Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Working Through Impostor Syndrome

One of my friends saw my blog posts and mentioned how he liked my honesty on dealing with Impostor Syndrome.  I asked "Dealing with the what now, whondrome?"

Doing a bit of research, it is a subject that comes up quite a bit in BJJ.  Largely due to the length of time it takes to progress, and the not so subtle fact that you get absolutely SMASHED for a good long length of time.  It puts you in the mind set of "I will never be as good as INSERT GUY HERE."  When you achieve the rank of said guy, you feel like you are a poor substitute for him/her.  You feel like you don't really deserve the rank/praise, and that any moment, you will be revealed for the pretender you are.

When I started BJJ, I rolled with our black belt, Rodrigo Vaghi.  He crushed me.  Stole my will to live.  Then he did it to the next guy.  Then the next guy.  Then the NEXT guy.  That was my understanding of what a Black Belt was.  What I didn't know was that Rodrigo is an elite black belt.  One of the very best.  What I didn't know was, had I gone to his academy in Rio, I would have seen that he would crush their black belts the same way.

Others have written about the same thing:
Valerie Worthington 

Nick Chewy Albin

Higher JiuJitsu

I have taken some time to really think about it.  To pull out my soul and take a good look.  I realized that I'm just starting my journey.  I have passed the minimum qualifications to become a black belt.  I have a good idea of base, and a basic understanding of leverage.  My fitness is good.  It's time to play.

For the last few months, I have started to "play" with my jiujitsu.  I've begun to open myself up and try different positions, different movements.  I am also taking time to drill the basics consistently.  I've completely given up on always having to be the guy who wins.  I can lose, as long as I learn.  By concentrating on the basics, and drilling them I have strengthened and deepened my knowledge of them.  So, when I get in to trouble after trying a new position, I can fall back on what I know works.
It is something that I should have done a long time ago.

I feel that now I am trying new things, I have expanded my game.  Best of all, I'm having more fun.

I know that I won't be what my mind's eye expects of a black belt.  But I also know that I am not undeserving of the rank.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mind = Blown!!

Sometimes you hear something and it completely changes your way of thinking.  In Jiu-Jitsu, you must always be thinking, re-evaluating your game and improving your weaknesses.

My instructor in Oklahoma, Giulliano Gallupi, said something to me once that didn't make a lot of sense at the time, but as I progress in BJJ, it becomes more and more mind blowing.  He told me "In guard, if you open your guard, you are playing Open Guard.  If your opponent opens your guard, you are getting passed."
"Of course." I thought at the time and dismissed it.  I didn't think deeply on what his actual meaning was.  What he was actually talking about was who has the initiative in the movement.  This is very important, because reaction time is always slower than initial action.  I also KNOW when the initial action is started.

Using the Open Guard/Passing Guard example, if I open my guard and place my feet on my opponent's hips I can then execute my next movement as my opponent is reacting to the opening of my guard.  I am one move ahead.  If my guard is opened by my opponent, I am reacting to the opening of my guard, trying to get to a spot where I can play open guard.  All the while my opponent is moving to pass.  My opponent is one move ahead.

Now let's apply this concept to escapes and sweeps.  In side control, I like to shrimp to my knees.

I then base with one arm down, opposite foot comes out to and the same foot as the arm down shoots forward to take butterfly guard.  This looks like a sit out, but instead of coming to the outside, you end up in half-guard.

Once there, I'll do the sweep of my choice.  If I have an underhook and an overhook, I'll go for the standard butterfly guard sweep.

If I have double underhooks, I'll start the roll over pass and if he bases with his arms, I'll take his back.

This all starts with my intention to escape.  I start the bridge and shrimp.  My opponent moves to retain side control, reacting to my bridge.  I scissor my legs and get to my knees.  As my opponent reacts to my change in position, I am already moving to butterfly guard.  My opponent now has to sit on his knees to counter the butterfly.  As he begins his movement, I have already selected, and have begun my sweep.  With the intention to escape, and getting to my knees I immediately was three steps ahead of my opponent who was still reacting to my initial shrimp.

