Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Present and Accounted For

Yeah I got my third stripe on my blue belt this past weekend.  At least I think it was this past weekend. It was a Saturday.  And I followed it up with an Oktoberfest.  So it had to be this past weekend.

The academy is still small, but it allows us semi-privates for every class, so I'm not complaining.

I got my wife's cousin into jiu jitsu, but he's out in Ohio, so I don't really get to reap the training benefits of that one too often.  Though it did give us an out to go train at a place in Denver during a family reunion.  That was slick.

I also got another friend to start training.  He has one stripe on his white right now, so that will begin paying off soon.  Hopefully by the time he gets his blue, I'll have something resembling a top game.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Tale of Two Cities

Ok, so this has been banging around in my head for quite some time.  I don't know whether it's actually going to amount to anything, but here we go.

I read an article on about what it takes to be an elite level athlete written by Tom Kelso.  As I understand his thesis, it's: "Be genetically gifted, stay healthy, refine your skills, become mentally sound, hope for good luck."  I read this, and I immediately contrasted it with Malcolm Gladwell's article in the New Yorker from a few years ago, which summarizes the recipe for success as:  "Work hard and put in your time."  These two conclusions seem to be at odds.  And personally, while instinctively I side with the former, I hope the latter to hold more truth.

Kelso's conclusion favors the inherently talented, the ones who made varsity their freshman year without trying that hard.  Kobe Bryant, LeBron James.  Brock Lesnar.  Gladwell's favors the dedicated, those who kept coming to practice despite failure.  Michael Jordan*, Jeremy Lin.  Felipe Costa.  And yes, these are gross generalizations that may not be entirely accurate, but I think you take my point.

What's more inspiring---the top-dog winning as he was always expected to, or seeing someone who has been undervalued because he didn't fit the standard aesthetic ideal gritting his way through to victory?  More and more, this distinction between Kelso and Gladwell is becoming a nullity---look at the guys who consistently win at the big jiu jitsu tournaments.  Gone are the days when BJ Penn can train for three years and take black belt world championship gold home.  Now you have to train six days a week, at least tice a day, with strength and conditioning mixed in.  If you're really dedicated, you'll cross-train judo and wrestling.

I take this a an acceptance by the general public that Gladwell wins out.  Or at least, that Gladwell's conclusion is more right than Kelso's.  It might be that we all take solace in the idea that we could indeed be world champions if we didn't have work and family and money and everything else standing between us and what we think we want to do.

But really, it has more to do with realizing my potential than with making excuses.  I know that as it stands now, I will not be a black belt world champion in 4 years because I have other priorities in life.  I have a career, and I have aspirations outside jiu jitsu, and I have responsibilities besides.  What Gladwell's opinion allows me to do is to commit to working hard despite those "drawbacks" and still get the best out of what time I have.  Still drill before and after class, still roll with friends who can help me improve, find ways to condition off the mat so that when I'm on it, I'm not sucking wind in five minutes.  (Although there is no way to build grappling conditioning better than grappling.  So I have to figure out how to make this one work.)  Because if you commit to the full-court press, you don't have to be as good as your opponents; you just have to be willing to work harder than them every second of the game.  Doesn't sound that hard.

* -- Yes, I understand the irony in labeling Michael Jordan as an untalented hack, especially having lived in the Chicago suburbs during the 1990s.  The fact remains, he's likely the most successful basketball player who didn't make varsity his sophomore year.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Still Here

Yes it's been a month since my last post.  Them's the breaks.

Fatherhood is weird.  It's good and everything, but there's this small person who never leaves and can't do basic things like, you know, eat on his own.  Or speak.  But it's good.  He's wonderful, and his mother is a saint who lets her husband go to jiu jitsu three times a week.  It's phenomenal.

Training----training is very different from what it was in the fall.  We still cannot get a steady group of guys to come to class.  It's alright, as Klint does things other than instruct for his living.  [That part, actually, is great; that means that we know he's there because he wants to be.]  But it is always frustrating in that we always training with the same three or four people and aren't getting looks at different styles all the time.  And as lucky as I am to have my main training partner be a black belt, it is pretty hard on my ego to be unable to see my game develop because he's always taking it up the next step to keep me working harder.  And then when I'm up against the rest of the guys, the lower blue belts and white belts, I'm so excited to be the hammer instead of the nail for once that I don't take the opportunity to work into and out of different positions.  So really, it's me being stupid.

A few weeks ago, Klint turned Saturdays into no-gi.  So we train in the gi Mondays and Wednesdays, and make use of our rashguards on Saturdays.  This Saturday, for once, we had a class full of higher belts.  There was one teenage orange belt, one high white belt, myself [2-stripe blue], two purple belts, two brown belts, and two black belts.  And I got to train with all of them.

