A Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blog about everything.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Inverted guard, no opponent.

I suppose it had to happen.  I've lost my obsession for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  

I no longer think about it day and night.

I no longer constantly seek out every new move, and watch every second of every competition to glean the deep understanding of the best of the best.

Currently, my obsession has shifted to a topic that became a far deeper rabbit hole than I ever expected; Handbalancing.  

Or more simply at this point, handstands.

Doing Handstands properly is really, really hard.  

I'm not interested in a flopped over, arched back, hands shifting around handstand.
I want a straight-as-a-pole, candlestick, hands-not-moving handstand.  I want a minute long free-standing handstand.  And then I want two minutes.  And then the possibilities will be limited only by my imagination. One-handed handstands, planches, handstands on canes, and so on.  

And it is really, really hard so far.  I find the same intense daily frustration that I remember from the first several years of BJJ.

But man, it is really really awesome.  There are moments where I'm upside down where up and down loses meaning and it feels like you're just floating there in space, without effort, your whole body cooperating through tension and inhibition to attain a single goal of balanced stillness.

Don't get me wrong, I still suck.  I can hold for awhile against the wall, and inconsistently can hit about 20 seconds freestanding.  Inconsistently. Some days glory, some days, fury.

I've always been inspired by Ido Portal, and Odelia Goldschmidt 

(her video in Hong Kong is what I show people to demonstrate why I get so excited about this stuff, her combination of grace and power is incredible) and now I spend as much time watching handbalancers, yogis, gymnasts, circus performers and movement "generalists" as I used to spend watching Jiu Jitsu.

In much the same way that my first classes in BJJ were so incredibly humbling, by showing me how little I knew, and how far I had to go; every time I attempt a new piece of movement, I am shocked at how weak my body is, even after 9 years of extremely dedicated practice in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  Ever tried to press into a handstand with straight legs?  Or even tried to slow your legs down to the ground out of a handstand?  Then you'll know what I mean.  It's like there are certain muscles in my body that don't even exist yet.  And flexibility!  I've always been a flexible guy, but Jiu Jitsu has really funnelled that flexibility in a very specific direction.  I can barely bend backwards AT ALL.  I'm working on my back bridge, or wheel pose, and it feels like I'm ripping myself in half.  Shoulder flexibility is a huge necessity for a proper handstand line, and BJJ has locked my thoracic spine up tight.

So if there's anything thats going to let me do jiu jitsu into my later years, it seems to be this pursuit of more wholistic movement, strength and mobility.  BJJ is great, but limited in this aspect, whereas the demands of gymnastic/yoga/equilbre style movements are more universally demanding.  You've got to work to open up every corner of your mobility or you're going to be severely limited in your ability to do some things.

Now don't get me wrong.  I STILL LOVE JIU JITSU.  I still love rolling, I still love teaching, I love everything that comes with it.  And my jiu jitsu is still getting better.  As my understanding of my body increases, my body is getting better at doing what I want it to, and I am getting a far better understanding of how to generate force, and use leverage.  I can feel my body becoming more injury proof.  My back, my core, all getting tighter, stronger, more unified.  I don't have the brutal hip and lower back pain that I thought was going to be the norm.  Where I once had to tape every one of my fingers to be able to roll, I now don't tape any at all, and I don't experience any soreness at all afterward in my hands.  My forearms have grown comically, and with them, my grip strength.

Ultimately, BJJ is just one expression of the way that two bodies can move while connected, further filtered by it's purpose, domination and submission.  Because of these limitations or filters, there are some movements that become completely unnecessary if your practice is BJJ alone.  There is no need for backbends, or one-handed handstands, or QDR.

  But all of those movements have great benefits for the body that could inform your BJJ practice, and increase the amount of time you'll be able to practice at an intense level.

My pursuit of a single style of movement in BJJ has opened up to include a more complete picture of movement.  And what's best is that this new pursuit isn't going to replace Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in my life, but rather will inform it, improve it and allow me to practice it for a much longer time.

