Feb 282013

I read a lot about commitment on BJJ posts.  I see a lot of inspiring posts and posters suggesting that excellence is about prioritizing and that if you want to be successful, you figure out a way to make it happen.

I’m not going to lie.  That makes me feel kind of bad, because over the last several months (really, over a year), I’ve had a terrible time getting things together.  Many weeks, it’s just the three kids and me at home, as my wife travels frequently for work.  Two kids in high school and a pre-schooler keeps me on my toes.  My older kids are great.  They would be more than happy watching their younger sister for me while I go to class.   And the truth is, I don’t want to be THAT guy… the guy that comes to mind when people think about committing to training.  Or the guy who comes to mind when people talk about how many people disappear before they get to black belt.

But here’s what goes through my mind.  It’s very practical.  First, what’s for dinner?  My kids can cook, but that doesn’t mean that they will, and Lily will end up eating Mac n’Cheese or something like that for dinner.  The second, is the home work done?  Finally, after many other questions I get to the meat of the issue, which is where the parental guilt thing kicks in.  I don’t like the idea of my older kids raising my youngest.  It’s not their job, and I don’t think it’s fair.  This isn’t to say that I don’t leave them in charge.  I do, often.  It’s that, once it’s institutionalized, it’s becomes a primary role, instead of support.  If that makes any sense at all.

All of that said, Coach Bing said, “Bring Lily down to the school.  She’ll be fine.”  And I think we’re going to give that a shot.  I miss training regularly and I enjoy it when I go.  But, man, juggling my other obligations is rough.  I actually had every intention of packing Lily in the car and heading to class Wednesday, but found out after I got home that my son had a band concert that night.  He’s a great communicator, like all teenage boys.  So, class starts at 5:30 pm and I found out at about 4:45 pm that he had to be at the school in his tuxedo at 6:30 pm.  And he hadn’t eaten dinner, nor had he done his homework.

So, Friday…  the goal will be to pack Lily in the car and head to class.  We’ll see if I can make that happen.  I think I can… I think I can.

Other news:  Smoothie for today:

  • 1 1/2 bananas (Lily ate the other half)
  • 1 pear
  • 1 cup (about) of frozen fruit (strawberries/blueberries/blackberries)
  • 1 tbsp Hemp Protein
  • 1 tbsp flax seed
  • about 2 cups of broccoli
  • 2 hands full of spinach and arugula
  • almond milk (unsweetened and unflavored)

Turned out great.  The berries turned it from a bright green to a kind of purple color, but the taste is good.  The arugula actually gives it a kind of butter flavor which I like, but might be a matter of taste.

Jan 292013

Good class last night.  The school continues to grow, which is great.  Coach Bing is hustling pretty hard to build his school and I’m happy that he’s doing so.

Class yesterday had 13 people06.  I’ve been averaging 1 or 2 classes per week, which makes it very difficult to get any kind of momentum.  As a result, I’ve gained some weight and my conditioning is really bad.

We had a good warmup and went over a basic mount escape and a basic back escape, and then sparring.

What’s been really cool about having the affiliate school in Covington is that some of the guys who sort of dropped off, largely due to work and family considerations, are finding their way back into the school.  Knowing that it’s a Foster BJJ affiliate helps.  One of these wayward jitieros is a guy named Darin Zabriskie, who trained at Foster BJJ way back when the school was still in Auburn.  He’s a very thoughtful, technical guy, which makes having him back at the school a real pleasure.  But what’s really cool is that he’s a certified Muay Thai trainer and has been coaching Muay Thai after the BJJ classes on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Darin trained with Greg Nelson, over in the Midwest, and is a certified Muay Thai instructor under the Thai Boxing Association of America under Ajarn Chai Sirisute.  So far, the classes are pretty small, but there’s a lot of interest.  I’ve never been too interested in punching people, which is part of why I was drawn to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  But it looks like a different kind of workout and I might just have to give it a shot.

Sep 112012

Training is going well.  I am having a blast training out with the guys at Phantom BJJ.  The school has just the right blend of intensity and easy going-ness (that’s right… I made up a word).  I look forward to class, and am bummed when I miss one.

Bing has brought in a lot of fitness equipment, including the big exercise ropes, jump rope, some kettle bells and some weights.   A couple times each week, the warm up amps up to include intervals, and my conditioning (which is always questionable) is improving.

