Matthew Benyon is a BJJ purple belt Brit with a passion for all things Japanese. He spent a lot of time over in the Land of the Rising Sun, absorbing the culture, teaching English, learning some kick ass grappling moves from some of the finest BJJ instructors in the country. A multi-talented, multi-tasking media guru, I thought it was high time I brought some Meerkatsu attention to Matt’s awesome video making skills - a project that he calls: The Grappling Dummy.
Meerkatsu: Hey dude, let’s open up with a brief biog about you, your grappling background and what you currently do?
Matt Benyon: By day I am a mild mannered copywriter for an internet company, and by night I transform into a wildly overstretched, maniacal creative type with a debilitating penchant for coming up with new schemes before the last 12 schemes have run their course. I also enjoy biting off more than I can chew and sometimes training jiu jitsu.
I created the monster that is Scramble, a UK based clothing company that aims to breathe fresh life into a genre until now populated by shuffling zombies and the colour black. I also have a blog, The Grappling Dummy, where I used to talk about my training and tell stories about my life in Japan but now mostly use to post my creations. Which include The Grappling Dummy, an ongoing video series about jiu jitsu and grappling.
I also write regularly for Fighters Only and Fighting Fit magazine, and some others here and there. Phew, I got tired just writing that.
Meerkatsu: What is it with all things Japanese that you find so utterly absorbing and exciting..and compels you to share with us?
Matt Benyon:I lived in Japan for four years. It’s a truly amazing place. The Japanese people live their lives very differently to most of us. When I first got there, I loved every minute of it. The exotic cities, quaint customs, and the measured and considerate way of living. After a while I hated it, the claustrophobia in both a physical and social sense, the unintentional racism, the strange, dream-like quality of day to day life, the grinding pace of work. Then I swung back towards falling in love with the country again. It really has to be experienced to be understood. It’s a country of juxtapositions - of constraints and freedom, of creativity and rigidity, of work and reward. I suppose you could say Japan is my muse. And artists use their muse to create art for others to enjoy.
Meerkatsu: Explain the concept behind ‘The Grappling Dummy’ series of movies?
Matt Benyon:When my son was born, my mother in law bought us a nice new HD camera. Naturally I immediately thought ‘I’m going to use this to film all kinds of cool jiu jitsu crap for Youtube!’. You can see the first episode here which is basically just me and my friends goofing around.
We had no idea what we were doing or trying to achieve, but we all wanted to create something to show the rest of the world.
I showed some different things with subsequent videos (including my ridiculous two-hour commute to training ) and started to enjoy the process of making the videos more and more. I had studied film at Uni, so I had some idea of how to use video editing software.
I have always had a desire to create a feeling in people. I think that sound and vision together are one of the best ways to do this. The world I was living in was so vibrant and different, I wanted people to see it. And I wanted to leave a record of it. I watch my own videos all the time, again and again, to recapture feelings or emotions.
I think I am a little strange in that I desire equally to make people laugh, and to create some serious emotional feeling in them. So sometimes my videos are completely ridiculous, and other times I am trying to really make you feel something. It all comes back to trying to invoke emotions in people, either joyful and happy emotions, or sombre, reflective, melancholy, maybe even a bit of strident perseverance - basically just a bunch of adjectives that amount to some feeling in the old chest cavity.
Grappling Dummies 2.0 BJJ in Japan from martial farts on Vimeo.
Meerkatsu: Your videos are so superbly edited. Tell me about the editing process: how long does a typical project take to create? What goes through your mind (in terms of your approach and ‘yes’, ‘no’, decisions as to what clips you include) as you set about work? How do you decide when something is finished etc?
Matt Benyon: Thanks for the compliment, but I really am not that good at editing. I mostly bash my head on my desk in front of my screen until the clips wiggle themselves into place. I don’t know any fancy tricks and can barely get the settings right. The only thing I think I have is an instinctive understanding of what music goes with what scene.
Typically projects take a long time to get done, usually because I am so busy. For example, I came back from Japan in September, and it took a full month to get the first five-minute clip online.
For me the process of editing is pretty organic. Often I have a song in mind, or a feeling I want to create, and I choose clips accordingly. I don’t meticulously plan shots (or anything in life), and I generally work with what I end up with.
Meerkatsu: Explain some of the hurdles you face when creating a video interview, eg music licensing issues, clearance from interviewee management, editing problems etc?
