The Scenic Route

Perhaps the nicest way to describe how I’ve become
a Martial Arts Professional is:
I took the scenic route
(and that doesn’t necessarily mean I enjoyed the scenery).

I wasn’t one of those kids
who knew from a young age
what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Except for sports and socialization
(which are far more important than most think),
school came easy to me.
I wasn’t particularly bad at anything academic,
but I wasn’t particularly interested in anything, either,
except books which provided me some escape.

As far as a professional life,
I didn’t have any real aspirations.
I was just putting one foot in front of the other…
all the way through college.

My friends took Advanced Physics
so I took it.
My friends took Calculus
so I took it, too.

My major shifted as fast as my whimsy.
I was drifting.
I had no clue as to what I wanted to do…
what was mine to do.

Martial Arts, in one form or another,
has been a big part in my life.
From taking it,
competing in it,
choreographing it in low budget movies,
watching it in higher budget movies,
reading about it,
teaching it…
you name it – I’ve done it…
at least a little bit of it.

You would think my passion in it
would have translated to a profession in it.
And it has…but not nearly as fast as I would have liked it to.

So, if you love the Martial Arts like I love it,
you can make a profession of it
you can make a life of it.

It’s a possibility.
It’s not beneath you
and it’s not above you.
Yes, you could do other things,
but ask yourself…
Is being a Martial Arts Professional mine to do?

What I’m Really Working On

One of my favorite BJJ posts of this past year was Joe Rogan’s promotion to 10th Planet Black Belt. I probably need to do a whole post on that. Suffice it to say, it inspired this post.

Whenever I’m rolling, I’m working on BJJ, but I’m also working on my psychology in a few different areas.

The first is calming myself down when I’m already in a bad position.
I could tap anytime (and I often do)…
But how long can I manage my distress?
Can I calm down enough so that I can make it through the round?
Can I calm down enough so that I can think and even better feel
so that I can escape the position?

The second area I’m working on is being more offensive.
Predictably enough, I’m sufficiently offensive when my training partners are below my skill level, but when I don’t know what their skill level is or I know they are above my skill level…
Can I calm down enough to attack?
After I’ve escaped a bad position, can I be more offensive instead of more defensive?
Can I care less about the outcome (getting tapped vs not getting tapped)?

While the mats are specifically a place to get better at BJJ,
they work just as well as a place for mental health.
So while I am working on my BJJ,
what I’m really working on us my psychological health…
and there is plenty of work left to do.

Drilling Offensive-ness

I am selectively aggressive when I roll
as I am sure most are.
By aggressive, I mean offensive,
active, not passive.

When I roll with people that:
-I am familiar with
-That don’t consistently tap me
I am aggressive.

But, when I roll with people that:
-I am unfamiliar with
-That appear to be at my level or above
I am defensive.

I don’t like being this way.
So what am I going to do to combat this schism in strategy?

Am I going to plumb the depths of my psychology
sifting through memories trying to make sense
of why I am more interested in not losing
than in winning?
Nah, humans are naturally more risk averse.

Am I going to use visualization, Self-Talk…or really any other Sports Psychology techniques?

With Psychology being my favorite subject,
I have found most athletes don’t need psychological interventions,
they just need their challenges scaled to their abilities.

With that in mind,
I am going to use something more primitive
in changing my approach:
Conditioning or in BJJ parlance:

I am going to drill “aggressiveness.”
I will drill
closing the space in between
opportunity presenting itself
and taking advantage of that opportunity.

I will drill aggressiveness
until it is not a matter of choice
nor a matter of consciousness.

Under the stress of a normally superior opponent
I will revert to my training
and my training, not me,
will take it from there.

To echo the words of Sifu Lee
I won’t be aggressive…
it will happen all by itself.

Helio Lost

Helio lost.
A few times.
Sometimes badly.
So have many of his family.

We have heard of them because they won.
I practice their Martial Art because they won.
But what’s more important to me is that they lost.
I want to thank them for that.

Because I have lost, too.
In training.
In tournaments.

