Talking martial motivation with the Peninsula’s own “Red Destroyer”

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu San Mateo owner & head instructor Adam Sachnoff applies a d’arce choke submission hold on a student during practice. (Photo by Danny Acosta)

Adam Sachnoff knows rough starts. Attention-deficit-disorder got him booted from his first martial arts class at nine-years-old. He entered his 20’s depressed, partying too much and pushing nearly 300-pounds. Upon arriving at City College of San Francisco, he knew he had to get healthy.

The San Francisco-born Sachnoff immersed himself in CCSF’s judo classes and even won a few tournaments. Then, he tore his ACL and his martial arts journey was instantly derailed for a second time.

“Big Red” AKA “Red Destroyer” received his jiu-jitsu black belt in five years, roughly half the time it takes the average, consistent practitioner. (Image via Adam Sachnoff’s Instagram)

So Sachnoff shifted his focus as a way to persevere, joining a no-gi (grappling without a formal uniform) jiu-jitsu program at the Mission District school of world champion Denny Prokopos (no-gi jiu-jitsu iconoclast Eddie Bravo’s first black belt under the 10th Planet system). The ground-oriented style of jujitsu’s submission grappling (as opposed to judo’s impactful standing throws) allowed Sachnoff to thrive regardless of his ACL.

A year later, Sachnoff’s dedication earned him a no-gi world championship in jiu-jitsu’s second ranking level (blue belt). In 2012, he qualified for the most prestigious grappling tournament in the world, ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club), which was founded by U.A.E. royal family member Sheikh Tahnoon Bin Zayed.

By 2015, Sachnoff opened 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu San Mateo at its current location, parallel to the 101 South’s freeway wall on 910 S. Amphlett Blvd. The heavyweight’s intimidating nicknames—“Big Red” and “Red Destroyer”—hasn’t deterred a wide cross section of students of all ages and all backgrounds from around the Peninsula to seek out the black belt’s grappling-based guidance.

The Six Fifty visited 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu San Mateo and talked to the 30-year-old world champ about his mindset preparing for elite competition and how jiu-jitsu’s tribalism can counter the modern woes brought on by technology.

(The conversation has been edited for length and clarity).

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu San Mateo’s beginner’s open mat. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

What do average students or potential students get out of training at 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu San Mateo?

I know there’s a lot of people out there like me that were feeling lost and depressed, feeling like something was missing in their life. I think I am able to provide that here. I know a lot of people come to me and I made a lot of them healthier, happier, kinder, more confident. Just improving the quality of people’s lives that come through the door here, providing an outlet to get rid of that aggression and get that exercise in, and in a meaningful engagement this provides.

The health and fitness benefits of jiu-jitsu — weight loss, cardio conditioning — can be fairly obvious. What beyond that is important for you to communicate to people who are curious about jiu-jitsu?

We’re all about figuring out how to utilize our training to improve the quality of our lives. Self-improvement through the adversity — healthy dose — you encounter…Also, you have access to a supportive and encouraging community. For a lot of people, this is there happy place where they come to relieve their stresses and forget about taxes and all that other bullshit. All their stresses melt away…

We’re out here in Silicon Valley and you wouldn’t believe people out here are driving around in Teslas with $200,000-a-year jobs with beautiful families and they’re stressed out — it’s almost because they have everything, they’re too comfortable. You come in here, someone’s going to try and choke the shit out of you. You would think that’s stressful, but it’s not. It’s tranquil because all of the bullshit you’re thinking about doesn’t matter.

More advanced students trying advanced techniques. The grappler on the left defends the leg lock submission attack from the grappler on the right. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

I’ve read a study that says jiu-jitsu fosters a focus on the “present” that can benefit mental health.

Jiu-jitsu becomes even more important in today’s society because you’ve got everybody on social media now days in a way more connected than ever, but also more isolated than ever. Jiu-jitsu gives you that feeling of tribe.

You come into this community and it’s still small enough and personal enough for you to feel you are part of something again. It’s a very positive community here. We’re particular about who we allow to join our community because we want to protect the fact. [People] looking to hurt people or are very negative, all that gets fizzled out.

Jiu-jitsu as a competitive sport has blossomed throughout your career, where the competition and seminar circuits are enough to make a full-time living. What progress have you noticed in the sport and how have you grown with it in that time?

Most of these competitions were in rinky-dinky middle school gymnasiums with 10 people in the stands. Now you’ve got shows like EBI [Eddie Bravo Invitational], Fight to Win, Quintet, Polaris, these amazing shows, bright lights on UFC Fight Pass or streaming. There’s a lot of people in the audience. You got announcers, huge production and with all of that comes more pressure.

