Even the Savage Beast

I had Taylor Swift’s Shake it Off stuck in my head the whole time I was training last night. I was passing the guard. I was working a sweep. I was trying to squirm out of a choke. And the whole time, I was humming the da-da-da-da-daaaaaaaah of the horns in the chorus.

That chorus is crack rocks. And she is so dang pretty!

I’ve found myself humming all kinds of songs I’ve got stuck in my head while I’m rolling lately. I haven’t been called on it yet, but it’s only a matter of time before one of my guilty pleasures spontaneously “outs” itself. Does anyone else do this?

Booty Scoot Jiu Jitsu: It’s not Fighting, and it’s Not Entertaining

The BJJ world has been buzzing over the double disqualification of Keenan Cornelius and Paulo Miyao after their snooze-fest of a match at the 2013 Abu Dhabi World Pro Jiu Jitsu tournament. Watch the match, but only if you can endure the boredom. The only person in this video who does anything interesting is the referee who issues three warnings and ultimately disqualifies both competitors, to the obvious relief of the crowd.

Get in my Guard, bro!

I believe this is a defining moment for Jiu Jitsu. It is now impossible to ignore the fact that the disruptive reboot of Kodokan Judo that changed everything in 1993 has mutated into the static, uninspiring combat sport it is now. It is a combat sport whose top competitors have sat on the mat, scooted toward each other, and assumed the “50/50” position – an arrangement better known in the LGBT world as “scissoring” – for the duration of their match. It’s embarrassing, really. It’s like something you’d come up with to make fun of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. We are witnessing the rise of Booty Scoot Jiu Jitsu. It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic.

My first Jiu Jitsu coach used to say that every martial art starts as a legitimate system for unarmed combat and that people, who are morally weak, pursue short term goals like chasing medals. This causes the martial art to devolve into one of two things: Sport or Dance. He didn’t use the term “Medal Chaser,” but most of you know to whom and to what I’m referring.

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is not immune to the “Sport or Dance” trap. Helio Gracie developed a novel fighting system that changed no-rules fighting. Those who train only to compete in grappling tournaments have made a conscious decision to depart from the art’s hard-knock origins. Sport Jiu Jitsu has become such a different beast that I don’t think a single name is sufficient to contain both the body of techniques one studies for MMA, Combatives, or self-defense, and this new sport that everyone wants to play. It’s clear enough what Sport Jiu Jitsu is – it’s right there in the first word. It’s a combat sport, just like Judo, or Fencing.

Some call it ironic that the first place went to Kaue Damasceno, who was disqualified in the semifinals for slamming Keenan. I say this just sends the message that, in this combat sport, passivity is seen as a greater sin than over-aggressiveness. That should be obvious enough. If Jiu Jitsu is a Sport, then it’s also entertainment.

Gladiator Screenshot

Maximus understood the meaning of spectacle.

Are you not entertained?

Sport is entertainment, and entertainment is spectacle (Spectacle, from the latin spectare, to watch). Every professional sportsman labors in the service of spectacle. He or she lives on money that starts out in the hands of spectators (there it is again) and sponsors. All combat sports enforce activity: The boxing ref breaks up the clinch. The Judo referee stands the Judoka up after 30 seconds of ne waza. And apparently, Abu Dhabi’s refs will disqualify you for playing Booty Scoot Jiu-Jitsu.

Let’s go back to Keenan and Paulo’s match. It amounts to a bunch of grip fighting and ineffectual ankle-groping. Neither opponent is willing to take any appreciable risks from the outset, opting instead for unconventional tactics like the upside-down guard Keenan tries in the first minute of the match. While both competitors appeared at times to be looking for submissions, there was no attempt to improve position. The match is a stalemate from the get-go. The cheer from the crowd after the ref announces the double DQ says it all: They were not entertained.

I feel bad for these competitors, as they are professionals who worked hard for a paycheck and walked away with nothing. But in the end they have chosen, as their profession, to be competitors in Sport Jiu Jitsu,  an evolving and unpredictable job that didn’t even exist ten years ago. They have committed a great sin: that of being entertainers who are not entertaining.

