The Jason Bender interview

1459973_10152710822234291_6483734014491518767_n.jpgI used to go to this fun dance class at my gym on Sunday mornings, but the only downside was that by the time we entered the room, it was all steamy and stunk-up from the class that came before it. Sometimes I'd arrive early enough to see and hear said class, which was a hard-looking strength-training and cardio circuit bootcamp led by a muscular guy with a loud voice. I resented that class, both for stinking up the room but also for looking more difficult than any other workout I was currently doing--I was resentful because I already thought I was in good shape, so I was mad at these people flaunting their better-than-me-ness before my fun, but not-as-hard class. You can guess where this is going. A year later, after I had Paul, I was in that class. I was determined to tone up and lose the rest of the baby weight, and I did, even though I had to get up at 5:30 to get there, even though some days it would hurt to sneeze or cough or laugh or do anything. I think because of the loud yelling and the tattoos and muscles I expected Jason to be a merciless, hardass, mean instructor but I learned that while he can be merciless and hardass, he's also inspiring, encouraging and very kind. Not only did I attend his morning bootcamp classes, he even suckered me into attending his morning kickboxing classes, where I literally got my ass kicked by guys twice as big as me and I still went back for more, because Jason's classes made me feel so empowered and strong. It helped that he would let me bring my own girlie music to play when I couldn't take his heavy metal soundtrack any more. While he inspired me to get more fit, I also enjoyed getting to know Jason, who, as an elite athlete (he's a martial arts expert in addition to a trainer) is not an elitist at all, and with a sometimes math-teacher-y corny sense of humor, is just fun to spend an ungodly early hour with in the morning. Sadly, now that we're moving I won't be going to bootcamp anymore but I hope to follow him over at Conviction Fitness, where he also teaches. You can learn a lot more about him and his background and where to work with him here.

At what point in your life did you decide to become a personal trainer? What was the first big challenge you encountered when you started that path?
I used to "train" classmates in high school and college but I did not know it was a feasible career until my ex-girlfriend joined a gym when she moved to Chicago and I saw a guy walk by with a "Trainer" shirt on. After a few minutes talking to him, I was hired. The two biggest challenges in the beginning were getting clients and learning how to properly create a program that is perfect for his/her fitness level.

I had a handful of personal trainers in my life prior to when I started feeling like I had control over my eating and exercise (when I was about 25 or so) and never felt very serious about exercise or really the trainers. What do you do when you have a client who's willing to pay you but continually cancels workouts, or half-asses it?
Many people that hire me are not exercise enthusiasts. I try to make them enjoy the workout somehow. I see if they like weight training, kickboxing, Pilates, yoga and then I use that as a reward for doing the exercises they do not want to do. I prefer positive reinforcement as much as possible. Showing the client how he/she has made a personal best on an exercise or improved technique on a punch or kick provides a feeling of accomplishment. For the client not willing to push themselves, I will send articles showing the science behind the exercises that are not enjoyable. Finally, I explain that anything worth achieving should be difficult. Nothing great was ever achieved by being comfortable.

What part of their bodies do your clients most typically want to change--and what actually should they be working on instead?
The body part nearly every single client wants improved is the abs. The part of the body everyone should be concentrating on more is the back. Many people think only "abs" when they hear the word "core". But without a strong back, strong abs are not as useful. I prefer everyone perform as many total body workouts as possible. Doing "abs" should be the cooldown and/or an "active rest" (exercises done in the middle of a workout that are very low impact as to let the body rest while maintaining movement").

What do you get out of jiu-jitsu that is different from what you get out of Muay Thai kickboxing that is different from what you get out of Mixed Martial Art?
The major difference between Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu is that Muay Thai is mainly a striking art and Brazilian jiu-jitsu is mainly a grappling art. Muay Thai is known as the "Art of 8 Limbs": fists, elbows, knees and legs. Muay Thai fighters are masters of manipulating the neck by grabbing it in a "clinch", hands wrapped around the back of the head and neck to control the head to deliver strikes and/or sweep the opponent to the ground. But a Muay Thai fighter prefers to stay off of the ground. On the other hand, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighter wants to close the distance on an opponent and submit him before or after getting him to the ground. Mixed Martial Arts is a sport created to test a martial artist with the minimum amount of restriction and rules, so it a mix of any and all martial arts a fighter chooses to train in. Muay Thai requires a more intense mindset than Brazilian jiu-jitsu. When we are fighting or sparring muay thai or mixed martial arts, we are clashing our bones violently against each other. Even light sparring ends in bumps and bruises. On the other hand, jiu-jitsu translates to "The Gentle Way". Although it is not gentle to have someone cranking on your arms, legs and neck to put you into a submission that forces you to "tap out" (our way of saying "I give") or your joint will be hyperextended or to go unconscious from a choke, it is much safer than a kick to the head. It is very easy to do light sparring or do "flow drills" which is going through a series of movements utilizing as little strength as possible. Muay Thai appeals to my more primal side whereas Brazilian jiu-jitsu appeals to the analytical and artsy side of my brain.

