Thursday, September 13, 2018

What Does it Take to Succeed in Jiu-jitsu?

Everyone who signs up at a Jiu-jitsu academy has their own reasons for starting down the path.  Many want to learn how to defend themselves, some are looking for improved health & fitness, some may be interested in competition, some may just be looking for a new hobby.  No matter their reason for starting, I'm guessing that everyone who steps on the mat for the first time does so with the idea of being successful in their new venture.  Now, what defines "success" may vary from person to person, as each student has their own individual short term and long term goals.  But anyone who has spent any amount of time on the mat can tell you that you getting good at Jiu-jitsu is something that takes a LONG time!  At most academies, many students come and go, and the sad reality is that most will not stay long enough to ever see their very first belt promotion.  The ones who stick it out long enough to achieve black belt level are a fraction of a percent!  Jiu-jitsu is hard.  But as with most hard things, if you can stick with it, the rewards are infinite!  Anyone CAN do Jiu-jitsu....but what does it take to truly be successful?

1.  Patience-As previously stated, getting good at Jiu-jitsu takes a very long time.  Some students show up to their first class expecting to be good right away.  Realistically, that is not going to happen.  Of course, some people will pick things up more quickly than others, but everyone is terrible at Jiu-jitsu when they first start.  Even if you have been a natural athlete all your life, the reality is that most peoples natural instincts of what to do in a fight are just wrong.  Don't expect to be good right away.  Many people quit Jiu-jitsu because they aren't able to "succeed" right away.  Their expectations don't meet with reality.  But the truth is, if you just keep showing up and keep training, you WILL get better.  Set small attainable goals and try to just get a little better every day.

2.  Humility-Ego can be your worst enemy in training.  Of course, we all have an ego, but keep it in check when you step into the academy.  If you come in thinking you already know how to fight, and thinking you are going to easily dispatch your training partners in sparring....well, good luck with that!  For many people, it is a harsh realization that they can easily be physically dominated by someone much smaller than them.  But, that is the beauty of Jiu-jitsu.  Most people have this reality check very quickly in their first live sparring session.  There are two ways to react.  Either you recognize the awesome power that you too can one day attain with consistent practice....or, you walk out (usually making some excuse) never to return because your ego was too fragile to accept reality.  The choice is up to you!

3.  Grit-Also known as "toughness".  This includes not only physical toughness, but more importantly, mental toughness.  There will come a time, probably many times, in the course of your training that you will want to quit.  Having the ability to keep going when it gets hard, and keep pushing your limits will serve you very well, not only in training, but also in life!  This means, not tapping just because you are in an uncomfortable position and its hard to breathe; getting out of bed when you're too tired to go train; showing up the next day after a hard training session when you're sore and feeling beat up.  Recognize that your body will do much more than your mind wants to allow it to.

4.  Discipline-Everyone is excited when they first start training.  Every class you are learning new things for the very first time.  However,  after a while, training will become routine, and sometimes even boring.  You need discipline to get to class when you don't feel like going.  The hardest part sometimes is just getting through the door.  But, most of the time, if you just make yourself show up and get on the mat, you will feel much better after, and each time you are able to overcome your own mental weakness, discipline becomes easier.  Develop good habits and make training a regular part of your routine.  Don't allow yourself to give into your moments of weakness.  This extends to every aspect of life!

5.  Persistence-There will be things that you don't understand right away.  Sometimes, a particular technique won't make sense to you.  No matter how hard you try, you just can't wrap your head around it, or you can't make your body do what you want it to.  Just stick with it.  Give it your best effort, and ask questions if you need to, but don't give up on it.  Most techniques in Jiu-jitsu require many, many repetitions just to start to understand it, and beyond that, countless more repetitions to develop the necessary timing and reflex to apply in a live situation with a resisting opponent.  It is easy to just give up, but if you can just put the time in and keep plugging away, it will get easier and it will eventually make sense.

6.  Trust-There are several important factors involving trust.  First, trust your instructor.  What they are telling you may not make sense to you.  Even if you don't say it, you may be thinking you have a better way.  However, if you are training at a legitimate academy with a reputable instructor, they have put in countless hours to master the art that they are teaching.  Chances are, they have gone through all of the same questions and struggles that you are currently having.  Trust in their experience.  Even if you don't yet understand why, just do it the way that they are asking you to, to the best of your ability.  Second, trust your training partners.  In sparring, you are applying techniques on each other that have potentially devastating physical consequences.  It is very important that training partners are able to establish a mutual trust, understanding that each has a responsibility to take care of the other, and apply these techniques in a controlled manner.

7.  Open Mindedness-Throughout your Jiu-jitsu journey, you will encounter many ideas, and concepts.  Some will make sense to you, some may not.  Don't be too quick to judge that something won't work for you.  In the beginning, it is easy because, for the most part, you don't know anything (if you think otherwise, go back and review #2).  You are a blank canvas, full of potential, but like a child with very little life experience.  After a few years of training, you will have developed some ideas about what Jiu-jitsu is and what works well for you.  It is important that you go through this process and make Jiu-jitsu your own.  However, always try to maintain a beginner's mindset-always willing to take in new ideas, or see old things from a new perspective.  If you do this, you will "rediscover" techniques that you may have thought you already knew well, and see them in a totally different light.  These revelations will be some of the most valuable things in your Jiu-jitsu journey, but if you close your mind to new ideas because you already think you know it, you will miss out on these opportunities.

