Jiu Jitsu Forums has an active Q&A with demigod Henry Akins... here's a bit:
-What are some of your most memorable moments on the mat(good or bad)?
One of the most profound experiences I had was 2 months into training at
the academy there was a guy that would come in the mornings and watch
class, he would go off to the side and start doing kung-fu forms and
movements and kind of laugh or giggle as the instructor was teaching
techniques. One morning he came in and was throwing flying stars into
the wall. This is in 1995 when we were in the academy on Pico which was
an old run down karate school behind a carpet store and next to an auto
body shop. If you watch the documentary "Choke", that is the school.
Anyways at that time the challenge matches at the gym were still quite
common. So after a few mornings of this going on the instructor at the
time, Jason, asked the guy if he wanted to fight and see if what we were
doing worked (the guy was blatantly rude and disrespectful and almost
every morning he was told he was welcome to watch the classes but to be
quite or not laugh and make noises during them). So the guy agreed.
Jason right away asked one of the white belt students in the class, a
guy that had been training for about 8 months and was about the same
size as this guy to take his gi off. The student totally froze up and I
could see he didn't want any part of it at all. So I volunteered. I
was a little smaller than this guy, about 160 at the time and he was
So we square up on the mats and right away I rush in and clinch with the
guy and take him down, right away the guy starts tapping so I let go
and get off him. Jason was pissed, he told the guy he cant just give up
once the fight goes to the ground just because he's not comfortable
there, that would be like me giving up from standing because I wasn't
experienced there. So we went again, this time the guy was more
prepared and he caught me with a glancing blow as I rushed in to clinch.
I took him to the ground right away, cracked him a couple times in the
ribs (he was holding onto my head as I as mounted) and then when he let
go of my head I arm locked him. Fight was over in maybe less than a
After the fight the guy goes and sits on the bench next to wall
and I could see how depressed he was, he told me he had been doing
kung-fu and nin-jitsu for over 15 years. He didn't understand how a guy
that was smaller and only training for 2 months could beat him so
easily. All the years and hours he had put into training he felt was
completely wasted. All the faith he had in what he was doing for that
past 15 years was shattered. That was a big lesson to me. That's why
all the jiu-jitsu I practice I focus on the practicality of it. If a
technique wont help me in a fight or exposes me to danger or taking
damage I don't practice it, I don't waste my time practicing and
drilling stuff that is not going to help me in a real situation.
Jiu-jitsu was created for self defense and of any single martial art I
believe it to be the most effective when trained properly.
-How do you feel your game evolved as you progressed through the ranks?
When I started I was smaller then most the guys at the gym and of course
not as skilled so I mostly ended up on the bottom playing guard. My
top game was ok but definitely the strongest part of my game was my
closed guard. The day I got my purple belt I competed in a tournament
and won my division. I went on to fight in the open and the first guy I
fought had about 50lbs on me. During the match I blew out both my
acl's and tore my meniscus, I finished the match and won and went on to
fight another guy who probably had around 80 lbs on me at the time.
Lost the match by points and after that I wasn't able to walk or train
for about a year. I didn't have insurance at the time and the doctors
told me the surgery was going to cost around $50,000.00 and If I chose
to go that route I'd be out for a year since they will only operate on
one knee at a time because I needed the other ok to do rehab. So I just
rehabbed myself. I went off my vegan diet, went back to eating meat
and started lifting a lot to strengthen up my legs. After about a year I
was back to training again but I had put on about 25 lbs, some of it
muscle and some of it not.
At that stage in my career with my weight
and strength I was able to play top a lot more so that's when my cross
side and mount really started to develop. Because I was heavier and
stronger though as I got back into it I realized how much I was using my
strength to compensate or get me out of situations where I didn't
exactly have the ideal technique to deal with it. By the time I got my
brown belt belt I really started to focus on not using strength anymore
because I already knew how to play that game, a light weak guy's game
even though I was in a bigger stronger body. Now when I train I always
try to focus on different aspects of my game to make sure I'm well
rounded, offense, defense, top game and bottom game. For example, I
noticed about a year ago my open guard was getting a little weak because
I wasn't using it much. I usually never uncross my legs from closed
guard to open guard unless I'm forced to. Because I felt it need
sharpening up for a few months when training I would always go to the
bottom and open my legs just to get my movement back and timing and
sensitivity back on my sweeps.
-Outside of Rickson have any other grapplers had much influence on your game?
Not really. I never spent any time training at other schools or gyms
and I think Rickson's ideas and philosophies on jiu-jitsu represent the
perfect expression of it, simple and effective. A lot of my life
experiences always brings me back and reaffirms my belief in what I'm