The kids program is coming along.  We have a great group of future champions training twice per week now, and all of the adult classes are growing slowly and steadily.  The personality of the school is shaping up and I, for one, like the way it’s going.

I’m still having fun dying gis.  I’m dying one tonight, and will post pictures when it’s completed.  It’s a “Deep Orange” Tatami Estillo 3.0, and it’s going to look badass when it’s done.


 Posted by at 12:53 pm
Aug 212012

Great class yesterday.  Coach Bing is still out of town for a few more days, but we had 11 people on the mats, including myself.  The number of students is steadily growing and yesterday was no exception.  We had our first female student at the school. 

As has been discussed on many blogs before, BJJ is a great sport for women, but getting women to train can be difficult.  This is particularly true at a new school where there aren’t any females currently training.  Being the first courageous soul to cross the threshold can be intimidating and takes a bit of a pioneering spirit.  Overall, she did great and seemed to enjoy herself.  I hope she comes back. 

For technique, I worked with the white belts on a basic armbar from mount while Scott took the other upper belts through some techniques.  Talked a little about establishing a good position in mount and then moving to high mount.  I think everyone does an armbar pretty much the same way, so nothing really radical here.  There are really only so many ways to bend the arm the wrong direction.  In order to stay really heavy on my opponent, I like to think about attacking and putting pressure on his shoulder.  The idea being that if I can keep my knee pinned up against his head and a lot of pressure on the shoulder, it helps trap the arm.  We also discussed some of the ways to maintain mount and stay heavy. 

The class was a great mix of experience levels.  We had a brown belt, a purple belt, 2 blue belts and then the balance were white belts (and one new person) and it’s good to see the school growing. 

Aug 142012

It started on Facebook.  An ominous update came up on my phone:  “tonight will be fun… get ready for pain.. LOL".


I’m going to officially declare that the first part of our class yesterday wasn’t something that could be legitimately called a “warm-up.”  We went way past that. 

Phantom BJJ got some new equipment: some kettlebells, a muay thai bag, some pull up ring/grip trainer things, a large rope for climbing, and another rope anchored to the stairwell for flinging around.  So, as we jogged around and got warmed up, I thought to myself, “How bad is this going to be?”   It was pretty bad.  Not the worst… but I was pretty well wiped out.  We ended up doing x8 1 minute intervals at each station twice. 

Remarkably, though, I feel pretty good.  I think something’s up with my right shoulder, as it continues to bug me.  Feels okay after a day or so, but after every class, it just burns all night long.  Wakes me up around 1am.  I should probably get it checked out with a doctor, but frankly, I don’t want to be told that it’s torn or whatever.

Class was good.  We worked on 93 guard and drilled the modified scissor sweep ala Robson Moura.  Then we did a lot of sparring, starting with the sweep or submit/passing guard drill, and then open sparring. 

We’ve got a lot of good guys with great attitudes and the school is growing fast.  We had several regulars who weren’t there yesterday and still had about 15 guys on the mats.  It was great.

One of the guys who’s joined the school is Darin.  He’s literally been a 4 stripe blue belt for as long as I’ve been training.  Darin trained with Foster BJJ down in Auburn back when I first started, but had to take an extended break.  Darin has a lot of experience in Muay Thai, and is going to begin picking up a class or two per week in Muay Thai for those who are interested.  He’s a great addition to the school and I’m glad he’s back. 

Aug 012012

Monday was another big class.  James made it back in, and it was good to see him after he’s had a long hiatus.  Fortunately for us, he forgot his belt and was the first person to rock the ‘Belt of Shame’, modeled here by Scott Yamamoto, a brown belt at our school.

And it’s an A5, so it hangs almost to the mat on most guys. Don’t forget your belts!

We also had a new guy, Alex, drop in for an introductory class.  Seemed to be a nice kid.  Another one that seems pretty athletic and I get the impression that he’s a friend of Kenji’s, which is a pretty good indication to me that he’s a good guy.  Kenji has a great attitude, is never negative and works hard.

Overall, all of the white belts are learning fast, which makes being old and tired… tiring.

We did a lot of sparring on Monday, and following class I was wiped out.  I overdid it somewhat and it was a good 20 minutes before the nausea abated and I was able to drive home.  It’s been a while since I’ve felt that bad.

I switched up my multi-vitamin on Monday, and I think that had something to do with it.  We’ll see tonight at class.

