Yet another reason I’m glad I started training BJJ late in life is that I’m mentally ok with the plateaus and setbacks of training over a long time.
I’ve already been through getting (much) worse at rugby. I’ve already dealt with countless running/triathlon plateaus. I’ve already dealt with getting slower.
Training setbacks aren’t a huge deal to me. I’m mentally equipped to train right through them–just keep showing up. I’ve been in a real BJJ funk for the last several months. I’m not feeling any progress, and in a few respects, I’ve felt some regression. That’s ok.
I’d say I’ve been doing this for a couple of months. Just showing up.
Then last week, some pain showed up in my back. I considered skipping BJJ, but decided it would be better for me to go to training with a focus on moving slowly (and slowing down my partner), playing very low risk, and being “delicate”.
Of course, that was the first day I had considerable success in quite a while. Interesting. I plan on keeping the same focus this week.
I think it was inadvertent, but I got a good lesson from a white belt last night while rolling. This guy is a great athlete–college wrestler who’s been training for a couple of months. He really works hard at learning BJJ and not relying on his athleticism to get him through. I know how tough it is for him to be on his back and not just launch me across the room, but he instead works on the escapes we’ve learned in class and his technique.
Anyway, I had his back last night and was about 80% there on a bow and arrow choke, which is a pretty high percentage finish for me. Well, he was able to fight that off and let me know that, “No sir…not today. Not going out with that.” Of course, my first thought was, “Oh…really?!”
Of course I spent the rest of the round trying to get that exact choke, hand fighting with a guy in his early 20s who has already spent more time hand fighting that I will for the rest of my life. And I didn’t get the choke.
What I SHOULD have done is transitioned to something else, like an armbar, or whatever he gave me. He was so focused on not getting choked, something else was surely there. But I didn’t see it until after the round. He tricked me into going for the exact thing he was prepared to defend.
Now, the real question–do I go for the bow and arrow next time we roll? I hope not. I hope I go with what’s there instead of what I “want” to be there.
The other day I wrote a post on “What Makes Jiu Jitsu Fun For You?” laying out my top personal reason for continuing to train. As I was writing it, I had a realization and line of thought that didn’t really jibe with that post, but is something I wanted to pursue separately–there’s more to why I train than just the fun. Don’t get me wrong–it’s mostly about the fun. But there are other reasons as well. And one of the biggest is the concept of “Perfect Jiu Jitsu.”
I’m not sure if there’s an “according-to-Hoyle” idea of perfect jiu jitsu, but I have one that I’m able to wrap my tiny little brain around, and it’s pretty freaking awesome.
Perfect jiu jitsu is, while playing in the rules of jiu jitsu, the ability to convince your opponent they have no hope of survival. Perfect jiu jitsu achieves this by doing nothing other than accepting the choices the opponent makes and responding only in ways to which the opponent does not resist.
So, obviously, no striking or biting or anything like that. But…wherever they want to place their hands, you allow it. Conversely, you allow them to object (by resistance) to ANY hand placement you choose. Same goes for feet, head, legs, etc. They are allowed to do whatever they want. You don’t do anything they don’t allow. And you still get them to tap. Oh, and the person you just defeated can effortlessly beat everyone in the world except for you.
Now, that’s PERFECT JIU JITSU. I know it isn’t possible. It’s just an aspirational goal–people may aspire to achieve, but no one will actually get there.
There are people who dedicate their lives to achieving perfect jiu jitsu. They are aware they’ll never get there either, but it’s a concept that is so powerful and alluring, that they feel it’s worth a lifetime of work to reach for.
I’m not one of those people.
So, if it’s not something that’s achievable by anyone, and I’m not even one of the people who’s willing to dedicate myself to achieving it, why am I even bothering to write this post? How does the existence of the idea of perfect jiu jitsu even motivate me?
Because I see the beauty of the idea of perfect jiu jitsu. I’m aware of how effective jiu jitsu is when done poorly, by someone without special talent, who trains a few times a week, holds down a regular job, takes their kids to activities, eats an imperfect diet, and has a million other things going on.
That may sound like a pretty accurate description of me, but I’m not talking about me. The guy I just described will utterly destroy me at jiu jitsu. That’s how magic it is. If they guy I just described can beat me so easily, what must close-to-perfect jiu jitsu look and feel like.
I can’t fathom what that may be, but I want to be a part of the movement towards it.
And the reason I really wrote this post is that:
The concept of practicing something that can be abstracted into an idea that is beautiful and yet unattainable scales both horizontally and vertically, and it’s the stuff that a meaningful life is made of.
Maybe it’s not fun for you. Maybe it’s a “have to” for some reason or another. But I haven’t encountered many people who feel this way about it. I think it’s a pretty fun activity for most of us.
It’s ironic, because a huge amount of time spent in jiu jitsu is spent losing, suffering, dealing with discomfort, being humbled, feeling vulnerable, taking steps backwards, plateauing, getting bruised and mat-burned, and suffering from the occasional minor injury and constant back/hand pain.
And I didn’t even mention that some of us are daily forced to deal with the fact that we are old and quickly declining.
Have I convinced you to start training yet? 😀
Somehow, it’s fun. It’s the thing that always puts us in a good mood and makes us smile. For some, it’s one of their only sources of happiness.
