Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Still Fighting It

It's going to be a short post....I've trained every day this week, which is a bump up for me.  Tonight we worked far-side armbars from side control again, including the wrist-wrap from last night.  This is probably my favorite new technique from the last month; this and the rolling back take could really turn into something.

I got to roll with Brady after class for a while, and that was entertaining.  He's a mongoose on speed with the second-best curled mustache I've seen.  He isn't the fastest or the most precise, but he's damned good.  I didn't get tapped, so I have that going for me.  But let's balance the scales:  I couldn't pass his guard, I struggled (with varying levels of success) to maintain posture, I got stuck on my knees more than once, and felt more like I was maintaining rather than attacking.

Again:  advances, none miraculous.  Just keep pushing to get mat time.  I'm wrecked right now, and need the sleep so I can go get some more time in tomorrow.  No rest for the wicked.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


I had familial obligations last night, so I went to train across town in the morning.  The technique was a spider guard sweep to a leg loop sweep.  The spider guard sweep was new to me, but the leg loop is basically the same thing that Klint teaches except with a slightly different way to come on top.

I spent a lot of time training afterwards.  I felt like I had the kind of day that keeps bringing you back to get hurt some more.  Rolled with a two-stripe white (roughly my size), and felt great.  We alternated starting in each other's guard, and I felt in control and aware the whole time.  After that, I helped Greg warm up and we rolled a little bit.  He was late, so he didn't participate in class.  After a little while, we fell into conference mode.  We got stuck discussing the bow-and-arrow choke, talking about the preferred way to shoot a triangle (trying to cut the angle while you shoot the triangle, or making it a separate step), and I showed him what we went over in class.

I finally got a chance to roll with Master Worley.  He was Klint's tae kwon do instructor back (back back back) in the day, multiple time world champion, and now a purple belt under Damian.  I was very happy with how that roll went.  I don't remember how we started--I imagine I pulled guard, and worked for a sweep, I don't really remember--but eventually, I ended up on top in his half guard and proceeded to mount.  Once there, I was actually able to keep it.  At one point, I was on bottom, got to my knees and wrestled him onto the bottom.  I did a handful of things that I've been consciously working on and trying to better integrate into my game.  So that was encouraging.  I also rolled with someone new, a blue who caught me with a kimura from the bottom of half guard.  Which brought me back to reality.

Jeremy gave me an assignment--to define my BJJ game/style.  If someone were to watch me roll, how would they define my game/style?  I am having difficulty with this because  I've never had a reputation as a particularly self-aware person.  I feel like I'm still learning how to move my arms and legs at the same time.  One thing that I hope I am when rolling is deliberate, but I don't know that anyone would describe my game as "deliberate."  I'm not explosive (Jeremy is dynamite in a gi thanks to years of wrestling), nor am I supremely efficient (Damian does not waste a single movement).  I'm not lightning (Dave), I'm not exact (Klint), I'm not analytical nor crushing nor heavy nor suffocating.  This doesn't mean that I am never any of these things, only that I would not use them to describe the essence of my game.  At this point, I'm pretty thrilled that my game is not spastic.  (Though, to be fair, there are times when it can be.)  I guess right now, I would call my game wiry.  I have long limbs, and try to use that to my advantage at every opportunity. .... This is a much harder task than I thought it would be.  If I could watch myself roll for a while and not get wrapped up in what I didn't do in a particular situation, it might be easier.  But really, this is now a larger assignment about which to think for a few days before returning to elaborate further.  In other words, I really don't know, but I'll get back to you. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Holiday Hiatus

I'm in my hometown, visiting family.  I trained Monday night before we rolled out Tuesday morning.  We worked on triangle entries from a few different positions.  Klint said that the focus of the week was going to be triangles.  I regretted immediately that I was going to me gone all week.  Triangles are natural for my legs to snap on.  I was planning on having a no-gi session with my oldest friend who is a police officer and has been training MMA for (I think) two years.  Sadly, he took ill and canceled on me.

So I'll miss training for a week.  But that makes me hungrier and I'm dying for some mat time.

Still, it's holiday time.  Enjoy your family (however extended and blood-related), enjoy your loved ones, and I'll see you on the mats early next week.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

On Toughness

"I see in Fight Club the strongest and smartest men who have ever lived.  I see all this potential, and I see it squandered.  And entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars.  Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy stuff we don't need.  We're the middle children of history; no purpose or place.  We have no Great War, no Great Depression.  Our Great War is a spiritual war.  Our Great Depression is our lives.  We've all been raised by television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars.  But we won't; and we're slowly learning that fact.  And we're very, very pissed off."  --  FIGHT CLUB, by Chuck Palahniuk

Are we tougher because we do jiu jitsu?  Or is it the other way around?

My jiu jitsu confuses my friends, especially my law school colleagues.  I am not particularly imposing or menacing.  6'1" or so, 185 lbs, bearded (with noticeable no-grow zones), hairline routed like Napoleon.  And once people hear about my love of armbars and chokes, the difference between a choke and a strangle---their perception of me changes.  I get a lot of strange looks, as though I've joined a public FIGHT CLUB, where we go and beat the shit out of each other but are free to talk about it.  Of course, that isn't what happens.  We train techniques, we respect our training partners.  Our main goal is not merely to win; it is to improve, to become more efficient, more effective.

We still can't deny that this is a high-contact activity.  Every one of us has the elbowed-in-the-face stories.  "His arm came right over the top and I caught his forearm with my chin."  "We scrambled and his elbow hit me right below my eye."  "He was going for a pass and his knee dropped right on my sternum."  "His ankle clipped me just above his eye; I needed eight stitches."  Broken nose.  Tweaked knee.  Black eyes.  Fat lip.  Cuts on our faces and hands.  Misshapen fingers.  It took six months of consistent training, but I even got an x-ray to check my neck and back.

A friend of mine just popped his elbow, hyperextended it because he is pretty green and didn't want to tap to an armbar.  He's young and hungry, and he'll heal pretty quickly.  The best part, though, isn't that he'll heal and learn from the experience.  It happened on Monday--he went to the E.R. and they told him to take six weeks off.  Thursday, he was back in his gi and on the mat, clutching his collar to keep his arm from straightening.  He couldn't do half of the techniques we drilled, and he wasn't able to stay after and train because it just isn't practical.  But he was there, and he was working to learn.

A law professor of mine saw my resume (BJJ is one of my "Other Interests;" figured it would be a great conversation starter) and told me that he used to train MMA and had a purple belt in BJJ when he was working for a law firm in Madison.  I was more than a little surprised.  This is probably one of the nicest, least confrontational people I've met in law school.  He would come in with bruises and black eyes and tender joints.  But he went to work every day, wrote briefs and did document review, then trained at night.  Georgette does the same thing.  And everyone at work (I imagine the same is true with Georgette) would see Mark as the tough guy.

Is it the cosmetic damage that makes people see us as tough?  Is it the drive to train despite substantial injury?  I've known people to train through torn intercostal muscles, broken wrists (casted up, no less), sprains, torn meniscuses (menisci?), chronic back injuries, you name it.  I told my wife about how Klint injured his wrist early in his training, and for the next two months, he left his hand in his belt and developed his guard without the use of one of his hands.  He also was back training only a week after knee surgery, monitoring himself and limiting his movement so as not to aggravate his injury and still develop the rest of his game.  She said that these probably helped him improve faster and in a way that having full faculty of his hands and leg would not, but then promptly told me that I would never be allowed to do such a thing.

I admit that toughness helps in training.  It helps you get through tough positions, allows you to focus through physical distraction.  But I don't know whether toughness is a prerequisite for training jiu jitsu, or whether it is a results of training.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Subtle Differences

...if by subtle you mean obvious.

I went to Damian's class yesterday morning.  Damian is another of Dave's black belts in Minnesota.  He and Klint have trained together since they were white belts.  (His is the school linked through the "Jiu Jitsu * CrossFit" image on the sidebar.)  Where Klint's build is that of a shortstop, Damian's is a rugby hooker or prop--he is wide and full of muscle.  Ed once said that there is a reason Damian chose a bull as his logo.  He is offering seminars over the next few months, inviting anyone who wants to attend from any school.  It's a voluntary donation setup, and all proceeds go towards the Children's Heart Foundation, helping newborns with heart complications.

The focus of the seminar was guard passing.  "Smashing the Guard:  Using Weight and Pressure to Pass Guard."  Because of his body type, his game is much more about constant pressure than Klint's.  The amount of attention that we paid to our hips and using them or just about every movement surprised me a little bit.  Not a lot--I mean, I may be a white belt, but I know the importance of the hips.  OK, "know" might be a strong word.  I am aware that the hips are very very important, even if I am unable to use them effectively.  We spent a lot of time on the concept of floating on our opponent, using gravity and balance to keep pressure on them.