Matt Benyon: Well, the most recent series of videos is by far the most ambitious. Until now it has been pretty easy, and I’ve just been opportunistic with whoever comes along. The good thing about MMA and BJJ is that the top people in the sport, mega celebrities to us, are really approachable and friendly and open to being interviewed. But this time in Japan, I wanted to do something special, and with the help of Dan Herbertson (pro photog based in Tokyo) approached some of my favourite Japanese MMA and BJJ stars. So this time there have been some hurdles to jump through. Aoki Shinya’s management for example wanted to check the video before it was posted online. Megumi Fujii, AACC and Gold’s Gym required all kinds of checks beforehand - luckily Dan took care of most of that for us. As for music, I used to just use any famous song I wanted, but decided to get more professional, and now I use either Creative Commons music from Jamendo, music from friends who have bands, and more recently, I license relatively inexpensive music from independent artists.
This time, too, we recorded the sound kind of professionally, with a separate audio recorder. Cleaning up, boosting, and then syncing that has been a major learning curve for me.
Also, this time, we filmed using Canon 5D digital SLRs. My computer could handle the raw files no problem but my editing software became really temperamental when I tried to import the files. So I spent about a week wrestling with the best way to convert the files while still retaining quality.
Meerkatsu: Having been a fan of your blog from when you were still living in Japan, it’s clear to me that your video making skills have evolved since coming back. Tell me the differences or improvements you feel you have made between something you create now and some of your earlier efforts?
Matt Benyon: The most significant thing, and I recently read somewhere that this happens to all aspiring film-makers, is realising that you can’t do everything yourself. I got Dan Herbertson and Dean Marchand in on the Tokyo trip as cameramen. They had the right equipment and the right knowledge to use it properly.
The next step, honestly, will probably get someone to edit it for me so that I can just be the big cheese who pulls the strings and has the big ideas. Why not? I don’t want the project to be restricted by my rudimentary editing skills.
Meerkatsu: What’s your most favourite production and why?
Matt Benyon: Probably Megumi Fuji! I try to improve with each one and with this one I got to explore a couple of different feelings. Plus I was really happy with the music and the imagery in the second half, another example of relenting and realising I can’t do everything myself, and taking advantage of the talent of others to get my point across.
The Grappling Dummy: Megumi Fujii, September 2010 from martial farts on Vimeo.
Meerkatsu: One of my favourite videos is ‘Memories of Japan’ where you reflect on your residency in Japan with a montage of photo stills. It’s a very moving and personal piece and clear to me that there was a lot of personal emotion involved behind the scenes. Tell me about that video?
Matt Benyon: I was feeling pretty ‘homesick’ for Japan. Really missing the place. I wanted a way to give myself closure on it, to wrap things up a bit. It really worked actually. I felt I could move on, close that chapter of my life and move on to the next.
Memories of Japan from martial farts on Vimeo.
Meerkatsu: There’s also humour in a lot of your work, and no more so than captured in this, I’m proud to say, EXCLUSIVE video by one of your Scramble sponsored athletes, Daniel Strauss. Tell me about this video?
Matt Benyon: I don’t know what you are talking about. This is the most high class production I have done. Watching Daniel Strauss demonstrate the Crane Stance to Guillotine technique is a little like watching Roger Federer teach a forehand smash, or Steven Seagal teach shoving a screwdriver into someone’s ear while whispering “Can you hear me now, tough guy?”
Meerkatsu: So what else video-wise is on the Grappling Dummy horizon? Who is the one big fish you truly want to capture for Grappling Dummies?
Matt Benyon: I’ve got loads I want to do! Renzo Gracie said he is coming to the UK and preliminarily agreed to be in one. I’d love to do Roger Gracie. And for my next Japan project I’m going after the (even bigger) guns... Enson Inoue, Kazushi Sakuraba, and loads more...
Meerkatsu: What do you hope that your videos aim to achieve? I mean are you trying to educate the viewer, entertain? move us emotionally? What is your ultimate aim?
Matt Benyon: To make you forget the stresses and strains of daily life, if only for a few minutes at a time. Kind of like the way the old Pride stings used to, edited by Sato Daisuke and the rest of the team. Elevating life into art. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R22RBq66LU
Meerkatsu: Anyone you wish to give a shout out too?
Matt Benyon: Dan Herbertson and Dean Marchand for helping with the latest series of The Grappling Dummy, Dan Strauss and Oli Geddes for waving the Scramble flag, Fightlinker for hosting The Grappling Dummy. Also Ben, my partner in crime at Scramble, for coming on board and lightening the load!
Meerkatsu: Thanks dude, I look forward to the next instalment of The Grappling Dummy.
Matt Benyon: Coming very soon! I still have tons of footage to edit. Yuki Nakai, Kazuhiro Nakamura, Masakazu Imanari...
The Grappling Dummy videos are featured on Matt’s blog of the same name. They can also be viewed on Vimeo