I can’t answer for anyone else, but for me jiu jitsu is fun because it’s magic. As much as it taxes my body, it is constantly tickling and amazing my mind. It’s constantly causing me to question what I know.
How can someone so much smaller than me control me that way?
How can they continue to control me in the exact same way, even after they’ve shown me exactly what they are doing and how to stop them?
Why did that simple adjustment that makes all the difference elude me for so long. And it’s so simple and obvious–why didn’t I see it myself?
Why are so many of my natural intuitive motions so incorrect?
Why is this guy asking me for advice–can’t he see I know nothing?
Why am I giving this guy advice? I’m 100% positive there’s someone out there who can show me why everything I just said is absolutely wrong.
Is he even trying this round? Did he just give me that? WHY did he just give me that? Is this a trap? Does he think this trap is going to work? Why didn’t I see the REAL trap?
I guess, for me, the reason it’s fun is because it’s a series of difficult puzzles that, once solved, reveal themselves to only be a small part of an infinite number of larger, increasingly difficult puzzles.
I realized a while back that I’m not an outcome-driven person. I’m an experience and journey driven person. Endless puzzles with ever-changing parameters…where do I sign up?
I don’t like to do this, but I had to take somebody down a peg or two in training last night.
Background – How I Usually Roll
I have this thing that I try to do when I roll with lower belts–I try to focus on giving them something in the 5 minutes we have together that will help them improve. I do this because I feel like higher belts often do this with me, and I really appreciate it when they do. I feel like they are, in some way, donating a little piece of their time on earth to me.
I know that’s not 100% the case–we actually both get something out of them “being nice”. Being on the “giving” end of this equation more often as I grow in jiu jitsu, I’m aware that setting the tone and path of a roll with a lower belt can greatly benefit me.
For instance, if I’m rolling with a lower belt who likes to transition and move a lot, I could just put the brakes on them. Well, some of them anyway. But I usually don’t. I try to make the roll as active as I can. I need to get better at transitioning and movement too, so it’s a win/win in a lot of ways.
It’s sort of an extrapolation of the idea I wrote about earlier describing how I like to roll with baby white belts and keep the “vocabulary and syntax” of the roll simple.
I had a discussion about this with Professor Dave the other day after training, and his position on that was, “Yeah…that’s not a bad thing to do, and it’s really nice of you, but you can’t be nice all the time. They, especially the guys, need to understand how powerful jiu jitsu is, and it’s your responsibility to be a part of making it clear to them.”
The Sappy, “Feelings” Part Of This
I don’t feel like I’m very selfish about jiu jitsu. At least, I hope I’m not selfish.
I don’t need to win every round. In fact, I don’t need to win any rounds. I just enjoy training. It’s not all about me and my journey for me–it’s about us. I want people to look forward to training with me, not dread it.
I think I feel this way because I’m not the best at interacting with people in normal social situations. Jiu jitsu gives me a way to connect with other people in a way that’s more natural and comfortable for me. I want to foster that experience because it is so much more rewarding to me than winning.
That may seem very strange for a lot of people, but it’s true for me.
I don’t get to be in many situations where I feel like people understand me. Just writing this post has made me aware that the ability to share an experience with another person is probably the number one thing I get out of jiu jitsu.
Wow. That will have to be another post.
Back To The Story…
My talk with Professor Dave was on Saturday. Last night was Tuesday.
There were four “big guys” in class last night. A really tough and hard-nosed brown belt, me (purple), and two 3 stripe white belts. “Brown” and I both took a white belt as a partner for drilling and technique.
The guy I was with is a really good guy. I like him a lot. I enjoy training with him, both for technique and in sparring. He’s about 50 pounds heavier and 20 years younger. My cardio is much better than his. Of course, there’s also a skill level difference that can mostly be chalked up to time on the mat. If this guy keeps training, drops some weight, and commits to building a cardio base, he’ll be WAAAAAAY better than I am right now by the time he’s my age.
I really want that to happen for him.
We’ve rolled together several times, and it’s always fun. The usual script is that I take it down a couple of notches, chill, and pay attention to what he’s trying to do. I exploit his big mistakes, flow with it when he’s on the right track, get into spots that let me work on escapes, try and develop some newer stuff I’m working on, etc.
Maybe for the last minute I’ll shift into a higher gear for a bit. Again, the goal is to be in a roll that helps both of us get better. Of the two of us, I’m the one who has more ability to create that situation, and that’s what I try to do. I feel like it’s my responsibility.
But last night, I was sensing that my man was getting a little too big for his britches. I started realizing that he wasn’t aware of the size of the gap between us. Maybe he wasn’t aware of what was actually happening during our rounds?
And I realized it was my fault. I’m the one who has been dictating what happens during our time together. I own that situation–not only the physical part, but the mental part as well.
We started drilling the night’s techniques, and our boy started coaching me up from the get-go. Now, granted, we were working some stuff I’ve not seen recently, don’t attempt very often, and am not especially suited for physically. In short, we were working on what are probably my greatest weaknesses. I actually did need a lot of the help he was offering.
When drilling, I often pause and think about what’s next, if everything is in the right place, what my other options (that better suit me) could be in this situation, how to make this easier, how to make it “click” for me, etc.
Every time I’d pause, he’d correct me. Every time.