About 30 people attended.  I don't know exactly how many came from other schools, but I think at least 5-8.  After, we had time to train.  I worked with Tim, Greg, and Brady (purple, blue, and purple).  It was not my best day.  I don't think it was bad enough to embarrass my grandmother, but it was at least enough to make her grit her teeth.  Tim strapped on at least 5 bow and arrow chokes before tiring of me.  I wish I could say I put up a valiant fight.  He was working his game, and I was apparently acting as his dummy.  Greg and I were closer, but I still was not on my game.  A few things worked, but more and more I kept realizing I was in a shit position about half a second before I lost it and ended up worse.  I did a few things right---got to his back once, pretty sure I found an armbar at some point.  I was getting pretty tired and thus pretty sloppy.  He was getting me much better than I him.  And Brady---the forty pounds I have on him matter less and less with every roll.  And his purple belt is fitting better and better. He was very complimentary to Andy and I, saying that each time he trains with us he notices serious improvement; that he'll sit and thin, "I'll just see what they do here" and we'll take the out he's left us and he has to adjust quickly to get back to safety.  It isn't cold comfort--it is always good to hear that what progress I notice is not entirely in my own head.  I will say, though, that I did not feel like I represented Klint and his academy well today.

Dave says that not every day of training will be easy.  Training today was on the "hard" side of the ledger.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I was late to class.  I contend it wasn't entirely my fault; my wife had a work thing, and the roads are still a bit shit from the mess of a snowstorm last weekend.  All the same, I showed up about 10 or 15 minutes late.  It was a small class--just new Jeremy and Zach--so I stretched while they went over the basic threads. Then we worked open guard again, foot placement, and counters to the stack pass.

Worked with Klint afterwards again.  I can tell he's taking it to me a bit harder each time, and I feel like I'm somewhere in the vicinity of keeping up.  By "keeping up," I want to make clear that I am not in any way able to match my black belt instructor's technique, pace, smoothness, or general ability.  What I mean to say is, it seems like I keep getting walloped by the same margin.  And if I'm right--if he is indeed increasing his pressure and pushing me harder each time--then the rules of logic and math mean that I have to be improving.  It doesn't really feel like it.  I still feel most comfortable on my back (the worst position to have in a self-defense situation), and my body seems to be stuck in jell-o when I move to shoot or try snaking my opponent's leg to reverse positions.  My top game feels decent, though I have almost no opportunity to use it against Klint, and even then he just elevates me and puts me back in guard.

I have my last final of the semester this evening.  This pleases me to no end.  And yes, I trained the night before my last final.  If I hadn't, I would be in a bad place right now.  This probably means that I'll have a bit more time to put into my posts.  And I'll be able to finish that thing I've been working on.

Monday, December 13, 2010

I Don't Plan

Pleasant surprise tonight:  Kyle showed up.  And sporting a respectable beard, no less.  Haven't seen him for four months, I'd legitimately thought he had stopped training.  So it was great to see him walk in.  Class full of eight white belts:  Neal, Jon, Zach, Andy, Eric, Kyle, John, and myself.  We worked on a Russian Tie control to arm drag take down, and then regaining open guard and a new escape from side control.

Of course, when it became time to try these techniques in rolling, I think I reverted back to what I already knew.  Because on occasion, I am a bad student.  But this was good.  I need practice this so that eventually I will reach instinctively for grips and stabilize my position if I'm playing open guard.

I rolled with Kyle for a while after class, and later with Eric.  It felt great to spend some serious time on the mat.  When the rest were spent, Andy and I worked for a little bit and then he let me drill a few positions.  I tried the rolling back take again, but I was going something wrong because it was semi-tweaking my ankle.  So I have some homework to do, see what I am either a) forgetting to do, or 2) doing very very poorly (which is honestly more likely).

Jiu jitsu has become my sanctuary.  It is where I can go and shed the rest of the world for a few hours.  Some people have religion.  Some have knitting, or homebrewing, or reading.  I now have strangling and joint-locking.  It has improved my diet, seriously boosed my fitness, made me more aware of my movement and posture, and eaten up every last shred of free time I didn't have to begin with.  Finals finish this week, so I'll have more time to finish and polish something that I want to post here by the end of the week.  Until then, I'll try to get to class tomorrow night (providing I am efficient in studying during the day) and then Thursday.  Damian's seminar has moved to this coming Saturday (because last was a shitshow of a snowstorm), so I'll do that as well.  Smashing the guard---exactly what I need.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The Mat Is Still Open

Open mat tonight was very sparsely attended.  It was me, Matty (one stripe white), Bob (blue), Neal (aka Jack Russell), some guy whose name I don't remember (three stripe white), and Enrique (purple).  Gina was there, but she wasn't training.  It's going to be great for Neal to have her around; they're roughly the same size, and her technical game will enhance his in no time.  Plus, he keeps showing up.  Almost only good can come of that.

The good thing with such small attendance is that I got to work with everyone, some more than others but everyone got a turn.  I had sporadic success (still need to find my ass from my elbow when trying to pass guard), and I'm finding that my go to move is an armbar (both from guard and top).  I would rather have chokes as my standard, so that'll have to be a conscious effort.  Maybe I'll be able to use the threat of armbars and kimuras to open up choking opportunities.  I'm still struggling staying off my back and recognizing when to abandon trying to keep guard and get to my knees.  I haven't been able to roll with strangers for a few weeks---since Thanksgiving, I guess---so I think my reflexes have dulled the slightest bit.

I was, though, able to pull off the rolling back take against Neal.  Yeah, I know that being able to hit a move on a 125 lb-er is not usually something worth writing about, but I felt pretty good about it.  Especially considering that last week I couldn't even figure out how it was supposed to work.

Tomorrow, Damian is holding a charity seminar, teaching about smashing the guard with weight and pressure.  Suggested donation is $25, and all proceeds go to St. Luke's Hospital, something about helping kids with heart problems.  Since it's supposed to snow some ungodly amount tonight, I'll have to leave early to make it on time. And then the rest of tomorrow night will be finishing some law work.

So when they said it was going to snow a lot, they weren't joking around.  I feel like I live on Hoth.  Again.  So Brenna wouldn't let me go to jiu jitsu---well, that's not entirely fair.  She strongly advised against driving anywhere today.  That, and Klint's school called and told me that they were canceling class.  So I'll have to give Damian a donation next week.  That'll alleviate my guilt a little bit.  Also, I think he's onto a great idea, and I want to support it.  So I'm at school (where they were going to have the LSAT today, but the weather made them reconsider that this morning), hunkered down in a classroom writing a brief.

Back to the Beatdowns

Finally, I was able to attend class last night.  A week's worth of preparing for finals without a proper outlet was taking its toll.  Class was me, Andy, new Jeremy, and Joe.  Klint was instructing, Eric showed up a few minutes late, and Classic Jeremy (purple) showed up about fifteen minutes into class.  We worked some wrestling, then some cross-chokes from guard.  It was a technique-heavy class, and we didn't have any time to do any 50/50s before class finished.  One of the techs we learned was a fist-in-the-neck submission.  That sucks.

Working after class, everyone stayed.  It was good, because Joe and New Jeremy are still developing lungs, it meant that Andy and I always had a partner--those two would basically trade off when they started sucking wind.  It was good work, and Andy and I didn't have to rely on each other for training partners again.  I had a little bit of success trying to implement that rolling back take, but not much.  Really, none at all; I got to the position and rolled, but I missed something and ended up on the top side of half-guard.  So more accurately, the success I had was that I tried it and didn't lose position completely.  Which is success in the same way that reading the wrong assignment for class is:  you do something that you think is right, but in the end, you didn't do what you meant to and you're no better off than you were before you started.

I did roll with purple Jeremy for a while.  His game is just sick.  It was the first chance we had to roll with him since he won his fight in Atlantic City.  (Dave Camarillo and Frankie Edgar both cornered him that fight; something tells me this kid's got a future.)  He wrecked me, which was to be expected.  I did feel like I was putting more pressure on him than I used to.  At the same time, when he's locking in kneebar after kneebar, the amount of pressure that you're putting on seems to be pretty irrelevant.  It doesn't help that our academy doesn't teach white belts any leg locks.  I actually don't mind that--they're dangerous and require a lot of technique to make sure you can drill them without seriously injuring your partner.  At least I knew to figure-four my legs in defense and try to sit up into him.  He was also doing a lot more fight-style chokes without using the gi, and I have no familiarity with those kinds of chokes.  It was a great lesson for me.  Also, he nearly made me vomit twice.  The bastard just doesn't get tired, and my cardio, while improving, is nowhere near that level.  The week off didn't do me any favors either.  But I didn't embarrass myself, and on one or two occasions, it even seemed like I might have been a step ahead of Jeremy.  I didn't stay there for long, though, because the surprise of being there in the first place lasted long enough for him to get back on the offensive.

I have a decent amount of jiu jitsu in front of me this weekend, too; open mat tonight, followed by class tomorrow afternoon.  After that, I have more finals to finish.  Soon enough, though, I'll have some semblance of normalcy back.  I'm working on a few longer pieces for this space, and with luck and a little time, they'll come up in a week or so.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Next Target

After class on Thursday, Klint whipped up on me for a while and in the process did a rolling back take.  One of the brown belts in CO took my back with it too.  But Thursday, Klint tried to teach it to me, see if I could understand the basics and start implementing it.  Believe me, I'd love to.  It's sexy as hell.  But for some reason, I was having problems understanding what he was telling me to do.  I mean, I've seen the move before, but it's pretty damned advanced.  And I know I pick things up quickly, but I'm still a white belt in our system.