Grinding, Part I

Part of a continuing series on getting my swag back. Things have been popping off in the last couple of months. I’ve been changing up my whole jiu jitsu game and competing. I’ve suffered some awesome highs and some devestating lows.

All the while, I’ve been struggling to generate worthwhile prose, even as my journey continues. As a half-measure, I leave you with a vignette of SMS communication with a training partner. I promise to return soon.

Me: Hey I'm exhausted. Think you can make it to the gym on your own?
Him: Nope lets go quit feeling sorry for yourself! I'm hearing excuses right now!
Him: !!!!!
Him: I'll drive!
Me: Lol I don't want to over train. I'm feeling worn out from the whole week
Him: Ill come drag you by the ears!
Me: Cmon son
Him: No such thing!!!!!!
Me: I'll be back at it tomorrow and Saturday
Him: :( me can't go friday or saturday :((
Me: Go today then, lol
Him: I can't go without my partner
Me: I'm not feeling bad, I just know imma be a wreck if I go hard for another day
Him: I refuse
Me: I'm putting my phone on silent and taking a nap !!
Him: Pussy!!!
Me: Ok fine. But I need to get a smoothie on the way.
Him: Good lets go!

The Day After Competing (Shitty Parents and Nagging Doubts Edition)

I saw a really sad thing at yesterday’s tournament shortly before I competed. This particular NAGA was run fairly well and I ended up competing around the projected time for my division (3pm). That still left a lot of time to sit around. First the kids go, then the women, then the Masters (AKA Old Guys). Then they start with the novice men’s division and work their way up the skill levels.

Dad and Junior

A short time after the kids’ divisions wrapped up, I walked out to the car and encountered an angry middle-aged guy and his son, a heavy kid who looked to be about 10 years old. Apparently Junior had choked and lost his first match. Dad was furious. He was cussing Junior out.

“You were doing fine until you got pushed a little bit, and then you gave up. You fucking gave up! It’s just like I always tell you.” Dad’s inflection was going up and down in rapid crescendos typical of men unable to control themselves when excited.

He repeated this invective for the whole parking lot. What broke my heart was the way Junior plodded along stoically behind Dad with a perfectly neutral expression on his face. I guessed that Junior had seen this kind of thing from Dad before.

I felt bad for not saying anything to Dad. At the time it didn’t seem wise to confront a hothead in front of his kid. Also, maybe Junior has always been lethargic and Dad’s histrionics are carefully designed to get him moving.

More likely, Dad is a supercharged cunt and he needs to figure out why he’s being so silly in front of his kid, in public.

I wanted to pull Dad aside and tell him that we all want to please our parents and that losing feels pretty bad, and that Junior probably felt plenty bad without the cussing. I also wanted to tell him about how, if I was Junior, I would never want to do Jiu Jitsu ever again.

We’re seeing a lot more kids at these tournaments, and with it we’re gonna see the inevitable monster parents doing their little league routine. It’s a lot easier to get on Junior’s case than it was to motivate yourself when you were that age, huh Dad? I didn’t even see his match, but I think Junior is pretty rad just for competing. If you’re reading this, Junior, get in touch and I’ll buy you an ice cream or an xbox game or something. You’re the shit, if you ask me.

Fighting Flat

I went on to  lose the second match in my no-gi division and the first fight in my gi division. I had two problems, as far as I can tell. One is that I was mentally off – I didn’t feel very juiced up before my fights. Second, there are some elements of my grappling I need to sharpen up. My only consolation is that I did the toughest weight cut that I’ve ever done (10 lbs in less than 24 hours) and felt like garbage all day. But still – my mental focus was not on point, and I certainly didn’t go in there with the awesome killer spirit that I like to think I’ve developed at these tournaments. This has been a problem the last few times I’ve competed. I don’t feel all that nervous before my fights anymore. I need to figure out why I’m fighting flat.

I just realized this is the second post I’ve written about parents screaming at their children in parking lots. The lesson is that families are terrible.

