The Tragedy Of Bruce Lee


I may be more Martial Arts nerd than Martial Artist. I love Martial Arts in all its forms, both practical and theatrical. I train submission wrestling and when I’m not training it, I’m breaking down YouTube videos for myself. And when I’m relaxing, I’m often watching Martial Arts movies.

During my childhood, the preeminent Martial Arts star was Rocky (yes, boxing is a Martial Art). But in second position was the still active JCVD (if you’re a fan, you know who I’m talking about). Chuck Norris was still Missing in Action…and Chuck lead me to Bruce Lee.
I’m a sucker for anything Bruce Lee (and Muhammad Ali, as well). But I don’t view Bruce Lee’s life as heroic. I find it tragic. I want to share with you that tragedy.

Before he was the Bruce Lee that we all worship, he was receiving another kind of worship…as a child actor. Did you know he was a child actor in Hong Kong? Did you know he made twenty films as a child?

Think about that for a moment. Think how child actors, especially famous child actors turn out as adults. Consider that Bruce was among the most famous of the child actors in Hong Kong. And there’s something else to consider.

Fame didn’t start with him. His Father was famous, too. He was one of the leading Cantonese opera and film actors at the time, and his fame continued to grow.

I believe that his Father’s fame and Bruce’s early fame was a driving force in his life. And I believe it was the catalyst for the end of his life. I believe the fame was the father of the tragedy of Bruce Lee.

An interesting thing happened before Bruce was Bruce. When he was child in Hong Kong, the Japanese invaded. And that was a big interruption in his life.

His Dad, the famous actor, no longer had his status. As Bruce captured in his films, the occupied Chinese were treated like “dogs” by the occupying Japanese. The Japanese not only took Bruce’s family’s elevated status but even further humbled them. This wasn’t the only time it happened in Bruce’s life.

When Bruce came to America, he was humbled again. He was a dishwasher. But he wasn’t just disadvantaged economically. He was disadvantaged racially, as well.

Just as the Japanese treated him as second class, the whites he encountered treated him much the same. This dichotomy of idolization from Hong Kong and near desecration by everyone else was a driving force for him. It may have been the driving force of the tragedy.

Bruce’s regained some semblance of celebrity in the US. It came first as a Martial Artist when he demonstrated feats of strength and martial prowess at Martial Arts exhibitions. This lead to him training celebrities.

And training celebrities lead to him being on film again…but this time as a Martial Artist. That’s not quite accurate. He wasn’t just a Martial Artist. He was also a servant, as Cato, in THE GREEN HORNET.

He went from being treated second class in his invaded country, then again in his birth country, and now on screen.

In every way, he was humbled. The final humiliation was when a white actor, David Carradine, became the star, instead of Bruce in Bruce’s idea, KUNG FU.

Following the low of having the television show KUNG FU developed without him, Bruce found himself back in Hong Kong. But when he came back, he found himself to be even more famous than he was as a child. Even more famous than his Father.

Piggy backing off his fame from playing Cato in THE GREEN HORNET, Bruce was able to make his own Martial Arts films in Hong Kong. He became the leading man of Hong Kong. Almost all the wrongs of his life had been righted…save one.

And that’s when America became interested again in Bruce. Could he ascend to the greatest of heights and become the most famous action star in world? Enter…the Dragon.

Bruce’s final ascension to fame was taking its toll. As he worked non-stop to make his movies, both in Hong Kong and stateside, he had to deal with the consequences. His body was fighting back.

In order to look as he did and produce the movies…he traded his health. His body ached and so he used drugs (both prescription and non-prescription) to ease the symptoms. He put his fame above his health. And a pharmacological misadventure cost him his life.

Some see the life of Bruce and all that he accomplished as a victory. While it wasn’t a defeat, I believe it was a tragedy. There was so much more he could have offered the world of entertainment, martial arts (mixed martial arts took 20 years to really arrive after Bruce’s passing), philosophy…and most importantly, his family. The tragedy of Bruce was that he was a martyr to his fame before he achieved Mastery…of all his crafts.


12722210_10153434848538015_1469854363_oIt was 2005 (I think). My chronic pain issue was as bad as it was gonna get. I was tired of missing out on things. I didn’t know if I could do it. But I started BJJ.

Fast forward 10 years. It’s hard not to focus on the 10K hour rule / 10 year rule. Enough time has passed (I haven’t been training those 10 years consistently, though) and yet I haven’t reached mastery….I’m still not a Black Belt.