So I found a video of Ryan Hall teaching it.  And this is my project for the next year.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

It's been a while

I went to class Thursday, helped with a belt test Friday, and class again this morning.  Most of the week, we focused on the switch--a means to get to your opponent's back from top side control.  It's a super slick move, and it keeps the guy on bottom twisting and turning in apparent futility, trying to get on the correct side.  If they go to their knees, you get to take the back or just take them down again.  Really, it's probably one of the most useful transition moves I've encountered.  We also paid a lot of attention to a guard pass where you stiff-arm your opponents hips on the top.  This technique has really seemed to click with me; it helps that I've intentionally tried it in rolls after class.  But really, killing their hips is the name of the game, and if you can start doing it before you even open their legs, you're already on the right track.

Friday, Andy and Zach tested for their second stripe.  I joined them to give them a live opponent, someone ranked a little higher to make them work and put some pressure on them.  First, though, they had the demonstration bit--and they worked pretty hard.  Probably 40-45 minutes of showing techniques and doing drills, with Klint reminding/giving pointers/teaching throughout.  It looked like it was really helpful for the two of them.  And then I got to roll with each of them for a few minutes.  I hadn't done anything yet, and they'd been working for most of an hour, so they were nearly gassed when I got to play.  I made a conscious effort to put them in spots that would test the techniques that Klint was working with them.  It's an important part of that particular roll, and while I love to wreck both of them when I can, I wasted to make sure they got that practice in as soon after the instruction as possible.

This morning was very good overall.  We did the hip-killer open again, and two different guard passes from it.  We also worked a few finishes from those passes--one armbar and one triangle (both entertaining and effective).  Then, we did a switch and tried a wonderful ninja-calibre triangle from back control.  We rolled a bit after, but just got through two partners.  With Klint (my second partner), I tweaked my neck again.  I realized it immediately, but still worked a few more rounds with Klint.  So right now, I'm full of vitamin I and I have an adequate supply of real painkillers if it gets bad.  I'm sure most jiu jitsu players sympathize, but I don't want to take a week off.  Still, if I need to take a week, this is probably the one for it to be.  I've a final on Wednesday and an appellate brief to finish before studying for my last final next Wednesday.  With luck, I'll be back in class on Thursday.  If possible and practical, I'll squeeze in Monday night, but I don't want to keep killing myself.  Brenna wants me to stop injuring myself, but really, we all know that's not going to happen.  They should just be smaller and more manageable than an immobile neck and back.  Damn collar chokes.

I don't have much more that just a schedule update, I suppose.  Part of that is trying to manage the pain, and part of it is that it's finals.  So there'll be more substantive material here soon enough.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Jack of All Trades, Master of None

Last night we worked on the switch again, applying different attacks from what we Monday.  Clock choke, taking the back, kimura, half-back....all these things re actually pretty easy to get if you keep looking for them after the switch.  Of course, being able to figure which your opponent is giving you requires a level of awareness I don't yet have.  But we're getting there.

I worked with Vance a bit after class.  His pressure is impressive, but he doesn't move that quickly or directly.  It's a problem if you end up beneath him, but if you can avoid that, you should be ok.  He and I share the same belt rank, so I didn't worry about going too hard or attacking submissions that were right there in front of me.  I could have used the time to let him put me in bad spots and see whether I could get out, I suppose.  There comes a point, though, where I am tired of just being laid on.  A few times, he would just keep pressure and refuse to attack for fear that I would escape or reverse, so I wasn't in a good spot, but because he wasn't doing anything I knew he wouldn't finish me.  In retrospect, I don't know how I feel about that roll.  I'll have to think about it some more and have another go with him in a week or so.

After that, I got wrecked by Klint again.  I know--at least once a week, I end up writing something about getting wrecked by Klint.  In reality, this is for two reasons:  (a) he's just that much better than I; and (2) I enjoy going up against someone who I know will destroy me technically and challenge me in the ways that my games needs to be challenged.  With respect to (a), that's not really a surprise.  I mean, he's been training for around 15 years, he has his black belt from one of the most respected instructors in the world (Dave once said that Klint's guard is one of the hardest he's ever passed), and he knows far more than he's had time to teach me.  (2) isn't all that surprising either, I suppose, though the second part might be a bit confusing.  What I mean is that Klint knows where my game needs work, and he puts me in the positions that make me work on those areas.  I have been having trouble knowing when to stop protecting my guard and start prepping to escape from side control, and knowing when to stop trying to pass guard one way and change energy---I'm late in pulling the trigger on the bottom, and stopping too early when passing.  That, and I hate passing guard.  It seems so much easier and more fun to sweep and end up in mount/side control.

I spent some time talking with Klint afterwards, and the idea of perfecting a position came up again.  [This idea of perfection and excellence seems to be the running theme of my jiu jitsu experience as a whole and this blog in particular.]  He told me that right now I have enough technical knowledge and athletic ability to be a problem for a lot of people, but that I haven't taken the time to make one position my own, make one submission my go-to standard, pick one guard pass and drill it ad nauseum until it's literal muscle memory and I can hit it on everyone.  So instead of having a deep knowledge of a few techniques and building my game off of those, I have a surface understanding of a lot (which feels like almost nothing) and my attributes allow me to fill in the gaps on the fly.  It's all a bit slapdash, really.  But that's not how you become formidable.  Klint and I talked about Dave and Jared (another Camarillo black belt in Brainerd, MN--and possibly the most OCD guy any person who knows him has ever met), and how the two of them fit that mold.  Dave is ridiculously good, with innumerable techniques in his arsenal; but every time he and Klint train, he passes Klint's guard with the stack pass.  Every time---double-unders, stack him like an accordion, and wait for him to get too uncomfortable to keep the position.  Every time.  Jared, on the other hand, perfected the loop choke.  Everyone he would train with would get loop choked, and once Jared got his hand on the back of your head, you were toast.  How did he develop this ability?  "I just did it 200 times a day for a while."  That's all.  (Who else feels terrible for the training partner who got loop choked 200 times a day for a while?)  It's the simple adage that "the people who put in the most time are the people who become the best."  And it's putting in smart work, using your time well.

That's something to take to heart and remember to apply.  At some point, I'm going to have to find a partner who is as willing to get throttled as I am.  And we'll have to figure out how best to maintain the necessary focus to make 200 reps useful.  Build good muscle memory.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back Home

Class last night was full of people I wanted to roll with--Jeremy was back fresh off his 1st round RNC win in Atlantic City; JD decided to show up; Beard John is back to his regular schedule; Jon came to class; Vance was there--and sadly, none of it came to pass.  We worked on the switch--a means of getting to someone's back from top side control when they bridge into you.  This is something that I need to shove into my arsenal as soon as possible.  It has great application against those bigger guys that you just can't hold down, not to mention it helps you stay one or two steps ahead of the smaller guys who you can.

Andy's in-laws are having a kid in Madison, so he had to run home shortly after class.  As a result, I only got maybe ten minutes of proper rolling in.  Neal was the only one ready right away after class, so I let him work his top game while I focused on trying to realize when to abort mission and go to my knees.  It didn't work out terribly well--I have an affinity for playing off my back, and while it's fun and pretty and supremely useful in class and sport, it doesn't translate to pavement all that well.  So while I controlled Neal and got him to positions that let me try to work what I wanted, I can see in retrospect that I did not focus enough on what my initial goal was.  When I did, it was fine---Neal is tiny, and that lets me go through the movements with enough resistance to see where my holes are.

I also got 2 minutes in with Tall Strong Jon.  He went to his back at the beginning, which is uncommon for him, but I wasn't complaining.  I was able to control him, but at times just barely.  He's going to be real problems in short order---he shows up a lot, he has natural athleticism and understanding of how to move his body, and he likes it.  Dangerous combination.  I got to mount and even got to practice a little knee-on-belly for the first time.  I didn't get bucked off the wave---I held it and even got myself to Klint's cross-choke/armbar dilemma control for the finish.

I was sad to have to leave so early, but family is family and some fights are not worth having.  So I'll go again tonight and get some proper training in, no matter who stays after.  First, though, I have to hammer out some of this final brief for class.  So when I go silent for a few weeks, don't worry---I'm still training, just running out of time.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

In Lieu

In lieu of a proper post about my first day of no-gi training on Friday, I will post a musical treat:  John Legend and the Roots covering Arcade Fire's "Wake Up" in the studio.

John Legend and the Roots - Wake Up (Arcade Fire cover) by Cover Me

Once I get through finals studying tonight (or possibly tomorrow or never), I'll put down something proper about why not having handles for collar chokes makes mount way less fun.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Easton BJJ - Day 1

Hopefully, I have more training to come in CO.  Last night opened the window to the possibility of getting an hour of rolling in on Friday before Family Pictures [re: Colorado Water Torture].  I'll see whether I have the juice to pull that off throughout the day.  Here's hoping.

