Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Top 15 Things That Drive Your Jiu-jitsu Instructor Crazy!

This month, I want to talk about a few of the top things that are likely to drive your Jiu-jitsu instructor crazy!  This is not by any means a comprehensive list, and while some of these may be more personal pet-peeves, many of these are very consistent in most Jiu-jitsu academies. Most comes down to just plain common sense and respecting the rules and environment of the academy that you are training in.  Every Jiu-jitsu academy has its own culture, and its own set of rules or protocols, and whether you realize it or not, these are things that your instructor has likely put a lot of thought into and there is a very good reason for each of them.  As a student, your job is to do your best to get the most out of your training, and make sure that you are trying to follow the guidance of your instructor.  So, by avoiding some of the things on this list, you will make sure to maximize the benefit you receive from training Jiu-jitsu, become a positive influence within the team, and also help your instructor to maintain a little bit of their sanity!  Here are some of the top 15 things to avoid:

1.  Showing up without your gi/belt/rashguard, or with a dirty gi
This one is pretty simple and easy to avoid.  Plan ahead and bring your uniform and equipment with you when come to class, and don't be the stinky guy/girl.  If you're training regularly, it helps to have an extra gi.  You might even want to keep a clean gi in your car just in case.  Some academies, such as ours, even offer rental gis in case you didn't get a chance to wash yours yet.  But please, make sure that you clean your gi and equipment (including sanitizing your gear bag) as soon as possible after every class. By the way, gis and rash guards have a shelf life.  Don't expect to have one gi from white belt to black belt.  If you are training consistently, you will go through some gis.  When that white gi starts to get gray and dingy, it is time to replace it.  Hygiene is something that is vitally important in Jiu-jitsu.  Don't be the guy or girl that nobody wants to train with!  Things such as ringworm, staph, impetigo, etc can be very common in Jiu-jitsu, but are generally easily avoidable with proper hygienic measures.   If you have any suspect areas, please make your instructor/training partners aware and DO NOT TRAIN until you get it cleared up!  It is not fair to your training partners.  Do your part to keep the funky stuff out of the academy!

2.  Showing up consistently late
Everyone gets stuck in traffic or has things come up from time to time.  However, showing up late consistently to class without a good reason shows a disregard for the class and your teammates.  Plus, you are potentially missing out on important technical details.  If your training is important, make it a priority to make it in on time!  If you find yourself consistently coming in late, try leaving a little earlier.  It is a good idea to try to show up 10-15 minutes early to give yourself a little buffer.  Also, you may even be able to grab a training partner and get some extra reps in before class starts!  Most instructors are very understanding if you are going to be late.  I would much rather a student show up late than not at all.  But, a quick call or text giving your instructor a heads up goes a long way, and is greatly appreciated.  If you do come in late, make sure that you follow your academy's protocol as far as coming out on the mat after class has started.  Most instructors prefer for you to wait until you are acknowledged and invited out on the mat.

3.  Not saying hello or goodbye
Often, we talk about the Jiu-jitsu academy as being like a "family", and there is a lot of truth to that.  So, if enjoy this type of training environment, treat it as such.  You wouldn't come into someone's house without saying hello, or leave without saying goodbye.  You should treat the academy the same way.  Make sure greet your instructor and teammates when you arrive, and when it's time to leave, don't just pack up and walk out the door.  This simple gesture goes a very long way towards keeping a positive atmosphere in the academy.

4.  Not cleaning up after yourself 
Most reputable instructors go to great lengths to keep their academies clean and neat.  Please take ownership of where you train, and do your part to help keep it that way!  Most academies have a designated area for shoes, gear bags, and personal items.  Please utilize these available areas and don't leave your personal items lying around in the floor.   Make sure that you also take everything with you when you leave.  Don't leave your empty water bottles or trash lying around the academy.  If you came on the mat with athletic tape on some body part, make sure it doesn't get left on the mat or the floor.  Also, if it is the culture at your academy as it is in many, help out with cleaning the mats after class.  It is never something that is demanded of students, but is a simple gesture to help show that you are taking some personal accountability for the environment where you train.

5.  Leaving the mat during class
As much as possible, try to stay on the mat during class.  Everyone has a limited amount of time to train, so make the most of the time that you are there.  If you do feel that you need to leave the mat to go to the restroom, or get water, or deal with a cut, etc. please let the instructor in charge know first before you just walk out in the middle of class.  Leaving the mat during class means that you are leaving your training partner with nobody to train with, and you are potentially missing important instruction and details.

