, sweat and tears on the mat.”
Considering his status as a third degree black belt and his pedigree, Rikki’s stylistic choices on the mat are a point of interest
“I play a ton of pressure. That is the game that Renato plays, and it’s easy to adopt your coach’s game. He makes 185 [lbs] feel like 385! We seriously play all sorts of games in there. Since Renato is old school, we get a lot of self defense. He is also a Judo black belt and so we do lots of Judo takedowns, and because Rico Chiparelli teaches some classes there, we get some NCAA style wrestling takedowns and MMA. Boom Boom Mancini trained with us for a long time, and we got lots of his boxing skills and still use those skills. Sometimes we will line up guys with gloves and the goal is punch only while the opponent tries to take you down. It gets crazy! When tournament time comes around, we then focus on those rules for several weeks and sometimes there are extra competition classes.
I actually try not to pull guard as much these days. I try to bridge the gap more and more between gi and no-gi as well. If I learn a technique in the gi, I try it with no-gi later. If it doesn’t work and I can’t adapt it, it goes into the ‘B’ pile of techniques. I don’t dismiss anything. I just prioritize. Some weeks my gi and no-gi days are equal, and if I spend all my time using gi techniques, what do I use on no-gi day? That being said, I love gi. I don’t care what anyone says, it’s street savvy training. If you only train in shorts, when you are fully dressed you are going to feel like you are swimming in a snowboarding outfit!
Guard is very seductive and can give you a false sense of control. We have a couple of former 10th Planet instructors in there, and it’s fun to roll and to learn from them sometimes. Renato is a very open-minded and diverse martial artist and is open to trying things. We have worked ‘Combat Jiu Jitsu’ from time to time. It’s very sobering and I highly recommend it to anyone who trains. Eddie Bravo nailed the essence of true jiu-jitsu with this stuff in many ways.”
As a rock star, Rikki has surely been exposed to his fair share of the “rock star lifestyle” and I was interested in his thoughts on this as an active martial artist.
“When you don’t pay attention to nutrition, sleep, your routine, and your overall health, your time on the mat will suffer. In fact, since I am older, I have to pay attention to all of these things in order to play the best I can. Who knows what I’d look and sound like if I didn’t? Who knows if I would pay attention to these things if it weren’t for jiu-jitsu?
I think jiu-jitsu has helped me as a musician… usually, unless I get hurt! Again, it is a second reason to maintain a healthier lifestyle. I have zero desire to get loaded on tour anymore.”
Rikki’s closing thoughts:
“Like my coach Renato always says, ‘Keep-a move!’ In other words, keep the engine running.
Shout out to Vanguard Kimonos! Such amazing stuff! (Now can I get a free gi?) All my coaches, training partners and the affiliated Street Sports schools. I seriously love all you bastards!
You can check out Rikki’s vlog here.