Dec 182009


I raced home from work to pick up the baby and called my other kids on my way back so that they would be waiting for me when I got home.  They took the baby inside and I was outta there, fifteen minutes to get to my chiropractic appointment.

Sidebar here: it’s GREAT having older kids with the baby.  I strongly recommend that anyone having a baby adopt a couple of 10 to 12 year olds first.  Seriously.  I couldn’t be prouder of my two older kids.  They help so much around the house and with the baby, I wouldn’t be able to do half of what I do if they weren’t there to pick up my slack.

Okay, back to the action, I’m racing down the street to the chiropractor.  I’m cutting off old ladies and tailgating student drivers.  I have places to go!  Maybe not quite like that, but I was feeling a sense of urgency.  My new chiropractor adjusted me once again.  Looks like I’m going to see him twice a week for a couple of weeks, and then back off to about every 3 or so weeks.  On a positive note, my flexible spending account should help me pay for these visits.  On the negative side, my insurance copay is higher than the cash amount.  Let me say that again.  My chiropractor saves enough by avoiding the billing/insurance process that he can offer a modest discount for cash, and a few dollars more off if you prepay.  So, if I pay cash, the price is less than my ridiculous copay.  Anyone who is against a public option or some kind of meaningful health care reform is nuts. 

But it’s all good.  I felt great after the adjustment and raced to class where I met Dev for the first time.  For anyone not familiar, Dev has been training and blogging for just over a year now.  He’s a very nice guy and it felt like we’d known each other for a long time.   We even got a roll in, probably at about 50% or so.  It was pretty cool.  Coach Foster rolled out the red carpet, rolling with him for about 30 minutes before turning him loose on several of our upper belts.  It was awesome to see.  Coach really wanted him to get some quality time while he was there.  He was pretty wiped out by the time we got to open mat.  Still, as my son would say, I got pwned.  But I was having enough fun that I didn’t mind.  In the relatively short time Dev’s been training, it’s clear that he’s picked up a solid foundation and I’m looking forward to seeing him again, hopefully down in Irvine in April.

I had a good roll with Thad, always a pleasure.  He’s always good for a little detail or tip that will make a difference for next time.  Josh was his usual, relaxed self.  Not that I could do anything against him.  I also got a roll in with Trevin, who’s about as close to Josh Barnett as I’ll ever get.  I made the mistake of pulling mount… yeah, I said it… and what you think might happen did.  Next time around, I was a little more alert and managed to get around his guard into side control.  His arm was very high, so I switched to the head/arm setup I like, but he blocked it right away, so I moved around for the armbar instead.  He blocked, and I tried the switch to the other side I learned from Thad a few months back, and I could tell it surprised him.  I almost had that armbar, but wasn’t tight enough and left him some space to counter and escape.  Oh well.

Overall, I’m a lot more hopeful about things than I was a few weeks ago.  While my L5 disc will never fully heal, I am optimistic that I’m doing the right thing.  I was 181 lbs this morning and managing to maintain even though I missed over three weeks of class.   The only real lasting problem with my back will be strength through my hips to bridge.  It took months last time to really get back to where I could generate power through my hips and upa, and I’m looking at that long road one more time. 

Oh, one last thing.  I picked up some Foster/Lotus Club back patches and they look really cool.  Can’t wait to get them on a gi.

Dec 172009

I came to some conclusions and made some decisions.   A few weeks back, I mentioned that I was going to work with a chiropractor that I trust.  Dr. Sean trains with us at my school and were it not for him, I would likely never consider chiropractic care as a viable option.  The only problem is that his office is deep in Tacoma.  So, while Dr. Sean would be my first choice, I’ve had to figure out how I can get the attention I need somewhere a little closer to home.

Fortunately, another guy at the school whom I’ve known for years recommended his chiropractor, who has an office much closer to my house, about halfway between where I live and the BJJ school.  I went to see him for the first time on Tuesday and my initial reaction was very positive.  

There were some definite things he did that I liked.  First, he was extremely cautious.  The first day, he didn’t do any kind of an adjustment.  Instead, he did some tests along the lines of, “Do this.  Does that hurt?  Any tingling or numbness?  Okay.  Do this.  Pain?”   He also took some x-rays and requested my MRI that was done a few years back from the hospital. 

Second, he did a lot of explaining.  He described my symptoms back to me, a good way to let me know that he’d been listening and understood what I was saying.  He then told me some common causes for my issues and explained how he works.  And then he sent me home no worse off than when I came in. 