If you were to take me to my first MMA match, what would you tell me to watch out for that would help me appreciate and understand what I was watching?
Before taking someone to an MMA event, I would prefer to show him or her some highlights from the various aspects of the sport in the individual versions like Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but I would also like to show Judo and wrestling because one of the most important aspects of an MMA fight is when two fighters are in the midst of grappling and, to the uneducated eye, it appears they are simply leaning on each other. But if I show someone an amazing highlight of Judo throws and wrestling takedowns and Brazilian jiu-jitsu submissions, it would make sense.

What are the top three worst injuries you've ever received (either while fighting or doing something else)?
My top three injuries have been concussions (received in football as well as fighting), two torn rotator cuffs and a herniated disc in my low back. Both from fighting.

How much do the lasting effects of boxing-related head injuries concern you?
The knowledge we now have on head injuries is unsettling to say the least. I do not do very much hard sparring at all anymore. I have been beaten up in competition and in sparring by some of the best martial artists around and I do not feel the need to prove to myself or anyone else that I am tough and can take a hit. Now it is about training intelligently. I do many things that have been known to help with brain injuries. I constantly learn through reading, listening to podcasts, etc., and that is the biggest key: keeping the brain active.

What's one exercise or physical skill you suck at?
Picking only one skill or exercise I suck at is a difficult choice. It would be easier to say what little I am good at. I have had to work exceptionally hard for any and all athletic skills I have. I am naturally very uncoordinated. I have good endurance and I am fairly strong and explosive for a lightweight fighter. It takes a long time for my body to learn a skillset of any kind. I am horrible at any sport involving a ball. I cannot dive and when I swim I resemble a dog flapping around. 

What's your favorite sports or martial-arts movie?
Favorite martial arts/sports movie needs to be a list: the Rocky series changed my life. I completely identified with Rocky. Almost anything with Bruce Lee. My favorite sport documentary is Choke. It follows living legend Rickson Gracie as he prepares for a Vale Tudo (anything goes) tournament. Bloodsport holds a special place in my heart. So bad, but so good.

If you could change one thing about yourself physically, what would it be?
If I could change anything physically, I would want my injuries fixed! But, for vanity's sake, I would want my cauliflower ears to be more prominent. A set of cauliflower ears are truly earned.

Who is the best coach, trainer, or teacher you ever had?
Best coach or trainer? Now this is a sensitive topic, as there have been so many coaches and training partners that have been good to me that I do not want to disrespect anyone by leaving anyone out. But, here is a quick summary: I started my official training under Kirk Hess who was a Tae Kwon Do and Muay Thai instructor in Fremont, Ohio. He provided my overall base for striking and was a great "old-school" instructor. We dabbled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but the very basics. I received my first broken nose at Mr. Hess' school. Then, the first time I visited Chicago, multiple time world champion Shonie Carter spent an afternoon with me and I learned an immense amount from him and his friends. My dear friend Kosta Korres was a successful kickboxer in Greece and he helped me break down kicks to their finest detail. The best coach I have had is my entire Carlson Gracie Team. I had the honor of receiving my blue belt from the late Grandmaster Carlson Gracie Sr and I currently train under his son Carlson Jr. Carlson Gracie Sr is one the most important men in martial arts history. The coach I have had for the last several years is a very special man that truly teaches from the heart and with pure intensity. Andre Madiz is my Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu instructor at Conviction Fitness. This list could go on for another page so I need to stop here.

A former trainer of mine used to lament that her wife wasn't into exercising with her. From what I've gathered, your wife is in good shape but physical activity is not her career or calling. How do you avoid letting that create tension in your relationship?
The only time tension is ever created in marriage due to my career is when I am too sore, injured and/or tired to help with chores around the house.

What's your favorite exercise that everybody should try to make time for tomorrow (or right this second)?
I would love to have everyone find a martial art they enjoy. I think the world would change if everyone trained in at least one martial art. Especially Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but whichever one they choose is fine.

Which is your favorite tattoo? Which would you be okay with removing or covering up?
If I could do 100% of my tattoos over again, I would. It is not that I regret the tattoos, I just wish I would have spent more money at one time instead of getting little ones constantly. I have already covered up a couple of them and I have plans to cover up more. The ones I am happy with are: The Carlson Gracie Team Bulldog logo. I like the tattoo of my favorite painting, Alex Grey's "Theologue" that a friend put on me. The galaxy on my arm was a gift from my clients for last year's holidays. That one means the most.

When was the last time you cried?
The last time I cried? It's tough to pick one time out. I cry watching a good documentary or an animal rescue video, etc.  I have no problems showing emotion, for better or for worse.

If you could eat and drink anything tonight and know it would have no effect on your weight or the way you felt later, what would you have?
If I could eat sweets, especially ice cream, nonstop, I would be in Heaven.

How does it feel to be the 397th person interviewed for
I feel quite honored to be interviewed at all, even better when it someone I think is a special person.