Thursday, September 30, 2010

More practice tonight.  Worked more open guard, drilled the leg loop sweep, learned a strange and beautiful shoulder lock r when someone is trying to get double unders and stack you, ad drilled with Andy and Eric a bit.

First, I worked on the guard passing stuff that Klint suggested Tuesday night.  It started feeling fairly natural by the end of the reps, but I'll do it again tomorrow night at the beginning of open mat, just to be sure.After that, the three of us rotated on a few 4 minute rounds, switch at either the time limit or the tap.  I actually spent a lot of time on top rather than playing my guard all night.  I went to guard against Andy once, but pulled that into a pendulum sweep to mount.  After that, he got me back to half-guard, but I passed to side control and didn't let him get back to anything near a secure position again.

Now, I'm starting to think about game-planning for the tournament.  I know it's over a week away, but I don't really know what I'll do if I face a great wrestler or a killer judo guy.  I know that I'm only going white belt and that I should be competitive with everyone I fight, but that doesn't stop me from either a) trying to think about a strategy that will help me take advantage of the spaces I create, or 2) wanting to perform well (which in my mind means beating a handful of people I fight).  I don't know how many will be in my division or what the spread of talent is like, but I want to perform well.  Vicious thing, being demanding of yourself.  I wish it on no one.

My body is performing remarkably well.  I'm not too sore, my back feels fine, I'm keeping my diet under tight watch (lots of fruits, lots of cottage cheese and clean sandwiches); I know I'm not sleeping enough, but with some luck I'll be able to catch up on a bit this weekend.  Between practices and homework various sundry responsibilities and that wedding on Saturday and finishing the one recreational book on my shelf right now (the next one is  Brothers Karamazov, so that might wait a bit).  Easy.

I'm pretty much out of things to say for the night.  I'll have more tomorrow, I hope.  In the meantime, enjoy a video of my instructor at the 2006 Chicago NAGAs:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Advances, None Miraculous*

* Deadwood (TV Series), Season 2 Episode 10.  If you like good storytelling and better language, you should watch this show.  Only 3 seasons of 12 hour-long episodes.  1/4 the investment LOST demands.

More class tonight.  Only four of us--myself, Stan (blue), Eric, and new Jeremy.  Purple Jeremy has a fight in November, so he's off to train with Camarillo & co. at AKA in California to maintain and extend his undefeated professional MMA record.  So while he gets even better, he leaves us with a black belt to roll with after class.  Can't really complain, now, can I?

We worked more open guard sweeps tonight, power sweeps and a super-slick sit-up sweep that ends with you holding his arm between his legs while you climb into a mounted triangle.  At least, that's how it ends when your partner isn't resisting.  Live, I'm curious to see if it maintains.  After drilling those, we worked on our grip strength by cross-choking each other a handful of times, and then rear naked choking each other again, and finally working a loopy collar choke that I'll have to work on again before I can even think to use it.  All good things to work.

I rolled with Eric a bit right after, putting him in my closed guard and telling him to get out.  It almost always ended with him tapping to an armlock.  I think I choked him once and took his back once.  Then, Klint came in and Eric and I took turns getting demolished by him.  I almost passed his guard once--as in I had him on the defensive and made him roll (which is a big thing), and then he somersaulted or something and he was back in full guard and I was upside down and mounted.  But I was this close.  So that lasted for a while, and when I felt the smallest tweak on my neck, I (for once) listened to my better angels and called it a night.

