Posts Tagged ‘Wellness’

Triumph

There’s always that question, particularly in Jiu-Jitsu, of whether the belt someone is awarded is legitimate. This question isn’t asked the same way in other arts because the criteria are different and in Jiu-Jitsu there is more of a hang up on who can tap who. Is it all about that? If you get that purple belt, should you be able to tap any blue belt? If you are a brown belt and can tap a black belt, do you automatically deserve your black? Does it depend on size or strength combined with technique? Is there a simpler answer?

Technique conquers all. I believe that. But the technique doesn’t guarantee victory. All things being equal, equal technique and experience, the bigger or stronger or faster opponent will typically come out on top. You shouldn’t be expected to best a 250 pound athlete of a purple belt if you are a 150 pound purple belt. So the performance basis of any martial art, Jiu-Jitsu included has a cap on it.

Furthermore, shouldn’t the “art” aspect be considered? The philosophy. The principles behind the technique and the knowledge you gain are benefits of the study and practice that potentially carry on further than even the techniques themselves. Just as in yoga, self-study or self-reflection is a premise of the journey, Jiu-Jitsu likewise should be approached with concern toward the character development of the practitioner. This hits closer to the heart of the questions posed in the beginning.

Here is what I have surmised as one of the most important considerations in progression in Jiu-Jitsu: it’s not a matter of are you better than anyone else, it is whether you are better than the you the you were. Can you tap the yesterday you? The last week or last month you? Do you have a more refined lens or approach to training than the previous you?

Can Buchecha tap Relson Gracie? I’m gonna say most likely. Maybe not, but I’d put my money on Buchecha. So why not give Buchecha the red belt? Let’s pose a different question. Who can teach the most people a deeper understanding and appreciation of Jiu-jitsu? Who can show someone the most versatile of movements for a multitude of situations to the most diverse individuals with varied levels of physical ability? Now my money goes on Relson.

So again, Jiu-Jitsu wins, because it’s not about just a few criteria. A true professor in my estimation, watches students closely and insightfully, considering many aspects of their ability and character. I understand that there are schools and teachers who only award rank based on performance in fights or tournaments. “You got a gold medal? Here’s your next stripe.” “You got a rear naked in your mma fight? Here’s your brown belt.” Sad to see.

I’d rather put a stripe on the belt of the kid who looked the bully in the eye for the first time in his academic life than on the belt of the kid who was already an athlete in five other sports and is now tearing up all the grappling tournaments. That guy who could barely tie his shoes because he was so overweight and now can roll for half an hour – that’s the guy I admire. Again, I admit, I love watching uber talented athletes do miraculous things on the mat or in the ring, but they are not half of the hero as the woman who stopped the sexual assault that was about to happen to her.

So while you have to be able to perform the techniques with understanding and appropriate proficiency, and you should be able to defend yourself easily with these techniques against your physical equal of an opponent, these are but partial criteria in considering ranking qualifications in Jiu-Jitsu. Personal growth and development, and as Grandmaster Helio said, the triumph of human intelligence over brute strength, these all should be considerations in determining rank.

This isn’t always the case. And these are my opinions. And these are my convictions.

20131024-120338.jpg

Firstly, this isn’t a religious post, except in the fact that jiu-jitsu is a deeply religious thing for me. Rather, I’m referring to having faith in the training, in the technique, in the realization that all will come when you are ready for it.

The first truly Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu technique I ever learned was a half guard pass. I had virtually no context for it. It had never come up in a fight and I hadn’t realized what it was if it occurred in training prior to learning it. I repped it out and listened to the explanation for it but it wouldn’t be accessible to me for some time.

Finally, probably 2 or more years later I found the exact right scenario and that technique, which I thought I had forgotten by then, came to the surface. I was ready for it! Has this ever happened to you?

This is one of those beautiful jiu-jitsu epiphony, metaphorical moments of clarity, when it all makes sense again. When the roll speaks to you, you understand it to be the truth because it proves its inherent value in the moment perfectly. There are of course other moments in life when the pieces fall into place, but jiu-jitsu is so often times complex and chaotic yet formulaic and precise, that it seems to hold an equation up to the universe and say “See! This is how it works!”

