Friday, March 29, 2013

End of March

End of March? Really? Huh. How did that happen?

This month, I've had fairly steady training. I got some more tattoo work done in the middle of the month, so I had to take a week off there; but aside from that, it's been a steady three-a-week. Sadly, Sunday mornings have fallen apart. The space we were using got leased out, and I'm still looking for a new place to get people together.

Life as a four-stripe blue belt is kind of strange. As would be expected, I place probably excessive expectations on myself, wanting to be to white and blue belts what brown belts are to me. Realistically, I still don't have the ideal training partner setup. I don't have a slew of people to actively drill things on, I don't have a handful of people to battle with on a regular basis....if I want it, I have a few people to just thump me and thrash me all over the mats, so that part is covered. And if I'm honest with myself, part of it is probably that I'm not disciplined enough to 1) recognize what I need in my training at a particular moment, and B) do only those things instead of keeping myself entertained all the time. I know it's a balancing act, but I'm not good at "eating my greens" on the mat.

Klint wants me to compete a few times this year, and as usual, he's most likely right. It will be valuable to get some more experience, and I need to compete without pulling guard at least once. If I intend to keep improving, I need to put myself in uncomfortable positions under pressure, not just while training. My last competition was just straight-up bad. It would be good to vindicate that, so long as I stay true to the utilitarian philosophy rather than the competition mindset. Jumping guard isn't a self-defense strategy, it's a competition strategy. Takedown, pass guard, mount, submit; or, if taken down, either submit or sweep, pass guard, mount, submit.

I watched some of the matches from the Pans. Nothing really jumped out at me; of course the athleticism and technique of the top black belts was impressive, but it's still winning by points and advantages. I didn't see anyone out there hunting for the finish at the possible expense of positional security. And that is what makes jiu jitsu entertaining to watch. Thankfully, another Metamoris event is coming up in May. I hope they get some good matches, because the last one totally lived up and set the stage for future events.

This has been a pretty rambling post; I have the NCAA tournament on in the background, and I'm pretty damned tired, so my concentration and drive are noticeably lacking. I trust you'll be lenient in your criticism.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013


It's late, and work demands my attention. I still went to class tonight, and I have been for the last few weeks. Which is good. Because if you keep going, eventually you stop sucking.

Friday, February 1, 2013


Of course, once I decide to re-commit to this, I tweak some cartilage in my ribs the following night while training.  Which is awesome.

So now I have an upcoming belt exam, and I can't really train properly. A mentor of mine is telling me to take some time off (as is Klint, to be fair) and let it heal....but as anyone who has met me can tell rather quickly, patience is not my long suit. I've broken out the stim unit and I'm using that every few hours. Though I'm fairly uneducated with it and I have no real idea where to place the contacts so that it shocks the correct place in my ribs. Does that stop me? Of course not. Trial and error. We'll see whether I go to class tomorrow, and if I do, whether I do anything there or just sit there staring like some lost puppy wishing I could be on the mats.

On a separate track:  I have learned very quickly and effectively in the last few months how small and close-knit the American jiu jitsu community is. A training partner of mine told me he was moving down to Austin, TX, and asked if I knew anything about jiu jitsu academies down there. I, of course, do not, but the ever-knowledgable (and fellow legal professional) Georgette Oden knows all about Texan jiu jitsu, so I sent Kyle her way. A week or so later, Georgette messages me to tell me she met Kyle at class and was more than happy to help him find a new home academy. Then Bear Quitugua, Shoyoroll's president/founder/CEO/etc added me to a Jiu-Jitsu/Craft-Beer Crew group on facebook, which also has a handful of other Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu students on it. I may or may not be the only midwestern representative, but I'm sure that won't last.

So I'm apparently out of training for at least tomorrow, and possibly a bit longer.  I won't be able to train properly (i.e., full resistance) for quite some time, I'm sure.  But I'll be drilling and working back to it slowly.  I hate injuries.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

No, Really, I'm Still Here

I'll note at the beginning---as I'm sure I have in the last several posts on this space---that I have been absent for too long.  Absent from blogging, that is.  I've maintained a consistent training schedule throughout, but with my job, my wife, our son, said training, and the rest of the obligations that come along with those priorities, some things had to give.  Among those things was this chronicle.  I will work to keep gaps like those that have plagued this space for the last year to a minimum.  I have several reasons for that, both professional and community-oriented.  Suffice it to say, this gives me an opportunity to do more than simply remember jiu jitsu allows me to combine important goals.

As I said above, I've been fortunate to maintain a consistent training schedule.  I get to train and roll no less than three times a week.  And usually no more than four.  I would like more, my wife and son would appreciate less, and so this is that middle part of the venn diagram.  So this is how much training fits in my life right now.