I’ve lost to teachers.
I’ve lost to peers.
I’ve lost to students.

It’s going to happen again.
I’m going to lose.
Probably tomorrow.

But that’s OK.
Losing is a part of BJJ.
It’s a part of Martial Arts.
It’s a part of life.
It’s the hard part of BJJ, MA and life.
It’s the part that comes before winning.
And if you’re enlightened…
it’s the part that comes after.

To some degree, if you’re going to win
you have be able to lose.
It has to be alright to lose and
you have to be able to lose well.

I like to coach people.
I like to teach people.
It’s my way of helping.

But if BJJ is a game of winning and losing,
I have to teach people how to win and lose…
and how to win and lose well.

I have to show them how I win and lose.
I have to be a winner.
But I have to be a loser, too.
Just like Helio.

Killing Your Idols

Athletic Records are being broken all the time.
Rarer and rarer is the statement,
“There will never be another __________.”

It’s true, there won’t be another champion like…whoever.
There will be someone better.

There is a tradition of humility in the Martial Arts that borders on fallacy.
We tend to believe that our teachers are better than we are.
And while it’s true that most students are not better than their teachers,
some are.

Otherwise, Martial Arts would be in a consistent state of entropy…of devolution.
But it’s not.

Since the popularization of MMA with the UFC in the 90s,
Martial Arts have been evolving.

Don’t believe me?
Look at Royce Gracie’s jiu-jitsu then.

Then go to a good BJJ school and you’ll see blue belts doing that same level of BJJ…maybe even better.

Many things, including Martial Arts, get better over time.

Knowing this of the past should inform our present practice.
It does mine.

Recently, I took a group of students through a critique of who I consider to be the best submission grappler there ever was:
Marcelo Garcia

There are those that would argue that you don’t try to alter the best of the best’s approach.

I’ve never rolled with Marcelo.
I don’t think I could do much with him if I did.
But if I don’t question his BJJ, doesn’t that limit my BJJ?

The future of BJJ will be better than Marcelo.
If we don’t critique the BJJ of the present,
doesn’t that relegate us to the past?

How to Play the Game

At my best,
I “play” jiu-jitsu.

You might be thinking,
“Of course. Everyone plays Jiu-Jitsu.”

Um…that’s not what I mean.
I’m being specific in how I use the term.
I attempt to approach it as any other game,
and just play.

This isn’t the common approach.
A lot of people compete in Jiu-Jitsu…
and I don’t mean just in competitions.
In my experience, there are far more competitors than players in BJJ.

These are the guys who look at competition
as a fight, as life or death,
and there are guys who look at training as a competition.

In other words,
They’re pretending.
If they ever want to play something other than pretend,
I’m sure their respective country’s military can make use of this psychology.

As for me, I strive to see it as a game.
Don’t get me wrong.
I like certain aspects of competition.
I think there is merit in measuring progress
in terms of being able to tap someone,
keeping people from tapping you,
positionally dominating,
and keeping people form positionally dominating you.

But I’m not so sure if that’s the best place to focus.
I think many well intentioned but under informed
Sports Psychologist teach people to do something that I refer to as:
outcome visualization.

How many times have you seen athletes instructed to imagine holding their
arms up in victory standing on the First Place platform?
I’m not such a disbeliever that I would say never do this.
I wonder if it the best use of training time, though?

I am a fan of outcomes…at least in the form of endpoints.
I teach from endpoints (positions and submissions) backwards.
From the submission backwards to transitions.
But that isn’t all I teach.
I also teach how to get there.

My Dad used to echo,
“Take care of the little things and the big things take care of themselves.”

I like this. It is more process than outcome oriented.
What I focus on for myself and my students is the process:
what to do and how to do it any any given point.

For BJJ (and MAs, in general),
what to do is to keep your opponent off balance
(and one’s self in balance).
That’s the game.

I don’t want their attention diverted to anything else…
especially the outcome of the match…
because focusing on the outcome
gets in the way of playing the game.