If you have these seven attributes above, your chances of being successful (in whatever capacity that means to you) in Jiu-jitsu will be greatly improved.  If you're honest with yourself however, you may be thinking that you are somewhat lacking in one or more of these areas.  That's ok.  Because, the more you train Jiu-jitsu, the more you will develop ALL of these traits!  You develop the tools you need to be successful through training.  So, just be aware of where your weaknesses are and work on them.  If you just strive to get a little better every day, recognize and learn from failure, and strive to develop your weak areas, you will get better....not just on the mat, but also in life!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Verbal Jiu-jitsu-The Art of Yielding

There are many lessons that we can take from the mat and apply directly to our daily lives.  One of the most important of these is the art of yielding.  This applies not only in a self-defense scenario, but also in our daily interactions with friends, family members, and business associates.  I refer to this as "verbal Jiu-jitsu".

The term "Jiu-Jitsu, is comprised of two Japanese characters.  The first of these "Jiu" or more correctly spelled, "Ju", is generally translated as gentle.  But to anyone who's been on the receiving end of a good throw, armlock, or choke can tell you, it seems anything but gentle! The term is more accurately translated as flexible, pliable, or yielding.  This is really the essence of what Jiu-jitsu is all about.  This does not imply weakness in our position.  This means, when pushed we do not break, but rather, bend and adapt to the situation.

A simple technical example of this philosophy in action would be when our opponent pushes us, we don't push back, often resulting in a stalemate in which the stronger person wins.  Rather, we pull, thereby using our opponents energy against them.  One can think of numerous examples of how this applies to our technical skills on the mat.  But, these principles can be applied outside of the mat as well, with any type of conflict.

From a self-defense perspective, we should always strive to avoid the fight, whenever possible.  Learning to remain calm under pressure and de-escalate a potentially hostile situation is a crucial skill.  There are many things that go into this, including correct posture, eye contact, distance management, and verbal skills.  We train to physically defend ourselves because sometimes the fight is unavoidable.  However, if you've ever seen a real street fight, it is rare for one person to be completely caught off-guard by another person in a complete surprise attack.  It is much more common for a fight to take place as a result of an argument.  Someones ego gets bruised, they get angry, and there is typically a lot of posturing and verbal interaction which inflames the situation ultimately leading to physical violence.  In these situation, most of the time each party involved has the opportunity to de-escalate the situation, but do not, simply because of their ego.  Those who train to fight understand the inherent risks and dangers of fighting, and have all likely been humbled on the mat at some point in their training.  It is for this reason that they avoid the fight whenever possible.

A good way to do this is by redirecting the persons hostile energy.  It is very natural for us to get upset and defensive when someone approaches us with hostility and anger, perhaps hurling insults or accusations our way.  However, through practice, we can learn to try to redirect that negative energy into a more positive outcome.  There are many books and articles on specific techniques for this which are beyond the scope of this blog, but perhaps one of the best ways is through developing empathy.

Often times, people don't have a lot of control over their emotions.  When someone approaches us in a very aggressive or accusatory manner, rather than immediately being defensive and reactive, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what the underlying cause of their hostility is.  We've all had a bad day.  We've all done and said things that we regretted later.  Maybe the person you are dealing with just received some bad news about their family, or job, or maybe they are dealing with some other type of personal crisis.  They are not really upset with you, but you are the closest target for their negative emotions.  Sometimes, simply and calmly acknowledging their point of view can begin to defuse the situation.  This is much more effective than the almost instinctive reaction to become hostile and defensive yourself.

Having empathy doesn't necessarily mean giving ground, or admitting fault (although if you WERE wrong, it is best to admit to it and try to make it right).  You don't have to back down from your position.  Rather, just try to open your mind to see the situation from the other person's perspective for a moment before responding, and pay attention to your tone and posture when responding.  Sometimes, the best strategy is just to listen and let the other person vent for a bit.  You'd be surprised how effective this can be.  It is very difficult to argue with someone who isn't arguing back!  If you are quick witted, sometimes humor is a good way to soften a potentially tense situation.  Sometimes, there may be an opportunity to find common ground and form some type of compromise.  Other times, simply remaining calm and asking few non-acusatory questions can help correct what was just a simple misunderstanding.

These principles apply to a potentially violent altercation on the street, or to a tense situation in a business meeting, or an argument with a spouse or loved one.  Remember, we often have very little control over what happens to us in our lives.  However, we do have complete control over how we handle it!  The more you learn to apply the principles of redirecting someones hostile energy, the more you take power away from them.  Someone who is angry and emotionally out of control is very much like a brand new spazzy white belt grappling for the first time.  Their movements are very jerky and wild, leaving huge openings for you to capitalize on if you remain calm and deal with them logically and efficiently.

There is one important point to remember when applying these principles, particularly in a potentially violent, self-defense scenario.  That is, even though you should make every effort to avoid a physical confrontation, you must always anticipate and be prepared for that eventuality.  That means, even though you are verbally trying to de-escalate, make sure you keep proper posture, distance management, and if necessary, keep your hands up in a non-threatening manner, so that you are prepared to react decisively IF your verbal de-escalation efforts fail.

Applying verbal Jiu-jitsu is just another way that you can apply and incorporate the lessons  learned on the mat into your daily life.  Of course, just like everything else in Jiu-jitsu, it takes practice to master the technique.  But, try it next time you find yourself in a potentially tense situation, and see if you can create a more effective and positive outcome!

Thursday, July 12, 2018

But Dad, I Don't Want to go to Jiu-jitsu!

It happened again just the other day....I ran into a parent of one of my former Jiu-jitsu students and they said the same thing that I always hear...."Man, I really wish I had never let my kid quit Jiu-jitsu".    Any Jiu-jitsu instructor can tell you, there are so many people that come and go through the doors of the academy over the years, and almost without exception, those people who quit training ultimately come to regret their decision.

