B. J. Penn
From Gong Kakutogi
June 6, 2001
Translated by Kondo Yoko
[The interview was conducted in February, 2001]
Q: First, could you tell me about your childhood?
Penn: What was my childhood like? (laughing) When I
went to the high school in Hilo, I was crazy about parties. I did a lot
of things I shouldn't have done. I was a high-school boy who liked
fighting very much.
Q: How was such a person like you attracted by
Penn: When I was seventeen years old, some Taekwondo
teacher moved into my town. That man, who had learned jiu-jitsu a little
bit under Ralph Gracie, asked me to do jiu-jitsu.
Q: Then, you became absorbed in it?
Penn: On the contrary, I had no interest in it at
all. Then he started to persuade my father. But I didn't want to do
jiu-jitsu. My father told me, then, "he is doing it alone. Why
don't you help him?" That was the start of the my relationship with
jiu-jitsu. As I trained with him, it turned out to be that I should go
to the mainland.
Q: I see. Which academy did you go in the mainland?
Penn: Ralph's. I stayed there for one week the first
time. Honestly speaking, I really liked the life in Hawaii, so I didn't
want to leave the island.
Q: There must have been a big difference between Hilo
and Mountain View (south of San Francisco) in California where Ralph has
Penn: Indeed. Maybe, I stayed in that town for two
years after all. It was all for fighting. My younger brother still
lives in California. I took all the credits necessary to graduate from
high-school in Hilo by the time I was sixteen, so I took the home
high-school course for the rest of time and came back to Hawaii without
any problem. Unlike me, my younger brother had to change schools, so he
has been in California for four years.
Q: Had you been under Ralph while you were in the
Penn: Ralph was a good teacher. I got the purple belt
from him. But I missed Hawaii badly. California didn't suit me, because
the weather wasn't consistent, sometimes cold and sometimes warm, and
also there were too many cars.
Q: But, wasn't it difficult to keep on training
jiu-jitsu after returning to Hilo?
Penn: No, there was no problem, because Renato
Verissimo of Nova Union opened the academy. Now I am coaching in Hilo as
Q: That's why you were training in the dojo of Andre
Pederneiros in Brazil, isn't it?
Penn: That's right. In Brazil I had stayed for
about one-month a few times. And I got the black belt from
Andre. He has a lot of experience and a deep knowledge. He is a great
teacher who trained many strong students. There are many good academies
everywhere in Brazil, but I trained exclusively at Nova Union.
Q: It seems that you have no difficulties finding a
sparring partner in that academy.
Penn: That's right. Shaolin (Vitor Ribeiro) never
runs out of stamina. and Robinho (Robson Moura), Leo Santos, Joâo
Roque, full of veteran fighters.
Q: Among them, who did you think was especially
Penn: All of them. Leo's sweep is fantastic too.
By the way, how is Abe doing? He was a crazy Japanese training four
times a day.
Q: Are you talking about Mr. Abe Osamu? He made a
long stay in Brazil at his age of 33. Even after returning to
Japan, he said that he wanted other fighters in his generation to hold
on the training by showing himself doing it.
Penn: He is really an interesting guy. A Japanese,
who could speak little English, and the Brazilians communicated somehow
with each other in Japanese and Portuguese. When I won in Mundial, all
the members of Nova Union were very happy with it.
Q: You are the first non-Brazilian to became the
world champion in the the black belt division. How do you feel about it?
Penn: I didn't expect myself to be successful in
jiu-jitsu, because I do it with joy. I really don't know how to say
Q: It was your first fight since you got the black
belt, wasn't it?
Penn: Before that I became the second rank in pena
class of the blue belt in Mundial, and the third rank in leve
class of the brown belt. It is really difficult to be the representative
of pena class in Nova Union. I can't believe even now that I could get
such good results. The fact that I became the first non-Brazilian black
belt world champion will never fade away. Even if I keep on losing in
future, my name will remain forever. (laughing)
Q: How do you think about the fact that Royler didn't
participate in it at that time?
Penn: Even if Royler had been there, I think I could
have won. Soca made little of me. And Edson Diniz whom I fought at
the final round, was an unknown fighter, but really strong. He
defeated Yuki Nakai and Marcos Barbosa, you know.
Q: What is your goal for the future as the world
champion of jiu-jitsu?
Q: You could also do submission wrestling, in which
you defeated Baret Yoshida before.
Penn: It's maybe two years ago that I defeated Baret
in the tournament held by Egan [Inoue]. I passed his guard in the last
five seconds, but had no time to aim at the joint lock. He is
really a strong fighter. He would do well in Abu Dhabi too. I want to
watch him fight with Soca. I hope I'll be able to participate in
Abu Dhabi too. [Note: After all, he couldn't go in]. But my
target now is NHB. If I can go in UFC, I might not go in Mundial. I'm
serious about it so much. You know, I decided to leave my favorite town
Hilo in order to do training under Egan. I am going to do kick-boxing
and boxing training here. Egan's personal connection is reliable. I
don't care about who my opponent would be, but I want to be the
feather-weight champion in UFC, anyway. That is my goal.
Q: Your rivals in the country seem to be Jens Pulver
and Din Thomas.
Penn: They are tough fighters.
Q: There are many Japanese fighters in this class.
Penn: Indeed. There are many fighters with a fighting
spirit. They don't tap easily in punches or the joint lock. I
enjoy watching Rumina's fight, because it is so exciting. There are more
fighters in Japan, such as a fighter who ended up with a draw in the
fight with Marcio Feitosa, and Gomi, and Mamoru who defeated Baret
Uno (Caol) who left Shooto, and Sakurai is best, in a different class
though. And Sakuraba too. Vanderlei is a dangerous guy, but Sakuraba is
the number-one fighter.
Q: What is your ideal style?
Penn: A fighter who can do boxing, Muay Thai,
jiu-jitsu, and wrestling. I aim at being complete. I think I want to
fight in the presence of the fans in Hawaii some day, and I want to
fight in Japan too. Yes, I want to go to Japan rather than to Honolulu.
There are the rings like Pride and Shooto in Japan which I want to get
in. But, my target is UFC anyway. UFC started, then jiu-jitsu spread.
And a Taekwondo teacher started to teach me jiu-jitsu. And a Japanese
reporter interviews someone like me. The root of all originates from UFC.
That's why I want to fight in the Octagon. Maybe, people who shout
"kick his ass" with a beer in one hand are more suitable to me
than the voice of admiration like "Wo!" clapping their hands.
(c) 2001,GTR, all rights reserved.