Interview with Craig McIntosh, BJJ brown belt at Higher Level MMA

I sat down with Craig McIntosh who is a BJJ brown belt and represents Higher Level MMA. Craig has a lot of experience and holds knowledge in each particular martial art. Have a read and leave a comment with your thoughts.

Kieran – So my first question, as always, how did your BJJ journey begin and what got you into it?

Craig – I started grappling at a hall in Sauchie where I was fortunate enough to learn from a Judo World Champion the late great Josh Gavin who was also running MMA classes from there. The area I grew up in was a pretty violent place and by the time I was 20 I had gotten myself in a lot of trouble with the law from getting in fights. I knew I had to work out a way to change my lifestyle as I was afraid I would end up killing someone. I stopped drinking alcohol on October 29th 2007 and started trying to make changes to become a better person. I had to work two jobs to pay off court fines and do community service on my only day off for about a year and a half to avoid jail. During this time, I found an appreciation for freedom and thought about the things I’d like to try when I finally had free time. The top of that list was MMA. A friend had mentioned he had gone to the class so I asked if I could tag along with him next time it was on. I went to the class thinking I was a tough street fighter and got humbled not only by my lack of ability but by how kind and helpful everyone was. I went outside after the class and spewed my load on the grass and knew it would be something I’d do for the rest of my life.

Kieran – Wow, first of all, congratulations on getting rid of the alcohol. Given how you said it I imagine it must have been difficult for you. What was that first class like? It must have been a big change from a hall in Sauchie.

Craig – Thanks, it was the root cause of everything going wrong in my life so I had to cut it out. It was great as I said I was humbled by the fact there were so many people who could beat me in a fight but wanted to help me get better. I discovered how unfit and vulnerable I was, but also realised it was something I could learn to be good at. The more I trained, the more obsessed with martial arts I got and looked to seek out experts in each discipline (Judo, BJJ, Wrestling, Boxing, Kickboxing and Muay Thai). At the time finding a BJJ black belt was extremely difficult and I didn’t want to train with someone affiliated to another MMA club. I found Scott Mcveigh who was teaching about 45 minutes away in Balfron. Scott was a brown belt under Royce now a black belt under Rickson who is head of Connection Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Glasgow. A great guy and coach.

Kieran – So talk to me about the first time you got on the mat and rolled. You said you learned from Judo Champion Josh Gavin, but how different was it and was you surprised?

Craig – Sorry, do you mean rolled in general (that would be at the judo club where I started in 2009) or rolled at BJJ (that was at Scott’s in 2011)

Kieran – Let’s start with Judo first then BJJ and then tell me how different both were.

Craig – Our judo club had a very good level of Newaza (groundwork) so when I went to BJJ, I was just glad to be rolling with people closer to my size. At the judo club, the majority of my training partners were 100+kg judo black belts which were amazing for learning. The only chance I had to survive was getting good technique fast. I feel very lucky to have started with judo. When you would see the smaller guys throw the bigger guys it would reinforce your belief in correct technique and leverage. Josh trained everyone to have a champion mindset. When I started BJJ I was fascinated by the level of detail in the instruction. It helped give me a greater understanding of body mechanics and that the smallest of details can make a huge difference to a submission requiring little or a lot of effort. Not long after starting BJJ, I attended some seminars with Royce and Rickson which reinforced this and stayed with me to this day.

Kieran – That seminar must have been fascinating, two BJJ legends in Royce and Rickson. What was the biggest thing you took away from that seminar?

Craig – It was two separate seminars but still amazing. From Royce, it was the way he explained the triangle. Such a basic technique, but the way he taught it helped me understand all head and arm chokes. From Rickson, it was his concepts on grappling and invisible jiu-jitsu. Flowing through techniques rather than the way BJJ is often taught in separate stages of a technique. You often see guys in tournaments and when their main strategy doesn’t work they fall apart. I’ve always preferred to just go with the feeling which is something Rickson spoke about so again that seminar reinforced this. In both of these seminars, they spoke about the push/pull strategies which are really the building blocks for all grappling. So basic, but underused in my experience.

Kieran – I guess sometimes when you get so far in something you forget about the basics and as Rickson and Royce showed, It’s always good to go back to basics. How much does Judo accentuate BJJ, in your opinion?

Craig – My level of judo is very poor in comparison to good players, but I think it helps for things like weight distribution and balance that aren’t focused on as much in BJJ. I think to be a complete grappler you need to have an understanding of Judo, BJJ and Wrestling. The technicality of BJJ, the finesse of judo along with the work rate of wrestling while embracing techniques from all three is the way to go, in my opinion. There are even some elements of Muay Thai clinching that help in grappling I feel.

Kieran – Is that why you sought coaches in each martial art or is that something you just wanted to do after going to that class for the first time?

Craig – At the time, there weren’t many people in the world even who had a good enough understanding of each martial art relevant to MMA to teach them. So I wanted to learn them individually and make my mind up on what was relevant through trial and error. Martial arts helped me so much in my life so I knew one day I’d want to pass that on to others and hopefully help them in the same way.

Kieran – Right, before we talk competition, your MMA career, and coaching, I want to ask – you and Stevie McIntosh are brothers. You both have the nickname ‘Mop’. Where does that come from?

Craig – I wish it had a cool story but basically, my older brother had the nickname due to having a moplike haircut. When I hung about with the older guys who knew my brother they called me Wee Mop. From there I got the name tattooed on my belly when I was about 16 and I guess I had no choice but to keep it after that. My brother Stevie got passed it down from me, but he prefers to go by The Major now.

Kieran – When I saw mop my first thought was to do with, as they call it ‘mop head’. I think Stevie will be grateful to go by The Major now.