The Day Before Competing (Hypoglycemia/dehydration edition)

Back to it. I’m competing in NAGA Georgia tomorrow. I managed to cut my weight down to 175, which will keep me from competing against the monsters in the gi division (I’ll be  in the 155-174.9 lb division verses the 175-199.9 lb, like I was last time), but in no-gi I’ll still be competing against the fat kids (170-179.9 instead of 160-169.9). I’ll be going with a huge team from Team Lloyd Irvin/Champions Training Center in Savannah, GA. I’ll come back with results, pictures and video tomorrow.

I had a really long day at work the other day, then dragged myself to the gym and had an awesome time. Did BJJ classes as well as Muay Thai with the mighty Muhsin Corbbrey. It made me remember why I love this stuff so much.

Going into this competition feeling strong in my jiu jitsu, and being mostly recovered from some nagging injuries that made it tough to train hard over the last couple of months. I made the mistake of rolling with some unscrupulous assholes while I was at the Army Combatives Schoolhouse in Ft Benning. I realized afterward that I’ve taken it for granted that most everyone has a great training ethic at all the BJJ/MMA schools I’ve been to. In the Army, you’ve got to watch out, because it’s a relatively unsupervised environment. If anyone’s going to the Combatives schoolhouse anytime soon after this post was written, give me a heads up and I’ll let you know who the knuckleheads are. (This might become a full post later on).

I got to train at Matt Serra’s school in Long Island during a recent road trip. Learned a couple of great things in the gi and no-gi worlds. Wish I could have trained there longer – Matt has a bunch of monsters in his gym! And all of them very fun to roll with. Not to give away the secret sauce, but the De La Riva guard seems to be new hottness. I was glad I was already familiar with it when I rolled in there.

That’s about all I’ve got for now. Figured I’d bang something out for this long-neglected blog while I’m chilling in this hotel room. I hope to get updating more often as I also ramp up my training.

Hard work, dedication !!

Taking Notes on Jiu Jitsu

I have all these notes from jiu jitsu classes. I’ve always learned through writing, and with jiu jitsu I’ve found it super helpful to have a journal of the techniques I’ve gone over. I was going to just paste in my notes on a recent class, but it got me thinking about the writing process itself when the subject is martial arts.

Technical Writing and Jiu Jitsu

I was a technical writer for two years, so it was my job to break down arcane concepts and write procedures for non-experts. Writing good instructions for martial arts is a classic tech writing challenge in that it’s difficult to decide how much detail to include. For example, I know you have to stay tight to the shoulder whenever you’re setting up a straight arm bar. But if you’re writing for someone new to the game, you should probably make a note of this somewhere, right? Should this be included in the procedural explanation of a technique? Or should it be noted beforehand to keep the procedure concise?

I also like to keep my instructions ambidextrous, which presents its own challenges. I’ve noticed you can usually refer to the “inside” and “outside” half of the body, because you’re rarely totally square with your opponent. And when you’re perpendicular in side control, you have a “head side” and a “foot side” with reference to your opponent. In the midst of a technique, you can also refer to the “same” or “opposite side” of the body you were just talking about. It’s best to use this kind of language when you’re demonstrating live, as well, because it puts less demand on your listeners.

There’s a BJJ black belt who instructs at the Combatives schoolhouse. At lunch, he teaches jiu jitsu to the other instructors, and I’ve been scarfing down a Clif bar and joining them. His style reminds me of my BJJ instructor, Jay Jack. He does the same variation on the side choke (link to instructional by Jay). These are my notes on a class he taught last week.

Osoto Gari and Baseball Choke to Armbar Series

3 March 2011 – Gi class during Lunch @ the Combatives Schoolhouse – Lvl 3 Combatives

Pull to Osoto Gari – Exaggerated pulling kuzushi: Instead of driving forward from the start, yank him backwards, hard. He’ll probably plant and lean back. This sets you up to step in for the throw.