Last night was great.  Chris, one of the black belt instructors at Easton - Arvada, was super accommodating, happy to have someone from out of town crash/join their training.  It was interesting to see how another school approaches classes.  We started with an arm-drag entry to an ankle pick from standing; didn't finish, as it's kind of a rough fall and class was fairly full, but good.  I was paired with a purple belt whose name eludes me---for class, the students line up against the wall and your partner is your mirror from the center of the line.  So the lowest belt on the wall practices with the highest.  I liked that, especially as my partner was roughly my size.  So anyways, arm-drag to ankle pick entry.  Then we worked armbars from mount.  Again, instead of going 5 for five, they have one person work the technique for about 5-8 minutes and then switch out, giving you serious time to get feedback from your partner and work out the kinks.  So we did the takedown entry, two armbars from mount, and then the equivalent of our 50/50 drills.  Six spots on the floor working, which left maybe 4 or 5 people on the wall to come in when a pair finished.  The rotation was top/bottom/out.  It gave you a chance to work with most of the people in the room.  I worked with a handful of blues, a purple, and a brown throughout the end of class.  Not displeased with my performance at all.  I never really felt overmatched, not even with the brown; he was clearly more technical than I and would wreck me in a match, but I was able to keep calm and move with what he gave me--even took his back at one point.  To be fair, I started mounted on him so it gave me a bit of momentum to start.  But I still felt pretty good about it.  I wasn't going full speed or anything, because I didn't want to be that guy.  For the last 15 minutes of class, it was 5 minute rounds.  I started with a blue named Matt.  I wasn't sure how this was going to go, and I think that cost me the first armbar.  After that, though, I was able consistently to out-scramble him, force him to turtle, and get to his back.  The first time he got his back to the mat quickly, so we started it over again and I refused to give up the position the second time.  Again, we were roughly the same size and I never felt over-powered or out of my league.  I even got a judo roll to escape side control.  That one felt nice.  Last, I worked with another blue belt.  I passed his guard (on purpose, I swear), worked from side control/north-south, he pulled a slick escape back to guard, and we finished locked in a stalemate.

Then there was a 2 minute break, and "randoori" started.  Really, that just means open mat with 9 minute rounds and 1 minute breaks.  So I started with another white belt, and was too hard-headed to recognize when to abort mission.  So I spent too much time on the wrong end of a wrestler's side control.  That is something I'll have to work on. I did catch an arm from guard, so that was nice, but that's something that I've been working on for a long time.  I need to focus on things that I don't naturally see---takedowns, half-guard escapes, open guard, etc.  But at the same time, when at a different school and more-or-less representing your own academy and instructors, you don't want to be that asshole running around at top speed and trying to rail everyone in the room.  Besides, I'm a mile higher in elevation than I normally work, and seriously--they need more air up here.  I had to sit out the second roll to find my gas again.  The third, I worked with Hector, another blue.  Again, my initial hesitation cost me the first armbar (far too quickly, might I add), but after I settled, we traded positions and I found mount, worked from there.  Just before our third reset, time called.

It was a great experience.  I got a shirt (you know, support the gym that helps me sneak away from the in-laws), and the room itself had a really comfortable atmosphere.  After some time, we all realized that we were escaping family in one way or another.  One guy was taking every possible class that night--from fundamentals to randoori (6-8:30)--and his wife asked why he was taking fundamentals for the first time in two years.  "I know I haven't taken it forever, that's why I have to go; my fundamentals are getting weak."  I think if you'd polled the room, 80% or more either had family at their house for the weekend or were forcing a reprieve from the weekend's festivities.  It made for a welcoming, exceptionally collegial atmosphere, especially for me, the guy from Minnesota stealing time away from his in-laws to train with a bunch of strangers. 

So if you ever go to Colorado, make some time to train at an Easton academy.  I'll definitely carve out some time to do so whenever I'm in town.  It helps that it's a 5-10 minute drive from my in-laws' house.  This means that I will definitely be taking my gi with me whenever I travel and dropping in on another academy for some work.  The rest of the night was so much less stressful than it could have been, thanks to the training.

Now for the gluttony.  I'm not really sure how much of this food my vegetarian diet will allow me to eat (I'm the only one here), so I might still be hungry after dinner.  We'll see.  With luck, I'll be able to train at lunch tomorrow.  If I do, you'll hear about it.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Quick and Dirty

I did go to class last night.  And it was good.

Beard John has returned from his travels.  I didn't get much of a chance to roll with him, but that will come with time.

I am now in Arvada, Colorado, visiting my wife's family for the rest of the week.  Tomorrow night, I will go to Easton BJJ 15 minutes away and get some real training in.  This excites me.  I don't know when I will be able to get a proper post about this week's training in (as my internet access here is questionable at best for reasons passing understanding), but I will have one up as soon as I can.

Enjoy too much food.  Make it organic if you can--it just tastes better.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mat Time

Open mat last night, class this afternoon.  Enough guys there to get some work in, but most of the upper belts were busy so I ended up rolling with mostly white belts.  Nothing wrong with that.  I worked with Matt, then Matt again, then Renato, then Brady a little bit.  I was able to focus on finding the subs that we learned on Monday, and I worked getting to the back as often as possible.

This afternoon, we worked on half-guard escapes and sweeps.  What I am terrible at is getting on my side when in half-guard or the wrong end of side control.  I can get to the underhook and work my legs into a good position, but I think my hip movement is atrocious.  So that's something to work over the next few months.  I trained with Klint and Zach after class, and kept having the same problem.  I'll make sure to ask Klint for some tips o Monday.

Today was the first chance i had to break in my new gi, a Shoyoroll Batch #7.  My immediate reactions are a bit mixed....the shoulders are cut pretty huge.  I've got wide shoulders, but it seems like the cut is for NFL-type shoulders.  I even shrank it before using it.  It might change with some use, so we'll see.  THe pants are exceptional--long and reinforced in all the right places.  Also, the gi material is pretty soft, so it's got a leg up on my Atamas.

Next weekend we go to Arvada, Colorado to spend Thanksgiving with my wife's dad and step-mom.  I had to miss two practices this week, and it was too many.  We leave, on Tuesday, though, so I've done some research and I'll spend at least one session at Easton BJJ, only 15 minutes from where we're staying.  So that's pretty awesome.  It will be my first traveling jiu jitsu experience.  Any tips you guys might have are more than welcome.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Near Passes and Back Control

Class tonight was about back control and finishing when you get it.  Fall to the head side for the rear naked choke, or you can feed the gi for a different collar choke; if you lose that, dismount right into an arm triangle.  Falling to the arm side, you have a different gi choke (same basic grips), the armbar, or progress to mount.

Rolling afterwards, I made my opponents start on my back with their hooks in and over-under control.  I rolled with Zach and Neal a ton---I don't remember if I had a chance to roll with Eric or not.  We did some of the same drill in class.  I didn't work with Andy tonight, as we're actively trying to get time with everyone else in class.  We train together a lot, so no need to do it every class.  I also rolled with Klint again.  I came away from that feeling pretty OK.  There were definitely moments when I could tell that my entire weight was on just one of his hooks, and he gently let me down with a smirk.  He let me work the snake-the-leg technique that he taught us on Saturday.  I also ended up on the wrong end of an arm triangle choke (that wasn't choking me unconscious but was definitely giving my neck reasons to question my chosen pursuit) and gift-wrapping my arm for him at least twice.  Of course, I didn't realize that I had gift-wrapped it for him until it was straightened, but that's beside the point.

A few months ago, I rambled for a few posts about excellence in jiu jitsu (here, here, and here).  We've had two of our excellence events at school (the third is costing me training Thursday night), and by far the most interesting was by Vito.  (Just because I don't want to ruffle feathers even unintentionally right now, I'll call him Vito.)  Vito is widely recognized as one of the best trial lawyers in the business.  He came and talked about big game hunting in Africa (he's got taxidermic lions and wildebeests that he killed in his house), playing the trumpet (he was weeks from pursuing a career as a trumpeter in Count Basie's band), and lessons from the Godfather movies (really just Parts I and II; Part III never happened).  After the event, a handful of us got to join Vito for dinner.  The concept of excellence peppered the conversation.  At one point, he said that everything else has to be secondary to the one thing in life at which you want to excel.  I asked how that affected his family, and his response was beautiful in its terror:  "I left my family for ten years to be a better lawyer."  And he had; he lived in New York during the week and came home to Minnesota on the weekend to kiss his wife and kids on the head, switch out briefcases, and go back.

So it's going to take a lot of time and effort.  Many other things in life have to take a back seat.  And I truly think that jiu jitsu is a particularly demanding pursuit; it changes your body, your eating habits, your energy levels, your self-confidence--literally everything about you.  It changes how you think and your willingness to adapt to address problems.  The hardest part is that it does all these things only after hours and hours and infinite hours on the mats, growing cauliflower ears and tweaking joints and getting gi burn on your neck from cross chokes.  It is not for the faint of heart, that's for damn sure.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I live in Minnesota.  This is what it looks like outside:

Some people love it, some people hate it, and some people just bitch and moan because that's the way midwesterners deal with life.  I really don't care all that much.  The end result, though, was a class this afternoon that was just me, Andy, and Klint.  We worked Russian tie grips from standing to work wrestling entries, then went to the ground and worked threading the needle and snaking the leg (rather than dropping the elbow behind the leg) and driving a takedown.  Apparently this is what Cael Sanderson did all the time through his 159-0 run, so it may or may not work.  After our functional private, Andy and I rolled together first, then with Klint one by one.