I’m actually good with that, every night, every technique, from any belt. Most people don’t do this because it’s considered bad form, but when they do, I’m fine with it. They just watched the same demonstration I did, and they undoubtedly picked up some things I didn’t.
My line of thinking is, “Hey…he’s paying attention to what I do and going over the steps as I do them. Actually, it’s pretty freaking awesome–he’s getting mental reps during my physical reps!”
That’s a great habit.
And he really did help me a couple of times by mentioning something I’d left out or reminding me what I need to do next. But a white belt coaching someone during drilling is a bit of a red flag, especially when it’s excessive. And it’s not something he’s ever done in the past. It crossed my mind that, “Dude, there are lots of purple belts (mean ones) who would not be cool with this. At all. Keep doing the mental reps, but you should do them in your head.”
Whatever. It was working for me. If someone else has a problem with it, they can deal with it when he’s their partner. It’s more about etiquette than anything else, and I don’t put a ton of stock in etiquette. If what you’re doing is helping me, etiquette can go pound sand.
But then, there was that one remark that bit me. I’d released a sleeve grip (mistake), and he showed me his sleeve, shifted a bit, and said, “See…I’m out. If you let go of this sleeve, you’re screwed.”
Pride and ego were setting off alarms. Now, I’m keenly aware that my pride and my ego are MY problems, so I HAD to let that statement go. I had to let it go for myself–it’s a discipline thing. I don’t want to be a person who gives someone else the power to goad me into a reaction over something as silly as an offhand comment.
And I knew he didn’t mean anything by it. I knew it wasn’t said with a disrespectful intent.
At the same time, “Does he know that lots of guys would take this as a sign of disrespect?” Again, they can deal with that if they choose. I’m here to drill, not enforce manners.
Time To Roll
At our gym, we start with ladies choosing their partners for sparring first, then upper belts, straight down the line. I’ve been out of town for a couple of months, so of course, Big Brown smiles and chooses me for the first round.
And he put it on me. That’s what I like about this guy actually…no nice rolls. For anybody. I mean, he’s very respectful with ladies and smaller white belts, but if you have a colored belt or any kind of size/strength, he’s going to let you know what’s up.
Brown was probably going to pick someone else for round two, and I was hoping he’d pick my technique partner so that I could choose that other 3-stripe white belt to roll with. He’s bigger than my technique partner, and he just moved to town and is new to our gym. I’d never had a chance to roll with him, and I absolutely LOVE rolling with new people.
But coach shook things up and let the white belts pick their partners.
My drilling partner immediately pointed at me with a big grin on his face and rubbed his hands together. The body language said, “I hope you’re ready because I’m gonna get you!”
That’s when I really had to come to terms with what Professor Dave had told me on Saturday. “This guy doesn’t understand how real this ‘murder simulation’ game we’re playing can be. He doesn’t know, truly know, how vulnerable he his. He thinks that because I’m friendly, old, slow, and smaller than him, we’re on the same level, or at least close.”
“He thinks my position in this room is just honorary. He doesn’t see me as ‘real’.”
I realized that I’ve made our time together so “fun” that he wasn’t aware that he’s a rest round for me, even when he’s trying hard.
He thinks he’s been getting all those sweeps, passes, top positions, and submission attempts by himself.
He thinks my 75% top pressure is my 100% top pressure.
He thinks I’ve been releasing that pressure because he’s making me, not because I’m voluntarily moving on.
This was exactly what Professor Dave was talking about. I realized I was going to have to make this guy a tapping machine for the next 5 minutes.
I wasn’t very happy about that, but…
Bell rings. Slap five. Fist bump.
It did not take the entire five minutes for me to clear up the situation for him. At least, I hope it’s now clear to him; it should be. It was a pretty epic beat down–a big-guy-jiu-jitsu, tap-you-with-pressure-(again) beat down. It should have been apparent to him after about 90 seconds that this wasn’t just him having an off night. I do know that he didn’t want to complete the round–he declared “no mas” with about 40 seconds left.
But, being a good partner, I encouraged him to keep going. 🙂
I didn’t talk to him about it afterwards. I just said, “Good job, man. That was a tough round.”
I have no idea what he was thinking about during the round. I’m not sure if he went home and thought about it afterwards. He’s a pretty smart guy, so I have to assume it made an impression.
But I’m almost positive he won’t be smiling, rubbing his hands together, and licking his chops before our next roll.
Lately, I’ve been approaching my rolls with new-ish white belts as a conversation in a language we are both learning. I’m not a native speaker, but I’m more fluent in the language than they are. And no matter the differences in our ability, it’s on me to make sure we both enjoy the conversation.
You’ve probably seen the old analogy regarding BJJ and language:
White belt is like learning the letters of the alphabet
Blue belt is like learning that the letters make words
Purple belt is learning how to construct sentences out of words
Brown belt is the ability to write cogent paragraphs
Black belt is the ability to write poetry
I like this analogy on one level, but on another level I think there’s something missing. This analogy is all about your personal relationship with a language, but BJJ is about interacting with others–it’s a conversation.
And it’s not like anyone begins BJJ with zero knowledge of how their body works and can move. It’s not like people don’t have arms and legs that bend before their first class. And they’re aware of other people’s anatomy as well, even though they may not understand how to manipulate it. They’ve probably even played other sports at some point.