6.  Drilling or teaching moves other than what the instructor is showing
We know that you are excited about the new move that you saw on YouTube last night.  But please, save your advanced variations for your open mat time.  Focus on what is being shown in class.  Even if you think you already know the move, follow what your instructor is showing, and make sure to perform each repetition with a maximum level of focus and attention to detail.  If you are more experienced, don't try to teach your training partner the "next step" in the technique as you perceive it.  Follow the class format and work on what your instructor is showing.

7.  Giving too much/too little resistance during drilling
Please....don't be that guy/girl.  Your job in drilling is to help your training partner to best perform the move being shown and get reps.  Your job is not to give full resistance and stop them from being able to do the move.  You can't learn Jiu-jitsu with full resistance.  Resistance can be slowly added as you have more experience with the position, but not in the learning phase.  Help your partner to perform the move as correctly as possible.  On the other hand, don't be a limp noodle either.  If you are too relaxed, or don't react in a realistic way, it can be equally hard for your partner to practice the technique.  In general, you should maintain proper posture/structure, and react in a realistic manner, but not to an extent that you are preventing your partner from performing the technique.

8.  Not repping the technique
We know that you think you already know the move.  However, the point of drilling is not to learn the move.  That is only the first step.  Once you can perform the move mostly correctly, you need to start developing your timing and reflex, and the only way to do that is through repetition.  Too often, the instructor will show the move, and then students will perform 3-4 reps and then sit around idly waiting for the next step, or start practicing some other technique or variation (see #6 above).  Take advantage of your training time, and get in as many correct reps as you can.  If you want to get good at Jiu-jitsu, you have to get reps.  There is no other way.  Don't just do the move until you get it right. Do the move until you can't get it wrong!

9.  Not paying attention
When you are on the mat, focus on Jiu-jitsu.  One of the best things about Jiu-jitsu training is that it lets you leave the rest of your daily concerns behind, at least for an hour or two.  When your instructor is explaining/teaching a technique, try to be a sponge and soak up every detail!  If you have seen the move before, it is even more important to pay attention.  You may just pick up on that one detail that you have been missing out on that changes the whole position completely!  Try to remain attentive and engaged, and have a beginners mindset, and you will get the most out of the class.  Definitely, don't talk or otherwise become a distraction to the rest of the class while your instructor is teaching a technique.

10.  Not asking questions when appropriate
Most instructors love questions.  It shows that a student is genuinely interested and engaged in improving and better understanding the techniques, rather than just going through the motions.  Please, when your instructor asks if there are questions, take advantage of the opportunity.  However, avoid asking questions about something completely unrelated to what is being shown, or asking a lot of questions BEFORE even attempting the technique.  Many times, you will figure out the answer to your own question by simply trying to do the move.  If you've made a few legitimate attempts at performing the technique and still can't figure it out, then, by all means, ask your instructor for help.

11.  Going too hard in sparring
Don't be a spaz!  Live sparring is a crucial element in learning Jiu-jitsu, and, when done correctly, is both fun and challenging.  But, keep in mind that training in the academy is NOT a competition.  Don't treat every roll as a fight to the death.  This is usually more of a problem for newer students who haven't learned yet how to train at a controlled pace.  If you are using too much strength and athleticism when you are rolling, you are greatly increasing your chances of injuring yourself or your training partner, and you are definitely not getting the most out of your training.  Jiu-jitsu is about efficiency, not strength and athleticism, so if you are having to use too much power to perform the move, chances are, something is a little off in your technique anyway.  Don't focus on winning.  Focus on learning and getting better!

12.  Not knowing when to tap
The tap in Jiu-jitsu is sacred.  It is a way of acknowledging that you got caught in a submission hold from which you couldn't readily escape, and a way of safely training with full resistance without taking injuries.  The point of Jiu-jitsu isn't to get caught in a submission and then to is not to get caught to begin with.  So, if you are caught in a submission hold and you're not able to escape, just tap.  Don't be stubborn and wait until you get hurt.  Tap early and often, and you will prolong your time on the mat and avoid unnecessary injuries.  If you get hurt because you waited too late to tap, that is your fault.  It is totally avoidable.  There is also such a thing as tapping too early.  Don't tap in anticipation before your partner even is able to apply the submission.  You are cheating them out of the practice of repping out that position.  And please, don't be a pre-tapper.  It drives me crazy to see a student with their hand just hovering over their partner for 3-4 seconds just waiting to tap.  Just go ahead and tap already if you are going to do that.  Otherwise, you have time to use that hand that is just hanging out to try to effectively defend the position.

