In December 1996, Chris Haueter became one of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu’s “Dirty Dozen,” the prestigious list of the first twelve non-Brazilians to earn the coveted black belt.
Twenty years after earning his belt from Rigan Machado, Chris continues to train and compete while he has also groomed 26 students to earn their black belts under his guidance.
Chris began Jiu-Jitsu after a chance encounter with Mits Yamashita, an Aikido black belt who was practicing the Jiu-Jitsu “upa mount escape” at a college wrestling room.
In the days before the UFC, Chris had never seen Jiu-Jitsu techniques and was intrigued. With a background of high-school wrestling, Chirs approached Yamashita to suggest that a wrestler might easily beat the technique.
Yamashita was gracious and allowed Chris to test his theory on the mat. They set up the position and Chris did what wrestlers often do – he exposed his back and Yamashita chocked him out. They set it up again and Chris was chocked out again. Their third round ended with an arm lock.
Yamashita pointed Chris to the Gracie Academy where he trained with Rickson, Rorian, and Royce Gracie and Rigan Machado.
“The small guy being able to beat a big guy was like magic,” Chris said. “I was hooked on it like crack.”
Chris is not exactly sure what initially drove him to martial arts 31 years ago, but he acknowledged facing shame and self-doubt like most men confront in their youth.
As a kid, Chris had a chip on his shoulder and got into his share of fights when teased for stuttering or his resemblance to “Marty McFly.”
Regardless if his martial art motivation was driven by school conflicts, Chris believes most of our choices can be explained by evolution. He describes himself as an amateur natural historian / biologist, so he enjoys studying how modern culture has evolved in relation to our biology.
“We’re basically cavemen who’ve been handed down knowledge over the years.”
Chris explained that at some primal level, young men have an instinct to fight. As we talked in Chris’s art studio, Chris pointed to his young boys in the back yard and mentions their natural instinct to play fight, whereas young girls do not.
However many thousands of years ago, the men who could fight survived and passed on those genes. That DNA remains, but culture seems to advance faster than the biology we retain from our past.
Even though there is a primal instinct driving men toward aggression, we do not club an attractive girl and drag her to our cave because there is an opposing force pushing us towards the rewards of collectivism.
“If you’re the narcissistic asshole, the rest of your pack is going to kill you.”
We have primal instincts pulling us one direction, while the reasoning part of our brain suggests something entirely different. We confront these opposing forces every day, but on average, they keep us alive and functioning within society.
“Most men begin any combat sport to win real fights,” Chris said. “I’m not proud of saying that because it certainly isn’t high culture, but I think we all go through that phase.”
Chris said it’s a very strong drive, but not always an unhealthy motivator. If channeled with proper mentors and experience, it can actually be a very positive.
Even in our polite, modern society, men are still rewarded for being the most dominant in the room. You do not have to be an alpha, but you don’t want to be the guy who is beat up, humiliated or abused.
“I don’t think those instincts leave us easily, and sometimes, that biology is repressed in our modern culture.”
The evolution of martial combat to martial sport is probably a result of that repressed instinct. Chris distinguished combat, martial sports and martial arts.
The purest and original intent of everything we practice today had one goal in mind – “How do I survive and/or vanquish in life or death combat.” This is why Chris still preaches “Think street,” when teaching Jiu-Jitsu.
Chris described martial sports as “Man-made rules created to prevent injury or death so we can play the game that fulfills our primal instinctive drive for hand-to-hand combat.”
The art component of martial arts offers the artist complete freedom to improve and develop new techniques he can express without limitations that can be handed down through the generations.
These include the fantasy arts where the techniques may not be effective in battle, but are still an expression of acrobatics and challenging body movements.
“I spent a lot of time doing the fantasy arts believing that one day I would finally be skilled enough to actually make them work.” Chris said, “Then I realized they were bullshit.”
The difference between Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and many of the fantasy arts is in the essence of the original art. Chris defined the art of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:
“How do I control and submit my opponent utilizing the least amount of attributes (strength, explosion, speed and size) and the maximum amount of leverage, cunningness and guile.”
Chris is not sure where his life would be without Jiu-Jitsu, but he believes it has helped him recover from things that land most people in the morgue or prison.
