Jan 152012


After practicing jiu-jitsu for 15 years, Gene Pace is awarded with highest common belt in Brazilian martial arts.”

This is such a terrific story. Not only does this demonstrate once and for all that if you train smart and listen to your body, BJJ is a legitimate life sport.

And whether the author of this article knows it or not, she articulates in just a few sentences several of the 10 Commandments of BJJ:

“He’s Mr. Consistency. He never misses a class, not ever,” said Buckels, who holds a black belt in jiu-jitsu, as well as kru in Muay Thai kickboxing.

In those 15 years, before Pace, Buckels had only awarded one other jiu-jitsu black belt, and it was to another instructor.

“The best way to describe Gene is that he just executes what you teach him to do,” Buckels said. “If you show him a move, he will go after that move.”

Gene Pace earned his black belt in BJJ by being consistent. He trained twice a week and never missed a class.

He earned it by being fearless. When his instructor shows him a move, he “goes after that move.”

He earned it by being patient and he earned it by being humble. The general estimate for earning a black belt in BJJ is 10 years, which is already a very long time compared to most other styles of martial arts. He earned it in 15 years. This epitomizes for me what I’ve said before. I’d rather train for the rest of my life as a purple belt than get my black belt tomorrow and have to give BJJ up forever.

BJJ is a life long journey and a true life sport. Stories like this just make my day.

I don’t know about anyone else, but this really makes me look forward to class tomorrow!

Sep 192010


I was promoted to purple belt two weeks ago, and still can’t really believe it.  I don’t really know what to say about it other than that it didn’t improve my game at all.  I’m still working on the same stuff I was as a blue belt.  But that’s neither here nor there.

I’m very proud to be training in BJJ and, in particular, to be training at Foster BJJ.

What is interesting to me is that I have reacted completely differently to this promotion than the last one.  I really look forward to getting back to class and working out.  I’m sure that this has something to do with the fact that my back has been feeling pretty good lately, so I’ve been getting in consistently three days every week, and sometimes four.

In other news, I’ve dyed a few gis, and figured something out that, if I weren’t a little slow, is really pretty obvious.  When you dye fabric in hot water, the heat from the water will affect the wax.  Duh.

I’ve described batik a few times here before.  Basically, batik is the process of painting or drawing with melted wax directly onto fabric.  Melted wax is drippy, of course, and it bleeds into the fabric kind of like a magic marker can sometimes bleed into paper.  So, there’s a knack to making clean lines, avoiding drips and getting the wax where you want it without having it end up where you don’t want it.


So, I was REALLY stoked after doing the green lantern symbol.  I had the wax at a good, consistent temperature the entire time.  It looks like it had penetrated the fabric really well.  My lines were super clean and crisp and it was going to look badass!  You can see in the picture to the right that the design is very clear.  This was taken just after the initial dunk in the dye bath.


This is the final product.  At first, I couldn’t figure out what happened.  It looked so good, but then the wax just sort of wandered away from where it was supposed to be.

I was pretty bummed.

The color I dyed the gi is Dark Green PR31 purchased from Dharma Trading.  The color looks great.  It’s a deep, solid green that reminds me of my old ‘74 Beetle painted British Racing Green.  Ultimately, I’m on the fence about whether I want to keep the design as it is, or put a patch over it.  One way or the other, it’s a good gi that I intend to keep myself.

In the end, I’m pretty excited.  As I said before, the wax application was tight and I’m very happy with that.  And now that I know that I need to dye in cold water, I expect a really good result on my next project.  I’m going to try a two color batik: the flash symbol.  It’s a yellow lightning bolt on a white circle.  And of course the bulk of the costume is red.  So, I’ll put wax on what I want to stay white, dye it yellow, then wax on the lightning bolt, and then dye it red.

I’ve never done anything like this before, so I think I’ll start by trying to do the design on a patch.  I’m confident that I can get the design clean and all of that.  What’s unknown right now for me is how the red dye will react to yellow fabric.  In other words, am I going to get a darker red because I’m dying on fabric that’s already yellow (which would be okay), or will it actually mix and end up orange (which would NOT be okay).