Some who roll with me find that hard to believe. Others find it hard to believe I’m not better. It just depends on the match up. That’s really the theme: how well things match up.

To be honest, BJJ isn’t really my style. I don’t like the Gi and I certainly don’t like the mythos (and pathos) around it. But I love grappling without the Gi.

Because of that, I was never able to find a school or really an instructor that shared a similar viewpoint. Not to be overly dramatic, but I was a grappler wandering in the wilderness.

I always learned something visiting other schools and am very grateful for what those instructors gave me. But I was going in a different direction. Not many agreed with my direction. I’m sure “Creonte” was said more often than “Ronin.”

Much of my time was self directed going to open mats and drilling with buddies. While my drilling partners were great, I was usually at a higher skill level than them. And I was only solving the problems I was presented with.

But something always stuck with me. There were certain guys who gave me the most problems. In fact, two kinds of guys.

Guy #1: The Leglocker
I came up in a school where leg locks weren’t practiced that often, so defense wasn’t developed. When I went up against guys of my experience level or greater, they took advantage of my ignorance. I have to patch this hole.

Guy #2: The Wrestler turned Submission Wrestler
I’ve written about this many times before but I’ll summarize here. When good high school level and above level wrestlers came in to train BJJ in the Gi, they often dominated the blue belts and most of the purple belts. Once they developed submission defense, they dominated most of the brown belts, too, as well as putting black belts in trouble sometimes. When they took off the Gi, they dominated nearly everyone…including me.

Being susceptible to a leg locker is a big hole in one’s game. But not knowing wrestling is a far bigger hole. And for every BJJ player I could ever beat, I knew those two categories of guys had my number. It made me very insecure.

Fast forward to August 2015. I’d moved to Utah and was looking for a place to train. I do my research and find “The most dominating and effective No Gi Submission Grappling program ever created.” Very bold claim. And that is exactly what I have found it to be.

On my first day there, we train takedowns to leg lock series. I had found my school…and my instructor. At some other point in the future, I’ll write my love letter to University of Grappling and my instructor…but for now I have an announcement.

While I may not be a Black Belt, I am a Brown Belt…a very new Brown Belt. It would be fair to say I’m more green than brown. But I’ll put in my time and grow into the rank as best I can.

I’m more proud of this Brown Belt from Marc Brewer at University of Grappling than I would be a Black Belt from anyone else. What happens at UoG is a level above what I’ve been exposed to (in person or online). There is simply no comparison for what is being taught, who is teaching it, and with whom I get to drill and train. I hope I can do the belt, the instructor, my training partners, and the school that same honor that was bestowed upon me.

March 17th, 2016

Posted in BJJ

Is Athleticism the Alpha Attribute?

img01I’ve written about athleticism before and its place in the martial athletics. In review, athleticism has to do with movement. More specifically, it has to do with a high degree of motor quantities including but not limited to:


In the previous article, we examined whether athleticism or technical ability wins. In this article I want to further examine when technique can overcome athleticism. And, of course, when athleticism trumps technical ability.

Technical ability has to do with highly developed movement quantities through the martial ranges of motion. But, like all movement disciplines, moving in martial arts, doesn’t move you through all possible ranges of motion. This is where athleticism comes in.

Someone who is considered athletic has more available movement quantities than the average practitioner in that specific sport. It’s likely they are not as technical in that sport. This is likely because practicing a limited set of motions limits other motions.

“Going With” and “Stopping” are our two prime metaphors in Movement Martial Arts. These metaphors are very useful in predicting the outcome between the technician and athlete. And the outcome is easily predicted.

In many cases, a contest is determined either by the “going with” or the “stopping.” In the case of this contest between the technician and athlete, it is a contest of stops. If the technician can stop the athlete’s superior motion, the technician wins. But if the athlete can evade/outmaneuver the
technician’s stops, the athlete will win. I think this should inform martial practice.

As you become more an more technical, your feel, or your ability to feel will naturally improve. But your “stops” must improve commensurately. The accuracy and speed by which you apply your stops must get better and better. Otherwise, athleticism wins. Be athletic, but prioritize technical skills…especially stopping and the athlete will not be the alpha.

Off-Base the Base of Support

judo throwFor those of us without a grappling background,
takedowns can be incredibly challenging.

For those of us who are gi oriented,
we gravitate towards Judo to supplement
our BJJ.

For those of us who prefer No Gi,
our takedown sport of choice is more likely wrestling.

Dependent upon who is teaching the takedown art,
they may have a very forceful approach to the takedown.

They may advocate forcing the takedown…
going in a particular direction
no matter the direction the opponent is already going.

