Last week Inferno Cast hosted Alex on their broadcast, with a long interview about his life long love for martial arts and specifically his passion for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) over the last 9 years.
Because the interview is 71 minutes long, we will post the transcript for it in 3 separate posts.
They talked about a lot of things and some of the technical terms in the sport are difficult to pick up on and transcribe correctly.
Kaleb Plank (head coach at Inferno MMA in Bentonville, Arkansas) interview with Alex.
Kaleb: Welcome to the inferno cast. Today’s guest has a lifetime full of martial arts experience, but he’s primarily known as a TV and film actor. And most notably his recent show Hawaii Five-o. Alex O’Loughlin – How you doing today, buddy?
Alex: What’s up man? How are you doing?
Kaleb: Man, I’m good. I really appreciate you …. you know, taking time to talk to me about some martial arts and Jiu-Jitsu. It’s kind of a unique time that we’re in, but I think that’s kind of why stuff like this is a little bit more important, to kind of keep people engaged and encouraged. How’s everything going on Hawaii? Or in Hawaii – sorry.
Alex: Good, man. It’s good. Thank you for having me, dude. I’m really happy to be here. And you know, I love talking about martial arts. I’ve always sort of have been a geek on it since I was very little. And things are good here. It’s hot.
Alex: Summer …… summer is just sort of starting here, and it’s … um… it’s funny, you know. We never really get a winter. For me anyway. Like, I’m used to like, rain or snow or wind or something. And it sort of just drops few degrees and it goes back up. It’s good.
Kaleb: You mentioned you’ve been into martial arts since you’re a kid. So I kind of wanted to start there. Do you remember what kind of encouraged you, or inspired you, to have a thing for martial arts? Was it TV or movies or books?
Alex: I played like …. I played football when I was a kid in Australia. I played Aussie Rules. And …. I did a bunch of different stuff, and there came a point when my mom put me in karate. I don’t know… I don’t think… I don’t think I was the … the driving force… I think. I don’t know how… I should ask her like, “Why did you do that?”. But she … I just remember having this clear memory of her …. of holding her hand. And I had this little white Gi on and this belt that she’d sort of tied for me.
And I walked in… I was at the door of this Dojo and there were all these dudes doing their thing, you know. And I was like terrified and sort of also in aww and slightly confused. And …. and it was Goju Kai. I started with Goju kai and I later went on to Shobu-Kai. And Goju Kai kata, as a pattern, is so beautiful. And especially the higher ….. especially the higher …. higher belt patterns.
And I saw all these beautiful hand movements and I was …. immediately, I was sort of transfixed by the whole thing. I was really nervous. And she walked me in. My Sensei ….. Sensei Shields, his name was. And he was ….. he was the first black belt that I trained under.
And ….. yeah, it was ….. from that point, I just became obsessed. I was like, “This is amazing” … I started watching TV shows and movies. And ….. and of course, I found ….. I found Bruce Lee. And I was like, “What is that? And who is he?”. And he ….. he became, you know, a huge sort of fixation of mine, to this day. I’m still fascinated with that guy. He’s extraordinary. And what he did in that time, is really amazing. And, I just saw “Be Water”, actually at Sundance. It’s really cool. A new documentary about him.
Alex: But then the “Karate Kid” came out, as well. I was like, “Oh my god. I am him”. I’m, yeah, you know, like…. And so, it’s sort of a dreamy time for me. And I used to like… I had a little milk run. Like, remember …. when I was, I don’t know if it was the same in the states, but they used to drop bottles on the doorstep. And ….. we’d run. We were the runners …. the kids. You get paid a little … a couple of bucks, and you …. you just run your ass off. Dropping the milk and picking up the empty bottles.
And I saved my money and ….. and I buy these… I get mom to drive me down to the store and I’d buy these, like karate magazines and black belt magazine, and all that stuff. And I’d like …. there’s little coupons and stuff that you could …. you could order like, the ninja shoes and like nunchucks and stuff. And I would save my money and I’d send away to the US, to buy these. I’d just sit by the mailbox, just frothing, waiting for it to come.
But yeah man, it just became ….. sort of took over everything. Really, it became …. it became a way of life for me very quickly. Though I didn’t realize it for many, many years. And I think that ….. the other thing ….. I was sort of thinking about this last night. I was trying to reflect on some of it a little bit, to have something to talk about today.
You know, I think, the discipline and the integrity that I learned in the martial arts ….. and in the gyms, that I was involved with, is something that I carried throughout my life. And something that held me in good stead, you know.
