Sunday, January 30, 2011


It isn't that it was a bad week of training.  All told, I got on the mat five times--four classes and open mat.  We focused on working with a cross-grip from guard and combining it with the push-pull concept, using your opponent's energy against him.  Predicting and preempting.

I'm in a strange spot with my training.  I am progressing, and for that I am thankful.  I have been lucky enough to get plenty of mat time, and that always pays off.  I also find myself using more techniques in lie rolling than I used to.  I'm sure that part of it is that I'm gaining exposure to more techniques, I'm seeing more.  I'm also more comfortable on the mat and thus more willing to try different things.  My ego is more comfortable getting beaten and bruised, and that makes me more willing to try new things and get passed.  That is all good.

At the same point, I can feel myself almost stalling out, seeing a new level of difficulty in what I want to be able to do and not knowing how to get there.  A few of my training partners have complimented my improvement and hip movement, but it feels the same as it did months ago.  It's like I know more tricks and more ways to cut corners, but some fundamental part of my game is lacking.

Our academy has had a rash of injuries over the last few weeks--Andy's knee is acting up, Neal's shoulder, Zach's knee, and Kyle's knee all demanded time off.  None of which were my fault, by the way.  Well, with the possible exception of Kyle, but I wasn't tweaking on his leg--he was working a leg-loop sweep, and I was getting out of it but he wouldn't release the hook.  Also, he doesn't have a low speed, so even though I wasn't going full out, he was.  We should know more about that sometime this week.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be teaching constitutional law to high school students every morning.  At 7:30.  This is disheartening for two reasons:  1) it will be at 7:30 in the morning; and b) I'll probably have to give up one night of training a week in order to keep up with my school work and maintain some semblance of sanity.  I should still have 3 nights of training a week and an open mat, so it's not like I'm disappearing.

Finally, Nick Diaz is entirely too much fun to watch.  He finished Cyborg with a picturesque armbar last night.  They were on the ground for less than 30 seconds, and it cost Cyborg the fight.  That's what I want my ground game to be.  

Monday, January 24, 2011

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

This semester, I registered incorrectly in two different ways:  a) I registered for more credits than I need to graduate; and 2) I registered for at least one class that will drive me insane with the amount of work I have to do for it.  This insane class will also have me teaching high school seniors at 730 every morning of the week for nine weeks.  This will hopefully be rewarding in some way, though it will definitely require a fundamental change in how I time out my day.

As it relates to my mat time, I will probably be able to swing only two night classes and weekends for sure every week.  With luck, I'll be able to fit in open mat on Fridays as well.  So while it isn't a huge ut into my mat time, it's enough that I regret my registration strategy.

I went to class Tuesday, and I wanted to let the work afterwards sink in a bit before I wrote about it.  Class focused on more passes: the same standing one we did the night before, one rom bicep control if your opponent breaks you down, and then a ladder-up armbar and transitioning to the pass from a sweep.  I'm still perfecting some of the technical aspects of finishing a sweep--where to put my feet, which pass to transition to when sitting up, that sort of thing.  I worked with new Jeremy in class (once Neal re-tweaked his shoulder), and that was interesting.  He's getting better, he just needs a bit more patience and mat time.  I was able to catch the ladder-up armbar once, and to sweep him at least once.

After class, I rolled with Klint for a while.  I really don't know how long it was--I want to say twenty minutes or so, but when you're in the roll, time is a pretty malleable concept.  Naturally, I got tapped time and time again, but it took much longer than it used to.   I did a few things right:  at one point he turned my armbar defense into a triangle attempt, and I defended it and got back on top.  (To be fair, it wasn't totally to the top, I ended up in his open guard, but that's worlds better than caught in one of his triangles.)  All together, though, none of the rolls were quick finishes, and even though a lot my time was spent defending, it was good defense.  When rolling to turtle, I made a conscious effort to stop him from getting his lead hook in, so it kept him off my back.

His comments were encouraging.  He said he had to work harder to tap me that night than he had to tap out a purple belt last week.   Though of all things, I'm not maintaining my guard as well as I should be able to.  I need to work on going upside down, getting on my shoulders and rolling to maintain guard while my opponent pushes to pass it.  It was good, constant work.  And I came away from it with only a little bit of gi burn on my face.

Friday I went to open mat, but I didn't get there until about 645.  By then, only four people were there.  I got one roll in with Dumi, a well-respected blue belt.  I don't think I'd worked with him more than once before.  I wanted to work on some of the standing passes, but got caught in his butterfly guard.  That's somewhere that Kyle had been giving me trouble, so I was happy to work on it.  He kept getting a hook on the inside and causing problems for me.  We went over a few different ways to counter it, some of which I knew and some of which I'd just forgotten.

