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.


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.

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.

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.