The Peaks and Valleys of the Greatest Martial Art on Earth

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is tough.  Real tough.  As I get older, it certainly is not getting easier on my body.  But my body has done well to adapt to the enormous physical pressures that BJJ thrusts upon it.  Just ask any salesperson that I try to buy a dress shirt from.  I am not a tall guy, and so having a 19 inch neck really does not help the procurement process where dress shirts are concerned.  I wish I had 4 foot long arms.  Or a smaller neck, but I digress…

We all feel it when we get home and our metabolisms start to mellow out.  We all deal with the bumps and bruises and soreness that comes with it.  In fact, to dedicate your life to jiu jitsu means that you develop an awesome ‘sickness’ of sorts where you embrace the pain and discomfort that a good workout brings with it.  It is part of the lifestyle.  You can’t just train here and there.  Jiu jitsu either becomes you or it does not.  This is precisely why it is such an effective art.  It takes you over and you become obsessed with learning and battling and succeeding/failing, each and every time that you step on the mat.  Wrestlers have a saying that says ‘Embrace the Grind’.  It applies to BJJ – the message does, not necessarily the grind part.

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But here is the thing:  The hardest part of BJJ is not the physical.  It is the mental.  I have dealt with it myself and counsel my students in the same:   The hardest part about BJJ are the mental peaks and valleys that come with it.  In how many other activities can you study hard for years, yet come away some days thinking that you know absolutely nothing?  Other days you are firing on all cylinders and you walk out off the mat practically beating your chest.  There are highs and lows in your jiu jitsu journey and the lows anyway, are compounded by the inherent difficulty of the jiu jitsu learning curve. Not only is it hard to get smashed for much of your white belt stage, but it is hard to grasp all of what you learn.  This never really goes away.  The mental stress is multiplied by the fact that not only do you need to study and scrutinize basic techniques to master them, but these techniques themselves are constantly evolving, thus adding to the long list of stuff that you need to know, or that you think you need to know.

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This is what defeats so many new BJJ practitioners.  This is what contributes to the extremely high drop out rate – the daunting feeling of thinking that you have to learn it all and learn it now.  It is a tall mountain to climb.  I had a white belt student almost quit on me the other day.  He is a dedicated student and a thinker.  I had to talk him off the ledge and I did by reminding him that at his level, all he needs to focus on is defense.  All he needs to do is to show up and train and it will all fall into line.  I was able to help him ascend his deep, deep valley.  You know, sometimes I think the YouTube revolution is both the best and worst thing to come to the world of BJJ.  On one hand, it is great to see techniques on line and to watch competitions.  On the other hand, it can be destructive for a new student to want to learn what he sees when he does not have the foundation or understanding to attempt a game that is above his or her level.

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The bottom line here is that you have to embrace the complexities of BJJ.  You have to embrace the fact that even at black belt, you are still a student who does not know it all.  You have to find your path.  BJJ is personal.  Find your game, show up to class, put your time in on the mat and above all, understand that peaks and valleys are natural.  Just ride the wave, or flow with the go as someone once said  ;)

Gi Review: Do or Die Hyperfly

Over the ~20 years that I have been practicing BJJ, I have worn literally dozens of types of kimonos.  I have always felt the need to always get a different gi when I need a new one.  I always want to test the waters and see what is out there and what is new and exciting.  After wearing my Hyperfly, Im pretty sure I know why I kept on searching….I think I was looking for a Hyperfly.

Before I get too into it, it should be noted that I am about 5’9″ and 190 lbs.  I am in shape, very wide across the upper back/arms/shoulders.  Its important to note this because different kimonos fit differently proportioned people well, differently.   But suffice it to say, I have worn Atama, Vitamins & Minerals, Toraki, Keiko Raca, Various GJJ Academy models, and others.  Atama I have always loved but recently their quality and customer service has shrunken, while their pricing has skyrocketted.  No thanks, Atama.  But the Hyperfly impressed me.  Its important to note that after only a dozen or so wearings, I cannot attest to the durability or longevity of this gi, I can only speak to its fit and performance.