This approach makes boys into men
and men into bulls
but some of us don’t have the physical integrity
to withstand going against forces.
We have to be Matadors.

As a matador,
I have to go with my opponent’s force
and find it possible to do so
even when taking him down.

Going with means going with your opponent’s center of mass
whether he is applying force to you or not
and in doing so
you move his center of mass
beyond his base of support
and if you stop a part of his base of support from following
it often ends in a takedown.

But sometimes you can’t directly access the center of mass
likely because your can’t get past your opponent’s upper body guard.
It’s then when you have to take a more indirect route.
Instead of attacking more towards the center of mass,
attack the base of support.

The base of support is never equally weighted.
Attack the less weighted leg.
This often (but not always) means elevating this leg
towards the center of mass
and then taking center of mass
beyond the remaining base of support.

If there is sufficient downward force,
the ground is enough to stop your opponent
from changing his base of support.

It there isn’t enough downward pressure
apply a stop opposite the direction of travel…
and take your opponent down.
At least that’s how a biomechanics nerd does it.

Is Your Grappling the Answer to Every (Sport) Problem?

It wasn’t long before I became disillusioned with BJJ. It started in class. I saw college wrestlers (some, but not all D1) come in and mop up the floor with everyone Purple and below as well as a good percentage of the Browns and Blacks. Once they knew submission defense, they beat all the Browns. If they took off their Gis, the Black Belts couldn’t get them.

I saw this same trend in MMA. For the most part, Black Belt BJJ fighters can’t get wrestlers to the ground, or keep them on the ground, sweep, or submit them once they are there. Wrestling has proven itself to be the dominant Martial Art.

So what to do? “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?” Should we take off our kimonos and put on a singlet?

I think we should take off the Gi, but I don’t think we should necessarily become wrestlers. But I do think we should specialize…Specialize in answering the curious problem wrestlers pose.

We’ve got to shed the maximum amount of BJJ philosophy and practices that aren’t helping us against them. We’ve also got to adopt the minimal amount of wrestling we need to defeat them. We’ve got to find a way to get the fight to the ground, keep it on the ground, learn how to sweep them, and submit them.

If we can do this, we can reclaim the top spot in both grappling and MMA. But make no mistake, wrestlers are #1…by a big margin. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

Full Body Guard

Screen Shot 2015-08-19 at 9.42.45 AMThere is a concept that is applicable across all martial arts…but in order to see it, we’re going to have to revise some terms. BJJ largely happens on the ground…off the feet…and so feet based stance is largely ignored and instead posture is focused on. But there is an umbrella term that encapsulates both stance, posture (which usually refers to spinal position), and upper body positioning: guard.

Wrestling doesn’t use that term, but striking arts usually reserve that term for the upper body. BJJ usually applies “guard” the position of the legs relative to the other player’s legs…but I believe there is a better way to use it.  That ways includes the entire body.

Guard, or “Full Body” Guard, is a simplification of arms, legs, and spinal positioning. In order to be effective offensively or defensively, all parts of the body have to be in a particular position relative to each other. That’s why I call this master position “full body guard.”

It’s such a useful metaphor because it is incredibly predictive. When looking at a match at any point in time,it’s very easy to see who is ahead. Who is ahead is whoever is more in “full body guard.”

To win in Martial Arts, take your opponent out of their full body guard: whether that be there arms, legs, or spine (including head, it’s attached). But here’s the caveat: you have to do so by remaining more in your full body guard than they are in their full body guard. Win the “full body guard” game and you win the whole game.

Movement & Technique


I love this translation,
“When I move…techniques are born.”
But I think there is a far more textured way to look at it.

All techniques are made of movements…but not all movements.
There are movements to make and movement not to make when performing techniques.

For each technique, there is a correct way to perform it.
-Eyes go here
-Hand goes here
-Elbow goes here
-Knee goes here
-Foot goes here
-etc, etc.

These techniques are often judged by how they look.
But what is often forgotten is that while a technique can look good,
there is something else far more important
that makes it a good technique.

When performed correctly,
your techniques will move you into base (a good base of support)
or keep you in base.

Martial Art doesn’t really happen alone,
to truly practice Martial Art,
you need someone to practice with.

And no matter which branch of Martial Art you practice,
all techniques have one thing in common:
they move your opponent

Just as your techniques can you move you,
there are two ways they can move your opponent:
-into base
-out of base

An ineffective technique would move your opponent into base.
An effective technique would move your opponent off base.