In other words, people are already aware of the CONCEPTS of letters/words/sentences/paragraphs/poetry. They just don’t know how to construct those things in THIS LANGUAGE.
So I think a better analogy than the one above is that BJJ is like achieving fluency in a foreign language. When I think of it from this perspective, it gives me a mindset I can actually take into training.
While I’m just a purple belt and can’t have a high level “intellectual conversation” with a black belt, I feel like I have a decent grip on the “language”–think someone whose native language is Spanish, but has lived in the U.S. for 10 years or so. There aren’t many situations where I’m completely lost, but I’m also keenly aware when people are talking over my head.
I incorrectly conjugate verbs every now and then (bad grips). Some verbs I do this with habitually.
I have a thick accent (leave out finer details in techniques).
I revert back to Spanglish sometimes when I get stuck expressing myself (muscle through stuff).
But I can roll with brown and black belts and they know what I’m trying to do/communicate. They are aware of all the stuff I’m doing wrong, and can choose to correct me (make me pay for the mistakes), or just keep the conversation going. But it’s really on them to decide how the conversation is going to go.
I’ve rolled a few rounds with brand new white belts recently, and I’ve tried to approach those rolls with this mindset–this is a person who has a limited knowledge of the language. They know a few key words and phrases, but our conversations are going to be limited.
It’s on me to carry the conversation.
Think about it this way–if you met someone who knew a few English words and phrases around food and sports, you wouldn’t try to have a conversation with them about politics or economics. And you definitely wouldn’t try to talk with them about how politics and economics are connected. You’d stick with topics they know–food and sports.
So in these rolls, we’re keeping the topic mostly limited to closed guard and mount. Their sweeps, passes, and attacks will be really basic, and probably a bit sloppy. But I understand what they are trying to do. Even if they get the nouns and adjectives out of order or leave out articles in their “sentence”, I get the idea they are trying to express.
And it’s on me to keep the conversation alive. That may mean doing things like giving up a sweep or slowing down the “conversation” so that they can see/feel the armbar opportunity, even though I’d never intentionally leave my arm in that spot with a fluent speaker. I can even use the “conversation” as a way to help them increase their grasp of the “language”.
Imagine someone says to you, “I enjoying food with spicies.” You may respond with, “Oh…you enjoy spicy foods! I enjoy spicy food also!” What you’ve done is correct them without being a jackass about it–you’ve shown them that you understand, and you have modeled the correct syntax for them. That gets registered in their brain and helps them later.
I had a situation like this with a new white belt last night. He had me mounted and was trying to cross collar choke me–all muscle and pulling on lapels. It wasn’t working at all, but I totally knew what he was trying to do. More importantly, I could identify his major mistakes. My response in this “conversation” was to roll into his guard, break it open, knee cut pass, mount him, and cross-collar choke him.
All stuff he’s seen.
He got it immediately. After the roll he asked why my choke worked and his didn’t. DINGDINGDING!!!! He’s trying to learn the correct way to express himself in this language.
Now, to be fair, a black belt would have watched this and chuckled at my simple, “I like spicy food” sentence construction. The next roll they’d Ezekiel choke me while I have them mounted. In affect, they are saying to me:
“While mild and sweet dishes are occasionally pleasing to me when my pallet is in a particularly sensitive state, I sometime throw caution to the wind and indulge in spicy foods in order to vicariously satisfy my unquenched thirst for adventure.”
Big words. Idioms. Complex sentence structure. Abstraction of concepts.
The reason I wanted to share this tweet was because I recently had a realization about this situation at a more macro level.
A couple of weeks ago we took our kids to visit the Shy Wolf Sanctuary in Naples. This facility houses lots of different animals, and they’ve done genetic testing on them all to identify the percentage of wolf and dog in each one. Most of the animals are 50-60% dog. They are still dangerous animals, but are more social and used to people, and are near the front of the facility. Even at first glance your brain immediately registers that, “Oh…this isn’t just a dog.”
Wolf-Dogs are dangerous. But they can be sweet and get along with the rest of us in most cases. There’s an issue every now and then maybe, but for the most part, they’re probably best described as really tough/scrappy dogs that could quite possibly lose it on you if you aren’t careful. So be careful and aware with them.
As you go farther into the facility, you reach enclosures housing animals that are almost all wolf. When you make eye contact, you know the difference between a wolf and a wolf-dog.
Like…please do NOT put me in that enclosure. Please.
How That Relates To Men
Being around these animals gave me a spark of inspiration/realization that I think accurately demonstrates how people (mostly men) perceive their world, and how their perceptions are horribly skewed, especially in this era of general comfort and security.
There are Wolves. There are Wolf-Dogs. And there are Pets.
Most men think they are Wolves, but they are actually just Pets. They’ve never actually been tested. They’ve definitely never encountered a Wolf (that they know of); probably never even smelled one. They don’t really even have a concept of what a Wolf is. It’s just a word, and they think it applies to them because they have all the same physical parts as a Wolf.
Then there are Wolf-Dogs. I put myself in this category. I know a lot of other Wolf-Dogs too. But Wolf-Dogs are separated into two different groups–those who know we are Wolf Dogs, and those who, like Pets, think they are Wolves. But it’s obvious to all Wolf-Dogs that Pets definitely are NOT Wolves.
