Failing in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Learning anything worthwhile is going to have its challenges.  That’s good. Challenges are what make us all evolve. Obstacles are a necessary ingredient for success.  If its not somewhat challenging then we quickly become bored. Like playing Tic-Tac-Toe, what’s the point?

With these obstacles and challenges comes failure. We are very familiar with failure in the BJJ community.  Some of us may not like it, but at least its accepted at some level.  I suggest looking at failure as an incentive. An opportunity rather than a set back.  As with a majority of BJJ, the correct mindset makes all the difference.


When a technique “fails” us, there are two main reasons.  The first type of failure is MECHANICAL DEFICIENCY.  This means that you have not drilled and repeated the technique enough to deeply understand the moving parts (ie, the mechanics).  You have neglected your technique due to apathy and laziness, or its just a new technique to your arsenal. Either way that failure is on you.  That’s your deficiency. So, when you recognize this deficiency, you have a clear indicator that you need to practice more.  That’s in your control.  If you are misunderstanding key details, seek out your coaches and pick their brain. Take the opportunity to fix what needs to be fixed. This is what the first part of every class is dedicated to.

However, even when we have a solid mechanical grasp of a technique it can fail.  This brings us to the second type of failure, DEFENDED TECHNIQUES.   Your opponent’s skill can shut down your technique.  Example: Let us say that you have a solid Pendulum sweep. You attempt it on your opponent and he is aware of your intent. He can then “roadblock” or defend your sweep if he has the skill to do so (let us say that he does).  When your opponent defends your Pendulum sweep, is this a failure?  Yes and no.  Remember, failure is an opportunity. In order to defend the sweep he has to give up something in return. Nothing in Jiu Jitsu is free.  If your opponent closes the door on you he has opened a window. You just need to be aware of the open window and seize the opportunity.  The classic example is this:  When your opponent defends a sweep he is susceptible to a submission, and when he defends a submission he is susceptible to a sweep.  This “linking” of techniques permeates the higher levels of Jiu Jitsu.  Awareness is increased with an internal openness. A mindset of non-attachment and fluidity. A mental DISCONNECT if you will.  This is what the second part of every class is dedicated to.

Do you get angry when your technique fails?  This is not good. Fail graciously and see it as an indicator, a cue, and use it as an opportunity for growth.  The first type of failure is a bitter pill to swallow if you are lazy. That’s an easy fix. Stop being lazy and drill.  The second type of failure is a gift! Your skilled opponent has just provided a golden opportunity for your evolution.  So when you are bested by skill, you should smile and be grateful.  Like I said, mindset make all the difference.



At the core of every technique in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu there is a principle (or many), an underlying concept that transcends the specific technique being taught or learned.  When we practice a certain technique we start off with grasping the surface elements to it. The physical movements or “pieces” to that technique are important to get familiar with. But after some time our understanding of that techniques goes deeper. We go below the surface and become familiar with a principle that not only allows that technique to work, but can be applied to a wide range of techniques. So, we need to drill the specifics of a technique repeatedly for two reasons: To absorb the physical movements into our subconscious (ie, muscle memory) so that we can stop thinking and just react instinctively, and to gain an understanding of the principle that gives the technique its utility.  Once we start understanding principles (and there are many) we can then link them to other specific techniques, seeing similarities between them. Once this happens learning specific techniques gets significantly easier. Thus, our skill level begins to take off.

One of the most powerful and useful principles I have learned is something I call CONNECT/DISCONNECT.  This principle has intertwining external and internal aspects.  A physical and a mental side.


In a nutshell, CONNECT is the attachment part, where we are one with our opponent. We move together, physically linked. It is not just in physical contact, it is where we are glued together. There is no separation. DISCONNECT is when we detach (to varying degrees) and move independently of our opponent. There is some separateness that is allowed so that we can alter our relative positioning to our opponent.   This is an easy enough concept to grasp, but when should we connect or disconnect?  That’s more difficult and heavily involves awareness and timing. Here we have to look at the internal aspect of the principle.


