Television personality and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt, Ed O’Neill, spoke with BJPenn.com’s Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio Show Sunday night about his upcoming role as color-commentator for the Metamoris Pro Jiu Jitsu Invitational II on June 9.
O’Neill is perhaps best known for his long standing role as Al Bundy on the U.S. television series, Married… With Children. The Emmy-nominated actor continues to work in television, currently one of the stars on ABC’s Modern Family. A lesser known fact about O’Neill is that he has studied Brazilian jiu jitsu for over 26 years with the Gracie family in Torrance, CA.
“I forget how long now I’ve been doing it,” said O’Neill. “I actually think I’ve been doing it like 26 years. Because I started when I was 40, and I’m 67 now; and I’m still doing it. I mean I only go once a week now. I roll with Rorion [Gracie], mostly Rorion, sometimes Rener, sometimes Ryron, I used to work out with Ralek. But I’ve actually probably have had 12 private [lessons] with the Old Man [Helio Gracie], you know, years ago when he would come to Torrance. I got started through my friend, John Milius, who was a writer/producer/director- he wrote Apocolypse Now, you know, he wrote Jeremiah Johnson, a lot of good movies- and he kept trying to convince me to go down and meet them, the Gracies, and I said, ‘Ah, man, I don’t want to go.’ I was playing handball at Venice Beach. I didn’t really think much of martial arts. When I was a kid growing up, it was boxing or wrestling, and I thought, ‘Those guys wear pajamas,’ and I never thought anything of it. But he finally got me down there, and I was so impressed with what they were doing that I just said, ‘Hey, sign me up.’ And I don’t think they thought I was going to keep going, but I just kept going. It’s been really, really good.”
For O’Neill, who received his black belt in 2007, he describes his style of jiu jitsu as simple.
“I’ll tell you, my game is very simple. It’s like: click, click, click. You know, I’m not going to beat anybody on speed, and I try not to use strength, I try to use basic jiu jitsu. You know, I try to use my weight on a guy. I don’t care what position I’m in. I don’t mind being on my back, I don’t mind being side-mounted, you know, I don’t care. So that’s good, because I’ve trained in all the positions to where I feel, even if I’m mounted, I don’t really feel too much in danger. I stay relaxed, I just kind of wait, if he doesn’t really have me then I don’t move too much, because I’m figuring, ‘Well, he don’t have me, if I move, maybe he’ll get me…’ I’ve never connected on a flying armlock in my life, don’t intend to. I probably won’t do any [gogoplata], probably won’t do that one, not flexible enough… You know what I’m pretty good at? I’m pretty good at the arm triangle. I catch it from the mount pretty good, and of course it’s good because I’m heavy- I can put a lot of weight on it. But just basic jiu jitsu.”
Getting to the black belt level of jiu jitsu was a long road for O’Neill, due in part to his upbringing in one of the country’s hotspots for boxing, Youngstown, Ohio.
“Well first of all, you have to understand, when I was a kid growing up in Youngstown, Ohio, everything was boxing. Every kind of fight, you were punching. There was a little bit of wrestling, but really it was all boxing. And in Youngstown, you know, there were a lot of great boxers- we called them fighters- that came out of Youngstown: you know, Ray Mancini- you know, ‘Boom Boom,’ but before him there were so many great fighters that came out of Youngstown that it was basically a fight town. So my whole young life was trying to learn how to punch and fight that way. I never knew anything about jiu jitsu, and of course when I was growing up, I thought I was pretty tough. [Laughs] Of course, if I had run into one of these guys, it would have been a disaster. Thank God they weren’t here. It’s like if Martians came down and landed, or they’re like avatars or some… damned thing… But my whole thing was, I always knew how to punch, and I’m not afraid to be punched at. I mean, now I’m 67 for Christ’s sake, but what I mean is that always was important to me… My problem in jiu jitsu when I started was trying to change my thinking. Because my thinking was, ‘Oh, there’s his chin right here, I could just blast him.’ Well we’re rolling! Of course you couldn’t do that. I didn’t realize how to be heavy with your hips or use your legs, use your weight on the guy, you know, control the hips- I just wanted to grab his head, you know a head-lock, something stupid. So that was my hardest, that’s where I really had to adjust my approach learning it.”
One skill O’Neill did have on his side was the ability to stay relaxed while training.
“The one area I never had a problem was my ability to relax in the actual rolling. I was never tense. I think my father taught me that- I know this is going on too long- but when I was a kid, my father taught me how to relax in athletics and change gears, you know what I mean by that? Never stay in the same gear, you know, never stay in the same gear: always be giving them some other different- it’s like a pitcher that changes speed. Because that’s what you have to do in a fight… In jiu jitsu, when you’re rolling- and I find this to be true, really true, of most Americans- we have a tendency to be very tense and macho, you know, like burn a lot of energy and use a lot of strength. And that wastes a lot of energy. The trick is to try to relax and save the energy so you don’t wear out. The Old Man was great at that. So that was one area where I didn’t have to work that hard at it.”
O’Neill can be considered one of the old timers of the sport, not merely for his age or for reaching the black belt level, but for his approach to the game and his insistence of fundamental skills. When asked about the progression of the sport, O’Neill simply said that the progression is in how widespread jiu jitsu has become, not necessarily in the techniques around.