Sorry for the philosophical rant, but that’s the nature of the thing. If you dismiss a move as not useful, either in itself or just for you, you miss out on the possibility that maybe you were simply not ready for it. It happens the other route as well. For example, the white belt who has “mastered” the upa escape and now only relies on the elbow escape because the upa is “too basic.” Or then there is the intermediate student who “needs another sweep” because everyone has caught on to his standard sweeps. It is simply a matter of readiness and appropriateness. So then the statement above could equally say, “If it isn’t happening for you, the situation isn’t appropriate for it.” Same meaning.

The answer, to me, is a matter of having faith that if the technique is trained enough, it will work for you when you are ready. Or that you will reach a moment when the situation is apporpriate and you were able to apply it to the situation. The only missing ingredients then, are a lens for determining if the technique is sound in itself (which comes with time), and the patience to stick it out and develop proficiency and ability with the technique (which takes faith.

Now go train!

career-bjj

You sure you want to take that step? You love BJJ with all your heart. You have found your calling. This is what you were made to do. So how do you do it? How do you make Jiu-Jitsu your career? Should you?

I remember after 15 years of  working part then full-time jobs, going to college, having a family, trying to balance everything and still keep Jiu-Jitsu in my life, reaching that moment of having to take the leap. The leap was making a go at teaching Jiu-Jitsu full-time for a career. I was fortunate to have an understanding and supportive family, a place I was already teaching with an established student base, and a brown belt under Royce Gracie. But even with those accolades and advantages, it was a daunting and intimidating task. I did not own my own academy, I didn’t have a big name in the bjj community as a teacher or competitor, and I was not making nearly enough money through teaching.

I think everyone hits forks in the road in life where you have to take a chance on a path. Many times these paths are a balance of passion and safety. Take the path that seems a little more secure and maybe isn’t the one you desire the most, or follow that compulsion of what speaks to your heart, and risk failure and loss. I chose the latter and that has made all the difference. I could have done it earlier. I could have taken bigger risks. I could have waited and been more secure. But like all decisions, I did it when I was readiest.

Should you? How would you? From what I can see, it boils down to firstly a financial decision; because face it, who doesn’t want to get paid for doing bjj?! That is something I will ask again in a little while. But you have to make a living. The main ways people make money in bjj is through competition and/or teaching. Both are difficult and require equal measures of business acumen and talent for the art.

The Competitor Route

If this is the route you’re taking, be prepared to train hard, train smart, and compete often. Winning is good, but not enough. You have to be recognizable in the competition arena and you have to be in the right tournaments. Nothing wrong with entering small upstart organization tournaments (ethically a great thing to do to support the community), but you need that IBJJF card and to look into getting into the big sanctioned events. Being recognized means a higher potential for acquiring sponsors and established notoriety. This is really just a parlay into the teaching realm eventually anyway, so concentrate on your teaching ability as well and have a good place to work with prospective students.

The Teaching Route

Teaching classes, seminars, and especially private lessons are the key to a sustainable career in bjj. If you think that Marcelo Garcia, Braulio Estima, Buchecha or even Royce Gracie make enough off of sponsorship and fame alone, you are mistaken. Do you have to have your own academy? Not necessarily, but it helps. I am fortunate that, while I am not the owner of my home academy, Three Rivers Martial Arts, I have been there long enough to help it grow from humble beginnings to a large enough school to support multiple instructors. Could I make more money if I started my own school? Absolutely! But I have found ways to do all right where I am, and I love my academy too much to leave.

I have been teaching for a long time and I have found certain elements necessary: knowledge, personality and accreditation. Knowledge is obvious, because bjj isn’t something you can fake. I have seen people strap on a karate black belt with all kinds of degrees on it and lie about their accomplishments in order to dupe students into believing they are something they aren’t. That doesn’t work with bjj. Not to say Karate is bad or that there are not legitimate sources out there, but it can be a little more academicized than can a more performance-based art like bjj. No, you must have the technical know-how and some ability to back it up. I have seen blue belts run successful academies with only a few years training.