If you're a parent with a child that trains Jiu-jitsu, congratulations!  You have already made an excellent decision to enroll your child in something that can have such a positive effect on so many aspects of their lives, and given them something that they can carry with them throughout their life.    Chances are, your child was initially very excited about training, and begged you to take them to the academy.  But now, after several months or even years of training, the "newness" has worn off and their enthusiasm seems to have waned a bit.  Lately, when it's time to go train, you hear, "Mom/Dad, I don't want to go to Jiu-jitsu!".  Sound familiar?

You know the benefits of training, you know that Jiu-jitsu is good for them, and you may have already started to see some positive changes in your child.  You know that they have a blast when they are in class, but sometimes it can be a tough battle to just get them to the academy.  It's time to leave to go to class, but some days it can be tough to get your kid off the couch or off of the video game they are playing to go train.  You may be struggling with your kid not wanting to go to class, or even wanting to quit training altogether.   So how can you help to ensure that your child is getting the most benefit out of their training and make it an enjoyable experience also?  Here's my advice on the subject as both a Jiu-jitsu instructor and a parent.

First, be the parent.  Plain and simple, you made the decision to sign your child up for Jiu-jitsu classes, presumably because you felt it was something that would benefit them physically, mentally, and emotionally.  And, it absolutely will!  But, kids are kids and they need guidance.  Sometimes, kids don't want to go to school....sometimes, they don't want to eat their vegetables......sometimes, they don't want to go to the dentist.....or take a shower, or clean up their room.  You see where I'm going with this.  It is your responsibility as a parent to ensure that your child does these things because they are important for their physical and mental well-being.  Training Jiu-jitsu is no different.  You are making an investment in your child's future.  You wouldn't let your child just skip school because they don't feel like going, right?  I would suggest your approach to training should be the same. Are there days you don't feel like going to work?  Of course.  But you do anyway, because as an adult, you know it is important.  Sometimes, as a parent it is your job to make sure that your kids do the things that you know are important for them, even when they don't want to. And helping them to develop the discipline to do the important things even when they don't feel like it is a very valuable gift in and of itself!   Just as going to school gives your child the intellectual skills needed to be successful in life, training in Jiu-jitsu gives them the physical and mental tools to allow them to not only survive, but thrive in this world.  Giving your child the physical skills to defend themselves, the mental fortitude to deal with stress, and the physical fitness and emotional confidence that goes along with it is one of the greatest gifts you can give them, and it is something that they will continue to benefit from throughout their life.  And, even though they may not always appreciate it now, I promise they will thank you later for not letting them quit!

Now, having said all that, sometimes it is ok to let your child take a break from training for a day, or even a week.  We all sometimes need some time to rest and recover, and when things get busy and life gets in the way, it is ok to occasionally take time off.  However, consistency is the key to making progress, and I recommend against taking extended breaks off the mat.  The reality is, the longer a student is off the mat, the harder it is to come back.  Students get out of the habit of training and then, before you know it, two weeks turns into a month, turns into 3 months, and then they end up quitting altogether without even consciously realizing it.  When life gets busy, or other things take priority, try to still make it in at least once/week if possible.  Use your common sense and good judgement.  Sometimes, your child really does need a day off of training.  Obviously, don't bring them to class if they are sick.  If they are seeming run down, didn't get good rest, have too much homework, etc they may need to take a day off.  If they don't want to come to class because they don't want to get off the computer or stop watching TV, it may be time to employ a different strategy.

I heard a great idea from another black belt friend of mine recently regarding this situation.  That idea is this-a few minutes before its time to leave to go to class, have them stop doing whatever "fun" activity they are doing and give them a simple chore to do.  Whether it is cleaning up their room, doing the dishes....whatever.  Then, about halfway through, stop them and say, "it's time to go train".  Chances are, they would MUCH rather be going to Jiu-jitsu class than doing whatever chore they were doing, and they will gladly and willingly go to class without complaint!  On tough days, you may even want to encourage them by offering some type of a small reward after training.  Just get them through the doors of the academy, and the rest will take care of itself!

People, and especially kids, function best with structure and a regular schedule.  This is why it is best to just make training a normal part of their weekly routine.  For this reason, Summertime can be especially problematic.  Many kids are out of school, and thus out of their normal routine.  Sometimes this can lead to a lack of structure, and make it even harder to go to class, especially when combined with time off due to vacations, etc.  Because they may not have the normal routine and structure of the school day, it is EVEN MORE IMPORTANT to make it a priority that they come to class and train during the summer months!

But what if your kid wants to do other sports or activities?  Great! Kids should be well rounded and participating in other sports and activities is a good thing.  It doesn't have to take away from their Jiu-jitsu training.  It's about balance.  Unfortunately, many parents see Jiu-jitsu as just another hobby or activity, like playing soccer, or baseball.  Many of these things can also have a positive impact on children. However, I would argue that few if any can offer the same benefit that Jiu-jitsu training does.  While they may offer benefits in fitness, teamwork, sportsmanship, and camaraderie (all things that Jiu-jitsu training does as well by the way), I would argue that very few can offer the type of real physical preparedness and the true freedom that comes from learning a realistic form of self-defense.  Particularly in this day and age, with bullying at almost epidemic levels, the ONLY way to truly prepare your child and insure that they have the confidence and physical ability to take care of themselves and to persevere in that type of environment is through consistent, realistic training.   But, kids DON'T need to train everyday.  In fact, especially for young kids, a couple of days a week is ideal. This leaves plenty of time for them to participate in whatever other activities that they enjoy and that you find beneficial.  But make their Jiu-jitsu training a priority.  Many of these other sports and activities are seasonal.  Jiu-jitsu is not.  We train year-round, because Jiu-jitsu is not a sport, it is a lifestyle, and there is no off-season when it comes to protecting yourself.  From my perspective, as stated earlier, it is equally as important as going to school!