Another excellent example is in the baseball bat choke from the bottom of side control.  In this movement, I ALLOW my opponent to pass.  BUT, I must make sure that it is ME who is controlling the initiative.

Here, Magid Hage sets his hands in guard, and baits his opponent to pass. He allows the pass to occur, on his terms, and springs the attack.

That is all well and good, however, this concept becomes more powerful when I am in the middle of defending my opponents movements.  I RETAKE the initiative by deciding when my opponent can complete the motions of his movements.  In these moments I move from being passed/attacked to becoming the attacker.
An excellent example of this is the "Ghost Escape".

In the first part of this video Kenneth Brown shows us the escape. The outside arm overhooks the opponent's outside arm. Bridge to make space, then the inside arm shoots underneath the body. Then you push on the body of the opponent while using your legs as a pendulum scissor movement. The momentum of the movement along with the push from the arm moves you in a circle and out of side control. The second half of the video demonstrates what I am talking about in this pass. The opponent begins a cut pass. They have the initiative, they have begun their pass, and have put their knee outside ours and have effectively stapled our leg to the ground. Knowing that the next movement will be the slide in to kesagatame, Kenneth recognizes that he will be passed and needs to take steps to recover the initiative. He moves to his side to take control of the sliding leg. At the same time he gets his ovehook, and moves his inside arm in to the push position. He then allows the pass to progress. Because he is in charge, he knows when the pass is going to occur. As the pass completes, he initiates his movement and is able to turn into his opponent in butterfly guard.

When you are training, who has the initiative? Are you playing open guard, or are you being passed?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

How Not To Become a Crappy Black Belt

In BJJ you have various things that you need to be learning and doing at the various belt levels.  Your ability to learn and execute these things will determine your success in competition and in the gym.

As a white belt you job is to learn base and apply it to the basic movements of Jiu-Jitsu.  Whoever has the the best knowledge of base in a white belt competition will be able to overcome the majority of his opponents, because they will be able to execute their passes, set up submissions and counter the other guy's game.  Even if your opponent knows more than you do, if you have a better base you are much more likely to counter his movement.

As a blue belt your job is to deepen your knowledge of base and the basics, but add endurance and stamina.  Put two Blue Belts with equal base and knowledge in a match and the one with better endurance is going to win.  At Blue Belt you will be smashed and smashed and smashed.  You will need to learn how to defend and keep going.  You will learn how to attack and chain those attacks together.  Base is always important, but keeping your movement rolling is the key to success at this level.

As a Purple Belt your job is to develop a game.  You should already know what positions seem to work well for your body type.  The idea now is not to focus on those positions and drill so that you feel absolutely safe in those positions.  Then progress on to some very specific movement in those positions that you get some "signature" submissions from.  From there, instead of just looking to "escape side control" you are moving to escape side control in to a sweep/movement that will put you in to my game.  You see this in upper level matches, their movements are dedicated to directing their opponents in to their specific game.  

At Brown Belt you refine and solidify your game.  All focus is toward that game.  You explore new moves and other movements for the sake of defending them or using them to focus your game.  You hear the complaint, "You always use XYZ pass to XYZ submission."  Your drills are designed to put you in bad situations, so that you can escape, and progress directly to your game.  Your game movements are drilled to the point that even though someone may know exactly what you are going to do, they can't stop it.

At Black Belt your game is at the point where it is as natural as breathing.  Your flow is always, naturally, moving you into and around your game.  Your drilling is for the various "branches" of counters and movements of your game.  Instead of hitting XYZ pass to XYZ submission, you hit XYZ pass to XYZ submission, then flow seamlessly in to XXY submission because XYZ was blocked in one way or another.  This is natural movement, no thought was required to move submissions they just appear.