Craig – That’s the one.

Kieran – So can you recall the first time you competed?

Craig – Yeah it was March 2010, I had an amateur MMA fight under the old C class amateur rules against Paul Lopez. I was supremely confident but had absolutely nothing to base my confidence on. I lost in a minute by a triangle. The only time I was made to tap in MMA competition. I was devastated. I didn’t face Paul again until the final of an Absolute 7 years later. I won in a minute by a necktie. Paul was a crazy talent and won his first 7 MMA fights in the first round by submission. Great guy also.

Kieran – Nice. Am I right in saying after that first fight you went undefeated in your amateur career?

Craig – No I lost again to Kevin Devine by the decision and then beat him 2 months later and again 3 months after that. A good portion of my fights aren’t on Tapology. I had 20 in total. So lost my first two. It was hard to take to be honest and I was very near quitting but enjoyed it too much.

Kieran – Tapology can piss off then. So, before I ask another misinformed question, have you had an MMA bout since 2016?

Craig – No that was the last one. I’ve had a few bouts scheduled but I’ve either been injured or more recently, Covid has put a stop to it. I’ve mostly concentrated on grappling since then.

Kieran – So the desire and love are still there to continue MMA? How are you in terms of injuries at the moment?

Craig – I’m currently carrying a pretty bad injury. Once that is fixed, my goal is to compete a few more times in MMA. I still love it and feel I’ve got more to show. I think I’ve levelled up a huge amount with all the grappling competition and I have learned a huge amount coaching MMA over the last few years.

Kieran – I hope that injury is better soon mate so you can get back to what you love doing. So as you said you have focused more on grappling this year. How has it been training with all these restrictions in place and what have you been doing to keep your skills at a point you are happy with?

Craig – Thankfully for me, I converted my garage to a gym just over a year ago. My coach James Doolan and my friend Charles Johnstone gave me some mats so I have been training myself and coaching my team from there for the last year. Out of my wee garage in the last year we’ve won the grappling competitions we’ve entered, went 6-0-1 in MMA, 1-0 K1, and I’ve won both my grappling matches for the year despite Covid.

Kieran – That’s a great achievement, it just shows you can do anything if you want it regardless of the space. With the year we have just had and with the current situation in the UK, how important is it to train MMA and BJJ and have you found you appreciate them more?

Craig – I’m glad that I never took them for granted. I’ve always trained very hard and never really stopped being in a constant state of learning. There is too much to learn to take the foot off the gas. I’ve met experts in every field so I realise how much I have to learn at every martial art. One thing I’ve really enjoyed during lockdown that I missed the boat on is BJJ fanatics. I’ve become obsessed with this and have been flying through tutorials looking for details that I’m not aware of yet. I’ve also been doing the same with fanatics wrestling, judo fanatics and dynamic striking. I started using FloGrappling to study my last opponent which is something I’ve never bothered doing since competing in MMA, but I’m starting to compete at a level in jiu-jitsu that I’ll need to take it seriously to keep winning. I do miss the team spirit of big classes though and had a great open mat over the last few years known as Submission Sunday where I’d get lots of visitors from all over Scotland.

Kieran – I’m happy that you discovered BJJ fanatics again. That’s the one who had Pedro Sauer on demonstrating an escape from the mount, right? So, from a coaching standpoint and as a competitor, what would your advice be to someone like me who has done a little BJJ but wants to get into it properly?

Craig – Yeah they’ve got tutorials from the best coaches and competitors in the world often demonstrating their signature techniques. Years ago the only way you could get this info was by going to their seminars. Now it’s available at a small cost. My advice would be to concentrate on one technique at a time. When you start BJJ it can be overwhelming the amount you don’t know. Only compare yourself to yourself and do what you need to keep getting better.

Kieran – So when did you start coaching and has this helped you as a competitor?

Craig – I first started coaching in 2012, only 3 years after starting martial arts. Although I had some success with students and had won an amateur MMA title at that point, I wasn’t far along enough in my own career and needed to focus on myself at that time as a martial artist and achieve my own goals. I had trained with Scott Mcveigh to blue belt but decided to make the move to Higher Level MMA to learn from my current coach James Doolan in 2013, as I looked to turn professional in MMA. This is where I learned the majority of my skills. Not long before this, I also made the trip to California with my best mate and the UK’s first 10th Planet black belt Calum Murrie to train at 10th Planet Corona under Jeremy Fields and Sean Bollinger. I’ve kept this relationship going through the years making regular trips to California and having these guys over for seminars. I didn’t start coaching again until around 3 years ago and definitely feel it’s helped me as a competitor and a martial artist. Breaking techniques down to teach, that gives you a far better understanding of the move and helps you go from unconsciously competent to consciously competent in execution.

Kieran – That’s brilliant mate I’m happy you took that time to focus on yourself to become a good coach and a good competitor. Last question. In terms of what the future holds, this thing we’re all going through will go away, but what are your short and long term goals?

Craig – Short term goals are 1) to get our gym open. Myself, Calum Murrie, Stevie Waye, and Gary Priestly are opening up a facility in Alloa. We have the cage, mats, pads, bags, and equipment but we just need this lockdown stuff to go away so we can get open. 2) I’d also like to compete in MMA again soon. My long term goals are to build a very successful team and have students who far surpass what I’ve achieved and to help as many people make positive changes in their life as possible.

Kieran – I’m looking forward to seeing you get that set up, all of it.

Craig – Thanks for taking the time to interview us mate.

Craig will be getting the gym up and running as soon as possible. If you would like updates with this follow – Submission Factory on Instagram and Facebook.

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