How do Wolf-Dogs become self-aware? How do we come to the conclusion that we are neither Wolves nor Pets? It’s actually pretty simple–you have to be exposed to both Wolves and Pets to understand that you lie somewhere in the middle. It’s easy to have an encounter with a Pet. They are everywhere. In fact, it’s almost impossible to avoid them. And you know that you aren’t a Pet, which is why so many Wolf-Dogs mistakenly believe themselves to be Wolves: “If I’m not a Pet, I must be a Wolf.”
I think (pure conjecture) that most Pets have the capacity to transform themselves into Wolf-Dogs. Like the tweet above implies, it just takes an awareness of where you lie and a commitment to become a Wolf-Dog. Exposure to a Wolf-Dog is enough to start this journey.
But Wolves are a different story. They are rare, and you usually haven’t identified them as what they are until it’s too late. If you’ve ever encountered an actual Wolf, you knew within a few seconds that they are a different thing. Just like the delineation at the wolf sanctuary, it’s pretty obvious what the difference is.
What is an actual Wolf?
It’s a little tough to explain, but know this–a Wolf will fight you to the death without ever considering the possibility that there’s another option for resolution. A Pet doesn’t stand a chance against them. A Wolf-Dog may be able to inflict some damage, but they aren’t committed to the fight the way a real Wolf is. And a real Wolf will go at another real Wolf as if it were a Pet.
A real Wolf regards everything else in existence as if it were a Pet, even other Wolves.
How Does This Relate To BJJ/Fighting/Sports?
I think most people who train in a live-sparring martial art (wrestling, boxing, bjj, etc.), and lots of physically demanding sports, are Wolf-Dogs. And many of them may never encounter a Wolf in their sport. That’s ok–we need a lot more Wolf-Dogs than Pets in this world. But it would be nice if more of these Wolf-Dogs could encounter an actual Wolf at least once.
For example, I’ve been to a couple of amateur MMA competitions in the last few months. A lot of Wolf-Dogs in these things, and they are sorting out who the Wolves are at this level. That’s a good thing. Anybody willing to step into a cage and fight is at least Wolf-Dog in my book. In fact, they are the top of the Wolf-Dog food chain–plenty of legit Wolf-Dogs have zero interest in getting in there and risking their health just to find out where they lie in that spectrum. I’m the first to admit that I’m in that crowd.
You can watch these fights and figure out pretty quickly who isn’t a Wolf though:
Tap to punches? Not a Wolf.
Tap to fatigue? Not a Wolf.
Coast for the last round because you’re clearly up two rounds already? Not a wolf.
Again, I’m not throwing shade here–I wouldn’t go in there and do that against anyone, and definitely not for free.
How Do I Know So Much About Wolves?
Well, I’m not saying I do. But I’ve rolled with a couple of Wolves (top-tier fighters), and it taught me enough to know that they have something I don’t. For instance, almost everyone I’ve ever rolled with has had me mounted or been in top half guard with me at some point. When that happens, I’m thinking about applying whatever jiu jitsu I have to change the situation.
But with the Wolves, it’s different when they actually decide to turn it on. In those situations, my mind doesn’t immediately go to implementing BJJ. The first place my mind goes is the realization that this person’s instinct is to end my life in this situation. It’s palpable and it’s undeniable. There is a CLEAR difference between their ability/willingness to go to a place I don’t even want to be capable of going to.
So What Am I Saying?
I guess, if there’s any point to this (and I’m doubting there is), is that I think the world would be a better place if we all took the time to get a clear understanding of exactly what we are and where we fall in the spectrum. And we need a lot more people to level up to Wolf-Dog.
There’s nothing wrong with being a Pet necessarily, but people need to be aware of being a Pet. And if that’s what they end up choosing, they should probably be more careful with their words and actions, especially around Wolves. Wolf-Dogs are generally cool with Pets and can just laugh to themselves when they encounter one who is overstepping their abilities. Wolves are ultimately going to be a lot less forgiving, and the consequences will be more severe.
And we Wolf-Dogs need to continually seek out Wolves and get ourselves straight as well. Maybe you’ll find that you’re actually a Wolf too. But the main benefit is identifying where you are on that spectrum. Once you do, continually seek out Wolves whenever/wherever you can.
The ability to quickly identify a Wolf may pay off one day.
Shock and awe! Did not see this coming. I honestly thought I was at least a year away from this happening. A lot to say about that, but I’ll save it for a different post.
My general opinion on belts/stripes is that I just wear whatever my instructor tells me to wear. A changing belt color doesn’t change anything about me from one day to the next. For me, a promotion doesn’t need to be anything more than him throwing a stiff new belt at me at the end of training and saying, “Wear this the next time you come in here. ”
But I’ll admit that I’ve taken some time to pause and reflect on this one for several reasons, which will also result in more posts if I’m not too lazy to write them. I’m starting to understand why promotion is a big deal in the broader sense, even though the ceremony of it all may not mean that much to me personally.
I had to switch gyms when I started back training in Florida in December 2021. As much as I love everything about Off The Grid, the class schedule was a struggle for me. I meant to get over there and train for the whole month of November, but just couldn’t make the classes. Being a one car family now didn’t help any either. When I texted Professor Frank to tell him my situation, he immediately responded, “Go train with David–I’m just happy to hear that you’re going to be training again!”