Last night we went to open mat and I got to work with a few guys I didn't know:  Greg (blue belt, about my size), Matt (blue belt, a bit smaller than I), Casey (white belt with 6 years no-gi experience and 260 lbs of wrestling experience), and Michael (blue belt, 130 lbs).  Greg is just coming back from about 3 years off, so we started with a flow drill (armbar from guard -- defense -- triangle -- defense -- omoplata -- roll out -- recover guard -- other guy repeats) for a while.  After that we rolled pretty light, working through positions and only sweeping, letting the subs go when we ended up with them.   It was good to get that movement in, and I still need to focus on sweeps.  Matt was a tougher fight, and I was doing some very stupid things (like forgetting to break his grips on my knees in open guard and just surrendering to my back when he was passing my guard).  Still, I hit a very very fun helicopter sweep, stayed calm in bad positions, controlled position a good amount of the time, things like that.  Eventually I'll get to the point where that isn't enough to keep me happy and I want to be able to thrash whomever I roll with, but I have miles to go before that happens.

Besides, guys like Casey exist.  He wanted us to start with him in my side control.  I, being dense and not all that smart, thought to myself, "Great, I'll just smash him in this position and work from here."  Of course, his wrestling/no-gi experience and raw size and strength had other plans.  It took me 5 minutes of being squashed to realize that it would be smarter to move around him than through him.  So I started going for far-side armbars when he would bridge into me.  That was a much more successful strategy, but only for a few seconds.  After that was Michael, the tiny blue belt.  I tried not to use my strength and to work with leverage, but there's a point at which 5-6 inches and 50 lbs is a difference too great to ignore.  Still, it was good work.

So my last few days of jiu jitsu have been very, very good.  And now, I sit at home with my semi-completed homework hidden safely in my backpack, a Capital Brewery Autumnal Fire (2009 vintage -- that's right, I saved a 6-pack for a full year) opened on my right, and The Brothers Bloom playing on our television.  If you've never seen it, you should rectify that immediately.  Here's a taste:  the opening scene.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Still Working

Last night we started with an escape from front head-and-arm control.  I guess it's sometimes called the Schultz head lock--it's the grip with which Matt Hughes choked out Ricardo Almeida.  So we started with the escape from that control on the feet, then worked the same escape from the knees.  One was rotating the head to the inside and driving through your opponent, and if he keeps up with your rotation you just tap the far-side knee and he tips.  On the ground, we did more push-pull work, mainly the same techs that we did Monday.  The head-and-arm escapes took a lot of time, so we didn't have time to roll in class.

After class, though, plenty of time.  I started with Jon, and his size is brutal.  I don't have his strength, so I need to remember to use leverage better against him.  Holding him down is almost a lost cause.  I was able to scoot from my guard to his back and work from there; but it wasn't clean, it wasn't technical, it was a bit slap-dash.  I have success breaking my opponents down, but I need to start using their effort to gain posture as momentum to sweep.  Also, I need to remember to come up with a quick-and-dirty game plan before I start rolling with someone.  It doesn't have to be complete, it doesn't have to be a game plan to win, but it should be a plan of attack.  A position to escape from or a specific attack to work.  Some sort of goal.

I worked with Jeremy, Neal, and Zach after that.  I made it a point to get into bad spots and to get out of them.  Naturally, I didn't use the momentum to attack, because I wasn't thinking that far ahead.  But that seems to be the entire basis of push-pull.  Use what they give you, move what you can move---get them to react, predict and recognize the reaction, and use the reaction to start the process all over again.  Commit to the sweep and if they post their hand you grab the kimura and take it home.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lagging Behind

I have a bad right knee/shin.  I don't know exactly how bad, but it's occasionally questionable.  When I lock triangles, for instance, it hurts on the outside of my leg from my knee to my ankle.  This topic will return.  Completely unrelated, I have been late in posting.  I chalk this up to the rest of my life.  It should stop bothering me and taking up so much of my time.

We focused on the push-pull concept all night.  Well, almost all night.  We started with take-down entries from grips, and then went to the ground.  The push-pull is basically the entire concept behind judo (as I understand judo, of course, which is probably not that well because I have never practiced), and the easiest way to conserve energy on the ground.  All that means is that it's very, very hard to do.  We had a flow drill that went like this:  from half guard; recover guard, keep opponent from getting grips and pull him down with your hip flexors; roll their elbow towards you; when they sit up to resist, do a hip bump sweep; when they drive into you to resist the sweep, throw your hips back and slap on a guillotine.  Do it right, and you use only your opponent's energy and a little bit of leverage.

After that, it was more positional drills; mount, then side control.  I worked with Andy at the beginning from mount and Jon from side control.  Still trying to feel more comfortable on top.  To be fair, Jon has around 30-40 pounds on me, and not much of it is fat, so staying on top of him is an effort and an accomplishment.  Near the end, I got to my knees and started to stand, but he drove in with a double-leg.  So I realized that a guillotine was coming and grabbed his neck, but my right foot caught on his pant, and then snapped up.  For some reason, that decided to shoot pain from my ankle to my knee.  So that was awesome.  But it was also the last roll before Klint called time, so it wasn't world's end.

Started with Andy after class.  He got me with an armbar that he really shouldn't have because I was too lazy remembering to bring my arms with me when I stand up in guard.  Later, after finding a strange semi-x-guard-roll-up-type sweep (that's the technical name), I ended up in his half-guard.  His pressure on my leg made the same spot hurt like a bastard.  So I screamed a little bit, moved my leg, and on we went.  Later, I was playing guard and had both butterflies in; I elevated him and he twisted or I shot for a sweep and our shins collided--I don't remember exactly.  But again, the pain shot from my knee to my ankle.  I screamed like a baby.  A hungry, angry baby.  So if anyone has a leg they're wiling to trade, I'm somewhat in the market.

Eventually, I got back on the mat and worked with Zach a bit.  I let him pass my guard and worked out of half-guard for a while.  I didn't want to play guard for fear of the gangrene spreading, so I avoided it as much as possible.  I did end up hitting a tripod sweep twice (and then helping Zach remember how to identify and defend it) and eventually was taking his back from half-guard when he gassed.  I was a little upset at that, I wanted a bit more work.  It was his first night back after 2 weeks off, though, so his conditioning is below what it was.

Then I rolled with Klint again.  And got wrecked again.  I'm getting a little frustrated with myself and how I work when rolling with Klint.  I end up forgetting to use anything that I've been working on, like what little technique I have has flown out the window and I'm left as the guy who walked in the door in February.  I notice that I instinctively do some good things (believe me, it's not on purpose) and once I start thinking about how to improve from where I am--i.e., stop defending and start attacking--I'm caught in a new kind of pain.  Rereading this, I think it's probably overall good; my defense is at least improving, and once I think about attacking and start the process, that's when I get caught.  I'm not sure that's completely correct, but I need something to boost morale every now and then.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Weekend Recap

I missed making an entry after Thursday and Friday.  I was a bad blogger.  It happens every now and then.

We worked self defense, wrestling entries, another flow drill (scissor sweep to lazy guard recovery to butterfly guard sweep to upa and roll), and did more positional drilling.  Worked with JD again after class, and we seem to have our rhythm down.  By that I mean that we are roughly the same size and skill, and our rolls are hard fought and satisfying.

Andy and I worked with Klint, too.  And he decided that today he was going to wreck us with speed.  It wasn't like his technique was lacking....he just tore through us round after round.  We put up solid, technical resistance as best we could, but it was like a talented pony leaguer facing Mariano Rivera---it was only a matter of time.

Friday, New Jon had a promotion to get his first stripe, and instead of going to open mat, Andy and I went to give him people to fight with.  As a trade off, we got as much mat time as we wanted afterwards.  Of course, I knocked my elbow and bailed much earlier than I would have liked, because that's how my luck has broken lately.  So we called it a light session and found barstools at the Muddy Pig.

This morning, class was the same setup.  Colin was there, and that's always entertaining.  High crotch entry to the step-back dump; then from the bottom, grip break to foot on hip to shooting armbar to triangle when they stack you.  After that, more positional drills.  Mount, side control, guard.  Those in attendance were Tony, Ed, myself, Colin, and Neal.

Afterwards, the old guys just started talking, so I worked with Neal.  Started in his mount and went from there.  I went slow, working technique, getting him to try to calm down.  I'm actively trying to work specific things i rolling, especially when it's Neal.  He's 4 weeks in and even though he has a huge martial arts background, it's a different world.  And he doesn't breathe.

So it was a good few days.  Deadlines and finals and briefs will completely screw up my schedule for the next few weeks....something like 2-3 times a week instead of 4-5.  Weak.  These grades better pay off.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More Reviewing

Last night was more review.  It is always nice to have a week of review after a few weeks of techniques.  It reminds me that the purpose of this art is first and foremost self defense.  We worked a headlock defense, two bear hug defenses, we pummeled to remind us to get the underhook for control.  After that, we worked a smashy butterfly pass and the side control escape from bonus head control.....the pass was new, the escape was not.  That didn't make it any easier, of course, but good nonetheless.  Then we did more 50/50s, starting in mount, then side control, then we were out of class time.

Started with JD immediately after class.  Once again, we were pure bastards to each other.  In the best way, of course.  I wasn't able to successfully use the smashy pass that we learned in class, and I got mounted again, but he wasn't able to finish me, and I got back to guard.  It took me longer than I would have liked; I can tell that I need to improve my mount escape.  I got back to closed guard, and eventually found an armbar when JD stood up.  It was a good 5(ish) minute roll, but once again, I was on my back working from guard.  I love working my guard, but I need to work top more often.  I guess against JD (and Andy), it will be less likely until it improves, but it's something I need to remember.

