The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and entrepreneur is an outspoken marijuana advocate
Third-degree Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) black belt Eddie Bravo is one of the most innovative leaders in modern martial arts. He pioneered his own style of grappling in the early 2000s, and his 10th Planet jiu-jitsu schools—60 and counting—can be found worldwide. Bravo is also a Los Angeles local and long-standing marijuana advocate. We sat down with him to talk about the state of legal weed in the U.S. and its impact on professional BJJ and mixed martial arts (MMA).
What does cannabis mean to you?
EB: It doesn’t mean just one thing. It means a whole bunch of things. What I enjoy the most about marijuana is how it mixes with music. I’ve produced music most of my life, but until I was 28, I hated weed.
I’ve been using since I was 10. Once a year, somehow, I’d take a puff and get super paranoid. Basically, I’d just be living a nightmare until it wore off. And there’d always be a stoner in the band—that one dude who’s always high. Any time he would mess up the song, I’d blame the weed. I would basically scold him and make fun of him for smoking weed. But, then I got talked into smoking weed by this girl that I was madly in love with at the time. I didn’t want to do it, but she finally got me to smoke and we had a fantastic night. It was amazing. It was insanity, but it was pure ecstasy. And I woke up the next morning and thought, “Man, that was very strange. I had the time of my life, and I was high. I usually freak out when I smoke weed…” I wanted to try it again that night and test it out. I didn’t understand. Why did I have this great time? So we did it again and had another amazing night. From that point on, I realized all weed does is enhance how you already feel.
How did cannabis impact your jiu-jitsu?When I first started smoking weed, I was afraid. I didn’t think I could do anything. I didn’t think I could drive, I didn’t think I could eat, and I didn’t think I could do jiu-jitsu. Initially, it helped shape my jiu-jitsu game, but only mentally. I was constantly dissecting it in my head, but I wouldn’t train. I would never do jiu-jitsu stoned, never. I told myself that it was killing my brain, killing my lungs. It would freak me out, but I was also enjoying all of the creativity flowing through my brain at night.
But, then I was talking to a really famous jiu-jitsu fighter who was known for openly smoking weed. We were looking for weed in Brazil and we were talking a little bit about it, and he says, “You don’t smoke weed and roll?” I go, “No way.” And he said, “Bro, eventually you’re going to do it and you’re not going to be able to roll without it.”
Around the same time, a friend of mine was telling me all about the therapeutic benefits of weed. She recommended The Emperor Wears No Clothes by Jack Herer, and another friend got [the book] for me for Christmas. I’ll never forget sitting in my living room in this little shack I lived in in Hollywood, sitting on the couch with my jaw on the floor reading, going from page to page. I couldn’t put that book down. I was like, “Yes, yes, it’s good for you!” I couldn’t believe it. It was like, holy shit—we’ve been lied to.
So weed started a whole new evolution of my music, but it also made me dissect jiu-jitsu more than I was doing already. I started breaking down jiu-jitsu for MMA, trying to create the best style—something you could grapple around and do the same thing for MMA. You could have the exact same fight. I was trying to create that. That would have never happened, this profession of mine never would have happened, without the existence of those sacred plants.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission suspended UFC fighter Nick Diaz for five years and fined him $165,000 following his weed-related failed drug test at UFC183. Though the commission recently reduced his suspension time and fines, the penalty definitely remains more than a slap on the wrist. How do you feel about drug regulations and testing in BJJ and MMA?
I think, obviously, marijuana should never have been classified as a Schedule 1 drug. Weed was just in [Diaz’s] system. It’s not like he was high at the time of the fight. If he got high the night before, who cares? In another dimension, if I ran the world, I would allow fighters to fight stoned. They’ll fight better. Banning the use of marijuana to fight or to do martial arts is like banning marijuana in rap battles. You want those rap battles to be two dudes totally stoned going at it—flowing, getting unconscious, running on their instincts.
If weed improves the quality of fighting, both for the fighter and presumably for the spectators watching, why are organizers so anti-marijuana? Do you think drug testing in professional BJJ will become more frequent as cannabis becomes more mainstream?
The reason for all of this is propaganda, that’s where it all started. You know, since the 1930s the government has been trying to smear hemp usage. They created this false drug epidemic and demonized marijuana—made it seem really evil. People grew up hearing that and are so easily brainwashed. So, right now we’re in the middle of un-brainwashing people. That’s going to take a while.
[On the organizational level,] I don’t think anybody who put those laws and regulations together knows the facts of weed. It’s on the athletic commission’s ban list, in my opinion, just because it’s an illegal drug. They lumped weed in with all the bad shit like meth and coke when really it’s not supposed to be.
But, testing in BJJ… The sport is getting bigger and bigger all the time. Who knows? Maybe they’ll start testing. I think they test the winners in the world championships already. If you win, you’re going to get tested, and if you test positive you don’t get that gold medal.
Do you think the tide is shifting in favor of anti-marijuana advocates at all? Florida did not go recreational, and obviously Ohio did not either. Are those indicators of something larger?
Listen, it’s not going backwards. The fact that it even got voted on means it’s coming to get you. Do you know how hard it is to take a Schedule 1 drug and make it legal? The fact that it even got that far means there’s a whole shitload of people behind [recreational legalization] pushing it through. They’ve got to take care of whatever stopped it and come back around. Eventually, it will be legal.
The opposite of what’s happening with weed is what’s happening with vaccines. State by state, they’re slowly making vaccines fucking mandatory and they’re going to come after adults, too. There’s so much evidence that vaccines are dangerous, and they don’t even work. What you’re seeing with the vaccine movement is Big Pharma standing up and flexing their billion-dollar muscle. But, what you’re seeing with the weed movement is the people standing up and flexing their muscle.
Marijuana has to be harmless for what’s happening in the movement right now to be happening. It has to be more than harmless. It’s magical. Magical, that’s what it is. That’s why the federal government is fighting it tooth and nail, but the people are showing their strength. We want our weed, man. We want it, and we’re going to have it.
Chauntelle Tibbals, PhD, is the author of Exposure: A Sociologist Explores Sex, Society, and Adult Entertainment. She has written for Men’s Health, Playboy, Mic, VICE, and numerous academic journals. Find her on Twitter at @drchauntelle.