An Interview with George Miller from Banua Projects

I had the pleasure of meeting George Miller at the NZ Grappler Gi Nationals last month. For those who don’t know George, he is a talented blue belt and great guy; he fought his way to a podium finish on the day and displayed some amazing, creative and fresh technique. I got talking to George towards the end of the day and found out a little bit about an initiative he runs in Wellington called the Banua Projects. George and I discussed the Banua Projects in an interview this week.

  1. Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Banua Projects?

Hey everyone, thanks very much for having me on ABJJ. My name is George Miller and I’m a martial artist and trainer based in Wellington, New Zealand, Aotearoa. This year, I started the Banua Projects as an initiative to develop an alternative educational and lifestyle sensibility around the fundamental principles of being alive — the ability to feel, think and move. Social activities provide a great platform to organically express this philosophy and I have been fortunate enough to share this enthusiasm through training programmes at MAI Dojo, Elevate+ and a local youth group, Te Mangopare o Taita, at Taita College. No matter who you are, where you are from or what part of society you are born into, I believe that we all come into this world with our own creativity and physical capacity. This is something that I think we should all learn to acknowledge, nurture and share.

2. What inspired you to start Banua Projects?

I think I have always had a lot of free-floating ideas and feelings towards socio-ecological well-being. My mother’s side of the family are from Sumatra, Indonesia, an island well-known for it’s lush ecosystem, within a country historically riddled with political and socio-economic controversy. I’ve actually spent a lot of time over there and sympathise greatly with the culture. Once you start observing how self-sustaining communities make use of their time and energy to procure food and resources to maintain their villages, you begin to understand how these challenges and adversities develop physical, moral and social values. You can’t help but think, ‘Am I making the most out of life?’ Having said all that, it was through martial arts, such as Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Capoeira, that I found a congruent microcosm that cultivated similar physical, moral and social values through rewarding challenges and experiences. Repeatedly putting yourself into a life-threatening situation (albeit, within a controlled environment) will definitely set your priorities straight. Adversity and indisputable defeat are a great source of inspiration for self-improvement. There’s nothing better than the raw acknowledgement of your own unresolved weaknesses to get you up in the morning to work on being better than you were yesterday. I think this is universal and can translate into all aspects of life.

George Miller (Top left) and teammate, Chevron Te Whetumatarau Hassett (Top Right) with Te Mangopare O Taita, at Taita College. Banua Projects and projects like George’s help bring people together and serve our community to promote healthy lifestyles.

3. What do you feel is the core/fundamental message of the Projects?

The word ‘banua’ is actually an old Austronesian word which is simultaneously defined as the land, village, home and the people. You can find variations of this word across Asia-Pacific – ‘Benoa / wanua’, in Indonesia, ‘bansa / banwa’ in the Phillippines, ‘vanua’ in Fiji and Vanuatu, ‘fonua’ in Tongan, ‘fanua’ in Samoan and ‘whenua’ in te reo Māori. Ultimately, the unpredictable ways of nature provides for us all, from sustenance and resources all the way through to empowering challenges and bemusing wonderment. To tap into this concept is a humbling experience — a reminder of what is truly important — Look after yourself, look after one another and collectively look after our communities and environment.

4. Are there any martial artists or practitioners of other disciplines that inspire you?

 Yeh, heaps! Sun Tzu, Miyamoto Musashi, Niccolò Machiavelli (Although, not strictly a ‘martial artist,’ I find his controveraial strategic philosophy to be a martial art in its own right- inspirational for the impartial quality of his cunning logic, rather than the diabolical potential of his seemingly ruthless theories) Ip Man, Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais would have to be some of my inspirations from popular culture. I mean, these are people I saw, read or heard about growing up.

As for the athletes? Man… Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, David Tua, Naseem Hamed, Samart Payakaroon, Orono Por Muang Ubon, Ramon Dekkers, Saenchai, Yodsanklai, John Wayne Parr, Buakaw Banchamek, Hélio, Royce, Rickson and Renzo Gracie, Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, the Diaz brothers, Demian Maia, Cris Cyborg and Edson Barboza… just to name a few.

Specific to Jiu Jitsu, I would have to say people like Fernando Tererê (Especially for the Tererê Kids Project — An initiative set up to look out for the kids within his community of Cantagalo, Rio de Janeiro), Roger Gracie, Gui and Rafa Mendes, Paulo and João Miyao, Rodolfo Vieira, Andre Galvão, Leandro Lo, Erberth Santos, Julio Cesar Pereira (For the training culture he has provided for his students at GFTeam), John Danaher and the eternally amusing Garry Tonon. Are you guys even still reading this??? Great.

