In part three of our interview series on MMA Nation with jiu-jitsu black belt and 2009 bronze medalist at ADCC, Ryan Hall talks about the two most important decisions of his career that brought him to this point. He also talks about the most important lesson he's learned from his mistakes. Video and complete transcript follow:
Luke Thomas: I spoke to Carlos Condit after it was announced that Nick Diaz was being pulled from his title fight with GSP and he was gonna get it, and I asked him a question and I wanna ask you the same one. Give me two decisions that you've made in your life that have brought you to this point. By ‘this point,' I mean here you are, you're a bronze medalist in 2009, you're going for the gold this year. Obviously it's a tough tournament. Nothing is presumed. But you're really doing well. What brought you here? Give me two decisions.
Ryan Hall: Two decisions in my life that really changed everything were, one: the decision to ‘quit life' as an engineering student and just do jiu-jitsu. Because when I was 19 and I was going to school, if I had done anything other than spending all of my waking hours on this and give up everything - I went from living in a college dorm and trying to be an electrical engineer to sleeping on a couch and washing mats in order to pay for tuition because I was so broke, I guess I felt like, if I burned all the boats, so to speak, I would have no option other than to work my ass off for success and I feel like that was the one thing that sort of pushed me in the proper direction.
Not everything has, of course, gone according to plan. Nothing ever does. But, if you give yourself no other option than to succeed in the realm that you're pushing yourself towards, that's really big. I guess the second thing has been changing to Marcelo Garcia's team and really making the push. I've been my own coach for a long time. I've never really had the benefit of top level training partners on the day-to-day, ever. I feel like I've been able to be pretty successful in spite of all that. It's been a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of introspection. A lot of help from my friends. Being the most experienced guy in a room full of less experienced people and thinking that you're just gonna walk out there and kill everybody - that's not a stable place to be mentally. It's just not realistic and that's not who I am. So, I wanna be in a room full of really tough guys, better than me, beating me up, pushing in the proper direction. I was finally able to get that for this one. I'm just looking forward to, not only this tournament, but going forward from here on out. In an environment that's really geared towards learning, that's gonna push me to be my best, whatever that may be.
Luke Thomas: Couple more minutes and we'll let you go here. Really appreciate your time.
Ryan Hall: Not at all.
Luke Thomas: How would you characterize yourself today? Here's what I mean. When you think about your accomplishments, when you think about what you've learned, you think about yourself and how you identify yourself, how do you do that? How do you conceive of yourself in 2011?
Ryan Hall: Basically, I guess, in my mind, I've always thought of it like this. I can't help it, to hopefully use a poker analogy that I think people will get, I can't help it if I was dealt two aces or two-seven off-suit. That's just totally out of control. I can't help that I'm not smarter or that I'm not more athletic or that I don't have anything or something like that. All I can do is say: ‘Here's what I've got and here's what I want to be. How can I go from point A to point B and make the absolute most of what I've got?' Like I said before, the one thing I don't want is to look back and say: ‘I could have worked harder. I could have done more. I could have been more dedicated. If only I wouldn't have messed around or had worked harder. Maybe I could have been this or that.
Because I hear that all the time and it's just sad, honestly. The way that I view myself is someone who wants to constantly push to be better. I never wanna be satisfied. I've won a lot. I've lost a lot too. But I've won a lot, in spite of a lot of disadvantages, I feel. I don't wanna look back and go: ‘Alright! Sweet! Bronze at ADCC!' I don't want bronze. I want gold. I don't wanna look back and be like: ‘Oh man! I won the world's at a purple belt...in four years!' Who cares? Did you win at black belt? Will I get to that level? I sure hope so. I'm gonna work my ass off. All I can say is the way I view myself is that I will never settle for mediocrity and I will never settle for anything less than attempting my best and then whatever it happens to be, I'm gonna try harder and harder...and then one day, I'll croak (laughs).
Luke Thomas: One last question and then we'll let you go. People who are successful, in any realm of life, they talk about the decision that they made, that they did correctly. You identified two of them. Tell me the one mistake you've made that brought you to this point. I mean the mistake where you really sort of just thought about, wow, this was, a, ‘glad I made the mistake, it maybe hurt at the time, but it's put me in a more advantageous position to make decisions going forward.' What's the biggest mistake or the best mistake?
Ryan Hall: Oh man. There's a lot to choose from.
Luke Thomas: Pick one.
Ryan Hall: I guess, basically, one of the biggest mistakes that I've made has been, just in terms of trying to force my worldview onto other people. For instance, rather than realizing, like when I opened my own academy, I was like, ‘Man, I know what I want. I wanna work hard. I wanna do this. I wanna do that. I wanna get everyone else doing the same thing.' But the fact of the matter is, it's like, my dad had just kinda beat me over the head with wanting to become an engineer. Do I have the IQ points for it? Maybe. I dunno. I would hate myself. I probably would've shot myself, by now, had I been doing it, because that's not what I wanna do. That's not what I'm meant for, so I do this (jiu-jitsu).
For instance, I've got a student or I've got a couple guys that work for me and I'm like, ‘Man this guy's talented' or ‘this girl's talented. If only they would really just work their ass off. I'll do anything I can for this person.' But if that's not what they want, they're not gonna be happy with me breathing down their neck, yelling at them, trying to get them to do it and it's just gonna end up causing frustration all around. So, I feel like the biggest mistakes I've made, have just been kind of inter-personal and just really understanding what I want out of life. Understanding who to deal with what other people want as well and how to create the best academy that I possibly so that everyone from everywhere can really accomplish their goals, no matter what they are.
Your goals? My goals? Just because their different doesn't mean mine are better or worse than anyone else's. Better for me. Better for you. That's all subjective and that's fine. But, uh, just really appreciating how to be a leader in a way that allows me to effectively train hard. I've spent so much time just in the past couple years just focusing on the gym and it's taken a lot of time away from training. I feel like we've been very successful and I feel like people have a great time, but it's just such a drain, emotionally, on me that it's been hard to train. I really feel that, as I become more mature, because I opened up when I was 23,and really, I was in the midst of a surgery, and I never knew if I'd be able to train again...I feel like I've gone through a lot of learning experiences and really, it's just been understanding what I want out of life. Understanding what other people want out of life and trying to facilitate their goals and my own goals so we can work together in the same direction and we can all accomplish what we want to accomplish. I know that's a little bit out there. It's not terribly specific, but it's been the biggest thing for me, I think.
Luke Thomas: Ryan Hall, a jiu-jitsu black beLuke Thomas in the 66 kilogram and under category in the Abu Dhabi 2011, travels to Nottingham, England, I guess, in a couple of days, to see if he can chase the gold. Ryan Hall, thank you very much for your time and I appreciate you talking to MMA Nation.
Ryan Hall: Thanks so much, Luke.