I’ll post some pics when I’m done.  I have Fire Red PR10 dye already, which I think I’ll use.  I ordered some Oxblood Red PR136 too.  I really haven’t decided yet. Both look good, but I kind of like the name Oxblood Red.  The yellow will be Bright Yellow PR2.

 Posted by at 9:18 am
Jul 122010

Great weekend for the us at Foster Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. First, a big congratulations to Sammy and Rhino.

Sammy’s been training for a while, but keeps getting deployed. Friday was his last class with us until he comes back from, I believe, 8 months at sea. Good luck, Sammy and congratulations.

Rhino is a big, strong, technical guy and he received his well deserved blue belt as well. Rhino’s going to be out for medical reasons for a while, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll be back on the mats as soon as his doctor’s allow it… probably a few weeks before that.

Saturday night, there were fights at the Snoqualmie Casino, Rumble at the Ridge X. I tagged along with Owen, Bingo, and Rhino. I didn’t realize that the fights were going to be outside and ended up getting WAY too much sun for a bald, redheaded guy to get. But that’s not the worst thing that happened. We showed up around 4:30 or so.

The amateur fights were scheduled to start at around 2pm. Gina was checking the fighters in and she gave us the scoop on what happened. I guess the first one started on time, but even though the mats were covered, the area was in direct sunlight all afternoon long. We don’t get a lot of sun here in Seattle. We hardly know what sunlight is. I mean, it’s something OTHER people get. The combination of direct sun, heat (in the 90s, IIRC) and a lack of experience with either was a recipe for disaster.

One of the competitors in the first fight, an amateur, received burns on the bottom of his feet so bad that he literally left the sole of one of his feet on the mat as he picked it up to move. That’s horrific. I think that because it happened before really anyone arrived, the event didn’t seem much affected by it. I don’t know exactly which fighter it was, or where he trains, but buddy, whoever you are, I wish you a speedy recovery. Severe burns to the bottoms of your feet are no joke. Take care. I’m really glad this was a sanctioned event, and hopefully all of your medical bills are covered and you’re well taken care of.

After icing the mats for hours, and as the sun started to move behind the buildings and trees, things cooled down quite a bit. The rest of the fights were fun to watch. Overall, we saw a lot of bad grappling, but some decent striking, and finally, when the pro fights started, we got to see Josh and Jeff demolish their opponents.

Jeff Hougland is the owner and head coach at Combat Sports and Fitness in Enumclaw, WA. Jeff’s a brown belt under James Foster, my coach, and is an incredibly tough guy. You, readers of Stevebjj.com, may be among the first to hear it outside of the PNW area, but Jeff’s camp is top tier and his fighters are going to be making some waves in elite MMA competitions before long. Fighters like Josh Calvo and Ian Williams, among several others, are among the most technical, best trained guys in the area.

Both Jeff and Josh won in the first round of their matches. Jeff’s victory brings his professional record to, I believe, 9 -4, and Josh is now 2-1 as a pro. It was really cool watching these guys fight. Awesome night.

 Posted by at 11:30 am
Jul 012010

Georgette’s recent posts have really got me thinking again. Ranks and promotions. Skill, anxiety and self doubt. Goals and expectations, too. I’ve written probably 5 or 6 comments on her blog that I haven’t submitted. I write them out, then think about them, then delete them, and not because I don’t have a reaction or thought on the subjects. Rather, I have almost too many, and they’re a little jumbled up. So, I thought I’d take a few minutes to try and organize them.

First, if you haven’t read these two articles over on Georgette’s blog, along with the comments, do that now. I’ll wait.

What we’re learning here isn’t easy to do. It’s hard. It’s hard physically. It’s hard mentally, and it’s hard emotionally. I’m not as gifted athletically as some. I’m older, and less fit than others. And some people just get it. Bingo and Josh, two guys I mention frequently, recently got their brown belts. They’ve been training only a little longer than I have if you look only at a calendar. But if you consider the amount of time they’ve put on the mats, there’s really no comparison. After rolling with them sometimes, it’s pretty easy to get down on yourself.