If your personality and enthusiasm, ultimately how passionate you are for the art and helping others on their journey, is lacking then forget it. You have no business teaching and need to wait or stick to competing. Don’t do the Jiu-Jitsu community the disservice of trying to support your bjj addiction by making a few bucks teaching. It is empty and shallow, and a waste of everyone’s time. If you truly love the art and want to help others better their lives as you have your with Jiu-Jitsu, then you are on the right path.

 

You need a reputable affiliation. The last name of Gracie is helpful, but there are so many big names and great sources out there that it isn’t necessary. I like to be close to the source, and I am proud to be in the Royce Gracie Network as one of his black belts. But you don’t have to be a black belt to make it work. People can smell your authenticity, knowledge and confidence in what you are teaching easier than you might think, and you better be prepared.

Offering private lessons is a valuable way to go. Figure out what you have to offer, what your time is worth, and what audience you have where you are located and customize your lessons accordingly. People like the ease of scheduling, attention to detail, customized learning pace and undivided attention they receive from private instruction. I personally have paid up to $400 for a single hour of private instruction and can walk away feeling like it was totally worth every penny. I don’t charge quite that much personally, but I still want my students being able to walk away with confidence and certainty in what I have shown them in each and every lesson. Remember, what you acquire too cheaply, you esteem too lightly!

Group classes are a different animal than private. The energy is different. In each there needs to be a palpable sense of enthusiasm, but you are more of a presenter in the group situation. You also have more to pay attention to in a group, because you are responsible not just for the transfer of the information, but also for monitoring the students’ interactions with each other and the pros and cons that come along with this. The environment is everything in the group, even more than the private. If the energy is wrong then all the awesome techniques in the world will not keep your students coming back.

sell-out

When Do I Become A Sellout?

This has to be a concern at some point. Even writing this blog I question what I am doing talking about money issues. But at the end of the day I want to help. I believe in Jiu-Jitsu and want to better my sphere of influence by spreading all I can. And if potential readers want to teach and spread the art as well, if their intentions are good, I want to help them also. The hipsters and the uppity groups will always criticize the making of money from things they care about, as if it cheapens the art somehow. It doesn’t degrade the art to make it more accessible, nor does it make you a sellout if someone wants to pay you for your time. This only allows you to focus on Jiu-Jitsu more without having to balance a second or third job.

You have to evaluate your own ethical code and stick to it. If you are only looking to make money and will compromise your integrity then you are a sellout and will ultimately fail…or at least whatever you accomplish will be meaningless and empty. That is the difference between a sellout and someone making a living doing what they love. If you still have concerns then read “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.”

Always remember, “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.” Keeping to those words of Zig Ziglar, you will succeed if your intentions are true.

Dark Side

Welcome to the Dark Side

So, now that I have possibly motivated you, let me knock you down a few notches. I have struggled, faltered, lost, and hurt on my path to being a Jiu-Jitsu professional. Relationships and friendships have been tested. People will doubt you and misunderstand you. You won’t make everyone happy, and in fact, if you don’t acquire a hater or two along the way you are probably not doing something right. You won’t make real money right away. Be prepared to struggle. And then, when things start going good, be prepared for burnout. I have figured out how to overcome it (a later blog), but I have been hit with it in the past. Training burnout is one thing, but teaching burnout is a wholly different one. At least with training burnout you feel it a little more immediately. With teaching burnout, often you won’t realize it until you see a look of lackluster or disappointment on the face of your student. You have given sub-par enthusiasm or insufficiently conveyed the lesson material and the student is left a little flat feeling. I have no suggestion of how to prevent this other than time and renewed enthusiasm daily.

