When You Cannot Train…

There will be times you simply cannot train.
It may be because of injury, work, commitments at home, or vacation.
Just because you may not be able to formally train,
doesn’t mean you cannot make progress.
Progress can be made…both physically and mentally.

Physical Progression
Just because you may not have the 1.5 to 2.5 hrs per session to train doesn’t mean you cannot train Jiu-Jitsu. You may not be able to train all of jiu-jitsu, but you can train some of it. Jiu-Jitsu is made up of fundamental movements including shrimping, bridging, leg threading, “four corner-ing,” etc. Can you do any of those movements? Wouldn’t training these movements, especially those that feel good, help you when you go back to training? Progress can be made.

Are you still going to gym when you cannot train? Why not perform the movements that you haven’t been performing in BJJ? It could help restore Ranges of Motion. More ROM can mean a better, healthier body. Progress can be made.

Mental Progression
I’m sure there were parts of your game that were “holes” when you were training. Why not take an inventory then make use of YouTube and find tentative solutions to these problems…then mentally rehearse it. When the mind goes first, the body follows easier. Progress can be made.

So the next time you cannot train, remember you can progress. You can progress physically. You can progress mentally. When you cannot train, progress can be made.


“Kaizen (改善), Japanese for “improvement” or “change for the best”, refers to philosophy or practices that focus upon continuous improvement…”

The Japanese Arts and Philosophies pervade the American experience of the Martial Arts. At some point, I expect Kaizen to make its way into the Martial Arts as it has in many American businesses. The Martial Art I expect to see it in the most is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

I can’t roll with a group of Blue or Purple Belts without one of them telling me they are stuck on a plateau, meaning, they aren’t improving. I remember when I was approaching this Martial Art more traditionally, I too, would find myself on a plateau. The question is, how can we continually improve in the Martial Arts? Where is the Kaizen?

With my background, I can’t help but think of it in terms of anatomy and physiology. the functional unit of the body is the sensorimotor loop. It has to do with how we feel (not just emotionally) and how we move. I believe sensorimotion to be the key to Kaizen in the Martial Arts.

Success within the Martial Arts is largely predicated upon how well someone moves and how well someone perceives (seeing, feeling, etc). So if you find yourself on a plateau, ask yourself – is this a problem in how I’m moving my body, how I’m perceiving my opponent’s movement, or both? Once you have the answer to that, it’s time to Drill it. Questioning and Drilling is the way out of a Plateau…and a way to Kaizen.

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!


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.

Change in the Martial Arts

ufcd0_royce_gracie_v2_mcIn 1993, Royce Gracie changed for me
what it meant to be an effective Martial Artist.

Being from stand-up disciplines
and having never encountered Judokas or wrestlers,
I thought I knew enough…
but this new champion changed my mind for me…
and changed a lot of other people’s minds, too.
Consequently, many of us are now BJJ practitioners.

That is the wonderful thing about Martial Artists
contrasted by those from the thinking disciplines.
Once we see that something works,
overall, we stop doing what doesn’t work
and start to learn what does.

But isn’t there evidence of what works
before there is a champion for it?

Was 1993 the last time that the Martial Arts paradigm will shift?
Doubtful. Very doubtful.
What will you do whenever the next discipline emerges?

Will you need, as I did,
a champion to uproot you
from solid ground
and plant you in richer soil?

Will you listen to what coach and Martial Arts
(and otherwise) Philosopher extraordinaire,
John Danaher recommends,
and look at competition record
and lineage before you listen?
What if there really isn’t much of a lineage…
or a record?

There is a change coming in Martial Arts.
There always is.
Will you cling to the dying
or embrace the emergent?

Martial Art as “Do”

michi-e1361579096661One of the last times I saw one of my original BJJ coaches, he gathered us all in a circle and asked us what BJJ meant to us.  Of course, I took it a little more philosophically than most.  I’d like to share with you not only what BJJ, but what all Martial Art means to me.

If the little guy couldn’t beat the big guy, all of us “little guys” would be at the gym instead of the dojo.  But since the little guy can beat the big guy, we spend much more time at the dojo.  Martial Art can be all about simply learning how to use our own force and our opponent’s force against him.  And I think that is the first use of Martial Art.

All of our time could be spent on how we relate to our opponent: making sure we are not going against our opponent’s force, but with it…unfortunately, that would be ignoring the most important dimension of Martial Art: how we relate to ourself.

Kumite, Randori, or otherwise is stressful. We not only have to deal with the stress our opponents are placing on us, we are having to deal with the internal stress, our reactions to someone attempting to or being successful at striking, throwing, sweeping or submitting us. We may overreact to having shortness of breath, experience negative self talk, get anxious, nervous, scared, frozen, ashamed, imagine defeat…any number of negative consequences…and this is the other side of Martial Art.

Just as we do not meet our opponent’s force with force, we cannot overcome our own stress with “force.” We cannot power our way out of a negative state. Just as we must yield to our opponent’s forces, we must relax when faced with our own distress. It’s only when we can weather the storm raging within ourself, that we can calm the storm from our opponent.