If i die on the mats at age 100, in the middle of a roll, or while holding a one-handed handstand, I'll be fine with that.

Monday, May 26, 2014


Guard playing/Guard Passing.

So, fundamentally, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is all about the creation and destruction of structures.

We create these structures with our bodies, connect them with an opponent, and seek to destroy them to create advantageous positions.

As an example, when we play Guard, we create structures to create space and tension between our opponent and ourselves.  This creates pathways of potential energy, that we can then release to channel that energy into attacks, be it a sweep or a submission.  

Some examples of structures we create in the guard are: Closed, Half, X, De La Riva, Reverse De La Riva, and so on.  Every structure of the guard is designed to negate the strengths of the Guard Passers structure and create opportunities for attacks.

Each type of Guard has a specific structure that is uniquely appropriate for a momentary orientation, angle and combination of limbs and positions.   If you are having difficulty maintaining the structure of a certain guard in a certain position, it is likely that another structure (guard-type) would fit that position better (it is also possible you don't understand it well enough and it requires more practice).  You need to understand all of the guard positions in order to be able to play "The Guard" well.  Trying to play a inappropriate style of  guard against a certain passing structure will end in frustration, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. 

On the flip side of the coin, we have Guard Passing.

To efficiently pass the guard, you first have to create structures to put your body in the strongest possible position to be able to combat the off-balancing power of the Guard.  
To move forward, now you must destroy the structures of the Guard.  Every possible position of the Guard has it's destructive counter-point (Guard passing position and posture), and whoever attains the strongest, most appropriate structure first is able to collapse the other's structures and gain an advantage.

To give this a training application, if you're having difficulty with a certain style of guard, or a certain guard pass, look to your structure.  Is it an appropriate response to the structures that are applying pressure to you?  You may really connect with Spider Guard, but what if another guard would serve you better in a certain situation where you might be trying to shoehorn your favourite in?  You may always want to make the knee cut pass happen, but against an opponent who plays with their knees close together, you're going to have a tough time finding your opening, and in trying to force what you WANT, you might miss a much easier pass that's already presenting itself.

As you improve your structures and your understanding of which structures to create when,  your ability to destroy your opponents structures and impose your will will increase.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Part 1 of an Interview with yours truly


I'm still alive!

in lieu of a new blog post (one day i promise) here's Part 1 of an interview JoshVogel is doing with me.

I'm having a lot of fun talking about the parallels between BJJ and the arts.

Without further ado, here's Part 1 of the interview, more to come in the near future!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu is Simultaneously Therapy and a Problem I NeedTherapy For

That says it right there.  

It's such a beautiful combination of a problem solver and a problem creator.  

I almost hate to tell new guys how much it will worm its way into your soul and consciousness.  

The black belt comes with its own set of issues and problems.  Its own ever deepening web of complexity, sorrow and just occasionally enough....freedom.

I mean, really, you could camp out at any belt i suppose, and decide not to progress, and just be where you are and not address your problems and weaknesses and shrug your shoulders when you get tapped or passed....and maybe some people can do that.  Maybe some people like tents.

Me, I go nuts if I have to go to plan b.  If a grip gets broken.  If a sweep isn't oh-so-tasty and smoooooooth.  Every damn detail has to be perfect, and guess what?  THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN.  I'm on a one-way train to madness and YOU CANT MAKE ME GET OFF. 

It's my train, dammit.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Write Drunk, Edit Sober

  So here's the issue.  My creative process is lengthy and painful.  This goes for composing music, editing lyrics, tweaking Jiu Jitsu techniques, and most relevant to this post, writing this blog.

  I always admire the bloggers who can produce post after post filled with great stuff, and by "admire" of course I mean "envy".  Speed just isn't in my creative bones.