Ultimately, all anyone can do is offer their experiences and lessons they had to learn, which is what I am doing here. If I came across as telling you what you should do or have to do for success, it was not my intention. I am no celebrity or millionaire, but I have found a way to make my passion into my career, and I think it is a wonderful thing. If there is anything in this that helps you, then that only makes me feel even more successful. That’s how I judge my success, not the money I make but the people I help.

Now GO TRAIN! The most fundamental part of being successful with Jiu-Jitsu is training it!

Very.

That’s my opinion, that solo drilling for bjj is crucial for building fluidity, continuity if movement and creative visualization. I have always put a lot of thought into my solo drills, partly because I, like so many, didn’t always have constant partner access. So I would find core segments and movements within techniques, oftentimes the most difficult moves, and dissect these alone.

I remember Ido Portal saying, to paraphrase, “if you can’t move your own body, what business do you have lifting weights?” This phrase resonated with me, because I encounter so many people that try to impose their will while rolling yet they themselves lack the prerequisite coordination it takes to maintain their own balance during simple movements. Learn about your own body first and how to move it efficiently and this will let you know what you can make happen against an opponent.

Solo drilling works the precision of technical movement even better at times than partner work, because you have no partner to overly depend on. Therefore, you will see all your limitations and inadequacies under the microscope when you solo drill, making it impossible to cheat the movement.

You should be able to tell by this point that I consider solo drilling not simply rote repetition for the sake of exercise, but deliberate, careful, thoughtful movement with purpose. And whether it is standing, shooting or sprawling, turns, rolls, sweep movements, bridging, or some obscure contortion you find yourself constantly encountering, it is all good.

A good friend told me, “your body will do most anything you ask it to…if you ask it nicely.” So get on the mat, visualize the situation, and move continuously, constantly and consciously. Your body, your mind and your jiu-jitsu will thank you for it.

Here are some helpful drills I like for top game and bottom game using a grappling dummy:

That’s what we want, right? I know that when I started taking Tae Kwon Do when I was a teenager, I wanted to be able to do flying, twisting, tornado dragon kicks like I saw in the movies. No one wants to wait and spend the required necessary time establishing a base and developing coordination and the bodily awareness it takes to pull off amazing athletic endeavors. We have to be patient. And maybe sometime amid that trial of patience, we lose interest before we achieve our goals and we quit. Most people quit. More quit than stick with it.

You start certain martial arts and you have to spend so much time learning the mechanics of standing, blocking, punching, kicking, etc. before you ever learn an application that can be considered even remotely practical or useful. Many martial arts, traditionally speaking, seem to me to have similar problems as the modern education system in that you learn for the test and not for real-world application. Jiu-Jitsu on the other hand, was such a refreshing change of pace for me when I came to it. I learned immediately the most efficient, practical means of common scenarios one might encounter in a real fight. Of course, even these techniques, simple as they are, still require repetition and training. However, the application was apparent and the gratification of feeling like I did something was much more immediate.

I don’t discount the virtue of learning proper alignment and misalignment, base, structural principles and body awareness training on their own. Actually, I think these are the most important benefits that the majority of us can attain from studying any martial art or physical work. I only write this to expound on how beautiful it is that Jiu-Jitsu practice builds these attributes in you as you practice the techniques, rather than having to establish them as a prerequisite to training. The principle work is built beneath the surface of the movements, and it reveals itself along the journey. It is like walking into an art class and either being told to master one paint stroke before you are allowed to paint a picture versus being given a canvas and being shown how to paint a complete composition, then discovering afterward how you learned to improve your strokes along the way.

It’s foolish to expect instant gratification from something as complex as martial arts, especially considering that much of martial arts training is learning how to move in ways that are oftentimes counterintuitive or counter instinctive. But from what I have experienced, Jiu-Jitsu offers a more easily digestible process of development. In our fast-food, I-want-it-yesterday, instant gratification culture, it is nice to come across something like Jiu-Jitsu. The most gratifying thing in the world is not just getting immediate results, but also learning that those results carried with them layers of further-reaching results that continue on for the rest of your life in every aspect.

