Posts Tagged ‘Yoga’

“Do your practice and all is coming.”
~Pattabhi Jois, originator of Ashtanga Yoga~

I know little yoga, but I try to incorporate its principles and practice into my daily life. It affects me deeply and has offered to me a lens with which to understand the workings of life, just as Jiu Jitsu has. The following is my account of my introduction to yoga through Jiu Jitsu and the benefits of the practice I have become aware of:

In the late 90’s I attended a week-long camp in the Poconos on Gracie Jiu Jitsu. To say the experience was life-altering is a gross understatement and completely insufficient, but there are no words to describe with authentic emotion the profound impact it had on my existence. To describe the environment, I, along with my closest Jiu Jitsu family members, would wake up around 7am each day, have a clean and natural breakfast, go train in a large hangar-like enclosure for a few hours, break for lunch and recreation for two hours at midday, return for three more hours of training, and then nap briefly before dinner and gathering for discussion of Gracie Jiu Jitsu at evening. This is awesome enough, but I must tell you with whom I trained this week. The instruction for this week came from Helio Gracie, Rorian Gracie and Royce Gracie. Ryron and Rener were there but I believe they were around 12 and 13 years old, so they didn’t contribute much that week.

In addition, some other little-known people were present, such as Steve Maxwell and Phil Migliarese. It was Phil Migliarese that stood out to us among many others. Only a purple belt at the time (now one of the highest ranking American black belts in Gracie Jiu Jitsu), Phil’s expression of Jiu Jitsu seemed to embody exactly what the Gracie’s were trying to get through to us. In a word, he was equanimity. He was calm, fluid, patient, and relaxed. At a camp full of tense and muscle-bound martial arts practitioners from all disciplines, this relaxation stood in sharp contrast to many present. His Jiu Jitsu was effortless and beautiful and dangerous.

My best friend, Jared Jessup, rolled with Phil and was visibly shaken afterward. He had trouble describing the experience. We inquired as to “how he got so good,” and Phil, of course, accredited the superior instruction of the Gracies, but his first word was “yoga.” Yoga? Ashtanga Yoga to be more precise. Phil had studied yoga for longer than Jiu Jitsu, and he credited his relaxation and fluidity to his yoga practice. On a week in which we were having relaxation shoved down our throats in the form of flowing as slowly and effortlessly as we could, with no submissions, for hours at a time, and often in complete sensory deprivation, meeting him set us on a path of exploration into yoga.

Once at home, we procured some Bryan Kest instructional yoga tapes (yes, VHS), and incorporated our interpretation of Surya Namaskara into our warmup before our Jiu Jitsu practice. We went through peaks and valleys of the amount of yoga we incorporated into our practice. Some vacillating more than others, and all taking a very organic approach to it. It would be years before we saw the true benefits. But they would arrive. Oh, did they arrive.

This is yoga for me today: Centeredness rather than balance, but balance as well; Pliability rather than flexibility, but flexibility also; Power rather than strength, but strength too; and Equanimity rather than calmness. Calmness is simple.

~ Centeredness is balance internally and externally. Externally, an overall understanding of positioning and how each part of the body
is affected, contributes to centeredness. Internally, getting your physiological inner-workings to cooperate in order to allow your
body to perform your practice is what I mean by centeredness.

~ Pliability is maybe an arbitrary alternative word to illustrate something beyond flexibility, but I want to emphasize something far
beyond the physical application of flexibility. Being pliable insinuates yielding to external forces seeking to damage or influence you
in some uncontrollable way. Yielding to these forces, rather than resisting them is the way to overcome them. Resisting things
bigger and intangible is a certain way to create stress and damage. Allowing them to come, recognizing them for what they are,
and letting them run their course without feeding them benefits you much more. Holding a pose, melting into it, feeling the
vibration and hearing what your body is telling you; this is the path to pliability. Pliability is opening lines of communication
between your body and mind and breath.

~ Power is strength in its purest and most pervasive form. Power is not aggressive or tense; it is intelligent and active. The adage
states that “knowledge is power,” but in yoga, it seems that the corollary is true. Reverse the antimetabole and read it as “power
is knowledge” and you will get closer to the heart of power in yoga. Power comes in yoga in the form of energy properly placed in
the correct areas of the body, evenly distributed, and igniting the body from the foundation up. It comes from alignment,
structure, breathing, and clarity. It is a product of the yoking process.

~ One of my favorite words, equanimity, is perhaps the most immediately helpful benefits of yoga for the Jiu Jitsu practitioner. It is
balance + calmness. As I said before, calmness is simple. Put anyone in a calm situation, take away their problems, lay them down
on a soft surface, give them drugs, and anyone can be calm. A good measure of true calmness, though, is how much balance it
yields. This is something only the individual will be able to discern, and the ability to discern it comes from listening to oneself.
Equanimity is achieved not through the elimination of external stressors and tense situations, but amidst them. In yoga, the next
movement may be uncomfortable or the next inhalation may be difficult, but it is necessary nonetheless. Likewise, in Jiu Jitsu, the
next escape from the difficult position may be seemingly impossible, but it is necessary in order to survive and ultimately prevail.
Equanimity is achieved when the external forces acting upon you fail to thwart your advancement, and cease to deter your
practice. Things are just things. This bad thing happening to me is bad because I have labeled it so. Time spent in self-pity is
always wasted and never helpful. The truest calmness is not in running from the storm, but rather in the eye of it.

