Tuesday, August 31, 2010

It's About Standards

Class tonight. Klint had us focus on open guard, working our hooks and rep'ing a basic sweep. I imagine it's the one to switch to when the standard power sweep fails, but I'll have to work it in sparring to find out. We also worked an open guard pass--the same one Jeremy showed us a few weeks ago, so it was good to see it and drill it again.

Afterwards, I rolled with Zach, Jon, Stan, and Klint. In that order. I consciously tried to avoid pulling guard, so I ended up working my top game a fair amount. Zach is getting much more mobile, learning to use his size to his advantage. So that makes rolling with him harder on me, which is good in that terrible way that forces me to be much more technical. On the plus side, I hit the sweep we were working in class and tried for the open guard pass. I ended up passing, but my hand placement was a bit off. It's a start. Rolling with Jon, I tried staying on top again. It worked, though I know that it's probably because he has as little takedown experience as I do, and less class time. (The same goes for Zach.) No worries, it gives me practice and the opportunity to develop my sensitivity for grips. Hopefully, I'll be comfortable enough to try starting standing more often. Work in takedowns, maybe some judo throws (though I have maybe twenty minutes of experience with them)....so long as it doesn't cost me an ACL, I'm all for it.

Stan and I had a good roll. He's really good at staying heavy and shucking legs to get the pass, and I can almost never get out of his side control. I did get a sweep, though I couldn't get the pass to finish. Then, after about ten minutes, he put some weight right on the sore spot from my last session, so I sat for a while. Then, I figured rolling with Klint would be a good cool down. Ten minutes with him was much easier this time around. I kept my ego in check, and kept my goals manageable. I didn't really accomplish any of them, but it made for a more productive lesson.

Dave Camarillo was on the Fightworks Podcast this week, and he gave a plug for MMA Faestro, the site that Klint runs, linked on the right hand of this blog. It was interesting to hear Dave talk at such length about how Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu has changed over the years. Had I heard this interview a few months ago, I'm not sure I would have signed up at one of his academies. He's emphasizing wrestling a lot more--working his grappling system so that it's useful in all scenarios, and nothing is more useful in either a self-defense scenario or an MMA fight (which, to be fair, are kind of the same thing) than the ability to create and win a scramble. At the same time, I wouldn't want to be at another academy. The curriculum as a whole and the instruction specifically are outstanding. I wish I had more time to dedicate to it so I could improve faster, but not everyone can be a gym rat.

I read Skinny's post that he's swearing off submissions for the next month to focus only on improving and maintaining position. I envy his discipline. That's something for me to try against other white belts as a new challenge; and really, I'm rarely in a position to go for subs on blues or purples anyways, so those fights turn into struggles to achieve and maintain position as it is. Has anyone else tried going a certain amount of time without going for subs, only improving and maintaining position?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

It's Impossible to String Two Good Weeks Together

Class this morning was small again (gotta love small classes with a black belt instructor); myself, Ed and Maya (blue belts), Tony, Jeremy and Chris (all purples). We started with triangle reminders, and spent most of the class working triangle escapes. Doing the triangles, I asked Klit about something I saw Ryan Hall explaining about triangles: get as close to a perpendicular angle to the person you're choking as possible. That way, squeezing your legs isn't using your adductors (the tiny wimpy ones on the inside of your legs); instead, you use your hamstring and quads, squeezing up with one leg and down with the other instead of squeezing in with both. Hall also says that using that perpendicular angle means that you don't have to worry about getting the arm across the body. I'm not entirely sure I buy that part, but I also haven't played with it. Nor am I Ryan Hall, triangle king. Here's the video.

50/50s in class were active. Ed got to my half guard, but didn't get past it. More than once I thought I was going to get back to full guard (I'm very comfortable with Ed in my guard) and I would have been happy. But I think he hates it in there, and worked hard to stay where he was. Next came Jeremy, who worked me pretty hard. I did use the move of the day, though (triangle escape--the painful one that Chael Sonnen couldn't pull off), and that's always nice. Then Ed again. I don't even remember what happened that time, only that I was getting frustrated and that looking back, I was using far too much muscle.

After class, I worked with Ed a bit. I started in his closed guard and tried to open his legs and pass. To say that I had any degree of success would be a lie. I picked the position because I have been having trouble there and don't feel comfortable prying open guys' legs, so I end up waiting for them to move and trying to pounce on their mistakes. That means that I'm moving second, and I'm necessarily a step behind. That's not good. So I wanted to work on it. I ended up getting swept a lot and, at the very end, realizing that I haven't been engaging my hips at all when in someone's guard. So I have that to work too.

As a treat, a few women from our academy went to a tournament in Toronto. The only two videos I've been able to find are the matches they lost. But I'll post them, both out of pride and because I know Georgette will enjoy them.

Gina--she's the smaller brown belt in the black gi fighting the Canadian judo team member black belt. No one else was in her weight class, so she had to fight only absolute. Her opponent had about 60 pounds on her. Also, the rules stated that pulling guard resulted in giving your opponent one point. It sucks losing a fight that you clearly won.

This is Maya, one of our blue belts. Not her best showing (it's the one fight out of six she lost the whole weekend), but a good fight.

That's all for today. I might take Monday off, let the rib heal an extra day and make up for it on Tuesday. That would be smart. But I've never been accused of an excess of either smarts or caution where my health is the main concern.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Mixed Bizness

To be fair, this post contains nothing whatsoever about business. Or even bizness. Just a name that I thought fit.