So, we've established how important it is for your child to train consistently.  So, what can you, as a parent, do to help encourage their passion for training?  One thing that you can do is to train WITH them!  Kids emulate their parents.  If mom or dad starts training Jiu-jitsu also, that can be a big motivator for them to want to do it even more.  And, let's be honest, you will reap the same benefits from training that your kid will.  Plus, it is a great activity that you can do together.  One of the best ways to motivate your kid is to let them teach you! Let them show off the skills that they are developing, and I would be willing to bet, you will be amazed at how much you will actually learn from them!

So, here's what to avoid.  Pay attention, because this is one of the BIGGEST MISTAKES that well-meaning parents can make which can actually lead to your child wanting to stop training.....putting too much pressure on them to succeed.  We all want the best for our kids and want to see them do well.  We all want to be proud of their accomplishments. But please, whether you feel your kid a natural Jiu-jitsu phenom, or you feel that they just "don't get it"....just let them enjoy training.  The MOST IMPORTANT thing at this stage is for them to have fun!  They don't need to develop a high level of technical proficiency at a young age.  They have the rest of their life for that.  But if you, as a parent, push them too hard, they will often crumble under the pressure, and they will NEVER develop to a high level because they will quit training.  Your job is just to get them to class & support them. Talk about training when THEY want to talk about it....let them show you a move when THEY want to.  If THEY want to compete, let them.  Encouragement is great, but don't push to much, don't force it.  Avoid the temptation to get them in the car after class and debrief them all the way home about all of the technical mistakes that you perceived they made in training that day, or give them a hard time about getting tapped or not escaping a position.  Just ask them, "How was class today?  Did you have fun? Did  you learn something?"....and leave it at that.  And, all means, don't be the parent that sits in the academy and "coaches" their kid from the sidelines.  Trust the instructors.  They are professionals that you pay to teach your kid Jiu-jitsu.  Just let them do their job and avoid the temptation to take teaching them into your own hands.  Seriously, this is one of the biggest ways that parents, who have the best of intentions, can ruin a child's passion for training.

The benefits of training Jiu-jitsu are numerous.  The positive impact that consistent training can have on every aspect of a person's life is incredible.  This is one of the best gifts that you can give your child.  Hopefully, you see the value of it, and one day, your child will too, and they will appreciate all of the sacrifices you've made to make sure that they continue to train!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Thou Shalt Not Pass-Open Guard Concepts

Often, this blog discusses more philosophical topics.  This months blog is going to be a little more technical in nature, and cover arguably one of the most important positions in Jiu-jitsu.

In my opinion, the guard is the position which really distinguishes Jiu-jitsu from all other martial arts, even including other grappling based arts.  The guard brilliantly gives the person on the bottom of the fight the opportunity to not only survive and defend from a seemingly inferior position, but also provides a platform for a plethora of sweeps and submission attacks.  This is one of the primary reasons that a smaller person, skilled in the art of Jiu-jitsu, can effectively control a larger, stronger, more athletic opponent.  Because of the leverage provided by the use of the legs and hips, the guard position helps to neutralize the opponent on top.  Being on top is always an advantage in a fight.  However, while the top person has the advantage of gravity, they are typically either standing on both feet, kneeling on both knees, or one one foot and one knee.  This means that, essentially, the top person primarily has only their hands to work with.  At the same time, the bottom person utilizing an effective guard, has both hands and both feet at their disposal, while at the same time not having to worry about loosing their balance.  This helps to minimize the advantage of the top person.

The guard is a position that has been very highly developed.  Particularly in the more sportive applications of Jiu-jitsu, there are many highly specialized variations of the guard.  However, if we break it down to its most basic form, there are three versions of the guard.  Closed guard (with the legs wrapped around the opponent's waist), half guard (where the bottom person is controlling only one of their opponent's legs in between their legs), and the topic of this post, the open guard.

In the beginning stages of Jiu-jitsu training, most students find the closed guard to be the most familiar and comfortable.  Obviously, if the top person wants to pass their opponent's guard, they must first open the guard.  So, naturally, many beginning students tend to expend a lot of energy trying to stop their opponents from opening their legs.  However, while the closed guard does offer some very good defensive and attacking options, more experienced students often tend more towards open guard variations, as it offers more options for sweeps and submissions.  The open guard can be a struggle in the beginning though, so let's go over a few general concepts that may help with your utilization and retention of the guard.

Nobody Opens Your Guard
This first concept is very important, and deals with the transition from the closed to the open guard.  This is a very brief, but very important moment in time, where either you or your opponent will gain an advantage.  When I say "nobody opens your guard", that doesn't mean your guard is an impenetrable fortress and that no one has the power to force your legs open.  What it means is, when you start feeling your opponent pressuring your guard, don't wait for them to pry your legs open.  Open your own guard on your terms, so that you can establish your grips and foot placement, giving you an advantage over your opponent.  If you hold on, waiting until they ultimately force your guard open, they will have an advantage in timing and often in position, that may lead to them passing your guard.  As a general rule, if you're not sure what to do, open your guard and place your feet on your opponent's hips.  This is a good default position in the open guard.