  As a songwriter my preferred method is to "write drunk, edit sober".  Figuratively of course (please forgive me for not crediting a source on that - the internet seems confused on that point).  What this means (to me) is that I write with a lack of inhibition and a healthy dose of self-indulgence.  Everything is gold in this stage.  I can do no wrong.  Until I sleep on it of course.  In "the morning", when sober, I discover I have not written my master work.  What I discover is that I have a lot of sloppy, poorly expressed half thoughts, written by the teenaged writer inside me (who is apparently very dramatic and very prone to cliche).  There is usually one line, or one idea (sometimes only a snatch of melody) that I might be able to build a song on.

  Now comes the tough part.  The "sober" me, after 20 years of songwriting has very high standards (and my wife who is my songwriting partner has even keener standards).  Which means that something has to be damn good, serve the song and say what I'm trying to say in the cleanest way possible for it to get into the final draft of a song. This process is incredibly painful and labour intensive. Always.

  At this point, I should acknowledge that this is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu blog. For me, I see very little separation between my artistic process as a songwriter, and my process as a martial artist.  They both have that same, "get used to the plateau" theme to them.  I have very high standards for my jiu jitsu game.  I want to understand the easiest, cleanest, most efficient way to execute a technique, and I will be tormented until I find those little gems that start to string together those otherworldly verses of movement that make my martial narrative something worth building a game on. A song worth playing.

  Really, in BJJ, I would say you spend probably the first 5 to 10 years "writing drunk".  As a songwriter I spent longer than that, so I wouldn't be surprised if in a few years I listed that number as higher.

  All this to say, I want to post here more.  Which means, if I know my process, that I need to write SHORTER posts.

  I've definitely got the fodder for it right now, as I'm in competitive training for a super fight on February 2 against another black belt.  So that means lots of hard training, lots of editing,  and (it should go without saying ) lots of pain. Fortunately, to me, that sounds like a recipe for progress and evolution. I look forward to it.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Usagi Yojimbo and the BJJ Black Belt.

  Now to be fair, I haven't had my black belt for long, so I'm certainly not saying that  I can make definitive statements about what "being a black belt" is like.  I'm not even sure at this point that I can definitively say what it's been like for the short time I've had it.  Which is to say that, so far, my Black belt has been defined by uncertainty.

 Upon receiving my black, I certainly didn't feel like I'd "arrived" or that I had completed a mission,  but instead I felt like after exploring the ridiculous number of rooms in a grand mansion, I had found an impressive, important looking door, and once I had stepped through it, found myself at the edge of a wide open field.  Wasn't I supposed to spend my life in the mansion?   Wasn't that the point?  If now I look back at the mansion, it seems very plain indeed.  Just a house.  A solid, functional, practical house, but certainly not the expansive castle that it had first appeared to my limited scope of understanding.  It's not like I had intentionally been looking for a "home" to spend the rest of my days, but rather, because of the commonly accepted view of this achievement,  I simply assumed that there would be one when I reached this point in my journey.  Upon arrival I realized that though culturally the goal certainly carried weight, experientially I was no  different than the day before.  The house was a good, safe, insulated place to learn the rules, but the true goal was the path that lay beyond it.

  Which brings us to my favourite samurai rabbit, Usagi Yojimbo.

Look at this rabbit.  Admire this rabbit.

 Now Usagi was one of my absolute favourite characters as a kid, which is sort of amazing, because I don't think I ever read one of his comics, but instead only caught him in guest appearances in my other fave, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Recently however, I ordered something like 20 different collections of Usagi books from the library and absolutely devoured them.  The last few months, what with opening my own school, getting students ready for grading, and getting ready for my own Black belt presentation have left me mentally exhausted, and the adventures of a wandering samurai rabbit were exactly what I needed.