Training and experience (mat time) will mostly solve the answer of WHEN to connect or disconnect. However, a correct mindset will help with this.  Generally, wanting something stubbornly (what I call “insisting”) is counter-productive to the development of our TIMING.  And as we know, TIMING is the “when” to do something.  So, simply put, when we “insist” on having our way and wanting something aggressively, we ignore the CUES that may be right in front of us.  When we get fixated on a certain technique we get tunnel vision and unaware.  This lack of awareness hinders timing.  So, “insisting” is a misapplication of CONNECT.  Therefore, to aid in our cue recognition and timing we must DISCONNECT from wanting ANY specific technique. Our awareness must zoom out and cover a broader scope (ie, DISCONNECT) so that we may discover the paths of least resistance. We remain mentally disconnected until we need to focus our awareness (CONNECT) and zoom back in and analyze a problem at hand. This “awareness-connection” helps with scenarios that are completely foreign or new to us. Our analytical or thinking brain then needs to take over and problem-solve.  We CONNECT to the problem, figure it out, internalize and digest it into our subconscious. Then we can DISCONNECT once again and flow instinctually. To me, mental DISCONNECT is synonymous with FLOW. And only when we can flow internally can we flow externally.


It follows that we must switch from CONNECT to DISCONNECT and back again forever.  It is impossible to stay in either of these states continually.  Physically, CONNECT/DISCONNECT allows us to transition. its all about MOVE, HOLD, MOVE, HOLD, etc.  Mentally, it is necessary to be aware and follow the path of least resistance. We DISCONNECT from wanting or insisting on anything and accept the opportunities that arrive before us. If, for whatever reason, there are no opportunities at hand and no path of least resistance, we can zoom back in and CONNECT to get the ball rolling again. When we get stuck like this, we can call upon our analytical brain to problem-solve.   It would be like a river flowing that suddenly gets damned up by debris. We must then send the troops out into the river to clear the debris and get the it flowing again.  But beware, once the debris is cleared the troops need to get back out of the river so it can flow. If they don’t those troops that helped clear the debris then become another type of debris. In this metaphor, the initial debris is a new or foreign problem that we don’t have the subconscious skill level to solve yet, the Troops are our analytical or thinking part of our conscious brain, and the river is internal flow, reality acceptance and non-judgement.

Knowing when to CONNECT and when to DISCONNECT is vitally important. The physical/technical application of this principle is easy to learn. Just train often and consistently. Listen to your coaches and put forth effort. Don’t waste opportunities to drill or roll.  With the internal side of this principle we should start by relaxing our body as much as possible. The mind not only affects the body, but the body can also influence the mind. Be aware of your breathing and muscle tension. Realize that not every moment is life-threatening. Be calm whenever possible, and it is always possible.


Can this CONNECT/DISCONNECT principle be applied outside the realm of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? Is it useful in everyday life?

Lessons learned ON THE MAT can be applied OFF THE MAT as well.


The Beauty of Struggle

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is a struggle. From day one we are taught challenging movements that seem completely foreign to us. Rolling forward, backward, shrimping, bridging. We labor as we learn the complexity of techniques. Then we add another human being on top of us trying to strangle us and break our limbs. There is difficulty in BJJ no doubt. That’s why not everyone does it. Or why most who start it eventually quit. It’s just too damn challenging for most.

But that difficulty and inherit struggle is what gives it Brazilian Jiu Jitsu its teeth, its power and its beauty. The student who accepts (better yet seeks out) this struggle is naturally refined by the process. He goes from soft to strong. From clumsy to coordinated. From caveman to poet.

So the struggle pays dividends if the practitioner is willing to put in the daily work. There is no short cut. No easy way. It’s a grind day in, day out. Get addicted to the challenge. Seek it out. Don’t shy away from it.

BJJ can be a metaphor for life, so here goes: Life is struggle. Life is suffering. Life is pain. It is riddled with difficulties and challenges. There is no way around it. It is what it is whether you accept it or not. What would it be like if we accept or seek out the challenge of life? What if we treated it like a game (kind of like Jiu Jitsu competition)? How resilient would we become? How much would we evolve?
Is the parallel clear enough?