Chris does not open up publicly about his personal life, but he said there was a period of five lost years of his life. He did not realize it at the time, but while coping with injuries and his fading youth, he fell prey to substances that are the downfall of many athletes.
After the dust settled, Chris lost his career as a police officer and felt like he had to basically start over on his Jiu-Jitsu journey. When he looks back on that experience, Chris said he grew from it and the journey has been a rewarding experience.
With age comes wisdom. Rather than fight the inevitable arc of an aging athlete and the disillusionment that comes with youth, Chris has accepted the limitations and has adapted how he trains.
In your 20’s, you get hurt and bounce right back.
In your 30’s, injuries heal little slower. You can still perform like in your 20’s, but it hurts a lot more the next day.
In your 40’s, you get what he calls, The injury of unknown origins. It can be a painful period and the athlete accepts that he is no longer competitive in the “adult division.”
When you hit 50, you wake up more injured than when you went to bed. This is when you must adapt your game to a more pure, fundamental and simpler approach to the art.
What keeps Chris training into his fifties is certainly different than when he first started. He explained that humans grow much like the wood grain of a tree.
“If a tree grows for years in the wind, it will have a bend in the trunk. The bend is reflected in the grain of the wood. Once we do something long enough, it becomes ingrained in us. It’s who we become.”
I was curious what separates students that reach high levels when compared to those who do not.
Chris offered the “Success Trifecta,” – talent, passion and discipline.
Talent is one of those gifts that some people have while others have virtually none. It is not something we can change.
Passion is the inner drive, sometimes fueled by ego, love or an overwhelming feeling that you’re doing want you have to do.
Discipline is the most elusive of the trifecta, it must be practiced until it becomes second nature, sometimes you don’t have the passion to drive on and that is when self-discipline kicks in.
It is a combination of the three that lead to success.
Talent is beyond our control and passion will waiver daily, but discipline is what keeps you moving forward, regardless how you feel at the moment.
Chris explained that the next ten years will pass either way. It’s better to have taken one class a week than none.
“It’s not whose good, it’s who is left,” Chris said. “Just don’t quit.”
When I asked about discipline, he acknowledged that it is part genetic, but it also comes from your environment.
Good or bad childhood experiences can fuel or hinder you as an adult. Then he quotes William Wordsworth.
“The child is the father of the man.”
The human illusion is that our willpower trumps environment, but Chris said environment is stronger than will.
Although we cannot rewind our childhood, as adults we can choose an environment that supports our journey.
At age 51, Chris still competes in Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. He believes everyone should have competition experience because it puts you in an environment completely out of your control. You do not get to choose your opponents and losing that control and putting your ego on the line is good practice for life.
Everybody loves winning and equally hates loosing, but what is important to Chris is that he fights his best fight.
Chris does not lose sleep if he loses a match as long as he fought the best he could, but he would be disappointed by a victory if he held back for whatever reason.
A lot of coaches abandon competition because when you become the instructor, your psyche, or your students, can place you on a pedestal and expect victory.
“I think that pressure causes a lot of black belt school owners to not compete.”
If properly channeled, Chris said ego can fuel your passion, but if improperly channeled, ego closes our minds.
Chris explained that ego clearly affects anyone training martial arts, especially in the younger grappler. He walked me through the ego arc of the Jiu-Jitsu belt ranks.
The white belt is the humble belt. Blue is the eager belt. Purple is the cocky belt. Brown is the confident belt and black returns to the humble belt.
“The purple is the ego belt,” he emphasized. “It’s the cocky phase where you’re an advanced amateur and can give black belts a hard time. It’s not bad, it’s just a phase we all go through.”
Chris said there is always contrast between young and old. He is a believer in conserving the fundamentals, but there is benefit in bringing new ideas, new moves, and new expressions of the old.
“It’s that yin yang between the old and new that I love watching and participating in.”
In that regard, Chris explains that Jiu-Jitsu is a metaphor of life.
It’s the dance of life.
The dance of combat is the dance of life.
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This interview is part of the book, “Motivation: Stories of Life and Success From Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belts.” Click HERE to get it at Amazon.
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