Where did I go wrong?  At purple belt, I didn't develop a game.  Sure I have positions and stuff that I really like and that are my "go-to" but...  I have too much fun with new positions.  I keep trying them, drilling them.  It means that my execution isn't where it should be.  A good black belt is able to teach the positions, but also has their specific game that is attuned to their use and their body.  A good black belt says "Ok, we are going to go over lasso guard to triangles." when their game is closed guard to top position to mount submissions.

My problem is that because I want to try so much stuff all of the time, I really have no defined game.  I get beat by those that do.  When I run in to someone with a specific, refined game, I get served early and often.  
So, what am I to do?  Well...  I need to build a game.  I need to focus on it.  I know what my game should be, I just need to take the time and drill dirll drill.  But...  I don't want to.  I want to practice all of the new stuff, while tying it together with the old stuff.  I want to drill  a cool way to get to the berimbolo off of a traditional half-guard pass, and I'll throw in a kneebar just for fun.
I am a hobbyist.  I'm 43 years old.  BJJ is not only my exercise and workout, but my decompression and fun.  I'm not competing anymore.  I really don't "have" to create and solidify a game at this point.  BUT...  If I do want to represent my school and my belt when I train other places, I do need something to execute... 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Confessions of a Crappy Black Belt

I promoted to Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu on Saturday.  I am having lots of conflicting thoughts and feelings.
On the one hand, I feel that I deserve the belt.  I have been training for 12 years now, and I feel that I have put the time in on the mat, paid my dues, took the injuries, and that my knowledge level is on par with most Black Belts.
I know the positions, I know the movements.  I can teach and execute them.
I'm not pushing any innovations, but neither am I behind in the new movements.

I know the rule set and scoring for IBJJF and the other most common tournaments.  I can run a fight camp and make sure that the students in the class are ready to compete at their level.

Functionally, my technique is good enough to overcome all but the higher belts at my gym, and I have worked favorably against others at other gyms.  When young, strong, athletic, wrestlers with no BJJ experience to speak of come to the gym, I am able to hold them off and finish them.

I know that in the overall bell curve of BJJ Black Belts, I am not at the bottom of the curve.

But, on the much bigger other hand, I don't feel that my ability to apply technique is at the Black Belt level.  I don't "feel" like a Black Belt.  Of course, my promotion is not up to me.  It is up to my instructors.  Samuel, who runs the gym feels I am at the Black Belt level.  Rodrigo Medeiros, Samuel's instructor stated that he feels that my technique is at the Black Belt level and allowed the promotion.  But I don't feel worthy of the belt.

This is very different from my promotions to Black Belt in other martial arts.  I promoted to Black Belt in Tae Kwon Do not more than 4 years after starting.  The same for Hap Ki Do.  It is fun to note that I stayed longer at Blue Belt in BJJ than I did in training for Black Belt in both Korean Martial Arts.
Despite the time factor, the big difference between the Korean Arts and BJJ was that I was at a school with a lot of TKD and HKD Black Belts.  It wasn't something over the top to see and train with a Black Belt.  They weren't mythical figures who's technique was so much better than my own.
However, when I started BJJ, my instructor was a newly promoted Purple Belt.  Just having a Blue Belt was very very special.  The Black Belts I knew were directly from Brazil.  They were former world champions, trained by the Gracie family, at the Gracie gyms in Brazil.
These guys were top of the food chain in Brazil, and accepted the sacrifice of moving to a different country because they loved BJJ, and wanted the art to grow.

However, if I would have looked back at their gyms in Brazil, what would I have seen?  I would have seen that the majority of Black Belts would have been just like I am today.  Guys with jobs.  Guys who have been training for years, who have the technique, but do not, nor will they ever, have the ability of the guys who went to the U.S. to teach.  They are hobbyists.  Just like me.

So, while I don't feel worthy of the belt, and I know for a stone cold fact that I would get my clock cleaned by many purple/brown belt competitors, I am still a Black Belt representing the BJJ Revolution and Carlson Gracie Jr. gyms through Samuel.  I will do my best to represent them and be worthy of the rank bestowed upon me.