This seems as good a time as any to revisit my stated goals of 2013.

1)  Keep Training.  [Check]

2)  Compete at least once, hopefully twice.  [Check]  I competed at the IBJJF Chicago Summer Open in August and completely shat the bed.  I went in hoping to work a little bit on my feet rather than jump to a guard position that I would feel comfortable in.  I kept telling myself that it wasn't about whether I won, but about how to show that my jiu jitsu is improving and my comfort level in challenging areas that I normally avoid---like takedowns.  So the match started, I grip fought for roughly 9.2 seconds, then grabbed his lapel and sat to open guard.  Exactly as planned.  Really, what happened after that didn't matter.  I didn't have the discipline to do what I said I was going to do.  All the same, my opponent ended up choking me in around 2 minutes.  So really, bang on job there.  It doesn't matter how many times you tell yourself that it's like a hard day training at the academy, competing is different.  And I maintain that I don't particularly like it.  I still pile on the pressure whether it's needed or not.  Not only is it unnecessary, it's unfair to myself.  I don't have time to train six times a week, and I don't have the training partners and resources that a lot of other guys have.  That being said (and it sounds like sour grapes even as I type it), I am confident that I could beat that guy in an academy.  Still, his hand got raised, and I went quickly to find good beer.

3)  Train outside of Minnesota.  [Check]  At Christmas, I trained at a Carlson Gracie academy in Aurora, IL.  Twice.  It wasn't a ton of training, and I didn't get to train with a lot of guys who could beat me down, but it was training away from home, which demands a different kind of etiquette and awareness.  Because no matter how technical you're being, it doesn't do any good to rough up someone while you're visiting their academy.  You're outnumbered, and you're at a place where they train how to hurt people.  Best to release a triangle when they put their knee on your jaw rather than to squeeze until they're unconscious and then pose like Ali.  Just sayin'.

4)  Work my weak positions.  [Check]  I've been focusing on my passing for the last four months straight.  I'm not a nice passer, nor am I good at it.  But I'm better than I was and I'm more comfortable on top.

5)  Work the Belt.  [God I Hope Check]  I have three stripes on my blue right now, and I'm testing for my fourth stripe sometime next month.  I am asked surprisingly often when I think I'll get my purple belt, and I always give the same answer:  When my instructor thinks that I've earned it.

Also this past year, I've begun two friends on their own jiu jitsu journey, which is wonderfully fulfilling.  I've gotten to train with both of them a few times; one lives in Ohio and another trains at another academy in town, so unfortunately we're not training partners.  They seem to have gotten the bug, and that pleases me.


A lot has gone on in the jiu jitsu community in the last year, let alone in the last month.  I'm not sure exactly what kind of position I want this blog to occupy in that discussion.  I've noticed that since I started this blog, my posting frequency has somewhat mirrored my internal approach to jiu jitsu----when I needed to focus more on my own individual goals and improvements without looking for external approval or approbation, posting declined.  When it was time to focus on the community, my training partners, and look for ideas from the outside, posting increased.  I don't know if that's something that other writers have noticed, but I found it interesting enough to merit a mention.  I suppose that soon I'll have a new list of goals for the year, and possibly some personal takes on issues in jiu jitsu as a whole.  I'll admit, though, your guess is as good as mine as to what those will look like.

Right.  That's all for now.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Present and Accounted For

Yeah I got my third stripe on my blue belt this past weekend.  At least I think it was this past weekend. It was a Saturday.  And I followed it up with an Oktoberfest.  So it had to be this past weekend.

The academy is still small, but it allows us semi-privates for every class, so I'm not complaining.

I got my wife's cousin into jiu jitsu, but he's out in Ohio, so I don't really get to reap the training benefits of that one too often.  Though it did give us an out to go train at a place in Denver during a family reunion.  That was slick.

I also got another friend to start training.  He has one stripe on his white right now, so that will begin paying off soon.  Hopefully by the time he gets his blue, I'll have something resembling a top game.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tale of Two Cities

Ok, so this has been banging around in my head for quite some time.  I don't know whether it's actually going to amount to anything, but here we go.

I read an article on about what it takes to be an elite level athlete written by Tom Kelso.  As I understand his thesis, it's: "Be genetically gifted, stay healthy, refine your skills, become mentally sound, hope for good luck."  I read this, and I immediately contrasted it with Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker from a few years ago, which summarizes the recipe for success as:  "Work hard and put in your time."  These two conclusions seem to be at odds.  And personally, while instinctively I side with the former, I hope the latter to hold more truth.