Do or Die Hyperfly Gi – White

The fit for me, is unlike any other.  It is quite snug but I like it.  I feel I don’t know, sleeker, more mobile, more elusive.  I know its all in my head but due to my build, I’ve gotten used to baggier fitting tops.  But the A2 fits me perfectly.  I had to get used to the very tight and high skirt on this gi.  Its almost as if it is going to come unraveled, but it doesn’t.  It’s just a snug fitting top that sits quite perfectly on the body.  The weave is light and functional.  My only gripe is the silk screening of sayings inside the skirt of the top.  I know, I know, I’m nitpicking, but I’m old!  I like simplicity and understatement.  I’m really not into others speaking for me with messages either, but I get what they are trying to do here so I guess its a fine trade off.

Yes that black belt is getting shredded, but please, let’s focus on the gi! It is the star of the show for this blog entry ;)

The pants are really, really wonderful.  In an age wear ripstop garbage is plaguing gi sellers and buyers everywhere, a nice super soft cotton pant is like a breath of fresh air.  Fresh, sweaty, pungent dojo air  :)      The (for lack of better term) crotch area has Hyperfly signature stretchy lycra feeling patch.  I’m not sure if this is useful to me or not – I’m not the most flexible guy, but maybe that is the point.  You dont realize that there is something different in the crotch.  Actually, now that I come to think of it, it reminds me when I was young and worked as a ball boy on the pro tennis circuit.  Our instructors told us that a good ballboy is never noticed.  I think a good kimono is never noticed during training.

Ready for its crotch close up!

So  to recap, I am very impressed with this gi.  Time will tell if it stands the peril of the tatame, but I hope and think it will endure just fine.

How To Not Learn From Your Mistakes

It seems that my jiu jitsu attention is disproportionately being funneled to the Metamoris events and activities surrounding it.  Maybe it’s because I see this event as important to giving some of us an alternative to the IBJJF. Maybe it’s because I am having trouble coming to grips with the pile of shit that was presented to us in Metamoris 2, but I digress…

Metamoris announced today that Benson Henderson is thinking about “testing himself” at M3.  Hmmm….To me this translates into: “Its pretty much a done deal and we are putting out feelers in the community on this, which we will ultimately ignore if the feedback is negative…”

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Here is the problem as I see it, with how Metamoris is looking to gain market share:  You need to run before you can walk.  What I mean by this is quite simple:  Without the dedicated and hardcore grappling/bjj community, your event is doomed to fail.  Not even the multitudes of mouth breathing American UFC fans (who boo within seconds of a clinch or a fight going to the ground) can assist if the grappling community is not on board.  Without the educated and passionate grapplers, no one will buy your PPV stream.

So no matter how stupid Ryron Gracie thinks that I am personally (after all, despite my lifelong pursuit of a BJJ education I am only an ignorant and filthy spectator), I want to see amazing grapplers do amazing things in this amazingly structured event.  

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What I do not want or need is another UFC sideshow.  No more Schaubs.  No more running.  No more excuses.  The connection here bothers me.  Just like the nepotistic decision to include Gracie Academy student and good ole buddy Schaub (who has subsequently earned a position in the annals of  Urban Dictionary History with his epic bed-shit in M2), Benson Henderson is a student of a past Gracie Academy instructor program graduate.  The connection (no pun intended, Rickson) is ominous.

If Metamoris is going to realize its potential, it has to stop letting down its bread and butter.  Its base; its nucleus.  It’s us – the stupid moron spectators who are going to give this franchise a pulse.  In our infinite ignorance we plead to the Gracie brothers to learn these lessons and grow from them.  I think it’s official:  My disdain for the IBJJF rules trumps my aversion to being personally insulted by people whose names start with a silent R.  Oh well, you cant win em all….

More Metamoris Fallout

So if you’re following the saga, Ralek Gracie has responded to the fallout from M2, no doubt due to the hammering that Metamoris and the Gracie Brothers are taking from virtually everyone as a result of what took place (*cough Shaub*)….

First of all, big props to Ralek.  He is still a young guy who is looking to carve out something of his own, living in the shadows of family giants.  Metamoris is a well intentioned and clever alternative to those who do not value the IBJJF format.  It is a more realistic competitive application to the Helio Gracie style of jiu jitsu and many of us, present company included, were really hoping something like this would come along.  Like all new ventures, this one has had its shares of ups and downs and in light of M2, and the offensive behavior/comments by everyone from Brendan Schaub himself to Ryron Gracie, the downs keep digging deeper and deeper.