We may like the idea of being skilled at BJJ or life, but ideas have absolutely no value without action. Nothing happens without work (aka Struggle). Of course we will come up short numerous times. We will mess up a lot. That’s part of the struggle too. These “failures” are just more challenges and opportunities for refinement. No action, no results.

We all have given the gift of volition (the faculty or power of using one’s will). Laziness, comfort-seeking, and non-action leads to atrophy and decay of our volition. What a waste. Comfort softens us while challenging work makes us strong and resilient. And BJJ isn’t comfortable as any continuing practitioner will attest to.

We should seek challenges, struggle and adversity. We should accept set-backs and failures as part of the refinement process. We should also allow our children to struggle. To make them work. To let them be uncomfortable.  The world and adult life isn’t going to be easy so they shouldn’t be coddled. Let them struggle early on so that they can become resilient. This is critical for their overall mental/emotional well-being!

The art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu provides a tried and true path toward self-mastery and human excellence (as well as being a highly effective self-defense art). With BJJ as our “way” all of life’s other struggles become significantly easier to handle. Because the art teaches us how to be resilient, clever, aware, efficient, accepting, and flowing. We can’t control the waves, but we can learn to surf. Either that or we can allow life to batter us around as we whine and complain about our lot. So, stay soft or get strong. The choice is ours.

Don’t pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.

-Bruce Lee


Two main ingredients in Jiu Jitsu are PRESSURE and FLOW.  But which is better?  Different styles usually emphasize one over the other. Some styles give each their equal due.  The politically correct short answer is that neither one is better than the other. They are interdependent.


Pressure is the continuous physical force exerted on or against an object/body at a point where there is contact.  This is best demonstrated in the top position due to the benefits of gravity.  Most BJJ schools emphasize pressure while passing the guard. For good reason. It is effective!  Bearing down weight onto your opponent’s defenses has great advantage. Pressure is linear or straight. Used in conjunction with gravity.


Flow is different.  It is the act of moving along in a steady, continuous stream.  In BJJ, flow is mentioned often, especially in regards to transitions. However, flow isn’t always large graceful movements.  Flow can be quite small too. A small twist of the hips or re-distribution of weight. Flow can be measure in several feet or fractions of an inch.  Flow is spherical or rounded. The radius of it can change according to the situation.


Both are obviously necessary and useful.  An ocean wave has both pressure AND flow.  If you have ever been in the ocean and had a wave hit you (or better yet carry you),  you will certainly have felt its pressure. But the movement of the wave is where its power lies.  If the wave encounters an obstacle, it tests it.  If the obstacle is a child’s sandcastle then it bowls right through it, crushing it.  If the obstacle is a boulder, then it envelopes it and flows around and over it.  Both instances showcase the
“path of least resistance.”


While grappling, be a wave.  Test the defenses and obstacles.  If it is a sandcastle go through it. If it is a boulder, go around it.  White Belts, when you hit strong resistance to something, change course.  Blue Belts, when you hit moderate resistance change course.  Purple Belts and up, when you hit mild resistance change course.  In this way, I believe, flow is better developed.

SIDE NOTE:  Neutral Ground Sheboygan heavily emphasizes FLOW.  Not because we don’t value pressure, but because FLOW is what is most often neglected.  Pressure is almost never neglected!  (My opinion)


The Brazilian Jiu Jitsu credo “Position before Submission” is well known and is a principle, although not used 100% of the time, that we should  adhere to. However, I think another credo that is certainly ignored by a great many of us who train in BJJ is this:  “Transition over Position.”

A simple definition of Transition is “the movement from one position to another position.”   The key word here is MOVEMENT.   Where positions are static, Transitions are kinetic.   They are like Yin & Yang, having a symbiotic relationship.  We need to both understand/utilize Positions, AND be able to Transition to other positions.  The problem arises when we over-focus on the Positions.  Granted, Positions are an integral part of the art, but so is movement. We can be experts at Positions and Positional control/dominance, but if we cannot move between these positions, we will never really be experts at Jiu Jitsu.