Open mat tonight was interesting. Kind of. I started with a blue belt that Beard John brought with him. His had super short sleeves (which confused and bothered me), so any wrist grips I wanted had to be no gi grips. Which means that I've never practiced or trained with them. Which means that I tried to roll with a blue belt without using wrist grips. It was strange. Eventually, he was trying to pass my guard and his knee dropped from two feet up right onto my sternum, so we were done. He wasn't trying to do damage, and he wasn't going for knee-on-belly, he was slicing his knee through from standing and just dropped right onto it. It still feels strange and achy now, but part of that is probably the original injury and part is the fact that I kept rolling. Because I am either very tough or surpassingly stupid.

I worked with Josh next, controlled him for fifteen minutes but was unable to finish him. I have to figure out whether I want to use the body triangle as my go to or if the belt-line hook with the other foot on the hip is going to be it. Go waxed by Tim next. I was trying to keep moving and not let him get me flat. It almost worked once or twice. He's training for NAGA next weekend, so he wasn't holding anything back. All the same, I landed one hook sweep and got him to turtle once. Went with Michael last. I'm a lot bigger than he, so I focused on going slow. Part of the reason he had trouble is the 50 pound weight difference.

Returning to the aggressive blue at the beginning....I don't know whether I should take exception to something like that. Yes, it was a fierce move and from where he was and what he was doing, it had a high likelihood of ending badly for me in an uncontrolled manner. But really, we're training fighting. It isn't knitting, it isn't Swedish massage. It's going to hurt. We try to break arms and dislocate joints and choke people until they pass out. Really, I probably just have to sack up and get better so that I'm not in the position that someone's knee might pop a rib right by the sternum. So there's that.

Brenna's mom is in town this weekend, too. They're back to the fair tomorrow, and I'm back to class. So more tomorrow. And hopefully, a little more worthwhile bloggery from me.

Working Out the Demons

Small class again last night--Andy, Brian (fierce purple who scares the living hell out of me), Beard John, new Jeremy, and myself. John and I paired and Andy and Brian paired to go through a thread for the first forty minutes while Klint got Jeremy through Jiu Jitsu 101 and a few submissions. We focused on arm-dragging to the back and the sit-up sweep opportunity in case they pull away from you. Then he had two of us doing positional 50/50s while the other two drilled seoi-nage throws on the crash mat. First time doing judo throws on a crash mat, and it proved to me two things: (a) judo classes would be insanely fun; and (2) judo classes would be insanely tiring for the first month. Judo grabbed my attention a few months ago, and I remember reading that very fit people would go to judo classes the first few weeks and just gas after 20 minutes. Some old saying was, "The only practice for judo is judo." Those old Japanese men suddenly became much more bad-ass.

I had a rough day. I was expecting a call that didn't come, and so a job I really wanted is unavailable to me. So class was my pressure-release valve. Seeing class in that light, though, seems like it could be counter-productive. Instead of keeping myself in check and focusing on technique, it can easily become me using strength and fighting to get some sweat working. Looking back, I think I kept myself in decent check. There were a few times when I caught myself trying to use big movements when small would be better in every way. That I noticed is a good thing.

John and I got one roll in before he left--had my first experienced consciously trying the triangle-omoplata-triangle combination. I love it. Definitely going to keep that one in my bag of tricks. Andy and I worked for a while after that. He said himself that he had a shit day, and rolling with me when I need to work out some aggression was probably not the best way to end the night. He makes me work for everything I get, but I usually end up getting it. It also gives me opportunities to test new things, but I can't get lazy. He said he always feels a step or two behind me. It's nice to hear that, as it's how I feel when rolling with blues (and a fraction of what I feel when rolling with purples). It tells me that I'm doing some things right and putting in good mat time.

I'm hitting open mat tonight and class tomorrow. Brenna is going to the MN State Fair three times this weekend, so I'll have some time to burn.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


If you have some time, read Cane's post about receiving his black belt here.

Gives me hope to see someone so far along in his practice of the art talking about how he still feels as though he's at the precipice, staring into an abyss full of things he doesn't yet know about jiu jitsu.

Monday, August 23, 2010

So Close

Andy almost tapped me today. Almost. It's going to be a big milestone for him when it happens. I started training three months before he did, and we both started after becoming huge fans of MMA. So he's become a monkey on my back, always fighting a little harder in hopes of securing that first tap. On me, that is; he taps other white belts every day. Not me yet, though--with one exception, and we both agree that one doesn't count. Across town, apparently a pair of brothers train, one of whom has been there maybe six months longer than the other, and the first time the newer one taps the older one, the older one pays Damian (their instructor) $100. From what I hear, their rolls are epic.

Tonight's class was a bit scattered and dull, but the rolls after made up for it. Jeremy taught in Klint's absence, taking us through something of a half-guard pass. We had a brand new guy, though, and Jeremy's concentration was torn between giving the three of us there something to work on and giving the new guy attention and instruction on the basics of jiu jitsu. Eventually, I went over and acted as the new guy's dummy, which was fine, but by the time class had ended, I hadn't worked up anything resembling a sweat.

So after, we did some 50/50s and trained for a little bit. I worked with Andy first (caught him in that same shoulder-lock in transition that always catches Vance) and then with Jeremy. I made it a conscious effort to try attacking from the start rather than pulling guard and looking for a reversal. In general, it didn't work that well. But that's why I made myself do it--because I'm so happy pulling guard and working with my legs that I need to spend some time on my top game. Eventually it will all even out, but I still need to log those hours. Jeremy was very complimentary of both Andy and I at the end (after rolling with both of us for about 10 minutes and watching us roll against each other again). It's amazing how much more you can do if you make the conscious effort to keep moving. First off, you create a lot more space, and that opens many, many doors. But it's tiring. I don't really have tons of time to devote to enhance my cardio outside of training, so I'll just have to focus on being more efficient (as well as everything else).

