Spotlight On Jonathan Burke

Too nervous to start training MMA? Well, snap out it. The “6 Levels” founder has made it even easier for you to get off your ass and start improving your life.

If Shaquille O’Neal ever steps into a Japanese MMA ring to put a size-23 hurting on Hong Man Choi, we’ll have one man to thank — Jonathan Burke. A Jiu-Jitsu back-belt with an impressive pedigree and an expert in close-quarters combat, Burke has spent the last 16 years teaching people how to get out of very bad situations and has a client list that includes Federal Air Marshals and members of the U.S. Special Forces. But it’s his new MMA training system — and its unlikely NBA-star disciple — that just might make him a household name.

In 1992, 1 year before the launch of the UFC, a friend’s recommendation convinced Burke to fly to Los Angeles and begin studying Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Royce Gracie. Burke was 18 years old at the time, and was immediately hooked. Twelve years later, he became the second person ever to be promoted to black belt by Royce himself and promptly opened the Gracie Orlando gym in Ocoee, Florida. But a recent creative epiphany inspired Burke to re-brand his operation “The 6 Levels” to reflect a more holistic and welcoming approach to the sport.

“I was talking to a student one day and it just hit me,” Burke says. “There are six levels to mixed martial arts. There’s the mind, fitness, striking, takedowns, grappling, and self-defense. There’s nothing else to it. And I felt I could package it so that the everyday person can relate. I want to help educate the world that MMA is not just for ‘Ultimate Fighters.’ It’s for anybody who wants to get in better shape, improve their health, and learn self-defense techniques that could one day save their lives.”

To make it easier on newbies who might be intimidated by walking into a big, scary gym, Burke has launched a website (the6levels. com) where you can get a taste of the product for free and sign up for a paid subscription to access in-depth instructional videos. “If we can present MMA to people in the safety and comfort of their own homes, through a comfortable medium like the Internet, maybe we can get more people involved and then they’ll feel more comfortable training at a gym,” Burke explains.

Of course, Burke still has a loyal army of students at his brickand- mortar school in Florida, which includes one very familiar face — Shaquille O’Neal. (You may have seen the viral video of O’Neal knocking over a cardboard cutout of Chuck Liddell and calling out “the big boy that knocked out Jose Canseco.”) After a chance encounter with O’Neal at a gym in Orlando, Burke persuaded the star center to train with him in the off-seasons.

“The primary focus of why he started training with me was for conditioning, but we work on all six levels,” Burke says. “We grapple, we work focus mitts and Muay Thai pads, and it’s all techniques and drills related to getting him in shape for the season. As anybody who’s done mixed martial arts training will tell you, it’s an incredible way to get fit.”

So what are the chances that O’Neal will debut his special brand of Shaq Fu in an actual MMA match someday?

“According to him, extremely high,” Burke says. “It’s not about money, and it’s not about the attention, because he’ll get that no matter what he does after basketball. He’s a competitive athlete, and something about that primal, man-versus-man-in-a-cage thing excites him. He wants to test himself. Hong Man Choi is around his dimensions, and he thinks that would be a great opportunity.”

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