Eddie Bravo started Jiu-Jitsu at age 24. He first toked when he was 28 years old.
“Up until that point I actually hated it and was an anti-weed activist,” says the now 46-year-old third degree black belt and founder of West Hollywood’s 10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu, where he teaches a non-traditional form of the martial art. “I believed the propaganda. Believed it killed brain cells. Gave you lung cancer.”
Bravo, who is also a musician and whose work has appeared on the 2011 soundtrack for Never Back Down 2: The Beatdown and the 2014 EA Sports UFC video game, blamed marijuana when stoner bandmates hit the wrong note.
“I basically talked shit on pot all the time,” he says.
For the first two years that he used weed, Bravo believed he was killing brain cells and inviting lung cancer, but he did appreciate its artistic benefits.
“It opened up everything for me creatively,” says Bravo, who’s collaborated with Danny Lohner (formerly of Nine Inch Nails), Billy Howerdel (A Perfect Circle), and Rakaa (Dilated Peoples). “My music was transformed before my eyes.”
Although marijuana and music mixed well, it wasn’t until much later that he dared combine cannabis and Jiu-Jitsu.
When Bravo, then a purple belt, first started smoking, he only partook at night. “I didn’t think I could do anything high,” he says. “I’d just smoke weed with my girlfriend. We’d stay up all night laughing, ordering late-night pizza, cake, and ice cream. If anything went wrong, we’d go to bed.” Like many young cannabis users, Bravo looked forward to smoking at night, eating, watching TV, and playing music.
Beyond that, he didn’t trust himself. “When you first start smoking weed, you don’t know how to harness it,” he says. For six months, he refused to get behind the wheel of a car while stoned. He only did for the first time when he had to return Blockbuster rentals to avoid late fees. “I was broke,” he explains.
It wasn’t until 2000, at the world championships in Brazil, that American professional mixed martial artist and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner B.J. Penn convinced Bravo to try mixing marijuana and martial arts. He asked Bravo, who’d been smoking for two years and gained a reputation for being pro-marijuana, “You don’t smoke weed when you roll?”
Bravo said he did not. “I thought if I did Jiu-Jitsu stoned, I’d get killed,” he says. “And I had been smoking pot for years.”
“You’re going to love it,” Penn assured Bravo.
Despite being skeptical, Bravo finally experimented, smoking before rolling with his master at the time, Jean Jacques Machado, who’d previously dominated Bravo in competition. “He still demolished me,” says Bravo. “But it was the best I had ever done against him.”
“[Jiu-Jitsu] taught me you can do high-level athletics stoned,” he says. And Bravo did, in fact, love it. “Now, when I roll, not doing it high is like going to a concert not high. Imagine that.”
Bravo’s understanding of the plant and his abilities changed over time. “On marijuana, I am able to function and let that executive function that ties your shoes like it’s a magic trick do what it does,” he says. “When you’re high, you rely more on your instincts and your body takes over and you can doing amazing things. You don’t think about it, you just do it—like shredding on guitar. You can’t think about anything while you play. You practice those notes and after awhile your hands do their magic.”
In order to harness the plant, you have to experiment, Bravo reasons. He compares it to an experienced author switching from a typewriter to a laptop—the typewriter as doing things not high, and the laptop as doing things high.
“The author’s got a routine,” Bravo explains. “He knows how to put that paper inside that typewriter better than anyone. He shreds on the typewriter. If you tell him to switch over to a laptop to save time, that he won’t have to go back and redo shit and white out shit, he will at first produce less than on a typewriter. Once he masters the laptop, that’s when his output will crush it. That’s how doing stuff on marijuana works.” In short, when you smoke, at first you can’t function too well. You have to allow time for adjustment.
“There’s too much info, too much blood in your brain, all your neurons are firing,” Bravo says. “You’re a white belt at getting high. Once you master smoking weed, little by little, damn, its benefits are tremendous.”