That’s what kind of guy he is. None of that crap about loyalty or anything–he’s just happy that I’ve got the BJJ bug (that he put there) and am continuing.
Anyway, I showed up to class at Carlson Gracie Melbourne as I normally do and was warming up when I all of a sudden saw a ton of my old training partners and Frank there. I knew then that something was up, and immediately realized I was probably being promoted. Why else would they show up here and sneaking in through the back? Honestly, it was very awkward for me. I don’t like being the center of attention.
But…man! I can’t express how it feels that so many of the people who built me showed up for this. When Frank and David called me up at the beginning of class and said, “You’re number is up!” I was overwhelmed. I mean, I didn’t cry or anything, but I really didn’t know how to react. I was speechless.
As I later told my old teammates in a post, I don’t even feel like I “have” any jiu jitsu really. I just have little pieces of their jiu jitsu that I’ve cobbled together. Every movement, trick, defense, submission, transition, escape I have came about from what they’ve taught me and beat into me. My new gym has definitely made a big contribution in a short period of time (new perspectives–also a separate post), but the bulk of the reps and rounds were with these folks.
Being promoted by both of my coaches at the same time took away a lot of the awkwardness. And it says so much about both of these instructors that it went down like this. That David would invite the OTG crew and that they would show up says everything about why I consider these gyms my extended family.
And then…my boy Ed got his purple belt too! Ed and I started BJJ on the same day. We were promoted to blue belt together. He’s my best BJJ frienemy. We have spent countless hours beating the doo-doo out of each other. For instance, one day we were the only two people at an open mat and we decided to roll until one of us tapped.
I lost, but it took us 56 minutes to get to decision. Ed is my boy!
So, enough of the mushy stuff. Like I said, I have a lot more of that coming. But here are some stats, because people love to ask the question, “How long does it take to get your purple belt?” Your mileage may vary, and I know people who are younger and more athletic who’ve done it a lot faster than me, but..
Training sessions: 392 as a blue belt, 594 total
Mat time: 755 hours as a blue belt, 1,110 hours total
Days: 1,626 as a blue belt (*1,063 discounting covid break), 1,519 total
Uncountable number of taps
1 Competition as a blue belt
1 dislocated/broken rib
1,000,000 lessons learned
1,000,001 lessons forgotten
A bunch of connections made with people I probably wouldn’t know otherwise
A lot of introspection and realization (jiu jitsu really is life)
Never ending excitement about showing up to the next class
As much as I can’t wait to just get back to grinding/training and forget about belts, this has forced me to realize a few things about this art that separates it from any thing else I’ve ever done. Not much of it is belt specific–it’s more about the _________ that is jiu jitsu. I had do leave a blank there, because I don’t know if there’s a word in English that describes what BJJ is.
If that word exists in another language, I don’t know that either.
Last night, at the end of class, David called Z (I won’t out his name) up to talk to us about his experience competing last weekend. Z started off by telling us about his first two competitions, and how he’s evolved through the process of training.
He talked about his attitude/approach towards competing the first time out, and how he got beat and injured at this competition. And he felt like he’d let his teammates down. Even though I knew he was talking about the past, I hated to hear that he’d felt this way.
In his second competition, he got some wins, and he felt redeemed. He said his time actually learning and applying knowledge instead of relying on aggression and ego made the difference.
Last weekend, he lost. But he was super excited about what he accomplished. His goal was to control the match–both himself and his opponent. Though he lost by an advantage, he felt like he had a handle on the situation the whole time.
Then he started talking more broadly. He told us a little about the person he was before he joined the gym and started training–angry, frustrated, alienated, lonely, unhappy, etc. He thanked everybody for being accepting of him, helping him, loving him (violently), and being a part of changing himself. Of course, that’s not word-for-word what he said, but I don’t think he’d mind me taking some liberties here, because I think I know from experience these are all things that he meant.
He was tearing up as he spoke. And I was thankful it was the end of class and crazy humid last night so that my sweat could camouflage my tears too. The whole time I was thinking, “Man…I hope he’s about to get his blue belt, because THIS is what it’s all about. Not winning tournaments.”
So I was super happy when David pulled out the blue belt and gave it to him. Of course, that broke him and he started crying for real.
It really touched me to see someone affected by BJJ this way. I could relate to everything he was saying. Granted, my “aha moment” didn’t come from BJJ, but knowing that light came on for someone is cool, no matter how they got there. And he was up there spilling it in front of 30 people, many of whom he probably didn’t know that well on a personal level. I mean, I didn’t know anything about Z until last night. Now I feel really bonded with him.
After class, I shared a little bit with him about how I could relate a lot to what he talked about. As I told him, there are countless guys out there who have amazing jiu jitsu and can easily whoop us both, yet they can’t comprehend what he’d just said. Some don’t get it because they are nice, happy-go-lucky people to begin with. But there are a lot of others who are still what he used to be. They are BJJ world beaters, but they have not realized who their biggest opponent is. Maybe they even dodge this opponent–I can’t speak to their journey.