Kelso's conclusion favors the inherently talented, the ones who made varsity their freshman year without trying that hard.  Kobe Bryant, LeBron James.  Brock Lesnar.  Gladwell's favors the dedicated, those who kept coming to practice despite failure.  Michael Jordan*, Jeremy Lin.  Felipe Costa.  And yes, these are gross generalizations that may not be entirely accurate, but I think you take my point.

What's more inspiring---the top-dog winning as he was always expected to, or seeing someone who has been undervalued because he didn't fit the standard aesthetic ideal gritting his way through to victory?  More and more, this distinction between Kelso and Gladwell is becoming a nullity---look at the guys who consistently win at the big jiu jitsu tournaments.  Gone are the days when BJ Penn can train for three years and take black belt world championship gold home.  Now you have to train six days a week, at least tice a day, with strength and conditioning mixed in.  If you're really dedicated, you'll cross-train judo and wrestling.

I take this a an acceptance by the general public that Gladwell wins out.  Or at least, that Gladwell's conclusion is more right than Kelso's.  It might be that we all take solace in the idea that we could indeed be world champions if we didn't have work and family and money and everything else standing between us and what we think we want to do.

But really, it has more to do with realizing my potential than with making excuses.  I know that as it stands now, I will not be a black belt world champion in 4 years because I have other priorities in life.  I have a career, and I have aspirations outside jiu jitsu, and I have responsibilities besides.  What Gladwell's opinion allows me to do is to commit to working hard despite those "drawbacks" and still get the best out of what time I have.  Still drill before and after class, still roll with friends who can help me improve, find ways to condition off the mat so that when I'm on it, I'm not sucking wind in five minutes.  (Although there is no way to build grappling conditioning better than grappling.  So I have to figure out how to make this one work.)  Because if you commit to the full-court press, you don't have to be as good as your opponents; you just have to be willing to work harder than them every second of the game.  Doesn't sound that hard.

* -- Yes, I understand the irony in labeling Michael Jordan as an untalented hack, especially having lived in the Chicago suburbs during the 1990s.  The fact remains, he's likely the most successful basketball player who didn't make varsity his sophomore year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Still Here

Yes it's been a month since my last post.  Them's the breaks.

Fatherhood is weird.  It's good and everything, but there's this small person who never leaves and can't do basic things like, you know, eat on his own.  Or speak.  But it's good.  He's wonderful, and his mother is a saint who lets her husband go to jiu jitsu three times a week.  It's phenomenal.

Training----training is very different from what it was in the fall.  We still cannot get a steady group of guys to come to class.  It's alright, as Klint does things other than instruct for his living.  [That part, actually, is great; that means that we know he's there because he wants to be.]  But it is always frustrating in that we always training with the same three or four people and aren't getting looks at different styles all the time.  And as lucky as I am to have my main training partner be a black belt, it is pretty hard on my ego to be unable to see my game develop because he's always taking it up the next step to keep me working harder.  And then when I'm up against the rest of the guys, the lower blue belts and white belts, I'm so excited to be the hammer instead of the nail for once that I don't take the opportunity to work into and out of different positions.  So really, it's me being stupid.

A few weeks ago, Klint turned Saturdays into no-gi.  So we train in the gi Mondays and Wednesdays, and make use of our rashguards on Saturdays.  This Saturday, for once, we had a class full of higher belts.  There was one teenage orange belt, one high white belt, myself [2-stripe blue], two purple belts, two brown belts, and two black belts.  And I got to train with all of them.

Jared, the non-Klint black belt, is a freak.  He is simply unreal.  He kills hooks before you can place them, he gets to side control before you realize he's passing, he uses only as much energy as is strictly required, and makes you use much, much more.  So I got throttled by him for a while.  And I felt like I could do nothing, like I was just flailing and donkey-kicking out of fear.  And when we finished, he was very complimentary.  He asked if I like no-gi, and I have to say that I don't particularly.  I feel like I am just uncontrolled and all muscle.  But apparently, I'm the only one; Klint even texted me later to say that Jared was impressed.  Andy was watching and said I did much better than he was expecting.  I don't know how to take that, so I just say thanks and move along.

I also got to train with Tony [purple] and Gina [brown] during class, working on guard retention and recovery, and then with Jeremy [purple] and Casey [brown] after class, working on---well, just working on training, I guess.  Some strikes, some gutters, a few uncomfortable positions later, and I was suddenly late to get home for a thing.  As I left, Klint and Jared and Casey and Jeremy were going over positions and techniques, and I wanted just to stay for the next two hours and keep learning.  But family.  You know.