Jan 042012

In case you haven’t stumbled across these lately, Jason Scully has been on a tear, posting some interesting videos for BJJ. Not instructionals, per se. They’re more like… reminders. Refresher training to bring all of those techniques we’ve learned over the years back to the top of your mind. I think they’re very helpful. Posted below is his most recent, 57 Guard Passing Techniques in Just 8 Minutes. He’s also posted closed guard attacks, half guard, and a few others. Worth a look.

Jan 042012

Back to class this evening and man, Bingo really took it to us. Warmups included all kinds of torture. After 30 minutes of huffing and puffing and doing my best not to have a heart attack, we started stretching. Between my proud Norwegian heritage and my complete lack of cardio, I think I looked pretty overdone.

I’m not going to lie. When I started training in BJJ, I was in terrible shape and it’s a little daunting to be… not quite starting over, but pretty close. It took 3 months before I felt like I was going to make it. After 6 months, I’d lost quite a bit of weight and was starting to work on progressing. And that’s about where I’m at now. Realistically, I’m looking at 3 or 4 months before my conditioning will be back.

All of that said, there’s no doubt I’ll get there. I’m enjoying class and looking forward to training. The group that Bing’s putting together is a good one. The guys all have terrific attitudes and there’s no ego. Everyone’s there to learn, work hard and have fun.

I’m looking forward to next week, when Coach Foster will be coming out. Bing wasn’t sure if it would be Monday or Wednesday, but either way it’ll be good to see him again.

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Mar 062011

Just sayin’.  I realized that this blog is more about personal accountability and keeping my own commitment to make time for training than anything else.  While I still train, my attendance has dropped.

So, I intend to start posting regularly again, even if it is a simple post to acknowledge classes attended.  Posting from a phone is cumbersome but better than nothing.

Mar 082010

Reading Dev’s latest post really got me thinking again about competition. I wrote a rather longwinded article on this very subject almost two years ago (holy crap! I’ve been blogging for THAT LONG???). In that article, I gave five reasons that I believe competition is important to one’s BJJ training, even if I hate doing it:

1:  Competing forces me to address my conditioning. I had three matches in February and was more gassed than I have ever been. The pace is higher, and the adrenaline and anxiety cause fatigue. I have to be in shape.

2:  Competing forces me to address my diet. In competition, there are weight classes. While I walk around at 184 lbs and compete at around that same weight, I want to be healthy and have enough energy to get me through. Others drop weight, and there are good and bad ways to do that. Either way, competition forces my hand. I don’t drink as much beer in the weeks leading to a competition. I try to eat less sugar and am just more mindful of my diet.

3:  I learned more about myself in one day on the mats, and in watching my videos from those matches, than I had in the 3 months prior. I saw gaping holes in my game, areas that were exploited. Areas to improve.

4:  I also saw things that I do well. Who knew?

5:  I gained confidence in my training and my ability. BJJ is so hard on the ego. So much of our time is spent on the wrong side of a submission. So many reps before a technique works. So much time being stacked up, passed, choked or hyperextended. Add to this that as we get better, our classmates are also improving. That blue belt who kicks your butt will likely continue to do so. As you improve, he does as well. Granted, we all learn at different rates, but this phenomenon can obscure our own development. In a competition, you roll with people who don’t know your game. The difference is like Night and Day.

Since I posted this list above, I’ve gained a slightly different perspective. I still believe that all of these points are true, and Dev also articulates very well the points in favor of competition. I did, however, immediately react to Dev’s comment that, “… in thinking about this[article], I started by listing the reasons you WOULDN’T do tournaments. And I got nowhere. Aside from the dreaded PRINCIPLE, I can’t think of a really good reason to not give it the old college try, at least once.” Why not, indeed? Like Dev, I mulled over why one might opt not to compete and came up with a short list of reasons. While they’re all simply my opinion, some are legit reasons not to compete at all. Some are reasons why one might choose not to compete regularly.