This guy is a G in a ditch
This guy is a G in a ditch

Enter Ralek Gracie.  The young brother attempting to step up and face criticism.  Im not sure how I feel about this video but I have respect for him listening to what people want (despite the fact that they are ignorant and “just spectators” – not my words).  Allow me if you will, to address Ralek’s points in sequence:

  • “…we don’t want people to be concerned with losing ground (in a match)..”    This is what Metamoris supporters expect.  We expect a break from the IBJJF mentality and a willingness to allow flow and execution to dictate strategy.  It reflects better on jiu jitsu, it reflects better to the spectator watching at home (certainly the less experienced spectator).  The idea of taking out the judges complements this as well and I suspect that most Metamoris fans will like this reversal of policy.  Props again to Ralek for listening and keeping in touch with his roots and with supporters of his event.
  • On Inaction: Although I think the prompting of these new penalty rules is unfairly attributed to Braulio’s strategy against Rodolfo, I see the wisdom in creating a stalling rule, for lack of a better term.  Yellow cards are good, and removal of partial competitor’s purse is the ONLY way to ensure action and prevent stalling since points and referees now mean nothing (thankfully).  Dipping into a competitor’s purse is the only way to enforce these.
  • On Schaubing:  Ralek astutely Monday morning quarterbacks: “if youre a top level jiu jitsu competitor or athlete, you shouldnt be concerned with being in any position.”  I found this statement while correct, to be odd and misplaced.  It is running contrary to the horseshit that his camp (namely his eldest brother) is speaking in the media.  Its contrary to what Schaub and Ralek were trying to say in defense of themselves during the horrific and embarrassing post-Metamoris 2 press conference.   I think that interestingly, it belies the struggle and conflict that is happening right now at The Gracie Academy, since even they start to see that they are not only contradicting their own past statements about what jiu jitsu is, but are doing real damage to the Gracie Jiu Jitsu brand.  Ralek in this video insinuates that what Schaub did is without honor and he is right.  Its good to hear it come to the surface, albeit in a rather ambiguous and veiled reference…. You’re right Ralek, there is nothing wrong with going in there and getting caught.  Everyone knows this, even the “ignorant”paying spectators.  It is Brendan who has no clue and makes us all wonder if he even understands what jiu jitsu is all about (not to mention how he managed to get to brown belt).  

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So in light of this video, which could not have been easy for Ralek to make I humbly submit my prescription for moving forward, and it is quite simple in its execution:

  1. Vis a vis the rules:  Penalize bad behavior harder (it must impact the purse), reward wanted behavior more.  Competitors need to come to Metamoris thinking they can be successful in submitting their opponent.  Think about that statement and all that comes with it because it is important.
  2. Decide whether to follow or lead:   This one is important.  Decide what is more important – the image of The Gracie Academy, or the image of Gracie Jiu Jitsu.  It seems like that is a redundant phrase but I assure you it is not.  Metamoris was created to show the effectiveness of the GJJ philosophy.  What this means is calling a spade a spade and when someone like Schaub messes up, or your big brothers say the wrong things, do not be afraid to be your own man and disagree.  Great men carry with them great principles and being principled is never easy.  It most often means making tough decisions and following the difficult path.  If that weren’t the case, there would be so much more men of exception in this world but it is not.

M3 is a turning point and most likely the sink or swim moment for this franchise.  I wish you well Ralek.

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And On That Day, Not A Single F*%# Was Given!

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You have to see this ^ guy hit a banana split….

‘That Day’ that is referred to in the title of this entry should be every day and no, you should not be concerned with your day on the mat.  I mean, yes hold yourself to an elevated standard by all means, but when it comes down to what you are doing, or what is being done to you – stop caring.  New players care an awful lot that they don’t know anything and are the meat that is cast to the lions every day.  By the time your belt turns blue, you care that you hadn’t seen that move before (damn you, YouTube)!  Gotta know it!!!  At the Purple level, you care about defending and projecting your newfound baddassery.  Ya you just became a badass and you know it.  When the dignified Brown Belt is tied around your waste, you care about the obvious….