Kaleb: Yeah, for sure. And I think a lot of kids have a reflection of that, that they did martial arts when they were younger and you know, it had a positive impact. And even people that didn’t maybe do martial arts their entire life, it just hit them at an impactful time of their life. You know, where it sets some habits.
And so like, for you being a fan of Bruce Lee, who is always about, you know, blending the arts and finding what is useful; discarding what is not. What did that look like for you as you got older, you know, searching out other styles, or you know, what was kind of your mental perspective of martial arts as you got older seeking out new things?
Alex: I didn’t have like, a Zen philosophy on it back then, you know. I was just a kid and I was in it. And that were the formative years. And… I didn’t realize what was sort of being imprinted on my … on my …. the blueprint of my DNA as a person, you know. And I didn’t realize how powerful or how kind of important it would …. it was or it would be, but ….. I just loved doing any of it.
I wasn’t like, “Okay, now I need to do… “. I wasn’t like I’ve got to go and find Jeet Kune Do. I’ve got to go on and studying Wing Chun and get a wooden dummy and do all that so I can move my …… It sort of wasn’t like that for me. I was…
I was pretty scrappy, when I was a kid. I had a lot to prove. I was always sort of like hanging out with older kids, that were bigger and faster and tougher and …. and you know, I was always the smaller dude trying … too much, and so I’d always pop my chest out and go for it and …. and I got my ass handed to me, so many times because I picked fights with these gigantic guys and they just beat the shit out of me.
And so I got in trouble a lot with …. with the Sensei’s that I had in my life. You know, coming to class with like black eyes and stuff, because …. you know ….. what I now know, we train so we don’t have to fight. And of course, if you have to fight, you finish the fight. But I haven’t had a fight in a long time, man – 20 years, or something. But it’s …… it was different back then.
And so, yeah, I think it was interwoven ….. and by the way, not for a minute, would I say that martial arts, fueled that …. that thing. If anything, it kind of capped it. You know, if anything …. it gave me more moments of like, you know, “Fuck this guy”. You know, ‘walk away moments’ than … than ….. than I would have had otherwise. But I’m …… I’m not sure if I did answer your question? But …..
Kaleb: No, I mean you did. I mean, because it’s like, you weren’t seeking out martial arts, as like that. You know, “I’m the student that needs to learn everything about all that there is, and to find only the best way”. You know, you were just kind of in the moment, participating and just enjoying what it had to offer.
You know, I talked to Felicia Oh recently, and she kind of had a little bit of a similar story. It was like. She’s like, I just loved training and then before, you know it, I was training all the time and I’ve been doing this for several years. To where sometimes, I feel like it just kind of sneaks into our life, to where you just kind of look back and before you know it, you’re a martial arts guy. And you didn’t even realize it. Because there’s just fun. It was the journey.
Alex: Yeah, I think your question pertains more to me in my adult life. You know, in my ….. in my 20’s ….. I started to ….. I started to think about, like, fighting systems. You know, what I mean. And I started to think about like, self-defense. And like real stuff you know ….. and I had some pretty hairy situations when I was younger. You know, I had some …… you know I had some guns pointed at me and I had a knife put to my throat at one stage. And I had like ….. I like, sort of came out of a bunch of situations, that …. I should never have been in. But also, that I probably shouldn’t have made it out of. So, I ….. I … I’ve always been like, [pointing upwards] “Thank you!”.
Kaleb: Hmm .. mm
Alex: But as I got older, I started to evaluate my life, as you do. And I started to think like, “What’s the… what’s the best system? “ Like, “What’s THE system?”. And … um, after the birth of USC. Was that in ’93 … ’94?
Kaleb: Yeah. ’93.
Alex: ’93, right. I started seeing … And I was like, “Oh my god. Fuck”. Like, that just blew my mind. And I wasn’t ready for it. When I saw it I wasn’t like. “Oh yeah, that’s … “. I was just like, “What?”. And then of course, I saw Mel Gibson. Dude, he did a …. he did a triangle …
Alex: … on Gary Busy in …. in one of those movies. And that was like, very dramatic …. and in the rain. And I was like. “What is he doing? What am I witnessing?”. And at the time I thought, “No, that can’t be a real thing”. That’s not a thing. It’s not a THING!
Alex: And we started seeing more and more of it. And what I realized, like, my hands were always okay. But I was like, “I need to box. …. I need to box”. And so, I started boxing. And I boxed …. for about six years, I guess. I knew, I needed to get my hands better.
And nothing will ….. nothing will dial your …. your hands in like boxing. You know, and halfway through my boxing, I started really like watching… um … Jiu-Jitsu. I started …. really starting to understand the … the critical importance of that system.