This extends beyond the dojo. Martial Art is not only a way to deal with opponents but all the forces life puts on us…and some of those forces will be far greater than any opponent has put on us. But the most deadly force, that force that can lead to quitting in the ring or cage, psychosomatic / psychogenic death for the soldier on the battlefield, or abject depression from the vicissitudes of life, comes from within.

Martial Art is a way of life, a manner for living. As long as I am alive, there will persistent distress from both within and without, but Martial Art has given me the answer for how to navigate it. In fact, I have found it to be the ultimate metaphor: this physical practice informs the rest of my practice. For me, Martial Art, is not a way…but the way to live my life. Martial Art is my “Do.”

Coach, Chael

round-5-chael-sonnen-tuf-figureChael has had his chances to win fights and win championships.
While he wasn’t close with Rashad or Jon Jones.
he has been.

It doesn’t seem like a championship is gonna happen for Chael…
at least as a competitor.
But I think it can
if he will coach.

Beyond being an incredible writer and orator
(if that’s what you want to call trash talk / psychological warfare)
The Ultimate Fighter demonstrated that Chael had quite the acumen for coaching.

Being that Psychological challenges are no stranger to Chael,
as well as his accomplishments as a wrestler and a fighter,
he is tailor made to be an outstanding coach
(which he already is as a volunteer high school wrestling coach).

I’m going to digress for a moment.
I’ve never really understood ranking…
especially upper belt ranking.

It seems many ranks are about consistency of practice…
and time.

While that is important, I wonder if it the most meritorious of criteria.

What if upper rankings were based on the accomplishments of students such as:
achieving black belt
winning national and world tournaments
producing black belts of their own

I think the biggest accomplishment anyone can achieve is taking a student further than he/she went.

It is not vicarious living.
It is evolution.
It is the position of the Master.
And if their students can do the same,
one attains the rank of GrandMaster.

And if anyone can be an MMA GrandMaster,
it is Chael Sonnen.

I think we are going to see that again when he coaches against Wanderlei
in the forthcoming THE ULTIMATE FIGHTER.
Hopefully coaching will encourage him to really embrace the title of
“Coach” Chael.


keep-calm-and-irimi-nageRecently, a BJJ noob related to me that he was intentionally defensive, a “counter-puncher,” if you will.   I told him that the problem with being primarily defensive is that you start off behind, reacting, as opposed to your opponent having to react.

Probably the Martial Art I am most drawn to philosophically (not practically) is Aikido. While I am not a traditionalist, much of traditional Martial Arts is far too valuable to be ignorant of, “Irimi” included. “Irimi” is a term used in Aikido translated as “entering” which is utilized at the moment of attack. This is where I depart from the more defensive Aikido.

My utilization of Irimi has to do with acting first. My dictum is “Threaten”…yet it doesn’t end there.  “…but take what’s given.” completes the thought. Defense alone is only reacting to your opponent. Offense alone is ignoring your opponent’s reaction.

In past articles, I’ve advocated going in the direction your opponent is already going. When you’re passive, your opponent can move infinite ways. But when you threaten via Irimi, your opponent has far fewer directions he can move in…which makes it easier to go in the direction he is already going.

The language and traditions of the past, such as Irimi, inform the actions of the present. Let Irimi unify your offense and defense. Let Aikido inform your Jiu-Jitsu. Ossss!!!!!!

Coach Ronda

teamrousey2I haven’t talked about the new season of TUF (The Ultimate Fighter) yet,
so here we go.

When watching the 2nd episode of TUF,
a few things stood out to me.
There were quite a few things I didn’t like:

  • some from Miesha
  • some from Ronda
  • some from Julianna
  • some from Shayna

but I would rather write now about something I really liked from Coach Ronda.

I’m a big fan of responsibility.
There is a special relationship between a Coach and an athlete
where the athlete cedes a measure of control to the Coach.
It is the Coach’s responsibility to protect his (or her) fighter…
especially if that means protecting the fighter from his or herself.

When Ronda’s fighter, Shayna, lost, Ronda took responsibility.
How much responsibility was Ronda’s is arguable
but the fact that Ronda took complete responsibility
really resonates with me.

I don’t view anything a fighter lacks in the ring
to be due to mental weakness or a flaw of character…
and very few coaches would agree with me on that.

If a fighter lacks anything in the ring (or Octagon)
I believe it to be a failure of conditioning…
and no, I don’t mean “cardio.”

I’m speaking more of the Pavlov’s Dog version of Conditioning.
I think more Coaches would benefit from a deeper understanding of both
Classical and Operant Conditioning as I find “conditioning”
to be the only thing that has ever made us
(speaking in the evolutionary sense).

If a fighter lacks something in the cage,
I think its because the coaches didn’t put it in him or her.
Ronda believed she failed.
I agree with her.
Whatever Shayna didn’t have…whether that be:

  • humility
  • killer instinct
  • focus
  • arousal

Ronda and her team didn’t put it in her
Perhaps in the limited time it was impossible to do so,
but that isn’t what Ronda believes.

I bet Ronda believes she can find way for each of her fighters to win.
And that belief that it is possible opens up Ronda’s mind to find one…
if there is one.

I can’t wait to see more of how Coach Ronda coaches
and how she helps her fighters find ways to win.