I ended up sitting and talking with Klint about my game and what I can do to improve, etc.  Strange how you start doing that, he shows you a few things to work on, and you chat about it some more, and suddenly 30 minutes have disappeared.  I got some great feedback, and it was the first time I felt like I could talk with no apprehension or filter about my game with my instructor.  No one else was there, and we had just spent 20 minutes working after he'd watched me work for another 15.  He had roughly the same assessment of my abilities as I had, which was nice to hear.  It also, though, tells me that I know where I need to work and should start doing it more and more often.  My sweeps need serious work.  Guard opening and guard passing is probably where I feel least comfortable, so I'll try to change up my general tactics there with some of the ideas he gave me.  He also reinforced the benefits that going to open mat across town has had.  Even though I'm not really putting him in danger when we roll, he's seeing improvement and--as I said yesterday--I just need to start attacking more aggressively.  It doesn't matter that he's going to beat me in the end--attacking tentatively (i.e., coaxing the beast out from its cave to see what it does when you come face to face before formulating a plan) necessarily puts me a step behind.  I'm waiting for him to pose a problem for me to solve.  Bad idea.

That was pretty much Napoleon's plan:  first we'll show up, then we'll see what happens.  No more of that.  It didn't work out too well for him in the end.  Better to run head-long into the wall and leave a me-shaped hole behind for now.  I can learn to temper myself later.  I hear that comes with age.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Back to the mats.  First night back, and it felt pretty good.  My tooth (or lack thereof) is a bit uncomfortable, but well beyond the throbbing stage.  I tested the mouthguard, and nothing hit anything sensitive, so we were good to go.  Did some threads/flow drills, worked some sweeps to develop open guard, drilled ladder-up armbars and learned a slick way to take the back in case that fails.  Of course, it's something that I expect not to pull off for a while, but it's definitely something I'll be hunting.

Andy tapped me tonight.  I attribute this to two things:  my unfortunate few weeks off, and his tenacity and improvement.  More the latter than the former, to be honest.  His guard has taken a step or two up, and I couldn't get anything started from mine.  Though I did get a pretty nice sweep from guard, I just don't remember how I did it.  I hit an armbar in the first roll, and he caught me in his americana-from-triangle.  To be fair, I love that tap, and I knew he was digging for it, I just got too busy defending the triangle to remember not to let him get his arm behind my elbow.  In the third roll, I had him in an arm triangle, but was too stupid to remember how to actually finish him before my arms gassed.  So first night back, and a full class plus 25 minutes of training.  (We had a roll during class and Klint worked in with us as a "breather" between our rounds.)

Andy finally tapped me.  He's been training since May (and I since February), and I've been telling him since at least June that he's moving really quickly and picking up things faster than people who started before him.  Hopefully this gives him a boost.  On the flipside, it's giving me a bit of a boost as well.  I now have to keep pace.  It isn't that I got tapped; it happens just about every practice and I have plans that will make it more and more likely.  (You know, taking more chances in rolling and trying for more subs and attacks against better opponents.  The kind of thing that I'm supposed to have been doing since day two.)  In fact, I'm glad Andy got this monkey off his back.  But I now feel like I need to work a little harder to keep him reaching, which will in turn keep me reaching.  You know, push-ups and yoga at home, watch my food a little closer (fewer Starbursts), try to limit my coffee intake.

Wait.  Strike that last one.  That has to wait until after school.

On a completely unrelated note, Klint has authorized us to create Jiu Jitsu CDs that we can play during class and training.  So.  What songs do I need to include?

Friday, September 24, 2010

One more long weekend

I have a close friend whom I have known for almost ten years.  We share all and have many similar interests.  Sometimes, though, we can't reconcile the other's point of view with our own.  I saw him last week, maybe the week before, and he told me he reads this blog every now and then.  When I started it, I did say that it would more than likely contain updates from my entire life (as opposed to my jiu jitsu life), and I haven't really followed up with that much.  That has been a conscious decision.  I find that this space works much better as an outlet when it has a constant theme.  Otherwise, this is nothing more than a public journal.  And I don't need that.  I also told this friend that he should come try class with me sometime.  He's an athletic guy, really competitive, debilitatingly smart--it should be a perfect fit.  Of course, he refuses.  Doesn't understand why fighting and getting hurt (from time to time) could possibly be fun or fulfilling.