All in all, a very good start.  I went in the next day, yesterday, to take a look at the x-rays and talk in more detail about what is going on, and he then did an adjustment.

Turns out I’m suffering from disc degeneration in my L5 vertebrae.  If you’d like to know more about it, here’s a nifty, interactive video I found.  The intarweb is awesome and the narrator even sounds like the guy who did the voiceover for the films we watched in biology class in school.  If you’re getting the impression that this isn’t entirely good news, you’re right.  It’s not.  As the chiropractor said yesterday, once the disc is gone, you can’t get it back.   According to the doc, I’m not at phase 2 yet, but I’m also well past phase 1… somewhere between the two.

What I need to do now, according to my new chiropractor, is keep what I have for as long as I can.  I am not anxious to find any kind of surgical solution to this problem for many reasons (although if you ask me when I’m suffering from muscle spasms, sciatica and the subsequent sleep deprivation, I’d agree to just about anything if you promised to make the pain stop).   A combination of everything I’ve been doing, plus regular chiropractic care, according to this chiropractor, will help maintain what disc I have left, help stabilize everything and keep me functioning as well as possible.  He said that this might mean never having surgery or maybe putting it off for 30 years… as opposed to 10 as I progress into phase II degeneration and on toward phase III.

So, not altogether good news.  I appreciate that he didn’t blow smoke up my behind.  He admitted that I might experience blow outs in my back… it’s just the nature of the beast.  Where my disc should be nice and puffy, my L5 disc is about a 1/4 of where it should be. 

In spite of all that, I went to class and had a good time.  I was a little sore toward the end of class, but after a little ice on the lower back and a good dinner, I felt great by bedtime.

Three Years of Training in BJJ – Anniversary Post

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Nov 232009

November marks three years of training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. I’ve been mulling over the things I’ve learned in my third year, trying to figure out what to write. I could write about how my half guard game is improving, although still not where I’d like it. I might also write about not letting ego get in the way, but, while true, is a little cliché, and also something everyone hears from year one. Then it occurred to me that I’ve actually been coasting for a while. Even as I complained to some about the plateau I was on in my training, I was also passively camping out on top of that plateau, unwilling to let go of the relative comfort of what I know.

Early in the year, I started to let go of this. Realizing that I was very weak from half-guard, I made a point of pulling half guard when sparring. I would often get passed. If I’m being honest, I still get passed, just not quite as often. I have a few sweeps I like, but more importantly, I’m more comfortable from the position, better able to get up on my hip and have a strong foundation from which to add some techniques.

That was early in the year. For months in the middle, I was coasting. After over 2 years of training, I finally felt comfortable. Not awesome. Just good enough to stall a little, rest some and make it to the end of class without being completely drained. That was my problem, though. I was too comfortable. I was in a groove, going through the motions of learning, without actually trying to learn something new.

What’s really energized me recently is the idea of exposing my weak positions, seeking them out in sparring. I’m starting from turtle at least a few times each class. I’m trying not to leave my guard closed for any length of time, opening up and looking for a de la riva hook or spider guard. I’ve got a few techniques from several different positions and, while I’m not competent with any of them yet, they’re there for me to try. I have to have a direction, so knowing a few moves at least superficially helps me to move outside the comfort zone and struggle.

And that’s my goal for 2010 and my fourth year: to struggle. If I’m not struggling, whether mentally or physically, then I’m not getting better. If I’m not struggling, chances are I’m just hanging out, going through the motions, being lazy.

I also have some specific goals for 2010. I’m looking forward to Jeff’s Revolution tournament in March, as well as the Pan Ams in April. I’m going to compete as often as my schedule and my health will allow.

Nov 162009

Great class on Sunday.  Coach gave me a gi that a friend at the school has asked me to dye for him.  He wants it purple.  I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, but I ordered a pretty dark purple and intend to use a little extra dye than it calls for, as though I’m dying a black gi.  I also, after reading Georgette’s Chocolate Love woes, where her dark brown gi rubbed off a little on another person’s white gi, picked up an additional dye fixative. 

The process for dying a gi isn’t all that difficult.  Typically, you wash the gi so that it’s clean and there are no oils in it.  I usually use the commercial stuff that Dharma Trading sells.  Then you use a buttload of non-iodized salt, easily purchased for next to nothing at Costco, and mix that into the appropriate amount of water.  I use a big 20 gallon tub also easily found.  I got mine at Fred Meyer’s for about $5.  After the salt is completely absorbed into the water, you mix in the appropriate amount of dye.  It’s a good idea to mix is completely in a small amount of water so you don’t end up with lumpy dye.  That would be bad news.  And finally, you drop in the gi.  Well, place it gently in so you don’t splash. 