Distance Control
Control of the distance is one of the key concepts in the guard, whether we're talking about a fight, involving striking techniques, or just a grappling match.  In either case, you need to effectively manage the distance between you and your opponent.  As previously mentioned, placing the feet on the hips is a good way to manage the distance. This represents the furthest distance that you can establish between yourself and your opponent.  Particularly if you are dealing with someone bigger than you, it's generally a good idea to keep them further away, until you are ready to close that distance on your own terms.  However, whether you are using the bottoms of your feet, your shins, knees, hands, forearms, etc.  you need to always be aware of managing the distance between yourself and your opponent.  When they are able to close that distance, controlling your hips, and establishing a chest to chest position, your guard is passed and you are pinned, now facing the problem of recovering your guard or escaping a bad position.

Grip fighting is a huge aspect to every position in Jiu-jitsu, and it is especially important when fighting from the guard!  Achieving and maintaining positive grips and foot placement on your opponent, while denying their grips is critical to success.  This is a constant and ongoing process.  In order to take advantage of the fact previously mentioned that in the guard, you have four limbs to your opponents two, you MUST always seek to keep all four of those limbs engaged in the fight.  Both hands and both feet have somewhere to be all the time.  You shouldn't be hanging out in a position where you aren't utilizing one of your available tools.  Generally, your feet are looking for posts, or hooks.  This can be on the hips, as previously mentioned, on the biceps, shoulders, front of the thighs, or behind the knee or ankle.  Your hands can also be used to push or pull, whether utilizing the material of the gi, or more no-gi gripping using undercooks, overhooks, and head control.  Try to make sure that your grips make sense for what you are trying to accomplish, and not working against each other.  You should have a reason for every single grip or foot placement.  Also, make sure to pay attention to the grips your opponent is making, as they often will give away their intentions.  Don't be afraid to break grips and reset if you find yourself behind in the grip fighting game.

Controlling Inside Space
This is a general concept, and not a hard and fast rule, but generally speaking, it is to your advantage to control the inside space.  That means that your arms and legs are controlling the space inside, between your opponent's arms and legs.  This will often involve pummeling and exchanging grips, but if you can stay on the inside and keep your opponent outside, it reduces their ability to put weight on you or attack you directly through the center.  This will also generally lead to superior grips and attacking options for the person controlling the inside.  This concept is also extremely important when striking techniques are involved.  Keeping your arms, and in some case legs, inside your opponents arms on the bottom gives me much better options for defending strikes from the bottom position.

Putting Up Walls
Before you can develop an effective attacking guard, you have to make sure that your opponent isn't passing your guard.  This means working on your guard retention and guard recovery techniques.  There are specific defenses for various passing strategies, but the basic concept is putting walls between yourself and your opponent.  From a defensive standpoint, space is your friend, and you want to put as many barriers as possible between you and your opponent to maintain that space. These barriers, or walls, can be the bottom of your feet, your shins, the front of your knees, your hands, forearms, or elbows.  Your opponent is generally trying to establish a chest to chest position to pin and control you.  As they attempt to break through these barriers to accomplish this goal, your job is to always replace the walls.  For example, if they are able to remove your feet from their hip and close the distance, your job is to replace that wall with another one, such as the front of your shin/knee, or if they are closer, maybe a stiff arm, or forearm.  As you are defending your guard, keep the concept of always trying to protect yourself behind walls and replacing these walls as your opponent attempts to break through them.  As mush as possible, these walls should be frames, reinforced off of the floor, aligning your body in such as way that as your opponent applies their weight, you are utilizing the skeletal structure of your body to resist the force they are applying using the solid surface of the ground.  This will allow you to support much more weight for a longer period of time with less physical exertion.  Often, these means having to move yourself to create space to replace or recover these walls.  That leads us to our next concept....

Hip Movement
Having a good guard means having good hips.  This is something that you must develop if you want to have the ability to effectively defend and attack from the bottom.  As a general rule in Jiu-jitsu, if you can't move the other person, you should move yourself.  This usually involves some form of hip escape or shrimping.  This is one of the primary means of creating space when on the bottom of the fight.  This is why Jiu-jitsu practitioners spend so much time practicing this basic fundamental movement drill.  Being able to move your hips is imperative for creating space while defending and escaping, but it is also an essential part of many attacks.  In order to have good hip movement, you have to have good structure and contact with the floor.  Power in Jiu-jitsu is generally not created through the use of explosive movements.  This is because Jiu-jitsu is about efficiency of movement, and explosive, dynamic movements require a lot of energy.  Real power is created through good structure, stability and balance, and that means that you need to have points of contact with the floor.  Sometimes, the floor can be replaced by utilizing your contact with your opponent, but your feet need to have contact with a solid surface in order to have power to move your hips effectively.  As an example, try to lie flat on your back with both feet in the air; now try to lift your hips off of the floor.  You can't do it without the use of explosive movements and core strength.  By simply placing at least one foot on the floor, it is very easy to move the hips.  So, in the open guard, your feet need to have good points of contact at all times.  That means either placing them on your opponent, or on the floor, so that you always have the ability to move your hips.

Maintaining the Knee Line
From a guard retention perspective, a good way of thinking about maintaining the integrity of your open guard position is to draw a "line in the sand".  This line represents a point where if you keep your opponent beyond it, you are generally pretty safe and can have a better platform for launching your attacks.  Inside of that line, your opponent is now encroaching on your space and presents a legitimate threat of passing your guard.  That line should be the front of your knees.  The general procedure to pass the guard involves systematically breaking through the barriers by controlling and passing (usually in order) the feet, then the knees, then the hips, then the shoulders, then the head.  Once the head and shoulders are controlled, your guard is passed and you are pinned.  You are no longer dealing with guard retention, you are now in the territory of escaping and guard recovery.  When your opponent starts to get past your knee line and begins controlling your hips, your ability to move and create space is significantly reduced, and they are getting dangerously close to passing your guard.  In this range, your frames become primarily the hands and arms, which don't allow you as much space between you and your opponent, and can't support as much weight for an extended time period.  As with most things in Jiu-jitsu, the earlier you can start to defend the better off you will be.  So, pay attention to not letting your opponent pass the line of your knees.  If they do, you need to immediately address it through movement, pummeling, or replacing walls.  Usually a small adjustment earlier can prevent the need for a much bigger movement later.