After landing Osoto Gari: Side control to baseball choke: From modified scarf hold side control (hips turned toward his head, deep underhook on far side, pulling up on near side).

  • Instead of underhooking on the far side, control his far-side collar with a thumb-inside grip, pinning his solar plexus with your elbow. Keep the elbow tight to prevent his underhook.
  • Control the near-side arm at the elbow, gripping the gi at the elbow and pulling tight. He shouldn’t be able to bend his elbow.
  • Use your near-side hand to open the far-side collar and switch the far-side hand (the one controlling the far-side collar) to a thumb-outside grip.
  • With the inside hand, put in a thumb-inside grip on his collar.
  • Switch base and walk around to north-south to choke.

He pushes on your chest: Step up to straight arm bar:

  • Roll your shoulders back and turn your chest up, pulling his arm past you.
  • Trap that arm with the far-side arm.
  • Pop up to a high knee-on-belly mount. To get up, push down on the elbow on his stomach. It should be pretty uncomfortable for him Make sure your shoelaces are tight against him and high up in his armpit.
  • Step around for the straight arm bar, maintaining the far-side grip on his collar.

He turns away from the arm bar: As you step up, your opponent may try to flip over on his belly away from you to escape, probably thinking of attacking your legs. Transition to a face-down arm bar on the far side.

  • Release the grip on the collar and post that hand on the ground.
  • Switch the foot that’s over his face to the back of his head.
  • Complete the arm bar by driving your hips to the ground, spreading your knees to make room, if necessary.

They all deserve it.

My instructor, Muhsin, posted this on Facebook. Enjoy this man’s vocal stylings.

Modern Jiu Jitsu stays sharp through competition. The emphasis on live sparring and competition was one of Jigaro Kano’s innovations in Judo, and we carry that tradition on in BJJ.

Competition isn’t for everyone, but it’s crucial to the art. It fuels innovation and keeps people working hard. It’s the gun to your head  Chuck Palahniuk wrote about in Fight Club. When you know you’ve worked hard enough in training, you’ll walk into a tournament or a fight with a smile on your face.

Modern Army Combatives Level 3 – Week One

Whew. I’ve been trying to get a post in but I haven’t been able to scrounge up the motivation. Even now, I’m feeling super flat, but I’m going to power something out. I have been keeping a journal of what we’re doing each day.

The Program

The new MACP logo is pretty gangster, if you ask me

The Modern Army Combatives Program (MACP) is controversial for a number of reasons. The biggest issue is that it’s badly taught throughout most of the Army. It’s really still in its infancy, and there aren’t a lot of good instructors to go around. Secondly, there’s the question of whether spending valuable training time on hand-to-hand combat is worth doing in the first place.

Then, there’s a host of minor quibbles with the program itself, which are common to debates over martial arts in general: Why the emphasis on groundfighting? Why do we teach this or that in the first level of instruction? People ask why we’re teaching wrasslin’ when someone in a war zone is probably just going to shoot you? (Duh – We’re in an asymmetric war in civilian-dense war zones.  Soldiers need to be able to respond with non-lethal force in all situations)

My overall impression of the course so far: It’s a very practical crash course in self defense techniques. The schoolhouse maintains a high standard of instruction and expects a lot out of the students. If MACP was run this way Army-wide, people would understand the philosophy behind it, and it would get a lot more respect.

So here I am at the end of week 1. What have I seen so far?

The Schoolhouse

The Combatives schoolhouse is located in a nondescript brick building on the main part of Ft Benning, a stone’s throw where Airborne students practice parachuting from large cranes. The facility itself is very nice. The main area is padded with those 1×2 meter Zebra mats – enough space for four regulation competitions to be held at one time, with curtains that can divide the space into four separate spaces. There’s also a full weight room and a heavy bag room. The instructors wear ACU bottoms and black MACP Instructor t-shirts. Students wear full ACU uniforms with everything stripped off or, when we’re boxing, PT shorts and tan shirts with our names written in sharpie on the front and back.