But I had this mad reluctance. I don’t know where it came from? I was just like, “Nah”. I didn’t really know anyone in jiu-jitsu. I was like, each year that went by, it was a year further away from starting. Do you know what I mean? It was weird, and I just couldn’t walk into a gym.
Alex: And it wasn’t until I got out here …. and in the first year of the show, Scotty was a purple belt then. Scott Caan, who … who I was working with, who has become a really close friend. He … a … he was like, “You’ve got to do Jiu-Jitsu”. And I was like, “Nah … yeah.” And he was like, “You’re an asshole. Dude, you don’t know anything”. He was like, “Do Jiu-Jitsu. Stop being an asshole.”. And I was like, “What’s with this?”.
And so, after about a year, which was about nine years ago, I was like… “Let me meet this dude, Egan, ‘cos I’ve read a lot about him. I know who he is. And if I’m gonna do it with anyone on this island, I’m gonna do it with him.”
And Egan came out and there was some sort of mats, up in this little gym we built at the stage. And …. he came out …. and …. I was like, “Man, this guy is a unit. Like, look at him. I can’t believe that I am meeting Egan Inoue. This is crazy”. And we… I threw on a Gi top and stuff. And we just started doing some real basic stuff, man. Like scissors sweeps, and like, you know, little hip throws and stuff. And he got onto …..he got into my guard, and he taught me ….. he taught me just a double lapel choke, right? And when I finally got that choke, and I did it correctly. And there was very little effort. My grips were good. I had this moment, where Egan Inoue, was in my …. was in my choke. And I knew ….. I knew he couldn’t get out of it. And I knew, if I tuck my head down, he could punch me as hard as he could, for the next three seconds, but then in four seconds, he’d be asleep. And it was a CRAZY revelatory moment. And I was like, “What is this …. thing in hands?”
Kaleb: This magic. … This magic.
Alex: “What is this magic?”. And …… and that was the moment ….. I sort of mocked around for the next sort of six months or so. And had a few personal things that I needed to sort out, but then about ….. It was about eight and a half years ago. So, I was like, “I’m never gonna stop doing this. I’m never looking back”. And I got mats for a house. And I ….. that was it.
Kaleb: Yeah, I mean, like, I understand what you’re saying about a little apprehensive of getting into it, because, especially, you know, back in the day whenever MMA and Jiu-jitsu were just so closely correlated. It was kind of like, if you were doing Jiu-Jitsu you’re basically going to Valley Judo class. Like…
Kaleb: And it kind of made a lot of people concerned. Like, man, like, you know, I want to learn I want to be tough. But I don’t kind of want to show up, just for someone to beat the brakes off, of me. You know, like, it just …. it was one of those things because it was so new. It’s kind of like you needed to find somebody, to kind of …. that you could trust. Just because it was ….. you could see how effective it was, and that made it very dangerous.
Kaleb: You know, that was just like, “I don’t want somebody to break my arms because I ask them how do I learn an armbar”. And when you’re not in the circles, like, sometimes ….. I know for me, like, I showed up at the gyms, with like an absolute belief that, “Man, these guys are gonna try to beat me up and drag me out back in the alley”. You know, when I was a young kid.
Kaleb: You, know any places. Just, you know, your mind runs wild with your imagination …..
Alex: And then …. when you walk into a Jiu-jitsu gym. I mean even a Karate gym or Taekwondo, they’re kind of …. of like intense – yeah, yeah … all the kiaping …. being I’m like… yeah, yeah. But if you walk into a Jiu-Jitsu gym, like, that’s a tough group of dudes, man.
Alex: They’re all like…… there’s like, you know, walk in like, “Oh my god. These guys are animals”. Like, it’s ….. it’s a different ….. they’re a different breed. It’s a different breed of martial arts. You fight. You get in there, and you fight. It’s a full… it’s a proper full-contact martial art. I think that’s, that.
And it was like, 20 years ago… I think it’s much more accessible now. It’s kind of ….. and that is the problem, as well. Because it’s kind of becoming like Yoga. Remember, when Yoga like blows up. And every, like, every street corner in Los Angeles, there was some dude with the topknot bun in his hair, and like a fashionable beard and like, you know, flowering pants, going like, “Come in ladies, come in”.
And ….. and it became this ….. it became, like, part of …. it became popular. It became fun and popular and cool. And it was like, “You do yoga?” – “Yeah, I do Yoga”.
