The Path of the Ronin

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“Seek not a Master…
Seek what the Masters sought.”

–Matsuo Basho (adapted)

Jiu-Jitsu, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu,
hasn’t shed all of its Japanese sensibility.
It may be one of the vestiges of the Samurai.

When it comes to Jiu-Jitsu
(or at least my brand of it),
I am not a Samurai.

I have had many teachers.
Each training partner,
each opponent has been my teacher
but I do not have ONE teacher.

I have to admit that I am very envious of those people
who find their teacher
their teacher that they can remain with
for their life as a Martial Artist.
They are modern day Samurai
and their teachers are Lords.

I am not a Samurai.
I am a Ronin…without 46 brothers.
I would love to find a “Lord”
to make me a “Samurai”…
but that isn’t the thing I’d love to find the most.

I’d love to find
(and I think I have)
a path that makes me into a teacher
where there is far less need for any more Ronin
and a new class of Samurai emerges
a new Bushido
where what works trumps any tradition.

I think Eddie Bravo has done a lot of the leg work on this…
but I think there is a distance still yet to be traveled
by other Ronin.

Posted in BJJ


scramble-logoHave you heard the term, “Scramble?”
Better yet, have you heard a definition for it?

There is a Zen saying,
“Music is the space between the notes.”

I think in much the same way,
a Scramble is the space between BJJ (or wrestling)

Whenever there is a lot of movement going on in a match
and the players are moving outside of standard positions in BJJ,
we consider them to be in a Scramble.

That isn’t exactly how I would define a scramble, though.
The kind of submission grappling that I endorse
has to do with maintaining intentional contact (focusing on contact, not pressure or how hard one contacts) with one’s opponent.

I believe each time intentional contact is lost, we are in a scramble
and we have to wrestle
instead of using our Jiu-Jitsu.

While I don’t like this phrase,
I’m going to use it:
If you’re “Scrambling,” you’re doing it wrong.

Even if you are escaping a bad position
and you’re going to win the scramble…
I still think you’re doing it wrong.

The principles I teach of go with your opponent
but stop a part of his body
are espousing that intentional contact.

No matter how unorthodox a position you may find yourself in,
the answer lies in the principles…
and not in the Scramble.

Confessions of a (BJJ) Nerd

5422dad8b44a21a05f7e41c4ae147c08I’m an avowed, unapologetic, unathletic, autistic nerd.
Last night, I had a very serious talk with my seven year old stepson
about my favorite incarnation of Batman
and what I think would be a better interpretation of the Dark Knight.
I enjoyed the hell out of it. Maybe more than he did.
Like I said, Nerd of Nerds, lifetime commission in the Nerd Corps.

I don’t think it’s any accident that I’m also a Martial Artist.
I’ve come into contact with a quite a few of “us” throughout my years in the Dojo,
most recently in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

If you’re a member of the BJJ Nerd Corps
-you may be the owner of every Victory Belt book
-have watched over 50 DVDs (sets, even)
-spend hours a week on YouTube watching matches and instructionals
-come early stay and stay late for class

If you’ve ascended to the upper echelon,
you know stats on the most successful and unsuccessful techniques
from the major tournaments.

Our kind likes BJJ.
It may be our first time being athletic,
our first time getting acceptance
for our physical acumen,
first time being defined by something more brawn than brain.

We do alright in BJJ,
maybe even better than we thought we’d do,
but we’re not at the top levels.
There is always a level above the Nerds,
the same level that’s forever been above us:
The Athletes (The Apex Athlete being the Wrestler)

They may wear the same rank as us
but they outclass us in skill
(rarely in anything else).
We can slow them down
maybe keep them from passing our guard
or keep from getting tapped
but we hardly ever positionally dominate
or even better, tap them.

We likely have anatomical disadvantages
and sensory processing issues
that hinder our athletic abilities.

We cannot meet
-their speed with our speed
-their strength with our strength
-their endurance with our endurance
So what can we do?

There’s good news.
We don’t have to become them
in order to beat them.

The promise of Martial Arts is that
you can be smaller, weaker, and slower and you can still win.
In other words, you can be the lesser athlete and still win.
If anything, that’s what Royce Gracie showed in UFC.

Yes, we do have to become better athletes
but we what we really need to become
is better Martial Artists.

Let the athletes focus on more athleticism,
let’s focus on Martial Arts,
let’s focus on more skill.