Of course, it’s a daily fight. And there are plenty of days when you lose. But, just like in BJJ, you get better at the dance. You start seeing the stuff you have to defend against coming at you sooner. Sometimes you can even chuckle at the simplicity of the coming attack (that you’re mounting against yourself). You continue to learn how the difficulties and struggles you experience can be your greatest opportunities if you are willing to let go and just flow with them.
You start realizing that sometimes the best “move” in an awfully uncomfortable situation is to simply stop and take a deep breath.
This week in particular, I needed to be reminded of all the things Z said.
This post is part of a series where I’m overthinking my approach to training for the 2021 Six Gap Century ride in North Georgia. All time spent thinking and writing probably would have been better spent on the bike
Here’s a tough realization I’ve had to come to terms with: The biggest bang for my buck for speed and efficiency on the bike comes from not doing something. That something is shoving food into my face. I knew it was going to come to this. It’s just simple math. I can increase my strength and power, but there are limits there. The easiest way to improve my watts/kilogram is to decrease the denominator.
I have a complicated relationship with food. Actually, it’s not that complicated. My love for food is right up there with rugby, jiu jitsu, and, uh…other stuff. It’s a tough place for me to have the discipline to deny myself.
Weight loss has to happen for me to hit my goals, but it doesn’t have to be permanent. I’ve been at different weights over the last 30 years, depending on what activities I’m focused on. Playing rugby in college I was ~190 pounds and trying hard to gain weight. I was 215-220 as a reasonably fit men’s club rugby player, a step or two slower at 230, but I ran a marathon at that weight.
I tried to stay just over 200 pounds when I was doing triathlons pretty regularly, and that was a comfortable weight for that activity. Well, it was 10 years ago.
A couple of years ago when I was training BJJ heavily, my walking around weight was in the low 190s, and I could make 185 pounds without having to do any kind of weight cut–just a few days of being careful with the diet. I’m pretty trim at 185, so I think that’s a decent target weight for Six Gap. I’m currently floating between 200 pounds at my heaviest time of the day to 192 pounds right after a tough ride. I’m using 200 pounds as my baseline, just to be safe. Anything below 190 would be pretty good on pain day.
I’ve flirted with a ketogenic diet before, and I’m already wheat free, mostly grain free (tortilla chips are the devil), and careful about my sugar intake. This seems like the easiest path from where I am currently, and the more I learn about keto, the more sense it makes from a biological standpoint.
When I really started digging in and running my numbers using the formulas in Mark’s book , I realized that I’ve really been overdoing it with the protein. I was really shocked at the amount of fat I need to be consuming, and that’s going to be tough to accomplish.
I ran the numbers to get from 200 to 190 pounds in the next 60 days, and then I’ll assess where I am. Based on my activity level, my target daily calorie intake should be around 3,277. The macros break down like this:
Fat: 227g (2046 calories)
Protein: 112g (448 calories)
Carb: 50g (200 calories)
Keto gets me where I need to be, quickly. And this isn’t a cosmetic thing…your photo doesn’t go down in the record book, just your time. I fully expect I’ll be back to my fluffy self by Christmas. Well, maybe not…we’ll see what comes up after Six Gap!
If you think about it, it’s a little strange to decide to make major changes based on some arbitrary time when a number changes on a piece of paper.
Still, we’re human, and I guess we need these imaginary lines to psychologically break up time; this year more than any other in our lifetimes.
But I’m not making resolutions. I mean, I’m definitely making some changes that coincide with the calendar change, but they aren’t really resolutions. The timing is merely a coincidence. So…listed in no particular order:
When we moved from FL to Las Vegas a few years ago, I cut back on blogging a lot. I’ll write later about the reasons why, all the other changes that happened, etc. But I do plan on updating things here much more often. Not because anything I have to say needs to be read, but because it helps me to write it.
Going past actually writing, I think there’s something therapeutic/cathartic about putting it out in the world to be seen, even if it’s not widely read. It feels weird to make yourself a little vulnerable and realize that you’re still ok.
This one is really important because it’s my outlet to talk about everything else on this list.
I was really into cycling on Trainer Road a few years ago. It looks like I’m going to be transitioning over to Zwift, and I plan on talking about why along with tracking some of the technical stuff around it.
There’s a whole other aspect to this beyond training–lots of emotions tied up in it. Again, lots to say later, but the passing of my friend Bill this year ultimately led to a fire being lit under my behind.
Religion? Therapy? I don’t know. It will take a lot of long runs to figure this out, but it’s something I’ve brought back into my life more this year. I didn’t know how much I was missing it. I have a lot to say about how my feelings around running have changed and this new need I feel to protect it.
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu
Holy moly do I miss BJJ. I can’t wait to go back, and the end is in sight. Taking all this time off has given me a chance to reflect on how bjj plays into my physical and mental health. Like running, it’s something I need to protect. Both are activities I don’t want to risk being sidelined from.
Enterprise Architecture and TOGAF
Wow. There’s a switch in topics. I’ve spent the last year reading and studying a lot. Again, lots to say here, but all of it can wait until after I take my last exam and have a certification that can’t be rescinded.
Greatest game ever. As years pass, I’m increasingly amazed at the breadth and depth of impact rugby has had on my life.
I wish I could have just one more season in a 28 year old body.