The Best Defense is a Good Offense
The guard is an amazing defensive tool, but you can't rely on simply defending.  The bottom line is, being on top is generally superior to being on the bottom.  So, if you're on the bottom, and you're only defending, it is a matter of time before a skilled opponent will break through your guard.  A good guard is an active guard.  You have to always maintain good fundamental guard retention and defensive concepts, but you should be attacking your opponent from the bottom.  If you keep your opponent busy dealing with defending your attacks, it is much harder for them to pass your guard.  Attacking doesn't mean just haphazardly going for armlocks and chokes.  This can often lead to your opponent passing your guard and gaining a better position.  The best way to attack your opponent, in almost every position in Jiu-jitsu, but particularly from the bottom of the guard, is to attack their balance, posture, and structure.  There are various specific techniques and strategies to accomplish this which are beyond the scope of this article, but your focus should be on finding ways to weaken your opponents structure by breaking down and controlling their posture, and/or finding ways to break their balance.  By breaking the posture or balance first, it becomes much easier to attack your opponent through the use of sweeps and submissions.

The guard is definitely one of the most important positions in Jiu-jitsu.  Utilizing some of these strategies will hopefully help you to make your guard more effective, so that you can more efficiently defend and attack when you are on the bottom of the fight.  Of course, you have to put the time in on the mat to put these concepts into practice, but if you put the work in, your guard can become a nightmare for your opponents to deal with!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Embracing Discomfort

If you've spent any significant amount of time on the mat, you've probably heard the mantra "learn to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations".  While this statement is definitely very true, it is often much easier said than practiced.  The reality is, we spend most of our time on the mat, as well as in life, trying to avoid situations that cause us pain and discomfort.  Now, you shouldn't be regularly experiencing "pain" in Jiu-jitsu training.  Obviously, make sure that you protect yourself and tap in plenty of time to avoid injury.  However, if you've spent any time at all sparring in Jiu-jitsu class, you have certainly experienced discomfort.  It goes with the territory.  We've all had that feeling, when you're underneath a larger, stronger, or more skilled opponent, where you feel the crushing pressure as if someone parked a truck on your chest, you feel like you can't breathe, and all of your efforts to try to move and escape are in vain.  This can be not only frustrating, but downright terrifying!  If you are one of the people who experience a sense of claustrophobia in this type of situation, you are not alone!  This is actually very common.  However, it is something that can be overcome.

Ironically, the best way to inoculate yourself to this type of panic sensation is through continued exposure to being put in these types of positions.  The good news is, a large part of the stress that you feel in these positions is mental.  Of course, there is some physical discomfort, and there are certainly technical things that you can learn to do to reduce the physical toll of having someone's weight on top of you.  But one of the biggest things you can train yourself to do is to learn to relax, breathe, and think your way out of the situation.  Avoid the temptation to panic.  After all, you're not dying.  You're just temporarily in an uncomfortable spot, but rest assured it won't last forever.  If you can learn to control the demons in your own mind, the voices telling you to quit, you will be better for it, and the next time won't be as bad.  First, slow down....try to slow both your breathing and your thought process.  Do your best to protect your neck and limbs to find a position that you can first survive.  You don't have to escape right away.  If you're not taking damage, meaning that your opponent can't strike you, or submit you, they are just on top.  You're simply dealing with gravity.  Try to have a mindset of survival first, before escaping.  Often times, in a panicked attempt to escape a bad situation, we make our situation worse, possibly even leading to a submission.  And remember, Jiu-jitsu is a two-way street.  As much as you may be on the worse end of certain positions, you will, at some point, find yourself back on top where you can begin to impose your will on your opponent.  That is the time to remember that feeling of helplessness on the bottom.  If you can use your superior position and pressure to cause your opponent to mentally break, it will be much easier for you to open them up to launch your own attacks.  Remember, in Jiu-jitsu as well as life, it is better to give than to receive!

The idea of learning to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations applies not only on the mat, but in life as well.  We all have times in our lives where we face adversity.  Sometimes it is a consequence of choices that we've made, other times, it's just about what life presents us with.  Pain, sorrow, loss, frustration-all of these are parts of life that, while we would rather avoid, we all must face at some point.  And, the reality is, if we just learn how to breathe and survive, and realize that we can get through it, it will make us better for it.  We've all heard the saying, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger".  There is a lot of truth to that statement.  Because, both in Jiu-Jitsu and in life, it is often through discomfort that we develop the most and if we approach it with the right mindset, we will ultimately be better for it.  Life isn't always what you make it....sometimes it's about how you take it.  So next time you're stuck in that miserable position on the mat, or in life, try to focus on the big picture, survive in the moment, and be grateful for the experience, because  it is critical for your development!

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Managing Expectations

If you've trained Jiu-jitsu for any significant amount of time, you've seen some of your training partners come and go.  Often, people who were regulars on the mat, seem to start showing up less and less, and then may eventually fade away completely.  This is a very common phenomenon in almost every Jiu-jitsu academy all over the world.  So, it begs the question, why do so many people quit training, and what can you do to make sure that you don't become one of those statistics?