If you want to understand something completely, study its inverse. This is the idea behind reverse engineering and can be seen in so many things we become proficient with, if even subconsciously. More simply put: if you want to be a good writer, read a lot. If you want to be good at winning, you have to be prepared to lose a lot.

Jiu-Jitsu is a beautiful illustration of this principle because the more you get caught in chokes and locks, the better you become at them. When you get caught in a certain choke 5, 10, 200 times, you tend to notice the patterns of what lead to it and what your opponent did to secure it. Next, you notice that you get caught less and less by that choke. Finally, you begin to notice where you have opportunities to set up the choke yourself. Eventually, you become proficient in the execution of that choke. Beautiful!

Many things work like this. I imagine that if I (with admittedly no mechanical inclination or aptitude) were to dissemble and reassemble a car enough times, I would be able to troubleshoot it issues with that car and take measures to improve its performance. So I could become a mechanic in that way. Or exchange “car” for “human” and I could in that way, given enough time and resources become a medical professional. With instruments, a musician; with paints, an artist, etc.

Why jiu-jitsu works as such a brilliant elucidation of this, however, is that there is a sense of urgency that makes your mind and body fire rapidly, enhancing this experience and fast-tracking the analysis process. The techniques and positions with which I am most proficient were all born out of necessity and repetition, whether voluntary or involuntary.

So what to do with this information? What I have learned to do is tap. If I want to get better at a move, I find someone who can do it and let them catch me, with me offering different levels of resistance or defense to the move. If I want to be adept at a move that no one around me is versed in then I have to go old school and rep it out, initially feeling my way in the dark with it. But then, I plant seeds. I show everyone I can my new pet move, let them play with it and return later to that person in hopes they will try to catch me with it. And when they try…I let them.

This is reason number 1 million, why ego is the biggest obstacle to progress in jiu-jitsu. But if you have learned to relinquish your ego, train selfishly and selflessly, and have a true desire to get deeper into the essence of the technique and not just ride the superficial wave of victory vs defeat, then maybe try this method if you haven’t already.

 

 

And now a poll…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of “Never Leave The Mat.” I say concept because even though my mind has been on this, the phrase didn’t come to fruition until I saw this video recently (come back and read after watching or watch it after reading)

And then it clicked. This is what I’ve been trying to put into words. I’ve touched on it and caught many multifaceted glimpses into the nature of this statement, but that phrase sums it up nicely. Just as Mr. Jepsen embodies this ideal of “never leaving the playground” so have I been proselytizing the notion of never leaving the mat, just without the expression of it in so many words. Simply put, wherever it is that you go to find yourself, never leave that place…at least not principally. Couple this idea with that of self-exploration within your immediate sphere of influence.

This is maybe the inverse of that idea of “Leave It All On The Mat” which is a concept I’m sure you’re familiar with if you have been training jiu-jitsu for any length of time. Typically that idea refers to the notion of putting everything you’ve got into the effort you expend during training, exhausting yourself as if your jiu-jitsu game grows like a fatigued muscle after a hard weightlifting session. Rather, the idea of “Never Leave The Mat” refers to taking the benefit and revelation and the epiphanous moments you experience in that sacred space, performing that sacred activity, with you along the journeys of everyday life.

This is also different than just saying “find your happy place.” My happiest place is with my daughter. However, I have a certain particular role or set of roles that I have to play when I’m with my daughter that may or may not be the best for the rest of my life. But jiu-jitsu to me brings about a clarity and focus and pervasive calmness that translates into other areas of my life including the type of father that I am. My daughter should benefit from my training jiu-jitsu because training makes me patient, compassionate, energized and happy.

I see so many people who train various styles (and depending on where I could even include jiu-jitsu when trained poorly) who walk around with hostility and anger, because they only want to fight or win. Why train if you’re not better for doing so? Or if you’re only finding that sensation of clarity and purpose and beauty when you are on the mat and you’re not able to recreate that off the mat then keep at it. Remember it. Recollect it. Train until you can reach that satori moment, and then train until you can’t forget it.