A Kindergarten analogy would be that of a dot-to-dot picture.

Positions are like the numbered dots.  Transitions are the lines we draw to connect the dots.  Simple enough?  It could be argued that the lines are actually MORE important than the dots.  When a child focuses only on the numbered dots, his/her lines will be squiggly and ugly.  But, if the child focuses on making each line perfectly straight in between each dot, the they will have a better, more accurate, picture.  The straighter the line, the prettier the end result.

In my opinion, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is best expressed through smooth, accurate movements. Transitions are a large part of that movement.  We know that transitions exist, but tend to overlook their importance anyway. Why?  This is what I think: Transitions are nebulous, hard to identify and define.  They are in flux, always changing and moving.  The brain gets fatigued trying to make sense of them.   Positions are much easier for us to grasp. They remain in one place and are easily identified and categorized.  Thus, they are far less confusing.   In short, Positions are easy, Transitions are difficult.   By nature, something moving has more complexity than something at rest.

There are many schools of thought in the BJJ community.  Each academy has its own style or culture.  No one style is better than the other, they are just different.  For me, the “flow like water”  style is where its at. It is the most challenging AND the most beautiful.  A true artist seems to float on or around his opponent effortlessly.  With grace and equanimity.  This is all due to mastery of Transitions.

Are Positions important?  For sure.  I am not discounting their importance.  All I a saying is that Transitions are , at minimum, equally important.

The beauty of the art lies in Transitions


To “flow like water” we must pay attention to our movement, Transitions in particular.  The movement does not need to be fast.  In fact, if we focus on speed our movement tends to be choppy.  Instead, the movements should be smooth.  With smoothness comes speed.  So, smoothness breeds speed, but speed does not breed smoothness.

Start viewing Positions like stepping stones to other positions.  Better yet, see them as lily pads.  Jumping from pad to pad swiftly before they start to sink.  If you do this you wont settle into a position to think or rest.

If you are in a Position and you don’t know where to Transition to (or how to Transition from), wing it!  Take a guess and just move.  If you guess wrong, you learn.  That’s worth it.  Messing up is a small price to pay for knowledge.  It is better than sitting still, afraid to move and not learning a damn thing.

What if you are afraid to Transition because you feel your opponent (training partner) might be baiting you? Do it anyway.  Stop being terrified of “the bait” possibility.  Force him to show you his cards (ie. the technique he has up his sleeve for you).  You will learn a great deal, and who knows, he may be bluffing.  In either case it will give you the opportunity to polish your movement or, in the worst case, practice your defense.

Caveat:  This is mostly for a TRAINING MINDSET where the goal is learning and improvement.  The COMPETITION MINDSET is about winning, not learning. Thus movement in competition tends to be much more conservative.  That’s because with movement comes risk.





An Analogy for Risk

Diving further into the concept of taking risks in our BJJ training and how important it is for technical development, I have come to compare it to that of a tightrope walker.  For our purposes here let us say that the purpose and goal of a tightrope walker is to be gracefully balanced and walk end to end with ease.  To remain supremely balanced on the thinnest of ropes. Likewise, our purpose and goal in BJJ is to have the highest technical accuracy that we can attain, and to flow effortlessly between these techniques.  So how can both the tightrope walker and the BJJ practitioner achieve these goals?

The Tightrope Walker

The tightrope walker must start off as everyone else, a novice.  He will start by attempting to walk a wider area where keeping balance is easier.  He may start by walking a plank maybe one-foot wide.

This will soon become too easy for the tightrope walker.  It is too safe and not challenging whatsoever.  To increase his skills (purpose & goals) he will then incrementally narrow the surface he crosses.  He may whittle it down inch by inch to get used to the narrowing surface. Baby-stepping (as it were) to increase his skill.  Or he may take bigger leaps and radically narrow the surface area.  He may then go onto something like a thick rope, with maybe a 2-inch width.