Monday, February 27, 2017

A Lot Happens in Two Years...

Ummm....  Well...  Yes.  So...

  1. We bought a house and are living in Birmingham.
  2. We conceived, carried, and had a baby daughter.
  3. I was promoted to Black Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

So...  Yeah...  More on being a Black Belt than the other stuff....  

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Start A Gym??

I ran a class a couple of days ago and one of the students remarked, "You are a great teacher.  You should start your own gym!!"

Many high ranking Martial Artists have a fantasy about starting their own gyms.  I admit that I have entertained that idea as well.  However, there are several factors to being an owner/operator of a gym that many people don't realize or don't know about.
To open a gym you need more than just a talent for teaching.

It's Just Business

When you open your own gym, first and foremost, it is not just a gym.  It is a business.  As such, it has the same problems that starting any small business will have.  You have to come up with a business model.  You need to come up with start up funding.  You need to find a suitable location.  You need to obtain the minimum equipment to open.  You need to figure out a price structure that will, at minimum, keep the doors open and the lights on.  You need to come up with a marketing plan.
These are heavy topics, an they must be addressed before moving on.

McDonald's, Burger King, or Bob's Burgers?

Next topic is franchising.  Buying in to a franchise can ease much of the process of opening the doors.  Franchises allow you to piggy back on an established brand, and trade on their name.  Many also provide Point of Sale software, as well as subscriptions to membership services that you can use to track your student/customers.
With that ease comes many catches...  Many franchises require that you sell only their brand of merchandise.  You like Atama Kimonos, but you affiliate with Gracie Barra?  Sorry, only Storm Kimonos are to be sold here.
Many franchises also require you to teach a specific curriculum, or movements a very specific way.  Franchises also limit you to who you can have visit for seminars to only those within the franchise.


Unless you are starting some silly Martial Art that doesn't have competitions, your students will eventually want to compete.  Even if you don't want to go to these tournaments, you need to make connections and find out where and when the are so that you can schedule training time.  You need to make sure that your students are ready.  
You are the representative of your school.  You have to GO to these tournaments.  You must coach your students.  Remember the first topic, you are running a business.  Tournaments are advertising.  If you aren't there, your students will see the schools that have a coach at the tournament.  You will lose students if they see that another school will be more supportive to their goals than you are.  If you are not there, you have no opportunity to show that your school is better than the other schools, and will not attract new students.  
Tournaments are very important.  If you want to keep your school going, you are going to need to organize a team and go.

Time Requirements

You can't just have one class a day, when it is convenient for you.  Your class times must be at the times that you can attract the most students.  This normally means you need one early morning class, one lunch class, an early evening class, and a late class. 
Do you want to segregate your beginners from your graduate students?  Another class time.
Don't forget, to make money you will need to do private classes.
Tournaments, 4+ classes a day, cleaning requirements, business paperwork requirements, marketing requirements, contractor requirements, private class requirements, and don't forget, you are the spiritual leader of your gym.  You need to make personal time with your students.  That means weekend outings to watch combat sporting events.  Boxing, MMA, Kickboxing, if its on, you can bet your students will want to watch it with you.

Many times overlooked is your own fitness.  YOU need to look the part of a Marital Arts instructor.  That means you need to work out.  You need to be able to take on any one that comes through the door.  You need to be ready to physically impress the dad with a beer gut that has watched too many JCVD moves that his 5 year old can learn from you.  Time time time time

Kids Classes  

If you want to be successful, you will need to have children's classes.  No two ways about it.  You may want to train adults, but kids are what keep the doors open.
Now teaching children isn't so bad.  What is bad is their parents.  From the mom that wants to be very sure that you aren't teaching her little angel about anything other than Jesus, to the dad who wants his 3 year old son to never ever, under any circumstances, tap out.  You must deal with them in such a way that keeps the money coming in.  

