Written By Brandon Ibarra Interviwed by Rome Lytton IV
Grappler Mag recently sat down with jiu jitsu ace/bad-ass b-boy Charles Harriott after a seminar and some sparring. Harriott describes the similarities he has found between his two loves over the last decade-plus. The balance, the dexterity, the feel. How one reacts to a change in tempo, whether it’s the beat of the song or the aggression of your opponent. The athleticism required for success in the arts, the movements. Conor McGregor hired Ido Portal, a “movement coach,” presumably for the same reasons. Nick Diaz called it “touch-butt.” Maybe he should’ve called Harriott instead.
Grappler Mag: Tell us a little about your background.
Charles Harriott: I’ve lived in Gainesville, Florida (USA) for the past 13 or 14 years, been doing BJJ for the past 12. I actually started off doing nogi grappling. I’ve done some judo along the way. I started breakdancing in 2004, and that’s probably the biggest thing that influenced my grappling, because [being on] the ground felt comfortable [early on]. All the footwork, all the shifting weight to your hands. My body awareness is really there. As a kid I did striking arts, karate, kickboxing. So lifelong martial artist, but breakdancing was the thing that I was doing before I headed into jiu jitsu.
GM: Can you explain to us how your breakdancing has transitioned to your grappling?
CH: Sure, I think the first thing that I noticed when I was grappling was, I didn’t really get swept. Even though I was a beginner and I didn’t really know what I was doing, my balance was kind of always better than my peers. So in the breakdancing footwork, the simplest step is called the 6-step. Even just in that step you’re constantly shifting your weight from your hands to your feet. So people would try to scissor sweep me, and I would just naturally bounce right back and get neutral again. So it kind of gave my training partners a bit of trouble in the beginning just because of my athleticism, but I was still a beginner and I got beat up by them.
GM: Has your breakdancing helped with your progression?
CH: For sure. When I do the over leg guard pass to a back step and I thread through, that’s a breakdancing move. Or even the rocking chair up to triangle, the hip thrust, you do that in breakdancing. Or the flower sweep is actually kind of like a windmill. A lot of breakdancing borrows from capoeira. It really helps me in both escaping submissions. In breakdancing you jump onto your hands, you do flips. All of that dynamic stuff when it was introduced to me in jiu jitsu, I kind of already had a frame of reference.
GM: Are there any moves in particular that you drill more than others?
CH: For a while I was teaching a class, ‘Breakdancing for Jiu Jitsu’. It had some of the 6-step, because I think the weight shifting is really helpful for guard passing and not getting swept. It also had a modified windmill, which I practice, along with inversions. Even the rhythm of it, in breakdancing you’re going with the beat back and forth. I noticed with the breakdancing warm-ups, I don’t really get as tired as when I would be monotonously drilling something in jiu jitsu. Music has always helped me stay focused. I think the foundation of breakdancing, just the body awareness, is a really good base for jiu jitsu.
GM: Do you find yourself flowing through breakdancing moves in competition?
CH: I’ve changed over the years. At the beginning as a white belt I was very aggressive, very action-driven. I mellowed a little bit around purple, tried to be more flowy, because I think being smooth is a way to conserve energy. When I roll, it’s in a more flowy, dancing sort of way. Like breakdancing, I don’t use as much energy. The explosiveness that breakdancing also brings, it does use more energy, but that aspect of it is more useful for competition. If I get too mellow when I’m competing I tend to lose on points.
"..I think the first thing that I noticed when I was grappling was, I didn’t really get swept. Even though I was a beginner and I didn’t really know what I was doing, my balance was kind of always better than my peers."
GM: I’ve enjoyed rolling with you. I agree, super flowy. As the old adage goes, ‘Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.’
CH: It’s very true. It’s like the old sayings from the conquerors, ‘I’m in a rush, dress me slowly,’ Napoleon. If you really want to do something, if you rush it you’re going to mess it up. Take your time, do it step by step and it’s going to come out right.
GM: What breakdancing moves work the best for grappling?
GM: That’s really interesting, the concept of just self-expression through action.
CH: I think that expression and that tinkering and all the failure before getting success, I think that’s a thing that breakdancers have to deal with. Skateboarders, same thing. I think anybody that experiences that solo sport where you have creativity and pain is going to do well in jiu jitsu. You can watch skateboarders fall and eat it and keep going. Snowboarders, breakdancers, gymnasts, trickers, it’s all a similar thing where you’re fighting against your own body.
GM: Do you still breakdance?
CH: I do, but I should practice more. It’s like the rusty black belt who still rolls but just never trains anymore. That’s how I am in breakdancing, except I wouldn’t consider myself a black belt in breakdancing. I did it for a while. I think I was pretty good. I mainly breakdance at weddings these days, or if [I’m at] a nightclub and a certain song comes on, I’ll breakdance. Or if someone tells a mutual friend and I have to prove to them that I in fact do breakdance.
GM: Do you have a favorite breakdancing move?
CH: I tend to do a lot of kips, laying on your back and getting up to your feet. I do no-handed kips a lot. Tricks and blow-ups are more my style of breaking. I like hitting the beat and being as musical as I could even though I wasn’t a very good dancer when I first started. I became a better dancer about four years into it, listening to the music better, but I was a pretty crappy dancer at the beginning.
GM: When you say listening to the music, you mean hitting the beats?
"..in breakdancing you’re going with the beat back and forth. I noticed with the breakdancing warm-ups, I don’t really get as tired as when I would be monotonously drilling something in jiu jitsu."
CH: The footwork. It’s really funny, the foundation for breakdancing is the most useful for jiu jitsu. There are acrobatic things that are good for your dexterity and coordination, but the basic footwork [is best]. In jiu jitsu we call it the long step, in breakdancing we call it a back step. The basic 6-step, all of these various things, hip inversions, swipes, they’re all base level breakdancing. I think they’re very good for guard passing. A lot of the back rocks, like windmills or hip switches, or even just the basic baby freeze is good for your coordination. I think that all of those things are going to build the kind of body that has the awareness to be good at jiu jitsu.
GM: Do you feel break dancers pick up grappling quicker than others?
CH: I think break dancers and wrestlers do. Wrestlers obviously are already grapplers and bring that ferocity, but breakdancers have to find the similarities. When you’re breakdancing, you tinker around and try to move your body in different ways. You’re expressing yourself. Jiu jitsu also has a part of it that’s self-expression. If you look at how I roll, it’s going to have a bit of my personality in it. I’ll teach my students my entire game, but if I did my job right, they’re not a clone of me. They’re expressing their jiu jitsu with pieces of my jiu jitsu in it.
CH: The funny thing about break dancing is it changes the way you listen to music. Before I started dancing, I couldn’t listen to music that didn’t have words. I’d just get bored and angry. But your ears start breaking the music up, you start hearing the bassline and the snare and the high hat. It all starts slicing up. If the music has a flute in it or horns, you can dance to any of those various beats. The expression that is usually given when breakdancing is, ‘a surfer rides a wave, a break dancer rides a beat.’ So you can hop from beat to beat. You can listen to the same song eight or nine times and dance to a different part of that song each time you listen to it, which is a fun thing. Jiu jitsu has its own jargon and style, breakdancing is the same way. It’s come a long way though. I learned over ten years ago now, and the level of dancers these days is outrageous. Things that would win you an entire jam ten years ago won’t even get you to the second round now. It’s crazy how far it’s evolved.
Grappling to Breakdancing
Breakdancing to Grappling