1:  I’m putting this first because this is what I consider to be the best reason to not compete: it negatively impacts your training in any way. Whether mental or physical, legitimate or not, if you get so worked up at the idea of competing that you begin to actually NOT want to go to class, you shouldn’t compete. I’ve actually seen this happen.

I’ve said many times that I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not concerned with getting good at BJJ quickly. Hell, if I’m being honest, I’d LIKE to get better, but I’m not all that concerned with getting good at BJJ at all. My number one concern is to be training in BJJ when I’m 60 or even 70. THAT’S my number one goal. This isn’t a sprint for me; it’s a marathon.

So, if you are like me, and competition adversely affects the training in some way, I don’t see it as being necessary. Bottom line for me is this: if I had to choose now between being a Mundial champ but have to quit training at 45 or still be a blue belt while training at 65, the choice would be very easy. I’d much rather be a crappy, 65 year old blue belt still training three times each week.

2:  Professional considerations. Simply put, I think the most obvious reason to avoid competing has to do with income. If I get injured and will be forced to miss work, I’m lucky enough to have medical leave. Not everyone can say the same. There are many people who work on an hourly rate and will stand to lose income if they miss work. BJJ being what it is, there is always the possibility of injury. In class, however, this is less likely than in competition. At class, I know my training partners and, if necessary, can avoid rolling with Spazzy McEyeGouge, the 210 lbs wrecking ball.

3:  Insurance. This is related to the second point, but not everyone has medical insurance, at least not here in the States. While I’ve seen many tournaments that went without any serious injury, I’ve also been to some where I’ve seen some pretty serious stuff. I’ve seen a broken forearm occur when someone tried to catch himself on a takedown. I’ve seen dislocated shoulders, blown out knees and all sorts of stuff that just make me cringe. While I presume that grappling tournaments are insured, I honestly don’t know. Until writing this, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask.

4:  Other Medical Considerations: I know that my back can be unpredictable. I feel great for a while and then I can barely walk for a week. While I’m doing everything I can to mitigate this, I can easily foresee a time when I’m going to realize that the increased pace of competition just does more harm than good. I know I’m not alone.

Of course, competition is optional, but I largely agree with Dev. Most people really should try it once. But it’s up to you.

I think it’s critical is that every school have an active competition team. On a more macro level, the competitions help keep things consistent, and if your school participates, you will all know that the belt rankings are roughly on par with those in other regional schools.

On a personal level, though, competition is really just one aspect of a much larger sport.  Ultimately, if competing diminishes this for you in some way, I completely understand not doing it.

Mar 032010
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Ryan picked up a Teko gi that was slightly used.  It’s in great shape, but was a little dingy.  No big deal.  I washed it with vinegar and it brightened back up very well.   If you want to know why I swear by vinegar, check out my article on Washing the Gi

Any discoloration came right out.  But Ryan said that I could play around with it.   I’ve really been holding off dying this gi until I had one of my own, but that hasn’t happened.  I do have a new Warrior One gi I’m going to dye, but I’m not quite ready to batik it yet, so instead of waiting any longer, I figured I’d better get Ryan his gi back.

When I ordered Bing’s orange dye (that I’m going to probably do next), I picked up another color as well: Wedgewood Blue.  I really wasn’t sure what it would look like.  My concern was that it would come out too light.  You know, not manly enough.  That’s when I remembered that Ryan didn’t care what color I dyed his gi.  I threatened to dye it pink several times and he was okay with it.  So, I figured this was my opportunity to try out this color.

Overall, I think it’s a very cool color.  It’s lighter than the standard blue, but came out very evenly colored.  As usual, the patches and dye failed to take the color, which gives it a nice, finished look.

Mar 012010

Jiu Jitsu is a lot like Shrek. Layers. Lots of layers. Ogres have layers. Jiu Jitsu has layers. I’ve been working on deep half guard, along with a specific technique or two from each position. Bullfighter pass here, deep half guard there, yada, yada. Also in the form of disclaimer, these are my blue belt level ramblings, so take them for what they are. Whenever I try to articulate these things, I can’t help but think that in 5 or 10 years I’ll be embarrassed. But whatever. It’s a blog. Right?