The height of Martial Arts skill
is not in applying force to an opponent,
the height is in redirecting our opponent’s force…
using our opponent’s attack against them.

But we need feel,
we need sensitivity
to exploit our opponent’s attacks.

Unfortunately, Feel isn’t really taught in our Dojos.
It’s purported as a mythic attainment that comes only through
the accrual of years on the Mat.
Years of warming-up, stretching, 3-5 techniques per class
(most of which we never use), rolling 3-5 rounds, and conditioning….
Isn’t there a faster way?
Oh, yes.

Feel doesn’t take years to develop.
Feel is a trainable skill.
Feel is the only hope for the Nerd.

As your fellow nerd,
I offer you Drill to Feel.

Drill To Feel is the first step
in developing the game to beat
all other games.

But many won’t listen…
especially the Meatheads
(who have a little less meat in the head, right (at least, metaphorically)?.
Only nerds have the prescience to be an early adopter.
But Nerds are less easily swayed,
more naturally skeptical.
Not interested in herding sheep-le.

If this is the first you’re reading of this
and need more info,
sign up for the newsletter to get instant access
to Five Free Videos on
The Fundamentals of Grappling
(in the upper right hand corner)
which outline how simple
BJJ (and all of grappling) actually is.

If what you see resonates with you,
Brother (or Sister) Nerd,
then pick up Drill to Feel.
Devour it (cognitively),
apply it (actively)
and you’ll feel (somatically and affectively)
so much better
because your (grappling) “feel” will be so much better!


128signcropped128 is a magic number in grappling.
It’s the product of 8 x 2 x 8.
The first 8 represents the 8 positions in grappling:
-Half Guard
-North South

At any given time, most positions in grappling can be described using these terms. But to better describe both parties grappling, we have to break down the positions into aspects. That’s where the “2” comes in.

In every position, one of the players is in more of an advantageous position, or “top” position. The player in the disadvantageous position is in the “bottom” position. Offense and Defense works in lieu of those terms, as well.

To even better understand what is happening at any given time, it helps to describe our players in terms of their gross movements: which way are they going? There are 8 cardinal directions they go in:
-Circle Forward
-Circle Back

These three numbers, 8, 2, & 8, don’t describe the whole of grappling. After all, in “Bottom Guard,” how may guards are there? Open, closed, butterfly, De La Riva…just to name a few. But these numbers’ product, 128, offer a scaffolding for one to build one’s game on. In these 8 positions, 2 aspects, and 8 directions, will I be know and be able to attack and defend effectively?

128 may sound like a big number but it is the minimum number of scenarios we need to drill. Are you drilling them?


TMNTRaphael2012The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are still around…
and my 7 year old stepson is a fan.
Toys, drawing, coloring books, books, Wiii games…
All Ninja Turtles, all the time.
Notice what I didn’t mention?
More on that in a bit.

I love media:

But unfortunately, I think most of us misuse media.
We use media to distract us from life.
I prefer to seek out media that inspires me to do better in life.

Like most kids, my stepson gravitates toward Ninja Turtles.
And like most kids, my stepson has a favorite character.
His favorite character is Raphael.
“Raph” is the tough guy of the group.
What kid wouldn’t like the tough guy?

Of all the ninja turtles, my stepson is the least like Raph.
He is considerate, polite, prosocial, silly…
and sometimes a target for those less mannered than himself.
And I don’t think it is an accident that he likes Raph.
Nobody picks on Raph.

And I encourage his like of Raph.
For all of Raph’s issues, Raph doesn’t lack assertiveness…
and that is something my stepson can learn from Raph.

Notice I said learn from Raph.
Not just fantasize about being Raph
or being distracted from his life by Raph…
but becoming a little bit more like him.

That’s where I come in.
While Raph can inspire,
I must instruct.
While I would never require my stepson
to have my level of investment in Martial Art,
or Raph’s, for that matter,
he must (and has) learn to stand up for himself.

While not all of us can be or will be Martial Artists,
Standing up for one’s self is an essential life skill
and one thing that Martial Arts can teach us all.
Raphael can start teaching the lesson for us,
but we must finish it.

The Complete Martial Artist

SamuraiI am not a complete Martial Artist.
What is a complete Martial Artist?
To answer that question, I think requires one to ask another question:
For what purpose?