Saturday, after class (or at the end of class, depending on how rigidly you view the class structure) I worked with Chris, a purple belt.  He was around more then I started, then he and his wife had a kid and he's been at morning class across town more than at Klint's.  But he is one of the guys that scared the hell out of me to work with a year ago.  Saturday, we worked for about fifteen minutes in rolls at the end of class.  Everyone else had broken down and just started talking, but we kept rolling.  And I got caught over and over again--kimura here, loop choke there, cross choke.  He was working his guard, and I was working to pass.  Like Klint, he complimented me for improving and making him work.  So that was good.  And even though I wasn't successful, I'm getting better.  Closer.  More efficient and tighter.  Harder to catch.  And still haphazard and scared as hell.

Monday, January 17, 2011


When you go up against someone bigger than yourself, how does your approach and plan of attack change?

I'm not a small guy, but I'm far from the biggest.  For the longest time, I thought that I was roughly the same size as JD, another student who has the same rank that I have.  Last week, two people told me that I was doing very well for going against someone that much bigger than I.  That little seed--that when I fought JD i was fighting someone bigger--took root and grew.

Tonight, I worked with JD after class, and I realized in the middle of the roll that where I was mentally while rolling with him tonight was not the same place that I was last week and the week before.  Tonight, I was much more willing to give away a position and let him muscle me around.  His hip movement is great, so he always makes it tough for me to keep him down, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't fight for it or use his momentum to get to a better position.

This is frustrating on at least two levels.  Level one--I'm letting myself get away with not working as hard because someone is a little bigger than me or a little stronger than me.  This is not how smaller guys beat bigger guys.  Level two--I'm not thinking about how to use technique against strength and athleticism.  Again--this is not how smaller guys beat bigger guys.  Most of the bigger guys I roll with have one of two disadvantages:  they are either (a) older than me by 15-20 years, or (b) newer than me to the art.  So I can usually either frustrate them or bait and switch, I can rely on my deeper technical knowledge and familiarity.  So JD is a great opponent for me.  And naturally, now that I've realized this, I won't be able to train with him for another two weeks as he has Air Force Reserve deployment or something starting at the end of this week.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Definitions Revisited

Jeremy asked me a few weeks ago to try to define my game as someone who were to watch me roll would define it.  One idea surfaced that someone's game doesn't really take shape until late in the blue belt or early in the purple belt stages.  I disagree.  Whether intentional or not, I think your body type and muscle memory starts shaping your game from your first class.

The very first jiu jitsu class I went to, I had no introduction or anything--just jumped into a Saturday class to get a sample.  I dug out an omoplata on one person for a sweep (I knew the setup from a youtube video), and shot a triangle on someone else (but of course had no idea how to finish it).  I had little-to-no athletic experience from which to draw; I had wrestled for one season when I was in eighth grade (and we all know how we remember everything from junior high), but the extent of my serious athletic pursuits since then were almost exclusively flying-disc based.  And running full sprint after a full-field backhand huck doesn't prepare anyone for being on the wrong end of side control.  But still, my body naturally went for moves that suit my body type.

So I spent my first six months doing little but figuring out how to slap a triangle on my opponent.  I threw some armbars from guard in there for good measure, but really, I just devoted as much time and effort as I could to learning how to choke people with my legs while lying down.  It fit my body, and it had the added benefit of seeming pretty cool.  I don't know what this says about my overall game though.  It explains why I resort to specific movements and setups, but it doesn't characterize my approach to rolling (except in that it is incomplete and lacking some fundamentals).

Since Jeremy posed the question to me, it's been percolating in the back of my mind and I've had a few weeks of training.  I'm sloppy and imprecise.  But that probably is not the first thing that someone (other than me) would think, either.  I guess the best word I might have for my game right now is cerebral; I'm still very much in my own head.  I think about movements and combinations rather than feel for them and flow with them.  It's a progressive process, and I'm becoming better over time, but--as with all things--not as quickly as I would like.  I'm not overly technical, I still muscle my way into and out of positions when I should just trust the technique.  So I guess if someone watched me roll, they would probably classify me as a novice with potential to improve.  My game?  Haphazard.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Knee-on-Belly Chokes

Class last night focused on knee-on-belly chokes:  two cross chokes, a d'arce-like gi choke, and baseball choke.  By far, these are the most uncomfortable submissions I've learned.  I don't know the name of the d'arce-like gi choke, but you take the arm your opponent is using to try to push your wrist away and shove it past, drop your weight on this shoulder, and reach around his back to his belt and sprawl.  (I imagine the choke is d'arce-like; I've never learned a d'arce properly, but from what I understand, the hand in the collar cuts off the blood on one side while the weight on the shoulder takes care of the other.  Really, it's a beautiful choke.)  Really disorienting.  And on top of that, everything is from the generally unstable knee-on-belly position.