Jared, the non-Klint black belt, is a freak.  He is simply unreal.  He kills hooks before you can place them, he gets to side control before you realize he's passing, he uses only as much energy as is strictly required, and makes you use much, much more.  So I got throttled by him for a while.  And I felt like I could do nothing, like I was just flailing and donkey-kicking out of fear.  And when we finished, he was very complimentary.  He asked if I like no-gi, and I have to say that I don't particularly.  I feel like I am just uncontrolled and all muscle.  But apparently, I'm the only one; Klint even texted me later to say that Jared was impressed.  Andy was watching and said I did much better than he was expecting.  I don't know how to take that, so I just say thanks and move along.

I also got to train with Tony [purple] and Gina [brown] during class, working on guard retention and recovery, and then with Jeremy [purple] and Casey [brown] after class, working on---well, just working on training, I guess.  Some strikes, some gutters, a few uncomfortable positions later, and I was suddenly late to get home for a thing.  As I left, Klint and Jared and Casey and Jeremy were going over positions and techniques, and I wanted just to stay for the next two hours and keep learning.  But family.  You know.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


This is him at 2 minutes old.  Give or take.

Hands up, elbows in.  He's a natural.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Yeah, about that whole "free time" thing....

My lovely wife and I just had our first child.  And by that I mean that she had the kid while I was there trying not to scream like a small weasel.  It was weird and terrifying and great and all those things.  And now we have this little guy at home, and we're ostensibly responsible for him in every way shape and form.  So that means less time for things.  But she's guaranteed me 2 nights of jiu jitsu a week.  So we've got that going for us.

Which is good, because this afternoon Klint is testing a few of us.  And that means I get to train.  Sadly, the boy is a little too small for the mats right now, and the wife doesn't want to take him out in this weather.  Which is understandable.  So he'll have his first class later on.  Maybe Monday.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


Klint has cut back on our classes.  We just don't have enough students to justify all the time we're taking the classroom.  Which bites a big one.  Now he has class Monday and Wednesday nights and Saturday mornings.  So it's three times a week.  Unfortunately, Tuesday and Thursday nights were the nights when we had the separated room all to ourselves the whole night, so we could stay and train and drill as late as we had energy.  Now, we have to share our training space with others.  Which, really, isn't terrible--hell, it might even bring a few of them into class to train.

Today, Klint brought his friend Jared in to teach class.  Jared earned his black belt from Dave Camarillo at the same time as Klint.  He trains up in Brainerd (see also:  arctic wasteland).  He was preceded by the myth. We started training after he had to take a lot of time off for some injuries, and therefore we never had a chance to train with him.

I don't even know where to begin.  He is indescribable.  His technique is phenomenal, he is humble and intelligent and exact and---really, just awe-inspiring.

That meant that today, I went to Gina's class from 8 to 930, rolled for a half hour at 1030, then to Klint's/Jared's class ended up going from 12 to 3.  To be fair, a lot of that was Klint and Jared showing each other new and different techniques.  But that was just as good as class.  And jesus I'm tired.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

2012 Goals

Everyone talks about making lists of goals so that you can reflect on them and return to them over time, see how far you've come in actually achieving them.  I don't know whether that's true or not; I hadn't looked at my goals for last year until five minutes ago.

1)  Keep training.  Seems simple enough.  We have a kid coming in short order, and I'll be starting a grown-up job in a week.  All that means that my time won't be as flexible as it has been the last several months.  And my improvement will probably come on a bit slower.  Because I won't be able to get to, say, five to six classes in a week.  Because life takes precedence.  But.  I want to keep training and keep working to get better.

2)  Compete at least once, hopefully twice.  I don't particularly enjoy competing.  It teaches me a lot, and watching myself compete (as painful as that is) shows me where I need to focus training and what parts of my game I have developed.  But the build-up and the distance we have to travel because we have very few tournaments in town and the toll of all that hard training---that's rough.  And with a life outside of the academy, it's hard to properly recover.  I pile the pressure on by not really taking time off and going right back to the mat as soon as I'm home, the mat where I can't train light with my main training partner because my main training partner is my instructor and he doesn't go light with me.  But the benefits of self-awareness and honest assessment outweigh the inconvenience.

3)  Train outside of Minnesota.  Training away from my home academy is always fun and educational.  It also means that I'm not stuck in the great white North all year round.  I want to get to Marcelo's, to Ryan Hall's academy, to Dave's in Pleasanton and Darcy's in San Jose, not to mention a handful of others.  So if I'm traveling, the gi is in the bag.

4)  Work my weak positions so I'm comfortable.  Inside closed guard, passing, half-guard.  It's only three. Shouldn't take that long.

5)  Work the belt.  I don't want my purple yet.  I'm not ready for it.  My game is smoothing itself out and I can feel myself becoming more fluid, but I have entirely too much more to learn to be thinking about that promotion right now.  I have one stripe on my blue, and that's more than anyone else at the academy.  It means a lot that I have that after less than two years training.  Keep the head down, keep working and learning.