Nathan Orchard is a 10th Planet Black Belt under Eddie Bravo and a successful MMA welterweight fighter. He has submitted such legends as Masakatsu Imanari and Barret Yoshida and has had some very attractive matches, most notably the inaugural EBI final against team mate Danny Prokopos.
Nathan is famous for an array of techniques and submissions ranging from his “Dead Orchard” submission to devastating “ashi garami” or leg locks. He represents the next generation of Eddie Bravo’s legion of submission artists.
On his way to a training camp in Thailand’s exquisite island paradise of Koh Tao he stopped by Bangkok Fight Lab to teach a seminar mainly focused on leg lock defence. BJJASIA got the opportunity to have a short chat with Nathan after the seminar and the honour to roll with a truly elite level grappler.
BJJASIA: Most people remember their first competition, but do you remember your fourth, fifth matches as a white or blue belt?
NATHAN: When I think of my early matches, I think of wrestling, as I wrestled way before jiu-jitsu. I was about 12 years old when I started wrestling, I was slightly more developed than other kids – I was already shaving, basically a little man-child. Competing is a part of it. People usually over analyse it, but it really comes down to getting out there and doing it. It’s notoriously repeated but you either win or learn. Yeah I remember my few first matches but I think they actually don’t matter. What counts is that we doing it instead of sitting on a couch.
BJJASIA: No matter if you are an amateur or a professional, waiting is a part of a competition. How do you keep yourself ready, set you mind?
NATHAN: I have learned years ago: sleep in between the matches. When I started MMA, I would walk up into the warm-up room and the see the best fighter in the room and he would be sleeping. These top guys are not warming up 2 hours prior their match, they as calm as they can be for very a long time. So I don’t warm up basically nearly until it s time for my fight – I only warm up once, right before the match, and I try to stay as calm as I can. I never coach anybody if I am competing that day, and if I have multiple matches, I lay down right after my fight is done. Even if I am not sleeping, just taking a horizontal pose is a signal for our body to start to recover. Staying calm, relaxing, not pacing too much and warming up too much or too early, that’s how you prevent to burn out.
BJJASIA: If you have multiple matches, and a successful path through the BJJ competition brackets mean you will have several bouts, do you go all in or do you keep in mind that you might need some energy for the next round?
NATHAN: I think it’s honest to go as hard as you can. If you hold back, that might not serve. Give what you’ve got, always. But you will learn how to fight smart, not hard. So even if you give it all you have got, it is going to be calculated, smart. I am thinking of a competition the way a brain surgeon would think before they go to a major surgery: they would prepare themselves, they would be calm, but also very deliberate. So I am trying not to freak out and jump around, my aim is to be very clean, very precise, accurate.
BJJASIA: You have mentioned recovery. Let’s touch a controversial topic – there are thousands of BJJ practitioners who are in mid thirties, forties, fifties and so on . As I myself am in that category and tested daily on the mats against younger guys whilst carrying injuries. What is your opinion on the use of testosterone replacement, plasma enrichment etc not for enhancement but rather for recovery and to equalise the playing field for older participants in the sport?
NATHAN: Well I take recovery as seriously as training. But I have a student, Ed Russel, who is 49, and he is accelerating, not slowing down. Maybe he was just blessed with good genes, but I think it’s again rather the fact that he is training smart, not training hard.
My recovery includes good sleep, good diet, drinking enough water, massages, I do float tanks (sensory deprivation tanks) , yoga… I am training 3-4 times a day, but I am not going crazy. It’s not about doing more, it’s about doing better. Striving for the most clean, precise technique – that’s not gonna hurt your body, that’s not gonna hurt your training partners.
BJJASIA: What has MMA brought to your grappling game? You have a decent MMA record with 21 fights, what really caught my eye was an event you have fought in a promotion called Cinco de Massacre…
NATHAN: [big laugh] Oh man, that’s old! You did some serious research! I think MMA is the ultimate test. Apart from a street fight, and that is definitely not a good idea. I achieved 10 wins by a submission, and that was before discovering 10th Planet. One of my ultimate heroes is Musashi, and his obsessive search for the truth – and that’s what I am searching for the truth. Martial Arts are a great way to test yourself, to find the truth about yourself, and that’s the beauty of it for me.
BJJASIA: Now thanks to the UFC, mixed martial arts is an established sport, but a decade ago it was more an underground freak show – how did you get the idea to become part of it?
NATHAN: My friend joined the army, and we started sparring together “Fight Club style” – beating the crap out of each other on his front lawn. So I have told myself to try it, that was 2004, I was 16 years old, but because I already had a beard, nobody got the idea of actually asking me about my age. I have stepped into the cage, and I got arm barred – and realized: holy hell, there is a powerful Martial Art out there! So I started jiu-jitsu because I got beaten by jiu-jitsu.
BJJASIA: The majority of famous 10th Planet guys are slim and lean – it even looks like this system either attracts or maybe produces such a body type, not matching the stereotype of a fighter.
NATHAN: Yeah it actually looks like being the case – and we are relying a lot on flexibility… maybe because of my body type, I naturally was drawn towards it, but I have been training for 7 years before discovering that there is 10Th Planet. Before I was ranked for the first time, I didn’t even know there is some Gi and Nogi – that Gi is a part of jiu-jitsu. I found 10th Planet, they have adopted me, and after, way later, I found all this controversy about doing or not doing Gi. I consider myself a student of grappling, of combat, a martial artist. I do everything from heel hooks to wrist locks. Wrestling, striking, archery, fencing…
BJJASIA: Speaking of heel hooks, that’s a typical topic for “non-IBBJF” guys: slicers, spine twists, knee reaping, other restricted techniques. Your point of view on that: in competition, in training. Do you teach these techniques, at what age and at what level do you start?
NATHAN: I am happy that people do jiu-jitsu. Doesn’t matter if they do heel hooks or not. However me personally, as I have said, I am searching for the truth. I am interesting in everything from wrist locks to questions like “Could the opponent bite me in the position? Poke my eyes?”. So as I am interested in every aspect of each position, each submission, I do heel hooks.
In my school, we teach heel hooks but no white belt is allowed to throw heel hook or be heel hooked. But on day one we start with leg positions like ashi garami. If you wait with leg locks till you are a brown belt, you are way behind the curve these days. The game is changing, you have to be opened minded. It’s about training safely and without ego. The reason why people are getting hurt is that they don’t tap soon enough, as they are uneducated or either trying to prove something to someone. It’s about getting better and helping others to get better, no proving that you are the toughest guy out there. Attitude. That being said, now I am obsessed with chokes. I went down the rabbit hole of leg locks pretty deep, and I have seen people crazy escaping everything – from knee bars to inverted heel hooks. But once your forearm is under someone’s chin… the escape options are very limited. I believe that the rear naked choke is the king.
Thanks a lot for making time for BJJ ASIA!
Thank you, man!
Pavel Hacker conducted this interview on behalf on BJJASIA. He is an example of a BJJ practitioner who is constantly juggling work life with jits. Coming from Prague with 6 years of BJJ mat time, a purple belt under Andrew McDonald and Mitsuhiro Nakamura of Arête BJJ Bangkok. He received his blue belt in 1 year of training from Marek Pasierbski (Copacabana) due to a previous long experience in Judo and MMA.
Several weeks after the interview, Nathan secured a spot at EBI 11 by winning the 10th Planet Qualifier at 10th Planet HQ by way of four rear naked chokes.
Nathan Demonstrating the “Dead Orchard”