We had some 50/50 rolls at the end of class.  The idea was to let the person on top get to knee-on-belly, and then work from there.  To say that we had limited success would be putting it nicely.  It will take a while to figure out how best to "surf" in that position, keep the pressure on and not forget to progress to mount or dive on the choke if the opportunity presents itself.  After those 50/50s, we did some live-ish rolling.  Four of us were there: Ed, myself, Andy, and JD.  I started with Andy, went to Ed, and finished with JD.  By the end, I was a gasping mess.  I don't know what started it, but at least during my roll with JD, I simply must not have been breathing.  My guard passing is still a bit shit, my guard work is steadily improving and feeling more secure, my top control is decent-ish, and my patience is worlds better than it was.  At the end of class, Klint asked us who tried any of the knee-on-belly attacks from side control that we learned that day.  Sheepishly, we laughed and tried to remember whether we even got to side control.

After, Andy, JD and I rotated in and out on one minute intervals.  We went for probably fifteen minutes, so each guy had two minutes on and one minute off.  I had never realized how much bigger JD is than I.  He has a tae kwon do background, so he is explosive and exact in ways that I will never be.  I think I might be a bit more technical, but it's a very close call.  That kind of repetitive training, constantly being put back into the mix and starting again, works the lungs and all, and it reminds you to use technique, because your muscles will fail in no time.  The only real problem i had with the one minute rounds is that it doesn't give a lot of time for the roll to progress.  Then you have the added pressure of trying to get somewhere advantageous fast, and you forget to use technique instead of strength---it's a vicious cycle.

I'll probably hit class again tonight and then Thursday (and with luck, open mat Friday).  Saturday is lost to school commitments, and Sunday is lost to homework.  Because even though it's my last semester, I'm too stupid and proactive to take a light semester.  Someone should have taught me how the importance of a light class-load.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Back to the Grind

Classes start Monday.  And though my classroom hours are pretty light this semester, I have plenty of other school-related projects that will suck my time away from me.  Can't wait.

I went to class Thursday night, open mat Friday night for an hour, and class Saturday afternoon.  It is always a little reassuring to watch Klint wreck purple belts.  Usually, the highest rank at class is a blue, and I haven't seen Klint work with one of them for a while.  Saturday, Casey (a cop who trains at Damian's) came to Klint's class, and they rolled for a while afterwards.  Even though Casey can make me look and feel like I've never done jiu jitsu before in my life, Klint caught him with the same things that he always uses to catch us.  So yes, while part of the chasm between Klint and the rest of us is that we are white belts to his black, the other part is that he is freakishly good.

Open mat was pretty good, I think.  I got to roll with two purples (Brady and Mike), a blue (Josh), and a white (Jason, I think).  Came away having done pretty well against Brady, warmed up and worked a bit of light rolling with Josh, and trading positions with Jason.  Mike was the capper for the evening, and he is far beyond what I am able to comprehend right now.  He's been rolling for years, and understands movement and control in ways that I hope I one day will.  But he has years on me, so it wasn't embarrassing.  He's also exceptionally wiling to teach and take on the mentor role in the middle of a roll.  For that reason alone, working with him is rewarding in ways that working with others is not.

Regretting that I've not posted here as regularly as I would like, I will post a link to another blog that I regularly read.  Zen Mojo has posted a piece on Rules for Newbies.  It is great.  If you read it after training for a few months, it will be very very good.  Having trained almost a year now, I know that even if I had read it months ago, it would not have the same impact and effect that it does now.  Even year-long veterans are still newbies.  So mosey on over and give it a read.  It's worth the time.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Written Wednesday morning:

Sweet mother of god I am sore.

Three training sessions in 2 days takes a toll, especially when I'm used to sitting behind a desk and analyzing things.  I'm back at it Thursday night.  Until then, all I can say is that I can notice a decent improvement over break.  It's nothing exceptional, nothing to write home about, but it's something.  When I would play pool, I could tell when I took a few days off--the repetition and constant attention paid off.  It's the same here.

So I got that going for me.  Which is nice.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Double Up

Who attended a training session today for each thumb he has?  This guy.