I'll miss tomorrow's class because of a beer engagement--it's my birthday, and my wife wants to celebrate it. Which means taking me away from training for a night. I'll live with it and hit it hard again on Thursday. Besides, beer is good.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday Class

Dave was in town and taught the adult class this afternoon. It's pretty amazing to see the differences in teaching methods between Klint and Dave. Neither is better, but both definitely have their own style and speed. I haven't taken a class from Damian yet, but from what I hear, it's the same thing--no one is empirically better than everyone else, it's just a matter of whose learning style suits you best. Dave worked us through his latest seminar topic: Turning the Tide--Defend, Escape, Attack. As a mark of pride in the evolution of his system, he said that when he taught this at a school that didn't use his curriculum, it took him three hours to get through the material; we got through it in 50 minutes, giving us time left to roll. We bad.

After Dave explained the philosophy behind what he had us work through, it was impressive how simple it is on the surface and how deep it goes. I admit that my physical sensitivity is not there yet, and my rolodex of moves is small to say the least, so my game is necessarily limited. As time goes on, hopefully those limitations will ease. Watching and learning from someone who doesn't have them at all (or whose limitations I don't see) is both awe-inspiring and daunting. Having him watch you roll--it's almost counter-productive in that you want to perform to your fullest capability, but part of that is releasing all outside tension and ignoring outside influences, so to perform your best for a specific person, you have to block out the fact that that person is there, or at least the idea that you want to impress that person. Removal from self, or something equally as mystical sounding.

After class, Dave bolted to the Twins game so I stayed and got some rolls in with Vance and Colin. With Vance, I wanted to work taking the back and attacking from there, getting the choke rather than hitting my seeming-default armbars. It worked pretty well, and when he was done, Colin stepped in. He's roughly the same size and shape as me, and our rolls are always pleasantly competitive. We worked for probably 20 minutes, each tapping the other intermittently. We hadn't rolled for probably 2 months, and he complimented me by saying that I've gotten a lot better at spinning out of stuff. I agree, though I think it would be better if I did something other than to pull some sort of guard at the beginning of every roll rather than try to pull guard, do so badly and have to spend the next twenty seconds fighting off a pass that should never have threatened me in the first place. I'm still terrified and tentative when attacking for top position, so that makes pulling guard and working for a sweep much more attractive.

So next week, my goal will be never to pull guard at the beginning of a roll. That will play merry hob with my starting stance, but hopefully it will build some confidence and at least help me start recognizing when to do certain things that I can feel falling into place. Things like passing to the backs of the knees, sprawling out to keep someone flat, shouldering into the face to make life awkward and keep my opponent flat, etc etc etc. That probably also means that next week will be somewhat painful. Them's the breaks.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Quick and Dirty Recap

Had open mat tonight, and rolled pretty decently for the amount I sweat through the evening. Absurdly hot. I'm fairly certain I lost at least 5 pounds of water weight. Tim schooled me (as he should), but just about everyone else I worked with I did OK against. JP, the big blue, wanted to start on the wrong end of side control, and I wasn't about to argue. Got to mount, but I couldn't finish him.

In completely unrelated-to-BJJ news, I just finished reading Andre Agassi's autobiography. If any part of you enjoys tennis or enjoys watching tennis or at one time stayed up until 1:30 watching the 1999 US Open semi-final match between Martin and Rafter because despite logic and math Martin just would not die, this book is essential. It links into my earlier ruminations on excellence (time put in, etc.), but really, it's a fascinating glimpse into the mind of someone who dedicates his life to one thing--whether his dedication is a choice or not--and what it takes to stay at the top. I played tennis when I was young. I was never actually good, but it was during the real Sampras-vs.-Agassi time in the early to mid nineties, and reading about them from Agassi's perspective is simply fascinating. (For a look at a newer star, read David Foster Wallace's essay for the New York Times about watching Federer play at Wimbledon. Even if you don't like tennis, read it. DFW was always better at writing essays than books, and his experience and a junior tennis player makes it that much better.)

This is "Quick and Dirty" because it's late and I have a class with Camarillo tomorrow. That means bed and sleep and breakfast and stretching and rolling and learning and hopefully retaining. Tomorrow, I'll try to remember to write about "constantly attacking" and breaking grips. Because those are two things I need to work, and two things that came up in rolling tonight. But I'm tired and need my A game tomorrow.

Wrestling Really Sucks

More half-guard last night, both passes for the top and a few options for the bottom--one taking the back and one pretty slick sweep in they stop your underhook with a whizzer. I was paired with Cameron today, a new army-type white belt who used to wrestle. We're probably roughly the same height, but he's got muscle mass on me and understands leverage at a base level that I'm still hoping to reach one day in the future. So it was a rough night of drilling. He's still green to BJJ, so the idea of 50/50 is a bit foreign to him. Just like it was to me. I'm not bagging on the guy, everyone who's new to the art goes through this, and I imagine that it's that much harder when you're already so competent and confident in one aspect of grappling. I even told him that I will probably lose to him every time for a while, because he has that understanding and I clearly don't, not to mention the "stronger-than-me" part of the equation.

We rolled a bit after class, and I realized what wrestling does for BJJ and what it doesn't do. It allows someone to dominate every position--to know which post to take so that you drop fastest, to have a quick shot, all that of course. But it also teaches you weight and pressure, hand fighting, and how to get yourself out of bad spots. What you don't get from wrestling is how to finish someone. He had me controlled for most of our roll, and only once did he really attempt a submission--a guillotine that a) wasn't that deep at all and 2) I was able to defend easily. In fact, I think I was more threatening with submissions, even though I could barely hold a position worth having. That gap, though, will vanish as he learns and implements technique. That will be an ugly day for me.