He will certainly lose his balance and fall several times. This “failure” carries with it gifts of knowledge/experience.  His body is learning each time he falls.  With each attempt his skill set increases.  Before too long he will be on the thinnest of wires.

The tightrope walker’s skill has evolved to a masterful level.  Had he remained content walking the wide plank he would never have achieved such heights.  He sought out the challenge and got out of his comfort zone. He did not play it safe.

The BJJ Practitioner

The Jiu Jitsu practitioner must also get out of his comfort zone if he is to increase his skill.  The novice has an incredibly small technical repertoire.  Generally,  he has two paths to choose from: stick with the small number of moves he has learned and may have some success at, or branch out and try new things even if they are done incorrectly.  The safe way (risk adverse) is to remain on the wide plank. To continue on the tried and true path. The growth way (risk accepting) is to challenge yourself with uncomfortable techniques and situations.  To narrow the surface area to the thinnest of wires.  One way leads to masterful skill, the other does not.

At a more skilled level, a proficient practitioner will have a different set of choices.  When he goes up against a person whose skill is equal or greater to his own he may have a tendency to be more conservative (i.e. risk adverse).  He has a choice:  Walk the wide plank (risk adverse) or the thin wire (risk accepting).

The “wide plank” people will only engage their opponent (i.e. training partner) when the path is safe and chance of failure is low.  They are too scared of being  bested.  They don’t want to look bad.  The “thin wire” people will engage their opponent knowing and accepting the risk.  They will walk the line.

Why are some practitioners “wide plank” people while others are “thin wire” people?  Here is my opinion:  WIDE PLANK people value image over substance.  They think of the immediate consequence of failure…looking bad.  Or, they just have an intrinsic hatred of failure.  They berate themselves at any slight mistake they make.  These are the folks who swear at themselves when they get caught in a submission or are swept. They have a fixed mindset.  Conversely, THIN WIRE people don’t think about image.  They think know deep down that mistakes are a part of learning. They keep the goal of progress in the art in clear view and they know that every so-called “failure” has with it an opportunity for improvement.  These people see getting swept or submitted by their training partner as a gift. When a THIN WIRE person gets caught in an armbar,  he smiles, looks to his partner and says, “that was nice armbar!”  They have a growth mindset.

To attain mastery in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (which I assume is the goal of every practitioner) we need to become acquainted with every aspect, position and situation.  We need to be exposed to it all.  Imagine if the art of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was an elaborate house. A 10,000 square foot mansion.  To really know the house, we would have to explore it. Go into every room, closet , bathroom, pantry, etc.  We could never really know the house by spending the whole time in just one room! We should risk getting lost and explore.  Similarly, we cannot really learn BJJ by staying on the wide plank.  By only doing techniques we are comfortable with or by not engaging our opponent until the path is clear (because against a skilled opponent the path will NEVER be clear).  There is no growth in comfort.


This is a tightrope walker…

…and this is not (below).

Clearly, not engaging keeps you safe.

The safe way leads nowhere.  The dojo is one huge safety net.  Walk the tightrope, take risks and expose yourself to the hazards.  In that way we can explore every nook and cranny in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.








Black Belt

Nearly 10 years of work in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and I have hit a milestone (or so I have been told). This art has given me so much.  It has been the most challenging and rewarding of any martial art I have ever done.  Learning and teaching it has been a blast.  But I could not have done it alone.  I want to take a few lines to express my gratitude to some people.

First, to Jon Friedland, my teacher, whose Jiu Jitsu style and philosophy I find the most appealing.  The countless rolls and technical instruction you have provided are invaluable.  Thank you for honoring me with this rank and allowing me to be a part of the Neutral Ground association.  I will continue to do my best to represent the high standards you have set.

To all my students at Neutral Ground Sheboygan.  A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teacher is nothing without students.  I am happy you have chosen to walk this path.  I will do my part to keep you on it for as long as I can.