After that, I worked with Neal (the new Jack Russell terrier), and I was much much nicer than I had been.  We worked a lot of positions, and I tried to help him keep breathing and got probably 15-20 minutes of work in.  I'm going to make a conscious effort to treat new students the way that Klint treated me when I started.  Of course, I got worked, but I also had a lot of learning opportunities.

Sorry for the short post, but school and work demands keep me from sitting and pondering any longer.  I'll be back on the mat Thursday and get something down here shortly thereafter.  Same on Friday open mat and Saturday noon class.  In closing, here's something that I heard in an interview with John Danaher:  "It is very very rare that someone becomes more unhappy by the study of jiu jitsu."

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


That's what a lot of today was; we didn't learn any new technique.  We started doing headlock self-defense techniques, then a bear-hug self-defense tech, then two single-leg defenses, and into a few flow drills.  Worked scissor sweep, hip escape, triangle, triangle escape, and s-mount armbar.  Then we worked butterfly guard sweep directly to side control, mount, direct choke to arm triangle.

(Right now, the Judo World Team Championships are available on ESPN3. Who doesn't love watching judo throws?)

I worked with Tony, which was really good.  He's roughly m size, has years of wrestling and jiu jitsu experience on me, and is technically exact.  After the flow drills, we worked 50/50s, starting first in mount, then in side control, then in full guard.  Mount I worked with Tony, and I had much more success mounting him than I had escaping his mount.  He got one cross-choke on me, but I also escaped once, so I called it a draw in my head.  Side control I worked with Neal, the new guy who's roughly the size of a jack russell terrier.  I was nicer this time.  And for full guard, I worked with JD.  We're still very evenly matched, even after he's been back for a week.  I can't tell if that means that he's slipped in his time away or if my time is paying off.  Hopefully the latter.

After class, Andy and I initially worked an actual slow pace.  Probably 15 minutes, paying attention no only to how best to tap the other guy, but working positions and letting the other guy hit sweeps and find transitions.  Then Klint threw me at JD, and we went pretty hard for a while.  I hit a leg-loop sweep for the first time, but I didn't commit enough to generate the momentum that would bring be on top.  Instead, we were laying there kicking at each other's legs.  Because my technique was weak.  So even though the leg-loop was a high point, I also went for an armbar and (for reasons passing understanding) rotated my hips the wrong way.  So Instead of an easy armbar, I gave myself an impossible omoplata.  Smart, I know.  I also lost a few positions that I had no reason to give up.  So there are a few more things to keep in mind.  Finally, Andy and I trained full out for a little bit.  He's got a promotion coming up at the beginning of December, so we'll be drilling quite a bit in the coming weeks.

I've been doing well looking for and hitting sweeps, though I notice that it's almost always the power sweep.  I need to drill different sweeps and look for those as well.  I also need to remember to get off my back, because as fun as playing guard is, life is easier on top.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Less Bad

Class today was pretty small; Tony, Ed (with my freshly-added scar), me, JD, Jeremy, and new guy (Ron? Paul?  I don't remember).  Eventually, Ed's daughter Melissa and Gina showed up.  Started with high-crotch takedowns, right into a smashy low pass that snaps open your opponent's half-guard, then went to Klint's most recent position:  in side control, you control his near-side elbow with your leg-side arm, and then put your thumb into his collar for a cross-choke, and take knee-mount.  Up there, your next action depends on your opponents.  If he pushes up with his arms, you take his elbow home and put it on your wall.  If he rolls into you, you shoot your other hand under his near side and sink in the choke.

In class, the rolls were alright.  I was paired with JD, so we went fairly hard.  We're about the same size, he's younger than me (I had to tell him that JUST is a Radiohead song from 1994, and he told me he was 4 years old at the time), and we like working hard.  Found a power sweep, got to the top, was happy.  Next I went with Tony, the purple.  And again, he didn't pass my guard, but I didn't get to where I wanted.  I tried a leg-loop sweep, but he was savvy to it.  I played my guard a lot, but I also maintained it, so I felt good about that.  Ed was last, and I think my youth and inexperience is beginning to be a problem for him.  Right as I got to the position we were working in class and was about to knee-mount him, Klint called time and we had to stop.

After class, JD grabbed Klint and I worked a bit with Melissa.  She said she wanted to go light, and that was good for me, as I have my new goal to implement the feedback I got on Tuesday about not being a bad training partner.  So we went light for like 20 minutes.  I think I did much better than I would have before Tuesday in terms of staying calm, not forcing anything, allowing both partners to work a position.  I.e., not hogging all the development for myself.  Melissa is a good bit smaller than I, a blue belt.  Gina was nearby giving her tips during the roll.  I focused on my stack pass, mostly, and figuring out what to do with my opponent's hooks when she was playing open guard.  Because that is hard, and I'm not good at it.

Again:  advances, none miraculous.  But I think it's a good return and I can't wait to add to it on Monday.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Bad Training Partner

Tonight we worked side control and hold-downs.  Most of them involved bonus head control, so it was more than a little uncomfortable being the demonstration dummy, but it's always amazing to feel how different Klint's control is from everyone else I roll with.

For in class rolls, I started with JD, a guy who just got back from his Air Force training.  Now he's in the reserve and back to training.  Apparently he'd be a blue if he'd kept training consistently, but he had to take some time off, so he's about the same level as I am.  He's a strong bastard, too, and roughly my size.  The drill was to start in side control and work what we learned in class---either mount or submit, guy on bottom was to get back to guard or sweep.  This was a preview for post-class training.  It was rough and brutal and painful, but a good fight.  Then I went to Zach, whose hand is swaddled for having a torn ligament.  (Who would sit out for as long as the doctor says?  That means he'd miss training!)  With only one really functioning hand, though, I was pretty comfortable despite the strength disadvantage.

Third and finally, I was put with Neal, who has had 3 weeks of classes.  And this is where I proved to be a bad training partner.  Instead of letting him get to an advantageous position and working back to neutral so that both (a) he could get some experience under his new belt, and (2) I could get some work in on escaping bad spots and getting back to either neutral or advantage, I pulled a dick move.  I just went hard, trying to get the tap as quickly as I could.  Not only is he brand new, I've got probably 6-7 inches and 40 pounds on him.  But thankfully, this wasn't the end.

After class, JD and I slapped hands and fought like bastards.  I hit a sweep (go me), kept moving and used it to get somewhere near side control, then gave it up working for a kimura and forgetting to maintain position.  From guard, he was doing a good job keeping me from gaining any ground but wasn't moving.  (Of course, I wasn't hipping out and inserting a knee-shield to work a scissor sweep or push sweep, but that's beside the point.)  Eventually, he stood up, I laddered my legs, and he left an arm hanging.  I grabbed it for dear life, threw my right leg over his head, and bridged.  After that, I went with Eric a bit.  And I got to top, mounted, worked a choke.  I think we went three times, and I fought hard to finish it quickly each time.  Then I got the talking.

It wasn't a bad talking.  It was a "Let's think about how you approach your training" talking.  See, last night I trained with Klint and Andy.  Andy makes me work hard, and Klint makes me work smart.  Tonight, Klint told me that he noticed me getting more tired working with these guys---guys I know I can beat and guys I beat on a regular basis---than I got working with him and Andy last night.  It doesn't make sense.  The aggression is good, but the energy is too unfocused and wasteful.  I need to be able to get more out of my training than working to get things faster.  I need to hone my escapes---to do that, I need to let guys put me in bad spots, and then get back to guard, and let them do it again.  That will do a few things:  1) it will keep them training with me longer.  Instead of only giving me their best 3 minutes, it will encourage them to keep working longer because they don't lose immediately.  2) it will keep me training longer.  I'll get better endurance work in, because I'll be going for longer rounds.  3) it will get me drilling bad spots even when I'm tired, which will tell me exactly where my technique is and what more I need to work on.  To be fair, there are people with whom I should just work hard like I do now---Andy, JD, guys across town during open mat.  These guys can take it, and they'll give it back to me, and that's important.  But equally so is keeping your training partners improving along with you, and letting them feel that improvement.

I've been selfish with my training the last few months, and I need to be better than that.  It's very difficult to shift gears from the permanent competition that is law school and the office and remembering that I'm not there only for me.  This is a team, and we need to improve together.  Some changes are in order.

UPDATE:  Side Control wrote about this better than I did.  And he did it here.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Bad Student

I did something tonight that I didn't like and that I want never to do again:  I came late to class and only rolled afterwards.  To be fair, I had a decent excuse--i had a meeting with a professor about the law review of which I am an executive editor.  So it isn't like I was sitting at the bar and suddenly, "WAIT! I have to get to class fifty minutes late so I can roll."  No.  But at the same time, I want to show my instructor the respect of coming to classes that he puts serious time into planning.  Seriously, his classes are tight and I always leave knowing something entirely new, or something better than I knew it before class.  And I'm really bad at finding positional sparring partners.  It isn't that we don't know it's important---we're just bad at it.