13.  Skipping out on sparring time
You don't need to (and shouldn't) jump into live sparring right away when you first start training Jiu-jitsu.  But once you've started to figure out your way around the mat and get some good fundamentals under your belt, it's time to test the waters in live training.  Just go into it with the right mindset and don't focus on winning as previously stated (because trust me, in the beginning, you are not going to win anyway).  Live training is one of the most important things that makes Jiu-jitsu as effective as it is.  So, the more sparring time you get, the quicker you are going to learn.  In the beginning, plan to tap a lot and just have fun, and it will be a great experience!  You don't necessarily have to spar every single class, but if you start skipping out on sparring time consistently, you are cheating yourself from getting the most out of your training, and missing out on the most fun part of Jiu-jitsu!

14.  Asking about promotions
Promotions in Jiu-jitsu are few and far between.  This is how it should be.  The belt is just a representation of your progress, it is not a reason to train.  What ultimately matters most is your actual performance on the mat.  It is way better to be the best blue belt than the worst purple belt.  Don't ask your instructor about promotions, just trust in their judgement.  One of the biggest disservices an instructor can do to a student is to promote them before they are ready.  Promotions are not personal.  If you're not getting promoted when you think you should, it is not because your instructor doesn't like you.  It is actually quite the opposite.  It means that they care enough about your development to hold you back when necessary.  It means that they expect more from you than you do.  Don't train for the belts, just train to get better, and the promotions will come in due time.

15.  Comparing yourself to others
This is one of the biggest traps in Jiu-jitsu, and it is something that will ultimately only lead to frustration, and likely will lead you to eventually quit training altogether.  Jiu-jitsu is an individual journey.  Accept now that, no matter how long you train, there will always be people better than you. Don't compare your progress to others.  Just strive to be a little bit better than you were the day before.  If you are showing up and training consistently, you ARE getting better, even if you don't always realize it.  Walk your own path, accept that you are where you are, and just work on getting better.  Keep Jiu-jitsu fun and enjoy the journey!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Training with a Self-Defense Mindset

One of the main elements of a complete Jiu-jitsu system is the stand-up self-defense curriculum.  This is an element that is often overlooked, or ignored in many academies, but ironically, is the reason that most average people start training Jiu-jitsu in the first place.  Many people start their Jiu-jitsu journey because, in addition to its many other benefits, they want to learn how to protect themselves.  Rarely do they start training because they want to learn how to score an advantage point in a competition with the latest inverted worm-guard variation.  Don't get me wrong....Jiu-jitsu is infinite, and I believe that you should try to learn as much about all of it as you can.  But, you have to make sure that your personal reasons for training line up with what you are actually spending your time working on.  You can still keep up with the latest guard variations and stylistic trends and techniques that are limited in scope to a more sport  specific purpose.  These techniques can be fun and challenging to train,  and they have their place.  But, if your primary goal is to learn to defend yourself, you should be devoting the majority of your time to the fundamentals techniques and those that have the most application to a real life self-defense situation, BOTH standing up AND on the ground.

In our academy, there is a heavy focus on "self-defense" techniques, particularly in our Jiu-jitsu Fundamentals program.  There is a good reason for this.  Considering that, statistically, most people that start Jiu-jitsu won't last more than a year or two, this ensures that, in the unfortunate event that they end up down the road at some point needing to physically defend themselves, they will hopefully have developed a sufficient level of skill in this area to effectively survive and overcome an aggressive attacker.  For those who stay in Jiu-jitsu long term, they can of course work on more advanced techniques and concepts, but they will have already developed a solid base of fundamental self-defense techniques, and the mindset to implement them effectively.