I mentioned in the comments section on Georgette’s blog that I sometimes sit there on the mat thinking through the entire match. What’s often frustrating is that I believe I did things correctly. I just got out techniqued (if that makes sense). It wasn’t that I did anything really wrong. I just didn’t do things… I don’t know… right enough.  Strategic and tactical domination.  So, I sit there on the mat for a moment, shaking my head at every transition. Then I’ll look up and Bing’s smiling and saying, “What’s up? Thanks for the roll. You did good.” Really? Cause from my seat, things didn’t go so well.

But that’s when I’m right there… nice and close to it. After some time and distance, I try to take something away from my rolls with Bing, and it goes along with something he said.

Lesson 1: While we all train together, our journey is ours alone.

My path to blue belt was my own, as is my journey to purple, brown and black belt. They are mine alone. I hope they’re ones I can complete. I can drive myself crazy worrying about why I was given my 4th stripe or my blue belt when so and so is so much better, or because x and y white belts catch me all the time. I can give myself ulcers wonderying why I’m not a purple belt yet when I dominate so and so who is a 3 stripe purple belt (not that this has ever happened… but it could!). I can waste energy worrying about where I am relative to my peers, but that’s all it is: a waste of energy. My path is my own.

Without going into any details, I’ve seen how destructive placing too much importance on belts and ranking can be. It leads to insecurity, an unnecessary amount of angst and eventually causes friends to alienate each other (to put it nicely).

Lesson 2: The person least competent to judge my own progress is me.

Or in other words, “Shut up and train.” 

I have an idea in my head of what I expect from a blue belt, purple belt and brown belt. I also know what I think of as Black Belt level BJJ. I have opinions and I think that they’re usually pretty close to on target. I’m seldom surprised by a promotion at my school. But the person least able to give a rational, objective analysis of my progress in BJJ is me. Ultimately, any significant time I spend thinking in abstract terms about where I “fit in” on the BJJ scale is completely wasted.

I was very unsure of myself after receiving my blue belt. I was adrift for at least a couple of months (probably longer). I didn’t know where I fit in. I was constantly second guessing myself, rolled timidly and was a little embarrassed to put on the belt. It took a while, but I really began progressing again once I understood this lesson.

Lesson 3: We can try deceiving ourselves, but it doesn’t really work.

I can’t control what other people think. If I want to roll light or sit out a round, I can’t worry about what someone else might think. A few days ago I wrote about the archetypes that exist in a gym. I mentioned that most of those stereotypes are funny because they’re familiar. We can all think of people that fit these types at least in part. Most of them are also negative. So… chances are some of us represent a negative archetype to other people in the school.

Since posting that, I’ve decided that it doesn’t really matter. I mean, we should all strive to be a positive influence, but I can’t ultimately manage someone else’s internal dialogue. If I choose to sit out, I have no control over whether someone else decides that I’m lazy. If I’m injured and want to roll light, I can’t control whether someone else thinks I’m milking it.

But, and this is the big one, I should be honest with myself. If I sit out a round because I’m feeling lazy, I shouldn’t try to convince myself otherwise.

Another example of this came up ust a couple days ago.  I rolled with Rhino, a 4 stripe white belt. I didn’t do very well. He passed my guard to side control, moved to mount and maintained very solid, positional control. Rhino deserves his nickname. He’s a big guy, very strong and athletic. It would be very easy to just write the match off and feel better because he’s bigger and stronger. But he’s also very technical and his game is tight. He didn’t outmuscle me. He outgrappled me. In order for this to be productive training, I have to acknowledge that first. Only then can I begin to break it down and look for successes and areas to improve.  

As a quick aside, writing it off as just his strength and/or size diminishes his own accomplishments.  I hate it when someone begins making excuses for a loss or poor performance because it undermines someone else’s accomplishments.  I really try to give credit where due, and being honest with myself is integral to this. 

Lesson 4: Learn from mistakes, but focus on successes.

Very early on in writing this blog, I made a conscious decision to try and focus on what I did right more than what I did wrong. I don’t try to pretend that I don’t make mistakes. Not at all. What I’m talking about is acknowledging the mistake in an effort to avoid making it again, but really zeroing in on what I did well.