This morning was at Damian's, and we worked a drop seio-nage to armbar combination.  Klint has worked the drop seio-nage with us before, but it still feels like I'm trying a technique without having the proper fundamentals---like footwork, balance, those basic things that keep you from spinning around and looking like the exact same lout you feel.  Training afterwards went pretty OK.  I worked with Matt #1, a blue belt with designs on going to the pan-ams this year and a decent game to take with him.  We always started with me seated and him standing working to pass my open guard.  Of course, this did not usually go well for me.  But he did not submit me, so I have that going for me.  He did, however, punch me in the nose, knee me under the chin, and drop his body weight on my shin going the wrong direction.  So he was working.  At one point, he was on my back and had me flattened, but I was able to defend and keep him from getting grips or getting under my neck.  In the end, I found an armbar and ran with it.  After Matt #1, I had a short roll with Marcos, a one stripe white who is pretty small.  He has good pressure and solid fundamentals.  I Was able to get to a high mount and armbar him from there, and then he went across the mat to train no-gi for a while.

Matt #2 came next.  He's another blue, a bit heftier than Matt #1.  Last week, he got me in a kimura from the bottom half-guard, and I resolved not to allow that this time.  In that respect, I was successful.  Though he did snag it from the top, and that was slightly embarrassing.  Not actually embarrassing, just something that I knew was coming and saw coming and still was unable to avoid.  One of those predictable and predicted and recognized attacks that somehow you just can't seem to get away from.  Something more to work on.  At one point, Jeremy was behind me and started calling to me to break Matt's grips on my knees.  I turned around to look at him quizzically because Matt wasn't gripping my knees (I was actually keeping him from it), and that earned a sharp "Don't look at me!  Listen to me and do it!"  So that was funny.  The second roll, though, went longer, and I got a pretty decent back-take out of it.  From there, transitioned to the arm and didn't let his wiggling distract me.  The guys in Edina are good.  They have more higher belts to work them, and they have more people in the class in general than we do across town.  More people stay after for longer.  Hopefully we'll get that kind of school going in Woodbury soon, the next year or so.

Then, the afternoon went to showering, having lunch with lovely Wife and our friends, and a meeting with a professor to discuss DEADWOOD and literature.  After those finished, Andy and I went to class tonight with Klint.

When we got there, he gave us a little shit for being slackers and blowing off life to double up on jiu jitsu for the day.  But really, he was almost as happy as we were.  I don't think he expected us to show up since we spent the morning training (I think he and Jeremy talked sometime this afternoon).  But show we did.  We worked a fifty-fifty sweep, and an x-guard sweep.  I don't know how many white belt classes work on fifty-fifty and x-guard sweeps--I would guess it's a low percentage.  But the class was full of people who should be able to do them safely---myself, Andy, Kyle, new Jon (who is off to basic training in Georgia for 6 months), and JD.  I need to take some time to incorporate these moves; with my long and spindly legs, I should be able to either actually use them to sweep or threaten with them and create openings.  Trained for a good long time after class, too.  Started with JD, then Andy and I worked for a while.

I'm wondering about a few jiu jitsu-related topics, but I need to distill them a bit before discussing them at length.  Also, I need to lay about and recover, figure out whether I can make class tomorrow night.  More fifty-fifty and x-guard sweeps?  Yes please.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


It's trite and cliche, but it is also valuable.  Writing down your resolutions helps to ensure that you stay focused on them.

Goals for the coming year:
- I would be lying and evasive if I didn't say that I want to get my blue belt.  This is probably the thing over which I have the least amount of control and for which I have the most drive.
- Improve my diet; I got the Gracie Diet book (haven't finished it), but I'm pretty sure that I won't be able to stick to something that strict without someone to do it with me.  Also, I'm not entirely sure that our budget can support that many trips to whole foods.  But it does give useful information.
- Cardio.  I don't know exactly how to improve this without running (which I absolutely loathe).  I might get a training attachment for my bike, but that will come second to getting a new road bike.  Also, let's not forget that I live in Minnesota, so even a new bike would only start to be of help in (hopefully) late April.
- Stop being scared of upper belts.  If everyone were completely honest, we would all admit that upper belts frighten us when we start training.  Their confidence, their technique, their crushing guard and suffocating top control, effortless sweeps---it's almost too much to face down at the beginning.  I'm getting rid of that apprehension bit by bit; what I want to make sure is that a rise in ego and stupidity does not accompany the loss of apprehension.  So stop being scared, but don't be stupid enough to walk into fire deluded that I won't get burned.
- Become a better teacher. I am often one of the higher ranked students in Klint's classes.  This is both good and bad.  Good because it means I'm doing something right, and bad because it means that some of the newer guys think I have answers and can easily explain those answers to them.  This is not exactly the case.  On the rare occasion that I do have an answer, I cannot clearly explain it and help someone else understand it.  So that will take attention and practice, but it will also help my own understanding of jiu jitsu.

That's all.  Looks easy enough, right?