To my coaches and assistant coaches. Andy and Josh, my Lieutenant coaches: Without you two helping me teach classes, Neutral Ground Sheboygan would not be as strong as it is.  I can always rely on your dedication.  Not only have you guys become incredible grapplers but have become top notch teachers as well.  A.J. and Chad for stepping up and crushing it with your classes. I’m glad to have you on the team! Jason Fredericks, one of my original students from the ‘old’ days when I was a fresh blue belt.  You have stuck with me since 2011.  If you had not stuck to it with your fierce smile and wonderful friendliness I would probably thrown in the towel on teaching (or running a dojo at least) a long time ago.  You kept the life in the dojo at its weakest point, so now it can be strong and thriving. I look forward to strapping a Black Belt on you someday. John Brigham, thanks for being a good friend and helping me to prepare for “the test.” You took literally hundreds of high falls on my behalf. I will return the favor someday. Tom, for being an outstanding assistant. A great deal of our students came to me expressing how helpful you have been getting them acclimated to BJJ life. I have no doubt a big part of our student retention is because of you. Andrew, for your dedication, enthusiasm and cleanliness. You are always on the mats and you always make sure the dojo is clean! Thank you all.

Most importantly I need to thank my wife, Rachael, without whom none of this would be possible.  In the last 10 years I have spent almost 9,000 hours dedicated to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. All this time, you sacrificed for me. You supported and encouraged me. Countless times have you said, “go train” knowing how passionate I am about Jiu Jitsu. You took up all the slack at home when I was away.  With a career of your own and 5 children, this wasn’t easy.  You have also kept me centered and balanced.   Not only does Jiu Jitsu make me a better person, so do you. You are the most wise and humble person I know (or will ever know) and I have learned so much from you. I am so grateful to have you as my partner and the mother of our children.  I love you so much.

Black belt.  Just a symbol.  The hard work continues to discover more about this incredible art.  The wonderful thing about BJJ is that the mats don’t lie.  There can be no resting on our laurels. It is still, and will forever be, business as usual.  See you on the mats!


Being a well-rounded grappler should be the aim of any BJJ practitioner.  The idea of being well-rounded is easy enough to understand and agree with, but the method of achieving it is another matter entirely.  This is where many fall short.

To be “well-rounded” means having at minimum a sufficient competency in ALL aspects of Jiu Jitsu, not just the ones where we naturally veer toward. If we avoid the aspects of BJJ we are uncomfortable or vulnerable with, we lose the opportunities to improve.  We will stagnate in our “comfort-zone” while those who are engaging their fears will flourish.

If growth and improvement of our skills is the goal, and we want to become well-rounded, we need to branch away from our default modes of rolling.  We need to become exposed to those situations and positions which we are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.  We must go fearlessly into uncharted territory to broaden or horizons.  This means we need to accept some risk.  And the dojo is the perfect place to do that. With training partners who have your developmental interests and protection in mind.  The worst that can happen is you  fail. You get swept, submitted or your partner gains positional advantage.  Who cares?  Every so-called “failure” is just another opportunity to learn.   If you attempt a guard pass you don’t normally do (i.e. are uncomfortable with) and get swept, you immediately gain knowledge.  The “failure” is immediately error-correcting!  Being swept is a great price to pay for knowledge.

People who are adverse to taking risks usually don’t see the reward of messing up and also don’t want to look bad (or dumb).  To varying degrees, risk-adverse people are short-sighted and ego driven. This hinders skill development in BJJ.

My recommendation:  Put yourself out there. Try movements and positions you are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.  Expose yourself to every little hidden corner of Jiu Jitsu. Take risks without fear of messing up.  If you hate being mounted, get mounted. If you only like top position and avoid bottom at all cost, start off your back and earn your way to the top.  If you hate standing guard passes, do it anyway.  The reward is worth it.  Stop being so conservative. Remember, risk can trigger flow.  So, broaden your world and take a risk.