Then Andy and I rolled again. He and I need to start finding different sparring partners, but we're usually there the longest and end up having a few good rounds. This time it was just one, but it was long as hell. It ended with me getting him in an armbar. I was really happy with it, too, because I didn't rush a thing at the end, which is a rarity against Andy. I kept heavy on him for longer than I thought I needed to--just to tire him a little more--and stayed smooth with my transition to the finish. Jeremy's advice for finishing an armbar and breaking a guy's RNC defense grip was perfect.

Dave is in town this weekend. He taught across town last night, and Klint said he's coming to our academy Saturday. I'm going to open mat tonight, and with any luck he might show up there. He also said that we can set up privates with him whenever he's in town in the future. I'm sure he costs something like $250-$300 an hour, but Andy and I were talking about doing it at some point and splitting the cost. Probably not for a while, but I really don't know when having a private lesson would be most beneficial. I just started in February, and I imagine that a firmer grasp on the basics would be good to have before trying to learn specific things from world class jitsukas. Not even just a firmer grasp, but a better understanding of how to implement the basics in rolling. Some of that might be a legitimate concern, some of it is probably my own insecurity with my game right now, and some of it is probably good old-fashioned being a chickenshit. But at the same time, I don't have the coin to drop on a private right now, so it's all theoretical. I'll just keep focusing on how best to counter wrestlers with what seems like decades more experience at holding guys down and not letting other guys hold them down.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Evolution In Progress

Class tonight--this week we're working on half-guard. Tonight we worked passes from the top (other than the three he'd already taught us). "Floating" on your opponent while in half-guard (neither elbow nor hip touching the ground for a post) racks the nerves. Good technique, though, and definitely something that I want to get some time practicing.

Rolls during were with Beard John, Andy, and Zach. Beard and I---I don't remember how it really went. I know he was in my guard for a while, but I don't remember what happened. Andy and I were going at a good clip--I was focusing on keeping my pace deliberate without being slow and paying attention to technique. My failed arm-drag and weak sprawl turned into him on my back. I stopped his arm from getting under my neck and rolled into the choke, ending up in his guard. He still hasn't tapped me, and that is killing him. I don't imagine it will be long, but I'm going to postpone it as long as I can. It's a great test for both of us. Zach I choked and got to side mount before we stopped.

After class I rolled with Stan. I can tell how useful open mat has been and how much it has taught me. I'm giving Stan a much better fight, and even being offensive for more than 3 seconds during a roll with him. I think I have a better gas tank than a lot of people and that helps me get out of bad spots when they start to tire. I even tapped him, which is a first for me. It wasn't really a clean tap--I mean, it was a shoulder-lock in transition off my back, but I thought it would distract him and let me get his back rather than cause a tap. Not complaining--I'm happy that I can see those opportunities present themselves--but I would feel more of a sense of accomplishment if I controlled him, got to a dominant position, and finished from there rather than catching an arm in a scramble. He did have me in side control a decent amount, but not as much as I've been in it of late. Also, I had a lot of success hipping out and bringing my leg over the top between him and me. Just keep moving--that's what Jeremy keeps telling me. Who knew he'd be so right?

I turtle a lot. And I don't particularly like the position, but it gives me a sense of security in that I have more control when I'm turtled than I do when we're spinning around and he's trying to get to side control and I'm trying to sit out (something that is far from second-nature, let alone third- or fourth-) and get to his hips. In that mess--especially against someone with wrestling experience like Stan or just plain old quicks like Andy--I'm uncomfortable and a step behind, so I duck and cover. That is an area that I will work in the coming months. And it's going to suck. Lots. I also got to test out my new gi, a KEIKO RACA 2010 white limited edition. I don't know what makes it limited, as every outlet seemed to have it in stock. But it was my first night with it. It's a bit big, so I'll dry it and try to get it a bit smaller. The pants are a great length, and it's light. I'll probably review it in a few weeks after I've rolled with it. It did, though, get the christening of my blood tonight. I need to wear something between my gi and me. Even though it feels weird and wrong. Because blood on white is a little too stark to ignore. And it may or may not be less than sanitary.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Why Do I Do This To My Body

I went to open mat last night, then again this morning, and since I didn't have anything until 4pm, just drove across town to get a few more rolls in after Klint's class. Yes. I am sore.

The wonderfully wretched thing about rolling with new people after working most exclusively on technique or a few months (and I speak as a white belt with barely over 6 months behind me) is that, more often than you would ever find enjoyable, you find yourself on the wrong side of side control. Wonderfully wretched. It helps you learn how to survive and escape, and that's usually your first few sessions of live rolls. I'm in the middle of that period right now. So it might not be a universal experience, but it's definitely mine. I don't think I had a single roll where I wasn't on the wrong end of side control this morning. Most of the time I survived--sometimes I got out, sometimes I definitely didn't. Damian's school had no-gi week because it was brutally hot this week, so a handful of people were just working with rashguards and shorts. I had a chance to get schooled by a Ricco Rodriguez/Eddie Sanchez black belt, so that was fun. Mainly, I was trying to work on passing guard and controlling grips. I had some successes and lots of failures.

Right now, I need two hands to count the body parts that are operating at below-full capacity: left hand, left thumb (that's right, they're different), right knee, toe on right foot, right leg below the knee, left leg below the knee. One might think that so many tweaks and cracks might put a break in my training schedule. Not so much. If anything, I train a little harder. Is that the right thing to do? Probably not. But to be fair, if I was concerned about making sure that every part of my body was in perfect working order, I wouldn't spend my time rolling on the mats learning and trying to choke people and pop shoulders and elbows and wrists and hit sweeps.