Of course, this is a perfect reflection of our other fundamental disagreement:  the dentist.  I loathe the dentist, today a bit more than normal.  My dear friend, though, is never as comfortable anywhere as he is when he visits the dentist.  He loves the harsh plastic cover on the awkwardly reclining chair, the cold metal stabby things on his gums, the sterile and heartless feeling of the hallways and offices.

I am right now sitting on the chaise with Buster splayed out next to me and a leaking sore on the left side of my mouth where my wisdom tooth sat until four hours ago.  It's gone, and what a bastard of a process it was.  So now I have a new variety of pain pills to add to my collection.  Haven't taken any yet, I'm kind of curious how long I can hold out.  (A bit more curious how long I'll be able to go without food, but that's another fight entirely.)  So yes.  Dentists suck.  As I was laying there with what I'm certain were rusty pliers and crowbars sticking out of my mouth (literally, I heard him ask for the forceps, as though the baby was breached), a few things fought their way through the nitrous haze and crossed my mind.  1)  The way I was crossing my legs and squeezing them in sheer terror, anyone in my guard would have been pulverized.  2)  Every now and then, I would remind myself to just relax and breathe and that it would all be over soon and I'd be able to leave, no different from being stuck in a wrestler's side control and looking for an opening.  Of course, I was kind of stoned on nitrous, so maybe the connection isn't as clear as it was in the fog, but it still makes a modicum of sense to me.

Of course, the balance is that I can't train now until Monday or Tuesday.  So there goes the weekend.  Instead, I'll be on a liquid-ish diet and camped out on couches and in front of my books.  If all this rust makes me slow and forgetful, I'm going to get angry at my body.

Tournament on October 9.  With at least one full week of training, I'm in.  Count it.  I'll tape any matches and post them in short order.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


That's right, I convinced my wife to let me go to class tonight.  I promised not to roll afterwards because I should ease back into training after a week off, but I still got to take class again.  And it went well, and I'm whole and sore and loving it all over again.

I don't have time for a proper post, and won't until Friday.  But Friday, I will put down some of the thoughts that came up in class about wrestling in jiu jitsu (again) and competing.

Also, I might be on painkillers again.  But I'm sure I'll have a valid reason for that.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Status Update

A few things before I disappear for the next few days:

1) My back and neck are feeling infinitely better than they were last week.  I expect that I 'll be able to convince my lovely wife to let me creep back into class one day earlier than the doctor suggested based on the combination of this and my next issue.

B)  I have an appointment to have a wisdom tooth yanked soon.  The dude doesn't even have the common decency to knock me out first--I'll be conscious, though mildly anesthetized.  Really, I hoped they would be able to just hit me with a hammer and rouse me when they finished, but apparently that's not the done thing anymore.  The functional result of this is that I'll probably have to miss another handful of classes.

3)  Law school classes, while infrequent and at this point only mildly interesting, still demand me to produce work and devote time.  Thus, the sudden infrequent nature of my posting.  All will be well (if not well, then at least better) after this weekend, but that's all I can foresee from my present vantage.

Review of my Keiko Raca is still coming, as is at least one musing on the effect my jiu jitsu has had on the rest of my relationships.  But now, back to the fake brief and the dullness that will encapsulate me for the next five days straight.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Observation during Lunch

Our dog is wrestling with our neighbor's while I wait for the oven to heat. My dog tends to go for one leg, then fall to his back and try to wrap up the other's legs with his own.

That's right. Buster plays open guard.

That is all.
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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Unplanned Week-long Vacation

Thursday night was hell. Usually when I injure myself, I can find some sort of equilibrium, some posture or angle that doesn't hurt to maintain. Not so this time. We got hom from trivia and I curled up in the fetal position on the couch.  I eventually dragged myself to bed, but couldn't sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time because of the pain. It was a terrible sleep.