Then… you find a kid between the ages of 10 and 13 and say, “Hey, bud.  You busy?  Wanna help me dye a gi?  It’s really cool!”  When they say yes, you give them a stick and have them swirl the gi around for 30 minutes.  It’s…  well, it’s not actually very cool at all, but they don’t realize it until about 15 minutes in.  Hopefully, though, they’re committed, because the next step is soda ash.  This is actually the part that makes the dye permanent in most cases.  And this part takes like an hour.  This is where that kid you found will really start to realize that he or she got really screwed. 

Usually, this is pretty much it.  As I said, I’m adding the additional step of using a commercial dye fixative for the purple gi, then wash it a few times to make sure that any excess dye is gone and that’s it.

Now, as for actual Jiu Jitsu, I had a good class.  We worked on the flower sweep and a variation, did some positional sparring from guard (one person sweeps, the other tries to pass).  After which Coach seemed a little irritated that some people were reluctant to open their guard.  I was drilling with Scott, a pretty big white belt, and really worked on opening up my guard, trying to get the de la riva hook in.  My guard got passed a few times, but I’m not too worried about it.

Sparring was good.  I had a ring, so I got plenty of matches.  Scott, a technical purple belt, showed me some tips for de la riva guard, as well as a really interesting thing I’d never heard before.  He said that whenever someone moves to a combat base position, with on knee up, or even standing sometimes, he’ll actually move up and sit on that foot, working his de la riva hook and his grips from there.  I tried it a few times after and, while it seems weird and counterintuitive, it kind of jams up any guard pass attempts, and also gives me a lot of options for sweeps.  I’m going to mess around with that for a while and see what I can do.

Next class should be Wednesday. 

Nov 152009

Class was really good on Friday.  After a light warm-up we worked on handling grips when trying to pass guard.  Specifically, strategies for dealing with the standard, cross collar grip. 

After this, the class split up with white belts on one side and blue belts and up on the other, and we sparred like that for a bit.  Then in the last half hour, we sparred as usual.  I got a lot of matches, including one with Coach Foster which was awesome, and a good mix of white belts and upper belts.

As much as possible, I started from Turtle and worked to get back to guard.  I was able to get the ninja roll back to guard a few times (that is, roll back to guard as shown in my last post).  I also had some success working for the single leg.  Bing gave me a valuable tip for getting back to guard when someone is sprawled more toward north/south.  I’m always looking to defend the d’arce or the guillotine form here.

A new female came in to roll yesterday.  She’s a blue belt who hasn’t trained in about a year, she said.  My first impression is that she is nice and will be a great addition to the crew if she sticks around.  We have several women who train with us, but most are pretty new.  Amy is a purple belt, but she hasn’t been training regularly in a while, so I believe it will be really cool for the female white belts to have a colored belt around.

I got a chance to roll with her and she seems competent.  So I crushed her.  I used my weight and strength to take advantage of her mat rust and totally pwned her.  Of course, I’m kidding.  I pulled guard and worked to stay open and loose.  She was a constant threat to pass.  Basically,I spent the entire time getting her in my open guard,  working to get a de la riva hook or spider guard, where I’d pretty much get passed right away, shrimping back to regain my half guard, rinse and repeat.  It was a good roll for me, and a different attack than I’m used to. 

I’m looking forward to class tomorrow.

Nov 052009

Last hard class before the tournament. My weight’s fine, and at this point I’m trying to go into the tournament as confident as I can. I weighed 185 this morning, so I shouldn’t have any trouble making the weight. It wasn’t like I had to drop a lot… just a couple of pounds. No beer, no candy and an eye toward lean protein and I’m in good shape, weight wise.

I worked hard at class yesterday. Bing took us through a pretty good warmup, and then got us right into sparring. We started the first half hour standing and then the second half hour from the ground.

I got my ass handed to me by both Josh and Bing, but feel pretty good about my other matches. I think I’ll be okay in the tournament if I just stay calm and work my game.

Tonight’s family night. I think the Transformer’s sequel came in Netflix yesterday, so we’ll watch that. Weigh ins are up in Tukwilla tomorrow evening and then Saturday is the Revolution Tournament.

Oh, and Saturday night, win or lose, I’m drinking a beer and a medium rare ribeye.