There’s a lot of support for the idea in learning that spending any significant time discussing mistakes can actually lead to repitition of that mistake. For example, I’ve been in situations where something goes poorly and a meeting is called so that we can all debrief on what went wrong. These are excruciating meetings in which we are expected to painstakingly relive every mistake we made. From a training perspective, this can include spending undue time discussing the wrong way to do things: Don’t do this… avoid this… this is wrong…. this is bad.

It’s much better to focus on the right way to do things. All of the time spent reinforcing the wrong way could be spent reinforcing the right way, instead.

Lesson 5: This is fun. Jiu Jitsu is fun.

It’s easy to forget that sometimes. Why are we so hard on ourselves? Reading the posts lately on the blogosphere, I truly believe that we all need to cut ourselves some slack.

In conclusion, I’ll just add that these are, once again, only my own thoughts. I’ve got four stripes on my blue belt. At some point I, like everyone else, will get my purple belt. I have no idea whether that will be tomorrow, 6 months or 6 years from now, but it’s bound to happen if I keep training. I LOVE where I’m at right now as an experienced blue belt because I’ve been around long enough that I know what I’m doing, but there’s no expectation of perfection. I truly don’t feel that I’m ready for a purple belt. Of course, as I’ve said, I’m incompetent to judge myself. So, I will instead not worry about it. It will come when it does. And when it does, I’ll start that chapter of my journey to black belt.

 Posted by at 3:30 pm
Jun 222010

charleebluebelt First thing’s first, congratulations to Charlee on her blue belt.  She’s been training off and on for about 3 years, but has really kicked it into high gear lately and it shows.

And check out this video that Matt Hickney put together for Rick.  Very cool:

BJJ training is moving right along.  I’ve been training regularly again for a while, and that’s been terrific.  Being physically able to go to class three or four times in a week is a downright luxury for me.  My back is feeling pretty good, in no small part thanks to Dr. Sean’s attention.  My cardio is getting better every class.  I’m getting my butt kicked all over the place, but that’s okay by me.

I don’t know how to explain it, but there’s a period of time after every… episode with my back where I just don’t trust it.  Have you guys all read the article that’s floated around periodically about the archetypes found in a gym?   If not, take a few minutes to read them.  It’s hilarious!

But at the same time, if you’re like me, you read those and think to yourself, "Okay… damn.  I did that once.  Crap.  I’ve done that, too."   We all have a blind spot.  One of the hardest things to do is see ourselves as we’re seen by others.  While BJJ is pretty hard on the ego, I don’t think anyone would like to see any of those negative stereotypes applied to themselves.  And yet, they’re funny because we DO know those people.  Now, I don’t know about you, but to me this suggests that there are a lot of us who embody, at least in part, these negative stereotypes, but don’t know it… don’t see it in our actions.

While I don’t spend too much time worrying about how I’m viewed, I think we would all like to be respected and well liked in our circles.  More importantly, these archetypes highlight more than some common personalities.  They highlight a lot of common excuses that we make.  So, when I’m sparring, I spend a lot of time assessing my back and how I feel.  Every time someone asks me how I am, I consider whether I want to tell them the truth, which is usually that it hurts to some degree or another, or to gloss it over.  I’m concerned about developing a reputation for being the perpetually injured guy.  I don’t want to be that guy.

Does anyone else struggle with a chronic injury or limitation in your training?  I’m not talking about something that heals.  I’m talking about nagging, persistent pain or limitation.  A bad back? Pinched nerve?  Maybe some kind of persistent joint issues or hip problems… the sort of thing that you don’t really ever come back from. 

How do you handle it?  Or if you know someone or train with someone, does their persistent limitation affect your view of them?

 Posted by at 6:33 pm
Jun 122010

Today was the Grand Opening of Foster BJJ’s new space.  We’ve been training there for almost 2 weeks now, and it is so nice.  Lots of mat space.  Givanildo Santana (pictured with me below) was in town this week, and he taught a few techniques at a free seminar.


Rodrigo Lopes and several other Gracie Barra black belts were there, along with many of their students.  The place was packed.


Honestly, though, the big news was the promotion of five guys at the school.  I had a feeling that there were going to be some big promotions today.  It’s just the sort of day for such things.  I called the first three, too (and even the order).  It started with Jeff Bourgeois, getting his brown belt, followed by Bing and then Josh.  All three of these guys are awesome jiu-jitieros.  They work tirelessly to improve their games and are awesome teachers and teammates.