One of the reason many people quit training is because they don't properly manage their expectations.  Maybe you heard about the effectiveness of Jiu-jitsu as a self-defense system for the average person. Maybe you even saw some videos online, or watched some fights in the UFC and saw for yourself firsthand how a skilled Jiu-jitsu practitioner can easily dismantle their opponent, and you thought, "I need to learn how to do that!".  You came into the academy, put on a gi, and did a few introductory classes.  Maybe you were a natural athlete all your life and just assumed, this is something you'd be good at.  Maybe you're in good shape, tough physically and mentally, and as you sized up the other "average looking" people in the class secretly thought to yourself, "I got this...I think I can handle these guys".  But then, you found yourself getting dragged around the mat by someone half your size, completely helpless! Your expectations didn't meet with reality. You could get frustrated, and decide, maybe this is not for you after all.  This would be one way to deal with it.  We call that the easy way.  Basically, denial.  But there is another way; you swallow your pride, recognize that your expectations were not based on reality, but were based mostly on ego, and get back on the mat, and commit yourself to learning the art!

Maybe you've made it through those first few months of training.  But life gets busy.  You started this journey because you were really committed to learning the gentle art, but now, due to your busy work schedule and family obligations, you just aren't able to train more than once or twice a week.  You see your teammates, who started training about the same time as you, consistently making progress, When you spar, they seem to have suddenly bypassed you in skill level and are much better than you on the mat.  You think you really should have been better by now.  Your expectations don't meet with the reality of the situation. How do you deal with that?  You could stop showing up, make excuses about how much you really want to train, but you just don't have time (the reality is nobody has free time-we make time for the things that are important).  You could walk away from the mat...but always in the back of your mind, you think about what could have been.  Maybe years later, when you run into your old training partner you started with, who is now a brown belt, you think that could've been you, and you promise yourself you will return to training "one day". could accept that you are where you are.  Yeah, life gets in the way sometimes.  You may not be able to train as much as you would ideally like to.  But, training once a week is better than not at all.  And you look for ways to improve your time management to allow you to get a little more mat time.  Usually, where there's a will, there's a way.  Don't put excess pressure or expectations on yourself.  Just accept that you are where you are, and understand that when you come in and train, you ARE getting better, whether you realize it or not.

Maybe when you're in class, you really try to pay attention to every detail as the instructor explains the technique.  But then, when it's time to drill, you just can't seem to get it.  You get frustrated because your a smart person, and it doesn't seem like it should be that complicated, but you just can't get the move.  It must be that this just isn't a good move for you.  Maybe the instructor just didn't explain it right.  I mean, you did attempt it with your partner AT LEAST twice, before throwing your hands up in exasperation (of course it didn't help that your training partner-who also doesn't understand the technique was providing you with full resistance the entire time as you attempted to replicate what your instructor showed).  You get frustrated and resign yourself to the fact that you just don't "get" Jiu-jitsu, maybe it's not for you... could recognize that your expectation, that you will understand the technique right away and be able to replicate it with the same smoothness as someone who has been on the mat many years more than you, is not in line with reality.  Jiu-jitsu is hard, and learning it is a process.  It takes time.  Trust me, your instructor, or that upper belt that you are emulating went through the same learning process and the same struggles as you did.  Everyone was once a white belt.  And.....even though you may not see it, they are STILL struggling with things too!  Learning Jiu-jitsu is a never-ending process.  There is no finish line.  There is no point where you will understand it all and execute it flawlessly.  Just enjoy the process, ask questions, do your best to understand the move, and try to apply it in live training.  Trial and error is a big part of the process.  Don't get frustrated if you don't understand something right away.  You just may not be ready for it yet, but trust in the process, and rest assured that down the road, if you just keep training, it will eventually click!

Maybe when it's time to spar,  you feel that little nervousness in the pit of your stomach as you get on the mat.  Even though you know that all of these people, your friends and teammates, don't have any bad intentions and aren't really going to hurt you, you still have a little anxiety at the thought of being taken down and put into a position from which you can't escape.  You shake hands with your training partner, and quickly find yourself in a bad spot....things are not going as planned.  You really expected to pull off that sweep you've been working on all week, but now you find yourself on your back, looking up at the lights, with all of your partners body weight on you.  You can barely struggle in every direction to escape, but it just seems to be getting worse the more you move.  Now you're exhausted, and now your partner catches your arm in a tight submission hold.  You really don't want to tap.  After all, everyone in the whole academy is watching (probably not really, but that is your perception).  You wait till the last possible moment, and fortunately, your smarter side kicks in just in time to make you tap the mat to avoid getting seriously injured.  Maybe you waited a little too late, and tweaked your elbow a little bit.  You jump up, frustrated and angry, and storm off the mat.  This whole Jiu-jitsu thing just isn't working out.... could get caught in the submission, and recognize that the tap signifies a learning opportunity....maybe you made a mistake, or maybe your partner just has more experience in the position than you do.  In either case, it's something you can work on and try to fix in the future.  You shake your partner's hand, say "nice job" and then (at the appropriate time) ask them how they caught you and what you may be able to do to avoid being caught like that in the future.  You recognize that Jiu-jitsu is learned through failure.  You understand that nobody got good at Jiu-jitsu without tapping.....a lot!!!  You make sure that you tap in time to avoid injury so that you can train tomorrow.  You shake hands a go again.