I've started getting recovery drink powder from GNC. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I have to admit that I am less sore the following morning when I drink one of these nasty almost-watermelon-flavored concoctions. If anyone knows of a natural formula that does the same thing, I'd be open to it. Until then, though, I'll keep using this powder. Also, I've noticed that, since I started training, I'm much more careful about my diet. I'm already a vegetarian--lacto-ovo-pesco (i.e., I eat fish and dairy products and eggs)--so being conscious of what I eat isn't new. Being conscious of what I eat and the effect it has on my training, though, is. Partly because I wasn't training before, but mostly because it was never something that I cared that much about. But I'm not 19 anymore, and I'm not in college, so "gummi" is no longer a recognizable food group. I know that I should drop my alcohol intake--if not cut it out completely, at least limit it to no more than 3 or 4 beers a week. As anyone who has endured law school can attest, that's simply not feasible right now. I have another year of classes and papers and nonsense to get in the way of everything else in my life. Sometimes, nothing beats a cold bitter (Surly if you got it) or a clean whisky (Redbreast if it's handy, Jameson if it's not) depending on the season. So until I lose that stress-point and move into the new stress of actual employment, I'll keep the one main vice I have.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Movement pt. 3

Another night of butterfly guard, another night of feeling a bit lost. Part of it might be that my body is built such that butterfly guard probably will not be my go to a la Marcelo, part of it might be me being a five-year-old, and part of it might be that butterfly guard is just hard to learn. But another night of techniques---single-leg + passing to the backs of the knees, passing butterfly guard, jumping to a triangle from stand and base. Rolls after with Vance (3 stripe white), Jon (white), Ed (blue), and Zach (1 stripe white) were good-ish. I keep finding armlocks to latch onto, though more often than I would like I am unable to finish them---either I lose my grip on their arm (happened twice on Jon) or I mis-time falling back (Zach).

After I was done, Ed complimented me: "Really good movement." My response: "It never felt like really good movement." I was there putting in mat time, but I never felt as confident as I had at times last week or the weeks before, I had no breakthroughs...I was beating guys I thought I should beat and stalemating those I though I would stalemate. And again, I started thinking about excellence as it relates to BJJ and everything else.

[Reading my last two posts might be good, if you haven't already.]

So if every day we have about 4-5 hours that we can use to become more than merely proficient at something, I was wondering whether you can split that time. I would want to use 3.5-4 on law school and the rest on BJJ until schooling is finished. But I'm not sure that it works that way. Look at Jon Fitch: he is not an amazing athlete. He will be the first to tell you that he is not an amazing athlete. He just works hard. He shows up early, he stays late, he drills hard, he logs the hours. And that's all he does. He has been able to become the second best welterweight in the world because he worked hard to get there. Reaching that level, though, has costs. When you're one of the best in the world at something, then that something consumes you. You have almost no world outside of it.

At school, we will be having a series of events where prominent legal professionals from around the community come in and talk about their passion, the thing that they do when they are not working. The hook is, they have to be really damn good at it, and it can have nothing to do with the law. For example, one speaker will be a head partner at one of the big law firms in town who has named Northwest Amateur Tennis Player of the Decade. The purpose of the series is to show that the work habits that we develop early on determine how successful we can be just as much as--if not more than--talent. But again, if you plan to excel and be the best in the world at one thing, then you will probably be unable to develop another. One legal professional in town was the trial lawyer on the Exxon Valdez case, and my professor was trying to see if he would come and speak at this series. Apparently, though, all he does is law. He's kind of boring outside of the thing at which he is one of the best in the world.

And now back to jiu jitsu. I do not plan on becoming one of the best in the world. I'm starting late in life, and I have other priorities that would interfere with my training if that were my goal. I do, though, plan on reaching black belt and continuing training thereafter. That's going to take time and work. Its even going to require work from butterfly guard.

That's probably all I'll dig into excellence for now. If something new comes into my head about it, I'll be sure to put it down here. Open mat tonight and again tomorrow morning, so if I have a chance tonight, I'll post my thoughts after rolling. If I don't, it'll be a whole day before I type here again.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Movement pt.2

More butterfly guard work tonight. I never felt like I got the hang of the drill we were doing in class, so I asked Jeremy to work it after class with me. I can tell that the position is full of great sweep opportunities, but that doesn't mean I will be able to execute them. I was thinking about that on the ride home, and the topic of my post last night came into my head.

There is excellence, and then there is excellence. My instructor earned his blue belt under Rickson Gracie, and he told me a few stories about exactly how good Rickson is. 1) A few years back, a black belt on the tournament circuit was tearing through guys just how Rickson used to--nothing but submissions, making it look simple. My instructor's friend knew this guy really well, and told him that he should train with Rickson. So this friend drove the new phenom down to Rickson's place and dropped him off to train. He picked the phenom up 2 hours later, and could tell from the way he walked to the car the effect the training had on him. "How'd it go?" [Silence.] "He made me feel like a white belt, like I'd just walked in off the street and never done jiu jitsu in my life." And this was the new face of jiu jitsu at the time. 2) After worlds one year, Rickson gave a seminar for all the black belt champions. The seminar was about the cross choke, the basic cross choke that white belts learn in their first few weeks. Rickson could tell that the attention in the room was lagging--these guys were black belt world champions, they didn't think that they needed a seminar in cross-choking. So Rickson started with the smallest guy and told him to come onto the mat and mount him and get one cross-choke grip in place--but first, Rickson put his own hands in his belt. Then he said, "Finish it." Rickson escaped and swept--all without using his hands--and then passed guard, mounted, and finished with a cross-choke (he allowed himself the use of his hands once he'd swept). He went up the line, from the smallest flyweight to the biggest ultra-heavyweight. And he did the same thing to all of them. After the ultra-heavyweight tapped, he said, "Just so there isn't any misunderstanding...." and did it to each of them again.

