Rockstar Matt Kiichi Heafy Reveals How Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Helps Him Kill It Onstage

Matthew Kiichi Heafy, frontman of metal band Trivium has lived a rock star lifestyle since he was 12 years old, but since he got into Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, backstage hedonism has bowed out in favour of on-tour sparring and workouts. And, he says the discipline of learning a new skill from scratch has helped him to realise how to become even better at his day job…

RISING It sounds like you’ve found more than just a new workout – how has Brazilian jiu-jitsu affected your life?

MATTHEW KIICHI HEAFY ‘Brazilian jiu-jitsu has showed me what it’s like to build something from the ground-up again, and that’s kind of hard to relate to, myself, because I have been playing guitar and singing in Trivium since I was 12 years old.’



RISING There are loads of types of fight training to get into – why pick this one?

MH ‘I always heard that it’s the best self-defence, that it was like one of the more versatile martial arts and when I watched mixed martial arts I’d always be the most intrigued by the stuff I didn’t understand. The stuff that seemed more complex than the striking – not that striking isn’t complex, but the other stuff didn’t quite make sense to me. I was, like: “What is this”?


RISING How has going toe-to-toe on the mats influenced your music?

MH ‘I have re-instilled the process of building something from the ground up back into my guitar playing and my singing, and I’ve become a better guitarist and singer thanks to Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I do at least 1-3 hours of singing training every single day of the week – I play guitar for at least an hour every day and I have jiu-jitsu at least 6-days-a-week. Brazilian jiu-jitsu is like being in a band – the only way to get good at these things is to put in the time.’


‘With the proper amount of time to learn technique you can become as great as you want to be’


RISING Have you unlocked any leaps forward in your musical ability with this?

MH ‘I used to think that a person is born with the vocal range that they have and they will only be able to sing in that range, but BJJ has shown me that you can learn anything. And with the proper amount of time to learn technique, and drilling, you can become as great as you want to be; as you are willing to be. I have applied that to everything that I love in life. I make sure that I work really hard at it, and I drill the hell out of it, even things that I have done since I was 12. Anything you have ever seen anyone else do, you can do as well. You have just to put in the same amount of – or more – time than they do.’


RISING How do you manage to keep it up while on tour with all the distractions of being in a rock band?

MH ‘The hardest part of keeping up with it is if you’re in a band and you’re training BJJ, and you love it but you can’t bring a set of mats out, or can’t bring training partners out, then it’s going to be really difficult. So we take a set of mats on tour and when I was a white belt I was also teaching my tour manager too. Now my main training partner is my tour manager, and before that I was training with a pro fighter on tour. I’m so committed to it that I will do whatever it takes to keep it in my life.’


RISING There are some fairly fierce arm and neck locks in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Isn’t there a risk of injury affecting your shows?

MH ‘The most injuries come about when you are brand new at it and in the BJJ world white belt versus white belt is like a war – two guys who don’t really know what they are doing, that are trying to kill each other! I was training with my tour manager when we were both white belts – I was posting my hand incorrectly, he bailed into me and two of the fingers on my right hand bent back into the back of my hand, an hour and a half before the show. That was the worst injury on tour.’


RISING Have you had to ban any moves on tour?

MH ‘We banned wrist locks on tour because they are too risky for guitar players – and Ezekiel Chokes are banned because that’s an absolute vocal ender. When I was a white belt I had partners come out and train on tour at the weekend, but I could hardly sing on stage. Nowadays I never really get injured – you’re sore at times but luckily with BJJ if you have the right partners and you’re training with the mindset of, “I want to do this for the rest of my life,” then you can.’


RISING Do you notice a mental benefit to the training too?

MH ’If someone was to train in Brazilian jiu-jitsu and do no other physical or mental activity, it’s the perfect well-rounded thing. It takes care of cardio, it takes care of strength and conditioning, but the biggest benefit is the mental benefit. We’re all able to full speed try to choke each other, beat each other competitively and afterwards everyone feels a release – it’s almost like an outlet for everything in your normal day and I’m not talking about people having a bad day, and using it to get out aggression, per se, but it’s like a therapeutic release in addition to all of the physical benefits – exactly like heavy metal!’


‘Brazilian jiu-jitsu is like a therapeutic release in addition to all of the physical benefits’


RISING How has almost living like an athlete helped you in your performing?

MH ‘I think that a lot of bands have forgotten that you need to constantly practice. I don’t think that there are many singers that practice on tour – but that’s something that you have to do – it’s like being an athlete. When you think of a football player or a mixed martial artist they’re always training for that one tiny moment.’


RISING What do you say to the people who think there’s no point trying to learn something new, if you can’t be the best at it?

MH ‘One of my favourite quotes of any song ever is the Beatles: “There’s nothing you can do that can’t be done,” and I try to live by that. If I see someone do a technique that I love – even though I know I will never be as good as Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio and Freddy Mercury – I am going to spend my entire life attempting to be that good by putting in the amount of work that I think it will take to be that good.’


RISING Is that philosophy reflected in Trivium as a whole?

MH ‘I think the line-up we have now are guys who are obsessive practitioners of their instruments, and I think that’s a great thing because if you put that much work into it, that means in the shows you don’t have to think about it. I don’t want to be thinking about guitar technique or vocal technique when I am playing – I just want to be in the moment.’



WHAT NEXT? What’s one thing you’ve always wanted to be able to do but are a complete novice at, right now? If you know what that is, then what are you doing reading this? Listen to the title track of Trivium’s latest album for some inspiration…