I went to the doctor Friday morning. X-rays and some random quackery tells us that nothing is out of place in my spine--no slipped discs or anything else leaving its designated space.  So that's good.  Sadly, though, that knowledge doesn't automatically make it easier to move my back.  I got prescription pain pills and muscle relaxants.  Also, the doc told me to take some prescription doses of ibuprofen (aka Vitamin I).  The doc said I should start doing light stretches and maybe even some light yoga by Tuesday or Wednesday, so that's encouraging.  She advised to wait around 2 weeks before going back to class.  We'll see if I can last that long.  I don't want this injury to turn into something that takes all the momentum out of my training.  I like that I go to 3 classes a week and work some training in after most classes.  I refuse to allow something as trivial as my back to get in the way of that.

So I'm out for a short while.  And right as I got a new Jiu Jitsu book--Andre Galvao's "Drill to Win" came in the mail Thursday or Friday.  So I have to look at that all week and not try anything I see in there.

This will help make sure that I keep up with my schoolwork, though, so it isn't all bad.  2 writing assignments due next week (not the one coming, the 20-24), and I am out of commission over the weekend with a bachelor party.  Sadly, this injury came at a pretty good time.  I also have to have a dentist abuse me some more on the 24th.  So I might be out that weekend, depending on how badly getting a wisdom tooth yanked sucks this time around.

I haven't forgotten that I committed to reviewing my Keiko Raca gi, and I'll get to that.  I wanted to make sure I got enough rolls in it to get a feel for it.  I might find some time to write that up this week.

Thursday, September 9, 2010



So Tuesday, Colin put me in a can opener. And it sucked, but it wasn't horrorshow. Stan also stacked me pretty well, but my neck and back were fine when I left. When i went to sleep, it was a bit sore, but nothing unbearable. It got worse throughout the day, and it was OK today. Not wretched, but noticeable.

Some might think that a normal person would have skipped practice. Those people are wrong. Warm ups went fine, but the first shot I took doing single leg drills tweaked something. Then, as I was laying down to put someone in guard and it took me 2 minutes, I decided to take class light. I didn't play dummy for any gi chokes thank god, but it just kept getting worse.

Now, I sit at the bar with what must surely be a 2 inch metal rod shoved from my middle back to the base of my skull. I can't even slouch without pain, let alone sit in posture. So we'll see how this shakes out overnight. With a bit of luck, I'll be semi-normal by Monday. I'll address when to return to class when I feel mobile again. Until then, I'm putting myself on the DL. Send beer and movies.
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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Throwing Hammers Is A Bad Idea

I played a round of disc golf this weekend.  During this round, I threw exactly one hammer throw.  A hammer throw has the same basic form as pitching a baseball (also known as the most unnatural movement a human can make with his arm).  As a result, my back shoulder is feeling a bit ornery after class.

Big-ish class tonight.  We worked single-legs, a counter to a sprawling opponent that ends with you knee-tapping him, and some pretty damn sweet gi-manipulation hold downs and chokes.  One is called "Showtime" (I shit you not), and you choke your opponent with your own gi as you somersault over his arm.  Sexy and painful, all at once.

At the end of class, Klint had us do a handful of one-minute-go's, going for immediate submissions.  None of this grip-fighting for 30 seconds nonsense, go in and finish the fight.  It was a nice change of pace.  Also, terrifying.  Putting on that short time limit and letting loose the caged animal inside you while the man kneeling across from you does the same drops some serious pressure on your shoulders.  It makes playing guard--arguably my favorite part of jiu jitsu--impractical, especially if your amped opponent dives into a guard pass.  Then you're not fighting to submit, you're fighting to find your knees and not lose.  I went against Vance, then Eric, then Andy, then Colin.  I tapped Vance once (I think), Eric twice, had Andy on his back in an armbar when time ran, and tapped Colin once.  I don't know how much of my apparent success is because of technique and how much is because of something else.  But I'll take my wins and smile.