Rickson has put in the time to be not only proficient at every position, he is excellent at every position. Bringing this back to my own training, becoming excellent at jiu jitsu will demand becoming excellent at a large number of positions--standing, opening & passing guard/half guard, side control, knee-on-belly, mount, s-mount, back control, closed guard, open guard, butterfly guard, bottom half guard, bottom side control, north-south, defending the back mount, defending mount, the list can go on. (I didn't even get into 5o/5o guard, rubber guard, any of the boutique games out there.) Development demands time spent in each of these positions, both succeeding and failing because that's the way you learn in this art. At least, that's the way I learn--it's usually not enough for me to see a technique and be able to pull it off it live sparring, I need to work it a handful of times or so before I can even see when the opportunity to use it presents itself.

And I remember that I wanted to get my blue belt before I graduate law school. I wonder now whether that will be cheating both my jiu jitsu and legal educations. I know that being a blue belt doesn't even come close to proclaiming you to be an expert at any one (let alone every) position in jiu jitsu, but it definitely displays that you have a functioning knowledge of the art. (The same goes for having a J.D.) It isn't even close to enough to get me to slow down my training or lighten my class-load, but it's something that I'll be considering for the time ahead. As far as I can tell, I'll keep putting n the time--both on the mats and in the classroom--so long as I feel I need to. Which is very, very different from "so long as I feel I am able to."

Monday, August 9, 2010


Movement and Butterfly Guard---those will be the main topics of the week. Should be fun, if today's any indication. Worked how to counter your opponent elevating you when you're in his butterfly guard, and a pretty slick armbar/triangle combination after passing to the back of the knees.

Went 50/50 with Gigantor Zach first. Something that I'm still learning: life is much easier if you refuse to let the other guy put you flat on your back. I avoided that, and the world was good. Then I went to Andy, and we had our usual back and forth, with me edging ahead of him at the end.

Rolls after were with Andy at the start, and then blue belt Ed. And and I had another set of vicious back and forths---we have a pace with each other that isn't 100%, but it's definitely more than 50/50 or "light training." I like having that kind of pace with someone, as it lets me try techniques in close-to-real circumstances. I'm not wonderful at remembering to try the things we learned in class, but when I do, it's worthwhile. Ed is a crusher, and I need to remember that. We worked for about 20, 25 minutes (I'm guessing), and afterwards he puked. So apparently my cardio is good and I forced him to work hard. Two things that I like.

A professor of mine has my mind thinking of excellence, and of how best to become excellent at something. This can be anything from a sport to a martial art to legal analysis to poker to sewing---an activity that demands concentration. This is not new material; I'm sure jiu jitsu bloggers have tried to plumb the depths before, Malcolm Gladwell has the 10,000 hour theory and his piece in the New Yorker about how underdogs can win is necessary reading if you're ever going to compete in anything. I even read the introduction to Andre Agassi's autobiography, and that set the same wheels in motion. As a society, we over-value talent. We see someone who performs at the elite level, someone like Roger or Rickson Gracie, Anderson Silva, Fedor, Muhammed Ali, Michael Jordan, Roger Federer, [insert obscure phenom here], and we think, "God, with that kind of talent, anyone could do it." But that's not right. You can become excellent with effort, and effort can outperform ability. Jordan didn't have that kind of talent forever---he was cut from varsity basketball his sophomore year, and he put in the time. Andre Agassi had talent, but what made him perfect his skills was his father's machine that fired balls at his feet so that he could learn to hit the ball early off the bounce. (He also has a congenital spine deformity---seriously, that autobiography is high on my list of next reads.) Your brain has 4-5 hours a day--you can devote yourself to becoming excellent and improving about 4-5 hours a day before your brain stops absorbing information in a meaningful way. Whatever the activity, that's the amount of time you have. 4-5 Hours of Excellence Time every day.

This brings me back to jiu jitsu. I'm a law student, so when classes start again, I'm going to have a lot of those 4-5 hours takenup with writing and critiquing and analyzing and so forth and so forth. Some of the things I'll have to do are mindless and shouldn't tax my "excellence time," like checking authorities and preparing for class. If I have 5 hours every day, I'll probably be able to average only 1 or 1.5 for jiu jitsu (in a given day). So I'm going to probably notice a decrease in my rate of development. I won't like that, but it's the way it will be for the next several months. Thankfully, it isn't first or second year anymore, and my grades are already what my prospective employers will see, so I can't change those. But what I'm trying to get at is that we have only so much time that we can devote to improving our technique. So the time that we have, we have to use wisely. Drill for technique rather than speed (at least for now, until you commit the technique to muscle memory). Look for patterns and flow opportunities. Stretch and remain flexible when thinking about something else. The amount of conscious time that we can devote to our chosen art is finite. So we have to use it well.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Third Stripe

We had a graduation last night. I got my third stripe (DCJJS does new belts for stripes now--I'm still a white belt), Andy and Zach got their first, and Chan (a teenage student) got his yellow belt. Klint had us go over the threads, then drill specific techniques for a while, then do some 50/50 positional drilling, and then some live rolling. He had Andy and me roll first, which made us both laugh. Of course, we went pretty hard, I got on top somehow, he kept me in half-guard, then rolled me over because I presume I got lazy with my base, and then I bucked him hard and took his back. Klint called time before we could finish the fight. He had us all go once or twice with someone else comparable in size. It was a nice little thing, and Klint said nice things about us all.