Week One

The first week of the level three course is mostly a crash course in western boxing. We’ve learned footwork, punches and combinations. We moved very quickly from drilling single punches, to doing combinations, to high-intensity combination work on heavy bags and pads. Throughout it all, the instructors have been very good about fixing errors in our technique.

On Friday, we actually did some live sparring. Aside from having horrible technique, I did very well with this – I’ve definitely had more harrowing sessions with the gloves on.

We’ve also been reviewing all the material from levels 1 and 2. On Friday we took a test on running competitions and ran mock tournaments with students acting as referees.

The course is very physical. So far it’s been nothing outside my comfort zone, but we’re told it gets more intense in the second week, when we move into kickboxing. The third week is going to integrate takedowns, and the fourth week is going to involve “tactical” training, whatever that means. Somewhere in there we’re going to learn police-style control and detainment techniques.

Not on Brazilian Time

The atmosphere between students, and between the students and instructors is very laid back. There are lower enlisted, like me, along with Drill Sergeants, Special Forces platoon Sergeants, Captains, and even one Major in the class, but we refer to each other by last name only in class. It’s pretty surreal for me to be here, where I went to Basic Training, wrestling and boxing with Drill Sergeants. And one of my favorite guys here is Captain Murph, a Judo brown belt who calls me “dude.”

It’s definitely a military school, though. When I showed up a couple of minutes late the second day of school, I was bawled out by the cadre’s platoon sergeant and sharply reminded that, in the Army, on time is 15 minutes early. We’re not on Brazilian time here. The brisk pace of instruction is typical of Army instruction, as is the way we’re expected to do everything with a lot of hooah enthusiasm. We’re all expected to help clean up before and after class as well.

In Future

There are a lot of  characters in the class, and stories and subplots I’ll have to get to later. I promised myself I’d write something this weekend, and now it’s past my bedtime on Sunday.

That little voice in your head

Is he your friend? Or is he pushing you around and kicking you, and maybe you don’t even realize what’s going on?

This comic took my breath away. Click the image to see the whole thing.

I wish I could smash that little motherfucker so easily. Imagine how that would feel. With a little voice like that in your head, you’re not only sabotaging yourself, but you’re probably being shitty with the people around you as well.

I’ve struggled with this my whole life. If I daydream carelessly, I’ll go over all the mean things I’ve done, all the mean things that have been done to me, and all those lost opportunities. Disappointment after shitty disappointment. I know I’m not the only person who does this. How good can it be for your spirit to constantly put yourself down and mull over your failures?

In jiu jitsu, though, I’m stubbornly optimistic. I’m not a natural athlete. I’m not even a quick study. I beat myself over the head with new material and it all has to be broken down and somehow jammed through this tiny straw that leads into my brain. But I’ve kept plugging away at it, and eventually I’ve become pretty good at it.

What if I could have this attitude all day long, with the rest of my life? What if we all could?

We lack the courage to even imagine the kind of person we could be. Not only could we be more physically strong, we could be more compassionate, more morally brave, more at ease with the people around us. But most people never access even a tiny shred of that potential. Not only is it hard work, but who’s helping with this? No major institution in modern society encourages us to work on being happier and healthier. We’re isolated, both socially and economically, into our broken “nuclear” families. The food most people eat makes them fat, sick, and lethargic. Religion could help you access a richer spiritual and moral life, but all you hear about is who you’re not supposed to be having sex with.

Another Bruce Lee quote (emphasis mine):

If you always put limits on what you can do, physical or anything else, it’ll spread over into the rest of your life. It’ll spread into your work, into your morality, into your entire being. There are no limits. There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. If it kills you, it kills you. A man must constantly exceed his level.”

If you work hard on yourself, you can become stronger, both physically and morally. It ain’t easy though, and there’s not much help out there. You have to pick up the ball and run with it yourself. For me, it’s been crushing my ego on the mat and discovering that a lot of the barriers I ran into, I had put there myself (or just allowed to remain through passivity and excuse-making). I know man-hugging isn’t for everyone. If it’s not for you, I hope you find your own way to break through and become the person you should be.