Starting your own gym can be very rewarding.  But it must be seen as a full time job.  If you have a career, starting a gym is nearly impossible.  Would I start a gym someday?  If was the only option left to me, and then I would look for a full time instructor willing to put in the necessary time.  I want to train, but I don't want to run. 

Monday, December 29, 2014

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Belts

I was promoted to Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at a seminar on 12/6/2014.  My instructor dropped some hints before the seminar, making sure I would attend, complementing my technique, only matching me up with other brown belts in sparring, and then talking with them privately after my roll.  So, I wasn't completely surprised when he called my name.

What I wasn't prepared for was the emotions that came with my promotion.  I started BJJ in Omaha, Nebraska at a time when the closest black belt was in St. Louis, Missouri.  The highest ranked student in the state was my instructor, a guy who had just promoted to Purple belt.  That Purple belt has since been promoted to Black Belt, but the lasting impression of him destroying me as a Purple belt has stayed with me all these years.
On that day I had just been promoted OVER that instructor.  It is silly and unproductive to live in the past, but I have a hard time accepting that I am worthy of the belt.
At my current school, I am not the best brown belt, but I am not the worst one either.  I am about in the middle of the group, which is where you want to be for a newly promoted belt.  It tells you that your promotion was legitimate for your school.  So, skill-wise I know I am worthy.  I teach classes, I help out the lower belts, so I know that maturity wise I am worthy.
However, deep in my soul, I am still that White Belt getting smeared all over the mat.  It makes me feel like my promotion was not deserved.  The problem is that I will never rid myself of these thoughts.  BUT...  I have found that these thoughts are not uncommon in BJJ.

Belts in all martial arts mean something.  However, they don't mean what the lay person think they mean.  A belt does not measure how quickly and effectively you can beat someone up.  Universally, they mean that the practitioner has spent the minimum required time training, and has acquired the skill that instructor deems worthy of that belt.  Essentially, the belt is the instructor announcing to the world, THIS PERSON REPRESENTS MY MINIMUM STANDARDS FOR THIS SKILL LEVEL.
Most martial arts, and even in BJJ, a time requirement is set on when you are eligible for your next belt.  In Tae Kwon Do, the time requirement was 2 months per belt, until you got to green, then you had stripes that you had to test for, but the time between stripes was 2 months.  If you test every time you are eligible, it takes about 4 years to achieve a black belt.
Most old school BJJ academies have no testing requirements.  You are promoted when your instructor thinks you are ready.  The time varies from student to student on their belts.  My progress has been slower than the mean.  I spent more time as a Purple belt than I did in all of my color belts in TKD.  I don't expect to be presented a black belt for at least another 4 years.

This long time frame makes the BJJ belt seem that much more important.  However, it is also the time frame that causes many people to leave BJJ.  I am now a Brown Belt.  There are fewer Brown Belts in BJJ than any other belt rank.  It is the rank before black belt and the one hit hardest by attrition.  Attrition starts at white belt and it whittles down practitioners until the final color.  However, the brown belt holder is also the most likely to complete the journey through the color ranks to achieve Black Belt.

Anyway...  Here I am.  People often try to attach meaning to the belts, but you really can't.  The meaning is deeply personal, but I will share what my journey so far has been.

White Belt

  • Learn positions
  • Learn submissions
  • Learn transitions
  • Learn how to act
  • Learn how to react
  • Learn how to tap

Blue Belt

  • Apply submissions
  • Learn how to pass
  • Transitions become natural
  • Gain endurance
  • Learn defense
  • Learn when to apply and when to conserve strength
  • Lean introspection so that you can improve your game

Purple Belt

  • Pass is natural
  • Submissions are natural
  • Deep introspection to learn about yourself
  • Focus shifts from learning moves to move details
  • Game is defined
  • Strength conservation is natural
  • Defense is natural
  • Learn how to attack

This is my journey.  Other journeys are different.  That is why the meaning of the belts are different for each person.