So tonight at the end of class, I jumped in to training.  (I had almost stretched out, so I probably should have taken a bit more time, but I felt bad and didn't want to deprive everyone else of Klint's eye, so I just sucked it up and told myself I'd start slow and let my body warm up a bit.)  I started with New Jon, and actually hit a sweep from my back (goal for the next month is to keep hitting sweeps from my back instead of looking for well-hidden submissions).  Thanks to some direction from Klint, I eventually found myself in a kimura-mounted triangle position.  Well, I was in it before he told me, and he helped me realize it and figure out which ankle to lock behind which knee.  My grips that first fight, though, killed me.  That's something that I didn't realize starting slow helped with. I did find myself getting to my knees and even drove into a takedown---maybe the second time that's happened.

Next I went with Andy, and I don't remember much of how this roll went.  I'm sure he and I went hard.  I know my grips were spent, because I was shaking them out while we were moving into position.

I started with Vance, but this was a pretty uneventful roll.  I lost mount (because contrary to popular belief, I'm much stupider than I seem) and locked him in my guard.  Then, we just laid there.  I was waiting for him to posture and try to break my legs so I could spend some time working sweeps, and he was unwilling to back up because he was scared of armbars.  After about 2 minutes of that, we just restarted.

Andy and I took turns working with Klint again.  Klint was "nice" and tried to play only defensive, but his game just isn't built that way.  He's the quintessential "defense should serve double duty as offense" player, so really, the first roll was just me starting from a generally better position.  Then I got lazy or loose or something and he got out of my side control.  I rolled with him probably five times. Right now, I have the problem of knowing that I'm going to lose to him.  The result is that I don't really focus on my game; instead I sort of space out and marvel at the things he's doing to me.  This is a bad way to play.  On more than one occasion, I asked him to just pause so I could replay in my head all the things I did that led me to the terrible position in which I found myself.  I did escape one of his omoplatas and scramble back to an advantageous position.  Of course, I didn't hold and finish it.  But getting there is better than I did last week.

Finally, Andy and I had a few more rolls.  The first one, I hit him with a helicopter sweep right off the bat (count it, the look on his face was well worth the gamble).  The second one, he slapped on an armbar when I was lazy with my left arm while standing to break guard.  The third went longer, and ended with me forcing the tap instead of moving around him once I had extended his arm and changing direction so that he would not be defending it.  No, that seems like the way jiu jitsu is supposed to be played.  Apparently, I much prefer running into the wall over and over until I create a me-shaped hole in it.  It worked, but I was pretty frustrated when I realized (right after he tapped, of course) that I could have ended that sooner and with less energy.  So that's something I'll be on the lookout for tomorrow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I hit open mat Saturday before I sang at a friend's wedding.  I started out rolling with Oscar.  To say the least, Oscar is an imposing dude.  He's a blue belt, 6'4", 220 lbs, pan-am weight class and absolute champion.  And seventeen years old.  I went excited to try to hit the sweep that Klint showed us Thursday and to keep my guard, avoid the standing pass.  Almost none of that worked.  I came damned close to hitting a butterfly guard sweep, but he was able to post on his head (which means that I was too far away from him and falling the wrong way to work the sweep).  It was a lesson in getting crushed and fighting off the collar choke from someone who is and will always be larger than me.  It was painful, but good.

After that, I worked with Nate, a brown belt with mostly the same body type as me.  So he's got great skills, and flexibility to do things like play upside down and keep guard from grange angles.  It's the kind of game I would love to have in a few years, so I love getting a chance to roll with him.   He also showed me a quick way to force someone to release an armbar defense when on their back, so that's going in the hopper.

And I rolled with Bob, the old man who suffocates you if you're stupid enough to let him get on top of you.  Thing is, he's got the perfect game to back it up--he waits and waits until you give him an opening, and then pounces, all while resting his gut on your face.  So that was a lesson in (a) surviving the wrong end of side control again, and (b) remembering to work to get on top.

That "work to get on top" lesson was a running theme for the night of fights.  Cain Velasquez absolutely demolished Brock Lesnar.  I know I don't usually talk about the fights, but Cain is a Camarillo student, and watching him work off his back and work to finish Brock for the entire first round was thrilling.  After the fight, in one of his interviews he said that he was picking his shots carefully because he didn't want to lose the top position.  It was quintessential guerrilla jiu jitsu.  And now, one of our colleagues has the belt.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Checking In

Sadly, life demands that I limit this post to only a few lines.  Training last night was exceptional.  4 of us--2 new guys (1 within the last month, 1 within the last week), Andy and I.  Klint got the new guys working on basic threads and Jiu Jitsu 101, and gave Andy and I (a) a sickly awesome sweep to work, and (2) individualized recommendations for how to keep our guard.  It was basically half a private.  Then after, he rolled with both of us, Andy and I swapping out after 2 rounds each (ended up being something like 3-4 minutes on, same off).  I almost had Kilnt off balance once.  It was a big day.  So yes.  Excellent class, one of those days that makes me with I didn't have life and law school (which we all know bears not even a passing resemblance to life) sucking up my time.  Rehearsal dinner tonight for a friend, then open mat tomorrow morning, the wedding tomorrow.  Hopefully, I'll be able to use last night's revelations and get something down here afterwards.  Keep on keepin' on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mapping the Future

Class last night was good, working more 1-2-1 combinations.  Go for a hip bump sweep, if your opponent posts his outside hand, lock in the kimura.  If he drives forward, scoot back and sink i that painful guillotine.  If you want to go for distraction, do the hip bump sweep and put the arm over the other side of your opponent's head rather than the far side, and when he posts to keep from falling, sit back into the triangle.

Zach apparently re-tweaked his hand during 50/50s near the end of class.  So that left me, Andy, and Vanessa, with Klint running class.  Rolls were decent; before Zach got hurt, I was able to work my sweeps again.  With Andy, it was another back and forth.  I was able to sweep and control the top, so that was nice.  My top game is developing, but I don't have the control of far-side armbars that I used to think I had. Of course, I haven't drilled them in a while, so that's probably the basis for that.

Afterwards, I tried getting out from under Klint's side control.  That was more than an uphill battle; it was an impossible task for where I am right now.  I was able to get back to half-guard a few times, but he would of course slice through that and get me back in a painful spot.  It was a good exercise, and a welcome change of pace to open rolling.  I was inches from escaping an armbar for the first time---the standard escape where you look away and roll that exposes you to a triangle but evades the immediate danger---and then he just slapped the armbar and pinched his knees.  I literally screamed like a little girl.

One thing that I want to find the time to do is to map out the standard positions and the transitions from one to the other.  I forget where I read it (no I don't, it was here), but I remember seeing Rickson's own jiu jitsu map, his diagram of positions and the transitions he preferred.  He was a big fan of the mount.  This morning I was diagnosed with my annual sinus infection, so I have at least a few days to work the cerebral end of my game without getting caught up in avoiding chokes and moving my hips.  I do wonder whether I would be getting ahead of my skill level by plotting specific paths and combinations long before I've come close to perfecting (or even mediocre-ing) any of them.  I doubt that will stop me.  It's addictive in a way that I am unable to explain.  Sure, the submissions are sexy and the throws and takedowns are exciting.  Beyond that, though, it feels like I get to learn more and more about myself every chance I get to roll.  Whether it's a white belt whose belt still isn't broken in or the black belt instructor or a purple belt cop who has trained for ten years.  Strangely, it even makes me feel more confident in my legal work and analysis because it gives me a tangible thing that merits comparison.

Not knowing where this post is going or even whether it's long past where it should have stopped, I'm going to call it for now.  Hopefully this makes sense to someone; whoever you are, feel free to explain it to me at your convenience.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gi Review: Keiko Raca 2010 Gi

I'm 6'1.5" tall, 183 lbs (or so).  My first gi was an Atama Ultra-Lite (actually, this was my first pair of gis; I got one white, then a blue when I got tired of the blood showing).  After six months of training, I got my new gi, the Keiko Raca (kee'-ko hah'-sah) 2010 limited edition white gi.  I did some looking around and some more research, and Keiko Raca is supposed to have a cut that fits tall, skinny people much better than the standard cut.

Honestly, the difference between the gis is obvious.  Part of it is the weave (Atama:  rough weave just this side of a single weave;  Keiko:  glorious gold weave softness), but more than that, it's the cut.  The reviews weren't wrong:  this is made for the tall skinny kids.  I have enough room so that I don't feel buckled into my gi, but I know it isn't going anywhere.  It isn't heavy on my shoulders, but I can still feel its substance.

Big big big fan of this jacket.  With the exception of the giant racecar-style patch on the front, it's damn stylish.  The black trim on the cuffs and the bottom give it a clean look, much like the Atama Mundial models but without the script on the edge.  The shoulder patches are simple and more-or-less out of the way, the flag and embroidery at the right and left elbows are not distracting....It's a nice, simple gi jacket with enough character to make it stand out without telling everyone, "Hey--this is a special jacket."  It's the BMW 3-series:  sharp and well-crafted, but not as aggressively German as the Mercedes C-class.

The wrists were originally a bit larger on my arms than I thought I would like, but either I've gotten used to them or they've come to a normal size after washing.  The sleeves have shortened to the point where if they keep receding it will bother me, but they still feel a bit longer than the Atama's.  The weave is outstanding; it's not rough on the skin, it won't give your training partners gi-burn when practicing cross chokes, but it isn't so comfortable that your opponent will like being crossfaced by a Keiko-clothed forearm.