All of this equates to caring about what is actually happening to you, by the hand of others, during training.  But you have to stop.

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I’m not a World Champion.  I’m just your average guy who stuck with it because I couldn’t think of stopping.  I got there, and I think it’s because of what I learned one day rolling with an instructor of mine.  When I pushed him over, he rolled over.  When I did it again, he did it again.  No resistance.  He just went over.  So I stopped and looked at him, suspect that he was playing games with me (over and above the me not being able to do anything to him part).  Then I paused.  I said to him proudly and knowingly, ” You don’t give a shit, do you?”  He looked back at me with a huge smile and eyes wide opened, “Nope”.

This was the big light bulb moment for me.  This was it.  I understood at that point that at my level, I needed to get very good at absolutely every position.  It didn’t matter to me if I was under side control, mounted, had my back taken, etc….I had to know how to deal with it and that could only come through relaxation and proper defense.  Oh yes, that thing I learned in my very first  week – worry about defense and everything else will come.

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Flowing with the Go, going with your partner’s energy – you will not only get great at your escapes, but your timing gets better.  You relax in bad positions because you’re used to the harsh feelings and pressure that come with them.  Essentially, many of the things that you can’t be taught in a technique can become refined.  If you don’t care then there is no rush, no propensity to do something stupid, to strain, to get injured.

When I’m old and gray, I expect to be dropping my cane matside and stepping onto the tatami to begin my session.  I’m going to be doing this until my last breath and plan on being as healthy and injury free as possible until that day.  I can’t afford to care.

They Say To Never Meet Your Heroes

Not that I considered any of the children of Rorion Gracie heroes…but that family changed my life forever and for that I am grateful.  But the recent Metamoris 2 event really threw a wrench in to my worldview of BJJ/GJJ, one that I had proudly cultivated over almost the last 20 years from my journey from white to blackbelt.  I have trained a ton of times at The Gracie Academy and in my younger years received my blue belt there.  I have a special attachment to that place, but after last week’s Metamoris 2 event, I find myself wanting to create distance and here is why: 

Ryron Gracie’s words after the shameful performance of Matt Schaub, ” …people who spectate have no idea, that’s why they spectate. Great job not jumping into his attack. So many black belts have made that mistake”.

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Hmmm……….grrrrrr…..you know Ryron, those who watch and pay for the M2 stream are almost exclusively BJJ enthusiasts and practitioners.  Many among them are students of the art, students of your father’s, students of YOURS.  How could it be that the entire audience knows nothing?  Could it be that Ryron is the one who is wrong? Is he doing what his father was so adept at – promoting and defending the legitimacy of GJJ as the one and only form of the art?  Perhaps, but the kid is as Eddie Vedder poetically waxed ‘not (his) former’…..

What Ryron needs to know is that we ignoramuses (or is it ignorami?) understand, at the very minimum, the following:

  • Grappling events are for grappling and as such, combatants need to enter grappling range
  • It is next to impossible to force a takedown on a combatant that is moving backwards all the time if the venue has no boundary and/or a steep drop off
  • You don’t signal for the other person to stand up during a grappling match if they are trying to get you to grapple
  • If you don’t want to get on top of someone, your options include:  Execute a takedown, pull guard, do anything…anything at all….for the love of god.
  • GJJ incorporates real techniques that people actually do to others in order to neutralize an attack.  In all my years training GJJ, I have never been told to run away from someone the entire time they are trying to engage me.
  • You pretty much need to touch someone (not only push the head while standing) to actually do BJJ/GJJ

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Now, I LOVE the Metamoris format.  Love it.  Im a traditionalist and I think its all about the struggle, the strategy, and the submission – three things that the IBJJF rules obfuscate.  I thought M1 was fantastic.  I would liked to have seen some  contrition by the Gracie Bros but we got not even that.  We got instead, a press conference  where Ralek defended his buddy.  We get an Instagram post where Ryron tells the world they are ignorant.  Am I the only one that feels he lost his connection to his roots?  I just dont know…..

BTW, I have a Gracie Academy gi, heavily used for sale. Just come and get it.  Ill give it to you.