Aug 012012

origin-storiesA passing comment by a friend on Facebook reminded me of how I found BJJ.  I’m a superhero fan and have been for as long as I can remember.  I read comic books, watched the cartoons and loved the Christopher Reeves Superman movies almost as much as I loved Star Wars.  All of this means two things:  first, I microwaved spiders when I was little in the hopes that one would survive and become an irradiated spider which would then bite me and give me super powers… AND I love a good origin story.  In my defense, I was little and microwaves were a new invention.

I particularly enjoy the origins stories for the non-athletes with whom we all train.  BJJ is as diverse a group as I can imagine.  There are athletes and non-athletes, and it’s common to see people training from literally all walks of life.  I’ve trained with doctors, lawyers, a medical examiner, construction workers, cable guys, online web editors, teachers, and professional, full time MMA fighters.  And every one of them found BJJ in a different way.

So, what’s your origin story?  I’d love to hear it, and in return, I’ll share mine below for anyone who might be interested.

My story starts back in 1998 when I quit smoking after 14 years of the pack a day habit.  While that was undoubtedly good for me, I replaced the habit of smoking with an equally bad habit of eating, and ended up gaining a lot of weight.  This peaked in 2003, where I was somewhere in the range of 27 or 28% body fat, carrying a large gut, had high cholesterol, chronic back pain and was pre-diabetic.  In other words, I was pretty much like most of the other 32 year old guys in America.

When my kids showed a passing interest in martial arts, I thought it was great and we found our way into a small martial arts school in Kent, WA.  I trained for about three years at this school which was a mishmash of martial arts styles.  The owner of the school was a black belt in a martial arts style called Aam-Ka-Jutsu, but liked to mix in some grappling (and honestly, anything else he felt like teaching, whether he was qualified to do so or not).  I won’t go much into this school, which has long since closed.  The end result was that, in 2006, I was now 35, still grossly overweight, still had high cholesterol, still had chronic back pain and was, that’s right, still pre-diabetic.

For me, the turning point was when my kids did what kids are prone to do; they lost interest.  Fine with me.  Actually, I have to be honest.  The actual turning point for me was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever willingly done.  One of the last classes I attended at this school, the instructor had a small TV set up off to the side of the training area with the fight scene from the Matrix (video below).  It was the scene where Neo was being tested by Seraph.  Yeah.  So, I’m sure you know what happened next.  Our “martial arts” class went through and reconstructed the fight choreography.  I was embarrassed to be a part of this. We’d done some crazy stuff before, like “awareness” exercises where we would put on blind folds and throw bean bags at each other… but this was far and away the silliest.

The infamous “fight” scene from the Matrix.


So, the kids turned their attention to other things, and I was now liberated to find something that would suit me better.  But what?  At this school, my favorite part of the training was the grappling classes.  I had no idea what other styles were out there.  So, I cracked a beer one evening and did what anyone in 2006 would do.  I googled martial arts and started doing some research on the internet.  I started by looking for a Judo club in my area.  I knew just a little about Judo, and thought that this would fit the bill.  Truthfully, it probably would have.  I’ve never trained in Judo specifically, but I have a lot of respect for the art.

But that’s when I stumbled upon Bullshido.com in June, 2006.  Now, Bullshido is almost like barely controlled chaos.  I was fascinated.  I learned new vocabulary words, like “McDojo.”  More importantly, I learned that EVERY SINGLE problem I had with my previous school was common.  The mandatory belt testings, the fees, the questionable practices, the entire thing.  I also discovered that there was a style of martial arts that was all about grappling, and that it was everything that my previous school wasn’t.  No belt testings, no additional fees… no shenanigans.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I read through that site for most of the night and then I started looking for a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu school in my area.

I found Foster Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which was just a few minutes from my house, and actually vetted the school on Bullshido.  I won’t lie.  I had to work up some courage.  This was way outside my comfort zone.  It took months for me to actually go into the school and check it out.  Like most things, the concerns were completely baseless.  James was huge, but friendly and soft spoken and I ended up starting my training just a few days later, in November, 2006.

And the rest, as they say, is history.  I started this blog just a few weeks later, and have found that whenever I need some inspiration, I can go back and read some of my early posts.  I won’t ever be a world champion (or a superhero), but I have come a long way.  I’m not the same person I was in 2006, and I owe a lot of that to Coach Foster, all of the quality upper belts he’s trained (and who have in turn trained me) and the sport/art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.