After this, Coach promoted his first two black belts.  Bill and Todd.  I just can’t get over how big this school is getting.  When I started, James had one brown belt, I think two purple belts and a handful of blue belts.


Here’s a picture with Bill, Giva, Coach, Todd, Bingo, Jeff and Josh.  Congratulations, guys.

Giva showed us some really cool stuff.  The one technique that really interested me was a gi choke from turtle.  Shown below.

I played around with this during open mat, along with the other tips and techniques he showed us, and I’m excited to incorporate them into my game.

This is a picture of me and James.  I’m the one on the left, if you can’t tell.  Actually, I’m the one in the cool “Lock and Roll” tee from Scramble.  Thanks, Matt. I got a lot of compliments on it today.


I got to talk to a lot of people from the other schools in the area, but I didn’t get a chance to roll with anyone.  It’s funny how things work out… I would look around and everyone was pretty much matched up.  But I did get to roll with some cool people… just cool people I roll with at school anyways!

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
May 012010

While I’m still struggling to find time to write much, I’m beginning to train more consistently. I’m envious of those of you who can get in to train so regularly! Lately, I’ve been averaging three classes per week. I’m looking forward to continuing at least that. I know that when I get in three or four times per week, I feel good and get a real sense of progress. Less then that and I’m just coasting along. It’s hard to focus on your B game when you’re only training once each week.

In Bing’s class on Monday, he showed one of my favorite reversals, a gator roll type reversal when someone’s about to pass your half guard. This technique has been one of my favorites for years. It’s one of those techniques that’s been around so long that a lot of guys have forgotten about it. This reversal isn’t a sweep, in that it doesn’t technically begin in guard, so the one downside of this technique is that in a tournament you shouldn’t get sweep points for it.

Basically, I go to this move when someone is threatening to pass my half guard. It works particularly well if they’re controlling my bottom leg with their lead arm. So, let’s say I’m on my right side and “bad guy” is pinning my right leg down with his left hand. The trick is to sell the pass. First thing to do is control that lead arm. I want to make sure that he doesn’t have any base or control my head. So, I’ll control the sleeve or the wrist and make sure that he doesn’t get that arm out. Usually, this isn’t a problem as he’s actively working to pin my leg, so he’s happy to keep his arm right there for me.

As he comes around, I’ll hip back and use my monkey feet to hook his leg, giving him some trouble coming around. I don’t want him to think that I’m really going to let him pass. The idea is to really get him thinking about driving his weight forward. When I’m ready to reverse him, I’m going to let him get around my leg, push his head down toward my waist with my left hand, making sure I’ve still got control of his lead arm with my right. This is so that I can sit up and reach around to grab his belt (or if I can’t get his belt I use the natural grip along the ribs/lats area). Then, as he moves to side control, I’ll turn almost to where I’m giving him north/south. At the same time, I drive that arm I’ve been controlling underneath him, bridge up and roll to get the reversal. It makes sense if you do it.

If I keep that arm, I’ll often come up in a position to work for the kimura from the top, or if I can’t get that, I can sit back to an armbar.

This is one of those techniques that really works on everyone. While nothing is 100%, I’ve caught big guys and small with this and it’s saved my ass more than once when someone double my weight is passing my guard like a freight train.

Technique yesterday was a slick guard pass.

Sparring was good. I got a lot of matches in with a variety of skill levels and sizes. I’m still working to really open up my guard when possible, and working the deep half guard when I can. Oh, on that note, I did get caught by Owen. I was working to get to deep half guard and ended up getting caught in a guillotine. Can you say “gaping hole in my technique?” I thought you could!

At the end of class, coach added some stripes. Thad got his first stripe on his brown belt, I got a fourth stripe on my blue and Trevin and Bing are now three stripe purple belts.

Oh, almost forgot. Looking forward to Sunday Morning! Foster BJJ is moving into a new space next month and renovations are underway. A lot of the guys are meeting up to clean, paint, demolish (hopefully) and help make the transition a smooth one. Can’t wait to see the new space in person. In the meantime, here’s Coach Foster giving a tour on YouTube:

 Posted by at 9:32 am