This is only what yoga means to me, and how it has benefited me in my life and enhanced my Jiu Jitsu. I am learning. I only wanted to share this with others, to share the beauty of it, in hopes that something I have said may reach someone and possibly help them with their journey, wherever they are headed. The God in me greets the God in you.



I have been doing Jiu Jitsu half of my life, and for anyone who knows my real age they know that is a pretty long time. For this reason, it becomes more and more interesting to me to look at people beginning their training and their motivations. Likewise, it interests me to watch my peers’ motivations grow and evolve, as does mine. Jiu Jitsu has become a lifestyle for me, and I would like to pass on a few ways in which I mean this.

I first came to Jiu Jitsu after some previous martial arts training that was somewhat lackluster. I had various reasons for wanting to learn, but a major one is that I saw the “magic” of martial arts training, and Jiu Jitsu offered a new brand of magic that appealed to me at the time. I was not very strong or fast or otherwise athletic. I was introverted, but I was artistic and imaginative. I enjoyed the outlet for a new expression of creativity that Jiu Jitsu gave me. However, there wasn’t anything I could clearly articulate was my direct motivation. And I think this is common. I often hear people, upon being questioned about their reason for starting their training, say things such as “I am just interested in it” or “I saw it on TV and thought it looked cool” or some variation of these responses. Others may express an interest in defending themselves or in the competition aspect, and most all students are drawn to these aspects to some degree.

As an instructor, it has become a responsibility of mine to figure out the true motivation of individuals, in order to help them in their journey. “Journey” sounds a little hokey, but that is what it is or what it has to become, if it is to amount to anything at all. Most initial responses to the question of motivation are superficial, because the individual has had no exposure yet to the benefits of training. As they proceed in their training, their motivation changes and vacillates. Eventually, if they stick with it, their motivation becomes muted, effaced, and aloof. “Motivation” as a term for why they continue training becomes outmoded, and they progress to a constant state of just “training for training sake.” Everyone knows that they are in some way trying to better themselves with their training, and the fact that they are drawn to do this is a wondrous thing. It only becomes more wondrous as they continue.

Back to me: I have had moments of doubt and uncertainty. I have questioned my motivation, as well as the amount I have sacrificed to continue my training. “What am I trying to accomplish here?” I said on more than one occasion. What a dangerous question that we are all guilty of asking! Luckily I stuck through plateaus and climbed out of valleys, as well as I fortunately survived the rush of being high on peaks. It is easy to want to give up when you are feeling poorly about your training; especially if a single or few bad events knock you off of a pedestal of superiority you may have accidentally wound up on. And I am now more thankful than anything that I have the ability to say to students, with genuine conviction and reinforcement, “This too shall pass, so be thankful for today’s training.”

You have to develop the ability to take pleasure out of the sheer state of presence that training allows you. If you come in with worries from outside or regrets over earlier occurrences, you diminish, if not completely destroy, the joy and value of the training you are about to partake in. This is one of the highest principles from training that you can apply to all your life: be present and taste every detail of the current situation, painful or splendid. No amount of worry over a late bill will pay it! If you are at your daughter’s play, watch the play! If you are cooking a meal, cook the meal! Chop wood, carry water! When you allow your mind to live in another instance not the present one, you have separated your mind and body, and no harmony can follow that. In Jiu Jitsu this is immediately obvious, because if you are not paying attention, then you get caught in a choke. And you deserved it!

These are the very important aspects I see about living a Jiu Jitsu lifestyle – these metaphorical ideas. Metaphorical in the sense that they present themselves in tangible form in training and then render marvelous abstractions in daily living. Once we are able to settle ourselves into our practice and quiet some of the noise that runs through our heads, we can hear subtler things we are not as attuned to in daily bustle. We begin to “hear” our bodies instructions on how to to treat ourselves. How far can this muscle stretch comfortably? How fast does our heart beat before we have to breathe through our mouths and not just our noses? How much weight can I comfortably support in this or that position? How sluggish or energetic do I feel in my practice when I eat an hour before? Two hours? Most of these are fairly easy to answer if we can get ourselves present and quiet enough to be receptive.

I know my purpose now. I have learned it through my training. It is not about accomplishments, although I can outline these if I want. It is not about any willful direction I have forced myself into, and it is not about proselytizing, although I do plenty of that (that is what this blog is kind of about after all). My purpose is manifest, and I try only to nourish it with love and give it space to flourish. Jiu Jitsu tells me this is the right thing to do. So I consider Jiu Jitsu my purpose.

In closing I would like to include a nice segment of a video related to this topic:

I was just sent notification of a cool workshop coming up from our friends at the Paducah Yoga Center. The workshop is called The Yoga of Eating. Now, as many of you know, I have an impeccable diet of only healthy, natural, organic foods of only the highest quality, which I eat in perfect portions at the proper times of day. But, if you really know me, then you know that last sentence is full of more crap than that thing I ate from McDonald’s this morning. However, I eat good when I can, and I am always trying to improve my eating habits. I plan to attend this really cool workshop to get some healthful tips on cleaning my diet and so should you!

The Yoga of Eating

The Yoga of Eating

Also, Royce will be here Saturday! If you have never met Royce Gracie, you will want to do so this weekend at Energy Fitness in Paducah, KY. He will be hosting a 2-day seminar for Three Rivers Martial Arts Academy. He is one of the coolest guys, and most knowledgeable Jiu Jitsu men on the planet. Don’t miss this opportunity!

Three Rivers Martial Arts Royce Gracie Seminar 2009

Three Rivers Martial Arts Royce Gracie Seminar 2009