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!


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.

How to win and still look like a loser

Opening up a can of dumbass on the crowd

Opening up a can of dumbass in the closing moments of my fight

The good news: I won my debut MMA fight at Untamed 27 in Westport, Massachusetts.

The bad news: I had a bit of a “Hello Japan” moment and ended up looking like a jackass.

I ended up tapping my opponent about halfway through the second round. In the final moments of the fight, I was mounted on him and had thrown about ten unanswered punches. Inexplicably, I stopped and took a couple of seconds to raise my arms and look out at the crowd. Thus satisfied in my supreme douchebaggery, I returned to the pummeling.

Some people might think this is a pretty fine thing. But those who read my blog know I take a spiritual approach to fighting. I got into this as a way to hone my mind and my body. I’m not doing this to win, I’m doing it to become a better person. It would have been better to lose honorably than to look like a shithead winning. If you disagree, look at the picture above. I look like a real butthead! There are a lot of better photos from the fight, photos where I actually look good, and you can see  good technique in action. Unfortunately, this is the photo that’s going to exemplify what I take away from the experience.

Everyone at my school is congratulating me for my win, and I’d rather not talk about it. I just finished posting the following on my school’s message board:

Hey all,

I’m not sure if/when video is going to go up of last weekend’s fights. But when you see my fight, you’re going to see me prematurely celebrating before the fight is over. This was a big mistake on my part. When you compete and fight for the Academy you represent all of us. I let myself and the school down, and you all have my sincere apologies for this.

Yeah, it was my debut fight, and it was a momentary lapse. But it’s a serious matter because the Academy places a high value on honor and sportsmanship. I’ve always thought of myself as being in alignment with these values, too. I don’t know what came over me.

Anyway, like I said, my actions didn’t represent the Academy’s values. Please keep this in mind when you see the video. In retrospect, I would prefer to have lost the fight honorably than to win this way.


It’s true, too: I really haven’t tracked down exactly what it is that caused me to behave this way. It’s very much out of character for me. I do know I spent a lot of energy before the fight preparing to look tough and full of fight, no matter how bad it got in the cage. I hadn’t paid much thought to what would happen if I ended up winning decisively. I found myself in a situation I hadn’t  prepared for. Of course, this doesn’t excuse me in any way.

In the end, I did end up finding something out about myself, and that is this: As much shit as I talk about being an enlightened warrior (or at least a dude who is using this cliché as a guiding star in his training), I’m just as capable of behaving like a cocky jackass as anyone else. No matter how far you go with martial arts, and with MMA especially, it seems you’re always going to get sat down and shown just how much you have to learn about yourself.

To come: More pictures and video of the fight, and more about what I went through before and after. Despite my “Hello Japan” moment, I think I did a good job with being mentally prepared. I didn’t feel as nervous, or as weak from the adrenaline dump as I was worried I was going to.

Personal BJJ update

I’m still trying to figure out if I’ve attained some level of competency in these two and a half years, or if I’m destined to be a spaz forever. In reality both of these statements are true. I feel like my positional jiu jitsu is coming along, but I don’t have slick submissions like I should have at this point.

My shoulder is still bugging me. These AC joint separations take forever to get to 100%. I’ve been at the point where I can roll no problem for months now, but I still can’t do more than 15 or 20 pushups and I really miss doing wall-balls in my crossfits.

We did flow drills and start-to-finish drills in advanced BJJ class today. Despite all my experience on the mat, I still feel awkward and weird when I do these. This is something that I definately need to do more often. It’s painful because you feel awkward doing it at first, but it is an avenue to filling in all those holes you’ve got in your game. In this post, I talk about how you should do them, and how I only have the patience to do them for warmups, but that’s not true. I don’t have the patience to do them at all. I plan to find a partner I can do this with in preparation for the tournament here in Portland in October.

That’s a recurring problem: I can’t find a partner who is willing to drill for a good solid hour without getting bored and wandering off or talking my ear off. I need to find someone who really wants to work. A good training partner is an essential asset in this sport – and in other sports, I’m sure.

In advanced BJJ, we also covered the X-guard and connected it to the leglocks and tanglefoot we’ve all been working on. The x-guard is cool and interesting, but it’s totally useless in MMA, so I’m loath to spend a lot of time on it. As much sport jiu jitsu as I do, I should probably at least learn the sweeps well enough that I don’t have to run back to my notes when I want to remember how to do them.

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Training

I’ve been training a little over 2 years in Brazillian Jiu Jitsu. That doesn’t make me an expert by any means, but I definitely wish I could go back in time and tell myself a couple of things. I’ve collected five of the things everyone I know wishes they’d taken to heart earlier in their training. Most of these, I came to realize around the time I got my blue belt (especially item#3).

Yeah, yeah

It’s entirely possible that this entire list consists of things you’ll never really understand until you get there yourself. But I’ll go ahead and let you know the things you wish you’d known when you were still a scrub. Because maybe then you wouldn’t have been such a scrub.

I’ll put it another way: These are the basics to a deeper understanding yourself as an athlete. These are the benefits we reap after all the hard work we put into our training. Most of this stuff, you’ll notice, has a lot to do with getting over your ego. As I’ve mentioned before, your ego is probably the biggest obstacle to your progression.