The Missus and I have spent a lot of time this year thinking and talking about this. Shocking, right? Some about the specifics around the actual virus, but a lot more about it’s implications for our family and society going forward. I think our experience and journey through this has been really healthy, but it has made me look at our culture/society a little differently.
As I’ve gotten older, I’m subscribing less and less to “isms”. I think that’s because I’ve realized I don’t really have any answers and neither does anyone else. There are so many nuances to everything. Oh to have just one more day of being young and knowing everything (or anything). I’ve shied away from writing about politically charged stuff for years, but I think it may be easier for me now that I have more questions than answers.
Besides that, I’ve been listening to great music, reading some cool books, and reading some trendy books. I should share, or at least leave some thoughts I can refer to later.
I’ve gotten hooked on some really interesting stuff on YouTube. And while I haven’t been posting here, I’ve written quite a bit as well. Mostly on Twitter (lol), but also done some gratitude journaling (how trendy), and even had to get up in the middle of the night to get a poem out of my head.
Yeah…not really ready to share that yet.
Things I want to learn more about
Spanish, literature, music theory, economics, etc. This list is ever-expanding, and I’ve come to the realization I think a lot of people come to–I’m running out of time to cram all this in.
Last night I happened on a couple of entries from my personal journal that made me chuckle a little. It’s crazy how much your life can change based on what seem like small occurrences and decisions.
I mean, they seem small at the time, but they end up being huge.
Meanwhile, the big stuff I was actually concerned with during this time, which I won’t be sharing, seems so trivial now.
June 28, 2016:
Last night we went to a BJJ open house, and the whole family absolutely loved it. What I was really happy about is that this is a non-BJJ politics place. Ok–I didn’t actually know there was such a thing. Apparently a lot of these places are territorial and won’t let people from different schools train at their gyms.
I like this idea better–more like rugby. You are welcomed to come train with anyone from any team. And we’ll even buy you a beer at the airport.
June 29, 2016:
Went on a short run last night to get some BJJ recovery and had a little bit of an epiphany. I was considering not going back because of the risk of injury and what that may do to my ability to go out and train. But I realized–I’m not going to qualify for Kona, I’m not going to qualify for Boston, I’m not going to be playing rugby in the World Cup (or even A-side for Brevard), and I’m not going to be UFC champion.
So I should just do whatever I feel like doing. Why would I bail on something that I’m really interested in and seems is about to get me over a fitness hump I’ve been fighting for a while. I truly don’t care about racing anyway, so who cares if I don’t get to do a marathon and get another medal that can go in a box. And as far as BJJ is concerned, I don’t care about getting a belt or winning a tournament or anything. Just want to train and get better.
Hopefully I’ll be reading this and laughing even harder in June of 2026.
Improved Ezekiel chokes (execute 5x on ranked opponents)
What went well?
I still can’t say enough good things about The Grapplers Guide. There’s a treasure trove of good content there, and it makes it very easy to find exactly what you’re looking for to improve. In this sprint I was trying to get better with the details of Ezekiel chokes, which are a weak point for me.
And…that may be just about all that went well.
What went poorly?
Glad I’m not limited to a set amount of characters. I achieved one tap on a ranked opponent. To be fair, I didn’t get very many attempts. I’ve had a cold that just won’t go away that kept me out of a couple of classes. And that cold absolutely destroyed my running (well, laziness too) and yoga activity. So I didn’t get nearly as much time in for endurance and stretching/mobility.
How can the process improve?
I’ve been assigning myself fitness and stretching sessions arbitrarily. Instead of saying I’m going to run on three days and assigning the date to them, I’m just saying I’m going to run three times and grabbing one of those out of the bucket.
I’m taking a week or two off from doing sprints. I have this dern fool half marathon in a couple of days, and I’m not really sure how I’m going to feel after that since I’m severely under-trained. I want to take that time to figure out a workable schedule for everything and think about what I want to work on next.
Blue belt is supposed to be about finding out what works best for you with trial and error. I’m not giving up on Ezekiel chokes just yet, but round one didn’t go as expected. But if nothing else, they are great threats from mount to make people show me their arms.
Haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve been taken a ton of notes. I’m working on a process to use Scrum methodologies to improve BJJ. I’m almost at the end of my first sprint, and it’s going pretty well so far. I hope to be posting on it soon. If nothing else, this is a good place to post the retrospectives until I figure out the process better.
Still, I need to get back to posting technique details. Here’s some stuff from 10.17.2017
In a tight closed guard, and they go for a grip to try to pass
Grab the cuff with the opposite hand (*thumb tight to pointer to get super tight)
Slide hand under for kimura grip and break their grip up.
Immediately stuff their hand into holster with wrist behind theirs for extra leverage
As you stuff, pull in legs to help break their posture
Open guard and feet to the mat as you grab lat
Shrimp, stuff arm, and pull the lat at the same time to get them to their side and take back.
If they are based out, climb on top of the turtle
Post with head and elbow, then hook at their elbow with the opposite arm
Pull that arm out for a down bar OR
Knee to mat and bring shin to the back of their head and drive toes to the mat for pressure
Grip leg behind the knee and roll over same shoulder you’re holding the arm with to roll into arm bar
The grip break part is covered by Chewey‘s video, and the second part is kinda sorta covered by Buchecha. The roll into the arm bar I’m still looking for.