Maybe it's promotion time.  You stand in line with all of your teammates, anxiously awaiting your name to be called for your next stripe or belt promotion.  After all, you've been showing up, you work hard in class....surely, your instructor has noticed your efforts and will reward you accordingly.  As you see your teammates get called up one by one, and your name isn't called, you just assume that your instructor is saving the best for last.  But then, suddenly, the promotions are over.  There must be some mistake....surely he just somehow forgot to call your name.  After all, you deserve it right?  Probably not.  Your expectation of what level you should be at isn't meeting the reality of your instructor's assessment.  Again, there are several ways to handle this.  You could protest, openly question your instructor directly....or maybe you prefer to just talk behind their back to your friends, family, or fellow students about how you really deserved to have been promoted.  You could get mad.  You could try to "prove" your worthiness by taking it out on your training partners in the next round of sparring.  You could leave, go and find another academy where you know the instructor will quickly promote you to the rank that you know deep down inside you really deserve. could trust your instructor.  After all, they've been doing this a long time, and they see you on the mat everyday.  They are well aware of not only your abilities, but your potential.  They also know if you've been showing up consistently and what you do when you're there.  They've seen many students come and go through the ranks and believe it or not they DO have your best interest in mind.  The fact that they may be holding you to a higher standard than what your expectations led you to believe is in fact a compliment.  It means they understand that you have the potential to be better than you are.  They want you to be successful, and they are looking at the big picture, the long term, not just the next belt or stripe.  They understand, through experience, that promoting someone before they are ready could ultimately be a recipe for disaster that could lead you to stop training altogether because you can't yet live up to the expectation of the next rank.  You recognize that the belts are not the reason for training, and are merely markers along the way of your progress.  You could have a discussion with your instructor in a constructive manner, with an open mind, to see what they think you need to do to reach the next level.

The bottom line is, manage your expectations, don't let them manage you!  No matter how long you train, you will always want to be better than you currently are.  And if you just keep training, you WILL get better.  Enjoy the process, understand that learning Jiu-jitsu is a marathon, not a sprint.  And just go with the flow.  Dedicate yourself to doing the best that you can and making the most of your time every time you're on the mat, and understand that wherever you are in the process, that is where you are.  Don't let yourself get frustrated with the ups and downs of training.  Just keep showing up, get on the mat, and trust in the process!  Most importantly, don't forget to enjoy training!  That is why you started in the first place!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Fighters vs. Martial Artists

There are plenty of tough guys out there...and a lot of them are very skilled fighters.  However, that doesn't make them "martial artists".  There is a difference.  It is ultimately up to you which category you fall into.

Clearly, in a martial arts class, you will learn how to fight.  In fact, Jiu-jitsu is considered to be one of the most effective fighting arts on the planet!  And through learning to fight, you may, and likely will, develop a level of "toughness".  Constantly dealing with being put under pressure, being put in compromising positions, and learning to still survive and keep going can develop a lot of grit.  But these things alone don't make you a martial artist, at least not in the way that I think of the word.  Being a martial artist takes more than physical fighting skill, more than toughness.  It is really about your character.

At first, many might scoff at the idea that learning how to throw people, choke people, delivering devastating strikes and breaking limbs is a good way to develop your moral character.  But, it in fact can do just that.  However it does not come automatically.  It has to do with your intention.  We learn to fight because we understand that we have not only a right, but rather an obligation to be able to defend ourselves and our loved ones if placed in harms way.  But, as the famous quote says, "with great power comes great responsibility".  We carry ourselves confidently in the face of adversity with the knowledge that the skills that we develop will keep us safe, but also understanding the responsibility to avoid having to use them if at all possible. We train to fight so that we don't have to.

Through the rigors of training, we also will encounter struggle.  We will fail.  We will deal with obstacles in the path of our development.  How we learn to overcome these obstacles and deal with failure helps us to develop not only physical toughness, but inner strength.  These are opportunities to  confront and work on our own inner demons-fear, doubt, hopelessness, negativity, etc.  Facing and overcoming these things helps us to grow and become better people, and THAT is what martial arts is ultimately about-becoming the best version of you that you are capable of!

Since the earliest days of organized martial arts, going back to the Feudal Era of Japan, people realized that warriors or fighters who were not of strong moral character could be very dangerous.  That is why the Japanese warrior class developed a code of ethics, known as Bushido, that would guide them in their daily lives, both on and off the battlefield.  This Warrior Code still exists today, in various forms, in many martial arts academies.  We have a version of this hanging on the wall of our academy, the 7-5-3 Code™.  This code which was organized by the Valente Brothers, is a way of representing how we can best live a healthy, prepared, and virtuous life both on and off the mat, and how our training can help us to deal with problems in our daily lives.

This 7-5-3 Code™ refers to the "Seven Virtues of a Warrior": Rectitude, Courage, Benevolence, Respect, Honesty, Honor, & Loyalty; the "Five Keys to Health": Nutrition, Exercise, Rest, Hygiene, and Positivity; and the "Three States of Mind": Awareness, Balance, and Flow.  You can learn more about the 7-5-3 Code™ here.

There are countless examples of people who have been great fighters, world champions in boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, or mixed martial arts, highly skilled in many respects; but lacking in moral character.  Some have been involved in drug trafficking, child molestation, rape, or even murder. Some may not have even committed any of these types of overt acts, but yet the way that they choose to lead their lives leave a lot to be desired.  These are not, in my opinion, martial artists.  Of course, we are all human, and we all are subject to make mistakes.  None of us are perfect by any means.  However, the martial artist always strives to be better, recognizing their flaws and imperfections, but always working to overcome them.  They lead their lives in a purposeful way, trying to not only better themselves, but to make the world they live in, and the people around them better.  Ultimately, that is an individual choice.  But, the benefits of the latter are numerous.  I would encourage all of you to consider that way you lead your life, and let your training help you to fulfill a greater purpose than just becoming a hardened human weapon.  I am privileged to be part of a team that highly values moral character, not just physical skill, and one that, I think cultivates these qualities in all of our members.  Train hard, be hard to kill, become a very tough, skilled, and technical fighter...but also, strive to be a better human!