1-Quit worrying about who “wins” a roll.

There’s nothing more stupid than when someone  says “I refuse to tap to so-and-so because I don’t like him.” Or when someone  takes pleasure in rolling against newbies. You’ll notice that, when high-level guys roll, they’ll roll super light and they’ll tap right away when the other guy gets a solid submission position. I used to think this was because they were just playing around, but now I realize they were usually both bringing 100% of their skill. They just weren’t spazzing out like I did when I trained.

When brown and black belts compete against each other in tournaments, notice how cool and collected they often are. Why not start emulating this right away? It’s fun to roll hard with guys at your own level, but keep in mind the real reason for live practice: to perfect your technique.

It’s frustrating for everyone concerned when new guys clasp their hands together in the arm bar and refuse to let go.  Or hang onto their partner’s head even after he’s established side control. This practice is referred to as “spazzing out” or “being a retard.”

Look at it this way: In a chess game, if the other guy is attacking your king every turn, it’s not the final move into checkmate that really wins the game. It’s all the groundwork he did to get you into that desperate position. Think about it.

2-Focus on the basics.

I prefer the word “essentials” to “basics.” In BJJ, the techniques usually taught to beginners aren’t necessarily any more simple than those taught in advanced classes. And they definitely aren’t any less effective. A lot of the reason a technique ends up on a basic curriculum is because it’s just useful a lot of the time, or is an easy way to learn a concept that will be recycled by later techniques, making them easier to learn.

I finally understood this for myself not long ago when I re-took a basic class on some open guard sweeps and the next day, knocked one of my school’s best guys clean over with a basic hook sweep. Before this, I’d been having all kinds of frustration with the newer, fancier sweeps I’d learned in advanced classes, with no success. I finally got somewhere with a technique we teach to guys fresh off the street. That stuff is never a waste of time.

3-Guard passes and sweeps are the heart of BJJ.

You’ve heard the phrase “position before submission” a million times. I’ll take it a step further and recommend you pay special attention when you’re studying guard passses and sweeps from the guard (any guard: closed, butterfly, open, etc). 99% of all stalemates happen in the guard, with one guy trying to pass the guard, and the other guy trying to submit or sweep. Or worse, with one of them stalling.

Think about it next time you roll: You’ll probably notice that, when you’re pinned to the ground, it’s because you let the guy pass your guard or because you got swept while in their guard. Also this: You’ll probably hear about how the best guys in your gym “walk through” peoples’ guards.

4-Do Positional Drills.

Sports teams don’t run a full scrimmage every time they practice. So how come we roll in practice the same way we do in competition? The answer is because it’s fun, but it’s not the best way to get better at BJJ.

If you’re always brawling in your free time, you’ll keep gravitating toward what’s comfortable, and what’s more, you’ll probably be trying to muscle your technique, because you just want it to work, please god let it work (see item #1)!

Ideally, you should be doing flow drills and start-to-finish drills in your free time. Seeing as how I’ve never had the discipline to do these drills other than as a warmup, I can’t in good conscience recommend them to someone else. But there is a compromise: Positional drills.

In a positional drill, you roll live, but you constrain yourself to a certain position. For example:

  • Closed/Open Guard Drill: Start in the closed or open guard. Stop and get back in the guard when: (a) the guy on bottom manages to sweep or submit, or (b) the guy on top (“in” the guard) passes the guard.
  • Side Control: Stop after the guy on bottom has escaped, or the guy on top has mounted or pulled knee-to-stomach.
  • First-point drill: Start standing, and stop when one guy would have gotten points in a tournament (that is, either achieved a takedown or pulled guard and then swept. Or, the other guy pulled guard and you passed his guard).
  • No submissions: Roll as normal, but without submissions. This isn’t a positional drill, but it’s got the same benifits: You still get to go live, but it will teach you to think about the position you’re in, rather than getting obsessed about “winning.”

In all cases, switch top/bottom halfway through the drill. This is a good compromise between going all-out and just practicing rote technique. And it’s something newbies can benefit from right away. It’s a good way to get around the “I hate being in someone’s guard” or “I can’t stand being in side control” syndrome. Spend some time with your pal working on these positions, and get over your frustration with them.

5-Keep a notebook and take notes every day.

There’s a lot of material to learn in BJJ. This stuff is bound to get mixed up in your head. For one week, take detailed notes after every class. You’ll soon find what a relief it is to go back and remind yourself of a technique you’d forgotten you wanted to work on. We are frail beings, and our memories are no less frail. If you’re looking at youtube, take detailed notes on any technique you find interesting and try it out with your instructor or a colored belt watching.

The level of detail you use is up to you: For some people, a basic description of a technique is enough for them to refresh their memory and practice like the class just ended. Some lucky people are good enough at drawing (I’m not) to make sketches of the techniques. Level of detail also depends on the subject. I might take up most of a page on a new technique I found hard to understand, and only jot down a line on something that came easily to me.

Try it for a week.  You’ll find how much interesting stuff you forget every day. You might even stop looking up those techniques on YouTube and at the bookstore that you always forget five minutes later.