This is the area where the Keiko wins by a wide margin.  My legs are long, and the Atama's pants are just not enough to keep them covered.  After a few weeks, I could have used them in case of heavy rain.  The Keiko's pants are nice heavy cloth (as opposed to the Atama's ripstop material) and they are long.  The material feels better against my legs, and it doesn't get the worn-in-knees look as quickly as the Atama did.  One of the belt loops tore off pretty quickly after I got it, but it might have been that I was trying to tie my pants a different way that placed more stress on the loop than normal.  I'm hesitant to blame the construction on that, and I expect to fix the pants soonish, so it's really a non-issue.

Pros:  attractive design without being flashy, good construction without feeling wooden.

Cons:  all have to do with personal cosmetic preferences.

[camera is out of commission (re: not with me right now); I'll post pics when I get it up and running]

And We're Back

Saturday morning was somehow the antithesis of Friday night.  I was moving decently, I was engaged in the rolls, I was (I think) learning from my opponents, and I was aware of what I was doing.  I rolled with Ron (somewhat older guy, same rank as I--3-stripe white---, roughly the same size if not just a bit smaller), Brady (small purple belt), Damian (bull-framed black belt), a guy whose name escapes me but who is an attorney at a big box firm in town, and Derrick (blue belt, about 30 pounds smaller than I).

Ron was a good fight.  I don't remember how I started those rolls, whether I tried to keep him in my guard or whether I worked to pass his.  Most of the time, though, I was on his back---sometimes with hooks, sometimes with a kimura grip and shoulder control.  I was able to stay pretty calm and methodical the whole time, focus on technique and execution.  My armbars have gotten pretty sloppy, so that's a little disheartening.  I'm going through something of a collar-choke phase, looking for bow-and-arrow chokes and using them to set up kimura-grip control on the shoulder.

My roll with Damian was a bit intimidating.  Part of it was the inescapable fact that he's a black belt, part of it was that he's got at least 40 pounds of muscle and eight inches of chest circumference on me, and part of it was just my pride.  He let me get to side control right away, and it was all downhill from there.  His sweeps aren't as blindsiding as Klint's; I can generally feel him setting them up and can tell when it's getting bad (as opposed to Klint's where I'm suddenly inverted and wondering what happened that allows gravity to release me for a minute before I realize it's his hooks).  I don't know how much of that is the difference in their games and how much of it is what improvements I'm making, but I'm willing to bet more on the former than the latter.  It was fun to train with him; and it's comfortable enough that we can both laugh at my mistakes as I make them.  At one point I was in his guard and my right wrist was under his left armpit, and he started raising his hips; for reasons passing understanding, something in my head decided that it would be a good idea to grip with my right hand, and that if I gripped hard enough, I'd be able to get out of that terrible position.  That was funny.  And by funny I mean stupid.  But it was a great lesson in the economy of motion.  What he and Klint have in common is that neither of them waste a movement.  Everything is as small and controlled as possible; they cut out all the fat and get to the essence of the movement.  Large movements waste energy and create scrambles; small movements let you keep control and dictate the pace.

After Damian railed me for a while, we were talking to Nameless, the attorney, and Damian said we should train.  Nameless (I'll fix this once I learn it) is pretty newish to jiu jitsu.  He spends a lot of time doing cross-fit, only hitting the mats every month or so.  He only had about 5 minutes to roll, and he kept falling back to guard.  The work Andy and I have been putting into half-guard passes really paid off this morning, both against Nameless and Ron; I passed half-guard at least 5 times.

Derrick has a great game.  He started standing, I sitting.  One thing I enjoyed was when he asked where I usually train and I said, "With Klint in Woodbury."  His response was, "Great, that means you're going to have a painful guard."  And not wanting to disappoint either his expectations or my instructors reputation, I kept him in closed guard for the first five minutes.  After finding that armbar, we restarted, and I hit one of the sweeps I'm training myself to look for (even though I didn't have the sleeve and so technically it wasn't great and created more of a scramble in changing position than I would have liked), and I got on top.  We worked for probably 20 minutes, and he was very complimentary at the end.  Said to work on my patience because in his mind that's probably the one thing between me and a blue belt.  I had a few immediate reactions to that:  1) that's sweet, dear, but please ignore my laughter for the next minute; 2) definitely not ready to receive a blue belt quite yet, not when I'm still to scared to shoot in for a takedown; 3) I enjoy giving blue belts a hard time; 4) really, I'm not ready for that yet.

I heard something on the Fightworks Podcast a few weeks ago about how whenever someone gets a new belt, it never feels like it's deserved.  The new belt not only weighs heavily on the hips (much like the weighted crown on a king's brow), but it spurs its wearer to train more and harder to show that the belt is a valid and accurate reflection of its wearer's skills.  So in other words, no matter when you get the promotion, it will always feel premature.  That is both reassuring and terrifying.

Don't know what we'll be working on this week, but I'm looking forward to finding out tomorrow night. I rode 24 miles on the bike this afternoon to get some cardio in on my day off.  (If you're ever in Minneapolis/St. Paul, find a bike and ride the Midtown Greenway; it's beyond cool and reminds you how that pork-barrel spending can help everyone.)  On the way back, the bike shop on the Greenway was giving out hot cider for free to riders.  And all was good and right with the world.

Friday, October 15, 2010

BJJ Everywhere

@ Work:  sometimes you have to file a motion that you know you are probably going to lose because it improves your position for settlement negotiations.  If you don't make the motion and set the schedule, then your opponent has no reason to fear coming out on the wrong end of a decision.  Translation:  if you don't commit to the first attempt at a sweep, then you won't force your opponent to defend and open up your secondary option.  (This came to me while I was working on something at the office.  I decided to leave it here, as it's pertinent to the recurring themes here.)

Open mat tonight.  I feel like I'm just going through the motions today.  I didn't embarrass myself, I don't think---some of the guys that I usually have decent rolls with just wrecked me today.  I went with a new guy who is the same rank as I, and roughly the same size as well, so that was nice.  It's difficult to find someone who's both, so it was a good experience.  Brady gave me some good work, I helped Andy work his half-guard passes again.  But again, my mind was not entirely in it.  It was good to get the work in, and I think I did some things right, but I couldn't recall them for the life of me.

The night did have a nice surprise.  Damian was teaching some of his students a pass for when your opponent has his knee shield up and his bottom leg hooked in half-guard.  He called me over to make sure that I learned it in order to be able to show it to Klint.  So that told me two things:  a) I'm shedding that "outsider" label that everyone gets the first few times in the academy; and 2) that the instructors respect and trust me (this one is more subtle and subdued).

That was a nice cap to an otherwise mediocre rolling session.  Here's to hoping the morning brings fresh inspiration and attention.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Finding the Sweeps

Another week of butterfly guard work.  Today was the three basics---stand (framing the face to stand and base), sweep (threading the underhook when the opponent stops your bottom leg and landing a basic butterfly guard sweep), and submit (scooting back into a brutal guillotine when they re-weave the underhook).  First, though, we worked with a few single-leg options and grip breaks, and a standing americana from a whizzer grip.  Lots to take in, and pretty dependent on your opponent's defense (as far as when to go for the americana and when to just throw the poor bastard).  We ran out of time at the end of class to try to implement them, but I worked a little bit with new Jeremy and then with Klint.

I have a new mission:  focus on sweeps.  I love submitting people off my back; in fact, tapping people from guard was one of the things that led me to start raining jiu jitsu in the first place.  But that can't be my only option.  It leaves me on the bottom, and when I fail I'm in a terrible spot.  I need to be able to reverse positions, get on top and work to tire him out from there.  So working with new Jeremy, that was my goal. I went to guard at the beginning and consciously avoided shooting submissions from my back.  One power sweep, one butterfly sweep, one scissor sweep.  Of course, I'm fairly certain that tonight was new Jeremy's first post-class rolling session.  So this worked out well for both of us---I got a body using a lot of strength against my sweeps so I could focus on technique, and Jeremy got his first losing roll in.  I was a bit sloppy, and I wasn't too pleased about that.  It was very easy to get into an advantageous position after I swept, though, so once I tighten my technique, it will be a very useful tool to add to my quiver.

After that, I spent a few minutes rolling with Klint.  Of course, I got waxed a few times and I couldn't get to any position where I could mount any attack of my own.  That, of course, is the name of the game, and Klint is an expert.  Apparently, he's got the best guard among all of Camarillo's black belts.  That's why Dave sent Jeremy Anderson up here while his broken hand healed---so that he could train with Klint and improve his guard.  In his guard, Klint can tap you with ease, but the most impressive part of it (when on the receiving end, anyways) is how you feel pretty grounded and stable, and suddenly you're floating and twisting in the air because he applied the slightest pressure with his inside hook.  The hooks are a huge part of his game.

I have a mid-term tomorrow night, and I should spend more time tonight re-running through my outline, making sure that I know where to turn for which kinds of problems.  This unfortunately means that I don't have the time to dig deeper into the specifics of Klint's game and compare it to rhetoric and language.  But that's something that I will do soon.  Because being able to explain something such that other people can understand it shows that you yourself have a functioning understanding of it.  And I want to get to that place mentally while I work to get there physically.