Fast forward to present day, where I train primarily with Bing Crook, a brown belt under James Foster, but I remain a part of the Foster BJJ family at Phantom BJJ in Covington, WA.

So that’s it.  That’s my origin story.  Not quite the Amazing Spider Man (although I’m still holding out hope that I’ll stumble upon an irradiated spider some day).  That’s how an overweight, out of shape, 30-something year old who had never really participated in any organized sport in his life found his way into the combat sport of BJJ.

Jul 252012
Pressure Gauge

Pressure GaugeI was over on Bullshido and read a thread with the title above, “So I tapped to an anxiety attack.”  Read the ongoing thread here: http://www.bullshido.net/forums/showthread.php?t=117341

The upshot is that a brand new white belt feels pretty down about being pushed beyond the level of exhaustion and tapped out of fear rather than from a technical submission.  Who hasn’t?  I have.  It’s something everyone who trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu understands.  Jiu Jitsu is fun.  It’s really fun… but there are times when it’s not fun.  There are times when you have someone putting so much pressure on your diaphragm from Knee on Belly, or smothering your face from North/South that your fight or flight kicks in.  And for someone who has a legitimate, diagnosed condition, such as an anxiety disorder or panic attacks, BJJ can be downright terrifying at times.

I have posted over the years about my own struggles with claustrophobia.  I still tell the story of when I was sparring with Rick (aka Brick), who, while crushing the life out of me said, “This isn’t a submission.  This is just pressure.  Relax and breathe.”  I tapped instead.

But I didn’t quit.  In the article above, posted back in the very beginning of 2010, I outlined a few things that have helped me.  I think they bear repeating, because they’re no less true for me now as a purple belt then they were when I was a blue belt writing that article, or as a white belt struggling to figure out how to overcome the anxiety that I experience when my face is covered.

1:  Look for daylight. If I’m in a position where things are tight, sometimes just turning my head a little so I can see the wide open spaces is enough to quell the panic. Even if I’m really getting smashed.

2:  Relax. My tendency is to begin breathing faster when I’m in a tight spot. I want as much air as I can get, and it never seems like I’m getting enough. If I relax, focus on my breathing and slow things down, I can think about what to do next.  Simply put, keep the rational part of my brain in control and try not to allow the Fight or Flight impulse to take over.

3:  Go into survival mode, keep my elbows in and remember my basics. The single most important thing I learned early on was to keep my elbows in. While that helped my defense, that was only a side benefit. The real value of keeping your elbows in on the bottom is that it helps you control the space, at best giving you an opportunity to hip out or upa and escape. At worst, it still provides a few inches of room. Your forearms might be all that stands between your face and a some hairy dude’s sweaty chest. Now, if that’s not motivation to focus on basics, I don’t know what is, cause I’m on the verge of panicking just writing that.

4:  Confront the fear; start from a bad position. I decided very early that if I was going to make it in BJJ, I’d need to learn to cope with tight spaces. I will almost always pull guard in sparring. I started doing this because I felt that getting on top was a copout and was avoiding the issue.

Now, as then, your mileage may vary.  This is my approach.  I’d love to hear how others have overcome anxiety/panic attacks on the mats.

Jul 252012

This marked the first ever Tuesday class at Phantom BJJ at our new location in Covington, WA.  I was a little worried that everyone had forgotten when it got to be about 5:20 pm and I was still the only one there, but within a few minutes after that several others showed up ready to roll.

All together, there were 6 guys, including myself.  That’s a pretty good sized group, I figure, for the first time a new class runs.  Mark Whitaker ran the class, which included myself (also a purple belt), Owen and Aaron at blue belts, and Kenji and Matt at white belt.

We drilled some fundamentals with our partners, starting from under mount, we did a basic upa reversal into guard, where my partner would do a hip bump sweep into an armbar from mount.  After we did that for a while, Mark switched it up just a little.  After doing the hip bump, the guy in mount would then swing his leg over one arm and move into a triangle from mount.