I worked with Stan after class and had a lot of success--much more success against him than I normally do.  I was trying not to pull guard at the beginning (regular readers:  do you see a pattern?), and it worked!  I even sort of pulled off the straight arm pass that we worked all last week.  Some things I did were stupid white belt mistakes--over-committing to a choke in mount and surrendering the upa roll, for instance--but I'm a white belt and need to make those mistakes so I remember not to when I advance.  At one point, I even threw up my leg for an armbar without even trying to secure his elbow, with just a wrist grip on his sleeve.  That didn't work so much, and it earned me a verbal reprimand from Klint.  ("You know why that happened?  Because you were lazy and didn't grab his elbow.  He's way too strong for that, and you're better than that.")  I got a few more light rolls in, and then it was time to return to school for more work.

Once again, I'm feeling OK on the mats.  I expect those mats to disappear from underneath me in the weeks to come, just as they always do.  And just as I need them to so that I keep improving.  If only I had a tropical retreat to host my jiu jitsu vacations and a black belt willing to come surf, teach, and train for a week.  Then, I would be set.  My wife could sit and read with our dog on one side and her mai tai on the other.  Our friends could even join, as long as they didn't interrupt the training.

Does anyone else have a spouse who doesn't train?  How do you deal with that separation?  Comment away.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Game of You

(ed. note:  stole the title from Neil Gaiman's SANDMAN comic series; best story I've read and best storyteller alive.)

With the holiday weekend, we had only 5 people in class--me, Andy, Zach, Lisa, and Colin.  We worked the straight-arm pass again, and ways to get around the standard counters that guys will use.  It was good to revisit the pass after spending a few hours trying to implement it into my game last night.  Noted the things I was doing absolutely wrong, hope to get those out of my system early.  My chest is still tender, I imagine there might be a bruised sternum or something in my chest.  Gotta stay out of side control for the next few weeks, keep working guard passing and maintaining guard for a while.

A few things caught my mind today.  First, I've had a few rolls in the last few weeks that were the great, chill-but-still-working, "let's see what happens and how you would react" speed.  I had another with Colin to start after-class rolls today.  I don't know if that is what 50/50s are supposed to feel like, but I tend to leave those rolls feeling like I got something out of them, whereas I have some with blues and purples and more than a few whites where I leave and, having won or lost, I don't know that I will really take anything away from that roll other than getting some miles under my belt.  I struggle to figure out how to have more of those rolls with more people.  Part of it, though, is that it will probably help most with people who are more experienced than I so that I can get some feedback about things I did well, things I did poorly, etc.

Also, I find myself trying to create new muscle memory a lot of the time.  As an illustration:  last night and this morning, if I was trying to pass someone's open guard, I would find my body naturally trying to make my right leg pass over my opponent's left, putting me directly into half-guard and a dogfight.  When I would cross over my opponent's right with my right from standing, I would never get the underhook correctly or get my hand placement quite right, and I would effectively give up my back.  And it wasn't something that I was conscious of--so that means that my body is instinctively wrong.  Which means that I have to create new instincts for it to follow.  Which means hours and hours of conscious thought, rolling sessions where I don't lost concentration in a scramble.  Having faster synapses.  What would help most would be to have time to roll every day, find time to build that memory more than three times a week.  That is highly unlikely, so I have to use the time I have well.  And still study.

So it's a game.  Balance--do the things you must, the things you can, and the things you love.  Both in Jiu Jitsu and in general.  And at the end of the day/memo/practice/roll, you're going to be exhausted and sore and love every bit of it.

On a personal note, one that I'm sure Georgette will echo:  If anyone knows someone who is in their last year of law school, apologize to them.  We have 9 more months of tedious and senseless class-work before we have to (re: are allowed to) take a wretched test that will qualify us to enter a terrible job market.  And we can't blow it all off, because that would make our lives too simple.

Still a Novice

Despite all the things that I deeply love about our art, the mat burn really, really sucks. I've got a quarter-sized monstrosity on the top of my right foot. My sandals chafe it, shoes are near hell, and rolling requires ten more minutes of prep time to wrap it against catching some 13-year-old's super-bug off the floor.