And I think Jiu-Jitsu has become a little bit more like that. But it wasn’t like that 20 years ago man, when I thought about doing. That was like scary as fuck. And then … and there were a lot of Brazilians. And they’re gnarly dude, man. Like all my buddies from Brazil now. They’re the most amazing guys man. They see me, they hug me, they kiss me. And they’re like, “What’s up?” Like Royce and Enson and all these guys … the best, BEST dudes. But when you first meet them, it’s like …
Alex: …”I’m scared of you man”
Kaleb: Yeah, it’s not like. “You’re not gonna punch me in the face randomly, right?” Just because you can, like, …… yeah.
Alex: Right. That’s … that’s what I mean. Is that’s this ….. and by the way, there’s extraordinary Jiu-Jitsu out there. And the wonderful thing about its proliferation – if that’s the word? Is that all those new players have come out of different countries. Like, I mean, look at like Craig Jones and … and you know, and Lochlin out there…. out of my country. Out of Australia. It’s like, Craig might be the best on the planet right now… Incredible.
So, it’s kind of spread its tendrils and it pulled some incredible people in, you know. But it’s also ….. there’s some dudes out there, they’re just fronting with belts they shouldn’t be wearing, teaching people like, bad techniques …. and…
Alex: They’re doing more damage man …
Kaleb: Yeah. No, but it comes with the territory. When something is expanding as quickly as this. You know, because I can remember whenever I started teaching Jiu-jitsu. And I was just like, a lonely little blue belt. Because, you know, there’s nobody else to train with. You know, it’s just we had the only school. And you travel to seminars for the nation. And it was purely out of excitement. It was just like, “Look at what I learned”. You know, “Let’s do more of this”. And I feel like that still goes on nowadays, but like you said, sometimes it gets a little misrepresented.
Or people kind of jump to the belts a little bit quick. And you know, maybe just don’t have the time and rank that, you know, you’re kind of looking for. But, it comes with the territory. And …. and I think the biggest thing is, it really gets people thinking about Jiu-Jitsu. To where they get more critical, and they start looking for more information. You know, where it’s like, man are they doing this for a while? I feel like, you know, there’s got to be a missing piece.
There’s something else which, you know, you hear a lot of guys say, you know, whenever black belts go train with Rickson, it’s like starting over again. Because he brings in new ideas and new theories, that they hadn’t been thinking about for the last ten or fifteen years or even longer.
(Egan Inoue with Rickson Gracie – his name is pronounced Hickson)
Alex: Like that’s the private that I’m like, saving my money for. I still don’t ….. like I got a couple of friends … I know Kron a little bit. I got … I know Jack and I’ve got a few friends, that are black belts under him. And I’m just like, “That’s the private”. I’m like, “Oh, my god. I can’t wait”.
Kaleb: It’s like, “I gotta get better before I go”, and you know, like ……it’s probably not gonna matter, but I’ve got to get better, before I go. It’s one of those things, that when you look at these higher-level guys in the world, and the people in a lot of smaller clubs, you know, that … uh …. you know, don’t have world-class experience. Or you know, world champion instructors. You know, they can still do jiu-jitsu and participate, but at least the awareness is increasing, to where people are starting to look and seek out, you know, more knowledge. And look to some of these senior belts – the guys that have been around since the beginning. Which is such a unique situation of Jiu-Jitsu, because, the guys that were there when it started, are still available for the most part.
Kaleb: You know, I mean, the origins are still a phone call away. You know, and … and that it’s a very unique time for us to be a part of what’s happening. And ….
Alex: I just want to add to what I said before … Like, through this … this …. this expansion of Jiu-Jitsu around the world, the amazing thing is, that there are lots of little clubs, with dudes that are really, really good – With black belts, who are really great, run these little schools, that open their doors and ….. and open their arms with a big smile. You know what I mean?
It’s not as like… it’s not as like …. you can’t …… you’re not part of this club anymore. It’s much more accessible. Which is amazing, because I really believe, that if everybody in the world did Jiu-Jitsu, the world would be …. the most amazing peaceful place, man. There would be no …. you know what I mean. Like the governments …. they would be … they will all train Jiu-Jitsu. All the politicians ….. they’d be like, “Oh, come on man”.
Kaleb: “It’s cool. Let’s just go roll. We’ll work it out.”
Alex: “Oh, let’s do the right thing for the planet. Let’s stop, fucking poisoning people and ripping everyone off”. I don’t know, I just think it’s a …. every …. people who … who train Jiu-Jitsu seriously …. for a long period of time, are … are … are …. they’re just easy …. they’re easier people, I think. You know, I mean, there’s something about them that’s …. some … hey, look man, I mean, when you train Jiu-Jitsu, you …. you get bashed every day. You .. you … you …. your whole thing is trying to stop someone from breaking your arm, or putting you to sleep. Like, you know, it’s not about how you look.