  An interesting by-product of this escapism has been a growing appreciation for the path of this masterless samurai, or ronin, (yes i know I'm talking quite seriously about a rabbit, but suspend your disbelief with me for a moment) which is defined as shugyosha, or the warriors path of learning.  To unpack that a little, in times of peace, many feudal lords in Japan couldn't afford to employ large numbers of samurai, and so these ronin,  were forced to seek jobs as bodyguards (yojimbo, translated) or mercenaries, or in the case of Usagi, they chose to follow Shugyosa.   This is the open path of a wanderer and in Usagi's case it kind of plays out like the Lone Ranger, or the Littlest Hobo ( I apologize to any non-Canadian readers and younger folk who didn't grow up on this show), going from village to village, solving problems and helping the underdogs who are being trampled by those that in their hunger for power, abused those in their path.    Along the way, Usagi seeks to improve his skills and himself, spiritually.

  All this talk of this bunny's path in life is surprisingly inspiring for me.  I'm not a big competitor, (and certainly not young enough or in the proper phase of life to go for that kind of lifestyle), and so my path in BJJ has not been defined by racking up wins at the various belt levels, and I'm finding that now, more than ever, I'm having to clarify what the hell it is I'm doing in this Art.  BJJ has been a template and a framework whereby I've sought to improve myself as a person and as an artist;  building effective Martial skill, and constantly striving to improve my character.  I don't feel like I'm building skill simply for the sake of building skill, but rather as a path; that by traveling it,  I would be refined.  To be constantly in a state of unrest, always "wandering" and moving forward, never content to simply camp and be comfortable.

  The feedback for positive progress in my jiu jitsu is so minute at this point; tiny angles, timing almost beyond perception, distribution of weight in a fleeting second, that it makes commitment to the plateaus an imperative (Mastery by George Leonard goes into this in depth).  My choice to follow this path isn't determinate on daily success, but rather, daily success is determined by my choice to follow this path.  Everyday that I keep showing up is an investment in both the betterment of self and my incremental, progressing understanding of an art too deep for me to completely fathom.

  I've often used the Black belt to represent a point where you've learned the rules to a really complex game, and now that you've got the gist of the thing, you can really start playing.  I remember reading an interview with Roger Gracie, who is arguably one of the greatest practitioners of BJJ alive, wherein he stated that after he had received his black belt he could "now really begin to learn jiu jitsu".  This is from one of the most dominant competitors of all time.  To me, this just shows that no matter how good you are, you can always get better.

  So, while there is a plethora of information available about how to get better and the best way to improve, and the 7 things you MUST blah blah blah blah, it would seem, at least to my limited understanding, that the most important thing is that you simply keep showing up.   I know, I know, I should write a book.  It would fly off the shelves (what with it being only one page, a stiff breeze would do it).  The truth is, if you're questioning your commitment, or you're tormented by so and so who is always tapping you, or you're looking for some kind of approval to make up a deficit in your life, you're probably going to quit once you reach your goal.  If you want to attain the level of Black Belt to prove something to your peers or because you think it will imbue you with special powers (which it does of course, flight is awesome) then what you will mainly feel when you finally have that belt  (or get that degree, or receive that promotion at work) after the initial euphoria wears off,  is disappointment.  And that will suck.  Learn to love the path for the path itself.

This is, of course what I now have in front of me.  That even though I've found the transition to Faixa Preta more jarring than I expected, I am now more than ever commited to running a marathon, and not a sprint.  So now, without a tangible goal, I proceed into the wide open field, just one more rabbit with a sword.  Or something.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Black belt demo and presentation

Hello again!

It has been far too long since I've posted but it's been a very busy last few (several?) months.  I got my black belt in April, and I've opened my own school, which I've been running a couple nights a week.  As of next week it will be going full time.  I am both terrified and excited.  And terrified.

Probably a post to come on that soon.  Also I've got a post about getting the black sitting being edited right now as well, which i should be releasing shortly.  It may feature a samurai rabbit.  Mind blowing I know.

At any rate, I thought I'd post the video of my Black belt demonstration and presentation if anyone was interested in seeing it.  I'd love to hear any feedback or questions, or just a shout out to let me know that someone might still be listening. :)

I'm looking forward to getting back to regular posting.

Without further delay, here it is.