Most of the open-mat rats are down in Chicago, trying to win NAGA. A few purples went, Damian (the black belt in Edina) is apparently competing as well, I think some blues and a white or two. Tim is the only one I know for sure, and he should have a good shot.  So the attendance at open mat was sparse, seven of us showed up.  Andy and I started, worked through a few positions, go warmed up.  I rolled with Luke, got wrecked a bit, then put him in a bit of trouble.  Probably the best I've done against Luke.  Brady came next, and I had forgotten what having a size advantage does to both your game and your confidence.  I'm not a big guy in our classes, but I'm not small.  Luke is roughly my size, but Brady--I've got at least six inches and forty pounds on Brady.  At one point, he shot triangle and got me to bend down, but I kept posture and shifted my weight towards my trapped arm, putting all of the weight on my knee right by his head.  This stacks him to high hell and prevents him from getting the angle he needs to finish.  It does require a bit of attention, surfing over a stacked opponent and making sure he doesn't do anything to the arm he has trapped, but after about four minutes, his legs just flew open and I was in north-south.  It was awesome.  At the end of the night, I rolled with Enrique for the first time.  He's a purple belt, mildly terrifying o look at and his pressure is outstanding.  He let me get some mildly-resisted work in, swept me when I forgot something important.  It was extremely worthwhile and appreciated.

Once again, everything comes down to basics.  I spent the day remembering to keep the bottom leg pinned when I was in someone's open guard, and I had more success passing than I ever have before against these guys.  Still, I'm forgetting basic things, like using the wrong leg to attack, trying to keep my opponent flat by pushing the head rather than the shoulder and effectively gift-wrapping the underhook.

I can feel the progress, but I can also tell that I'm spending a bit too much time sparring and not nearly enough time drilling.  So that has to change.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Thor's Day

Tonight, we worked on headlocks when we're near a wall, shooting for a single without grips, then more with the straight arm pass. It's a really good pass, and soon enough I'll have enough reps to feel semi-comfortable attempting it training. But that wasn't the highlight of class.

After a fairly low-key class, the mat opened and I started with Zach. But before we got to it, Jeremy and Klint gave Zach a three minute talk about how he can start to use his strength when rolling. If you don't remember, Zach is my height (about 6'1", 6'2") with at least 40 more pounds of weightlifting muscle bigger (I walk around at 185 or so, he's a full 225). And my "friends and mentors" told him to use his strength more. The first roll was longer than expected, but he came like a damn bull. Just whipped me around dragged my arm to Egypt and ended up getting a Bow and Arrow after about 4 minutes. First time Zach has tapped me. So this, I thought, requires some adjustment. He's bigger than me, I need to be faster than he. Next roll, I made him chase me for the takedown, spun to his back while he turtled, and rolled into my own Bow and Arrow. We trained for about 10 minutes, then Zach needed a break. So Andy waded over with a look in his eye.

He came at me with more zeal than he's shown before. He wanted to tap me. He was close, too--trapping arms and shooting his legs up, trying to be as fast to me as I was to Zach. I stayed (relatively) calm and deflected, redirected, ended up getting a triangle and rolling it to a mounted one.

After that, I worked with Jeremy again. I started in his closed guard, and he beat me a lot. Eventually, Klint helped me narrow down my goals--stop thinking about only keeping him flat and work to open his legs. It does no good to keep him flat at the expense of getting submitted. He also narrowed Jeremy's first objective--get up. I can't out-scramble Jeremy. But I did get in on a few single legs while he was getting up, even got a trip on one of them. (It was a good trip, fast and accompanied by pressure, and he somehow--I don't know how, but somehow--got the leg I tripped back underneath him.)

The trick? To keep moving. And to be very, very good.

Open mat tomorrow night. More after that. Brenna is out of town at a friend's wedding, and work kept me here. That means, though, that Jiu Jitsu will keep me busy when I'm not working. My muscles are already wondering what they'll do to me in revenge.