We’re always working on something. Whether it’s a guard pass or a position. You ask anyone in jits what they’re working on and they’ll probably tell you something without any hesitation. “Oh yeah. I’m working on X, Y and Z.” But in the background, I’ve been mulling over the larger issue of pressure. In Jiu Jitsu, it seems to me that pressure is one of the keys to good Jiu Jitsu. Just to be clear, I’m not talking about 300 lbs gorrillas smashing the little guy. That’s pressure, for sure, but in my opinion, that’s the least important form of pressure. Pressure, in some form or another, creates opportunities. If I’m controlling pressure, I have the advantage. If I’m not controlling pressure, I’m ceding advantage to my opponent. Productive, controllable pressure comes in many forms.

Physically, pressure manifests through superior technique, superior pace/conditioning and strength, usually in the form of pressure being exerted on a person. At the same time, mental pressure has a lot to do with it, as well. Mentally, pressure has a lot to do with perception, coming from within, although even here it can have a lot to do with one’s opponent.

Physically, have you ever rolled with someone who weighs about 160 lbs, but feels much, much heavier? Conversely, there’s the 220 lbs guy who just doesn’t feel all that heavy. That’s all technique, having learned how to maximize the amount of physical pressure being exerted. This kind of technical pressure is just crazy. When I was in California last year to watch the Mundials, we had a chance to drop in and train with one of my Coach’s Coach, Giva Santana. Giva was rolling with Bing and just crushing him.

Because it’s technical, it can be learned. I tend to think of this technical, physical pressure in terms of control rather than of weight. Some things that contribute to the perception of increased pressure are where the pressure is being exerted, and conveying a feeling of being trapped. For example, if I’ve got my opponent in my side control, I can increase the amount of pressure by focusing on driving my shoulder into his face, keeping him from turning in. I can also pin his hips in one of many ways. While I’m not actually putting any more weight on him, the perception is that there is more pressure. I know I’m locked in tight when my opponent can’t turn away and can’t turn in. I’ve got my hips low and while I’m not crushing him with all 180 lbs, I’m pretty sure he’s feeling it.

In a similar way, I’ve had 300 lbs guys go to knee on belly and, sure, it’s uncomfortable. Another guy I train with, his knee on belly is a killer. I swear, he’s about 200lbs and feels like he weighs a ton. It’s crazy how much of a difference there is. Gravity hasn’t changed, so clearly there must be some technique involved.

But beyond this technical pressure, there are guys who create a sense of urgency in their opponents. I roll with some guys and they never settle in. They move from one position to another gracefully and give the sense that they’re always one step ahead (whether they are or not). This is a different kind of pressure, but it’s just as important. New guys lock in. White belts tend to close their guard and hold on for dear life. This is the pressure that you experience when you’re rolling with someone who makes you feel like every move you make is exactly the wrong one.

Related to the last are the pressures that come from pacing and conditioning. This is the kind of pressure that guys can exert by just being energizer bunnies. Always moving, always attacking. What makes this different from the last, is that this is independent of skill really. Instead of creating a sense of urgency in my opponent by staying ahead of them strategically, I’m really just going flat out, balls to the wall crazy. In a white belt, this will often lead to a lot of tapping out. As we get more technique, however, it can create opportunities as long as the technique is sound.

We were doing a guard pass drill one time in Bing’s Wednesday class. “No strength. Work your technique,” we were told. I get grips and pull guard and WHAM! my training partner got grips, worked some mojo and quick as that he was passed my guard. Bing looked over and said, “Speed ain’t strength.” Of course, he’s right. But speed and athleticism can create pressure.