And so, how do I teach and practice BJJ?
At my best, I play the game of off balancing my opponent.
It’s a game I don’t mind losing…
so it’s a game I really like playing.

2013 BJJ Plans

I have a lot of plans for 2013 in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu:
I want to release three original online products.
I want to open a new location.
I want to formalize my newest iteration of instruction.
I want to develop relationships with the innovators in the art.

I want to submit and positionally dominate people I never have before
and stop being submitted and dominated by people that are doing so now.

I want better choke transitions.
I want better wrestling offense and defense.
I want better leglocks including guards, entries and defense.

I want to achieve a new rank.

I want to compete.
And I want to win when I compete.

I want a lot.
I want to do all of those things…
But more important than that, I want to get better.
All of those things are dependent upon me getting better.

What do you want to achieve in BJJ in 2013?

Making Offense & Defense Simpler…Much Simpler

Let’s review a concept or two:

Jiu-Jitsu is a race.
It’s a race to a dominant position
with the most dominant position being

In order to win that race,
you must do a number of things which may include:
Speeding yourself up
Slowing your opponent down
or both.

From the defensive point of view,
this means going with the forces they apply on you
until they are enough off balance, off base,
that you have enough space to get into a more neutral position.

In order to get there, as you speed yourself up,
you must slow them down by blocking whatever part of them you can
(preferably the part closest to the part you are moving)
from following you in the direction you are going.

The last step of a defensive sequence is
stopping your opponent from going the direction you are going.

From an offensive point of view,
engage first…
threaten with the first move
but then take what is given
by going in the direction they are already going.

As you go with their force,
keep the parts of their body
closest to the direction they are already going
(at least as close to that as you can reach).

The last step of an offensive sequence
is to stop a part of their body from going the direction they are going.

And if you do these two things,
in both the offensive and defensive contexts,
you will speed yourself up
you will slow them down
and you’re well on your way to finishing first
in the race that is Jiu-Jitsu.

Martial Artist to Medical Artist?

I don’t often talk about traditional, apochcryphal Martial Arts.
But I think something has been lost, left out of the Martial Arts
that used to be there
that no longer remains…

And that is when the Martial Arts turn into the Medical Arts
The hurter becomes the healer.

When you think of the ancient Occidental Master,
You not only see him with weapons,
you see him with medicine.

He is the living embodiment of Yin-Yang.
As Martial Artists,
we study how to keep ourselves from getting hurt
while learning how to hurt our opponents.

We do damage.
We strike at muscles, nerves and organs,
extend and rotate joints beyond their limits.

That is our Yang.
We are missing our Yin.

We are missing how to make
muscles, nerves, organs, bones, joints…
our bodies
not just stronger, but healthier.

Not just our bodies…
but also those of our peers and our students.

The main way in which we as Martial Artists
can improve our health
is to move.

Yes, I understand you already do
alot of that in your MA training.

But I want you to move your body,
your joints, your muscles, your organs
in ways you don’t in your Martial Training.
That is your first step towards becoming a Healer.

If you need help with that first step, check out
The Masterplan.

Back to the Drawing Board

Now that I’m back
things aren’t as they were.

Everything is somewhat diminished:
Positional Strength

I’m just not where I want to be and…
That’s to be expected.

Not only am I not as good as I was,
my training partners are better.
That’s to be expected, too.

The thing that is most bothersome
is a part of my game
that has often been an old standby for me:
My Half Guard

Whenever I first realized
how limited my game would be
if I insisted on playing from Closed Guard,
I started developing a Half Guard.

It worked very well
most of the time
against everyone but wrestlers
and whaddaya know?
Who is giving me trouble again?
Wrestlers that are even smaller than me.
So frustrating.

I’ll end up in what some call that 50/50 or dogfight position
and I’m behind
and having trouble catching up.

So, I’m not ready to give up my precious position just yet:

I’m experimenting
as I experimented today.
Today was a failure
but that is to be expected, too.

So, I’ll debrief,
do a little research,
make a plan of action
and experiment again.

I may not be a winner today…
but I remain a scientist.