I have two purposes:
Real Life
Sports/Arts Life

In Real Life, I could improve more on my counter-ambush and gun and knife offensive and defensive skills…not to mention the prerequisite and requisite mental training necessary in order to be as prepared as is possible to execute such skills.

In my Sports/Arts Life, I could brush up on my striking…boxing defense and leg kick defense as well as my gi-less judo and greco wrestling and defense against freestyle wrestling. I need to work on my N/S choke in my submissions game as well as my open guard basics.

But here’s the thing:
I can’t work on all of those things at once.
And I can’t get better at all of those things at once.
So what do I do?

I look at it from two perspectives:
What is it I need to get best at first?
Which one will make my body function better?

When at all possible, I focus on making my body better.
Because with a healthier body, performance in sport or performance in life is all that much easier. I address the health of my body by going to the gym and using
This makes my body better.

But sometimes I will train Martial Art even when I don’t feel like it.
Why? Because there may be a time when I need to use it…
especially if I don’t feel like it.
And so I seek to find the minimal effective amount of
training under distress.
This makes my Martial Art better.

I can’t always get better at everything
but I can always get better.
Making my body better,
making my Martial Art better,
makes me not only a more of a complete Martial Artist,
but a more complete human being.


In article after article,
I’ve told you to go with the flow.

But there is one instance when going with the flow
will end the game…and not in your favor…
the submission.

The last vector of force your opponent with apply
is in the direction of hypermobility of a joint
(or compression on a strangle).

If you find yourself in this position,
you’ve already not been going with your opponent’s force
but the good news is
you can do what you’ve already been doing
fighting against it.

When your opponent is extending your elbow in an armbar,
you must get that weapon back.

If you cannot bring that limb back to the body
by flexing the elbow,
then you’ll have to bring the body to limb.
All armbar escapes, no – all escapes,
are based off of that principle.

There is always time to escape a submission
until there isn’t.
Up until the tap,
you still have options.

A submission is separating the limb (or neck or torso)
you are attacking from the rest of the body.

It is in the rest of the body where your options lie.
If you cannot move the limb to your body…
what part of your body can you move to the limb?

Where you can move is where you make your escape.

Two Paths

two-pathsShow up.
Learn 3-5 techniques.
Drill them.
8-10 years later…you’re a black belt.

This is the path many of us have taken in our BJJ practice.
Many of my former students are on this path.
At least one of my former students will be a black belt this year a few more the next.
I will be so happy for each of every one of them as they achieve this milestone.
This is the path most traveled…
But there is another path.
I’ve written about this before.

It’s one that is based on developing feel and not collecting techniques.
It’s one that is more interested in accruing ability rather than time.
It’s one that is more focused on drilling than rolling.
It’s one that focuses more on training partners and less on teachers.
It’s one that values skill more than rank.
It’s one that puts fraternity at a higher premium than hierarchy.
It’s one that is puts innovation above tradition.

I’m doing my best to stay on this path,
the path less traveled.
But others are joining me.
And over time we’ll see where this path leads.

Will it get us “there” faster?
Will it get us further?
Will we enjoy the journey more?
We’ll see.

(Part of my journey is my time in the gym.
If yours is, too, check out

Posted in BJJ

Ranking, Merit, etc

bELT-SYSTEMMy first day in BJJ I got to witness a belt promotion.
This little guy who was whupping all of our butts
was getting an upgrade.
There was no formality, no pomp or circumstance,
just a recognition of merit.

As my days added up in BJJ,
I got to witness many more promotions.
Some formal, some informal,
some meritorious,
and some real head scratchers.
Not all (insert belt color here) belts are created equal.

I have asked many instructors what they base their criteria upon.
Some had objective measures
but I was so incredibly disappointed to find out how subjective belts were.
Perhaps the best characterization of this subjectivity is:
Rank is concurrent with realized potential

While I want everyone to realize their own unique potential,
I find this no good reason to have no objective measures of rank.
There needs to be an upper and lower limit of skill for each belt.
I don’t think any governing body needs to enforce this.
I think tournament competition and business competition can sort this out just fine.

But I don’t want merit based ranking to stop there.
In the Martial Arts,
there are various ways to measure ability:
-The competitor
-The non-competitor
-Ability based on Age (we have different belts for kids, why not seniors?)
-The teacher

Being good at one doesn’t mean one will be good for the other.
For that reason, I would like to see a variety in belts, patches, stripes,
or other designators.
Recognizing these merits will improve them
and improve the Martial Arts.

Posted in BJJ