We often tend to separate the ideas of the stand-up self-defense techniques with the ground techniques.  Jiu-jitsu is perhaps best know for its ground grappling techniques, and indeed does places a strong emphasis on these positions, for good reason. Putting someone on the ground provides a much more stable platform to control their movement and utilize body weight for added control and leverage.  And of course, if you are going to be competent in fighting on the ground, you must be able to apply techniques efficiently from both the top & bottom positions.  It is generally true that most fights will end up at some point in a grounded positions.  But, it is also the case that almost every fight starts from the feet.  So, the stand up self defense techniques and the ground techniques should work together and flow from one to another seemlessly.  In reality, the ground and standing technique are the same thing.  All of Jiu-jitsu is self-defense!

If you are training for self-defense, there are a couple of important considerations that will determine your strategy and approach to training:

1. How the fight starts, and
2. Who is your opponent?

How the Fight Starts-
As previously mentioned, in almost every case, any type of street fight or self-defense situation starts on the feet.  However, there are a few different dynamics to how this can take place.

"Fair Fight"
Probably the most rare, is the "fair fight"scenario.  That is, where both participants mutually agree to combat.  They both enter into the event with full knowledge that a physical confrontation is going to take place and have agreed, either through verbal interaction, or body language, to fight with each other.  Even in this rare instance however, one must always consider the possibility that 3rd party bystanders could unexpectedly become involved.  From a self-defense stand point, this situation is very easy to avoid in most cases by simply walking away or otherwise removing yourself from the situation.

"Escalated Verbal Conflict"
This is a very common situation where the two combatants first engage in some type of verbal altercation, which ultimately leads to a violent physical encounter.  The situation may have started as some type of a simple argument and then one or both participants escalate it to a physical encounter.  There is very often a lot of posturing, pushing or shoving prior to the fight.  These situations can best be dealt with through maintaining proper distance management, posture, and verbal de-escalation techniques.

"Surprise Attack"
This is a true self-defense scenario where one (or more) person(s) are the aggressor, and there is a clear target for their violent act.  The classic scenario of walking down a dark alley and being suddenly accosted by a stranger would be an example.  Obviously, this type of attack is difficult to anticipate, however it can best be avoided by practicing good common sense, and situational awareness.

While there may be other forms of physical violence that could be categorized differently (such as domestic violence situations in intimate relationships), for the purposes of this article, we will focus on these primary three.

Who is Your Attacker-
The next consideration is actually who your likely attacker would be.  Chances are, you are going to be dealing with someone that is bigger, physically stronger, more aggressive, and possibly more athletic than you.  At least, this is the "worst case scenario" that you should be training for.  There are no "weight classes" in a street fight.  The good news is, the longer you practice Jiu-jitsu, the better your ability to deal with this type of size and strength disparities will be.  The problem is, the people you are training with also train Jiu-jitsu.  After a few years of training, Jiu-jitsu practitioners move and react differently from the average person.  It is important as a practitioner of Jiu-jitsu, to understand how to escape from armbars and triangle chokes, to defend sweeps and guard passes, etc.  However, this is not what you are most likely to encounter in a street fight.  The number of trained Jiu-jitsu fighters in the general population is very small.  It is very unlikely that you would end up in a street fight/self-defense situation against a black belt, or for that matter even a blue belt in Jiu-jitsu.  Your most likely opponent will be largely unskilled, but probably very aggressive.  It is important to keep that in mind and train in a way that accounts for this.

Of course, any fight is dynamic....anything can happen.  But, it is important to consider not just what is possible, but what is PROBABLE.  What is the most likely scenario?  Understanding that your potential attacker will probably not be a technically skilled opponent, and that they will not move or react like someone who has had any significant amount of Jiu-jitsu training, it is imperative to train in a way that mimics what you are likely to face in a real world situation.  It is possible to study actual street fights to see the dynamics of how these fights start and what are the most likely types of attacks.  This is what the stand-up self defense curriculum is comprised of.  It focuses on The MOST LIKELY scenarios, based on actually studying real-life encounters.  Techniques such as sucker punches, headlocks, tackles, and collar grabs are very common in these types of encounters.  This is why there is so much focus on these types of techniques in the stand-up self defense curriculum.  Of course, it is also important to make sure that your training partners can replicate, or simulate, the types of energy and reactions that an untrained person is likely to have.  Being prepared to deal with aggressive, untrained persons, practicing defenses again the most likely attacks, along with always practicing good situational awareness, verbal de-escalation techniques, maintaining appropriate distance-management, and always maintaining awareness of striking techniques are critical aspects of training Jiu-jitsu with a self-defense mindset.

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!