I don’t even think you get to look sexy, doing Jiu-Jitsu, for like ten years. You know what I mean? Like I still look at my jiu-jitsu when we’re filming, I’m like, “Dude, why do I look ….? ” Like it’s kind of working, but you know … but … uh .. it’s ….it’s… it’s hard.
And it’s very humbling. And you can’t … you can’t … any …. it’s… it’s always been amazing to me …. because as a white and a blue belt …. like… I was desperate to get my purple belt. And I would never have told you that as a blue belt. Hell no. Even at the first half of my purple belt, I wouldn’t have admitted it. But I just… I wanted that purple, because I wanted to know, I got past the curse, you know.
Alex: And I trained so hard. And you know, I got a bunch of stuff going on. I have six discs that are herniated... and I got a whole bunch of stuff. But a couple of them, I did to myself. From like exploding at the wrong time. And making bad decisions that were based in ego.
And just sort of like, rushing my shots and … and …. and .. and … and … and … and … and there’s equal parts … like, as you … if my ego comes …. gets on the mat, it’s like, I just get destroyed. It’s like … it’s a perfect balance. You know, the more ego I bring in, the harder I get destroyed. And … and the worst my experience is. So it’s a leveler man. People that … people that roll … for the most part, I’ve always experienced them as really cool people. And easy people, dude.
Kaleb: Yeah, it’s almost like it grounds your personality. Because you’re in such a realistic scenario of, it doesn’t matter how angry you get frustrating you get or how much you want that moment if … if you don’t have the technical prowess, the experience, the timing, and the calmness, you know, to execute like, you missed it. You’re pinned in a bad position, you get caught in the submission, you know like. And you have to cope with that. And no matter what type of temper tantrum you want to throw, nothing will save you, except, you know, responding to the resistance.
Kaleb: You know, it seems to be.
Alex: [His response is inaudible]
Kaleb: Yeah, and I think that believes in the people’s lives, often that’s – because, I mean that’s what most people are. They walk into a gym and are really battling, usually you know. As they want to be something different. They want to feel something different. They just …. You know, they’re looking for some direction or purpose you know, because they just feel lost and they don’t have confidence or belief in themselves. Self-image problems. There’s all these things that come with them.
Which of course, they’re like I just want to get in shape and learn some cool stuff. You know, but there’s really some deep stuff in there that people are challenged by, that the doing Jiu-Jitsu and other martial arts as well, that Jiu-Jitsu specifically, it just seems to give people an ability, to come up with better coping mechanisms over those struggles. You know an almost a better perspective.
I always kind of chalk it up to like, if I put you underneath full amount on day one and hold you down. You know, that’s a very stressful scary intimidating moment of like, what do I do? People freaked out. And then you fast forward two years later, and now they’re comfortable in the same position. They don’t freak out, you know, that they’ve expanded.
Alex: Rickson says like, I mean, one …. one of the many wonderful things he says, is that, you know, Jiu-Jitsu is about getting comfortable in the most uncomfortable and terrifying position you’ve ever been in, you know.
Kaleb: And that’s ….that’s, but that’s life right, I mean.
Alex: Totally man. I think a lot of people come ….. I think a lot of people come into Jiu-Jitsu, thinking they’ll find one thing, or for whatever their agenda is, you know, coming … they … into the martial arts. Like you said, to all martial arts, but specifically Jiu-Jitsu. They come in and they’re looking for one thing, or they think they’re looking for one thing, but they get a whole bunch of other stuff, they never thought …. they never knew …..they were …. they never even thought of.
You know, I mean the realizations are so profound. They’re so … Yeah, like your say, and it’s such a great and such a great analogy for life. Jiu-Jitsu, it’s such a great sort of …. it just runs parallel with everything. And if you …… there’s also that the moment where that you’re talking about, like you know, when you finally get comfortable in somebody’s ….. in somebody’s mouth …. and… and you just gently know how to stay safe and protect your neck. And you’re waiting for the … the half an inch they’re going to give you before you can sweep them off, or get a leg, or whatever it is.
And if you sort of ….. if you look at …. if you … if you can do that, life’s kind of easy. Like it’s not easy, but it’s like, you know, like, marriage, kids, work relationships. You know like, speeding tickets, whatever …. whatever your life consists of, it’s like it’s all so much more manageable, compared to having, you know, a 220-pound black belt insane, guerilla, lunatic, sitting on your head.
Alex: You know, it’s like, “Oh, Yeah”
Link to Full Video:
We will post the rest of the transcript over the coming days– Please be patient 🙂(Unfortunately the captions on YouTube are very inadequate to use. Some of the wording in English is far off and would translate horribly for other languages. Hope this will translate a bit better.)