Featured Artist

Cosmic Rock

(Photo Harley with Renzo Gracie)

Our Featured Artist this weekend is a very special guest, NY hardcore legend the great Harley Flanagan. The founding member of the mighty Cro-Mags, Harley is known, loved and respected worldwide for his music and also his love for Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Tonight we had the opportunity to interview him about his experiences, history and thoughts on Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and martial arts exclusively. Big thanks to Harley for taking the time for this great interview.


1.You started training in 1995 under Master Renzo Gracie, how did you find your way to studying jiu jitsu and meet Master Gracie?

It was Jan or Feb of 96, I was searching for a Jiu-Jitsu Instructor. I had seen the first few UFC's and I was determined to learn Jiu-Jitsu.

I was always interested in fighting, I had been in a lot of fights growing up on the LES. If you didn't know how to use your hands in my neighborhood you were pretty guaranteed to get picked on, get your lunch money taken, get mugged and messed with, that’s just how it was.  

So I have been, seen and punched, kicked, head-butted and elbowed people. I have seen and been stabbed, shot at, you name it, but I had never seen anything like this before; Arm bars? Triangle chokes? The “guard"??!!!  

To see a smaller guy in a one on one fight go from what looked like a bad position to winning the fight, was amazing. I started looking into it. I was hoping to learn Gracie Jiu-Jitsu, and I was fortunate that Master Renzo Gracie moved to NYC and I started training with him. And I never looked back.

Meeting Renzo changed my life; he is truly an inspiration. I am lucky that I got to know him, his brothers and his family. I consider him a brother, a guide and a true friend.



2.You grew up definitely in a martial arts time in the seventies era with people like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris etc. Did you ever follow what those guys were doing growing up or meet any of the greats back then?

I was a huge Bruce Lee and Muhammad Ali fan, and I used to love all the old Shaw brother’s kung fu movies. I met Muhammad Ali once, I knew a few serious martial artists growing up, some of them showed me a thing or two. I started doing Kung Fu as a kid, but it didn’t last, I didn't have the discipline. I was already getting in street fights at that point and starting to get high.

3. I know you travel a lot with your music. Did your jiu jitsu studies ever take you to Asia or Europe?

No Jiu-Jitsu hasn't, but I did train in Japan while I was on tour doing music, and I have stopped by a few academies while on the road. 

4.How do you feel looking back at your path studying jiu jitsu and now being a teacher? 

It has been an amazing journey, I have made some of the best friends of my life through Jiu-Jitsu. It has given me more than I could ever explain with words; it has changed everything.


(Harley and his son Harley Karston)


5. Is being a teacher rewarding for you and in what ways does it enrich your life?

Yes it is; When you teach, you learn, and you re-learn. I love it; especially working with the kids.

6 Jiu Jitsu from the Gracie family comes from Brazil. Originally Jiu Jitsu comes from Japan. How do you feel the original Japanese style is different and in what way has the history influenced your study and teaching?

I have only trained Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

7.In what ways has your twenty year plus study changed the way you interact with the world?

It has changed me a lot, but then again, life itself has changed me. I am 51; I have learned a few things along the way. Jiu-Jitsu has taught me different ways to look at things, different ways of problem solving. I have walked away from a lot more fights then I have been in since I became a black belt.

8.Have you studied other martial arts styles and what appeals to you other than BJJ? 

Briefly as a kid, but not really; it didn't last. I didn’t have the discipline and my life was too crazy at the time. I did fight a lot as a teenager, and as a young man though, so I did learn how to fight, but we are talking street fights; where there are no rules, or moral codes, were people get really hurt, and people use weapons and jump each other, multiple opponents and all kinds of surprises. 

But, like I said, I tried doing Kung fu as a kid, and I sparred with friends who were martial artists, but besides BJJ my experience comes from real life. 

I am a fan of many styles of martial arts and I know some really good Black Belts of different styles, but BJJ is the only thing I really dedicated time to.



9.In China people study Chi (also spelled Qi, Ji, Gi etc), in Japan Ki, in India Prana, as the energy, spirit life force of health, martial arts, life (Tai Chi, Chi Kung, etc.) is there an equivalent in the way you see BJJ energy aside from Japanese Ki belief? 

There is definitely a spiritual element to the martial arts, but I try not to get all esoteric. Anything that gets your endorphins going, that gives you that euphoric feeling, that releases that calm and your adrenalin at the same time, feels kind of spiritual.  And there is definitely something spiritual about fighting in its pure sense; you’re putting it all on the line, you are in the moment, it’s a place where you really test yourself and flow. I have competed in grappling tournaments. I did a little MMA. It is a unique experience but real fighting especially with multiple people fighting, it is indescribable; there is a calm within the chaos, intensity, focus, reflexes, all happening within the blink of an eye and of course understanding the real life and death situation of a fight, that in and of its self makes it very spiritual. 


(Harley and Ryan Gracie)


10.Do you feel that your studies and teaching have changed the way you play music?

No not really. There is a similarity to both, in the way that I do it, but no. I think it’s just my personality coming through in the songs and the way that I teach. I have a way that it makes me feel and that feels right to me.

11. As a teacher and professor what character traits do you see as strengths in your best students?

Focus, dedication and tenacity. 



12.How do you see your future path in jiu jitsu?

I will continue to learn, and I will continue to share it with others and continue enjoying the life and the friendships it has given me.


(Harley and Anthony Bourdain)


13.What advice would you give to someone who is just getting into the art?

Do it, stick with it; it will change your life in more ways than you can imagine. You will become a better person, a more confident person, a healthier person; a stronger and wiser person. Stick with it; it changes lives and saves lives.




14. Any news or last words for your fans today? Harley it’s an honor to speak with you today, too awesome to get a chance to talk to you about all this. Thanks for the times you were very cool to me. Your music really inspired me and I have so much respect and appreciation for you man.


I just want to say thank you to all those who have allowed me to be in their lives with my music and to those I have touched with my music, my lyrics, my book and my jiu-Jitsu


Thank you