My wife came to watch, and that was very nice. I asked her what she thought afterwards, and she had this strange look on her face, so I told her she could go ahead and laugh. But she said she was closer to being sick---see, she's not really a physical person. By that I mean, she watched us all grapple for about an hour, and she sees someone in a compromising position that is more than likely uncomfortable and possibly dangerous, and she starts getting sympathetically anxious for that person. She would much rather sit and read, or walk the dog, than get into a situation where you have to struggle. In other words, not so big on physical exertion. So the whole time she was watching, she was getting tensed out, and that six of us were working at once compounded the effect. So she'll never train, and more than likely won't completely understand what I get out of jiu jitsu (other than in shape and tired). But she even said that if someone else was there with her, it might have been easier. So next time, we just have to get Andy's wife to show up. But the two of them are dangerous together---they want to bring signs like at a football game.

Things for me to work before my next test:
Grip breaks
Guard passing
Sweeps from closed guard
Sweeps from open guard

Looks so simple when you write it down like that.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Yes, I still have ego. Yes, it made me cry tonight. No, I don't foresee that stopping anytime soon. What.

More single-leg defenses, more drilling (this time with Maya, a supremely flexible female blue belt with whom I had to make sure I wasn't trying too hard), and a few more live go's. New John---same story, beating him pretty handily, about a step and a half ahead of him. Freddy--new guy, Jeremy's wrestling buddy from Augsburg [or wherever the hell he went]--is small but wickedly explosive and fast. He'll be a pain very soon. Klint talks about the guard for a bit, saying "when someone is in your guard, you want them to feel like they're on a tightrope 50,000 feet in the air." Jeremy (after a decent pause): "Do airplanes even fly that high?" [Laughter] Klint (smiling): "The better your guard, the higher the tightrope." After class, I asked Klint a technical question and then, as no one else seemed to be looking to train immediately, I asked if he wanted to work.

Now, I know he's going to beat me, and that he's going to beat me soundly within an inch of my life before I realize what's happening. That isn't what bothers me. Neither is the roll itself---the roll, I feel pretty OK about both when it's happening and immediately afterwards. Nothing great, and nothing like a breakthrough, but nothing embarrassing and nothing like I'm skipping basic ideas when I'm rolling. So he throttles me a handful of times, armlocks a few, and only once do I feel like I fell into something that I knew was coming. I recognized a butterfly guard sweep as he was locking it in---I couldn't defend it, but I saw what he was doing, so that's a step up. Once, he had me elevated, did something that I'm sure was beautiful to watch, but seemed from where I hung like he spun me twice in the air and caught me in armlock position. [At this point, apparently most of the people from class were watching; Jeremy deadpanned: "Chris was just at 50,000 feet."] After, I asked for some feedback. And it was "commit to a side when you're trying to pass guard...make me commit, and then react to that." It was, almost literally, "Do what I've been telling you to do for the last four weeks." So I thanked him, slapped hands again, and slunk off to the changing room. Thankfully, everyone was gone but Andy, Jeremy, and Klint, and all three stayed on the mat for a few minutes; the tears that dropped onto my gi were mine and mine alone.

That he destroys me doesn't bother me. That he beats me is obvious and a no-brainer, and fighting that would be tilting at windmills. I was getting to better positions, but I wasn't maintaining them. The first part made me feel great, then my sails would lose all wind with the second part. I'm sure part of it was being unfamiliar with being in anything resembling a dominant position against Klint, part (a lot) of it was my own technical flaws, and part of it was complacency. I like to think that I've gotten better about not having an ego when it comes to jiu jitsu. I tell myself that, while I'm nowhere near enlightened, I'm doing pretty fucking good about my mental game and my emotional investment and recognizing how far into the abyss I have yet to travel. I realize that I'm lying, or at least ignoring a large part of my own personality. I like winning. I like being good at things. I like being remarkable among the guys in the room. I don't need to be the best (though that's pretty fucking sweet when it happens), but I like to give the best at least something of a fight. And I need to let that go.

Really, what I think it comes down to is that I want to be getting better at a much faster pace than I am. And with the amount of time that I have to devote to jiu jitsu (which is never enough but which is also roughly every possible minute I can squeeze into my schedule), I don't know that I am able to get better any faster. I'm doing what my instructor tells me to do: I'm going to open mat practice so that I can roll with other people and other body types, I'm trying to pay attention to being technical instead of relying on strength and athleticism (and chastising myself when I notice otherwise), I'm rolling with people who are better than me and getting waxed. I can expect nothing less than what happened tonight. Klint's a black belt. I'm obviously not. In fact, I'm six months from walking in off the street, and I'm testing for my third stripe tomorrow. I have nothing to complain about. I just want to be better.

Test tomorrow, hopefully more jits Saturday (so long as I don't have a restaurant shift in the morning), and then more and more until school starts. So that's great. And if anyone has any way to just drop your ego curbside, let me know in the comments. Cause that would be priceless.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

I Am Out of Titles, So I'll Call This One Steve

Class tonight was just drills. No new techniques---Check that. We did the obligatory single-leg drills with Jeremy looking over our shoulders to make sure that we were doing it correctly and fine-tuning our angles and alignment and defenses. After that, we did drills, drills, and more drills. He had each pair of us work on the threads that we will need to know for our next promotion. Works for me, as Friday is only a few days away. [Andy, sorry you missed this one.] Beard John and I worked three drills over and over, switching from one to the other only on command. I was already familiar with the three we worked, so I was happy for the mandated time to fine tune them.

After class, we did three two-minute rounds of live rolling with a new partner each time. I started with Beard John--he defended my omoplata and I ended up tapping him with a bow and arrow (those seem to be my two go-tos at the moment), and after the restart, we stalled out without any serious action before the bell. My next opponent was Jeremy, the purple belt national wrestling champion. He tapped me thrice, but I felt better in the rolls with him tonight than I have in rolls with him before. It isn't like I felt like I was winning or had a positional advantage or anything even close to that. No. That would be silly at this point. Rather, I felt comfortable trying for things, attempting to set up a platform/triangle position, looking for the ankle pick (which, on a wrestler of that caliber, is probably not the best idea), grabbing the elbow and throwing my legs up. I was more aggressive against Jeremy than I have been yet, and that felt---well, it felt good. My third was with Gigantor Zach, and I tapped him thrice (wonderful thing, symmetry). One armlock, one rear-naked, and one platform armbar. I felt good against him as well, but I did keep starting with the same set-up, so I need to diversify my attack, especially against the guys I see every class.

