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.