Mentally, we tend to be our own worst enemies. Pressure can come from a perception of inferior physical ability or skill. “I’m not going to try to sweep him. He’s too big.” Or maybe, “I’ll never catch him. He’s a black/brown/purple/blue/whatever belt.” I’m not sure what I can really say about this. I think I’m among the worst around when it comes to dealing with self-derived stress. What do I do to break out of this? Well, I try to compete when I can. I try to spar with guys who I know I don’t match up well against. These are the guys who kill me every time.

This kind of mental pressure can also be cultivated by gaining a reputation with certain techniques or positions. “Oh, man. So and so has a killer half guard game. Get caught in that and it’s over.”

There are guys who are really good at psyching their opponents out. It’s a gift some people have. I’m not sure if it can be taught, but it’s definitely there.

I don’t have many answers yet, but that’s okay. I may never have the answers. But I think that pressure is a key, and whoever wins that battle, exerting more pressure than the opponent, ultimately comes out on top.

Mar 012010

As things start to ramp up for the March 13th Revolution grappling tournament, our guys are pushing harder and harder in sparring. This is a fun time at class, where the mood is both lighter and more intense at the same time… if that makes sense. Warmups tend to be lighter, and technical instruction seems to move back to more basic moves, the fundamentals upon which everything else is balanced. So, the initial part of each class tends to be a little more relaxed, while sparring is amped up from I’d say about 75% to upwards around 90% intensity.

We worked on an escape from back control, concentrating on protecting the neck and blocking our opponent from getting the harness/seat belt position. Scootch down low, then driving first one elbow to the mat, straightening that side leg to free the hook, and then over to the other side. At this point, it’s really going to depend upon how my opponent reacts. I’ll either come out the back if he tries to swing over, or block his hip while scissoring my legs to come up and pass.

Some keys on this are to watch out for the triangle as I scissor up. I either need to make sure I come up over his leg to prevent the triangle, or really block his hip to prevent him from getting that leg up and over.

Sparring was broken up into three weight groups. Big guys, anywhere about 200 lbs and up, were in one section, then 180 lbs or so up to 200 lbs, and then the lighter guys below 180, where guys in the middle would float up and down as mats opened up. The guys who are competing stayed out in the middle to get as much mat time as possible.

I’ve been working a lot on a basic bullfighter pass agasint open guard and it’s really becoming one of my favorites. Some things I’m really focusing on are getting good grips on the inside of my opponent’s knees. My opponent will often widen his knees out to block the pass. I’ll then drive up with my hips looking for a stack pass, keeping my grips and thinking about bringing his knees up into his chest. As he pushes back against that, I’ll move around for the pass. I’ll often feint one way or the other, to see if I can get my opponent to commit. If he’s up on one side more than the other, the pass is relatively easy.

At this point, to prevent my opponent from getting back to guard, I try to focus on straightening out the bottom arm and keeping that grip firm. This blocks his bottom knee from getting in, and also keeps him from rolling over into turtle. I’m also trying to keep a lot of pressure on his sternum with my shoulder and stay low to prevent him from rolling me (one of my favorite reversals). From here, get the knee in or my top hand to block the hip so that I can switch my grips to whatever side control I’m looking for.

I got a chance to roll with Coach Foster, which is always fun. I almost got around his guard, but ultimately ended up trying to keep moving from the bottom. My back is at about 80% and I’m feeling like my hips are moving well.

After class, James gave us all a timely reminder that we all learn by being pushed. He said that you get tapped out about a million times on your way to earning a black belt. While I think I’ve ALREADY tapped about a million times, the sentiment is very true. We train to make each other better. When we’re drilling, the goal isn’t to keep my partner from learning the technique. There’s a counter for every move. As a good partner, my job is to react in a way that makes sense.

In sparring, if I have a hole in my game, it’s your job to exploit it. Not to say that you beat me, but so that I can improve. And as I improve, I help you improve.

Personally, a real break through for me in my training after getting my blue belt was when I could say and truly mean that I don’t mind tapping to a white belt. I get caught sometimes. But whether I get caught because I was zoning out or due to an injury or just get completely pwned, I try never to make excuses. I always smile and thank whoever it was and then get back into it.