Quick Update

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Oct 142009

I’m looking forward to going to class tonight, and as you may or may not see (depending upon whether you’re reading this via the RSS feed or actually on the website), I’m settling into my new virtual home here on WordPress.  There are some details here and there that need to be fixed up.  For example, the graphics haven’t been sized quite right… just sort of thrown in there.  And the “about me” page says nothing at all about me.  Of course, that may be a positive thing.

All that said, there are some little details that I haven’t yet figured out.  First, does anyone have any blogroll tips?  On Blogger, it was relatively easy to tie the blogroll to my RSS subscriptions.  I love that.  Second, are there any plugins you guys think I can’t live without?  I’ve installed a few over the last few days, but I’m sure there are some that I need… I just don’t know it yet.

My back is feeling pretty good right now and better every day.  The birds are chirping.  The sun is… well, shining somewhere.  All in all, I’m feeling pretty good.  Now, in a few hours when the lithium wears off, I might be singing a different tune. 

Just… kidding about the lithium. 

I worked out with my bud, Elena, yesterday.  It’s really been helping me to get some mat time in outside of class.  Elena and I are pretty similar in that we’re both coming into BJJ later in our adult lives.  We’re also both visual learners.  It seems that most people who are naturals at BJJ are kinetic learners.   That is to say that they learn by doing.  I learn by watching.  I have to see something, to be able to recreate it in my mind before my body can figure it out.  Now, this isn’t to say that “hands on” is unimportant to me.  Rather, I get nothing out of the “hands on” UNLESS my brain has first wrapped itself around the technique.  I can do something 100 times, but if I don’t understand it, it gets flushed from the memory banks as soon as I’m done.  Elena is much the same way.  So, we go slow, working through techniques without any pressure to do them quickly.   It seems to help her, because I can answer many of her basic questions, filling in details that she’s forgotten about the fundamentals.  It really helps me because she’s at a point where I can focus on using as little strength as possible and really zero in on clean technique, particularly those techniques that are somewhat new to me. 

Mustaches vs Cancer is going well.  I want to thank again everyone who’s checked out the website, particularly those of you who have (or who intend to) sponsor my mustache by making a donation to the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center pediatric department.

Jul 012009

Or, in other words, “Dude, your gi reeks.” This is a public service announcement.

My wife does the lion’s share of laundry in our house, but I wash my BJJ gear. A very basic question that I hear a lot has to do with how to care for the gi. Most gis will come with manufacturer recommendations, and of course, you will seldom go wrong to follow them. That said, they are typically along the lines of washing cold and line drying, along with never using bleach. While I agree 100% about not using bleach, the rest is at least debatable.

In BJJ, we sweat as much or more than any other style of martial art, and there are a lot of reasons why. We work really hard. Although that’s not unique to BJJ, it’s one reason. Another is that, because grappling is rigorous, the BJJ kimono tends to be well constructed of a thick, durable weave. A heavy weight Karate Gi is often around 12 oz, which is about where the student grade BJJ gi starts.

In recent years, strong but lightweight BJJ kimonos are coming onto the market. The Gameness Pearl, Koral’s Competition Light gi, and most recently, the ShoYoRoll Super-Lite are just a few notable examples. This new type of gi is much lighter at about 3.5 to 4 lbs, easier to wash and definitely more comfortable on the mats.

So, what follows are 10 tips I’d like to share. I promise that you’ll be the best dressed kid at the county fair jamboree if you follow them:

1: While it hopefully goes without saying, you need to wash your gi every single time you roll. It’s just the right thing to do for everyone involved. If you are doubling up on a day, going to the morning class and the afternoon class, don’t wear the same gi. Take a shower, too, while you’re at it.

2: Don’t overload your washer. In your washer, three things contribute to cleaning your clothes: water temperature, soap and agitation. If you cram the washer full, there will be very little agitation and your clothes won’t get clean. There is a temptation to wash as many things as possible in a washer. Most top loaders are good for one heavyweight gi or maybe two lightweight gis. I have a high-capacity front loader and find that more than two gis plus the rash guard and such is about the cap. So, if your gis don’t smell good after your wash, it’s possible that you’re trying to be too efficient and your washer’s just not up to it.

3: Try White Vinegar instead of bleach: This is particularly great if you’re line drying, but is good for killing odors without weakening the fabric. Bleach will make your gi stiff and will dramatically shorten its life by weakening the fabric. Vinegar, on the other hand, will help eliminate odors without destroying the fabric in the process. A 5% solution of vinegar and water is also a natural, non-toxic antiseptic that will kill 99% of germs. So, try adding white vinegar to the bleach bin of your washing machine instead of bleach (1/4 cup to 1 cup, depending on the size of the load).