“I don’t think there’s all that much new, because there’s not that much new with the body. You know, it’s the same bodies, two arms and two legs. When they say it’s progressed a lot, I’ll say where the progression is, in my opinion, it’s so many guys are doing it now. There’s so many more guys that are very good, where you know, years and years ago, there were only a few guys that were very good. So today there’s so many guys that are good that the level has come up a lot.
“The Old Man, for example, he was very much into basic jiu jitsu. And he used to maintain, he said, ‘Look, if you know the basics, if you’ve got the basics mastered- and most people don’t- you can defend most any attack.’ Because in any kind of complicated, or something new, it’s usually going to take 1-2-3-4 steps, you know; and if you know the basics, you kind of see it coming, you know what I mean? There’s only so many things they can do to you. It always starts with one move, and you have to counter it, you know what I mean. It is a chess game.”
O’Neill’s participation at the Torrance Gracie Jiu Jitsu Academy has earned him the honor of providing color commentary for the upcoming Metamoris Pro Jiu Jitsu Invitational II. The Metamoris is a unique BJJ competition that features top-level athletes in a single, 20-minute round with no points. Winners will be decided either by a submission or, if time expires, by judges- a new feature in Metamoris II.
The Metamoris has added judging, most likely, because of one of the matches last year. Andre Galvao and Ryron Gracie tied in what was an exciting 20-minutes of jiu jitsu. Galvao had thought he should have won for pushing the action, but in the spirit of the tournament, the bout was a draw. O’Neill, given his participation in this year’s event, weighed in on the topic, with particular emphasis on the Galvao-Gracie match.
“I think this year, though, they’re going to have judging. So in other words, if there’s one fighter who’s dominating and trying for the submissions for 20 minutes, and the other guys’ not doing anything, [the second guy’s] going to lose the fight. So that’s going to be interesting, and I’ll tell you why, because that match last year with Ryron Gracie and Andre Galvao, you know, Galvao is a great, great fighter, and of course I’m prejudiced because I’ve known Ryron since he was a little kid. He hasn’t fought competitively in ten years, just teaching at the acadmeny, and he substituted for a guy that was injured. I think if it had gone five more minutes he would have submitted Andre, becaue Andre wore out, and Ryron was doing exactly what his grandfather’s style was. In other words, defend and don’t waste energy until the guy gets tired, and then submit him. So that will be interesting to see how, they need really good judges. Because if they guy’s defense is so beautiful, I think you have to give him points for that. If a guy is running away and not engaging and not allowing any positions, just fighting scared, he should lose the fight. You see what I’m saying, there’s a difference. Willie Pep in boxing, the great Willie Pep, won a round one time and never threw a punch- on a bet. He made the guy look so bad in missing him, and feinting the guy out of his jock, that all three judges gave him the round. He never even hit the guy! So anyway, we’ll see what happens. The card looks great!”
The card features the top jiu jitsu names out there, many of whom competed at the IBJJF World Jiu Jitsu Championships this past weekend, and some of whom have successful MMA careers. For O’Neill, the two fights he’s most excited to see are the two fighters he is close to, Kron Gracie- whom Ed knew when he was a child- and Brendan Schaub– one of the Torrance academy’s young new stars.
“Of course I’m going to say I want to see Kron with that great Japanese fighter who I’ve seen fight many times, [Shinya] Aoki. I’ve seen that guy break limbs, he’s a nasty little dude. Kron I used to drive around- I had a silver Porsche years ago- and I used to drive Kron around when he was like 12, he loved the car, he was a kid. So of course, I love to watch Kron fight. The other fight, interestingly enough- I mean the other guys are great, I want to see all these fights- but I’m kind of interested in Brendan Schaub, because I know him. He’s been training in the academy. Like myself, he’s played a little pro football. You know, I was with the Steelers for about a cup of coffee. He played a little pro ball too, so he’s a big, strong, athletic kid doing this thing at the time that I wish I had started doing it. So I’m kind of curious. He’s fighting a guy who, on paper, should beat him. In pure grappling, [Schaub] should lose. I’m wondering how he’s going to do it, he’s a very gutsy kid. He asked to be in this. He hasn’t been doing jiu jitsu all that long, I don’t think. So I’m really curious, and of course I’ll be rooting for him, but I’m curious to see how he’s going to ahndle himself out there. The guy he’s fighting [Roberto ‘Cyborg’ Abreu] is no joke.”
You can find out more about Metamoris II at the event’s website where you can order an OnDemand live stream of the fights and purchase tickets to the June 9 event in Los Angeles, CA.
Be sure to check out the other half of O’Neill’s interview where he talks about MMA today and how he has seen the sport evolve over the past few decades. You can listen to the entire episode of Fist-Ta-Cuff Radio below.al bundy, andre galvao, BJJ, brazilian jiu jitsu, brendan schaub, Ed O'Neill, FIST-ta-CUFF, FIST-ta-CUFF Radio, gracie jiu jitsu, helio gracie, kron gracie, mma, MMA NEWS, Rickson Gracie