A NEW MILESTONE

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!

RISK

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 STANDARD ARMBAR

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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.

Purpose

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.

Mechanics

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 →

KAIZEN

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.

Momentum

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.

SKELETON KEY TECHNIQUES

Skeleton key techniques are esoteric, hidden techniques that hold great power.  They are the Holy Grail of techniques.  These are techniques that work in any situation with 100% success rate.  The Skeleton key Guard Pass, Skeleton Key Sweep, and the Skeleton Key Submission.  Many BJJ practitioners have explored the depths of YouTube to find such hidden gems in the hopes of employing them on their teammates.  They want to set themselves apart from the herd and be the special Jedi of the dojo.  They want the key that gives them victory with ease and they want to be revered for having special knowledge. 

I advise against seeking out Skeleton Key techniques.  Why?  First of all, they don’t exist. They are like Bigfoot.  A myth.  But, people still believe they are out there somewhere waiting to be discovered. Secondly, the need to beat everyone with a single move is egotistical and ignores the beauty and depth of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Lastly, trying to find a hack or shortcut is just plain lazy. Continue reading →

MOTIVATION

This topic has been covered to death. So, here, I will beat a dead horse…
Motivation is a compelling force or inspiration for doing something.  It is a feeling or desire that causes us to take action.  But, in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, motivation can be overrated. 
Motivation feels good.  It gives us drive to excel.  When we feel motivated it is easy to come to class and train. The wind has carried our sails and is pushing us along nicely.  However, this never lasts.  It comes and goes just like the wind.  That is its nature. If we only take action when we are motivated very little will ever get accomplished. 
The true test is when the wind dies down, the sails deflate and we don’t feel motivated.  Without motivation we have to put our oars in the water and row.  This is more difficult and isn’t comfortable. Without the feeling of motivation, training can feel like a grind. 
Do you want to be skilled at Jiu Jitsu?  Then get on the mats and train often, no matter how you are feeling.  Ignore the feel-good instant gratification of the common comforts that call to you, such as the couch, the TV, the video games, or the bar.  Keep the big picture of your self-development in mind always. We refine and grow as human beings by having challenges and obstacles.  Comfort provides no growth or improvement opportunities.  By embracing the grind and putting in the hard work we improve.
Motivation can be a crutch for the weak-willed.
When I feel motivated, I go with it and enjoy it.  When I don’t feel motivated, I train anyway.  Why?  Because I know what it takes to master this art…hard work.  And I enjoy the work.  The effort is the reward.
Sometimes we need to just shut up and train.

THE CHOKE

The Ultimate Submission

The CHOKE in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is the pinnacle of all submissions.  When properly applied it renders the opponent unconscious.  That’s it!  Game over.  Seem easy enough?  Well, I want to express my understanding and opinion of THE CHOKE so that my students (and hopefully the BJJ community as whole) apply this submission in all its various forms, with the highest level of sophistication.  If we aim for a high level of sophistication, we represent ‘The Gentle Art’ for what it is.  An effective, highly evolved, ethical, self-defense system.

But the term CHOKE is a misnomer.  We use the term only for simplicity.  But STRANGULATION has too many syllables I guess.  But, that’s what the submission really is…a strangulation.  Restricting the flow of blood to the brain, leading to unconsciousness. But for continuity and simplicity, I will keep referring to it as a CHOKE.

Levels of Sophistication

Not all chokes are equal.  There is an interconnectedness of target and application to Continue reading →

ENERGY CONSERVATION IN BJJ

LINKING THE FIRST 2  STEPS TO A TECHNIQUE

The foundation of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is learning how to survive.  Key components to this are learning highly useful and highly simplistic techniques. These ‘beginner’ techniques are only simple in the big picture of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  The new student will still find these fundamentals challenging, but compared to the BJJ technical repertoire it is but a super-small fraction.  The new student will be so engrossed in learning the mechanics of a technique that the two other critical components to a technique will be ignored.  The brain can only process so much information at one time.  After the student gets a decent handle on the mechanics of a move they will have to pair it up with the proper cue (an indicator to do the move – a “green light” if you will).  Proper cue recognition is then linked to the proper mechanics of a move.  This ‘linking’ of proper mechanics and proper cue recognition is HUGE!  This usually marks the beginning of Blue Belt. However, learning new more complex mechanics and more subtle cues is a continual process throughout everyone’s BJJ journey.   Basic techniques will eventually lead to advanced techniques. Remember, all an advanced technique is, is a stacking or blending of fundamental techniques.  Like all complex recipes, they all have basic ingredients that are put together in sophisticated ways. Fundamental or basic techniques should NEVER be neglected.

THE MINDSET COMPONENT

After the student understands the mechanics and cue (or cues) of a technique, they will whittle down the technique or cut corners.  This isn’t to say that there is anything Continue reading →

GI vs. NO GI

Is it better to Gi or not to Gi?

Many in the Jiu Jitsu community have debated on the topic of Gi vs. No Gi.  There are strong proponents on both sides.  This is one viewpoint of many on that topic:

The gi (kimono or uniform) is the traditional garb of the martial artist.  Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in its infancy (circa 1925) was no exception. The tradition, obviously brought in by the Japanese customs, continues to this day.  But why?  Some say the gi is outdated.  Is it?   I feel training in the gi offers the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner a goldmine of lessons.  Ultimately, the gi is a weapon of control and attack.  But this goes both ways.  Both you and your opponent (training partner) have access to this weapon. The gi allows opportunities on both sides to control and attack each other.  The anti-gi people can argue that the ease of offense is unrealistic.  But, allowing your training partner easy access to control and attack you is extremely important in your development. It forces a more aware state because a grip on the sleeve or deep in the collar can be the end.  Gi training helps us develop an acute sensitivity to our opponent’s intentions through their grip placement.  At the same time we can develop defensive instincts because we are one or two steps from danger most of the Continue reading →

SOME PSYCHOLOGICAL ASPECTS & BENEFITS TO BRAZILIAN JIU JITSU

Jiu Jitsu Don’t Care

Ideally, when you step onto the Jiu Jitsu mats the outside world will melt away. For that moment in time, your Jiu Jitsu time, it is forgotten.  The stresses of adult life with all the frustrations and responsibilities don’t exist.  It is only Jiu Jitsu.

This total immersion into any activity is hugely beneficial for psychological wellbeing.  It decompresses us. It unties our inner knots. We just feel better afterwards.  Virtually any activity that we can put 100% focus on, and be 100% in the moment for a set amount of time, will be beneficial.

However, with Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, being 100% in the moment is thrust upon us!  If our mind wanders on the mats we get choked.  If we think of all the things that need to be done at our job or home, we get arm-barred.  The price for NOT being in the moment is immediately payed, forcing us back to the reality of the NOW.

Jiu Jitsu don’t care what else is going on in your life.  Jiu Jitsu don’t care if you’re Continue reading →