After a few minutes, I showed a set up I used to use all the time but had kind of forgotten about, but it meshed really well with what we were doing, baiting with the armbar to set up a triangle.  Basically, we worked through the same flow, but once into mount, I’d work up to a high mount, and then move to S Mount position.  The white belts were sort of unfamiliar with the position, so I took a little time going over the transition to S mount, talking about the importance of staying nice and heavy on my opponent’s shoulder, and driving my near-side knee up as close as possible to his ear.  Then, when I’m ready, I move into my armbar.

The set up that I like really starts here.  My opponent is blocking my armbar by crossing his arms, which is pretty typical.  At this point, I stay really heavy on his head/face with that leg, widening out that knee while I use my other foot to push on his far bicep.  The idea is to get him thinking that I’m working for the armbar, and of course, if I get it I’ll take it.  What I’m really going to do, though, is eventually slip my foot through his arms while at the same time allowing my other leg to accidentally slide off his head giving him hope.  And we all know what Bane says about hope.  The typical response at this point is for my opponent to see an opening and start to turn up and into me right into my waiting triangle, which is usually a big surprise.  I like to finish the triangle with my opponent still on his side as much as possible, but if he does manage to turn his hips up, I can still finish the triangle as I would normally do it.

The guys seemed to like it, and after that we got lots of time to roll.  The only person I didn’t get to spar with was big Aaron, and I’ll freely admit that it’s because he was flagrantly fragrant.  I’m not into that.  Hopefully, he avoids spicy food before our next class.

As a bit of an aside, I’ve been training pretty consistently now since October after right about 1 year off.  Being able to help Bing open up his school and being a part of it during the infancy is really, really cool.  Bingo is going all out and we have a great core group of guys.  While BJJ is still a tough workout for a fat, old guy like myself, I remember again why I fell in love with the sport.


Jul 242012

Having a great time training in the new home of Phantom BJJ in Covington, WA.  We have about 12 or so guys regularly attending each class, and the personality of the school is really beginning to gel.  It’s pretty cool to see Bing putting things together.

Now that the school is in its own space, Bing has the latitude to open up some more classes. In addition to Monday, Wednesday and Friday, we’re going to have a Tuesday night class along with a no-gi class on Thursday nights.   While there are plans to eventually incorporate a weekly Judo class, along with some drills and conditioning classes or beginners classes, the core group of students is still pretty small.  It makes perfect sense to keep the number of classes low for a while.  Better to have five full classes per week than 10 classes with three people in each class.

It’s a pleasure to be rolling regularly again.

In other news, Elena Stowell, a blue belt down at Foster BJJ, published her book: Flowing with the Go.    While the official synopsis is below, I can tell you that Elena is a tremendous human being who is a true inspiration.  And she’s my kids’ high school science teacher, too! 

For what seemed like a lifetime and probably was, Elena Stowell wandered aimlessly in a personal prison of self-doubt and lack of purpose after her fifteen-year-old daughter Carly died suddenly before her eyes. By some combination of miracle and necessity, she walked into a Seattle area Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym and rolled for the first time in her life. Through that experience and others that followed, Elena discovered the tenets of the martial art form and healing were the same. With a ripping raw honesty and refreshing balance of humor and introspection, Elena’s story reminds us to never stop panning for the gold within ourselves.

Check it out.  The book is $14.99 in paperback or I think it’s only $3.99 on the Kindle. She deserves the love, guys.

And one final bit.  I’ve been dying like crazy lately.  The picture attached is of a Navy Blue Koral.  I was surprised that the stitching in the lapel patch actually took the dye, but in person it looks pretty cool.  This was a used gi that was getting a little dingy along the collar due to some serious use, and cleaned up well.

I also did a couple of new gis for the same guy in two colors that I hadn’t used before: Brazil Nut and Gun Metal Gray.   Brazil Nut is a very cool, dark brown color.  The final result is almost flat brown.  Gun Metal Gray is also a dark color.  The gray has a lot of blue in it, and in person is a very unique color.  I’d say both are colors that I think would look good for either a woman or a man, and once he gets some patches on them, I think they’re going to be really badass.

I’ll post pictures of both soon, but here’s a question for anyone who might have read this far.  How can I get good, accurate color reflected in these pictures?  I would like to take pictures that are pretty close to the actual, in person color and I can’t seem to strike a balance.  If I use a flash, it washes out the color bigtime, and if I don’t use a flash, I end up with a photo that’s too dark.  I don’t have the money to buy a big, fancy, expensive digital SRL camera.  So, other than that, do you have some suggestions?

 Posted by at 3:00 pm