I’ve also got my school, my students, fans, family, everybody’s excited to watch me compete and there’s expectations…not to mention I’m competing at a much higher level. Again, more pressure. I’m trying to work on my mental aspect, being okay with risking it and putting it out there. Not necessarily going out there to lose, but not being so worried about losing, because in my opinion, something that’s held me back before is being so deathly afraid of losing that it’s caused me to lose.

Repetitive movements & drilling techniques is a significant component of practice. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

Without an ACL, did you hesitate to commit fully to jiu-jitsu?

I put all my chips into jiu-jitsu. Everything’s worked out for me now, but if you were to ask me in 2012 right after my knee surgery, I had a bunch of credit card debt and a bum knee and all my friends were getting their first high-paying jobs with college degrees. I was like, ‘fuck, I made the wrong choice. I’m screwed.’

I made a risk and so far that’s paid off. I get to do what I love. I make decent money, can afford to live out here in this very expensive city.

Since you knew you wanted to open your own training center right away, was it something you brought up to Prokopos and was he supportive of your vision?

He was always very supportive of my goals. I told him I wanted to win Worlds. I told him I wanted to go to ADCC. He said, ‘you’re gonna be a world champion.’ I was able to win blue belt Worlds. I got the shit kicked out of me at ADCC. But I made it. He helped me not just accomplish my goals, he acknowledged my goals and encouraged me to pursue my goals. That meant a lot. It still means a lot.

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu San Mateo’s head instructor Adam Sachnoff ties up one of his top students, Alan Sanchez. Sanchez is a brown belt with a litany of high-level achievements: 3–0 Fight to Win record; Gracie Worlds champion at purple belt; British and Spanish Nationals winner; San Jose Open winner at blue and purple belt; double silver medals in American Nationals; 16-man submission only tournament in Peru winner. (Photo by Danny Acosta)

You’ve achieved your dreams of becoming a world champion and opening your own gym. What goals still drive your competitive grappling career?

I want to win ADCC — ADCC trials first. No-gi Worlds is something I think I can do really well at, earn that podium, get first place in black belt no-gi Worlds is something I’ve always wanted. I just helped win the team title for Quintet in Japan. It’s coming back in Las Vegas, [10th Planet] been invited to participate in that. I’ve done three Fight to Win matches — I’m sure I’ll be back on Fight to Win. If other big name organizations want to invite me, if I can get on those cards, I’d like to represent.

I am glad you mentioned Quintet. It’s new to the scene as a five-on-five tournament alongside your jiu-jitsu team. That’s unique and it’s a big deal it was founded by Japanese grappling and fighting legend Kazushi Sakuraba. How was your experience being invited by Sakuraba to compete in his tournament?

It was surreal. It was really cool. He was one of my inspirations for getting started with my training. It was really cool to participate in his tournament. He signed my poster. It’s a funny relationship because on the one hand I’m very competitive, we were going up against his team, we’re competing against each other, but he’s also one of my idols. It’s an interesting feeling. He was really cool, hospitable, he did a good job at taking care of us and Japan was really, really fun. The fans are really cool, respectful.

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu San Mateo just doubled their space with the new mat edition on the left. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

You just doubled your gym’s mat space with a second room. How is that altering your program?

Now I teach beginner techniques to my beginner students; I teach advanced techniques to my advanced students; They train in separate rooms and then we do open mat from 7:30 to 8:30[PM]. It’s been pretty cool because it feels like people are bonding more, socializing more, training together more. I’m noticing a lot more people are staying longer than they normally would. They do rounds, they hang out for a little bit more. There’s more space to hang out and be comfortable. I feel people are enjoying themselves more. I’m enjoying myself more.

What plans do you want to see come to fruition with the extra space?

I’d be happy with more growth in the adult’s jiu-jitsu program but honestly we’re pretty packed even with the extra space, especially in the evenings. We have a 7-to-12 kids program, we’re in the process of adding a 4-to-6 kids. We’re very unique — we’re like 90% adults and 10% kids, so I’d like to get that 50–50. We can add an extra 100 kids. If we do that, I’d be really happy.

10th Planet Jiu-Jitsu San Mateo ends class by everyone acknowledging everyone with high-fives, handshakes or hugs. (Photo by Adam Pardee)

For more information on 10th Planet Jiu Jitsu San Mateo, visit Watch Sachnoff compete next as part of Team 10th Planet at Quintet’s U.S. debut at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas on Friday, Oct. 5, streaming on UFC Fight Pass, again featuring Sakuraba.

Follow Adam Sachnoff on Instagram @ reddestroyer

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Danny Acosta Profile Photo

Danny Acosta

100% Mexellence. Filmmaker. Writer. Photographer.

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