The casual observer of Jiu Jitsu will most likely be familiar with what an Armbar is.  However, like everything in Jiu Jistu, there is more to it than meets the eye.  Remember the 3 principles for submissions: Isolate, set-up, apply. The technique is fairly simple in its application, but a lot of students, mainly beginners, struggle with the technique’s set-up.  Like all submissions, if the set-up is off, then the application is choppy, ugly and forced. In a word, incorrect.  The following is a simple explanation to help the beginner better understand the standard armbar.


The armbar is a submission technique designed to attack the elbow joint.  Force is applied to the backside of the elbow making it bend in an unnatural way.  Basically hyper-extending it to the point of dislocation or breaking.


Imagine a stick the length of a human arm with the elbow joint being in the middle.  Since we are looking to attack that point (by applying force) we must first secure the 2 end points.  Without securing the endpoints the middle (elbow) cannot be attacked.  It is an easy concept to grasp, but often students forget to secure one  of the endpoints properly.

Continue reading →


Change for the good

Kaizen is a Japanese term that translates as KAI (change) and ZEN (good). Literally, “To Change for the Good.”  It is a mindset or philosophy usually implemented in business practices, but it also is extremely applicable in personal development.  It is not simply just GET BETTER or DO BETTER.  No, it is a realistic philosophy that empowers personal growth.  When talking of personal development, I mean the quality of one’s character, skills and values.  Kaizen is a personal development tool that may be beneficial to BJJ practitioners who struggle with consistency in their training or who feel they aren’t progressing fast enough.

Baby Steps

Kaizen is just baby steps.  Small, incremental and consistent steps toward a goal.  We just need one tiny accomplishment each day.  That’s it.  Minor little victories.

Most goals we set for ourselves are probably pretty big.  Graduating college, a certain job, a nice house or car, a black belt in BJJ, or whatever.   From where we are at, that end goal can seem far off and the task of attaining it very intimidating. Most people will focus on the end goal, but since it is not immediately attainable, they will usually get frustrated and give up on the whole thing. They take on the enormity of the task and it is overwhelming.   The Kaizen mindset shows us to look closer.  To focus on small, seemingly insignificant steps.  Little victories that can be won on a consistent basis.  These small battles are far less intimidating and are easily won.

For new or prospective students of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Kaizen is essential!  The process of gaining proficiency (or mastery!) can take a long time.  To see the skill possessed by upper belts can be impressive.  The goal of achieving that skill is natural and admirable. Its a great goal to aspire to.  However, It takes a hell of a lot of mat time to achieve!  So, the white belt needs to focus on baby steps.  Kaizen.  Starting off by just getting on the mats.  That is more than most people who want to learn Jiu Jitsu will ever do.  The next baby step is learning the warm-ups. Then learning just one detail to one technique, and so on.

Compare where you were yesterday to where you are today. That’s it!  Don’t compare yourself to the Purple, Brown, or Black Belt.  It has taken these folks years to get where they are.  Always focus on your own progress.

But, it MUST be done consistently!  That is a key detail.  Everyday small incremental steps toward improvement.  EVERY DAY.  This is easier and more enjoyable if you love the process more than the goal. Enjoy the daily grind.  We have to be willing to put in the work.


Starting small gets the ball rolling.  When you win a small battle, it gets easier to win the next.  Momentum builds.  As Admiral William H. McRaven explains in his book, Make Your Bed, one small accomplishment begets another.  A small victory can inspire more victories.

This is Kaizen.  Change for the good, little by little.  We must learn to crawl before we can walk.  We must walk before we can run. And so it goes.  Set your mind to small accomplishments that can be accomplished often.

White Belts Don’t Do Flying Armbars

White belts need to build their foundation.  The basic skills, or building blocks, that everything is built upon.  Fundamental movements and concepts must be the focus. Nothing flashy or exotic…Just the meat and potatoes of BJJ.  We are nothing without these.  Apply Kaizen, and get to class on a regular basis.  Set small, achievable goals that can be accomplished.  However, make these small goals challenging enough push you but not too challenging that you get frustrated and quit.