Came home to my wife having semi-cleaned our apartment (which is like it's brand new, as neither of us is picky about the lived-in appearance of our domain) and sitting at the table with a lamp propped over her notebook and typing. That means that she's writing. That means that I'm happy. She should do things like this more often.

I have no rolls scheduled tomorrow, because tomorrow night I have a BBQ that is a temporary sending-off party for my friend and former roommate. He's off to Boston because the love of his life enrolled in a graduate program at a ridiculously well-credentialed school, and now that he has finally convinced her that she's loved him this whole time he's not about to let her out of his sight. That, and Boston has one of the gnarliest ultimate frisbee teams in the world, so he'll be right at home. What that means for tomorrow is that we shall share fine ales and laughs, pretend that distance doesn't exist, and enjoy burning things on the grill. I'll be back on the mats on Thursday, drilling my ass off for Friday's stress and following my drills with bar trivia, as is the norm.

Truly, that might be one of the things that my wife and I have most in common: a love of bar trivia and laughing. She hosts it, so I have to attend, otherwise she considers it shirking my marital duties. She doesn't understand the jiu jitsu. But the beer afterwards? It's common sense.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Blue Monday

Right now, as I sit here with an empty beer on my right and a freshly-cleaned plate that used to contain eggs and veggie burgers on my left and my wife sits across the room listening to some music that I don't recognize but that makes me neither wretch nor smile, I find a few things surprising.

1) I started training jiu jitsu in February. Call it BJJ, call it Guerrilla Jiu Jitsu, call it whatever you want--that's not the point. It's jiu jitsu, it's hard work, and I can count on one hand the number of weeks in six months that I haven't gone to three or more classes. I remember growing up that my parents never let me quit anything. It didn't matter what it was, if I signed up, I had to finish. I didn't get it, but I have to look back and admire what they did. I have this bug inside me that wants to finish most everything I start. Brenna sees it another way; she thinks that I keep going because I'm good at it, and my skill directly influences the extent of my love for a thing. This might not be far from the truth; I am, like everyone else, more likely to enjoy something if I'm good at it. Also, it lets me work out the physical demons that I've been unable to exorcise on my bike or on the frisbee field. I'm hooked, and even though she's beginning to feel like a BJJ widow a few nights a week, I think she gets some benefits out of the deal. I'm tired a lot, and even though i go to sleep quickly and that might suck sometimes, I'm less likely to fight her on stupid shit, and that's a win for her. I'm in shape and happier, and thus easier to please in the general sense. That, and she now has something more to make fun of me for, be it the blatantly sexual undertones of the entire sport or the way Andy and I geek out about positional control and have to demonstrate why body triangles belong only on one side in the middle of our dining room. And I just re-upped for another 12 months. What.

2) I started this blog last month in an effort both to chronicle my own experience with jiu jitsu and to act as a cloud-based notebook so that I wouldn't forget everything that I learn in class. Since I started, I haven't missed posting after a class or rolling session. (To be fair, I think it's almost 3 weeks old, but that's a lot longer than my last chronicling attempt lasted.) I hope that more people than just Georgette and Andy read this, but it doesn't keep me up. The first links on the right hand side are: (a) my academy, Revolution Defense and Fitness---I train at the Woodbury location with Klint; (b) Dave Camarillo, whose jiu jitsu system Klint teaches me; (c) MMA Faestro, a truly great tutorial site that is not limited to MMA---they have almost all of Dave Camarillo's curriculum, a ton of BJJ tutorial videos from Leo Vieira, Cobrinha, and Paul Schreiner, not to mention the wrestling, striking, MMA and judo video tutorials (Klint started it, and it's really exceptional---if you're reading this and haven't seen it, give it a whirl); and (d) Mutiny on the Body, which is run by two Revolution students Gina (brown belt) and Brian (purple belt) who are quite possibly the toughest people I know. I doubt this is giving any of those sites more traffic, but if they get one more subscriber because of those links, I'll be happy. So what about this surprises me? That I've taken the time to make this appear like I want it to, taken the time to make sure the people I know are visible and advertised on my site, and that I keep logging in and writing.

[As you can by now tell, this is not my normal post re-capping training. Deal with it.]

3) OK, now I'm going to the re-cap of training. We worked on breaking down our opponent when we have him in closed guard, learned a triangle set-up off a fake sit-up sweep that I might have fallen in love with, and an arm crush from guard that I never really got the hang of but it might come in handy after a few drilling sessions. Sparring in class was good, I went with both Beard John and New John. It was a big class, so we only had two partners. After class, I went over the testing material with Beard John and Klint, then did some thread work with Vance and Ed. I've grown to really like the thread work that were doing, especially when I can use it in a live roll. I won't spend a lot of time rolling live this week, as I'll be using that time for review. I feel good, though, and confident enough to approach this belt test without being scared to fail. That doesn't mean I won't be drilling in my head as I go to sleep or shower. And Saturday I'm tentatively scheduled for a double at the restaurant (on call in the morning and working at night), so I might not get to try out my possibly-new belt until next week. That would kind of suck, but really, the money is going to pay for a new gi, so who can complain? At some point, I'll have video to post or pictures of training, but I don't have the technology right now, and so you're left with my own explanations that may or may not convey the entire truth.

You'll hear from me again tomorrow night. Because I have class, and that means that I have to tell both of you about it.