I’ve seen a blue belt tap to a white belt and then immediately make an excuse. “I wasn’t paying attention.” “I was rolling light.” Whatever… that’s lame. It minimizes your training partner’s success. I mean, if I’ve been working on setting up my triangle, and after working on it for months, I am beginning to catch upper belts with it, I’m going to be pretty stoked. It sucks when I catch the triangle and then am immediately told that it wasn’t good technique… I just basically got lucky or my partner was zoning out. Lame.

Don’t be lame. Even if you weren’t paying attention.

Jan 312010

A few weeks ago, I got Stephan Kesting’s newsletter in my inbox. Reading it was surreal. It was like he’d interviewed me and my issues with claustrophobia. I highly recommend it. Hell, if you don’t subscribe to Stephan’s Grappling Tips, you should. Seriously. Do that now, then come back and finish reading this. Stephan is a thoughtful guy and his insight’s have helped me out a ton over the years.

I have issues with not being able to see. I’m sure that this mania stems from some childhood trauma that I can blame on my older brothers. It’s got to be their fault. But wherever this issue came from, I don’t like it. Just putting on a blindfold causes my adrenaline to kick in and my fight or flight instinct goes nuts. Add a little claustrophobia and I’m pretty unfit for BJJ.

I actually laughed out loud when I read about the MRI in the article. I was okay with the MRI in theory. As I showed up at the hospital, they asked, “Are you claustrophic?”

“A little, but I’ll be okay,” I replied. Seconds into the MRI, I was mashing the panic button. I made it through that MRI only because they turned me around, got me in feet first and they only needed pictures of my L5 vertebrae. So, as a result, I was able to crane my head back and see the opening. Seeing daylight got me through it… that and a lot of happy thoughts.

So, when I started training in BJJ, one of the first people I rolled with was Brick (or Big Rick). Rick is a cool guy. He’s been around forever, weighs about 280 lbs, and is a very good guy to roll with if you’re claustrophobic. Or a very bad guy to roll with, depending on your point of view. I’ll never remember that first roll with Rick. At the time, I didn’t really know what to do in sparring, so we locked up and wrassled around for a bit from our knees, then of course I got pushed to my back, he passed my guard and was so heavy that I tapped because I couldn’t breathe. Then, after getting knocked over again, he moved to North/South. Now, here’s where I immediately began to panic. Rick said, “This isn’t a submission. This is just pressure. Relax and breathe.” I tapped instead and began to seriously question whether BJJ was right for me.

Instead, I figured out ways to cope with it for myself, and while your mileage may vary, I’m happy to share what worked for me.

As a sort of preventative measure, try not to get smashed. That’s a good start, but of course, it doesn’t help with the problem… just helps you get better at avoiding it. I have learned over the last couple years that the key to sparring with a really big dude is to focus on hip movement and never give them a chance to settle in. Easier said than done, but when it works it feels pretty good.

That said, if I’m getting crushed, I look for daylight. If I’m in a position where things are tight, I’ll make sure I can see daylight just like I did in my MRI. I have found that 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.

Second, 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.

Third, 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.

Finally, and this is nothing new, 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. In much the same way that I start from turtle now, it wasn’t that I felt comfortable from guard. Just the opposite.

I hope you’ve read the article I linked to over at Grapplearts.com. Stephan’s article goes into some detail about how you can overcome phobias in general, and some specific ways to tackle Claustrophobia on the mats. As always, though, if I can do it, anyone can. It’s not a matter of skill or talent. It’s a matter of just deciding it’s important and doing it. Jiu Jitsu isn’t always comfortable, but even at its worst, I can’t think of too many things that I’d rather do.

Dec 272009

Giva is one of my instructor’s instructors (if that makes sense) and I one of the highest ranked Lotus Club black belts who lives in the USA. He runs a school down in California, and is one of the nicest guys around.

I was so excited to run across these videos. He’s attacking the entire time. There’s a great take down and some really cool transitions as he moves from guard to back control to mount to armbar.