There are quite a few people outside of the competitive martial arts scene that have been an inspiration to me as well. Legendary Capoeiristas, Zumbi and Besouro, great Capoeira masters such as Pastinha and Bimba, as well as contemporaries like Cobra Mansa, Itapuã Beiramar and Tico. Even BBoys make the cut, like Kujo, Physicx, Junior, Lilou, Casper, Neguin, Issei, Taisuke and Willy. I am a firm believer that rhythm, timing and coordination are integral to the development of the optimal human condition.

In all sincerity, the most inspiring people in my life are the ones I encounter everyday, on a regular basis. It’s more than observational — I experience some form of inspiration from everyone I’ve had the privilege of training or competing with. Whether it’s my coach, Bira Da Silva (Who showed me that this way of life was even an option), my teammates, or the kids and clients I train with, I think it hits home a little harder as I fully realise that our mutually shared time and energy makes a great part of who I am today. If you’re reading this, thank you for everything!

5. What are your plans with the Banua Projects in the future?

There are plenty of ideas for how the Projects could manifest in the future, but I think the biggest priority is to connect. What I mean by that is to seek out like-minded people and ensure that the message finds those who need it the most, bringing them together through shared passion and interests. A huge reason why I do what I do is because I realise how strong our communities are. Despite what some people may think, I don’t think I’ve ever met people more genuine or supportive as I have amongst fighters and the martial arts community.

I’d really like to collaborate with other martial artists, practitioners and experts from all fields of health, fitness and well-being, developing accessible workshops and events for everyone to enjoy. Consider this an open invitation! Let’s make it happen.

6. Banua Projects reaches across a broad range of movement arts and disciplines, how does Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu specifically play into the larger picture of your life and Banua Projects?

Without trying to sound too cheesy, Jiu Jitsu is really like life in a bottle. I’m not even sure if that really makes sense, but what I’m trying to express is that I find many parallels between life experiences and the narratives we encounter on the mat. Everything is there — lessons in humility, respect, honour, deception, honesty, fortitude, perseverance and discipline. You name it, it’s there on some level. The more I train, the more I notice aspects that translate into my everyday life. I’ve always been quite an anxious person, so I find Jiu Jitsu to be incredibly therapeutic, not just in the immediate practice, but also with regards to peripheral considerations, such as rest, rehabilitation and nutrition. I think this is true of most martial arts or sports, to some extent, however, Jiu Jitsu, along with Capoeira and Muay Thai, just happen to be the arts that match my own personal disposition.

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7. What is some advice you would give to people looking to start a martial art or another movement art?

Don’t be shy! The only thing that can hold you back is you. Of course, by all means be careful and cautious with how you proceed, but try not to be so self-conscious about how you look or what others may think. I’ll always remember something my friend, Cameron Edmunds, once told me, “To attain something you have never had, you will have to do something you have never done.” Welcome to the first hurdle of many, and congratulations to you for meeting the challenge head-on.

Don’t get sucked into, ‘My discipline is better than your discipline blah blah blah.’ Shit, if you have the time and energy to do so, try to get involved wherever your curiosity leads you. You may be surprised how seemingly-different disciplines open up and merge into one another. After all, the one constant is you.

Learn to embrace adversity — Failure is the birthplace of progress — As Bira always says, “You either win, or you learn.” —  All that good inspirational-mantra stuff. One of the most beautiful aspects of martial arts is learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. Suss that and you’ve won half the battle.

8. Where can people get in touch with you?

You can email me at banuaprojects@gmail.com or message me through our facebook page: www.facebook.com/banuaprojects. I’d love to hear from you all! Whether you’d like to come train, or if you have any questions or ideas to collaborate on, or even just to say hello and share something you have been working on, I’d be real stoked if you’d all reach out. You can also find us on instagram @banuaprojects.

9. Anything else you’d like to add?

STAY ALIVE

I would like to say a special thanks to George for taking the time to sit down for this interview. I feel really inspired seeing people doing positive things for their communities. Essentially, our greatest fights are not against each other, but ourselves. We are all trying to become better people and initiatives like Banua Projects is a perfect avenue for us to do so. The greatest killer in the modern age is the sedentary lifestyle, and only through the pursuit of movement, and by promoting and celebrating it can we hope to change the modern lifestyle to include health and well being through movement.

 

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