White vinegar is also safe for colors, if anything, helping to set them instead of making them fade, with the added benefit of helping prevent pit stains and yellowing in a white gi.

When you line dry, does your BJJ gi feel like it could stand up on its own? Made of cardboard? That stiffness is from residual soap. Vinegar added to the final rinse helps get the soap out, so you don’t end up with cardboard when you’re done.

4: Baking Soda or Borax for acidic odors: Vinegar is an acid, and tip 3 will only work if we’re talking about bacteria. If you find that an odor isn’t responding to vinegar, try baking soda or borax (or combining the two) added to your wash instead of the vinegar.

5: The Sun kills bacteria naturally. If you’re line drying in Brazil (or some other place that’s sunny and warm) you’re probably okay. Here in Seattle, line drying indoors and not taking any other steps to eliminate bacteria is a recipe for disaster… or at least funk.

6: Dry your gis completely before wearing them. Another common cause of funk is to wash the gi then wear it before it’s completely dry. Moisture is an environment that bacteria enjoy, and if you never allow your kimonos to dry completely, you’re probably harboring plenty of funky bacteria. This means if you’re line drying, you should plan ahead and give them plenty of time to dry. Also, see tip 9.

7: Heat kills bacteria. While it’s true that washing in cold water and line drying will extend the life of your gi, it’s not THAT bad. It’s not like washing and drying your kimono will cause it to fall apart in months (although bleaching it definitely will destroy it fast).

Cotton often shrinks, but there is a limit to how much. It’s not like your gi will continue to shrink forever until it looks like a kid sized gi. I wash and dry all of my gis, occasionally on the super-hot, Sunny side of Mercury setting (which basically heats the water up to 180F and dries it for like 90 minutes). Almost all of them have shrunk to one degree or another, but getting to know what sizes to wear, and buying the gis accordingly accounts for this. Also, washing your gi a few times super hot will help it reach that terminal size faster. Or said another way, washing it in warm water over several washings is just prolonging the shrinking process. It will still shrink… just not as quickly.

The first thing I do when I get a new gi is to try it on. If it’s pre-shrunk, great. I still expect a little shrinkage, but not that much. If it’s not pre-shrunk, I expect the sleeves and pants to shrink up a few inches, at least. Either way, if the fit is what I expect, I wash it at least twice on hot, drying it completely both times before wearing it. That way, I’m reasonably sure that it’s not going to shrink much more over the life of the gi.

8: Wash your belt. There is no such thing as a fuzzy belt in BJJ. If your belt is attempting to submit your opponents, I’m talking to you.

I’ve heard two main reasons for not washing one’s belt. The first is superstition. The second is that, in BJJ our stripes tend to be athletic tape. Washing the belt might literally wash off the stripes. This isn’t a huge deal, but one way or the other, your belt will get funky if you don’t clean it.

If you don’t want to wash it in the machine, use a disinfectant spray. Odoban works pretty well, and is available in bulk at Costco. Febreze also works pretty well. You can also make a 5% solution of white vinegar and just allow it to dry completely. The vinegar smell will fade away as the fabric dries.

9: Own multiple Kimonos: BJJ is a relatively inexpensive hobby. Sure, you can go nuts buying books and DVDs, but outside of competition fees and school tuition, what do we really have to buy? So, indulge yourself. If you’ve been training consistently for 6 months or more and still own only one gi, go nuts. Buy another one. Live a little. The Gameness Pearl is a great gi that can be purchased for under $100. Padilla & Sons (detrailed review can be found here) and HCK also have high quality gis available at a great price. You don’t have to spend $150 or more to get a nice gi… although they are great if you can afford them. Ebay is also a pretty good place to find nice gis that are either brand new or close to it at a great discount.

Bottom line, owning multiple gis isn’t something I consider to be a luxury. If you train multiple times each week and are serious at all about it, do yourself a favor and own at least two gis.

10: If all else fails, try washing your washer. This is particularly true for the front loaders, where a small amount of water tends to remain in the basin between washes. Some things you can do to disinfect your washer include running an empty cycle with hot water, soap and bleach. Or I would recommend hot water and about 3 cups of white vinegar. If you have a front loader, leave the door open between washes to allow it to dry out. The front loaders are air tight, and leaving the door closed will promote the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew.

If you have any other laundry tips for martial artists, email me or post them in the comments section.