Effective techniques are the movements you make that move you into base and your opponent off base.

No matter what it is: a kick, a punch, a knee, and elbow, a block, a parry, a slip, a trap, a trip, a takedown, an escape, a reversal, or a submission…Make it so that you move into base and your opponent moves out of base.  This is the basis of all effective martial art.

The Two Class System

brazilian-jiu-jitsu-belt-systemWhen I first started BJJ, I couldn’t believe there were only two classes of classes:
-White Belt
-Blue Belt & Above

And when I first got my Blue Belt
and started attending the 2nd tier of classes,
I further questioned the wisdom of the two class system
as I was “nail” to everyone else’s hammer
for quite some time.

But I think a two class system can work quite well…
especially if the 1st tier is taught well.

The first tier should be about
-developing feel in the 10 major directions
(up, down, forward, back, right, left,
circle right, circle left, circle back, circle forward)
-going with our opponents in those directions
-learning the defensive principle of stopping,
-learning the offensive principle of stopping,
-in the 8 major positions
(standing, guard, half guard, side,
mount, north south, turtle, back)
-and in both aspects of those positions
(e.g. top (passing) guard, bottom (playing) guard)
-all strangles and locks (extremities AND spine)

With the firm foundation developed within the first 12 months of training, I believe the 2nd tier can be practiced fairly easily…
with what hasn’t been trained.

There are almost innumerable variations of guards, controls, attacks, flows, etc.  I imagine an upper level class to be where students are put in these specialized positions and then approach them as they did as novices and beginners in the more general positions (side mount, back mount, etc).

As there are new elements of submission grappling emerging all the time, there is never a lack of things to practice which keeps the instructor and student body up on the current trends and the school relevant in the ever changing world of Martial Arts.

Posted in BJJ

When Is It Time To Start a New Martial Art?

When is it time to start a new Martial Art?
I don’t know the answer to that question.

Hopefully in writing this, I come to some clarity on this issue.

A new Martial Art cannot be defined only by techniques
No effective Martial Arts has an entirely unique set of techniques.
As far as grappling arts go, there are many common techniques shared across the spectrum of arts.

A new Martial Art cannot be solely defined by its aim. If that were the case, there would be only one grappling art, one striking art, and one submitting art.

Perhaps a new Martial Art is more defined by its rules. What is allowed and what is not allowed has to shape what is included and what is excluded from the art.

The easiest answer of what defines a Martial Art may be who created or codified the Martial Art: Kano’s Judo, Gracie’s Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or Oyama’s Kyokushin.

My guess is that what really defines a Martial Art is its philosophy. There would be no Aikido, no JKD, no SPEAR without the philosophy behind (and now science) it.

It could be a combination of all these elements mentioned and others unmentioned that necessitate the start of a new Martial Arts. Is “Going With” and “Stopping?” enough to merit a new Martial Art? I think so. What about you?

Believing In A Chorus Of Non-Believers

iStock_000017929751SmallThe way I prescribe Martial Arts to be practiced
and the way it is taught in the dojo
probably couldn’t be more different.

So what does one do to apply the principles and practices taught here?

We need training partners, multiple training partners,
and where are our training partners?
At the Dojo.

So here is a short little post about how to do our own thing in the midst of everyone else.

If your instructor is cool with you skipping those, I recommend that.
Even if your instructor is cool with it, a lot of other the students may not be…so be warned. If you’re not going to skip warm-ups, then accentuate the parts of the warm-ups that feel good and limit the parts that don’t (i.e. shrimp to one side, etc).

Have your partner put their weight in the direction they need to in order for the technique to be applicable. Try out the technique once or twice in drilling. If it is not going to be a part of your game, spend more time learning how to defend it.

If you can do positional rolling most of the time, I would recommend that. If not, start in the position you have been drilling from. You only have to roll as much to find out what you are unsuccessful. Then go back to drilling. Come back to rolling when you think you’ve internalized your drills.

If you are focusing on drilling at least three times per week and working up to game speed in your drilling, you probably won’t need extra conditioning. If you’re not getting in three times per week of drilling, then I would add supplemental solo drilling with the fundamental movements (shrimp, bridge, technical stand-up, etc) that feel good to do.

With so much time at the dojo, you’re likely to not have too much time to allocate to strengthening. So when you can focus on doing movements you aren’t doing the Dojo that focus on fuller limb extension, flexion, and abduction as well as spinal extension.

I know it’s not easy doing your own thing especially in the Martial Arts environment, but ultimately it is what is best for you to do. I hope this post helps. Ooosss!!!